25.11.2005 17 °C
I had last left you in Santiago which was just over a month ago. It was from here that we decided to stop slumming it in hotels and airplanes and start indulging ourselves with flee-bitten hostels and 32 day bus journeys. This began with a long ardous journey to the north of Chile. First we stopped off in a non-descript seaside town called La Serena just for the day before carrying on to the adobe oasis town of San Pedro in the Atacama desert (the driest in the world) which is much like Las Vegas except without the glitzy hotels, the neon lights, the casinos, Tom Jones, Siberian tigers and the plastic rent-a-girls that a friend of mine has ordered on many occasion with his burger and fries. Actually it was more like a scene from a Spaghetti Western and I half expected that punk Clint Eastwood to come in my hostel and steal my bath water. It was that we based ourselves for a few days to acclimatise to high altitude and explore the volcanic and luna landscape of our surrondings. It was also the starting point for our 3 day 4x4 off road trip across the border to Bolivia, one of the main highlights of our Latino adventure. Here we saw a lagoons of all the colours of the rainbow, geysers, hot springs and 12,000 sq km of salt flats (basically a large lake of pure salt and nothing else) that you drive over. It was surreal and you have to see a photo understand what I mean. All this at a dizzying 5,000 metres high where air was at a premium - so naturally I increased my consumption of cigarettes.
Its fair to say that Bolivia is just high. It has the worlds highest geyser field, highest thermal waters, highest salt lake, highest navigable lake, highest capital city and is one of the highest producers of a drug that takes you the highest - all of which we took delight in experiencing....except the last one....unfortunately. (I started this about 3 weeks ago, and now pissed after a couple of bottles of rouge to myself I start again in the new year - in New Zealand!). Anyway, we went to La Paz after off road adventure. Mad city. Llama foetuses on sale for a couple of quid in the local market. Bullets in the buildings and my poor baby sh!tting herself while we're in the local photoshop getting pictures developed while the doors are locked closed behind us and sh!t loads of police are firing tear gas into the crowd outside. We followed that to a trip to Lake Titicaca where theres loads of indigenous history going on I won't bore you with (man made floating islands, the dawning of the Ica era and so forth) and before you know it we're in Peru tussling with baggage handlers and merchants of the rip-off kind. There's not much difference to the Bolivians and the Peruvians in appearance in the most part, except the Bolivians are slightly ugglier. Traditional dress for the women is being fat covered in at least six long dresses, five blouses and a cardigan, topped off with a bowler hat perched on the noggins. And what I sight they are especially when driving between border towns and you see them on the road sides indulging themselves, in full regalia, in a spot of volleyball. This was near a place called Copacabanna but I can assure you the scene looked a millions miles away from the Brazillian version (God bless those bikinis) which it actually very nearly is.
We also bumped into a few English on the way which was new to us and at last my grunts could just about be understood. Our main touring point was Cusco the gateway to the sacred Inca citadel of Macchu Picchu, a pile of bricks on a big hill that many are fascinated by (and despite my pessimistic tone was actually pretty good) and to which we made a two day trek on the famous Inca Trail. Cusco itself is a beautiful city and it had bit of life about it so we managed to go out and get p!ssed a few times while we were there. I also realised while I was there that the Yanks have as much humour as a Jewish Chilean who disguised himself as an SS officer during the 2nd World War. How those f8ckers created the Simpsons and other animated comedies of a similar ilk I don't know. For instance, when recalling my time indulging in the Buenos Airean nightlife to one such big mouthed melodramatic starry striped flag worshipper I advised that it was all well and good partying away to INXS all night if you fancy killing yourself through fatal m@sterbation. Well you should of seen the face on her. Her mouth was gaping so much you could of thought she was in the hotel room putting the finishing touches off to poor Michael Hutchence.
It was also in Cusco that I had at last managed to catch a Manchester United game, humping Portsmouth 3-0, where in the pub I managed to embarrass Alex by joining in the two minute applause in appreciation of the late, great Georgie Best to the bemusement of a handful of ferenghi. Then three days later more United as the useless c*nts played like ignorant five year olds, getting beat by Benfica on the stage of Bestie's greatest game ever and embarrassingly finishing bottom and out of the Champions League at a stage where those bigot fags Rangers even qualified from.
