Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dolphins and whales and penguins, oh my!

"You should leave early, since I'm not sure what time the boats leave."

I looked up quizzically from the large slice of home made pizza I was devouring. "Can't we just google it?"

"No," I was told. "This isn't something you can google."

This wasn't something you can google?! How was this possible? Was this a boat trip off the ends of the Earth? I just wanted to see some penguins. Surely you can google penguins.

By the time we'd driven two hours across the rough desert road to the small seaside Chilean village, I had to admit that a fully interactive webpage where you could view a timetable, book and then pay for your trip with your international credit card was perhaps a trace unlikely.

The village was in the middle of nowhere and that was after it redefined my definition of 'nowhere'. For miles around there was nothing but dusty beige hills on which cacti emerged in roughly even spacings like a particularly unpleasant version of chicken pox. The town itself consisted of squat wooden huts and a pile of small fishing boats pulled up against the shoreline.

This then, was the Chile I had been expecting! Why, there was bound to be an alpaca around the next corner. In fact, we'd probably find our car had been replaced by a four-seater alpaca by the time we came back.

Awesome! Wonderful! Gre....

Then I saw the boat we were to be on for the next two hours.

It was been held by a mooring rope as it bounced wildly in the waves by the pier. The size of a large row boat, it seated maybe a dozen people on benches going across its width with a motor on the back. For reasons I didn't understand, the particular vessel we had signed on with was also flying a pirate flag.

I swallowed.

The crewman holding the pier end of the mooring rope decided it was too rough and loosened it, allowing the boat to be buffeting out into the sea before trying once again to pull it back in. Up and down. Up and down.

I started to back away up the pier.

"It's not as rough in the open water," I was assured.

Unfortunately, images of a boat ride equivalent to the WORLD'S WORST ROLLER COASTER had now firmly seized my mind. We would all die. Worse, we wouldn't die, but be made to endure two hours of hurricane-level sea conditions in which the small dingy would be hurled up to a height of at least 90 meters before dropping below the surface of the Earth to smolder in the molten lava only to rise again and loop-the-loop on circular waves that had taken on a nightmarish corkscrew formation.

Look, I wasn't too sure of the exact mechanics but that was totally what was going to happen.

I tried to explain rationally that, since I didn't wish to suffer unrepairable mental trauma, it would be best if I just waited here on the dock and.... tried to lower my heart rate.

My friends --being disinclined to use physical force against a girl they all knew was capable of howling like an abused three year old when she got irrationally scared-- reluctantly nodded their understanding. The Spanish-speaking crewmen, however, knew none of this, were unable to understand my hand gestures for 'unbelievably-scared-of-this-water-roller-coaster-of-death' or 'meeeeeeep!' and gabbled at me in excited Spanish that almost certainly translated to: "Yes, you will die, but get on this pirate vessel anyway", before leading me onto the boat.


The boat set off. I clung to my friend and tried to decide if I'd picked the right religion and if it was too late for a change.

Away from the pier, the sea went calm.

Then there was a whale. Followed by dolphins and sea lions and penguins and a nest of baby fluffy birds and a strange island with a rock formation that looked like a super ugly woman and bird dung that is apparently so valuable that countries fight over the right to collect it.

Then we ran out of gas.

After refilling from a spare container, we headed back to land where I ate a large empanada with shrimp.

It had been awesome. I was relieved. My friends, doubly so.

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