PATIENCE

Traveling deep in the Peruvian mountains. photo Lorraine Caputo

 

About 12:17 p.m. / still Cajabamba, Peru

Well, this combi I am on that was supposed to leave at 11 or 11:30 (Which sir? I had asked the driver—Oh, 11:30, he’d assured me) still has not left. He just told a couple they would have enough time to go have lunch (ahem).  Several other passengers have demanded their money back. 

But the price is right—four soles, instead of the five other companies are charging.  However I can save a bit here and there.  And, well, we should get to Huamachuco within three hours, or about three-thirty.  That’ll give me enough time to really scout around for the cheapest hospedaje.  Ay, the challenge, the joys of long-term traveling when your money’s running out! 

 

I take a break from my scribbling, three lines per space to save paper.  I walk around to the side of the microbus, shoving my notebook into my shoulder bag.  In the shade of the building, I take a drink to cool the heat of this growing day.

The driver’s assistant is stuffing a bag into the already jammed boot of the combi.  After shouldering the hood closed, José joins me on the sidewalk.  The smoke of his just-lit cigarette drifts past his dark, tired features.

“Already a long day, eh?” I say as I take his offered cigarette.

“Yeh.”  His dirty fingers shake the match flame out.  He drops it to the ground.

Our conversation wends to the trip we are about to take.  What Huamachuco is like, where would be a good, cómodo place to stay.  He looks young.  “How old are you?”  I watch his eyes watching the bustle of still-boarding passengers.

“Oh, seventeen.”

I would have guessed him to be younger.  But his hands are scarred and nicked.  Pale blood oozes slowly from a fresh cut.  “How old were you when you began working?”

José takes a drag from his cigarette.  The ash falls at his feet.  “Ten years old.”

I raise my eyebrows.  “Did you get a chance to finish school?”

“No, not even primary school.  I don’t think I will ever get a chance to finish.”

A short, thin man stumbles up to us, under the weight of a heavy bundle.  José stubs his cigarette out with his tire-soled sandal.  Dust billows, coating his gnarled feet.

I had better get back inside, before my seat is taken.  As I climb aboard, I see José’s face peer over the top of the microbus.  He gives me a slight smile and a quick wave of the hand.

 

Hmmm—we’re getting mighty full here.  People are arguing with the ticket seller about which seats are already sold.  The few ones left are given to women.  The only passengers that are standing are men.  I guess chivalry is still alive and well here.

So, how many people can fit into a Peruvian combi?

           

The motor starts up.  I pull my watch out of my pocket.  It is now nearly one p.m.  And still the arguments.  Jam the passengers in, rake the money in.

Just as we are pulling out, a mob comes running, waving for the microbus to wait.  Up the side ladder they climb.  Thick, tough toes, cracked heels flash by my window.  Now we have six—no seven, eight, nine, ten—here comes number eleven atop.

We rock down the road out of this town deep in the highlands.  Eucalyptus forests scent the early afternoon.  Adobe homes of rich beige, gold, lava-red melt into the earth.  They are plastered with mud mixed with straw that glistens in the sunlight.

In the warmth of that star through my window, I nod to sleep.

 

About 1:30 p.m. / who knows where

And I am awakened by the sudden stop of our combi. We are in front of a half-dozen or so houses.  In their yards chickens peck around drying roof tiles.  Round adobe kilns hunch like beehives.  A donkey brays.

Every one is ordered off.  A few, though, stay on board, like that young mother with her infant wrapped in a soft-yellow crocheted blanket.

The driver and his assistant crawl beneath.  The call for this wrench and that socket echoes up through the labyrinth of the chassis.  Stones crunch beneath the weight of the transmission as it hits the ground.

After fifteen minutes I reboard to escape the blazing sun.

Out the streak-glared windows, I see other transports sway down the road.  A large truck stops.  Many of our passengers make a dash for it and leave in a cloud of dust.

From outside I hear others talking with the driver.  Leaning against the side of the microbus, wiping his hands with a tattered rag, he says, “Oh, it’ll be about a half-hour.”

Some one responds, “One and a half hours?”

“No, no,” the driver assures him.  “No more than an hour.”

 

Oh, well, we’ll see how this goes.  The first rule of traveling, whether on a journey or through life, is patience, patience.  You get there when you get there.

 

The young mother comes up and watches me write.  Quiet María says she is sixteen years old.  She sits on the seat across the aisle and pulls up her shirt.  A bright blue cardigan hangs off her shoulders.  María’s eighteen-month-old daughter takes the offered breast.  The child’s frowning face is plastered with wild hair.  She coughs often and loosely.  A high-crowned hat shadows her mother’s already furrowed brow.

A fire slowly chars a distant mountainside.  Its smoke reaches for the low clouds drifting by.  A gust of wind whips up dry eucalyptus leaves, silvering the sky.  A yellow plastic bag sails away.

Now those men underneath are draining the casing.  One soda bottle is already filled with dull oil.  Another bottle, still filled with soft drink, is passed around until it is empty.  It gets handed beneath.  The grey-filmed lubricant swirls into the container.

The driver calls out, “I need a 22 wrench.”

His assistant digs around the tools left below, then madly runs inside the combi and rummages in the toolbox.  “Damn,” José mutters softly.  He leans out the window.  “I can’t find any 22 wrench.

 

2:26 p.m.

A while ago the ticket man swore to everyone all would be set to leave at 3 p.m.—and he took off back to Cajabamba to buy a part.

