|603> Alt. sick (d-spite C17H21NO4) @ Σn6/n! in Bolvian altered plano #206 w/the other Derek (1991)|
[5 Nov 2018—Firenze
La Paz, Bolivia—June 12 
Then i "woke up" + everything was still + silent except for the bus engine idling. I looked up front + the driver was passed out with his head on the wheel. Sleeping, or had we been in an accident? Everyone else in the bus was sleeping, or dead? It was really eerie, like we had all died and now i was a ghost of myself observing the scene. This group of 25 or so people was like 1 organism, a hive, crossing the Andes in this dilapidated old bus. Nothing like the modern busses of Chile, this was the real South America. My head was buzzing in unison with the engine. The sun was just starting to rise. I scraped the ice off the window to try make a peephole + noticed a few little huts + a lake and some towering volcanoes slowly coming to light in the distance. The driver's sidekick eventually woke up + started asking for pasaportes. I pulled myself out of my hole cuz i had to take an excruciating piss. I stepped outside + was hit with a blast of bitterly cold air, smelled slightly sulfuric or volcanic. We'd hit 5,000 meters! The lake was the highest lake in the world (Titicaca is the highest "navigable" lake). There were a few ducks swimming in the marshy lake + some llamas grazing. The rest of the bus followed suit + dispersed to piss + breathe the fresh, but freezing air. The air was really dry + vacuous, almost non-existent. You had to eat it in big gulps. We went through all the exit Chile formalities, they really hassled the other Derek about the mountain bike he was lugging around. Then we continued a little further to the enter Bolivia formalities. They had a little restaurant with tea + rice. One of the English dudes was busy puking his guts out while the others complained about how sick they were, but were smoking cigarettes! Even some of the locals were puking, they get sick going down to sea level, and then have to readjust. Everyone sat around with their heads in their hands. 5,000 meters was as high as we'd get, which i supposed was a little comforting. From here we'd continue at about 4,000 meters.
The next day seemed like an eternity. Every moment was pain etched in my brain. I had a splitting headache. I felt nauseous + the bus was shaking the piss out of me, shaking everything loose in my fragile bag of bones. The "road" was a bumpy rut through rivers. It got a little warmer when the sun came up, but this brought dust, loads of dust that sifted into the bus + coated everything, making it even harder to breathe. The scenery was intense, i tried to enjoy it as much as possible out the dusty window but couldn't bear to keep my eyes open. There were vast plains with clumps of grasses + lots of llamas grazing. There was an occasional adobe hut, whose tan-white walls + thatched roofs + crosses blended into the vastness. We'd pass Indian women with colorful clothing, bolo hats + a child wrapped on their backs, casually sitting out in the middle of nowhere, picking at the dirt, lost in thought. What kind of reality they must have, can't imagine. There was a woman with a baby on the bus, it just hung there it's eyes wide open + through the whole trip it hardly cried at all. As if it, or anyone of these Indians even have bodily functions to tend to. I mean, didn't the baby need to piss or shit or get hungry? Did it just shit in the shawl? Most everyone except the gringos had the ability to sleep through the whole trip. Or maybe they just had their eyes closed like me, wishing i was dead or anywhere but where i was. This went on for an eternity. I had to invent mind games to alleviate the torture. I concentrated on the suffering + discomfort, tried to abstract it into a novelty, i mean what is pain anyway? I managed to get into a meditative state where i could just sit silent + get into the zone, thinking it could be worse, it can always be worse. I could have to puke with nowhere to puke, i could have uncontrollable diarrhea w/ no toilet. I was lucky at least that i could just sit there + not have some uncontrollable violent bodily function to tend to. I played many other head games, i invented hypothetical situations in my mind, what ifs. My life flashed before my eyes. I thought of all the situations so far removed from where i was now, what the people i knew were doing at that exact instant + then it would really trip me out where i was. And whether the people i knew had a clue as to the agony i was enduring. This went on forever. Eyes open, eyes closed, my mind rolling + bobbing about, conscious, unconscious, all merging into 1 miserable state.
