Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Thresholds: Numero Dos

Our last night in Bolivia, and the wallet is replete with a stash of miscalculated Bolivianos. That age-old dilemma: how many notes to extract from a bank, when you’re not sure if another source might materialise, how much the next few days will cost, even how many days are left in country. Better to play safe. Which is why we’re splashing out on an evening meal; the alternative is the sharks at the frontier in their temples of usury.

It’s a frontier town, the shops radiating out from the plaza reflect the various tax disparities between two neighbouring countries. Yacuiba specialises in bathroom furnishings: tubs and basins, radiators and Jacuzzis, whilst the standard fare of shoes and shirts, soap powders and hair gels line the route to the immigration office. It’s still a Bolivian town in that the plaza has a triumphalistic monument to the ‘Heroes of the Chaco’;
Bolivar prances on his pedestalled mount, yet we’ve crossed a threshold. The boys sport River Plate futbol shirts and watch the AFA on the television. It’s 'asado' not ‘a la brasa’ in the pavement restaurants. It’s the schoolgirls that wear plaided, pleated, pelmet length skirts. It’s the stacked brooms for the yard sweep in all the shops. It’s the heladeria that offers thirty colours of ice cream, a third of which are a variation on a theme of dulce de leche. It’s ladies riding motos. It’s maté and termos. It’s my bife that comes with only chips; gone are the plattered heaps of boiled rice, fried plantain, shredded onion, with a single garnishing slice of tomato. True, it’s priced in Bolivianos but the sting is Argentine.

Yet where that threshold sits is difficult to determine. It’s been creeping over us for a few days. A dilution of the last vestiges of High Andean culture, that modest decorum now infused with a concentration of European genes, of the rising hemline and the plunging décolletage.  The attenuated transports, the public colectivos reduced to the private car. 

It’s a town that faces south, yet keeps it’s feet resolutely on Bolivian soil, as we’ll discover when we pedal the short distance to the border.