susys running away to sea

"The rigors (sic) of an expeditionary lifestyle"

Monday, May 29, 2006

In my brother's house ....

The more educated of you will recognise this mangling of a biblical misquote. Actually, it's some pictures - Heidi has created not just a home, but an awesome work of art. I want this house (and the back yard). The young chap at the computer is my nephew Michael. The back of the head is my brother .... he loves having his photo taken! More photos later, I hope.

lol xx

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On the loos in Flushing (not for the inconvenienced)

Whether you call them banos, servicios, restrooms, toilets, lavatories or loos, they all have their own little characters. And most of the character depends on the flush.

If you are at all concerned about your internal health, may I recommend the Chilean flush, where there is ample opportunity for diagnosis. There is also the little extra regarding provision and disposal of paper. Recommended: take your own. But otherwise, be sure to take more than enough provided from the dispenser outside the compartment in public conveniences - ignore this and be sure to be caught short. Disposal: generally in an adjacent bin. Hope for a bin with a foot pedal. Major pluses: often provided with those paper loo seats and most are extremely clean.

Airlines: go early in the flight, as later, well, things are getting a bit crowded. The flush button is often hidden behind the bowl, but when found operates with speed. There's nothing wrong with your waterworks, by the way - no, you're not pi - er -passing blue water.

Most recent experience has been in the restroom of a All-American Diner. Whatever you do, DONT get up, even temporarily, unless you really have finished. A minor shufflebum induced a horrendous noise behind my behind. Evacuation took on another meaning.

Friday, May 26, 2006

More Brown New

Me: How do you heat your home, John?

He: Four stair

Me: ?

(Now say it again)

Chez the Prewetts

After a fairly boring couple of flights, arrived at JFK to be met by my brother, taking an unheard-of day off work.

John and Heidi live just outside Princeton (famous and fabulously wealthy US university). J claims he lives in the 'boonies' - rural US but not the most polite word. Well, this is pretty excellent boonies - I'll take some pictures and post if I can. After passing the multi-storeyed tower blocks of the Bronx, this by comparison, is seriously beautiful and somewhat further up the scale. The development is in the style of New England meets Southern Colonial, set in groomed grassy parkland.

Ooops just burned the kettle ... back soon!

Odds and ends

Being called 'little mother-in-law' by Rodrigo - suegrita. Rachel assures me it's affectionate, not a reflection on my height. Aaaaaaah - actually, it's very sweet, and I'm touched.

Just finished yet another book - this time, 'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende, niece of the former Communist/Marxist/Left President Salvador Allende of Chile, murdered by the military during the coup in 1973. A fascinating story/allegory/symbol, with a riveting final 100+ pages. Do read it - must be cheap on

Polite messages scrolling on a screen in the underground train in Santiago - exhortations, thought for the day, metrolibrary, announcements, weather - makes a change from 'mind the doors!'

Santiago is home to 5 million people, set in a bowl within the Andes and the cordillera - lower mountains. The centre is pretty small and you can walk round it in an hour or so, depending on whether you have been lured into one of the many small restaurants in the covered (mainly fish) market, built in the style of a grand Victorian railway station - and built, or designed, by Brits. Persuasive they were, but we declined. R not much taken by tentacle soup. Can't think why.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My first collage and TTFN

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(download Picassa (it's free) and you can do these things

That's it for the time being, peeps

lol xxxxxxxxxx

Valpo snaps

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yet more...

"A friend always"!!

She's always uphill in our pictures! And I'm always wearing that bloody blue and white tee shirt.

Underground kettles

Pretty houses, Valparaiso Posted by Picasa

Chilly Miss Chile

These photos and following have been taken by Rachel - who takes much better pictures than her mama. From USA on you'll have to put up with mine.

This is Miss Chile (Museo Gustavo le Paige, San Pedro)

Valpo and Beenyar

Oh, I'm an old Chile hand - Valpo is Valparaiso of course, Chile's major port and famous for its high hills covered all over with crumbling mansions and shacky slums, nearly of which (both types) are made from corrugated iron, and brightly painted in several contrasting colours - style: vibrant hippy from a distance.

We cheated and took one of the 15 funicular railtracks up to the lower of the heights, where the views are spectacular over the bay, the faded grandeur is most appealing, and the shacky houses aren't quite slummy. The slums, the real places, are even further up the hills.

