Old age. The world seen from such a high mountain is specific. It doesn’t not want to be holistic in any way, consists of many unfulfilled expectations, a couple of friends, many meetings. And lots of illusions. R. Kalicki Dziennik Patagonski
You could say I finally got my comeuppance. Cleverly, professionally, in broad daylight. It was nearly noon. I was going to leave the city, but, even though I was not too hungry, I thought I would go for a bowl of soup. I went into a restaurant, and left the bike outside, leaning it against the metal door. As I usually did, I unbuckled my notebook from the rack and took it with me, and I buckled the frame with the front wheel.
I sat down at the table, maybe two meters from the bicycle. More specifically, in fact, I only saw half of it: rear panniers and a part of the frame, while the front part was exposed to the street – fairly busy at this time of the day. It would never occurr to me that someone could rummage in panniers, not being seen by passing people. Anyway…
I ate soup, and gladly went outside, and then, leaning over the bike to release the clip, I saw an unfastened pouch. Literally, at the same time, I raised my head and looked at the bag attached to the steering wheel. One Velcro was unfastened. I put a hand inside. Empty. Somebody took the camera with the lenses. I didn’t even have to look into panniers. I knew they were empty. I sat on a high curb, next to the bicycle. I do not know how long I sat there. I felt a strange inertia, I was completely indifferent, I sat and I could not move at all. I even did not want to move anywhere from there, I wanted to be there, to sit, and to dissolve in the stillness. I wanted to convince myself that despite what I just saw, in fact, nothing happened, it was not true, I just invented something, or someone made a stupid joke and soon will approach me with a smile, handing stolen stuff.
And, when I was sitting there, becoming to be more and more aware what really had happened, I saw a strange looking man, definitely a Peruvian one, stopped next to me. I raised my head. Our eyes met. A man smiled. He said something, but his voice was coming to me as if through a closed glass door – I was able to see his mouth moving, but in no way I could distinguish particular words. Only after a while I realized that the man spoke to me in Russian. I answered his questions, heard hundreds of times, how, where, what, why, and I said that I had been robbed.
Everything what happened over the next few hours, I remember as a sort of action movie. The man, who introduced himself as Neil, immediately rang somewhere, and after no more than three minutes, a police car came in. Three armed men appeared, whose behavior towards Neil was rather odd, or at least unusual. I do not know who he was, but the police behaved in a manner as if they were his subordinates, who additionally did something wrong and now have to explain themselves. The men asked me a few questions and then asking me to wait a moment, went along with Neil on the other side of the street.
I sat on the bike, watching them as they were approaching some people, talking to them and recording. They returned after about ten minutes, threw my bike on the back of the police car, and then drove to the police station, where I could make a statement. The whole bureaucracy lasted a few moments. The policeman wrote a few succinct sentences and asked me to put my fingerprints on the recorded piece. I was doing everything like an automaton, still with emptiness in my head, with lots of gloomy thoughts, slowly reconciling myself with the thought that perhaps someone Above decided for me to finish my trip.
When I did the fingerprints, Neil came into the room. He said he would have to go somewhere, to do the other things, and that he was very sorry for what had happened, but I should not worry, the police will do everything to get my stolen things. If not today, then tomorrow I’ll have them back at the latest. I looked at his benevolent face, but instead of a smile, my eyes flowed with tears.
- Do not cry – said Neil – come on, do not worry, brigade B will find everything, they will take care of it, right, Jorge?
- Of course, we will find everything, anyway, we have descriptions of the suspects, a shoemaker’s wife saw those who had taken your stuff. There were three of them, one was keeping an eye on you, while the other took the things. She said she did not know them, but it was clear she was afraid, we’ll go there again, we’ll talk with her husband, he will convince her.
Having said that, he patted me on the shoulder paternally and asked me to accompany him and three other men. First, we went to the shoemaker. I saw from the inside of the car, as they entered the shop, and then, after about five minutes later, they returned back, clearly satisfied. We went off with a squeal of tires. Nobody said anything. We drove through the narrow streets, routinely breaking the rules to stop finally at a small bar. I heard the clink of unlocked weapons. The policemen went outside. One stood at the entrance, and two others went inside the bar. After a while, they went out into the street in the company of deathly-pale, slightly tipsy man. I watched as he firmly shook his head and gestured, all in the attitude of a reprimanded boy who tries to explain that he’s got nothing to do with anything he is accused of.
