Eating helado in La Paz
I cannot believe that it has already been a month since I went on my South American adventure to La Paz, Bolivia. How did that happen? And how have I barely even mentioned it in my blog?
Friends, it is time.
Here are some of the highlights and the things I remember the most.
* In the mornings, our friendship was personified by steaming cups of French press, milk from a bag, and a few scoops of azúcar for me, please. Bundled up in our slippers and sweaters, we spent winter in June, sipping cafe con leche until almost noon.
* On the streets of La Paz, I felt my heart tight and full, like a balloon right at the point where it's filled too much so that you notice the white places. But not like fear. No, rather because we were high in the sky like all those electrical wires strung like a spider's web around our heads. I never heard them humming, but I wanted to join in all the same. Life, in Español, softly weaving itself around me. The language of heaven that my English tongue could not speak. Lo siento.
* And those hills, (curse those hills!) They were steep and plenty, but now they multiple themselves in my mind. Yet, they were still too high for my prairie filled lungs. I remember the slivery shine of the cobbled stone sidewalks, like centuries slipping underneath my moccasins. I'm okay. I will catch up in a minute. Up to Sagarnaga, we moved liked tortoises. But Jilly would slow down for her flat land friends while I, clutching my camera in my hands, would try to keep up with the pace of the city.
* When I think of La Paz, I always come back to the smell and the way it stuck to your clothes after being wedged en el bus between a sleeping señora and the caller, who would not always sit but learned over you, ready to pounce at the door. All the back home to the States, I would smell La Paz in the fibers of my skinny jeans, my winter coat, and my unwashed hair. The smell of urine or body oder mixing with something that often reminded me of a sweet bread. Part way between delicious and vial.
*When I think of Copacobana, I think of blue and orange and coral. I think of the street vendors on the "cheap street," just outside the tourists' road. They were selling popcorn so large and stale it looked like pieces of broken bones. From their makeshift stands they sold you cheap food or colorful juices in plastic bags with green straws. Or marinated cow heart with a few boiled potatoes. Or bight apple green soda tasting like candy. Back on the tourist side, the sold you espresso you knew was only Nescafe. Still, you'd drink it all the same. When I think of Copacobana, I think of the boat ride to the island of the sun. How could I forget that cold morning air mixing with the smell of petrol or that poor British girl sitting on the floor, throwing up into plastic bags. Or the little driver beside me, giving instructions in Spanish all the while driving the boat with his foot. Or the Eastern European gentleman who never said a word, but gave me a stick of peppermint gum when it all seemed like too much. When I think of Copacobana, I think of those sautéed onions and tomatoes from our too-quick breakfast and the bus driver who kept shouting "LAPAzLAzPAzLAPAZ!"
* I realized I have seen too many movies and watched too much television to trust real life because when I saw those mountains I found them to be too perfect. Their edges were too chiseled, their snow too white and their sky too blue to be real life. Like Lord of the Rings, maybe they were computer enhanced. But there they were, sometimes lurking out from behind the smog and the clouds or sometimes as radiant as day. The Andes outside my plane window would look so close that I could reach out and touch them.
* I am too tall for this country, with my knees wedged up against the seat in front of me on el bus. But I like the way it tastes. I liked the warm pastry shell of the saltiñas and the way it felt in my hand when we shook them before eating, listening to the juices that would soon be running down our chins. And how could I forget those boiled potatoes covered in peanut sauce and salty, fresh cheese? Or the meal cooked by the Italian living in La Paz? Or the depth of the sopa and how much they feed one another for lunch? Or the bitter taste of the coca tea? The bright purple Api, thick like liquid corn? Or the helado? Oh the helado. Cold and creamy and perfectly blended with something that crunched and tasted fairly close to Nutella.
*The last day in the city was spent in sunshine and too many layers. Milling through the streets again and back up to the market. The school children in their green or blue uniforms, arm and arm, laughing and yelling for papas fritas. A lady standing on the corner selling icy pops from a bag too large for the midday heat, each sugary treat like a long brick of lime or red or yellow. The little man tying belongings on top of a bus. And sitting on the a ground, a hunched over old woman, whose hand, like old leather, grasp a plastic orange cup, who only began to look like Jesus after I had already passed her by.
* I find it easy to compare where I am to where I've been. Every place is so familiar and yet so drastically different any comparison seems ridiculous. Yet, I must carry around with me a part of South Africa that keeps me looking for it in far off distance places. Places like Kansas or La Paz. There, like South Africa, everything was gated, houses behind thick walls and colorful gates smeared with dirt and graffiti. But, yet, so unlike it. To me, La Paz was quieter than I expected - even in the middle of the city and the pattern of traffic and the movement of its people like they knew who they were. La Paz. Maybe being so much closer to the heavens makes it impractical to shout.