On Tequila Island

ImagePatiently, Celso stands and looks at crowd of well-mannered gawkers who have decided to invade his island for a brief afternoon jaunt. In front of them, several Taquileños dance traditional jigs of courtship and celebration with skill and practiced grace, their shortage of spirit failing to dampen the well-rested tourists’ optimistic curiosity. Celso’s face is serious and intelligent, though he’s capable of sideward smiles. He whisks us away as soon as the dancers finish

He takes me and my current travel partner, a Scotsman, for lunch (quinoa soup and grilled lake trout). We brought our own beers to pass the time, the bottles clinking in our bags, where they sit next to rice and sugar (typical gifts for Taquile) and some notebooks and pencils for the child of the house. His name is Wilfredo and he nearly chokes us with his hugs. They feel sincere. We hand out the meager gifts and Celso shows us to the little guesthouse attached to his well-sized house.

After our siesta we walk the island, ascending to Pachamama. Incas revered the mountains as gods, and summits are important to the Quechuas. It’s a beautiful near-sunset. Celso tells me some folktales about curses and cripples. I understand roughly a third of what he says but enough to weave together a story. Some kid forgot to bring in a stone to school. He went to an Inca ruin and took a stone from a room I and the Scotsman are now looking at, a room the locals fear entering. The story of this boy, who was paralyzed after bringing back the forbidden stone, is told to us only after we snap photos of the musty interior.

When we take a break, I look more closely at Celso. He wears a traditional knitted hat with a small pompom crown.“I have a personal question,” I say in mangled Spanish. “Why do you wear this hat if you are married?” The tour guide explained that red hats are warn by men who are spoken for, but Celso wears the red/white split pattern of the soltero.

It turns out that Celso is unmarried. He’s been living with his wife, Juana, for nine years. Together they have an irresistibly cute son, Wilfredo. “Conviviendo,” he tells me, they’ve been cohabiting but remain unmarried. Patiently, he explains that 45 sheep are required to put on a 5-day wedding feast. Celso’s up to 28. 17 sheep to go. I wonder how long that will take. But pride and tradition have clearly conspired to postpone the wedding. Or is Celso just holding out on Juana, using his sheep shortfall to postpone further commitment? Seems unlikely. But he is a man, after all.

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Ex-Soviet immigrant turned wanna-be scribe. I bite off more than I can chew, but at least I've got good teeth.

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