Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Lazy Day in Cochrane

I'm brimming with excitement after just bumping into the spitting image of Goldmember, the lunatic Dutchman in the latest Austin Powers film. I was expecting him to start peeling off flakes of skin and eat them at any moment! Anyway, he's on a bicycle, and is heading the same way as me. He tells me there is a boat from Villa O' Higgins (my next destination) on Wednesday, which is a good thing, as I'll be there Monday! Yay - a reasonable connection for the first time! This does mean I'll have to skip some treks that I was planning to do in that area, but I think it's more important to head down to FitzRoy and the Torres than faff about with mini-treks here.

Had lunch at, what is according to my guide book, the best restaurant in town, El Fogón. This does not bode especially well for any gastronomes visiting. Allow me to explain how restaurants work here: In general, there is no menu. One goes in, usually to a guesthouse, and one is told what is offered. Today, I really wanted fish, but no, I was told a mixture of beef and chicken was the dish I would be served. Okay then. First comes some chicken and vegetable soup, which is fairly nice.


Next the meat dish, with rice.

Meat and rice

As I tuck into this, two women sitting near me manage to convince the hostess to serve them salmon with salad, exactly what I craved, dammit! It's either a conspiracy, or my linguistic skills are letting me down on a frequent basis. Both fairly plausable, I think you'll agree.


Now, I need your advice, dear reader. My beard is in danger of going Taliban if left to its own devices. It may not, but I think it's safest to not take risks. What to do with the thing? I blame my father for never teaching me how to shave. This is one of the essential father-son bonding experiences, and I missed out. I remember when I taught Chucky how to wet-shave at Uni - I felt so proud! Anyway, my beard has now got to the stage where I can sort-of floss my front teeth by dragging them over my lip, which doesn't seem like a healthy situation (it's addictive though!). I can also twist bits into a swirl, and can curl the bits at the edge of my lips into my mouth. All enjoyable, but it has to go. Somehow I have passed the "itchy phase" which is usually as much as I can take, at about 3 weeks. I now have to make a conscious effort to dry my beard, otherwise I walk out of the hostel post shower with water running down my top - beards soak up the old agua! Do you think it's appropriate to start shampooing the beard at some point? Anyway, the question for the readers is.. Should I shave off the beard first and go with a moustache for a few days, or the other way around. Being in South America, I'm tempted to try a 'tache. Answers on a postcard, or just add to comments.

Chimneys everywhere

One point of note. As I've said, Patagonia involves frequent flips back and forth across the Chilean - Argentine border. In fact there are bits of both countries at the bottom (Tierra del Fuego) that are completely isolated from the rest of their land. So given all this, one would expect maps and information to make references to both countries? Nope. Nada. Maps and pamphlets on both sides of the border almost seem to deny the existence of the other country. So when trying to plan routes, generally you have two maps and flip back and forth trying to align them using the "lumps" of the coastline that match up. Ridiculous really.The route that I'm taking next has only been possible for the last 10-15 years, after a border dispute was cleared up by an international commission. There's little information about this route, partially because it's a border crossing. From what I understand, I take a boat from Villa O' Higgins that runs once a week, then walk for a day or two before reaching the border. What fills me with dread is that this is the first trek ever where I will not be returning to start point, i.e. I need to carry *everything*. Despite having nothing more than when I set off from England a few months ago, I am not looking forward to this!

There is an airport here in Cochrane, but apparently there were two crashes of landing aircraft last year, with 8 people dead. so flights are suspended. Next nearest airport? Coyhaique, 7 hours drive (more by bus!). Nasty!

I've finally worked out my shower here. You have to use matches to light a pilot light in a gas boiler, as the auto-ignition doesn't work. It's actually a fairly good wheeze to limit how many showers guests can take, as I only have about 8 matches in the box provided. Flipside for the hostel is that I will just leave the pilot light on, or even heat my room by using the hot shower. When showering there is a fine balance between having enough flow to keep the boiler burning, and having enough cold water in the mix that you can stand under the water without being scalded. The balance is not a good one, so I've taken to leaving the basin hot tap running too to help keep the hot flow pressure up. God save the environment! Am almost (not quite though) looking forward to camping!!

It obviously gets pretty cold here in winter. My bed has one sheet, three blankets, and the cover, all on top of me. Three blankets! Plus the room has two stoves in it.Now it is the height of summer, and it's fairly nippy at night. With all these blankets, I sleep well (until the person in the room above me makes their daily racket from about 7am!).

Tomorrrow I'm going to the Festival of the Huemul - an antelope-like creature which apparently is now only found in this area. To celebrate its near extinction they are going to spit-roast several of them in a National Reserve called Tamango, near here in Estancia Valle Chacabuco, several km North of Cochrane.

