We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia.
Just above where the Calle Calle meets the Valdivia, there is a river-front promenade with a row of excursion boats, a moored submarine, and a fish market:
The fish market was built with a row of steps leading down into the water, but a second stage of construction put up a stout rail fence: the steps below the market - and a floating pontoon just beyond - have been colonized by a harem or two of sea lions - or lobos marinos (sea wolves) as they are known here:
In real life they are enormous- huge floating bellies and necks of solid muscle and long white teeth and terrible monster fish-breath. The fishmongers toss fish heads and entrails to them over the fence, and they loll about and huff, and belch occasionally, and the tourists go mildly ga-ga and fill up the memory chips on their cameras.
Wandering through the fish market, Mr Tabubil and I were approached by a fishmonger in hip-waders who looked left and right and said out of the corner of his mouth : "You want to take a picture of me feeding a sea lion?"
"Sure!" We said.
We followed him down an alley of fish-scales and fish-guts between the stalls. The man picked up a two-foot silver-colored fish from a stall, and a moment later we were nose to nose through the fence with a big bull sea lion.
"You want to do it?" He said to Mr Tabubil.
"Me?" Mr Tabubil looked at him. "I want the photo!"
So the man handed me the fish and told me to put my whole arm over the fence, and praying that the sea lion was smart enough to remember the old saw about biting the hand that fed it, I did - and the bull, who out-massed me 8:1, reached up and took that big fish in one delicate clash of long white teeth.
And that was a very good morning.