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THE FIESTA IN THE TOWN OF GHOSTS
Gary Smith
October 05, 1987
A RITUAL FISTFIGHT HIGH IN THE BOLIVIAN ANDES REVEALS A PROFOUND BUT SIMPLE TRUTH ABOUT MEN AND BOXING
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October 05, 1987

The Fiesta In The Town Of Ghosts

A RITUAL FISTFIGHT HIGH IN THE BOLIVIAN ANDES REVEALS A PROFOUND BUT SIMPLE TRUTH ABOUT MEN AND BOXING

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Every bounce went through me; it hurt my legs and wrists to stay braced to jump. That's O.K., I thought. The others in the truck sat knitting, sleeping. I alone was prepared for a failure in the driver's judgment or the truck's brake pads or....

A screech, a shot of pain, a body flush of terror. I looked down, panting, clutching. A chicken, dying from the heat and closeness, had lurched up in a death spasm and pecked a hole in my leg and nearly sent me over. The Indians looked at me and laughed, and then fell back to sleep.

To the Spanish ear, the village was called Toro Toro. But in ancient Quechua—a modern version of which is the language most of the Indians in Bolivia speak—it was thuru thuru, meaning mud, mud, and during the rainy season no vehicle ever reaches the village at all. We arrived in Toro Toro beneath a sky turning dark, local boys running escort the last mile, flapping their arms and legs ecstatically at our breakthrough from the outside, from beyond.

Stiffly I climbed down. "How far did we travel?" I asked the driver.

"More or less 130 kilometers."

Twelve hours, a scarlet sunburn, a coat of dust, a pounding headache, a mountain range and river crossed, with water lapping at the door handles. Eighty miles.

"When is the tinku?" I asked. "I don't want to miss it."

"Do not worry," a man said. "It will find you."

The mayor offered me a barren room in the crumbling town hall. No running water inside, no bathroom, no furniture. I smiled my thanks for the blankets and cot, dropped off my bag and walked the streets. Donkeys and goats bent their heads, grazing on weeds that grew between the cobblestones.

Now it was black. Little tongues of candle flame tottered down the streets, tottering shadows closely following. Nearly everyone was drunk. A wooden cup was thrust in front of me. "Tome," said a voice. I stared into the cup filled with chicha, a home brew made from fermented corn the color of a puddle half made by rain and half by a drunk with an aching bladder. I drank.

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