So come evening, Patricio and I go to Pub El Rincon De… (the name really does include the "…"), knock on the door and are allowed in. We quaff a couple of Cristals before heading over to a café on the other side of town, which apparently serves local Patagonian beer. It does, and the name is D'Olbek, brewed in Chile Chico, not that I noticed a brewery when I was there. It is in fact a Belgium-style beer, sweet but otherwise quite nice. There is a bit of history involved in Patagonia with beer brewing - a hundred years ago (or so), when lots of people emigrated here looking for land, a fair number of Germans came. Wherever they went, they tended to set up breweries using methods and technology from back home, hence a variety of German-style lagers available (I've also tried Austral Lager from Punta Arenas after finding it in a supermarket in Chile Chico). Nothing like the scale of the "micro-brewery" industry back in England, but at least it's there. So many countries round the world just have one or two lagers available across the whole country, which is not very interesting for a "enthusiast" (yes I know there are less complimentary words!) like myself.

Sweet but fairly pleasant I concluded after several iterative tests

A few of these go down, then Patricio recognises a couple of chaps on the other side of the room. We join them, and engage in a debate about national parks and animal preservation. I don't feel inclined to add much to what is said. I had my hand shaken when I agreed that in general the Israelis are a fairly unpleasant bunch. Strange as I have nothing against them in principle, and even am fairly supportive of their cause in the Middle East, but I have to say I've never met an Israeli person I felt much empathy with. I presume I'll meet a really nice bunch of them tomorrow having written this. We shall see.

Reflective strips make flash hard work

One very strange thing that the chap on the right did that I've never seen before - he added salt to his beer! A good sprinkling, then swished it around in his glass! How curious! When I enquired, he explained that this is quite normal, and he then picked up a bottle of lemon juice and squirted some of that in too! Messing with your beer in this manner surely can't be good. Lemon, okay, similar to a lager top, but salt?

Next we head off, and one of the other chaps drives us to a "club" near our hostel. We head in, grabbing some beers and sitting down at a table next to the dance floor. A rather provocatively dressed lady joins us, whom I recognise from the pub two days beforehand. She dances with one of the other chaps, then asks me to dance.

Fun now, pay later. Interest free credit.

Before my dance, I am told that she is a prostitute. And so I find myself on the dancefloor with a prostitute, a first for me at least! She tells the group after our dance that I am beautiful. Here's a question for all the chaps out there - how do you respond to being told that you are beautiful. I think "handsome" is not being translated well, but still. I can't stand comments like that - makes me cringe. I suppose you might say that I don't like being on the end of compliments.

Definitely too much of this going on!

Anyway, this club has about three or four girls, one of whom is the prostitute, and about 30 men. Not a great ratio. One nice thing about Chilean culture in general is the willingless to dance.


1,2,3 1,2,3 and 1,2,3

As I know little about dance, I can't really say what type it is.. Two step? Waltz? All music here and elsewhere (at this place there is a three-piece band playing) seems to be suitable for this particular dance, and after Patricio and I get talking to the three girls there, they are constantly being asked to dance, and mostly accept. There's little evidence of other music being popular.


Many more beers were enjoyed here, and I think we were turned out approaching 5am.

I just love his smile!

Couldn't resist the ol' oriental v for victory sign, or is it peace?

The beard must go! Long live the beard!

Happy smiles after the dance

Managed to leave at 8am, headed back for a quick breakfast (bread salami and cheese of course) then an hour's sleep. Wake my up, before you go go to the Fiesta!


Anonymous said...

OK Crawley, let's get a few things straight.
a. I stopped shaving on April 5th 1985
b. However little hair I have on my head, I still have a full beard (i.e. no "shaving round the edges to tidy things up") (IMHO) I know what I'm talking about!

Tip 1: of course you shampoo your beard. Otherwise it just becomes a cache for small pieces of food.

Tip 2: as the beard gets longer, you can plait it or sew in beads (I did both in 1988, but I didn't work in an office then). Both tricks are a great source of amusement for under-12's, but did seem to cause problems for customs officers

Tip 3: If you ride a motorcycle in a warm country wearing a longer beard, a lot of insects will get stuck in it! Answer - wear a scarf!

Hope you're having a lot of fun,

Cheers, SimonA@colt (busy searching for the elusive exciting places to visit near Powergate)

pine-cones said...

I think the lager + lemon + salt is actually the originator of our "tequila slammer". Although it's not slammed. Does that sound right? I heard it was common practise to add salt and lemon to lager and spirits in some parts of South America - not a dab round the glass, but actually into the drink itself. Some even try using chili! Have you seen this?

As for the beard, well done for beating the 3 week itch. Shampoo, yes, it is hair after all. As for the moustache, the choice is yours whether to trim or to break through the barrier and cultivate a huuuuge moustache.

Maybe now is the time to work out exactly how one is supposed to keep a beard trimmed using only wet shaving tools?