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Christmas in La Serena

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I can’t remember the last time that Christmas day was anything other than a time for family. Long gone are the days of presents eagerly received and any religious connotations the event may have had for me have been drowned in the unstoppable tidal wave of capitalism. Over the years the whole present thing has mutated into awkwardness. Gifts are received with a staged smile more out concern for the feelings of the giver than with enthusiasm for the present. External to the day itself, the season has become a celebration of our wealth which we honour through a massive orgy of consumerism and an endless line up of progressively more inebriated parties culminating in telling the work colleague that you have put up with for the last 12 months that you totally despise him.

This Christmas was going to be different. 12,000 kilometers from home on a beach in Chile, there would be no turkey, no “just one pint” after work, no last minute panic about forgetting to buy someone a present and, most significantly, no family.

Christmas when you are travelling comes as a bit of a surprise. I suppose we are so used to having Christmas forced down our throats that without the endless reminders it just doesn’t seem like Christmas at all. We didn’t see decorations going up in October, we didn’t hear and get totally sick of tacky jingles and whatever heart-tugging nostalgic crap that has made it to the top of the music industry’s shit heap. No doubt I’ve missed some masterpiece, such as Britney Spears in some overtly sexual Santa costume pouting her way through “Jingle Bells”. I guess I’ll have that dubious pleasure next year.

Our Christmas started 10 days before the 25th, with Fi telling us that we were going to do Secret Santa. We would each spend $5 on a present for one other person on the truck, chosen by plucking a name out of a hat. Once we knew who we were buying presents for, Barbara and myself left for Buenos Aires, arranging to meet up with the rest of the Hot Rockers in La Serena for Christmas on the beach.

Just because you only have to buy one present doesn’t mean it’s easy. I spent hours painstakingly deliberating what to buy my Secret Santa, finally settling, in true Christmas spirit, on something gaudy and plastic, to be used once and forever retired. The present buying tribulations didn’t end there - after all I still had to buy something for Barbara and somehow I had to keep her from finding out what it was as we travelled 2,000 kilometres across the continent.

Now I’ve never been the best gift purchaser, especially when put under time and monetary constraints, so when I happened upon a CD I knew Barbara would like I jumped at the chance. It was that sort stereotypical tacky female dance artist that Barbara likes to sing along to and then get embarrassed when she realises that someone is listening. I glanced across the store and saw Barbara head bent, browsing records looking for some piece of tat that would do her Secret Santa. Without hesitation I grabbed the CD and ran to the checkout counter. 2 minutes later, present in bag I was feeling smug with my opportunism.

Imagine my horror when, a week later, after 32 hours on buses, I crawled into our tent on the beach to finally wrap her present and found that in my rush I had picked up the wrong CD. And it wasn’t just any wrong CD. This was something truly horrendous, something that would have any normal person wishing for East 17’s Christmas ballads to be re-released.

Christmas morning certainly didn’t feel like Christmas morning. The sunlight filtered through the yellow flysheet of our tent and the air was warm and slightly stuffy with not a hint of tasty treats wafting up from a kitchen. As we dozed fitfully, the usual Hot Rock breakfast call invaded our peace. Despite subtle hints and even blatant suggestions, the breakfast wake up call does not consist of a hot cup of tea and a basin of warm washing water brought to your tent door. Today we were lucky though - the shout was relatively gentle, and the breakfast was suitably festive. However, despite the real bacon and abundant fake champagne there wasn’t a Christmas spirit. It was easy to tell where people’s thoughts lay. In spite of the sun, sea and sand they would rather be at home.

Christmas Day was then put on hiatus as some people went bouldering, some body surfing and some set about the all-important job of buying the fish for the day’s barbeque. By the time everyone gathered at 3pm for Christmas dinner, all brooding over home and family had evaporated and a genuinely festive spirit prevailed. The main challenge we faced was to avoid getting too full too quickly. The scent and sizzle of pork ribs on the barbecue made it difficult to hold back, and only the sight of the shrimp and squid that would follow kept us in check.

Before the seafood, though, came the high point of everyone's day. Christmas is Christmas, and no matter where you are in the world, some traditions are sacred. Santa would be visiting Hot Rock too. Casting his expert eye around the group, expedition leader Dave had no doubt who would be acting as Father Christmas today - tea lady Wendy (AKA Badger) was the only choice.

Badger's need to brew tea on his petrol stove during long truck journeys, coupled with his penchant for wearing dresses, had ended with him acquiring an apron, a pinnie and yet another nickname - Wendy. What more appropriate Santa Claus could there be than a muscular, stubbly guy dressed as a tea lady with a white beard?

All in all it was Badger dispensing presents, wearing a Santa hat and a dress, that best represented Christmas for me this year - more fun than basket of puppies but somehow not the real thing.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picture of Barbara and Santa - Chile Travelogues
Photograph of Caelen and Santa in La Serena - Chile Travelogues
Barbara and Wendy Claus

Caelen gets his present
Photograph of Wendy Clause on his sleigh - Chile Travelogues
Picture of Christmas dinner preparation - Chile Travelogues
Wendy Claus arrives on his sleigh
Making Christmas dinner

Picture of La Serena dinner preparation - Chile Travelogues
Picture of La Serena barbecue - Chile Travelogues

Don't mess with the lads when they're chopping vegetables

Dave tends the barbecue
Photograph of Christmas dinner in La Serena - Chile Travelogues Picture of La Serena beach - Chile travelogues
The Christmas spread Chilling on the beach