Bariloche, Argentina: basically a Swiss town in the middle of Argentina, or at least it tries to be. With its bountiful chocolate shops, St. Bernard dogs and alpine architecture, this sweet imitation town is beautiful in its own right. Hailing as the northern tip of Patagonia (though, technically, as far as I understand, it is not actually covered by Patagonia’s vast area), Bariloche was the perfect place to spend Christmas away from home. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Penthouse 1004, the hostel that was recommended to us, was the perfect choice for Christmas – this was the place that provided the true ‘homely’ feeling that lent itself to a happy remote Christmas.
Arriving on 23rd December, aka Christmas Eve Eve, we were warmly welcomed into this hostel that felt distinctly like a mix of your grandparent’s house and Graceland’s Jungle Room – a little old, too much wood panelling and nicknacks lining every available surface. The staff immediately made us feel at home and the largely British crowd of travellers felt like an extension of your somewhat crazy family that you never see throughout the year anyway until you’re thrown together over the festive period. We immediately gelled with a few people that became the necessary Christmas friends that make holidays away from home that little bit less lonely.
We got stuck in with the Christmas party planning straight away and picked what dishes we would add to the mix on Christmas Eve, which is when Argentinians (and us, this year) typically celebrate Christmas. George and I made our extensive shopping list ready for the onslaught at the Supermercado the next day and got an early night in preparation. The morning of the 24th was spent food (and drink!) shopping, followed by me rushing around finishing my gift shopping (I don’t know how I was this last minute – I only had George to buy for!) and desperately trying to locate some Baileys because God forbid a Christmas without that stuff! I ended up settling for some Bariloche-made chocolate liquor that was actually every bit as good as Baileys (maybe).
I can’t claim to have been the biggest help in the kitchen come the afternoon – I did wrap the ‘pigs’ in their respective ‘blankets’ – but really George took control in the food preparation department! I should also mention here that our idea of traditional Pigs in Blankets had to be adapted slightly by the limitation of what we found in the Argentinian supermarket – they became what I think could be the next big thing… ‘Cows in Sheets’ (or, more specifically, beef sausages wrapped in pancetta!) Our other dish was, perhaps, a bit of a cop out, but our Cheese Board was clearly popular as someone stole our Gouda straight out of the fridge!
The Christmas Eve festivities were really quite fun! We ate, we drank too much red wine and played the Cardboard Box Game which, for me, was the highlight! Most importantly, we laughed, we chatted and we shared in a Christmas with other transient people who might, also, have been similarly lonely were it not for the company of a hostel full of strangers.
Christmas Day! A day I had, admittedly, been very apprehensive about in the build up. A day that I figured could easily have been spent sad that I was away from my family. But a day in which I learnt the power of the kindness of strangers. Christmas Day mass at Bariloche Cathedral was easily the highlight of my Christmas as, despite not following the entire service, given in Spanish, the feeling I had come the end was pure elation! There is something incredibly heart-warming about embracing strangers while sharing greetings of peace when you could have easily been feeling a little lonesome. On the merit of this alone, my Christmas Day was made!
The rest of our Christmas Day was pretty much occupied by food (and enduring the late-arriving hangover from the night before!) We enjoyed scrambled eggs and Bucks-Fizz for our Christmas Day brunch and, later, a lovely steak dinner with our newly-made friends.
Another high moment of Christmas Day was mine and George’s exchanging of gifts. They were not expensive or magnificent in any way, but they were thoughtful, all of them. I spent the rest of my Christmas evening colouring in the Frozen colouring book George had bought me! (I had been searching for a ‘mindfulness’ colouring book since arriving in South America to no avail!) After finishing off the chocolate liquor, it was time to wrap up our Christmas Day and head to bed.
For me, Christmas away from my family, will never be ideal, but this Christmas is certainly one that I will never forget and all for good reasons. Of all the places we could have stopped for Christmas, Bariloche gave us everything we were looking for in a temporary home away from home. It was beautiful, quaint, different, and full of people that helped to make it special. I would gladly go back to Bariloche for all the things it has to offer, although I don’t think it will be next Christmas – you will find me happily at home with my family I should think!