Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making sense of the senseless - a Tribute to my brother Jim


James W. Wetzel (4/28/1951 – 2/15/2015) Photo by Adriane Workman

“Vengeance is mine, and recompense.  In due time their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.”
 —Deuteronomy 32:35

Was this Jim’s reward for a life dedicated to his faith? Read on …

* * *

In the early morning of Sunday, February 15, 2015 my only sibling, younger brother Jim, suffered a fatal fall in his home. He was 63, in fine health, and happy with his life.

Why?

They say “Everything happens for a reason.” This does not mean that every event in the entire universe has been pre-ordained. Science tells us that there is uncertainty built into the very foundations of reality. It was not known—not knowable—at the time of creation that my brother would die on this day.

My interpretation of the old platitude is: “Every experience has meaning,” to which I add “… so it falls on those of us who cared about Jim to make sense of it all.”

There was a time in my life when I would have attributed it to nothing more than the random workings of an uncaring, indifferent universe. But I no longer believe things are that simple.

My personal quest to find meaning out of Jim’s passing began by contemplating the actual physical event of his death. It has haunted me—an image of Jim lying motionless at the bottom of the absurdly steep steps in his townhouse in Newark, DE. What were the underlying mental processes—what thoughts and subconscious influences were occurring in Jim’s mind as he directed his body down those steps?

We can never know what Jim was thinking. But this much is certain: The conscious act of going down the steps was accompanied by some influence or stimulus that distracted him from properly controlling the motions.

His foot slipped. Was this some punishment meted by a vengeful God, as the Bible verse I quote up top suggests? Was it a manifestation of a greater plan for good wielded by a caring and benevolent God? Or was it just a lonely and unguided, purely human mistake?

The greater question is this: Were Jim’s thought processes operating in a disconnected, isolated individual mind, or is/was there an ongoing link/conduit/connection to a larger spiritual ‘environment’?

For forty years I would have answered without hesitation: “We’re on our own. Sorry, Jim, it was just bad luck. We’re all just a bunch of lonely minds trapped within our mortal shells, desperately seeking connections with the other mortal shells around us and desperately trying to make sense out of random, meaningless chaos. There’s nothing more.”

But over the last seven years I’ve changed my mind. There is something more, I contend.

But what? What is the nature of that spiritual link, and to what ‘great spirit’ environment or pantheon are we connected?

Jim is a Christian. He has, as far as I know, fully accepted Jesus as his Savior. If I understand correctly, the Christian belief is that the connection is to God through the mediation of his Son Jesus, who in turn instills in him the ‘Holy Spirit.’

Based on this, I have to believe that God called Jim to depart the mortal world. Further, I have to believe that through the mediation of Jesus, God’s vengeance/punishment, as described in the opening Biblical quote, was meted on the Christ and not on Jim.

So the question boils down to understanding God’s full purpose for this action, despite it seeming to be counter-productive of the generally understood purpose for God’s faithful servants.

To many of us, Jim’s passing seems arbitrary and even cruel. Jim’s life was without question a positive influence on the people around him. He was a shining light of life-energy and love. The things he would have done for his church and family over the coming years were going to accomplish a huge amount of net good. He had an abundance to give and was abundantly giving.

So, in the light of that, what meaning can we who survive him take from his sudden, unexpected death?

The simplest, most direct answer always seems to be that it will strengthen us and strengthen our resolve to make a difference every living day—to live as if we, also, might be called away before we expect.

But I believe there is a larger, deeper, and perhaps more personal meaning that each of us who were influenced by Jim’s life must find in his passing. I believe that Jim’s passing is a calling to enrich our lives by actively seeking that meaning. Doing so affirms that Jim has not just vanished. Our connection with him continues. He has stimulated a new, ongoing, active layer/component to the relationship we had with him in life—a new journey.

Jim’s living example is there to guide us toward that meaning. It may be a long journey and we may not reach the mountaintop of understanding. But there’s another old platitude that I love, from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

What a wonderful segue into my fondest memories of Jim.

When Jim took vacations he did one of two things. He went fishing or he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Jim with big drum at Topsail Beach, NC, 5 May 2010

Jim got hooked on fishing as a child. We lived on land that contained a trout stream. I’ll leave the memories of Jim’s fishing exploits to others.

