Chapter 2: La Paz airport
Sandy flies over the Andean range with what she considers adequate preparation. Clutching her copy of tha’ book and dismissing the majestic view of the distant peaks, she concentrates on Ignatz’s crazy churches that desecrate the organic hotchpot of the Altoscape What a madman! And she knows she’s fated to meet him.
Jim’s email has provided not only a selective city guide but also an assortment of his personal musings on contemporary Bolivian politics. Sandy is not at all sure she quite requires either of these gifts, but accepts them both with a shrug and steely resolve. Her decision; she’s in town, come what may.
From the airport, she takes a taxi and with a growing sense of dread plunges down into the vortex of the La Paz canyon. According to Jim’s instructions, the first obligatory stop has to be the Plaza Murillo, the legislative centre of the country. She observes the Colorado soldiers strutting outside the Presidential palace, dressed in dated gear that makes them appear straight out of a Gilbert and Sullivan production (Jim advises for exact historical details she should consult Koff, who is considered an amateur historian of note, though Koff doesn’t know Bolivia yet at all. So where he might gather such knowledge remains a mystery, likewise when he’ll actually turn up in La Paz. Sandy gives one more proverbial shrug of her shoulders and marks young James down as off cue on this prediction.
Jim now specifies she sit on a bench under the very lamppost where an unfortunate left-leaning President had been strung up by a mob in the 1940s. Jim’s eye for details. Then she notices exiting- from the President’s official home in the Plaza Murillo (that goes by the name of the Burnt Palace - no explanation of this in Jim’s guide - it seems to be sound and unscathed – another puzzle for Koff to clear up, perhaps) - exiting the palace is an obviously foreign contingent. American she guesses. Jim’s running commentary offers a side observation that the current holder of the Presidency, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Goni for short, is on a high, having just obtained an electoral triumph with a colossal 22% share of the vote and entered into his second term of office. Sandy’s intuition tells her that this brash self-confident bunch of crew-cut men in suits loudly cheering are a contingent of Goni’s trusted advisors celebrating his recent triumph.
So far so good, but Jim’s intentions in all this sight-seeing are far from clear, though his take on the political situation, crystal sharp. Fresh from his recent overwhelming 22% victory, Goni was on a pedestal and up to no good – doubtless heading for a fall. Though why Sarah is being treated at this point to this rigmarole from Jim the seer is likewise not explained...
Go left from the burnt palace and you will see La Paz Cathedral on the corner. Yes, Jim was treating her to intimations of the immediate future. In retrospect this piecemeal introductory tour to the power centers of La Paz would prove to be uncanny, adding to Jim’s subsequent reputation for standing in a dimension outside of the limits of regular time frames. All of these yet to come. As she gazed up at the turrets and the convenient towers little did Sarah know that within the next month, during what would become known as Black February Massacre, the bell tower of this Cathedral would provide a convenient hiding place for government snipers who concealed there could pick off at leisure the innocent victims scurrying in panic towards the Perez, the first in a mounting catalogue of crimes attributed to Goni’s wayward rule that would lead to his downfall and exile. And already the clairvoyant Jim was pointing out these key sites to Sandy. Later this perspicacity would strike her as extraordinary if not downright weird. But first let’s locate that hotel!
First turn down the hill by the Cathedral, Jim indicated, you will find the Hotel Turista on your right. Fair enough. Still inside the government zone, and not the flea-pit cavern she would expect Jim to have chosen. The hotel in question is ornate, stuccoed, carefully preserved. Sandy discovers a sumptuous residence with recently polished waxed floors where gentlemen in evening dress and their caped partners swirl to the accompaniment of a suitably attired palm court orchestra. Were the dancers swirling across the main hall participating in a waltz demonstration or was this a tango dancing competition?
But now Sandy was compelled to switch her attention back to the reception desk.
“Miss Sandra Thompson, your reservation is confirmed” the hotel clerk bowed. Why the formality? Jumpy yet suave. Switching from what appeared to be perfect German to some faulty English once he has gathered that she’s Australian, not from Austria. Sandy, her survival antenna fully operative, already felt there was more to this desk clerk than meets the eye. In fact, she’s learnt from the response of others around that this desk clerk is not a mere employee; in fact he’s the manager of this hotel and perhaps the owner. But there were to be other surprises in store as to his real identity, later.
He snaps his fingers to summon Mario “who will conduct you to your suite.”
Mario is a dark-skinned Aymara who seems more approachable and Sandy immediately feels that he is someone whom she might quiz for information on Jim. Sandy attempts some initial enquiries, assuming that since Jim has recommended this place he will be known around here. But Mario is non-committal.
“Who is this gentleman you refer to? So many come and stay here. I forget their names and faces.” Obviously a pretext. Well, though Mario may appear pliable, in the event, he only reveals that he is the perfect lackey, obedient to what the management requires.
But sure enough, after a restless night, in the morning after locating the hotel’s bank of communication services Sarah receives another email, assuring her that Mario has instructions for her.
And while serving breakfast porridge, Mario sidles up and whispers in her ear, “They’ll be waiting for you in the Alto tomorrow. At the meeting in the Plaza Redonda.” The Round Square, she’ll find it and assumes that the summons has come from Jim himself. She’s on track. Now surely there’ll be contact.