"No, do not go to the tinku" the bespectacled engineer told me. I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Cochabamba, Bolivia, leaning forward, eyes wide. An Indian man in an oddly curved cowhide helmet—a replica of the metal ones that Spanish soldiers wore when they conquered South America—had just walked past, and all at once four street urchins were throwing mock punches and a word I'd never heard was moving from table to table.
"What kind of fight is the tinku?" I asked.
The waiter, grinning, placed my beer on the table. "Once a year the Indians come down from the hills into a village, put on those helmets and beat the hell out of each other."
"Listen to me, my friend," the engineer said. "Let this thought leave your head. People die on the roads that go there. Mountain roads, dirt ones, thin as an old woman's wrist. The trucks have many years, and the tires.... " He rubbed the bald crescent on his head.
"Many other fiestas you must go to in Bolivia," the drunk waiter said. "Go to the one in Copacabana, where the people climb the hill carrying rocks and then kneel at the top and pray to Mary and get drunk."
"Or the one in Quillacollo," said the engineer, "where people pour liquor over themselves and then roll on the ground in flour."
"The tinku," I said. "Where do I find these trucks that go to the tinku? Is it soon?"
The waiter laughed. The engineer removed his glasses, laid them on the table and slowly rubbed his face.
"Americano," he said, "listen well to me. There is no electricity there, no food or water safe to drink. No doctors when you get sick. And for three or four days after you arrive, no way to leave. Think. All this to see Indians make each other bloody?"