We are now on our second airbnb. Having enjoyed the lap of luxury, the guy in the salmon coloured jacket wouldn’t negotiate on price so we move two doors down to a more down market property but cheaper. We have to clean it ourselves but Jason has accidentally booked for one person rather than four so we overlook this inconvenience. One hour after moving in with four of us cleaning, it is sparkling.
Some how I get bathroom cleaning duty so I have to clean the main bathroom and ensuite. I am very used to getting my hands down the four u-bends in our house in Essex but the toilets in South America are very different. They are, and please excuse the pun, crap! The plumbing means you can’t deposit toilet paper down them. They have bins to put the toilet paper in but they are normally over flowing and often don’t have lids. Best not to look too closely. And the smell! The other problem is, the habit of a life time. You only need to let your mind wander and you’re going, “Oh, shit (quite literally sometimes!), I’ve just put the toilet paper down the toilet!” And I know I’m not the only one. On those long hikes, you’ve got to have something to talk about. So, back to the present. There’s me, with no gloves, having to dispose of the toilet paper of total strangers! Not my favourite job!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have that wonderful hairdryer that the last place had. I’m kicking myself for not “borrowing” it and just sticking it back on the back patio when we leave the gated community for good. So it’s back to looking as if I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards! Nor does it have WiFi. I can get WiFi on my phone as part of my package but I can’t hotspot it to my iPad which is irritating. We do, however, still know the password for two doors up so all we have to do is climb over two fences and voila, internet access at our finger tips. Mind you, the garden borders the main entrance to the gated community where the security station is and there are numerous cctv cameras so I have visions of the security guards having a good old laugh as they watch me lolloping over the fence, baby elephant style. If that is really happening, they can’t be doing a very good job because they don’t come round to challenge why someone is breaking in two doors down. Perhaps it’s because they are well aware of what we are doing. They know us well and when I whizz past on my bike or wander past on foot, we wave at each other. I don’t think they have much else to do!
I am now sleeping with a fridge. It’s worse than Richard’s snoring! Having had the delux room at the last place, I am at the bottom of the pecking order for allocation of rooms. So that Heather and Christine can have rooms to themselves, I volunteer to sleep in the open plan area downstairs with Jason taking the small bunk bed room. It means I have zero privacy but the others go up to their rooms mid evening so I have the space to myself until the next morning.
It is hard to believe that I have only known Heather and Christine since the start of last month and Jason for about 3 weeks; in the light of this, I think we are doing very well to rub along together. As Heather says, she lives on her own in Australia so it isn’t easy to start living with three strangers. Jason also lives on his own. I certainly don’t have that issue, having only ever lived on my own for about a year in my entire life.
It makes me think about all the different combinations of people I’ve lived with over the years. Obviously, there was my original family of Mum, Dad, Paul, my brother, and various cats.
When I went to the University of Warwick, I lived in mixed halls of residence for the first two years but it was only girls on my floor. That was a good compromise at a time which was rather more conservative than today. I have fond memories of drunken parties in the kitchen which certainly weren’t only girls! We had to dodge the warden but, luckily, our top floor kitchen was well out of the way.
I then moved to a terraced house in Coventry with a female friend and two men. We got on well and again, there were a few drunken parties.
My last year was in an on campus flat. One woman stands out. She had been to Cheltenham Ladies College and her boyfriend was at Jesus College, Cambridge with Prince Edward. Her world was far removed from that of myself and my friend, two comprehensive school girls. Her boyfriend would often visit and he was perfectly pleasant but my friend would sarcastically joke about him being in the kitchen in his smoking jacket. We had a really lovely Irish cleaner and at some point during the year we decided to organise a buffet lunch for her and all chip in. Well that’s everyone apart from Ms Cheltenham Ladies College who refused to take part! We just ignored her selfish behaviour; well that was until we went out one night and got very drunk. As I’m sure you can imagine, Ms Cheltenham Ladies College never went out and got very drunk! It was about one in the morning and two of the lads and I hard boiled all her eggs! What made it even better was that my friend had gone off for the night with someone (she did have a boyfriend at home but she never let those details get in the way) and, therefore, knew nothing of our practical joke. Ms Cheltenham Ladies College discovered early the next morning that her eggs were not as they should be and immediately went to harangue my friend who was probably the most likely culprit, but who actually knew nothing about it because I wasn’t speaking to her, having had to get security to let me in to my room as she’d disappeared with my key. Ms Cheltenham Ladies College never did find out who hard boiled her eggs and we had a wonderful buffet lunch with our Irish cleaner. I made the egg mayo salad!
