PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1976 - AUGUST
Tuesday 3 August, La Paz
A BROTHER DIES
Three days have passed since the last writing, three days of emotion - a Saturday of happiness, a Sunday of ordinariness, and a Monday of tragedy.
Where to start or begin. Annabelle has gone, my lover has passed into the clouds, into the fog of London on a heat wave. Dissolved in her tears, camouflaged in blue. She is now still in the New York airport awaiting a flight to London. The funeral of her brother marches on Friday, her parents are in grief, Annabelle is their only child now. And a whole world crumbles. I cried a few tears this morning and some yesterday, and felt very very sad.
Such laughter and joy in the post office yesterday when we all got letters. Jim's ex-wife is pregnant, Didier got all the letters he missed in Lima, Annabelle got a good news letter from Venezuela which started her thinking about going back. And then on to the British Embassy for my letters. Annabelle happened to go upstairs to the Council to ask for a friend when they told her of a telegram - her brother in an accident, return immediately. Long waits for a telephone call, and the news that the brother was dead. The hassling for tickets, the broken Annabelle keeping a very strong head, managing. Everything fades into the background - Annabelle's brother is dead - what is more important than that. We wait some hours at the airport with her - and she's gone. Paul Simon's song 'Fifty ways to leave your lover', plays over the tannoy.
Is that all to say about the day of tragedy. We are sitting as normal in a cafe. Didier has cabled for money, Jim has bought some new pens. Yesterday is almost forgotten.
THE PERFECT DAY
But going back, there was the perfect day - Saturday in Copacabana. We strolled in from Pomata to Yungoyo, strolled across five passport frontiers and found ourselves in Bolivia. We were very happy, we found a good hotel in Copacabana, and there were so many new things to freak us out: new tea, new papers, new foods, new shops, new churches, and the lake was still, the blue beautiful azul Titicaca, a little harbour and beach, and children with rowing boats.
Copacabana is a little town with life and colours, antiquity and modernity - a tourist town. There could have been the island of the sun or a fishing expedition or sitting around in teahouses but we made tracks along the lake and watched the sun pass overhead and the sparkles cross the lake without hurrying; we drifted together through dreams and clouds and silence; we did bear our breasts to the sun; we absorbed the day more than is possible; we were the day.
As the sun tilted towards the horizon, the flat blue line, we moved heavily up the hill to a sacred graveyard, there we were the sunset. The colours were beyond the rainbow. The night came upon us and we accepted it. It was time for dark. The sunset left behind wild living patterns in our eyes. And, returning to the town, we were guided by music of panpipes and drums. A party, a bonfire and oh so pretty music. I became the music. I was dancing within ecstasy for minutes, the music was so beautiful - Annabelle sat in the shadows, accepting or expecting.
Banana sandwiches and oranges had left us thirsty for food as the cold crept around us. But there was a restaurant with trout, and we had a very sabroso meal. A very blissful end to a beautiful day.
COPACABANA TO LA PAZ
Sunday 1 August was moving again, to La Paz. We caught an early bus - around and across the lake, Lake Titicaca, a sea, nada mas, nada menos, a sea, a wide sea of peninsulas and coasts and hamlets and blue and green. Little to be said on such a ride, we had a restricted view on the bus. Annabelle and I counted 33 counties in England but could think of no more.
The Altiplano is a ginormous plain amidst the Andes - cold and sparse. La Paz is situated in a wide canyon. It bursts out of an otherwise empty landscape, a whole landscape city viewable below with a countable number of skyscrapers, barrios stretching up to the Altiplano on all sides, two or three snowed mountain peaks tower formidably into the blue sky.
We find beds and hot showers in the middle of market town. Dinner and cakes with the company of two more English women. And after Sunday came Monday 2 August.
DEAF AND DUMB
I was very impressed by two deaf/dumb people on the bus. I was sure they were married. They continually laughed and joked and spoke with their hands the whole trip long - their happiness was a joy.
Some news of people from letters: Edgar Brown spent ten days on a Columbian fishing vessel, when he got north to the US he found he had hepatitis. He's now in Canada. Liz has a car, a Fiat 500; Rick Goodhand, from Panama, had a good trip to Montevideo. Colin tells me that Rob is married, and that Chris is pissed off with his job, Cos might be heading to France; Anna is going home because of family troubles. Gwenda is going to bible school in the States.
