To get to Candelaria from Sucre one buys a ticket in the morning from an office called 12 de Marzo across the street and half a block down from the bus station. One comes back at 3:30 for the 4:00 departure. Walking vendors will try to sell you bananas or watches. You’ll be the only gringos on the bus.
Everyone is bringing food, including us. We, however, bring dead chickens, not live ones who have pecked holes to stick their heads out of cardboard boxes in the hold. A shoeless four-year-old with splayed toes leans out the window. A woman has forgotten her cake and gets off the bus just as it’s turning onto the main road in front of the bus station; the bus can’t wait for her because of traffic. She joins us at a gas station on the other side of town, having taken a taxi there, furious and ranting.
Once we get to Tarabuco the cobblestoned streets are so narrow there’s barely room for the bus; the road from there on is cobblestoned. It used to be a dirt road, impassible after rain, but three years ago they laid down stones (by hand, of course), and now it’ll probably last years. About fifteen minutes after Tarabuco the landscape turns spectacular, with rocky cliffs and steep green hills with curves and valleys that remind me of sleeping nudes.
We reach Candelaria at about 6:30 and are the first people to leave the bus, which is going on to Icla and beyond. Carlos’s family’s house consists of about a half-dozen separate buildings around an irregular courtyard. The main building has three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs alongside a living-room/dining-room, all sparsely furnished. The loom simply consists of two eight-foot-tall poles with sticks tied at the top and bottom and the warp slung over them. There are two or three kitchens, including an outdoor one for Carlos’s grandmother, a few storerooms, and an outhouse (unlit, up some stairs; in place of a faucet hangs an upside-down plastic bottle with its bottom cut off—you can unscrew the cap to let water out). There’s no running water.
Upon arrival we’re greeted by Carlos and a black puppy; they take us to the house, where the rest of the animals greet us: two tiny kittens, two adult cats, three tiny puppies, the older black puppy, two adult dogs, and a tiny piglet. They all play and cuddle together; they especially enjoy Jacky, but all human company is welcome. Damien, Carlos’s father, comes home at around eight, completely exhausted from working in the potato fields. We have coca tea and crackers; Damien puts six heaping teaspoons of sugar in his cup. Carlos shows us photos from his trip to Uyuni, then makes green pumpkin soup, which some of us spice with a little ulupica, a spicy green wild pepper with a distinctive flavor.
In the morning it rains steadily, so we can’t make bread and Damien can’t go back out to the potato fields. We drink manzanilla (camomile) and paico (epazote) tea. The sheep and goats, over a hundred of them, go down the road and across the river to climb the hills and graze. They belong to five families, including Carlos’s. The shepherds, who rotate, don’t count them; they know each goat and sheep and whom each belongs to. It’s still raining.
After lunch (peanut soup and roasted chicken) it stops raining and we go down the road toward Icla shooting arrows (Jacky bought a bow and two arrows at an indigenous art fair a month or two ago), then walk down a hill and enter a very small canyon through which the brown water courses on a zigzag route, the rock rubbed into smooth white curves. At the bottom a creek meets the river; as I sit and watch, a hummingbird flies over the creek, stops in mid-air, looks at me, flies a bit further, does the same, flies to a bush, zooms back to a tree on the other side of the creek, then repeats this same dance a few times.
We take a different, longer route back, and try to find the ripe fruit of the main cactus here, about eight to ten feet high with huge white flowers. None of the fruit we find is quite ripe enough—it tastes a bit sweet, but flavorless; it’s dark green, almost black, on the outside, and when you cut it open it’s white and fluffy with tiny black seeds. The sheep and goats have climbed all the way up the hill, close to the cliff, and make incessant noise.
We come back to the house and play with the baby animals. The piglet thinks he’s a puppy, hangs out with the other puppies, cuddles with them, and loves to play, nudging our hands and feet with his snout.
Corn is growing among the peach trees.
In the evening all the sheep and goats come back. Dropped off, they mill around the shed for a few moments, unaccompanied. Then one enters; the rest follow, and the last one in actually shuts the door behind her.
The town’s museum displays the way of life here, and all the stories—of the major festivals, of a wedding, of the fox’s fall from heaven—are illustrated with weavings. Carlos shows us each one and narrates the images. One festival apparently features a game in which a dead goat is tied around two men’s necks—the contest is to pull it apart, and whoever gets the most goat wins.
The sunset features rays emanating from a clifftop.