Down at one house sunk into the earth, people drink chicha. They sit on muddied-in benches under the overhang or on the embankment in front.  A woman brings out a pitcher.  When it is empty, she takes it back inside to refill.  The fermented corn smell hangs in the air.

A man walks up to the front door and calls in, “Give me some of that chicha, María.”

 

(Every woman seems to be named María.)

 

Another truck comes along.  Most of our passengers run for it.  Some are demanding their money back.  The driver passes his greasy fingers through his black hair.  “Please wait.  Patience, have patience.”

We are now only perhaps twenty-five.

A discussion ensues between that man and two others.

One señor smiles, “Didn’t you have any idea it was in bad repair?”

The second ones barks a laugh, “Why, why are you running a vehicle in such bad shape?”

Our driver smiles.  The sun catches on his gold caps.  “Well, my father thought something might be wrong.  But surely it could make it.”

The first laughs, “Thought something was wrong, but still jammed so many people on and left Cajabamba?”  He shakes his head.

The chauffeur shrugs with a broad grin.  “Well, he didn’t know.  It’s just one of those things of God.”  He laughs.

The two passengers turn away, laughing and mumbling, “Just one of those things of God.”

The only people seemingly unabashed by all of this are the young couple.  In the yard of the last house of the settlement, just out of sight, they embrace and kiss.  The quilt wrinkles beneath their passion.  Their radio is turned down low.

On one trip outside with more chicha, I step up to María.  I ask in a low voice where there might be a latrina.  She leads me around the side of her golden-adobe home and points to a wooden shed out beyond. As I climb back up the slope, I see a man and woman lay trapezoid-shaped roof tiles to dry behind the next house.

I walk back up to the combi.  A soft breeze now and again cools the strong sun of these high mountains.  Up on one hillside, families picnic in whatever shade they can find—at the side of a house, under thin trees, or near flowering and fruiting nopales.  Twin braids sway with their movements as they pass food and drink from covered baskets.  Little girls, their faces covered with juice, clutch chunks of orange-colored papaya.

 

I’ve got to remember to bring along more food, even if it’s going to be a short trip.  You never know what will happen.  Hadn’t I learned that rule of traveling before? 

Before all of this happened with the combi breaking down, I’d already eaten the last of my cheese.  I have no bread.  The raisins are gone, too.

 

Other passengers have come inside this microbus.  Some stretch out across seats to nap.  The young María is still here, holding her coughing baby.  She wipes sweat from the small, feverish forehead.  Her daughter momentarily awakens, her small wool-stockinged legs kicking mama’s teal-green skirt.  The driver tells José to go inside and put some music on.  Soon a huayno whines, winds through our boredom.

Another truck comes along.  A few more stranded travelers climb up the high stockade sides.  I ask the man next to me how much passage would be.

“Oh, five soles, or perhaps four.”

I shake my head, “I can’t afford to pay twice for passage.  I don’t have the money.”

“Yes,” he responds, “those without have to wait and have patience.”

 

just about 3 p.m., if not just past

One man sits on a roadside-ditch embankment.  One work-thickened hand embraces the primitive woman painted on a gourd.  He dips a short rod into it. The worn cuffs of his turquoise sweater brush his knuckles.  He puts the alkali into his mouth.  The foam of chewed coca leaves green his lips.  His eyes are as bright as that sun, hidden now by clouds.

In the dense shade of one house, our driver sits down, joining a few of the passengers there.  One woman’s many-layered skirts fan out upon the ground.  She pulls up her knee socks.  Two men walk up to them.

“Look,” the driver responds to their demands, “he’s gone to Cajabamba for the part.  He’ll return.”

“Oh, yeh,” one señor says. “He’s in Cajabamba getting his rocks off.”  He grabs his crotch.

The other man begins to tell a tale.  “Once I was on a similar bus.  Patience, patience, we were told.  It took eight days.”  He shakes his head with a broad grin.

The discussion becomes heated amongst forced smiles and laughs.  Our driver holds up an Inca Cola bottle half-full of chicha.  “Here, drink, drink.”

“No,” the first man says firmly, still grinning.  “Look, my fare, my fare.”

The protester takes a swig.  A man lounging next to the driver reaches for his alkali gourd.  He glances over to me as I walk up to this group, pulling out my watch.

“It’s about two minutes to three.”  I lightly smile.  Ah, the adventures of traveling.

“Patience, patience, woman,” the driver tells me.

“And how much patience am I supposed to have?”  Still grinning, I put my watch back into its pocket. “The ticket seller said we were to leave at 11:30 a.m., and we didn’t leave until almost one.”  I shake my head with a quiet laugh.  We get there when we get there.

The driver peers towards the distant road.  Everyone, too, looks that way.  “Oh, I thought I saw something coming,” he says, relaxing against the wall.  More tight laughs and smiles, more mumbles, “Yeh, sure.”

Part of the chicha gang approaches us.  “We’re going up over the hill to a store on the other side for more chicha.  Be sure to stop and pick us up.”

The driver tightens his jaw.  “What, we’re supposed to be responsible for you?  How do we know you were on the bus?”

One of the men bends over him, looking him in the eye with a hard smile.  “Take a good look at us, and remember to blow the horn when you pass.”

The threesome walks up over the crest and beyond.  The lone woman’s full blue skirts and magenta cardigan bounce with each step through the dry grasses.

