|The full group - but missing Lumpy, Mars, Barbarossa and Paulo|
But today was different. We'd received visitors to our dorms. I don't think we're the ones that would have come off worst here as the extra body in each spare bed had to put up with the funk and fug of 7 sweaties and their mounds of festering baggage. We're not that bad. Really, we're not!
It was showtime with a wander round Santiago to discover the undiscovered bits. Santiago is beautiful and as we were led by the legendary Sergio past government buildings, statues to people the Chileans love and hate (and all in the same place, too), we were treated to a living history lession about Santiago since its foundation in 1541 - there, I learnt something.
The walk up Santa Lucia to view the city from the highest natural point in the centre was lovely. But one thing that was not, was the layer of smog that obscured the view of the mountains. By all accounts this has got worse over the last few years and you could smell and taste the pollution. It was a pity because the view is spectacular.
Mars wandered off for some shade and a bit of relief while everyone else went another way. Still, this is tour and we'd always find each other at some point. Bottom of the hill as it turned out.
Another long walk along tree-lined streets and through the centre of the shopping district (the same anywhere in the world) and an explanation that without welfare for disability in Chile there are only a few ways people can scrape a living which is why there are so many street sellers.
We were treated to the fish market which is an amazing place - variety and colour, size and shape and weirdness! Followed by the longest lunch we've had in South America. The restaurants in the middle of the fish market are apparently very good, but they are also expensive and orientated for tourist tastes. So Tatiana at La Casa Roja and Sergio had arranged a little something more down to earth that would give a proper flavour of Chile. The tiny restaurant had been warned of our arrival, they just didn't know what to do with 14 hungry sportsmen and their guide. The sushi-like Cerviche Mixta arrived first and wasn't much of a hit. 'Cold snot on a bed of slime' was an apt description. I don't know whether this was down to personal tastes, the unexpected cultural differences or just that none of it was cooked. Then the steaks arrived. 2 at a time. Cooked to order. And finally Mars got his Renaeta - a fish. And was promptly fined for being served last.
The way back was via an Earthquake bar. This is all about drinking and nothing about the earth moving... although it'll make you wobble. Think 'pint of wine and a dollop of ice cream' and you've got it. Mars ran away early suffering in the heat (the Tour Luvvy will need to remember to take a wide-brimmed hat with him the next time he goes anywhere hot, the big girl's blouse), while the hardier members of TOUR availed themselves of the facilities. And may well have suffered.
I'm now writing second hand. My first hand is tired and needs a rest.
When you think of a coffee bar in England, you think of a bar that serves coffee. In Santiago they do that but the coffee is accompanied by a lady modelling underwear, ostensibly there to help you enjoy your coffee, but not in a hands-on kind of way. I know, it's strange even writing this. In Santiago, this is not a dirty, perverted thing, it just happens to be something of a tradition. And something that really does have to be seen to be believed. Before anyone takes offence at what we may consider weird, perverse, obscene or just plain sexist, that is not necessarily how other cultures see things - even though this is a bit odd (!). Coffee bars in Santiago are full of suits drinking coffee. As it turns out the most disappointing thing about the whole experience was that the coffee was rubbish and no one in the group spoke Spanish. So how do you talk to someone if you don't speak their language and your mouth is immobile because the coffee in it has paralysed your muscles because it's horrible?! Experience is everything and there were some very confused - if not disturbed - looks on peoples' faces on their return to La Casa Roja.
We gathered. It was the last night on tour. Our last night together as a group and our last night at La Casa Roja. We did it in style. There's a pool. There's a bar. There's a cricket net. Dawse ordered pizza! What do you think we did?
I'll leave you to your own perverted imaginings of what we might have done and go upstairs to pack. We have a flight tomorrow that will take us back to loved ones who we have missed and other things more mundane that we haven't .
Give me a CHI. Give me a LE. CHI CHI CHI LE LE LE. VIVA CHILE.
Thank you to everyone who has made this whole tour possible.
To Gary Savage in BA.
To Chris Emmott, Fuzzy Walker, Tatiana and Simon in Santiago.
And thank you to Sergio - our own legendary guide, driver, friend, fixer and awesome sauce creator!
We hope to see you all again.
Thank you to Skip for all his hard work in getting this off the ground and making it happen.
And finally, thank you to the guys. Without you this would not have happened. With you it could not have been better.
Life is good.
I am changed. But very definitely for the better.
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