For the first time in years I’ve spent a full Christmas in the UK. I’ve eaten my body weight in cheese, consumed a lot of wine and watched an abundance of film classics on ‘the box’.
After a hectic few months of work it was fantastic to completely unwind. However this down time also gave me the chance to think about the less conventional Christmases I’ve spent around the world.
From remote cat sanctuaries to desert quad biking, these days out are proof that if we don’t want to get dragged into silly season, Christmas can be whatever we want it to be.
1. Desert Quad Biking, Egypt
In 2002 at just eighteen, I knew that the first Christmas I had to spend without my mum would be tough. Dad and I got away from it all by booking an all-inclusive deal to Hurghada in southern Egypt. A mixture of winter warmth, turquoise reef and random activities made it just about bearable.
On Christmas eve, we went quad biking through the desert dunes. After an extremely hairy start as I grappled with the controls (the one and only time I’ve ever heard my father scream) we eventually reached speeds of 60km/hr across the sand. For a few hours, adrenaline overtook sadness and it swiftly became one of my most memorable travel experiences.
2. Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos
On Christmas day 2010 I flew from Hanoi into Luang Prabang and by the afternoon I was lost in its riverside suburbs. Buddhist monks in their orange robes strolled calmly along avenues dripping with bougainvillea and backpackers sipped coffee in rustic cafes along the main street.
I’ve written before about my journey from Luang Prabang to the border with Thailand and hope to write more about my adventures through South East Asia in 2019.
3. Cat cuddling, Cyprus
Cyprus was 2015’s Christmas destination. Great weather, fascinating history and picturesque hikes made for a well earned week away from London’s festive folly.
One day we drove into the hills to Agios Neophytos Monastery which (believe it or not) is overrun with cats. A sanctuary five minutes along the road from the monastery takes in and spays abandoned cats from all over the island to stem the rising influx of strays. Dependent on public donations, they open their doors to visitors looking for a chat and a cuddle with a cat.
4. Volcano Hiking, Canary Islands
Even by my standards, hiking the crater rim of an extinct volcano is a pretty random Christmas activity but what better way to justify a huge festive dinner?
The island of Gran Canaria is made for relaxed hiking, with stunning mountain vistas around every bend. Dad and I spent an afternoon exploring this northern part of the island (less than an hour’s drive inland from the popular coastal resorts) and were still back at the hotel in time for a large evening meal and several beers…
5. Monkeying around, Gibraltar
Gibraltar’s resident monkeys, a type of macaque, are oblivious to Christmas. While we climbed the rock on Boxing Day 2003 to work off the excesses of the day before, they were still on the look out for a good snack. Nothing says Christmas quite like a hangry monkey!
As I’ve returned to Gibraltar over the years, the fines for feeding these cheeky animals has increased and thankfully, there’s now a major push to re-wild their behaviour as much as possible. In a place as small as Gibraltar, the authorities have a task on their hands.
6. Hammock time, Costa Rica
Of course, adventure Christmases can also involve relaxation and my time in Costa Rica was exactly that. I spent entire days of Christmas 2017 staring out from my colourful hammock at leaves catching the breeze and all manner of weird and wonderful creatures traversing the trees.
In fact, shortly after I took this photo, a huge male iguana forced an uninterested female to drop out of the branches above me. Not at all synonymous with Christmas but memorable all the same!
Do you prefer a traditional Christmas or do you dream of getting away from it all?