Reading English, Hearing Spanish 8

Machuca village church, near El Tatio Geysers

Chapter 8: Northern Chile

Chapter 8: Northern Chile

Wednesday, April 14

I now travelled up the Panamericana Route 5 to Antofagasta.  The bus then climbed Route 25, reaching Calama at sunrise.  Throngs of workers soon began filling the city streets.  We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama at 9am.  It was already a beautifully bright day, but the air was much lighter.  I’d been pretty much immune to any altitude sickness thus far.  However, it seemed my history of asthma could still pose issues if continually challenged by altitude.  Experts reckoned the sickness attacked in numerous ways, not just headaches and nausea.  I felt reassured to still have my inhaler from the hospital in El Bolson.

Despite San Pedro being a tourist magnet, it felt almost serene at this time of day and seemed an ideal place to arrive at after an overnight bus.  Most of the adobe lined streets were dried mud tracks kicking up a gentle dust.  Like Bahia Inglesa and Caldera, San Pedro was small scale with easily identifiable streets.  Carefully following the page sized map in my Lonely Planet, I soon found El Albergue de San Pedro, a HI-affiliated hostel.

I booked a bed in a dormitory of three bed-high bunks, then enjoyed an omelette breakfast at an internet cafe.  Despite my tiredness there were chores to carry out.  I visited the Correo (Post Office) to check my money as funds were running low.  I later visited the incredible 17th Century Iglesia San Pedro, the most stunning church I’d ever visited.  The small adobe place of worship had a mixture of colours and whitewashed walls.  Photographing was strictly prohibited.

I had lunch at the pleasant La Sol Hostel then lost my bearings in the small town.  Tiredness and perhaps the altitude were affecting my concentration.  After a welcome siesta I ventured back out again later in the afternoon.  I’d lost my Olympus camera USB lead in the dodgy locker back in Mendoza so I bought a new lead and card reader for 6,000 pesos.

There were some nice people in this hostel.  A very polite lad called Mike from Manchester shared the dormitory.  I later played my guitar in the pretty Plaza de Armas and visited the Paseo Artesanal to look at some nice alpaca sweaters.  A group of happy, smiling French girls who I’d seen in Bahia Inglesa spotted me and came over to say hello.  We were equally marvelling at this unique location. Each new adventure seemed to draw one closer to an authentic flavour of South America.

With little else to do in the evening I popped into the new bar next door.  The 21st anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster lurked at the back of my mind throughout the evening.  I intended to have just a couple of beers.  I had my guitar with me, so I found some comfort and space to play.  This attracted the attention of some local characters.  I ended up having a few more Escudos with a Santiago guy called Osvualdo, a massive hulk of a bloke who spoke good English.  Osvualdo had noticed another character talking too much to me.  He beckoned me to sit over at the bar and a good conversation ensued.

San Pedro had saved Osvualdo after a wretched time in Santiago where he’d lost a well-paid job, separated from his wife, been ostracised from his parents, and lost an eye when a knife wielding mugger tried to snatch his mobile.  I unfortunately broke my cigarette ban and smoked.  It helped me to digest such vivid, interesting chatter.  Osvualdo managed to turn his life around by becoming a tour guide to the nearby world-famous geysers.  He also helped run a nearby hostel.  I took on board much of what he said about remaining positive despite all the challenges.  It was a timely conversation.

The Hillsborough Tragedy was something me, my brother and friends had survived.  We still wanted justice.  However, despite those authority criminals never being held to account it often hurt to dwell on it too much.  We all needed time to live our lives, to recharge and be ready to take on the fight when the time would surely come.  Moving on can also be a defiance to all those poisonous creeps in the establishment and their media backers.

