So, this was my first trip to Bolivia, but Vic had already been 3 times. He had returned with scads of gorgeous pic's every time, but I always heard about "the shot that got away". So, the dilemma of fighting to stop the bus and get the shot spurred a notion with us and our travel companions, Fred Espenak and Pat Totten to rent our own vehicle. My initial feelings were pretty leery about trying to navigate a foreign country where none of us spoke the language well enough to talk our way out of jail. But, before long, Vic had convinced me there was little danger of incident. "There's only one road! We can't get lost!" So we rented a Suzuki.
The plan was that Tuesday morning we'd drive around and just take pictures. Tuesday was also the first day our friends, Bob and Wendy Shambura had there. Bob cornered us to ask if they might join us in the truck. "Bob, it only seats 4, maybe 5. That is unless you want to ride in the sewie hole in the back." He said he didn't care and the plan was revised.
Vic agreed to drive and we agreed to set out in a western direction. One big topic of conversation was that everyone visiting from the northern hemisphere consistently swore that north was south and vice versa. Except for the small detail of the sun coming up on the wrong side of the sky... We'd heard magnificent theories concerning natural tendencies to recognize the magnetic pull and salmon navigating oceans of water to find their birthplace, trying to explain the phenomenon. Bob dashed them all with, "Well it's simple. Look what side your shadow is on." Sure enough, looking down, your shadow was tipped away to the side we all thought was north. "The sun's to the north of us, not the south." Oh. Now, with half of us tripping over lines in the concrete watching them in awe, we all piled into the cute little truck.
The temperature couldn't have been over 45 degrees. Vic had on 2 shirts and 2 vests. I just had 2 layers and a sweater, so packing tightly into the car seemed quite comfortable. I think we were about 40 feet down the road when somebody shouted "slow down. I want to get that!" A man on a bicycle turning a corner with gobs of stuff tied all around it. I remember wondering if I'd have the chance to get comfy... We looked up at the strange traffic sign. It had no words, but a torn picture of a car perhaps on some kind of incline. I looked over and saw Vic with his monstrous lens smashing Fred in the side of the head - while he was still driving. "Please don't kill us, Vic. Who's idea was it for Vic to drive, anyway?" "Mine." he touted, snapped the shutter and pulled the car back into the lane. "Got it." We drove on.
Pat twisted around and asked Bob if he could see out all right. He was turned sideways, clutching his knees against his chest in the luggage compartment. "I'm fine. When Jen rolls her window down, I can shoot over her shoulder." he said.
We rolled around a turn and saw a pig. The brakes would have thrown us foreword, but we were too tightly packed. This wasn't your ordinary normal pig you see in the yard every day. Let me rephrase that. It was a very ordinary pig you see in the yard, just in Bolivia. Here, not a foot from the paved road was a 3 to 4 foot long brown furry pig, flopped in a pile of fruit rinds. His ears drug the ground and I think he was smiling. We pulled over and looking around all decided we needed to get out. A tap came from the back and a muffled "can someone let me out?" Now, I remember joking about some international tourists carrying cameras taking pictures of their feet as they walked once, but here I was in this gaggle of snapp-happies shooting the buildings, the fields, and every child in sight.
Wendy didn't get out of the car. She didn't have a camera and was still having trouble adjusting to the altitude. I asked her if she had been taking diamox. "We started it yesterday and I don't like it." I asked if she thought it made pop taste funny. She said "Yeah, I thought it was just me". Pat now, thought that the collection of symptoms as proposed side-effects from the diamox had risen to a comical level. Soon, we expected freckles to be blamed on the diamox.
Pat and Vic were down the road with a lady spinning wool on a little dangling spindle with her little dog "Toto". The dog was named Toto. Vic came back to the truck grinning "She didn't even throw any rocks at us!". The folks out here in the country seemed to be much more agreeable than those he'd photographed in LaPaz earlier. I noticed down the road that a military man in green fatigues was standing around on the side of the street with an automatic rifle over his shoulder. I felt a real uneasy feeling wondering if he would be old enough to drive in America, but then realized how difficult it was to discern ages on people who rarely exceeded 5' 2".
