9 Jan 09. Punta Arenas, Chile
"The second-best cemetery in South America", says the guidebook, so off I trot in search of mortality kicks. It's cool, but a definite second to the "best" one - Recoleta in Buenos Aires, a mini-city of 20 foot tall death-pyramids and granite stiff-houses. After a while I find an unprepossessing little slab commemorating the dead of the HMS Doterel, "blown up" off Punta Arenas in 1881.
It's, well, affecting to see so many Jenkins', Smiths and Wilkins' so far from home. I take a pic in case any of their great-grandchildren happen to Google it up in the future. Then I forget about it. It's one gravestone among 10,000.
A few days later I nip into the Chilean Navy museum, thinking there might be a few funny little model boats and a torpedo or two to stare at. I wander round slowly - it's quite good - and almost miss a lump of gnarled wood stuck in a corner. It turns out to be the only remaining piece of the HMS Doterel. So here it is...
in 30 scratchy, blood-soaked minutes. Not really! It's a sheepskin of course. (Sorry if you have a pet sheep. For you, that is. Ha!) Get ready for La Fluffita...
The cat, who may be called Lucy, is the nicest, prettiest cat ever. No need for cosmetics there. Sadly, Hostal La Luna is also home to the most horrible, ugly little bastard you ever did see. So fabulously unsympathetic is its horrid little mug that I cannot photograph it for fear of lens damage. Its scratchy croak - more vulture than cuddly pussy - is like a phone call from Death himself. The very idea of stroking it! I'd rather stroke a maggoty rattlesnake. I'd rather plunge my fingers into a pus-bloated rat corpse. Cosmetics? Too little too late I'm afraid. It's beyond reconstructive surgery. A lumphammer and a bin bag would be closer to the mark.
Ah, Olde Englande! How I miss you, with your tam o'shanters, sporrans, and, er, "neeps".
"Whorehouse!" shouts Chip as we fall into a taxi at 3am on January 3rd. And that's exactly where we end up. Nothing particularly unsavoury happens. It's just funny, and perhaps a tiny bit sad. But mostly funny. It's also, I guess, semi-inevitable, given that, by 5.30pm, me and Chris (in bed by this point after someone apparently slipped something in his drink) were doing Angus Young moves up and down the aisle of The Colonial, PA's top lager house.
These boys - Chip, 24, and Chris, 27 are specially mad. They're cycling from TDF to Alaska with so little money that, when I meet them on the ferry, they're eating dry spaghetti from the packet and trying to convince me it's "nice".
They really, really like beer, fags and Motorhead so we're destined to spend the next few days on the lash. I have a plan, boys - when we meet again, I'll introduce you to ladies as my sons, Remington and Ronson. It might help us get a "bonk". Or indeed, prevent any such thing from ever happening again.
Things I've always wanted to do, and have achieved in PA:
1/ Operate a ship's "steering wheel". *
2/ Operate, to a reasonable standard of competency, a Mr Whippy machine.
Things that the MOD and the British government have recently hushed up:
1/ The evacuation of HMS Endurance, after, on 16/12/08, somewhere in the South Atlantic, she started taking on "thousands of gallons of water an hour", according to my Royal Navy sources in The Colonial. I'm told it's irreparably knackered.
How far do you think you'd get (because I think - nowhere) if, having had five pints of lager, you went into a properly fancy restaurant in London in a stinky, inexplicably** grass-stained pair of jeans, a Sonny Barger t-shirt and a grubby white Honda baseball cap, carrying a large sheepskin-covered motorcycle saddle under your arm, sat down, and started ordering King Crab starters and fancy wine? Well, that's why I love Chile!
25/1/09. Gobernador Gregores, Argentina.
I am stuck, like a stuck pig, in this town, and therefore feel inclined to behave in a piggish manner. There are two kinds of weather here - wind so strong you can't stand up, and rain that turns all the dirt roads out of town into sticky, slippery clay. Both are beyond my motorbikin' skills. My new plan is to wait for two consecutive days of sunshine to allow the mud to bake, beseech Christ for gentle breezes rather than hurricanes, and scarper. In the meanwhile, I shall continue to "practice my Spanish" (i.e. neck litres of Schneider) in Copetin El Paso, a shabby, empty, beautiful bar run by Juan, a big ol' bear with no English and a heart the size of a Scammell engine.
On my first night here, after falling off several times in the mud, he feeds me the finest lamb in Patagonia for - as far as I can tell - no money, and drives me the 0.5 km home. I literally love him.
If you're ever in GG, head straight here, mention my name, and kick back. It wouldn't hurt if your Spanish was better than mine (barely adequate would qualify as "better").