Thursday 5 August, Sorata
This is the fourth day in city and although the sun is shining again and the people crowd the market, my joy is still stilled by last Monday.
Wednesday was ordinary, little needs to be said about it. I posted two parcels home, I think they might make it. The strange pair of Albert and Fleet joined us after helping their friend buy $1,000 worth of mantas and belts. My god, for some reason we went to see an Italian movie of Buffalo Bill dubbed in English with Spanish subtitles - every single cliche in it - foul, sickening, terrible.
Alojamiento Buenas Aires is a gringo hotel, it is also in the centre of the market streets. Within its courtyard cross-legged women sort and sell peanuts, and eggs are wholesaled. On one side of the courtyard, the rooms are empty and used for storage by market people, the other side is almost exclusively 20 peso beds for gringos.
La Paz, capital of Bolivia, isn't rich and doesn't have any really interesting buildings or nice little cafes; there's little music, no theatre, a drab university, and even drabber art school. Only the Alpaca, the weavings and the landscapes are interesting. The market bustles with Western goods, floating petticoats, dancing shoes, shoelaces, dried animal foetuses, papaya, orange and mango milkshakes, sultanas, but yet it doesn't feel so cold or as violent as other cities. We met some gringos making and selling pancakes, and others who were going to make bags from mantras and leather. A friend of Albert and Fleet has spent four and a half years studying, buying and selling Bolivian weavings.
We went looking for a friend of Jim's at the art school but couldn't find him; then walking home one evening after seeing some films at the university we saw a gallery and an art show opening - it was Jim's friend. This blew Jim's mind.
I have decided to go off on my own for a few days.
6 August, Sorata
TO FIND A CAVE
Donde esta la grota? Waking before dawn and setting off for the mysterious cave - some reports say it's a five hour return trip. What shall I find? My pack is light, I feel good. Sometimes I lose the track for a quicker way, but I always return - it is a well defined path. I leave behind the pretty village and the cascading white mountains that frame it. Many people pass me the other way, heading for Sorata, for the fiesta, for it is independence day. The fields are deserted, the mud-hut villages glinting in the sun are empty too. I ask every person for directions. Four diffferent answers come to the question of how far away it is: cercita, lejos, dos horas, tres horas. Onwards, not cold, not hot, round the mountainsides, to little villages, over streams. Way over the valley are isolated villages centring on workable fields, only little tracks lead from them, and down below an audible thundering of a small but fierce river. Erosion is evident everywhere in the crumbling red hillsides, and widening stream valleys. The Aymaro language is endemic, so I am very happy to meet someone who speaks Spanish. My mime is good with an old hunchback picking, plucking at straws in his wheatfield. Still onwards. A light for my cigarette in a large guinea pig house - they run everywhere. Spotted pigs stop me in my path and grunt. I grunt and we edge past each other.
San Pedro. I am nearing the magical grotto. In this aldea there is even a football pitch that alternates as a wheatfield. I get strung up on thorns and walk through people's backyards, past the forest and turn right. Finally, I find the hole. I have two matches and a little piece of candle. It proves too little. I do not find the lake within, and indeed it all seems less spectacular than the caves of Long Beach (New Zealand). I am disappointed but remember that the walk was exciting and fun.
AND THE RETURN
And the return was not so enjoyable. There was lots of climbing; There was the sun and a foot - oh the foot did cry for the walking was an ache. At some point during the outward journey, a very large thorn had penetrated my skin! My skin - how dare it. It hurt for a little while then the pain disappeared, only to return with a throbbing dull ache around my ankle. What a pain it - limping, resting, limping, hopping. I stopped to drink a whole botella de limonada, but with each rest, my foot resisted movement more. I virtually hopped into town, into the park and crashed down to rest. I lay in the park with the fiesta all around, soldier bands, schoolchildren bands, campesino panpipe bands. The people were all throng, all with clean clothes and icecream treats. I slept a little and woke thinking of food, and to hobble to a cafe. But there was no zapato. What, no zapato! Who has taken my zapato? I lay back down and accused people. I slept some more, the bands were loud, the sun filtered through the palm trees. Finally, I got it together to make it across the street to the pension; and the whole fiesta, the bar music stopped to watch and stare as I crossed the street - shoeless, hopping with a pack on my back. Sure, I could see the situation inside and laugh but I dared not show it. I am sure I was ridiculous to the locals, but what a pobrecito - limping and shoeless. And, ah yes, somebody took pity on me, young students took me home and filled me with coffee and bread, they washed my swollen foot and bandaged it with leaves. One of them spoke good English. I sat by candlelight, with a mother and child, a Chileana traveller, and a scratchy radio.