Once I started teaching, I lodged with a male teacher from a different school for a year. All I really remember about him was he really loved himself. And yes, he was a P.E teacher! He also had another male lodger who wasn’t a teacher but had parties when the landlord wasn’t there and smoked dope.
Next came the only year where I have ever lived on my own. My own front door! As a government worker, I was given a Local Development Corporation flat. It was only one bed but had a large lounge, kitchen and bedroom. I can still remember the luxury of closing the door and having my own little kingdom.
Next came the longest period of cohabiting when I met Richard over a leaking washing machine and we had three children, having moved to that utopia that is Basildon. In theory those three children have now moved out but they keep returning to mess up our tidy and peaceful home with half drunk drinks by the bed and dirty clothes all over the floor, just incase we miss the good old days!
So back to the present and my lovely new house mates. I am extremely grateful that I have them! Without them I would have had to fly home because hostels, hotels and B&Bs are closed, plus the difficult circumstances would have led to a very lonely existence.
Christine is sixty four. She currently lives on a small Scottish Island and is married to Shamus. This is her third marriage which has involved living with step children. She has two daughters and a granddaughter called Cara who she clearly adores. She has an arts and craft shop on the island and is knitting and embroidering items for the shop on this trip. She is very talented. Her only fault is that she is a Scottish Nationalist, a subject we try to avoid but, ironically, her accent is more Yorkshire than Scottish as she moved there as a child.
Heather is my age and lives in Queensland, Australia. She has been divorced for 20 years and has four children to whom she is close. Her daughter, Krischen, lives and works in London where she owns her own flat. Yes, I was impressed too! In addition, she has two very cute grandchildren. Heather works as agency in the care system so she has given me some tips on bladder control!
Jason lives in Portland, USA when he is home. He is forty and has been travelling for nine months. Previously he worked for a university in their marketing department. He is passionate about marathon running and trains on a regular basis but has let this lapse recently as all the marathons he had planned to do in South America have been cancelled. He seems to have few ties and is very foot loose and fancy free. I certainly admire his ability to avoid the normal responsibilities of life. When I was forty, I had three small children and a full time job!
Messages from home and opportunities to speak to people on face time and what’s app have been very important. I speak to Richard and the girls daily. I speak to Andrew about once a month so no change there! Before the Dragoman Trip I checked in daily for my own safely but the Dragoman Trip was supposed to end the need for this because they had a duty of care. Being with my house mates makes it safer and we are in a relatively safe area of Chile. As I saw in Punta Arenas where there had been riots last autumn, it is definitely important to avoid areas where there may be riots in the future. There is no rioting at the moment because of lockdown but I suspect that the economic fall out of coronavirus could lead to much more serious rioting.
I really appreciate the many friends who have contacted me to see how I am doing and given me lots of encouragement.
I speak to Silvana and Ricardo who I did a homestay with in Buenos Aires on a regular basis. It appears that the lockdown rules in Argentina are much stricter or it may be that it is harder to move around cities than the wilderness of the Chilean Lakes. Silvana is still being paid by the upmarket jewellers but owing to a lack of business, she only has to do a few hours work at home a day. Ricardo has no work because he is in construction. They struggled before the coronavirus because Argentina has had years of economic problems and does not have the social security system that the U.K. has so I dread to think what impact this virus will have on them. When I was in Buenos Aires it was full of people selling things on the transport systems and juggling at traffic lights. How are those people going to cope?
Not being in the U.K. I’m a bit out of touch and I wake on 23rd March to find it is Mother’s Day. Since I lost my wonderful Mum I find Mother’s Day difficult in some ways but as a Mum myself, the best job I’ve ever had, I try to embrace it. Helen and Kathryn send me lovely messages but I am still waiting for Andrew’s. It’s a long way to Chile, obviously!
Observing the U.K. from a distance, it feels as if it is a very different place to the country I left only 12 weeks ago. I am horrified to read on Facebook that there is a campaign to clap Boris. Really?