Osvualdo was a born-again Christian with a healthy outlook.  His Christianity he wore not only on his sleeve but with a big tattoo of Jesus on his arm.  Jesus, and not so much the orthodoxy and ways of the church, held sway over Osvualdo.  He rather overwhelmed me with his talk, but there were interesting discussions about the Incas, and whether the next big cataclysmic earthquake would soon strike.  Throughout the evening an enjoyable soundtrack from 1990 filled the small bar.  It seemed appropriate from a time in my life when the wounds had begun to heal.

Thursday, April 15
The Indian blood was thick in these parts.  San Pedro’s local population had largely darker looks with rounder and happier faces. And I quickly warmed to the understanding, assuring, friendly and polite nature of the people.

I awoke from a nightmare wondering where I was after being kidnapped.  I felt confused and bursting for a pee so I left the dormitory into the cold, light of dawn and came around to a clearer state.  There had been a knock on the door at 6am for Mike to go on a tour but he’d got his times wrong and wasn’t expecting this sudden jolt.

In a rather hungover state, I took a light desayuno (breakfast) of bread.  By mid-morning I was on a mission to find the swimming pool situated at the Oasis Alberto Terrazas, three km out of town, just off the road to Paso Jama.  The sun was blisteringly hot, so it seemed the best way to cool off and sober up.  I was well on my way, but a momentary lapse of concentration and I slipped and fell down the concrete roadside ditch.  My knee was badly grazed.  Perhaps the altitude change to 2,400 meters was a factor but the drinks the night before left me feeling fuzzy and now quite foolish.

Tourist information gave a favourable review of this busy location in the middle of the flat desert.  When I arrived with blood oozing from my grazed left knee a couple of men gleefully greeted me.  They saw my knee and chuckled.  They’d apparently witnessed my accident from far off due to the flat plain topography. Another guy working at the site kindly fetched me some alcohol treatment and tissues.

For the rest of the morning, I sat by the pool feeling sorry for myself.  My bloody knee prevented me from taking a dip and reddening the water.  It was far too quiet with just one family and the couple of men there in the deserted desert oasis.  I paid 1,900 pesos to stay poolside until mid-afternoon.  The place was ghostly, but its barren look was gleefully coloured in by some old buses and boats.

I returned to San Pedro with my t-shirt over my head to protect me from the glaring sun.  Back at the hostel, a French lad called Pascal helped me out with some first aid.  He gave me some red coloured disinfectant and a bandage.  The patched-up knee wore a dramatic appearance.  Its sting rather distracted me but it was a superficial injury which would quickly heal as long as I treated it well.

After a fantastic salmon meal at the French-flavoured La Cave Restaurant I rested until the shops reopened at sundown.  I then headed to a pharmacy where I paid 5,600 pesos for disinfectant, bandage, and tape.  First aid was an essential accessory.

On this of all days, I should have adopted a more cautious approach perhaps.  It was only a cut knee though which would soon heal.

Friday, April 16
The first of two trips began at 3.45am with a loud wake-up call.  The outside yard had been busy throughout the night with a group of Germans talking then someone continually coughing.  I felt groggy and the guide for this El Tatio geysers trip, Aquile wanted us ready by 4am.

We set off in the cold darkness.  Mari from Holland joined us, and we gradually picked up more tourists.  Aquile warned us to expect temperatures as cold as minus 10 Celsius when we arrived at the geysers high up at 4,300 meters.  I hadn’t enough layers on, but we were all given thick blankets as our moon buggy type bus climbed up into the freezing mountains.  The frosted windowpanes prevented a clearer view of what lay ahead.  I nodded off during the two-hour journey.  The temperatures really dipped just before sun rise.

The smelly, sulphuric surface and patches of frost contrasted greatly, and we were soon treated to an amazing sight of geothermals, geysers and fumers.  The early part of the day was the moment when this fired up landscape reacted to the crisp, biting temperatures to produce a spectacular steam show.  The waterspouts could be heard boiling up just beneath the surface as the temporarily frozen underground river contacted the hot rocks to send an ejaculation high into the air.  The rising sun increasingly lowered its fresh light onto the surrounding peaks as we headed towards the hot springs.