In recent years Jim and I shared three extended hikes on the Appalachian Trail. He was hiking the trail for several years before I first got interested in it.

Jim began hiking the AT in the early 2000’s. Each year he would dedicate about two weeks to hiking a new section of the trail. As of his passing he had hiked all of the trail between about Roanoke, VA and the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. That’s about 750 miles of trail.

Two of the hikes I took with Jim also included his son Rik, and both took place in Shenandoah National Park. One will be forever etched in my mind for the unexpected freezing rain when we were all dressed for the forecasted 60 degree late May weather. It was the coldest I have ever been in my life.

Jim looking west from Hazeltop, Shenandoah National Park, 27 June 2009

The other Shenandoah hike found us camping at night atop Hazeltop Mountain with beautiful panoramic views to the west as the sun set. Just me, Jim, Rik and nature.

My favorite memory is of us hiking over Cold Mountain—a bald-topped mountain with panoramic views in every direction. But hiking with Jim was not about the scenery. It was about connecting, one-on-one. We hiked for hours lost in non-stop conversation. What we talked about I have no memory. It really didn’t matter. The point was the brother-to-brother bonding. Now, in hindsight, it becomes ever more precious.

Jim on Cold Mountain, VA, 16 June 2011

I suppose I could ramble on and on with more memories. I am, after all, one of only three people who knew Jim his entire life. My first memory is of him just a few months old in Mom’s arms sitting in the back seat of our car as Dad drove us cross-country from Wisconsin to Delaware where he would start his first job out of college.

In Delaware we lived in a rental house, and Dad rented a garden plot on busy six-lane Pennsylvania Avenue about a half mile from the house. One evening when I was about six years old Dad had taken his car and driven over to the garden to work it. Jim and I were riding around home—me on my little 16-inch-wheel bicycle that I had just learned to ride, and little Jim on his tricycle. I got it in my head that I was going to ride my bike over to Dad’s garden. I told Jim to go back in the house because I was going to ride too far and too fast for him. Off I went. Pennsylvania Avenue had no sidewalk so I was careful to keep to the right shoulder—even that was narrow. I joined Dad in the garden and was playing there when a gentleman drove up to us with Jim and his tricycle in tow. He had found Jim riding his little trike in the middle of traffic lanes, grimly determined to follow me to the garden. It was a quick and hard lesson on my responsibilities as an older brother, and of the power of sibling competitiveness. Thank goodness for that kind gentleman who took it upon himself to get involved.

There are two elements of Jim’s personality that stood out for me. First was his gregariousness. He was as extroverted as I was introverted—very typical first child-second child differences. The second was his legendary frugality. Jim made frugality an art. His Appalachian Trail ‘trail name’ was ‘Frugal’ and in fact one of his reasons for hiking the trail was that the lodging was free.

Jim loved to share his shopping exploits, such as combining a coupon with a sale price. He would go far out of his way to find bargains. I remember a stockpile of dozens of two-liter bottles of lemon-lime soda that he brought home from the grocery store virtually free.

If he wasn’t shopping for bargains for himself, he would do the bargain hunting for others. The very last communication I had from Jim, a few days before he passed, was an email in his usual cryptic style, directing me to a newly listed bargain ocean-front lot just half a mile from my home.



Jim, I love you. I will miss your smile and wit, your company and your analytical mind. And for the rest of my days you’ll be with me as I seek out the meaning that your life has for mine. Rest in peace, bro.

* * *

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Romans 6:23

Friday, February 13, 2015

Buy the books here

One-stop resource for the PJ Wetzel books available for sale.

EDEN'S WOMB novel series:

 
Return of Naja, Book I
 
 
 
Lonely Lessons, Book II
 
 
 
 
 
The Copper Curse, Book III
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eden's Womb, Chapter 9 - Puppet



PUPPET

She’s burning like an angel who has heaven in reprieve,
He’s burning like the voodoo man with devils on his sleeve.
—The Lords of the New Church,
Dance with Me’, 1983


he’s gone!”

