Chapter 25::Table of Contents::Chapter 27

Chapter 26
LaPaz
Valley of the Moon, Tooth of the Devil

WED FEB 14,

Happy Fuckin’ Valentines Day.

N got up and tried to make contact with any or all of his relatives. Nobody home. Sooo we wandered downtown to see what we could see. We walked down to the Prado and stopped in a little salteña place for breakfast. The ones we had were cold and contained more chicken bones than meat. As we left the salteña place we noticed a band forming near a plaza and people milling about as if they were expecting something to happen. Then we ran into the fellow from the bus yesterday that shared the back seat with us and the fat lady. He said today was some sort of national holiday and was expecting a parade or something. He’d gone and gotten his camera and we decided to do the same.

We hustled up the hill and grabbed our machines and headed back down the hill. It was noon and all the church bells all over the city were ringing. As we reached the street, the bells had stopped and everybody was standing around waiting. It was eerie, no cars moved, no people moved, the city was silent. We walked down the hill past some market stalls. A lady stopped us and told us to stop walking, that we should observe the 5 min. of silence along with everybody else. We were confused as to why, but stopped anyway. We stood there, unmoving, along with everybody else until at some unseen, unheard sign, the world again began to move. The lady smiled at us and told us we were free to go.

Shortly there after we learned the reason. Today was the 100th anniversary of the day that Bolivia lost its sea coast to Chile. A sort of nat’l day of mourning. All the busses and cars had signs in the windows saying “Sooner or later we’ll have the sea”, “The sea was and is Bolivian”, “Bolivia, reclaim the sea” “Antofagosta, (and other Pacific ports) are Bolivian” etc. Buildings had signs, the busses had flags flying. It was a day of nat’l pride and protest against Chile.

We wandered up to the plaza Murillo and encountered a small crowd of protesters and a larger crowd of onlookers . The protesters were gathered outside some gov’t. building waiting for the President to appear. He finally showed, but just got into a car and drove away. One fellow in the crowd was particularly vociferous, shouting “The sea belongs to Bolivia, Long live Bolivia”, etc, waiving his arms, shouting to the crowd which cheered him on. The crowd was held back by the presence of Military Police but there was no violence or even the threat thereof.

At one point a motorcycle drove by with a big Bolivian flag (red, yellow, and green for animal, mineral, and vegetable) upon which was written “The sea is Bolivian” . After this brief display of protest the crowd dispersed and N & I strolled about the park enjoying the sunshine and photoing the little kids feeding the pigeons; and the balloon vendors.

N was feeling none too energetic due to his cold and the altitude, so we headed back to the ranch. We stopped along the way and bought some cheese and bread. [1] Back at the Rosario, we had a lunch of cheese & bread. I took a shower and settled back to write. N was coughing and snuffling. I made up a pot of tea but he fell asleep before finishing his. He slept for several hours while I wrote and read Grav. Rain. About 7:30 he awoke.

He went downstairs to call the relatives, [2] but on the way back upstairs who should he run into but Leslie, his heart-throb from San Andres Island. She and her side kick, Amy, along with another fellow named Mike were staying in the room right below us.

They had just returned from a 2 week hike up into the Indian villages near the east side of Lake Titicaca. They told us of their trip. Mike had been living in Bolivia for almost 8 years, a fugitive from the US and Ecuador on minor drug charges, he kept himself alive by selling Indian artifacts, beads, etc. He knows Harry Small, the loud mouth from Baños. Amy left to call about some drug deal. She never came back. We talked for a while longer and then Mike left.

So N&L& I all went over to the sillpancho place for dinner about 11. As it turns out, it was this Leslie and Amy that signed the wall of our room at the Pension Norte in Cuenca. Small world. They had expected to be back in the U.S. by Jan. but once here, decided to stay as long as possible. So now they think they’ll be getting back sometime in March. They’re going to Oruro for Carnival, too. So maybe we’ll go down there with them.

After dinner we came back & retired. N. hacked and sniffled long into the night. A real doozey cold.

Thurs FEB 15.

N got up early and tried again to contact Julio Alarcon. He had left for work.

The 2nd time he called the office, but he hadn’t arrived, the 3rd time - Bingo! He invited us over to his office for tea about 4PM and gave N the correct phone # of his uncle Julio. The # ’s had been changed lately and N had the wrong one. So he called his Uncle, he wasn’t home, but Auntie was and invited us over for lunch. We were to meet their daughter, Jenny, at the Plaza de Estudiantes at 11. We figured we’d wind up staying at the Rosario for at least another night so we took our laundry down to the front desk to be cleaned, ate a quick breakfast of coffee & rolls, and headed down to the Plaza. Along the way N stopped & cashed $100.

We sat around the Plaza waiting. Soon Jenny showed up and greeted us warmly. She asked if we’d like to go to a museum of indigenous Bolivian costumes & life styles up the road a piece. Why not? We strolled back up the Prado, up the hill, and finally to the museum. The 1st one we went into was the Bolivian Maritime Museum, commemorating Bolivia’s sea coast and its loss. Then next door to the other museo. There they had many dioramas of LaPaz, historical happenings, typical characters, clothing, and life styles from Colonial days to the turn of the cent. A small but interesting place for the student of Bolivian history. From that museo we walked down a narrow, cobblestone street back to the Prado and the bus stop. Along the way we passed a cine advertising a Marx Bros. movie titled “Go West”. We thought maybe we’d ask Leslie & Amy to go & see it with us.

We caught the bus out to Uncle Julio’s [3] and arrived at the house at the exact same time as Uncle himself. He threw his arms around N, greeted me warmly, and invited us in. Once inside I was introduced to one of his other daughters, a budding, buxom 16 yr old , and one of his sons, about 14. We were served whiskey and sat around talking (mostly N) about the family. [4] Then lunch was served by the Indian servant. We ate soup, baked potatoes, green beans, and a couple burgers, with mushy ice-cream and coffee for desert. A good spread.

During dinner another younger son returned, apparently from school. Yet another daughter was working but talked to N on the phone and even another daughter is off traveling in Spain. The last member of the family, the oldest son, is severely mentally retarded and lives in a back room and is never seen. They apologized for not having the room to put us up, but invited us back for lunch on Sat. and a trip to the “Valley of the Moon”, fantastic landscapes nearby.

Jenny & Ximena (the 16 yr old lust of N’s life) accompanied us back to town after dinner. [5] We went to the San Francisco church (you’ve seen one ornate Colonial Catholic Church, you’ve seen them all) and then up the street near by to look at ponchos, sweaters, artifacts, and bruja concoctions, like dried llama fetuses and various & sundry herbs and spices. The girls wanted to take us to a peña tonite, but checking at the ticket office we discovered there wasn’t one.

By now it was past 4 so we all strolled up to Julio Alarcon’s office. He’s a legal official of some sort, signing documents and answering the phone a lot. He welcomed us in and sent out for tea & pasteles. We sat around talking about the family (N again) N had forgotten that Julio had asked us to lunch on Sat, so J. invited us to, 1st, lunch tomorrow, and then on second thought, changed it to dinner, saying this would give us more time to talk. The girls left and shortly thereafter, so did we.

We walked up to the cine and checked on the time of the flick. 6:30 & 9:30. We came back to the res. expecting to find Leslie & Amy, but no, they’d moved out without a note or forwarding address. Easy come, easy go. N then finally got a hold of Marta Toro who said we could move in with them tomorrow about 10. Thus, all the relatives contacted, we decided to go to the movie.

It was your typical Marx Bros.; the Bol. enjoyed the slapstick and we enjoyed the jokes. After the movie we strolled thru the streets filled with folks, and wound up buying some little sausage sandwiches at the market for dinner. Back at the res we collected our laundry and then sat around trying to figure more ways to cut weight. We discussed possible back packing trips in Bolivia along with N’s family connections & history. I retired to write while N sewed the straps back on his green bag.

FRI FEB 16,

Got up brite and early and went down to the cafeteria for breakfast.

On the way back up to the room we noticed an add on the wall from somebody looking for a camp stove. We had discussed selling our gas stove to cut weight, and decided to sell it if these folks wanted to buy it. I knocked on their door, woke the fellows up, and told them to come up and take a look. A few moments of confusion later (they thought I was downstairs) one fellow, German, came up to look at the stove. I gave him the soft sell (“don’t really want to sell it, it works so good”) and he went off to get his friend to take a look.

There was just enough gas left to get the thing going. They seemed to appreciate the power potential but had 2 reservations: 1st, Leslie was also trying to sell her stove and had left them a message (but not us) to come and take a look, which they had not yet done, and 2nd, they didn’t have a metal gas can and were reluctant to buy a stove and be forced to use a plastic one. So we gave them the # at the Toro’s and they left, without seeming too enthusiastic.

We packed up our stuff and headed down town to the Am Ex Off to see about reclaiming my checques. They had received no word from N.Y. The lady expressed some concern about my declaration of present employment (Unemployed Tourist) so I left her Ronnie’s name & address in case N.Y. wanted more info. We’ll have to go back on Monday. While talking to the lady who should come but Yehuda, also trying to reclaim lost checques (Cuzco). They had nothing for him and he got into a small argument with the lady as to why. It was his second claim, she said, and she claimed she’d told him earlier not to expect the checques this soon. When we left they were still hastling.

We walked over to the tourist office kiosk in the Prado and got a small map of LaPaz. We also found out that all the parade viewing space in Oruro was purchased by the Tour Agencies and if we wanted to see the parade, we’d have to get space thru them. Not very helpful folks. So we strolled back to the res, paid our bill, got a taxi after some difficulty (the 1st fellow wouldn’t take us because it would “take too much time”) and went off to the Toro’s. Like Grandma & Grandpa again.

We got a nice room upstairs. We sat in the study talking to Tio Enrique, looking at the snow capped peaks in the background. He told us they had connections in Oruro with a lady whose balcony looked right over the parade route. He’d connect us. So much for buying a space. Then lunch was served (by the Indian servants again). My 1st taste of chuños: not very good. We met their daughter and son and a friend of their daughter’s, Isabel, or something. Then we retired upstairs to read and snooze.

About 5 we got up and got ready to go to meet Julio A. and have dinner. We caught the bus downtown, went to his office, but he wasn’t there. So we went to the park nearby and waited. About 20 min later a little lady came up to us and told us Julio was back (“Just look for the 2 gringos in the park, can’t miss them.”) We went up to his office and left immediately. Jumped into his new (’78) 4WD Jeep and drove back almost to the Toro’s to collect his wife, 3 kids, and nurse for the youngest. A short drive later we were at his house. He promptly pulled out 5 photo albums and then, excusing himself and his wife, left to go to the doctor or something.

N & I tried to look thru the albums but the little rug rats got in the way. We were served coffee and rolls (Indian servant again) and awaited Julio & Mrs. return. They weren’t long. Julio brought out the Jonney Walker Red and proceeded to explain every pic in the albums. The 1st was a family album, the 2nd his marriage album, and the last 3 albums of the kids. Nothing more exciting than looking at some unknown family’s albums. This ordeal completed, 2 of the 3 kids were put to bed, and it became clear that we were going out to eat.

The eldest son (8 or so) came with us to the Rest. Sucre. A fancy place filled with business men in ties and me with my patched & faded blue jeans. We had a good dinner of picanté stew. Julio & wife were very friendly, Jr. was well behaved, and a good time was had by all. After dinner Julio drove us back to the Toro’s (as close as street repair would allow) and we let ourselves in with the keys given earlier by Tia, waking up the dog who barked loudly.

Up in the room we laid around reading: me Grav. Rain. and N Sai - Pan, a book given to us by 2 kiwis at the Rosario as we were leaving this morn.

SAT FEB 17,

Awoke late and lazy to a breakfast of tea, rolls, dulce de membrillo, and good paté.

Sat around the study looking at Nat’l. Geo.s ’til the grand kids showed up. N called his uncle J. about noon and got instructions as to what bus to take out to their house. We left just before lunch (I think the Toros expected us to stay for that) walked down the hill and caught the old # R out of town.

On the way to Tio J’s we passed a truck that had apparently just recently (like 2 mins before) smashed into a telephone tower. There were 3 guys laying on the road side, all alive and conscious, but bleeding and obviously hurt. The bus stopped to take them to the hospital, or something, but the police were there and waved us on. At uncle J’s we were met by Jr #1 at the bus stop. Ximena met us at the door, along with Juan Carlos, the retarded one. Not nearly as retarded as N had said, he walked, talked, and could take care of himself quite well. He kept calling us gringos and was fascinated by our beards. He kept reaching over and pulling on them.

