Is going away for New Year’s Eve all it is cracked up to be? Guardian writers share their best and worst ends to the year. If you’ve ever spent a New Year overseas, let us know in the comments below
Where better to spend millennium eve, we thought, than Timbuktu, a desert city that had no interest in Christian dates and has been culturally bypassed by the west for most of the past 500 years? Getting there took the best part of a week, finding a hotel room proved impossible and the city was in an existential crisis – without cigarettes or wine. Happily we had brought both and the trip took an unexpected twist thanks to my colleague Adrian, who had once sold the legendary Malian musician Ali Farka Touré an old car. The great man lived nearby, remembered Adrian and had been booked to play in a nearby hotel that night. Sadly, the audience was full of rich French pensioners on a package tour who didn’t know or like his music and were only interested in eating and shouting. As the clock ticked to midnight, Touré’s Malian friends burst in from the street, scattered the rest of the crowd and took to the stage with the band. Only then could the real party in the desert begin. John Vidal
The trumpets of the marching band didn’t stop playing until dusk on 1 January. They had been going for a full 24 hours, marching along, up and down the side of a mountain in Ecuador. The party had started the previous millennium, on 31 December 1999, at the ranch of a former president near the town of Ibarra, 80 miles north of Quito. I was visiting two friends who lived there, working on a community project. At dusk, the locals descended from the surrounding villages to watch a huge, carefully constructed tower be set alight in the hacienda’s main courtyard, and to drink and cheer. But the real party began after midnight when the villagers returned home. I drunkenly followed them through the dark as men fell into invisible ditches. Nobody had a torch. We followed the sounds of others until, after an hour of walking, we arrived high above the clouds to the warm glow of fires, a mosh of dancing, and those damn trumpets.
Three years ago in Kyrgyzstan, my friends Dan, Brian and I decided to spend new year in the southern city of Osh. Bad move. When we arrived on New Year’s Eve, the city was in “lockdown” because of inter-ethnic violence earlier in the year. Armed soldiers were on every street corner, the authorities had banned large gatherings and had cancelled the fireworks display. In desperation, we called our only contact, a local tour operator, Aziz, and asked for advice. Well, he said, why not join him and his family in the mountains in the nearby town of Gulcha? We hitched there, and joined the locals milling around the town’s huge Christmas tree. We had our pictures taken with “Father Frost” before heading back to the house and stuffing ourselves silly on mutton, bread, cakes and salad with Aziz, his sisters, parents and a bunch of overexcited toddlers. At midnight, we went outside into the icy mountain air and welcomed in the new year with champagne. I’ve remembered the lesson ever since. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are: head out of town.
A couple of years ago, I decided at the last minute to spend New Year’s Eve by the beach in Uruguay. Seeing as I was living in Argentina at the time, it wasn’t quite as extravagant as it sounds – more than half of Buenos Aires relocates there for the holidays and getting there involves just a short ferry hop across the River Plate. With a group of friends, I headed down the Atlantic coast to Cabo Polonio, a small village surrounded by sand dunes, with no roads, no electricity and, crucially, no Wi-Fi. It was a girls’ escape and we hired a wooden shack on the beach. On the shabby-chic scale, it was weighted towards the former – a rickety ladder took you to the upstairs bedroom and the whole porch collapsed when someone leant on it. We only arrived a few hours before midnight, but we quickly made friends with the owners of a local hostel, who invited us round for dinner – lamb cooked in a firepit and freshly collected mussels. We saw in the new year by singing songs around a campfire and passing round big bottles of beers, as countless fireworks exploded across a starry sky. I think I’ll have trouble topping that one.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I spent New Year’s Eve 2012 in Wat Phan Tao, a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. It was a chance detour that took us there. My boyfriend and I were walking past when we noticed monks in orange robes scuttling about, making preparations. We wondered what was about to happen. Lights and decorations hung in the trees. The monks started lighting hundreds of candles, setting them afloat on a pond that circled around a golden Buddha. Hordes of people crowded in to listen as the chanting started. Any free floor space was taken up preparing soon-to-be floating lanterns. People wrote their hopes for the new year on the thin paper of a lantern, lit the wick, held the sides steady as it filled with hot air, and let it go. The sky was an incredible deep blue. The thousands of flying lanterns looked like a slow-moving, silent swarm of fireflies that filled every corner of the sky … and some unfortunate trees. Erica Buist
Coming from London, where you have to buy tickets a month in advance just to squeeze into your heaving local, I panicked that we hadn’t booked anything in Rome. I needn’t have worried. Typically, the Romans manage to celebrate New Year in an understated and classy way. We started off the night in an enoteca in Trastevere (no reservation needed). From there, we walked across the Tiber, admiring the city bedecked in pretty white fairy lights – no giant baubles or illuminated robins here. We stumbled across a great wine bar, Vinoteca Novecento in the Piazza delle Coppelle, where we stood at old wine barrels drinking fantastic red wine. The charismatic owner weaved in and out of tables proffering plates of ham and cheese. As midnight loomed, he stood outside the bar where he opened a champagne bottle with one swift skilled strike of a sword, and served everyone glasses of bubbly. We were having so much fun we weren’t watching the time, and ended up running down the cobbled street to nearby Piazza della Rotonda, just as the clock struck midnight and the first fireworks exploded over the Pantheon. Sparks rained down on the square as everyone cheered. It was a simple but highly memorable night.
