Careless Whisper as the Clock Strikes 666

                                                                                                  June 10th, 2006: Chonchi, Island of Chiloe, Chile


     So there we were last Monday night, sitting in what was purportedly the best steak house in Mendoza, enjoying one
    of those famously think Argentinean steaks (Did somebody ask for 3 inches of Argentinean meat?) while celebrating
    the fact that my bank card had finally arrived which meant that we were finally free to leave, and commenting on the
    uniqueness of Argentine mood music; usually something along the lines of Bonnie Tyler´s Total Eclipse of the Heart,
    or a cover to cover run through of the entire NKOTB Hangin´Tough album. It was getting close to midnight, and we
    were the last two diners remaining in the restaurant, so it wasn´t completely out of the ordinary when one of the
    waiters, upon hearing that it was our final night in his homeland, came up to the table to inform us that he had a special
    surprise for us. Expecting some kind of a courtesy digestif or a free slice of pie, I was a little confused when the
    Aaron Neville tune that I had been previously groovin´ along to was halted mid-whimper, and from out of nowhere the
    unforgettable softcore saxophone solo at the onset of WHAM`s ¨Careless Whisper¨ cut through the Mendozan night,
    prompting me to look over at our waiter, who was standing grandiosely at the bar with a grin on his face that
    suggested that he´d finally, after numerous years of painfully failing attempts, gotten down to the quintessential core of
    what it truly meant to be North American, before hopefully asking: ¨Jorge Michael? Careless Whisper? You like, yes?¨  

      I still have no idea what the fuck any of it was supposed to mean, but with the clock striking twelve and thereby
    signaling the edge of the apocalypse, I guess it was a nice gesture all the same. Maybe we had been whispering
    carelessly about getting the hell out of Mendoza after 8 days, because when we woke up the next morning, still
    laughing to ourselves about the totally random long distance request from the night before, the girl in our hostel warned
    us that this might not be the best day to cross the Andes, and then on our way to the bus station, the cabbie, upon
    hearing that we were headed for Santiago, simply shook his head and said that we couldn´t go, not on the day of El
    Diablo. He was so adamant about the whole thing that I half expected him to pop a George Michael tape into his
    cassette player. But there was obviously something to these seemingly empty warnings, because when we got to the
    bus station there was a whole mess of people lined up outside our bus company´s ticket office, and when the fat kid
    who tries to hustle you into going to his hostel finally explained to us exactly what was going on, it all began to fall into
    our place: our bus had actually been canceled... because the date was 06/06/06. And with that, it had officially become
    obvious that it was time to rid ourselves of these overwhelmingly Roman Catholic countries.

      Somewhat flustered but not entirely frustrated, we sat ourselves down at one of those fancy bus station cafes and
    devised a plan that would eventually get us to Chile (ironically, one of the most Roman Catholic countries in the world,
    as people didn`t gain the right to divorce until a year and a half ago), regardless of what the calendar might read. We
    hopped on a bus that night for a comfy little 19 hour ride, eventually landing us in the Lakes district town of Bariloche,
    Argentina, (this part of Argentina looks so much like south-western BC its almost uncanny). We spent the night in our
    hostel sans alarm clock because some idiot left it in Mendoza, but were told to sleep tight because we had been assured
    that the guy doing the midnight shift would wake us up at 7am, thereby permitting us to make our crucially important
    8am bus for Puerto Montt, Chile. The fact that the sun doesn´t rise until after 9am at this time of year and in this part
    of the world didn´t do much to ease my worried mind, so the guy at the desk wrote an unmistakably HUGE note in
    black marker and taped it to the top of the front desk, guaranteeing me that it would be impossible for the midnight guy
    to miss, giving me his solemn word that I would be woken at seven. Of course, a man´s solemn word doesn´t exactly
    mean all that much when you suddenly wake up with the strange sensation that you´ve overslept, and it means even
    less when you run downstairs to check the time only to learn that it´s already after 7. And I´d say that solemn word is
    pretty much obliterated when you walk into the common room and find your man; the one responsible for your wake
    up call; passed out on the couch, peacefully sawwing logs as the early morning soccer highlights run silently across
    the TV. I felt like a Trinidadian marathon runner in a Seinfeld episode. We shoved all of our gear into our backpacks
    and managed to catch our bus to Puerto Montt, where we were treated like royalty with coffee in pint glasses as if we
    were sitting in a Haight-Ashbury cafe and not a bus trudging along through the snow. After another itinerary
    improvisation in Puerto Montt due in large part to the gross inflation in price on a Patagonia-bound cargo boat, we
    eventually found ourselves slurping the world´s biggest, and probably best (and most certainly the cheapest - they go
    for about $0.60 each) oysters on the West Coast´s version of Newfoundland, the Chilean Island of Chiloe.

       But of course, before we got to this remote little outpost, there was a great deal more to experience in Mendoza than
    the simple waiting around for my illusive bank card to arrive. With the help of my parents (and Western Union), we
    were able to secure some much needed funds and as a result, take in some of Mendoza´s... culture. You know, things
    like walking through the city´s massive park, sitting by the impressive fountain that celebrates the earth´s four
    continents (huh?), watching the elite play tennis on the city´s clay courts, and picnicking by the lake while rowers
    paddled tranquilly past and the sun set quietly behind the mountains to the West. We also visited the town zoo, where
    the lack of guards and zookeepers gave it a kind of Trafalgar-Village-petting-zoo feel, as you were pretty well free to
    feed the Baboons the popcorn that nearby vendors sell for human consumption, jump over the four foot barbed-wire
    fence to wrestle with the bears, and pet the pumas and Lions, just to see if you could make them purr like the cats at
    home (at one point, the male Lion stood up and began roaring, and right on cue, every other lion in the park joined in
    [they keep the male separate], and standing only four feet away, it was one of the most intense things I´ve ever seen,
    and it got me to wondering why, if the electronics stores in some of these south American cities have guards with
    guns standing out front, why they couldn´t have a zoo keeper nearby with something similar. Because honestly, if a
    $25 VHS player is worth killing sombebody over...).

