Here is a short adventure that was published in a collection of travel stories called Travel Means Freedom.
Sebastian was so surprised to see us in the morning, as we descended the creaky, wooden stairs in search of breakfast, that he dropped the joint he was smoking. We explained calmly to him that we had checked in yesterday and that we were going to stay for a few days. Slowly, a vague recollection of our having checked in reassembled itself in Sebastian’s mind, a process which was visible by his facial expression. His features contorted in a strange way as he struggled to remember who the hell we were. This went on for a minute or two before he eventually motioned for us to enter the dining room next to the reception and mumbled something about our breakfast.
A bizarre collection of fruit, a tub of yoghurt, a bowl of tuna chunks and some unidentifiably foul-smelling objects which resembled gherkins was presented on a tray shortly afterwards, along with inexplicably good tasting coffee, which made up for the gherkins. Some other guests were also now making an appearance and had to perform a similar morning ritual in order to be recognized by Sebastian. We took our food outside and ate in the sunny courtyard. There was a recently used barbeque area at the far side of the grassy yard, a small chicken coop and a large patch of marijuana plants. All these things combined to create a sense of tranquillity as we ate our breakfast in the sun while we thought of different ways that we might spend the rest of the day.
Absolutely everyone that lived in Santiago had picked that afternoon to buy some fish in the Mercado Central. It had been a long hot afternoon and I had greatly enjoyed the sights of the city. A cloud of pungent fish odour wafted in my face as I walked into the colonial style building that is the central market, and perused the stalls in the narrow aisles for some dinner. Pieces of discarded fish entrails squelched underfoot as we explored the fish hall.
Men in large masks, rubber boots and plastic aprons were busy hosing down empty crates and scrubbing the bare aluminium surfaces of parts of the stalls that had already been disassembled for the day. They looked like scientists cleaning up entrails after a gruesome accident involving noxious chemicals. Despite this, a frenzy of activity filled the rest of the hall, as shoppers picked out the best pieces of salmon, tuna, squid, and bought bags of mussels, clams, prawns, eels and conchs whilst the fish vendors tried to sell the stuff that was about to go off, or had already done so. In some cases, it was hard to tell the difference. My travelling companion, however, knew exactly what to look for and the two of us circled the interior of the market twice before pouncing on a particular stall where the fish looked fresh (some of it was still moving) and bought a large bag of mussels, a piece of salmon and a squid. It was going to be a huge fiesta back in our hostel – a piscine blow-out of epic proportions.
We paid for the food and the friendly fish vendor covered the neatly wrapped packets of seafood with some ice which we carried through the hot Santiago afternoon back to the hostel as quickly as we could.
“Eh, Amigos, you wanna room for the night?” Sebastian shouted at us through a green cloud of smoke as we entered the reception of the hostel bearing our dripping plastic bag.
He was sitting behind the reception desk, with a joint dangling precariously from his lower lip and a rather stoned-looking girl sitting next to him. The girl was focused on constructing the next spliff.
She had stuck together three cigarette papers with an action which had smeared red lipstick all over the paper, and was now lining up a long trail of tobacco lightly sprinkled with lumps of freshly chopped hash.
“Oh, yeah, Amigos, I remember you now,” said Sebastian after we had reminded him of our previous encounters over the last twenty-four hours. After the seafood was safely stashed in the kitchen, we made our way back past the reception and up to our room. “But no Flamenco after two,” he shouted after us as we ascended the stairs. We didn’t quite know what he meant by that, but took the advice to heart anyway.
That night we cooked the seafood in white wine and garlic, and celebrated Australia Day in the serene ambience of the hostel’s courtyard. One of the chickens was missing from the coop and there was a small roast which was slowly rotating over a fire. The roast emitted a suspiciously herby aroma and I began to feel that everything was alright in the world.