I have spent a more than reasonable share of my time in South America ensnared in ridiculous and, some would say, unfortunate situations: sitting for 5 hours in a La Paz coffee shop waiting for my passport details to be faxed, waiting in airports and bus terminals for delayed transport, rolling paper dice in a bar in Oruro... I get better and better at killing time with each hilariously unforeseen mishap. Shut out the noise, turn down the anger. These stupid happenings of the world are, of course, unavoidable – sometimes in life things happen dealwithit – but there is something else that I have been trying to explain to my fellow travellers with limited success for the last few weeks. In an almost proud, and definitely self-assured and confident way, I would like to proclaim to all my readers right now: yo tengo suerte... I am one lucky motherfucker.
I'm not trying to cram some hopelessly preaching drivel bullshit down your throats here, please keep reading – this is not thank you to Jesus/Allah/LRH/Flying Spaghetti Monster for being alive and whatever piece of blah blah trash can scummery. No. Let's consider for a second that my being rich (enough), privileged (enough), and in full possession of the correct number of eyes, limbs and digits does not constitute luck in the strict sense of the word, but merely a pretty decent start in life. I am going to be so bold as to suggest that I have luck beyond merely being able to wake up in the morning and 'thank the lord for another beautiful God-created morning'. Lately anyway, I have been graced with the sort of luck that makes you turn around halfway through the day and throw the rest of the world your two favourite fingers because you know that no matter what happens, you're gonna make it to the end of this fucked up maelstrom of an experience intact, all goals reached, and probably with a new pair of shoes. As I sit here reminiscing on the experiences of my last 8 or 9 days I can finally breathe safely and close my eyes calmly. I sit in my favourite spot under the balcony with the afternoon sun dying over the lawn and listen to the sounds of home hum underneath the clear music in my head. All that is left to do is to ask the best question a person can ever have the privilege of being able to ask – “what the FUCK happened?”
In the much-celebrated void that always constitutes the week between Christmas and New Years I was in the Salar de Uyuni (salt, desert, geysers, whatever) in the South of Bolivia, but split up with my companions on the 30th and headed for La Paz – thus began my odyssey. Thirty hours of bus travel later and no problems. Well that's not really luck is it? No, is the answer, no it is not. It sure as hell tired me out though, and getting off of the bus in La Paz at 8am New Year's Eve meant no opportunity for sleep for the rest of the year – sounds heavy. New Years always involved a bit of luck though, and after barhopping for the hour leading up to 11:30 – including getting kicked out of one ass-crack of an establishment for ruining their decorations before midnight (have a cry mate) – we finally found somewhere to drink beers, play jenga with the local floozy and let off our assorted fireworks/explosives. Who's going to tell me a successful night on the most over-hyped day of the year isn't a little bit lucky?...
...that's what I thought.
The real shit started on the second of January; me and my two European chums set out to explore the highest lake in the world and the most famous ruins in the universe; Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. On New Year's Eve I spent about 500Bs... I had 1000 left for the next 5 days. We caught the cheapest bus from La Paz to Copacabana (on Lake Titicaca) on the afternoon of the 2nd and the chase was on. Two internationally renowned landmarks in 5 days. Budget thinner than a destitute indigena boy. No room for error. Fingers crossed.
Lovely French Girl was nice enough to give me some corn + cheese concoction that her host mum had made for her, although I have a sneaky feeling that I may have merely saved it from the bin (sooorrrryyyy mooooom). I ate this mushy native galoobah out of it's leafy wrapping with a coin for the next two days; money saved, luck demonstrated. For those of you who wouldn't consider it lucky to be forced to eat free food with the last money in your pocket, whilst also gulping down the irony that said metal money would be sadly insufficient to buy even the smallest amount of real food, let alone real cutlery... well guess what, sometimes, you have to make your own luck. Whilst Dutch Sjoerd and Danish Mikkel ate their eggs and toast for breakfast I sat fast in the smiling knowledge that I was going to make it to Machu Picchu in a few days, despite whatever shit the world could rain down.
So rain it did, just to test me. The morning of the 4th threw down the gauntlet, along with 5 hours of rain, on to every pair of socks and underpants I had, along with a few shirts – my clothes smelled of gauntlet. The hotel was shit-cheap and I paid 5Bs less for sleeping on a mattress on the floor which I think actually turned out softer than the beds – suck one Bolivia, tengo suerte. Thanks to the rain we didn't have time to get to the Inca ruins on the island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I wasn't terribly upset at missing what was purported to be a lovely specimen of a table made out of big rocks sitting on the Northern end of some island. At least I still had some corn left.
My clothes dried in the sun and were not stolen by locals – always good to note. We grabbed a bus back in Copacabana and headed for Peru and Machu Picchu. My corn was running low but spaghetti was on the menu if we could buy ingredients in Cuzco; undoubtedly the gringo capital of the world. At the border I was told by guards that my passport had no entry stamp for Bolivia, even though my immigration papers were all good. Some brain moron three months ago in Santa Cruz Airport had obviously neglected to finish the final day in his three-day document stamping course at retard university and had almost had me packing my bags to the Australian embassy, but it was not to be. Sweaty palms all round. I still had to sit stressing for twenty minutes while Mr Border Patrol teasingly hovered his stamp of approval over my papers... I don't know what I was worried about though, everything always works out – tengo suerte.
