It was a risk, yes, but a calculated one – and one I was prepared to take, not only for my own glory (which would be considerable), but for the greater glory of mankind. A proud boast? An ignoble bit of chest-‐thumpery? Perhaps. But if pride was my chief motivator, then humility was the Tenochtitlán I would stumble across and lay waste to less than a month later. My tottering hubris would give way to untold treasures; a discovery about myself upon which I could rebuild my future and change my way of life forever.
Underpants on. Clean (fresh out of the packet), white, elasticised waist with a crisp Y-front. Trip to the airport without incident.
Arrive at Santiago Airport twenty-four hours later. Slept most of the journey thanks to a mild sedative (Stilnox). Heard whispers behind me in broken English upon leaving the plane of a passenger who had run up and down the aisles all night doing a Jerry Lewis impression. Wish I had been awake to see it; I quite like Jerry Lewis.
Underpants holding up nicely.
Dinner with Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile. A pleasant evening and nothing untoward, although there was a tense moment when the President excused herself from the table to go and open a window.
Across the Andes by bus. This was a real test. We ate mainly peanuts from roadside vendors with small push-‐carts who would serve them in a cone of newspaper. No one wore latex gloves or hairnets like back home and this was a cause for concern. Several on board our Greyhound became violently ill but fortunately I had the foresight to bathe my nuts in anti-bacterial handwash before I ate them and so all was well.
Bus lost a wheel as we crossed the border into Colombia and crashed into a tree but a kindly arriero offered to take me to Bogotá. The saddle of his pack-horse was redolent with beeswax, which sadly permeated my trousers and beyond, chemically combining with my delicates to prevent the fabric breathing and sealing in the sweat. Alarums!
Rio! We are staying at the Windsor Atlantica on Copacabana Beach (actually just back from it, on the footpath). It’s my first chance to take my trousers off and inspect how my underpants are faring after almost a week. A quick once-over confirms they are still more‐or-less white and the waist‐elastic passes the snap test with flying colours. Ouch! The concierge tells me I should go to my room.
We visit the Latin quarter of Rio and partake of a local delicacy known as peri-peri chicken at a charming bistro called Nandos. Afterwards, we all take a leisurely stroll through Ipanema (looking for THAT girl) and buy some home-made beer from a man lying on some cardboard. Most in our group complain of stomach cramps and hallucinations and go back to the hotel but I have a strong constitution (as opposed to Brazil itself) and only throw up twice. Underpants okay, though a little grey now.
We are to shoot Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue from a helicopter. The director wants me to do my tocamera narration while strapped underneath as we fly past Jesus’ outstretched arms. This will be a challenge for my underpants as I am afraid of heights and had beans for breakfast which turned out to be well past their useby‐date. Our Passepartout (who should be looking out for such things) is given a warning and docked a weeks pay (AUS$20.00). She complains she is ill and collapses. Insolence.
I wake early and check my underpants in the mirror. They are hardening around the gusset and leg-‐holes and I have developed a rash but otherwise all is well. I had intended to hang them out the window for a couple of hours while I shower (my first chance this trip) but there is a knock at the door. It’s Passerpartout, still looking a little wan, with news that we must catch a speedboat immediately and travel along the coast and up the Amazon. This will be another Rubicon for my underpants as I get sea-‐sick.
A little worried. I haven’t been to the toilet since I arrived in Brazil. The indigenous medicine man at the village we are staying at, and to whom I was taken after last night’s feast when I fell unconscious, says the monkey we ate may have been off.
Passepartout nowhere to be seen. I am given some ayahuascra to drink from his cupped hands and black out.
I wake naked in a ditch. This is a very real worry. My underpants are nowhere to be seen and no one at the truckstop I happen across after walking barefoot along the highway for half-‐a-day seems to speak English. Eventually, a kindly woman offers to
let me ride her donkey (burro) wagon back to her pousada. Find my underpants on the road. They are in good condition considering their adventures; only slightly torn and with a small blemish on them which the kindly woman tells me is from a leopard. I ask her why a leopard would be wearing underpants and she says that Brazil is a strange place full of wonderful and magical things if only I open myself up to the experience. I drink some more ayahuasca (this time from a relatively clean thermos cup the woman has tethered to her by a string) and black out again.
Am roused from a nightmare involving a leopard riding a bicycle by the trundle of our wheels on a rough unsurfaced road to the AmerIndian village of Yonamani. Am in the back of the wagon which appears to be full of manure (human?). The woman has dressed me in the clothes of a passing scarecrow so external soiling of my underpants has been kept to a minimum.
After a hearty breakfast of indeterminate nature and an awkward fending off of the attentions of the kindly woman, I set off back to Rio. My film crew (who have been using a drunken vagrant to substitute for me in my absence) have sent a World War I bi-‐plane to pick me up thinking this will make a nice third act. Passepartout has apparently disappeared without a trace, although there are reports that huge withdrawals are being made regularly from the company account via various ATMs, so she must be all right. I’m afraid I rather blot my copybook by sitting the pilot’s creosote (his lunch, he tells me).
My last day. I stagger back into the Windsor Atlantica looking as worse for wear as I possibly could. There has been a garbage strike in the city for the last two months in preparation for the Olympics but not even this can distract the guests milling in the lobby from the overpowering stench emanating from my person. Heads and stomachs turn as I stride purposefully to the elevators. Large broad shouldered security personnel, employed to keep away beggars and other riff-raff (i.e. most of the actual inhabitants of Rio) step towards me but are quickly waylaid as their eyes water and their knees start to buckle. Once in the confines of the elevator, even I begin to notice it. The poor Japanese couple in there with me begin gasping like landed salmon and tearing at their faces. Only when I’m back in my room, standing disrobed in the privacy of my own bathroom, does the full horror of my situation become apparent. My underpants, neglected and unattended and exposed to the elements for so long, are not only ripped and unspeakably stained beyond all recognition, but have achieved some sort of sentient consciousness as a result of the cross-breeding of bacteria and other organisms which have been mutating in the hothouse of its nutrient rich fabric.
My underpants communicate with me telepathically that they have achieved Oneness with the Universe. Who am I to argue.
Y-fronts wearing Shaun Micallef can be seen in Stairway To Heaven, Sunday at 6:30pm on SBS VICELAND and streaming now at SBS On Demand: