Wanders and Wonders
Something huge and something tiny have been giving me renewed perspectives on this thing called life recently. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I summited Tunari, Cochabamba’s equivalent of La Paz’s Illimani in being the prominent peak in the local cordillera that looks over the city – sometimes menacingly, depending on the weather and your mood. Tunari is a 5,000 rather than 6,000m mountain though. Still, high enough. We set out from a local eco-park, full of youth groups and families hanging out on Easter weekend, with perhaps a 2,200m climb ahead of us for the two days. Having started in the wrong valley and, as two lads transporting frighteningly large and hairy spiders back to town told us, really a bit later in the day than would normally be advisable, we stopped to camp short of where we’d initially planned. We were by a lake at around 4,000m under a full moon that was mostly invisible due to inevitable cloud. Three dwellings – belonging to sheep and llama herders – sat by the lakeside, homes to people living in pretty isolated and harsh conditions, but with the strange addition of hikers and climbers passing through fairly frequently. From their own situation of extremely basic material existence a couple of young brothers, who were up at 4am bringing the llamas down, were deeply fascinated by all the objects we were carrying with us.
Thick Andean cloud and mist were our companions for much of the following morning, adding to the strange stillness in the last green valley we would pass through before getting into the upper reaches of pure snow and rock. Even emergency Snickers bars weren’t enough to stop the trudge through steep, sliding moraine, followed by 300m or so of gruelling final ascent through fresh deep snow, from pushing me very close to the limits of my endurance.
Of course, finally emerging onto the top of the pass, and seeing the incredible cloud-level view across to the Yungas in the late afternoon sun, merited all the pain. We were about five hours later reaching the top than we’d planned, and made a quick descent into more clement and oxygenated air not entirely sure if we’d find any means of getting back to Cochabamba once we hit civiilisation. But, this being Bolivia, we’d no sooner scrambled down to the roadside than a taxi came past and picked us up, allowing us to enjoy the long drive back down in warmth, the city slowly drawing level in the gathering darkness.
I was glad to return from the mountain and find that not only had I survived, but the minute kitten I’d left in the hands of my neighbour was also still alive. We found this animal on the roadside in Tiquipaya a couple of weeks ago, abandoned and with his fur absolutely full of fly eggs. He got through the trauma of having those removed and being run under the tap when still only a few days old. He’s dealing with being transported between house and office by cardboard box each day. His claws and his fur are both rather long, and he’s incredibly vocal when awake – so it seems he’s quite keen to live. There’s a lot of feeding and cleaning involved. While many of my peers are off having real babies, this is about as much parenting as I can handle right now. It is rather rewarding to see him grow though.