Something to declare

Expect the unexpected ... New Year's Eve defies planning.
Expect the unexpected ... New Year's Eve defies planning. Photo: Getty Images

There's no good time to be stuck waist-deep in snow, shivering in the cold of night in jeans and a T-shirt, waiting for the police to leave so you can go back inside. But New Year's Eve must be one of the worst.

It's supposed to be the best night of the year, New Year's, the time the party stars align and everyone gets together for the mother of all celebrations. Especially when you've made the effort to book a holiday and carefully plan the best night ever. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way.

I was stuck in the snow, slowly freezing, in Winter Park, Colorado, a place that was living up to its name at that time of year. The white stuff not only blanketed the ski resort we were all staying at but had built up in great drifts in the surrounding village, pushed high from the roads by snowploughs and at least waist-deep everywhere else.

You don't want to go outside on nights like that, when the temperature can drop into the negative 20s. You want to be inside being a faux-American, drinking keg beer out of a red plastic cup and agreeing that WWE wrestling is totally awesome.

This New Year's Eve, however, I had a problem. I was 20 years old. Back home, this wouldn't have been an issue. In the US, however, where the legal drinking age is 21, this was a major issue. So much so that all plans of going out to a bar had to be cancelled and, instead, a house party was hastily sought.

Trouble is, even at a house party you're not entirely safe in the US - if the police drop by and decide to start checking IDs, all minors are staring a large fine in the face (which, sadly, won't be covered by travel insurance).

Being New Year's, the police had obviously decided that tonight was a good time to drop by and check IDs, which is why, with the clock slowly ticking towards midnight, I was hiding behind a tree in someone's backyard, shivering and wishing they'd hurry up and leave so I could get back to my red cup and wrestling. There's no beer jacket heavy enough to protect from that sort of chill.

Eventually, our friendly neighbourhood coppers did take their leave, meaning the 10 or so under-agers deposited throughout the garden could scamper back to the warmth of the house.

New Year's - it never goes the way you think it will. There's nothing like the freedom of travelling to add spice to New Year's Eve but most of my carefully planned adventures have ended in disaster well before the clock struck midnight.

My little foray into the garden wasn't the last incident that night in Colorado. As midnight ticked over, one excited partygoer stood on the couch, raised his arms in celebration and, in doing so, stuck his drink into the ceiling fan, sending rum, Coke and shards of glass all over the lounge room. It didn't go down as one of the better nights of my life.

Then there was the New Year's I spent in Zimbabwe, when one of my travel buddies started the party far too early and - cutting a long story short - managed to fall off the roof of a van and onto the road, knocking himself unconscious and thus putting himself at the mercy of the Zimbabwean hospital system.

He came out unscathed but the celebration wasn't quite the same afterwards.

Once, some friends and I hired a hotel room on the Gold Coast for New Year's Eve and everything was great until I woke up the next morning and realised what I'd done.

See, at some point the night before we'd decided to have a splash in the ocean. I, apparently, had the presence of mind to take my fairly expensive watch off before the swim but, unfortunately, not to put it back on afterwards, meaning I'd donated it to the metal detector men. The irony being that the thing was waterproof.

There was a New Year's on the Sunshine Coast a few years later that descended into farce when a few of the couples started arguing. Break-ups ensued - a party was not had.

I spent the big turn-of-the-century New Year's in Port Douglas, which was just boring. Why did we choose Port Douglas? I have no idea. But there wasn't much going on.

Anyway, the moral to this story is that you can plan your New Year's Eve as meticulously as you like, you can take off to some exotic locale with the perfect group of friends and spend a lot of money on what should be the ultimate celebration but you're still not guaranteed a good time. Especially if it's snowing.

Have a great Christmas break everyone and a happy New Year. See you in 2012.

bengroundwater@gmail.com; smh.com.au/thebackpacker

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