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To Coroico by Carl Cleves

Page 12

Soon we were climbing again having left the river below us. Its turbulent waters reflected in the sunlight, a string of pearls in a sea of green. It was hard to believe that these rivers flowed into the Amazon basin to shed their waters into the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from here. The vastness of it all was staggering and I shuddered to think what would happen if we were to loose our way. Often the trail vanished, overtaken by dense forest. "Why didn't the Incas make this road a bit bigger, daddy?" Tashi asked. We climbed higher and higher. The foaming river was far below us now and the rest of the day we walked at the edge of precarious ravines. Landslides made our progress slow and dangerous constantly interrupting the track as we carried Tashi on our shoulders. At nightfall we set up camp on a rocky platform protruding from the mountainside. It offered a spectacular view over the Andes, the snow a shade of pink in the evening light. The snow had been our point of departure. Our destination was hidden in an endless expanse of olive green ridges stretching to the far end of the horizon. Deep below us the river was veiled in evening mist. This was the only camping spot we had encountered that afternoon, and it was - but for the absence of water- a perfect place. We had used the remainder of our drinking water to make rice pudding with raisins and now washed this treat down with whisky. It could be worse. Anyway, there would be another river tomorrow. Darkness fell as we sat dreaming around the fire, stomachs full, listening to the last call of the day birds and the atonal concert of insects, Herman writing his diary by the light of the flames, Tashi on my knee, dropping off to sleep.

Indeed the following morning the trail took us down to another river. Cigarette and shampoo advertisers take a look at this location. A vertical rock face dripped jewels of water into crystalline pools shaped like spa baths. The jungle entwined the glistening stream with extravagant bouquets of flowers, buzzing with bees. Exotic birds and giant butterflies were everywhere, their chitter chatter, warble and whistle impregnating the patter of water, the stream's gurgle, rustle and rumble. High up in the canopy mysterious cries, invisible screeches of warning and sweet single notes of enticement echoed, to be suddenly censured by a staccato burst of cicades. The river brimmed with light, with life, with music. This was the site Herman had been looking out for. The moment had arrived. He produced the remains of his bag of dried San Pedro cactus. We would take the mescaline right here in this pristine wilderness, far from the world manufactured by humans.

We lit a fire and boiled the cactus into a potent but foul tasting brew. Then Herman and I entered the world of the gods. Or perhaps it was the world of the child. Our attention span and sense of wonder, our openness to everything within and without was altered as Tashi, Herman and I frolicked the rest of the day in the river and surrounding jungle. Naked like satyrs in paradise we swam and garlanded our bodies with flowers. We washed our clothes, followed birds along the river, jumping boulders, crawling through thick undergrowth along the riverbank, observing snakes and lizards, the shape of rocks, the texture of extravagant plants, examining whole planets that exist in another dimension, extra-terrestrial landscapes populated with foraging ants, spiders from Mars, bacterial fungi, minute shrubs and mosses, overshadowed by giant ferns. Everything all around us was vibrantly alive as we merged into our primeval home. It was a return to childhood, innocent and unconcerned. Goodwill reigned in paradise. God had forgotten to check on his apple trees. Memories of Mumford's creek flooded my heart with tears and I saw sadness turn into forgiveness, release into rapture. I understood that the journey and the quest are one. Follow the voice of your heart. I took a leap.

When we departed from that holy place late in the afternoon, we left a garland of flowers on a rock in the middle of the stream. I also left a piece of myself. Climbing to cross the next forested ridge, I could hear the river calling out until the rasping of insects took over. By then the sun was sinking. We came across a small ledge of rock overlooking several valleys and rivers. A park of bromeliads, nameless flowers like dogs' tongues, hungry flames, curtains of precious jewels and bursts of fireworks surrounded this platform. We lit a campfire and ate dinner. Tashi went to sleep with purple flowers in his hair. I wrote in my diary: "the rainforest is the most beautiful and forbidding of all creations".


(To be continued)