The water was luxuriously warmer in one part.  I stayed in for about half an hour.  A festive spirit followed our group after those wonderful hot springs.  We each found a subtle place to undress and change back into our dry clothes.  I’d sensibly brought a towel with me.  I never did visit the Blue Lagoon when I visited Reykjavik in Iceland back in 1998 so I couldn’t compare the El Tatio experience, but it was something else, a once in a lifetime pleasure.

A brain surgeon from Florida called Frank espoused the great merits of coca leaves for treating altitude sickness.  I started chatting with a nice lady called Cheryl, from Bristol.  She was on a big trip and had a seriously great travelling bug.  She wondered, as travellers often do, what it really must be like to live around these parts, in such isolation, guessing that not knowing anything else preserved a sense of peace and tranquillity.  We stopped off in a little village called Machuca, where the ladies and their llamas were making a killing charging for photographs and selling alpaca meat.  The indigenous settlement captured many an imagination, especially the adobe church on the little hill above the village.  We then walked along a little river valley carefully avoiding the dangerous cactus needles.  The cone shaped mountains created an awesome backdrop for photos.

Before the next trip to Valle de la Luna at 6pm I visited the Tur Bus office to buy a ticket to Iquique for 13,000.  Tiredness took hold as I met up for the next trip and more introductions to other tourists and travellers.  Our lovely guide, originally from Santiago, gave a wonderful, bilingual explanation about the natural phenomenon of the surrounding psychedelic landscape, taking in Valle de Marte, Valle de la Muerte and Tres Marias.  We learnt much about its formation, the salt rocks and terrain, yet no one is still sure how Moon Valley was formed.  It could have been a meteorite.  The main purpose of the trip was to catch the sunset over the valley and its casting light on the different shades of red mountains towards the east.  It was simply stunning, but cloud prevented us seeing the higher glory of such a scene.

Despite the mild disappointment of an obscured sunset, the crowds really ascended to this part of the world.  Its landscape will be etched in my memory for some time to come.  After a hectic day I took dinner at El Cave, really taken in by its red interior and warm ambience.  I took a small corner table as the restaurant quickly filled up after 8pm.  A Swiss family took a big, long table in front of me.  I enjoyed a steak followed by a large posterie with caramel which I struggled to finish.  A begging dog came closer to my table and began to give me his utmost attention, much to the amusement of the other diners.  A cool breeze whipped up and wafted a freshening air through the swing door behind me.  I acknowledged the family feeling the cold and asked the waiter if it was alright for me to close the door.  He agreed and all the guests soon warmed up as the centrally placed wood fire crackled into life.  Before paying the bill and leaving I gladly obliged to take a family photograph of the Swiss delegation.  It was a nice, reflective end to an inspiring and productive day.

Saturday, April 17
Jean Pierre, a wide-eyed Parisian, arrived in the dormitory during the night.  His snoring became unbearable during the early hours.  I had a lie in and after a coffee visited the Museo Archaeological Padre Le Paige, named after Gustavo Le Paige.  I learnt loads of stuff about the Atacameno Native American culture and how it fared with the Inca invasion and Spanish conquest.  Amazing artefacts and displays astounded me.  The dancing costumes of mythical beasts and hallucinogenic items were carefully explained by Francisco, the artist in residence.

As recommended in my Lonely Planet, the La Cuna Restaurant served up great food.  I had cream of vegetable soup, a lovely egg tortilla with salad, finished off with an almond and chocolate cake and a refreshing banana, orange and mango juice drink.  Little birds were flying about and perching on my table.  It was a wonderful scene on a calm and quietly cloudy day reminiscent of a settled spell of June weather back in Wales.