Heavy with breath from her run, Evvie burst into the hut of clan BrownEarth.  Scents of wood smoke, steaming broth, mildew, chamber pot, and human pheromones filled her nostrils.  She could smell Adam.  Every clan had its distinctive odor.  Their withered old matriarch Grandma Alie, nothing but frizzled gray hair, bone, and drooping skin, sat on a mat in her position of authority across the hearth from the door boards wearing a tattered brown roughspun and a dingy, stained apron.  Her youngest grandchild and namesake, Little Alie, must have been asleep on her lap.  Evvie’s entrance had disturbed the child.  She was screaming.

“Evelyn TreatSoil, where are your manners?” the Elder Alie admonished.

“Beg pardon, Ms. Aleona,” Evvie puffed, “He’s kidnapped Ms. Trilly—a man she knows.  He calls himself Revelstoke.”

“Revelstoke?” Alie’s eyes shifted, seeming to survey the other children to see which of them were paying attention.  It must be a forbidden name—a source of evil.  Kirscht and Lilie were distracted by a game of dominoes.  Little Fawn was asleep, nestled beside her mother Jo, who was sewing a pair of Abe’s breeches.  But Adam’s kid brother, twelve-Return-old Pro, had his eyes riveted.  Evvie met them and continued.

“She called him Nuncio.  He’s taking her to Chicxulub.”

“Then we must chase him!” Prometheus sprang to his feet.

“Prudence,” Alie raised a skeleton arm. “Evvie speaks truly, because this name was known only to me.  His sin is travel; no boy of twelve would stand a …”

“He asked that we chase him,” Evvie interrupted, “all of us.  Yet his sleds are drawn by shackled animals—his sin compounded.  They look to be much faster than a fit man … Even Adam … and it might be a trap.”

“The endless snows are trap enough,” Alie shook her head slowly, tugged at a few thin whiskers straggling from her chin, clearly considering the options. “Man-choice and eldest son should be sent if any.  Haste with caution.  The men will be hot for retribution, as Prometheus demonstrates …”

“How would they pursue him without food for the journey?” Josanda asked.

“There’s the rub of it …” Alie nodded.

“He slaughters a beast at need as he goes,” Evvie explained. “There are six alive and one carcass.”

“The man knows his business and we do not.”  Alie straightened her back.  She had come to a decision.  “Prometheus, can you run the tunnels tonight without sleep?  Bring back the men.  While this is done I will decide our course.”

“I will run like the wind, Grandma,” the boy announced, gathering his clothing.

“I will come with you,” Evvie said.  Adam was her choice.  She had to make sure he didn’t go chasing off to his doom.  Let Siephus and Pro die in the snow.  Then Adam would be the clan’s Headman.

Old Aleona gazed at her, and Evvie could see the shrewd thoughts spinning in that skull.  There was a hint of suspicion, then it faded.  She simply gave her the slightest of nods and then turned toward Pro.  “I do not think you will be losing her even if you tried, boy.  North tunnel, your Grandpa’s middle branch, they said—you’ve apprenticed there many times—go with the Gods.”


* * *


Darkenss, cavern stillness, pre-dawn calm was in the Scavenger’s gallery when Evvie arrived with Pro close at her heels.  This dawn would bring the day of Fulfilled Healing from the Spirits of Awakening—the patron Gods of new Ages, new species, new beginnings.

Evvie was no scrupulous practitioner of the faith.  She did not rely on the Prayer Cycles to guide her actions as many did, but she couldn’t help feeling that this day of fulfillment and awakening would an especially favorable day to seal her bond with Adam—to take his seed, to conceive.

The child would be born after she came of age.  If Adam was the father, she knew that his sense of honor would seal him to her.  The prospect was both exciting and nearly unbearable, rooted in a hollowness—a desperate aching—deep and low inside her abdomen.  An Order had passed since her last flow—the accursed flow—and her hormones were wild in her blood.

“Adam,” she called as her headlamp revealed the widening space as the tunnel bore to the right, just as Pro had described it.  “Adam … wake up.”

“Father, we bring news,” Pro’s cracking voice echoed from behind her.

Headlamps came on and bodies began to stir from under their furs, and that’s when Evvie saw them—three sleds piled with steaming animal flesh, filling the space with a complex scent that raised drool in her mouth.

“What news so dire that …”

“Evvie, why are you …”

The two voices, Abe’s and Adam’s, spoke together, interrupting each other.

