THIS TIME IT COULDN´T BE
More than 20 years ago, I found myself in a little and pretty town in the north of this wonderful country that´s Chile, with it white church and the friendly indigenous people, In this time they didn´t have electricity power, didn´t have hostels or travel agencies, and nature seemed to be much more authentic and real than today.
Mrs. Josefina´s offered me a lovely corner in her house, her husband allow me to touch my first real condor, in this time they hunted them, the Father Pepe´s cut the hair to everybody in town before the Friday mass, anyway a little paradise if the real paradise exist? I am talking about San Pedro de Atacama town, the same place where I am right now, more than 20 years later, seeing with my eyes that the tourism has broken all its charm, Mrs. Josefina´s, the Father Pepe´s and all the other ones are gone, they changed them for those kind of tourist that I really don´t want to say what I am thinking, a shame!, but fortunately, there´s one thing that nobody can still, these splendid nights with all the stars in this part of the world.
Going back in my time, I would like to say that I have left the chaotic city of La Paz, heading towards north Chile, pedaling near the majestic Sajama´s volcano and the Chungara´s lagoon, protected by the Pomerape´s and Parinacota´s volcanoes, lovely memories, when I was still able to dare against those giants.
Today´s while I am writing this, comfortable seated in a chair with a nice coffee it´s hard to me realize what I have been through the last weeks, moments that life “bombarded” me with feelings and situations that if I could I wouldn´t have experienced, but those moments are the ones that show you that we, human being are so little.
My way from Cungara´s meant heading south through the Surire´s salar and getting into Bolivia again by, the Coipasa and the famous Uyuni´s salar, and from there heading south through the inhospitable land of south Lipez, this is a place that today´s getting famous with those people that travel with 4×4 car, and in normal conditions, it´s a challenge for those silly ones that we dare with bicycles.
Like we all of you know, here in this area it´s winter now, temperatures can easily rise to -20º Celsius, even though the skies are normally blue and sunny, although the sun doesn´t heat no matter it´s there for you.
All this record is on the paper and in the wishes of all of us, but for those that we go with bicycle, it´s also a challenge to find water, food etc and the journey basically goes from pushing, pushing and pushing the bike.
To be short, I’ll say that after crossing the cold and humid Coipasa salar, I´ve have meet Candice´s and Eric’s, an American couple that lest Florida some months ago, after sharing some words, experiences and good company, they decided to join me on this part of the south Lipez, meanwhile we separated to go through the huge Uyuni´s salar, so much cold, so much white, so much immensity, that the far islands that you need as a reference to keep moving, they look like that are a live, they disappeared when you look towards another place, first warning! Never get lost here, especially in the west part, if you don´t want to become little pile of frozen white salt.
We meet again after this in a lovely little town, from there we will share our way to south Lipez, journey that for sure we will never forget.
I guess this chronicle really starts from this line.
We moved slowly and hardly, tracks where full of stones and sand, remind me a lot of many difficult African ways, but for us, the complicity of the three of us went very well so far.
We passed those amazing places, surrounded by volcanoes in activity, we advanced slowed that expected but our reserves of food, water or gas, where fine according our calculations, enough to go till our final destination that was San Pedro de Atacama´s.
But… bloody hell, there´s always one but in life, isn´t it? This “but” I am sure it will remind with us forever.
We passed the Hedionda´s lagoon, this is the place where the funny pink flamingos do their last stop looking for better weather up north, there, a grey and fast cloud was coming towards us announcing weather changes, in one second I felt that something was wrong, and suddenly one strong wind didn´t allow us to see much further, sky turned grey like “lead” falling from the sky, the world, our world become dark, snow came too, and the wind raise it, making it like sharpen needles that attacked without piety all the our skin parts that were exposed to the air.
We knew that was a cold place, but in this moment everything started to get extreme,-20º Celsius, wind, snow, etc. We decided to find a good place to set a camp forced by the impossibility to keep going, In those situations setting a camp isn´t funny at all, but it´s also the only thing that can really save you, inside our tents the mercury was -13º Celsius, outside, wind whip the tents like it was testing their resistance, even this, we cooked, we eaten something warm, and we also were able to believe that this only would last a bit.
This night was, hard, cold and much more inhospitable that this place itself, next morning when I awake, the wind seamed that didn´t want me there, and all around me was wrapped with 15 cm of the with and very cold snow, one of those pretty images that we all like to see from a secure place.
In this moment, my experience told me that we better stay there one more day, and we did, we kept dreaming that all that would be just for a short time, and that tomorrow will be better, meanwhile, wind, snow and cold kept showing us that conditions could be even worse, anyway, after almost 30 hours in our tents, our conversations became little by little in slight “ rumors” of voices that come and go, me from my side I just want to hug all the hopes, the same ones that sincerely I was sure that didn´t exist anymore, and this is how, the pieces of my short life start too falling ones against the others like a domino line, I only had with me a sordid silence and this anticipation of suffering that many times precede this fear of the unknown.
