I notice your hands first. Smooth brown fingers slip from your winter-thick fleece and clash against the cracked, white salt stretching in every direction.

“You want… er…” Slender hands rise to make a clicking motion with your fingers.
“Photo?” Your accented English is sticky sweet.

I’m so struck by the beauty of your fingers and words of syrup against the salt that for a moment I forget the surrounding surreal moonscape and wonder why you’re asking. A glimpse of other tourists snapping pictures in the distance brings me back. “Sure, that would be great.”

I place my camera in your hand and watch you prepare to capture me backdropped by a 12,000-square-kilometer salt desert on a near-forgotten Bolivian plateau. My own hands slip easily back into pockets of fleece. The morning air, though still, is frigid at 3600 meters above and far from the sea. Small mounds of salt look like slow drifts of fresh-fallen snow.

You fight with the focus while I smile through sunglasses not strong enough to dim the intense glare of a cloudless, equatorial sun off the pure white stretch of salt. I wait for the shutter to sound. My nose tingles with each breath of pure, naked air.

I hear a click, then immediately feel your warmth as you approach. For a moment I believe I can smell the salt of your sweat mixing with nature’s crusty floor.

“Thank you.”

I take the camera from your hand.

Não importa.”

The melodious flow speaks words I cannot place but immediately understand.


Tender locks of brown frame your dark face, small curls dropping loosely on eyes the color of warm mud. Slippery, oozing, squish-between-your-fingers mud.

I laugh. “No, American. You?”

We’re both on separate jeep tours, Bolivian-driven gringo adventures through a sparse terrain that feels like the edge of reason.


You smile and look across the field of white before returning your eyes to my face. “Miraculoso.”

I blush.

Somebody calls from the distance, a beckoning from one of a half-dozen jeeps sitting in sore-thumb solitude on the salt.

Before I can say another word you’re in motion, a light jog towards the cluster of jeeps. “Ciao!

I return to my own jeep, where I’m joined by a rowdy foursome of British post-teens, the luck of my draw when I signed up for the tour at an outpost next to the salt less than 24 hours earlier.

I close my ears and open my eyes to the desert as we drive through an endless sea of white.

Our next stop is an earthy, cactus-covered island surrounded by salt. I climb quickly to a peak and stare, silently seeking your presence. The cluster of jeeps has grown, at least two dozen have turned the cracked-white shore into an impromptu parking lot in the middle of a vast void.

Miraculoso…” I roll your single word in my mind, onto my tongue, where it slips silently into the windless field.

There is no sign of life on this island jutting from salt. Not a single bird, not a fly, not even a shallow breeze. Groups of two and three climb the craggy rock, snaking slowly past statue-like cacti. I think I hear them speak, but their voices are swallowed quickly by the motionless air.

The air is so still I nearly forget to breathe.

I close my eyes and imagine running my hand through your softly curled hair, whispering words you may not understand.

I open my eyes to silence and slowly descend the peak.

That night our jeeps bring us to rest at a newly-constructed hostel, a singular, sprawling flat on the far edge of the salt. We’re given cots in large rooms that we share with our jeep group. The bathrooms are spotless but have no running water. The windows are loose, and as soon as the sun sets the high desert night steals in, forcing us all to don thick fleece and colorful, locally-crafted hats for dinner. We eat and socialize in a camp-like dining hall where we can purchase liters of Cerveza Taquina for four bolivianos, or fifty cents apiece.

I’m in the middle of sharing lewd jokes with the British boys when you appear.

Quieres una cerveza?” You now speak to me in Spanish, a language I understand.

Gracias.” I accept your gift and offer you the seat next to mine.

“No, no…” You shake your head then show me your hand, where you hold a small music player. “Please, I share.”

I understand your words but not your intent; I follow you to the edge of the dining room, into the large hall with a wall of windows looking out to the salt. You point to a lone chair, asking me to sit, then hand me the player. “Please… you listen.”