“Adam … it’s your mother. Tell them Pro …” As blood kin, it was Pro’s prerogative to break the news, but the boy seemed to be choking on his words as he, too, spied the mounds of meat.  Evvie homed in on the massive liver, digging in to the still-warm core of it with bare hands and ripping out a gob, dripping with blood.  Oh, how heavenly was the taste!

“Mother’s been stolen away by the Nuncio named Revelstoke,” the boy finally said.  “He’s taking her to Chicxulub on a sled pulled by shackled beasts.  We have to chase him and bring her back. … What is this meat?”

“A Godsend is what it is,” Evvie remarked through a dripping mouthful.  “Try some, Pro.”

The Scavengers still seemed groggy, almost torpid.  Evvie guessed that they had been up late feasting; a full belly resents being disturbed.  But a full belly also feeds the body’s other appetites.  Adam would … she reached for a third oversized mouthful of liver then knelt down beside her man and his defective sister, watching a puff of steamy air escape from beneath her settling cloak, carrying the scent of her womanhood, wafting toward his nose.

“I saw it with my own eyes.  He is a huge well-fed man,” she added.  “He lifted Trilly as you would a stick—swept her away.  Adam, your mother is gone.”

She saw confusion in Adam’s eyes … no, it was pain she saw, and traces of fury.  His head was being bombarded by that curse of his.  Arise, my King.

“Father, come,” Prometheus was tugging at the patriarch’s arm even as Evvie pulled at Adam’s. “Give the order and I will lash the sleds, ready them for the trip home.  Grandma calls us.”

“Do the Gods never give without taking?” Siephus finally roused himself and stood, his mountainous black beard bristling.  “To answer you, Adam killed this beast. There is some madness to the plans of Heaven, for here is the provision we need to chase this man.  Revelstoke, you say?”

“He called himself that,” Evvie nodded as she stood again and helped Adam to his feet.  The cripple had her good arm on his waist and seemed to be trying to hold him down.  She was growling like an animal.  “Ms. Trilly knows him.”

“She does indeed,” Siephus nodded. “Pro, secure all the sleds.  Help Lissa onto Adam’s while we retrieve our tools and effects.  We return home a day early, nay, we fly home taking no rest.”  He turned toward a tunnel entrance that must be his, making his way more by feel than by sight.  The rumors were true.  The old man was blind.

“E, tell me everything you saw,” Adam said, pulling on a wool cloak and turning toward another tunnel.  She loved when he used that nickname.  It was his invention.  And he was inviting her to come with him into his tunnel.  Perfect.

“He accosted me up top.  I was hauling snow to be dumped.  He tied me to my sled and demanded to know where your mother was.”  The tunnel was low and narrow.  Quickly she had to drop to hands and knees and follow him.

“And you told him?” His voice was echoing in the narrow space, its tone muffled by his body.  She couldn’t read the emotions that came with the question.  But she guessed them.

“He looked like he would beat me … or worse.”

They moved forward in silence for a moment.

“What did he say?” Adam finally asked. “Tell me exactly.  Did he say the words ‘Air-bella’?”

“Arabella, yes.  It’s the name of his steed.  Adam … you saw …”

“Those Sûl-taken stinking phantoms!”  Adam cried, and the sound of his voice thundered beneath the ice.

“The Spirit voices.”

“Father is right.  There is madness in their scheming.  Some new influence among them is goading me to arise and … and I’m not going to play your game, do you hear me!

Don’t play their game.  Stay with me.  Let me give you my strength.”  With his outburst, Adam had stopped crawling.  Evvie pulled herself close beside him.

“But they’ve taken mother, E … How can I not …”

“Let your father chase him, Adam.  Let Pro or Abe …” She encircled him with her arms.  Her heart was throbbing.  She brought her lips to his ear, lowered her voice to a whisper. “Your Grandma needs you strong.  Abe limps, your father gropes.  It falls on you to carry the trade-name.”

Curse them … you’re right.  That is all I ask of life—simple service to my village … to be normal.  Hear me, Spirit of darkness: I am no puppet.  Never again.  The Citadel cured me of that insanity.”

