With the six of us smashed in a four-person car, perhaps another 200 yards down the road we came upon another gathering of men. They had all their bicycles pulled off the road and were standing together on the bridge over a small creek. "Anyone want this one?" offers Vic. Too chicken that we'll be penniless by the end of the trip for the now escalating cost of shooting pictures, nobody volunteered. Rounding a corner, we passed the Bolivian Navy Base. Unfortunately, Bolivia is landlocked on all sides, but this didn't seem to discourage them. Another few turns and curves brought us to a much hillier stretch of road. One particular lookout spot warranted stopping the vehicle to let everyone try and capture the scene. Fred and Wendy stayed in the car while Bob, Pat, Vic and I went to play. Not over the hill yet, I noticed a man approach from behind with his two or three pigs in front. As Fred did too, he began to call for Pat's attention. With no response, he became more specific in telling her there was a photo here to shoot. Only, Fred was sneaky enough to speak in a foreign language so not to frighten the man walking now 5 feet from the car. A technique that works well in the United States where not so many people speak Spanish, it didn't seem so effective in this instance. As the fellow was now past the car by 30 feet with his pigs, Pat crested the hill scratching her head, "What'd you say, Fred?" "Never mind." This did, however, go to verify our theory that walking the route would have been faster than our breakneck pace across the countryside.
So then we came upon a high, wide pass that allowed us to see both the larger and smaller sides of Lake Titicaca to either side. Terraced foothills stretched for miles in all directions, their scale deceptively large. To stand and closely examine these narrow textured markings on the hillside, I began to notice tiny specs of people working the soil or shooing the animals throughout the immense structures. Now, as we were spread in each direction, I noticed and pointed out a silhouette on the lower hillside - a woman harvesting, head bobbing
in and out of view. Then, something caught my eye. It was the sparkling water from the lake below. A breeze had blown the water into a wide, crinkled pattern and every point was brilliantly catching the light. Seems another effect of the lack of atmosphere was that the sunlight was brighter and clearer, too. Forgetting that the water temperate was estimated at 42 degrees, I looked at the crisp reflections and longed for my ski-boat left behind in the US. Something about this particular location seemed to give one cause to simply stand and reflect. A reflection on it's beauty, it's magnitude, the reality of this environment opposing that you came from, or the lack of oxygen to the brain.
One thing was for sure. This was no picture from a magazine. In every direction, you were faced with incredible scale and realism about how different this land and lifestyle were.
Bob and Vic were again having north-south orientation discussions. One lake was to be on the north of us and the other to the south. However, this wasn't going to suffice when both Fred and Vic had remembered to bring their GPS's. Fred had just purchased a new variety that came with local maps built into the database. "Yeah, right! Show me Bolivia's roads!" teased Vic. Undaunted, Fred rotated his view screen for Vic to see the name of our road and it's relative position to the lake. - GPS envy - So, this was now a group event. Each tread twenty paces along the lines of the road and together they determined that one lake was on the north and one was to the south. "You know what this means!" I exclaimed. "If you know the latitude here, we should be able to tell what time it is." "Latitude?" returned the group. "Your watch!" I pointed to Vic's chest. "Oh, yes." he pulled the rope from his collar and produced his pocket sundial. "We point the azimuth to north like this, and set the dial to our latitude of 16 degrees like this, and it's either 1:30 or eight pm."
Pat had returned triumphant from the hillside clutching a marvelous artifact. She had found the better part of an old, handmade clay pot which had broken, leaving the neck and handle intact. We estimated it's age to be anywhere from 6000 years to a few months old. Wendy and Pat preferred the idea that it was actually an antique so we concluded that it should be. "Here, let me get your picture with that." says Fred. "How should I hold it? Up here?" Pat struggles to model the shard naturally. "Higher" "No left" "Oh, whatever". Before we know what has happened, Fred and Pat are now addimately debating how one would properly hold a piece of broken pottery for a photograph. This could, perhaps have been productive if they were, indeed debating each other. Fred was pressing his position to Vic and Pat deliberating hers to me.
