Christmas Time – The Cornflake Traveller
I have found the Christmas and New Year period to be a completely different experience on foreign soils. For me this time of year is all about spending time with your loved ones, but when I haven’t been able to do that I sought somewhere to relax and escape the commercialism.
In Mexico I spent Christmas of 2002 in Zipolite, a bay with a 2km long beach, full of bars with hammocks you can sleep in. On the 25th I woke in my hammock on the beach, walked up and down the beach all day, had a cheese and sprout sandwich for lunch before returning to my hammock with some cold beers. I had a great 5 days sun bathing, chilling in hammocks and watching brilliant sunsets. Next stop was Oaxaca to visit more Mayan ruins en-route to San Cristobal, where I spent New Year’s Eve partying with other people from my hostel.
I also spent Christmas day on the beach in Los Angeles, which is a great thing to do but it doesn’t feel like Christmas to me as my English mind is programmed to associate Christmas with cold weather. Oh and careful not to get sand in your insulin pens, it has ruined some of mine.
In 2009 I actually forgot all about Christmas because I was travelling through Mali and Christmas isn’t celebrated much at all due to the mix of people’s Christian, Muslim and Animist beliefs. On the 25th I left Bandiagara, to go on an amazing tour of the Dogon Country and I hiked all day visiting indigenous villages before we settled in our final village of the day, to eat and sleep on the roof. I loved it when it went dark and I could listen to the workings of indigenous Africa while looking up at the stars.
The Dogon country is home to approximately half a million people, a magical place set on a sandstone cliff (the Bandiagara escarpment) which can reach as high as 500m in places and is full of interesting rock formations that stretch on for a hundred miles.
The scenery, the architecture, the wood carvings and the people were all amazing, very unique and thankfully managing to resist influence from the western world. The people are an intriguing bunch, maintaining some interesting and far out beliefs but who live very peacefully, seeming at one with nature and using the vegetation for food and medicine. They have dances to thank the gods for rain, there are historical links to Ancient Egypt and they talk about amphibian extraterrestrials that arrived from the sky in fantastic sky ships. Spooky thing is that they have advanced knowledge of cosmological facts. They are particularly famous for knowing that Sirius was part of a binary star system, whose second star is completely invisible to the human eye and was only recently discovered by modern astronomy.
The day after Christmas we walked along the bottom of the escarpment admiring the architecture of millet storage containers placed up high on the cliff and the clothing of the locals made from colourful fabrics. Everyone looked like they were in costume, the old hunters in particular looked great. We walked for days visiting different villages, climbing up and down the escarpment through cracks in the rock to be welcomed by the villagers. We were even shown a traditional dance with drum beats and lots of men dancing wearing some really cool masks and costumes.
So that year I forgot about Christmas and it was brilliant, this year I will spend it with my family which is brilliant too.