We finally came to a town, totally out of some Spaghetti Western. White adobe huts lined on dusty roads all white-washed in harsh sun. Women + children would come to the doorways to check out the bus. Probably they're only connection to the outside world. The sleepy + serene town was broken by a profound military presence. We pulled into the dusty plaza with a large adobe white-washed colonial church. More passport formalities. The gringos were a funny lot, completely disheveled + grungy w/ dust coating our hair + caked all over our faces. Dust everywhere. All the children gathered around + stared. I managed to find some soft drink (Inca Cola) that tasted like pure sugary corn syrup w/ gas, dyed the same color as anti-freeze. I had bought 2 liters of water but it spilled in my bag + all over the floor of the bus. The Inca Cola made me sick, on the verge of puking. I would burp + almost puke + have to swallow it down. And the bus trudged on. After an eternity we stopped at a somewhat established town + were allowed to eat (it was about 4 in the afternoon by now). I had no appetite. I told the gringo group i might feel better if i puked. I had no problems w/ this, once i saw the hole in the ground filled w/ piss + shit... all the sugary syrup mixed w/ stomach acid came up. Then i tried to eat a piece of bread but had to puke again. At least it was here + not on the bus.
We got back on the road—a paved road now, but full of potholes + there were all these detours on dirt ruts. I was really nauseous now + had to concentrate hard to not puke. Ahead i could see the snowy cordillera, the eastern boundary of the Altiplano + what was obviously Mt Illimani hovering majestically at 6882 meters. I knew La Paz must be near, but it still seamed an eternity. We came upon a fairly dense conglomeration of mechanics shops + ugly cinder block homes on the outskirts. Tons of busses + the air full of diesel smoke + dust. "Estamos aqui?" one of the gringos asked. The bus driver smiled smugly + said no. We came over a rise, on the edge of the plane, and there it was. Incredible. The bus driver smiled proudly. There was La Paz nestled below in a pit between awesome mountains, all clustered on the slopes. It was twilight + the lights of the city were brilliant. Big matchbox looking skyscrapers + rows of geometric houses + streets, against the jagged disorderly cordillera. It was like a movie prop. I couldn't really enjoy it cuz of an excruciating urge to puke. We wound down through the city to the bus station. I ran off the bus to the nearest bathroom, nearly puked on the attendant while i was paying him. There was about 8 stalls, each filled w/ disgusting diarrhea. I was in a panic. Finally i just let loose a hose of liquid on the floor next to the toilet. Definitely one of the lowest moments of my life.
Me, Mark + the Dutch girl w/ stringy hair + nerdy glasses got a cab to R. Tonino, or the "gringo house" as everybody calls it. And it is. A trippy old colonial building w/ 3 stories of rooms around a courtyard + roofed in stain glass through which you can see the church steeple. Bohemian travellers w/ long hair + wooly Peruvian sweaters cluster on the inner balconies playing guitar or writing letters + talking about travelling, it was totally like, "Nigel! What are you doing here? I thought you'd be in Caracas!" Everybody coincidentally running into people they knew, saying "small world" when really within the gringo circuit it's not. I shined my recent companions + got a room to myself + quickly dropped out of society. Puked a few more times + tried to sleep. I slept in 2 hour intervals, waking up w/ a splitting headache trying to force water into my dehydrated frame only to puke or piss it back out. And ½ the next day. Finally i forced myself up, knowing that if i puked i would have about 20 minutes of a semi-tolerable state to go find a banana + mineral water. Just walking 1 block you get out of breath, gulping for oxygen that hardly exists. La Paz is the coolest city i've ever been from the little of it i've seen. Old colonial churches + bldgs on steep windy brick streets hugging huge mountains towering overhead. Lots of funky Indian women w/ Bolo hats sitting on the sidewalks selling their wares + fashionable European-like Bolivians, pretty giggly school girls + of course the ever-present police state. In the central plaza is a statue w/ "Paz" written on the pedestal on one side + "Fuerza" engraved on the other. That pretty much sums it up. 189 different ruling parties in the past 165 years. Coup de Etat as a form of election.
