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Wed Feb 16th 2000. London.

6AM: Wake up in a cold sweat, thinking -what- -am- -I- -DOING- trying to re-invent myself as a cool hip world traveller/photographer at my age!

Still, I've done endless leaving drinks - my liver has gone off in disgust to find a frying pan and some onions believing this will be an easier life - and I've said a thousand goodbyes. Though frankly for my taste, there haven't been nearly enough tearful women begging me to stay.

All my worldly possessions are in boxes, I've had more vaccinations than you can shake a stick at and I can't think of a single useless travellers toy that I havn't already bought.

It's way too late to back out now...

7PM: Pick up my rucksack to head for the airport. My spine creaks and I break out in a sweat. Something has to go! By the time I get to the airport, I have ditched the following - one bottle of handwashing liquid, one travel guide to New Zealand, one bottle of Eau de Toilette (who was I trying to kid, anyway!), two magazines and one X-ray proof film pouch. My back is duly grateful.

Lock the door, put my house keys in an envelope, and push them back through the letterbox. They land on the mat inside with a thud like a heart falling. There is really no going back now.

On the train to Gatwick I discover I have mis-remembered the time of my flight, have to run, and only just make it on the plane. For some reason, this cheers me up immensely!

Thur 17th Feb. Santiago, Chile.

It's hot. It's damn hot. And I'm walking around in circles in the full heat of the sun with my still-way-too-heavy backpack, trying to find a place to buy a decent map, so that I can locate a hotel, so I can put the damn thing down!

Things have not been helped by the (apparently sane) chap in the airport tourist information booth, who whipped out a 'map' which looked like a childs drawing and wrote the name of the street where one could buy a real, grown-up's map in a totally fictional place. (It was! I checked!). Overcome these minor obstacles shortly before passing out from heat exhaustion (the map shop is on the fourteenth floor of a tower block in a quiet back street - where else!), and gratefully fall into the first cheap hotel I come to.

Spent the flight chatting away to a very nice Chilean Lady, the fact that she spoke no English, and my Spanish is basic at best was no obstacle. She proved remarkably tolerant of the mix of Spanish, Italian, and French words pronounced in a Spanish accent that I came out with, and I was gratified by the quality of conversations we were able to eventually construct. Of course, we could have been talking at complete cross purposes, and I'd never have known! She has been on a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem with a group of friends. At least, I think that's what she said...

Fri 18th Feb, Santiago, Chile.

Am starting to feel slightly oppressed by the fact that I seem to be the only gringo under the age of sixty in the entire city. Even in the tourist hot-spots, the only English speakers I've seen have been a couple of large groups of senior citizens in guided groups. All other tourists seem to be Latin American. Still, Santiago seems like a nice, very modern, and basically safe city which wouldn't be out of place anywhere on the Med, and I'm having a fine enough time wandering around on my own.

Watch the sunset from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia, a precipitous little hill that that fits neatly into a block of the otherwise quite flat city grid plan. Encrusted with little classical fountains and chapels, it has a crenellated tower on top with a fantastic view over the city and to the encircling Andes.

Sat 19th Feb, Santiago, Chile.

It has dawned on me that I need to learn some Spanish quick-sharp if I'm not going to spend the next few weeks completely out of my depth. This seems a ridiculously basic oversight, but in my defence, much of the world is basically navigable in English - and as a consequence, us native English speakers are able to be hopelessly lazy. The distinction may be, that in many places in the world, neighbouring villages or islands may speak different languages, and often English is used on as a valid mutual communication tool, the advantage for those such as me being almost a side effect. I would guess that in South America, Spanish fills the requirement for common ground across multiple native tongues, so English is uncommon.

I wish I'd booked a language school or something, but meanwhile there is nothing for it but sit down with my phrasebook and start some remedial lessons. Uno, dos, tres...

In the evening, go to a free concert in Plaza des Armas in front of the Cathederal - a local philharmonic does a very creditable version of Berlioz' 'Symphony Fantastique', given added poignancy by the location, and the competition with the occasional burst of traffic noise.

On to Chile 2: Viņa del Mar and Puerto Montt.

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