So - the road here. Gawd 'elp us. Ruta 40 is ok, really, until either the wind picks up or it's been raining for 12 hours. On Thursday, after 100 kms of do-able gravel, I´m literally blown off the bike into a pile of rocks. I'm rescued by Eckhard and Maria, lovely Germans in a monster truck. We leave the bike partially hidden behind another pile of rocks and they drop me in GG.
The next day it rains. I pay a man to take me the 100 kms back to pick up La Fluffita. The first 70 kms are ok, then the road turns to slime, I fall off several times and, well, enough is enough. Some Argentinian holidaymakers take me, without Fluffita, back to GG. I find a morbidly obese gentleman with a truck and go back for her again. Money changes hands again.
Filth-caked Fluffita is delivered at the 3rd attempt to GG. Thank Arse. Now I have no plan other than to sit in El Copetin until the elements allow me to carry on. S'ok with me!
The Perito Moreno glacier, a few hundred kms south of here, is the most freakishly awesome thing I've ever seen. They could charge $500 US a look and I'd pay (after I'd seen it). Even the 30km concrete road from the entrance to the park to the Big Ice Bastard is (on an unladen, urgent motorcycle) worth the entance fee. Icebergs are constantly shearing*** off from the front, and - the noise! Hell's Bloody, Bruised Bollocks! That must be what neck hairs evolved for.
Check out the very big boat on the right
Working backwards, as is sometimes the way, I found myself previously in Puerto Natales, Chile, and El Bar de Ruperto. It's owned by a bloke from Leeds who's become known as "Slowly" because that's what he says when Chileans chatter at him. I am honoured to know his actual name, but I mayn't tell. OK - it's to do with having a pile of leaves on your head.
Harty laughter all round!
Good, basic lager
It's a great, warm, dark, rockin' place. Try the chilli vodka (homemade). Don't try and beat the chilli vodka consumption record (5).
Chilli vodka and horse flavour (we think) Bols. Do not combine.
Escudo (Chile) is fairly unpleasant, although I'm told the version that's brewed in the North is much better. Schneider (Argentina) is really very good. It actually tastes of lager!
*not attached to an actual ship.
** explication - I fell over on the way out of the whorehouse.
***or "calving", accuracy fans!
27.1.09. Bajo Caracoles, Argentina
The bar at the petrol station (and why not?) in BC is a hive of inactivity. I've done 138 miles of Ruta 40 today without falling off, so I'm going to sit here, idle as a bee, until either I run out of pesos or I'm physically kicked into the gravel.
The road here varies between OK dirt and the worst pile of rocks you can imagine. Halfway in, though, there's a miracle: 30 odd miles of brand new blacktop. At first I think it's a mirage, and when I realise it's not I get down on my hunkers and kiss it. Kiss kiss kiss. Oh lovely road.
Ruta 40 is all about the weather. Today it's ideal - no wind (much) and no rain for 2 days. Under these conditions, the worst it gets is just really, really horrible, rather than impossible. The four times I've thrown La Fluffita into the rocks/mud on the way to Gobernador Gregores, however, have taken their toll. Scratched paintwork! A slightly bent footpeg! An engine that is not functioning with quite the efficiency one might hope for, and extremely dirty trousers. Injury-wise, I can only claim a pathetic bruise on me leg; you'll have had worse from banging your knee on the kitchen table.
29/1/09. Perito Moreno, Argentina.
Having proved myself the master of Ruta 40 (ignore, why don't you, the damage to bike, person and trousers mentioned above), I check into the Hotel Neveryoumind and steel myself for a serious rest. The slightly horrible old bint of a landlady suggests (I think) that a room is available for the first night, but that on Thursday she's got a busload of tourists arriving and I may or may not, at that point, be thrown, hopping mad and helpless, into a local ditch.
I decide to ride out the threat by visiting "El Viejo", and grab myself a seat at the bar that allows me to
A) look at the WHAM Jennifer Connelly (face and hair)/POW Jennifer Lopez (everything else) barmaid, and
B) spot the coach-load of shit-bags who may or may not be stealing my room as I write. We shall see. On va voir!
An agreeable hour passes - and it's sod you, you coachy, Pepsi-sucking, window-burnt bum-wits! My room is still mine, so damn you to hell, Johnny-come-lately.
I shit in your hair!
30.1.09. Perito Moreno, Argentina.
Pics from Chile, words from Argentina. Strange days indeed.
Just as, famously, there's a fine line between clever and stupid, there is only the narrowest of demarcations separating tearful, panicky dismay from demented, sky-punching euphoria. I get the first one from a misfiring cylinder, compounded by my apparent inability to change a spark plug without dropping it deep into the dark heart of the engine; and the second from finding a mechanic who can do the job properly, resulting in a custard-smooth motorbike and a soppy grin.