So this spot obviously called for a group photo. Bob had remembered his tripod so we set it up at the side of the road and after the last big bus passed, we all gathered closely for Bob's shot. Then, switching cameras I set up for my turn. Now, this newfangled camera Vic loaned me was slightly unfamiliar and after the 2 second delay went off for a snapshot of my backside, we finally got it right.
All right, back to the truck, everyone. We were now close to the expected destination of the fishing village whose name can apparently not be said in human words. "Stop!" shouts Fred. "Look it's a Plow-guy." And yes, off in the fields to the south, was a man, a donkey and his plow. The very same plow used in filming of "Sergeant York". Vic pulls to a stop and eventually positions the truck in view for photographing Plow-guy. Much to the chagrin of the 4 people trying to shoot Plow-guy, he chose at this time to take a break. Now, we're a 4 person car filled with 6 people camera lenses hanging out of every orifice, waiting at the side of the road for plow-guy to get back to work. "Ohhh! He's in profile!" I heard Fred exclaim. Being on the far side of the truck, I was unable to see the relative position of the man 400 yards away, so I didn't get a shot of him. So Vic swaps lenses back from Fred, curses his change in settings, pulls a U-turn in the street and after one more click while navigating, driving, and smashing Fred's hat off with the 300mm lens out the window, we were back on our way.
Around the corner, we drop off the blacktop pavement and onto a cobblestone road and into the main square of a real village. On the far side, were 20 or 30 boats waiting to deliver fares across towards Copacabana and Peru. "Where do we park?" "By the looks of the busses, anywhere you can put the car". Vic rolled it around to the end of the center square and we all hopped out. We had a big, silver statue and children playing foosball in the center grassy square on a table that looked like a whole paint store spilled on it. To the far side of the statue, was a full scale reed boat like we'd seen back in the Indian village by our hotel. Below it was a young girl selling the little scale model reed- boats and reed-llamas. Which I don't think would do as well in the tub as the boats. I turned my back and Vic was gone. "Come and look at this!" Bob had found two little boys scratching tiny pale green rocks onto the sidewalk. They were almost perfectly round and flat, but when they scraped across the concrete, they made a sparking, popping noise. I asked them what they were called and the boys said, in Spanish "they're called rocks." I had found that in this part of the country, the word 'piedra' was one of the mainstays of the language; as well as the mainstay for building materials, and decorations, and now entertainment. I looked around and saw street vendors sprinkled across every corner of the square. They were even in front of the large barn-sized community looking building on the hill. More interesting to me were the barges. Again, I noticed the brilliant, primary colors they had painted everything. A tour bus of average size and excessive overhead baggage had just driven off of this barge that was, perhaps a foot longer and not that much more in width. The sight of these fifteen foot tall, overloaded busses in poor repair teetering precariously as the barge motored them over the bay left us mouths agape. Wendy and I sat down on the waters' edge, watched the others scurry around and took the chance to introduce ourselves for the first time. I noticed a ferry drop a load of international passengers. It was clear that not many of these folks were from the area. Most of the bunch appeared European, but seemed as at home to have been here for years. Wendy and I enjoyed watching the spectacle of Vic's delight in subject matter that didn't pelt him with 'piedras.' "Look what they're doing." said Wendy. Behind me, I saw a couple with their wash in the bay a foot from a moored boat. The woman appeared to be rubbing the garments up and down against her legs to scrub them.
Also, between us and them, I noticed what had to be a newlywed couple. They sat together on a bench, his arm around her. I had up until this time, never seen any of the Aymara Indians ever display affection publicly. They seemed so private that you weren't even aware which pair of people were couples. She wore a white, sparkling shawl over a deep purple dress and a new black bowler rested on her lap. Again, we get into the area of hearsay and theories as to why all of the Aymara women wear black or brown formal, felt bowlers that are too small to fit over their heads. Most stories include something about the Queen of Spain, a shipping error and thousands of these hats that were too small to wear that were then adopted by the Indian women as a fashion statement. The tradition is now hundreds of years old and also includes proper instructions for wear of the toy hat. If a woman is available, she is to wear the bowler cocked to one side, but a married woman should keep hers on strait.
