Punta del Este, Uruguay
21.12.2011 - 27.12.2011 30 °C
21st December 2011
Three days before Christmas, I check into a funky hostel (Tas D'Viaje) in fashionable Punta del Este. I booked it back in October, when I decided I wanted to spend Christmas on a beach since I was in a hot climate and would be away from England. I wanted it to be different to a typical English Christmas.
After spending two months in big concrete cities, I am eager to see the sea and feel the sand beneath my feet. I check in and enquire about Christmas. Fiesta! Fiesta! Fiesta! I'm told. Sounds just what I'm looking for this Christmas. I meet Margaux and Danni, two Australians, and Vanessa, a girl from London. They are all staying for the week too. Since the hostel is not putting on a Christmas meal, I suggest that instead, we have a BBQ on Christmas day. My suggestion goes down well, and its agreed.
That evening I meet up with a friend and his family at a local bar called Moby Dick's. There's live music until midnight when a DJ stirs into action and plays the latest crowd pleasers. We have a lot of fun and go crazy on the dance floor. 5am creeps up on us, and suddenly it is time to go home.
The following evening, I'm invited to a traditional Uruguayan Christmas dinner hosted by the owners of my friends hostel, La Lomito del Chingolo. Its touching to be invited along and means I get a bit of an insight into a traditional South American Christmas. Christmas over here, is not as commercialised as England, but still follows the basic pattern: Papa Noel drops off presents before midnight, on Christmas Eve, whilst the family gather for a traditional meal. The children then open their presents at midnight.
The meal is delicious. The owners of the hostel have spent days preparing a feast. There are gigantic salads, meats, cheeses, fish, quail eggs, delicious quiche and much, much more... However, one curious dish was a sweet tuna roll: imagine a Swiss roll, but replace the jam with tuna, and coat the top with crispy pistachios. It was quite exotic and a typical South American mix of sweet and savoury. The rest of the food is truly phenomenal!
After dinner, gifts appear. I try to give my friends space, but am incredibly flattered when they give me a gift to open. I'm feeling a bit homesick so the thought and gesture are incredibly touching. The secret (so secret that it sold over 1000 tickets) beach party we are going to, is cancelled without explanation. I get dropped off and realise the party at my hostel is in full swing and resembles a scene from a modest London nightclub. I order a cocktail and join the party with Margaux, Danni and Vanessa.
Several hours, very little sleep, and a few skype calls later, I'm sat on the beautiful beach wearing a Santa hat with the girls. We have a bottle of champagne to celebrate, but it does not go down as smoothly with a mild hangover. The whole of Punta seems to be on the beach. There's a cool vibe as everyone smiles and nods at each other. In the late afternoon, we roast some veg, prepare a huge salad and marinade some chicken with lemon and honey for the BBQ. Again, its another feast that is delicious. Tonight, there's no party at the hostel, so its a bit of a let down. It seems that Christmas Eve is the bigger celebration in Uruguay, and Christmas day is quieter.
Boxing day comes, and we return to Moby Dicks. There is more crazy dancing until the sun comes up. As we walk along the beach home, I reflect on Christmas in Uruguay. It has been a lot of fun, and I've had a bit of an insight into a family Christmas here, but mostly it is a place where wealthy Latin Americans come for Christmas, and of course the odd sun-seeking backpacker. I've loved it.