Sunday, 10 February 2013

Moksha Patam: Path to Liberation

‘onest sur, a dun ma hamework, but see, the dug ate it, like’

If it takes the roll of a double six to escape Cumbernauld, you’ll need a treble seven for Potosi. A city of one signpost. So we walk the route through the narrow calles, the one-way streets, out from the old colonial centre, down to the main road. The Navigator has, in the interest of planning research, gone to the length of visiting the municipal visitor centre, more in hope than expectation, gets a map and asks directions. Yet a sixth sense has rung a wee bell, the wavering pen line that they’ve scored out doesn’t flow with confidence, so she seeks a second opinion. Normally we would just head off and play ‘escape the city’ game, using chance and hazard, climbing the ladders and sliding the snakes. Playing the ancient Indian game of Moksha Patam; ‘The Path to Liberation’, only we’re playing in a place with but one sign, and by a variation to the accepted norm: starting from the top right, and concluding anywhere on the bottom rung. Any errors in the vertiginous alleys of Potosi will be a heart-thumping, thigh-screaming, slither back to the start. She tackles one of the many tour companies that run jeeps to Uyuni and they offer a different version. It’s why we walk the initial, supposedly most problematical, part of the escape route, and that I now know that these old colonial properties don’t have gutters. Streamers of rainwater are cascading off the tiled roofs, right into the middle of the narrow pavements and down my neck. Funnels of road wash from the upper levels spout at ankle level, flushing debris and lubricant across our now slippery, steep paths.

It’s early Sunday morning and we roll a six to start, set of
before the trucks take to the new week. The road should be quiet, or so the theory goes. True, the trucks aren’t out but the drunks are. Staggering, weaving, sleeping. On foot and behind the wheel. This makes for some interesting decision-making when asking for directions. Normally we try to hit on the student types, generally with success; only today they are not of this world. The old men who seem to be so easily charmed by the Navigator, aren’t up yet, so we resort to the colectivo drivers and the taxi men, at one point even following one through a chicane of criss-crossing broken roads, rail lines and contra-running down one way streets.

We’ve tried the map, but the blank areas on the plan that we’d taken to be cliffs, mines or slag heaps, turned out to be ‘dragons dens’. The bits the cartographer either forgot to explore or were lost in transcription. The places the old mapmakers filled with mythical serpents and sea monsters. 

Of course we enentually roll the treble seven; it just takes several attempts. We nearly circumnavigate the board, or at least the rotating restaurant on top of the tower in the park.
Discover that Real Potosi are playing the tiger stripes of yellow and black, that sunrise is not too early to be purchasing your home team’s harlequin jester cap of lavender and white, or to top up on last night’s inebriation. A tour that takes in a long, distended queue of men waiting for…I’m not sure what, but as it’s Sunday it can’t be the usual suspect; a bank. The half-hidden settlement lake of leaden slate sediment from the zinc and tin mine, or the ominous translucent green burn that oozes from a pipe. The blown, discarded virginal white swan, carved from Styrofoam, that’s fallen from yesterday’s wedding car. It’s a tour that the municipal tourist officials don’t sell and might not want the visitor to make; it’s the tour that the travelling cyclist always and inevitably finds. 

We did do our homework, we just didn’t do it all. Didn’t
follow through to the conclusion. Had we, we would have found that the single road sign with it’s solitary name was the short cut that would have saved a long tour and lost a short adventure.