We looked up and Vic was in trouble. Two young girls in the square had cornered him and he was trying desperately to communicate. So, he brings them over to where, now four of us were sitting. Seems they wanted to sell him some candy. I'm not sure what the communication problem was. They clearly wanted him to pay them a dollar for their box of peanut m&m's. Since the girls were not taking no for an answer, Vic shelled out and bought them. Now a woman was headed down the hill into the square rolling a cart in front of her. It seemed to have a food-type product behind it's glass doors and the smell was wafting our way. We watched and waited for her to make the trek down, where she setup immediately to our left. Now, all 6 of us were gazing, hungrily into her cart. They appeared to be the football shaped bread-wrapped goodies we'd read about as the equivalent of fast food here. We pointed, murmured, and asked her how much. She seemed not to hear us and after a time, backed away from her cart, only to turn and begin talking to another woman. Confused and hungry, we waited until it was painfully clear that she had no intention of selling us any of her food before turning to head for our truck. "Fine! don't sell us anything" "It'd probably only make us sick". we muttered, climbing full pout into the Suzuki. Now, Wendy took the luggage compartment and chose to lie down and get some sleep. "Wait" shouts Bob. "Now what?!" Bob points to a vendor's stand. "You guy's have to try this popcorn." So he hops out and barters momentarily to the girl of no more than seven and returns with two clear bags of what looked like off- white curled packing peanuts. "Here. Try some." I looked leerily at the white puff, but hungry, I ate it. "Interesting." It tasted nothing at all like popcorn. It was like a stale, chewy, sweetened cereal. I ate two or three more, but I'm afraid that without the milk on top, it just lacked something.
The ride back seemed much less interesting as it did coming the other way. We had even grown accustomed to the excessive amount of brown, golden yellow and brown everywhere. It was clear why anyone who had to live in this brown, rocky world would paint anything they could as bright and obnoxious a color as possible. Wendy and I were both exhausted, but Vic didn't even slow down spotting and shooting his notorious laundry pictures. "Oh, stop the car, Vic. I see clothes lying on a wall!" He took a lot of slack from us on the number of photos he took of peoples wash, but it certainly made it easy to discern his rolls of film from mine once they were developed. He noticed one little tot of no more than 5 years old standing at the roadside; the picture of naivety. "Great! She's too young to care... Perfect." notes Vic. In thanks, Vic decides to pass the new peanut M&M's he'd just purchased onto the little girl in exchange for being so cute. Her little eyes lit right up. She grabbed the prize and turned quick and went running back toward her family. Seeing the jilted expressions on the faces of her siblings, Bob retorted "Sucks-to-be-you!" out the window toward them. After a brief explanation of his phrase, we all laughingly agreed.
By now, we were getting tired, we were hungry, I had a headache - even though it was Fred who kept getting bopped in the noggen with the lens. But when I saw the roasted pig, I was suddenly not hungry anymore. Here comes ludicrous theory number seventy two about the pig. Two men and a woman were toteing a blackened, charred pig draped over two poles across the field. Granted, I'm not an expert in pig roasting, but seems the ones I had seen before were in some way prepared for the pit - or even the pit prepared for the pig. This one just looked like he'd caught on fire. Not such an unlikely possibility considering we were only one day away from the winter equinox. On what the Aymara consider the coldest night of the year, they believe that the PachiMama, Mother Earth is so cold that they should burn things to warm her up. So, already, we have seen many brush-fires and charred grass stumps. The bushes lit never seem to burn all the way to the ground. The lack of oxygen always puts the fires out before they go far. So, did the pig befall an unfortunate accident? Probably not. He was probably just somebody's dinner.