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:)

Poste Restante

Popayan (11)

Writing just gives you a chance to return, gives you an illusive, but very intoxicating feeling that one somehow is able to be a master of time. That it’s possible to return to some images, smells, sounds and feelings. That it’s possible to repeat the past. Andrzej Stasiuk

I didn’t go too far. I returned to the hotel, I do not know for how long, maybe till Monday, maybe a little longer. Similarly, as I would do in Zarzal, I go down for breakfast to a restaurant in Popayan, at noon I go back for lunch and then, at midnight, I eat supper in my room. Sometimes someone sits next to me and we talk, which makes I smile. Yesterday someone asked if I was from Colombia. I smiled more, maybe even truly. And then I went back to my room. The room is empty. There are no cats, lizards, spiders, nor any other creatures, as if someone had taken life away from all the corners. Two furniture serve for all equipment. As a matter of fact, I would perfeclty do without them, I do not think I would notice any difference.

I visited a local quack. I got some herbs for swallowing and inhalation. Anamu herb (Petiveria allacea) and Luffa (Luffa operculata). People say Luffa does miracles. For now, I have not noticed any improvement, and if I am to talk about changes, there was rather a small setback. Perhaps the plant did not work, because I overdosed it and although Luffa was said not to have had any side effects, I paid dearly for my over-zeal, so to speak, cause I woke up with a powerful headache, totally clogged nose and definitely a too lengthy morning stay in the bathroom.

Despite seventy degrees (Fahrenheit), there is winter in Colombia, and people really complain about the cold. And about the weather. For six days, with short breaks, it has been raining heavily. During the downpour the whole street freezes. The rain strips the town of any sounds; the noise of horns, roars of engines, human cries, hits from full-throated speakers, but above all – it strips the city out of haste. Everything is swept by a rustle of rain.

I’m going back to the room. Wandering with my finger on the blank wall, I’m unsuccessfully trying to draw a map of the world. I still have a problem of where to put myself on it. Tin roof resonates loudly falling drops, drowns out my thoughts. When it finally stops raining, it gets terribly quiet. I blur the map and in its place I draw a large window. Then, I open it widely and suspire a long, cold breath. In the distance, the horizon appears, as always, still in the same place, didn’t approach an inch. Does it really exist?

I close the window, and go back to bed. I cover myself with a blanket and I start inventing stories. And then I commit them to paper and send long letters, which, on my unfinished map of the world, will look for their recipient.

Green grass

gatos w reten (1)

I’m looking for the face I had before the world was made. William Butler Yeats

After twenty seven days of taking, I finally put down antibiotics. I still feel poor, but after such a dose of chemistry, I can’t feel better. From an idyllic village I moved back to a noisy city. No one threw me out, but I did not want to abuse hospitality of the owners, with whom I initially made an agreement that I would stay a few days, and yesterday two weeks passed since I had arrived to their house. Probably if I had asked, I could have stayed a bit longer, but moving to the city, moving anywhere, was a sort of ersatz of motion – a faint, if not fake, because without any visible horizon, but anyway – moving out was a good substitute of the road.

In two days I’m heading towards Ecuador. I will accept what the wind will bring. I will be heading towards Quito, from where, either I will go back to Poland, or, if I finally feel better, I will go further south. I don’t want to think about going back now, my thoughts invariably are swinging among warm memories. Sometimes I do not know if that’s what I remember really happened, or whether I only imagined that, and by remembering – I create it.

Yesterday I was lying on the green grass and ran beside two little kittens. Someone dropped them at the gate. They were miaowing terribly. I sheltered them. They cuddled at me right away, murmured loudly, looking for breasts to suck. I intertwined my fingers with their sticky fur. I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time.

In the morning, I noticed with astonishment that all the other cats had disappeared. Two little kittens got food – they were miaowing, when I entered the building, and they ceased when I was close. I’m sad because I could not take them. Because I do not know if they can make it alone. Because I felt I was needed. Because I lay with them on the green, warm meadow, and they were walking around my head. Because in the end they lay next to me and muttering, were twisting their little claws in my beard.

And I simply do not know, whether I really saw them, and I was twining my fingers in their soft fur, or maybe there weren’t any small kittens, there was nothing. There was only my red, disheveled beard and moving fingers in the thick grass, seeking someone’s warm hand. Lay your head where my heart used to be. Hold the earth above me. Lay down on the green grass. Remember when you loved me.