Tomorrow I shall try and make the lake. Que mas.
Sunday 8 August, La Paz
SLEEPING BY A MOON BELOW A LAKE
I have returned to La Paz, am sitting in the pension listening to the music of Alfred Domingos - a good Bolivian guitar player. He has a distinctive voice that plays to the moon. Jim and Didier haven't returned. I have implanted myself in Alojamiento Central. My foot was still bad yesterday morning - I stumbled back up the hill and caught another nightmare truck to Achacachi. The trip took six hours and dusk was approaching by the time I got there. I waited for a bus to Ancorraines, only to find it wasn't by the lake. The bus driver took me to the end of his run, a tiny pretty village on the shores, Carabuco. It was time to sleep. I looked for the lake and dossed in a field with it in view. I carefully prepared my bed so as not to be cold or robbed; my poncho inside. I thought it was all going to be all right, and I was drifting off into dreams untold when the roar of a dog scared my heart. I tensed and sweated and closed myself inside my bag. The dog seemed to be calling every other dog in town. I feared they were all coming. I got up and thought to go, but then the dog stopped talking and wandered away. I returned to sleep. The night was spaced by brief visits to the moon as it passed through the sky, and one longer visit as it turned a pale orange, squatted and set on the horizon of the lake. At early light a fisherman woke me. Sunday had arrived. It was slow going home, Campamento of Mina Matilde with small but good brick houses and facilities. I passed an Altiplano market between the lake and silver mountains, a cattle market and an ordinary one in Achacachi. Free and fast rides to La Paz on a dusty dusty road.
Didn't achieve very much by going off on my own. I was very speedy, my typical travelling way. I spent about a dollar a day. Jim and Didier returned fianlly. It's good to see them.
Tuesday 10 August, La Paz
City days are rarely interesting and rarely stimulate the joys of travelling. La Paz is not quite dead. Yesterday, Monday, I talked a bit with Didier in the afternoon. The evening was washed out, like forgotten Huancayo days. I had an instantaneous memory of Ray Edgkins and thought about him for a while. Jim left us alone and got rapped up in Carlos Castenada and in making his bag and shirt. I became very very tired in the evening and left Didier to see a French film on his own.
Result of my latest hep test - all back to normal.
Imagine if someone put a ginormous teabag in Lake Titicaca - one about the size of the great Illampu. The water wouldn't be blue and pretty but brown, but oh the joy of just scooping a kettle full and heating it up for pure Titicaca tea. No more bouncing bolsita up and down and burning fingers when the string pulls off. There in the lake, an endless infinite supply of tea. I've often wondered what would happen if one of those baby giant tea bags (used) tried to get on a crowded bus. Drops of concentrated cold tea would squeeze out and stain everybody's clothes, There's not much danger of running into one on the road because they're so soft and slow. There is a little segregation and class consciousness amongst the different races of teabags, but it is fast disappearing due to the increased control of tea production in all parts of the world. The greatest difference now lies in the strength of the bag, and the ease of use - not in the tea. The giant teabag is all together a strange, yet by now familiar, sight in our everyday world - their bouncing floppiness and their undoubted usefulness has made them a friend to us all. We may even look forward to a day when coffee bags are colouring our sidewalks too.
Friday 13 August, La Paz/Cochabamba truck
THE EFFORT TO BE CONSTRUCTIVE
Jim left us on Wednesday morning for to head homewards. His wife needs a divorce because she is having a baby. He'll probably be back in a couple of months. He's going with Cathy. On Tuesday night, Gabriel and Jasper showed - two renowned heroes from the jungle trip about which we'd heard so much. Shall Jim and I meet again - one day for sure.
Walking and hitching out south and out of La Paz to the so called Moon Valley with rocks pinacled by rain and wind - similar to Goreme area in Turkey. Riding on rubbish carts was the most fun, standing on their platforms. There was a little cactus garden nearby as well to please the beloved tourist.
The Yungas turned out to be an area many hours away over the mountains and down in the valley and certainly not an afternoon trip, so my decision to crowd the day with constructiveness did not work. The Casa de Cultura turned out to be quite an entertainment - a free film on the life of Von Humboldt, the explorer, geographer, botanist extraordinaire. He explored the Amazon system, across Venezuela through Columbia and Ecuador, and later Mexico.