In addition, I read a report on the BBC that Cambridgeshire police tweet that they are patrolling non-essential aisles at Tesco to monitor who is breaking the Coronavirus Lockdown. It must be open season for criminals!
As for the supermarkets, there is no panic buying in Chile and the toilet roll and pasta aisles remain well stocked. Not that we have to worry because we still have a mountain of bus rice and pasta. They do introduce 2 meter queuing to get in but the queue is several minutes, not several hours as some people report happens in the U.K.
I am being trolled on the Dragoland Facebook Page. It is a page for Dragoman passengers. Everyone posts pictures of ‘trucks’ around the world in exotic places once they are in lockdown and I post Carmen 2 and Mamacita 2 getting on the ferry and refer to them as buses. Well I know how Salman Rushdie feels now. There’s practically a fatwa out on my head! “How dare you call them buses, they’re trucks!”, “Don’t let so and so hear you call them buses!”. As far as I’m concerned they may have started life as a Mercedes Truck but once you strip them out and put seats in they’re a bus. Chilean Customs Forms are on my side too because although there was a truck and a bus box to tick, Jazz was at great pains to stress we needed to tick ‘bus’ not ‘truck’. I point this out to the trolls! Hybrid is as far as I am prepared to go! I’ve got plenty more bus pictures to wind them up with!
I am desperately trying to be patient and practise slow travel. I am a bit of a box ticker and like to see what is over the next horizon but that is just not possible at the moment. I have been working on slow travel for some years now and when you travel with children that really slows you down but my Trans Andean Trip was not supposed to be slow travel. It feels a bit like all that mindfulness crap that has become so fashionable. I still have bad memories of sitting with Dave Edwards in staff training and being told to close my eyes and focus on the raisin in the bag. I think Dave and I just ate ours! Any way my slow travel to date is:
Watching small orange butterflies which cover a flower meadow and a small lizard that runs down my trouser leg and sits on my shoe;
Sitting for an hour by the bend of a river and listening to the roar of the water;
Watching trout catch flies from the surface of a lake and a dragonfly hover through the reeds;
Observing unusual clouds form on top of the volcano.
Christine and Heather return from town with tales of a graveyard on the hillside with a large statue of Christ. I go to investigate. The gate is open so in I go. Two grounds men having a cigarette try to tell me it is closed but they point up to the Christ on top of the hill as if I should head up there. It is clearly a view point. I make my way up through the graves which are generally fairly nondescript and clearly all come from the same supplier as they are best described as rectangular blocks of stone. A few, however, stand out. One is that of a small child. It is bright pink and in the shape of a fairytale castle with lots of toys to make it look like a bedroom. Poor little Florencia only lived for 14 months but was clearly much loved. Another grave was mausoleum style but the mausoleum was a basic green house, the sort you can pick up in B&Q or the garden centre. I have to say, I much preferred it to all those grand mausoleums at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. David died at 25 years old and is shown riding on a horse.
Once at the view point, I get great views of the town and lake. ‘Great’, however, is not a word you can use to describe the wooden statue of Christ with ‘chavy’ probably being a better description and I really don’t get the Native American Indian children hiding in the folds of his tunic.
I decide that I can’t live five minutes walk from the lake and not go for a swim so I make my way down in the early evening for a dip. It was very refreshing and accompanied by gorgeous views of the mountains. I also go down to the lake early one morning to see the views when the sun is in the opposite direction.
The gated community might be rather sterile but it is in a great location and the pine trees that give Parque Pinares its name are the size of sky scrapers so deserve a mention.
I cook every fourth night. I’m afraid my culinary repertoire is tuna pasta and egg fried rice. As Richard has always done the cooking I am out of practice but who knows, I may be a cordon blue cook by the time I’ve finished! Everyone is very polite about everyone else’s efforts which is refreshing as a significant number of people back home are rude about the little cooking I do. You know who your are; namely residents of 31 Russetts, Joan, Maggie and Bernie! Just think, you will never be able to match my Chilean Lake District stewed apple and blackberries. My house mates loved it. Jason had thirds of my tuna pasta. Mind you, we all said that Jason’s mushy rice and frozen veg’ dish was delicious and I can categorically say, it was not! I had to put a lot of soy sauce on mine! So they are probably just being polite about my bland pasta and dried out rice!