This was the moment.  “Cure me of mine, Adam.  Do not let me suffer another moon-time.  I could not endure it.  Each one is more torment than the last.  Pray fill me with your seed.”  She began to raise up her cloak and breechclout.  Her bioluminescent display beamed out.  She was already swollen and wet, for the heat was in her.

“E …” He straighened his legs and rolled over on her.  His eyes met hers, and the blue in them was as pure as the ice above.  His lips drew close to hers, and she melted.

“Let us help each other, Adam.  Let two become one.”

“Liss choo …”

Evvie turned with a start. It was the defective, spastic in her motions, scraping her way up the tunnel toward them, snarling.

“Of age.  Liss choose Addie.”



* * *
Continue to the next Chapter

All content Copyright © 2015, P.J. Wetzel

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chile's El Morro Norte Hiking Trail

Bahia Inglesia (English Bay) and the Atacama Desert from El Morro Norte


Day 3 - Thursday 7 January 2010


Hotel Rocas de Bahia
As I wrote at the end of yesterday's post, after 36 hours of travel without sleep I crashed in my motel room about 9PM without even turning the lights out.  I slept like a baby for nearly eight solid hours and woke up at 5AM refreshed and ready to go and full of plans and excitement. It was still dark so I got on the laptop and did journaling and downloaded and processed photos. After 45 minutes browsing around the internet it was finally light outside so I went out for a walking tour of the several-block-long beach sidewalk in the little town of Bahia Inglesia (English Bay), taking some photos from the rocks right in front of the hotel, from which it gets its name (Rocas de Bahia).  I had the beach all to myself.  It's always cloudy here in the mornings until the marine layer burns off.

Back at the hotel I checked out the buffet breakfast but didn’t partake because I had already filled up with snacks from my suitcase.  I left at about 8:30 and drove north 7 km to the more substantial town of Caldera. I roamed the town for a very long time looking for a gas station without success. Finally I saw one out on Rt 5--the main highway (actually the Pan American highway running north-south through all of Chile and all of South America). Even then it took some navigating to get to that station because the highway has only limited access to the streets of the town. Finally I got there and bought gas--they don’t have self-service so a guy pumped it for me. From there I headed south and inland to Copiapó, a town or small city more then 10 times the size of Caldera and 100 or more times the size of Bahia Inglesia, 70km away.

A couple notes about Copiapó:  The name may be familiar to many of you because just seven months after I was there a high-profile mining accident took place, where 33 miners were trapped deep underground for 69 days before being recovered alive.  Copiapó is a major mining town.  Its name means “golden chalice” or cup [Copa in Spanish] of gold [Yapu, presumably in indigenous language].

I first drove the length of the city and found the turn off to San Francisco Pass (my first mountain hiking destination) and drove that road for a few kilometers. The last gas station is right at the intersection--this was of logistical importance since I would have to make it up to the Pass and back without refilling.

Back in the city I spent way too much time navigating the maze of downtown streets, almost all of which are one-way and poorly labeled, looking for the Aventurismo office. It took me about an hour to find it, and I had trouble even after I had asked for directions. I finally found it only after finding the correct block based on house numbers, parking, and walking two blocks on foot. When I got to the office I found nothing but a small hole-in-the-wall with a desk and plenty of clutter.  At the door I was met by gentleman about my age or even older.  He spoke English well--first person to do so whom I’d met since I left Santiago. He was very helpful - signed me up and took my $160 permit fee and helped me fill out the 4 page form that will be needed at Laguna Verde where I would be based for several days of hiking and acclimatizing to altitude.  His office has a permanent presence at the camp site by the lake--somebody who will be my contact and support there if needed.

University of the Atacama in downtown Copiapó

Anyhow, I was out of there around 1PM then I drove the city some more trying to find the grocery store that he had pointed out on a map. I never found it, and to my dismay traffic was now much heavier and the one-way streets even more baffling. Worst of all, there was no place to park in the city center area where the store was supposed to be. In retrospect I would have been better off just keeping my car parked where it was and making my way around on foot. This town, and the town of Caldera, have more of the third world flavor reminiscent of Bolivia, so my first impression of Chile as being more modern and progressive was probably skewed, given that it came only from views out an airplane window and around airports and the expensive tourist town of Bahia Inglesia. I finally gave up on downtown Copiapó and headed back north, stopping at a gas station that the guy recommended to me because they had gas cans for sale. Indeed they did, so I bought a small 10 liter one.

