Friday, November 30, 2007

Adventure in Bolivia

In 1984, Jorge placed fourth in shooting at the Los Angeles Olympics. He's a Colombian living in Bolivia who owns a cattle ranch and a dove-hunting lodge. In and around both places, everyone-- but him--plays futbol.

The cattle ranch is twenty minutes outside of a village of straw-roofed homes in the basin of the Amazon. Every afternoon the men play and the village of San Fermin gathers around the tree to watch. At half-time, the women dip coffee mugs into a utility bucket full of corn water and pass them to us. Someone else pushes out a wheelbarrow full of neon soda pop for the kids who are wrestling on the surrounding grass.

After the game, Chichito drives us out to the cattle ranch. The next day, while we are out on horseback, rounding up cows in the jungle, Gwendolyn shoots a rifle at an alligator. This makes her very, very happy, even though she is closer to hitting the parrots in the surrounding trees than the alligator.
Afterward, we leave for the lodge, driving down dirt roads that cut through the Bolivian jungle, stopping occasionally to let buffalo pass. After a day of rain, the roads are mud and we slip and slide from one side to the other as Rebekah and Gwendolyn hold their breath. Luke says ¨What, haven't you ever done doughnuts before?¨ Rebekah says, ¨Sorry Luke, swerving around in a car isn't usually a girl´s rite of passage.¨ When we nearly lose control of the car, fishtailing off the road, we hear a loud thump on the roof. Ryan, who is up top filming tracking shots, has narrowly escaped being thrown off the Landcruiser and into the trees.

Eight hours later, we arrive at the hunting lodge. There´s a crocodile skull in the fire place, giant anaconda skins stretched across the wall, and bright, rare hammocks knit by an Indian tribe in
Colombia. Jorge tells us stories about free diving in the Amazon among the piranhas and catching a grouper so big he could fit his five-year-old inside of it...there´s that picture, plus the picture of his daughter Daniela making friends with a jaguar.

At 6pm, all the workers take off--Ryan´s back on top of the Landcruiser, filming the two players hanging onto the back and the motorcycle behind us hauling a cart full of players out to the field. When we arrive, there are approximately three giant mud puddles. One guy takes a bucket and begins to scoop out some of the water. Luke, trying to be helpful, grabs a soup can from the trash and begins to go at the water as well, like someone using a thimble to scoop up the ocean.

The game revolves around two objectives: 1) score goals, and 2) do everything you can to avoid the mud puddle. There is much sliding, skirting, and screaming, but there is only one total capsize into the mud. There´s a Mennonite colony nearby and they crane their necks to watch as their horse carts pass by.

After our adventures in the middle of nowhere Bolivian jungle, we decide to head to the middle of nowhere Bolivian Salt Flats. We book a 26-hour bus to Uyuni, with a one-hour layover in Sucre. The city of Sucre, however, goes on strike. Jorge will not let his daughter´s friends head for the danger. So we take an all-night bus to Cochabamba. There is no air-conditioning and it is pass-out hot. We are sweating as though we´ve just been thrown into a pool or just played a ninety-minute summer game in Texas. Luke, the only one with access to a window, switches seats with Gwendolyn so she can have a turn sticking her head out to the world, desperately gulping in air. She wakes up to a thunderstorm in her face. She whips her head inside, fleeing pelting raindrops. Ryan, who is sitting beneath an apparent leak, is also in the middle of the rain. All night, we watch the violent storm, the lightning, the cracking thunder, wondering if the bus ride will ever be over.

Eventually, we arrive at our next bus station. Ferg eats an empanada filled with suprise beef stew that makes her sick on the next bus ride. It is her turn to have her face out the window. In Oruru, we have a ten-hour layover. We scout each bus to Uyuni and choose the company with the friendliest ladies and the prettiest posters. We go watch a terrible Evan Almighty that is dubbed in Spanish, then return to the bus terminal. We listen to the jukebox that plays both Enya and Ja Rule and watch the Cholas who've wrapped plastic bags around their top hats to protect them from the rain. When we are about to board, the friendly lady who no longer looks friendly briskly takes our tickets and switches them out with new tickets. The Uyuni bus companies have apparently consolidated and there are ten or so people who have to stand in the aisle as we take off for our all-night bus ride. We head to the city described as ¨climatically-challenged¨ in our guide book...without heat and with the sudden realization that the window in front of us is broken and won´t close--we clutch the jackets we bought at a secondhand market in Santa Cruz tightly around our throats, pull our handwoven beanies down over our faces, and try not to die.

A man gets off the bus and one of the seatless Cholas sits down next to Ryan. She touches Ryan´s cheek and says, ¨Frio?¨ Ryan nodds vigorously and she says, Poor Child, nuzzling his face into her bosom. She wraps him into her blanket and drapes her legs across his. We are all very jealous of Ryan.

At 4am, they drop us off in a deserted town. While they told us there was a nice, bright bus station with always-waiting tour guides, there is absolutely no one around. They kick us out of the bus company office and we walk through the streets. It is colder than South Bend. (It is the close of Gwendolyn´s birthday, and the three bus-rides from hell have made it memorable.)

The next three days, we drive past flamingos, red lagoons, volcanoes, Salvador Dali's desert, and cactus islands. We play a game in the Salt Flats: miles and miles of blindingly white salt. When the ball is shot wide, it rolls forever. It´s a surreal world and we love it in that foggy, mystical way that happens when you have not slept.

When the trip ends, we head for La Paz, one of the highest cities in the world. We have our hearts set on playing in San Pedro Prison.


Nina said...

The bus rides reminded me much of my "tro tro" rides in Ghana.

I've been thinking of you all!!

Paul B said...

Finally, this seems like the first good thing to happen to Ryan..Congrats buddy you earned it! Luke you will be missed at the alumni game(s).