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No guides. No place to rent tackle. No suggestions on boats for hire. She had nothing better to suggest than a trek to the main office of the tourist bureau about a mile and a half away—a mile and a half uphill, I might say.
Fortified by a quick lunch, I started out for the main tourist office. And now for the first time I began to realize the vast difference between Mexico City's 7,000 feet and La Paz's more than 12,000 feet. Putting one foot carefully ahead of the other, I finally made it. But by the time I arrived I was in no shape to press my case. In any event, the very courteous attendants had no more information to offer than did the little girl at the branch office in the hotel. I caught a cab back to the comfort of the Sucre Palace and climbed into bed to assuage my splitting headache. Three hours later I was awakened by a sharp shooting pain around the temples. I descended feebly to the hotel lobby determined to question any likely-looking American tourist with a fishy gleam in his eye. A couple of my fellow countrymen were indeed lolling around in the overstuffed leather. If anything, they were in worse shape than I. They weren't exactly impolite; more preoccupied. Just pointed to their heads and groaned. I gave up and went back to bed, still nursing that headache which by now had a queasy stomach for company.
Saturday morning I was no better, albeit a lot colder. The temperature had dipped to 35 during the night and I had acquired a tooth-chattering chill that almost destroyed both my bridge-work and my resolution. I spent the day flat on my back.
Sunday dawned cold and clear. Fortunately, also, my head had cleared enough for me to realize that time was slipping by fast and that I had only that day and the next to decimate the rainbow trout population of Bolivia. Finding a sunny spot in the little park in front of the hotel, I sat down to celebrate. Finally, about 5 in the afternoon, I felt well enough to contemplate a drink in the small bar adjoining the hotel lobby. This I should have thought of earlier. Here for the first time I encountered hope.
The Anglo-Argentinian bartender not only made good pisco sours, he also had ideas. When I explained my predicament he knew of no place where gear, guides, etc., were available for hire, but he did volunteer that if anybody could help me it would be the members of the Anglo-American Club a few blocks up the street. I carefully climbed the hill again (everything in La Paz is uphill), located the club and introduced myself as a stranger from the North who happened to be a member of The Players in New York and the American Club in London. Did they have a policy of reciprocal privileges for such outlanders?
The Bolivian secretary of the club couldn't have been more cordial. He promptly escorted me to the bar and introduced me to Fadrique, another Bolivian, whom I was soon calling Freddie. Freddie wasn't a fisherman himself, but he pointed out a third Bolivian gentleman sitting in a booth who was the owner of a cabin cruiser on Lake Titicaca. Two Martinis later he motioned Jorge, the boat owner, over to the bar where again I outlined my problem.
Both Freddie and Jorge listened with sympathetic understanding. Another two Martinis and Jorge had agreed to pick me up at the hotel at 7:15 the next morning. Freddie was to come along, too. I breathed the rarefied air of La Paz easier.
Promptly at the appointed time Monday a.m., my two hosts drove up in a jeep station wagon and we started up the serpentine road to the Altiplano and the lake beyond. The drive across the Altiplano to the lake went through some of the most barren moonlike country on this planet. A scattering of adobe Indian huts along the way gave testimony to the fact that a few potatoes could be persuaded to sprout in the rocky soil, but this wasn't the growing season and there was nothing to relieve the pebbly wasteland except an occasional mangy eucalyptus tree.
About an hour out on the bumpy gravel road, Freddie, shouting to be heard over the motor's din, indicated that we were approaching Jorge's farm where we were to stop briefly while the patr�n checked on things with his manager. The farm turned out to be a finca of some 5,000 hect�reas, populated by 250 Indian families. Jorge noted casually that the finca had been several thousand hect�reas larger until the agrarian reform three years earlier when he had had to parcel out 10 hect�reas each to several hundred additional Indian families who had been working his land. We honked our way carefully through the stray cattle and a couple of herds of llamas into the courtyard of the farm. After a brief chat over whiskies with the farm manager, we picked up Jorge's fishing gear, the remainder of the whisky and started again for the lake.
Titicaca, when first sighted, is something of a shock, lying as it does so high above the approaching road. An irrigation specialist with a bulldozer would have a field day cutting a channel to flood some of the waters out onto the Altiplano. I was soon admiring the perfection of the numerous lanchas de totora, the graceful boats fashioned by the Indians from the reeds which grow along the shore. We were greeted at the Yacht Club by Herr Rechling, the "Captain." My inquisitiveness over the Captain's German accent brought from Jorge the explanation that Herr Rechling was a German naval officer who had been interned in Peru during World War I until he escaped to Bolivia and began applying his maritime skills to Titicaca boating.