Subtitles in Bolivia

Before he became friends with Diego and Sami, Lucas was a metal-head. The more metal, the better. He threw away his Adidas jerseys and invested in Cradle of Filth, Gwar, and Rammstein t-shirts. Lucas began avoiding the sun and stopped smiling but would laugh obnoxiously at the American nu metal references that he understood: Korn is corny. In the process of discovering his musical repertoire, Lucas heard goth-opera for the first time and learned the word ‘lachrymose.’ Thus, Lucas began to make room in his life for a little more than Napalm Death.

“Some of these are fucked up. I don’t think Annie can watch them,” Diego said.

“Really fucked up?” Lucas asked.

“Some of them,” Diego responded. “But trust me man, they’re worth it.”

“Ok then.”

“This one is classic.  Deep Throat.”

Deep Throat?” Annie asked – excited to have an excuse to speak. Annie was visiting her family in Bolivia for the summer. Her older cousin Lucas had taken pity on her bored expression and introduced her to his friends. It was the summer of 2005. Annie was sixteen years old. She had briefly fallen in love with Sami, intensely aware that their names almost rhymed.

“You’ve seen it?” Diego asked her.

Annie was dressed like most teenage girls from the United States, with an oversized sweater and leggings. She wore a shade of beige and stood awkwardly, the way teenagers used to stand before Instagram filters produced in them an unreliable sense of self-confidence.  

“Isn’t that porn?” Annie asked.

“Fucking tool! I’m not watching porn with my little cousin,” Lucas yelled into Diego’s face as Sami laughed out loud.

“It’s art,” Diego said. “The seventies vibe – the colors, the music, you have to look past the labels man!”

“Fucking huevón,” Lucas said.

They decided to order a pizza and watch Aronofsky’s Pi. Diego dialed and threw the phone to Lucas who freaked out. Lucas threw the phone back to Diego who threw it back to Lucas. This continued until Lucas, whose forehead had begun to sweat, hung up the phone.

“I don’t know how to order a pizza!” Lucas yelped.

“Fuck man, I don’t know either!” Diego said.

Lucas re-dialed. After a few seconds of stuttering he threw the phone to Sami who had been sitting on the edge of the couch, legs delicately crossed, staring blankly at his friends. Sami caught the telephone and calmly ordered as Diego and Lucas whispered into his ear – don’t forget the diet coke! Who the fuck drinks diet coke?! Anchovies man! But you’re a vegetarian!? What? Fuck you man!

Diego and Lucas sat on the couch with their pizza, alternating between crossing their legs and resting their palms under their chins as they watched the black and white images, reenacting the movements they thought they were supposed to exude as they experienced 1990’s surrealism. Sami sat on the floor with a look on his face as though he might fall asleep. Annie, out of character, but because she was not the kind of person who could appreciate psychological thrillers, joined him. Sami smiled and made room for her. He asked her about her summer and whether she had done anything fun like visit Chapare, the Bolivian rainforest. Annie would visit her family in Bolivia again later in her life, unaware of the politics she was capturing when she photographed a graffitied wall: Carretera = destrucción. TIPNIS = VIDA.  

“No,” Annie said. “We almost went to El Salar de Uyuni.”

“I’ve never been,” Sami said.

“It was too expensive,” Annie told him.

“The salt flats must be amazing.” Sami said. “But it’s mega tourist-y. Like DAKAR racing and Red Bull promotions.” Sami seemed to speak English more fluently than Annie.  He spoke fast while stretching out every vowel. Annie realized that he and his friends sounded like valley girls, but she didn’t know how to translate the term. “It’s so strange to visit,” she told Sami. “My friends think I’m on an adventure. The idea of South America is so exotic to them, but I haven’t done anything. My grandma made me watch Lilo & Stitch. It was dubbed.” Sami laughed loudly – making Annie’s glasses fog as she blushed.

Sami pulled out some boxes from under his friends’ feet. The guys made noises as though they hadn’t seen them in ages. They were old cigar boxes filled with an assortment of creatures that the three friends had caught during their visits to Chapare as teenagers. The creatures were dusty, pinned down and dried in measured rows with their scientific classifications neatly labeled in Diego’s private school cursive. One of the boxes had a spider with black horns that was bigger than Annie’s face. “Fuck me,” Sami said. “This guy was a team effort.” “Dude, imagine waking up to that monster on your balls,” Diego yelled. Sami ignored Diego. He told Annie about their childhood adventures in Chapare. About their dreams of being as bad-ass as Ripley from Alien and River Phoenix in Indiana Jones. He told her about the piranhas they stabbed with spears. The waterfalls they jumped from. The baby monkeys that stole their backpacks with their tails. The way Sami, Diego, and Lucas would scare sleeping sloths to watch them sprint. The spiders that would inch near them in curiosity, unaware of their fated capture. Sami looked happy as he recounted these memories. Annie held a small box with a butterfly pinned inside. “Lucas should have introduced us earlier,” he said. Annie smiled. “Yeah, I fly back on Thursday.”

Sami, Diego, and Lucas were generally apathetic about most social justice issues, but they were mild environmentalists who could proudly assert that their cigarette butts were flicked into trash cans instead of the streets of Cochabamba. They would, when moderately stoned, attend rallies against the deforestation of the TIPNIS. Annie avoided Sami’s eyes. Suave Sami who could use a telephone to order an entire 14-inch pizza; suave Sami who kissed her cheek shyly when they met, half-apologizing for the custom; suave Sami whose pupils dilated when Annie understood his reference to ska-punk. Annie was unsure how to process their hunts in Chapare; like the gringos that stomp into Villa Tunari with their Renegade R.E.I. hiking boots thoughtfully laced up over their ankles; with their khakis and their Nikons. Annie was fascinated in the effort Sami, Diego, and Lucas had taken in catching these creatures, killing them simply because they could, destroying their world, and then cleaning them, dissecting them, pinning them, labeling each one in Latin, preserving them for no reason and then stashing their dead bodies away along with Sami, Diego, and Lucas’ young dreams. How they must have felt: bonding, living, breathing in what was left of the Bolivian rain forest.

The movie was over. Diego and Lucas were attempting to discuss the cultural impacts of Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Lynch’s Dune.

What’s an indie?” Annie heard her cousin ask from the couch.

“What do you mean what’s an indie? Diego asked Lucas.

“Like Bollywood?” Lucas asked back.

Annie returned the dead butterfly to Sami. He gave her a small smile, aware that they would never see each other again.

“It’s a fucking genre, cabrón,” Sami said.

-Camila Cossio