Christmas on Foreign Shores – by The Corn Flake Traveller
Despite all the travelling I have done the majority of my festive periods have been spent in the bosom of loved ones but this year I will be spending this Christmas exploring Botswana. Although I will miss watching all of the members of my family open the bags full of presents I have bought them it does mean that I get a year off from all the other nonsense that comes attached to this magical time of year.
I can handle the queues of people lining up outside my house holding mistle-toe and I can even cope with buildings booming out Christmas carols but the incessant pressure to buy things, my dislike of materialism and the temptation by all those chocolates makes Christmas annoying to me. Not being Christian I honestly don’t even celebrate it but friends and family do so I enjoy making the most of seeing them, however, not surprisingly for an obsessed traveller, the most enjoyable Christmas’s have been on foreign soil.
My first tastes of Christmas outside the U.K came when I would visit my dad who was living in either Florida or Los Angeles during my teenage years. It was great having a BBQ and spending the day on the beach but Christmas just didn’t feel Christmassy without cold weather, it’s like skipping Christmas altogether.
Two of the most memorable Christmas’s I have had were overseas. On Christmas day in 2002 I woke up in a hammock on a beach in Zipolite, Mexico and spent the first few hours admiring the beautiful 2km long beach while listening to my mini-disc player. I spent the day sipping ice cold beers, chatting to other travellers from all over the globe and I even treated myself to a turkey slice sandwich for my Christmas dinner. There was no stress or pressure to get the ‘roasties’ cooked to perfection and no temptation from bad food such as my favourite forbidden fruit yule logs. It turned out to be a great day relaxing and chilling on a beautiful beach.
In 2009 I was hiking in the Dogon country in Mali, which was an incredible experience. Pays Dogon is home to approximately half a million people and is a magical place set on a sandstone cliff called the Bandiagara escarpment, which can reach as high as 500m in places with villages on the bottom and on the top. We spent days walking along the escarpment that stretches on for a hundred miles, visiting different villages along the way and hiking up and down to see interesting rock formations and get great views over the African plains.
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 with masks 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 only recently discovered by modern astronomy. 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.
On Christmas day we started our trip in Djiginbombo where a medicine man threw some shells on a matt and told me I wanted to work in a foreign land, that I was keeping a secret and that I should have children immediately. I ignored his words at the time mainly because of the children comment but I sit here now months away from my son’s birth seriously wondering if my fortune really was read. After a quick walk around the village we walked down the escarpment, stopping halfway at a watering hole to escape the heat, before continuing down to another village for a look around and more heat escaping. When the sun lowered we continued on to our final village of the day, Tele, where we slept on the roof of a mud house and had a great evening lying there listening to indigenous Africa while looking up at the stars, a slight improvement from the usual evening of Christmas specials on the tele .
So Christmas’s abroad are great but only because the fact that it is Christmas is irrelevant, it’s just another day. If I have to go through the pain of Christmas I must have my loved ones there to give me something to enjoy during this testing time, if only I could take everyone away with me and get the best of both worlds.
So enjoy your Christmas, have a great time with your family and remember you don’t have to buy your kids expensive things, if they are demanding give them a stick and some mud to play with so you can teach them the value of money and ignore all those adverts trying to persuade you to buy Grandad a laptop, I assure you he will be more happy with a thoughtful homemade gift.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year