With our best wishes for Christmas....
We've only been away from home at Christmas once. Caroline and I were travelling through South Africa and we decided to take a Christmas break from climbing to spend time diving in Sodwana Bay which is along the countries east coast. We'd just spent a month climbing at a brilliant place named, intriguingly, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and we were keen to mark Christmas with something different and memorable.
We got a bus to Sodwana and, en route, stopped to stock up on some celebration food for our Christmas mini break. Once at the bay we started putting up our tent before realising this idea was going to be a disaster because every time we turned our backs to sort out the tent a horde of vervet monkeys would descend on our shopping bags and start stealing food. The idea that we could leave food safely in our tent was ridiculous and we were dejected. It was baking hot, uncomfortably humid and now we had cheeky thieves to deal with. We were already feeling emotional about being so far away from home when our families were heading to see each other back in the UK, and now this.
I decided we needed to splash some of our dwindling funds and find some decent accommodation. We had already pre contacted the local diving school to sort out some dives and, having seen on their website that they also had some wooden huts for rent, I went to see if one was available. Within the hour we had a safe home for our food mountain, a veranda to sit on and some beds. Never mind our frugal budget, this was well worth the financial blow out.
After a night of gorging and watching the sun go down we were ready to be submerged. The next morning we were up early and heading to the inflatables for the first of several stunning dives. We'd only completed our dive qualifications a few months earlier while climbing in Cape Town and, although that had been a great place to learn, we had become used to needing 6mm full wetsuits in the very cold Atlantic water. At Sodwana we were handed 3mm shorty suits and nervously wondered how they would ever be warm enough. We soon realised we needn't have worried.
The water at Sodwana Bay is beautiful - warm, clear and packed with sea life. Cape Town was fantastic but Sodwana Bay was paradise. On Christmas Day we did 2 dives at the furthest 7 mile reef and later we relaxed on the beach, drank beer with our tellow divers, and soaked up the Sodwana ambience. We did all that, but we also talked a lot about home and, as amazing as Sodwana Bay was, there was a hole in our happiness caused by being so far away from family and friends at a time of year when people most want to be together.
Since then, we have always been close to loved ones at this special time of year and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Having said that, we had made a conscious choice to be in South Africa and there are many others around the world that have no choice. A near miss that made me realise how significant it is when that choice is taken away came a number of years later. I had been away on expedition and, to save money on flights, I stupidly scheduled my return flights to arrive home on Christmas Eve. The inevitable happened and an initial delayed flight caused a missed connection. I sat despondently at the airlines help desk and thought of how it might pan out. A lonely hotel room in a strange country was a nightmare scenario for Christmas Day until a smiling member of airline staff raced across saying he had found me a flight that would get me home in time. I raced to the departure gate, clutched from the jaws of gloom by this knight in shining armour, and finally fell gratefully into the arms of my family at arrivals.
This year I am leaving extra time and will have landed back into the UK on December 19th. Time to soak up the Peak District Christmas ambience, time for last minute organisation and time, above all else, to see family and friends.
Of course, I say this in the selfish knowledge that many people won't be even able to make the choice about whether they are with loved eeones this season. Maybe parted by work commitments overseas, serving in the forces, relationship breakdowns, homelessness, split by war or one of many other possible factors against their will. I can only hope, as I enjoy being with the people I love, that they can find some personal happiness whatever their personal circumstances.
A very Happy Christmas to everyone from all of us at Peak Mountaineering.
Posted by Paul, Cal, Ben and Tom
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