Your eyes bore into me with a magnetic warmth. My soul shudders.

I smile shyly and nod, put the earbuds in place.

Your smooth fingers reach down, and I will them to rest gently on my shoulders. When you pass over my body to start the player for me, the imperceptible breeze catches my breath. I look up to say “thank you,” but you’ve already walked away.

Before I have time for regret, music overtakes me, an orchestra of light across the window-paned night sky. I settle into the wordless sound that feels familiar but without place. Strings slide in haunting harmony, a bold and repetitive echo of the glowing moon on the other side of the glass.

I look down at the player in my hand, seeking a name. Philip Glass, Akhnaten. An American minimalist in the hands of a Brazilian tourist on the edge of everything I know as familiar. Suddenly the world seems very small, and the full moon’s reflection on the salt as comforting as the sound of rain against a car window, driving home at dusk.

I sink into my chair and smile.

Your music travels with me into the night and the next day of the tour. In the scramble to our rooms when the generator shuts off all lights at night and the rush to our respective jeeps before dawn, I am unable, or unwilling, to find you.

I carry your player close to my chest and its music in my soul as the jeep caravan moves us beyond the salt: to a frigid valley where steam rises from thick pockets of boiling mud, to a colony of flamingos living near a green lake, and to a desert so richly sparse it earned the name Dali.

By the time we come to rest our second night on the shore of a crimson lake I crave your presence.

This night’s lodging is more primitive: individual plywood cabins rest at the end of a dirt road. Jeep groups are separated immediately into drafty rooms with cold metal bunks and no light. Our driver cooks us a meal of limp spaghetti, watered-down tomato paste, and stale white bread. The Brits bemoan the lack of beer. I lament the lack of a single dining room, a communal hallway overlooking the salt-scape, and the chance to feel your breath behind my ear.

I began this journey alone, traveling from the top of the continent to its southernmost tip, seeking peace in my own solitude. Halfway through my personal, roughly-plotted Latin American map I meet you. Will you change my course, or confirm my chosen path? How long will I choose to carry you with me? Where are you now?

Under a pile of ratted blankets and fully clothed to ward off the cold, I will you to visit my restless sleep. I dream of your tender curls falling softly against my cheek as you tell stories of your life in Brazil. I conjure your slender fingers to slip between mine as we share soft kisses, each of us holding an earbud from your player in one of our ears, sharing the musical genius of the American minimalist. I part my lips to speak, to share with words the growing pulse in my heart. But your apparition shushes me with a finger, and before I can protest, you slip into the frigid night.

The next morning brings another rushed scramble to fill jeeps with gear and bodies. We have just one more sight to see before descending the plateau into the rainless desert of northern Chile, where our rugged tour will end.

Laguna Verde offers the first promise of warmth in three days — longer for those of us who have been traveling the highland circuit. From a jewel-green lake rises the backdrop of Volcan Licancabur, a perfect triangle of rock and ash, a picture postcard setting. All the jeeps have gathered in this spot. Cameras fly out of backpacks, eager to capture the scene. People smile for one another and for the gift of memory with the click of a button.

I seek the face behind each lens; I know you’re near.

A spilling giggle pulls my attention behind me, where I find a giddy woman posing for a camera held by you.

After clicking the shutter and dropping the camera from your face, you see me staring.

Miraculoso, no?” Your eyes shudder as you speak.

I start to nod but stop when the woman you’ve just photographed slides up to your side and holds herself close.

Your gaze is still fixed on me. “You want…er…photo?” Your hand gestures the backdrop behind my smileless face.

My body drains emotion. I don’t bother to photograph what I’ve already seen countless times, on guidebook covers, on postcards in the highlands, and forever etched in my memory of you.

I turn away just as the woman takes your slender fingers between hers and, although I don’t see it, I can feel her squeeze your hand.

Published in Hot Flashes 2, More Sexy Little Stories & Poems, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Laralynn Weiss Rapoza. All rights reserved.