J was off at a meeting so we sat around the living room listening to Beethoven’s 9th, talking. When he returned we went out into the front lawn and took a family pic of all present (sin mama, con gardener) with N. We sat in the back garden sipping whiskey sours and later, beer. Then lunch was served. After eats (2:30 by now) we took a stroll with Jr #1&2 Ximena, and Maria, the unmet, working one from Thurs. We walked out to the edge of the suburb to see the washed out river banks. Everybody but me managed to walk up to their ankles in the mud and on our return N sat cleaning his boots.

Then it was time to go to the Valley of the Moon. By this time Maria’s boy friend had showed up (Coco) so the 2 of them, N & I, Jr #1, 2, and Carlitos & Ximena piled into the car and off we went. A short drive later brought us to the Valley. Here were fantastic eroded spires , pits, and canyons backdropped by tall red hills covered with green. The valley was basically sand colored, the sun was low in the sky, and the contrast between spires, shadows, red & green hills, and blue sky was very picturesque.

We photo’d for an hour or so (Jr # 2 falling one leg up to the hip into a hole) and then drove back to the house. N finished cleaning his boots, Xim. & Coco threw water balloons, and Carlitos tugged at my beard. We went inside for tea & bread. N & the rest engaged in a card game called Telefunken, while Jr # 1 & I played chess. I won 4 out of 6, he’s a good player for 15 (or maybe I’m just getting rusty) After chess and card games, Jenny came home from work and soon it was time for soup.

After soup we sat around talking for a while, listening to BeeGees and Cuecas. By about 10:30 it was time to split. Coco, Jr #1, Maria, Xim, N & I all walked to the Taxi stop (too late for busses). Coco, N & I got in and rode into town. N & I got out and grabbed another taxi that took us to the Toro’s. We sat around reading ’til late and then crashed.

SUN FEB 18.

Awoke even later and lazier, like about noon.

Shortly after rising it was time for lunch. A couple, somehow related to the Toro’s (son?) [6] showed up with 2 or 3 little kids. We had a vegetarian lunch. After that I retired to read, sleep some more, and then lay about thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot lately. I can’t really pinpoint the cause, but the thrust of the thoughts have been that I’m becoming numbed to the life down here. I feel insulated in some way. I feel as tho I don’t belong here. My reality, the things that define my life, all exist back in the states. Call it home sickness, but what ever it is, I’m getting the same old feeling that life for the transient is shallow, passing like a speed boat over the surface without being able, by design, to plumb the depths.

Then staying with N’s relatives is another factor. It’s like visiting Grandma & Gramps. They’re friendly enough folks, but a bit old fashioned. I can never really feel relaxed. And then the Indian servants all over, just something I’m not used to, I know that’s how it’s done down here, but it’s unnerving always being served, treated like somebody special, always having some poor chola at your beck & call. The result of all this is a growing desire to return to the states. Somehow a year or 2 seems too long.

The only thing holding me here is the photography. There are so many good pictures to be taken, so many colors, faces, places... I’ve almost decided to head back to the states at the end of our trip to Peru. That won’t be until Sept or Oct, putting me back into Minn. in the fall. Maybe with time this feeling will fade or change, but today these thoughts were on my mind. N spent the afternoon watching the soccer game on T.V. LaPaz won.

About 7:30 dinner was served. As tough a piece of meat as you’re likely to find south o’ the border. After dinner we talked about the “tapadas” or buried riches in Sucre, Cochabamba, and other cities. Also talked about the rain and the earthquake in Peru. Got to look at some maps and tourist info from Cuzco/Macchu Picchu area. Many ruins in there. Retired to read some more.

MON FEB 19.

Woke early and took a shower.

After breakfast we went downtown to try and reclaim my checques. The office didn’t open ’til 9:30 so we had to kill about 45 min. Went over to the tourist kiosk and got the addresses of bus companies going to Oruro and the address of the Equatoriana Airlines Office. Walked back by way of the archeological museo, only to find out that it’s closed for remodeling and won’t be open ’til May or sometime after.