Back at the hostel I caught up with Jean Pierre, a lovely guy on a 10-day holiday in Chile.  He was struggling to acclimatise.  The altitude affected him.  Last night I’d coughed, and he jumped and roared out of his sleep rather like I did in Valparaiso.  Jean Pierre seemed a good man who took a fortnight’s holiday on his own every year.  A librarian and father of three, Jean Pierre would spend the rest of his holiday leave going somewhere with his family, but this trip was important for Jean Pierre to stimulate his mind, to find new places and compare.  I found him an engaging gentleman and we spent a good hour or two chatting in the courtyard.  I also brought my guitar out.  Jean Pierre’s imploring nature gave me lots of hope.  I mused on whether my trip would become a somewhat lonely experience.  I have a rather disconnected nature, but Jean Pierre stressed we’re all lonely, solitary individuals and he expressed admiration for what I was doing, and he wished me luck.  I recommended he visit Valparaiso for the vibrant sense of Chile.

Another cold evening descended upon San Pedro.  The hostel staff were pleasant with me throughout and expressed a happy surprise to hear me playing the guitar just before I departed for my bus.  It was fortunate that I’d set off as early as I did because I foolishly took the left turn when I should have taken a right.  Again, I ignored the accurate map in my Lonely Planet that showed which side of the road the hostel was situated.  My misdirection took me along some dark streets, but I eventually wound back to the centre.  I reached the terminal in good time as other travellers, nearly all of them in newly acquired alpaca jumpers, were still arriving.

I confess to not being very religious but, if there was anywhere to pray for a safe journey, the image of Iglesia San Pedro’s remarkably ornate front altar couldn’t be bettered.

Sunday, April 18
The bus reached the coastal city of Iquique by 5am.  Pushy taxi drivers competed for custom.  The terminal telephone wasn’t working so I eventually took a taxi for the three kilometres down to the Backpacker’s Hostal Iquique.  I arrived at a rather bizarre scene.  The pretty hostel receptionist was busily taking down my details for checking in when a drunk Australian lad lurched over the counter to embrace her!  I was startled but the young woman immediately fended him off and diffused the situation in an instant.  I think they’d been on friendly terms, but he overstepped the mark.  In his drunken stupor he sheepishly retreated to a large sofa.

I had my own room to sink into a deep sleep.  The sea level altitude was a good chance to continue with deep breathing exercises.  I woke up mid-morning to take breakfast and then visited the Museo RP Gustavo Paige.  I enjoyed a menu del dia at the Chgrofalt opposite the hostel, a quiet establishment with old newspaper front pages depicting the 20th Century turbulence of Chile.  I felt rather weary but took a walk down the wooden sidewalks of the Baquerdaro and admired its Georgian-styled buildings.  Iquique felt very different with its dramatic mountain backdrop, a paraglider’s heaven.

I took a later afternoon walk through the town and returned along the front to admire the beach scenes and huge waves.  I was in my shorts and my bloodied and bandaged knee attracted lots of concerned looks.  An old man stopped to greet and welcome me to Chile, a warm gesture which lightened my mood.  I returned past a Unimark supermarket.  Being well north of the Tropic of Capricorn I was preoccupied with when and where I’d need to take anti-malaria medication against mosquito bites.  The dangers were minimal along the Chile coast and into Southern Peru but insect repellent might be required.  Iquique seemed a very lively town.  Many motorcyclists were practising wheelies in a Sunday showpiece show-off amongst the heavy traffic on the coastal road.

After watching a stunning sunset, I rang Mam.  The Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Iceland and its ash clouds were having a big effect over Britain.  As I returned to the hostel, I stopped to enjoy a church congregation’s street side rendition of a song to the tune of Red River Valley.  Back at the hostel the evening barbeque wasn’t sold on me.  There was no obligation, but the staff insisted it was a good deal.  Instead, I decided on saving for a Spanish lesson the next morning, my second of this trip.  I needed a good sleep to prepare me.  Hostal Iquique seemed very different, with bright coloured walls plastered with photos and catchphrases almost like a school classroom.


