From: Kirstie and Stuart
Subject: Losing It
Date: 30th November 1999
Place: Puerto Montt, Chile
Hope this finds you all well, and starting to get into the Christmas spirit. After all theres only 25 cycling days till Christmas!
From all the replies we´ve had to our e mails it sounds like there’s a lot going on at home. By contrast, life for us was getting pretty dull. 80 kilometres a day, tent up, tent down, day in day out. And we began to lose the will to cycle. We decided we needed a holiday, so off we went to a small Chilean travel agent in Temuco to fix ourselves up with a Christmas break to look forward to. “We need a holiday from our holiday” we explained over and over again, while the ever polite travel agent struggled to make sense of our confusing logic. She didn´t get it but nevertheless two hours later we emerged clutching a handful of ferry tickets, and a reservation for a four star hotel for Xmas. But it was still a distant dream, and the cycling still felt a bit like a chore. And then…… we discovered the Cake District.
Known to Chileans as the Lake District…. expanses of still and silent water, encircled by snowcapped volcanoes, gently erupting in the Spring sunshine. The hot sun enticing us to dip our toes in the cool waters. Promenades of pastry shops, windows full of Strudel, Kuchen, and Torta..beckoning us inside. And inside we went. How could anyone worn out by four weeks on a hot dusty saddle not be seduced by this?
It all began on Kirstie´s birthday morning, with a knock on the door and breakfast in bed. Windows thrown wide open to reveal Kirstie in all her glory to Volcan Villaricca…or was it the other way round? A luxurious five star breakfast, followed by a leisurely romantic picnic by the lake, and afternoon tea in the exclusive but worryingly named Pucon Pastries. Things were really looking up. And then, as we prepared for a birthday evening out, Stuart crunched into the bedpost. “Ive broken my knee” he screamed, writhing around on the floor. “Maybe I´ll never be able to cycle again” …he proferred half hopefully. “You’re not pulling that one…get up and I´ll buy you dinner” said Kirstie as she reached into her bag to get her wallet. She then joined Stuart writhing on the floor screaming, “What the hell did you do with the wallet?” “I left it balanced on the back of your bike outside the Oriente Supermarket in Villaricca this morning” came the pained reply.
We respectively stormed and hobbled along to introduce ourselves to the local police with a pre-prepared statement to avoid any communication difficulties. We presented ourselves and our written statement to the desk clerk in intense silence, the silence only broken when the officer in charge passed the statement amongst his colleagues. Between guffaws we heard familiar snippets being bandied about to much hilarity. “They want a full search and report”..with a wink to his colleagues, the clerk reached into his desk, ripped a slip of paper out of a grubby old notepad, stamped and signed it, and assured us it would carry much weight with our insurers. As we left bemused and penniless we were almost run over by a 1979 green police car, crawling out of the gate. “That´ll be the search team going out now.”
Kirstie’s birthday breakfast in the Lake District
A Camping wild on the lake shores
Gorging on kuchen around the clock
We were then joined for dinner by an unexpected guest, Alfonso. Eight years old, dressed only in orange swimming trunks, attracted only by the chocolates, he was quick to make himself at home despite the discomfort of the rocky shore. “It’s my birthday” Kirstie explained as she offered Alfonso a chocolate. “Happy Birthday” he enthused, shaking her hand and giving her a kiss on the cheek. He then got up, placed his damp beach towel under her buttocks to make her stay on the rock more comfortable and proceeded to gently massage her shoulders. She offered him another chocolate. The chocolates seemed to be disappearing rather more quickly than they were being offered. As Alfonso finally sat down, after refilling Kirstie’s wine glass, Stuart noticed a growing bulge in the little boy´s shorts. “What´s that?” Stuart jibed, winking at him. Alfonso jumped up, cheeks red with embarrassement, and out of his shorts tumbled a colourful selection of individually wrapped chocolates. “Thought so” said Stuart. “These are a present for you” Alfonso said wisely as he stuffed the chocolates one at a time into Kirstie´s breast pocket, taking rather longer than seemed necessary. Having completed the breast massage, Alfonso spotted the shiny new sunglasses. “Hey man” he said in an American drawl as he tried them on for size. “Cool man…present for me?” he asked. “You´ve just had your present” said Stuart, snatching them back. Alfonso stamped his feet in a prepubescent rage and thrust his hand back into the breast pocket to reclaim his chocolates. He snatched back his towel and turned to leave. And then, softening again, he turned back. “Happy Birthday Lady” he whispered softly in Kirstie´s ear as he put back a single chocolate with a final satisfying grope. “I´ve really enjoyed my birthday” said Kirstie as Stuart helped himself to an after dinner chocolate with rather more experienced hands.