Back to the Am Ex Off where they had indeed received authorization to refund my checques. I had to fill out another whole reclaim form. They had to keep my police report but I got a photocopy. Then off to the Banco Nat’l de Argentina to get the checques. All $1640 worth.

This business taken care of, we went up to check on busses to Oruro, stopping to have some salteñas along the way. The 1st 2 companies wouldn’t sell tickets for Wed. until tomorrow, but the 3rd place would. We booked passage on the 1:30 flight & headed off to Eq. Airlines to see about my MCO. No way, José. That $20 is gone down the tubes. Then off to uncle Julio’s to check on gamma-glob shots and shit tests. But he wasn’t in his office, so we caught the bus back to the Toro’s just in time for lunch. This 3 - 4 meal a day business is getting habit-forming. It’ll be hard to go back to 2 meals a day.

After lunch I retired to read while N went back downtown to try and get some maps of Bolivia. About 5 tea was served. N returned shortly thereafter. He had made arrangements to eat dinner with Maria-Ojeña [7] or something at 8. He’d also found out that his friends from Caracas were now living in LaPaz. He gave them a call and they invited us over for tea.

We went out and hopped on the bus. We arrived at their house and were let in by the Indian servant (natch). The place was like a mansion. Fancy gardens all around outside, plush furniture, chandeliers, paintings, and a big bouquet of flowers inside. [8] The lady of the house was home, along with a fellow and another lady who were guests. We were served whisky and hors d’ourves while the older folks talked. N & I sat quietly, sipping, ’til about 8, then had to leave. The whiskeys left us with a good buzz and we caught the bus back into town for dinner. As Fred says “You can’t eat on an empty stomach”

We arrived at the folk’s house just in time for another whiskey. There was some classical music on the stereo, and we sat around talking to the folks and 2 kids. Another dinner guest showed up with a bottle of excellent German Reisling wine. The dinner was steak, rice, etc. Very good.

After dinner we sat around talking politics. It seems that one day in Bolivia’s past, the Presidency changed hands no less than 6 times. The conversation drifted from Politics to history, to the U.S., to the esoteric. It seems these folks were interested passively in astral travel, astrology, metaphysics, etc. They had a big treatise on pyramids drawn by an American student of metaphysics. We will try to get photocopies made as it’s quite interesting. We sat around talking ’til about 1 AM. Very friendly folks, the nicest and most relaxing of N’s relatives I’ve met.

On our walk back to the Toro’s we witnessed the death of a black cat. It scooted out under the tires of a speeding car, we heard the crack as its head was hit. It laid in the street, tail twitching, and moved no more. We were unable to find Rosendo Gutierrez (the cross street) so we stopped and asked some officers in a parked police car. They told us it was one more block over. We were prepared to walk but the fuzz told us they’d give us a ride. So we were locked into the back seat of the squad car, no door latch or window roller, surrounded by wire reinforced plexiglass, we were driven right to the corner. The officer opened the door for us and we laughed all the way to the Toro’s. Cheaper than a taxi. Once inside we both crashed immediately.

TUES FEB 20,

N had made arrangements with the kids of Tio Julio to climb up to the “Devil’s Molar”, an outcropping of rock near their house.

We awoke early, only slightly hungover, ate a quick breakfast, caught the bus, and headed for Tio J’s. There we were joined by Mario (Jr #1) & Ximena, caught another bus to the outskirts of town, and started walking. 1st we crossed the stream and then began the climb. It was a beautiful clear day, the red rocks and green grass lending contrast to the many spires and outcroppings dotting the walk. We climbed for about an hour. Ximena took the high road and we took the low, only to reach a dead end. So we clambered up thru rocks to reach her level. Another 15 min later we had reached a small village at the top of the ridge. There we talked an Indian lady into giving us some water. Xim. thought there was a store up top but there wasn’t. So we were served rain water out of a big metal pitcher by a little kid. We took a break and ate some popcorn/sugar pop type things, then began the rest of the climb to the Molar itself.

We took many photos of foreground interest with Molar in the background . Also took photos of the snow capped peaks off in the distance. We scrambled up over loose rock, a steep climb, to the molar itself. We didn’t scale the peaks (2) but sat in between them, munching the popcorn stuff. Xim. wanted to take a photo of N so he gave her his camera. She walked down the hill a ways, the camera swinging around her neck. Then the camera swung against a rock. The lens cap was off and the lens banged against the rock. I just about shit. I had visions of a well-cracked and useless lens. Luckily, only the edge of the metal around the lens hit the rock. The lens was spared by the distance of a Royal Cunt Hair.