Across the road, near where the couple still lies, two hairy black pigs have awakened from their nap.  Their young snouts rout dry leaves.

 

About 3:30 p.m.

The ticket seller has finally arrived in a transport van.  A light sprinkle is beginning to fall as repair resumes on the transmission.  The tools lightly rattle as they are passed from one hand to another, or laid back on the ground.  Occasionally a groan of exertion echoes up through the chassis.

That turquoise-sweatered man again is dipping into his lady gourd.  His sharp-chiseled jaw grinds the coca leaves.  His high-crowned hat is pulled up, revealing those wild eyes.  Burning eyes.

The fire continues consuming that mountainside over yonder.

 

4 p.m.

The order is given.  We board, much fewer now in number.  The couple emerges from the shadows of that house, brushing brittle grass from their clothes and quilt.  The coca-chewer wanders down that way to urinate on a prickly pear cactus.  We all hurriedly take out places.  The seat next to me is now empty.  My former mate had left on another combi.  As we pass the last house of this settlement, a chickens scatter at the dust and pebbles our tires throw up.  A burro brays.

We climb the hill, the motor groaning and gears grinding, and stop at the store atop.  The chicha trio is there, standing out front with a woman and drinking.  A serving is poured for the driver and passed through his window.  He downs it.

 

Now the orange-colored plastic pitcher is making its rounds through this interior, from one passenger’s mouth to the next.  I think I’ll pass on this part of the adventure.  It’s amazing that it’s lasted this long.  Whoops, I spoke too soon.  There it goes back out to be refilled.

 

A man calls out to the vendoress, “Bring me a blonde, bring me a blonde.”

The woman shakes her head.  Her single thick black braid swings from side to side.

“What, no blondes,” he says leaning out his window.  One hand pounds the side of the microbus, punctuating his desire.  “I’m so tired of brunettes!”  He laughs.  The reemerging sunlight catches on his gold-trimmed teeth.  His wife swats lightly at his elbow and turns away.

 

We continue on to Huamachuco, the sun setting lower towards the cragged horizon.  Passengers get off and come on.  Young José climbs atop, throwing down heavy bundles.

Each time, that man is off, searching for more chicha, in search of an elusive blonde.  The driver, his assistant, we all call after him to return.  His wife chases him from store to bar.

 

And so it has been with that guy until we finally reached here, San Marcos, just before sunset.  After those last packages for this destination are down-loaded by José, we’ll be able to leave this roadside restaurant where we’ve made a late-dinner rest stop.  Chilled dusk has almost completely fallen.  I’ll have to make this quick, as I’m writing by the light of the street lamp.

He has sunk into a deep-snoring sleep.  His wife looks quite a bit relieved.  Hopefully he won’t wake up at each and every stop and hold us up any further.  I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will be pleased.  Yep, a señora just smiled as she walked by them.

San Marcos—about half-ways to Huamachuco.  I suppose it won’t be until almost seven by the time we get there.  So much for well-laid plans.  I just hope I can find a place to stay tonight and that it won’t cost too much.  There’ll be quite a few of us looking for a room.

Dang, my light is just about gone.

Oh, well, patience, patience.  We get there when we get there.

 

 

published in:

Lowestoft Chronicle (issue 6, June 2011)

 

republished in:

Far Flung and Foreign  (Lowestoft Chronicle Press, 2012)

 

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JOURNEYS INTO THE LAND OF THE DEAD

Día de los Difuntos funerary procession. Quito, Ecuador. photo © Lorraine Caputo

This, the last Sunday of October, is Visit a Cemetery Day and thus marks the beginning of a special time in many cultures of the world. It is that season of year when the veils between the Worlds of the Living and of the Dead thin, allowing visits to either side. In European indigenous traditions, this special time is called Samhain, Allentide, Hop-tu-Naa, and in more modern times, Hallowe’en … in Latin America, it is known as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos.

Over the next few days, I invite you to embark on poetic and photographic journeys through Latin America’s to witness its tradition in welcoming their Loved Ones coming through the veils.

To set the tone, let’s listen to the Oscar award-winning song, “Remember Me,” from the movie Coco (if you haven’t seen this movie about Mexico’s Day of the Dead yet, I encourage you to do so!).

Safe Journeys!

 

The last Sunday of October

Honoring the Dead in Latin America: Cemeteries & Historical Sites

 

29 October

13 Spooky South American Haunts

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, it’s time to go explore some of the creepy and the scary destinations in South America.

 

30 October

WHEN THE VEILS PART : Honoring Our Dead – Part I

Discussions about the historical foundations for these Holy Days of late October and early November.

 

31 October

WHEN THE VEILS PART : Honoring Our Dead – Part II

Poetic journeys for the days leading up to Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, and another poem about Samhain, all honoring the dead.

 

1 November

WHEN THE VEILS PART : Honoring Our Dead – Part III

Poetic and prosaic journeys into the Day of the Dead, as celebrated in Mexico, the Galapagos Islands and Bolivia.

 

2 November

A Toast to the Dead : COLADA MORADA

Ecuadorians raise a glass of colada morada to honor the spirits of their departed family and friends.

EL JAROCHO

I have spent many hours studying the hatched lines to see where the rail roads go. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Morning

Last night I had wanted to take this overnight train from Mexico City to Veracruz.

I’d spent the late afternoon talking with friends over coffee down in the Zona Rosa.

Time escaped us.

I looked at my watch in horror. It was after seven.

The husband hailed a cab, stuffing the fare in my hand. A hurried farewell.

