SO, a few things happened while I was in South America for five weeks.
1. I lost a bet. When push comes to shove, there’s something about the sight of a little roasted guinea pig’s front teeth and teeny roasted feet curled up on a bed of mashed root vegetable that defeats even a quick $20.
2. I went to Rio, where Jesus is big, the World Cup is bigger, and a short trip to the beach showed why Brazilians invented the Brazilian – the wax job that launched 10,000 G-strings. Neither age, nor body shape, nor fitness level, nor concern for the sensitivities of a few Aussie tourists prevent the good people of Rio from bending over in their thousands on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches wearing nothing but very small strips of buried fabric and even deeper suntans.
‘‘I think I just saw a woman’s tonsils from underneath,’’ said one of my travelling companions, Bruce, who’d made the mistake of looking up from his book as we lounged on Copacabana beach and a woman bent to retrieve her sunglasses.
‘‘What on earth are you talking about?’’ said his wife, Flo, who’d been playing ‘‘Spotto the implants’’ until boredom set in when she reached a triple-digit figure.
‘‘I mean I saw a woman’s tonsils when she bent over and I haven’t even seen her face, if you get my drift,’’ said Bruce, as the amply built middle-aged Brazilian and her even more amply built middle-aged hubby fluffed around for a bit longer until they both bent over to pick up their towels and walked off together, hand in hand.
‘‘I think I’ve just seen her husband’s adenoids from the same perspective,’’ said Flo, before noting Peter Allen singing ‘‘When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio’’ had been ruined for her from that day forward.
3. I survived a mountain-bike ride on Death Road in Bolivia. Every year, the Darwin Awards are presented to dead people who’ve increased our global IQ by dying while doing really stupid things. Tourists doing really stupid things – like taking the first mountain-bike ride of their lives on a notoriously dangerous 63-kilometre cliff road where a single mistake can leave you plunging to a horrible, but extremely quick, death at the bottom of a ravine – tend to feature heavily on the award list. But ignorance is bliss, hope springs eternal, the photos looked fabulous, and my group of oxygen-deprived but smiling Aussies managed to get to the bottom without too much incident.
4. I did a runner from a woman who thought all tourists liked to have giant anacondas draped around their heads. In my formative years in the 1970s, I saw Marlin Perkins wrestle a giant anaconda in a river on Wild Kingdom. Like Skippy and Flipper, that seminal television show left me with fairly settled views about critters that have remained, despite the decades. And those views are: a) kangaroos are the only Australian native animals that can tell north from south and drive a ute; b) dolphins aren’t as smart as kangaroos, but they’re the only sea creatures that can summon an ambulance in an emergency; and c) giant 10-metre snakes with heads as wide as dinner plates and a tendency to crush their meals to death before taking hours to consume them are never, ever our friends, even if they’re called Larry or George. I might have been in an idyllic Amazon jungle setting with a full moon overhead, the anaconda might have been the woman’s family pet from the moment it hatched from an egg and ate its siblings, and I might have been a tourist doing stupid things while on holiday, but there was no way I was wearing a snake. In the Amazon, everyone can hear you scream.
5. Barry O’Farrell resigned because of a bottle of Grange. Now it’s fair to say that when you’re in South America there’s not much about Australia on the local news. In fact, during the five weeks I was in five different South American countries there was virtually nothing about Australia on the local news, apart from pithy comments about our chances of making it past the first round in the World Cup, ‘‘Not a hope in hell’’ being the least pithy of those comments. So it was an email from home to one of our group, received as we lazed in hammocks beside the Amazon River in Peru, that told us Bazza ‘‘I promise we won’t let you down’’ O’Farrell, had let us down. And, somewhere on a continent far, far from home, a group of peeved NSW residents tossed around the names of their favourite fallen pollies of the past two years – Labor and Coalition – while the piranha snapped in the mighty Amazon.
6. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey broke election promises, targeted the most disadvantaged in the community, barely touched high-income earners, denied that’s what they’d done, lectured critics about how the Abbott government had to wean Australians off the teat of entitlement, did a little dance, smoked a cigar or two, and then celebrated their unfair and ugly budget with a host of party fund-raising dinners.
Public trust trashed again. I must be home.