Across Icy Pools

Siobhan could not stop thinking about Carrie. Why had she left without a word?

True, it had been in the air the night before, she had to concede that now that it was bright day again and the previous night out stood clearer in her mind, as if some of that daylight had shone back 24 hours to illuminate why that strange – but very sympathetic – girl, Carrie Sawyer, had chosen to just … leave.

True, there had been a certain finality in her good-night the other night – when each of them went to their rooms after that tour-de-gringo-bars on Puno’s minuscule main street … or was that just Siobhan’s imagination?

Siobhan was not one to think too much about people’s motivations, she rather preferred to evaluate others by their actions. But here now was a discrepancy. She could not, even with her best efforts, understand why Carrie had left her room at the hotel, so early in the morning, without even leaving a message of some kind.

They had not formally agreed to do anything together today, that was true, too. Except perhaps that simple unspoken agreement of two people who have shared a warm-hearted evening together, drinking and joking, in a frosty town on the shore of a mountain lake in tourist land – a certain chillingly blue mountain lake that made out the natural border between Peru and Bolivia: Titicaca.

As Siobhan continued carefully to take a few more steps out onto the long, spindly wharf – little more than some tied-together rubber tires with planks stapled on them – she could not stop thinking, though.

About Carrie.

The plan had been simple – even obvious: She was backpacking and aiming to see as much as possible of Peru until she had to go back to “tedious life” (as she never failed to consider it). So what did you see at the world’s highest navigable lake? What did you really want to see, according to all guides, when in this subdued mountain town, gazing over the azure blue waters of the lake, into the mile-long reed lands along the coast, beyond which a colorful and mysterious local Indian people lived only in so much seclusion that a handful of islands had decided the temptation to take up tourism as an extra income was too great – and therefore allowed visitors?

Well, you didn’t do anything of course. On your own. Not when, until you woke up today, it had been clear in your mind that you were going to be together – with someone you actually cared quite a bit for, odd as it was.

Because Carrie had left her. And it was not even a fun thought any longer, to go see fat Andean women in their overstuffed dresses selling small reed boat figurines and having their children sing ‘row-row-row your boat’ in dreadful Spanish as a goodbye to you, ‘esteemed visitor’ .

Of course the reed islands had to be seen! They were floating islands for God’s sake! And they were the best ‘indigenous kitsch’ she could think of (a term she had written in her diary and found quite satisfying).

All you had to do was to find someone with whom to enjoy the kitsch – a new travel-mate to replace the lovable prankster, Klaus, the seldom variety of a young German guy who knew how to crack a joke at practically every opportunity and when not to. They had parted after doing Machu Picchu together – he was going to Chile to visit someone – and they had been sworn to keep contact via email. Someone else would have to take his place. That someone had been Carrie until this morning at about 700 AM.

Sure, she had been moody the night before, but Siobhan had had not doubt in her talent of convincing people to go have fun – especially when it was to have fun with Siobhan herself.

Until this morning.

She had just checked out. No messages.

And Siobhan’s urge to island-jump on Los Uros, the artificial reed tourist magnets, had all but checked out, too.

She had, in fact, been very close to just jumping on the bus back to Cuzco, but decided against it. It was a bit too silly now that she had come this far. But the day was already old, and the last boats to Los Uros had sailed. She was stuck here in Puno.

So she drifted a bit herself on dry land, in fact she walked very far into the outskirts of the city, ignoring the burning mountain-sky sun and the sickly looking street dogs.

Then suddenly something new had stopped her:

Down by the waterside there was something that looked like a very different ship … near a wharf that jutted out from a sunburnt lawn that went all the way down to the water.

A long, narrow pontoon bridge lead out to the ship. It looked as if one could go out there.

And so she did, because she had nowhere else to go.

And while she walked carefully across the unsteady wharf, swaying in the shallow waters for each of her steps, and as the steamer grew in front of her – all that had happened to her – to them – just the night before … came back to her once more. And she again felt sorry, for herself first – because she was alone, and then for Carrie because she could not even be here, to explore this new adventure… Whatever had driven her away this morning had had to be pretty serious.

Siobhan reached the entry ladder of the ship. A name that sounded local was inscribed in big black letters on the white upper-side of the hull. A friendly name, of sorts, although she had no clue what it meant. It was probably Quechua, the resident Indian language.

The ship seemed to be open for visitors, but not a single soul was there to greet her. No ticket-person, of which there usually were many in Peru, no guide, no no-one.

Should she … try to go aboard?

In the end the decision was easy: No.

Who cared about an old steam-ship, even if it was some kind of strangely inviting apparition.

Who cared to go aboard and get thrown off again, because it was outside opening hours, or not allowed at all, or some such – when you had to go alone?

Who cared to stay aboard and explore if it was allowed – when the one you had counted on, or made yourself believe you could count on to go with you and explore such things, when she had just … gone away?

Siobhan started walking back along the wobbly wharf.

No, it didn’t matter. Without Carrie it didn’t matter. But Carrie was probably gone for good. Damn.

She had to find someone else to travel on with, just for a few days. The thought of traveling alone for more than a few days made her queasy.

Siobhan stopped in the middle of the makeshift wharf. She looked carefully back over her should, towards the old steamer.

Why was she about to pull the same stunt as Carrie did to her?

True, Siobhan was not used to people leaving her. It was a new feeling. It was like … a clear pool you had discovered when out walking, to your delight – perhaps after a rainy evening. You had stopped and mirrored yourself in it, found a certain sort of odd company in your own reflection – if only for a second or two; enjoyed it immensely, perhaps even kneeling down to gently strafe the rim of the pool with your finger and then …

… it turns to ice.

Yes. That’s how it felt.

But … she had only known Carrie for a day, and despite her deep feeling of connection, a day was not enough to behave like Carrie.

She looked back at the ship…

“Somebody left you, too, huh?” she murmured. “No explanation? Perhaps we should stop that kind of silliness here, then … before it becomes contagious … “

Siobhan turned and walked back – to the waiting ship.

The Yavari


 Last edited October 26, 2011


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