Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Automated Functions on the Cordillera Blancas

Zach W. Watson

Mike, Alex, Alaena, and I had made it to the base of the pass and were sitting on stones around our rented camp stove watching our oatmeal and apples pop as they neared readiness.  The sun was bright and warm, and we waited for every single oat and fruit morsel sitting in that steaming aluminum pot. 
A group of Israelis slowly began to gather nearby.  They took their small daypacks off, placing them on the ground in front of them, some removing water, some just chatting. It seemed everyone knew each other.  Their guides walked over to the donkeys and removed the sandwiches from the oversized saddle bags.  The guides then handed out the corpulent pre-made lunch, and the Israelis choked their food down.
After cleaning our plates and the pot of oatmeal in some flowing stream, we packed our plates and threw our thirty pound packs on our backs and barreled up the beginning of the upward climb to the high mountain pass, as we left the tour group on the flats.
I quickly fell behind, as was becoming the pattern of the day, staring up at the grey clouds that were beginning to form around the goliath peak to the left.  The shadows of the clouds gave an ominous look to the smooth grey rocks below the horned, snow-white glacier.  Suddenly as I caught my breath, the glacier cracked and crumbled, flowing down the smooth cliffs in large chunks of ice until they lost momentum and settled some ways down the grey steep. 
I imagined standing directly below it, ice blocks ripping me apart, burying me under ice debris for decades until they melted and some mountaineer discovered all the tattered pieces.
I imagined tattered pieces about the floor of my tent a week earlier, condom wrappers and dirty sheets, a brown leather backpack and a black camera case.
I imagined the poles of my tent and how I stretched them across the cloth of the tent as Marta slowly, sometimes drunkenly, snapped them into place.  Once the tent was erect, she would carefully covered the floor with her thin sleeping bag, then the white sheet, then the thick sleeping bag and finally the thick Mexican-style throw.
We were in Cajamarca when Marta put the thick Mexican throw in my bag when I wasn’t around.  After we checked out, she told me I had a present in my bag; which in turn, let me know that I had stolen the blanket from the hotel.  She had done the same in Loki Hostal with the white sheet.
I was happy though, on those cold nights, when we could sleep naked because we had an excess of stolen linens. Two helpless bodies, exposed, wrapped around each other for warmth while the light weight of the cold, sober desert confined the cloth walls of the red and beige tent.  
She woke me every morning with the click of her Canon and the non-stop prattle of a teenage girl. I hated her.  I buried my head deep inside those many blankets underneath the stillness of the morning, a time she craved.
One morning stands out among the rest in some coastal shithole outside Chiclayo.
It had all started in this fucked-up market in Chiclayo the day earlier.  We parked the bus outside the ridiculously sized mercado and dispersed.  The market was a deranged loose institution of fruit hawkers, booze swindlers, drug dealers, butchers, fish brokers, and just about any other vendor that even Charles Manson couldn´t imagine.  Anything we wanted was inside that market, buried deep in its flesh.
We walked around aimlessly while the vendors stared at us gringos, men shouting from the megaphones that sat atop their fruit carts, at Marta, asking what naranjas were in English.  She shouted back, “Oranges.”  This set off a domino effect, and soon every merchant in the market was shouting from their megaphones, asking for the names of different types of produce in English.
Marta made friends with just about every vendor in the whole place.  They just looked at me. Sometimes they shook my hand; sometimes they laughed.  But while this funny anecdote played out on the streets of Chiclayo, Seth from Milwaukee was in a dark place, rummaging through the underbelly of the market, for the medicine men, for the San Pedro.
We left with food and San Pedro to the coast where we figured we could find a place to camp.  The dreary coast was littered with dirty villages and trash dumps.  We began to fear that we would not find a campsite.  We learned of a little hostel somewhere down the beach.
 Multi-colored pyramids peaked through the shadowy distance and we knew that this hostel was a sanctuary for the Gypsy Train. It looked like somewhere that Luke Skywalker could have grown up, on some distant planet still stuck in the seventies.
We took San Pedro in that place hoping for a trip into another dimension.  The only trip we had was to the bathroom about seventeen times that night. 

My tent, the next morning, stood under an elevated guest-room on a sand floor amongst a plethora of cooking utensils and dirty dishes that were caked with the greenish-mescaline based substance that entered our bodies the night before.  Only a picture can explain.

Most mornings were a rush to cook breakfast and pack up and leave, but because everyone kept shitting, no one wanted to leave or eat.  Marta and I had a chance to laze in our tent.
“I want to tell you, I felt that we really connected that night in Mancora, when we were talking about the photos and we were on Jingus, and we were really intense, and since that moment I wanted to tell you that I love you.”  Marta said.
Between shits and smiles, we confessed ourselves.  I knew it was odd, but it was us, two funny, good-looking weirdos finding each other in between bouts of diarrhea.  She was there again.  I was happy.
I wanted to be back there with the diarrhea.  I wanted to be on the mountain pass.  

