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To Coroico by Carl Cleves

Page 13

We had a glorious awakening. A chorus of birds announced the dawn. The sun caught the snow-covered mountaintops on the horizon, and then crept across the tree canopy of the rolling forested hills that like giant steps descended towards the Amazon basin. Mist hung in the valleys. By the time we had eaten and were ready to march, the morning clouds had lifted, exposing rivers that cut deep into dark green mountain ranges. The following two days we did not encounter any human beings, though we came upon an abandoned hut and, since the jungle was too dense, were forced to spend the night in there. The decaying hut gave us the creeps. It had an evil atmosphere and we would have preferred to spend the night in the woods, but the forest gave us no room. The damp wood burned badly inside the hut, its smoke-filled interior bringing us to tears. Spiders hung from the roof, rats peered from the corners and worrisome slithering noises attempted to keep us from sleeping. To no avail, however, we were too tired to stay awake. It rained heavily during the night and, all in all, it was a stroke of luck that we had a roof over our heads.

We traversed several streams, three more landslides and many waterfalls. The landslides were extensive and it took a good deal of time to climb through loose rubble on slippery steep slopes to connect with the trail. Some passages were perilous, but since returning was out of the question, the lack of choice gave us the necessary courage. Mostly we moved on the edge of near-vertical mountainsides and through perfumed and bejewelled tropical gardens, where, now and then, we suddenly encountered the ruins of stone walls, remains of the ancient Inca-trail, in the overgrown wilderness. At other times we climbed on staircases hewn out of the rock face as if they were carved only yesterday -with safety walls protecting the traveller from nauseous crevices. It was a source of much joy to know that we were still on the right track. Parrots, hummingbirds, parakeets and large dark birds unknown to us made flashing appearances. Tashi kept up his good cheer. I continued telling him interminable episodes of epic proportions that gave him little chance to ponder his sore feet. Herman or I carried him across the landslides and whenever the path became so narrow and the drop so deep that none of us ventured to look down. It was an act of faith.

On the seventh day since leaving La Paz we arrived at the village of Chairo, the first sign of human settlement in three days. We did not stop. We had eaten our last ration of chocolate semolina that morning and wanted to arrive in Coroico before night. Another climb lay ahead, as Coroico sat on top of a large hill. The trail now emerged more regularly from the shady forest across gullies with babbling rivulets and the musky odour of damp weeds. As we climbed in silence we could see coffee, coca and citrus plantations on the hillsides below the town. We entered Coroico late in the afternoon.

We collapsed on a bench in a small park and took in the spectacular panorama. Tashi snuggled up on my lap; Herman sat next to me, as we watched the sun sink behind the mountains. An endless expanse of forested peaks and valleys stretched out to the horizon, where the Andes, with crowns of snow, pierced the sky. That was the way we had taken. Our conversations returned to the journey and our thoughts dwelled again in that majestic temple of fertility, the rainforest. Somewhere in these darkening valleys there was a sacred place. Now where would it have been when we walked up that wrong valley? But it was getting too dark for our guessing games as all the contours of the wooded hills blended into a windswept ocean of grey. We got up and strolled around to look at the other side. We saw another expanse of forest, rows and rows of green ridges, valleys and streams as far as the eye could see. We joked: "Let's continue our walk!" "Where would we arrive Daddy?" Tashi asked. "At the home of some Indians in the Amazon jungle", replied Herman.

Our common quest was over. Herman spent one more day with us, and then boarded a truck for La Paz. I rented a house on a steep cobble stoned street and decided to spend some time here. Coroico was a very pleasant town. It had a few restaurants and hotels, a church in Spanish colonial style, a central plaza where lovers paraded and chess players gathered, a vegetable market, a cinema and a lovely antiquated swimming pool, built by the Spanish colonizers, where Tashi, a bunch of kids and I would go bathing most afternoons. The pool was shaded by foliage brimming with blossoms. Our small house, white-washed with a tiled roof like most other houses, was a haven after having lived for a long period in the hotel rooms of La Paz. It had an alluring overgrown garden that flowed over into the surrounding orchards, teeming with trees sagging with mandarins and oranges, banana groves and flowering bushes. Our house was always full of flowers.

Now we had the luxury of a kitchen and each day we walked over to the market to buy fresh vegetables. Since Tashi had started going to the local kindergarten everyone knew the new kid on the block. I established a routine of spending my afternoons in the garden studying Portuguese grammar and planned to visit Brazil in times to come. Tashi would soon tire of playing around the garden by himself and would wander off to the plaza to play marbles with the other kids. Though no one knew my name, before long every one knew I was the "padre de Tashi". The villagers now wished me "Buenas dias", and small talk followed at the baker and the grocer, on the benches of the square. Tashi celebrated his fourth birthday with a chocolate-banana cake and candles, surrounded by cheering friends. These were blessed days in Coroico. Most sunsets you would find us on the bench where we had sat the night of our arrival, contemplating the journey completed and the journey ahead.


(The End)