I’m married to Jill from Home Improvement

There’s a scene in the TV show Home Improvement where Tool Time Tim’s wife Jill insists on talking to him as she walks into another room, her words becoming increasingly harder to make out.

This is a scenario which is played out at least once a week in our house.

“By the way, did you remember to…” A’s voice trails away as she leaves the room we’re both in and walks into another.

“What? I didn’t catch that last bit.” I raise my head slightly higher, straining to hear anything over a spinning washing machine and noisy kettle about to reach boiling point.

“I said, did you remember…” A’s voice rises but as she’s still walking in the opposite direction from where I stand I can’t make out the rest of the sentence.

“I still can’t hear you,” frustration creeps into my voice and I add. “I can’t hear you because I’m standing in a room full of noise and you’re three rooms away.”

“Well I can hear you,” comes the equally vexed reply. “The real issue is you’re a bit deaf.”

The real issue is I struggle to make out words spoken from the other side of a series of barriers consisting of thick, stone walls.

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Departure

It’s a ferry which feels like a cruise ship. A DJ plays loud Latino music; a troupe of dancers twirl, swirl and wave at passengers from their stage, a swimming pool barely bigger than the average bath tub. People stock up on plastic cups of amber lager. Beyond the stern, Tenerife’s hooded Auditorium recedes into the distance under typically blue skies.

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Departure.

It feels surreal. The party atmosphere makes it feel like a celebration of our time, more than a decade, on the island.

The cabin we’ve booked for the next 36 hours is cosy enough, the sea is calm and the sunset spectacular. All feels good with the world. Tomorrow a new and exciting day dawns.

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Dinner on the Naviera Armas ferry pops the party balloon. The buffet meal is cheap and the selection is… is what exactly? Not depressing at best. But it’s not even lukewarm. It’s cold.

Tellingly there is a microwave in the dining room. It’s a classy ship where you have to heat up your own food. A rough looking extended Spanish family are wise to the ferry’s culinary flaws, they’ve brought their own food stash and hog the microwave. We muscle our way in and one of them, illustrating how we shouldn’t make judgements based on appearances, helpfully shows us how to use it (we’re microwave virgins). It makes the food edible… just.

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Overnight we sail into rough seas and it sounds as though Poseidon himself is tearing at the hull with a can opener. The metal screams in pain. It’s unnerving. Our cabin is near the prow, right at the highest point of the arc where the ship pauses briefly after rising into the air before crashing back into the sea.

It’s not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever enjoyed.

The stormy weather doesn’t let up the next day. Getting from our cabin to the less violent rear of the ship involves a bruise-inducing journey of silly walks.

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There are far fewer voyagers in the lounge than the previous day. Many passengers are ill and stay in their cabins. Maybe many passengers are ill because they stay in their cabins.

It’s a long day. Only the ever-enthusiastic entertainment team provide relief from the irritated sea and limited selection of mediocre food. Still we will be on terra firma later, with food in proper restaurants to fuel deflated spirits.

However, an hour from docking and there’s no land at all in sight. There have been no announcements about any delays, but something clearly isn’t right. We should be halfway along an estuary by my reckoning.

I stagger to the information desk.

“Rough weather has delayed us four hours,” I’m told when I ask why there’s no dry land outside the portholes.

I’m not sure when they planned on sharing this quite important piece of information.

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I’m gutted. The sea has calmed but the delay means instead of dining in a restaurant in Huelva we have another meal on board to not look forward to.

We agree the food was so poor we can’t go through another dinner. Instead, I head outside to the the pool bar, the domain of serious drinkers and heavy smokers, to check what snacks they might have.

They have more than snacks, they have burgers and pizza. They have food which looks far, far, far more appetising than the tired offerings in the main dining room. The person in front of me is served with a generous sized, good looking beefy burger. If only I’d ventured outside before we may have ate if not like kings at least not like paupers. I order two burgers and try to avoid drooling.

“Sorry, that was the last one,” the barman informs me.

My misery is complete.

The hitchhiker with a gun

Carretera Austral, Chile

With a wave of his hand a policeman in khakis at the side of the road indicates we should stop.

One minute we’re happily rolling along in our shiny Mitsubishi pick-up, relaxing into the pleasure of driving Chile’s Carretera Austral, which is beautiful, narrow and not always paved but at least it’s empty. With that wave of the hand our mood changes and we both nervously shift in our seats as though we’re guilty of transporting a huge stash of mari-ju-ana.

“Where have you come from?” The policeman asks in thick Chilean Spanish. We can just about manage to translate his words, but with a two second delay to unscramble them.

“Quelat,” we both answer sheepishly, wondering why we’ve been stopped.

“Where are you going?”

“Chile Chico.” Another duet of sheepishness.

“Hmm, on holiday?”

“Oh yes, we’re tourists.” None of that backpacking or savvy traveller nonsense. We want him to know we’re temporary guests just here to enjoy his lovely country.

He says something we can’t translate and points to a man standing to one side wearing mirror shades and a leather jacket.

“Lo siento, no entiendo… sorry, I don’t understand.” Maybe because of the nerves.

He repeats himself and the penny drops.

Mirror sunglasses man is an off duty policeman who needs a lift to the next town.

“Sure,” we’re not keen on the idea of sharing a car with a policeman on a road where we’ve not been sure whether we’ve been sticking to the speed limit or not. But it probably isn’t a good idea to refuse. We point to our luggage and supplies which fill the back seat of the pick-up. “But he’ll have to sit in the rear of the truck.”

The policeman shouts to his amigo who looks at the pick-up’s open-to-the-elements rear bed for a couple of seconds. He shakes his head. He fancies more comfortable transport.

We’ve dodged the bullet.

A lift-seeking policemen. That’s a first for us.

Seeing Big Bird in Patagonia

I was drugged. A potent pill caused by a combo of jet-lag and pre-dawn rising in order to see condors with 3m wingspans rising on the early morning air currents on an estancia (ranch) just outside of Coyhaique.

I was drugged and probably dribbling… till a huge bird languidly strolled across the tundra in front of us. When I say huge I mean ostrich-sized proportions.

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“What is that?”

It looked like a throwback to prehistoric times. With the wild Patagonian backdrop adding to the drama I could actually have been in a real Jurassic Park.

“Ñandú… Darwin’s Rhea,” answered Alejandro.

I knew we were hoping to see big condors in this part of Chile, but I’d no idea there were ancient looking birds like this.

Jet-lag and a lack of sleep were suddenly not a problem.

The Kardashians in Santiago

Sunday morning downtown Santiago, a couple of hours before we have to catch a flight south to rural Chile. The city’s streets are closed due to a mini marathon. I start to worry how the taxi will get to us.

To pass the time we wander streets which are empty apart from a few runners and groups of boys and girls who break into impromptu dance routines every so often. I feel like I’ve wondered into a musical.

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There’s some sort of colourful sporting event taking place in a park near our hotel. I’ve no idea what’s going on. All I know is one of the teams call themselves The Kardashians.

It’s diverting, but not enough to stop me worrying about how that taxi is going to get through.