 

& so we rushed through the traffic of the City, bypassing traffic jams, darting down alleys & side streets.

A brief stop at the hotel to grab my stowed bag.

We zoomed the last six blocks to the station.

When I arrived, there were no more tickets available. They are sold only in the morning.

I walked back to the hotel. Tomorrow I would have to wake up early.

 

& here I am at the station at daybreak, falling in to get a number that will give me a place in line to buy my ticket.

At eight the numbers are given.

At nine-thirty, the man begins calling off our numbers, forming us into a long queue.

 

As I near the window, I remember a dream I had last night.

A man & I were on our way to catch the train. We heard the call for boarding. We walked faster. Our packs shifted upon our backs with each quickened step.

We got to within 300 to 500 feet. It was pulling out – ahead of schedule.  A short train of two cars & a locomotive. We couldn’t believe it. & we knew no way it would stop to let us on.

By ten-thirty, I have my ticket for El Jarocho.

I have to return to the station by 8 p.m. to begin boarding. We will leave at 9:45 p.m. – sharp.

 

Mexico, train Mexico City, Cordoba, Veracruz, Jorocho

El Jarocho was the nickname of the Mexico City-Córdoba-Veracruz train. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

The Boarding

This is a mixed train – everything from second class to the top-of-the-line private cabins. There are dining and bar services. Our locomotive will pull 20 cars in all.

& it is guaranteed to arrive just about on time in Veracruz – a bit after seven tomorrow morning.

But I’m going only as far as Córdoba.

 

Eight-ten. I already am on board in second class. My knapsack is strapped in overhead.

The seats are cushioned benches facing each other. There’s very little legroom here. Behind the seats there seems to be much more space.

 

This train is crawling with police ready to pounce on the vendors.

One man shows us beautifully woven shawls from Oaxaca & Chiapas. When he sees them coming, he tosses his items on the seat next to me.

Every time they pass through, the vendors stash their wares behind seats, and stand by innocently.

But as soon as the police leave, the selling begins again.

 

My seatmates in this first car: Across from me are nine-year-old Eréndira and her grandmother. They are going all the way to Veracruz. Abuelita is originally from Guadalajara. Oh, & the El Tapatío is much a better train than this one.

For some reason I am reminded of the García Márquez story.

To my right, on the aisle, sits Andrés. He’s a pharmacist from Córdoba. He had put dozens of cellophane-wrapped boxes overhead. He buys his stock in Mexico City. Much cheaper, he says.

 

The Journey

~11:35 p.m.

I’ve been talking with Andrés for a while about my journeys. About the life here in Mexico, there in the States, down in Central America. How rich Mexicans are in comparison to their southern brothers and sisters. The hardships & the wars there.

& now I am not sleepy at all …

Earlier, Grandmother had told Eréndira to go stand in the space behind the seats on the other side of the aisle. Now there’s more room for our legs. She has her feet on our seat. Andrés & I have ours on hers.

I feel very quiet right now, holding thoughts of places I’ve been, scenes I’ve witnessed, stories I’ve heard.

Perhaps I will try to sleep for a while. Though I don’t know how possible it will be.

I just want to hold my silence. To hold my thoughts in silence.

 

~12:30 a.m.

We have arrived at some small town – in Tlaxcala state, I believe.

In the glare of the station lights, I see dozens of police on the platform.

Two enter. They see how many we are, crammed in seats, behind seats, in the aisle. They leave & move on down the line of cars.

I glance over to young Eréndira. Her sad face lies on arms resting on the back of a bench. Her eyelids flutter.

 

I fall back into a deep sleep.

& drift in & out of intense blackness. I feel like I’m suffocating. Heavy exhaust soots the air.

 

~4 a.m.

About midways down this car, a woman begins having a seizure. For twenty minutes or so, she screams and thrashes about.

Andrés tells me her condition is quite common here in Mexico. Two of his brothers used to have seizures as bad as the woman’s. But now, with medication, they can control them.

Grandmother, then, begins to tell us of her relatives with this ailment. Which turn into tales of her health and what the doctors say. But she doesn’t believe them. She has always been in good health.

 

Córdoba

We arrive here less than five minutes behind schedule. Not unusual, as we were also pulling first-class preferential and sleeper cars.

The night beyond the light station platform is deep.

Some passengers have quick-trotted through the lobby, to the front. There taxis wait. They pile their packages in and zoom off through the deserted streets. Andrés is one of them.

Others have joined the line to buy tickets for the Mérida train. It leaves at six-thirty this morning.

Within a short while, those people are stepping over rails, hauling heavy bundles. They board two dark, engineless passenger cars.

I, myself, pass the time talking with Chucho, the cook, and Connie, the waitress. A cup of coffee steams between my hands.

At dawn, I’ll get a hotel room. Spend a day here exploring this town and resting.

& come tomorrow morning, I’ll be waiting in that line, stepping over the tracks, boarding one of those two cars bound for Mérida.

 

 

 

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

A time for repose – the desk lay bare of any projects for a while, allowing me to concentrate on preparing a new chapbook manuscript (presently under consideration by a publisher) and making poetry submissions.

And then, like the proverbial “when it rains, it pours,” projects began to come in: the translation of a story by the Ecuadorian writer Cristián Londoño Proaño; editing an article on Chinese literature; an article on Argentina.

And, indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below, journeying to Guatemala, el Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and other destinations between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

…. and until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

poetry, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Central America

Flying a kite on Playa Las Machas, Arica Chile. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“The Beginnings of May” in Writing In A Woman’s Voice (5 June 2018)

“May Day 1998 – San Salvador” in Writing In A Woman’s Voice (6 June 2018)

“Night Watch” and “Mangrove” in The Writers’ Café Magazine (UK) (August 2018)

“On the Wind,” in Blue Fifth Review – Poetry Special (September 2018)

“Santiago Climes” in The Pangolin Review (Madagascar) (8 September 2018)

 

South America, destinations

Santa Marta, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            AndesTransit

10 Alternative South American Destinations

 


 

Need of an article for your publication or website?

Or perhaps a translation?

Or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited?

Please feel free to contact me.

I am also available to participate in literary events.

 

 

 

Recipe Corner : DUMPLINGS

Dumplings -- chicken

Chicken and vegetables with rosemary-thyme dumplings. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Dumplings – that old-fashioned, stick-to-your ribs food that’s great in cold weather!

And, ay, they offer so many advantages for those traveling (or living) on a budget. They are made with easy-to-find and inexpensive ingredients, stretch a meal for many hungry travelers, and are very filling.

But first of all – let’s settle the mystery of what dumplings are.

 

What in the World are Dumplings?

One evening, a German friend came for dinner. “So, what’s on the menu?”

“Oh, I’m making seco de pollo (stewed chicken) but with different vegetables than usual. It has winter squash and green beans. And instead of the usual rice, I’m going to make dumplings.”

“What are dumplings?”

“Oh, they’re kind of like bread that you cook atop a stew.”

“Like spätzle?” He refers to the egg noodle-like dish served in his homeland.

“No, not at all like spätzle.” I have a hard time explaining what a dumpling is to him. But when dinner is done cooking and served, he finds them intriguing and delicious.

 

For most people around the world, dumplings evoke images of thin sheets of dough wrapped around a savory stuffing of meat, vegetables and spices. From China to Poland and Italy, stuffed pasties like these are found on dining tables.

But try as I might, I cannot find out the origins of the humble dumplings as they are served in the United States – in fact, article after article ad nauseum I have read gives no clue. The closest British cuisine seems to have to them are Yorkshire pudding – which has a totally different texture.

 

Dumplings -- cooked atop the stew

Dumplings are spooned atop a stew, and steamed. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Dumplings are much like baking powder biscuits (in fact, except for a few different proportions of ingredients, the recipes are much the same) that are cooked atop a stew or thick soup. In Appalachia, a common dish is Beans and Dumplings – navy pea (white) beans cooked with ham bone or hocks, onion, carrot and celery, topped with dumplings. The most famous entrée, though, is Chicken and Dumplings.

But there are many other dishes upon which you can plop dumpling dough and listo, you have a filling meal all in one pot. You can serve it with any kind of meat, or with beans or chili. The only thing to keep in mind is that the main dish should not be too watery so that the dumplings do not disintegrate while cooking.

 

If you want bread with your dinner but forgot to grab some at the panadería, whip up a batch of dumplings. The ingredients used are quite common. These breads cook in the same pot as the soup or stew you are preparing, and can stretch the pot for many to join ‘round the table.

¡Buen provecho!

 

Dumplings -- chili

Chili with cornmeal dumplings. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

DUMPLINGS

Estimated cooking time: 15-20 minutes (plus the time for cooking the soup or stew)

For: Vegetarians, Carnivores

 

1 cup flour (I prefer to use whole wheat flour, harina integral)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

 

Mix these dry ingredients together. Then stir in:

 

1 tablespoon oil

½ cup milk

 

Drop large spoonfuls of the dough atop the hot stew. Cover and cook for 15 minutes (20 minutes at high altitude).

 

Tips

  • Substitute half of the flour with cornmeal (harina de maiz or polenta), barley (cebada) or other grain. In some parts of Latin America, you can also find legume flours, like fava (harina de haba) or pea (harina de arveja), which can add a different dimension to your dumplings.
  • Add herbs (like thyme, rosemary, caraway) or finely chopped green onions or scallions to the dough.
  • If using dry milk instead of fresh milk in the recipe, use 4 tablespoons of instant milk and ½ cup of water.
  • If going camping, measure the dry ingredients (including instant milk) and package. When preparing at the campsite, add the oil and water.

 

Sausage cooked with onions, carrots and carrots, with cumin-seed dumplings. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

HALF-WAY ON DEATH AND BACK

train, Bolivia

Eastern Bolivia, showing the rail lines from Santa Cruz to the Brazilian border. San José de Chiquitos, my weekend destination, lies midways.

Saturday 10 October 1998

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

“Psst, ma’am.”

A man approaches me. He is dressed in beige pants and an off-white, maroon-trimmed sports shirt. His short, black hair gleams in the sun. “There are no more tickets for today’s train,” this scalper tells me. “Where are you going? I can give you a ticket for 30 bolivianos.”

In this early afternoon, I have arrived at the modern station on the east side of town. I ignore his offer and enter the station to wait. The ticket window will open at 2:30 p.m. I know the fare to San José de Chiquitos is only 18 bolivianos.

This is a three-day holiday weekend. Monday is Día de la Raza (or, as it is known in other latitudes, Columbus Day). I have decided to ride the infamous Death Train that goes to Puerto Quijarro on the Bolivian-Brazilian border. Over the years, several Bolivian friends have told me about this train: a monotonous, hot, mosquito-plagued trip through the jungle. Second class rides in over-crowded, claustrophobic box cars, or atop them.

