15.2.09. Castro, Chiloe, Chile.
English people over the age of about 35 (at least the ones I like) learnt the hard way that they had to drink the required number of pints by 11pm, during the dark but character-building days of 5.30pm opening times. Peer pressure, reinforced by the "round" system ("Come on you big lady! It's your turn to go to the bra!") means that all worthwhile adults will finish a pint in no more than 25 minutes; and that, once you have decided that tonight is pub night, you want to go at 6pm.
In foreign-land, of course, it's sometimes necessary to adjust your lager clock. Very few actual pubs in these parts are open before 7pm. Ruperto's in Puerto Natales was locked up tight every night until a panic-inducing 9pm (open until 4am though, gutter-dwellers). Some places, like the otherwise-perfect Piel Roja in Coyhaique, don't open at all on Sunday. *tremble*
Grins ahoy, then, in fabulous Castro, on the rainy/sunny/rainy island of Chiloe, where Ottoschop is open by 5.30 on a Sunday, and one may be pretty damn sure that one is not going to be ejected at 10.30pm.
I *heart* Castro. The whole island is a wee bit like Cornwall (fishing villages, brightly-hued boats etc) and a lot like nowhere else (Curanto is a steaming bowl of shellfish, fish, pork, beef, chicken and lamb, all smoked*).
Arriving here yesterday and pootling around town in search of a hotel, a dusty old BMW R100 with UK plates pulls up next to me. It's Richard, last seen in Viedma 9 weeks ago. Tea and smokes at his riverside cabin are in order, and, later, fine wines and seafood at the harbour. Brilliant.
My physical and mental well-being are now directly linked to the mechanical health of La Fluffita. A misfire gives me a mild cardiac spasm; losing one cylinder genuinely gave me earache. For the last 2 days she's been perfect, and I'm as happy as a pig called Larry floating in a stinking ocean of faeces.
You may well never have suffered from a dried-out uvula. You don't look the type.
It's a shocker. It's caused by falling asleep, mouth agape, with big headphones on, (preventing you from turning onto your side) and snoring like an ox. The squishy bit in question swells up and dries out, and when you wake up you think "Oh my! I've shitted my throat up! I'm not swallowing right; I may die imminently."
It's never happened to me before, and after 15 minutes of body horror I grab the bull by the ring and go back to sleep. When I wake it's all fine. A wet uvula is a good uvula. I gaze upwards at the Sunday morning rain clattering off the skylight and spark up a Lucky in celebration.
If you don't know what a(n) uvula is, be sure to spell it right when you do a Google images search. Or, you know, don't.
We've established,I hope you'll agree, that Chiloe is an island, and therefore that a ferry trip or similar is required. The options from Coyhaique are;
1. 250 miles of rocky gravel and roadworks (involving dynamite) to volcano-stricken Chaiten, and then a 3 hour ferry.
2. 50 miles of tarmac to Chacabuco and a 23 hour ferry.
The bike's on-and-off problem rules out option one, so I spend a night in a wobbly hotel in Chacabuco, badly, painfully smitten by the most bang-on, blue-black-haired, big-eyed Betty I think I've ever seen. I believe I had a dream about her, during which we got married, when I was 13. She's so head-bendingly fabulous that even to think about her now, in this bar, constitutes a Venial Sin in the eyes of Our Lord. Oh! My trousers! I must do penance. I will offer my Chum-smeared hands to the local devil dogs, having spatchcocked myself over a municipal waste-basket. Just as soon as I've finished my Cristal.
So anyway, the promised 23 hours becomes 40. It stops everywhere in the world and it only serves machine Nescafe and ham and cheese buns, of which I eat 13. By hour 29, one could cut the boredom with a spoon. Dismay crackles through the stale air of the "dining" room like tired, seasick electricity.
36 hours in, and 13 hours late, we arrive. Oh joy! Except those of us with vehicles are told to wait another 4 hours before we can de-boat the fuckers. And the bun shop is shut, meaning no water to drink. (Did I mention there were no alcohol or fags on sale on the boat?) It's a slight kick in the teeth, then, when I finally make it to the hotel at 3am, ask hoarsely for a glass of water, and am refused. Did I mention that the toilets didn't flush 85% of the time? Must get that in.
Not all good then. But in fact most of the actual boating is fantastic. We chug past misty mountains, islands, villages that are linked to the rest of the country only by ferry (Gawd 'elp 'em), and gradually the brain-splattering size of Chile becomes clear.
It's a great journey - just don't swallow everything you're told by Naviera Austral before you clamber aboard. Luckily the northern ferry off the island is only 20 minutes. Or is it? Perhaps it is. Or is it?**
John and Dermot: 75 year old Dubliners, in Chile on a "fishing" (read: swigging) trip. My Ghod you're good lads. Viable candidates for the position of grandfathers to Remington and Ronson, should that unlikely situation ever arise.
Ooooh ahhhgghh *snort* nnngh *cluck* mmmfff.
Alicia Keys/Jack White:
Bloody great, utterly appropriate and sexy as owt, apart from the crap bit in the middle. What gives?
*slightly more unpleasant than it sounds
**"Or is it?" gag courtesy of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, BBC, 1992-ish
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