There is a fine line between love and hate. This year I gave in to my pet peeve of the term “Gourmet Chinese Food”. Gourmet is French for good taste and the phrase is usually used to describe really cheap bad Chinese take away. It has taken me a long time to admit it, but I love Gourmet Chinese food. Including the annoyance of the term.
Today I danced at 5 stages, each with impressive sound systems, each 50m apart, littered with marching bands in-between. The microphones fed back. The speakers squealed. The dancers swung around grinning, pouring the foam from their beer on the street. Today I gave into my pet peeve of the sound clash. I like to joke that the Peruvian anthem is a car alarm and have repeatedly been annoyed that a collectivo could have 5 different sound tracks playing at once from different passenger’s phones, each turning them up incrementally to be heard over the car radio that was tuned perfectly between 2 stations letting in a barrage of static that no one was listening to. The Bolivian sound clash is something all together bolder.
I wanted to party but I was the only gringo around and the locals were in a collective stupor. The men all wore new suits and the women wore layers of antique scarves dangling thick fringe a foot and a half long that swung out when they twirled, heaps of petticoats under traditional skirts, and plastic bags over their bowler hats to keep the rain off. All of them stumbling and pissing in the streets. The bands sang about cervisa and the caps made the cobble stones sparkle in the rain.
I ducked into a restaurant in the center of the action for supper, and was the only one there. It was decorated like the inside of a reed house on the floating villages of Lake Titicaca. I can see Lake Titicaca from my room. The restaurant was cold enough that I could see my breath. The boy lit a fire in the oven and filled the place with smoke. I sat in the window so I could watch the festivities, the competing basses rattled the window pane. Each pulse making the reflection of the fire dance and come apart. Whats that piano song that goes with chop sticks but you play it with your knuckles? That was the theme blaring from one of the massive sound systems almost my entire meal. On top of the cocophany ricocheting off the walls of the restaurant, the staff were watching pro wrestling on the TV, which at full blast could barely be heard over the celebrations of the Dark Virgin of the Lake. In the center of the room, just a few feet from the open front door lay a nino, wrapped up in blankets on a wicker bench, no sitter in sight, sleeping through the pandemonium.
I decided it would be safer to go back to my lovely hotel than to participate in the party as the locals had all either been very very friendly to me or very very unfriendly. Things were getting out of control and I stuck out like a white flamingo in a pink flamingo lagoon. On the way home I noticed that the men in suits had graduated from pissing in the streets to puking in the streets. Conviniently the streets were raging rivers from the rain.
I arrived here on Friday morning, having been in transit since Monday. It’d been since Monday that I had a shower, checked my email or had a comfortable sleep in a room whose floor was not gravel. I’d booked a very affordable place with hot water, wifi and a view of the lake but when I arrived ready to collapse it offered none of these things. I splurged and checked myself into the fanciest place in town. Less than $100 got me hard wood floors polished dangerously smooth, a delicious shower (plumbed hot water after a week of traveling in a cold desert, sweating up mountains is a luxury I can’t describe) big bay windows overlooking the tourists playing on skidoos, woven reed boats and giant inflatable hamster balls. The back garden is groomed, complete with mini put and a family of wandering lamas. I’m a block from the first in the string of sound stages. I can hear them all clearly from my bed and am cozying down to dream of dueling brass bands, accordion wars and pop song cover sound clashes.