THE SYSTEM

Some six weeks after leaving La Paz with my modified travel system, small day pack, a change of clothes and sleeping bag, I returned.

The train pulled into the station. It felt like a homecoming. I was glad to be "home". I would go straight to Karin and Werner's house, via the post office. Hopefully some news from home. A cloudless day in La Paz, I was in great health and high spirits. It was also reassuring to step from transport and know where everything was, how public transport operated, how the system worked. The energy really started to bubble as I picked up quite a stash of letters at the post office. I contemplated a taxi for the remainder of the way to the Haacks abode, but was feeling so "high" that I strode energetically onward, reaching their house twenty minutes later.

The security gate on their outside fence was locked tight, but I could see by the jeep parked in the driveway that somebody was home. I rang the bell and was greeted from the house by Werner. But his greeting was strange, almost unwelcoming. Maybe I'd overstayed my welcome the last time, maybe they were in the middle of a quarrel. Werner unlocked the gate and greeted me with a handshake. He was trying to act normally, but there was definitely something amiss. There was no use trying to hide anything from this life observer, a man who could smell a bag snatcher at a hundred feet or a drug pusher at two hundred.

I entered the house to be greeted by a slightly more reserved Karin. Hesitant! But before I had time to break under the pressure and ask "had I done something wrong", Werner suggested we go to the lounge and "talk". I was now becoming a little nervous. Maybe my family had problems; a death, marriage or birth? Speculation was my speciality and I was glad when Werner started to speak. Left for unreasonable lengths of time a person of my imagination could have ended up involved in some sci-fi space fantasy. Me, the Haacks and some herculean lunar monster.

Before I had left La Paz I had decided to travel lightly and had gladly off-loaded my large backpack and many of my luxuries. I had left them in my private bedroom at the Haacks residence. But for reasons unknown even to me, I had dispersed the contents of my backpack throughout my room (and put locks on my pack) in the exceptional circumstance that someone might break into their house and steal my pack.

The likelihood of this was remote. Karin stayed at home nearly everyday looking after their child, Marcello. They employed a seven day a week cook and general house cleaner, had a man for the yard. Another lady went shopping for their general groceries. They had a ten foot barbed wire fence around the outside with security locked entrance gates. The house was like a mini fortress!

But, alas, one weekend they had gone for a trip into the jungle only to return to find that their general maid had "partied" with her boyfriend and then absconded with the loot, the haul, the moolah! She had stolen an amount of cash, a walkman radio, clothes and other assorted things belonging to the Haacks. They had also broken the zipper on my pack, flushed out its contents all about the room, and relieved me of two small objects. A gold cross that my mother had given me as good luck, and a gold plated locket that my girlfriend, Michelle, had given me. Total value of under thirty dollars.

They had neglected my expensive alpine tent, the MSR stove which was regarded as the best of its type, the clothes and shoes, they had missed the three hundred dollar Walkman and cassettes and, most importantly, my sketch book. They had left my pack, sleeping mat, documents and address book. I was lucky and I knew it, and quickly revived the embarrassment of Karin and Werner. They were such a sincere couple and had felt distressed at what had happened to my things while in their care.

Werner assured me that he would personally replace anything that was taken and that I should make out a list for it to be submitted to the police along with his already completed one.

That afternoon and night were blissful. Clean clothes, clean sheets, hot showers and chicken and vegetable for dinner. What more could any human wish for? The topping was lying by an open fire, on a thickly cushioned lounge chair, listening to my now favourite Andean music from the group, Savia Andina. Letter after letter I read. I saved some special ones to read later that night, as I went to sleep. The news of family and friends made me feel complete. I savoured each one, reading every line slowly and clearly, even repeating some lines to get the most out of them. Life was never better!

The next day I sat with Werner and discussed what to do about the replacing of stolen goods, and so it was that a scheme to defraud "the system" reared its head. I told Werner what had been taken and he gave a stuttered laugh, almost as a sign of relief. We read through my travel insurance policy and soon concocted a plan, a swindle. It seemed perfect in my present mode of exploration and daring, that I should deceive the normally deceitful Bolivian police. I was now an actor, a charleton and conspiring to defraud an insurance company back in Australia. Right and wrong, black and white, had been constantly on the conference table of self-discovery since leaving Australia, and I was now delving further. It was like a project, seemingly seperable from the "me" in it, a brief piece of real life theatre.

And so it was that I looked forlorn; another traveller picked up and dumped by the claws of thievery, a man eager for justice. My list of stolen goods included sleeping bag and clothes and tent. A total which multiplied that small amount, the real amount, many times over. The officer asked me to describe the items as he clicked the information onto the typewritten report. Fifteen minutes later I had my document, the official stamps to validify everything and a ticket in the insurance lottery. I sent off my claim back to Australia, and would only get the full gist of my actions some six months' later.

What I hadn't realised was that Werner had bribed the policeman to make the report without having to visit his house to make an inspection. The scene of the crime. He never told me how much it had been, but said that it was a "normal" occurrence. The policeman had made a few months' wages in half an hour. I loved the drama of it all, and it added further to my burgeoning adventurous zeal. A time for discovery. It was the system. I had flirted with "el sistema".