When we reached the summit of the pass atop a nearly five thousand meter ridge, we discovered a meager fissure in the rock, only big enough for a walking body where the path passed through.  I stood with my three friends looking down  on both sides of the ridge, one side a happy valley with glacier capped peaks and silver lakes, the other an ashen snarl, something out of Mordor.  We had no choice and continued on, down the ashen path, as small pieces of hail gathered in the crevasses of our bags and on the dirt trail in front and behind us, turning it white. 
Thunder echoed against the granite walls, each time growing uncomfortably louder.  Mike and I raced down the trail as the hail turned to rain and flowed from the darkened clouds that stuck to the high mountains, hiding them, leaving only the wet valley below in view where our final campsite sat and, hopefully, a sanctuary from the freezing rain.
I found an overhanging piece of brown rock with enough room for two or three.  Mike and I squeezed in to wait for A&A, who had fallen behind.  The lightning struck all around us.  I heard A&A coming down the trail.
“Psst.  Over here” I whispered.  They squeezed into the crowded cave, and we discussed our options, Alex´s back pressed against the roof and my head against it.  We could have stayed where we were and wait out the rain or boogie down to our final campsite of our four day hike.  We chose to boogie.
After a few more hours of lightning terror and torrential soakings, we made it to the camp and there stood our sanctuary from the rain, a concrete bathroom structure.  In the center of each stall, a two-foot deep hole brimmed with all sorts of different garbage and shit, even the kind that splattered on the wall.  A&A huddled in one stall, and Mike and I huddled in another watching the rain fall, remembering warmth and ignoring the stench.  It was a miserable place to be, but in the stillness, I thought back.
To Huaraz, a few days before.
My hands were covered in black paint.  Marta and I traced the outline of the penciled “Werdafukawi” on the back of the bus in a car lot off a narrow street.  Our paintbrushes didn´t work, so we used little sticks with a bi of paint on the end like quill and ink.

Marta was leaving on a bus in a few hours, and we had to paint the bus before she left.  A light drizzle dampened us, but it didn´t wet us enough to stop us from finishing our final task.  She chatted to the little girls while she painted.  I focused as to not fuck up as I was prone to do with anything associated with visual arts.  Marta, flawlessly and carelessly, painted her letters perfect, and eventually, it met my unintelligible letters in the middle.
We decided we needed a cigarette break.  I placed a Caribe in my mouth.
“It sucks about these things.” I said. “If I didn´t live this way, going from place to place, I could have never met you, nor would you have probably even liked me.  The same for you.  If you just stayed there in Madrid, none of this could of have happened or could have ever even continued to happen.  But because it is like this, I can never think that it could ever develop in a domestic way, since what we find so endearing about each other is that we aren´t normal nor domestic.  Some day I would like to be domestic, but not now.  Maybe we could be domestic , but eventually you would hate the way I brushed my teeth or that I opened the shower curtain in the wrong direction.  It’s better this way, thinking of each other in a glow rather than an afterglow of disdain.
“And we just live so far away.  We both have no money.  It really makes me sad that it is an impossibility.  And even if it were not an impossibility, if either one of us would give up so much, your career or my gypsy train, to be together, it would inevitably put a heavy strain on the person who gave up these things.  
“The only possible light would be in the far future, in Buenos Aires.  But there would have to be so many uncontrollable factors that steered us there.  The Gypsy Train has no route; you do have a route.  We would both have to plan now to go there for ourselves, no matter whether we continue to keep such close connection.  We are far away and for a long time.  People and feelings fade.  Proximity is the crucial element to a continued romance.  I know you lay and dream of me in Madrid and I obsess on the days you were here.  It´s just so fucking sad.
“I would say don’t ever forget me, but that’s absurd.  Of course, you won’t forget me.  Maybe I should say don’t forget that we loved each other once and at one time you got funny feelings in your stomach when you thought of me.  But you will.  It will just fade away just like everything else.”
Some of these words came out on that Saturday afternoon under the drizzle.  Others still have yet to come out, and some came out, just now, in this very serious blog I just wrote.
 We stared at our artwork.  And we didn’t speak.  I thought about her leaving on a bus that wasn´t mine.  It didn´t really feel like she was leaving.  Everything had felt so natural.  She was still standing there.  I could still touch her.
And then after a few more hours of purgatory, I couldn´t touch her anymore.
I watched her get on the bus, and, like a corny movie, I said, “I will see you again.  I know it.”
I didn´t know it.
 I walked down the road and back to the hostel.
I watched a comedy with my friends and fell asleep.  The next day we prepared for the hike through the Santa Cruz valley, and Marta flew home.

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