Within half an hour of my return to the boat I have a cup of milky tea in my hands. There are things I have missed that are hard to put into words and this is one of them.
These stories we collect along the way – it’s hard to know what they are for. No matter how long we talk, they will never all be told. Nor should they be. It’s more interesting to hear a story than to tell one, anyway.
But it’s far too easy to let these words slip by uninked, and with them the taste and the sound of the hours and hours it takes to make up every day. Sometimes we must tell ourselves our own stories, put those days down in full sentences, try to sum things up. Therefore, before the beginning of the next chapter (southbound again!), I will take a small breath and try to review briefly a few of the many moments not yet told from the last three months.
By one o’clock in the afternoon I’ve tramped up and down and across and around and I’m beginning to get fed up with Machu Picchu. There’s such pressure though (don’t tell me there’s not) to really experience this place. I struggled up the stairs, I watched the sun spill slowly over the far mountains and fill the roofless ruins, I gasped for air all the way to the peak that towers over it all and now, seven hours later I’m about done. I wander aimlessly to the upper layers of the ancient ruins. With my back against a wall centuries old I take my shoes off and eat my tunafish sandwich. The nap that follows is only a natural product of the sun and the grass and the quiet as the crowds from the morning begin to leave.
An hour later I am awakened by a group of Japanese tourists who are gathered not three feet from my head.
It’s okay, I think as I brush grass off my face and close my eyes again (just for a few more minutes), take your pictures, follow your guides. It’s okay because I’ve found the secret holy Inca napping spot and no one has ever done it justice like I do now.
In the micro on the way to yet another night bus an old woman pokes me on the leg. She holds up a single knarled finger at me.
Solita? She asks. I nod. Solita, I say.
Her wrinkled mouth forms into a little O and she shakes her head. She holds up two fingers and indicates with her head at the empty air beside me.
No hay otro? She clearly thinks there is a misunderstanding.
I hold up my one finger against her two and repeat myself.
It’s just me, I assure her, and give her my biggest wouldn’t-want-it-any-other-way smile.
She closes her mouth and just looks at me for a little while. A few minutes later she pokes the woman beside her and indicates towards me.
Solita, she says, and they both nod slowly.
It’s a disappointing moment when I realise that I have decided to hate night buses. I am disappointed because it’s like deciding to hate your hair; one has no choice but to live with it. I hate them because they suck. What at one time felt epic and apt – the blurred lights through the window, the soft snoring of forty people – now feels like a personal challenge to the solo traveller’s stamina. All of the arguments in their favour crumble in the face of the pre-dawn bus terminal arrival. The money saved in lodging, the day free for fun exploring – neither offers solace as I crouch shivering on the ground of the dark bus terminal for the fourth time in a week. It’s like I’m back on night watch, I think. That’s how precisely I know the hour that light will fill the sky.
Of course, there is the moment when the sun reaches across the land and fills my cold hands and closed eyes with long awaited heat. In that moment there wouldn’t be words enough even if someone else was there to hear them.
There is no balance, I think, between night and day. The light of day only puts off the cold loneliness of the dark for a few more hours. But in that first moment of sun, perhaps there is found a small nod of apology.
* * *
I am doing up the final bungees on the back of the motorcycle when something catches my eye. It doesn’t take a closer look to know exactly what is wrong: I have a flat front tire. Following this, it doesn’t take more than thirty seconds to realise that I have absolutely no idea what to do now. There are few moments when things are quite so certain.
I stand back for a moment and look around slowly. Two kilometres away, cars pass on the highway. In every other direction the desert stretches into the visible distance, empty and judgemental. If I wasn’t alone, this would be totally hilarious.
An hour of pushing the bike through sand later, I reach the edge of the offramp and am preparing to abandon my things to search for an absolutely unknown solution when a car emerges out of the desert. The man is my father’s age and shakes his head at me as I explain my situation.
I have a daughter like you, he tells me.
Like me how? I ask.
Always off doing things on her own in the middle of nowhere. He shakes his head at me and his daughter – he has clearly stopped trying to understand. Well, get your things and hop in, he tells me.
Six hours later I wave goodbye to the driver of the semi who gave me a lift back the 150km from the nearest town. In my hand I clutch a can of foam that claims to be the solution to my problem.
I call Jorge (the dad) and he arrives with my stuff and we stand looking at the can and bike and it’s easy to see that neither of us believe that things are going to be all better momentarily.
But ten minutes later I am shaking Jorge’s hand and then I’m riding off down the road. Who deserves this kind of luck? I think, and immediately laugh at the things we begin to call lucky.