But I shan’t go as far as the border – only as far as San José de Chiquitos, one of the old Jesuit missions. You see, I’m short on money until my stint at a school begins after the holidays … so short that I had to give up my room until Monday at a cheap alojamiento. Taking the train for the weekend is cheaper than paying rent.

A family also waits, hoping to take a weekend outing to San José de Chiquitos – which is obvious in their dress. All – husband, wife, her sister and two children, in various builds of overweightness – are dressed in shorts. A cooler and jug stack next to them: foods for this trip.

The wind through the open trestle roof sounds like a train pulling up. And amidst this wind, the train does pull up: a small orange locomotive with eight clean, shiny green and white cars. The line that had long begun to form at the gate begins pushing onto the platform and into the cars.

In this line, we talk of how the scalpers are allowed to be selling tickets like they do. The immigration man says they’ve tried to stop it.

At 2:30 p.m., Brazilian music begins filling this cavernous space. A man shines the floor with a push sponge mop.

At 3:00 p.m., the ticket window opens. But there are no tickets.

A short campesino pushes his battered straw hat up over his short bristled hair. His blue work shirt and half-buttoned-up blue pants are messy and lived in. “Go talk with the conductor. Buy the ticket aboard,” he says. The ticket seller agrees, “Talk with the conductor.”

I go to the gate. That campesino continues to follow me, wandering through the bureaucracy, putting in words of support for me. He tells me in a low voice, “He’s in the office … There, he’s on the platform. They’ll charge more, 29.50.”

“But, sir, the passage is 18. I can’t afford …”

“Talk with the conductor when he comes through.”

 

Mennonites have boarded in the last car for San José, second class, the men in their blue-jean overalls. I ascend into this clean, well-maintained car and grab a seat by and the window in hopes … in hopes … And begin writing this piece.

And bit by bit, I am scooted from one place to another in this group. Amidst the last rush of passengers and the slow roll away, I am without a seat.

We depart, into the bright sun and unclear, heat-hazed blue sky. A freight car is hooked behind the locomotive and the smaller passenger bodega car where the poor voyagers ride. We squeal along the tracks, past the long grasses bent by the wind.

Vendors stroll by. A man with watches and pocket calculators. A woman with a bucket over one arm, with bags of cookies. Another woman, chicha, chichia fría, in a green bucket. A man, newspapers under the crook of his arm.

We clunk past the cars stopped, past the homes where children wave, where in one yard a black and tan dog barks. And past more traffic. The train suddenly jolts with a hiss of brakes. A few more journeyers board. A newspaper-wrapped bouquet is placed gently overhead.

And on again … Two bare-butt, pot-bellied children jump up and down in their yard. Multi-colored laundry flaps on barbed-wire and chain link. Off on the edge of a field, tarp roofs of make-shift homes sail. Through countryside of dense brush, palm trees, of garzas flocking up from grazing cows. Treed track-side swamps. Our windows are open to that wind.

Yogurt, Yogurt, a man calls, walking by, tray across arm.

We click past Cotoca station without stopping. In vain, a woman hustles up the platform, bag in hand. The passengers around me look at her. “Yep, the same one who tried to wave it down in Santa Cruz. She knows the train leaves four o’clock sharp,” the man next to me says. He pulls his white ball cap over his brow and settles again in his seat. He crosses his dark arms across his white shirt. Across from that station, in a yard, music plays in a white and yellow balloon-decorated yard.

Refresco, refresco de piña frío, a tight-skirted woman calls.  A red bucket hangs over her arm. That wind whips dust from dirt roads, blowing it into these open windows. A man enters our car, a silvered tray in arm. It is decorated with a bottle of ketchup and another of mustard for those red hot dogs lying in buns.

I lean against the wall of the vestibule, placed half-ways down the length of this car. I sketch the floor plan. Bench seats facing one another. On one side, they are large enough for two and on the other, for three. On the opposite aisle, a young man has his leg up, his high-cheek-boned face, his almond eyes painted with pain.

In a plowed field, the powdery soil clings to tractor tracks. The dirt blows into this car. We go over a long bridge spanning a sandy river. Off in one shallow, a brother swings a boy. We continue over thick jungle, then back through farmland. We bounce and rattle and bucking, slowing for El Pailón. Along this village’s earthen streets and swamps laced with railroad tracks are simple homes.  In front of some, used clothes are displayed on blankets.

Mother holds that son’s ankle, the ankle of that son’s wounded leg. He briefly looks into her almond eyes and then away, eyelids fluttering in desired escape from the pulsating nerve.

A newspaper passes from reader to reader.

And here comes the conductor collecting fares in this crowded mid-car vestibule. I hope for the best … and score a ticket for 19.50 bolivianos. No seat – but I do have a ticket to ride this Death Train!

A bit later on, a man came by, ticket in hand, looking for his seat. We are only more than an hour and a half out of Santa Cruz.

Just dust and wind and dense brush, large farms plowed and fallow. Monstrous silos. Just the bouncing, bucking, jolting into the falling twilight. Golden sunlight for a moment touching leaves. Then fading, fading. The sunset behind us. Pale magenta bleeding across the haze. The ceiling lights flicker like a strobe in this darkness gathering inside. Just mile upon monotonous kilometer.