The next day the reality of our new situation hit us. We had become addicted to the five star lifestyle but only had two star funds to sustain it. So we relocated to a 4 star hotel, 5 km out of town, offering a special two star off season rate which allowed us to continue to frequent our five star hotel in town… but only during Happy Hours, on the 2 for 1 night in the cinema, and in the Casino where we were determined to win our way back into credit. “Let´s sort this mess out” said Kirstie as she thrust her one dollar stake into the Sega virtual reality horse racing machine on a 114-1 two horse combination bet. In the grandstand twelve punters hunched over the miniature racecourse, cheering on six small plastic horses as the computer wheeled them around the track on their tiny wheels with all the tension of the Grand National. As the horses crossed the finish line, the fire alarm went off and it started raining coins, our faces suddenly illuminated by red flashing lights. We were saved. We counted our winnings over and over again until Happy Hour… and then celebrated with 2 for 1 cocktails.
Convinced we´d turned the corner and our luck had changed, we launched ourselves back on the bikes to explore the furthermost reaches of the Cake District. Midweek we discovered we had lost one of Kirstie´s sandals, last seen outside a supermarket in Entre Lagos (What is it about us and supermarkets?) And this on the day we were directed by a lonesome cowboy to “the perfect camp” on a deserted island beyond a fast flowing river. “It´s only knee deep” he said. Stuart waded in up to his waist with Kirstie on one sandal, doing a laudable impression of a flamingo. The cowboy looked on and laughed as he filled out a nomination for Kirstie for the local wet t-shirt competition. As Stuart made the eighth trip, bicycle over his shoulder, the cowboy applauded, “Now can you take my horse across?”
You carry them over and I’ll watch the bikes
Now there’s just one thing missing. Kirstie.
Our next camp was at a remote lakeside fishing spot. As we tucked into our tin of cold salmon, small groups of fishermen barbequed their freshly caught fish over open fires, downing beers and sharing fishermen’s fantasies. And as we tried to sleep, someone fired up a car generator, connected up a speaker system and began public service transmissions of a Spanish imitation of Derek and Clive. Soon the small groups were joined together in a public laugh in. Unable to understand a word, we were surrounded by deep, intermittent chuckling emerging from every tent in every corner of the field. Then, as each of the four 45 minute tapes ended and the next was prepared, they filled the silences with an impromptu inter-tent farting competition. Stuart unzipped his sleeping bag and let one rip, relieved that at last there was something he could join in with. The personality transformation was at last complete. And another nights sleep was lost.
We seemed to be losing everything. The only thing we were gaining was weight. The longer we stayed in the Cake District, the more difficult it became to cycle. Every morning at eleven we would take Chilean Onces, a tradition introduced to Chile by German colonists in the last century. We suspect they hoped in the long term to kill off the indigineous population by encouraging obesity. Onces… meaning elevenses… lots of fresh coffee, cake, ham, cheese and rolls. And then one tranquil Sunday morning we stumbled across the full horror of an Onces Onslaught. We cycled up to an unassuming Aleman Teashop, and innocently left our bicycles perched by the railings to venture inside. “Simple Onces” the waitress established and then marched off into the kitchen to assemble her troops. Ten minutes later and we were surrounded. Ten shiny metal pots, all fully loaded… clotted cream, double cream, cherry jam, jelly jam, cottage cheese, cream cheese, minced turkey, haddock pate, egg mayonnaise, ham and gherkin. This front line assault was supported by a battallion of twenty soft morning rolls… backed up with intimidating 120mm portions of cheese and 50mm slices of salami. Then bringing up the rear, the heavy artillery… two torpedo sized slabs of Kuchen and two rounds of fruit Torta of nuclear proportions. One hour later we surrendered and admitted that the Cake District had finally defeated us… which was probably in the interests of our own health.
Powered and slightly sickened by this experience, we were spurred back onto the bikes and have steamed on into Puerto Montt, gateway to the wilderness of the Deep South. No more Lakes. No more Cakes. We breathed a sigh of relief to have escaped having lost almost everything except our sense of humour. And we now head off into the unknown. Firstly to the mysterious Island of Chiloe, where it is said if a woman is made pregnant it is the fault of a goblin, and we don´t mean Alfonso. And then onto the Carreterra Austral, Pinochets´ dream road to nowhere… and then a Christmas holiday! If you fancy joining us for a Xmas break, we´ll be in the Hotel Coihaique, Magallanes 131, Coihaique, from 24-26 December. It´s a four star… but at four star prices. Or give us a call there Tel Coihaique 231137 Fax 233274. If we don´t speak before we hope you all have a Happy Christmas and a Millenium to remember.
Lots of love
Kirstie and Stuart