The big news of Wednesday was that Didier's money arrived at the 1st National. We spent a lot of time deciding how to change it.
Thursday saw me waking very early (as I have been every morning in this damn Alojamiento Central - I have bites all over too - I suspect the giant shy lesser spotted green La Paz bed bug). We decided to go to Tewanacu. Up and away on a crowded bus. There was a puncture, and an argument between young and respectable mestizo and a fat overdressed, overhatted indian women squatting in a corridor. There was the same boring Altiplano scenery, not even the lake came into view. We paid our dollar, inspected the different forms of barbed wire, a temple with recognisable Inca work (bad, loose fitting stones but some very big single stone structures).
Didier is happy he has money - we celebrate by eating trout. Didier goes to see another a film. I am absorbed in the United States, circa 1834 and the life of Aaron Burr, the third vice-president, through the eyes of Gore Vidal. He was an excellent politician, honourable and intelligent; but ends up ruining his chances of being the supreme leader and lives the rest of his life being thought a bad man. The book gives interesting pictures of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and others.
Saturday 14 August, Cochabamba
TO GET TO COCHABAMBA - SPECTRUM CLOUDS
D's money having arrived and our pockets fat fat fat, we made the heavy decision to go to Cochabamba - there is nothing left for us in La Paz. But, as there were no bus tickets left, we decided to hitch. We wait on the edge of town, with the white mountains shining, La Paz is hiding, obscure, squashed within the canyon below. A first class bus pulls up. It has pullman seats, private lights and curtains, lots of room, and piped cassette music. I waste no time in askng if the driver can play my Joni Mitchell casssette. I am very happy. The glass magnifies the sun's heat and keeps out the wind. The Altiplano is dusty dry, far fetched, it speeds by, and Joni Mitchell sings melancholically.
In Oruro there is nothing; but dinner is accompanied by sweet Joni playing on an expensive clear-sounding stereo. We have some hassle getting out of town. A bean bag truck takes us a quarter way back to La Paz to a junction turning. We come across a Ghost Town of crumbling buildings and bars that are closed. It is filled with rubbish blown by the wind. If the river Styx ran through, it would be very fitting.
Have you seen Spectrum Clouds? There were several in the sky on Friday night, like rainbows but oval or box-shaped, like oil slicks in puddles floating in the sky. There were maroon and bruise blue clouds in the far distant sky; orange puff clouds above; and the burning eye dropping through the endless bumps and mounds of a symmetrical landscape. When the Mr Sun had gone, and Mr Cold was bating us, we settled beneath a world of blankets and slept in dreams of dust. All the world heads for Cochabamba - someone said there was a festival there.
A restless night in the truck - it was morning when we arrived. Didier's knees are rotting. He eats too much chocolab. I try every hotel in town, but there's not a bed spare, and there are many other people looking.
Now I sit, where else, but in a cafe waiting for Didier to try his luck. The damned festival is not here but in a town, Quillacolla, we passed on the way here.
Well, Didier and his rotting knee found a taxi and a hospedaje - but oh such expensive beds. There was ecstrasy in the washing of hands and face.
THE VIRGIN OF URCUPINA
Out at Quillacolla, the festival was beginning. The small town was full of people, lining the procession route, hanging out of windows, standing on trucks and windowsills. The stalls displayed all manner of festival goodies: models of cars and houses, fairy baskets, sweets and fancies, candy floss, balloons, iced bread, doughnuts, chicken and carne sandwiches. Everywhere people were drinking, selling, spilling, giving away, borrowing, lending chicha (the staple alcohol made from maize, sometimes not fermented, - coloured purple or yellow). The ice cream sellers squeezed horns making a very annoying hooting sound at every corner.
The procession started at three. There was a scruffy band and endless processions of cars and lorries with blankets and bed coverings and mantas tied to the side and on bonnets and boots. On the coverings were pinned pewter or silver wear - plates, cups, coins, cutlery - every one the same, plus dolls and teddy bears propped up, several to each car. There was a seqyebce if grotesque figures, then some mayors or local important people, then the gigs (small groups of people holding flags followed by a group of costumed people dancing and a band). Every gig was different, some more so than others - little really traditional stuff which could be recognised as such: black and white minstrels, father christmas devils, polar bears, bull skins held by a carrier, fish, a multitude hybrid of everything, dancing women with endless skirts looking like pin cushions. The dancing was continuous as the procession proceeded. The music was always drums, trumpets and trombones - sometimes the band had a uniform on. The best of all was a small traditional pan-pipe band that we saw even before the beginning.
