Miami Meltdown

The halfway house, a certain type of poetry, existing midstream between Albuquerque and La Paz. The American Airlines valve crisis was our curse.

From Albuquerque to Dallas, and on to Miami seemed such an anti-climax, compared with the times which had been compressed into two weeks of the "New Mexican experience".

Some of the English used herein is specific to "muah" and correct translations may not be found in any dictionary/thesaurus (see: spellink, gramatica etc.
The flight from Miami has been delayed, with the new departure time being 11.15 that evening. Time for some Cuban food, which had its own absurdness about it, being "commo food in the land of the cappo". I spend the rest of the time filming snippets of airport activity.

All the way with American Airlines to La Paz, except that its now 11.45pm and the captain is alerting us to the reason why we've been subjected to a constant state of non-movement for the last thirty minutes. He also informs us that we'll be another thirty minutes, as they're changing the valve, which monitors the amount of ice on the wings. Apparatus we'll definitely need in Andean territory. Pushing our ways towards fifty minutes, we're now advised that the valve is causing problems, and we should disembark and board another plane.

I feel like the consummate investigative journalist, having caught the complete sequence of announcements, on my DAT recorder. Admittedly, I was far too kind to film the lady I came across, sprawling body and hand luggage across the first line of chairs, and announcing that she may be incapable of making it to the transit lounge. The result of popping not one, but two sleeping pills, in readiness for north-south journey.

An hour of passengers milling, moaning and staring blankly out into airportlandia. Bling Blong! Now its the head of airport operations, suggesting that if we were to leave now, that it would be beyond the safe limits of extended working hours for the crew. Consequently we should be shuttled (shuffled) (skittled) to various airport hotels.

On the shuttle bus, a young boy who had been asleep since we boarded the first non-flight , suddenly wakes up. Scrunching cheeks into eyelids and rubbing his face to make sure its still there. I tell him we've arrived in La Paz, to which he lazily turns and peers out at the 2am blackness, revealing bright lights and palm trees. "It looks just like the States". Everyone laughs along with this corny Aussie jest. But with thirty minutes past two in the morning rolling on by, its American Airlines who are having the last laugh.

Asleep at 3, up at 6, in the air by 7.15am was the schedule accompanied by my pseudo silent protest. With the increased airport security it was suggested to arrive well over two hours before departure, but that extra hour of beauty sleep just "had to happen". What I hadn't accounted for was the immense line assembled before the security barrage, and I slid slowly from Mr Cool and Calculated International Set, to Mr Regular Glances At The Time Slipping By passenger.

Full body metal detection, including shoes removed and manhandled in search of hidden nuclear warheads. I had only just retied my shoelaces when I was summoned before the "lady with the weird lookin implement". Shoes off again, and tested for traces of explosives, was her part in this new found zest for securing the United States against "evil".

Once on the plane it was on with my zorro mask, in with the earplugs, and off to sleep. In fact most of the passengers seemed determined to pretend it was midnight again. Five hours later, after much tossing and turning, trying to find legroom where no other six footer had found it before, and wondering why seats weren't designed curved so as to suit the average posterior, I revealed to my fellow passenger (Ken from Kentucky.....was he jiveing me?) that it was truly I, Peter Leslie, and not the masked marauder he may have thought. I was also (right now) given an award for one of the all-time long sentences!!

Acting in dreamlike devotion to duty I assembled the video and DAT recorders in readiness for the clouds to part and reveal South America.

With weighted eyelids acting as cinema screen, I mentally replayed the recorded highlights from the Albuquerque days; that first night and the ominous signs of key disasters to come. Front door keys that went missing, shed keys a.w.o.l. and the hollywood endowed epic of Bear (the wayward would-be-mechanic pretending to fix Joel's van) who went "ashtray" with the Kombi keys; then there was the on-the-way-to-work coffee mug the size of a bucket; the sight of American flags everywhere, holding on to car aerials, covering car number plates, on shirts, fences, atop houses and adorning peoples every smile; the wonderful adobe architecture astride the vast tanned landscape; mesas with Pueblo Indian villages atop them, the afternoon winds whipping dust into the crevices of ears, eyes and nose; the taste of green chilis, breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros (eggs over easy, beans, potatoes and smothered in the inevitable smothering of green chillis); sunny days, crisp cold dry air and cracked lips (need I mention an increased need to fathom the depths of my nose!??).

