I sat in the plaza Alonzo Mendoza La Paz whirled around me. I had forgotten to eat and my blood sugar had dropped. I spent the day in front of the computer, typed 5000 words to update my blog. In the park children played on a grey concrete moniument. On it is a fresco of the conquistadors and the Incas and on the top is a bronze statue of a conquistador with knee-high boots, a funny Spanish helmet. He is comical, straight out of Don Quijote. In one hand he holds a book, the other is on his sword. It is getting late and the photographers who line plazas like this the world over have vanished. The children run their hands over the fresco as if attempting to understand something, as if the monument could tell them something. They play, respectfully, under the gaze of Alonzo Mendoza. In Peru plazas are beautiful. The community comes out and walks around them at night, greeting each other, lovers sitting and whispering to each other on the benches. In Bolivia the plazas are concrete affairs, usually locked after dark to prevent people from sleeping in them.
I chatted on Yahoo Messenger for the first time since I’ve been abroad. I chatted with people back home. “Are you doing exciting things?” I realized I have no way to measure that anymore.
Last night I bought a stuffed potato on the street. A man in a suit introduced himself to me:
MAN: Where are you from?
ME: The USA
MAN: What do you do there? Your profession?
ME: I was a high school teacher. History and politics.
MAN: I am an assistant minister in parliament. In the government building. I also sell alpaca wool.
ME: I hear that it’s expensive.
MAN: Now always. I want to export it but I have no contacts outside Bolivia.
ME: Oh. Maybe you could give me your email.
MAN: Would you like to visit the government building? Tourists are not allowed but you could come as my guest. Here are both my work numbers. Tomorrow is perfect. We never do anything on Fridays.
I wanted to call him but I lost his number. This was how things were going for me at the time. Everything was golden but I kept missing connections. Asynchronicity.
I decided to go to Potosi. Move on. There was a folkloric festival there. It was South and I had intended to go to the North, the jungle. In travelling and in life one frequently makes decisions which lead to others.
On the bus I sat next to Carlos, a friend in had made in La Paz. He was a student, studying to be a CPA. The bus left late as it had sold too many tickets. This was standard practice and it was usual for some people to sit in the aisle. But it was against the national bus standards and a representative told the women sitting in the aisle to leave. After some arguing and passive resistance the police were called and arrived with a “What’s all this then?”. The women left but they didn’t take some large bags with them. It turns out the bags were just for using as a bed but the police said we could not leave until the aisle was clear. For some reason no one would just move the bags off the bus. There was a stalemate. Until the policemen had to be called away for something else. Immediately the bus pulled out of the station, bed in the aisle and all, and we headed off to Potosi. However, by now there was already a group of people standing to protest the bad business tactics of the bus company.
Carlos and I set to discussing differences in culture and politics. He told me about how in some parts of Bolivia they use “Bos” and “Che” like the Argentinians. Then another uproar began.
At first it seemed just that a woman was sick. Then she was very sick. People began to gather in the aisle, dodging the bed, and asking for items like water, smelling salts, medicine. Everyone felt bad for her. Then, somehow, it was discovered that she did not have a proper ticket and the faction at the front of the bus (who had relaxed since the beginning) began to see red. They stood up again and began chanting. “Throw her off the bus!” they shouted. A faction in the back, near the woman, took her part: “She is ill! She needs a hospital! You are heartless people!” they hollered back. It was bedlam. After 15 minutes of this the bus driver finally did the only thing he could do: he turned off all the lights in the bus and everyone had to sit down, for safety’s sake. Eventually everyone was quiet again. The bus sped on into the night
Night buses are the hardest parts of travelling. I sit in the dark, haunted by thoughts of home. I cannot sleep.