It was gone 03:30am, I was totally sober and one of a few people in the Azul nightclub in La Paz not revved up on alcohol or cocaine. Tiredness was giving me that dazed, drunken effect but I felt pretty damn good that I was still holding up.
I became an artist, decorating friends’ faces with UV paint. In turn, my face was painted in yellows and pinks, covering some of the black stamps from another creative burst earlier in the evening. I chatted and laughed, I swigged water and I danced shamelessly to bad music on the teeny dance floor.
And then I saw it: pools of bright red blood covering the ground by my feet, fainter towards the bar where people had unknowingly stumbled through, streaking and smearing the place in the colour of danger. Splodges of UV paint shone out in between.
And the crowd continued to dance.
I’d somehow missed the disturbance on the dance floor. A stabbing, some local guy told me, two Bolivians. I couldn’t see how someone could have survived that much blood loss. But was it really blood? It was so bright.
Bar staff eventually started to mop up and the revellers were encouraged to leave. And there again, trails of blood, coagulating on the stairs and on the pavement.
We waited for a taxi. A few of us were hushed in disbelief. People continued to spill out of the club. Some stood in the pools of blood, oblivious. I stopped a few. If they didn’t care about the stabbing, maybe they’d care about their shoes? And would the blood not need to remain as it was for police evidence?
A man came out of the Azul nightclub and started to pour a clear liquid over the blood on the pavement. He scrubbed away with a stiff brush, pushing a watery, bloody mix onto the road. Before long, little remained. No police showed up.
A few days later I discovered that the man had survived. This was the same time that some of the partiers who had been there that night finally realised that someone had actually been stabbed.
Three times, I told them, did you not see all the blood? Too off their heads. But for me, sober, I saw it and I felt it raw and it stuck like something from a movie still. And I wished it were just all a movie or a figment of my imagination but no, this was real life touching on the only certainty of death.
The papers didn’t report it, from what I managed to gather, and the police seemed to ignore it. I discovered that a tourist had also been involved in a minor way. But that about the main guy? Despite the double stabbing, he got lucky and was recuperating in hospital. Life wasn’t done with him just yet.
People told me that La Paz, like many a city, has a dangerous, crazy side, but to see it up close on my first night? What a reality check.