Then we took an overcharging colectivo (like a taxi, but a fixed route, and anyone can join in) to visit Pablo Neruda's house (Chile's Nobel Prize winning poet) - a mad, twisty, multi-roomed vision that is Valparaiso in miniature - though not made from corrugated iron!.

Coming down from the hills, we wanted a cheapy after the fleece-the-foreigner colectivo bloke. So we hailed a bus, cute, green painted, stuffed to the gills and oh yes, very cheap indeed. It brought to mind that expression: 'life is cheap', because the driver felt he had to obey gravity to the max. It's hard to convey hurtling down narrow windy streets, over lumpy bumpy roads (erm, think they're meant to be roads, but hard to tell). White knuckling, I looked death in the face - and found he didn't seem so bad after all. Oh, how we laughed like hyenas as we tumbled out - maybe survival has its good side!

Beenyar, or Vina del Mar, just along the coast, is much more posh - along the sea front, that is. Just as ropey a few streets back though. We were feeling posh and sucked fruit juice through straws in a very smart restaurant and listened to the waves crashing over the rocks nearby. You could tell it was smart - the maitre d' couldn't crack his face.

Vina holds the record for touts. We were pursued by one indefatigable tout from the back streets to the seafront, dodging to avoid him by crossing roads back and forth and middle and side. Nope, he dogged our footsteps along the front, and waited outside the restaurant to pounce as we left. Guess who he was (see previous sentence).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What's in a name?

Throughout Chile, to the uninitiated, there are busts of a 19th century sailor. To English eyes, it would seem no-one in Chile likes this chap, as someone has written an offensive word on the display stand under each one of these busts - PRAT.

But today, 21 May, is a celebration of Prats everywhere. He was, in fact, Arturo Prat, a Chilean superhero, who saved Chile from Peru, and other exploits. Please consult a history book, or Google for more information. And ever afterwards, well, from the days of Pinochet on at least, the day of A Prat's death is celebrated in style. You will have to excuse the tone - it is impossible for a Brit not to snigger rudely, but always up her sleeve.

The celebration is impressive and heart-felt - military bands, military uniforms brushed and polished to eye-searing brightness, military marching, and even here in land-bound Linares, a naval contingent. The mayor gives a dignified speech, and small girls and boys in flouncy red dresses (girls) and gaucho outfits inc spurs (boys) perform Chile's national dance and look absolutely adorable. If only the military everywhere would just keep to parades and bands and manoeuvres and NEVER GO TO WAR.

Toe-curlingly embarrassing

This is a bit out of order, but this is how I have spent today (Sunday 21 May 2006) so far ...

Before I left England, I kind of pondered, vaguely - should I have a pedicure? Hmm, well, I MOT-ed myself a bit - hair, teeth - feet?

I imagined sinking back in the comfortable padded chair, soft music, pink lights, sweet-scented, cosy toed in warm bubby water- mmmmmmmmm! - somewhere for the ladies, with a neat (female) beautician in trim white, murmuring gently as my feet are transformed from not-too-bad to pretty-good, ending in deep red toenails.

As it happened, I didnt get around to the feet, so today I ended up visiting umm not a beautician, but a chiropodist. Now, chiropodists of my extreme youth were for very old people with disgusting feet, and so far I dont see myself in that category yet.

OK - well, different country, different customs, and a chiropodist appointment is booked, after acres of consultation, by Rodrigo's mother, Monica. Sunday morning? Unusual, but ...

So, off we go, Rachel, Rodrigo and I - a family outing, for which my feet have become the centre of not attraction precisely, but have assumed centre stage prominence out of all proportion to the rest of me. They scream loudly at all passersby: "HEY, FOLKS! LOOK HERE! FEEEEET COMING THROUGH!"

Even better, when we reach the chiropodist's, it turns out he won't be a woman, he is definitely a man - and a young, handsome one at that. My toes are about to turn up with embarrassment. I can't bare my aging feet before a MAN! But, oh, yes, it appears I can, and indeed, I have to ...

