For as long as anyone claims to prove me wrong, the town of Potosi, 3900 meters above sea level, is the highest town in the world. You can imagine the case with oxygen there. Or what it feels like to walk through a rainy street in green tank rubber boots, a helmet with a lamp, a pot with petroleum and in a sparkling beige costume. Two curves later, you feel breathless and nauseous. Coca leaves in my pocket save the day, of course.
We walk to a market lady in our bomb gear to buy some more leaves. She provides us with a big bag of them, but doesn’t settle for just selling leaves:
“Mamita, buy a dynamite for the road”.
“A dynamite. Or maybe two? I have bigger and smaller ones.”
I stare at the white tube, fuse hanging out from it, and refuse politely: “I don’t have enough money with me, I’m sorry.”
We leave the lady, having bought leaves, tobacco and a bottle of vodka.
Finally, exhausted, we reach a silver mine. The technology and the miners’ families originate from the 16th century. We send our prayers to the god of the mine before we enter, hearing the average number of accidents. “Most of the deaths are a result of inhaling poisonous gases, cave-ins are just after that.” I glance at the ground and see a long red line running, and think to myself, is it some sort of acidic chemical or someone’s blood. I don’t like either of the options. Something gooey is dropping on our shoulders and rusty pipes sound like they’re about to break. There is no lighting, of course.
After crawling through the dark tunnels, we confront the mine god himself. Miners are sitting around him, strewing coca leaves on his shoulders, palms and feet. Give a drop of 90 per cent alcohol to the pachamama and pour it down their own throats. The god must have a cig. If I remember this right, the god is named Pagan.
More on the trip to the market. 1 dead armadillo (see picture) is on the street, a woman sitting next to it. Having been in Bolivia for a while by then, we realize immediately, it’s a witchcraft thing. Long story short, this dead rat with a shell can tell you who has been stealing in your house. I was curious about what if the answer is Julio, how many blokes should go to prison.
We started in about four o’clock in the morning in search of the new places of magic. It was like some early winter morning hours in Estonia – dark, and the temperature around zero. When the first rays of the sun threw the sky, we arrived at the place were everything was boiling. Hideously smelling steam rose from the rabbit whole in the red and white ground, mud that sticks to the legs. Red, yellow, pink and purple pastel tones melted all into one crazy moon landscape glory. The rising sun made the game of the mysterious fumes even more mystic, and my feet more heavy of the sticking mud.
Before breakfast, we threw our clothes off and lied down in the hot springs between the flamingos in the lagoons.
Uyuni region is the part of ravishing beauty in the South America.
In the meantime in our truck there’s a 15-year-old boy with Bolivian blood in his veins who dreams of rock star’s life. When he heard that I too play in a band in Estonia, the boy’s eyes got into fire. Soon he forced me to listen to his numetal music, and never got tired of telling about his future major projects. You can only imagine the ridicule of his conservative parents’ expressions of concern when they hear me telling the boy about these South American sides, which normally remain silent fot any non-Spanish speaking person. And I had just came from living with shamans for some few weeks.
To this day he still sometimes sends me clips from their new reefs trhough msn and ask for advice for his affairs of heart.
Inactivity on the train
I spent the night in in a tiny town Uyuni which has the streets wide and square reminding American Westerns. I drank beer at the bar.
When at around two o’clock I started to look for my own the train, I found an open wagon for the blind. However, there were signs of movement inside. People were looking for their seats with the help of some tiny flashlight on the train of the abandoned ones, where nothing is working. There is no guards, no ticket required. Tremendously cold.
Fortunately, a young man lent me his own lights, and I found a place in front of him. People fell asleep in the dark of the train.
A young man asked where I was going. Then I realized that I really do not know. I am traveling alone, I have the whole world of freedom. La Paz? Cochabamba? Potosi?
Potosi was what he recommended. I assumed Alvaro, and moreover, Berit should be there. Fits.
After a few hours of conversation, I asked his name.
– Oh, like Diego Rivera!
– Yes. And you?
I thought for a moment and burst out laughing. Frida.
The boy was startled and said slowly: … like Frida Kahlo …
We both laugh.
In the light of the very first minutes of the day the train started moving slowly. Through the window there were snowy mountains conquered by the flamingoes down in the lagoons. Nothing else.
There on the island of heavens our journey departed, I was continuing the trip to the South of Bolivia without my companions.
