My dear friend Marge has left. I am therefore dedicating this blog to her and the magnificent times we had together – an ‘homarge’, if you will.
Our time together began with a reminder of the hypnotic effect that Marge has on men. In the space of the four hours between the time that we cancelled our road trip and arrived in a nearby town to do some last-minute hiking, she had somehow secured the affections of an unfeasibly good looking gentleman. When I say unfeasibly good looking I really mean unfeasibly. He had the body of an adonis and the face of an angel. Well, a slightly dirty angel, but an angel nonetheless. As soon as she saw him, Marge announced to me that she was lost. LESS THAN AN HOUR LATER he was giving her cookies and begging for permission to accompany us on a punishing 22km hike the next day.
Marge went to bed at about 10.30pm that night, preparing herself for the epic hike. I instead stayed up late gooning at The Man via skype. And guess what – Marge’s man rocked up at our hostel at 11.30, looking smarter than any traveller ever should, asking if she was awake so “we” could go for dinner. I knew perfectly well the invitation did not include me. “I like her,” he said, looking at the bedroom door. I smiled and showed him out.
Every time I drew level with them on the hike they were discussing things like world religion and linguistics and the meaning of love. I kept well away. I don’t have much to say when I’m battling my way up a mountain.
Rather unfortunately I got stuck with his annoying friend who kept telling me, in a hopeful way, that he had decided to be unfaithful to his girlfriend back home because he was a man and it was a biological fact that men cannot wait seven months for sex, regardless of their relationship status or partner’s feelings. “Really?” I asked, irritated. “I think The Man is managing well enough without me and he’s a man – how come you need to have it off with someone and he doesn’t?”
The guy smiled and told me that The Man was probably busy having it off with all sorts of beautiful women in London. He intimated that the best solution was for him and I to have sex tonight. I stormed off down the mountain.
Later on, dinner and drinking occurred and I cannot promise that Marge and the dirty angel did not maybe go out to look at the stars and end up in an amorous embrace. I really do take my hat off to her. (Although in fairness to myself I suppose it did only take me fifteen hours from meeting The Man to snogging his face off in a tango hall back in early November.)
The next day we set off on a two-day bus journey. Part one, a hefty 13 hours, incorporated only three wee stops. THREE? More than half the bus was women! We pee at least twenty times a day and that is a fact. What were these people thinking of? It was not fun. We subsisted on bread rolls the size of footballs with cursory bits of ham and plastic cheese thrown in as an afterthought and crossed our legs and squirmed uncomfortably while hours and hours of desolate Patagonian steppe whizzed past our window and stones from the gravel road pelted the bus.
Eventually we stopped at a hotel the like of which I thought ceased to exist forty years ago. It was actually indescribable. Large man with hair that has not been washed this millenium standing in a wooden reception with plastic flowers, fag hanging out of mouth, belly hanging out of shirt, grunting and shoving a key at each passenger who spilled off the bus and into his hotel. Plastic sofas. A restaurant lit by brilliant white lights, serving sandwiches with chips and angel delight. I was losing it slightly at this point but Marge was in her element.
“I’m going to require you for a photoshoot on one of the vinyl sofas, Marge,” she told me. “Perhaps you could be posing seductively with Carlos from downstairs.” She marched us down for a cup of tea which arrived in the form of a tea bag with a pot of hot milk. “Er, may I have some water?” I asked Carlos. He looked surprised. “Why?”
“Because I asked for tea with milk.” He looked at the table. “Si. There you have it – tea with milk. What is the problem?”
When we finally arrived in Bariloche, two days later, we went straight off for a vegetarian dinner. We are both rampant steak eaters but after two days of sandwiches we were desperate for vegetables. Off we went to the vegetarian restaurant, wildly excited about our forthcoming binge. Unfortunately the restaurant appeared to be someone’s house. We looked at each other, a little confused, but nothing was going to stop us eating vegetables.
We entered. It was definitely someone’s house. And it was stone cold silent. One other couple sat there in anguished silence, wondering if we might help them escape. There was no waiter, just this silent sitting room. About twenty minutes later, by which time Marge and I had forgotten that we were over bread and had demolished all the bread left out on the sideboard, a woman shuffled in not with a menu but with a plate of hippy food. We tucked in of course, but as per the customs of the establishment we spent the entire evening in deadly silence. It was not comfortable.
The next night we went to the place up the road that looked like a little hobit’s cottage from Lord of the Rings. It may have been a bit toadstooly but at least people actually talked over their dinner.
After the cycle ride that I told you about, we decided to tackle horses. Riding horses out in South America is pretty straightforward; you never do more than a walk and you sit on a mountain of sheepskins that somewhere conceal a saddle. You use your reins like a joystick and essentially the less riding skill you employ, the more you will get out of the ride. It’s like sitting on a chair.
So I was a little surprised when we took off up a vertical-sided mountain with a whooping man as our guide. When he wasn’t busy whooping about nothing in particular he would, without warning, shoot off down some dusty track at a gallop, whooping as if to say “FOLLOW ME!”