And far from the luxury of a beautician's parlour, it is slightly shabby, cold, and clinically white, and I have to lie on a back-killer of a couch. So I lie down, tittering coyly, bluish tootsies exposed, while the young man dons plastic sleeve protectors, plastic gloves, and a mask. Serious business. The feet are examined closely - oh, oh - then he sets to work. First, trim the toenails. Hm, that's OK. I examine the Van Gogh print above his head. Then I look down and see him reaching for a VERY LARGE SCALPEL. My feet cringe in anticipated terror as the blade approaches. Van Gogh has never looked so interesting. Busily, he procedes to remove the soles of both feet. There are few jobs I would less like to do - how on earth did this young man come to choose his profession? Anyway, there is still one final thing - a thorough power-sanding of what's left of toenails and feet. He mimes tickling himself and points to me - no, not at all, I assure him, and away he goes, buzzing with this thing that sounds like a chain saw.

Now, in other stories of medical treatments in distant countries, the patient always emerges glowing and renewed - reborn even. I was definitely looking forward to this bit. With help, I levered myself off the back-killer bench and slide the tootsies, now feeling several sizes smaller, into my sandals.

They feel - how can I say? - rejuvenated? No. Light-as-air? No. Sore? Yes. Bleeding (slightly)? Yup, blood has been drawn. Ashen faced, but still suppressing giggles I regain the street. R&R obviously want a display. Well, they're not getting one. These feet are meant for walking, and that's just what they'll (just about) do. He was a sweet chap, trying out English and French with Spanish accent from behind his mask - but I have ground away toenails and the rest seems much as before, with bloody bits. Heyho!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Breathless in El Tatio

It's up at 3.30 in the morning to catch a minibus to see geysers in a volcano, and geezers in a pueblo. Famous, these geysers, spouting steam in the early morning sunshine (that's why we're up so early), where you can also swim in warm water after admiring these underground kettles. Ok - swum in a volcano in Antarctica - no prob - well travelled, world weary - old news. But take the cozzy. Oh, and by the way, it's cold, so dress up, hats, gloves, and so on. Ok, ok, done the cold bit too. That advice was from a couple in a motorhome. More of them later. The tour place didnt mention the cold - not good. This time, a different driver, a different minibus, both pretty decrepit. As was I after a two hour trip along roads which first of all shook the eyes out of my head, then the teeth out of my jaws, then decided to pulverise my bones into the finest powder.

When we arrived, the moon (same moon we saw at the Valle de la Luna, just a few hours ago) was still full and high, but by then I couldnt see it through the frozen condensation on the inside of the bus. Frozen? Yes, thick ice. Mmmm - gonna be cold, then? Colder than cold? Yup! Hats on, hoods up, gloves on, zip up the coats, wind the scarves around the faces, and out! Groan - must be old, have to unfold myself, reassemble the bone powder in the wobbly legs. 'Have a walk' says the bored guide, turning on the heating as we leave the bus - thanks for that, chap - don't try pointing out the "Tips not included" notice later. Off we go - wow it is cold here, we've come so high - four and a half thousand metres above sea level, two thousand more than San Pedro. The steam is starting to rise. Then ...

'I'm going back! Absolutely knackered! Go on - you go on! Can't do this!'

Golly, is this me? I'm snapping at R, who looks astonished. My legs are about to give way under me. This is what comes of getting up too early, nothing to eat, horrible bus ride, squashed, shaken to bits, freezing bloody cold, travelling around with someone younger and much fitter - hate everything! Back at the bus, I can hardly pull the door open - no help or even acknowledgement from the driver. Thoroughly fed up and cross and breathing heavily, I manage to haul myself on board, and fall into the nearest seat. Grumpy still, I look through the iced-up window. Bunch of bloody kettles. Steam, huh, so what. Breakfast - stale crust-only bun and a rubber slice of cheese, cup of cold tea - is horrible. Can't eat that, won't eat that.

Eventually, I pull myself together, rub a hole in the ice and decide to admire the geysers - well, that's why I'm here. And as the sun rises, they put on a show, steam rising and rising, and if I look hard, I can see small spurts of boiling water at their blowhole bases. With the dawn, comes a dawning - I've got altitude sickness! How dare that happen to me? But it has. After a while, I feel fine.

