As if a stranger

As I lay there,

my legs tired after surveying the base of the volcano near Puerto Varas, and attempting to climb it, but getting shy of the top –  my lungs gasping for oxygen molecules in the scant air, I realise that I am only a body.

A body with legs that hurt,

with a stomach that misbehaves

and a mind that thinks too much.

I find the vistas here, in Puerto Varas – enchanting. The perfect conical peaks of the volcanoes, with their perfect snow capped tops, remind me of Walls Cornetto Ice-cream cones.

The weather is warm and the days stretch on till 10 pm. It is summer here in the southern hemisphere, and BBC news of snow-storms battering British shores, fill me with subllime indifference. It don’t matter to me. England seems a distant memory and all else entailed. The home / hostel I am staying in has a kitchen. The kitchen has a gas cooker, a microwave, a kettle and cutlery. But the gas cooker has no metal grills to support the pans and it seems to be always out of matchsticks! There is no frying pan either, nor any oil. Nor is there any microwave friendly utensil. There is a kettle though – and whilst in the supermarket store, I find myself a new friend: ‘Cup-a-soup’ sachets – just add boiling water! The bread here seems strange, though I am getting used to it. I find myself looking closely at labels because, to be frank, I don’t know what half the stuff is!

I am a body,

in a strange land and I find myself thinking when communicating to people (and it is communication NOT talking because it involves hands and eyes and eyebrows): ‘How is it possible you can’t understand English?!’.

I went to the Barbers the other day. The barber’s right hand was shaking when cutting my hair and occasionally he’d smack the shaking hand to get it to behave. It was hilarious but also a little disconcerting as you can imagine. You see the barber; who looked experienced, was very nervous. He’d never cut the hair of a foreigner before, and he was probably mulling over, what would happen to him if he’d accidently cut my neck.

Tonight I have been invited to a barbeque to a place south of Puerto Montt called Calbuco. Apparently there is an empty lodge thereabouts and about 20 of us will be roasting a lamb there tonight, on a spit on the open fire, besides this lodge, overlooking the Golfo de Ancud. We will be lodging there tonight so I have brought myself a sleeping bag. I am happy to go along with it all – the work at Un techo Para Chile has brought me into contact with many Chileans and I feel privileged to get up close and personal exposure to Chilean peoples, society and Chilean culture. Like most places in the world these days the young here are obsessed with all things Americano / British – The beatles, Queen, Nirvana, American Pie, and me being the token Gringo with a foreign accent – I am naturally a curiosity for them. My every word like that of Jesus. Everything I say get’s rounds of laughter. Everything. It could be the most inane and silly thing like ‘Look at the stars look how they shine for you’ OR ‘look at the ripples in the glassy sea’ OR ‘Pass me the beer, por favor’ –  I never thought I was that funny – maybe they are just laughing at my accent…

Like a traveler who suddenly arrives from way beyond, onto the shores of a little island, whose inhabitants have never journeyed beyond the horizon. I bring with me stories and tales and news and happenings of the greater world beyond. I beguile and enchant them with stories of London, of the wider world – Africa, Asia, Europe – and If I am drunk – the stars and galaxies. Most of the time they just sit there, their eyes wide open like telescopes, their ears red from the exhaustion of hearing, their minds numb from the otherworldiness of it all – they drink it all in. Most of it they probably don’t understand – but it don’t matter, for this traveler from a land far far away, has touched their hearts with the wand of strangeness. I find myself being able to charm the ladies into a state of utter bewilderment. When they stand next to me I can feel their skin tingle – maybe I am electrically charged – Magneto!!

I am a body,

I am intestines, a heart, kidneys, liver and a brain.

What is this collection of intestines, heart, liver, bone and brain doing here?

Sometimes, I wonder how I got here. What force was it that conspired to have me shipped here…

…in this little town called Puerto Montt – where no one speaks a word of English,

and where people look at me,

as if a stranger

from a distant planet.

One thought on “As if a stranger

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