Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Thirty Nine Hundred Steps: Condor Hill, Puno, Peru

I came to Puna in the night after a heavy rainstorm, and in spite of all that darkness I saw atop a hill a statue of a condor. Next day I saw the statue again, from the far distance of the centre of town, and having seen it, seen it on a hill top, I knew that I would have to climb up and get a closer look. Pain, no pain, sun, rain, snow, I don't care. When I see something high and vaguely challenging, I have to go for it. Today I sat having coffee and thought of the vulture hanging high above me and the city, and I knew this would be the day to do it.

I could see a stair way leading to the cerro, the place, the lookout. I glanced at the taxis available for cheap, but there was no road that I could see that would get me there, and besides, I wanted to walk up to make it a challenge. I like these little taxis, but I was more interested in the walk up than in the being there. I finished my coffee and began walking toward the hill, passing through town in a series of loops as I looked for a way up. 3,000 steps is an understatement. I wandered for a long while till I got within sight of my steps.

I got into the right area of town and took a look at my direction, off for me to the right. My useless sense of direction is probably what has led me to this wandering life. My parents are going to kill me when I get home. They gave me a dollar and sent me out to the store to buy milk and bread, and I haven't been home in 40 years. Lost. Perdido, as it were. Here, today, I had my eye on the prize, and determination makes all impossible things happen anyway.

Even that which looks not very promising can surprise us. Give this street a couple of years at most and it will look like any other street in the city. One must work in faith. Seeing this photo later, one local was shocked and upset that I took it, thinking it makes him and this city look terrible. It is terrible. That's today. Come back later and it will likely look quite pretty, or something.
For me, it's not part of the city, it's part of the goal, the walking up a long path to see the whole of the city, but mostly to prove to myself that in spite of sickness, pain, and lack of air I can do this on my own, adding in some small way to my basket of triumphs, silly as they are. And then I got to the mirador, the look-out point starting point, a mere 500 more meters. I have no clue.

Not long after I started walking up the steps I began counting, missing the first 20 or 50 steps. It was a way to break up the journey. It's always the same distance, but to have a running total allowed me to break every 200 steps to take a look around me to see how I was progressing. Any cheap trick that works works for me. I counted roughly 900 paces, though the Internet tells us there are 600 steps with short plazas at different landings.

And so I went on bit by bit to higher and higher, the turkey still distant but there for the taking.

And I made it, going from the city's elevation of 3,830m (12,566 ft.) to ever more and better: 13,180 feet.

,,,,It was here that I breathed the proverbial sigh of relief. I'd made it- almost. I saw immediately that there was a series of steps leading onward to dead grass a bit further up the hill. I did it. Then I came back and looked at the wall I was leaning against.
The point is to get a good walk up the hill and see the city from a good vantage.

I took my time doing that.

I had the company of sacred images. And an old woman selling sodas and water and cookies. I sat down beside her and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes again I looked at the bird that had attracted me in the first place. It's not what I would call art. The art is in the going up the hill because it's there.

The condor monument has an 11-meter metal wingspan, according to the Internet. The old lady selling sodas told me I had more climbing still to do. There is a door at the base of the pedestal, which I entered and then climbed the spiral stair case to the top where I clung to the railing. I'm not dealing well with heights in my old age.

I laid down on the cement to look up and to lie down. And then, having annoyed a watchman in a tin shack I had taken for an outhouse, I went back down to town, just in time to see a happy couple leaving their wedding.
The wedding ended, and then the rain came.


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