Bolivia Postcard

Leaving Peru to Bolivia, this north lake borderless border crossing. Passport stamped in Puno a hundred k ago, here none of the usual cues or trappings, no soldiers or police, no gates or furtive looks to the Other Side, comparative serenity instead around a few concrete buildings and shacks. There is an obelisk marking the boundary, a half dozen men in knit hats and thick jackets wander over to check out and ride the bike, one offers me 1000 Soles for it, about US$400. The women are suddenly all in highriding saddle brown Bowlers, never fails to make me chuckle, selling fruit and cooked snacks, each group waving me over to see what’s on offer under their particular blue tarpaulin four stick enclosure.

I sip coffee sitting on a crumbling curb, shoes in mud squinting against the glare and watch the scene. It takes will to think of the actors as smugglers, Wednesday today being Smuggler’s market day when differently nationed trucks loaded with crates are backed up to each other, Peru license plate bumper to Bolivia plate, illicit boxes passed along unhastily. I search around for a money changer, pedal up a 30 minute pebbly climb and am once again notably alone in a mesmerizing place that is no place.

* * *

Day next shivering with most of my gear on, rain and wind and swaggering dark grey cloud mountain desert desolation, steady 13,000 feet I’ve been at for days. Dull yellow low brush icy mist cling, breathless breathcloud wheelslip squint against hail, I’m lonely sad. Somewhere it’s Thanksgiving. Now I am the landscape nor does it mind or worry, float into symmetrical circular meditation. Later the sky cracks deep blue shards and gases fluffy chalk white, the horizontal between Lake Titicaca and Expanse is lost, I’m lost in the tingling ache of frozen fingers and the raw fatigue vigilance of piloting the stickyslick orange clay road, slogging puddles and stones and bike sideways. One thousand one hundred, always there.

* * *

Next day next, Peru’s green a disappeared afterimage and the peaks, no less heaven scraping, seem to just pillar spike out of the plain instead of balancing on the shoulders of lesser rock. A string of dusty villages with concrete plazas fronting white and blue or tan painted churches, the sun has changed, spilling perpendicular ultraviolet so that the shadows diminish and cower right under their host objects, light’s reluctance to forgive that one finds sometimes in New Mexico or Egypt.

Fewer people I pass just calling out, there’s less social effusion directed at me, the curious need eye contact and a nod to come talk. No mobile coverage, no internet shoebox shops, the quiet and the wind, all of these contrasts to Peru. To La Paz.