The bananas didn't help so i managed to puke again then go to the farmacia who gave me a contra-vomitar pill + sum sorojche for my headache + altitude sickness. Sorojche is a natural herb used by Indians for altitude sickness. Then she told me to eat boiled chicken + water-based cookies. I took the contra-vomitar + fell asleep. I woke up + still felt ill but believed in the pill + willed myself to not puke, so i took the sorojche + went to get some chow. Next door was a chifa run by a Japanese family, who all sat around one table watching T.V. + smoking, drinking tea + chatting w/ hired help to serve on the customers + themselves. Consome de pollo! Just what the doctor ordered. It looked really appetizing, except for the fatty chicken. All i could manage to eat was some of the broth + noodles + bell peppers. Everyone was ranting on about how i should drink cocaine tea, another remedy used by Indians for altitude sickness + general fatigue + discomfort. I thought that was the last thing i needed was a stimulant, but when the leaves are used for tea it's actually very soothing and relaxing and went well w/ my papaya juice. Now i'm set—although i don't feel great i don't feel like i want to die. Such is the history of riding the porcelain toilet, on your knees in some strange land. Where am i anyway? It almost feels like i'm in Nepal. [at which i digressed into 4 pages of coin rubbings + mathematical equations:]
So back to reality—woke up and went to get some salteñas. The dude said they were de verduras but they also had all sorts of gross animal parts. I spent most of the day dealing with bureaucratic B.S. trying to get a flight from La Paz to Asuncion to meet my June 27 flight home. [switches to pen] (it's much easier to write with pen). Well there's some stupid condition saying i can't leave the airport in Asuncion and if i got a flight there it would have to be within 8 hours of that flight. I checked everywhere to no avail, surely i must be able to change to the June 27 date (the date they told me was the only time back at Andrea travel). Well she gave it a whirl and after much sweet-talking—it was her 1st day using a computer—now i'm on standby and can go to Cuzco and call her in a week and hopefully i'll leave July 4. If not i have to get from Cuzco to Buenos Aires in 7 days, B.A. cuz they won't reconfirm if i officially enter Paraguay. B.S. So whatever, that's cool, better at least, so i go to see about going to Cuzco + this dude tells me there's all this snow + ice on the road to Puno + nobody can get thru. Right! Well not to fret cuz i found out there's another road that you can take to Puno, it's just a matter of taking all sorts of different trains + busses or spending $52 on the gringo special La Paz –> Cuzco. But i can't go manaña cuz i have to make sure i get a connecting tren to Salta in case i don't get the July 4th flight. Ahhhhh! [draws a red-faced person screaming, like Munch's The Scream.] Or i could take Tony Wheeler's advice, "don't worry about whether it will work out, just go!"
Well i did have some fun wandering about all these funky streets. I went to the mercado de las brujas with the "other Derek" (actually everybody calls me the "other Derek" since they met him first). That dude's a trip, total waste case, not so far off from Keanu Reeves in Bill + Ted's excellent adventure, but much grungier. The Indian women were freaking out at his dreadlocks + he was explaining that it was, like, an accident, that he like didn't have any shampoo + his hair just started to dread up. This did little to alleviate their confusion. But he's a geology major ("took a year off cuz i couldn't deal"). We kept running into these funny old men selling fossils + stones + arrowheads + Derek is all "whoa, check out the trilobites man, trippy, they're like totally Paleolithic. And these arrowheads are fensidar... Sweeeeeeet!" And everything to him is ______ head. I said i didn't like wool + he goes, "you mean you're not a wool-head? That's cool, i still dig you, man."
