27 November 2008
The conquistadores bravely marched through an inhospitable landscape, savagely drooling at the prospect of what Peru held. Sadly, they destroyed much of what they came upon, but what little remains is to be marvelled. Remnants of the masterfully engineered Incan bridges, roads, and temples scatter the route that currently traces the backbone of the Andes en route to Cuzco.
If Pizarro and his contingent could scour this terrain with 30 kilos of chainmail and weapons, the least I can do is follow in their footsteps with immense technological improvements carrying 30 kilos of survival gear and drawing paper. Fortunately, I´ve learned to have slightly more honorable intentions in the five-hundred years that separates us. Other than that, we´re one in the same: restless explorers that ignore the odds in pursuit of unknown treasure. What unites us is our common interest in Cuzco, but what separates us is hundreds of kilos of gold, of which I´ll fail to find. Hopefully, there will be rewards of a different sort in store.
21 November 2008
After nearly a month of growing accustomed to pedestrianism it´s a wonder we didn´t need training wheels, but as the gears slowly churned and the road grew sufficiently textured, the hesitation in Soren´s demeanor openly revealed itself. Between laborious breaths, he matter-of-factly expressed his distaste for this masochistic mode, mentioning a possible shift to a motorized unit. This realization came after a day-and-a-half of tormented riding in which nothing seemed to feel right for him - physically, mentally, spiritually, or philosophically.
Schematically posed, we squatted on the side of the road at 4,500 meters under an icy shower and talked it through, piece by piece, considering all possibilities and alternatives. After nearly an hour of spilling what guts we had left, we came to the conclusion that we would blaze separate trails - him with the aid of a motor and me with the aid of a fresh pair of tires. But expeditions end at breakfast, not at the heels of a glacier. So, back in Huaraz, we toasted to each other´s well-being, vowing to spend Christmas together in Cuzco, along with an unforeseeable amount of roadside encounters as the Andes unfold before us. With that, we split, but not before crunching on a bowl of cereal.
Back on the road, I cycled with explosive eagerness, but after the immediate novelty wore off, I caught myself looking longingly behind me in search of the companions that would no longer appear. With a deep and lonely sigh, I reluctantly kept on, believing that my appetite for adventure would return as the kilometers accumulate. Just as my comfort began to establish itself, it was rocked by a gunshot from behind me which simultaneously brought me to a lurching halt. After checking my vitals and inspecting my steed, I found that my tire had blown itself off the rim, obliterating the tube in the process. Not to be deterred, I performed the necessary operations and carried on - through rain, hail, and lightning - until I reached the control post for Huasarán where I shacked up while the storm blew over. While I dipped and sipped the tea and biscuits which I coddled with great affection, I was jolted into attentiveness by another gunshot. Without provocation, the tire blew - again. This time, I figured these weren´t isolated events, so I resigned to return to Huaraz the next day to gather a pair of functioning tires - again.
Thankfully, my crippled rig and I were warmly welcomed with ample reinforcemets that would facilitate my next dispatch. Soren graciously designated Will as an organ donor, the parts of which were accepted by Surely and her doctor in a time of desperate need. After an urgent operation, the transplants have been successfully installed and the patient is recovering at a startling rate. As soon as she whinnies with her characteristic vibrato, we´ll be on the road - again.
13 November 2008
Early the next afternoon, the clouds collected in pulsating piles of indigo. Soon, hailstones began hopping around the thin vegetative layer like mummified grasshoppers summoned by the coded claps of thunder. With each chant, thousands of critters were resurrected with spunk. From our vantage against the only sizeable stone in sight, we watched the dance of the dead, shivering with reverence. Looking toward the pass, we witnessed an act of defiance, perpetrated by a hundred-meter waterfall that refused to comply with gravity. The water that plunged over the canyon rim was sent spraying upward with lawless fury, eventually landing on the valley floor, far from its intended target; but the event was calculated, nonetheless, for it extinguished a small brush fire that had grown with the swirling winds and static discharges. Choas resolved.
The limits that I continually seek were viewed from a frighteningly close proximity that day. Never do I expect to reach those limits because that would incur irrevocable results, but the closer I come, the livlier I feel. I felt alive that day, but as a result, I was left feeling dead. The feverish sleep that ensued caused me to writhe in the sweat-soaked confines of an emergency blanket while my dreams breeched all conventions, venturing into utter surreality. For some inexplicable reason, I felt as if I were subject to the microscopic explosions that happen inside the mechanisms of a pinball machine. With each paddle flop, I was jolted awake, only to be knocked out again by the drumroll of the thumper-bumpers. While the primary ball was held captive, I became the glittering reflection that coated the extra ball. When the high scores flowed across the marquee, I shivered in concert with the flashing bulbs. Thankfully, I ran out of tokens by morning. With wide-eyed anticipation, the sun eventually thawed the ice that had collected on the inside of the tent, and I was ready to stagger on through severe nutritional debt.
We spent the remaining days on the trail in blissful ignorance of our haggard condition. By our sixth day, our tastebuds were numb to rice, beans, and raisins, and our stomachs had long since shrunk to the point of satisfaction by a single cup of this monotonous concoction. Nearing the end of the circuit, we returned to find the shepherd with whom we spent the first night preparing a delectable dinner of trout and potatoes, just as he had promised over a week ago. On our last morning, we were awake in time to enjoy hot milk which sufficiently energized us for the tenth pass that led back to the motorized world. Eight days of inadequacy desaturated our senses to the point of an awareness rarely witnessed in our pampered lives. We were able to appreciate the cycle of the sun as it incubated an infant storm, and later, gratefully acknowledge the technology that went into our plastic ponchos.
The jarring descent into Llamac strummed our tendons like stringed instruments, but instead of producing a symphony that the surroundings suggested, it provoked a sound that resembled the donkeys that we refused to take. We paid, sorely, for our independence. Shoelessly shuffling into the bus station, I thought I noticed a slightly upturned lip on the ticket-hawker from the first day. From beyond my rosy nose and through my crusted stubble, I smiled back.