Twenty-four years ago I experienced the dubious complement of being burgled of three of my favourite paintings.

We’d more or less completed the construction of our house in Andalusia when all our household belongings arrived from England. I say more or less completed, because we had yet to make the house secure with things like window bars and securely locking doors. However, situated as we were, in the proverbial middle of nowhere and with only a handful of people knowing our house existed, we felt reasonably secure receiving our possessions. And looking back on it now, I don’t suppose that eight months of living on a building site devoid of all creature comforts and luxuries had done much for our sense of judgement when it came to matters of domestic security?

A perfect illustration of just how crazy we were is represented by what happened the very first night we got our stuff back.

After an entire day of frenzied unpacking I decided to reward us by rigging up our much-missed stereo. Our ghetto-blaster had broken halfway through the build and for the past four months the only music we had to listen to was whatever happened to be playing on our matchbox-sized radio. Now, at last we could hear our music, on our wonderful sound system and most importantly of all, at our volume.

And as it was the volume I craved as much as the music itself, seeing as my choice of tune for this auspicious occasion was Led Zeppelin’s superlative “Trampled Underfoot” . My first hearing of the number was as a wide-eyed 15-year-old in the fifth row at Earls Court in 1975, when it had changed my life, and so it seemed like an apt song with which to celebrate this new chapter.

I put it on at full volume and immediately went out onto our north terrace to enjoy it against the appropriately spectacular view of the crimson Sierra Tajeda bathed in flaming sunset. Soon I was gyrating away in a state of manic bliss; then joined by our Maremma Sheepdog Aura, who, teddy in mouth joined in the head-banging. Shortly Dido appeared on our little bedroom balcony, next to the terrace, fresh from the shower, stark-naked, executing a superb go-go-dance.

All-in-all, quite a party…except that during one of the brief inter-riff silences in the music I thought I heard goats! And again, in the next silence, I could hear an instant of goat bell mingled with goat bleat. Then to my horror, I peered down the slope beneath the terrace, to the dirt track beyond our little vineyard to find myself staring into the face of one of the local village goatherds! I don’t know how long he’d been watching us, but his amazed expression was clearly visible, even from fifty yards away…

To cut a long story short, for years afterwards we were known in the village by the sobriquets that title this post. To this day, we still get odd looks from some of the older villagers.

Sadly, it wasn’t just the goatherd who brought us down to earth with a bump. The next evening, when we returned from a visit to the coast we found that three of my paintings had been stolen, including one of my favourites of the ships in Arica Harbour in Chile. What made the pain of the robbery worse was that we knew exactly who the guilty party was (not the poor goatherd by the way!) but for reasons too sensitive to divulge here, we also understood that there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. Fortunately I did at least photograph the three pictures and have presented them here…




No stay in Chile’s northernmost city of Arica is complete without an excursion to the Lauca National Park – with its fabled lakes and volcanoes. Only problem was, the park sat at 4500 meters above sea-level, and altitude sickness was likely to be a serious issue. One of the ways of militating against the worst effects of this however was to make sure one traveled up to the park in the hands of expert guides with state-of-the-art oxygen and resuscitation equipment. But sadly, our limited budget made us forget the lessons of our near-disastrous trip the previous week to Atacama Giant and we opted for the cheapest guided tour we could find. We sensed the worst when we boarded the clapped-out minibus with hard wooden benches for seats and two broken windows on the right-hand side. However, there was a big oxygen canister on a shelf above the driver, and it was only a day-trip for goodness sake, we reassured ourselves – what could go wrong on such a short trip? There were about ten of us on the bus, and by the time our vehicle had crawled up past 3.500 meters the more elderly passengers were already beginning to feel the effects of the thinning air. Dido and I at least, felt fine during the entire drive up and it was only when we disembarked at Lake Chungara that the “puna” (the colloquial term for altitude sickness) hit us both – like a brick. The only way I can explain the sensation was that when I tried to walk it felt like one of those bad dreams, when one is trying to flee from some horror or other and one’s legs won’t move. And it wasn’t just the sluggishness; it was actually quite hard to think straight. To this day, I have barely any recollection of how I managed to fill an entire roll of film with some the most spectacular shots of the entire trip – of the lake itself, the surrounding volcanoes, the herds of grazing guanaco and the incredible candlestick cacti. Even Dido, who was super fit in those days, had to lie down after a few minutes of walking around, while I found the only way I could be comfortable at all was to adopt a kind of Muslim prayer position on the ground. Meanwhile, I recall seeing people chucking-up all over the place and one other poor old American guy pass out altogether. It was then that the guide told us that the oxygen canister was empty, resulting in another member of our party – a retired GP as it turned out – having to resuscitate the American gentleman in the manner illustrated in the picture below. Eventually, we all managed to clamber back onto the bus where the guide had brewed up a kettle of coca tea. Whether or not the tea had any effect, somehow we were all still alive by the time we got back to Arica…