Monday, April 19

Low cloud shrouded the town and my mood.  The fruit juice I’d bought disappeared from the fridge despite me marking it with my name. It disappointed me.  I got talking to a lad from Bolton called Mick, a quantity surveyor, who swore a lot and dismissed any attempts to take Spanish classes.  “Too much like school when you should be enjoying yourself,” he remarked.

The two and a half hours of tuition dragged on.  The teacher Anabel took the lesson in the hostel front room and front yard.  Perhaps the purpose was to practice in a distracting atmosphere of hostel noise.  However, it was difficult to concentrate, but I didn’t make an issue of it.

After a menu del dia in a workers’ cafe I trundled along the streets in the continuing gloom to the Tur Bus office to buy my next bus ticket, northwards to Arica.  I enjoyed the promenade in Iquique, the big surf, the lights piercing the late afternoon gloom and the proliferation of high-rise hotels.  I took some cash and bought some beer from a nearby kiosk.  The bottles were cheap and after a few more I became completely sloshed!  Claudia was behind the hostel desk and kept an eye on me.  The hostel’s pet dog, a German blood hound, was also vigilant, but more concerned with the many vagrants who stopped near to the hostel entrance.  Before becoming incoherent I talked with a lovely woman called Janet from New Zealand who had been travelling around the world with her husband for the last seven years.  Janet had a couple of decent books she was about to place on the exchange shelf.  She gave me the first shout on them.

While catching up with the news on the internet my blood boiled over when I read the BBC’s Mark Easton blog.  It was suggested to a politician about correcting the balance of the housing market with more availability for first time buyers and a social house building project.  The anonymous politician said it would be political suicide to highlight and campaign on issues such as social housing.  This infuriated me.  It was all very well respecting the confidentiality of journalistic sources, but I felt voters needed to know who was saying this about an issue which should be high up on the campaign agenda.  Some of our politicians fit exactly into Oscar Wilde’s observation of the British knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, house price obsessions being a case in point.

I later posted a Facebook blast at the apparent lack of backbone in our politicians.  I also ended the night struggling to find the door to the stairs, which delighted Claudia!

Tuesday, April 20
Perhaps politically commenting on Facebook coincided with a thick head the next morning.  I’m sure research need not be carried out.  However, if I were to have my say on such matters taking place back home, I could at least justify my input and sort out my vote.

I visited an internet centre which doubled as a business office.  A wonderful woman called Deisy came to my aid in sorting out a proxy vote.  I wanted my Mam to vote on my behalf.  I spoke Spanish to explain what I wanted.  Deisy’s professionalism helped me enormously.  I needed to print off an Electoral Commission form, sign and email it back to Denbighshire County Council’s election team in North Wales.  Deisy decided it would be better to carry out the procedures on her computer.  She scanned a copy of my form in an upstairs office and sorted out an email attachment.  A confirmation email returned.  I would have a vote in what political commentators were describing as the most significant election in a generation.  Deisy expressed mucho gusto (pleased to meet you) with a big smile of empathy as our task came to a satisfying conclusion.  The Chilean people I met really impressed me with their getting on with it attitude.  I felt, and expressed, a huge respect for these people.

Mick from Bolton had been raving on about the former nitrate mining town Humberstone, which he’d visited on Monday.  “Fucking incredible” were my later thoughts as well.  I took a street connection bus from Iquique up along the winding Route 16 to Humberstone.  The bus conductor enquired where I was from and paid many compliments to me and shouted over when we reached my destination stop.  The old town stood eerily empty on a plateaued hilltop but what a fascinating place it was.  For 1,900 pesos I spent a good two hours searching out the tin and wooden structured place.  Apart from several other sightseers I felt all alone.

The former nitrate mining facility employed thousands in its day.  The town’s population had reached about 30,000 before the mine closed in 1960 due to the development of synthetic nitrates.  There had been a communal structure to life in Humberstone.  But nowadays, the Unesco World Heritage Site houses rows of empty tin roofed and walled homes and creaking wooden doors encased in a red dust.  The iron encased communal swimming pool and theatre impressed me.  In its heyday in the 1940s, Humberstone would regularly attract Chile’s top performers.  In the huge creaking buildings, I found lots of heavy engineering equipment, manufactured in Liverpool and Manchester.

