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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