16 Dizzy heights at Chungura


As I’ve implied earlier we liked most of the food we ate in Chile. While the cuisine is basic, there was a wide and exciting variety of raw material – animal and vegetable – and nearly everything was simply yet expertly prepared. This included the hamburgers, which, everywhere from Puerto-Varas in the south to Arica in the north, were always huge, freshly made prime-beef patties. Grilled over charcoal in the posher establishments, or on hotplates in the diners, they were reliably succulent and filling. The only problem I had with the Chilean hamburger was the choice of accompaniments with the burger within the bun. At first I found the ubiquitous slice of beef tomato, cos-lettuce and thick slab of avocado – yes, avocado – to be a novelty. A tasty and healthy change from cheese, bacon or salad onion say… But by the time we were in Arica the novelty – of the avocado in particular – had worn thin. I’d come to the conclusion that avocado and a beef patty just weren’t good bedfellows. They didn’t so much complement each other as vie for attention in the mouth. In simple terms, they just didn’t get on. But by removing the avocado, the burger then became somewhat plain and bare, and the local vinegary ketchup certainly didn’t help matters. Then one afternoon we were at our favourite eatery (where we’d already established a steady supply of good fresh coffee) and I asked the cook if I could have some onion with my burger in place of the avocado. First of all, he looked at me as if I were crazy, but then he shrugged his shoulders and accented. He asked me how I wanted the onion cooked? I tried to explain that I wanted it raw. More looks of incredulity and then another shrug of the shoulders…I went and sat down and waited for my burger, which came about five minutes later with an onion; with a raw onion no less; a bloody great onion, skin and all, perched precariously on top of my beef patty…

17 Too heavy on the onion...


For most non-European readers of these adventure, the next two episodes will not seem surprising at all. But for us, then, the whole concept of “fruit checks”seemed like a hangover from the Pinochet era – just a way of controlling the free movement of citizens. As it happens we were wrong and fruit-checks were / are a key method in preventing the spreading of potentially lethal agricultural pests. Nevertheless, the fact that in Chile, these checks were carried out by jack-booted carabineros with all the charm of a pack of pit-bulls on an enforced vegetable-only diet merely reinforced our misconceptions and resentments. Both of our fruit-check experiences occurred on the long bus ride back south from Arica to Santiago. The reason for this was that our luxury “cama” coach journey (we were feeling a bit more flush with our budget by now) crossed several regional (state) lines and the unlicensed movement of  fruit and vegetables was prohibited from one region to another. Our first check was on the Arica/Iquique border when we were all ordered off the bus while two officers searched the vehicle. We’d all been nervously standing around on the roadside for about five minutes when one of the carabineros slowly made his way down the steps of the coach. Holding up a half-eaten bunch of grapes in his right arm he glowered at us before demanding that the guilty party declare him or herself. After a few moments, during which we all exchanged anxious looks, a middle-aged man stepped forward with his head bowed in shame – like a naughty schoolboy being summoned to the front of the class by the teacher. The carabinero then read the poor man the riot act, threatening him with all sorts of sanctions and fines before eventually offering him a way to make amends – to finish the bunch of grapes then and there. This the man did, fairly gorging them down in his relief , and so allowing us to continue on our long journey…

