Fleeing Copacabana on Independence Night sans-camera felt about right for the experience we’d had there. Trying to fill the coach as we waited to leave, people ran around screaming “La Paz” while a dusty garage blocked our view of the sunset over the lake. Beauty only slightly missed by the chaos of it all. As we pulled away, the statue of an Inca leader saluted the hidden sunset.
I found it quite disconcerting that we continued to stay next to the lake for the next hour despite our destination being inland. Then a man dressed in khaki arose and began banging against the driver’s door. I was, at this point, quite concerned about the coach we were on. The driver let him in. 2 minutes go by and khaki man returns. He begins shouting directions in Spanish: we were all to get off the coach and get on a ferry and this would cost us 2$B. Everyone get off and queue.
So into the darkness we went, English people gathering, piecing together a translation and heading toward the few lights of the ferry port. We joined the end of the only queue available and watched as the people at the front went toward the outline of wooden decking and a half open boat at the end. Then off they went across Titicaca.
As we got nearer the front, each person said the number of tickets they wanted and a hand took their money and passed back tickets. You couldn’t see a face or body behind the blackened glass in this boleto-booth and as I got there I did the same: “Uno”.
We all hurried onto the boat, wrapping jumpers around ourselves in the altitudinal cold. People looked around at each other for support, their eyes asking “Are we going to be ok?” I stared at the incredibly starry sky – the lightning from previous towns flashed behind mountains creating brief silhouettes. I didn’t know.
Once across the water, club music boomed from a white washed bar and our khaki man ran off to the banos. We were suddenly surrounded by movement: party people buying street food on their way home/way out (knowing South Americans); tourism reliants immediately on call (they’d been waiting for us) and other bus groups wandering around in the surreal glare of the street.
Once back on the bus, it felt as if we might be able to relax. I put my ipod on shuffle and experienced a strange mix of Gogol Bordello, Bellowhead, Goldfrapp, the Artful Dodger and – most fittingly – OMC – How Bizarre.
The next section of our trip turned out to be even more uncomfortable, lit by the odd battered street lamp…
Through a meshed curtain I see
The road ahead –
White lines curve around mountain
Cars with hazard lights flashing
Litter the hard shoulder.
Night has enveloped the landscape
Constellations of villages
Reflect the night.
The chaos of Copacabana has been left
Under an electric sky.
Gradually the relics of farmhouses
Roll along the conveyor belt view,
A tollbooth proclaims
‘Welcome to La Paz’ and soon
We enter Surburbia.
Like a Ballardian dystopia
Houses left half made or half broken
Stutter past – not all empty.
One man, hunched, half broken
Kicks the dirt
Above the orange glow of light pollution.
On the last remaining wall of a wretched home
The word ‘Mas’ in white – More.
And rubble, piles of it, as high walls,
Above open drainage,
Act like no man’s land defences.
And within it all
Protected bricks of blue
Proclaim ‘Pepsi made here.’
The factory pipes shine as silver beacons
For the dream –
A woman, in traditional dress,
Moves a wheelbarrow of rubbish
Toward a fire on the street.
She tips it in.
Hoods hangout at an abandoned tollbooth
Heads face the floor.
A Bolivian flag wisps through a broken window
Flying high for the poor.
The bus mopes along
Through this wasteland left in wait
And the lights of La Paz
Begin to liberate.
But behind us
One light remains in a windowless block
The silhouette of a hatted woman.
She stares at the blank walls ahead
Just another person the world forgot.