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A Christmas that changed me: my life was an adventure holiday – and I just wanted to settle down | Christmas

A Christmas that changed me: my life was an adventure holiday – and I just wanted to settle down | Christmas

Just before Christmas 2002, we were having drinks on the terrace of the Hilton in Mendoza. Thanks to the Argentinian peso crash, the Hilton bar was our local, even though we were cheapskate backpackers. It was a sunny 30C and an Argentinian skated past in hot pants and a Santa hat. Jane, my then girlfriend, now wife, looked at me and said: “It’s too warm. This is all wrong.”

We’d been planning to meet friends anyway, so we brought our flights forward. A few days later and 2,000km further south, the climate felt far more Christmassy. We were close to the edge of the Patagonian ice cap, the temperature was about 5C and snow flurries were common. The only off-note was the weirdly long days – it was near austral midsummer.

The reason people go to Patagonia is to experience the great outdoors. It was full of Berghaus-clad management consultants and bankers living their best lives. And so, in the run-up to Christmas, we went trekking in the Torres del Paine national park, camped in the freezing cold, bantered about bond markets and exchange rates, and visited the amazing Perito Moreno glacier.

We spent Christmas in the extreme sports resort town of El Calafate, where we went to an upmarket restaurant and drank wine that might once have cost $300 for $20.

Christmas Day was a hungover washout, and besides, the Argentinians celebrate more on Christmas Eve. We had a takeaway pizza (in those long-ago days, Latin American pizzas were like cheese-covered duvets) and watched Dude, Where’s My Car? in Spanish. A word on Argentinian cable TV in the 00s: there were some truly low-rent channels. We found one where a guy with a handheld camera looked up stills of internet porn on his PC and described what he saw.

Then it was back to our relentless adventure activities. We ducked over into Chile, where we met our friends, who were on holiday. We climbed a snow-covered, rather active volcano, then slid all the way down. Soon it was New Year’s Eve. Another upmarket but very affordable restaurant. And then the weirdest club ever.

We queued, we got in and … found ourselves surrounded by some surprising decor. The DJ was in a booth made of sandbags. There were rising sun flags everywhere. There was a crashed kamikaze plane. It was utterly bonkers and not in a good way. We drank a lot of pisco sours and, even though we were only 30, everyone around us looked younger, hotter and blessed with natural dancing ability. New Year’s Day was much like Christmas Day, except…

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