Have you ever felt like you could stay in a certain moment forever?
Usually a certain moment in the past that can never come back?
Usually with certain people?
I thought a lot about some people recently, some of whom I met long ago, on a trip, and haven’t seen since.
Some of us stayed connected on social media when that became a thing, even if we never actually met again and even if the ‘connection’ was more symbolic than real.
But at least we stayed in touch, me and people I hiked with in the Andes, talked with for hours on busses, bunked with at rundown hostels —people you suddenly, unexpectedly felt a unique something with, even if it was only for a few days.
And yeah, some of those people and moments stayed with you, in a sense. At least on Facebook.
Others just disappeared.
Memories with them were just as special but … they went away. No word. No trace.
I wondered what happened to them and if we will ever meet again?
Would we even want to?
BOLIVIA, 1 JUNE 2000
I decided to go to Isla del Sol alone. What else could I do?
I mean, I went over to knock again at Jacob’s door, but he didn’t reply, even though I could see through the half-drawn curtains that his stuff was still on the floor.
What a shitshow last night. I do understand if he doesn’t want to travel with me anymore. Not sure I’d want to, either, but I’m kinda stuck with the company …
Anyway, there are usually, but not always two cramped tourist boats leaving for Isla del Sol and they have already left because I got up so late.
So now we have only the boat which the locals use and I have to pay extra to get on that, along with children and big bundles of everything from soap bars to vegetables. There is no electricity, running water, anything on the island, and definitely no supermarkets either. So the people who live sail to Copa and shop a couple of times a week, then drag everything up the mountain to the village on their backs once they return.
The richer inhabitants have a mule that’ll do the job for them, but, just as in the town here and so many other places, all I see are women–mostly women–carrying god knows what in great bundles on their bags, including little kids. That’s how it is.
I only have myself and my rucksack. And as I stand in line, waiting on the pier for my turn to be a sardine, I feel hollow. I don’t feel like going anywhere now.
But out there, across the shimmering expanse of Lake Titicaca beckons the hazy shape of Isla del Sol. It’s like something out of a National Geographic documentary with its rugged cliffs and 360 degree views to the neverending blue of the Lake.
It is also a rapidly expanding tourist attraction. Local hopefuls are building restaurants and hotels in big clusters around the ‘traditional’ village of Yumani where the boat is slated to arrive. At least I was told that much.
I don’t care about either. I just can’t stay in this town anymore.
And you know, there are plenty of other ruins and hiking trails on the island.
Plenty of ways to get … away.
I know the voice before I see him. And my shoulders slump.
There is Jacob scrambling down the small path from the Copa main street to the waterfront. His big green rucksack is bumping on his back and he is sweating like he just ran a marathon. With the thin air here, I bet he feels like he did.
But he looks like someone else. Alive …
I almost want to give him a hug, but I stop myself. “So you wanted to go after all?”
“If you still want to be in the boat with me,” he grins.
“ … Yes.” I get a hold of myself. “Yes, I want to.”
Then he gets serious. “I’m sorry about last night, I really am.”
“I apologized to the owner, too. Paid him extra.”
“I’m sure it’s no problem.”
He makes a wave with his hand, like that’s not up for debate. Fortunately, there’s nothing around to hit this time.
So we get our tickets and get into the boat.
Just the two of us, and a throng of locals who look utterly indifferent to our presence.
And after searching for a few inches of space on the boat’s bench, we can finally relax. We are going. Somewhere.
But first we sit—for a long time. We don’t talk about anything.
After half an hour my mind wanders. “Uh,—there aren’t enough life-jackets on this pram with a roof, are there?”
“Hm—aren’t there?” Jacob looks distracted like he is still thinking about the night. And so many other things.
“No, there aren’t.” I feel queasy. “And have you seen how many passengers we have? If something happens—”
“I don’t think anything will happen.” His voice is still flat.
My brain keeps trying to calculate the number of life-jackets vs. passengers. “ … I hate the idea of falling into the Lake. It’s probably freezing.”
“Are you afraid you can’t swim to the shore?” He looks at me. I can see how tired he is.
And it freaks me out that we can’t talk about it. And that there is no space in this boat. And no life-jackets.
I try to stand up and hit my head against the wooden roof of the boat. “Ouch! Jacob, we can’t get out of this sardine can if everybody panics.”
“You’re the one who is panicking.” He grins, no longer afraid of me it seems. Or whatever all that show was about yesterday.
I turn to Jacob again. “But maybe we should go outside, get up and sit on the roof?”
“What about our backpacks?”
“Who’s going to run away with them—on a boat?”
“I prefer staying down here.”
He turns away from me, his face very close to the nearest grimy plastic window. “You go up if you want to.”
I lean over and make him look at me again. “Are you afraid of the sun?”
He looks baffled. “The sun? Er … no.”