You know what it's like. One minute everything in the world is completely bollocks; an hour later you are, literally, a millionaire Jesus, covered in girls and throwing 180's every turn.
That track by The Feeling is a magnificent, strutting rooster of a song, is it not? Look a little closer... and the rooster is wearing a smart new beret!
But what about a Top 5 booze tunes? Not in order...
Closing Time - Semisonic
Still Be Around - Uncle Tupelo
Have A Drink On Me - AC/DC
Whiskey Blues - Muddy Waters
Gin & Juice - Snoop.
All 16 songs off of Frank's In The Wee Small Hours would also fit the ticket. None of 'em specifically about boozin', but you sure as hell get the picture.
While we're "at it", can there be a music video based on a less convincing premise than the one* in which the fat lad out of Keane outruns a couple of motorcycle assassins? The only vehicle Tubbyguts could outrun -surely to Christ- would be an ice-cream van.
I swear on the tear-sodden grave of Tony Hart that I just overheard this conversation:
USA Man: Where I come from, roadkill and hunt-meat recipes are a really important part of our cultural heritage.
USA Woman: Fer sure! My mom's beaver is delicious!
One hardly knows where to look...
What sort of TV channel, I wonder, would show you the first half of a Barclays Premiership match, then at half-time, give you the full-time score complete with highlights, and only then show you the second half? Do you think it might be the Blithering Idiot Channel?
What in the ruddy heck d'you think "Membrana en Pasta" might be? I´ve just seen it advertised on a billboard, and I'm nearly certain I don't want any of it in my mouth.
*The Lovers Are Losing, 2008
4.2.09. Coyhaique, Chile.
Before attempting to ride the Carretera Austral, do make sure you don't want to go to the lavatory even a little bit. The frantic shuddering produced by the washboard road surface will loosen anything you might have been saving for later, and if you have any kind of travel-related upset in the back body, the consequences could be biblical in their ghastliness.
I was thinking just this morning -
"Yipes! I don't think these motorcycle trousers, unwashed in 8000 kilometers, could smell any more loathsome; leastways, not unless I actually did a shit in them".
Calm yourself - I didn't. But I nearly might have.
Spot the horse. At least, I think that was his name.
What sort of pub, do you imagine, would play an entire Roxette CD, hitting repeat on one or two of the more listless, dead-eyed hit singles?
Do you suppose it might be the Dolt And Fishwife in Coyhaique?
Or The Old Bag, just up the road, where an entire Sheena Easton CD is a regular offering.
Never mind that. An hour afterwards, H.* saunters up, and an hour after that, some playful arm-touching suggests that a snog - or worse - might be in the offing.
And by 2am we're up a dark alley fiddling about with things that really shouldn't concern us. As is frequently the way with the modern woman, however, she wrinkles her nose at the idea of being rogered in a hedge.
"Leave orf!" she squeals. "What sort of a gel d'you tike me for?"
I rather thought we had established what sort of a girl she was, but never mind. Huzzah for Coyhaique, and the ladies of Chile in general!
For several examples of taxidermy at its most divertingly ham-fisted, visit Coyhaique's Municipal Museum. There's a condor tied to a stick, which is OK, but it's next to a duck, detracting a little bit from the majesty. Don't miss the owl, which was clearly stuffed by an angry, hungry, randy chimpanzee.
My other favourite thing about Britain - and, for smokers, it's international, so stick with me as long as you can bear - is the distinction, in terms of cigarette packaging, between the knickers - the lower, bigger section of cellophane on the outside of a new cig packet, and the bra - the top bit, separated from the knickers by a thin pull-off strip. With a soft-pack, one would remove the bra but generally leave the knickers on, for safety, whereas with a hard-pack or box, knickers-off is (for my money) the way to go.
These days, however, smokers are faced with a new issue - how to ignore the disgusting Health Ministry photo on the front of the packet.
So just today, I have come up with a solution.
1) Remove the bra, keeping the knickers firmly in place.
2) Fold the silver foil piece (inside the pack, covering up the cigs) in half.
3) Tuck into the knickers as shown.
4) Smoke away!
*No, not H from Steps
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
Sorry, sorry, sorry about the title... but last night I'm sitting all on me lonesome in Ottoschop, and around the nine-ish mark two lovelies bowl in and order a 2.5 litre tower-jug of Kunstmann. They're already tight-ish from an afternoon at the cider festival, and - heavens be praised - one of 'em beckons. I come at a running crouch, panting like a happy, soppy puppy. Anyway, the "blonde" one (it's actually quite tricky to dye jet-black hair blonde) to whom I have no option but to refer as H2, gets all silly, which is great because I'm already quite silly, and a while later there's lovely, lovely kissing in the car park. Nnnngghh.
