As far as trips go, the last one was really tough. The summer heat made the plains much more unbearable a rite of passage to the high mountains. A fairly significant breakdown of our vehicle within the first 24-hours threw us off schedule. It made us wary that another similar episode later would see us being stranded in a remote place. There is always an element of trepidation at the beginning of any journey, especially on road trips. I am never sure if I have everything covered.
Life on the road is often over-glamorized. It is easy to form an opinion based on the end result — lots of pretty photos, accounts of places far away and stories of people who we don’t run into our usual urban lives. But a large part of it is also tiring and mundane. Days start with tying down luggage and most days end with untying those same knots.
It is almost a strange mirror of what our lives are like. we knot ourselves into secure positions and the journey throws everything out of kilter. Early on, the knots fail to keep everything down. Things move about, sometimes they break too. Eventually, we learn to allow them to move around just enough to not be too rigid, but also not so loose that everything comes undone.
A journey in which we leave everything to be figured out as we go along also tests our faith in life and our core beliefs about it. It is rarely the case that everything goes completely according to plan in these trips. We are forced to choose — to either accept what the road throws at us and find happiness in it or fight the multitude of things that don’t go according to plan and find unhappiness in everything.
The early days were a carry over of the days before the trip for me. I could not switch off from my daily tasks and the early breakdown did not make things any better. The destination we had in mind was far far away and we were stuck in a semi-urban sprawl on the plains, with expenses and the heat piling up. But, somewhere along the way, the realization also caught up that all those hundreds of miles we sped through are to be as much appreciated as the handful of miles we struggled through to get the broken vehicle to a place where it could get fixed.
Somewhere along the way, when the uncertainty of the next mile became blindingly obvious, it left us with no choice but to appreciate the current one as a whole. It was not the color, the texture or the smell that we expected, but it was what was there at that point. Work took a backseat, the journey resumed and a valley of immense beauty opened up after a night where we were thoroughly unsettled while passing through a town nearly empty of all of its people and its light.
At camp, near the stream, the stars kept away while a fox could not do the same. It was as persistent as the rains that refused to go away. Women from the village nearby came to ask a thousand questions. We could not adequately explain how to apply the body lotion we gave them. The kids, extremely shy, would sit close to the tents for long asking for chocolates. The girls would sneak up on us, only to run away in jiffy if we would look back at them. The boys started talking more. We eventually made friends. Two of them sat outside, under our umbrella, and sang for us, while they waited for a bus that would take them back home from school.
I walked a lot on day two, accompanied mostly by the low hanging clouds and the odd resident of the village. But most of it was walked alone. The mountains make excellent company even in miserable weather. Well, at least during the day time. The altitude made everything tough work. Even fifty meters on a gentle incline was something to be earned. I had, on me, a raincoat, basic clothes, sandals, a phone to take pictures and a water bottle. Out there, it felt good to have so little, unlike here where it feels not-so-good even after having so much.
The rain never really did stop. At some point, early morning, the pitter-patter stopped. We nearly rejoiced at the prospect of having clear weather. A peek outside revealed a story that was vastly different, the silence was the sound of white noise and the rain had turned into wet snow. At first light we broke camp, drove gingerly over streams of water and thick slush back into a safe zone.
We made our way back to old acquaintances and some of the dreaded familiarity of an urban life, but in a mountain town. Not once, but twice, we attempted leaving two of those, but were held back.
The mountains have always held us in a tight embrace, but this time it was one that was particularly hard to break free of.
We spoke little at the start of a journey that would end the day on the plains.
For some reason, this time, the embrace was particularly hard to break free of.
We snatched glances, spoke half words.
If this felt home, then why did we have to leave it, again?
The cities welcomed us back with every comfort it could think of.
Home was a familiar lifeboat floating in an ocean of strange things.
The disconnect we felt with it was no longer a thing that was bothersome; it was just a certainty that left no doubt that, in its ending, the journey had only really begun.