I had a rather wonderful sensation the other day when I discovered a brand new book. Old story, of course, but re-imagined in a different way. I have to put it together yet, but it more or less begins with my last blog entry. The next two chapters in the book will be slightly revised versions of stories I posted on this website a few years ago and the fourth chapter is the story I am posting today. In total, there are 15 chapters, five of which have been posted previously the rest of which have to be transcribed from the messy handwritten notebooks to the neat and clean computer screen. When I say I discovered a brand new book, I mean that quite literally. I was reading through my treasure trove of old travel notebooks and my brain zoned in on the two notebooks that contained stories from the winter of 2011 journey to South America. I guess,theoretically, I could make a book about each and every one of the 16 winter wanders that I have been upon in my life. But I try to avoid just piling stories together into a jumbled mess. To make a book, I want some narrative arc… a unified whole, or, at the very least, a web of interconnectedness. In other words, I like my travel books to be about something. The winter journey of 2011 was the first time I ever traveled with Ms. B. It was the first time I ever traveled with a partner. As I look back now and read through the hand written journal entries the emotions are a bit overwhelming and the whole big story comes flooding back to me. It’s all so amazing, I can hardly believe it really happened. Perhaps I exaggerate… or maybe it’s all just a beautiful dream…
In the coming weeks, I am going to post the stories on this blog with reflections in the present about these adventures in the past. If you follow along and retrieve a couple stories from the archives, you can read the whole thing here without buying the forthcoming book. This weeks entry is the fourth chapter in the continuing saga. In the first chapter, Ms. B. almost died from altitude sickness. In the second chapter, I dragged her along on crappy local transport to stay in a shitty room just so she could see some ancient stone ruins that were really my fascination instead of hers. In the third chapter things took an upswing as we successfully trekked around the glacier lakes of Llagunanoco and visited with the Mountain God of Huascaran. It’s hard to imagine a more incredibly perfect day. In the fourth chapter now, we leave the awe inspiring mountains behind and head to the fun loving beach. It’s funny to look back on this now and read the words I wrote then. I was such a confused and befuddled young man. I could feel the transformation going on inside me but I had no idea what that transformation was. Anyway, here is the story…
A Rock Cries Out
Huanchaco, Peru; February 2, 2011
A snake sheds its skin and becomes a new snake. A tadpole becomes a frog and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Is it possible for humans to undergo a similar transformation? No, I’m not talking about enlightenment… or new age notions of evolutionary leaps into the next phase of development. Hierarchical advancement is inconsistent with my dynamic vision of the universe. After all, a butterfly is not better than a caterpillar and a frog is not better than a tadpole. They are just different… differently adapted to the world in which they live.
Big waves crest into white water and catch the rising sun to glitter and sparkle as they crash on shore. Soft wet sand squishes between my toes as I walk down the beach. Hot sun tingles my skin as the first sign of sunburn makes its presence known but a light spray from the ocean moistens the atmosphere. I feel a bit like a different person. Something significant is transforming inside of me. It’s difficult to explain what that something is but it feels like a kind of metamorphosis. Is it possible that I am changing from a mountain person to a beach person as the animal within adapts to its environment? I do realize, of course, that according to scientific theory, evolutionary adaption takes generations to occur. But I live in a metaphorical world rather than a scientific one. In my universe, human beings, like all animals, are connected symbiotically with their environment. Change the environment and change the animal. They are one and the same. As I stand here, on the edge of the ocean, with waves washing over my feet, I can feel the metamorphosis occurring.
Actually, the transformation began the day we left Caraz. No doubt about it, the bus journey from the Ancash Valley in the Cordillera Blanca down to the coast by way of the Canyon de Pato is one of the most thrilling public transportation rides on the entire planet earth. The canyon is narrow and deep and the river at the bottom rushes and churns and tumbles with incredible force and intensity. The dirt road hugs the canyon walls, passes through some 40 or so tunnels cut by hand into the rock and criss-crosses the river over flimsy bridges. There are no guardrails and the mere thought of the long steep drop to the rushing river below is enough to give many mortals a heart attack. For five or six hours we make our way down this crazy passageway. Perhaps the metaphor of a birth canal in the earth is an exaggeration but that is what it seems like. For five hours we are surrounded by rock walls, barely able to see the sky high above and we are terrified of imminent death. But then, the canyon ends, the way opens up and we emerge into the brand new world of the coastal flatlands.
We change buses in Chimbote and travel a couple more hours up the coast to the city of Trujillo. And then we have a long taxi journey to the little beach town of Huanchaco., By the time we find the pleasant little hostel called Huanchaco Gardens and check into a bungalow it is well after dark. We are exhausted from the long journey but need food for dinner so we head down to the main drag along the ocean. Wow… what a surprise. Apparently, we have arrived just in time for some kind of festival.