In Cuzco we were treated to free Wi-Fi at Starbucks for three hours of Thursday – I say 'we', but really it was just me because Sjoerd's laptop wasn't picking up the signal... and I say 'Wi-Fi', but really I mean Facebook. The hotels near the main plaza were expensive and with corn supplies running low I really couldn't afford to splash out unnecessarily, we found a place a few blocks away though; free Wi-Fi, cable, hot shower, hotel soap, and they let us use their kitchen. COME ON! Thank the big fella for short, accommodating South American women. Our spaghetti was sticky as shit, but you know I bagged it up – shave another four meals of my budget and take that sticky mush to the bank my friends. Unfortunately though, a coin will not suffice as cutlery when eating spaghetti.
Machu Picchu came and went (more on that in Week 11.5 – Machu Picchu is A Thieves Den of Iniquity feat. Juan Carlos: Pussy) and the 30+ hour journey back to Cochabamba was underway. So far, other than getting hustled (with admirable professionalism) into a cheap tour and an expensive bus ride, my luck was holding together about as well as my bag – sturdy but wearing. Our guide didn't steal my passport as I had feared he may for all of Friday night, and while food portions were laughable, I had already spent myself laughing at the fact that my corn was gone and the spaghetti was wearing thin. Things couldn't be better. Nothing to be displeased about – plus, fuck it, I saw Machu Picchu. (it's actually fucking amazing, for the record) On the way out of the valley I volunteered for our party of three to be switched into another bus in a last-minute shuffling of numbers to make up seats. This seemed to be a straight cock-up of a decision on my part at first glance as I looked to be stuck in a sardine tin of a back seat for the entire 6 hour journey home but lo and behold, luck had one more strange ace to throw my way... best believe it people, miracle boy at work.
Landslide. HAH! Deal with that Aidan you over-confident, good luck touting, corn-munching pleb. About twenty minutes out of the Sacred Valley the dirt road snaking around the side of the mountain was pounded into a pile of immovable rocks and collapsing dirt hillside by one of many landslides, triggered no doubt by a combination of the last night's rain and the universe's cruel, pitiless whim. There was less than zero chance of the debris being cleared within... well ever in the world really... and we had a 6 hour trip back to Cuzco with bus tickets to La Paz for 10:30pm. It was three. But if ever spirits are to be dashed, surely it is only for the purpose of amplifying that feeling of elation when you find out that – just as was promised by the luck in this world that waits patiently for anyone willing to find it – it's gonna be chill. Picture my face when I realised that we three were among the first chosen to walk the broken road on foot to meet up with a replacement bus on the other side of the chasm. Picture me laughing at my dejected self only fifteen minutes before. Crying with laughter. Cackling madly. Screaming. “EAT SHIT YOU TRAPPED-ASS AVALANCHE VICTIM FAGGOTS!” The filthy proles faded away into the distance as the luckiest bus in the world made it's way back to Cuzco, but time was tight. The noose was tightening.
The whole bus of 19 sang along to Bob Marley, Beatles and Argentinian folk songs back to Cuzco until Mr Ukulele had no more songs left. “Everything's gonna be alright, everything's gonna be alright.” Bob Marley's timelessly hopeful refrain stuck in my head – that's my favourite god damn song of all time and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face after singing it.
Back into Cuzco at 9:30, collect the tickets, hail a cab on the road and get spotted by a cop car instead. After admonishing us for our muy delincuente behaviour they drove us for free to the bus terminal; no bribes, no hassle, no brutal kidnapping. Tenemos suerte. More trouble with passports and some inadvisable lying to imigration officials at the Peru-Bolivia border. Don't tell them you have paid when you haven't Aidan, don't push your luck big boy. The stamp hovered and fell again and my potentially brown trousers breathed a sigh of relief. Just in time for the Cuzco to La Paz bus and from there a quick race in at the urination station and it was one more bus to Cochabamba. Of course the last bus would be the slowest and of course we would be overtaken by like ten other speed racers through the hills on the way home but that's just what happens I guess, we still made it home and although I owe Mikkel like $70AUD it's all going to be cool.
At the end of this story that, truly was more hectic to live than it was to condense and tell in a few thousand words, you may be ready to throw fruit with your screaming questions. “Who gives one third of a swear word about your gay travels?” Well not many probably, and maybe this was just a handy vehicle for my bragging ego to showcase the trip that I just had and some of the stupid shit that happened. I really did get lucky with some of the stuff that happened and I wouldn't have been able to survive without some help from friends and well placed hunger-striking but that's not the point. The shit that the world throws down every single day is unavoidable; counting something like a rockslide or lack of money or a rainy day as back luck isn't a fair call, in fact it's not even defensible, it's straight out hold-my-hand-a-little-bitch whingeing – although if you'd told me at the time I would have cut you up.
Bad luck is the constant batter and thrash of the world on the life of every sorry bastard who has ever dared to exist in it, but there is not time enough in the day or energy enough in my bones to write a ranting tirade against that unfortunate truth. Best I can do is write one about the good things that happened, the ridiculous glimpses of good fortune that chanced upon me, just as they chance upon everyone, every single day. The static, the noise, the rest; is entropy.
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