May 28 – Fried Food Day
Ever seen a pile of real human skulls? Ever been excited or enthralled (or awake) at church? Me neither. Until this morning.
Rodrigo accompanied us to the Cathedral
de San Francisco. The tour started with the above-ground level floors,
offering us views at eons-old art and architecture that stoked Karoline.
A lot of the paintings were painted over at some point in history but
were slowly being revealed due to erosion. Eventually we descended into
the subterranean levels of the church where the air grew thick and musky.
The catacombs wound beneath the ground level betraying the underbelly
of the church, but literally and figuratively. Through holes in the floor
we could spy on services or offices or lobbies or whatever. We continued
downward and the atmosphere got stale and almost viscous the further we
went. We passed through a small doorway and encountered piles of bones
totaling over 25,000 human remains. I would have thought growning up with
stacks of metal records would have prepared me for this but it did not.
It was eerie and honestly a little hard to believe. A little too overwhelming
to comprehend. I kept waiting for the bones to take shape GoBot-style
and battle their way out a la Jason and the Argonauts. It was an
interesting way to start the day.
I have read and witnessed a lot of anti-Spanish, anti-European rhetoric since we got to Bolivia. 50% of the population are of Indian blood and their influence and their disdain for the Spanish settlers are still a source of friction. So much of the Spanish culture that was forced upon the indigenous peoples has been rejected. Just take a trip into the hills and you’ll still hear native languages. Yet, even with all the rejection they still hold on to Catholicism. Earnestly. This baffles me, especially when I think that Catholicism was the guise under which all the conquering and assimilating and killing took place.
After we left dem bones we zoomed across town to hang out in a place that was the polar opposite of the cold, rigid, morbid environs of the church. The mall. We parked on the street next to an installment of riot cops. They were stationed on every corner of the plaza and we wondered what the big event was. Rodrigo said it was normal for riot cops to patrol the city center during the day. I stepped out of the car and smiled at them. Surprisingly, they all smiled back and one even gave a friendly wave with the rifle he was haphazardly wiping down.
This city is the king of knock-off vehicles. Maybe one out of every twenty cars bares a recognizable manufacturer name. Likewise, I have yet to spot an authentic release of a CD, cassette of movie.
We walked malls looking for fried food after Devon gluttonously declared today Fried Food Day.
Peruvian mannequin-makers are not afraid to use realistic butts, despite the majority of Peruvian women we saw having either obese butts or under-fed butts. This made Peruvian mannequins the best butts in Sudamerica. And with the clothes they dressed them in it was darn near arousing to pass storefront after storefront of hiphuggers. Ate 39 churros by noon. Robert got fries that tasted so much like chicken even I didn’t eat them.
Rodrigo needed to pick up his daughter from school on the other end of his barrio and I went with him. He asked how much money I had and, between us, we had just enough for a trike ride to the school and then to the beach. We hopped in and two blocks later Rodrigo asked the driver to stop and let us out. I was a little confused why we paid all the money we had only to travel as far in a trike as we had traveled to flag it down in the first place. He told me the house we were in front of was his buddy’s house, an abandoned swimming complex turned cheap property. The pool was drained and soccer goals had been crudely painted in. His friend lived in the cabana. All this was an interesting re-use of land, but what interested Rodrigo was that his wife’s car was parked out front.
I didn’t know this at the time. I was asked to wait on the sidewalk while he ducked in to handle something. I heard lots of trying-to-remain-calm yelling and the wife came out a few times like she was gonna leave. Like her exodus would get the guys to stop being so guy-ish. It didn’t work but she tried three times. This went on for thirty minutes until Rodrigo eventually came out and motioned for me to follow him. He had a good grapple on his temper but under the surface I could sense his blood boil.
I had semi-figured out what was going on but he filled in on the rest. I made a few empathetic comments that were either lost in the translation or went completely unnoticed. Instead he kept repeating what had happened, getting more descriptive with each re-telling: he went to San Francisco to work with other kickboxers. While he was gone she had sought the arms of another. Rodrigo had suspected this but let it slide until finding out who this affair was with. When he asked me to stay outside he went onto the property, verified his suspicions, and asked his buddy to step outside to settle the matter. His buddy (wisely) refused, citing Rodrigo’s keen ability to pulverize a human body in just a few seconds as his excuse. Rodrigo told him how this worked. "I tell him, ‘You can pay now, you can pay tomorrow, whenever. But you will pay.’ He know he makes wrong, and I must kill him." I had no reason to doubt him and did my best to lighten the mood before we got to his daughter’s kindergarten.
We picked her up and headed to the shore. Another older friend of his had property on the beachfront so we camped out there and, while they talked about what had just transpired, I tried to figure out what this guy did for a living to have such nice digs. On the way home I asked Rodrigo about this guy’s vocation and he gave me a very vague response, leading me to think the obvious – that he still lived with his parents.