I had decided to try the more manageable town of Caldera in order to find a place to buy my food supplies. And indeed I did. But even the central town of Caldera had confusing one-way streets. Fortunately it didn’t have parking issues, so I parked right on the main square near the one landmark--an old catholic church--and fairly quickly stumbled upon a nice sized ‘supermercado’ that took my credit card. The building was big but inside it was quite sparsely stocked. There was no canned meat besides tuna, and little other selection, so I was limited to buying crackers and cookies of various sorts, plus two foil pouches of ready made Italian spaghetti sauce for some vegetable matter. I would have to rely on my powdered milk for protein. They had huge 5 liter bottles of water there so I bought three of those. That figured to almost 3 liters a day for my time up at altitude.

El Morro Norte as viewed from the vicinity of my Hotel
After shopping I had finished the required prep work for this leg of my adventure.  I returned toward Bahia Inglesia, but since it was only about 2:45 in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to just settle into my hotel room yet. So I set my sights on trying to get to the 1000 foot high plateau-topped massif called El Morro Norte that is right on the ocean across the bay from my hotel. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it easy to get to, but that there was a sign right on the main road pointing out formal maintained hiking trails, one of which goes to the summit and one of which goes around the north end of the point. The latter is called the 'Traces (or footprints) of the Monkey' though I never found out why.  All these trails are part of the country's 'Heritage Trails' project.

Part of the roadside informational sign showing the trails around El Morro Norte 


Cactus.  Town of Bahia Inglesia across the bay.
I drove a short way in on an unimproved road that was full of “corduroy” bumps but passable, parked, put on sun screen and hiking boots and headed up the mountain. The 900 foot climb seemed like nothing at all--much too minor a workout. I got to the peak quickly (the view back eastward is shown at the top of this post), but didn’t realize I was there until I had hiked on for a couple of miles north along the plateau looking for the actual highest point, for a good view west to the ocean, and for a good view of the north end of the plateau. The desert vegetation was sparse but varied.  The picture up top shows a good representative sampling.  The biggest plants were a variety of cactus (at right).   When I reached the steep drop at the north end of the peninsula, I found the view west to the ocean was limited. I gave up and made my way back to where the trail ended at a high point and a little fenced enclosure holding some equipment.

I got back to my car around 5:45 and drove back to the hotel, stopping at an uncrowded public beach well away from any development.  Vehicles are allowed on the beach here, so I let my rental car catch some rays.

Back at the motel I made a reservation for next Wednesday night--the night before my flight out. The young clerk on duty spoke decent English--a rare and useful resource.  By then the maritime layer clouds had begun to move in again, and the crowds at the beach were thinning out. But there is a pretty decent night life here. In fact, because of the dreary mornings it’s quite clear that everybody gets up late and goes to bed very late around here. Even little kids were still up and active at midnight.

I meandered the town some, spent time on my laptop, and went to bed at 2:30AM.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tramping the Atacama, northern Chile

Nearing the end of the long haul from Baltimore to the Atacama Desert.


DAY 2 - Wednesday 6 January 2010

The 7 1/2 hour overnight flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile went well enough, as red-eye flights go.  In other words, it was pure torture.  The attendants started serving breakfast at 3AM, which is 5AM Chile time.  Yes, by an unexpected quirk of geography, the west coast of South America is two time zones east of the east coast of the US, at least when it's summer down there.

We arrived at the gate in Santiago at 6:20, just before sunrise. It was a warm, clear morning. The first step out of the plane was to pay a $113 visa fee to get into the country--the guy said it was good for the life of my passport--sort of an incentive to come back to Chile in that strange sense of “saving money” by spending a lot (for airline tickets and the rest). I don’t know why I constantly fall for that stupid psychology.

Anyhow, the next step was to go through immigration, then customs. I got my first taste of the aggressive mongering when a guy insisted on helping me from Customs Inspection to the domestic flight check-in area then asked for a tip. He was a real help, so I had no problem giving him a few dollars.

