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"Earth's crammed with heaven." -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
|Episode 13--Chile: A Day in the Life|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:14 PST
|cherie writes: May 1999|
Cold as Ice:
Still in Chile, the country that claims the most coastline on the planet, I stretched out my arms and glanced around our room decorated in alternating squares of chocolate brown and Holly-Hobby pink. The Swiss Chef, in the bunk below, must have heard my breathing change,because he raised a scribbled note to my eye level, as if he had been waiting for me to wake up.
A pen was its flag-pole and the note, crumpled and wounded (the pen stabbing it) said in French "Blah... blah... blah... (I can't read French)... glacier." Lesson one: glacier is the same word in French and English. I deduced it must say "Do you want to hike to the glacier?" So I started rambling about what trail we would take until my voice woke up everyone in the room. That was when the note was correctly translated for me by someone who spoke French. It actually said: "You are a glacier." My unwillingness to acknowledge any romantic advances had earned me a new nickname that morning: Glacier.
So being a glacier, I decided to visit one. The big daddy of all glaciers: Moreno Glacier. Still advancing, the ice-wall stood over 180 feet tall. The monolith of ice was a weird blue, the color of those artificial lakes inside miniature-golf courses. It looked like a mammoth cake made of all icing, where some retard had made ice-bergs instead of frosting roses. The surrounding water was so thick that a boat left a permanent trail like a curious 4 year-old had run his finger through the frosting.
The glacier was as proud as it was massive; harmless and dangerous at the same time. As the glacier calved into the ocean it seemed like an old man, letting himself fall apart with dignity, his icy fragments floating nearby. When the wall crashed down, you saw it before you heard it; like the gap between lightning and thunder. Spindle ice-arms came down like hatchets chopping into a glass sea, turning it into a splashing fury. I half expected to see Mickey Mouse, cape and wand in hand, triumphantly orchestrating the wild water dance. But when I looked around, I only saw the grins of other travelers. It was like a marvelous secret we held inside ourselves. Each smile said insilence: "I saw it, too."
The Volcano:I should have known. I should have known when I was handed the 35lb pack complete with ice-pick, gas-mask, spiky clamp-ons and other heavy ice-climbing gear. It was too much for me. When I saw the volcano, I knew I had seen it before. Some kid in my 5th grade class had made a replica of it for his science project. Scraggly layers of heat rose and distorted the active volcano; made it appear to be breathing. A perfect mushroom cloud of smoke burped out of the top--the samecartoon puff from one of Wile E. Coyote's doomed Road-Runner induced falls.
I was gasping 15 minutes into the 9 hour trek. Falling behind, I was already sick of hearing my name screamed out,disturbing the silence: Was I ok? My breathing was so labored, I couldn't answer. I swallowed the air in gulps, though my lungs were convinced I was sipping it.
There were 12 people who hiked the volcano that day, two of them were our guides. Guide #1, who would ask me 23 times over the next 9 hours if I wanted to turn back, didn't appreciate me always lagging behind.That's when one of the professional cyclists encumbered himself with my backpack (in addition to his own) leaving me 35 pounds lighter. I looked at him the same way I looked at that stranger when I was 6 years-old who let me save my allowance (45 cents) and bought me mypowdered-jelly-donut along with his order. Their reasons may have been similar: one, saving himself the frustrationof constantly waiting for me; the other, from the agony ofwatching me count 45 pennies into a cashier's open palm. Reasons aside, to me, they will always be angels.
The next seven hours are nebulous; private moments of higher consciousness suffused with pain. The world was put on mute as the volcano vomited steam...the sulfur wafting through me in waves. Battered and soaked I collapsed on the dried ribbons of asphalt 1 1/2 hours from the peak. I could make excuses (my sprained ankle...the altitude) but the fact was, I couldn't go on. And they couldn't stay. The sun was climbing down as we were climbing up, so I would wait there. Alone.
I found myself searching for a square of sun with the same urgency I had earlier searched for a square of shade. I sifted myself between the lava rocks and snow until my legs oozed into acleft it the volcano. The air stung my lips which were crackedlike the crust of a desert. As my jelly-muscles hardened into brittle crepes I thought about one thing: I paid for this.
I wondered if I had failed, and about my mind wanting to do something my body couldn't. And I decided that I was ok with it. There was only one moment when I regretted my decision. It was when I heard them screaming at the top, successful. It was all I could do to cock my head like a dainty bird to see the red dots they were; the cherries on top of a volcano sundae. I didn't reach the peak, but I felt like I did. I wondered if this was what it was like when parents lived vicariously through their children. The sensation was mine, and I've never been so proud to accomplish something I didn't really accomplish.
When they returned, I balled up my trembling muscles and sled down the volcano on my butt, using my ice-pick as a brake.We raced the sun down, and once at the bottom, I witness a sunset that should have marked either the beginning of creation, or the end of it.It became clear, as I watched the sun burn itself into a messy orange stain, that all those times I: held my breath through through a tunnel, lifted my legs over railroad tracks, closed my eyes when I saw a shooting star, blew a dandelion apart with my breath, flipped a coin into a well, licked my thumb, placed it in my palm, and stamped itwith my fist when I saw a white horse...I'd been wishing for the same thing. This.
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