Category Archives: Beaches

New Year’s Dive, Scheveningen, the Netherlands

I hate New Year’s Eve. Normal pubs charge you money to get in, people seem to think they can act like complete idiots and the night is almost always a total letdown.

For years I’ve stayed home with a movie, a bottle of champers and my cats. This year, I had a new boyfriend and no fixed abode, so I decided to do something different. I was in the Netherlands over Christmas, visiting Thomas and his family, and our plan was to stay in and watch telly for New Year’s Eve. But when I woke up that morning, the first thing I thought was, “We have to do something fun for new year’s! We must go to the New Year’s Dive!” I excitedly told Thomas this the moment he woke up, and he sleepily agreed, so we booked a hotel in Scheveningen, jumped in the car and headed north to Scheveningen, a beach town near The Hague.

As soon as we got there, I felt ill. It was the worst timing. I had a fever, I was hot and cold and my bones hurt. Midnight was creeping closer and my desire to get out of bed was getting lower. But I was determined. So I downed a blackcurrant Lemsip, dragged myself out of bed and put on all my clothes. I looked like the Michelin man.

Realising that a taxi was a very expensive, and at that time, unavailable option, we got in the car on the off-chance there’s be parking somewhere within two miles of the beach. We drove around for ages, but all the parking meters had a 30-minute maximum. But our luck was in. Thanks to the fireworks maniacs of the Netherlands (they’re only legal between 10am and 2pm on New Year, no other time of year, so people go a bit mental) a parking meter had been obliterated by fireworks. No one would know how long we’d been there!

We got out the car and crossed the road. Right behind us there was a massive bang, as if someone had shot a gun right behind our heads. We looked back at the smouldering firework in the middle of the street – right where we’d just crossed. I felt like I was in Afghanistan, dodging landmines. I could have lost my legs! And it wouldn’t have even been for the good of my country!

As we walked to the beach, kids threw fireworks in our path and massive explosions were going off everywhere, the sound reverberating off the tall buildings and along the roads trees and trash were on fire. It was terrifying.

We got to the beach at about 11.15pm, and in contrast to the streets, it was completely dead. Hardly any people, bars were closed, no big bonfire as promised by YouTube videos of past years.

We walked up and down, disappointed, until I suggested we go sit on the sand and have a glass of wine from the bottle we’d brought. As soon as we hit the sand, we noticed a massive lit-up 2012 sign facing the sea. No one knew it was there! We sat facing the water, bracing ourselves against the odd sandstorm and discussing whether we would tell people that, while we’d spent NYE on the beach, it was actually pissing down with rain, freezing cold and not, in fact, in Thailand, as people might assume.

At 11.45pm we turned around to see if anything was happening. The beach was packed! People were playing with sparklers, the 2012 sign was flashing, and everyone was in a great mood.

As midnight struck, loads of previously unassuming white vans opened their doors and thousands of white balloons filled the sky. Fireworks went wild and a huge bonfire started up down the beach. What a difference 45 minutes can make!



The next morning was the famous New Year’s Dive. It involved 10,000 people wearing orange bobble hats and running into the ocean at midday. When we got down there the beach was heaving – it was taking place on the exact spot we’d been sitting the night before. The atmosphere was electric. A band played onstage, jollying up the crowd, and the originator of the dive was there too, although he’s about 100 now.

At midday, they counted down and everyone ran into the water and out again. It looked like fun and I cursed my sickness for stopping me from joining in. Next year I swear I’ll do it… Brrrrr…

Further off the beaten path in Colombia…

After Cartagena Laura and I went off the beaten path (even more so than just being in Colombia…) to a place called Punta Gallinas. The Lonely Planet describes it as being near impossible to reach without being on an organised tour that costs $350 (for 3 days!), and also says it’s like the hidden island in The Beach, a place that photos won’t do justice, now you’re really travelling, people won’t believe you etc. Well, we took this as a personal challenge and set off at 7am from Santa Marta to embark on this ‘impossible’ adventure. As the guide book told us, we had to take a cab to the bus station, then a four-hour bus to Riohacha, then a ‘colectivo’ car to Uribia, then wait outside Peter Pan bakery (below) for a Jeep, take the Jeep to Cabo de la Velo, then get another Jeep to the port, then get a boat (three hours) to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost tip of South America.

Twelve hours, 20 fake Oreos, two numb bums, one bout of almost seasickness, a million cacti, all the constellations, one view of Venus and one sea lit up by plankton later and we were plonked in a Wayuu tribe’s hostel (10 hammocks and a cactus roof) in front of a plate of lobster. Then we settled into our chinchorro hammocks (huge) and slept like babies.

The next morning, after an amazing breakfast of scrambled eggs and arepas, seven of us got in the wooden crate on the back of a truck and sped through the desert to a completely deserted beach surrounded by sand dunes, craggy rocks and 10 donkeys. We took photos, paddled in the sea and burnt to a crisp (the wind covered the heat), then got back in the truck to see the big dunes. The Jeep journeys were long, hot and we were all standing the whole way, dodging the langostas, massive flying insects with double wings that look like lobsters but really really mean.

Then we went back to the hostel for a lunch of shark, took a nap, went to another beach for sunset, visited a couple of local families who live in mud huts in the desert, bought some Coke bottles filled with the local firewater and went back for some spaghetti followed by whatever the hell was in those Coke bottles. Not such a comfortable night’s sleep due to severe sunburn for Laura and getting tangled in the hammock for me.

The next morning the seven of us (me, Laura, two Canadian sisters Sylvie and Cait, a Belgian girl Sarah and a German couple) got back in the puke-boat (calm seas this time thankfully – on the previous journey there was air between our bums and the wooden benches 50% of the time), back in the Jeep and off to Cabo de la Velo, where five of us were spending the night.

We spent the day hiding from the ridiculously intense sun, playing with the little girls who live there (two of them grabbed my camera and went off shooting – note all my flickr photos with a thumb in the picture), attempted to walk to sugar hill for sunset, aborted walk to sugar hill for sunset due to the path being made of poo, washed feet in sea, had some delicious fish and settled into the smallest and most close together hammocks in the world. Not the best night’s sleep for any of us, as our hammocks were all tied to the same beam, so if one of us moved we all felt it. In the middle of the night I woke myself up laughing at some stupid dream and shook all five hammocks. Saw everyone start shuffling but for some reason couldn’t stop laughing. Then we were woken up at 4.45 as we had to leave for Santa Marta but we wanted to go to sugar hill (pila de azucar) to see the sunrise. Saw it, took photos and set off for the long journey back. Things didn’t go too smoothly for me and Laura though – but I did discover a newfound joy in yelling at people in English because they don’t understand a word I’m saying. Very cathartic.

To be continued…