Travels in a Thin Country (39 page)

BOOK: Travels in a Thin Country
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When I got to his house that evening two servants were arranging hundreds of oysters on large plates on the dining room table, and the fridge was loaded with champagne.

‘Where did you get all this?’ I asked him.

‘I called the suppliers we use for the hacienda on their home numbers and told them if they didn’t send it all round I’d stop buying from them.’

The plane to Rio was delayed for three hours, which meant that I would miss my next two connections. I felt exhausted, miserable, hungover and desperate, and I hadn’t even left yet. The airport was brightly lit, even in the early morning, and the grime and litter of the concourse stood out in sharp focus, as did the anxiety and fatigue of the passengers who eddied pathetically around the coffee bar, which was out of coffee.

I found a red plastic seat and sat on it, my feet resting on the carpetbags. There was nothing I had ever wanted to do less than leave Chile. With my eyes closed, to still the sick misery of that moment, I called up the memory of a birthday lunch on the shore of a bright blue lake – a bottle of warm champagne, the crisp, still air, the saffron steppe and purple mists of Patagonia, the trail of ducks breaking the surface of the water, the ponderous curlicues of smoke rising from the rim of a volcano, the trill of the chucao and the sweet taste of the box-leafed barberry, the shadows of a flock of black-necked swans on an Andean mountain – and after a few minutes the calm elation of that day came to me again, and I knew I would make it come many times over the months and years which would be known as ‘after Chile’, so I wasn’t really leaving at all.

For Mathew Wheeler


I owe a great debt to many people in both Chile and England. In the former I must single out first Germán Claro Lyon, who gave of his lovable and irascible self unstintingly and unlocked many doors, real and imaginary. Simon Milner and Rowena Brown provided the home base in Santiago and rich friendship; Ken Forder and Sylvie Bujon opened their apartment to me as well as their generous hearts. José (Pepe) Gomez was a bountiful companion, and a true teacher. The Columban Sisters furnished me with hospitality, wisdom and an insight into a side of Chile I would not otherwise have discovered. Eugenio Yunis and his henchpeople at Sernatur, the National Tourist Board, indulged me deliciously and solved several of my more intractable problems, especially in Magallanes. Roberto Olivos and his team at Hertz always came up with a jeep when I needed one and watched me disappear up scarcely travelled Andean passes without flinching. The Chilean Air Force flew me to Antarctica in a Hercules: it was one of the greatest experiences, and I shall never forget it. I am greateful to the Santiago-based Patagonia Connection for conveying me to the San Rafael glacier in high style. Chris Sainsbury more than doubled the fun I had on Chiloé. Down in the wild country Mark Surtees and Alex Prior provided me with an unrivalled base camp, moral support, advice and many of my most memorable hangovers.

Back at home I wish to thank my editor, Alan Samson, who made me believe I could do it, and Gillon Aitken, a literary agent perfectly shaped for a book on Chile and the only person whose confidence truly inspires me.

Timberland were generous with their unbeatable outdoor gear and Damart kept me warm in Antarctica. Linguaphone taught me South American Spanish: I recommend their excellent course to anyone considering travel in South America.
Andy Rattue provided comparative historical material on Victorian England.

It took me about a year to write
Travels in a Thin Country
, and during that time I fled Mornington Crescent three times in order to work in peace: I was lent an old farmhouse in the heart of the Auvergne by Jane Walker and Lyn Parker, Chris Coles created a study for me in a medieval hill fort in Roccatederighi, Tuscany, and Bruce Clark invited me to The Lookout in Fahan, County Donegal, where we both wrote all day and tried not to drink afterwards and still managed to stay reasonably sane. These three places are very special, and I am grateful to have been given the privilege of working in them.

As for readers, I was outrageously fortunate. Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas looked at my work from a great height and Professor Robin Humphreys scrutinized it close up: both contributed to my capacity to keep going. Jane Walker read portions of the typescript and commented with great lucidity. Sabine Gardener also provided a cogent reading. Two people stand out for their commitment to my task. Phil Kolvin, who read doggedly on, is a brilliant critic. Cindy Riches read many drafts. What she gave, while herself moving continents, was of simply incalculable value.

Linguaphone UK can be found at St Giles House, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX; tel. 071 287 4050.

