The Altitude Diaries...
Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
12Trip End Jul 19, 2008
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I'm brining them back. Why? Because they're wicked. Fucking cool. They're exactly what every kid needs to wear in the playground; what every adult should wear to work; what every retired person should wear when they travel around in a caravan. They're sexy and they're for everyone. Without exception. One wonders why they ever went out of fashion really. Or, rather, one wonders whether they were ever in fashion in the first place to go out of fashion. In any event, they should be perenially in fashion. This realisation has hit me like a Bolivan head-on-bus collision on my return to Bolivia. What am I talking about you ask? I'm talking about the Bowler Hat. Of course. Yes - you read correctly - the Bowler Hat. You know those undersized hats, spherical at its peak, a small circular brim that features a slight upward curve at the end? Yep, those ones
There's a great story behind the bowler hat phenomenon in Bolivia. Apparently, back in the day, an englishman woke up one morning in Bolivia with a fuckload of Bowler hats. The following thought clearly passed through his mind: 'Um... what'? The man, however, was pure genius, somehow managing to convince the Bolivian upper class that the bowler hat was all the rage in Europe - the height of fashion. And so the Bolivians, incredible, followed, incorporating the hat of death into Bolivian traditions with its own little quirks, such as the position of the hat indicating a woman's marital status. Brilliant. And an awesome sight. There's a fortune to be made in bowler hats
Chapter 2 - Time to recover...
I'm dizzy. So fucking dizzy my head is spinning. Like a whirlpool it never ends. I've also got a massive fucking headache. Huge. Like my brain is about to explode. I put down my bag and untie my shoelaces, the physical exertion of this movement having me huffing, puffing, wheezing. I'm fucking knackered. Altitude is killing me. I hear La Paz whisper 'Welcome to 4000 metres above sea level bitch' in my ear. I sip at my mate de coca - tea direvied from the coca plant, a natural remedy for the symptoms of altitude sickness. Its bitterness goes straight to the corners of my mouth, the remaining flavour resembling the leaves of a gum tree. I begin to hallucinate about llama feoteses, talismans to Pachamama. They stare at me with vacant eyes, their bodies sufficiently formed to resemble an actual llama. They freak me out as they did earlier today at the witchmarket. My head throbs, more intensely now as if the headache does not want to be forgotten. More warn bitterness of the leaves. It should help. It must. I feel dizzy. Like a whirlpool it never ends...
Chapter 3 - The Peace
The colour of the earth rises out of the valley. Red bricks grow from the jammed streets towards the plain of El Alto above. The houses cling, almost favella style, to the sharp incline, watching as the gentle city of La Paz starts another day. Churches dot the overwhelmingly red landscape, the taxis and collectivos scamper and hoot
Chapter 4 - Titicaca
At 4000m above sea level, the water meets the clouds. They hover downward seemingly descending to touch the scared waters of Lake Titicaca - like a pilgrimageto the most holy lands. And then, once they near the end of their journey, they reach down to the sacred waters and drink, filling themselves with the godly body. The sky grows black, the stars illuminating, cueing the clowds to return the water with fury, in the morphed form of hail, snow and icy rain. Ice pebbles fill the streets of the small town of Copacabana, the scene one of white pointillism. They melt and filter back to the sacred lake. The pilgrimage begins again...
Lake Titicaca feels mystical. Part of it is, no doubt, due to the romantic notions often experienced by a traveler. But there's something about the banks of the lake, the way it lightly laps and the clouds floating just above, looking out towards the birthplace of the sun and moon in Incan legend, the intense sound of nothing ness compounding the eeire, mystical aura of the Lago Titicaca
Chapter 5 - The Top 5
So, to the Top 5. As I've earlier indicated, altitude is a fucking killer. Like a constant hangover combined with both vertigo and motion sickness. And then the hallucinations. There have een many altitude (and coca) related hallucinations. Here are the top 5.
5. In La Paz, the city as per normal, except for one minor difference: it has a giant land whale which lives underground and surfaces to eat humans whole. It is after Djana. I must save her...
3. I have found a perfect bathroom in Bolivia. It is clean. It doesn't smell. It even has toilet paper. There are no signs of the previous persons use. I press a button and it flushes. But I am in Bolivia. This is clearly a grand hallucination...
2. Sitting in a cafe with Optimus Prime, talking about the current economic downturn in the US. For the record, the autobots and, in particular, Bumblebee, are greatly concerned by the effects of the sub-prime collapse...
1. I'm sitting watching a football game. But this is no ordinary football game. This is a Bolivian women's game. 5-a-side at the Copacabana Coliseum. All of the women are wearing their Bowler Hats. And their 3 traditional skirts that they wear everyday. And all of their other usual attire. But they are playing football. One rather rotund woman takes the ball with the outside of her foot, brings it down on her breast and lashes it top corner. Is this a hallucination or is this really happening? I ask Djana. She sees it too. Can this be real?
To Peru. And the white city of Arequipa...