By Darin Wahl
“Hey y’all!” (A southern drawl tends to creep out when I’m selling some slight madness. I imagine that makes me sound more trusting.) “You got any plans this weekend? Think you can take a 4 or 5 day trip?”
“Where? What were you thinking?”
“Ok, so I was deep reading my guidebook because I finished all my travel novels. Anyone got anything to trade by the way? I’m hurting for a good read. Anyway, so I found two or three sentences about this cave and canyon region southwest of Cochabamba.”
“Well shit. We can’t. Roads are still closed. And who knows when they’ll open again.”
“I know that. And apparently, taking the bus is not the way to get there. The area is called T’orot’oro. I think its Aymara or Quechua, means ‘mud mud’ so the bus takes forever. We can fly there.”
“Uh come again.”
“Ok so the book says we’re supposed to find a Swedish guy with a plane. And I got his phone number. So I called him. He says no problem, he can take 4 of us.”
“Yeah. So we’re gonna do it right?”
We met the Swedish pilot at the small airport at a far end of town.
“So you guys looking for a little adventure ey?”
“Uhhh we are?”
“Hahaha. Everything is completely safe.”
Great. We’re fucked.
The flight was amazing. The landing, not so much.
“SO WHERE ARE WE GOING TO LAND? I CAN’T SEE THE AIRPORT.”
We had to yell. At least, I thought we did. We all had those headsets to block out the engine propeller noise. (I love these planes by the way. Feels like there’s not a lot of space between me and certain splat. I flew one of these once. True story. When I was 16. Took off, flew not 200 yards from the twin towers, right over the Verrazano Bridge and even circled the green lady’s torch.) There were mics on those headsets. So maybe I was just screaming in his ears. My bad.
“Just there. On that field.”
“WHAT? I DIDN’T HEAR YOU RIGHT. SOUNDED LIKE YOU SAID ON THAT FIELD.”
“Yeah, that’s us.”
“OH. OK. SHIT.”
We got out of the plane to find people waiting for us. Which I thought was strange. I mean who called ahead? None of us. We gathered our things and thanked the pilot. He asked us to hold on a minute.
“Ok, these people would like a ride back to the city. They heard the plane and ran out here. I’m their only ride with the blockades and all.”
Dang. How did they pack all that luggage so fast?
“So,” he went on “how much do you want to charge them?”
“Well you paid for the flight. I’m already paid. So they’ll pay you.”
“Oh. Well. Oh. Ok, uh what would make sense?”
“Well they are very likely very poor.”
“Right, well do we care?” This was met with shaking heads and shrugged shoulders.
“Me neither. Yeah, so nothing is good.”
“Well, ok. But they’ll probably want to pay something. They aren’t looking for handouts.”
“Oh. Right right right. Well what might be fair? Something like 5 dollars?”
“Yeah. That’s probably good.”
“Ok then.” He came back with our money and after handshakes and a I'll be back next week, he left.
“The book says we are looking for a man named Gustavo. How are we supposed to find this guy? Go door to door?”
“Hola. Como estan todos? Turistas? Hablan español? Con que puedo ayudarles?” (Hello. How are you? You are tourists? Do you speak Spanish? How can I help you?)
“Uh no gracias. Todo bien. No gracias.” (Uh, no thanks. We’re all good. No thanks.)
(This, thinking back now, seems like a dickish response. But sometimes, after traveling for a while, there is this automatic polite response/dismissal to folks who make a beeline for obvious foreigners and start a conversation. We just didn’t really understand the context of this town yet.)
“No problemo. Ofrecemos diferente opciones. Permitame explicarles. Si?” (No problem. We offer a variety of options. May I explain them to you?)
“Señor. Gracias, pero no gracias.” (Sir. Thank you, but no thank you.)
“Hey, well maybe he knows this Gustavo. We should ask him.”
“Oh yeah. Ok.”
“Actualmente, conoce usted un hombre se llama Gustavo?” (Actually, do you know a man named Gustavo?)
“Si, por supuesto. Yo soy Gustavo. Lo unico en el pueblo. Soy un guia.” (Yes, of course. I am Gustavo. The only one in town. I am a guide.)
“Oh HO! Ok then. This is Gustavo. That was easy.”
“Perdon perdon Gustavo. Mucho gusto. Nosotros buscamos un guia de este region por tres dias. Esta usted disponible?” (Sorry sorry Gustavo. Nice to meet you. We are looking for a guide for this area for three days. Are you available?”)
“Si si claro.” (Yes, of course.)
“Cuanto es?” (How much is it?)
“Dos dolares por dia.” (2 dollars a day.)
“Cada uno?” (For each of us?)
“No, para todos.” (No, for all of you)
“Oh damn. I think that 5$ was way too much.”