Lip stains on white coffee mug rims remind me of catapiller bunches. My silver pegs on the crib board frog-leap through the final lap, but Mike breaks the tape by a nose. I absently spin the new bracelet and watch the soccer game in the reflection on the streetside window. Tight pants cling to pointed leather shoes, black or brown. Behind the reflection, the bustle is ceaseless. Taxi horns, the click-clack of high heels, chemical smells exhaled from flapping bar doors bunch my nose. The hostal bed is just a spot to fall down and wait for the next bus ride. It is not far off.
We leave early. One of the park rangers sits in a seat in front of us. He tells us where to get out on the side of a gasping highway, in front of a sign that reads ¨Parque National Cajas.¨ As if it wasn´t obvious. We pay the entry fee directly to him, recieve ticket stubs, a map, a birdwatching guide. We choose a hike to take, wondering if it´ll be too long or too short. We just want a view and decide to climb a rocky outcrop that overlooks the rippled lake. We start by circling the lake, noticing the algae like salty sediments in resting Miso soup. There seems to be a trail, although it is not easy to follow. Stomped grass looks just as appealing as mud-slick humps to our eyes.
Whatever we are following seems to be taking us to the top. Mike balances his way up a rough boulder, a detour for fun. The rock I´m climbing leaves my fingertips pink like the soles of my walked-out feet. Shards of diorite, sharp blades of paramo grass, the fractured horizon are dulling against one another. Thin air leaves us panting. We search for a flat boulder, a picnic table for our usual lunch: tuna, bread, avacado, mayonaise, onion, tomato, crackers divided equally. This is gourmet. It tastes so good I can ignore the tickling insects for a moment. We talk about mercury poisoning and rest.
There is something we must love about getting lost and getting found again. Spongey trails maze down miniature valleys. Heaps of rock point towards the veiled sunshine, block the b-line to the road, herd us along a wet gulch back to the trail where we started. Another few minutes of hiking brings us to the road. We wait for a bus that is willing to stop. Trucks pass like fastballs. Mike and I boulder while we are waiting. The seat of my pants gets wet from falling. My muscles twitter and groan when I fold myself into the seat of the bus.
It´s happy hour, so we order drinks with dinner. Two gin tonics, two vodka tonics soak into the soarness and dissolve the weary travel-knots. Glasses like frozen bubbles.
The streets and bar fronts are teeming. This is Mike and Kelly´s last houray, the last story they can tell when they show rusted pictures to their grandchildren, all spotted silver shoes mixed with skin-tights and aviators. Pitchers of tequila tinged beer arrive and are consumed. We take to the streets, find a storefront, ask for the big bottles.
The place we stand is a junction. In Vilcabamba, we couldn´t find the confluence of the two rivers. Here, leaned against the coursed stone of a building like a grey courthouse, we have found the convergance of history and style.
The style is all around us, although we don´t conform to it. Those jeans make her ass look like a shelf. Those shoes are from the Wizard of Oz. How can you wear sunglasses at midnight? A double-decker bus parks directly in front of us. Teenage girls in shoulderless dresses wave us onboard. We´re too old to go to prom. Plus, we´re not dressed right. Its endlessly entertaining to watch the youth of Ecuador strut. We sip from the big bottles, enjoy the relentless stares, wonder if we´ll ever have another chance to see something like this again.
And it is all logged in our memories, recorded as the last extravagant dance of a quickly transforming moment in history. Mike and Kelly clink their bottles together and swallow the dregs of an experience. This era, characterized by grand adventures, is coming to an end. They can taste the bittersweet flavor of homecoming with every deeper sip of beer. And with every word, we are writing the story of a history that will last forever.
Mike and Kelly have taken many photographs of our journeys together, something for which I cannot thank them enough. If you would like to see them, please go to their website here.