There was a grueling wait in a long line to check my bags for the last leg of my trip--a domestic flight from Santiago back north to the Desierto de Atacama airport. But I had the time to kill. I finished with the necessities at about 8:30, leaving roughly five hours before boarding. I wandered around the airport for an hour getting my bearings and deciding whether to go into downtown Santiago or to just stay at the airport.

In the end I chose the 'old fuddy-duddy' option, missing some potential excitement, maybe, but as it turned out (read on) it was the best thing that could have happened to me.  I rambled around the airport. When I wandered out to the passenger pick-up area I was besieged by hard-pushing taxi and shuttle services hovering at the arrival gates like vultures.  At least five people tried to be my best buddy in just one pass of the several arrival exit gates as I toured around the airport. It reminded me of the predatory kids outside the tourist attractions at Cusco, Peru when I was there three years earlier--a nearly overwhelming barrage of in-your-face hard-sell.

I think that helped push me toward the more relaxing option of just chilling at the airport. I had a few chores to occupy the time, but I could not find a store that sold sun screen and then I could not find a place that did currency exchange anywhere in the airport (was I missing something obvious, regarding the money changing?)  Finally I retreated to a quiet corner sidewalk outside in the warm morning with a nice view of the rugged dry hills to the southwest.  I sat there and enjoyed a few quiet minutes, got out the laptop and, using batteries, I caught up on my journal. I tried two different wifi networks but couldn’t figure out how to connect--neither one seemed to be willing to take an on-line payment.

I got off the laptop at 10:25AM and ate 15 Oreo cookies (1/3 of the package I brought from the US) - cheaper than airport food!

Back inside the airport I spotted this attempt at art/humor in a little used atrium area.


When I looked at the departure flights I noticed a LAN flight to my destination that was to leave at 12:45, so, since I was getting bored I went to the LAN ticket sales counter and found out that the flight was not sold out. The girl was as baffled as I was as to why I wasn’t originally booked on that flight. So I got in line and got a seat on that flight. It left on time and got me to Copiapó at 2:05PM.

Brilliant plan.  But just one problem.  My luggage was booked on the later flight.  Worse, the rental car that I had reserved wasn't even there yet.  I mean the place only had a few rental cars, and I had reserved one to be ready this evening.  It was still in the possession of the previous renter.

Well, as it turned out this gave me an opportunity that entirely made my day.  The little Atacama airport is a peaceful, isolated gem--nearly new, very quiet, with a flight arriving and departing every few hours at most.  The LAN people were really nice--nobody at this airport was even remotely able to speak English, so my weak Spanish (took three years of it in high school back in the Stone Age) got a workout. LAN gave me a voucher for a free snack in the spacious, nearly deserted upstairs lounge, and I had 20 minutes of free internet during which I posted an update for family on Facebook. I would have paid for more access, but again I could discover no option to do so.

 Meanwhile the battery on the laptop was running down below 50% and there were no outlets. Along with my free snack in the lounge I bought a Chilean beer that was very tasty--first for my bottle collection. When the internet stopped working I caught up on journaling and downloaded all the new photos from my camera.

Still a couple hours to kill.  The desert was calling.  Taking my suitcase with me I headed out eastward across the highway and into the completely desolate terrain. Along the entrance road to the airport is this bizarre 1000 foot long totally enigmatic (literally) iron I-beam sign with seven esoteric words on one side and seven more on the other.


I hiked about a mile east across the lunar landscape to a little rise in the flat gravelly surface that was mostly free of vegetation. At the rise there were tiny bushes that looked dead and little cacti that were definitely alive with relatively new growth showing green. There I met this little lizard, still working on shedding a layer of old skin. And on the way back I took the photo that headlines this post.  It's one of my all-time favorite shots (because I'm weird that way).  It tells a story far grander than the true one.  I think it would make a great 'caption this' opportunity.

I got back to the airport around 6PM and waited around, changed back out of my trekking shoes (lucky to have them in my carry-on), drank the diet coke that I got from the restaurant as part of LAN’s free lunch voucher, and just hung out as the airport got busy with a couple of arriving and departing flights between 7 and 8PM. At 7:15 I checked with Avis and found my car ready--a nearly new Hyundai sub-compact hatchback called a Getz. I stowed my luggage there and waited until the flight with my luggage arrived at 8PM.

