Jirira, Coquesa, Aike: trails and finds

Jirira, Coquesa, Aike: trails and finds

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By Pablo Cingolani

"Well you've come!" I'm going to toast your way! –Exclaims a man shriveled by life, rough and luminous, like the landscape that surrounds him, to then offer and swallow a blaze of liquid fire. When it's my turn to "challar" and toast to me, I feel that such heavy alcohol would make an Irishman stagger, but I still hold it, I take a deep breath, I look at the man and say:

"Shit, Placido, this drink is really strong!"

Plácido Castro is the magistrate of Aike, an Aymara community, lost on the north shore of the salt flat that most know from Uyuni. A year that I did not see him, a whole year that I did not know about him, but there I was, I had returned.

"I raise my word so you know," he proclaims ceremoniously. "You have complied and here you are again!" I toast your way again!

And wham! another lash to the throat: my body goes numb and I vibrate again. They, Plácido and his family - a monkey who was baptized as Porfirio Jonathan, and who is his grandson; Tatiana, his wife, the odd relative who was hanging around there - are celebrating their new year, the one they have always celebrated, the new year in the Andes: it is the eve of the cyclical June 21, southern winter solstice. He had met Placido the previous year, in another community called Jirira, on whose heights, towards the side where Aike is located, the rites of welcome and good fortune were celebrated.

"Aike is here," Placido told me that time, both of them submerged in the black, very black night of the salt pampas, where the only light and source of heat was a tola fire, which was languishing. His finger sank into the darkness and pointed west, haunting west— After a year, you walk there, first is Coquesa, then my house. I hope there…

When I returned, I did not hesitate and left Jirira, just with a bottle of water on my back and a huge green bag with coca leaves: my gift to Plácido and the community members of Aike.

* * *

Walking through the desert is one of the experiences of contact and exchange with nature, the most inspiring and captivating of all that can be lived. The simplicity of the environment, its fearsome climatic load, the mirage that always lurks, make it a space for chain revelations. It is like the ocean, but an ocean of different depths.

No desert is like another, and this one that I write down, is one of the most extravagant that exists in all the Earth. A land of frozen salt, hard as injustice, bright as a hundred moons together.

Geography books say that it occupies 12 thousand square kilometers and some say that Aldrin, the astronaut Aldrin, spotted it from the window (will it be said like that?) Of the Apollo rocket, the one from the famous mission that landed in Selenia. From the cosmos, the salar would look like a strange pearl, embedded in the skin of the world.

They say that Buzz Aldrin, once he returned, wanted to know what that target was that he had spotted and that he came to Bolivia to verify it. Julian Barnes, in his essential A history of the world in ten and a half chapters, has a story that goes around the same thing. Another astronaut, on a galactic mission, feels that God himself encourages him to find Noah's Ark and the man goes in search of him to Mount Ararat, in the Armenian highlands, now occupied by the Turks.

These stories, real or imaginary, only make sense in deserts, and I was covering my steps with them, while I walked towards the house of Plácido who, to tell the truth, had no idea where he was located. All truth be told, he also had no idea where Aike was left. I had seen it marked on an IGM map, but when the night before I left, I announced my intention to go there, Lupe and Carlitos, my hosts in Jirira, looked at me as if I had told them that I wanted to go to hell and Carlitos, one of the skinniest and most sympathetic men I met in these wastelands that breaks everyone's nerves, looked for a bottle of brandy and added a generous splash to the lemon verbena I was drinking.

"You go around the volcano," he assured me in a poised voice, "sooner or later you'll have to get to Aike." Listen to me well: take some water with you, because you won't find that way. Tomorrow, we will do chuño.

In 1640, a hard-working and restless friar, named Barba, published a wonderful book that he titled The art of metals. Among its pages, the first historical description of the salt that most know from Uyuni is treasured. It affirms about it, something undoubted and that nobody believed for three and a half centuries: that it is one of the natural wonders of what was known as the New World. He also assured that inside, there were water holes where "large and grown fish" could be found. I insist: for prodigies and miracles, there is nothing better than a good desert.

* * *

Follow the volcano was Carlitos' warning. I have already noted that this one in question is a singular desert because it is white. Now I will add to finish painting the scenic picture that its north bank is crowned by a mountain, loaded with so much myth and mysticism, as few that are known in the world. I allude to the Tunupa, the Tunupa volcano, the Tunupa mountain, the Mama Tunupa of the locals. In another writing, I referred to it as the great cosmic sanctuary of the entire southern highlands. Its ritual importance, on those sides of the Andes, can only be compared with two other volcanoes, two colossi: the Lincancabur and the Llullaillaco.

