Animals on Travels

Travel is one way to add colour to your life, whether you're a man or a mouse, woman or wombat. I'd like to share with you a few of my encounters - of animals on travels.

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6. La vida latina loca

Ooh, I can just hear the cat lovers among you out there grumbling because I'm going on and on about dogs as if they are the cat's whiskers... The fact is that dogs rule! Don't just take my word for it - the city of Santiago de Chile thinks so too. Dog city of note! No, a chilli-dog is not what you think. The canine is in no danger of being eaten in this South American capital city. On the contrary, why else would masses of pedestrians allow dogs to lie stretched across the pavements in the busiest parts of the city at the busiest times of the day and walk 180 degrees around them (not over them, mind you) without kicking at them or cursing them out of the way? It's the origin of the expression 'Let sleeping dogs lie'. Nobody messes with those dogs. But you're right, enough about them now.

Llamas are far too interesting to harp on any further about the macho latin american dog. I hate to say this, but they certainly look stupid, those llamas, like a child's drawing of a woolly camel gone wrong. I mean they're cute, but it's in the heavy-lidded eyes and broad mouth that the llook of stupidity creeps in, not to mention their name. The average English speaker simply cannot resist enunciating those ll's the English way even though we all know that the double ll in the Castellano language sounds more like a soft 'j'. It's like calling these animals by an abbreviation for pyjamas. They're probably related to the camel because that too is a stupid-looking animal. It's so unfair really, especially considering their purpose in life as beasts of burden. When humans aren't using the llama to carry around their heavy loads, then they're dressing it up in colourful llama garb and offering rides to scared kids or making it pose for pictures. In the animal world, you don't have to be pretty to be objectified - such is life for the llama on its travels. And after a lifetime of service to a hungry owner, it might even find itself on the wrong side of an asada, aka the latino barbeque.

Despite being far more useful, the llama doesn't get half the recognition that chickens get in Chile. Why else would Chileans proudly perform a chicken dance during Independence Day celebrations? The national dance, called the 'cueca', has its origins in the mating ritual between a rooster and a hen. I don't get it. You dance around each other in circles of eight or whatever, waving around a white handkerchief overhead to represent the bird's comb (which is of course, confusingly enough, red), boys and girls, men and women, pay homage to the bird in an elaborate and slightly monotonous flirtation fueled by a highly potent local brew called 'chicha', which mostly results in drunken mayhem and general frivolity. It's great fun, especially considering you could get up to 3 or 4 days off work during the week of September 18th, if Independence Day falls propitiously!

But it's the camarones cooked in a cheese sauce that got served up to me one night, when a rather ardent young engineering student took me out for a seafood meal in an expensive restaurant, that suffered the worst fate of all these Chilean animals on their travels. I thought I had ordered prawns but got something else. I starved myself all day for this meal because times were tough and I'd never have been able to afford to eat there. Unfortunately, Chileans are in the habit of dining later than I am used to - 10pm if you're lucky. The dude had a shaky command of the English language and came prepared with notes that he read from under the table. Alcohol flowed in dangerous proportions but I figured that by sticking to cocktails containing fruit bits, I'd at least stave off the hunger growling in my stomach. When the food came, I didn't bother to check that my order was correct - I dived right in. I only managed one mouthful. The chemical reaction inside my gut was instant. A rumble started from deep within. The dude was stuttering through a much-rehearsed line, building up to an amorous question that I was going to have to answer sooner or later. The rumble seared alarmingly upwards and slowly found its way into my throat and just as the dude finished his question and looked expectantly at me... I burped. In a disgusting rush of reflux, the unthinkable mixture of acid and camarones in cheese sauce filled the cavity of my mouth, and I sat there, literally like a cow enjoying the same meal twice. The dude realised my dilemma and reddened. I held my lips desperately shut and fled from the table. The bathroom seemed miles away, but I found it and sent that poor little cooked and barely digested sea creature on a watery trip down the loo, where I'm certain it eventually found its way back into the sea - its circle of life complete.

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