18 Whose grapes!!




During our stay in Iquique we took a day trip to see one of Chile’s ancient man-made wonders, The Giant of the Atacama. We anticipated that getting to see the “largest anthropomorphic geoglyph in the world” with our own eyes would be one of the highlights of our entire visit to Chile, and so it would have been, if we hadn’t vastly overestimated the number of fellow travelers to the same site. We presumed The Giant would be a mecca for a whole host of visitors, including everyone from the millions of credulous believers in Von Daniken to the thousands of people with an interest in pre-Columbian civilization – and all those in between. Obviously, knowing the remoteness of the site we didn’t expect everyone to be there at the same moment, but we took it for granted that there would be dozens of people there at any one time. Thus it never entered our minds that we would have any trouble getting to and from The Giant without our own car. Even worse, we had misread the distance on our – by now very worn – map, from the Highway 5 bus stop to The Giant as being only 2 kilometers (easily walkable, even under the desert sun) when it was in fact 12! Nevertheless, when a car stopped and we were given a ride to The Giant almost before we had even begun to raise our thumbs, our original presumption seemed to have been correct. However, we had been at the site barely ten minutes when our kindly lift-givers got bored and decided to leave. So, when they offered to take us back to the highway bus stop (which we now realised was 12 ks and not 2) we had a decision to make. Ignore the significant fact that we and our ride buddies were the only people there and stay on a while longer at this amazing site, or do the sensible – “been there / seen it” – thing and accept the lift. Like the classic “Darwin Award” idiots we all read about everyday in the newspapers (who go fell walking in sneakers, or swimming in pools known to be infested with salt-water crocodiles or who light up a cigarette while standing over a cesspit) we decided to stay on “a while longer”… Needless to say, an hour passed and nobody came. So, we decided to walk the actual 2 kilometers back to the dirt track (marked as “minor-road 15) and see if we could at least get a lift from there. Problem was, by this time we were already down to the last few sips of water in our single 1/2 liter bottle and beginning to roast as the sun reached its highest point in the vast desert sky. By the time we made it onto the track we knew that we might be in serious trouble. There was no shelter of any kind, our water was gone, and our exposed arms were beginning to burn. At this point we didn’t know whether we should stay put or attempt the 10 k walk to the main road. After a ten minute rest we began to walk – or rather, stagger along the track, and then almost immediately we heard a vehicle approaching from behind, going in our direction. But our elation was only momentary, as the car sped past without even slowing down, it’s exhaust and dust adding mocking insult to injury. But then, after about another hour, a second vehicle – a small truck – emerged from the east, heading west and its driver , this time, took pity on us and dropped us at the bus stop. Now whenever we think of The Giant, or just about any other South American geoglyph our first reflex is to reach for a water bottle…

13 20 kilometers! Not 2!


From Iquique we made our way to Chile’s northernmost major city of Arica. The picture below is an exaggeration of what at the time, we feared might really happen when, during the drive north we passed a military airbase of some kind. One can imagine our fright when a light aircraft flew just a few feet over the roof of the bus before landing on the road in front of us causing our driver to make an emergency break. For some reason unbeknownst to us and our driver too, judging by his outburst of expletives – and presumably something to do with financial expedience  – it turned out that this particular section of road  doubled as a runway. Whatever, it certainly livened up what up until that point had been a particularly dull, desert drive…

14 Dual purpose highway


One of the few things that disappointed – not to mention surprised – us during our first weeks in Chile was the fact that wherever we went, and wherever we stayed (smart or shabby) we could only seem to get instant coffee. To make matters worse, this wasn’t even granulated coffee, but old fashioned, cheap and nasty powder coffee. But then, in Arica, we befriended a likable and knowledgeable young English couple taking their gap year in South America – let’s call them Susan and Bob – who explained to us where we had been going wrong. It turned out that if one wanted real coffee in Chile one had to ask for it twice. In other words, instead of asking for a “cafe” one asked for a “cafe, cafe”. When they told us this we thought that our new friends were teasing us, but when we went to dinner with them for the first time, at the end of the meal Bob asked for “Cafe, Cafe”. And hey presto! As if by magic, four cups of exceptionally good real coffee were delivered to our table…

15 Cafe, Cafe