Select Bibliography

Kenneth R. Andrews,
Drake’s Voyages: A Reassessment of their Place in Elizabethan Maritime Expansion
, London, 1967

Michael Alford Andrews,
The Flight of the Condor
, London, 1982

Harold Blakemore, ‘Chile’, in
Latin America: Geographical Perspectives
, Harold Blakemore & Clifford T. Smith (eds), London, 1971, 1983

British Nitrates and Chilean Politics: 1886–1896
, London, 1974

E. Lucas Bridges,
The Uttermost Part of the Earth
, London 1948

Sheila Cassidy,
Audacity to Believe
, London, 1977

Elsa M. Chaney, ‘Old and New Feminists in Latin America: the Case of Peru and Chile’, in
Journal of Marriage and the Family
, vol. 35, no.2 (1973)

Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela,
A Nation of Enemies, New York
, 1991

William V. D’Antonio and Frederick B. Pike (eds),
Religion, Revolution and Reform
, London, 1964

Charles Darwin,
Voyage of the Beagle
, London, 1839

Nathaniel Davis,
The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende
, Ithaca, 1985

Alonso de Ercilla,
La Araucana
, Santiago, 1969 José Donoso,
The Boom in Spanish American Literature
: A
Personal History
, New York, 1977

Judith Laikin Elkin,
Jews of the Latin American Republics
, Chapel Hill, 1980

Seymour M. Hersh,
Kissinger: the Price of Power
, New York & London, 1983

Alistair Home,
Small Earthquake in Chile
, London 1972, 1990

Brian Loveman, ‘Military Dictatorship and Political Opposition in Chile 1973–86’, in
Journal of Inter-American Studies
, vol.28, no.3 (1986)

Chile: The Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism
, New York, 1979, 1988 Gabriel

García Márquez,
Clandestine in Chile
, Cambridge, 1989

R. L. Mégroz,
The Real Robinson Crusoe
, London 1939

Andrea T. Merrill (ed),
Chile, A Country Study
, Washington, DC, 1982

Gabriela Mistral,
Antología Poética
, Santiago, 1974

Theodore H. Moran,
Multinational Corporations and the Politics of Dependence
, Princeton, 1974

David E. Mutchler,
The Church as a Political Factor in Latin America, with Particular Reference to Colombia and Chile
, New York, 1971

Pablo Neruda,
Confieso que he vivido: Memorias
, 1974

Jan Read,
Chilean Wine
, London, 1987

Eric Shipton,
Tierra del Fuego: the Fatal Lodestone
, London, 1973

Brian H. Smith,
The Church and Politics in Chile
, Princeton, 1982

Julian H. Steward (ed),
Handbook of South American Indians
, vols I & II, New York, 1957

Jacobo Timerman,
Chile: Death in the South
, London, 1987

Arturo and J. Samuel Valenzuela,
Chile: Politics and Society
, New Brunswick, 1976

Also by Sara Wheeler

Travels in Antarctica

Sara Wheeler read classics and modern languages at Oxford, and for the past ten years has been working as a writer and editor. She is the author of two other books and has contributed to a wide range of newspapers, magazines and radio programmes.

She travels often, and for prolonged periods, but her base is in Mornington Crescent, London.



by Sara Wheeler

“A triumph … I cannot believe that anything better will ever be written about Antarctica.”

Daily Telegraph

Terra Incognita
] leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of the mysterious, even sublime power the poles have exerted on the human imagination, and the desolate beauty that resides there amid the glaciers and icebergs and penguins.”

The New York Times

For centuries, Antarctica has captured the imagination of our greatest scientists and explorers, lingering in the spirit long after their return. Shackleton called it “the last great journey”; for Apsley Cherry-Garrard it was the worst journey in the world. Sara Wheeler spent seven months in Antarctica, living with its scientists and dreamers. No book is more true to the spirit of that continent—beguiling, enchanted and vast beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination. Chosen by Beryl Bainbridge and John Major as one of the best books of the year, recommended by the editors of
Entertainment Weekly
and the
Chicago Tribune
, and one of the
Seattle Times
’s top ten travel books of the year,
Terra Incognita
is a classic of polar literature.

“A great success, a pleasure to read, an incitement to travel.”


“The first funny book about Antarctica.”

Los Angeles Times


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BOOK: Travels in a Thin Country
10.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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