I’m starting to recognise patterns in our behaviour as we lurch from country to country. An almost subconscious sadness on leaving some places is one thing but this knocks heads with excitement at getting somewhere else and trepidation that this “somewhere else” might be horrible.
Santiago was cold and the heating in our room inadequate to the point that some afternoons Wifey and I would sit in bed like Morecambe and Wise while answering our emails. It was also seriously brilliant, the beer was cracking, the wine delicious and the music intoxicating. I stopped adding the “Right Song Right Moment” at the bottom of postings because it was always something mysterious to me. Some Latino, reggae based, rhythmic blood-bumper banging out of a bar, shop or even bus sound system. Santiago was vibrant and thrilling and we barely scratched the surface, the almost cheeky good nature of everyone we dealt with made it even better.
Christian at the hostel said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” as we hauled our bags onto our backs and left his tender care. I always imagined having to stay in hostels a grim way to travel about; like public school dormitories with extra squalor and thieving. However the good ones are better than hotels because you can cook your own food and mind your own business or swap silliness and tales of exploits with strangers. There is a vast swirling tribe of travellers out here, they all seem to have more smarts and better language skills than us, which would be funny except they are all younger than us as well. I have lost count of the number of times I have cursed Mrs Davies, my French teacher, for making learning a language seem like a stupid waste of time. How the silly old bastard thought her singing Edith Piaf songs acapella of a Friday afternoon was going to induce any imagination or enthusiasm short of – “is it time to go home yet” is beyond me?
The bus to San Pedro de Atacama from Santiago took 24 hours, which I had been dreading. Unless I’m driving I can’t sit in a road vehicle for half an hour without getting arse-twitchingly bored. But there was more leg room than we expected and recent English language films with Spanish subtitles came on one after another. The Hurt Locker was OK but Australia was beyond redemption even with Wolverine out of The X-Men in it. Wifey nodded in and out of sleep easily but I kept wanting to know what film was on next so sat all the way through Minority Report thinking, “Is this just an exercise in making Tom Cruise look like an idiot” before the awful Enemy Mine finally sent me off to sleep. The best film was the first one; a reworking of Pride and Prejudice which is an odd enough realisation to make me feel the need to talk about football.
In Costa Rica it took three weeks of research to have the slightest inclination as to what was going on and quite frankly I lacked the will to start from scratch in Chile, suffice to say that not one single person, on discovering we are from Newcastle has said, “Ah, Clarence Acuna is a national hero round here.” However by the end of our stay we were composing emails to NUFC chief scout Graham Carr demanding he fly out to watch Colo Colo captain Estaban Paredes in the flesh. Damn that boy is good, unfortunately “that boy” is also 31 so is unlikely to have his head turned by the chance to play against Queens Park Rangers next week.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small dusty town on the edge of the driest desert in the world. The buildings are one storey adobe style dwellings, some with thatched roofs. Dry winds blow dust over everything and at our hostel we had to warn the people who ran it if we wanted a shower because the water was solar heated and limited. Some surprise then to wander past a bar with, not only a Motorhead tune rattling out the door, but also folk inside with their heads tilted at a tell tale angle. Arsenal v Udinese was on the three TVs but we were booked on a trip to go out to The Valley del la Luna to watch the sunset. We returned four hours later eager to sample all Bar Chelacabur had to offer. Litre bottles of Escudo primarily, with bar staff happy to promise English football the next day as well.
We couldn’t imagine why the hell a bar in the Chilean desert would be showing Scunthorpe v Newcastle but it did. The locals didn’t seem over-impressed as the game went into extra time but as Wifey explained, “This is Newcastle United, it’s shit and it goes on forever.” The quality tunes kept banging out of the sound system and our bottles of Escudo kept going empty on us so it was with some excitement that we greeted Sammi Ameobi’s winner as The Clash’s “English Civil War” was playing.
If that little encounter wasn’t weird enough; Wifey asked an English lass at the hostel if she had an adaptor we could borrow because all our stuff was on its last legs (net book, Kindle, ipods, phones –we have more wires than socks). Not only did the lass, Sarah, oblige but she just happens to live on Chillingham Road in Newcastle and was booked on our bus to Salta the next day.
Salta was a mere ten hour bus ride but it did mean crossing into Argentina. We got on the bus, drove round the corner out of San Pedro and got off the bus again to have our passports stamped. After a twisting drive over the Andes we got to Argentina where a considerably more drawn out and bizarre exercise took place. In all I put our rucksacks on the bus, to
ok them off, put them back on again and took them off in Salta.
Lesson 1: this is Argentina, assume everybody is trying it on. We were brought up to expect Argentineans to dive, elbow you in the face and try to steal unwanted corners of our empire. Short changing and overcharging are the street level equivalents. I watched one guy blag tabs off people with a cocky swagger, every time the bus stopped and now he was helping some filthy trousered bastard organise the luggage unload. A box was thrust at me and a tip demanded. “What the f*** would I tip you for?” I asked as the other passengers looked on. “You must pay tip!” said the blagger. “I put the bags on, I took the bags off, so f*** off and how many tabs have you had off people today?” I said and enough people laughed to make me think I wasn’t going to be stabbed. Sarah and her two mates didn’t pay either. “F***ing cheeky bastards,” we fumed but it was a good lesson. Very little has a price tag on it here and don’t expect a receipt – they charge what they think they can get away with. We got 30 pesos knocked off our hostel room just by turning round and heading for the door, with no hard feeling on either part.
This was at our second hostel, the first was in a dismal cardboard walled building site where it sounded like all the other residents had queued up to shit, cough, splutter, piss and shower in our wardrobe the following morning. However while the lad on the front desk prepared our room I dived onto a computer for the football scores and discovered Newcastle had beaten Fulham 2-1 while we were on the bus. “ Oh and Man Utd scored 8 (eight) against Arsenal.”
Now we are in a second storey room in an old colonial style government building, with a balcony overlooking a busy street. We saw Leon Best’s goals on Fox Sport Eurogoals (the turn for the second was quality), the food is delicious and the supermarket down the street is knocking out bottles of Malbec for about three quid each.
That’s another pattern of behaviour we have recognised; feeling we have “earned a drink” for getting somewhere, leaving somewhere, surviving a bad day or celebrating a good day.
Much like being at home really.
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