I would guess there must have been over a hundred thousand peopl. Before the procession had finished, I tried to get out, but the lines of the road were so packed with people it was almost impossible. Later on we sat in a few cafes and saw a John Voight film, 'Horizons without limit', about a white teacher who goes to a small island to teach black kids. They fall in love with each other, but higher offices sack him for unusual teaching methods.
Monday 16 August, Epizana
The sky is very blue, it is not unusual - the sun beats hotly into the plaza where we sit and pass time. Sometimes now I begin to get a little angry inside with Didier or me, and the desire to be alone is getting stronger. The change is in me I'm sure and not in D. He is ready for, and accepts, anything.
I wear a jacket, jumper and t-shirt - it is all too much in the sun. Sitting in the plaza I think of yesterday, Sunday, at Sabaca or Sacaba. It was a pueblocito. I searched for beds under every cushion in the village - no hay camas, We found a very garden of Eden of a restaurant with caged parrots, overhanging trees with flowers,. Nobody was in a hurry, everybody seemed in a non-smiling state of euphoria. Unfortunately the almuezo turned out to be chicken skin and feet.
Later. Whilst D sat in the plaza reading Sexus, I walked the city from market to sidewalk cafe to market to zoo to market to the rubbish river. In the evening we visited the fiesta again for to see the fireworks. The whole of Quillacolla was smouldering still. Every house had been turned into a cafe, every pavement into a bed or a seat. People visited the church and ate and drank. There were many borachos, and a little dice gambling.
TWO VERY INTERESTING DAYS AT ESPERANZA, ECUADOR
Waiting for the fireworks, my mind went back to Esperanza in Ecuador (in the time of the lost diary), and a very beautiful fiesta - much smaller than this - yet the fireworks were obras de arte, artistically designed, with many castillos and hot air balloons. It was very spectacular. Here at Quillacolla there is one castillo and it is nothing compared to the worst one I saw at Esperanza. I remember being picked up with Peter by the ricos who had provided the money for the fiesta, being plied with beer, and then given a meal. Later we were plied with mucho whisky at the house of a social climber. We got very drunk and had so much trouble leaving. That was after the church episode when I wept four times at the different symbols I saw around the church. It was the fiesta of the Senor del Amor. The frontispiece of the church was a mass of coloured neon lights, candles and glitter. A bleeding ugly statue of Jesus on the cross had a torso of money around it. Every now and then a priest would add to it by climbing up behind the altar. The neon light behind AMOR was constantly flickering on and off. The people surged forward to kiss a staff held by one of the self-satisfied priests - they paid money for the privilege. On the way out of the church there was an enormous fiery painting of Dante's Hell putting fear into people's mind.
Back to yesterday - the fireworks were spectacular but few. The whole festival was huge but a scratchy hybrid. A newspaper said there were 30,000 people. Quillacolla has certainly made a lot of money from it, and gathered a lot litter.
We slept outside last night in a building site - with pebbles in the back, and dogs and cars and cocks sounding off all around.
I finish this day's writing in a cafe se llamado Epizana Peaje. It was a good decision to leave Cochabamba. We got a good ride to the Sucre turn off, and joined some other Frenchie for dinner in a scruffy mud hut between the Pullman coach service cafes. A wind blows the dust up; lorries and buses stop and start their engines; people wait for passage to Sucre, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. I will sleep out again tonight!!!
Wednesday 18 August
I walked into the museum complex on Calle Bolivia 401, bought five pesos worth of ticket, and started my tour in the Colonial Room. The first painting I saw was of a naked man stretched on a table. Another man stands over him and, with an enormous two metre saw, saws him from his crutch upwards. Three museums: Colonial, Anthropological, Modern Art. All hopeless. Nada interesante. The colonial art was colonial art. The anthropological part was a disaster - things crammed into cases, no labels nada, even dolls and the paper money from the fiestas were there. And 99% of the modern art part was bad school stuff. There's a market opposite the Hotel La Plata where tea, and a good breakfast can be had very early.
