Monday, July 21, 2008
Darwinism and Table Soccer
The seven hour bus trip from Santiago to La Serena was a piece of cake. We took a taxi to the terminal of Tur-Bus, and found there a level of organisation as good as any airport. Our tickets already specified the bay number that the bus would use. We bought some food for the trip and got settled in on board. No checkin, no security - and no delays.
The place that 'Nonna Carla' had chosen for us was outside the centre of the town, just by the beach. It's clearly not swimming weather right now, but the seafront made a good place to walk. I noticed a blue sign right by the water with a picture of a huge wave on it. On closer examination it turned out to be an indication for the escape route in case of a tsunami. Nothing is left to chance in La Serena - the sign pointed away from the ocean. Darwin, like God, is being relegated to ever smaller spheres of influence by modern man.
Our hotel was actually a park of cabañas - tiny self-catering cabins that are perfect for Summer, but definitely not made to retain heat. But we were fine with it. We were glad to be out of a smoggy city, and Nina and Sara soon found little friends around the park. For families based in Santiago, La Serena is the holiday destination of choice. The Winter school holidays are on right now, so the girls (and Letizia and I) were able to resume the sport that practically defined our week in Fiji: table soccer. In Fiji, I did my impression of Little Britain's Competitive Dad, doing a lap of the table on every goal, punching the air, and generally bewildering my young (and now that I think of it, slightly cross-eyed) opponent. And yet he kept coming back for more. Sucker!!! In La Serena I tried to suppress this instinct when playing Filipe, an 11-year-old Santiago boy. And I almost succeeded. In any case, we have decided that table-soccer (or tacataca as it is known in Chile) is the sport for the Lawlor family, combining as it does a minimal fitness requirement, no dedication whatsoever and a take-no-prisoners approach to gratuitous displays of victory. We'll be acquiring a table when we get home (though we have nowhere to put it, as the funds that might have gone into converting the attic went into this trip instead).
Across the road from our cabañas we found a great steak restaurant. For less than 7 euros I got one of the best filets I've ever enjoyed. 400g of rosey-on-the-inside, al-dente-on-the-outside happiness. Our waiter turned out to have a very unusual first name. He was called Darwin. I know that Charles Darwin passed this way before on The Beagle. But I didn't think he had left his own genetic imprint on the place. Could this man in front of me be the fruit of Charles Darwin's own long forgotten experiment in heredity, I wondered? Apparently not - it seems that his father was a scientist and named his son out of reverence for a great scientific thinker. (It might have been kinder to simply call him Charles). I was tempted to ask him what names his siblings were carrying around (Copernicus is working desserts tonight and it's Einstein's night off). But he still had all the steak-knives in his hand so I though better of it. I also didn't find out if he shared my concerns about the negative effect that the tsunami sign might have on the future of the local gene pool. Some times it's safer to be on the other side of a nice big language barrier.
La Serena has a great deal more to offer than steak and table soccer of course. We took some time to stroll around the city centre, browse in a pretty covered market, and have a reasonably priced meal or two. But oddly enough, table soccer and walks along the beach (including a few goes on a bungy trampoline for Nina and Sara) was all we really wanted. The girls had had to deal with 4 days in Santiago with very little to do except watch their parents disintegrate due to lack of sleep (probably not such a bad passtime for most kids, but not nearly as good if you can't have a laugh with your friends about it). La Serena offered them a chance to just do what they wanted to do. Apart from a quick tour of a surprisingly good archeological museum - which included an orginal maoi statue from Easter Island - we contented ourselves with strolling, eating, ping-pong and table soccer. As far as this family is concerned, La Serena was a GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!
Nina and Sara, ready for the bus to get out of Santiago.