Most of my early summer days in Cochabamba were spent with Joel, because we both lived on the school grounds and neither of us had any other friends. Joel was an adventurer, and as such had plenty of GI Joes & Micro Machines, a New Zealand Passport and a 70cc raging beast of a Honda Motorbike with a peeling Rolling Stones sticker. A typical summer day may have gone like this:
- Sleep in. Joel always slept in. The guy was like a grizzly bear in winter. So I had to wait to have fun. We were too poor to own curtains, so I was awake at dawn whether I wanted to be or not. Also, we had no TV at our place, so there was no real reason to get up at all. Except to…
- Blow something up. Bolivia was a gold mine for the arsonist inside everyone. We experimented with whatever we could get our hands on. Sometimes this involved Joel’s severely depressed GI Joes who just needed an out. Although, incidently, if I had joints made of steel pins and rubber bands, I’d spend my life snowboarding and winning on Dancing With The Stars. Just saying. One time I made little lego cars that we could attach rockets to and shoot down the basketball court. It was a win for budding aeronautical engineers everywhere. It was a loss for my brother’s lego collection as the rocket cars tended to melt into colorful porridge. The price of technological advancement I suppose. Another time one went off in Joel’s hand and lit his arm on fire. No real winners there at all unless you count the guy that invented Band-Aids.
- Breakfast. OK, this really should have gone before #2 but I forgot about it till now. If you were lucky and your thieving family members hadn’t eaten it all, there was imported American cereal to eat like you were some kind of normal family. Like Corn Flakes, or alternatively, something containing more sugar than the nation of Brazil. If not, and especially in the first 4 years, you got Bolivian puffed wheat. It was healthy, and ok early on, but by the bottom of the bag it contained more pebbles and hair than actual wheat. I had more chipped teeth than Evel Knievel. Still, Dad made us eat it because it helped us ’embrace the culture’ we were living in and step outside our comfort zones. I’ve never seen a Bolivian person eat cereal in my life. They were all too smart and had bread rolls and coffee for breakfast.
- Walk to the Milk Factory. Our school was practically across the street from Cochabamba’s Milk producer, PIL. In that hallowed, glorious place they made the greatest invention known to mankind: Chicolac. Chicolac was chocolate milk in a palm-sized plastic baggie so you could tear a corner off with your teeth and squeeze away for chocolately-milk goodness. It meant we could carry our milk where-ever we liked and didn’t spill any. You could even drink it upside down or in the shower. Or both at once. Sure, you looked like a complete tool for carrying around milk in a bag, but it was a small price to pay for portable chocolate milk. If PIL decided to market these things worldwide they’d be bigger than both Kraft and Hostess in 3 days. Someone’s even started a Facebook Chicolac Fan Page. Nice. For the health-minded, Chicolac were also self-regulating, since you only really had time to drink 1 or 2 before the milk in the bag warmed up and ruined the whole refreshment thing. Warm milk is only good if you’re about to go to bed and you’re 4. And only if mum’s added a quart of brandy to help you sleep. The threat of a warming Chicolac also discouraged you from keeping them in your pockets, among other reasons. Sitting on one by mistake was suicide. Everyone around you thought you had cholera and would abruptly begin stoning you. The only time I got let down by a chicolac was drinking one that had been in the sun a little too long and the stall attendant had failed to restock. It was like drinking spew-flavored brown cottage cheese. No good. And you had to suck like crazy to get the lumps through the tiny hole.
- Ride the motorbike. Like Chicolac, The Honda really deserves a post all to itself, such was the width & breadth of the adventures, so I’ll have to get to that in due course. I will mention, however, the year the movie Twins came out we became obsessed with singing “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters at the top of our voices while we rode around the school and got even stranger-than-normal looks from people. Spurned by jealousy most likely. Yakety Yak! Don’t come back! To be honest, neither of us sounded remotely like Arnie when we sang that deep bit.
- Eat Lunch at Don Rafo’s. Don Rafo owned a little shop and cafe just up from the school. He made hamburgers that probably cost about 15c by today’s standards. They contained a thin beef (?) patty and some mayo. Maybe a slice of tomato if you were lucky. The fried egg ones were the best. You could feel your heart slow and drop down a gear. The only things you had to stay away from were the home-made ice creams. They went through you like paint thinner. But it was a gutsy move to make them, given the milk company was across the road. Like David and Goliath. We spent many an afternoon there, drinking coke out of glass bottles and oogling the models on the beer company posters. (Sorry to everyone who just clicked on the link expecting beer models to oogle.) Then we’d make realistic, accurate prognostications about which model we’d end up with when we grew up. Joel had better chances since he had a chest full of hair by the time he was 11. Maybe it was from all that sleeping.
More Summers of Joel coming soon!