(SEE PART 3 HERE)
Back in the early 90’s the place to stay in San Pedro de Atacama, at least if one considered oneself a real traveller, was “Bobby’s Place”. From what I can recall Bobby herself (Bobby was a she not a he) was an Australian lady in late middle-age. She was the epitome – almost to the point of being a walking-talking cliché – of the intrepid travelling adventuress, finally settling down in the evening of her years. Long silver hair tied back in a ponytail; sun-stained leathery skin; bright eyes glistening with weary knowledge and intelligence, she could have been Karen Blixen’s antipodean younger sister. And her eponymous establishment was as laid-back, affable and welcoming-yet-world-weary as she was herself. We loved almost everything about our stay at Bobby’s – the faded Hemingway-esque hunting-lodge atmosphere, chilly evenings, sat around the vast open fireplace sipping her delicious pisco sours and the clean, comfortable quiet rooms. The only feature of Bobby’s place which failed to please was the shower. Not so much a shower actually as a gravity defying twin trickle/dribble of water which miraculously descended in a form of arc, so that if one stood beneath the shower-head it missed one altogether. Getting clean meant opting for one of the two dribbles and having the patience of a saint…
Bobby had a large dog of mixed parentage and as with his owner, the dog was hugely affable towards all the guests staying at his mistress’s establishment. But on occasion, with guests who reciprocated his friendliness, he would take a special liking and become virtually inseparable. During our stay the dog took just such a liking to another couple. His affection towards them was understandable as they were particularly charming and charismatic. A little older than us, she was German and ran a travel business in Santiago, while he was a junior English diplomat on secondment at the British Embassy. They’d come to San Pedro for a romantic long-weekend and their favourite pastime (when not in their bedroom) was going for ambles alongside the local river. On the third afternoon of our stay we were sitting on the stoop outside our room when we were confronted with the scene portrayed in the drawing below. But it was only later that night that we found out the story behind the picture: Our couple had gone off on their usual riverside walk accompanied by the dog, which was fine, until they passed by a woman grazing her two sheep. Without warning the dog jumped one of the sheep and killed it. The woman, naturally distraught and angry began screaming and shouting at our couple for failing to control their dog – at which point, as if on cue, the local mounted policeman appeared. After listening to the woman he told our couple that they would have to compensate the woman for her dead sheep. When they then explained the situation and their relationship to the dog, the dubious policeman told them to take him to the actual owner of the dog, which they did, with him – bearing the woolly carcass on his mount – the bloodied dog, the woman and her remaining sheep in tow. Of course Bobby sorted out the situation, and even cooked the sheep a couple of days later for her guests. It was the best mutton stew I ever tasted!
After Dido had finished her work in San Pedro we headed north-west back to the coast and the city of Iquique. We arrived in Iquique in the early hours of the morning and our small, family-run hotel wouldn’t be opening for hours. I think it was about 5 am when we settled down on a bench in a small park near our lodgings waiting for the town to wake up and find somewhere to have breakfast. I guess we’d been sitting there around half-an-hour when two weird and wonderful things occurred, the second of which is depicted in the picture below. Just as the sun began to rise, we noticed that the trees surrounding us all contained large dark oval fruits; but then the fruits all began to move, and then expand, and then we realised that these weren’t fruits at all but a gathering of dozens of crow-like birds, waking up and opening their wings. And just as we were recovering from that shock, something else began to stir; about ten feet along the path from where we sitting, a steel trap door, slowly opened. Then, from under the ground a group of four men emerged – yawning and stretching . When three of them were out, the fourth passed them up assorted brooms, dust-pans and litter spikes, and they immediately set to work sweeping and cleaning the park. This wasn’t so much a case of sleeping “on” as sleeping “under” the job. Surreal…
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