The newspaper has made its way to that young man with his left leg extended. He leans against the window, cushioned by a blanket, and reads until the light disappears.

A Mennonite man opens the fuse box door. He checks for loose wires, then declares in his Plattdeutsch-lilted Spanish, “It must be a weak battery.” He returns to the rear portion on this side of the vestibule of this car.

I comment to the fashionable woman across from me, “It’s almost like a disco. We’re only missing the music.” She laughs, her thick jowls wiggling. Passing a hand with deep-red lacquered fingernails through her permed, reddish hair. The flickering light plays across her designer glasses.

A railroad worker excuses his way to that control box. The lights brighten and steady. Outside complete blackness blanket the same miles.

But as soon as the worker leaves, the lights quit. He returns and brings them back up …. but they die. I’m writing by flashlight. Eventually we are left in complete blackness.

Sleep begins nipping at my mind. This darkness and so many hours of traveling this day, the heat … Others have already entered that other world. Except those asking the pollo dorado vendor, How much? Cuánto?

Near Posotera, the train slows. Frogs whoolop out in the night. Stars speckle the sky. We creep swaying past a long cargo train pulled onto another track. Once clear, we continue our sojourn across the many miles, no longer able to hear those sapos’ songs.

 

I awaken from out of my hazes at the same moment as the others do. There is absolute blackness within and without. A long village clatters by. What time is it? 9:25. I check the schedule: We should arrive at 2236 (10:36 p.m.) – yet 35 minutes from our destination. The others fall asleep. In the aisles, people bed.

I step out onto the mid-car vestibule. There people sit, drinking and smoking. The orange coals of their cigarettes glow. I return to my seat. Outside, the shrill clatter of frogs can be heard … the clunking clatter of this train. Insects hover in the yellow-white light of my hand lantern. The blackness of the night, of a waning half-moon not yet full. The air is cooler, humid. The light of the locomotive and other cars barely cut the edge of the night. Ghostly light of stars and fireflies.

 


 

Another traveler had gotten off the train when I did. We went to try to find a hotel, but there were no rooms available. All were booked by participants and spectators of a cross-country road rally that was passing through. This was a surprise to both of us – did not know it would be ….

Oh, I misspeak. There was one hotel that had a room available – at the horribly inflated price of 90 bolivianos.

We returned to station and asked the guard if we could stay there. We slept on the cool concrete of the platform.

 

train, Bolivia

The train schedule. The fares noted at the top are for the full journey to the border. The handwritten comments in the right margin are the scheduled times of the Puerto Quijarro-Santa Cruz trip. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

11 October 1998

San José de Chiquitos

If it wasn’t for the lighter-colored day, then it was the clang of the station bell that awakened us.

In those passenger cars awaiting its train to Santa Cruz, metal shades are pulled up. Heads appear out the widows.

The red sun emerged quickly above the cut of the tracks, gleaming off the rails.

The vendors, mothers, daughters and sons, walk along that car and this platform. Café, café. Thermoses dangle from hands.

And from that distance, the horn blow of the locomotive. Bit by bit that orange engine came into view, pulling its string of cargo and baggage car, eight passenger cars.

That star climbed higher, orange to yellow. The vendors turn their attention to the new train. Café, Café. Gelatina. The engine detaches with the bodegas, switches to that side track to retrieve those two cars.

But I decide to wait until another day passes, explore the mission and this town.

The train departs, pulling the second-class cars, the first-class, a dining car, Pullmans, the special thrice-weekly La Brecha. It disappears into the distance.

I then head to the main plaza, just a few blocks away.

 


 

I sit on a bench in the partial shade of a tree, the old mission of San José de Chiquitos just across the street. Soon a priest sits next to me, also awaiting the opening of this old Jesuit church to open. We pass several hours talking about a variety of topics – the history of the first centuries of the Catholic Church, the call for a Third Vatican Council (he believes all the proposed points will be accepted, except women to be priests – even though the Church did used to allow all three points) and the reason for his “pilgrimage” to these hot jungle plains of eastern Bolivia.

He is, by training, a historical architect. He has been making the circuit of these old mission churches (reducciones), constructed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Of the seven that the Jesuits founded, six yet survive and are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This, San José, is the most accessible. The others are more far-flung. He has already visited San Javier, Concepción, San Rafael and Santa Ana, all designed by the Swiss priest, Padre Martin Schmidt, as well as San Miguel. This is the last one he has to see.

 

I notice the door to the temple has opened. I excuse myself and seek escape from the sultry day within the cool, dim church.  While exploring the iconography and sketching the floor plan, I shadow falls over my page. It is the caretaker of the church – and head of the Chiriguano indigenous community. He teaches me about the history of this mission – but most importantly, current hopes of the native peoples, the projects to recuperate their traditions and their arts.

 

The day has quickly fled in conversations … I must now rush back to the station to secure my ticket for the train back to Santa Cruz.

 


 

Past 12:30 a.m.

That half-moon rises red-orange, and as it climbs, goldens to waxy white. Its light shines upon the station – white over forest green – like train cars that run along these rail lines.

The two-car ferrobus for the Brazilian border has come and gone amidst station bell clangs and locomotive horn blows.

A woman bundles beneath covers sleeps on the bench I occupied last night, the widely spaced slats cutting into her dully (as they had me).

I am ready to take my place in that car awaiting on a side track. I have my ticket, I have my place. But now I don’t have the urge to sleep as I did all afternoon, all evening.

 

A bit after 3 a.m.