Ken laughs aloud at the re-run of some smaltzy American sit-com. With the twitch of a neck muscle I take in his bulbous nosed profile, the overhead video screen and hurriedly return to my internal wanderings...... the night Hari gave me a native American "dream catcher" and how I perceived this to be a good omen for achieving my year's aims; the nyanga party, where twelve of us spent the night somewhere between hyperventilation and gluing together the poly-rhythmic patterns of Mozambiquen pan pipes. The night evolved into group sound effects and rhythmic games, which always seemed to materialize laughter more than rhythm; Mark's double bass improvisation in the loungeroom, his impassioned rendition of his "Words For Change" rap and guesting on his KUNM radio program, playing tuned beer and wine bottles, mouthbow, pan pipes, poor persons bagpipe mixed live with his disc selections; crawling through ........"hot towel Sir?", as another airline offering comes my way...... caves, wriggling like slippery eels on sand, at times barely squeezing twenty millimeters between chest and shoulder blades. An intricate labrynth of holes and caves, accompanied by a fine dust which still resides in my discoloured jeans; bathing in natural hot springs, high up on the side of pine forrested mountains; street people, modern day hobos, and lots of them; the distant and calming beauty of the Sandia Mountains and the late afternoon walk with Mark through them, savouring the different cactuses and animal droppings, and roaring internally at our freedom and natural beauty; seeing, hearing some great world music, Wagogo's wonderful Zimbabwean-reggae-country mix; the un-named band, featuring mesmerizing guitar and mbira, with three vibrant dancers, groovin' jazz bassist and hip young New Yorker on drums; Chris Berry, who I'd met in Zimbabwe some years previously, who, with his band Panjea, were to headline the huge Woodford Festival (that Tok Pan Tok were also starring at).

Before my traveling show completely wore off, I tread hesitantly into the fast forward life and times of Joel, my respected nyanga pan pipe teacher...... his gorgeous one year old daughter Mariposa, the none too happy mother of Mari, endless "Bear" saga, two bands to play and rehearse with, regular gigs with both bands, new girlfriend Hari, working two days a week at the co-op, lost keys, and this strange Aussie species lurking in the darkened corners of the loungeroom, tooting on tubes. This was a big life!

The tip of the iceberg was that I hadn't even departed from English speaking shores, and yet the words seemed changed, re-arranged syntax; that I could ask three times what "water noise" meant, when actually it was "water, no ice" that was being requested.

At that moment I slid up the window cover to see if our endless journey above the clouds may reveal anything but soft white slumber machines. Those big puffy cumulo nimbus designed as the perfect armchair for angels. The glare momentarily makes me squint, light reflecting against white.

Eleven thousand feet below, through a gap in the clouds, appeared the brown snake of an Amazon tributary. In an instant the cloud engulfed us again. It felt as if we were beginning to descend. Then, another barely discernible brown twister appears below. The evolution of those occasional glimpses, over the next fifty minutes, felt like a peep show. Video camera to the ready, microphone ready to catch the captains announcements, and eyes focused on my momentary pleasures.

El Alto is otherwise known as high La Paz. Its where the airport is located and is at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Then its the ride of your life, down into the huge valley which is La Paz, with the magnificent Mt. Illimani towering above it.
The colours surrounding those occasional rivers went from deep blue green to jungle green, and as we descended further, the mottled green carpet became humped green, broken edged with blue crevices, angular, and finally revealing deep ravines. The Andes Mountains starting to announce their presence. Patches of snow appeared, until seemingly reaching up towards us in some spectacular display of perspective, entered the first of the big peaks. Massive dimensions of ice and angular faces. Stunning visual magic and worth every penny for the peep show.

Juan Vera (hear song No. 2, Juan The Maker, on Tok Pan Tok's Eyes of a Child CD) was an instrument maker who, generously, took me into his world some fifteen years ago to teach me how to construct flutes of the Andes.
As we circled La Paz and El Alto I could only think of Juan Vera and memories of my journey with him fifteen years previously. Would I find him, alive or in what health, or gone to meet his maker? be continued