Va a Ser Mejor
by Ahairytoe on August 27, 2011
When I began this adventure, I have to say, I wasn’t feeling myself. I had just come out of a drawn-out, complicated, and overall exhausting break up with my partner. For the previous two years, I had been living in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, the valley of longevity as some might know it, teaching English. It was there that I met him. But things fell apart, as things sometimes have the tendency to do, and I found myself sobbing into my sleeping bag, alone, on a night bus to Piura, Peru. Perhaps not the most hopeful way to start a new adventure. But there you have it. My plan, not that there was much of one, was to get down to Bolivia as quickly as possible and do something, anything to take my mind off the life I had so abruptly left behind. I raced down the Peruvian coast as quickly as humanly possible--the thought was to keep busy and not have time to think--and three bus rides and a particularly soggy, snotty sleeping bag later, I came to a much-needed halt in Copacabana, Bolivia.
I arrived in the first week of August, which as any local will tell you, is the busiest and most profitable time of the year for Copacabana. It was the week of the Independence Day festivities, and the town was packed with people praying, giving thanks, and getting items such as small cars or fake money blessed so that they themselves may possess these things in the following year. Oh, yes, and there was beer. Religion and heaps and heaps and stacks and stacks of beer. It’s a healthy mix of blessings and booze.
However, I was in no mood for such festivities as I slipped out to get some dinner among the bustling crowds and street sellers buying and selling everything from alpaca to answering machines, boots to backrubs, cats' claws to calculators. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. I picked a quiet restaurant and sat in a corner with my book for company, letting my depression and solitude wash over me. The waiter brought me a vegetable soup. Then Bon Jovi’s “Always” (in Spanish) began blaring from the speaker above my head. I felt my eyes well up with tears. This is a particularly low ebb in the story, I might hasten to add. Never before had this song made me feel anything except vaguely nauseous. Time to go. I necked my soup and headed back to the hostel.
I had just filled up my hot water bottle and was about to hit the sack when I heard a friendly “hola” behind me. The faces that greeted me when I turned around were those of Skanol, a ska band on tour from Colombia. They invited me to their gig that night at a nearby restaurant, and as my social calendar wasn’t exactly choca, and being a ska fan, I surreptitiously chucked the hot water bottle in my room, rolled on some deodorant, and left with them.
As soon as they started playing, I was glad I had come. They are a three-piece band with Jaimiro on trombone, his brother Chucho on guitar, and Katire as lead vocals and huevos, or eggs. Their upbeat tunes and contagious energy soon had me slapping my thigh and humming along with them. Each catchy tune appealed to me, but my favorites by far were Va a Ser Mejor (It’s Going to Be Better) and Quiero Comerte la Boca (I Want to Eat Your Mouth). Due to hostel restrictions, we had to be tucked up in bed by eleven that night, but the boys told me about a festival they were going to in La Paz, Festival Internacional de Amor, with Gondwana, one of the biggest reggae names in South America, headlining. They invited me to go with them to La Paz. Having a flashback to the Bon Jovi incident from earlier in the evening, I jumped at the offer.
We set off the next morning, not exactly bright and early because as it turns out musicians take hours to get ready. I was there, all packed up and ready for the off, while they were still shaving, cutting their toenails, and deciding which sunglasses go best with which hat. The journey from Copacobana to La Paz was memorable. About half way through the three and a half hour bus ride, you have to cross Lake Titicaca, so everyone is herded off the bus--No, no, leave your belongings!--piled onto a small people-shaped boat and handed life jackets. Meanwhile, the bus rolls onto a bigger bus-shaped boat next door, and you cross the lake side by side. It’s quite surreal to say the least. The captain of our little boat told us that three buses had toppled into the lake over the last year. How very reassuring.
We arrived in La Paz in the early evening, and it looked no less than spectacular. A million glowing lights in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains, mirrored by the stars in the sky. We found a cheap hostel, and then the band went out to work. As always seemed to be the case, the music went down a storm, as did the boys with the ladies. But apart from the odd flirtation, they were saving themselves for their ladies back home in Colombia. That night, we went out to sample a bit of the nightlife in La Paz but ended up drinking cocktails in a pretty much empty nightclub, called Under Construction--lots of pictures of women with big breasts in hard hats--as the boys repeatedly attempted to get my Size 8 feet to slide, rather than stomp, around the floor to salsa.
The next day after a long lie in, we stepped out to grab some food before the concert. We were all in high spirits, all being fans of Gondwana, and the boys spent the day singing Felicidad, one of their most famous songs. If you have traveled in South America, it is likely you will have heard Gondwana at some stage. They are Chile’s longest standing and most popular reggae band. We headed up to the concert in the early evening, and by this point, we had managed to get together quite a crew of Europeans--French, Spanish, and English (me)--a group of 11 in total. The bus dropped us off on a slope. As you can imagine, it’s mostly slopes in La Paz, and the driver indicated that we walk up to the festival. We followed the track upwards for about half an hour, crossing rivers and embankments, all the while the sun was setting behind the snow-capped peaks beside us.
The festival itself was next to a big, eerie wood in a huge park overlooking the bright lights of La Paz. We paid our entrance of 120 Bolivianos and followed the path down to the festival. The site was set up beautifully. The stage was at the top of a huge slope--surprise, surprise--and the rest of the park was littered with tents, fires in metal bins for it's bloody cold at 3,660 meters above sea level, and candles lighting the paths throughout the site. There were people selling vegetarian food--I dug into a veggie burger that was harder than Mike Tyson--soups, salads, and space cakes. The only thing not on sale was alcohol, which, for me, being English, was an entirely alien concept at a festival. There were people selling alcohol outside the park but no one was allowed to bring any in. We decided that someone would have to be the “mule” and sneak a few beers in, and being as I was the only one with coat pockets, and being a girl and, apparently, looking so innocent, I was unanimously elected. Outside the festie, we stocked up on beer, and I was loaded up like a mule--pockets, inner and outer, down the leggings, in the boots. Eight cans of beer later, and aftr Katire asked me if I had room for one more, we walked back in as a group, me walking like a constipated tin man. But with the group around me, I slid through security like a wealthy American businessman, much to their delight.
From that point onward, we bounced around to the reggae beats until the early hours. The band before Gondwana gave me piel de gallina (translated literally, "chicken skin"), one of my favorite expressions in Spanish. The lead singer had a voice that made every tension and anxiety in the body melt away like chocolate left out on a sunny day. But it was Gondwanna that everyone had been waiting for and they knocked our socks off. The lead singer leapt on stage, voice booming and giant dreadlocks swinging from side to side. We jumped and shouted and screamed and danced and twisted and twirled through the set. We left the gig tired but elated with Felicidad still on our lips.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes. The band left to continue their tour in Chile, and I had another path to follow. I went on my way humming Va a Ser Mejor, with a skip in my step and a dry sleeping bag.