“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
These words are so often quoted in travel magazines and young adult novels, but are seldom understood while read from one’s couch or lawn chair. From the comfort of my own bed, the impact of those words and the potential of the Great Perhaps fell flat on the page. Little did I know I would stare the Great Perhaps in the face in a different hemisphere, laying on my stomach on a cliff with a bunch of sweaty college students. Go figure.
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Seclantas, Argentina. June 2013. Sunrise.
The morning was numb like my fingers and much brighter than my eyes as I emerged from the frigid ranch house. We all nestled into a sleepy daze and nursed steamy mugs until the sunlight lost its glare and our temples stopped throbbing. A thumbs-up and a “Bien?” from Fido means it’s go time.
However tired I might have been at breakfast, a jarring jagged truck trek via river bed shook me awake before the sun had crept over the tallest precipice. Next stop: Acsibi. Fido Aban, our humble host and gracious guide, offhandedly gestured to it on a previous excursion; the mountain peak had seemed as distant and omnipresent as the vivid Incan sky. But that morning, it towered over me and around me like the great Pachamama (Mother Earth) herself.
Before we knew it, Fido had us clambering up rusty ladders and crumbly, ancient rock faces. Our guide skipped up the slopes like a mountain goat, occasionally pausing with a smirk as we scrambled to catch up. Once we were all perched on the narrow ridge, we offered a splash of our dwindling water supply to the abacheta in hopes the mountain gods would show mercy on us poor, out-of-shape American art students as we trudged along like a troop of clumsy ants. If only we were so lucky.
After lunch, Fido took us “strolling” ?or more accurately, gallivanting? to his favorite lookout: the Crater of the Condor. What we presumed to be an hour round trip stretched like our shadows into the late afternoon. We expertly shimmied past spiky shrubs, squeezed betwixt the proverbial rocks and hard places, and bravely pretended we weren’t daunted by the fresh puma tracks Fido showed us on the trail. The path to the Crater was tough and tedious, and I puffed out my chest with pride a little as we neared the ridge. I looked down the rugged incline I had just scaled with a laugh, thinking, “Is that the best you’ve got, Acsibi? If I can hike this far, I can handle anything you throw at me!” That is, I thought that until we arrived.
As I hesitantly shuffled to the edge, I was greeted with kilometers of open air. The distance from our ridge to the riverbed, to another mountain, to anything was incomprehensible. The amount of vacant space before me was so vast, and I felt so small in comparison. Mountains and boulders that had once loomed over me now cowered below. Thousands upon millions of years of stacked sediment unfolded beneath me like tattered tomes of the ages. Each colorful layer contained eons of untold stories. I gazed into the Great Perhaps and began to wonder if my own story would one day be wedged in these mountainsides, or if it would cling to unsuspecting hikers’ boots and trek on to other horizons.
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