Travel: I lost my virginity in... Tierra del Fuego
Sunday 26 December 1999
I needed to find a real man - a man who deserved my carefully protected virginity. I wanted a man with big hands and stubble who would throw me over his shoulder, stride off into the big blue yonder and ravish me under canvas beneath the stars.
The nearest I'd ever come to a tent, however, was the marquee at London Fashion Week. But now I'd booked myself on an overland expedition around South America.
It had all seemed so romantic as I'd flicked through the brochures in Battersea. But, waddling sideways, pants around my ankles, to escape the torrential jet of my tent-mate Anna's pee rebounding from the tarmac as we squatted behind our truck, the reality was more prosaic. Fifteen white arses pointed into the oncoming traffic as a horn blasted in the darkness and we were caught in the headlights of a passing juggernaut.
We were on the road in Patagonia, the dry, withered breast of South America, heading down to Tierra del Fuego. With mile upon mile of flat, dusty plain and not a bush in sight, it was "boys to the front, girls to the back".
I had started to yearn for a stray tree or small hillock - fantasising about my en suite bathroom, the heady scent of pine disinfectant and the soft, velvety texture of Andrex toilet tissue.
Hurtling south with a group of decidedly dangerous Antipodeans and peeing in the middle of the road, things were not going entirely to plan. But at least I had got as far as lusting after a big, hairy tour guide called Moose.
We were doing an all-nighter, trying to cover the vast distance down to Ushuaia, the most southerly town in the world. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was blaring out of the loudspeakers and the smell of Bacardi wafted towards me. I hadn't had a rum and coke since I was 16. "It's a Cuba Libre," belched Sharky as he passed me a chipped tin mug.
Stopping for breakfast at seven, a pale sun yawned beside the Chilean border. Staggering off the truck, stiff and bleary eyed, no make-up, hair scraped back, shorts, socks and sandals, I gagged at my newly acquired traveller chic.
Sarah, my flatmate, had given me a present before I left - a bottle of homesickness pills, which tasted suspiciously like mint imperials, and a copy of Vogue. "I rely on your wardrobe," she'd moaned as she watched me pack my rucksack. "I don't want you coming back a dreadlocked hippy". But the downward path was obviously more slippery than I'd thought.
After another long day of border familiarities, ferry crossings and watching the landscape gradually change to snow-capped mountains, turquoise falls and pine forests, we arrived on the set of Northern Exposure as a blood orange exploded over the Beagle Channel.
Anna and I raced to put up our tent faster than the Aussies, tired of being viewed as the dippy blondes, only to discover that we'd left our tent poles at the last campsite. "We were using them as a washing line to dry our knickers," I explained sheepishly to a horrified Moose.
Huddled round the campfire we downed large quantities of mulled wine and Anna started singing rugby songs that made even the Aussies blush, breaking into a sterling rendition of "Sit on My Face and Tell Me that You Love Me".
Gazing across the flames at Moose's big hands, stubble and checked shirt I gave him my best smouldering "come hither big guy" glance which turned into a cross-eyed leer - luckily, Aussie for "come hither big guy".
Later, lying tangled in his arms as he snored and snuffled lovingly in my ear, while Anna crawled around outside the tent puking up a vivid concoction of Argentinian roast and clove balls, I sighed contentedly.
I'd been ravaged by a man who called me Sheila, on the diamond-studded nipple of South America. And with any luck I'd be off cooking duty too.
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