Yesterday, that is Tuesday 17th, we moved from the little rotten cafe town to Sucre in a very comfortable lazy truck with bucket seats on the bananas. The driver was neither too slow or fast, and he stopped for lunch and tea. I spent some time sleeping, some time watching the passing dry misty thorny hills and the endless flat dry stony riverbed. I also read a book of Lenny Bruce sketches - ultimate satire on every minority group on every subject that hurts. He kicks deep. He was jailed for obscenity several times, but is recognised as a great satirist.
To the right and back of the truck stand four people, one young woman sits holding a baby, she is Indian (as they all are) and a little pretty. A tall thin and thin-faced old woman with small fine lips arched downwards in contempt of life holds a rusty bowl containing fat, and a half full plastic container. Her black eyes follow the tin bowl as the truck rocks. A young girl next to her, not quite adult, lean also, pretty features, small breasts covered with a lace blouse. She has very black sinister eyes. A young man, just adult, proud, arrogant, dirty, small, stands holding the cross beam. His clothes are ragged, his face bright with the power of his youth. Another old woman stands holding the side of the truck, as she holds onto life. Her skirt is a lifetime of patches, her mouth all gums. Her face is an embroidery of lines. They radiate like rays around her eyes, around her mouth, they run through her cheeks. Maybe they are gypsies. They are certainly very very poor, and their children's children's will be likewise. It is easy to guess their histories and futures.
Thursday 19 August, Sucre
Sucre is like Popoyan or Cuenca - very colonial, very pretty, very clean. The museums are empty. The people have green grass and well kept trees. And there are mountains around. Lots of Tarabuka Indians and some not so Tarabuka Indians wonder through the streets with their gaudy hats and ponchos trying to sell stuff - being very very persuasive. I have bought a few things and another parcel could well be winging its way home over the seas.
Below the supreme court buildings is a lorry park with a central path. In the middle is a ring pond. In the middle of that is a miniature Eiffel Tower, a rusty red. There are some metal church tower steps that appear to go up to a platform at the height of the trees, but rust has eaten away at them, and the steps at the top are missing and you find yourself flying or coming down again.
Ten days ago, D and I gave up smoking on a penalty of $50 to a beggar if we should start again. All seemed fine, we didn't mention it at all. However, changing my mind about seeing a film that D was going to see, I found him waiting, cool in his guilt clearly smoking a cigarette. It was such a little thing, but such a great bond broken. The money has nothing to do with it. D was trying to pretend he would give up, trying to be something he couldn't be. I have spent the whole day alone, not finding it easy to talk to him or join in our mutual commentary of the passing days.
Gabriel and Jesper are in town, and quite a few other gringos. Potosi is next on the list - and I really want to visit a mine.
Saturday, Sunday 21-22 August, Potosi
I spent all day Thursday not speaking to D. We met for dinner after I had left him an explanation and some poems. But I feel I must soon fly.
Derek showed up on Friday - buying belts and weavings, sitting in the market. Some of the lads strode up the hill to chew cocoa leaves. A large crowd of seven os us in the evening eating churrascos and playing follow the Englishman to washed out dances and to tiny cafes to buy whole cakes and gorge ourselves.
At 5:30 on Saturday morning we got up to catch the ferrobus to Potosi. A luxury trip. Didier began to feel ill. Gabriel was on the train too. Jesper missed the bus, the idiot - well the train did leave on time which was rather unusual. A four hour luxury trip, taking us up to 4,000 metres. Potosi is back on the Altiplano - very high and cold at night.
La Casa de Moneda, the Old Mint, an enormous stone building thoroughly restored with bricks. It's a real hybrid museo with old mint blocks and coins, gigantic wooden cogs which were turned by animals and men to flatten the silver, old guns, flags, instruments, altars, everything.
I have: $810 T.C.; $166 cash; £200 cash; $80 air ticket; $100 owed by Didier; I owe $20. In 44 days I've spent $310.
Wednesday 25 August, Tarija
FILMS - BOOKS - ANDREW
We went to see a film called 'Sounder' - Gabriel remembered it from four or five years ago in London. A new wave film about a small negro family living in a white area in 1933 - times are hard, the young husband steals some meat, is caught and goes to prison for a year. Music by Taj Mahal - soul blues. A gorgeous film. Another film called 'The Eiger Sanction' with Clint Eastwood. It was moderately thrilling with good mountain climbing photography. A book called 'Sexus' by Henry Miller. It's a fat book, the first of the trilogy called 'A rosy crucifixion'. Supposedl semi-autobiographical. It's basically a story of how he meets, loves and marries a vivid lady called Mara. There's a lot of every day philosophising, flashbacks, and explicit accounts of sexual exploits. He seems to write honestly about his friends and relations. It kept me interested. A play called 'She stoops to conquer' by Oliver Goldsmith. It's a Restoration play preceding Sheridan. Goldsmith lived 1727-1774. It's a classical manners play, differing from the romantic comedies in the sense that it has a fixed situation, time and plot. But it still demands concessions by the audience although nothing like that of the Romantic comedy and Shakespeare age. Didn't find it impressive at all; other Restoration plays are funnier.