R comes back with beautiful photos - most of those in the Chile bit of this blog are hers - so I try again. Within a couple of steps outside the van, my legs feel weak, and, as the old joke has it, my breath is coming in short - and long - pants. My nose feels constricted, and my lungs feel deflated. It's not scary, but it's definitely not nice. It's OK if I do nothing - so nothing is what I do, and I can manage very well on that. R is worried - which I don't want, and I toddle slowly out for a photo. It's extremely disappointing, especially when I take a wider view - no future trips to mountains over 2.5 thousand metres, therefore, no Nepal, no Tibet, no Macchu Picchu. Bugger. Oh well, for a blog with 'sea' in the title, it's as well I like things at sea level and below. R takes a dip in the pool-ette, and I get to paddle. It's warm, but most of it is 'like the end of a shower' as someone else puts it. And you have to get out into the cold. Shame really - I would have gone in, even so, but taking my shoes off and then putting them on again is more than enough. Feels like last stages of emphysema - where's my oxygen bottle?

On the way back, the scenery is amazing - vaste altiplano sweeping and swooping, the rocky road a pale grey thread through the brown desert. Then gradually down, and round, grey-green bushy shrubs cover the land - llamas with pink and red woolly tassels in their ears - they must belong to that mud hut clinging to a ledge in the hillside. Then shy vicunas - pretty camels! I didn't expect to see them - not many of them about. And a stop - still feeling feeble, but better, as we're a bit lower. This is the pueblo - hmm - government identishacks in a row, graveyard, great little church (adobe, white painted, with big white cross on top), but locked (R went up to see it, I sat in the sun), and a minor fleece-the-tourist outfit - banos (loos) and drinks, or should that be the other way round. A couple of the drinks, dispensed by a dreary couple of local geezers, are meant for altitude sickness - looked like wee, tasted like, well, I can't say wee, or you'd think I'd tried that, but foul and undrinkable. Anyway, I was going down, so it got chucked. We went to a real pueblo later, not this dreadful apology.

Later, in the hostal car park, we reintroduced ourselves to a couple of English couples sitting outside their motorhomes. Olwyn was the one who had told R it would be freezing at the geysers - millions of thanks for that, O. They are Peter and Janet, and John and Olwyn known to themselves as OJ!). They don't just go away for the weekend, oh no! They travel the world in their motorhomes, away for months and months, all round S America, the Silk Route - you name it and they've either a) been there, done that, or b) going there, doing that. I nosily invite myself in and have a poke around. New plans for my future waft across my brain ... You never know ...

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El Tatio geysers

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Second wind:

Unusually for me, that tightrope along the cliff ahead looks oddly alluring. Or is the prospect of sitting on sharp rocks for rather a long time losing its appeal? A load of people have come up the duneside, the older ones applauding each other for having survived the long haul. Time to seek solitude among the mountains, I think. Wearing glasses has its own hazards, and wearing varifocals has the disadvantage of being unable to see what is immediately beneath your feet. I now walk as if the woes of the world are weighing me down, my head bowed in misery, staring at the ground, watching that my adobe coloured, sand filled trainers aren't taking that final step to doom over the cliff edge. I exaggerate a bit - there is a pretty good, if rough, track to follow. But stray from it at your peril! Wow, I must be good! I'm striding on and on and on, up and down the pathway, peering from a vertigo-ly-challenged distance into the abysses on either side. I even hop up and down the rocks - another problem is judging distance. I'm on my own, and I'm loving it! Eventually, of course, some of the other (much younger, gratifyingly) people come along behind me - I'm the leader, forging a path through the wilderness, breaking new ground, etc etc. So I go on a bit more, and a bit more, but still they keep coming, so I stop. They're French, and take pictures of each other, same jokes - back a step, and another ... ho ho ho!

The sun is going down behind the distant high hill where C and R disappeared ages ago. If I look through the top bit of my binospecs, I can see where they are - a row of tiny black vertical spikes outlined along the top of the outcrop - people watching the sun go out. Turning 180 degrees, I see the moon rising. It's a full moon, and truly beautiful. The sun colours the mountains around, pinks, yellows, palest turquoise. The moon shadows the rocky valleys. This show is just for me. But I have to go back while I can see the track, and at the top of the dune again there are a couple of chaps with radios - we aren't allowed to stay up there all night, and they'll be counting us all back. Eventually, stragglers wander back over the dune, C & R among them. Going down the track is a doddle, even with sand-filled shoes. There's Luis, grinning his age-ground teeth, and so back to SP, where we have already moved back to the original hostal. Tea with Chris, such a nice guy, who is off to Bolivia shortly, then R and I to dinner at one of the many eating places, with most of the tables out at the back, under the stars, an open fire sparking. Posted by Picasa

Valley of the Moon, at last

Oh yes, I started on about the Valle de la Luna - dapper Luis (later to be seen in a well pressed Pringle sweater) ferried us to the bus park, fortunately empty, room for thousands in high season, and directed us to a huge dark brown sand dune, with a sandy track to one side. 'I'll see you here at 6.30' he said, preparing for a long doze in the heat of his cab. Not for him the mountain goat exertions.

