Jesse Archer Takes On South America

6.12.2007

By Jesse Archer

You Can Run: Gay, Glam, and Gritty Travels in South America follows the intrepid and fantastic'and totally true'adventures of flamboyant gay men through the gritty rough and tough of South America. Author Jesse Archer and his American boyfriend, Zane, spent nearly two years traveling the continent in search of adventure. And find it they did. Discover incredible individuals like the Wolfman of Borneo, Santusa the fanged Chola of a different color, and Walter the label queen. Thrill to the astounding experiences of dodging crocodiles, doing a striptease for a Colombian bathroom bitch, admiring exultant transsexuals caught in a rainstorm, and navigating the most dangerous road in the world. This wild travel chronicle takes you through the real South America with wit, wisdom'and a hot pink wig!

The Pink Lady

A flurry of pink feathers is the only thing I see when we step off the bus in Puerto Natales. The pink apparition wedges itself through a throng of people promoting tourist lodgings to hand us a pink flyer and introduce itself as Patricia. Pink plumage is glue-gunned into the neck of her hot pink sweater. Crafty. Soft pink stretch pants extend down to Patricia's white platform shoes. On second glance, I see the platform bases have been brutally dipped in pink paint. I'm noticing a trend here.

Patricia is well into her 40s, but that doesn't stop her from accenting her homemade ensemble with two pink poodle barrettes strategically pulling her hair back. One side falls, wavy, 1940s fabulous, over one eye: Veronica Lake, eat your heart out. The pink flyer and the pink woman are both vigorously touting the same thing: Hospedaje Patricia.

Chilean wardrobe standards vary from dark gray to black. Zane and I are maybe the only ones to appreciate this festive splash of color because outstanding is astounding in Chile. The other women at the station are muttering 'loca' (crazy) and 'puta' (bitch/whore) because Patricia has captured our attention. Patricia fails to notice the gang of women against her. She is smiling, intent, and in head-to-toe pink.

We agree to stay at her hostel and she begins a squeaky, glee-filled tirade about the weather, tourism, Nicomachean Ethics; I have no idea. Our grasp of Spanish is limited to the stewardess on the LanChile flight to Santiago who slapped on the bathroom door as we furiously rushed to join the mile-high club. ''Dos personas en el ba'o'No! No! No!'

That we understood. But Patricia is twittering out Proustian paragraphs in a single breath.

'It's like an assault,' Zane says as she runs her mouth.

'This is the best way to learn Spanish,' I encourage. She sure can roll those Rs.

Foreign languages are best learned by osmosis. Usually in a bar. We walk along and listen, language sponges here to absorb the sea of Patricia. She gestures up a hill, to a line of dumpy shacks all in a row. They are all identical aluminum shacks. All except for one. One is painted pink.

Hospedaje Patricia is her home. The walls, our room, the kitchen, even the plastic toilet seat is painted pink. Patricia introduces us to her mangy mutt Booda and points to a certificate Scotch-taped on her wall. The letters spell out her first name and four last names. Chilean royalty. The 'diploma' states that Patricia is a graduate in Tourism.

I sign her registry and notice it has been one week since her last lodger. Patricia has been saving up things to say. She continues rambling in rapid-fire Spanish, waving her pink arm to postcards on the wall. I surmise she is backing up that diploma with poignant testimonials from former guests. Then she signals brochures of Torres del Paine hastily tacked onto her pink linoleum living room walls. She barely gets a breath before explaining another and another of her postings. Every so often she throws in the word 'magnifico.' I understand that much.

She is showing us some sort of coupon book with her name on it. Zane and I tune her out and nod in the appropriate places. I survey her home while she rambles on. Two stuffed animals, love monkeys, embrace on an ill-covered sofa. Fake pink flowers are arranged on a tiny dining table made of Styrofoam. The fake flowers have glue-gun drops all over the petals to simulate the morning dew.

A chilly wind shakes the aluminum siding that doubles as her four walls, and Patricia ignites the pilot light on her pink stove, cheerfully throwing open its door. This must be the 'central heating' I read advertised on her flyer. The walls in our room are peeling, the pink curtains are ripped, and a mangled mess of a plastic Christmas tree awaits another year in the pink cupboard above the closet. The window looks out onto her back yard, and I think she is telling us it's possible to camp out here for less money. It's a weedy, pink-paint-can cemetery.

'You like pink?' I ask and Patricia breaks into an uproarious laughter. Booda the dog, sharing in her hysteria, climbs onto me with his wet face and breaks a ceramic doll off the table in between our beds. Patricia laughs even more, a carefree lilt that won't end.

Lying in the lumpy bed, I listen to the Patagonian wind menace Patricia's pink home. Zane speaks in the dark. 'Funny how some people bring color to their lives.'

'She could give an opportunity to the rest of the rainbow.'

'Don't cha know?' says Zane. 'Pink is not part of the rainbow.'

In the morning we rent supplies and buy groceries for the trek to Torres del Paine. Patricia, in a pink bathrobe, is excited to tell us about this magnifico trek, but her details are lost on me. I am psychologically preparing for her cold shower. I haven't known warm water for weeks, and it isn't hard to tell this will be another hop-in-and-bite-your-lip experience.

In town we buy bus tickets to the Torres del Paine park, rent a tent and Bunsen burner for the trek, and bump into Patricia. She is ecstatic to see us and we walk several blocks together. In the street Patricia greets others and they duck into houses or bow their heads to the ground, unanimously avoiding the pariah in pink.

Zane and I want to escape, too. We are done absorbing Spanish, waterlogged. Patricia checks her watch and takes the all-too-familiar route to the bus station. Rescue. She'll wait there with the bitchy competition hoping to secure more tourist lodgers.

In the evening Patricia returns with no new tourists. All the same, she is beaming and hopeful (from what I gather) about the exciting prospect of the Israelis she may net thanks to a new flyer campaign in Hebrew. We manage to convey that we bought our bus tickets to the trailhead and the whirring motor that is Patricia slows to a putter.

Her face grows pale. Her demeanor sinks. She brings out the coupon book she showed us the night before and we see the tickets inside are identical to those we bought earlier from another agency. Patricia had been trying to tell us to buy the bus tickets through her, that she earns commission. Oops.

Patricia is depleted. She can't understand how she failed because she did her chipper best to inform us, to give us a tourism-degreed level of attention. She utters her first word of English, a dismal 'Why?' and lowers her head, breathing deeply. Maintaining life. Zane and I look up the word for 'sorry' in the dictionary.

The next morning Patricia is dutifully in the kitchen at 5:00 a.m. to see us off on our trek, her perky spirit restored. She prepares the daily breakfast included in the three-dollar price of her hostel: toast, coffee, and globby chunks of fat smeared with something orange.

Before we disappear down the street, Patricia follows outside, warning us not to be eaten by a puma. She gives me a stack of pink flyers to distribute to tourists heading to Puerto Natales and, boldly attacking the world market, she hands over an additional selection of flyers in Hebrew for any Israelis I happen to come across. The last thing she says is to tell muchos turistas about her. We are the hope of her business.

I pass out her pink flyers in hopes she might regain the commission lost on us, but I want to do more; like write her publicity campaign. Zane is right'pink is not part of the rainbow. It stands apart, on its own. It can brighten your life, and your platform shoes. Pink is Patricia. And in an industry that relies so heavily on word of mouth I like to think she is still succeeding as Patagonia's premier purveyor of tourism'in pink.

You Can Run is available now at local bookstores and online at Amazon.com.

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