I feel much better except it's impossible to walk one block without being totally out of breath, which seems to be the norm at these altitudes. So the other Derek + i got some coca leaves + banana ash (quina). The ash helps to liberate the alkaloid (cocaine). You put about 10 leaves in your mouth + let them soak for a few minutes then put a pinch of ash in your gum. At first it taste like bitter shit until some reaction happens + it tastes kind of minty. At first your mouth gets numb then you get this general sense of well-being, insensitive to pain, cold, hunger, anxiety + general hardship. Or so they say. I guess it seemed to give me more energy walking around + made my headache go away + i was feeling good but maybe i'm just acclimatizing. I didn't feel it impaired my reality at all + didn't even feel amped really. Meanwhile Derek's going off—"shit this sucks, freebasing is the only way to go" in his loud American waste case drawl. Luckily he was ignoring all the offers for cocaine, marijuana + narcotics that were being whispered to us left + right in hushed tones, along w/ offers to exchange dollars, get girls, etc. Sleazy street hustlers everywhere. At least Derek has sense enough to live up to his mantra "just don't sniff it up your nose, dude!" I figured out the best way to wash clothes is to just wear them into the shower. That way you can effectively scrub the parts you know are dirty. Feels kind of weird though, walking into shower fully clothed.
I am now on standby for July 4, 6, + 9 + for sure will not make the June 27 flight which is cool cuz Inti Raymi is on June 23-24—a big Incan festival in Cuzco. Patricia [travel agent?] is really sweet, she keeps telling me to stay longer + shows me all these books on Macchu Picchu etc. I almost felt like asking her out on a date just cuz she seems kind of fun. I was just reading a book on synchronicity so it was on my mind and i had this really strange feeling and i sez o.k. lets see if this shit really works, when i walk into the hotel lobby i'm gonna run into someone i know. So i walk up the steps prepping myself for the shock of running into Granny Nee or dad [long since dead], but it was only Chris, the English/Peruvian guy i met in Ensenada, Chile. It wasn't very exciting but it was still kind of weird, then again, this hotel lobby is not fair game for synchronicity, since it's a special homeomorphic space. Damn, this room is as cold as bone.
Puno, Peru —June 15
Leaving La Paz was spectacular—what an amazing city, like some hidden world, a science fiction space settlement. We went a ways on the plains then came to lake Titicaca and drove on this island-like peninsula. We had to cross this small channel on a funky long ferry. Then we went up + up—i'm sure to at least 5,000 meters cuz we were at snow level. Brilliant views of the lake like a giant sparking emerald. So big + so high. And there was isla del sol. Where the sun was born, giving rise to the people. And the snow-capped Andes + Illimani. The bus stopped in Copacabana for over an hour where i had a most excellent trucha with rice + potatoes. The plaza of Copacabana looks like it belongs in Saudi Arabia. Then we hit the Peruvian frontier—the bus kept stopping everywhere annoying the Lima tourists. Bolivian emigration + exit customs, Peruvian immigration + entrance customs. Each time taking all our bags down + everyone freaking out making sure they keep an eye on them. Then change money. I gave her $20 and got 16,000,000 Intis. I'm a fucking millionaire! It's impossible to keep track of what's what--you have to count all these zeros. And to think they have 10 inti notes (i.e. 1/10,000 of a cent).
... + i thought Mexico was bad. The next part of the ride along the lake was mesmerizing (i now had a window seat). In most places the shore is not very distinct and had these reeds growing far out into the water and up on the land. There are these expansive flat stretches near the shores where most of the population conglomerates. It was like coming across the Incan civilization for the 1st time. Everybody was doing their thing. And a major grazing culture. All they do is grow this type of grass, sometimes sweeping into these bundles that dot the planes [draws pic]. They have sheep for wool, cows + pigs for food, burros for transport and llamas for tradition i guess. All grazing together. They don't seen to have land ownership even though all the land is in terraced plots. If they do i can't imagine how they keep track of who's livestock is whose. No fences except occasional precariously stacked stone fences.