My flatmate and I had left London in late October, our bags stuffed with cotton dresses. I wore a horrible wool coat to the airport, intending to ditch it as soon as we got to Delhi. But north India was in the grip of a cold snap – tuk tuk drivers and street vendors wore wool scarves around their heads like people with comedy toothache. We’d read that Mount Abu, in the foothills of the Himalayas, was a honeymoon spot, peaceful and picturesque; the British Raj used to come here to enjoy the view and escape the heat of the plains. Somehow we missed that clue. I was still wearing the coat, now itchy and grubby, over two or three cotton dresses. By 31 December, we both had sore throats, but were determined to enjoy New Year’s Eve, having recently left a dry state: at least we could see in the new year with a beer. When, wrapped in most of the clothes we possessed, we stepped out of our budget hotel room, we were assailed by cackling and screaming. A monkey leapt at us, teeth bared. We jumped back inside and slammed the door, hearts pumping. The creature shrieked at us from the balcony, and eventually stalked off. We stepped out as quietly as we could, but the monkey returned, flashing its fangs, and we retreated in fright. There was no phone, no way of calling for help, and the place was dead quiet. We flung bits of orange out of the barred window to placate our warden, but it just sat right outside, sucking on bits of peel. By about 10.30pm, we called it a night and went to bed in all the clothes we could find. Clare Longrigg
In 2011, I was in Taksim Square in Istanbul to watch the fireworks. At precisely midnight, looking up at the sky, a man behind me vomited directly on to me. The crowd parted, some people were deeply upset, many were laughing and I could do nothing more than traipse home through the city, still partially covered in another man’s vomit. By 12.30am, I was in a bath, traumatised. By 12.45am, I was asleep.
A few years ago, my partner and I were driving up the motorway, desperately trying to get home to my parents’ house in Dunoon in time for the bells at midnight. We had a relatively new friend along for the ride, excited about spending her first Hogmanay in Scotland. Through a combination of bad planning, bad weather and horrible traffic back in Birmingham, we were still somewhere on the M74, outside Glasgow, and over 100 miles from our destination come midnight. There was no other traffic on the road, so, in a pathetic, though ultimately unwise, attempt to mark the moment, we pulled over to the hard shoulder, took out the cheap bottle of prosecco we had in the boot, and put the radio on, so we could do a kind of grim cheers. At that moment, a police car, hidden in one of those sneaky lay-bys, came out and booked my partner, mercilessly, right on the stroke of midnight. Funnily enough, he and I have since split up, and neither of us has seen the acquaintance since. Susan Smillie
Three days into our honeymoon in Oahu, we flipped a coin to decide where on the island we should spend New Year’s Eve. We could either stay in Waikiki, where Santas surf and plush hotels shower their beachfronts in fireworks at this time of year, or hit up the deserted North Shore and party with one man and his ukelele (or something like that). Our fate decided, we left the hordes of Japanese tourists queuing outside the Ugg store and boarded The Bus for the journey two hours north. Not hiring a car was our first mistake – it being New Year’s Eve, every vehicle was checked out in Waikiki. Our second misfortune was rain – tons of it. At midnight, we found ourselves nestled under the terrace of our self-catering bungalow on the beach of the North Shore, with the cute hippy village of Hale’iwa ever so slightly out of reach (no bus services were running that evening). Bottles of supermarket champagne in hand, we made do with the roar of the sea. Megan Conner
Ihla do Mel, Brazil
What better place to spend an idyllic new year than on a tiny Brazilian island, garlanded by white sandy beaches and going by the name of Ilha do Mel, or Honey Island. Sadly, the experience was not as sweet as the name suggested. I think the low point was when we realised our small wooden shack, that closely resembled my mum’s old garden shed, was usually the home of the chickens scratching about outside in the yard. It took us a couple of days to finally identify the unpleasant odour suffusing our apartment and link that to our noisy neighbour, the cockerel and his chicken harem. But the bad smell wasn’t the only thing that hung around. We somehow managed to become hijacked by an irritating couple who spent a large amount of time telling me, a redhead, that I must be using the wrong suncream in order to be so ridiculously pale after weeks in Brazil. At the stroke of midnight, we did enjoy watching fireworks from the beach, downing caipirinhas and dancing with white-clothed Brazilians. But it was still with some relief we boarded the ferry back to the mainland the next day.