Next morning, another big deception, more wind, more snow, more… so, seeing the scared food and gas that we had left, I thought that the best for us would be keep moving.
Getting out from one sleeping bag at -10º Celsius, to go out there without knowing at all what to do, isn´t the funniest thing to do anymore, even though we didn´t have much choice.
This day, I guess we have left a big part of our energy pushing our bikes; it took us the bloody hole day to do only 6km, another camp, and more broken hopes, little later, we saw a car, yes a car! But he announced us the bad news that the park, actually the hole area was closed for everybody because of the bad weather conditions, and that they had to rescue all the tourist that were travelling with the 4×4, after those desperation words, he shut the window and he left leaving us there with our tremble mouth open wide thinking? What the hell.
Alone again, then I had the feeling that we really had to find the way to get out from there, Candice´s and Erec´s, didn´t share their fears with me anymore, we just set up one tent, trying to be a bit more warm and comfortable, if we can name it like this.
Every day we advanced less, and those last days our food was reduced at one meal per day, 500 grams of pasta for the three of us, and the water it was, just the amount of snow that we could eat.
Me, almost accepting this defeat, I have lived moments that brought me back all my life, my loved ones, those unforgettable moments when I got lost in Sudan, oh well…at night I was trying hard to catch, hope, dreams etc I was looking for a sense of my broken existence, and I just wanted to swim in the hottest ocean, maybe it was a madness?
I was thinking loud voice, just to avoid not feeling the loneliness, meanwhile hours passed slow too slow, tomorrow? Tomorrow I didn’t know what it will deserve to us, but I was sure that we run out of time, half sleeping I tried to not moving much, just to avoid the sharp knives of the cold getting into my sleeping bag, even though I had the strength of crying and laughing at the same times.
When we awake again de following morning, I´ve stared at Candice´s and Erec´s, and I just saw pain in their tired faces, I guess It was better not even see my own face, we don´t talk much anymore, we only do it to accept that we cannot going further much more, “we are screwed” comes out from somebody mouth.
After this strange moment, sun comes out to wink its eyes for some minutes, also wind stop its fury, a proverb comes suddenly to my thoughts, “while there´s no wind, there´s no bad weather”, Fuc… off the proverbs, now I am so tired, so sad and running out of hopes, But! Oh oh, another but, from far, but not far enough for them to not see us a 4×4 appears on the top of the snowy hill, in less than one second we´re shouting and shaking our arms like real mad people, I guess that we also had a shy little smile in our burned faces, oh man! What a moment, all this show to see this image that I always thought that you only see it on movies, this car, like it came, it disappeared, what a” blow with a stick” for us, after some swearing words, the silence became as strong as the wind, we are alone again, and every time a bit more “downcast”
The only left strength that I have, I try to use it to be united, and without waiting for, in the distance I could make out a big rock that looked like a sign, I left my bicycle and went towards it, a well-worn letters announced the Colorada Lagoon not far from there, although, impossible for us pushing bikes, but, to the other side, up north, announced a supposed refuge too, a kind of desert hotel that uses those tourist that pay lots of money to stay there in their transit nights during their tours, I went back to ask Erec´s to come with me, Candice´s stayed there with the wind the cold and her broken solitude, one hour and a half later this history arrived to its end, the people that worked there took very good care of us, they gave us water, food, but the most important, they gave us love and one space to cry, when Erec´s and I went back for Candice´s and the bikes, we saw from far two other peoples that were helping Candice´s and also pushed our own bikes, more emotions, more hugs, bloody hell, what a “soap opera” of frost tears.
After one excellent soup, I guess it was the best in the world in this precisely moment, all this suffering moments seams to disappear as fast as a magic “rabbit” , the same day at night they pull out us from there, and leave us almost at the started point, but this time we will take another way to get into Chile, in silence we could see again our prints in the snow, our protective night camps, but we didn´t talk much, very late at night the car leave us in the Bolivian border, we knocked at the police post door, we slept in the office floor, it was cold, but I am quite sure that none of us felt it so much, we have had learned a lesson that for sure we will never forget.
I’ve always wanted to help those in needs, but those past days I´ve learned this strange feeling of when somebody really helps you… I have no words.
More than 20 years ago I found myself in a pretty little village in the north of Chile, today I am here again, but this time in silence I have to show a big gratitude to the life for giving me another chance, I own you one!
P.S. with this, I don´t want you to believe that we are much more than the others, I am very aware of the real suffering of all those that never had this chance, I just wanted to share my latest fears with all of you.
Today the sun it´s unbearable in this high part of the world, and I am so happy to see that no one could still the wonderful skies of the Atacama Desert.
This time it couldn´t be.
WE NEVER GO THIS FAR THAN WE NEVER KNOW WHERE WE GO.Octavio Paz
HEALTH AND GOOD JOURNEY, NANDO.