Dream of returning

DCIM100GOPRO

This is an evening for a song, thought Snufkin. On a new song, which will be composed of one part of hope, in two of the spring longing and which the rest will be inexpressible delight that I can wander, I can be alone and that I am pleased with myself. Tove Jansson  

I was cycling after sunset, for an hour, or maybe a little more. I got caught into a steep uphill and for some reasons I could not stop. It often happens to me. I do not know when to stop. As if deceptive stillness, or an unscheduled and unannounced break will always coincide with the impossibility of returning; if indeed it all mean an absolute end of everything.

Perhaps I subconsciously feel that I may get control over illusory of time? That by rhythmic cadences I am able to fool passing hours? As George Bataille wrote: “The movements, recorded in a certain order, stop time.” Or maybe this sublime, sophisticated philosophy has nothing to do with anything, and I have only a small defect in my brain, which I should finally diagnose and stop moaning people and talking nonsense.

So I was cycling uphill at night (the next day it will turn out that, actually, the uphill hadn’t really started yet) when on the other side of the road I saw a man waving to me. I do not know who or what placed him there, perhaps it was a sheer coincidence, but even if it was, this undoubtedly pleasant coincidence helped me finally to stop that day.

The man turned out to be the owner of a roadside restaurant. When I asked him where I could put up my tent, he offered a room in his premises. Before I was ready to go to bed, I got a delicious, thick bean soup (almost as good as my mom does), out of which, what else, a big bone was sticking out. Then I met four, wild children, unanimously determined to sleep with me on a huge mattress they had brought from the attic. The girls, literally, got on my head and pacified me, deciding at the outset that they will be sleeping on the both sides of the mattress, and I will be put in the middle, because I’m a gringo (and I’m a gringo, because I’ve got face of tomato colour, which distinguishes me from no-gringos, for example Argentinians, who, according to girls, lisp terribly and do not speak good Spanish). Perhaps I should have been more assertive and just should have thrown all the kids away. True to say, nevertheless, in any confrontation with little girls I’m bloody helpless and I deal with them far worse than with any teens, not to mention adults.

In the morning I met the rest of the family, and in the meantime, neighbors, friends and acquaintances who were passing by and stopped for a brief chat. I sat in a corner, sipping Ecuadorian specialty called colada morada and I was wondering why all these people are so warm, so open and hospitable. Do they always behave like that or they only played role of a good host in front of a Polish gringo with a tomato face? If there was a play, it was far more than just a dress rehearsal, and all of them performed splendidly, as if everything they did and said was the most natural expression of their hospitality.

Two kids went to see me off and we were walking at least one mile. We dropped into a grocery store for an ice cream. And then we sat on a sandy road and were licking up the melting vanilla-chocolate delicacy. We sat closely, huddled together, though there was a lot of space around. Nobody was saying a word, we squinted in the sunlight, smiling from time to time to each other. I could not escape a strange impression that again, I was between two friends, again, I was seven years old, sitting on the same sandy, hard ground, rather than on warm laps and was greedily licking up melting vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

We got up finally, shook hands, then I quickly got on a bike and not looking back behind me, I went away. That day, I slept at a very high altitude. It was terribly quiet. In silence, I usually can not fall asleep for a long time. Thoughts then frisk, make noise, tease, do not let sleep. Perhaps because of that long, exhausting day, this time I fell asleep in an instant. “I dreamed a dream of return. It was joyful. I was full of colours. I could fly”

Ekwador (18)

Casa de ciclistas

San Gabriel (2)

By now all of us have heard (too often) the old Proust line about how the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes. Yet one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter. Thus even as holidays help you appreciate your own home more — not least by seeing it through a distant admirer’s eyes — they help you bring newly appreciative — distant — eyes to the places you visit. Pico Iyer

For a few days I’ve stayed in Tumbaco, fifteen kilometers east of the capital of Ecuador, Quito, in a so-called casa de ciclistas, which is Ecuadorian cyclists’ home. In his house, delectable Mr. Santiago and his family, for nearly twenty-five years have accommodated cyclists from all over the world. Instead of heavy snowfall, winter in Ecuador brings daily afternoon thunderstorms and downpours, so Mr. Santiago offers a garage (called bunker) for putting up tents. The garage was spacious enough, but since I do not like crowds, I opted for the garden, and finally I put up my tent near a small bush, which attracts buzzing insects flying around it every morning.

Besides me, there are three pairs in casa de ciclistas: Czech, Portuguese and Argentine. The Czechs and Argentinians go to the north, while the Portuguese go to the south. During the day, an integration between pairs and me basically ends up at semi-smiles, greetings and short sentences, such as: Que tal? (How are you?), to which I reply: normal, and is usually ends a conversation. Then I go back to my tent and talk to Moomins.

I took a bus to come to the capital, after a poor night and even worse early morning. Perhaps I confined too much in myself and definitely needn’t have tried to catch up miles, which I allegedly lost during a long break spent for a convalescence in Colombia. Of course, thinking in terms of profits and losses, while cycling, is ridiculous, similarly like catching up anything, but I remembered about it afterwards, when again, I was not really able to go any further.

