Archive for the ‘travels’ Category

ambition and impermanence

The theme of impermanence naturally wraps itself around impending departures. Graduating, quitting, breaking-up are departures from school, from work, from love, from once permanent foundations of a once familiar life. When we move on it can be exciting or it can be terrifying.

When we talk in the familiar binary of global north v. global south or developed v. underdeveloped countries, we tend to overlook the subtle yet striking commonalities. And increasingly, we all share impermanence.

Not a single twenty-something expects to be in the same job for over 20 years. And not many of us want to be. With the economic crisis in the US, most people might not expect to be in the same job for a few months. Not in a generation have Americans experienced this novel hesitancy regarding their future prosperity. Yet, for those in the more precarious ‘developing’ world this dynamic has long defined normal life.

I want to share a story from my trek up Volcan Misti. During one of our rests, Hugo, our guide, told the story of how he came to be a guide.

Hugo is in his forties but his youthful complexion and endless curiosity give him the countenance of a 25 year old. He started as a baker, but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ So he opened an ice cream shop but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ So he became a bartender, thoroughly enjoying the social aspect and the constant flow of tourists, but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ Then he went to work in the mines and made plenty of money which was spent accordingly on drunken revelry…but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ Hugo returned to the mountains and became an adventure guide, hiking and climbing his way to success yet again. But as time passed he realized we had a volcano to trudge up, cut his story short and flashed the devilish smile that accompanied his previous declarations of ‘ya no me gustó.’

‘Ya no me gustó’ means I didn’t like it anymore or, to be more idiomatically accurate, I didn’t feel like it anymore. One would not expect this sort of control over economic circumstance from someone in a ‘poor’ country through periods of civil unrest and political upheaval. But the common theme of chosen impermanence amongst mercurial circumstances now binds the north to the south.

Through Hugo’s story I could not help but hear the echoes of my own caprice. In the last three years I have left two great jobs because ‘ya no me gustó.’ But, like Hugo my ambition plays a role in the impermanence of my circumstance.

Not only does it play a role, but for me ambition lies at the heart of the emotional consequence of impermanence. Does change signify the presence of new opportunities or the absence of old? I think eventually the promise of unforeseen future success overtakes the sadness created by the loss of past joy – but that is the thin, unsteady, alchemical line we must walk whenever we take a step into the ephemeral purgatories that separate that which was from whatever will be.

the apothecary

With only three weeks remaining in my Kiva Fellowship, I have begun to pay an exceptional amount of attention to the unnoticed loose threads of life in Chiclayo. I believe that the potential people have for adaptation has the unfortunate consequence of casting the exceptional into the molds of the acceptable. Establishing normalcy sometimes means overlooking noteworthy idiosyncrasies, especially in urban landscapes with an endless source of … quirks.

I have photographed a series of them below and written descriptions for each – just click on the photo.

I decided to name this post ‘the apothecary’ because their presence has been the most ubiquitous and consistently disregarded as ‘normal.’ But honestly this must be totally unique: having carts with mortars & pestles, elixirs, herbs and steaming vats that can be used and combined into any kind of panacea on request, located at every street corner after sundown.

10.17.09 – the apothecary

destination’s finality

After nearly six weeks in the flat and material city of Chiclayo I could not wait to get to the mountains of Arequipa. My pre-Foromic excitement spilled over into hasty decision making as I gazed longingly at the 19,000+ ft active volcano, Mistí, that towers above ‘the White City.” It was almost too easy: my hostal had a private guide, a young fun Swiss couple wanted to hike the next day, and I thought to myself ‘why not?’

If only I had thought to actually answer that question. I had been at sea level just the previous evening and 36 laid-back hours later I set off with my companions and a full pack of gear (tent, pad and all). Hiking in the Andes does not compare to the Rockies. There are no switchbacks, no markers and no explicit (or even marked) trail.

Instead one finds the directional efficiency of steep uphill gradients quickly elevating a path of suggestions known exclusively to the guide (Hugo) and assumed by the rest. We weaved through golden fields of tall grass, this being the arid dry season, and wild brush with explosively bright orange and yellow flowers all around us. At every rest the scent of chamomile and a hundred other unidentifiable herbs overwhelmed me.

The fields yielded to the gnarled volcanic rock that always seemed to be on the edge of the vertical horizon. But upon arrival, another crag rose right up to the next vertical horizon. And eventually the rock succumbed to the vast gray sand dunes of ash that one literally must trudge up to set up camp.

We pitched our tents a thousand meters below the cone with a tremendous view of the landscape below — valleys, gorges and more mountain chains in every direction. Every once in a while we heard explosions, but Mistí has been asleep for about 400 years. It turns out that the sound of bundled dynamite exploding in the mines some 100 kilometers away has an unobstructed acoustic path straight up the slopes of the volcano.

And then came the altitude sickness. I could not stand without shaking or walk without stumbling. I vomited. I even lost the strength to eat soup. Along the climb up I used coca lozenges (oh so tasty) to mitigate the effects and Hugo gave me some coca leaf to chew – all of which resulted in my heart thundering to the point that I could not sleep.

So I stayed on my back, but somehow remained happy and alert all the while. Hugo and I shared a tent and had the most interesting conversation about the evolution of culture, adaptation versus advancement regarding the integration or annihilation of knowledge, and the nature of a shrinking world that made the concept of ‘private’ knowledge a form of philosophical arrogance. Somehow, altitude sickness dulled my body while sharpening my mind.

At 2 am, Hugo and my Swiss friends left for the summit. I decided to keep trying to sleep, especially as my motor skills continued to evade me. I woke up around 7:30 and felt fantastic, but when they returned at 8:30 there was not enough time for me to ‘conquer’ the peak. I took it as a lesson that the journey’s importance supersedes that of the destination – and destination’s finality is nothing more than a stubbornly persistent illusion. Joyfully, I embraced the walk, hike, hop, slide down to our 4×4.

10.10.09 – destination’s finality

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