Tuesday, 15 March 2011

... in the bedroom. With his father-in-law.

So, it turns out I look like a 62-year-old man.
Our efforts to check in my father-in-law at our hostel descended into chaos when the receptionist, Luciana, got herself into a state of confusion.
Firstly, she assumed that he was my dad because "we look so alike". (Maybe this beard´s not such a bright idea after all.)
Then she tried to book him into a private room with The One With The Common Sense, convinced they were the couple in this slightly unorthodox threesome.
Mind you, lovely though Luciana was, she was clearly a couple of jalapeƱos short of a salsa - or, at least, that´s what I´m telling myself.
In any case, it wasn´t long before we were all in bed together. For our third night in Bariloche, in Argentina´s Lake District, we booked into a three-bed dorm.
It was a strange set-up, however, with a bunk perched sideways over a double bed rather than individual beds.
To save the father-in-law the perilous climb to the bunk, or from braining himself on the sloping ceiling, we agreed he should stay in the big bed.
And we decided it was probably best that The One With The Common Sense should join him to avoid any awkward Morecambe and Wise (or Bert and Ernie) type set-up.

It might be an odd threesome but it´s certainly one that suits us all - the trip, that is, not the odd sleeping arrangements.
Chief among my father-in-law´s hobbies are walking, bird-watching, travelling and enjoying a good drink - with its related aspects of socialising and talking nonsense.
In that way, he´s like a more amiable version of Bill Oddie - a Drinking Man´s Bill Oddie, if you will.
And it turns out that it was something of a lifelong ambition of his to travel in Patagonia. So, when we decided to visit this part of the world, it made sense for him to join us and make use of The One With The Common Sense´s excellent Spanish to ease the trip.
So far, at least, it has proven handy for me. While The One With The Common Sense is fussing over her dad, it means she spends less time arguing with me.
And it also means I can indulge in one of my guilty pleasures - a spot of birding - without the usual response of "would you come on and stop looking at the feckin´ birds". It´s two against one now.
Having said that, the Drinking Man´s Bill Oddie is showing an unerring - and slightly alarming - knack of finding any available tree root to trip over.
And there are certainly no signs of our trip getting any less disorganised.
When we took a hire car trip around Bariloche, the One With The Common Sense and I returned from the supermarket laden with shopping to find the Drinking Man´s Bill Oddie being moved on by a traffic warden.
However, being a bit flustered in the unusual car, he didn´t notice our arrival and drove off.
What followed was a Benny Hill-like performance of the car moving slowly along, hazards flashing, with me chasing behind.
When he turned up a sidestreet, I thought he would pull over but - still oblivious to my presence - he carried on up a hill with me puffing and panting like Linford Christie behind.
Inevitably, he lost me, leaving myself, The One With The Common Sense, and the Drinking Man´s Bill Oddie all in different parts of town, with no way of communicating with one another.
No matter, we eventually found each other and spent a very enjoyable day walking the countryside around the lakes and drinking in panoramic views of the Andean peaks (along with hot chocolate and tea).
Situated on Lake Nahuel Huapi, which looks every bit like a sea when the wind whips it up into white peaks, Bariloche is a beautiful spot and we could have stayed longer - but Patagonia beckoned.


Any fears I´d had about Argentinians harbouring lingering resentment against the Brits over the Falklands War dissipated at the border.
When I showed the border guard my passport, he bellowed: "Ah, Liverpool. Peter Crouch. Mascherano."
I chose not to point out they´d both left the club for a better place but did explain that my team was Everton.
He waved rather dismissively but I thought better of taking it further.
It turns out they´re not that interested in past conflicts at customs. Their prime targets when choosing whose baggage to haul off the bus for scanning appear to be Colombians - presumably because of drugs - and middle-aged women.
They didn´t find any coke on the Colombian couple behind us in the queue but they confiscated a whole load of fruit and veg from one lady. (Though why she was carrying spuds across the border remains a mystery).
The guard did relent and allow another woman to keep a jar of home-made jam but only after pointing out to everyone present why he should really throw it in the contamination bin. Maybe she promised him kickbacks in marmalade on the return journey.
Getting out of Chile proved to be more tricky. I was a bit worried because there was a wanted poster featuring a bloke who looked like a fatter version of me but thankfully another couple kept the guards occupied by having problems with their papers and causing a 45-minute delay.
However, we were soon on our way and winding along the road bordered by stunning lakes and mountains.

Our final destination in Chile - Puerto Varas - was beautiful, apparently.
We couldn´t see the impressive views of the volcano, however, given it was shrouded in cloud during our whole stay.
Our previous stop of Pucon had been a different story.
Reached via a brilliant 12-hour overnight journey from Valparaiso during which I managed to sleep practically the whole night, we knew we´d arrived in Pucon when we caught sight of Villarica.
At 2,847 metres, with the slopes below the crater blanketed in snow, this smoking giant imposes itself on the whole area.
It´s quite something to see it fizzing menacingly at the top of the street when you nip to the shop.
We spent our first day there swimming in the cold, clear waters of Lake Villarica in perfect sunshine, with the volcano behind us and the hills all around.
We were the only people in our guest house, meaning we could enjoy the rare luxury of relaxing in the lounge to watch a film. (Okay it was Forgetting Sarah Marshall but you can´t have everything).
The next day, we took a bike ride up in the mountains to some waterfalls known as Los Ojos (the eyes) del Caburgua.
It was tough going over the rough roads but the view at the falls was well worth it. Having enjoyed the morning so much, we decided to take a diversion from the 36km route to head to some thermal pools.
There are several in the area and we thought these would be quieter than the most popular, where busloads of people go at night.
What we didn´t bargain for was the buttock-numbing 3km climb to get to them, nor the 10 quid entry fee that we didn´t actually have enough cash for.
The guy who ran the place let us off with a few pesos but when we got inside it still wasn´t worth the cash.
Far from the warm natural pools I´d visited in Australia, this set-up consisted of something that looked like a swimming pool, some concrete ponds filled by spring water and a couple of tubs heated by burners - what a cheat!
Even though the water was warm(-ish), it´s pretty hard to notice when you´ve spent the previous half-hour getting hot and bothered while battling uphill.
And the last thing we wanted to do after a soak was to get back on a bike and pedal ourselves sweaty again.
But it did feel pretty good when we rocked back into town and took ourselves for a meal.
The One With The Common Sense had been dying to try chorrillana, a Chilean speciality.
It basically consists of all manner of fried meat - chorizo, pork, beef, whatever - piled onto a massive plate of chips, with three fried eggs on top.
It looked like the whole thing had been assembled in a chip pan basket, fried to oblivion and then tipped onto a plate. Still, it tasted pretty good, washed down with beer and a side dish of (fried) bread rolls.
This sort of cuisine - along with the national dish of completos (hotdogs) goes some way to explaining the physique of some of the local women.
You wouldn´t want to arm-wrestle some of them. Built like linebackers.

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