But of course, not quite – I was sharing the car with a Basque who always shew coca leaves, a French girl and Swedish family which has warm relations with South America as they adopted a boy 15 years ago from Bolivia.
I lose the sense of reality. Volcanos, stones that look like trees, colourful lagoons, beaches of salt…
Pachamama can be seen as deathly beautiful. I am 360-degree surrounded by flat mysterious mountains, the peaks are strewn with sweet icing sugar. Between the mountains there is a lagoon, stretching out, bordered by white beaches of salt reflecting on its mirror smooth surface where some elegant flamingoes in their pink robes slowly walk around.
And then something turns upside down. There seems to be so many flamingos in the lake, or not – the lake itself is red! There’s like ice hills coming out from the see of red, the ground is white.
Thunder is the air. Wonderful contrasts. I could almost see the long legged horses and elephants from Salvador Dali’s paintings and soft clocks are floating down the hillsides. As if time does not exist. As if this is not planet earth.
Everything around the sizzling of magic. Salar is the region, where people still believe in spirituality of nature. Across the country there are mountains or the stones of magic , here the locals give to apu (mountain spirit) sacrifices. The smoke of the ceremony comes from different plants sprinkled into the fire, such as Santiago, San Pedro (in this case they did not use cactuses as psychedelic drugs), San Juan. Of course, today there is a doctor in any of the small mountain village, but local people still look for help from the side side of Pachamama.
Augustino think it’s all very logical – for example, accidents, tornadoes often happens around here. Then the thing that caused the accident is the wind. It is therefore necessary to seek treatment from the wind. The patient with the shaman climbs up the mountain and they makes generous donation to the wind. When they have luck, they will improve soon.
We’re sitting on the top of a car and riding through the sky. Meanwhile, space has transformed into something oddly amazing. Life seems so easy as the color of the sky, like there wouldn’t be any other colors. The world has doubled. Above as and underneath us, there are clouds exactly the same. By the inch! There’s no skyline, no horizontal lines, only mountains with tops both upside and down. It’s difficult to understand, what are we riding on. It’s the same clouds that are floating above us! We have been flying here at least for an hour. Rushing, rushing, rushing towards something we seem never to reach. If I have ever tried to imagine infinity, I probably did not imagine it as infinite as where we’re at right now. Life amongst mirrors and reflections is what this should be compared to.
But no! Just when you start to think this is absurd, that insanity is the only rational way of controlling oneself, you look up (or at least think you’re looking up, because right, left, up, down have lost their meanings a long time ago) and see an island before you in the middle of the sky, full of cactuses. Large spiky posts several meters high are standing in the middle of rocks in ignorant serenity. Just… Imagine a mushroom growing at your eye level. A hundred of them, hanging in the air, pretending to be the most common thing in the world.
There’s nothing more to it than pretending everything to make sense. There we are, climbing twenty meters above the sky, sit ourselves down between the giant cactuses and look at the mirrors. For some reason, we cannot see our faces looking back.
Maybe your best of yourself is the copy number 32. You can feel it when you’re 27th or 42nd copy of yourself. You’re a stranger to yourself, but you like yourself. More than the original, because still – your best copy of yourself is the copy number 32.
That was the first of January of 2008 in the evening, bleak emptiness of the streets in the capital of Bolivia La Paz. Near the sorcerers’ market, where our hostel was located, just a few guards were sneaking around hiding their noses into the scarf from the cold and damp air of the highest capital city in the world. They looked like ghosts. To find a nice warm bar seemed an impossible mission. Taxi drivers did not give much hope, so we were hanging aimlessly around.
However, there’s some music coming from one of the basement windows. Next moment someone lifts up some heavy metal garage door. A thin man with long hair appears, wearing a sparkling topper hat numbered 2008. No, she is still a woman. No, a man. He or she is wearing meal man’s leather jacket and jeans, which should betray. But when the man begins to speak comfortably in Spanish I’m sure she’s still a woman. Introducing Rosia – car mechanics uring a day, at night, however, a junkie, who makes some movements in Vivian’s to get her next drug. We were guided through dirty kitchen, there are few blue boiled potatoes and a couple of half-chewed chicken wings in the washing bowl. Behind the giant pile of empty beer bottles appears an older women with mad hair and sunken eyes. Suddenly we discover ourselves in the middle a lounge with low ceilings – so decadent, surreal and erotic than you could imagine. Different kinds of shit lying on the red carpet: cigarette bugs, black plastic pieces, some empty bottles, sparking hats, which Rosia puts on me and Berit’s head immediately. Long live the glamorous! Long live 2008!
