Under the Influence of Altitude - Prologue

Published: June 23rd 2010
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Is it possible to do twice as much in half the time? Ever since my privately dramatic encounter with the legal system last year, long vacations in far off lands to have not been part of the program. A steel sword has halved the sixty-plus days of self-fulfilling meandering through countries whose towns I cannot pronounce and whose names are etched in script that would render me illiterate. Instead realty has tethered me to a life of numbing my extremities in the state’s top hockey rinks and chauffeuring my offspring to practices, pools, and birthday parties. Even so, to lodge a complaint among those who work in the real world would only result in foreseeable scowls, disdain and comments such as, “Yeah, my last vacation was to the casino for weekend in 2006.” Privately I cringe and know that in the game of life, I am pulling ahead just as I approach halftime.
It has taken little time or effort to determine that Peru is the only country I will have visited knowing in advance a second encounter will soon be in order. It is the perfect storm. Plentiful in size yet still manageable in scope, it cannot be traversed in the matter of a few weeks or understood on the first encounter. The challenge to the independent traveler is similar to that of Southeast Asia: Can I as an outsider take in its substance without being swept away in the well carved bobsled run of budget trekkers from Lima to Cusco and on the final sharp turn to Titicaca? Hopefully this will simply entail my having to duck left when the highly organized drones and worker bees lurch to the right.
I’d like to offer a special shout of thanks to Joran Van der Sloot, whose psychopathic and orgasmic murder of a young university student casts an even more suspicious shadow on single men travelling to Lima. Reports are that other unattached guys making their way through Peru have not been the target of piercing stares or the cold shoulder familiar to many in Asia. Is there a t-shirt I can buy in Spanish that says, “I’d like to meet your women, but not smother them with my shirt?”
What I hope to get out of Peru remains up in the air. I still haven’t kicked my eternal addiction to the whitewashed and cobblestoned backdrop of colonial Latin America. Is Lima but an urban point of convenience like São Paulo, where I wind myself up before letting myself spin away like a top?
For the first time, I am eschewing the philosophy of complete independence. I have always believed it is better to be alone than in bad company, especially on the road. Nothing can destroy a journey more effectively than hearing from a partner, “What exactly do you mean by soap and a bucket of water?” or “I have to bring my own toilet paper?” I have agreed to take on a pen pal from Lima who has never hoisted her life over her shoulders and walked up a twenty-five degree incline to crash on a mattress in a ramshackle mountain refuge. The two of us will depart the capital sporting smiles. Will only one return, and if so, which one?
Expectations with Rosalinda are suppressed, but I want it to go well for reasons that someone my age and in my position need not have to explain. It would be a joy for things to work out for a change. For years while imbibing in the dankest Budapest watering holes and bouncing ceiling to floor on oversized soda cans that pass for buses in Laos, I have professed that traveling alone does not complete the person. An empty sensation always gnaws away at your gut because after it’s all over, all anyone thinks about at home are the sound-bite stories told at the kitchen table and the digital slideshow converted to an HD screen in the living room. No one ever knows what it’s really like to be there. They experience no rush, no high that chemical inducement could ever equal. The adage goes, “What good is it if you know the cure to cancer if you cannot tell anyone?” Travel is my research to finding the cure, that one, paralyzing “Wow!’ moment that weakens the knees. For once, I think I’d like to have someone there to help me up.


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