• Tag Archives Peru
  • A Walk in the Andes

    Continued from Railway in the Sky

    The G&Q Railway in Riobamba
    The G&Q Railway in Riobamba

    When we arrived at Riobamba, the effects of altitude hit us as we stepped down from the train. The slightest exertion made us feel weak and unsteady. Obviously, we were in no condition to embark on a mountain trek. Carlos merely nodded, and made the necessary arrangements.

    We rested two days in a primitive hotel, drinking cocoa tea to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. On the third day Carlos returned with three stout campesinos, each leading a comical, long-necked pack animal. Two of the animals were loaded with supplies, and the third was harnessed to carry our gear. By this time our heads were beginning to clear.

    The first week passed without incident, as we wound our way through alpine fields and across mountain slopes. Our heading was South and then East, deeper into the Andes. We hiked in single file, with Carlos in front and the campesinos and pack animals behind. The scenery was spectacular; I’d seen nothing like it, except once on vacation in Austria as a boy.

    We traveled further each day as our bodies grew accustomed to the altitude. After about 10 days the headaches became infrequent, and we started to truly enjoy the journey. Carlos proved to be an experienced mountain guide, and taught us to deal with the uncertainty of high mountain weather. The nights were quite cold, and we often found ourselves huddled together in sleep.

    On the Andean slopes today
    On the Andean slopes today

    Carlos spoke English with us, and in a rapid, local dialect with the campesinos. Otto, Pavel and I used English for the most part, although Otto insisted that we switch to Czech from time to time.

    There was ample opportunity to share stories of our war-time experiences. Some of Otto’s tales were quite fantastic, and I doubted there was much truth in them. I thought he was spinning a yarn to rival my accounts of aerial combat over the Channel. Of course, I discovered later that at least some of his story was true. In fact, I still have the evidence.

    Continue reading  Post ID 404

  • The First Expedition

    Saint Peter's Church, Zurich
    Saint Peter’s Clock Tower, Zurich

    I’ve been asked to write something about my first expedition to Peru. It began a few years after the war, when I travelled halfway across Europe to visit my old friend Otto. A decade earlier, we had been separated when I joined the Poles on the eve of invasion. Otto stayed behind and worked for the Germans, at an airfield that had been converted to military production.

    Soon after I arrived home, it became clear that I could not remain long in Pilsen. President Beneš had appointed a new cabinet, and there was trouble coming to the district of West Bohemia. I was tired of war and conflict and had little interest in living under communist rule.

    Otto explained that he was planning a trip to the Amazon, and insisted that I join his expedition. We would be collecting exotic plants for export, and taking astronomical photographs from the Peruvian high country. It was a crazy idea, but Otto had made some kind of a deal with an American who provided all of the help we needed.

    Our first destination was Zurich, where Otto withdrew funds from a numbered account and booked our passage to New York. He also secured accommodations for his wife Sophie, who would remain in Zurich while we were abroad. Pavel joined us there, a friend of Otto’s that I remembered from before the war. After less than a week, we started on the long journey to South America.

    To be continued…

  • Peruvian Maté

    From a Ceramic Vessel of Ancient Peru
    From a Ceramic Vessel of Ancient Peru

    I was surprised recently by the sudden onset of my recurring illness. The calendar confirmed that this episode had arrived weeks earlier than expected. With an eye on my dwindling supplies, I set about preparing the maté.

    As on previous occasions, I was ill for several days. I had arranged temporary accommodation near the ship, and directed my assistant to leave me undisturbed. The hanger where I slept was dark, and quiet. There were times when I could sense the presence of others, watching but not quite visible in the gloom. If they were real, or just fever-induced phantoms, I can not say.

    Drinking the bitter tea kept me alive but with little comfort. It was a long and weary time, with occasional periods of deep sleep laced with strange visions. Eventually, the symptoms began to wane and health returned.

    Today completes my first week back to normal. My old familiar strength has returned, and I chuckle at my appearance in the mirror.