July 28, 2013
The meatloaf I cooked for an hour last night is still quite raw inside, so bringing it as is on our picnic isn’t an option. Instead, we fry it and stuff it in burrito wraps, split a two-liter bottle of water into two, pack two backpacks with those plus carrots, apples, and sunscreen, and head over to Philly’s at 8:30. From there we take a taxi to a place on the edge of town from where trucks leave. Philly asks which truck is going to Ravelo, then asks the driver if we can get off at Aritumayu (Quechua for “Ring River”). He has no idea where that is, so Philly tells him that it’s about twenty to thirty minutes out of town and we’ll pass a white house on the right and a sign on the left. A few campesinos are in the truck; we take our places near the back where a black piglet is crying because it’s in a white sack. The truck is about ten feet wide and eighteen feet long; more and more campesinos pile in. A girl of about twelve who speaks no Spanish (the campesinos here all speak Quechua) rescues the piglet from the sack and attaches a thick leather leash around its neck; he seems much happier. But then someone else stuffs him back into the sack and he starts squealing. Two boards a bit wider than the truck are stretched across the top of the truck’s walls in the front and back; the kids and I climb up and sit there, leaving Philly and Karen standing near the left side. An hour later, there are about fifty of us in the truck; on the board next to us are two teenage girls chewing gum and texting; the piglet has been shoved in a corner and is quiet while huge sacks have been dumped on top; campesinos are sitting and standing pell-mell along with their sacks; the one who has been there longest—since before our arrival—has been chewing coca leaves (I try some too but notice nothing except for some numbness in my cheek), taking pinches of baking soda to prolong the effect, and drinking from a little bottle labeled “alcohol.” At one point the girl who owns the piglet climbs aboard looking concerned; Karen tells her where it is, but she doesn’t understand.
We finally get moving, bouncing right off our board with every bump. But when we get to the airport, the road is closed for a bicycle race. We just stand there for a half-hour or more, watching the bicyclists go back and forth, until we finally lose patience. The kids and I get off the truck, which isn’t that hard since we’re high up close to the back so we can just climb down a ladder on the side; Philly and Karen have to climb over the campesinos and their bags to get off. We discuss going elsewhere and taking a taxi there, but only about three minutes after we get off the truck, the road opens, and the truck departs. We quickly find a taxi, but he has no idea where Aritumayu is either and wants a hundred Bolivianos to get us there (about fourteen dollars). Philly, who’s on a widow’s pension, bargains him down to sixty, which isn’t bad considering the truck would have cost us seven Bolivianos each, and there are five of us. But then we can’t find Aritumayu. We go along a paved road for a while, then through a police blockade, and then along an unpaved road, until we stop at a village and ask some folks where it is. It turns out we passed it, so we go back. I feel like we owe the driver more than sixty, so I give him a hundred and ask for twenty-five in change; he insists that we owe him the hundred, so I give up.
The white house on the right is indeed there, but I doubt we would have seen it coming from Sucre because it’s around a bend (we’ve been traveling through tall hills/small mountains, with winding roads and lots of dust). And the sign to Aritumayu is gone. We walk down a dirt road past some shepherds’ houses. A typical house has a rectangular adobe wall around it, like a small fortress, and inside that an outdoor brick oven shaped like an igloo; the sheep are right outside in an enclosure. After about half an hour down by pine and eucalyptus forests we reach a brick aqueduct, with arches over arches, which we cross, the kids and I on the top level, a straight yard-wide fenceless walk fifty feet above the valley, and Philly and Karen on the middle level, designed so it’s easy to walk through slits in the arches. We continue down to a small clear river full of rocks, which we use as stepping stones to cross back and forth.
We have our picnic under another, similar aqueduct, then explore further up the river, finding one tiny pool that’s at least five feet deep. Frogs are singing lilting melodies; all is at peace. Thalia brought a pack of cards, so Philly beats the kids and I at rummy, though she’s never played before. After a few hours of heaven we start back.
A music video is being filmed along the river, we discover, with about twenty dancers in elaborate costumes. The men’s tops make them look like Superman, with super-puffy shoulders; they also wear fancy boots covered with big bells so that every step jangles. The women’s skirts are so short you can surely see their panties if you get close enough; they all wear little hats on the backs of their heads. A couple of the men have scary masks, one of an old man with tremendously long white hair, and another of a metal jester. We watch them for a long time but, impatient, leave before the filming starts.
The slog uphill is punctuated with rests to catch our breath. I listen at a shepherd’s hut to someone strumming an out-of-tune guitar in a steady rhythm. At the top we flag down a small flatbed truck and let the wind cool us.
Back at home I put the remainder of the meatloaf in the oven for another hour, but it still fails to cook, so I make meatloaf hash. I fry some vegetables, including some red, green, and yellow peppers, but it turns out I accidentally bought locoto peppers (“Es picante?” I asked the seller; “No, no es picante,” she told me), which are, I now realize, as spicy as habaneros. Even though Jack and I spit them out after one bite, the heat lingers, and from cutting them my hands are imbued with it; because I’ve touched my face, during my shower it feels like it’s on fire. I finally manage to cool my lips and nose down with some lime juice.
This was our first trip outside Sucre. I want to do more—perhaps next time we can visit a village: Philly says she knows some Tarabusceña weavers. Gentle, sunny, adventurous, and warm, she certainly has us well in hand.