An extract taken from ‘The Road out of Antofagasta’ – a road trip taken by an English school girl from Chile to Argentina.
After arriving with her fellow school hockey tour party, fifteen year old Louise is forced to live with a host family in Northern Chile, in a sordid waste town called Antofagasta. After three miserable weeks of boredom, lack of food and lack of communication due to her poor Spanish she makes a decision that will change her life forever. Louise embarks on an adventure with host Beatriz; the pair hitchhike and meet two hippy German artists, who smoke more weed than paint art. These two hippies introduce the young girls to the swinging sixties, Abba is played loudly and the purple people carrier hums of cat piss and stale beer. Louise and Beatriz have their first taste of freedom, survival and love. The pair fall for two American football players – besotted they both join the road trip and the girls discover their inner ambitions and strengths. Their German travel companions – Frederic and Gretel, provide the four friends with a surreal insanity, Beatriz experiences a new culture far different from her Chilean stout father ‘Adolfo’ and his strict rulings at home. Beatriz flourishes as she becomes able to stand away from the safety of close friend Louise. It is a journey of friendship, survival and the uniting of cultures with one goal: The Hockey match final in Argentina. Will they make it? Or will the match even matter in the end? They go it alone; can they really handle night time Buenos Aires and the chaos that comes with it?
It was a bizarre moment for all four of us. We had become close bouncing along these stretches of vast lands in the mystery machine, locals trying to flock their produce on market stalls covered in road dust. None of us said a word, perhaps we were waiting for someone else to take the plunge. Or, maybe no one wanted to dampen the mood even further. My bum was damp from sleeping, so something was already severely dampened anyway. Wes’s face reflected how I was feeling, I didn’t mention his glumness or that his hair desperately needed brushing either. We stood there, aloof and desperate. The trees from the pine forest stood rudely in our gaze of search; it was as if they were following us, leaves of eyes encroaching in our Chilean gloom. I half expected our whirlwind to end, or rather as my Grandfather used to state ‘your luck has rather run out my dear’. It wasn’t really luck that was playing on my mind, but the strange disappearance of our German couple. Frederic’s sketches had been thrown out the car, his watercolours leaking into the soiled earth. We all strolled over to where the disaster lay before us. I felt the warmth from his paintings and chuckled to myself at his comic lines of something that should have resembled a mountain; it provided us with some humour in our current situation. Not one of us had heard them argue before or realised that something was wrong; their smiles would be plastered on their faces all day, every day. Their smiling eyes would communicate with us, with their warming emotion filling our young souls with hope and a spirit for adventure. None of us said anything, but then Louis did.
‘But why is the mystery machine still here? ’, he said.
‘I don’t know, perhaps they went for a walk? , I suggested.
‘You don’t think something really bad has happened do you? , Wes said.
‘Like what?’, I said.
‘Well like someone’s been here?’ , replied Wes.
‘I didn’t even hear anything, did you two?’, said Louis.
‘Nope’, Wes said.
‘So creepy’, Beatriz whispered.
‘I did wake during the night, but I didn’t think to look around the camp’, I said.
‘Yeah why would you though?’, Louis said.
‘Yeah, true’, I said.
‘Are you sure they haven’t just gone to get some fuel? Someone check the engine’, Louis commented.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and noticed straightaway that the keys were still in the ignition; I held my breath (due to not being accustomed again to the vile stench) and tried to fire her up. I then thought how I didn’t even get to introduce them to the car accessory essential “The magic Tree” air freshener. After a few seconds, she fired up without any trouble.
‘As if!’, called over Wes.
‘What should we do? We need to get to Buenos Aires’, Beatriz said.
‘I think we should drive’, commented Louis.
‘We are fifteen! We can’t drive! , Shouted Beatriz.
‘Wes you can surely’, said Louis.
‘Yeah dam right I can! I drive a truck back home off-roading and all sorts, I could handle the mystery machine!’, he shouted.
‘Guys! Wait a second! I have found something’, I shouted over.
‘Oh great, let me guess another pot of piss? Or maybe some hair?’, said Louis.
‘No come over! Frederic has left a note!’, I called back.
‘What? What does it say?’, Wes said.
‘Come over! I will read it out!’, I replied.
Just sitting on the dashboard was a scrunched up piece of Frederic’s sketch pad, I was going to ignore it but then I saw the names, ‘Louis, Wes, Beatriz and Louise’ scribbled on the folded over side. I picked it up, opened it and turned to face three pairs of anxious and confused eyes.
‘Dear Wes, Louis, Beatriz and Louise,
I’m sorry you will be waking to find this letter (I hope you have found it) but I’m afraid, Gretel and I need to head onwards immediately. I don’t really do goodbyes you know me and well the wind is blowing up in another direction now and one must take off. It was a real pleasure and an honour to meet all four of you young folk – you have made a German man very happy. I only wish that I was more like yourselves when I was your age. For God’s sakes hold on to the wonderful friendships that you have made and keep exploring. All I can wish upon you is that you now continue with your trip of discovery- use the mystery machine and head on into Buenos Aires. I have made you a list of where I want you to go – the bars, the clubs, food etc., try the oysters at Gran Bar Danzon. Make sure you meet Felix. He is having a get together at his apartment on Wednesday- I have never experienced a party like Felix’s! You can spot him by his striped waistcoat and moustache. Also meet Gus at the café on one of the main streets – Felix will give you the details. Whatever you do don’t talk about weddings to Gus! Do not worry about money, everything is sorted for you. I want you to become immersed in Argentina, soak it up and keep smiling. Remember my golden rule – you can get lost along the way but never lose who you are inside.
Anyway got to dash, my cigarette is waiting to be lit.
