This past Christmas and New Year’s are the first time either of us have spent the holidays away from home. It was somewhat bittersweet — Christmas doesn’t feel quite the same when you’re not surrounded by a horde of family members, but seeing how a totally new part of the world celebrates (not to mention spending our first Christmas Day together) helped assuage the solitude. We actually spent the two holidays in two different places in two different countries — Christmas in Mendoza, Argentina, and New Year’s in Valparaiso, Chile.
Christmas in Mendoza
Mendoza is one of Argentina’s most well-known wine regions, and Argentina is one of the world’s leading producers of wine; Mendoza is basically the Napa Valley of South America. Since we’d been traveling at breakneck speed for a few weeks, we decided to spend just over a week in Mendoza to give us a bit of time to recharge and enjoy Christmas without too much running around. The first few days we spent just exploring the city, which is filled with wine bars, restaurants (many of which were way out of our price range), and shops. We also stumbled on the Peatonal del Vino, a street wine festival where the local vineyards give samples of their wares along with bands, entertainers, and food trucks. For about 12 bucks, we got a wine glass (which we unfortunately had to leave at the hostel) and five tickets for tastings. The idea was that you’d get a sample, give them a ticket, and then go on to try others for a total of five samples. However, we quickly caught onto the fact that the event organizers and the winery workers were not on the same page, so they’d frequently tell you to keep the ticket on the sly, which allowed us to sample quite a few more than five.
Sampling the wines at the event actually worked out pretty well for us, because just a couple days later we hopped on a bus heading over to visit some of the very wineries that had been in attendance that night. Many of the wineries in Mendoza are in very close proximity to each other, so the most common way to visit a few of them is to rent bikes for the afternoon and tool around. We hopped off the bus, ready for a relaxing afternoon of bikes and wine — only to realize we were in the complete wrong part of the city, with no other buses in sight.
After pulling up Google Maps, our sometimes fickle travel friend, we managed to figure out where we were actually supposed to be — a mere two hour walk away in a part of town where there are APPARENTLY no taxis to be found. So walk we did. After two hours of walking (and not a small amount of arguing), we finally made it to the bikes, which we took to our first winery, where the wine made everything better. We toured one winery and did tastings at two, along with a gourmet olive oil shop where we couldn’t resist picking up some garlic olive oil to carry around with us. After the wineries closed, we discovered that our bike rental shop offered free wine for two hours afterwards, so suffice it to say we were pretty happy by the time we headed back to our hostel.
On Christmas Eve, our hostel held a traditional Argentinian barbecue which consisted of a ton of delicious beef and pork, and not nearly as much beer as they had promised. Nevertheless, it was a nice way to spend the evening of Christmas Eve with a bunch of other people and get that familiar hectic celebration feeling. On Christmas Day, Mendoza shuts down. Literally nothing was open, and the streets themselves were a ghost town. As a result, we spent most of the day just relaxing in the hostel, watching a few movies, having a few glasses of wine, and socializing with the other travelers. Overall, a pretty nice Christmas week.
New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso
After making our way over the border and spending a few days in Santiago, we arrived in Valparaiso for what was promised to be one of the biggest NYE parties in Latin America (second only to Rio de Janeiro, which is actually the biggest party in the world). Knowing this, we had booked ourselves a nice Airbnb well in advance, as we had heard from numerous travelers that all the accommodation gets filled up weeks if not months in advance. That in mind, you might understand our consternation at showing up to our apartment, only to learn that our Airbnb host had NEVER HEARD OF US.
According to our “host”, he had signed up for Airbnb months back and promptly forgot it existed. He then rented out the room we had booked to another girl via Couchsurfing. So we were in the second-biggest party destination for New Year’s, on December 30th, without anywhere to stay, with every hostel and hotel in the city booked up well in advance. After hearing us start to make plans to return to Santiago for the weekend (because the alternative would be sleeping on the beach), he luckily took pity on us and called a friend of his who had a place that she occasionally put up for rent. After a few back and forth calls, she thankfully agreed to host us for the same price we’d put down for the Airbnb.
The new place turned out to be a much better option than the original room we had rented; rather than a small room in an apartment, we got an entire house to ourselves (albeit a small one). The view of the city from our balcony was incredible, giving us a panoramic view over the water. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, an incredible fireworks display was set off over that very water, which meant we had spectacular private seats instead of crowding down in the streets like the peasants trying to get a glimpse.
Going into the New Year (which will be a full year of travel), it’s hard not to be optimistic. For the entirety of 2017, we’ll be traveling at our on pace, exploring new places and meeting new people. Now over four months into the trip, we’ve become very comfortable with the ins and outs of traveling long term, and I think it’s safe to say we won’t be getting tired of it any time soon. We’re through the honeymoon period of our travels and still enjoying (pretty much) every day. Though there are always negatives (like spending Christmas away from family), this is where we want to be for the time being, and are doing our best to make the most of the opportunities we have.
Miss you all!