Time with family? Lots of food? Religious climax? Consumerist feast? Whatever it means for you, I hope you have a nice time around this time of the year!
The first time I spent Christmas far away from my family was in 2004, when I was living in France. Life there as an exchange student was so good that I simply decided not to go back. With my Brazilian friend Stenio, who wasn’t going back home either, we took my car and left for a massive trip through the Norhtern European snow… What a fantastic time it was! Anyway, back to 2010.
I’m a lot further away from home, this time around. Not only this: if you belong to the vast majority of the Earth’s population living in the Northern Emisphere, you can’t imagine how weird it feels to have a hot, summery Christmas until you live it. I’ll try to describe a bit of
We had a “pre-Christmas dinner” here in Valparaiso on the 22nd of December, after which I was invited to spend the festive weekend with Daniel and the family of his partner Luisa. They live in a town called La Ligua, two hours north of Santiago and closer to the coast, so I had the opportunity to see another hidden corner of the country! I went to Santiago on the 23rd, and at night I met Paulina, a friend of Ele, who showed me a few bars of the capital. On the 24th morning I went with Luisa to the cafè where she likes to work in the morning, a cute place called Espresso.
Once Daniel was done working in the afternoon, we stuffed the car up and left, destination La Ligua. It took us some effort to go through the massive traffic jam to get out of Santiago, but once on the way I could learn something about a fruit that is absolutely essential in Chilean food: the avocado, locally called Palta. I had it of course before, but it was never part of my daily thinkings. Here, I learned to love it and embed it in any meal, be that breakfast, lunch or just an afternoon snack. It was then very interesting to drive through some avocado plantations, and Daniel explained me something that I would have never thought about but which makes a lot of sense: the best spots to grow avocado are the sides of mountains. Why that? Because the trees shade each other less, individually getting more light! This helps the fruits to become more oily, and consequently tastier.
Once in La Ligua, Luisa’s sister took me out for a walk in town. This place is best known for its clothes, cakes and ice creams. And, being summer in full swing, we couldn’t avoid one! I have to say, that was the ice cream that most tasted like Italian ice cream I have ever tasted outside my home borders. Even the cone was faithful!
The 24th evening is the most important moment in Chilean Christmas. As tradition asked, before dinner we all sat in the living room and read some passages of Jesus’ history, followed by some prayers. Being myself fairly distant from the Catholic religion, it was long time I didn’t actually sit down and collectively prayed. This, together with the mild homesickness that such an intimate situation evoked, brought me to tears, which I goofily tried to hide with no success whatsoever!
After that we had dinner and began to open the presents, which were almost all for the little Domingo, the beautiful son of my friends! The dinner went on till late. I had one of those invaluable talks with Luisa’s father, who was a university student when the Chilean coup d’etat took place in 1973, clearing the way to Pinochet’s dictatorship. There is nothing like hearing such stories from who was there.
The next day we reached out for the oceanside – two beaches, no less! Racketball and diving in and out of the water. Which was ice cold by the way. To lay sunbathing on the sand while the ice cream kiosk behind is playing “Jingle Bells” is simply priceless.
Another very important and different Chilean Christmas custom is the once. Families and friends alike join each other in a house where the table is big enough, and the meal is not a proper dinner but rather an informal collection of snacks: small sandwiches, tea and coffee, little pastries.. a kind of late High Tea, that starts around 7 pm and goes on till late at night. I attended two of them, one with Luisa’s family and one with Daniel’s, once back in Santiago. The latter on a big terrace with a majestic view on the cordillera at sunset.
That same day the usual Christmas phenomenon took place: all the adults go back to primary school age and get all excited with the toys for the kids. We all sat around and created true art with the kids’ colored paste and played with the timeless train model. Nowadays with smoke and noise!
Here’s the new episode of my video series! Actually, I should maybe find another name for my videos, as now “Famsterdam Life” is the name of the blog… please leave any suggestion in the comments and enjoy!
My time in Australia has almost come to an end, and this post will report a few additional impressions about the place, mostly random ones with random pictures.
One of the first remarks I had is how Australian people seemingly love to drive barefoot. I’m sure there’ll be a few who don’t agree (Linda?), but from Queensland to Western Australia I’ve witnessed it quite a few times.
The Christmas decorations which adorn shops and streets were already in place since the beginning of November (I’ve seen them firstly in Perth). Beside the usual debate on the real purposes of putting them on when we’re still two months away, it was so strange to see them during full spring swing, while walking in shorts and thongs! To me, Christmas has always been White: the snowy, fireplace night filmed in countless movies. Here, the birth of Jesus is a barbecue on the beach with sunglasses and possibly a surf board.
Speaking of sun, Australia was also the first country I visited in the Southern Emisphere, so our still star was actually pointing North instead of South. Also, because we’re so much closer to the Equator, the sun at noon is way higher on the horizon. The result is a different orientation as you walk, as you look at things at different times of the day and as where the sunrise / sunset light come from. For a former scout like me, this is a total reversal of all I’ve always believed in! Ok, maybe I pushed a bit too much on that one.
We spent one of my last Melbourne days at St. Kilda, the southern neighborhood on the ocean. We sat for a while at a cake shop, just across the street from this funnily named shop, which I guess sells stationary..?
We then went for a walk on the beach, and at some point we stumbled across this metallic statue of the world that was the perfect set for a “I’m Traveling So I Feel On Top Of The World” shot.
After the epic image, you’ll probably find more interesting and closer to reality the procedure to get there, with the essential help of my friend Tom.
The seaside walk also provided material for the “Different Nature Of The Post” category: a dead blowfish on the shore. It was actually quite ugly and big (maybe as long as my foot), and I wondered how bigger it gets when using the balloon superpower! Highly poisonous, we thought it was better to let it rest there. Ah, if my friend Hokuto was there! Maybe he’d have known how to cook it – the blowfish is a Japanese specialty.
So yeah, my Australian days have come to an end. I can no doubt say that I left the best for last, as Melbourne is really a spectacular place to live in, probably more than to be a tourist.
Overall though, I came here definitely unprepared. I hadn’t quite grasped how big this country is: traveling around using public transport (train, bus, plane) is just terribly limiting as it isn’t capillary at all, and accommodation costs are quite high. The ultimate solution is to buy a van where you can also sleep in, thus solving the two problems at the same time. Then you fill it with friends, which reduces the fuel costs, put a couple of surf boards on the roof and you’re set for months of unlimited fun in an amazing country that you’ll be never done exploring. And I have all intentions to do this, somewhen in the future.
Goodbye Australia, it was nice to meet you. Next time we’ll become friends.