All the best,
We travelled hundreds of miles. Wes drove with determination and he looked good behind the wheel. I missed our German companions, the road seemed further ahead than with our Germans to sing and smoke with. I reached for a bottle of Bud and took a moment to myself. I had come along way, I thought. Out of my window I could taste opportunity and the entire road was a complete wasteland. On either side wild cattle roamed in between the dust and the dirt, their owner on horseback, a white cowboy hat to hide his face of fur. Their tails swayed to scare away flies that sniffed their debris. Louis and Wes were looking extremely dishevelled, Louis had barely spoke and reminded me of an angry busker that had not discovered the invention of hot water and the purpose of soap. I found it hard to watch the blank canvas of nothing, as we darted into the sinking light which produced an eerie glow inside the mystery machine. I didn’t usually enjoy silence; the silence on the trip to Antofagasta was painful, except I was now extremely thankful to this tranquillity. I could watch Wes and allow my heart to bounce. It was now that excitement engulfed me on what lay ahead. A few hours later, we entered the big city. We were in it and not one of us was sure if we would ever leave or find our way back out again. I read Frederic’s letter one last time before folding it neatly back into my palm. I clutched it, because it was the only thing that I was sure of.
The room was ablaze with coloured cups and skinny girls. I had no clue as to where we were – in fact each time I checked the address before we entered I was convinced and (secretly) hoped that we had got it wrong. The apartment was in central Buenos Aires, we had got a taxi to the address that Frederic had left on the back of his dampened piece of sketch paper. The venue was tired. Music blasted over four floors of the building, Wes held onto my hand as he approached our first party goer.
‘Hi there party people! What brings you to this side of town?’, one guy said.
I noticed the impressive moustache straightaway and the waistcoat only confirmed my guess. We had found Felix.
‘We are friends of Gretel and Frederic, do you know them?’, Wes asked.
‘Frederic? Berlin? The artist?’, he said.
‘Yeah that’s right, his girlfriend is called Gretel he said we would be welcome here?’, Louis stumbled.
‘Of course! Come through to the kitchen! Let me fix you a drink!’, he shouted.
I couldn’t see faces, each head just blurred into the next one and I was sober too. Our eager party animal ‘Felix’ was from Madrid and was studying in Argentina. He told us this when he handed all four of us a blue cocktail of a fizzy variety, it didn’t look safe to drink and tasted powerful enough to bleach anything. He then spun round and told us to make ourselves at home; he pointed to a lift and explained that it was more intimate upstairs if we wanted it to be.
‘How Bizarre’, stated Louis.
‘I know tell me about, loons everywhere!’ Replied Wes.
I grabbed Wes’ hand and told him that we should get some air on the terrace, it was a stuffy night and I was pretty sure that no city apartment should house that many people for a late night rave. There were bodies everywhere, some half naked. It wasn’t the ‘disco’ party that I was used to with my fellow school friends and there were no bottles of Smirnoff ice here, just multi-coloured spirits that would leave you visualising flying dragons and loosing pounds of weight in vomit the next day. I now made the realisation that our time spent with Frederic and Gretel wasn’t quite as bizarre as we may of first thought, they provided us with insanity, yes, but also they kept us wrapped up in a safety blanket far bigger than any that could fit around this entire city.
Once out onto the terrace the party could be understood. Groups of people sat on a vast rooftop terrace overlooking this extensive City. I felt as if it might swallow me up. I could breathe back in the woodlands, Beatriz was free to walk and we slept with nature. Not here though. We had well and truly entered the fire pit; thank god the blue cocktail was having no affect yet.
‘Louise! There you are! I lost you!’, Shouted Beatriz.
‘Sorry Beatriz, I just needed some air’, I said.
‘Are you ok? Look we just met Pierre and Leon they are from Aix in Provence it sounds so romantic there!’, said Beatriz.
‘Gosh look at you getting all romantic Beatriz!’, I noted.
‘Well you know, love is in the air!’, she sung.
‘What are we getting up to tonight then, chicas?’, I asked.
‘Excuse me! Wes and I are not chicas!’ Louis mocked.
‘Sorry but you are with that hair Wes!’ , replied Beatriz.
‘Ouch, girls’, said Wes.
All four of us laughed. Before we could even consider another deathly beverage, dozens of eggs landed on the terrace and the guests. Luckily, we were in the doorway and could watch the drama unfold from the safety of the rave. A loony teenager hollered down in rage from two floors above and elders were catapulting their breakfast pancake ingredients out of their bathroom windows. It was 4am. It was also a weeknight. I would usually be at school. I would require beauty sleep to prepare for double maths and triple chemistry. Not here though. I looked around at micro skirts and UV coloured bra tops. Tanned flesh everywhere and girls faces dripping with dance sweat and cheap glitter eye shadow. The bass was being boomed by two huge sound systems, I wasn’t sure if my eardrums were going to make it. I heard fragments of a bitch fight. Two Spanish girls had hold of a guy, an arm each, tugging and tugging again. The yolk from the eggs added a mix up to the night; the party had just become a whole lot bigger. One girl had lost her underwear. Some of her friends tried to transport her to the lift and one guy was trying to carry her, her hair covered in either vomit or yolk (I couldn’t tell). An interesting Italian guy had four girls draped around him on one of the sofas; they were high. The group were singing some R & B hit with the words jumbled. The air smelt musky and of my granddads living room. His pipe would clog my chest, it would be wheezy and my eyes would itch. My favourite sight had to be of our friend Felix; he was sitting only in his waistcoat mediatating and downing shots after a few seconds of tranquillity. He sat in the middle of the room, chaos and illegalities brushed past him in the background, he was not fazed and definitely in his own time.
Image © Dmitry Berkut