Mr. Kim managed to introduce himself, invite me out for dinner, and delve into the introduction of his life story before I had managed to get my bulky backpack through the hostel door. He seemed a Korean version of Mr. Miagi on first impression, except that he was obviously Asia´s biggest extrovert.
A Frenchman joined us for some delicious Cuban food (A Lo Cubano – 30 Boliveanos) and the conversation drifted ineluctably towards Che Guevara. Mr. Kim was obsessed with the enigmatic liberator of the Cuban people. He is even heading off to visit Che´s burial ground near the Brazilean border. The Frenchman didn´t speak any English, and Mr. Kim spoke in a stilted but expressive string of words that every once in a while fortuitously coalesced into sentences. We got along fine.
Surpisingly, Mr. Kim turned out to be an acclaimed Korean novelist and poet. Not to mention quite the party boy. After dinner, we headed over to the Adventure Brew, a Kiwi owned hostel slash microbrewery. Things got wild.
An impromtu fireworks display burst out in the middle of downtown La Paz. We sprinted out onto the balcony. A gangly English boy tightrope walking along the six story balcony railing, flanked by a deep expanse of night sky that was filled with the sparks and deafening rumble of exploding projectiles.
The bartender was helpless to convince him to get down. Mr. Kim provided an attentive, uncharacteristically wide-eyed audience for the circus act. Unfortunately, the boy didnt fall to his death. Instead he got down to wax arrogant about his idiotic feat of strength and to order an endless, pathetic series of Jagerbombs.
Mr. Kim spent the remainder of the night instructing me to hit on young ladies, writing his email on UNO cards to give to new acquaintances and taking arbitrary photos. I was deeply entertained.
I chatted with my friend Oren, Isreali trekker extraordinaire who had just offered a job as Bolivian mountain guide, when Mr. Kim interrupted to recount a fantastical travel story:
After a night of drinking in Rio de Janeiro, he had gone to sleep happily in his hostel. A rough shove and loud bellowing brought him out of his reverie. As his blurry vision cleared up, he found himself staring down the barrel of a Brazilean gun. Being half drunk, understanding nothing of the language, and being of an incredulous disposition to start, Mr. Kim sat back and enjoyed the chaos. Naturally, he sat cross legged in the corner, with wrists strapped together, and looked on curiously as 14 gunmen pillaged through tourist´s bags and lockers. 34 tourists, some of them their first night travelling, lost everything they had and had to sit in silence for an hour before the police caught wind of the robbery.
The next day, Mr. Kim, the least rattled and most talkative victim, was interviewed by reporters and police in three languages that he didn´t speak. But not speaking a language didn´t seem to be much of an impediment for him. He smiled at our gawking expressions as he wrapped up his story. I could see his next novel brewing in his eyes.