Red lamps fill the pleasant room surrounded with mirrors with pleasant sensuality, that soon completely overshadows the nasty smell of cat piss which penetrated offensively my nose for the first few minutes.
“Of course! Everybody comes here just for the dope!” the hyperactive Irishman laughts for Alvaro’s question. Irishman is sitting behind a table looking with satisfaction the CD cover, which has some white thin stripes drawn over. One sniff for himself, another one for Rosia who is clomping around the bar her leather jacket wide open.
Javier has a giant motor in his mouth. He somehow landed in our table and luckily got some coke from an Englishman who has drowned into cocaine long ago already. As a professional he builds up stripe very fast – a stripe that extends diagonally from one end of the CD box to another – and just like that he sniffs it into his nose. He is a professional. He is an addict. Ten seconds later, the man speaks even more quickly and more confusingly.
He has worked here for the past six months, but he knows Mama Vivian for nearly 20 years. At the beginning the place used to a striptease club, but now the bar keeps its body and soul together with cocaine. And gringos like it – it is a certain place, guarantee for quality, fix price and it’s also likely to be at least 90% secure since all cops are paid off.
It is said that one man didnt get out of Vivian for entire 36 days! It is said that one guy travelled to Bolivia and within the first six days he spent in Vivian he also spent all his one month travel budget, something like 800-900 euros. Here there’s no time, no external world, just the red lights of Vivian, red sofas and a crazy mirror walls.
Le Mama Grande
Javier, who meanwhile has already drawn and taken in a number of streaks, introduces us to Le Mama Grande – Miss Vivian personally. She is a slim lady in her respectable age with silicone tits, silicone lips and silicone ass. Just a look at her raises a question of how her real face would look like. Or perhaps – what is the number of the copy of her actual self she has transformed by now? It’s difficult to get my eyes away from her excrescent breasts wanting to jump out from her leopard’s pattern top when we shake our hands and kiss each other’s cheek. She shines elegance. The enegance made of fake gold, silicon and rough maquillage.
In addition to Javier and Rosia there’s another particularly thin woman running around, constantly pulling up her jeans, as she has forgotten to fasten the zip. He does not speak a word, but makes different animal noises or laughs her teethless laughter, in tune with her leather cowboy-hat. Berit thinks she used to be one of the prostitutes working for Vivian.
There’s another one around our table – about 45-year-old drug-eyed woman. Her long light brown hair fall into two sides of her head. She’s wearing light brown man’s jacket which is at least 7 numbers to wide for her. Without it, she would look like a hippie who has grown out of her age. Her name is Titi. Javier laughs: Neuro-Titi…
Alvaro runs around the bar trying to communicate with the Freaks. She has even greater smile on him than usually, as he shouts: “Now I feel like a real film-maker!”
The sound system get stuck in error again, as its happening every ten minutes. Again, I can see Rosia’s butt up as she tries to change the CD. Waisted Englishman suddenly wakes up from his hallucinating dreams. Now he’s crawling around the dirty floor trying to catch some cocaine from the pieces of the black plastic in which they serve their sweeties here. There’s a hairy black cat wondering along the red carpet, taking a random piss in the corner.
The wicked globe trotter Marcos I met in Copacabana has become my best mate in Bolivia. We constantly seem to meet up again in various places, and sadly he’s still trapped in cocaine. But there in Copacabana he used to whisper me a just one word about lovely tropical hill-side village Sorata: Casa Reggae.
But that’s the way it is when travelling free – someone mentions something and if you can make good use of it, the trip can take some extraordinary turns.
Once inside the perched gate a broad view over the valley and the neighboring green surface almost knocked us down. We were showed a simple room that you can’t lock, and asked to keep an eye on Wilson, who loves to steal things. This is Casa Reggae – the place to be in Sorata, no warm water, but good music, personal monkey and always open doors. (and the perception).
Every morning we stretched out our legs up to the center of the village, where we drank a few glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, the Bolivian most popular breakfast drink called API, then some banana and papaya milkshakes. And as we’re in the tropical forest area it always starts to poor without any warning here. With neon pink baskets on their back, which are sometimes screaming in hope to grab one of the mama’s boobs – so went to village mamas along the slippery streets, and they still found some time to chat with another mama.
These lazy days made me to fall with Bolivia. And I was ready poor some Fernet Branca on my lips to celebrate the new year to come, or rather – to celebrate just another beautiful day to come.