The church of San Francisco lifted brown-gray walls above a cacophony of honking automobiles, bustling tourists, and colorfully dressed native women wearing bowler hats. Beltran Dorrantes de Altamira dodged people and taxis as he dashed across the cobblestone plaza. Reaching the sidewalk on the other side, he skirted the church's south wall and headed up Calle Sagarnara, thankful for the high wall that offered protection from the wind. Though from this vantage he couldn't see the snow-covered peaks of the Andes that ringed the city, he felt their cold desolation.
Beltran tugged the collar of his leather jacket higher and looked up the crowded street. Thank God he was adjusting to the altitude, because at least now, after a week, he could breathe more or less normally. At thirteen thousand feet above sea level, being in La Paz was like living atop the Alps.
As he climbed the steep street, Beltran enjoyed being able to see over nearly every other pedestrian's head. That didn't happen at home in Madrid or in Italy, where his family kept a summer home, because he wasn't that tall. Beltran's lean frame and classic European features made him stand out among the short and stocky indigenous population. It was strange to think some of his ancestors had lived and died in this country. Only an uncle still lived here, in a grand house on a tree-lined street, down where the oxygen was richer and the climate more temperate.
On the opposite side of the street, two black-haired, young men wearing jeans and stylish boots smiled and beckoned. Regretting having looked up, Beltran ducked his head and hurried on, hoping they had simply called out to him because they thought him a good-looking tourist. The last thing he wanted in Bolivia was to be singled out as gay. The police here saw homosexuals primarily as extortion marks.