The hamper containing champagne, pan dulche and chocolates among other things was a nice festive touch from my work, but there was a better present still. Clearly feeling very generous this year, our employers gave us all a choice of two weeks (immediately before and after Christmas) in which to cash in our bonus week holiday. Opting for the latter, I jumped on a bus on Saturday 23rd and headed 250 miles south to the beaches of Mar del Plata.
At the hostel I bonded with three fellow Buenos Aires citizens over a game of tabletennis, a bottle of red and we recounted football memories in Spanglish. We spent the next couple of days lazing around together which of course included the beach the next day. Christmas is celebrated here on the 24th and so it felt extra strange spending de facto ‘Christmas Day’ with sun, sand and sea – especially so immediately after leaving the metropolis.
So overcome by the occasion was I, apparently, that a slow wade into the sea quickly escalated into a headfirst dive. Met by a sandhill waiting expectantly in the shallow on the way down, my nose took quite the thwack and bloodying that my impatience perhaps merited. Patched up at the nearby medical station and then sedated with a beachside Quilmes by the boludos (porteño slang akin to ‘lads’) however, all was well once more.
That night the hostel put on quite a Christmas feast for all guests, including an open beer and wine tab, from 10pm until midnight. Involving cheese and olive assortments, cold tuna risotto in chargrilled peppers with the lid on and various cold hams, it was certainly a refreshing variant on turkey and roasts. By the time the clock struck twelve we had all clambered our way to the rooftop patio of the hostel, merrily impaired by now. Perfectly timed, more glasses were clinked as fireworks lit up the skies in all directions much to the excited shrieks of the local children, and people went out into the streets to greet each other.
In the aftermath of the night before, relocating hostels to be nearer to Playa Grande on my second Christmas Day was quite a struggle. Nonetheless I managed it, and even met up with the boludos for a farewell asado that night before they headed home the next morning. The next couple of days of ‘me time’ thereafter were passed with lots of reading, walking around and dozing in the copious green space which separates the city from its beaches.
Both evenings I ran up the hill and then along the coastline, the fresh air and views both breathtaking in parts. It was during one of these runs that I spotted the other Manolo’s, the first of which I had already had lunch in the day before on the recommendation of just about everyone at work. The steak was delicious, but that’s not the reason people go there. No, the place is famed for its churros. Long, sugary doughnut tubes containing dulce de leche, chocolate or crème depending on your preference – I sampled all three flavours, on both occasions, obviously – these are Manolo’s’ raison d’être.
Relieved that calories and alcohol intake don’t count over the Christmas period, as everyone knows, the following Thursday morning I made my way back to Mar del Plata bus terminal. A luxurious five hours later, as my coach provided a bed for the princely sum of around £35, I was back in Buenos Aires. Five nights away well spent, una feliz navidad!