New Year’s Day (II)

“Do you think the blessing will protect them?” Jacobs asks, looking at the procession.

“Are you asking me again if I believe in God?” I ask back, trying to sound neutral.

He shrugs: “ … I’m just very interested in religion.”

“So I noticed.” I give him a non-commital smile.

We’re still in Copacabana, Bolivia – not its colorful cousin in Rio. This is the cold and austere version. The one where you have trouble breathing, because you are almost 13,000 feet up in the mountains.

The Copacabana cathedral spire is standing out like white cardboard against the blazing blue sky. Two dozen or so bulky Bolivian drivers waiting patiently to get their trucks sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

The Benedicion de Movilidades occurs daily and Jacob insisted that we went to see it, before crossing over to Isla del Sol out in the Lake Titicaca, which is where everybody is going.

But right now here we are in front of the cathedral looking at all the cars, trucks and buses lined up to receive a cha’lla, a ritual blessing – some odd combo of the local Pachamama-worship and reluctant Catholicism. And so they spray booze on the cars (that’s the holy water if you sacrifice to Pachamama), but they do it in front of the Church of the Holy Virgin.

Jacob snaps one pic after another with his tiny but very pro-looking camera.

I just gawk – fascinated.

I mean, when this is all over the vehicles and their drivers should be protected against driving on some of the world’s most dangerous roads, all of which are here in Bolivia … I wonder if they are protected against their own thirst for strong liquor? Continue reading

New Year’s Day (I)

“I was wondering … do you believe in God?”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Jacob – we’re about to eat.”

“Well, if that’s a problem … ”

I ignore his last comment; my gaze concentrated at the menu. Jacob seems confused for a second, then looks straight through me, into some kind of world in the empty restaurant behind me that only he can see.

He’s an okay guy, though. Kind of. I guess.

It happened as it always does: We got to sit next to each other on the bus from Puno in Peru to Copacabana here in Bolivia. By the time we were ready to stand in line like cows at the cramped border-station to get out tourist visas, we just sort of drifted together once more.

Preemptive insanity protection, you know; if I hadn’t had someone to talk to during that hour, I’d have gone positively loco, as they say here. Because Bolivians apparently seem to think that efficiency rhymes with multiplicity. So if you need three stamps in your passport, for example, it is obvious that you also need three persons for the job – one to give each stamp – and one long line to get each stamp.

“What’ll you have?” I ask him again. Continue reading

Without A Trace

Her name’s Siobhan – (21, Cape Breton, Canada) –  and she’s been my travelling mate for about half an hour.

We both happened to need a chat at the same time, while struggling to make the ancient computer at the Margarita hostel send an e-mail before it went into another coma.

And we both gave up at the same time, one of us just going ‘fuck it – I’m going to grab something to eat. Hey – want to come?’

And next we both went out in to the dull streets of this near-border town, but didn’t feel hungry anyway and decided to stroll the harbor instead.

Isn’t that enough to be travel mates, even if it only last for a few precious hours one random evening in your life? Continue reading

Under My Skin

So should I … jump?

I mean, there’s nowhere else to go here.

The pavement I walked on just ended.

There’s just the cliff and after it – a Pacific ocean that seems to have merged with the gray sky.

So I’m standing at an edge, then – another one.

The cliff is almost provocative in its sheer ugliness: Mud-brown dirt sloping hundreds of feet down straight into the traffic-congested highway, the only fragile fence that seems to hold the back the cliff’s secret desire to collapse, and take with it all the houses perked on here on its edge, and me, crashing right down into the dark depths below the angry Pacific surf.

Lima could have gone on, but it didn’t.

It would have been simple, though, for an 8-million inhabitant mega-city such as this to just go on. After all that is what mega-cities do.

It is a cold, misty morning – like most mornings here in the vaguely greened seaside neighborhood of Miraflores, where I am hiding out.

The only way you can see the morning, is in fact, because the perpetual mist has shifted from black to white.

The mist of Lima is Lima.

You can’t extract it anymore from the city than you can extract the houses or the people. Here you are never really outside, because you are always in a prison of mist.

I have just been walking slowly down one of the streets that run along the cliff, then I turned, and then … stopped. The street ended in oblivion. The asphalt literally has been chewed off by the cliff’s dirt-brown gums.

After it there was just more mist. And beyond that a dim dissolved horizon which I can only just glance through the plumes of smog and fog, being continually fanned out over the sea from the center of Lima as if the huge city is trying constantly to shake off some unpleasant infestation.

