Christmas time... Mistletoe and wine...
Well I haven't seen any of the former but there's been plenty of the latter! Having met my friend Ruth in the capital of Chile, Santiago, a pleasant enough city where we learnt a lot about Chilean history and politics from a very enthusiastic tour guide, I suggested a quick trip across the border to Argentina and the city of Mendoza. Well it's only 6 hours away and I wanted to show Ruth a bit about life on the road. Mendoza, the largest wine producing area in Latin America, was not the most interesting of places however and this detour essentially turned out to be a rather expensive day trip for wine and steak! The wine came in the form of a 'wine and bike tour' - a somewhat hazardous combination of wine tasting with bike riding through the vineyards of the Maipu valley, starting at 10 o' clock in the morning. Yes, I know, doesn't bode well does it. Surprisingly however there were no accidents and it was a rather charming way to discover I apparently like very expensive red wine... which we later confirmed over a steak dinner, somewhat regrettably cooked 'english' (well done).
Having thoroughly stocked up on Argentinian vino we headed back across the border to Chile through the 2 mile long Cristo Retendor tunnel under the Andes. What should have been a simple border crossing became a scene from Carry on Customs as firstly the immigration official forgot to stamp my passport and I was called back by the bus driver shouting 'policia' (which certainly got my attention), then our bags got called out for inspection which we sheepishly had to explain were filled with wine and chocolate, before the sniffer dogs (which are trained to find fruit and vegetables) went absolutely bonkers over them. "No no," we said, "solo vino y chocolate!" You'd believe two blonde english girls as well right?
Eventually we made it back onto the bus and continued on to the beach town of La Serena where, can you believe it, we had an apartment - our OWN kitchen, my OWN room, even a DOUBLE bed and somewhere to properly unpack after 5 months on the road. And what happened when we did unpack? We only found a chilli in the bag the sniffer dogs had gone crazy for! We bought said chilli from a market in Santiago and completely forgot we had it, so unbeknownst to us, we managed to smuggle a chilli from Chile into Argentina and out again! It may not seem like a particularly contraband item to you and I, but by the way they were acting at customs I could be writing to you from an Argentinian prison, Bridget Jones style, right now!
So after recovering from our brief brush with the law with some cocktails on the beach, we settled in to our Chilean Christmas. With some brilliant decorations and santa hats Ruth had brought from home, and with a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on all the essentials (continental cheese board included) we were all set. So what did we do on Christmas day? The same thing you did actually - ate some food, opened some presents, drank some wine, listened to Cliff Richard, ate some more food, played some cards, drank some more wine, ate some more food - but all in the 35 degree sunshine! Our festivities were even remarked on by the locals, especially the landlady who at one point asked what the "soft stuff" was. That would be fake snow, love. Classy.
So Christmas can still be Christmas wherever you are in the world, but on this, the last day of 2011, I would just like to reflect on the year that was. From the birth of my niece, to the wedding of my big brother, from old friends that I miss to new friends I have gained, this has been a life changing year for me. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in it and here's to a new year and new beginnings for us all. If I've learnt anything this year it's that the world really is your lobster... Bring on 2012!