¡Hola a todos!
Well, it has been a hectic couple of weeks since last I sat down to write an entry. Much has occurred and many memories have been made: I find myself at a desk on a small landing space in the house of Gonzalo, here in Puerto Varas, southern Chile but, there is more to be said on events from places prior to here and so I am going to back-track (as I seem always to do). There remain some days unaccounted for in Mendoza, followed by a truly spectacular border-crossing to Chile through the grandeur of the Andes.
My final days in Mendoza threw up some challenging situations, some expected and some not. I said goodbye once again to my dear friends Kelsey and Sebastiaan, and this time Carole as well. In doing so I knew that I would not see either of the girls again, during this trip at least, and that my chances of catching up with Sebastiaan further north would be slim. All three friends departed within a day of each other. All three caught a taxi from the same street, rounding the same corner, to disappear from sight and from my life (albeit temporarily of course; the internet is oftentimes a wonderful commodity). I expected to feel dispondent, naturally; to feel some listlessness, some regret perhaps. The emptiness in the pit of my stomach went far beyond an enforced absence of my daily medialuna intake and I wandered about the city as if in a daze for the next couple of days, updating my travel blog, writing in my diary and making small-talk with fellow travellers back at my hostel. It is a strange feeling to say goodbye to someone, especially one to whom you have grown close. This strangeness is intensified when travelling because although a period of time in a fellow traveller’s company is often limited to mere weeks or days even, this time is spent much more frequently in their company than would often be the case otherwise. Furthermore, it seems quite nature to me that such friends can, perhaps must temporarily replace such relationships as enjoyed, and therefore naturally missed and yearned after, back home. Such goodbyes then can seem akin to those undertaken originally at the outset of one’s journey and, accordingly, in my experience are rather emotional affairs. Such goodbyes, however temporary and painful, are nonetheless a fact of life and I appreciate them as such. I also appreciate the pain that such separation can herald as a natural by-product, an indication of the enjoyment derrived from such a meeting, much as I am able to accommodate and welcome even the odd bout of homesickness.
I stood, some time later, at the edge of a pavement, waiting to cross the road into the pedestrianized central park, Palza Independencia – a delightful spot. Thoughts such as those described above were swirling around inside my head when I became aware that a lady to my right was speaking to me, in Spanish of course. She swiftly recognized my all-too-familiar lack of understanding and, quite abruptly, began to speak to me in fluent English. It transpired that Mabel, as she was called, taught English at a local private school and was incredibly engaging (even beside my apparent aimless preoccupation in missing my friends). Upon discovering that I had recently studied at Cambridge this excitable woman positively exploded with energy and so it was that I found myself with an invitation to visit her school the following afternoon to speak with the children: it would be a good chance for them to practise their English (and for me to gain an insight into another facet of Argentine life, I do not deny it).
The next afternoon found me, at 2pm, stood outside a rather delightful white-washed school building, framed by an ornate black gate, in a charming, restful side-street in a leafy suburb of Mendoza. I spoke to the gate-keeper (yes, it was a rather stately, though compact and – thankfully – noisy school) in my ever-faulty Spanish, before being greeted by Mabel and shown into and then around El Colegio San Andres (St. Andrew’s College). My appointment with Class 5 (a thoroughly engaging group of eleven and twelve year-olds) was soon underway and the questions flew thick and fast. The first three were also three of the funniest, raising a smile that did not depart myface for the remainder of my visit: “are you married?” – a question easily answered by my raising each, ringless, finger of both hands – “do you have a girlfriend?”, which I answered in the negative, swiftly followed thereafter by “would you like one?” – asked in all seriousness I can assure you. Any thoughts of loneliness and continued dispondency were soon banished from my mind and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon, answering questions, explaining facets of my life while travelling and while at home in England. The children were attentive, interesting and – occasionally – a little rowdy, although it was interesting to note that despite Mabel and her fellow teachers fore-warning me of the children’s apparent unruliness they were in fact very well-behaved and a pleasure to converse with: it was with a touch of faint irony that I thought of similar private institutions back home, as well as my far wilder personal experiences of schooling aged ten and eleven! I confess that I often find myself somewhat awkward in the presence of children – a feeling that I am sure such young people perceive, thus worsening the situation. In this instance, however, perhaps due to the “controlled environment” of the scenario(!), I was able to relax and enjoy the experience – strange though it may seem, this was an example of pushing beyond my accustomed ‘comfort zone’ and I am very thankful for the opportunity. One particularly intelligent question stands out, from a pensive, quiet young girl: “is your Queen elected or does she hold her position for life?” – it is important to remember that children are, as they have always been, our future and with such in mind I was delighted by such a thoughtful and thorough interrogation. Still, it was far from all hard work: I came away with a bounce in my step and a brilliant recommendation, as it transpired, for the best ice-cream in town.
