Well, it´s not really. I guess the prevailing feeling amongst us all was that we were missing Christmas this year, and would get it proparly next year back home - it was all of our first Christmas away from home (apart from Gail and Alan, who have spent many travelling), so we were all a little homesick.
Anyway, we arrived in Mendoza to a lovely apartment - well, lovely for me and Alan (we had a spacious double room with telly)....the rest of the lads were in a three bed room, with two more beds in the sitting room. Not ideal! But for 10 euro a day, I guess we couldn´t complain! Gail and Alan were upstairs in their own apartment. Also, at 10.00 every morning, a lovely man came with a tray of food for brekkie.....cereal, yoghurt, milk, tea, coffee, pastries and sambos.....all included in the price. As were the fresh towels every day, and the changing of our bedsheets and cleaning of the apartment which happened every second day! So really, it wasn´t that bad! All that was killer was the bloody heat, with no swimming pool! So we spent a lot of time in the nearby Mendoza Plaza shopping mall....which was air conditioned!
Back in La Serena we had exchanged names for the Secret Santa, and had set a limit of 50 pesos on the pressie (about 12 euro), so in the days leading to Christmas - actually, mostly on Christmas Eve - everyone was busy in the shopping centre avoiding each other so that nobody guessed who had who for the Secret Santa! Myself and Gail collected money from everyone and the day before Christmas Eve went to the supermarket and got a big Christmas food shop, for the dinner. We had to steal the trolley from the supermarket, there was so much food in it!!
Then, as a little Christmas surprise, Matthew - the lovely young Derry guy we had met in Florinopolis - decided to come up from Chile to spend Christmas with us! So, Christmas Eve saw all ten of us sitting in the apartment having drinks and playing poker, and blowing up balloons to stick on the wall in place of decorations. Lots of festive cheer! And then, the piece de resistance, at midnight we heard loud noises outside, and on running onto the streets discovered that the whole of Mendoza was alight with fireworks! Aparrently, this was a Christmas tradition - at midnight, everyone in the city seemed to be letting off huge fireworks! And as we stood listening to the cheers of families from their gardens, watching colours explode in the sky, the most amazing thing happened - in the hottest place we´ve ever been, it started to RAIN! We all laughed in the rain watching the fireworks - talk about a little bit of Irishness to cheer us up!
Next morning we all Skyped home from Welly´s laptop, as we had internet in the apartment, and Ed had bought a Skype headset for the travels - thank the Lord. I was talking to all the kids, and obviously welled up a little hearing their voices. Especially David, who is now talking as much as BEN...he´s really come on! And then when he brought the phone upstairs to Sorcha, and she was in her room listening to music! So grown up..... Poor Rose sounded sick (she has tonsilitis), and Ben just sounded thrilled with yet another toolbox. Cammy was enthusing about how Santa must really love him (due to all the pressies), and Kyle was too busy to speak to me (ha ha). Ruth andAbby are as yet too young to come to the phone - but I´m sure they were busy with pressies too! And all my family sounded so great, and all sounded like they were having so much fun - so that was a little upsetting!
We then got our presents together in a pile, and swapped for Secret Santa! I had gotten Gail, Gail had gotten Daragh, Alan had gotten Welly, Bones had gotten Alan, Alan Mac had gotten Ed, Ed had gotten me, Welly had gotten EJ, EJ had gotten Bones, and Daragh had gotten Alan Mac. Is that everyone? Anyway, everyone had gotten lovely pressies for everyone, so we were all thrilled! Such variations as a Boca Juniors hat, a coffee maker, chocolates, shorts, a Boca jersey, flags, and other sundries. It really made us all feel very Christmassy, so we opened a bottle of wine, and turned on the Christmas music. Which did make me a little homesick, but in a good way, I think.
Anyway, I threw myself into dinner preparations to get my mind off of it, hanging out in the hot kitchen singing Good King Wenceslas, for some reason! Myself and Gail had divided things a little, using her cooker upstairs and mine downstairs. She´s a vegetarian, so there was a little manouvering to be had! I made my own stuffing from scratch (thanks to a little help from google.ie, woo hoo!) and stuffed our two chickens, stuck them in the oven, then set about preparing the veg and first course (ha ha). We had prawn cocktail for starters, and corn on the cob for the few of us who didn´t eat prawns - myself, Scottish Alan and EJ. Ed made the prawn cocktail sauce, and layed it out in plates. The rest of the lads cleaned up the sitting room, brought in the two tables together and set them, then carried in all the chairs we´d need for a ten-person dinner! They also got stuck in peeling spuds and chopping veg, so it was a definite group effort. The ovens only had two settings - low and high - so I had to guess things a little with the cooking! I had the two chickens in a tray together, with a little seperate bit of stuffing in tinfoil for Gail on the side, then a pile of frozen sweetcorn in tinfoil with butter and pepper (just like my Mam taught me!), then a tray of roasting veg in the bottom of the oven (carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic and onions). On the four hobs above I had the corn on the cob for starters, two pots of brocolli, and one of carrots. Upstairs, Gail made roast potatoes, mashed potatoes (although that´s her boyfriends speciality, so he took over on that one! Very proud of his mash, he is!), cabbage, and a Scottish tradition, pigs in blankets - sausages wrapped in rashers roasted in the oven. So, we all sat down and had our starters - lovely corn on the cob with butter melted all over it for me and the two others, and prawn cocktail for everyone else. Then we brought out the dinner! You should have seen everyone´s faces! I don´t think that they were expecting such a feed! I´ll put up the photos on bebo soon, as everyone actually took a photo of their dinner plate too! Ha ha. We ate for ages, stuffing ourselves on all the food before us! Bones and Alan carved the chicken, and we all toasted Christmas and good friends - which, after all, is what Christmas is all about....sharing the time with people you care about. So, in that sense, we really had the best Christmas we could have asked for!