       Of course, I would be remiss if we were to neglect the other aspects of Mendozan culture, a great deal of which
    involved consuming mass quantities of alcohol. The liver abuse began with a lengthy bike ride alongside a national
    highway, eventually leading us to the Mendozan wine town of Maipu (pronounced ¨my-poo¨, lending itself to a wealth
    of ¨Could you tell me how to find Maipu¨ jokes; you´ll be happy to hear that I just officially graduated the first grade),
    where we took a wine tour in Spanish, sampled some of the product, before going for lunch and knocking back a
    bottle of the house blend, after which we went for another tour (this time in broken English, and a great deal more
    informative), sampling some more of their good stuff, before hopping on our bikes and giggling as we raced and
    wobbled the 17 kms back home, eventually finding Mendoza sometime after dark, but not before buying 1 litre of
    olives off some guy on the street corner. This was a tour that I would highly recommend.

       By the time last weekend rolled around, we had some American and Argentinean dudes check into our hostel (we
    had been the lone tenants for about 4 nights), along with a Kiwi, which meant that it was time to hit up the bright lights
    of Aristides (or as I liked to refer to it: Charlie) Villanuava, the Mendozan street where almost every bar in town is
    situated, and upon which, conveniently enough, our hostel also happened to be located. It was great getting to hang out
    with the Yanks (a couple of dudes on exchange from St. Louis, home to the 3rd biggest Mardi Gras in the U.S. - is
    that something for a town to really be proud of? Isn´t that kind of like parading around the consolation trophy in the
    bar where the winning team is signing autographs on partially revealed bosoms?) because they were happy to lead the
    charge as far as partying was concerned, and the Argies were kind enough to explain the intricacies of their culture
    along the way. For example, while walking up and down the street, it was hard not to notice that every bar was filled
    with nothing but tables of 8-10 girls, most of which were dressed to the nines without a man in sight. Which was
    when we learned that in Argentina, Friday night is for your friends, making Saturday night a nationwide Schmoopy
    fest. The two Americans and the Kiwi couldn´t believe their luck. They were like Ronnie, Sully, and the Bomber on a
    roadie in their prime: not only did this Argentinean custom mean that there wouldn´t be a dude within 5 miles of this
    street, but on Saturday night, every single girl at every single bar would be rip-roaring ready to go. What a fantastic
    culture!

       Naturally, a great deal of dumbness ensued for the next three nights, but what the hell would you expect when you
    can drink 1 litre Heinekens for $1.50 while playing foosball in your hostel until midnight because the bars stay open,
    and I am quoting our Saturday night waitress on this one who replied, when asked about last call procedures as we sat
    down at one of her tables at 3:30 in the morning: ¨we stay open until you want to stop drinking¨. I felt like I was in
    Sheenboro all over again. But the highlight of the gongshow had to be Sunday night when, following the suggestion of
    Sandra and a Brazilian girl who had checked in the night before, plans were made to hit up the local nudy bar. A few
    litres of Heiney later, we were all set to go, when the midnight hostel guy, clearly an expert in the field, informed us
    that the place we were headed probably wasn´t what we really had in mind. When we asked him to explain, he told us
    that the rip joints in Argentina are little more than thinly-veiled brothels, where there is no stage, no dance, and, dare I
    say it, no brass pole; only a bunch of scantily clad girls walking around that you can pay to have the company of in the
    privacy of the champagne room. Sandra and the Brazilian girl were devastated. Us guys knew we had to make it up to
    them somehow, so after a few bevvies at the local brew pub (the Lupulo Stout was one of the finest beer this expert
    has had the privilege of sampling), we headed back to the hostel for an all night foosball tournament and a few more
    Heineys, culminating in one of the big Americans convincing me that all he needed to seal the deal with the Brazilian girl
    was to give her the striptease that she had been so excited about earlier in the night. Cue the L.L. Cool J.

       Before I knew what was happening, I was up on the coffee table doing my best Carlton Banks impression. At one
    point I ripped my belt off with such vigour that the buckle broke clean off, but that didn´t keep me from using it as a
    whip as I twirled my pants overhead and did the infamous ¨McCallum-Hip-Thrust¨. Sandra couldn´t even breath she
    was laughing so hard (I mean...being turned on so much), all the while taking the kinds of pictures that will keep me
    from ever running from office. Next up was the big American who did an admirable job, but the night wasn´t complete
    until the Kiwi started humping the coffee table in his blue and white vertical striped boxers and black socks pulled up to
    his knees. It was on par with the time Skeeter and Bomber were strolling the Kincardine boardwalk buck ass naked
    looking for their clothes in broad daylight as retired couples walked hand-in-hand pretending not to notice. It´s amazing
    the things people will do when they know they´ll never see any of the other participants again. And for the record: the
    big American scored with the Brazilian girl, which pretty well makes it even funnier, considering that there might
    actually exist someone out there who could get turned on by such a display.

       Anyway, tonight is the big McCallum Street Bender, and I have to say that it pains me more than anything that I´ve
    missed while away, to miss this one night. Make sure you have a cold one for me, and a cold one for my parents while
    your at it, and maybe even a cold one for the old homestead, too. The good times were way too good to forget. But I
    think Ron Burgundy probably put it best when he said:

                  - "We've been coming to the same party for 12 years, and in no way is that depressing."

    Talk to you soon,
seanmccallum.com
Travelling Man