"Ok, Bob it's back in time-out!" I said as I shut him into the back. Snickers as we headed down to the next site. 10 feet down the road. Our estimations on our actual average speed of travel that day would be measured in yards per hour rather than miles. We dipped off the main paved road around a corner. "Why do they do that?" I asked, noticing the tops of walls dribbled with thousands of pieces of sharp, colored, broken glass. We could only guess. Security, perhaps. We were now, pulling along side a soccer field where it looked like the entire town population were all gathered and listening to one man speak. The colorful Aymara indian flag was up and in any other environment it would have looked like a demonstration. We saw perhaps 4 or 5 other assemblies like this in our travels, and asking later, discovered that the nation of Aymara indians were planning a transportation strike for the following week. (fortunately after our departure)
We passed from Huatahata (Fred and Pat noted that it sounded like Hot-a-Wata backwards) through a half-dozen other towns small enough not to have names posted. "oo-oo!" seemed to be the chant of the day as endless clicking came from every crevice of the truck. At one stop, I even used some of my bottled water to clean the window for Bob to see out. We drove through a passage of a valley where you could see flat fields stretching miles in either direction all speckled with people working the soil or harvesting crops backdropped by enormous mountain ranges. We began to shoot a family close to the road that appeared to be separating debris from their harvest by throwing it the air to let the straw and hay fly in the wind. I pointed to a marking on the hill. Since Vic had the long lens, I asked if he could see what it was. "hmmmmmmm." again, no explanation. I looked through his camera and saw 'it' was a carving in the hillside that had to be over 200 feet high and nearly as wide. It had a circle with symbols inside and almost an anchor shape behind it. All I could imagine was that perhaps this was some marking to do with principality or family territory or something of the like. We shot our average excessive number of photos between us all and were driving slowly away when one of the older ladies we'd been taking pictures of ran up to us, chasing the car.
I didn't recognize a word she said, but I didn't need to. She had the hand extended over the window into the car and repeating a phrase in a persistent whining tone. "She wants money for us taking her picture." A murmur erupted with couples asking each other for proper change to give her in Bolivianos. Now, she had become intelligible. "We need 20 bolivianos." "Twenty!" shouts Bob (the stockbroker) from the luggage compartment. "No, not twenty, Ten." She shakes her head, the old woman blinked her heavily wrinkled eyes and whined again in spanish "We need 20. We have the little children" - Accent on the Children - Bob is now taking this much more seriously. "No, for 20 Bolivianos, we take more pictures. Twenty for more photos." She paused and whined again, but didn't appear to be disagreeing. We all considered this a deal and all the doors flew open. How exciting. Invited (almost) up in with them to share what they were doing - a special treat, I thought. "what are they?" I asked pointing to the large beans. "Avas" she said. Very large lima beans, I'd heard; but these were reddish. Three little children hurried in from the field to get a look at us. One of the girls showed us how exactly, the process worked. With big blankets spread across the ground, they laid out the beans and filling their aprons, tossed them in the air again and again. As we watched, sure enough, the grass and smaller debris flew off with the wind. They nodded and waved a hand at Bob. I can throw them? Nodding again. So he went to the sack filled with more beans. "Here? These?" More nodding. Much more go-on-type waving. So he looks at Wendy with the camera and says sternly, "Be sure you get this." Bob fills his hands with beans and throws them into the air only to get hit by the spray of straw and weeds flying back in his face. "There" he says, brushing his hands off. But seems the bean throwing was extra. The woman now wants another 5 bolivianos more for the actual throwing of the avas. Someone coughed up the extra 5 -which seems to still not satisfy her... So Bob crouches down to the three children and offers them the candy from his pocket. Brushes each tousled head of hair and we're back to the truck. Much too persistent to just let us all go, the old woman has followed us and hand out, whines again for more. "no more, no more" we all repeated. "Get us out of here, Vic!"