(I toyed with the idea of calling this bit "Fiddle Castro" so think y'self lucky.)
So, as I write;
1. Arsenal are 2-0 up;
2. My new tenants are moving in tomorrow;
3. I've just got an email from C, telling me to meet her in her mum's pub in Valdivia, for, I suspect, more kissing;
4. I'm in a pub.
I am a Golden God! Kneel before me and tremble, lest I smite you! Cos if I smite you, you'll know you've been smoten to.
My personal Arsenal results text-message service - Geoff from Champs in Ghana - tells me it's 4-0 Arsenal at full time. So yeah, it was "only" Cardiff, but get this - a year ago, Eduardo, our new golden boy, had his ankle smashed in the most sickening, career-ending fashion. Today was his first day back at work. He scored twice. There is a God. OK - there isn't, but you get what I mean, isn't it.
If you're reading this Geoff, mines a Star! And gerruz a packet of 555's while you're up there!
What's the worst song in the world? I invite your suggestions, but I'm going to tell you what it is anyway. It's Dire Straits' "Walk Of Life".
-It sucks the final, gritty dump out of a roadkill hedgehog's flattened ringpiece.
-It smears itself in its own hot waste and runs up and down Guildford high street shouting "Look at me! I am a total, total cunt!"
-It is Hitler, naked, aroused, and waiting for you in bed.
-It is a plate of fried aubergines (shudder) drizzled in seal piss.
-It can, quite literally, fuck off and die, today, tomorrow, next week.
-It is the most helpless, love-starved masturbator in Christendom.
-It is the Dalek in the bathroom.
-It is the moment in 1789 when you realize you're looking up from a gore-soaked basket in Paris at your own squirting neck.
-It is closing time on Sunday night, and Monday morning's bleeping sod of an alarm clock, squashed into three asinine minutes.
-It is Glen Quagmire rummaging around in your new girlfriend.
-It is fried bastards with grated carrot.
-It is a cheque for £0.00 from British Gas, stapled to a bill for £872.25.
-It is five years of nun glares.
It is on every jukebox in every pub in every country in the world, and you will never, ever, be free of it.
19/2/09. Puerto Montt, Chile.
Claws and so on. Do you see? And *slaver* they're dizzyingly good. I imagine I could eat just crab, three times a day, for - let's see - two months. The "starter" shown is three quid, comes with a great potato salad and turns the main course into a dreadfully base and uncivilized exercise in ramming excess food into an unwilling pouch. Luckily, I never eat pudding, believing it to be a wholly amoral course created for milksops and cowards; the weak-willed billions that choke the planet like duckweed on the village pond. People like you, Naz. Only jokin' mate!
I am, quite literally, walking on sunshine, as Katrina And Her Waves put it so conclusively in the otherwise-forgettable 1980's. There are enough superb things about Chile to keep a typical human amused, astounded and agog for hours on end. I seem to recall that we've touched on the seafood. The landscapes are OK as well, if you like mountains and water and that. The people are polite, like English people,* and friendly like Japanese people, but even more, well, smiley. I bought a crappy ham roll in a tatty little supermarket in Ancud this morning, and the wattage of the checkout lady's grin nearly took my bloody eyelids off.
The ferry ride from (near) Ancud to (near) Puerto Montt restored some of my faith in that most glamourless of boats as a viable means of getting about. The sun shone for the first time in three days (not enough to dry my helmet out though; a wet uvula is lovely, a damp helmet rarely so); seals - actual bloody seals! - gambolled in the bin-bag-dark sea below us, and the whole thing was over in 30 beautiful minutes, from queue-jump to super-quick offload.
So here we are in the OK Corral in PM, and so far so good. It's a triple-height lager barn serving up 1GBP pints of Cristal and 80´s greats on the video jukebox. Unless it's between 7 and 9pm, in which case the Crissies are... 50p!
A fellow could wander astray under such provocation. Thank heavens for the gift of willpower. I do hope it's not open all day, every day. Eh? What's that? It is? Well, we'll just have to see what happens, won't we?
The sunshine-ness of my present walking, as noted briefly above, has quite a lot to do with La Fluffita's current mechanical faultlessness. I see on my globe that Puerto Varas, and the Honda shop, are a pathetic 12 miles away. At this rate I'm going to arrive there with a bike that's in perfect working order, which will mean having to explain, in Spanish, what the problem was. Like, dilemma city!
(Since the velcro was torn off me sheepskin by the wind on Ruta 40, the name "Fluffita" has become inaccurate as well as gruesomely twee. Still, press on regardless.)
Talking of gruesome tweeness, Kylie and Jason's "Especially For You" is a great song, isn't it? And isn't Kylie gawjuss? Then and now?
*fuck off are we!
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