So, with an odd impression that the world is spinning around me, I packed the bike into a bus and went to Quito, where I checked in a roadside hostel, which turned out to be a quasi-brothel (the prices were “per hour”, but Mrs. Lola graciously allowed me to pay just for two and I was able to stay until morning, undisturbed). Then, the next day I went to the hospital. There, I did a CT scan and this time, no longer seeking a shaman or a herbalist, I went with the results straight to a specialist. The person who gave me the scan, scared me a little that I have a cyst on my sinuses and that it has to be cut, so I had almost bought a return ticket and with one foot I was already back in Poland. However, I wanted to consult the CT scan with a specialist.

An elderly, seemingly seventy years old, slim, tall man, immediately aroused my sympathy. He had a warm voice, and said that he also rides a bike a lot, asked plenty of questions, not only about my sinuses, and it was the first doctor who didn’t prescribe me an antibiotic “just in case”. I was also given steroids, for which in Panama I paid an extortionate amount of money, and, on that occasion, he cleaned my ears, but most importantly – he said that I could try to continue the journey, in those conditions in which I am about to go: in cold weather, low temperatures, strong winds and frequent rainfalls, all of which at an average altitude of ten thousand feet above sea level.

Of course, if my symptoms get worse, I will have to go home, but when I heard “if I were you, I would try to go further”, I felt reassured that my state, at least for now, is relatively safe. Indeed, there is a cyst, but it is too small to be operated and it’s hard to say if a month ago it was smaller or bigger, because instead of doing an exam, I visited Colombian witch-doctors, shooting up strange stuff and inhaling hot brews.

A package with warm clothes came from Poland, while more stuff, for the rest of the journey, is waiting in Lima. Will I get there? I do not know, tomorrow I’m heading out again. I’m not going back now, I’m not ready yet. Thank you all for all your kind words in e-mails, for a small financial support for a morning soup, especially now, when my budget is shrinking fast, after all these medicines and pills, appointments, check-ups and unintentional but necessary stops in hostels. I promise to take care of myself (Mom, do not worry, I will return in one piece, and I promise not to go crazy:)

Traces

w drodze (2)

While staying in some places, you can still hear the steps of those who were there before us, and who are no longer there. Their not too distant presence still seems to be resonating, waves are weaker, but you can feel them if you only pay proper attention. Patrick Modiano

After almost six weeks of resting, I’m on the road again. As a matter of fact, in this one sentence I could simply finish writing this text. I could just write that I’m going again and finish everything with a full stop. Perhaps I would like to add something, but even if I really wanted and persistently tried, I would not be able to pass my inner world (which is only my very own world) to anyone but myself. I can only slightly come closer to communicate what I am, what I feel, and still nobody, not even the closest person will be able to notice all these halftones, shades, loose particles, and allegedly unimportant, but subconsciously felt sensations, which are non-transferable and which largely constitute my very own experience. Because all we experience is beyond any words. And even for me, I’m not so sure if this experienced world really exists, or it is merely a result of my own projection, non-existent for anyone else but me.

It is the late afternoon. I’m sitting at a round, plastic table, which is placed under a dilapidated wall of a tiny, roadside restaurant. In this room, which serves also as a kitchen and a dining area, there are two more similar tables, a large oven, along with some running chickens, a box of vegetables, baskets of rice, potatoes and beans, and a huge pile of pots, pans, plates and colored cups.

A bulldoglike, emaciated dog is lying in the corner, just a few feet from the stove, and patiently, not taking his eyes off a bustling about, stocky woman, is waiting for some scraps, captured in the air with a single bite of its strong jaws.

I’m waiting for the meal barely three minutes. The hostess serves a delicious, thick soup and just as good the second course, consisting of fried chicken, fried eggs and potatoes, fantastically seasoned beans, fried banana and salads. After several hours of intense effort, one would eat anything, let alone such delicacies as those of the Columbian roadside restaurant, even if being an affront to the hygienic standards somebody might be accustomed to.

I pull away empty plates and sipping aromatic coffee I look through the unglazed window. I feel pleasantly lazy. I feel good. I have no commitments, no deadlines, no work to hand in, and with the rest of the day I can do anything I want and no one will demand anything from me.

I imagine that someone is sitting in front of me and we exchange impressions. We talk that uphills were not so tough, though long, that it got cold and it is a pity that Jose, who along with his colleagues drew us for a beer and then invited for dinner, could not continue with us even a part of the onward journey.

Perhaps I got too engaged in a conversation with not quite present person, and who knows, maybe I even started gesticulate chaotically, because suddenly I noticed with surprise that the hostess sat at the table, watching me with some curious interest.

After reciprocating a sincere smile, I dip for a while in mature, cordial, friendly eyes. I listen as the woman talks about her health problems and I already know that this day I will not go anywhere further. I will put up my tent, maybe in the shade of the furnace, once the sun sets behind the horizon, and five minutes later there will be a dark night. And in the morning I will get up, eat a delicious soup for breakfast, sipping tasty coffee, and drinking in fresh air, space and wind I’ll go further. Not looking for any meaning, not revealing any secrets, sitting in front of anyone who will only have time to share with me even a moment of his life. Leaving good memories behind. Meeting some strangers and finding myself in their looks.