*

Barely two months have passed since the funeral; then I went away – leaving everything behind. And everyone.

It seems, though, like I have already spent forever on dusty roads that cradle the spine of the Americas: Escaping Ohio’s coffin to hitchhike haphazardly through the states down to do a veritable firewalk over Mexico’s burning border; later cooling temporarily in Belizean beach waters; just barely surviving Colombia; seducing in Ecuador; and now … facing a choice in Peru.

There has come a division in me, like the city’s division between ordered blocks of concrete and greedy, chaotic primeval waves: My journey has been divided. Between where I can go next and where I can never really go.

Geographically speaking it is just the division between the continent and the ocean.

But it is also the division between my reason to travel all this way and my reason to go on.

So why did I feel the division when I saw that Lima had stopped – right here? Maybe because I hadn’t expected it.

When I read about Miraflores in the coffee-stained guide I picked up at that hostel up in Quito, I figured it would be something akin to a Peruvian riviera.

And after all this time on the road, I longed for something akin to the real Riviera – at least as I imagine it. And I was ready to blow my last cash on it.

So I found this nice, little hotel – El Patio; a place that for once looked as nice as it sounded, but only because I had decided to pay for it. I paid and went quickly to my room, taking a shower and finding my last good clothes, the trousers and the blouse that the señora washed for me yesterday in that little pueblo, the name of which name I have forgotten already.

Then I went ‘out’ for a walk. Feeling like the stranger that I am, I did not really look people in the eyes. Why would they want to look back at me anyway? And more importantly: Why would I want them to? I mean, if they looked too long, would they not see that I came all this way, all these thousands of miles for something that any normal person would not have?

I try to think that that’s bogus, of course, but my heart disagrees with me. Therefore I don’t look people in the eye, on this subdued morning in Miraflores, Lima.

*

She had died, I had to live but I couldn’t.

Couldn’t die either, though, not anymore than I already had … So I had to go instead. Somewhere.

And then, as the road wore on, I made the one big mistake a traveler should never make. I began to think too much about the journey.

It was not that other people questioned me about my purpose – for God’s sake, no. I rarely spoke to strangers in the North, just as I rarely speak to strangers down here.

And when I did, I rarely told them why I was journeying onward – onward – onward. We mostly just laughed and discussed the number of cockroaches in cheap hotels and the weight of gross Andean women doing the laundry and where to get so plastered for only a few dollars that it would be worth the whole trip.

Yeah, we were fine specimens, all right. Stupid arrogant tourists.

I had sworn, I’d never become one myself. But when you go away like this, to escape something that is impossible to really escape, well … then stupid talk with other people at bars and in buses is the first best pill. That and plenty of drinks.

So I have had plenty of drinks with a whole lot of boys and girls I have already forgotten on my way down here. I drank a lot and talked a lot but never went into detail.

Never a word about why I pulled the plug from law school, left my remaining friends like Nadine, left my mum and then flushed the petty dollars I actually had stashed away for something like this right out the toilet.

No, I never talked about reason I started this journey to a cliff-side at an ugly highway in Lima.

*

I guess in the end we all reach our own cliff-side in Lima.

We start by thinking we have arrived in an oasis – the part of the city that is actually not the dirtiest, grimiest and most desolate Latin American inferno this side of Ciudad de Mexico. The part called Miraflores. An oasis.

Then we venture just a few minutes away from our last palm in that oasis, to see what’s beyond.

Then we discover that there never really was any oasis. It was just another illusion.

The oasis was surrounded by the same dirt and grime we had fled all along. So the oasis is a prison. A fake. There is no escape from the dirt and grime.

Sure, you can stay in the oasis, but it’s as unrealistic as me staying for the rest of my life in Lima. What would I do? How would I get money? Who would I be with? It would be as crazy as staying the rest of your in a hotel you liked or felt … safe in.

So this cliff-side at It wasn’t even a fork in the road, it was just the place where there are no more roads.

That’s my division.

So I had ended up here … out of options. Or so it seemed.

No options. Except maybe a jump.

I have never had such a thought before.

Never thought I would have it.

But that’s what the death of your best friend will do to you, I guess.

I suddenly hear a child laughing. I turn and look.

There is a little girl and her mother, strolling along. Moving to somewhere in the lives. They have lives.

After Lin killed herself, I have none – not anymore.

Or have I?

*

Am I brave enough today
From not knowing
Where to begin
To the need for more
Gets under my skin