Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Worst Day (In Various Tenses)

I wake up with a surprise hangover. I thought it was only a hangover. It’s 7.30 and Jordi is knocking on the door. We are due to go to the Potosi mines at 9am. I’ve heard little about the mines and read less. That is my way. I’m undoubtedly guilty of peer pressure. I’m going to go even though I don’t fancy it at all this morning. My four Uyuni compatriots are going. I feel dizzy. My relationship with Bolivian food/hygiene has been, lets say strained and I’ve got this mystery hangover (I only had a few glasses of whiskey the night before, to warm me up).

I get through a portion of my breakfast. We get to the office and are served a coca leaf tea. I’m waiting to feel better though. The tour guide thinks I look like Sting or, on reflection, Bryan Adams. I don’t feel like talking about this. He goes on to explain some stuff in the van on the way. I’m not really concentrating. In fact I’m now spinning out. We arrive in the area of Potosi below the mines. I can't really tell you how disappointed I am to learn we actually have to dress up as miners. I hate tours. I’m now wearing mismatching false waterproofs and a pair of wellington boots two sizes to big for me. I’m hoping I don’t have to walk much. I think I am going to throw up.

I can’t really say what happened in the mine itself either. I just know it was the worst 50 minutes of my life. I remember the guide putting a cigarette in the mouth of an effigy of the devil mounted on the wall. I remember not being able to breath properly and mechanically moving in the appropriate directions whilst telling myself it will soon be over – to not breakdown. I’m having a panic attack in short. I’ve got a fever. I remember crawling through holes and ascending a broken ladder in pitch darkess with a litre bottle of water in my hand. I remember hoping my knee doesn’t go again and that I don’t lose my oversized wellington boots in the hole 30 meters deep below me. I remember nearly thinking it was funny to be in the middle of Bolivia enduring a panic attack with chronic diahorea in the most dangerous ‘tourist attraction’ you are ever likely to set foot in.

Over lunch my friends avoid my eyes and occasionally, only half jokingly, ask where I am. I’m glad when its over because, although I don’t have a bed to go to (we are leaving for Sucre today), I don’t have to look at food anymore. I can lie on my bags in this weird seminar living room attached to the Hostel Felimar and close my eyes. The others do their last bit of sightseeing. I don’t want to see anyone. I really am not ‘here’. I want to be somewhere else, in a different body.

I don’t think I sleep in this room at all – I merely hallucinate myself into the dirt under the shoe of the hero of an action movie that is playing incredibly loudly on the television on the otherside of a glass divide. (The architecture of this place was crazy). I can only concentrate on the obstacles to sleep. I am action movie anxiety on uncomfortable rucksack. I don’t know when I realised I was locked in this room exactly but at some point it was inevitable, ill or not, that I was going to need the toilet. The manager has long disappeared from reception. For the first time in my whole trip I am homesick. In fact I am absolutely paralysed by homesickness. I want to cry but I know my stomach will contract if I do. The disappeared manger turns up on the other side of the glass as I’m pissing into a 2 litre bottle of water on my knees. Out of shame (or maybe its the influence of the movie) I perform a sort of rolling dive behind some chairs and am pleased I don’t spill a drop. I am very sick close to tears action movie under a table man.

We set off for Sucre having said goodbye to Fernando. Apparently we nearly died twice on route owing to a chirpy but ultimately psychotic taxi driver who only takes over on a good bend. I am still only remotely aware of what is going on. I remember Jordi telling him he would’nt pay him if he didn’t slow down. In Sucre the boys are indecisive about what they want to eat. I am still adverse to the idea of food and resent the fact that there indecisivness is making me walk around half the city. If I wasn’t so dizzy the whole time I would go off on my own. I only want a bottle of water. Eventually they select the shittiest place I have ever seen with a young waitress that, despite my best attempts, looks utterly bemused at my request for ‘agua’. She is now turning around and looking to her mother for support as if I have asked her something indecent. The intervention of my native Spanish speakers appears to do nothing to resolve the sitution - the girl simply doesn't understand the word agua. Eventually I loose my temper, get up abruptly, walk over to the fridge behind the bar, take out the bottle of the liquid in question (which I can plainly see) and, slamming it down on the table proclaim the said bottle as ‘AGUA’ loudly, so that no one in the bar, least of all the bemused young waitress, is in any doubt. Suffice to say I have been oft reminded of this temper tantrum by my friends since. 

It was only later that I realised I had lost or had my phone stolen in Potosi. (As a phone it was essentially redundant but it also happens to be my camera and only access to portable music). It was a difficult day. The kind of which, having survived it maybe makes you a little stronger. My Father would have said it was ‘character building’.