After dinner we broke out the ice cream and chocolates, and even a box of danish butter cookies myself and Gail had found in the supermarket, and watched movies on telly. Everyone was so tired and full of food that we couldn´t do anything else! Then we had some more drinks, and played a game of charades, which was great fun. At about 2 in the morning, I made my way to bed - a thousand times more grateful for all the work my Mam puts into Christmas every year for us! Wow! What an effort!!
In the midst of the chicken sandwiches and picking at leftovers the next day, we were all too tired to do much, so we went to the cinema - woo hoo!! I had resigned myself to not getting to movies while I was in South America, but now the light has been rekindled! The next day we were leaving for Salta later in the evening, and with nothing else to do in the heat, we went to the cinema again - it´s so cheap, and it´s air conditioned! So we saw Beowulf, and then The Heartbreak Kid. And now I´m bugging Alan about going to see I Am Legend as soon as possible!! Ha ha.... The others went to a winery tour, but I stayed put - not feeling to well! - and Skyped friends and family instead!
We headed on for Salta on a long trip, with a five hour stopover in Tucuman. It was Alan´s birthday, and when we arrived in Tucaman bus station, all the lads sang Happy Birthday to Alan, and had gotten him a travel chess set in Mendoza. Just what he wanted!! Myself and Alan had exchanged Christmas pressies - I got him a Levis jumper, and he got me a pair of Puma shorts - so he said I wasn´t allowed buy him a birthday pressie, coz I had spent too much on the jumper, so instead I bought him dinner that night in Salta. Anyway, what a lovely pressie for the lads to get Alan - and what a nice surprise!! We headed into Tucuman and visited a few pubs and restaurants, seeking air conditioning and sustanance! I had my usual Christmas flu - yes, even over here! - so was feeling a bit rotten. When we arrived in Salta we headed for our hostel, and then out for a big steak dinner to celebrate Al´s birthday. We didn´t sit down to eat until 12.30! How strange....
Salta is beautiful! A really lovely city nestled in the mountains. Roasting hot, of course, but the mountains give a lovely breeze! They have cable cars going up into the mountain, where you get a lovely view of the city, so myself, Alan, Ed, Bones, Alan Mac and Gail went up on them to see the city. It was a bit scary! As Alan says, cable car accidents are the biggest killer of tourists after drowning! Eeek... But the views were lovely, and we had some icecream at the summit, looking down across Salta. Very nice! The city has a lovely festive feel to it, and all the parks are filled with fairground rides, and families having picnics, and general festivities. Very cool! Then we came back to the hostel and fooled about in the pool. The lads created a game called ´Score´. It´s very physical - to the point of drowning each other - but a lot of fun!
For New Years Eve, we basically hung out in the hostel - there was a bit of a party, with fireworks, food and drink. I´m never a big fan of the night - too much pressure - but it was good fun! We just drank and danced until daylight, so nothing too out of the ordinary! The fireworks were amazing - put ´Skyfest´ to shame. They have these big paper lanterns - practically up to your waist - and they light the bottom of it, it fills with hot air and floats up, then gets caught by the wind and floats across the sky. Soon the whole sky was filled with them! I think the tradition is that you put your hopes for the New Year into the lantern, and then set it free! Beautiful! So, amidst all the banging, exploding and colour of the fireworks, the stately beauty of the lanterns floating across the night sky was really a fabulous sight! Mam tells me that Elizabeth Bishop has written a poem about it, so I´ll have to check it out. All in all, a good New Year! We head for Bolivia at midnight tonight - 7 hours to the border, and you have to walk across it, so we thought it best to arrive in daylight! Another year, another country.........
Of course, it is a New Year, and most people do the whole ´resolution´ thing. I don´t really do that, but I do like to look forward into the next 12 months and have some hopes for myself. I hope that my family is happy and healthy. I hope that the world moves forward instead of backwards. I hope that I have the strength to make the decisions I need to make to change my life. And I hope that we all (myself included) have the strength to strive to be content with our lives.
Feliz Año Nueva, everyone!