We could see Illimani off in the distance but it was partially covered by clouds. Munching, photoing, and resting completed, we headed back down the hill, a more treacherous operation than going up. Back at the little village we asked again about the store. A lady said there was no store but she had some cokes she could sell us. We bought 2 liters and guzzled them on the spot. The lady, for some reason, had whacked a little kid just before selling us the cokes. The kid stood off about 20m, bawling, while we drank. We walked back down the hill (much easier than going up) to the creek. Xim. had picked up a few blisters due to no sox, and I had picked up a hell of a sunburn. My face and shoulders were really sore. We walked back to Tio J’s by way of the canalization along the river.

Back at their house we removed our boots, and sat in the living room listening to Bethoven’s 3rd and Tchikovski’s 6th (Pathetique). So nice to kick back and listen to real music. Lunch was served and afterward Jenny came home. She and N sat around talking psychology while I closed my eyes and drifted with the music. Looking thru the paper we saw that the movie “The Late Show” was playing downtown. We asked Jenny & Xim. to go with us. They accepted. Tio J had come home and N asked him about Gamma-glob shots. He wrote us up a prescription for the stuff. Then we packed up our boots & the girls and he drove us downtown. Xim had to go to the dentist and would meet us at the cine.

N, J & I walked to the pharmacia to by the Gama. On the way we met Tio J who had parked the car and was heading to the office, and then who should come along but Leslie. She greeted us warmly, said she’d tried to leave a message for us at the Rosario but we’d already moved out. She & Amy had just returned from 2 days at Tiwanaku and tomorrow were heading for Oruro. We told her to leave a message for us at the tourist office and we’d see her there.

At the pharmacy we found out that the G-G would cost $15 each (!) Too much, and besides, N didn’t have that much cash with him. Sooo we caught a bus up to the Toro’s to drop off the cameras. Walking from the bus stop to their house we saw Illimani in the distance, the clouds had dispersed, the setting sun was shining on the snow which made it brilliant against the sky. What a sight. I took a photo and then we dropped off the cameras.

Back to the bus stop to go to Miraflores and the theater. Xim wasn’t there when we got there, so N&J waited outside for her while I went down to our seats. Assigned seats in the theatres here, we were in the 4th row. When N&J came down, J complained that the seats were too close. So they moved back a few rows. I watched the movie by myself. It was a good but slightly confusing flick. I got the feeling as tho important connections were somehow left out. But I always enjoy Lilly Tomlin. After the flick, the girls (Xim had shown up sometime during the film) said they didn’t enjoy it much at all (the translation was poor according to N) So I said if we hurried we could make it to the 9:30 Marx Bros. film across town. They agreed.

We caught another bus back towards downtown. We stopped at a little snack shop and ate some good burgers with a banana shake on the side. Then off to the other cine. J. bought the tickets with her student card. We stood around outside [9] looking at a little joke book that came in N’s box of Cracker-Jacks he bought at the Late Show. We didn’t sit close to the screen for the Marx Bros (“The Big Store”) but could hear and see well enough. The girls enjoyed this flick more than the 1st. After the movie they caught a Trufi home and we got a taxi. At the Toro’s, after a long day, we crashed.


[1] We also looked at sweaters & ponchos in the market. Many nice ones but we’ll wait for Coch. to buy.

[2] He managed to contact the home of Julio Alarcon, but he wasn’t in. He tried again later and he still wasn’t in.

[3] Along the way I saw Yehuda sitting in a plaza.

[4] They told N. he had relatives in Oruro with whom we could stay for Carni.

[5] On the way back we saw several of LaPaz’s statues, one of Confucius, one of Queen Isabel of Spain, one of Mariscal Sucre and one of Bolivar. There’s also one of a sleeping soldier, but he looks dead, or drunk, as Jenny said.

[6] The lady had a false eye, somewhat disturbing; and in some way was related to Rachel Welch.

[7] Anjelica?

[8] And a big dog.

[9] waiting ’til 9:30

Chapter 25::Table of Contents::Chapter 27