01 home | 02 news | 03 biography | 04 discography | 05 tour dates | 06 lyrics | 07 reviews | 08 road stories | 09 gallery | 10 media

To Coroico by Carl Cleves

Page 8

To Coroico

I can't quite remember when or where I first met Herman. Herman was a quiet and unassuming person who can slip through people's lives unnoticed, a fine quality, especially in a traveller. We were both in Taquile, but in retrospect I am uncertain whether we actually crossed paths on this magical island, but I know for sure that Herman was with me in the Valley of the Moon. I am certain of this since on that memorable day Herman and I had drunk a hallucinogenic brew stewed from the inner peels of the San Pedro cactus. It had been given to me by my self-effacing friend and we had shared the drink and the experience. Herman had collected the plant somewhere during his wanderings and knew how to separate the poisonous outer layer and inner core to extract the potent hallucinogenic which, he told me, had been used for centuries by the local Indians. He had dried the plant and pounded it into a fine powder. We had taken a bus out of La Paz to visit a valley where erosion has carved a stunning lunar landscape out of the sandstone mountains.

Herman was a Dutchman. Red hair and freckled face, good-natured and stoic, like myself a wanderer and learner. Once we reached the Valley of the Moon we lit a fire and brewed the cactus-extract. Its potency lasted for 15 hours. Soon we had turned into the mountain-elves. Tashi, Herman and I wandered through the maze of deeply eroded ruts walled by yellow sand rock, we collected mountain flowers and sang what I now recall to be the songs learned from the Quechua Indians, though that too might have been fashioned by my dream state brought on by the cactus-potion, since I don't speak any Quechua. We frolicked, laughed, lost and found ourselves, exploring the haunting valley until the late afternoon. Somehow we remembered the curfew and managed to board the bus back to La Paz.


Entering the city was like stepping into the nightmarish world of a Jeroen Bosch painting. There was a sense of panic in the air as everyone rushed to get home before the curfew. Restaurants closed, shops were boarded up, market sellers hurried with large sacks of produce, and the streets were chaotic with traffic and people. A drunken man argued violently with a woman, raising his arms, then striking her. I took in the scene in slow motion without having the capacity to intervene. I saw an Indian woman, loaded down with wares, run across the street to be hit by a bus. Armed soldiers were in the street. After the splendid visions of the Valley of the Moon this was sheer hell. Carrying Tashi on my shoulders, Herman at my side, our hearts beating in our throats, we reached our hotel room minutes before the curfew hour.


Tashi, tired of the physical activities of the day, fell asleep at once, but Herman and I, our souls on fire with San Pedro, sat up all night, staring at the four blank walls of our small hotel room. The city had suddenly gone silent. The call of the vendors, the blare of the cracked loudspeakers of the many record shops, the hooting of taxis and buses: all had fallen quiet. La Paz had become a ghost town. I could hear a dog bark half a mile away, just as if I was living on a farm. Then I heard the screeching of car tyres followed by shots. Looking through the window I saw a taxi turn the corner. Someone had not headed the curfew or lost track of time. I opened the window and stuck out my head. At once two soldiers in the street below looked up and aimed their guns at me. I closed the window, my heart racing in fear that they might enter the hotel to arrest us. I had met a Japanese traveller who knew only a few words of English and no Spanish at all. Unaware of the curfew he had ventured into the streets. He was immediately arrested and taken to a football stadium where he was interrogated and forced to march with other prisoners until dawn in the freezing cold, guns pointed at him. Herman had only used up half his supplies of the sacred plant. After that night we swore we would consume the rest in a better environment, never again in the city of La Paz.

(To be continued)