Off went Chris and Rachel, almost running up the slight incline to the top of the dune. It seemed to me I was taking the same track, but for some reason, I was choosing the deeper sand, the steeper bit of hill. Just keep going to that rock, no, not that rock, that one further up. Oh, that one way up there?? Yes, head down, plod on - keep up, girl. Now I'm hearing not just the massive thudding in the chest - keep up heart - nor the hoarse labouring breathing - keep up lungs - but voices urging me onwards and ever upwards. It's a phrase I use often at sea level - I promise never to use it again, not ever, ever again in my life. How unfit can the old girl be? But the view from the top is worth it. In fact, you get two for the price of one. On the other side of the massive dune are TWO Valleys of the Loon, er Moon, bifurcated by a well traipsed rocky tightrope. And off to the right is a deep, sandy track along the top of the dune to a rocky outcrop waaaay waaaay over there. By now, you might guess sand and I dont much like each other. So I sit at the top and watch Chris and R bound along the dune path. I summon up the energy to wave encouragingly, turning aside so the noise of my breathing doesnt follow and frighten them. I shall wait here, clutching my bottle of water, and a stout coat, for I have been promised cold weather as the sun goes down, and we are here to watch the moon rise over the valleys of the moon - what else? It's all very exotic.

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The 3 Marias and the lion

On to the three Marias, a sort of adobe (what else) and rock formation of what actually looks like 4 large lumps of shit sticking out of the ground. The largest lump, in the middle, is a madonna carrying a baby with a bobble hat. You might be able to spot this in the photo. The fourth lump is apparently a lion. By now, we suspect many of these 'tourist attractions' are the inspired work of a priest, who wanted to improve the local economy when the cattle trails dried up. 'I know!' he shouted, as the word of Dosh descended on to his shoulders, 'Let's make this a hippy trail! They'll be so exhausted, pushing their loaded bikes up and down these mountains, carting ginormous backpacks twice their size, so stoned with er, er, oh yes, the altitude, of course, they'll believe anything! Halleluyah! We'll all be saved!' And they are ...

By the way, there's also a salt mine here, more of a hole in the ground. R and I lick our fingers and rub them on a salty looking outcrop. Mm, yes, that's salt. And mm, yes, how many other hundreds or thousands of other people have done this too? It's very shiny. Posted by Picasa

Into the Valley of Death rode, well ...

Hmm, leeetle disappointing this, when it transpires that all that died here was a small herd of sheep... We meet them later, Chris thinks, on the menu as Valle de Muerte hamburguesas (lamburguesas, no?) Posted by Picasa

San Pedro is

a fantastic place! It's an oasis, and was once a staging post for cattle droves. I'm expecting Clint Eastwood to ride into town, chewing on a cigarillo and spitting into the dust. I'm even contemplating buying a poncho - phew, escaped just in time! Mind you, I have seen a cute little knitted hatty with earflaps in colourful stripes and plaited cords to tie fetchingly under the chin when that ole desert wind howls down the Andes, sending up dust devils, and turning everything even more adobe brown.

I love it here - the sun shines every day, and every night the moon and stars are stuck in the midnight sky. Which is another thing - we are of course taking tours and one has to be to the Valle de la Luna. Ray and I book it up, and because we are out of season (thank goodness over and over again - few people around, weather excellent), we share the ancient minibus with just one other person, Chris a Dutchman, who speaks virtually perfect English and is very funny. Our guide is a wrinkly, elderly local Atacameno, Luis, who is very keen to show us views, tell us history and generally takes an interest. (R does a superb job as translator and interpreter, but she's got another think coming if she thinks I'm going to give her a tip!) Actually, after going along the rickety rackety roads, I begin to think the minibus is probably pretty new, just used. First we have a view of the 'dinosaur' rock formations - rows of spiky curved backs, like herds of Loch Ness monsters parading alongside the road, then a view down a hole deep into the hillside, then a view over the plain far below (further than the eye can see, this immense plain), then on to the Valley of Death!! We're all three of us agog!

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