Sunday, 25 November 2007

Brachialer Absturz

A small rim of green vegetation is seen on the other side, then: a brute crashing down of white rock, followed by large cascading flushes of red earth. Here and there turrets jut out as if they were sand pies made by a gigantic kid that might come back out to play after sunset. The Grand Canyon is 16 kilometres across and I don't know how many down, at least the same amount of them I should think. A naked open-wide that no trees or or villages inhabit, it is devoid of life, large, impersonal, with a trickle of an unglinting river at its centre.

A big lethargic cloud eats its way across the sky, slowly pushing its shadow over the canyon. The whole thing is so vast, it looks unreal. Like a massive postcard fixed in front of you that you could scrape your fingers up and down.

A dead tree overlooking the Grand Canyon

Friday, 16 November 2007

I don't want to go anywhere, if it's not on the back of a pick-up truck

"What do you carry?" I ask, since the back of the van as I can see from peeking backwards over my shoulder is empty except for a low stack of loose cardboard. "I sell drugs", shoots the young lad out, showing off. He says he is selling marihuana, but when I note that the stuff that usually makes you the money is cocaine, he admits to be dealing in coke, too. He points out a helicopter circling over the mountains, "they are looking for cannabis fields hidden in the forest".

At San Juanito I get a lift with 3 girls around 19 or 20 on their way to work, collecting leña, firewood. They squeeze in a little tighter for me and so we all sit there with our arms crossed over our laps and smile at each other. After a little while the questions start to trickle forth. "Where are you from? Did you come on a bus from Germany?" When I say I am on my way to Batopilas, the small town at the far end of this out of the way region, the driver takes a second to murmur a prayer, then takes her hands off the steering wheel to cross herself. Soon we wave good-bye. Next thing I know I am off on the back of a pick-up truck with two mariachis who cross themselves at every passing chapel. Drugs is definetely the topic of the day. The white sacks we sit on are fertilizers for the marijuana farm of our driver's parents I am told later on. With the mariachis gone and me promoted to the passenger's seat, I don't feel quite as comfortable anymore though, since that stupid driver keeps asking me inane questions like whether I have a boyfriend and “What do I think of Mexican men, then?". Even though he is going all the way to Batopilas I excuse myself and step out of the car at the next village. Just can't be arsed to put up with him.

I go on a long, seven kilometre walk with a couple of locals speaking an unknown language which they explain to me is called Raramuri. They are on the way to their home village and each is carrying one of their baby twins -two pairs of stereochrome black and white marble eyes peering out into he world from over bundles of limbs as tiny and fragile as matches. After I bid them farewell I spend a long time idling on a bridge, a hundred cars pass by -at the rate of one every half an hour- and I am slowly regretting that I didn't just take that goddamn ride at the beginning of the day. I'd have arrived at my destination long ago.

But sometimes you have to wait, and then only, magic happens.

I finally am swooped away onto the climbing road on the back of yet another pick-up truck with, as company, two handfuls of indigenos in colourful swathes of clothes blowing about them, the intoxicating feeling of wind in my hair and, unhemmed by dirty windowpanes or coachwork, the best possible views.

And, oh, the views. Breathtaking being the word. The only word.
I mean, I am literally boquiabierta.

The road winds up and away from individual mountains that seem to become larger as they recede, and then comfortably ease into the space reserved for them in the greater labyrinthine arrangement. Zigzagging along the road that has been dynamited into the crest of theses mountains, you feel like you are riding the top of the world.

At nightfall dark blue ink quickly creeps on onto the sky, leaving just that thin stripe of faint rose and yellow tones over the horizon and the light of a few stars to peek through. The temperature drops pretty quickly, a cold wind arises, and I decide to stay in a little hotel by the wayside. I take up quarters in a little room with red walls and mischievous looking rabbits on the counterpane. As I close my eyes hypnogogic images invade me. Mountains begin to rise, and then swirl all around me. Gradually they are being englobed by the mindboggling twirl of canyons that I experience for the second time today.  It finally swallows me into sleep.

The first lift I get in the morning is with a car-full of American tourists, helpful, but spurning the fact that I am hitchhiking: "A friend of my mum's got killed when hitchhiking.", says the driver. I am prone to demur, but check myself and just think my own thoughts: 'Well, (fact:) a friend of my mum's got killed when buying a second hand TV, so..."

It is only after a while that realise why I don't enjoy today's ride through the landscape as much as yesterday's: I miss my space outside on the back. Even though it is more comfortable inside here, I miss the wind, the views, and the ever-changing shifts of travel companions you get out there. I get impatient, and I feel like from now on I will regret every minute spent inside a car. Only when we stop for lunch I have the chance to swing myself right up into my old place.

Soon, on the steepest part of the road, we pass two men in lumpy clothes drudging up the incline. Both have charcoal black hair and the younger one has a perfect pageboy style haircut. They wear codpieces and carry walking sticks and both of them look like taken straight out of an Aztec history book. They would make for the most beautiful travel companions I muse, but mostly I feel extremely bad for leaving them in a trail of dust behind us as we race along a road that on foot must take a day until it reaches a village. About an hour later still no settlement is in sight and I sigh and hope for them someone else came along.

Only much later a lean cowboy with a lasso over his shoulder, a pair of penetratingly stark blue eyes, few teeth left in his mouth, and a deeply tanned and furrowed face takes their place. A little while after we have taken off he lifts his hand indicating the crest of the sierra and says: "me he ido la mañana, buscando por ahí". He just spent the whole day looking for his bull. Tomorrow he'll do likewise, and the day after, maybe for the whole week, until he'll track his animal down.

Batopilas is a dusty village that feels like the end of the world. The heat gathered in the alleys during the long hot day sticks it out there till way into the night. Its potholed, narrow streets seem forbidding of that very American pastime of cruising around in oversize cars after sunset, and yet, the guy that has just asked me for a drink does just that: sit me in the car and manoeuvre me around as I gulp down one after the other Negra Modelo he hands me.

The moon light swims and teems like a swarm of silvery little fish on the blackened surface of the nightly river. We stop on its shore. The little bag full of white powder that has just been slipped us underhand with another six pack comes out the pocket of what's-his-name's leather jacket. He rolls it open and dunks his car key into it. A little sniff up the left nostril, another one up the right nostril, and a final little sniff up the left one again then the pack is handed over to me. I do likewise.
But then I kindly ask the boy to drive me back to my hotel, and when he asks whether he can come round later on, I say, sorry, no. I've told him that I was not going to be his girlfriend at the beginning of the night and I am not going to change my mind now, just because I am coked-up and drunk.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

On bikes, across Galicja

We rode up the hill and we rode down the hill and we rode straight into a delicately dying sky.We found large patches of moss as soft as mattresses to sleep on and gazed into the twilight scenery. To the north clouds were towering like snow-capped mountains over the of the fringes of a forest, to the south the Tatras planted their first imposing imprint on the horizon.

That day we'd been looking for raodkill all along the road to take care of our protein needs. The ones we came across though never were in good enough condition -always more road-rug than prospective steak. But when we stopped in a small forest for lunch we found some distant relatives of the fungus we have between our toes that we could cook with our (deliciously unnutritious) spaghetti.