Everything took no more than two minutes. Police officers returned to the patrol car, then we drove to another bar, where the situation repeated, except that this time all the men went inside and came back after a good ten minutes. After this visit we drove through town slowly, cautiously, and after a quarter of an hour we went back to the police station again. There, I was led to a room where, next to a small desk, there were two other men.
- Here you are the entire brigade B – said one of the men, and introduced all of them: – Loly Reyes, Jose Valencia, Alan Gomez and Jean Cruzm, and I, Jorge – Grupo B, Divincri Ayacucho.
I looked at all these smiling faces and wondered why there is actually such a festive mood here. Why do all these men have such happy faces, and why we they stand unnaturally, as if waiting for something?
- What would you say to a little surprise? – said Jorge, pointing at a young lady entering the room. She was holding a black bag. – Look inside and see if anything is missing – he added.
The woman put the bag on the table, then bowed and left. I looked at grinning men, still standing in a semicircle. I walked over to the table, touched the material, and looked inside. There was a camera, lens, and all. I looked again at the standing men. I could not believe that these things came back to me so quickly. Just like that. I held the camera in my hand, and shaking my head in disbelief, thanked perhaps the twentieth time for such quick and effective action.
- We are very happy that you’re happy, for us it’s the best reward. We would like you to have good memories of Peru. You’ll want to make a complaint and sue the men?
- No, of course not, I’m glad that I have these things back, but actually, how on eatrh you found it so quickly?
- We have our ways – replied Jorge and winked. – Well, in that case, put your fingerprints here, and you can leave. Just remember to be a little more careful now, not everywhere there are good and honest people, especially in the cities. Here it is not so bad, but if you went to Arequipa and there, God forbid, never leave your bike, even for a moment.
I’m in Cuzco. These few hundred kilometers from Ayacucho were one of the most difficult I have had the opportunity to pass in my entire life. There are eight major mountain passes along the way, five of which are more than 4,000 meters above sea level. My sinuses again strongly rebelled. The last hundred miles I took the bus to Cuzco. I had no strength. I’m resting for two days in the city. I visited the doctor again, I got another shot in the ass and another antibiotic (but only for five days), plus a handful of another colorful pills. The road from Cuzco to the south, in the direction of Bolivia, seems to be easier. It leads through the Altiplano and there are no big uphills.
Leaving aside the difficulties of the road from Ayacucho, I would like to thank all these friendly people I met along the way. How much warmth and kind words I received from them. And how much it means. On the way more and more unbearably lonely, walked in a constant state of fatigue, concealed under the guise of a wide, fake smile on my face.
And although I do not know what all is it about where it will lead, I go further, with a strange and incomprehensible obstinacy, that still does not allow me to stop, and keep pushing me away, slowly and inexorably closer to the end of this trip.
That evening Moomin could not sleep. He lay there, looking at the clear night, full of yearning sighs and some mysterious rustling steps. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers. Tove Jansson
I would say that I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I thought that after a few passes in Ecuador I am quite well acclimatized and I will not have to do any necessary breaks along the way. In less than three days, starting from the coast, I found myself at an altitude of 4600 meters above sea level. In fact, I did not want to stay so high, but the plateau, where I got to didn’t want to lower itself, and I did not know how far I would have to pedal at night to be able to spend the night at the lower altitude (yes, I know, sometimes it’s useful to have good maps, but the concept of not having a map has a huge advantage of unpredictability, which I submit to over the relative safety of the route planned in advance).
So I rode at night with the hope that I will get away from plateau, but finally I didn’t even have the strength to walk with the bike on nearly flat terrain, so finally I stopped at the road, put up the tent and fell asleep. A dream, unfortunately, did not come. Instead, an unbearable headache appeared, a sort of headache I already known from the Himalayas, which one experiences when one suddenly finds himself in a place where the oxygen content in the air is about half that, to which the body is accustomed.
After the headaches, dizziness comes, then nausea, sometimes the nose is bleeding, then your head gets swollen, and then the morning comes and you would like to get up from the ground and go, but there is no power, you have to wait until noon. After a sleepless night (but still with a swollen head) a dream finally arrives – short, shallow, interrupted by pain.
