One of the great things about travelling is some of the characters you meet along the way. People from your adventures linger in your mind long after you return home, and a rare select few may even pass into travel folk law or legend status.
Such is the legend that is Lalo Bravo.
However before we meet the lead character we must Quentin Tarantino our story back to the day before…
It was our final day in Santiago de Chile. The last rays of afternoon sun were falling across our picturesque square as my friend Todd aka Pocket and I were enjoying a few glasses of red. Tonight we would board an overnight local bus down to the mountain resort of Pucón.
Before we knew it we were engaged in conversation (in Spanish) with an elderly gentleman who proceeded to tell us how he was a former soldier in Pinochet’s dictatorship and all the nationalities he had killed during his years of service. When we told him we were Australian he looked off into nowhere, his eyes glazed over and me muttered almost remorsefully ‘I never did kill an Australian’.
Wow look at the time! We paid the bill, respectfully bade our farewells, scampered back to the hostel and headed off to catch our overnight bus. If this chance meeting was anything to go by Chile was going to be interesting. Pucón here we come!
For those of you who have never caught a bus around South America believe me they are an experience. In fact they could be subject of a blog all by themselves! One thing was quite common though, most would play incredibly loud Hollywood action movies. You could almost guarantee it would be Sly Stallone, Steven Seagal or perhaps Wesley Snipes serenading you to sleep each night.
So after a fitful semi-nights sleep we pulled into Pucón just as the sun started to break over the mountains. There waiting for his unsuspecting victims was Lalo Bravo.
Lalo was about five foot six, relatively skinny, short black hair with a pencil thin moustache and spoke in a shrill excited high pitched voice. He was a gittery character and not to sound stereotyped he kind of reminded us of the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales.
Dazed and confused after dreams punctuated by gunfire and bad Wesley Snipes one liners he convinced us his hostel was just around the corner and it had the best rates in town. What did we have to lose? We followed Lalo as he talked a million miles an hour about all the things one could do in Pucón. As we approached his hostel he informed us the hostel was actually full but there were a couple of rooms available in his house.
As we entered his home we were greeted by a bright blue lounge covered in old vinyl records, “I have my own music tv show and sketch comedy show” he said. We later found out the majority of the show was filled with racist and derogatory sketches about the local Peruvian community! We were shown the room which was clean and reasonably large, the price was also good, a special deal because we were not in the hostel proper. If anything bunking in with Lalo was going to be an experience so we happily agreed to stay.
There was an Australian couple in the next room who were apparently really nice he told us, but you don’t see them very often. He was right. During our stay we only saw them once, one morning where neither of them spoke to us or each other, however we heard them every night arguing, screaming and throwing things at each other. Apparently their dream South American adventure was not working out as they had hoped!
After settling in and Lalo returned with breakfast things started to get interesting. It turned out he was also the local journalist and proceeded to show us his impressive website (the sun bursts and a solar flare circling the world until it reached Pucón was a little much we thought) and informed us there had been a spate of arson attacks in town. Now most of the historic buildings were made of wood but the fire department were pretty useless, in fact over the past several weeks he had arrived at the scene of each fire about 10-15 minutes before the fire crews had arrived!
We patiently sat through every fire video he had “reported” on before attempting to make our escape. Tomorrow we wanted to climb the snow covered volcano of Villarrica that towers over the town. Lalo told us to source out one company in particular, they were the best, had the highest quality equipment and he knew the guys who ran it.
“Mention my name and you will get the respect” Lalo told us. “What’s my name?” he asked, “Lalo” we replied, “No, no, no Lalo Bravo, remember my name you get the respect, now what’s my name?”, “Lalo Bravo!” we (fake) excitedly proclaimed, “That’s right! Remember my name you get the respect!”. This went on repeatedly for several minutes (yes the same sentences over and over) and reminded me of some sales team self help class where we all stood around pumping each other up and slapping each other on the back.
Convinced the mere mention of the legendary Lalo Bravo’s name throughout the town would see locals bow down in front of us, slash their prices and generally throw rose petals reverently at our feet we strolled into the town centre heads held high, first stop, the climbing company.
We discussed the plan, agreed to ascend Villarrica the following day and then we were asked where we were staying.
Chests pumped out we proudly announced, “We are staying with Lalo Bravo”.
Insert silence here and crickets being heard in the background.
“With, ah, umm, Lalo err Bravo?”, we were losing our nerve.
After a rather uneasy few seconds and eye contact shifting from one person to another like a western showdown the atmosphere was broken with…. laughter! What could we do? So we laughed. Ah yes local ‘celebrity’ Lalo Bravo, no discounts, no respect just the look of pity from the guys at the climbing shop. We paid up (full price) and continued to explore town safe in the knowledge we would not be dropping Lalo’s name again.
We returned back to the house and excitedly Lalo asked what we were planning to do. When we told him we were climbing the mountain, and confirmed we went to the company he recommended we were then asked did they give us a good deal. Well, kind of, we paid the advertised price. “What?! Did you mention my name?”, we informed him we had, “What name did you give him?” he asked incredulously. “Lalo Bravo”, “That’s right and you get the respect!”, he was outraged, so much so he stormed out of the house. He later told us there had been a ‘breaking story’ regarding the local mayor and an affair.
The following morning (after again not getting much sleep due to the fighting couple next door) we were picked up at the crack of dawn with the climbing team chuckling all the way to the mountain about the fact we were staying with Lalo. By now we saw the funny side and joined in, the laughs at his expense lasted all day.
Upon our return we happened to walk in on the ‘filming’ of his television show, it would appear that you can broadcast anything in Chile!
After several days in Lalo’s company it was time to move on. However Lalo and that journey from Santiago was already taking on mythical status. In fact even today some seven years on anytime South America and Chile come up in conversation Pocket and I almost instinctively fall into Lalo mode. Imitating his voice, the phrase “Mention my name, you get the respect” has become the stuff of legend. Sure Machu Picchu was incredible, Foz do Iguaçu is something we will never forget, and the opportunity to visit Antarctica is a one in a lifetime chance, but South America will always be remembered for one man, the over the top, self grandizing and possible arsonist that is Lalo Bravo!
ps Sadly we don’t have a photo of Lalo, such is the mystery surrounding him. Lalo is still going strong (and apparently never been found guilty of arson) and Hostal Bravo is now quite highly rated, who would have thought!