Exploring South America

Jun 2 2014
Exploring South America

It’s 5.30 in the morning and we are making our way up the fjords to Puerto Montt. Graeme is asleep but I am still a little jet lagged.
We left Santiago with an English speaking Chilean driver who wound us through the mountains to Valparaiso, a pretty port set on mountains that sweep to the water. His name was Claudio and he had lived in Australia for twelve months twenty years ago. He came to Parkdale for a three-week holiday in his gap year and eleven months later his kindly hosts – and the authorities - asked him to go home. He explained that by saying, “I was an 18 year old boy. I did not know there were protocols for such things. I thought they liked me there!” Anyway he knew all about Australia and was still amazed at the fact that we played a game that took five days to complete. His first question was, “Do you still have fish and chips for dinner on Fridays.” He loved them and they don’t have them here.
He grew up in the period of Pinochet and the dictatorship and loved it that way because his family were friends and supporters of Pinochet. He said it was not until he was 11 that he began to see the evil part of it. His wet nurse and nanny failed to turn up for work for three days and he was distraught because he missed her. His father reluctantly agreed to take him to her very poor neighborhood to see what was wrong. The government soldiers had ransacked her home and killed a family member and a couple of others had “disappeared”. That kind of thing happened all the time. However, Claudio still looked back to the good old days when everybody did as they were told, and if you were rich you could party all night because you had to wait until the curfew was over at dawn. He also said they did once call an ambulance to take them home.
All the houses are different colors, a bit like the hacienda on the hill at Lakes. We stopped for lunch on the way at a typical Chilean eating place where we had this concoction that was meat, chicken encrusted by crushed sweet corn. Different, but I don’t think it did my cause any good later when I was trying to find my sea legs! Speaking of legs, the table of four Americans next to us suddenly engaged us in conversation, the topic rapidly accelerating to the fact that one of the men was the famous, or infamous, Dr Cooper, who devised the Cooper Test. This where you run as fast and as far as you can for 12 minutes while they run tests on you to see how fit or close to the grave you are. Claudio winced when he heard this – he had been a victim many times. The old Coops and his wife, now in their 80s, were practiced at letting everyone know who he was – it came up 12 seconds into the conversation. Faster than Graeme mentioned the Ashes to Steve.
We also stopped at a magnificent winery for this is the area where many of their fine wines grow. Chris would love this place – it is all biodynamic. They use companion plantings to control the pests and they have lots of chooks and pea- hens wandering around to eat the bugs as well as llamas to keep the grass and vegetation manageable. Perhaps you should consider that, Chris – could sell the lawn mower on Gumtree. The building itself was pretty amazing – all round and eco friendly. They have some excellent architects here as many of the buildings are interesting. Must be the Spanish influence.
We got to the dock and far from being a smooth process it was chaotic. The dock workers were on strike so we waited while negotiations went on and they agreed to allow the two cruise ships that were in port to board. Then there was the drill! Everybody had to go to the life boats. Nobody was allowed to talk. A drill sergeant walked up and down telling the wayward ones off while somebody read out numbers that no one could hear. Eventually they gave up. Then because we were four hours late we had to go like the clappers to make up time. There was a big swell so it wasn’t very pleasant. We both felt queasy so none of the Chilean wines we brought on board have even been opened. There was a gathering of Aussies and Kiwis yesterday that we went to but after applying Libby’s “three questions” rule we left. All they want to do is drink copious quantities of piss. Not against that, but they were all so diffident.
We’re now in calm waters and looking forward to a day on land. Hopefully by the time we get to Antarctica we will have our sea legs.