Jet lag plus hangover equals pain

Hangover special ... dead fish at the Mercado Central in Santiago.
Hangover special ... dead fish at the Mercado Central in Santiago. Photo: Alfredo Maiquez/Lonely Planet

Craig Platt discovers that mixing jetlag, a hangover and dead fish is a recipe for disaster.

I knew I would regret it but, I thought, it was the wedding of a close friend - it was my duty to celebrate and celebrate big. However, 24 hours later, my decision to drink late into the night before rising early to fly from New Zealand to Chile didn't seem like such a good idea.

By now, I felt like I had created a perfect storm of pain for myself: jetlag compounded by a hangover. It was my first time crossing the international dateline and the 16 hour time difference from home, combined with a splitting headache, was not the ideal way to begin my South American sojourn.

Nevertheless, I was determined to get out and about and start seeing what Santiago had to offer. According to my guide book, a highlight was eating lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants found at the Mercado Central, where the freshest produce from the market is transferred directly to your plate.

I arrive shortly after midday and wander through the market, occasionally being harassed by waiters from the surrounding restaurants. It seems incredibly quiet considering a meal at this place is supposed to be one of the city's highlights. Eventually I succumb to a maitre de with excellent English and take a seat, still feeling exhausted from the flight.

A waitress comes to take my order, but looking at the menu, I realise I have no idea what any of the dishes are (the exception is the salmon, but I figure I should try something a little different). I ask her for a recommendation and she points to one of the dishes and then kisses her fingers. I'm convinced.

A short time later a plate arrives with a large white fish fillet covered with prawns and a thick, creamy sauce. I tuck in and find the fish, whatever it may be, has a strong taste.

After a few bites of fish and some mouthfuls of the creamy sauce, I begin to realise that I haven't got much of an appetite. It is, after all, about 2am back home, and my system isn't quite used to eating at this hour.

I try to eat a few more bites, but by now I'm feeling nauseous. I'm not sure whether it's the jet lag, the remnants of hangover, or the location. There's something a little bit disturbing about eating a fish while the stench of its dead cousins wafts into your nostrils from the markets next door.

Knowing that I really should eat, and also that this meal is highly expensive by Chilean standards, I slowly but surely attempt to eat a little more, but every swallow is a struggle.

With almost no other diners at the restaurant, it's not long before one of the staff notices I'm not eating. The waiter approaches and speaks to me in Spanish. I've no idea what he asks, but I'm guessing it is something along the lines of "Is there something wrong with your meal?"

Moments after the first waiter arrives, I found myself surrounded by four staff, all looking at me with concern. Finally the maitre d' comes over and asks me, in English, what's wrong. I try to explain that there's nothing wrong with the meal, that I'm jetlagged and therefore have no appetite. He explains to the others, who look unconvinced.

Embarrassed by the attention, I decide to pay the bill and leave. Later, back at the hotel, I discover that the restaurant I was at is the market's most renowned, and also the most expensive. Well, I think, I may not have enjoyed this Santiago highlight, but I'll certainly remember it.

Craig Platt is online travel editor.

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