So Far, So Good (8)

By John Harris | February 28, 2003

Speech of Oscar Crispo de Cruz, First Mate of the motor launch Titanic, out of Copacabana, Bolivia, bound for Islas del Sol y Luna, Lake Titicaca, with a full load of tourists:

Pasajeros! Thank you for joining our tour to Islands of the Sun and Moon. It was here on Lake Titicaca that, according to Inca legend, the god Viracocha rose out of the waters and created a world without sun, light, and warmth. This world was peopled by giants. The giants angered Viracocha, who destroyed them with a flood. Shortly after, he created sun, moon, stars, and men. Thus, the Island of the Sun was regarded by the Inca as the centre of the universe, and here they built some of their most impressive monuments.

But I must warn you, pasajeros, that when you reach shore you will get a different story. The Aymara who populate this island will tell you that Viracocha was god of the Aymara long before he was wisely adopted by the Inca. These Aymara supposedly built the mighty empire of Tiwanaku, around the lake, 2500 years before the Inca crawled out of their caves near Cusco in Peru to subjugate the Quechua, my own ancestors. These Quechua originated, the Aymara will tell you, when Viracocha, realizing that men could not live without slaves, mated with a llama. They will tell you that the beautiful ceremonial stones, sacrificial altars, temples, stairs, terraced fields, roads, and baths were built by the Aymara, not by the Inca and their Quechua allies. They will say that the Inca Empire was merely a cancer on the empire of Tiwanaku, a wart that was mercifully removed by the Spanish after defacing the surface of the earth for a mere three hundred years. And finally they will tell you of an underwater city recently discovered north of the island under 20 meters of water, and of the marvellous gold artifacts extracted by anthropologists from this city and stored in a museum. These artifacts are supposed to be conclusive proof of the superiority of the Aymara to the Incas and the Quechua.

But when you go ashore, pasajeros, what will you find? You will find that the vaunted museum of the Aymara is closed! It is closed! This is, along with the lies of the Aymara, another problem for me because I know from experience what is going through your materialistic gringo minds. You are thinking that a return of some portion of your ticket price would be in order.

But consider, pasajeros, this is precisely the reason why I am taking the trouble of giving you a detailed account of the contents of the museum. They are primitive and ugly, as you will see for yourself when you examine the imitations of the artifacts that are for sale everywhere on the island. Also, if you examine the backs of your tickets, you will find there, alongside a map of the island, a voucher worth seven bolivianos or one gringo dollar on the purchase of any food or drink at the hotel of my employer where you bought your tour. This voucher is my employer’s answer to the Aymara. I assure you that it is worth much more than the contents of the museum!

Pasajeros! Ask on shore why the museum is closed! Why the entire north end of the Island is closed! I beg you to ask! You will be told nothing more than that there are "problems."

So I will tell you why there are "problems." When the archaeologists studied the Aymara artifacts from the supposed sunken city, they discovered that the Aymara who lived on the island before the Inca conquest were divided into three warring tribes occupying the south, central, and north sections of the island. Unfortunately, the archaeologists revealed this fact to the Aymara, who promptly split into three warring tribes, in (are you surprised?) the south, central, and north sections of the island. The museum happens to be in the north. The northern Aymara decided that they were not receiving their fair share of the benefits of tourism from the central and southern Aymara, who control, respectively, the two ports of Challa, where we dump you to begin your tour, and Pilkokaina, where we pick you up. At these ports, some of you will, foolishly in my opinion, flood to the banyos to pay a boliviano for a piss, and to the tiendas to purchase so-called indigenous food and cheap imitations of the Aymara artifacts in the museum which is closed. The northern Aymara, hoping to extort some of your money from the Central and Southern Aymara, and incidentally from my employer, and to prevent the copying of "their" artifacts, decided to block the trail to the north of the island, and close their museum.

Pasajeros! The latest archaeological evidence indicates that there really is no sunken city, no Aymara Atlantis. What has been discovered is really just an offshore landfill, where the Inca wisely deposited the primitive religious iconography and utensils and equipment of the Aymara, in order to more efficiently unite these Aymara, and bring them out of their state of ignorance.

So much for the history of this place, of which I have given you a clear and unbiased account so you will understand that the problems of the Aymara are not my problems. I must now move on to other problems. These are also not my problems. These are your problems, pasajeros.

Half of you have decided to go ashore for a short walk to the opposite side of the island and the remains of a fishing village — not, as you may be told, an Aymara ceremonial temple complex dating back 2000 years, but obviously, as some of you will see right away, the product of the same engineering and management genius that produced Macchu Picchu. Passengers choosing this option will have two hours to complete this tour. Keep an eye on your watches, keep up with the others in your group, refer to your map, ignore the Aymara flogging cheap imitations of stupid artifacts, and relieve yourselves on the side of the trail after you leave the beach or before you descend to the beach and the Aymara banyos. This is cheaper, it is more sanitary, and, more importantly, since there are only two toilets, it saves time.

Remember, the boat will leave here at noon sharp, bound for the Island of the Moon, and more Inca ruins. If you are late, you will have to sleep overnight here in Challa, on a reed mattress, with the Aymara, in their banyo, and then be rowed back, flea-bitten and lousy, to Copacabana, in a reed boat, a trip that will cost you two hundred bolivianos and take an entire day.

You will ask why I would not take you back the following day, when I arrive with another tour. Look around you, pasajeros! The boat is full! The boat is always full.

The other half of you have opted to walk the entire length of the island, examining the whole spectrum of Inca engineering and administrative genius, while this boat proceeds to the Island of the Moon, and then makes for Pilkokaina in the south to pick you up. Now some of the pasajeros who have chosen this option really worry me. Some of you, even if you heed my advice about ignoring the Aymara, referring to the map, and pissing on the road, will obviously not make the eleven kilometers in the four allotted hours.

For example the couple in the Tilley hats and matching T-shirts that say "Captain" and "Galley Slave." I mean no insult, señor captain and señora galley slave. I am merely using you as an example because I want you to know that, once you are off this boat,you are not my problem.

Last year, señor, a man your age and size had a heart attack only half way along the trail. We suspect he may have been trying to carry his wife, who was the size and age of your wife. Not my problem, señor. And just last week, the daughter of one couple ended up in the tents of a gang of Rastafarians camped on the island! The couple went back to look for her and missed the boat.

Not my problem. They still haven’t found her, which is also not my problem.

What are my problems? First, I have to get this boat back on time, so that those of you who do make the boat have no reason to whine or complain about punctuality to my employer while you are enjoying the excellent food and drink at his hotel. Second, I get paid for 12 hours, no overtime. Third, my wife, who is young and beautiful, puts my dinner on the table at six sharp. I am a poor man, pasajeros. I cannot afford a microwave. Fourth, a bunch of Rastafarians have recently moved into a house just down the street, practicing their obscene dances and playing their pan flutes out on the sidewalk. These Rastafarians are always watching to see if I return home before dark which, as you may have noticed, this close to the equator, happens shortly after six o’clock, which is precisely when we arrive in Copacabana.

These are my problems, pasajeros! I take full responsibility for them. But I have honestly listed them for you so that you will remember them because the fact is, so as long as you are here on the beautiful and legendary Islands of the Sun and Moon, my problems are your problems even though your problems are not my problems. So
Hasta luego, which means, "see you later," and "have a nice day."


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