The sun was strong.  I took my top off and had to apply more cream while the dust got up my nostrils.  I waited for the bus back to Iquique and felt really uplifted on the return.  Such days out were a real boost when travelling.  Good music being played on the bus radio added to my positive mood.  Don’t Let Me Down by The Beatles and Sweet Dreams by The Eurythmics.  The dramatic descent into Iquique through the cloud and flat desert highland was equally inspiring.

Wednesday, April 21                                                                                            

I visited Unimark after breakfast, checking out for mosquito spray, preferably with DEET.  Claudia was in the supermarket and assured me I’d only need to worry about mosquitoes in the jungle.  I’d enjoyed the friendly atmosphere in Iquique.  Janet from New Zealand handed me Golden Soak by Hammond Innes and Paul Burke’s Father Frank.

The day was warm and humid.  Not only was my knee still leaking blood, but my new Oxigeno boots were rubbing against my feet and leaving huge blisters on my ankles.  At least my shoes fitted well, but their grips were worn away.  I took a taxi to the station and waited an hour, reading Golden Soak, an interesting take on the Australian psyche at the end of the 1960s.  There was a strong smell of wood polish from the station seats giving the place a more formal feel.  The Acker Bilk Strangers on the Shore mood of Iquique deeply impressed me.

The five-hour journey north to Arica took in a lot of dry deserts with occasional glimpses of vegetation and greenery in the irrigated valleys.  The snow-capped Andes stood majestically to the northeast.  A spectacular descent into Arica took us through the arid looking outskirts into an even drier looking suburbia and then the busy centre.  I’d booked to stay at Dona Ines, after receiving a prompt and quirky email reply from them before leaving Iquique.

A taxi took me to the HI-affiliated hostel in a back street location a couple of kilometres from the town centre.  The manager Roberto appeared, looking bleary eyed and stinking of alcohol, but he immediately got onto the case.  He kept cracking lots of jokes in good English, with a certain taste for British humour.  I was shown my room, a single for 15,500 a night.  Roberto recommended the Cafe del Mar for some excellent food and advised me to take a collectivo taxi, a randomly shared ride which was inexpensive.

I reached the centre.  It had an almost Asian feel in the hot early evening.  I spent a while checking out the area and walked down the main retail and pedestrianised street 21 de Mayo.  The town enjoys the commercial incentive of some sort of free trade status.  It certainly buzzed with street sellers and many swish looking shops and department stores.  Groups of travellers and seasoned looking explorers occupied the inside of the hectic Cafe del Mar.  I opted for a salmon crepe and then a submarino, a massive ice cream and fruit desert, which I struggled to finish.  The food was also inexpensive.  By the cafe’s entrance a guitar playing guy and a sweet singing woman caressed the loud and busy atmosphere.

There were plenty of collectivo taxis whizzing along the streets and I returned to Dona Ines.  My taxi picked up three more people and dropped us off one by one.  Taxis dominated the streets, but none exhaled a cloud of exhaust fumes like an old Peruvian registered Chevrolet I spotted chugging along in front of us.  I visited the internet cafe a block away from the hostel where a swarm of slot machines captivated the local ladies in a frenzy of petty but serious gambling.

Thursday, April 22

I slept in late after a night of mixed dreams which seeped out of memory the moment I surfaced.  I felt a crudely irritated mood had crept over me since delving into the BBC’s online election coverage a few days back.  Such frustrations would serve no purpose though.  Since the expenses scandal there were broad assumptions that all our politicians were only in it for themselves.  This, of course, was well wide of the mark, but the crumbling back bone of political debate and openness back home concerned me.  However, I was away from all that journalistic analysis now.  I was in Dona Ines, and Roberto gleefully greeted us late breakfast arrivals.