After another failed attempt to raise my body, a cat entered the tent. A red cat. I was not surprised. Most likely, it was just a continuation of a dream, from which I could not wake up. Anyway, it was completely irrelevant, because after that visit I was finallly able to get up, roll the tent up and after about five kilometers of walk, I got on my bike, because in the end a downhill started. Seemingly small, only 500 meters, but this half a kilometer was enough to make me feel much better. And after following the advice of the owner of a roadside restaurant to drink two teas from coca leaves and half a cup of something that smelled like perfumed spirits, I stood on my feet.
I checked into the “hotel” in the room, which two men where supposed to share with me, but for some unknown to me reasons, they did not appear. In a room that really should not have been called the hotel room. I was wondering, not the first time in Peru, why they express so openly this widespread passion for negligence? Is there really such a great effort and expense to buy a bucket of paint and paint the walls? Trim protruding wire reinforcement from almost every building? Putting litter in a bin?
Near Pichca Huasi, a little girl in a hat with a rose went out of a building that I inadvertently took as a restaurant. I wanted to take a picture of her, but she looked at me as if I had asked her to remove her clothes, so I resigned, ate biscuits and went on. In my head I still saw huge, black eyes, spaced approximately in the middle, furrowed by the cold and the wind, young and already wrinkled face. Colorful socks on her calves, pleated skirt foot, lace blouse.
In Ayacucho I found a place to stay in hospedaje Inti Punuy, which is clean, tidy, has friendly service and a pleasant smell. Across the road there is St. Francis bakery, a restaurant called Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a garage – where you can change oil, called Jesus of Nazareth. The hospedaje where I sleep has a solar name in Quechua, poorly fits into the vicinity, but maybe for this reason it so immediately caught my eye.
I do not know how long I’m gonna stay there, maybe a day, maybe two, maybe longer, as long as I can, I enjoy the fact that I do not have to do anything, and who knows, maybe even here, in a clean and well-kept room of Inti Punuy hospedaje, I will finish the whole trip. Tomorrow, I will think about it again, but for now: we say goodbye, send a smile and some sunshine.
All these collected books and papers, (…) in the end turn out to be useless and ridiculous (…). We always believe that in a decisive moment of life, we will be able to rely on these so-called significant and important people, all the same, but this is a mistake, in this decisive moment of life, all these great, significant and, as they are lovingly called, immortal persons, leave us alone. In that decisive moment of life they do not give us anything more than the feeling that we are alone also among them, that we can rely solely on ourselves in an absolutely terrifying sense. Thomas Bernhard
I got to Lima. For two days I’ve stayed in Cecilia’s house. Cecilia is a former student of psychology, she graduated from a Polish university in Krakow, speaks fluent Polish, and for several years has been accommodating a whole bunch of cyclists traveling through Peru, not only Poles. Her apartment could be called a little casa de ciclistas, in which one can really feel almost like at home. Cecilia knows lots of Poles in Lima and the day I came, we went to the apartment of Mirek, whom unfortunately I have not had the pleasure to meet.
In his house I met Emil Witt and got the stuff he had brought for me from Poland: a warm sleeping bag, jacket, gloves, two pairs of warm trousers, thermos, new t-shirts, hats, two new tires (huge thanks to Mateusz Waligóra) and a fox for cuddling in cold, windy nights in the desert. Perhaps the thought about the fox waiting for me helped me to get so far despite chronic sinusitis and a permanent headache. And it seems that tomorrow I will be able to move on, and in a few weeks, I’ll try to get to La Paz. And then – inszallah.
The road along the coast was supposed to be a nice alternative from high Andean passes. I wanted to take a break from wind and cold, heal my sinuses and, while enjoying the charming landscape, pleasantly go south. The reality, however, turned out to be somewhat different. First, it was not as flat as I thought. Of course, I didn’t have to climb any mountain passes, but the road was found to be undulating, strenuous, repeatedly forcing me to dismount the bike and walk upk the next hill. Secondly, it was not hot at all, especially in the morning, when desert was covered with mist, and the temperatures oscillated between 40 and 50 degrees. Thirdly, every day, without exception, the wind still blew from the south. At night it was less brutal, so I switched to night cycling, but during the last few days it was blowing all the time, so the day before yesterday gave up cycling about ten o’clock p.m., when I noticed some buildings barely visible from the road.
