Sunday, May 8, 2016

It's Just Like Backpacking

Living in Cuenca is a lot like doing a long backpacking trip. Maybe my longest one yet. I'm not sure.

One thing I have to do is improvise. You do that a lot on a backpacking trip. Need to do something? Try hitting it with a rock, poking it with a stick, avoiding it, going around, over, under, or running away. See if that works.

If not, then maybe that's it. Maybe you can't do anything about it. Just live with it. Stay as close to what's pretty much OK as you can, and stay as far off as you can from the parts that don't agree with you. Whatever works, mostly.

Mostly is the key. Nothing is ever perfect, or if you want to be honest about it, no one knows the perfect, but a lot of life is learning what is pretty much OK, and then doing that. Same as life here. I think I'm getting by.

Life here isn't always pleasant, but it is most always interesting. Often in the same way as discovering that you are bleeding from your arm is interesting, especially if you didn't know that you were wounded. Life here is confusing to navigate. I never know what's going to happen next.

Mostly, nothing. Nothing interesting or notable anyway. Something always happens, but a big part of life is learning what to ignore, or more catastrophically sometimes, ignoring everything and learning by painful results what not to ignore. But either way I never know what's going to happen next. More so here than in the U.S.

After all, I grew up there and not here. I guess part of the deal here is being clueless and still getting by, which is, again, much like living on the trail. We are clueless animals, by and large, insulated from many of the realities and harshnesses of life by our social infrastructure. That would be agriculture, industry, education, medicine, packaged food, clothing, and all those other necessary and universal attributes of human society. We don't need to live by our wits or our instincts, fighting for the next meal. We can cruise along almost cluelessly, but being in a different culture highlights a lot of things.

Things are not always pleasant here. Navigation is confusing. I never know, really, what is going to happen next, and sometimes what does happen is dangerous, requiring adaptability. And there is shit on the trail at times. Shit is everywhere here, always.

The correct response, though, is the same — walk around it. I know how to do that, so I'm OK with that, mostly. Mostly is mostly working out. I've had to clean shit off my shoe only once in eight months. That isn't bad.

Little things. (That was one of them.) Little things are happening all the time. A person has to roll with them, just like while backpacking. Not everything is bad, either. Not everything needs a response. Most of it, not. Mostly, it's interesting. I notice something and either think about it or I don't, and keep walking either way. The things I think about are kind of interesting, to me. Or odd.

A few days back I saw a motor scooter go past. Then I saw a helmet rolling down the street, going like crazy. Then a motorcycle rider came along and hit it. Then the helmet kept rolling until it went up onto a grassy median strip, slowed, and fell over. Then I saw a man come trotting back toward me along the median. He went to the helmet, picked it up, and returned to the motor scooter. OK fine. Just another thing.

And another thing I never saw much of in the U.S., a whole family on a motorcycle. Dad was driving. Mom sat in back. Junior was in front of Dad, between his arms and sitting on the gas tank. I assume that it was Mom, Dad, and Junior (or Missy). Horrifically dangerous for the little one regardless of gender but you see some of that here. Another passing event like a cloud in the sky or the bark of an elk in the woods. Either way, I'll never know more of the story than what I saw, just as it happens while I'm backpacking.

See this, see that, see whatever, and keep walking. It's not my game. I'm not a participant. I'm just here, as much by accident as anything else, and it's only scenery for me. A luxury, I guess. Again, just like backpacking, which is one of the finest luxuries. You just walk, stop to eat, look at this and at that, make a quiet little camp and sleep, and then walk some more. No need to try understanding anything, although that is a fun game in itself — there's really only the detached walking and gawking. Just like living here, in this foreign place.

Which is foreign and still not too foreign. So it's entertaining. Mostly. Again, mostly.

A couple of weeks back, while returning from an early-evening walk, I got water dumped on me from over the wall of a raised playground. Water-dumping and squirtgun spraying go with carnaval, which was long past, but people are inventive. Someone had not got enough, and I guess I should have taken the wet spots on the concrete as a clue, and I did, actually, but disregarded them, and then I got dumped on. Eh.

I didn't even bother to look up. Didn't stop and look around in puzzled incomprehension. Didn't pause, or swear, or anything. I knew. I wasn't ready for it but I knew. It was obvious the instant it happened — someone had dumped water on me from above.

'K, so now what?

What else? Keep walking.

Again, that's just like another backpacking experience, because out in the woods, you never know. Something always happens before you expect it to. Or it doesn't, and something else happens. Or that doesn't either. You never know.

And right after I got dumped on, maybe three minutes later, I had to cross a street. It was at a "real" intersection, meaning that there were traffic signals there, which people obey here, for some unknown reason, because they don't obey any other traffic regulations, but I had the green and could legally and (kind-of safely) cross, except.

That someone coming along made a right turn as I was almost fully across the street (on the green light), and didn't slow down. At all. And almost brushed the front of my pants with his left-side door. Which isn't that unusual either. I once had the toe of my left shoe run over by a car's right rear wheel, which is a close call but also not too unusual. Which is what then?

Which is about average for here, which is a lot like backpacking, when I (you, we) have to deal with ordinary recurring hazards, like getting from one side of a stream to the other. No matter how ordinary and simple and usual it seems, there is always a surprise hidden somewhere in there. Somewhere.

Maybe it doesn't bite you this time. Maybe it's napping, or looking the other way, but it's in there, and suddenly you can find yourself facing a real problem, and mostly you bend a little or do a side-step, or stop and think and then try a short detour, and then it's on to the next thing. Or else you get killed. But you never know.

It's like living here, I think. Living in Cuenca is a lot like doing a long backpacking trip.


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