My time in Mendoza wound pleasantly, idly to a close. I returned once more to the wine-lands of Maipu (although this time upon a much better bike). After visiting some vineyards on my previous trip and, I shall not lie, consuming quite such a degree of wine, I was adamant that this second trip should revolve more firmly around the joys to be extracted from cycling itself, rather than simply as a mode of transport to the various bodegas (vineyards). So it was that I found myself cycling down yet more beautiful, romantically whimsical sun- and shade-dappled avenues, upon a wonderful bicycle. I soon found myself travelling out beyond the furthest of the bodegas recommended on my small map and into much less-frequented scenery. I took a side-track off the road and down a bumpy, secluded path to an idyllic rest-point. Here, shaded beneath a bountiful olive tree, at the edge of row upon row of militarily uniform vines, I took my lunch, cutting slices of cheese, salami and cucumber with my Swiss army knife while observed by some local children. Later, I cycled on, further down the track, eventually finding myself cycling among the vines themselves. After twenty minutes of rough, uneven terrain I was well and truly directionless (some call this ‘lost’) in amongst the vines. Thus ensued a tranquil, mindless jaunt on through the undergrowth before, finally, I emerged beside a cottage, back at a main road. A wrong turn and some minutes of bearing-finding later and I was back on track, with a quite obscenely wide smile pasted across my face.
After such wonderful experiences, it seems a shame that my final days in Mendoza should be soured by a truly horrific experience involving a full battalion of bed bugs and an eerily still hostel straight out of Hitckcock’s ‘Psycho’. After an hour of fruitless searching through the streets of downtown for a hostel for the night – having fully learnt my lesson concerning the importance of booking a hostel ahead of time, especially around weekends of public Argentine holidays – I finally stumbled upon a quiet, small hostel off the main drag of shops, restaurants and travellers’ dwellings. All seemed well, although I did think it slightly odd that I appeared to be the only traveller in residence, kept company only by the hostel owner, his family and an elusive older gentleman inhabiting a room on the top floor. With the clock ticking beyond 10pm, after my day of cycling through the vineyards, I was beyond caring for such analysis and simply collapsed upon my bed and slept a deliciously long, full sleep. It was only early the following afternoon, sat in front of a computer Skype-calling my parents that I first became aware of the itching sensation covering, well, roughly all of my body. Imagine my shock and slight horror then, upon pulling up my long-sleeved shirt to be met with the nauseating sight of bite-marks travelling up the length of my arm. I confess, shamefully, that I panicked a little unduly: I am sure that I made for frustrating, annoying company during the remainder of my call to Mum and Dad. Upon cutting said call short, I hurried back to my familiar old hostel (of pre-Pyscho fame), scratching as I walked, to strip, take a long, long shower and stuff my “infected” clothing into a black bin-liner to be cleaned at the first available opportunity. The following days were far from pleasant: I itched constantly and all over – I counted over forty bite-marks on my left arm alone and it was a feat of mental endurance simply to refrain from scratching, although I must admit that the ammonia-based after-bite lotion that Mum thoughtfully bought me before my departure from home was the winning formula. Indeed, simply writing of my experience now, I am absent-mindedly scratching my lower left arm... All-in-all however, such a mediocre experience could not detract from such a brilliant stop on my journey and if bed bugs are the worst of my worries on this trip, then I shall have much for which to be thankful.
This is becoming quite the lazy day and so I shall hopefully find the time to write another entry a little later this afternoon. As it is, I am sitting at a shared computer – in a Chilean family home no less – and so it is only fair that I take myself away from the temptations and occasional pitfalls of this interactive world to allow others a chance to indulge.
¡Saludos a todos!