If it hadn’t been for a faint oil lamp smoldering in the window, I wouldn’t have noticed anything and would have passed by. I rode closer. The noise I made apparently betrayed my presence, because barely did I lean the bike against the wall, when the door opened and a female voice asked me what I was looking for. I replied that I would like to stay there for the night, explaining what I was doing there, and for a while I was sitting at a table in the company of a woman and her husband, Mr. Lee, or more precisely Mister Lee Vargas, who was lying on a wide bench, wrapped in some blankets. The man was holding on his head something like a compress, and from his half-open mouth protruded a big, gold tooth, which in the yellowish light filling the room, seemed to glow like a full moon.
He got a chill- said the wife for the man when I asked if something happened to his head. – I told him not to ride without a cap – she said, and when I heard that he got a chill also in his kidneys, then in the tone of the woman’s voice I recognized my grandmother, who, from my childhood, was screaming after me at the door when I was running out in windy days: “Put the cap on your head!”
Perhaps, if I had listened to my grandmother, I would not have any problems now with sinuses, and kidneys, but maybe my grandma has nothing to do with my current ailments, and as for her own reality, she’s probably siting in her chair and thinking that a serial she’s watching on a big plasma TV screen, is a real life. With her arms crossed over her chest, watching moving pictures, listening to idiotic dialogues, looking at fake feelings, forced gestures, discussing with a lady in a long dress, being surprised that she had not corresponded well, mocking chattering actresses, nodding her head in amazement, just to conclude at the end, that the whole world has gone crazy, she does not understand anything, and everybody is nuts.
I say that the wind doesn’t favour me either, on hearing which Mr. Lee groaned, opened his mouth, but before the first words resounded, I had the impression that the tooth enlarged, swollen, and that in a moment it falls off the jaw, and, with a sound of jingling coin, will disappear somewhere under the dark bench.
- The wind here is strong, but it is even worse in the cities – said Mr. Lee, lisping terribly, and unnaturally extending lips, he grimaced. In this expression of disapproval I saw at once Mr. Yunioshi, a photographer from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, who, leaning from upper floors of the building, furiously cursed his partying neighbor.
- When you get to Lima, you will see, it is also blowing, and it’s very humid. And the moisture is even worse than the wind – having said which, he groaned again, and turned to the other side, adding quietly, that in the morning he wouldn’t be very willing to get up, puta madre.
I thought it was a good sign to go to bed. I got a mattress in a very stuffy room, dusty and cluttered with old, crumbling furniture. Somehow it was awkward to say that I would rather sleep somewhere else, so I waited about half an hour and stealthily slipped behind the building, where I set up my tent. I put inside the mattress and the blanket given to me by the woman and I already almost fell asleep when I heard meowing. At first I ignored it, but it would not stop meowing, and it was quiet and close. So I unzipped the tent and before I had time to light my torch, I felt a soft touch of a warm fir on my left arm. A large, white cat walked in. Growled loudly. He moved slowly, rubbed me lightly, in a felline sort of way. I switched off the light, the cat sat just by my head. I heard it was making his bed. I reached with my hand, and touched the warm fur. I tangled my fingers in it. Two heartbeats shared their rhythm. A small and a big heart. I had a feeling that something was flowing through me, the cat hugged into me so confidently, and I was opening up for an upcoming dream in which I dreamed that I am a cat myself, a white roofer, and I communicate with the world only by purring, and with a sight, in which you can close the whole world.
In the morning I came to the kitchen to say goodbye, but the room was empty. On the table, in a deep plate, there were two rolls of bread, cheese and butter. Beside a carafe of water and a bottle of dark liquid there was a sheet of paper, with a few written sentences, saying that I should help myself, take a syrup of algarrobina for the road and close the door when I leave.
I was eating in silence, looking at the white cat lying next to me on the mattress. He had a wide-open eyes. He looked at me with that expression with which cats look at someone who is about to leave. As if in this look was a reproach and a silent question. The desire to express something, what you in fact understand, or maybe only feel, but because there are no words, it’s easier to pretend that there is nothing, that nothing happens.
I went out in front of the house. I closed the door behind me, and when I turned around, I saw a tree full of staring at me beautiful, cat creatures. I could not turn my eyes away from them, I could not stop staring at them, I wanted them to gaze at me forever. Once again I felt that something was flowing through my body.
I suddenly thought that I have to touch one of them, that I really want to touch one, and that as soon as I touch them, they certainly won’t go away, that I’ll be able to keep them.
So finally I got closer, but when I was very close, and it seemed to me that I will stroke one in a while, they miaowed loudly, picked up quickly and fled. And then I woke up.