Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lost in Time Lake Titicaca

The people here don't have clocks. They don't have watches, they don't have smartphones, and they don't have internet (as far as I can tell). They don't have any kind of device that chimes, rings, chirps, vibrates, or belts out the opening bars to some Lady Gaga song stuffed into their pockets. Thy don't need to be reminded of the time. Like one of my travel partners, Vadmir, tells me, 'In Russia, we have saying: those who are happy do not need to know what time it is." Such is the case when it comes to the Peruvian people who occupy LLachon.

A small community of maybe 2,000 residents who occupy a portion of pristine beach-side property along the north/west side of Lake Titicaca, the dark, leathery-skinned people of LLachon are as oblivious of the outside world and its turbulent troubles as an American toddler is of ObamaCare or the escalating conflict in Syria. They wear the traditional Peruvian clothing. The women dress in a half dozen skirts which are supposed to mimic the English hoop skirt of old. And the men dress very much in the old Spanish way--black trousers, white shirts, short black vest, a colorful hand woven fabric belt that holds both coca leaves and alcohol, and a fedora for a hat.

I'm currently researching the second book in my brand new Chase Baker series, so I came to this place to stay with a family who run a mountain-side farm and, at the same time, to absorb authentic Andean Peruvian culture. Considering Lake Titicaca is already about 12,000+ feet above sea level,  breathing normally is not easy. Nor is climbing the better part of a small, terraced mountain with a fifty pound pack on my back. But my house "mama," a weathered but somehow bright-eyed woman called Francesca, is already cooking for me over a wood-fired stove. A piece of farm chicken, rice, several kinds of potatos, fava beans, all washed down with tea made from coca leaves.

After lunch, I help out on the the farm, watering sheep and stacking barley. It's hard work and at times I have to remind myself that I'm standing on a mountainside in the Andes and not transported back to one of my dad's construction sites for which I was the laborer during my high school and college days. As we near the end of the barley stacking, I turn to "papa," a man who goes by the name Luciano, but whom I am already referring to as Lucky Luciano. I ask him if he hunts the property further uphill. He doesn't understand me at first, so I demonstrate by making like I'm holding a rifle with my hands, and then mouthing the sounds, "bang, bang..." He laughs and in his hunched over, been-workng-far-too-many-years-hard-labor manner, begs me to follow him back to the main house.

When we arrive, he begins to explain to Francesca about what I want. Only, he's not making like a gun with his callused hands. Instead he's making like I want to smoke. Smoke something medicinal perhaps. Something that might transport me from this world to the outer world. He's got a small chin beard and mustache and he rubs them with forefinger and thumb like he, at sixty-eight years old, is ready to do a little partying.

But then Frnacesca begins to explain to him about what I'm really asking, and suddenly his smile dissolves. Sadly, there will be no smoking tonight. Only thoughts of cooking dinner, perhaps enjoying a Peruvian beer, then going to sleep early in a one room mud brick building attached to bathroom with no running water, but only a bucket filled with water for flushing a toilet with no toilet seat attached.

Maybe I should have smoked with Lucky Luciano. Maybe if I had, I would have no more need for watches, or clocks, or smartphones. Maybe I would have seen and experienced another life outside of the life I know all to well. A life of war, poverty, and political agendas. Perhaps there is something to this more or less ancient existence on Lake Titicaca. An existence that is lost in time, but happy to be so.

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  1. fascinating and beautiful post. i can relate on some level on how i feel after visiting amish country in lancaster, pa. always makes me re-think "stuff" in all meanings of that word.

    you definitely put the V in adVenture, vince.

  2. I can imagine that life. Less interference and more exposure to the senses. Each place has a different smell and feel. Even the sounds are different. When I travelled in Israel and worked on a Kibbutz there, life felt unhurried, uncomplicated. You best soak up a culture when you interact and partake in the daily routines of the people you're with. I remember thinking even the sun shines differently, had a different sharpness to it. Thanks for keeping us updated, amigo, and good luck with the research.