"This is when she produced the Emeril-sized meat cleaver."
"She would've plunged that thing right through some of my soft tissue."
"One of the most bizarre places you can go."
"There was blood and a single gunshot... but just who shot who?"
Too Much Fun
Near Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador
April 8, 2003
Bus Butcher Copacobana, La Paz, Bolivia
Friday May 9, 2003
A quick swerve to the right might have killed me. Severed my jugular or carotid or something.
I was on the bus from Cusco to Puno, having found my way onto what seemed the only bus in that direction as the transport strike continued. (I've heard hotels in Cusco are filling up as travelers can't get out of town.) But a little over halfway through the eight hour bus ride, a woman and her daughter get on to serve dinner. This is rather normal on lower-class buses. Enterprising locals are allowed to board the bus and sell food, getting off at a distant stop and doing the same thing again in the other direction.
"This was some kind of big cooked animal." What she was serving, though, was a little different. This was some kind of big cooked animal. She kept it in a large towel-covered basket, and the bones and pieces she pulled out looked far too big to be a chicken.
The fun began once she plopped the basket down on my armrest, balancing it across the aisle with the armrest on the other side. This is when she produced the Emeril-sized meat cleaver. Like horror movie size. My concerns really kicked in when she came up with a large meat-covered bone from the steamy depths of her basket. She began hacking at it with a fury and abandon you wouldn't expect from an aging indigenous woman. One unexpected curve, pothole or wandering llama and she would've plunged that thing right through some of my soft tissue. I leaned away, trying not to offend. No one else seemed to find this the least bit concerning or even entertaining.
"Somewhat dirty and full of loud gringos." I got to Puno well after dark and asked a taxi driver to take me to a nice, reasonably priced hotel. This is my new strategy for finding lodging. All the places recommended in the guidebooks seem to be overpriced, somewhat dirty, and full of loud gringos. This taxi driver took me to a place where for about $6 you get a fantastically hot shower, two nice beds and cleanliness. There was, however, a crying baby outside my door this morning.
I was off the next morning to the Uros, the floating islands. They're completely touristed now, but nonetheless fascinating. They're totally man-made islands of reeds anchored into the middle of Lake Titicaca. Families live on them. There's a post office... and a floating school.
"Shiny cameras and synthetic fabrics." They survive now pretty much totally on tourism. The boat pulls up, pasty gringos stumble off carrying shiny cameras and wearing synthetic fabrics. The family does their little tourist show, the tourists buy trinkets the family bought in the market in Puno and everybody gets back on the boat and continues.
But it's fascinating. These islands are like 20 feet thick... maybe more, I can't remember. They deteriorate from the bottom and are replaced by more reeds added on the top. After like 15 or 20 years, they're useless and the families from all the islands help build a new one. Call it an "island raising," I guess.
"I wanted to say I was from Kenya or something." All the tourists are invited into the floating school where you get more proof of how many tourists trundle through here. (Is trundle a word?) Once everyone's in, they sing a song for the tourists in Spanish. Then English. Then French. Then German. There was even an English guy with us who was of Asian descent. He didn't speak a word of Japanese, but with one look at him they busted out their Japanese song. I wanted to say I was from Kenya or something and see if they could come up with something Swahili.
I caught a bus this morning for the Bolivian border and crossed without much hassle to Copabacana on the other side. It's neither hotter than nor north of Havana and I've yet to meet anyone named Lola or Rico... but it's a nice enough place with a great view of Lake Titicaca. There's a hill you can climb next to the town to watch the sun set across the lake. A great experience. I was reminded of the first day of my Appalachian Trail hike.
"Best book I've read in a while." Tomorrow I'll look around a little more here before heading off to La Paz, the world's highest capital city. And I hear one of the most bizarre places you can go. Not sure why, but I'll find out. And have you read Choke? It's by the same guy who wrote Fight Club and I loved it. Best book I've read in a while.
There was blood and a single gunshot... but just who shot who?