We got to Puno + everybody started panicking when the bags were loaded off the roof. "Cuidado!" "don't take your eyes off it." And the local Peruvians started crowding around hustling people This one guy followed me all the way into the hotel + wanted to come up to my room to sell me train tickets, tours to the islands, ruins, etc. Really nerve wracking as i've heard many bad reports about Peru + am totally paranoid now. Went back out to this surreal very large and high ceiling restaurant to have trucha and rice + salad which i didn't eat. I'm also paranoid about cholera, reports of it everywhere. Some little girl tried to sell me chocolate + i immediately said no + she looked dejected + walked away + i felt bad cuz she was really cute so i flagged her down. She wanted to sell one bar for 25,000, 2 for 300,000 + 3 for 200,000 so i had to teach her how to add. [followed by a dozen or so more pages of equations + derivations with postcards sandwiched between:]
Puno —> Cuzco, June 17
Woke up early to catch this train—i'm in the total turista coach, even above 1st class, which they recommend to all foreigners. At first i thought i was overdoing it but then i saw how crowded it was in 1st class with not much of a price difference. All the backpackers are in this turista coach, as well as American + Japanese tourists with tons of bags. I'm sharing a booth with a Mexican couple, Felix + Blanca, from Monterrey but live in Dallas. Every time the train stops they pull out wads of money + compulsively buy everything in sight through the window. And then there's a Japanese group with tons of bags. The pasty women cake their faces with some sort of white paste like gieshas + look really unhealthy. The men wheeze + glance nervously around. The scenery is unbelievable. I assumed my favorite position between cars. The wind on my face, my feet dangling inches over the Altiplano grass, watching the herds of llamas and alpacas looking up from the grazing to watch the train go by. Endless yellow planes and rugged snow-capped mountains in brilliant clear air. And all these funky little towns full of staring children and the farmers looking up from their work. Things are changing now, we are going down, after being at 14,500 feet, and there are actually some trees. This is the time and this is the record of the time, and space. I love trains. What is the analogy, they just reveal the true nature of space-time + the life living within it. [followed by this next page:]
[... who is slightly annoying], but nice. Matt is this psycho bohemian with a goatee from Utah who has goggly eyes + a messy mop of hair. Max is this James Joyce look alike clean cut but with long hair, from England who i haven't quite figured out. He believes in evolution but not that we evolved from apes + we don't have souls. Arriving in Cuzco was funny, Matt + Max have their backpacks wrapped in flour sacks to prevent thieves from cutting open your pack (everyone does this except me). Some people, like Paul, also have an additional layer of chicken-wire wrapped around their packs! We all clustered like ghostbusters (safety in numbers) preparing for battle. "Ok, ready boys? Watch your flanks! We left the station into the chaotic horde. I wasn't worried cuz i didn't have anything to steal except toilet paper in my pocket + my pack is so small i wear it in front. After hussles + hassles we arrived at our hotel ($2 a night). I ended up sharing a room with some guy i didn't even know his name. Anyways, Cuzco is so intense, one of the most vibrant cities i've ever been. The streets and walls are alive and breathing. It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. This is the center of life in the Americas. It is a mix of Incan culture and also the history of it's overthrow, streets lined with original Incan stones, but some stones have been reorganized into large Spanish colonial churches. Right now i'm sitting on this balcony overlooking Plaza de Armas. The next day Max and I found this room overlooking the plaza, thought it was a shithole as far as the bathroom and such. But we took it anyway for the view. Matt and Paul and this Austrian girl Leannee are all doing the Inca trail but Max + I are too lazy, or just not prepared to. Yesterday we just shopped around for cool antique mantas. Max is way into them + he bought $1500 worth, just for his own personal collection. well so much for this journal, Cuzco will spill over into the next. Ciao! [followed by calendar of planned itinerary, more postcards, traveller's cheque numbers (cashed $400 so far for 2 months in South America) + list of books, all of which we already mentioned, except:]
... next journal continued in Peru
|602 <( )> 604 > Flipping Galileo's finger, reading Wittgenstein + sleeping a stone's throw from David|