We step out onto the street and the dueño locks the doors behind us. That awkward moment of not knowing how to say goodbye. She laughs and says something about yet another goodbye; we hug; I say something inadequate about how I've enjoyed spending time with her, thanks for the help with trying to change or refund Marijn's bus ticket, safe travels, if you ever come to New Zealand, etc. All unsatisfactory, but sometimes understatement says more than eloquence. At least, I hope so.
I walk off towards the Cruz del Sur station and turn the corner without looking back.
By the time the massive double-decker Volvo inches out into the street, Huaraz has transformed into a blaze of sodium light and headlamps, fluorescent glows in small dim shops and the silhouettes of people crossing streets, leaning in doorways, holding conversations on broken footpaths. The bus reverses, moves forward, stops, then finally manages to turn into the street, heading away from the hostel, away from Cafe Andino where my friends will be deciding whether to go out for drinks, away from Cafe California with its home-made bread and jam and Lapsang Souchong tea and delicious food. It stops a short distance down the road while the safety announcements play.
So much record keeping. This, I suppose, is an aid for memory, but does it have any other useful function? Can the small details of anyone's journey, repeated so often in slightly different forms, be of interest to anyone — even to the person to whom they happened? Sometimes they can add a flavour to the journey; perhaps also the sum of these insignificant details amounts to more than a simple sum of parts. Conversely, the big events that apparently give a journey structure can fail to give it life: the travelogue that simply documents which sights were seen can read as if they were seen by something other than a human being. This then is the difficulty — how to record and yet bring the record alive, how to allow the reader to enter the journey.
In the afternoon the bus leaves Lima with many seats still empty, but the one next to mine is occupied by a phlegmatic Canadian, probably in his late thirties. He'd flown to Lima in the morning, missed the early bus and had waited at the station most of the day. He must be exhausted. His voice sounds slow and tired. We talk a little and he tells me he's travelling to Bolivia to do some research for six months. We discuss modes of travel — how we both like the process of moving through a place yet also like staying somewhere and coming to know it, gradually, perhaps through the small details that eventually accumulate into affection and then love. He has reservations, though. You can spend too long in a place, he says; the people you meet can keep you there longer than you should. He trails off, hesitates, then says, "Women ...", almost inaudibly, and lets it go, and the empty space in his voice seems large enough to contain all the loss and memory in the world.
We drive through the evening, through coastal desert. Grey sky, the horizon out at sea indistinct, surf breaking on small sandy beaches with cliffs and headlands at each end; stony hills, flat reddish-brown plains studded with perfect crescent-shaped dunes of pale grey sand as if some god had swept all the grey into those perfect, geometric shapes. This contrast between the reddish-brown and the pale grey astonishes me; it's very beautiful but so distinct a demarcation it seems impossible — how does this pale sand remain so separate from the other colour?
Perhaps the god is the wind.
But other aspects of the desert are appalling. Litter lines the roadsides; the desert near the roads has been used as a dumping area for truckloads of broken bricks and excavated stones and soil, and the small settlements strike me as inhuman — the kinds of places that breed hopelessness and despair or worse. A man runs across a waste land tracked with a thousand footprints and the tyre marks of trail bikes and cars; I see widely spaced shacks in small settlements and realise with horror that these are the homes of people. Just on dark, we pass a place walled off by two high fences, one barbed wire, the other concrete block, and within the confined area, sodium lamps on high poles shine on blank, box-like buildings. The place looks like a prison. Maybe it is. But who, or what was imprisoned there?
Sometimes, pessimism about the future of the world threatens to overwhelm me. But then I think of my friends — all over the world, of all ages — and I realise, even if collectively and sometimes individually, we screw up beautiful things, the world is still full of beautiful people. In his biography of Bertrand Russell the philosopher Ray Monk accused Russell of claiming to love humanity but hating most individuals ; in contrast, I'm the opposite — I love most people as individuals, but despair over what we're doing collectively to the planet, and too often, to each other. How I reconcile my attitudes remains a challenge, but if someone of Russell's intellect couldn't find a solution to a similar problem, what hope is there for me?
1.The claim has been vigorously disputed.
1.From the lower part of the trail to Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.
2. The stream near the start of the Laguna 69 trail.
3. One of the mountains overlooking Laguna 69.
4. Coastal desert between Trujillo and Chimbote, Peru. (The streaks in the sky are artefacts from the car window.)
5. Dune in the desert between Trujillo and Chimbote. Elsewhere, dunes like these are used for sandboarding.
6. Rimarima at dusk from the rooftop patio of La Familia Meza hostel in Huaraz.