Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Sunday, August 7, 2011


 I follow Paul to Tupiza, taking a bumpy, jolting ride from Potosi, where I’m placed in the back of the bus, the second-to-last seat, beside a woman who shares my cornmeal rolls and asks me about New York. I pretend, to make it easier, that I’m from the city. Every time we hit a speedbump, a rock, a break in the road, the bus lurches, we jump and fall in our seats, and the baby behind me screams. Hush, the woman holding him says. Hush, and she bumps him on her knee, feeding him pieces of cut-up banana. We drive on this unpaved road, where a few yards away there’s a paved version that matches our curves and bends. I wonder about this, a few times I let myself get angry, but I tell myself it’s not Bolivia’s fault. I never do find out why they’ve built two roads, one paved, one not, and we must take the latter.

I find, in Tupiza, a hostel with three narrow stories and a white roofdeck that reminds me of Antigua. I find two tall British boys who stay up with me until two in the morning, drinking wine and watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They claim it’s a coincidence that this movie is playing, while we sit in the very town where those two outlaws met their makers. I argue that the movie plays every night, every other night, at least, but they are determined to believe it’s good fortune. They know most of the lines, reciting them just before Paul and Robert speak them, and then cackle when they hear them repeated.

I find jagged red hills that ring the town and stretch out to the north and south, glowing pink in the morning and violet as the sun sets. I find the Devil’s Door, two narrow, enormous slabs of brick-colored rock that stand two hundred feet high, flanked on either side by red dust and the tallest cacti I’ve seen since northern Peru. I find a stretching blue sky, speckled brown hills, a landscape so like my country's southwest. I find clean wind and dogs who live together at the end of an empty road in a ramshackle house. They’re dogs who bark and bark as I walk past, frightening me so that I pick up stones in case I might need to hurl them, but in the end those dogs are harmless, they just bark and then skulk away, back towards the half-finished group of adobe houses, the yard of old tires, of dried-up trees.

I find a town in the midst of its country’s Independence Day celebration; the parades last from Friday to early Sunday morning, and the music pumps. The ladies in the streets sell chocolate covered donuts, puffy soaked corn, glasses of chicha and paper cups of papas fritas, while an old man spins a manual merry-go-round while he sips his glass of beer and the little children perched on the tiny horses scream and demand more. That night, I say good-bye to the English guys, who are taking the night train to Uyuni, and then I crawl into bed and sleep to the sound of the Independence Day music. When my alarm sounds at 3 AM, just in time for the bus that will bring me to Bolivia’s border, I hear the music once more, pumping from the speakers set up in front of the train station. I step out onto the street, hoping that the drunk man screaming, shirtless on the corner, doesn’t notice as I walk with my pack beneath the bowl of twinkling stars. In the inky night, this town is just as busy as it was in the day. The streets are spilling over with people walking home, drunk off the celebrations of their nation’s independence.

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