In Loving Memory of
17/11/1977 – 08/02/2017
Elena Rocío Angulo Bustinza was born near Lake Titicaca in Puno, Peru. Ambitious, she left home as soon as she could and landed in Japan. There, Rocío studied very hard, mastering the Japanese language and then an architecture degree. Rocío spent most of her adult life in Japan and culturally felt Japanese.
I met Rocío at a hostel in Arequipa, Peru where we were both longer-term guests. I was waiting for a letter to arrive from Australia. Rocío was there with baby Nicholas because of a dispute over Rocío’s award-winning house she designed and constructed. This dispute troubled Rocío deeply.
On one of Rocío’s first days at the hostel, then-18-month-old Nicholas came up and joined me on a swinging chair for a swing together. This connection touched Rocío. Usually not one to share her story with strangers, she opened up to me. Rocío was engaging as a person, had a fascinating life and we shared similar interests. One passion not fully developed was travel. Although Rocío had lived in Peru, Bolivia, Japan and the United Kingdom she had not travelled widely. I suggested if she’s unhappy staying put, why not travel. Rocío embraced the idea and decided to travel long-term.
The travel didn’t take long to start. Rocío kindly invited me to accompany her to her maternal family village of Ayaviri in the Andes north of Puno. From there we explored the ruins of Pucara and then Macusani.
Rocío’s happiest childhood memories were in Macusani with her grandmother. I felt privileged to be with Rocío on her first visit back in three decades. Rocío was delighted to see the thatched roof building of her grandma’s former shop still standing, the only such building surviving so close to the town centre. Local shopkeepers remembered her grandma and some even recalled Rocío.
In Macusani we saw a poster for Ayapata’s first coffee festival and thought, let’s go! My phone’s maps application didn’t even show a road going to Ayapata. That didn’t stop Rocío. She had many dreams, one of which was to grow and produce her own coffee and, as coffee lovers, attending the festival appealed to both of us.
With Nicholas happily staying with his nanny’s family in Arequipa, our trip kept extending and we ended up travelling all the way along the Interoceanic Highway to Brazil’s Rio Branco. The scenery was amazing, particularly around Macusani. We saw 360 degree rainbows, ancient rock paintings and cave etchings, pre-Incan ruins, a tropical food festival, mummies in caves, a llama shaped island on a lake, a giant rock forest and the world’s ugliest lookout tower.
Returning to Arequipa, Rocío was delighted to re-join Nicholas and have a break from travel. Although she desired travel, backpacking was new to her and took some adjusting.
Our next big trip was to Cuba. The country’s unique architecture, transport, politics and wildlife wowed Rocío. Our holiday gained greater focus almost immediately when former long-time leader Fidel Castro died. Rocío wanted to capture and document this historic moment to exhibit in Japan. In Havana we lined up to ‘pay respects’, attended the memorial service where world leaders spoke and watched his ashes drive by. We also bought every Cuban newspaper we saw. Next we caught a bus cross-country to Santiago de Cuba for another memorial service and to visit the cemetery where the ashes were interred.
Rocío insisted that she wasn’t a tourist and wanted to see out of the way places and mix with the locals. And with Rocío’s persistence we did. We caught buses, trucks, cars, horse and carts, bicycles, motorbikes, a tractor, boat, ferry and train, whatever transport was available to get where we wanted, hitching rides as required.
Rocío’s love and care shone through when I was sick with a fever for four days in remote, hurricane-damaged Baracoa. Rocío nursed me to health. She even carried 15 litres of water from the shop back to our room. Large bottles of water were scarce in Baracoa and when she saw them available she was determined to get them.
Rocío’s trip highlight was seeing the flamingos at the Rio Maximo Wildlife Refuge, the western hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site. Getting to the reserve was a major challenge as almost nobody knew its location and the road was in terrible condition. We eventually made it to the reserve in a Soviet-built wreck of a car.
Prior to visiting, Rocío had an idealistic view of Cuba. After learning how little Cubans earned, seeing the limited supplies available, eating some terrible meals and hearing from locals how life in Cuba really was, her view changed. Although previously wanting to extend the trip, by the end Rocío was happy to return to somewhere ‘more normal’.
Rocío found backpacking challenging and occasionally stressful. To cope, she listened to selected music on her phone, often the same one repeated, in particular, an Argentinean song, [2017/05/21 edit]
which unfortunately I do not recall the name Flaca by Andrés Calamaro.
Our time together brought Rocío happiness and, travel in particular, returned her creative self. She wanted to design chairs, buildings and many other objects.
Rocío’s true passion was physics and everything it entailed including geology and astronomy. Our next destination was to be the Galapagos Islands. Rocío looked forward to both visiting the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution and hiking a volcano. Unfortunately, this trip was delayed as I had to visit Australia for urgent family reasons. Now Rocío will never see the Galapagos Islands or anywhere else.
Rocío was a wonderful person with a beautiful heart who passed away far too young. She leaves behind nearly-two-year-old Nicholas and an older son in Japan, both of whom she loved deeply and was very proud of.
Farewell Rocío, you will be missed.