But there is another thing that persuades me: its undeniable magnetism, the product of a beauty that puzzles and enhances an aesthetic presence that undoubtedly, at least, seduces me with ardor and overwhelms me with pleasure, it guides me in short .

The cause of the beauty of the Tunupa was a cataclysm. The beauty of Tunupa is the consequence of the bursting of the volcano's crater. And that beauty is there, naked, emaciated, gutted, it would have to be said, because it is the beauty of magma, the beauty of the mineral and living interior of the planet that exploded and is exposed, the entrails of the Pachamama, and one remains cold if he goes up and up to the sulfurous edges of the volcanic hole and looks at it from there and offers himself to fate. It is another upward, ascending journey: ask the same blessed Carlitos where the Apachetas del Tunupa are and go up and see the marks of a show, so old that few remember it, but that just intuiting it - the lava in dance , the unfolded chaos, the challenging chaos-, if you dare, it causes a shock so strong that even the stones raised in apachetas may move, as happened once we went up there in the company of Ricardo Solíz Alanes, Juan Cadena and a dog of the region, who is not afraid of the abyss, or of heights.

I followed the volcano, as Carlitos told me, and walking, walking I arrived at Coquesa and there was not a soul in Coquesa, only a church where you noticed this: the cross on the portal was not the usual one, it was the square cross, the syncretic cross of the Andes, and it was located, straight ahead and unequivocally, in the direction of the top of the hill, Tunupa. Magical war, mystical resistance, or what? ”I remember thinking. In front of the church door, there was also a condor's head, carved in stone, a "mallku" looking east, towards where the sun rises and another emblematic mountain rises: Tata Cuzco, male hill, couple of the Tunupa , cerro-compajula also if you go to the sides of Pulacayo, the great red mine.

When I resumed the march towards Aike, a drum sounded in the distance, its drumbeats sounded far but far-far: they filled the air with designs and their silence and my heart with a certainty: they were already celebrating, it was a sign of eve, of life , of resistance, of celebration.

* * *

We eat a plate of beans without salt with Placido. The afternoon is dying, the clouds are so shocking, so vivid, that there is no way to escape and we entertain him in silence sometimes, other times Plácido is telling me his things, and now that his drink rises with emotion, He asks me if it is that next year, I will also return ... now that I have just finished doing it.

That was delimited by the Brazilian Bernardo Carvalho in his novel Nine nights: in the solitudes of the earth, in the forgotten places or to which no one goes, when someone loves you, loves you forever, and loves you possessively, and in the ungraspable depth of their feelings, they don't really want you to leave, he wants you to just stay, but also, in the depths of his soul, he knows, feels, that one day you are going to leave and that you are never going to return. For this reason, those moments that are shared, that brotherhood of the deserts, of the jungles, of the ends of the world, are so intense that they are carved within you and cannot be erased. That is why I evoke them here; therefore, although I cannot know that, I would also like you to feel that way.

As night comes and I play with the child to throw stones at us (or I could say that we simply “shit ourselves with kalazos”), and the child, only three years old, in a fit, throws his tin truck at me and we die of laugh both, we see someone approaching, a shadow that crosses the place. He is Don Julio, and he comes with Leocadia, whom I once baptized as "the Janis Joplin of the salar," and who is his daughter. Julio is 75 years old, but you wouldn't be anywhere near right to give him such a lot of past. Julio carries an adorable drunkenness, one of those strokes. When we look into each other's eyes, and he also recognizes me, he simply says:

- “Huayna Chullpa”, I was waiting for you! - Huayna Chullpa was a nickname that I earned from those places. The complicated translation I avoid, but it is a show of sympathy.

—Come, brother, we are going to “fight” on your way ...

It was already dark and closed when we started our journey towards Jirira, towards the heart of the party. We did not walk, we were aboard the Ford of Julio, a truck as old as misfortune and that stopped working in the middle of the sands, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.

When that happened - half Aike was coming on top of the thing - came the moment of grace and definitive inspiration: while Julio toiled vainly with the engine, Leocadia proclaimed that she was going to fix it and it was then that she cleared her throat with a sip burned chest and began to sing a huayno, yes, a huayno that began like this: "my force, my force ... tell me how bad I am doing you?"

Suddenly, in the middle of the sands, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, we were all dancing, and repeating without ceasing and as a mantra: "my force, my force." Suddenly, Leocadia, magician and master of the ceremony, gave a cry and ordered that the entire band of gypsies go up to mobility. He was by his side, skirts brushing cowboy, when he asked his father, Don Julio, to get started at once because we would be late for the other party where all the communities would meet; to turn on the engine, all at once well, tatita. And the engine started.

Pablo Cingolani

Río Abajo, August 1, 2013, beginning of the month of Mother Earth

Video: Getting Started on my Backyard Mountain Bike Trails (July 2022).


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