Rodrigo’s (Chilean) father came to visit his granddaughter and ended up entertaining us as much as anything. He was incredibly friendly, warm, energetic, and had a great head of white hair. He also spoke very good English, which he used to school us on Peruvian politics.
"Peruvians are beggars sitting on a chair of gold," he mused. For a country so rich in culture and resources, he felt they made very poor political choices. The main one being electing it’s current leader, a Japanese man – from Japan – whose main goal seems to be opening up a new market for his motherland (and not the other way around). Inflation rose to nearly 10,000% when he gained power, and one time he overthrew himself to divert attention from some shady business he had been party to. But after all was said and done, Rodrigo’s father would no sooner become president himself than leave his granddaughter behind and return to Chile.
Danny Bonaducci got us to the airport at 7:30pm, thirty minutes before the woman told us. And a full hour before anyone even popped up behind the counter. In that time the line for our flight wrapped around the Disneyland-type labyrinth in front of the airline counter and, quite literally, to the other end of the airport. We didn’t make it to the counter until after 9, two hours before our international flight left.
My mistake, four and a half hours before our flight left. Bad weather on the eastern seaboard caused late flights all over the world. This delay was going to cause us to miss our connecting flight in Houston, but in all fairness it was still better than flying through inclement weather.
We parked it on floor on the far end of the airport where us and all our stuff could sit with minimal threat of getting heisted. I packaged together the CDs I originally wanted to hand to Gustavo and took it to the airport’s post office. The woman weighed the parcel (which was 5 CDs without jewel cases) and it came out to $8 USD. A cab ride to Gustavo’s house and back would be less than half that, and so would sending it from the U.S. I declined and sat back down.
Six kids followed me back to our camp then kept walking. A minute later they passed again, and again and again. It was clear they were scoping us out for some reason. They finally stopped a few feet away and stared openly. As our party came and went I realized it was me, personally, that they were staring at, most likely confusing me with someone famous. Definitely confusing me for someone famous. I acknowledged them and they were so star-struck they couldn’t respond without all looking each other first and giggling. Their parents came and tried to herd them away. The kids fervently motioned towards me and said something to their parents who looked impressed. I never did figure out who they thought I was, and that was the first and last time that sort of ogling happened to me while I was here so it couldn’t have been anyone that important.
When it was time to go to our terminal we went to the airport tax counter who informed us the tax was not, like we were told, included in our ticket. I was incensed because it was $25 per person and we were broke. A couple weeks ago I told Devon, "If anything happens to me, I have a hundred dollar bill in my right shoe." Devon reminded me and I took my shoe off, put it on the airport tax counter, fished out a stinky, sweaty hundred dollar bill and paid for all of us.
Our flight was further delayed and I spent the time perusing the gift shops. A very cute questionnaire lady for the Peruvian Tourist Board preyed on my need to do something a little less boring so I indulged her. She was surely on cocaine or some other powerful stimulant and didn’t really care what answers I gave. She also kept resting her right breast on my left forearm. I tried backing away the first two times it happened, but her persistence and suppleness caused me to give up and hope Karoline would covertly sneak a photo of the porn I was involved in. No such luck so no such proof that it ever happened.
We boarded and prepared for take off before the front door was even closed. We had a crash course (so to speak) in emergency safety and took off before the flight attendants even made it back to their seats.
K-Pax came on the very antiquated movie system and we immediately passed out until breakfast, which none of us could eat.
We landed in Houston with fifty minutes to clear customs. We were transporting multiple Andean knives, undeclared CDs and t-shirts, coca residue on most everything, and a llama fetus so we figured customs might take a while. It was near one mile to the other terminal for our connecting flight so we hit customs like a bullet.
"Where ya headed, Hoss?" the gentleman said in a thick Texan drawl.
"California," Robert replied in his own Okie drawl.
"Ya’ll have a good one," he said and waved us through after only a look at the baggage tags.
I think there are two ways to smuggle drugs into our country – go through Houston and hope you get the guy we got, or just bring a dog and hide your drugs up it’s butt. Whose gonna think anything if a drug dog starts sniffing another dog’s butt?
The Houston airport had pollution inside the airport. In like fashion, our airplane smelled like something was burning. The flight attendants assured us it was nothing. Being add-ons to this flight we were escorted past first class, past business class, past coach class, and straight into no class – in the last row, with no windows, no ventilation, seats that didn’t recline, and the ability to reach across the aisle and flush the stank-ass toilet. It was right next to the food station which came in handy when we wanted extra water, but not particularly reassuring when we heard a couple flight attendants loudly worrying about the smoke smell.
The last leg of the trip went quickly.
Returning travelers have to be conscious of the fact that few people will be able to relate to their renewed zest for life. It’s like going skydiving then expecting a bridge toll operator to be as stoked as you. However, one of the few people who will be able to match this enthusiasm is my mom. The anticipated barrage of photos and questions were topped only by her eagerness to accompany us to Jay’s (vegan) Cheese Steaks for a big lunch, her treat.
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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