Posted by: standing_baba | August 14, 2009

Desert Days: Delirious or Enlightened?

Tatacoa Desert, north of Villavieja, Colombia

Tatacoa Desert, north of Villavieja, Colombia

Apparently, I mindlessly floated through an entire day. In morning I woke. At night I arrived. In between I covered 43.02 miles (69.24 kilometers), and ate three solid meals. All other details are a bit blurry.

This Zen blackout was easy surrounded by miles of monotonous desert, cotton-mouthed, with heatstroke suggesting my skull would better serve as a postcard, shot at low-angle, atop sun-cracked mud, as the dusk light weakened behind Western mountains.

Only now, well-hydrated and half-asleep, is my mind returning to its “normal” state. My hotel’s backyard banana palms, with their shadows painted on the red brick walls, reluctantly draw modern art comparisons—visions of Picassos-Dalis-Gaudis dancing in my head. Children cozied up on the porch, viewed through a narrow hallway leading to the street, with a warm lamplight background and faint firework crackle in the distance, seem like some Christmas Eve fable; the two mothers’ rocking chair motion a lumberjack saw cutting, one smooth stroke at a time, into my no-think Nirvana.

Hospedaje Las Palmas, Natagaima, Colombia

Hospedaje Las Palmas, Natagaima, Colombia

As I gaze up at the few visible stars from the wash area, where a cement tub the size of an extravagant jacuzzi eternally fills with the trickle of a hose and low-hung clotheslines make my new-and-improved constellations impossible (my arm too long, the space too small, my tracing finger too perfectionist in its art), I finally accept that thought is inevitable, and probably safer than aimlessly wandering across the desert, with no memory of where I’ve been or why I’m crossing the dry expanse in the first place. With logic new on the scene, my perfect day officially ended.

Almost instantly I wondered, in a curious panic: what happened to the last 24-hours? This exact question posed, perhaps symbolically, perhaps not, as my toothpaste-saliva mix hung in the washbin and I, with my eyes still skyward, making foolish twist motions towards the non-existent water spout, finally dipped into the cement tub with a plastic bucket to flood the spit away, realizing through this mini-tsunami motion that the disconnect between dreams and reality is, ironically, very real—like air (oxygen) that some people breathe efficiently and others just breathe. The “What happened to the day?,” and its accompanying profound (to me) realization, almost escaped as an after-thought, as ephemeral as my reflection in the water before fake constellations, buckets, and ripples erased it forever, as if it never existed.

Teeth cleaned and evidence destroyed, I laid in bed to contemplate the invisible distance between what we accept (reality) and what we want (dream), water and stars, yoga and a girl, ultimately settling on a seemingly unconnected nightcap: the unimaginable number of people who have lived and died in complete anonymity, without even family to preserve their memory. This meditation of Napoleonic proportions—how many died nameless in his wars alone?—was almost certainly provoked by the closeness of death I felt all day in the desert, by the sense that life is delicate in such impossibly harsh conditions.

Thinking this way was not at all as depressing as it sounds. A happy memorial parade began in my head. The vastness involved with the organization of names and dates, the roll call, putting these long-gone strangers’ faces in context, in their respective moment in history, with appropriate fashions and hairstyles, multiplied by centuries and millennia, reverting in a sequential blur, faster and faster, all the way back to our block-headed naked ancestors was a comedic process equal to raising the dead with a seance rave party. Exhausted, I slept like a baby in a room without air-conditioning, knowing these deaths and much more are just part of everything that happens under sun, part of everything that in its unknowing grace circles the sun effortlessly, part of this one miracle ball amongst many cosmic balls that has deserts but life too.


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