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A Christmas Abroad Like No Other

The holidays are over, but ones abroad are never to be forgotten.

As December came to La Réunion, I almost forgot what time of year it was with the 30+ degree weather. Like myself, many teaching assistants in La Réunion found themselves without family close by for the holidays (the 18 hour flight back home wasn’t quite worth the time or money). So a group of us decided to spend Christmas together in the woods, in the mountains, by rivers and in remote villages with no car access. We took 10 days to walk 120 kilometres from the very south to the very north of the island.

This was no easy trek. Our first two days we spent about eight hours each day hiking (more like climbing, sometimes on hands and knees) up a volcano. We also didn’t exactly anticipate all the rain that was to come. It rained for some period of time on every single day of our journey. It is rainy season here of course, but being adventurous, not-so-cautious 20-somethings, this didn’t seem to dampen our enthusiasm for making the trip.

So at some point in everyday, I found myself wet, cold, uncomfortable, unmotivated and honestly, a tad unhappy. I think I can count the number of hours on one hand where my socks and running shoes were actually completely dry. I’m no stranger to camping, hiking and forging through wet weather, but usually I had been paid to do these kinds of jobs with real money, not on my own will over Christmas. A few times I found myself wondering why I had decided to trade in Christmas turkey, hot drinks and presents for wet underwear, a sore back, smelly shoes and sleeping on the ground.

But there was also at least one time in everyday with a particular view, a particular funny story told by someone along the hike or a particularly good meal that will stick in my memory. I spent December 24th forging a river, holding on to a rope tied to a rock while holding all my belongings on my back. I spent Christmas Eve drinking wine at a picnic table, eating bean burritos and laughing uncontrollably about something I can’t remember. I turned 23 while hiking through the Cirque de Mafate, an area completely enclosed by mountains and only accessible by foot or helicopter.

We also went for spa treatments as a pre-Christmas gift to ourselves. After the first four days we hadn’t showered or washed our clothes that we had hiked in for hours each day in tropical heat and rain (don’t even try to imagine how much sweat we accumulated). We walked into a proper French, white-tiled, lavender-scented, silent lobby, having come straight from the bush. As soon as I walked in the door I realized just how strong our stench was—and there was no stopping the mud from dripping over the white tile. Fortunately the reception in the lobby had a good sense of humour and took our 40-euro for sauna and a hot springs bath.

With the many hours spent hiking, I also spent a lot of time with my fellow hikers. I was able to slow down and really talk to people. We came from five different countries, but something about each person in our group did remind me of my friends and family back home. My Christmas was different from most, but I do feel as though I found family away from home and it’s one I can’t say that I will forget.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Cora Siebert

Cora Siebert recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in Political Science and is working in the overseas department of France, La Réunion for seven months as an English Language Assistant.

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