I meet a man called Andrew; he's English and 21. He's says he's in love with Bolivia, but will soon return to England to start an eight year medical course at Guy's Hospital. He reminded me of Phil Needham a little. We talked a lot and played some very fast footballina.
Potosi is cold, 4,000 metres above sea level. Narrow streets cobbled, with some nice stone work on some of the churches. It has the cosiest tearooms in all Bolivia. The huge ancient volcano of a thousand mineral towers, red and brown and pink above the town. I like the town, it feels good. I bought some silver rings from the ladies and that sit on the Calle Bustillo.
On Monday, Didier, Andrew and I we were up early for a visit to the mine. Jesper and Gabriel went to Tarija - we go to tomorrow.
THE POTOSI MINE
For 20 pesos we were given rubber jackets, belts and a battery with lamp and helmet and wellingtons. A small fat man guided us throughout walk in the caverns of Potosi. Basically, it's a labyrinth of tunnels with a small gauge railway running through them. Mostly, the tunnels were not lit, but our headlamps were powerful enough. We were shown seams of lead, zinc, silver running through the rocks. There were many levels of tunnels connected by lift shafts (with two sides missing) which descend and ascend at supersonic speeds - they rattle and shake and scare me. We were shown a face that was being worked - it was streaked with silver lines. The rock face was beautiful. Moving along more tunnels we had to take care not to be run down by the trains. The temperatures changed from icicles to 35 degrees centigrade when above the workings that produce such a heat (it transcends the rock). We saw two miners actually working together holding a heavy drilling machine lubricated by a steady stream of water that mixes with the crushed rock and flies everywhere - into the face of the miner. It looked to be hot hard dirty work. The basic day is seven hours long for which they receive the princely sum of 24 pesos. A little while ago it was only 16 pesos a day. The company is nationalised under the name of Comibol. We were shown the hospital as well, inside the hill. There was fluorescent electric light, a fat doctor from a Frankenstein movie, and the least well-equipped medical room I've ever seen. There are four or five miner injuries every day, we were told, and, on average, two deaths every year. Some 800 people work each eight hour shift. They are paid if they have to stop work through injury, and, if seriously wounded will be given another job - so they said. After three years, they get 15 days holiday a year. Exploitation.
Who is the President of Bolivia? Banzer. How long does it take to get from Potosi to Tarija on Tuesdays? 12 hours passing through very arid country, vast desert canyons. We stopped for lunch at Carmago where I took a picture and wrote a poem.
Through the tree of blood red flowers
Two white towers
Melt in the blue sky
Melted by my passing through
And the valley heat
And the cobbled streets
The age of noon in Carmago
Jesper and Gabriel were waiting for us. They had booked us a very pleasant hotel room, where I now sit. It is Wednesday lunchtime.
HEALTH IN TARIJA
My navel is fucked: the last few days it has been producing puss; it is very sore and swells more each day. This morning we hired bicycles, four us, to ride to the sun. We got to a pretty river bridge and I decided to return and see a doctor. I worried about my navel herniating - I figured it could not be gaining betterness from a bumpy bicycle ride. At the hospital, a young doctor cleaned it, painted it red, gave me four pills, and asked me to say 'Hello' to Queen Elizabeth for him. Also, since Cochabamba, I've had fleas: I have itches all over my body which I scratch and bleed, only tiny little ones, but all over. They are not yet multiplied to a state where I have to disinfect my universe. But my shit is good and solid, and my liver has not twitched lately (even though I take mouthfuls of alcohol every now and again). My teeth are cleaned once a day without paste but I brush very carefully the gums - they are retreating. My hair grows long. I don't seem to pick my feet very much at the moment.
As I lay on the bed in the hospital having my navel cleaned, I saw this sign pinned to the wall: El tiempo is oro.