I am awakened from a deep sleep by the jostling of people passing my feet, standing out in the aisle, the vendor’s calls – young boys and women. Outside the platform is full of Bolivians and Mennonite Bolivians. I resign myself to ending this sleep.

The station bell clangs its warning. In my absence, my seatmates arrive, a couple with an eight-month-old infant swathed in knit hat and sweater. They take all three places.

I walk back out to the platform. An older Mennonite woman stands near the coupling, drinking coffee and eating an empanada. I toast her with my cup. An overall-ed, straw-hatted man of her family approaches us. My Spanish won’t work with her. But, yes, they can kind of understand Hochdeutsch – like I can kind of understand their Plautdeutsch.

I hear the distant rumble of the locomotive, its headlight glowing on the eastern horizon. We hurriedly return inside. The two diesel engines hum deep next to us. They then detach from their chain and pick us up with a clang and bang. Gently we are brought into the body, another link. Again the bang, the clang, the jump back. And the gentle, slow departure through the almost-four-a.m. morning.

The gentle chug of the engines later grows quicker as we clear the edge of this former Jesuit mission, the quickening clicks, the swaying, the bouncing – the bucking of this blackened car into the moonlit night. The brush and trees silhouette against the dark grey sky.

Everyone, it   seems, has fallen asleep, except this poet writing by flashlight. The next car behind, yes, is lit. Someone walks by, stepping over the long lean body of a Mennonite asleep in the aisle.

 

I awakened to a lighter sky. The sun rises behind us, unseen. In a marsh wades an ibis. We click through miles of jungle growth, past miles of girasoles turning their faces to the sun.

A Mennonite man and I talk about the way of life, their religion and farming – and of his family. They are from a community of some 3,000 souls. They originally are from Cuahautémoc, Chichuahua, Mexico but a drought there forced them to move to Belize, then on to Bolivia where they have lived for the past 20 years or so. They have eight children, some of whom were born in Belize and others here in Bolivia. Two daughters still live at home. How many grandchildren do they have? Oh, 20 or so.

Bolivians welcome Mennonites, and are exempted from military service. This religion is known for its hard-work, building communities that have great farming success even in the most challenging of environments. Mennonites (especially the Old Order Mennonites, as the Amish are called in Spanish) are also famous for their old ways, living without modern comforts like gas engines and electricity.

And this couple dresses like traditional Mennonites from wherever. The 58-year-old, clean-shaven patriarch is dressed in dark-blue overalls and a dark olive-green, long-sleeve shirt. His clear blue eyes sparkle as we talk. His wife has a dark-blue dress with blue print, covered with a black apron. Her light-brown hair escapes from beneath a black head scarf tied under her chin. Her face is clear, her hazel eyes also lively – difficult to believe she is 57 years old.

Their community grows soy, sorghum and corn. Yes, they do use chemicals and fertilizers in the farming, as well as tractors. The only electricity they use is for work – none is in the home. Schools are taught in Hochdeutsch, though Plautdeutsch is spoken at home. All of his family, as well, speaks Spanish. He also knows English.

 

In the growing light of day, we clatter past fields studded with termite mounds. All night, a mother and daughter have occupied two seats each – while others stood, including this Mennonite man. The older woman’s face is marked with disgust at the question if he could sit down. And these two only paid for two places, not four. Cochinas, pigs, someone else says on the other side of the aisle. And once more the mother and daughter fall asleep.

We clack over a bridge spanning jungle, sandbars and a sandy river. The winds are calmer this mid-morning. We are not bathed in that fine, beige dusty soil.

In the boredom, in the growing heat of day, the youth across from me in this next group fall asleep, the young women’s heads on one another’s shoulders. The infant of large black eyes sleeps at her sleeping mother’s breast. He awakens, his large black eyes rolling in on-the-edge-of-two-worlds disorientation and flops against the other breast. The Mennonite man perches on the edge of that hog-daughter’s seat on the other side of the aisle, his arms crossed.

We enter the growing city, past a dozen geese and children running towards us. We roll into the railyard and near the station. Shoes get put back on, handbags stuffed. People on the platform look at the faces peering out windows.

The final stop with a jolt. The overhead racks empty, passengers rushing for that center vestibule.

The Mennonite man watches me writing images and lines accumulated in my mind. He wants to know what I am writing. In my desperation to capture them on the page, I beg him for a few minutes.

I am lost in images plowing from hand to hand, from hand to pen, to ink to page as we pull into the station … He had disappeared ….

 

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It has been a few crazy months, with not only commissioned articles and poetry submissions, but also proofreading a dissertation and translating poetry.

And, indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below, journeying to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Colombia and other destinations between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Moonset over the slopes of Volcán Pichincha. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Moonset” and “Horizon” in River Poets Journal (April 2018)

“As If a Dream,” “One Hundred Moments of Solitude” and “Transmutation,” in Eos: The Creative Context (12 April 2018)

 

Also during these past few months, I have had the opportunity to translate more works by the renowned Uruguayan poet Cristina Cabral. Although the six translations are not available as yet, the poems (in the original Spanish) appear in her new collection.

Telaraña: Ecos y sonidos de la Afro Diaspora (Spanish Edition)

 

Galápagos Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

AndesTransit

12 Fun and Free Things to Do in Santiago de Chile

 

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Masters of the Sea – Sharks of the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands Meets El Niño and La Niña

 

If you are in need of an article, translation – or a dissertation proofread, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.