Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Playtime In Povertyland

Serious lightheartedness is on its way to your continent.

I've already seen this where I'm living now.

A few years back I did a hike up a valley. It was short, only a couple of miles and-a-half (4 km), but steep. Quiet. The trailhead wasn't exactly near anywhere. Stopping along the road didn't reveal anything obvious.

To find out what the land held you had to get out of your vehicle and trudge uphill for two hours or more, and then snoop around with an open mind.

For me it was glorious.

At the upper end of the trail there is a stream. That's about it. The trail crosses the stream and ends. The stream though, is delicious. One of those small, clear miracles that flow silently on the level, chuckle and chortle over and around small stones, and foam over an occasional waterfall.

And, on a hot day, this is a hot hike, uphill.

But also, at the top, if you look for it, in the stream, there is a hole. Not an obvious thing unless you slow and look for it is this unexpectedly deep spot.

Water depth is hard to judge, but I once removed my clothes and stepped in. Cool but not frigid (this must have been August). And then I went no more than two steps farther and suddenly was in deeper than I am tall.

This spooks me. Somehow I am afraid of water. Normally I don't go in, and did get a small fright from being so deep in such a small place, but really. There was no danger, and it was refreshing.

A few minutes later, as I sat hidden on the beach clothed again, two guys came along. The had just hiked up the trail.

They went to the middle of the log that crosses the stream, stood half a minute looking at the falls, and then told each other they'd conquered another obstacle, and scurried back down the trail.

That was it for them.

I've been there at least half a dozen times, always alone, and have stayed for hours at a time.

Once I followed the trail as far as it went and have convinced myself that it does not really, secretly, go on to some higher, more secret, more amazing place.

I've scrambled around the falls and explored the canyon above.

I've sat on the high end of a dead tree looking like a giant arrow shaft stuck in the ground. I've had lunch alongside the stream every time.

I've waited in silence and have never been disappointed.

There are no carnival fun rides, no water slides, no video games. No concessionaires clog the banks of this stream or line its valley. You find no resorts, or sounds of humanity except what you bring - your breath and heartbeat.

Today I found something interesting. "Andean Epics: The rider's choice for two-wheeled adventures in the Andes."

I'm not going to say that this is wrong. Or bad. It is a sign of spreading urbanization. I would call it that.

The people who live in the Bolivian Andes do not buy $2000 bicycles and ride them straight down mountainsides. Only the rich do. For us, these people are neighbors. For Bolivians they are incomprehensibly wealthy and strange aliens.

I like bicycles. I used to ride a lot. I've built several from the ground up, starting from bare frames.

I would not ride down the side of the Andes, mostly because I'd rather walk the land or tour quietly on wheels, if I had wheels, and was there.

But "Andean Epics" does not do it my way. They use a carefully built-up set of mountain trails that are in no way natural: "For ten years we have been putting the first tracks down the barren peaks above La Paz." So 10 years. That is a lot of work to put in.

But billing one route as the "World's Most Famous Death Road" gets to the heart of it. As noted, this is not for me. And I also think it is much better than a thousand acre (400 hectare) manicured resort with high-rise hotels, swimming pools, bars, tennis courts, ballrooms, and golf courses.

In a sense though, they are the same. Or the "Death Road" is the next step up.

The world is changing. After the Second World War many cities were rebuilt, and what emerged was cities built for motor vehicle traffic, not humans afoot. Shopping malls and suburban sprawl came later, as the phenomenon evolved.

So is it with remote places.

Not so remote they, now.

Some who come will be respectful and interested in learning. Others, like the two guys at my secret private stream, will arrive to gawk and hoot, throw money around, eat, drink, try to make Mary, and then vanish in pursuit of the next place they can claim to have done.

It is the "been there, done that", "bucket list" world against quiet arrival, waiting, and eventual understanding. One of these ways of living continues to devour the other.

Andean Epics Go there.

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