Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Oh the Mountains We Will Climb

After another restless sleep, I woke up in a coughing fit and already short of breath. The journey had not even began, and here I was, in my bed, battling a cold and as a result, receiving a not so pleasant reminder that my asthma was anything but happy here in this altitude. Perhaps I should have been thinking about that all a little bit more, but at 4:30 AM I had only one thought running through my head: I hate chocolate.

Not only did I hate the bitter taste of it, but as I stuffed it into my hiking bag, I was fearful of the end result of the equation that kept running through my head. Lots of chocolate + a hot sun = melted chocolate = a dirty backpack. But to climb a mountain like Tunari, I was told I would need all the chocolate I could find. For energy, my favorite Auzzie climber told me the night before. Reluctantly, I through the chocolate in my bag and said a prayer, not to survive the 16,000 peak in spite of my asthma and sickness but instead, only so that the chocolate might not get my bag dirty.

And so hopefully you can place yourself in my shoes at that moment when I stood half way up this mountain, exhausted and out of breath, and reaching into my bag found a chocolate that was not melted, but in the contrary, frozen. Standing in my three layers of clothes, drenched in snow, and numb from the cold, I could not help but laugh at how wrong my prediction had been. I came expecting abundant heat, almost left my third layer at home for the day, and throughout the entire hike found myself in frenzied and freezing conditions where my sunglasses, brought to protect my eyes from the sun, were now the only thing that protected my vulnerable eyes from the flurry of snow that attacked my body.

There were indicators that this day would end up as odd as it did. First, waking up sick and short of breath. Or perhaps the eerie and unusually silence the streets of Cochabamba provided that morning. Of course it should have became more evident when my hiking group narrowly avoided walking into the middle of ten sticks of dynamite a work crew had planted to blow up a part of the mountain. As we scrambled for cover as little rocks flew closer and closer our way, perhaps that was the moment it should have clicked today was just going to be one of those days. And yet, all the snow, dynamite, and mind and body numbing wind could not have kept us from our goal that day. Walk, climb, or as was the case near the end, crawl, I needed to make it to the top of this peak. That same determination I feel in marathons crept into my cold bones that day on the mountain. Perhaps I was chasing after what would in the long run be an insignificant feat. Perhaps, ok, never mind, yes, it probably was stupid to do it in the condition my body was in. But you must understand that this mountain presented the opportunity to, for the first time, conquer my surroundings, rather than let them continually conquer me.

And so as I stood atop the 16,000 foot peak, looking down on the clouds, entrenched by the frigid air and surrounded by a flurry of rapidly falling snow, I felt this peculiar peace that allowed me to remember all those times I stood barefoot on the sands of the Pacific Ocean watching the sunset over that big mysterious body of water, all at once aware of how big this world was, and yet, what my special place was in this world where I truly stood as just one more insignificant dot on the map. I belonged to nature, and nature belonged to me. The world was an incomprehensible mess, cradled intimately just below my finger tips for my eyes to capture. I found refuge and happiness in the peaceful silence that greeted my jubilant shouts of joy. It was my day to be in charge, my day to not let language or anything else bring me down. When you stop and look at our lives, it is as though we are on a continual hike up a mountain, and for one brief moment, I reached the top, took a break, and soaked the view in. And what a view it was.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great photos. Just make sure you take care of your asthma. Obviously from your dad.
PS-we're thinking of you.

Life of Wazienka said...

Oh friend, amazing fotos and amazing depictions. God bless and safe travels. Love, Kasia Stachon

Kasia Stachon said...

Oh friend!
Amazing fotos and amazing depictions, keep them coming! God bless and safe travels.
Love, Kasia