It never ceases to amaze me how much subjective reality can change in a very short period of time. Just the other day, Ms. B. and I were walking by ourselves along the lovely and isolated glacier lakes of Llagunanoco, high up in the Andes Mountains. And now there is this: people dressed as clowns and devils dancing in the street; horns and drums blaring and booming; fireworks blasting; surfer dudes drinking beer at beach bars; the smell of the ocean and seafood, artesania salesmen, street vendors, drug dealers, scoundrels and con artists. It’s a whole new universe; full of chaos and madness and crazy fun. But we are not quite adapted yet to this new reality. So we have a quick bite to eat and watch the parade and fireworks for a while. But then we return to our bungalow and go to bed early.
For the next several days we do our best to adapt to the new reality. We swim in the ocean and sun bathe on the shore. We drink beer and watch the sunset and we eat ceviche. I get a bag of weed from the scoundrels on the waterfront and we relax by the pool in the garden of our hostel. We have several unusual encounters with local wildlife. A peacock fights with his reflection in the bumper of a pickup truck. A giant Tortuga wanders into our room and shits on my clothes (is that good luck or bad luck?). And last but not least, a German Wooly Mammoth charges into our campground and makes a crazy amount of noise. Well, okay, it’s not a wooly mammoth; it’s more of a Hummer on steroids. Without a doubt, it is the most absurd, gas guzzling, gigantic personal pleasure vehicle in the entire history of the universe. It is driven by a little old German couple and it somehow seems to symbolize something that is very very wrong with this world.
Anyway, it takes five or six days in Huanchaco before I settle myself into a comfortable morning routine. I awake around sunrise, leave Ms. B. sleeping in bed, and begin the day with an early morning jog along the sandy shore. I’m not a health nut or real runner so I don’t go very far… just a few miles. But I leave the town behind and head out to unpopulated and isolated territory. I only run in one direction and when I feel sufficiently exerted, I stop, turn around and walk back. During the walk back to town, I like to smoke a joint. If it seems contradictory to go running and then smoke a joint afterwards you misunderstand the purpose of my morning mission. I have no interest in improving my physical condition. I am plenty healthy and I feel just fine. Instead, my concern is with the intensity of human experience. And if you want to experience beach world full on, in my opinion, there is no better way than a nice little jog and a joint afterwards.
So, here I am, strolling down the beach in the rising sun stoned out of my gourd. The crashing waves glitter in the sunlight and my toes squish through the sand. I stop occasionally to pick up pebbles and smalls stones to examine their colors and shapes. Art is everywhere, magic is everywhere; it’s a wonderful world and it’s great to be alive. I can sense a transformation going on inside of me. I am adapting to the surroundings, becoming one with the environment. I am the beach and the beach is me. I can live in this world. The mountain man fades and the beach bum steps on stage. The new persona manifests. The different reality becomes my subjective reality. I am living the dream…
And then SLAM! A large wave comes to shore and washes over my legs. Something hard and heavy crashes into my foot. After the wave recedes, I can see what it is. It’s not a pebble but a stone… a rather large stone. It’s about as big as a grapefruit and it is the most beautiful stone I have ever seen. I lean down and I pick it up. It feels substantial, weighty, meaningful; about as heavy as half a bowling ball. Glistening wet, it sparkles in the sunlight. The colors within it seem to shift and change from moment to moment. It’s orange and red and brown and green and black and grey. It is many colors and one color simultaneously. It is one rock and many rocks simultaneously. It’s a combination or a conglomeration… some sort of magical unification of disparate crystalline structures. The overall shape is more or less oval but not perfectly round. Of course I see images in it; a human head, a bird, a dragon, two people intertwined. Depending on what angle I look at it, the rock seems to represent or symbolize a hundred different things. Wow, it’s the most amazing stone I have ever seen in my whole life.
So what should I do with it? It might be valuable. I could keep it and take it home with me. I could carve it into a final shape. I could make something from it. Then I could sell it or display it as an incredible work of art. It’s a great discovery. It might very well make me famous or rich or both. Of course, if I keep it, I have to carry it around and guard it. Objects of great value must be protected. It is kind of heavy so it would be difficult to lug it from place to place. But it just might be worth it. Who knows, if I keep this rock, it might make my fortune.
But then, believe it or not, the rock cries out… or speaks. “Enjoy your moment,” says the stone, “but please put me back where I belong.”
And so, rock in hand, I reach my arm back as far as it can stretch, anchor my foot in the sand and hurl the rock forward with all my strength as far out into the ocean as I can. As the most beautiful, precious stone I have ever seen sails through the air and disappears beneath the waves, a voice inside speaks very clearly. “And now, go find the place where you belong.”
I smile and return to the beach bungalow to wake up Ms. B..