“Ah—!” I throw my hands up in mock surprise. “But I think that you don’t have faith in my super-suuuunscreen?”
I rummage through my handbag, and the first catch is what I am looking for. I wave the bottle of sunscreen in front of his nose.
He hesitates for a moment. Then something in his visage changes. Like he is reminded of something. Something that is both stupid and yet real and good.
And he laughs. But for the first time since I met him, it sounds genuine. “Everything so fucked up, Carrie. I can’t stay in Peru. I can’t go back home as long as there is this shitty draft … ”
He laughs again, even if the words are serious. “It’s like quantum physics—I’m in two places at once, but not really in either place.”
“Jacob, please, no more about those books.”
“What is it with you? You don’t want to discuss religion. You don’t want to discuss physics. You don’t want to discuss philosophy. I almost think you are smarter than me!”
“That’s about the only thing I do have faith in.”
My last deadpan remark forces a final chuckle from him. It’s still special, though.
Like something that comes at a moment when you feel who you are, who you want to be, all the good in life, and know you are barred from it.
Yet you still hope.
It’s where joy meets pain.
The locals ignore us with zen-like discipline. The two young silly gringos …
“Maybe faith is something you have when you have to have it,” Jacob adds in a low voice, but looks directly at me. “So why do I want to have it and why don’t you seem to want to have it?”
As I try to figure out what to say, I notice our ‘captain’.
He is a middle-aged Bolivian man, but with skin as brown and weathered as hundred-year-old leather. He is perched on a small bench, which is part of the railing, leaning cozily back towards the wood like it was a plush sofa.
He has one hand on a tiller that controls both the outboard engine motors. It looks as if he knows the path over all the blueness in his sleep for he doesn’t really look anywhere in particular. He just … sits there and lets the boat move.
The locals who seem to have decided to clump together everywhere. They discuss something in their own language, not Spanish—some indigenous language. Probably something about crops. Or fish. Something sufficiently concrete, no doubt.
And when they need to be helped by that which is not concrete, they’ll go to the cathedral and get their car blessed. How difficult can life be?
I can’t …
“You lost someone.”
Jacob states it like a fact.
I nod in silence.
He glances down. “I’m sorry. Family?”
“I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t say that—” My voice goes up a notch, but I don’t care any longer about who else is here. “We shouldn’t be talking about me. I’m just selfish.”
“Why?” he asks sincerely. “Wasn’t it a good friend?”
“My dearest friend … ”
“I’m sorry, but if that is the case, you are very much not selfish.”
“Then why do I feel that way?”
“You are a nice person, Carrie. I wish you’d come to Israel once. I could show you my country. It is a beautiful country.”
“I’d like to go. I don’t think the time is right, though. And I’ve blown the money I got my hands on, all for this trip.”
“Why? The trip, I mean?”
“Because … I have to see this lake—Titicaca. It meant something to her.”
“To your friend?”
“Yes. But … I’m sorry, Jacob. I’m really not ready to talk about this now.”
“Do you think you will be when you come back to your home?”
“I’m … honestly not sure, I will … go back.” I smile but feel cold again now. “It’s crazy to think like that, isn’t it? I have to go back, don’t I?
He nods, slowly. “I guess we both have. We can’t stay here forever. We don’t belong here. Except … ”
I touch his hand lightly. This time he doesn’t shy away.
For a long time we just sit and listen to the drone of the engines and the chatter of the locals and two other tourists who managed to make it into the boat along with us; excited, eager, looking forward to seeing the island where the sun was born.
“Have you noticed—” Jacob points “—how the water looks as if it’s sprinkled with diamonds?”
I turn around, peek out the dusty plastic window of the cabin. Then I see a hasp and manage to pry the window open. Immediately we can see everything clearly.
Including the diamonds.
“Oh, my—it is beautiful … ”
“The Incas saw this place and knew that this was where the Sun was born,” Jacob explains in the background, “—or at least that’s what I read in the guidebook. I didn’t know much about Incas before I bought my Lonely Planet.”
I squint my eyes against the sun. “Neither did I.”
All around us, the profound azure blue of the Lake but now dotted with thousands and thousands of small, star-like diamonds.
And I had been so busy thinking about … everything. I hadn’t even noticed it, and we’ve sailed what? An hour? At least.
“It’s the high noon sun that makes it look like that,” Jacob starts to explain.
Then he stops and lets out a breath as if he also lets go of something heavy. At least for now.
“And we’re way up in the mountains—not a cloud in the sky,” he continues after a few moments. “So in a way the lake is almost close enough to touch the sun. It looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“It’s … beautiful,” I just repeat, at a loss for words again. “I wish I could take a photo, but with my old camera it’ll probably end up like shit.”
“I know … ” Jacob glances at his own camera then at the Lake again. “Maybe it’s always better to try to experience the most beautiful things in life directly.”
And so we try.
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