Thursday 26 August, Tarija
THE BUZZING OF HEADS ON FESTIVAL DAY IN TARIJA
The 150th anniversary of the Adhesion to Bolivia of Tarija. Today was the culmination of the festival. The president was supposed to be blessing the proceedings with his presence but 'due to ill health' (a disease of the ears) he was not able to come, it said in Wednesday's Presidencia. However, on the inside of the very same paper, it said he was going to the Philippines. So, Tarija has been abuzz today or should I say acackle as every radio in the town has been attuned to the advances of the all-Bolivia car rally. Hesitation, expectation or speeding bullets. By 12:00 the route through Tarija was lined with flickering eyeballs and buzzing ears, all heads were turned right; here he comes, no 2, Hunter, whoosh, sparkles of dust and scattered stones. All I could feel was a jealousy - yes I would like to be racing a BMW through the heart valves of Bolivia (with time to stop off and buy some belts). Of course, the soldiers were out in full strength: a) Lining the route of the procession to the church, keeping the road clear, absolutely clear. If a dust particle strayed between the lines, the soldiers had their rifle out and butting it back behind the line. This caused quite a lot of laughter in those who accidentally stepped through - the soldiers were so serious, they looked as though they would be ready to shoot anyone who tried seriously to put one foot off the pavement. b) Lining the road of the rally through the town. Soon after they were positioned and their sergeant turned his head (or went for a crap) half the line disappeared over the wall for a pee as if they hadn't been allowed to for the last 50 days. It was very amusing.
Tarija is warm, I have been floating on the warm air here as though it were lifting me above the ground - it is paradise in its own way. Orange trees crowd the main square and along some of the more important streets. They are full with ripe oranges - like Eden. I don't know why no-one nicks them. Children have small toy cars attached to string and pull them through gutters, over drains, onto pavements - some sort of fairy land rally. Women carry baskets on their heads to market. There are few Indians here, and no weavings (although I did see a few belts in the market).
Last night there was a raging storm - water came through the roof and a few drips woke me in the night. Early in the morning I hitched to San Lorenzo. The surrounding country was like the Moon Valley of La Paz: little canyons and pinnacles of earth formed by the weather.
Tuesday 31 August, Salta
We've been four for Several days. I think it is enough. Tomorrow is September, and I will take the trail alone again. Now, I sit in a little terrace of a cutesy hotel in Salta. Yes, we are in Argentina - a new world, a world of food and please dress well and show your passport.
Last Friday, the 27th, was one of those days. We had decided to make a day excursion to the Chorros at Jurina,but everything went wrong. Immigration wouldn't give us a stamp, we had to walk most of the way to the control point, then we got on a truck which ended up going the wrong way before we knew it (a policeman had climbed aboard and we didn't know why). We were half way back before we could jump out (leaving Gabriel inside). So we walked back and it was almost midday before we'd even started the five hour walk to the waterfall - I felt like I'd been on an escalator the wrong way all morning. The road to Juina was flat, dusty, hot and boring. The waterfalls were dripping, barely managing to wet the rocks. The shade was far more interesting. We dipped our feet into the ice cold pool. On the return trip we were preoccupied with talk of drink and food. Most amusing event of the day: we learned that Gabriel, on exiting from the truck, was arrested for smuggling a lift. The driver was arrested for being drunk (hence the change around of direction).
Early on Saturday, a bus sped us away from Tarija up to the altiplano to Villazon. The ride was spectacular but I was engrossed in The Bostonians, by Henry James (a society novel, full of description about the women's liberation movement in Boston). We walked through Villazon, got our exit stamps and entered Argentina. I disposed of my baggy trousers. Immigration and customs was no bother at all, very easy. La Quiaca, very cold. We found a hotel, and the biggest teas you've ever seen: tea coffee, cakes and sandwiches. And then we were travelling again immediately travelling - the 7:30 choo choo to Jujuy, past rainbow mountains, green thread thin valleys and Goreme rock formations.
Eleven hours later, we arrived at Jujuy, and three hours more at Salta. It's a ginormous city with a quarter of a million people. We find a crumbling hotel and eat a steak for supper. I dream of Argentina.
I'm reading a book called Witchcraft by Hugh Pennethorne (history, customs, initiation proceedings, it dwells on details and tries to be clever, but is interesting and informative) and a BBC grammar book 'Un Paso Mas' which is very good for subjunctive and idioms of Castellano.
Paul K Lyons
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