Guest comments of the most outlandish sort peppered the walls around the place.  Saucy photographs served up to reflect a fun atmosphere.  I took a long shower to shed a groggy feel and took a collectivo taxi.  The gloom lifted with the bright sunshine.  I visited a shop to take two photocopies of my passport and returned to Cafe del Mar for lunch.  I walked back to the hostel, sampling the vibrant street spirit of this exciting border town.  Lots of traffic, shoppers and workers all mingling in a busy mix.

I didn’t know what to expect of Peru, but that was the idea of travel.  We were right on its southern border and Roberto promised that the real South America awaited us.  In the early evening, before the barbecue and booze, he offered an avalanche of advice.  You had to learn how to be inconspicuous, be aware of one’s surroundings, the perils of taking taxis, locking the doors and being careful not to commit to anything.  Places like Cusco were swarming with opportunists, some out to take your money, others even to hurt you.  Most of the guests at Dona Ines were at a big crossroads and Roberto was a seasoned expert on what to expect.  Peru was still a developing country, so it was crucial to take his words quite seriously.

The evening’s barbecue in the courtyard brought out all the hostel hosts and guests.   A well-established reputation was dusted off as we enjoyed a legendary Don Ines night.  We were in the low season but, with lots of cerveza and helpings of food, a happy mood dominated the balmy evening air.  A businessman from Santiago called Xavier was staying over.  He joined the party with his daughter.  We got talking and his face lit up when I mentioned I was from Wales.

Xavier’s father had recently passed away and his mother Elsie could do with a morale boosting chat about her childhood in Cardiff.  Xavier rang his mother and handed me the receiver.  We chatted for a good 10 minutes.  Elsie’s father had worked in the Chilean diplomatic service.  Back in the early 20th Century Cardiff was a huge global trading port exporting all the coal from the South Wales valleys.  Elsie’s vivid memory of place names and experiences reminded me of my year in Cardiff back in 2004.  Xavier was delighted and we re-joined the party.

Many of the youngsters were chilling and relaxing with the beer.  I brought my guitar down from my room.  A lovely girl from Denmark called Margo and her French friend joined in with me to sing some songs.  Roberto’s stunning Brazilian girlfriend also joined us.  The only other Brit was a young, dark haired lad from East London, a bright fellow called Sam.  He’d had a tough week or so recovering from a heavy bout of bronchitis.  Even now he still felt weak and coughed a lot.  We discussed Spanish language studies.  He said the best way to ask for something was to say ‘I want so and so’ (Yo quero) and not to bother with polite formalities, because according to him, all South Americans were rude and abrupt!  I wasn’t sure such an approach would endear me to the people I’d encounter on the rest of my journeys.

Roberto rattled his tambourine which scared a ginger cat off the table tennis table.  We were in a decidedly dodgy neighbourhood, so he urged Xavier to bring his car into the courtyard.  With a tambourine backing, I played some more tunes as a large sombrero was placed on my head.  Roberto enjoyed the music and thanked me for creating a unique atmosphere.  The guitar always brought people closer together.  I succumbed to a menthol cigarette as the night wore on.  I wanted more tequila and some of Roberto’s friends were even considering scoring a bit of weed.  I was certainly in but by 2am we all pretty much slowed down.  A civilised evening came to a gentle close.  I relaxed at just the right time, before the big step into Peru.  Now, I really needed to have my wits about me though.  I felt a strange apprehension.  I was about to experience a profound change in my travelling adventure, but I didn’t feel nervous.  Deep down, I knew that to stay alert but keep calm would hold me in good stead.  My Spanish was improving.  I was feeling a little bit less impulsive and not rushing so much.  There needed to be this sweet equilibrium of reassurance and my observational skills were becoming finely tuned.  I was really looking forward to Peru.


About Ronnie Parry

I am a singer-songwriter and community learning tutor. This blog features the story of my 2010 travels in South America and some of the songs inspired by the trip.
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