I have long venerated food. But I would put my cooking skills on par with Lindsay Lohan´s eating habits: pretty much non-existant. When I was an eight-year-old heifer, my cooking potential pinnacled at Mayonnaise and Pringle sandwiches. I would label myself more a food connoisseur than a chef. Thus, when I halted at a Chilean hostal where two of my fellow travelers were a male German chef and a female Swiss chef, I was in more raptures than Michael Jackson in a kindergarten. They each cooked dinner one night. I was privileged enough to be the provincial aficionado.
The chefs, an English photographer (he didn´t identify himself as such, though he carried a camera the size of a midget and operated it with an ease paralleling me inhaling Rum), an Englishwoman, and I acquiesced to a fifty-year-old Chilean tour guide´s entreaties to partake in a two-hour downhill bikeride. He assured us that, ¨You might die. Only my friends, not a tour. Only for friends.¨ The Englishwoman and Swiss chef had known the guide for four days, I for one. A truck would drive us to warm springs, we would expend hours there, and then return via bike. Us five travellers, the driver, and Pablo the tour guide departed in the truck, the bikes and two people in the truck´s bed. Twenty-five minutes in to the forty-minute drive, the car emitted sounds reminiscent of a pig scream. Ansel Adams ascertained the truck was missing a cylinder. This made about as much sense to me as people deeming Paris Hilton attractive, but I assumed it was possible. We evacuated the truck and continued the journey, half of us on bike, half on foot pushing bikes. The Englishwoman declared that even a three degree incline was still an incline and unless the road was utterly flat or downhill, she disagreed with it and would walk. She had arrived in South America for a wedding a year ago and had simply stayed past what was originally intended as a five-day trip.
We eventually disembarked, abandoned our bikes, and descended a hillside/mountain. Strategically situated rocks persuaded a river in to a pool. Pablo notified us that this was the warm spring, and lava below cooked the water. Visions of Rumplestiltskin beneath the river directing lava assaulted my brain, and I slid in to feel the water´s sparse warmth.
Pablo posed next to a rock and exhibited some drawings, declaring they were from the Incas. Upon inspection, they could have been from the Incas. Or he could have drawn them last week. It was as difficult to determine as Pink´s natural hair color.
Pablo then proclaimed, with gusto rivaling that of Martin Luther King, that the Incas used mud from the water to bathe themselves. ¨Smells bad, but very very good. Good for the skin, good for the hair,¨ he assured us as he pounced in to the water like Flipper. He emerged minutes later, hands dripping with mud that very much resembled my dog´s excrement when she was on drugs for consuming too much bark and grass. He snatched Swiss Chef and smeared the mud in to her hair and on her face. Englishwoman was next, and then he manhandled me, forcing us to reside on his lap while he accosted our backs. We three forced Ansel Adams to document the mud delight and I believe there are pictures of us somewhere on the Internet, faces and hair tarnished with mud and smiles. Upon rinsing it from us fifteen minutes later under Pablo´s strict instructions, our faces and hair were much more supple. I felt like my nine-year-old pre-acne self again.
Pablo introduced us to a water game where one person is ¨IT.¨ IT floats around the water like a crocodile on attack, and thumps someone on the head. The target can submerge themselves in water, but should IT connect with your head, you then have to assume being IT. Amid near-drowning, an almost lost eye contact, and laughter, we played until Pablo had pulled me and the other two girls on his lap fourteen times too many.
As we dried ourselves, Pablo vanished. He materialized minutes later, brandishing about feathered stalks. He positioned himself as proudly as Terrell Owens celebrating a touchdown, the stalks in hand. And then he hauled his towel from his waist and stood, naked. I had never before witnessed an uncircumcised penis, much less one the size of my finger on a fifty-year-old Chilean tour guide. It resembled an aardvark and it was all I could do to not pitch head-first in to the water. Pablo smiled and then approached us, offering the stems to us as if they were condoms and he was the condom fairy. I saw his Tiny Turtle swinging at me, screeched, ¨Noooo!¨ and thumped my head on my arms, swinging in laughter.
In later conversations, the two girls and I established that in drawing us on to his lap throughout the water-epoch, he had had an angle to his dangle multiple times.