After dinner, we start playing cards some nights. I teach them Sevens and Gin Rummy. I win Sevens quite a few times because they haven’t got the idea of the tactics needed. This is particularly evident when I get a hand with about 3 kings and 2 aces but still win. I feel compelled to explain tactics to them, then wish I hadn’t because I never win again! Jason teaches us a new card game but it is complicated and gets a bit heated. I just keep out of it, still not sure whether ace was high or low!
Patience is definitely the watch word. I can’t remember a similar time in my life time. It doesn’t come close but the 2010 Eyjafjnallajokull Volcano eruption does have some parallels. We were in Sicily. We were having a final lunch before flying home in an attractive square. Richard went to pay and Kathryn came running out to tell me “Daddy needs you to go inside!” I assumed that there were problems with the credit card but when I got inside the staff, who spoke no English, were showing Richard photos of a volcanic eruption. Having visited Mt Etna the day before we assumed it was this volcano but we were confused by the Iceland connection. It soon became clear that our travel plans were about to get very complicated! All flights were cancelled and we found ourselves in a very long queue at the airport trying to to rebook. I was delighted when we got flights for the Tuesday but back to a different London Airport. It took Richard to point out that it was not next Tuesday but a week on Tuesday. I think the whole airport heard me shout, “What?” In the end, the only concession we got out of Ryan Air, who were definitely not busting a gut to put on extra flights but just rebooking people on flights with spaces in the future, was to get the flights changed back to the airport where our car was parked. The feeling of guilt at not being able to get back to work was muted by the fact that the local town was packed with U.K. teachers in the same situation and news from school that I was one of twelve teachers not able to get back. It gave Andy White material for the staff bulletin, something about me terrorising the Mafia; but in truth, I was making the most of ‘Free Entry in to the Ancient Sights Week’ and the chance to drink more good Sicilian wine!
Jason is a male Millennial living with three female Baby Boomers. Yes, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where I’m going with this one! One evening he sends a message on the Pucón Princess Group Chat to say he won’t be back for dinner. Rather baffling in the world of lockdown! There are a few travellers staying on at the hostel we stayed at for one night on arrival in Pucón so I wonder if he’s gone there.
Heather says he’s a big boy and can do what he likes.
Christine is worried he’s violating self isolation and may return to our safe house with the virus.
I just want a bit of gossip and speculate he’s found someone on Tinder! I’m missing all the gossip that working in a large organisation generates!
Anyway, the plot thickens because he doesn’t appear that evening. I’m rather put out because I’m sleeping in the open plan living area so I don’t want him coming in in the early hours and waking me up plus I don’t want to leave a door unlocked. I send him a message telling him to knock three times when he returns because the door is locked but I don’t sleep well, waiting for the three knocks.
He doesn’t return! A real mystery. I send him a message to check he’s okay as his previous message only said he would miss dinner not that he would be out all night. I have visions of him passed out in a ditch somewhere. “Yep” is the message that comes back and sounds like a euphemism for ‘mind your own business!’
I head off on a bike ride and return to find out from Heather and Christine that Jason went to another lake. So he wasn’t at the other hostel. When I track him down I go in for the kill:
Me: I hear you went to another lake, Jason.
Me: Did you get an Uber down there?
Jason: No, I went with a pseudo friend.
Now we’re getting somewhere! Friends with benefits if you ask me!
Me: Oh? (At this point Jason is supposed to tell all but, disappointingly, he just disappears to his room.)
Our fellow Dragoman passengers, who have all arrived home now, are finding it hard to switch off and engage regularly on the Dragoman 20 Group Chat. It is Matt’s birthday. We had been due to be at a vineyard where we intended to help him celebrate. He posts a picture of a bottle of Malbec brought for the occasion. Pictures of typical bus snacks are posted with Toblerone featuring prominently. Danish Amanda has completed a puzzle of King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle in Baveria and posts it for everyone to see, particularly John and Amalie who she worked on a puzzle with at the end of the W walk in the snug but had to leave it unfinished. A photo of Newcastle Dean on his own supposedly in charge of a cook group leads to a storm of food photos. South African Amanda posts inspirational songs.
Danish Annie makes a GIF out of my failed instagram photo and Driver Darren posts a picture of it featuring as his screen saver. I take drastic action and post numerous photos of my idyllic surroundings in the Chilean Lakes with a few choice hints about still being on the road and not stuck in lockdown. Who’s laughing now guys?!