Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 74 The Tropics

I neglected to mention on Day 70 that I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn that day and now am officially in the tropics.  It's just as hot and deserty.  The ocean is nippy, but I dip pretty regularly in the afternoons to cool off.  The air temperature hasn't been soaring, generally in the mid 20sC/80sF, and with the cool onshore breeze, it's pleasant.  Yet the intensity of the sun is unmistakable and stepping behind a dune for just a minute or two without the breeze is like stepping into an oven.  As I approached a fishing hamlet called Hornitos - little oven - I tried to imagine if the rock formations look like the typical beehive shape of the ubiquitos backyard hornos until I reached it, cut off from the breeze behind some rocks, I got the reference.  The temperature, not the rock formations garnered it its name.  I'm perpetually sunburnt - yes, nagging mothers out there, I really do use sunblock, honestly, every day - I'm just a naturally pink person,

In the sea, I've been swimming with sea lions and dolphins while the birds chatter incessantly overhead.  The guano they leave behind on the seaside rocks is ghoulish and strongly malodorous.  I'm comfortable with the birds in general, but I could do without the numerous sea vulchers who perch ever near with their ugly tiny red heads peering at me for a quick meal.  At times when the path rises high above the sea, the bleached white bones of earlier prey make them all the more eerie.  I feel them calculating how many vulchers it would take to pick up one little pink pilgrim and dash her on the rocks below.  They haven't come up with the answer yet.

Continuing northward, I should reach the border in less than two weeks and start the ascent back into the Andes.  A few challenges remain, and the heat of the afternoon desert is not least among them.  Close to 200 kilometers in the last four days, and with the lack of population here, it looks like I'll need to average 48 a day for the next three days to reach Iquique, the next proper town - that is, one with electricity and water, things lacking in the fishing hamlets. (Peru is more densely populated; I hope to recover my desired daily distances.)

A shout out to my young friends at Shaw Heights Middle School in Northglenn, Colorado who are following me this pilgrimage.  A challenge:  I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and ironically, the most common domestic animal I've seen has been the goat.  What's the connection?  Why is this an amusing coincidence?  Post your collective answer as a comment and we'll see how others fare.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 70 How do you cross the Atacama Desert?

How do you cross the Atacama Desert?
  (a) very quickly
  (b) with as much water as you can carry
  (c) by the foggy coast
  (d) all of the above

Score well? The distances between the fishing shacks has thinned northward as forewarned, and the dunes are higher, the sand finer, the vegetation gone completely, and, new to the list of challenges, precipices, impassable ones.  The high coastal cliffs have foreced me three times to jump in the beater pickups among the fishermens' catch and get rides around the impassable parts to the next collection of shacks.  The fishermen for sure admire my adventure, but when it's just not possible to pass along the coast, and there are absolutely no villages or hamlets, or even lone gas stations along  the interior highway, hitching a ride is the only way they'll let me continue.  Sad for me, but reasonable.  I've shortened the pilgrimage by about 120 kilometers because of this, and there might be a little more to come.

Consequently, I've taken to carrying 3 liters of water and walking well past the daily marathon target 8 of the last 11 days.  Still, I'm enjoying the long walk along the beach.  Soon enough, I'll be at the border and head interior to Lake Titicaca and Cuzco (for Christmas).

I don't recognize many of the fish I've been eating, being an East Coast girl, but the fishermen do a fine job preparing evening meals over hot embers of driftwood.  There's an interesting monovalve mollusc in the mix, called lapa here, that's particularly tasty, along the lines of the meat of crab claws, and boiled, roasted, or batter-dipped and fried, is a delectable repast, sand and all.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 58 Endless Beaches of White Sand

These beaches never seem to end... the sand is fine and the dunes high.  Ups are difficult, but skiing the downs is out and out fun.  The fishing villages have become smaller and smaller, mostly consisting of a single shack.  One such shack on the side of a bluff came before me as a small miracle.  I started out in the mist of the morning with advice from an old man telling me that I should walk across a part of the desert rather that follow the shoreline because it would be a much shorter distance and the village that appeared on the map would take the entire day to reach.  Would there be houses where I could get more water?  Of course, yes, many...  Is the dirt road clear and easy to follow?  Of course, yes, can't miss it... Are there people in the village where I might find a place to pass the night?  Of course, yes, many...