I just about kept up with him but poor old Marge had been given a fat moron to ride and had a terrible time of it. Wherever we went, Fat Pampero (the horse’s name) stopped to eat a tree, bush or, failing the above, dried sun-roasted weeds from the ground. When me and the mad whooping man set off at a gallop through some woods, jumping fallen trees and tearing round blind corners, Fat Pampero and Slim Marge broke into a slightly faster than usual walk which lasted all of ten seconds before the useless moron stopped again to eat some tree bark.
Horses don’t eat tree bark.
I asked the whooping man what was Fat Pampero’s problem. “He is a stupid glutton,” whooping man said. Then he whooped and took off again, yelling “COME ON COME ON COME ON!”
The next day, we hired a car with a lovely Australian chap and did a famous drive known for the outstanding beauty of the seven lakes that you pass en route. It was lovely, stunning, awe-inspiring, blah blah blah traveller talk. But for me the best moment was the drive home. Not because we saw the awesome Lanin Volcano, not because we got out of the car in the middle of the Patagonian planes at half past midnight and saw the most unbelievable night sky I’ve ever known (seriously – there were so many stars visible that the whole sky looked white)… No, it was the two hour power ballad marathon that Marge and I undertook to help me avoid falling asleep at the wheel.
Marge and I are partial to a singsong, I can’t lie, and we do our best to avoid singing because we’re both so disgustingly self-indulgent that once we get going that it’s hard to make us stop. But on this occasion, the mission being to help me stay awake, we had carte blanche to sing any damn song we wanted, as loud as we wanted, and completely without irony. Seriously, this was face-screwed-up-with-emotion territory. Hand gestures borne out of the ecstasy of music. Wobbly vibrato. Involuntary rocking in time to our beautiful sounds.
In short, a f*cking disgrace.
Poor Australian man sat in the back, silent and appalled as we swept through all the musicals, then all of the 1980s, then the 1990s and several from the noughties too. But then something terrible happened.
“Oh God, Marge,” I said as we sped on through the night.
“What?” she said, enthralled. She knew I had something dirty up my sleeve.
“There’s another one. But it’s bad.”
“Go on,” Marge urged. She’s as dirty as me when it comes to the ballad.
“I have really, really pulled this one out of my arse,” I said. “I’ve dug right down to the deepest darkest parts of my digestive system and found this… are you sure?”
Marge began to laugh and so did I. “COME ON, MARGE!” she shouted. “Dig it out! Pull it out of your bum!”
And so, barely able to sing I was laughing so much, I let it out.
DON’T THINK I CAAANT FEEEUL, THAT THERE’S SHUMTHIN WROORRRN, YOU’VE BEEN THE SHWEETES PART OF MY LARF, FOR SOOO LOOORRRNNN.. I LOOK IN YOUR ICE, THERE’SH A DISHTANT LARRRT… AND YOU AN I KNOOOOW, THERE’LL BE A SHTORM TONIGH….
We were reduced to howling hysterics by this point. No one does a better impression of Celine than Marge and Marge. So when I started howling about how I’d pulled Celine out of my bum, and Marge started doing impressions of Celine trapped inside my behind, ashking if we could pleashe het her aaaart, I’m afraid to say I lost control of the vehicle, stalled and then kerbed it. (In as much as you can kerb it in the middle of Patagonia where there are no kerbs.)
The poor man in the back remained silent while Marge and I slumped ourselves over the dashboard and wept, clutching our stomachs in agony.
Our final night was one of the most amazing experiences of my life though. Not because we finally admitted defeat and decided to fall in love with each other, but because Marge marched us off to the world-famous Llao Llao hotel for 24 hours of spa treatments, luxury food and huge beds in huge bedrooms with views across utterly magical lakes. Seriously readers, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. The breakfast buffet alone was sufficient to feed everyone in London. It was luxury beyond my wildest dreams!
I took photos every time we turned a corner, much to Marge’s horror. And I had a FACIAL! A FACIAL! I’ve never had a facial in my bloody life! (Sorry, Marie Claire. Don’t sack me.)
It was amazing! She squeezed my blackheads out! She scrubbed me! She put things on my face that smelled so good I nearly wept! And then she smeared a load of gunk on and left me for I don’t know how long; I only know that I woke up because I had just emitted the world’s loudest snore. Bizarrely, Marge had had the same experience. Is this par for the course with a facial? As far as I’m aware I’ve never snored in my life. But just as I dozed off I was rudely awakened by some big slobbery snoring man making a grunting pig noise. I whipped my relaxing eye mask off: an empty room. It was me! Robinson! With a face full of mud and a deeply masculine snort emitting from my throat. What the…?
I could write for hours about Marge’s sojourn in the laundry room at 3am, about the German guy who got Marge into a corner every time we entered our hostel in Bariloche and talked at her for two hours (or until such time as I was feeling charitable enough to save her)… I could talk about the unforgivable thing we did in the toilets at La Esquina cafe or the curse of the 10kg sleeping bags but I must draw the line somewhere.
Goodbye, Marge, farewell. Nos vemos, chica. Te amo! xxx