I’m Jemma, one of STA Travel’s Digital Execs, email machine and serious Bali beach bum…
It’s quickly approaching the two-year mark now since I spent my first Christmas away from home. Away from the humming of Christmas songs, wrapping of trees in tinsel, yummy nut roasts and endless amounts of chocolate (I really mean drinking). But fear not all the Christmas fans out there, t’was a happy story, this Christmas away from home. And here is what made it oh so very special…
Turning back time to December 21st 2015, I was stepping off a rickety wooden boat on the sublime island of Gili Meno. Accompanied by four of my best friends, an oversized backpack and an arm full of cotton plaited wristbands. Although our spirits were high (I mean whose wouldn’t be, with a secluded beach to ourselves, the view of Mt Rinjani in the background and £1 beers all day) but still something felt weird. We were four days from Christmas and I was dying to smell some cinnamon gingerbread men, hear the carols chime through the streets or just wear a knitted jumper. Instead, I was slapping on factor 50, taking an outdoor shower and searching for turtles on the reef. (I know you’re thinking. What. Are. You. Complaining. About).
To cheer me up, out of my Christmas-craving slump, was the fact we were about to be reunited with two more of our fabulous friends. The ‘famous five’ were about to become the ‘super seven’, as we had a friend travelling from her teaching job in South Korea and another from Japan. After a day of catching up, reminiscing , laughter and 10 plus Bintangs, it’s safe to say we were all feeling happy, merry and fully of the Christmas spirit. It wasn’t long before we had requested some of our all-time favourite Christmas songs to be blasted from our open-air hostel bar. Friends old and new, arm in arm, swaying under the moonlight, belting from the top of our lungs, “All I want for Christmas is youuuu’’. Now that is a magical moment!
Waking up to the blistering sunshine, the sound of the lapping ocean and having a pee with no roof over your head, felt like a weird way to start Christmas Eve. I sat on the sand thinking of what I would be doing at home right now… Searching for last minute stocking fillers, stuffing my face with creamy cheese pastries and looking forward to a night snuggled in front of the TV with my younger sisters, knitted socks and our traditional yearly Grinch viewing. Instead, I plonked myself at the bar, 11 am and ordered a beer as I whispered to myself, “It is Christmas after all.” Christmas Eve meant a new island, a new hostel and some quick scouting of where to tuck into a Christmas dinner.
Behold… Gili Trawangan! An island full of western culture backdropped with a pure Indonesian paradise. Our hostel was perfect, right on the beachfront and with a huge dormitory, just to ourselves. We unpacked our secret Christmas stock that had been hauled over Southeast Asia especially for this day. Red tinsel hung from our small bunks and we each had a stocking at the end of the bed, hoping to give it a feel in the morning and hear the crinkling of wrapping paper covering a surprise token gift. That night we decked the halls, painted them red in fact… We sang to our hearts content over delicious rums and cocktails to the ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ and our hostel owners were delighted that we’d brought some Christmas cheer with us.
When I went to sleep that night, I thought I would feel sad about missing the traditional ‘mince pie and carrot on the fire place’ moment and the warm humble feeling, knowing you would spend the entire next day with loved ones. Even though some of my loved ones were really far away, me and my travel pals had really captured ‘the Christmas spirit’ as best as we could. Although we were sun-kissed, as far away from knitted jumpers as one could be and about to spend Christmas day on the beach, we were still full of love, joy and happiness.
IT’S CHRIIIISTTTMAAAASSS! Even being blurry-eyed, hot and hungover, we were all still up at the crack of dawn. At the beginning of our travels, I organised a secret Santa present operation, so we all had a gift to open in the morning. We sat around, obviously with Christmas songs and hats on, and individually opened our gifts one at a time. Revealing wonderful items from all over the world, we smiled and laughed and enjoyed our morning just as if we were at home – what was I worried about?
The morning involved beers (obviously), and a sea view breakfast to start the day off. Then we danced our way to the beach, greeting every individual, backpacker and local with a chiming “Merry Christmas” as we crossed paths. We played games, sang songs (yep we love singing) and talked our way through a wonderful Christmas day. There was swimming, sunbathing and it was completely perfect. We managed to bag ourselves a luxurious roast dinner, and yes that included ALL of the trimmings. Feeling stuffed and full of joy, there was just enough room for some dessert, a Skype home and some more singsong before the day disappeared and Christmas was over.
There were moments where I would stand back from my friends and just think, how special are we, to be able to have a moment like this, thousands of miles away from home, in ultimate paradise and celebrating Christmas with our best friends? There was no need to miss Christmas, as it was right here. I have three words for the Christmas 2015 in Bali: One to remember.