Advice can be so outrageously misguided to save the pride of an old man... why couldn't he say he had no idea where the village indicated on the map was (turns out, it was abandoned more than a century ago and nothing but old stone walls remain) and that he hadn't been on that dirt road in years and didn't know what I might find?  Moron may be too strong of a word to describe the old man, but taking the advice put me in quite a difficult situation.  The desert road shown on the map - in reality dozens of crisscrossing tracks all over the place... the houses - none, so no water available... the town with no people, no place to pass the night... details details details.

Reserving my water as well as I could, the clouds burned off and the sun came out and I became concerned.  Using my compass to triangulate off the antenna masts let me know my location in reality but not on the map, so no sense of how close or far from any habitation... all day long... in the last hours before sunset, I devised a contingency plan to reach the sea again, make an emergency shelter among the rocks, possibly gather shellfish in the surf, and hope that the morning mist would provide sufficient moisture for a few sips of water.  The inventory on hand was down to two dry cookies, an orange, a chocolate bar, and a quarter liter of water.  Not a very good plan, I thought at the time, but lacking other input, it was the best I had.  Everything looks better in the morning and I could pass the night comfortably enough for contingency planning.

As I reached the sea at dusk, I saw the glow of a light on the shore to the south and quickly abandoned my plan for a new one.  A light might mean people, and people would surely mean water, and the introduction of water improved any plan.  I found the source of the light inside a fisherman's shack, with three young men watching Big Mama II dubbed in Spanish, three big dogs, and three small cats.  The men, without interrupting their television viewing, offered me water, prepared some fried bread and clams for all of us, and didn't mind in the least that I would spend the night on their little sofa once the movie was over.  The generator powering the television ran out of fuel a few minutes before the movie finished anyway.  All's well that ends well with a moral to the story being that staying by the shore increases the probability of finding fishermen with water compared to the barrenness of the desert in bloom.

I spent six days walking along the long shore encountering fishermen's shacks with jovial gentlemanly fishermen more than happy to provide fresh water and shellfish with fried bread.  What a diverse culture I've seen.

Northward, the shacks will thin out, I'm being told, but I'm good for another 200 kilometers (another four days.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Day 51 Beauty and the Beast

Nothing lengthens or hastens the stride like the promise of a new vista.  For this, I've been walking steadily northward, over mountainous terrain, with new views of the approaching desert at every crest.  The trees and livestock have thinned out and gotten shorter, a fog hugs the coast.  A foggy coast makes for inefficient trekking.  I've been meandering a bit inland, as dirt tracks and footpaths take me, though still close enough to hear the seabirds.  The cactus and other desert plants are fully in springtime bloom.

Among the transitional vegetation is a gorgous bright yellow flower on a neon green stem that is so perfect-looking, it almost looks fake.  Yet this plant is as diabolical as it is beautiful.  The stem is loaded with spikes that cling like Velcro.  Trying to remove the sticking stems is like trying to hold set something Velcro on a table while wearing wool mittens.  Sticky sticky sticky.  On an occasion to look down as I walk over hill and dale instead of at the promised new vista, perfect floral sprays look brilliant against my black hiking pants, covering everywhere like a print design.  The treacherous barbs break off the spiked stems and drive right through the fabric into my skin.  Beneath, it looks like a bad case of measels, yet in a lovely floral pattern.  Not too itchy, but a bit oozy as my skin acts to reject the invaders.  A bit of antibiotic cream, and everything is healing well, but the two-day encounter of the beautiful plant has left me spotty.  The further north, the fewer plants...