Sunday, April 26, 2009

Farewell, Cocha

I love farewell pieces. They give the perfect opportunity to reflect on exactly what it is about a place that moves you, and somehow makes it easier for you to communicate this to others. A recent favorite that comes to mind is Julie Schwietert Collazo's tribute to her Mexico City apartment.

I won't attempt to write so eloquently, but in the spirit of goodbyes (I depart tomorrow), here are a few things I'll miss about Cochabamba:

1. Street calls

Mexico City has its iconic traveling tamale vendors, but the Cbba. isn't lacking in musical street sounds by any means. There's the lady who walks by on Sunday mornings (I just heard her) selling the local paper, Los Tiempos. "Tiempooooooooooos! Los Tiempoooooooos!" she cries.

And the guy with the fruit cart: "Mandarina, papaya, plátano, mandariiiiiina!" He never fails to incite a response from the pack of dogs living on our block. They howl after each nasal, megaphoned call. Sometimes, he'll mock them, howling back into the microphone. It's hilarious.

2. Whistle of the guards

Another frequent noise is the multi-pitched whistle of the street guard. His post is a little blue, outhouse-type shed at the end of the block. We're still not sure whether he uses the whistle to scare off would-be criminals, or simply to prove to the neighborhood (and himself) that he's not sleeping on the job.

3. The mountains

Every time I step out the door, every time, it hits me. The green mountains that rise bulkily to the north of the city are so soft, almost like a big mound of moss; the texture is so tactile. When clouds roll in and coat the hills in fog, I have to pop outside and look.

4. Las Islas

North of the river, where the houses get a little nicer and the clubs/bars/restaurants a little swankier, there's a half block of street food heaven known as Las Islas. I developed a routine over countless visits: taco, salchipapas (hot dog and french fries), anticuchos (skewers of grilled cow heart), and then maybe, if I'm feeling uppity, one more taco. Oh, I can smell the grill smoke now.

5. The taxi guys

Just down the block is a taxi stand. I'm not sure why or how it exists, because as far as I know it's the only one in the city, but that's where I catch a cab to work each morning. Two or three drivers have picked up on my schedule, and there's always at least one waiting for me.

The first is more talkative. He likes to tell me about the snow that falls on the mountains sometimes during the winter, random things about the city. The second only recently confided that he'd once crossed illegally into the U.S. Two weeks walking nine hours a day (or night) through the Sonoran Desert, only to get nabbed in Phoenix, jailed for four months, and deported. I told him Cochabamba was better, and meant it.

6. Rain on the roof

It rained frequently when I first arrived. At work, my desk is in a converted back alley, covered with a hard corrugated plastic roof. There's another over part of the kitchen in our house. These roofs amplify the fall of the smallest drop of rain...I don't know why I like the sound so much, but I do.

7. Coca wads

The legend of the coca leaf is powerful. An Incan leader, facing the imminent Spanish invasion, beseeched the sun deity for assistance. "Ask anything," the god told him. So the leader asked the god to send the Spanish away and save his people. "I lack the power to do what you ask," the god replied. "But I can give you this, the coca plant. By chewing its leaves, your people will find the strength to face the hardships to come."

Most people here chew coca. The characteristic cheek wad and strong, planty odor are commonly seen and smelled. Also common are discarded wads, mashes of moist green flung onto roads and sidewalks. Coca's link to the past, and its role in current international and social affairs, is fascinating.

8. The best chorizo sandwich in the world

Uh-huh, the best. And it's the best because I discovered it, at the little no-name restaurant on 16 de Julio, just north of Heroinas. Everything she makes there--empanadas, chola sandwiches--is delicious, but the chorizo...I'll dream about it for years to come.

The little brown sausages, stewing in oil juice in a big pot on the grill on the sidewalk, scooped into a bread roll, topped with a seasoned salad, and finished off with a picante

9. Cristo de la Concordia

To be honest, I don't usually notice the world's largest Christ statue standing watch atop the hill just east of the house. It's become a predictable element of the city background. But every once in a while I will. Maybe he's shining bright white in the mid-afternoon sun, or perhaps lit with what we like to call disco lights (they change color) at night.

In some subconscious, intangible fashion, he's the soul of Cochabamba.

I still don't feel as if I'm leaving--maybe because I haven't even started to pack. But tomorrow night I'll be gone, and realistically, it's doubtful I'll ever see this city again, my home for 98 days.



Kathy Amen said...

I've really enjoyed learning about this city I'd never heard of thru your posts! Glad you've had the experience of living with mountains in sight--nothing beats it. I still remember the way the mountains looked from my front yard in Great Falls, Montana, when I was a little girl. Maybe someday I'll get to live with such sights again...

Kel said...

Thanks for this post, Hal! Skewered cow hearts-- I am intrigued. How does it taste?

Where are you off to now? And for how long? Do you & C plan to be in South America for the rest of 2009? Miss you guys.

I too really enjoyed reading about Cochabamba...I look forward to finding out what the next destination might be!

hal said...

Cow hearts=delicious.

Yeah, should be down here for the rest of the year. Heading to Cuzco now, later Patagonia, and finally ending up in Buenos Aires.

Come visit!

Kel said...

awesomeeeee- on both the cow hearts & the travel plans :) oh gosh a visit would be the coolest thing EVER. my "vacation" this summer consists of seeing the 2 phish shows at the Gorge with chip. VERY much looking forward to it. but, maybe i could try to get some $$$ together for a trip down south around november or so. that would be amazing. i'll have to think about it! but keep me in mind :)

Stacy said...

hey, still not got my questions in order, living out my last months in spain in style ;-) Thanks for the offer though and will be emailing you soon, this post has certainly got me back on an excited mindset :-) Where next?