Archive for June, 2014

Me and Che

I’m wrong, I know. I‘ve asked all my friends who are linguists and anthropologists and they all agree: I’m wrong.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. Just look at what we have: several varieties of Apache in New Mexico, Arizona, and a bit of Texas and Mexico; the Comanche in Northern and Eastern New Mexico and a portion of the plains states; the Wehmenuche (Weeminuche), Moache, Parianuche bands of the Ute tribe in Colorado and New Mexico; the Nabedache and Nagadoche in East Texas; the Neche (also in Texas); the Natchitoche in Louisiana; the Monache in California and the Apaluchee in Florida.

Then, further south, we have the K’iche in Guatemala, Lache in Colombia, Mariche in Venezuela, Moche in Peru, and Aché in Paraquay.

Are you sensing something here? If not, consider this: in Southern Chile and Argentina the Arucanas are divided into the Pehuinche, Mapuche, Phuelche, Huilliche and Picunche. And, at least in these groups, the “che” part means “men” or “people” or “guys.” That is, the Pehuinche are the people from Pehuin, the Mapuche are the men from Mapu, and the Huilliche are the guys from Huilli. My friends say that there is no relationship between these “-ches” and all the other “-ches” and since they are the experts, I have come to accept that my theory is wrong.

Be that as it may, in the Southern Cone of South America the “che” part is now something that people call one another. It’s like saying “Hey Man,” “Que hubo, Bro?” and “What’s up Guy?” depending on where you were raised and when you grew up. Some of the young folk, especially in Argentina, use the term “Che” so often that each of them has been given the nick-name of “Che” as in Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine med student who joined Fidel Castro and his band of guerrilleros who came down out of the mountains of Cuba to depose the dictator, Fulgencia Batista. “Che” then thought he could do the same in Bolivia but failed completely.

Of course, I didn’t know “Che” Guevara but I do know his Bolivian guide, Rómulo, the then young fellow who kept “Che” alive for the few years he wandered around the Chiquitano dry forest of eastern Bolivia. Then, in 1967 “Che” was captured by the Bolivian military and the CIA and summarily executed (but only after everybody, including the CIA, got a 1960’s version of a “selfie” with him). The soldier who was told to kill him also got his pipe.

I got to know Rómulo when he was assigned to guide me around that same forest for a few days several years back. Rómulo is all of five feet tall, fearless and the owner of maybe two T-shirts, a pair of old chino knockoffs and an endurance that would make 100-mile ultra-marathon runners look like old men with creaky knees. As we searched out the trees of value to see if the forest enterprise in that area was behaving itself, a forest fire followed us and no one in that forest seemed to care, especially Rómulo, since all it did was flush out a whole lot of snakes and send billions of gold-green butterflies into streams of long gold-green tubes about three feet above the ground. All of them seemed to know where they were going no matter which part of the forest they took off in—just like Rómulo.

Chiquitano Dry Forest of Bolivia (Photo by John Morrison. Encyclopedia of Earth)

Chiquitano Dry Forest of Bolivia (Photo by John Morrison. Encyclopedia of Earth)

It was a bit difficult to keep up with him and though I carried oh, say a gallon of water, he carried only a small plastic bag filled with dried coca leaves. I followed him down unseen (by me) trails trying to keep his sweat wet t-shirt in view while keeping my distance because his shirt was covered with hundreds of bees—as was mine had I dared to look. From time to time he would stop to let me catch up and while I tossed down a good portion of my water, he would stick another coca leaf between his gums and teeth as we continued our conversations about Marx and the futility of the effort and ideas of his old buddy “Che.” I offered him a drink of water, which he declined, and he offered me a leaf, which I took. It didn’t help.

Though I could almost always identify a mature mahogany or cedar when standing under one, he could spot a six-inch seedling of these species from forty yards away. It was uncanny how he knew exactly where he was, when to stop and let a snake slither by, and what time of the day it was though he probably had never in his life seen a clock. And he always knew where he was going and what would be there when we arrived.

I guess guides are like that no matter if they are five feet tall or six feet two or if they are 20 years old or eighty. Forrest Fenn once belonged to that community so don’t under-estimate him just because he thinks he is getting old. He knows exactly where he is and where he’s been and where he wants to be. I wish I did—by which I mean I wish I knew where he’s been and where he wants to be because that is exactly where the treasure is.

Stay cool, r/


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