I have been here four days and already I feel that small town sense that you are never anonymous. The greater La Paz/El Alto area is home to 1.65 million people, but sometimes it feels like 1.65 thousand.
He asked if I had done Death Road, and I said I hadn’t. I had thought about it when I was friends with Pete, Justin, and Rick, but never did. He told me all those guys have gone back to the US and New Zealand now, but Chad is still around. I said something about him being a strange guy, and Mateo responded “yeah, he’s so serious!” I had actually kind of meant the opposite. But then again my experiences with him were off the road, in his apartment. Him complaining about the maid throwing away his drugs or having to bribe a Bolivian police officer when he was caught riding his motorcycle without a license. Or maybe it was the afternoon I was having lunch at the apartment and he wandered into the kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs sized for a 10 year old boy. He’s no large man, but as he bent over to get the bag of milk from the fridge, Pete told him “crack kills.” Apparently that’s not a common saying in New Zealand.
Directly after, I met R for lunch. And of course, I wasn’t hungry one bit. So we went to the pizza place on Plaza San Pedro and split a small. Even then I couldn’t hold up my half of the bargain. But as we chatted, he told me he knows a woman who is moving out of the Namas Té building on Saturday. When I had asked earlier in the week the owners of the building, Cesar and Hector, they told me a room would be open Monday. So it seems that’s the room I’m taking. Some times it feels like R knows every foreigner in this town.
I talked to Dan, the new bar manager, while I waited for my food. I noticed someone with a tattooed arm in my peripheral vision, just as Dan said, “Oh, those are the guys from Tito’s Tattoos. Do you know about them?”
“Yeah, I’m familiar with Tito’s” I said.
Dan and I then discussed how neither of us would ever be decisive enough to get a tattoo. In the meantime I sent Alé a text telling them Edwin (the owner) and some other guys were there. Later he asked me who had been there, and sounded disappointed they hadn’t let him know they were going.
Dan eventually wandered off, and I waved at Edwin down the way. He and Gonz both waved back. Edwin came over and said hello, asked when I arrived, etc. He told me they had all been in Iquique for a convention, and then wandered back saying that some of the guys from Iquique came back with them and he should go talk to them. Instead he wandered over to Simon and talked to him a bit. I suppose making his rounds and performing the part of man about town for his out of town guests.
I finished my sandwich and rum & coke in almost perfect timing to leave at 8 as I had planned. I put on my jacket and grabbed my bag. I walked over to the group of Tito’s guys to say goodbye to Edwin, hoping for more introductions or at least a short chat with Gonz. Instead I just told Edwin I’d see hopefully see him soon. He asked if I was coming back tonight, and I told him I probably wouldn’t be back at the bar. I said goodbye to Simon and he said he’d see me tomorrow. I said goodbye to Elena and Oscar on the way out, too and headed down to the Prado.
A few paces down, I found a clearing where I thought I’d be able to spot Alé and set out looking around. Shortly after I heard a loud whistle coming from the center walkway. I looked up, and there was Mateo on his bike. I rushed across the street before the next wave of cars hit, and gave him a hug. And again, I stopped feeling like a foreigner, and again felt at home. This place is too small. But in a good way at the moment. Running into acquaintances in the bar you both frequent is one thing, but seeing a best friend randomly on the street is another. We just chatted briefly, then he rode off and I ran back across the street, where I eventually met Alé. Sure, I was in a half drunken haze, but I thought to myself, no matter what, it’s a good night when you feel at home.