So that was that and we followed a Cusco up with a trip to Arequipa and then the Colca Canyon, the second largest Canyon in Peru and the world, where you can see loads of condors in action apparently. Unfortunately though the closest I got to condors in flight was my rememberance of that classic movie starring Gene Wilder which I loved so much as a six year old.
After that we set off on a bus to Tacna on the Peruvian-Chilean border armed with six bottles of tap water to stop the radiator overheating. Then across the border we went to Arica, a sleepy old beach town which wouldn't let us drink because presidential elections were being fought, in a Cadilac with me and Alex sharing the passenger seat in the front - very cool. I also forgot to realise that I had inadvertently smuggled a big bag of coca leaves in my suitcase which actually got screened at the border crossing. All I needed now was some bicarbonate of soda, a box of detergent (preferably Bold for that 2-in1 conditioned feeling) and a bunsen burner and I was giving my ol pals in Peru and Bolivia a run for their money in the coca!ne trafficking business.
After a couple of days chilling there where we actually saw some condors without having to go friggin miles out of the way to see the damned things we flew the length of the country (and it is a very long country if any of you would care to look at that globe you have boxed up in your parents loft) to Punta Arenas, a very typically bleak Chilean town and practically the last place on earth before you reach Antartica. This was our base for seeing the spectacular glaciers and icebergs in Chile and Argentina while dining on five star cuisine in five star national park hotels in true backpacker fashion. We also ventured out to a penguin colony on what is probably the roughest stretch of water in the world. We were sailing in this big ol freight ship which would cut through any other waters no problem but here we feared for our lives as even the Captain was preparing for it capsizing (at the same time a Dutch couple we were on the same boat in Late Titicaca, Bolivia 10,000 miles away were sharing our experience - its a smallworld isn't it?). But thats South American boat journeys for you. Torturous to the extreme. If it ain't sinking then its p!ssing your patience off with its slowness.
And so we were now coming to the end of our stay in South America. We flew up to Puerto Montt further north then went across to Bariloche in Argentina for a couple of days of drinking, dining, shopping and decent company in very nice surroundings (part of the Argentine Chile Lake District) before heading back to Puerto Varas in Chile and spending Christmas Eve, Day and the morning of Boxing Day in a plush modern hotel with our room looking out to a perfectly coned snow capped volcano which towered over the overside of a beautiful lake. Thankfully the town was uniquely pretty by Chilean standards but very quiet with it being practically shutdown on Xmas Eve. Then came Xmas Day and unfortunately poor ol Alex suffered from a bout of the squits and couldn't get out of bed for most of the day. Real bad luck but we tried to make the most of it - the day that is. More bad luck came my way in the dining room that evening when Alex managed to haul herself down there when some spotty Columbian teenager approached me nervously from the next table asking me if I was a footballer."Erm...yes?" I replied. "Are you....Arjen Robben?". Well I wouldn't mind so much if he'd actually seen me play as we're both tricky left wingers of the same stock, but I never heard such cheek! I thought closely between giving him a clip round the ear for his audacity or pretending that I was and milking the adulation but instead I just let him down, reminded him that I would hardly be in some random Chilean village on Christmas Day when I've got a local derby match against Fulham the next day and to be away with him. Then, if the day wasn't going as well as it should have done already, to top it off I lost 10,000 pesos in the casino without even having a flutter.
And so that ended our South American adventure, and what an adventure we had. Some great moments and great places to see. A bit of madness and a bit of drama thrown in the mix and a good time had by all. Both of us loved it there but if we were honest we were glad to be going to Australia just to be able to speak and hear the Queen's language again and to indulge in some first world living. It would be less stressful and after rushing around constantly, squeezing four countries in in just 6 weeks it was time to relax at last. Plus our bowels could also take refuge from the food and our heads from the scheming Latino's always trying to squeeze an extra peso out of you. On Boxing Day we flew back to Santiago in Chile and then boarded our 16 hour flight to Sydney but not before we had one final reminder of what the Chileans are like when the waiter presented with the bill for our food pointing and remarking proudly "does not include tip!".
"Good you cheeky b@stard, 'cause you ain't getting one".