Finally I was on the move again. It was about a 30 mile drive to the Rocas de Bahia Hotel in Bahia Inglesia right on the Pacific Ocean. I had to circle the little town once before getting to the Hotel entrance because the oceanfront street--quite a little tourist strip--was one way. Finally I checked in as dusk was settling. After 36 straight hours without sleep I was running on adrenaline, but I wasn't ready to crash yet. I unpacked, set up my laptop to begin recharging with the Bolivia-bought converter, which thankfully works in Chile, and then inquired about internet access after finding none in my room. They had a hot spot in the lobby, one in the upstairs restaurant and one in a small  lounge area sort of tucked between floors in the open stairway. I settled there and checked basic weather back home and sent out a third and final report for today to my Facebook friends.

I took a shower and shaved and snacked.  I had nothing to drink, though, and didn’t want to risk drinking the water, which was extremely hard and probably tasted bad even if it was safe. In my circuit of the tiny town I had passed a small grocery outlet so I drove back there and asked if they accepted US dollars or my Visa card. They couldn’t so I hurried back to the hotel lobby to find that they couldn’t change my money either, but that the restaurant upstairs had bottled water and could charge it to my room (thus to my credit card). So finally I had three half liter bottles of water and was set for the evening. I got back to my room about 11PM Chile time. I drank one water and settled on my bed and rolled over without turning off the room lights to see if I was ready to crash and burn or just smolder and fade out.

It was the last thing I remembered.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

On the way to Chile: South America mountain climbing

Sunset over the western Atlantic just off shore of Georgia or north Florida

PREFACE:  I started this blog in 2011 for the purpose of reporting, among other things, some of the major hiking adventures of my life.  Now, as I sit holed up at home with a focus on finishing my novel, I'm taking the opportunity to provide a full report of what has arguably been the most memorable adventure so far--one that took place five years ago--a month-long mountain climbing expedition to Chile and Argentina.  Let the adventure begin:

DAY 1 - Tuesday, 5 January 2010:

The day started in my condo in Eldersburg, MD.  I had my gear packed and ready for my flight--a huge duffel bag, my Osprey Aether 70 backpack, a full-sized suitcase, and a carry-on suitcase.

Climbing 20,000+ foot mountains requires a lot of gear.

I tried to read a bit of Tolkien's Silmarillion as I waited for the airport shuttle to arrive. But I couldn't concentrate.  The excitement and anticipation was just too intense.

For the past five months I had been religiously training for this day--climbing 1700 foot Bob's Hill in Cunningham Falls State Park multiple times per day carrying 50 pounds of water in my big Osprey backpack, and, when the weather got worse, doing interval training on the treadmill in my local gym with incline set at maximum and with the 50 pound backpack slung over my shoulders -- 90 minutes of hard pushing every other day.

Interval training expands one's aerobic capacity and simulates the thin air of high mountain conditions by repeatedly putting the body in oxygen debt.  The basic element of this training--the interval--consists of about one minute of maximum intensity work--all out sprinting--followed by two minutes of steady hard work at near aerobic capacity.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

At the age of 61 I was in the best physical shape in my life--by a country mile.  I was a machine.  And I needed to be.  The goal was to climb the second highest mountain outside of the Himalayas--Ojos Del Salado - 22,615 feet high, located in the Atacama Desert on the border between Chile and Argentina.

The shuttle van finally arrived at 10:55AM. The driver had already picked up a family of four--Ma, Pa and two young girls--headed out for a Florida vacation, and there were no other pick-ups, so I got to the airport ridiculously early.  They advise international travelers to arrive well ahead of time, and I didn't want any glitches to mar this adventure.  I began my check-in 3½ hours before the flight was scheduled to take off.

I had heard warnings about horribly long lines to get through security, particularly for international flights, but this day, for this flight, the check-in line was very short.  I checked my heavy bags and got my boarding pass quickly, using the self-check-in process on the screen.  They offered me an upgrade to First Class on the leg to Miami for $90.  Now flying first class was not exactly a bucket list item but it was one of those things on my informal “things I’ve always wanted to try once” list.  So I splurged.  After all, this was going to be the trip of a lifetime.  Why not start it out with flair.

I found that there was no line at all getting through security! Good omen. But with little to do, the security offers were very thorough. I had packed a jar of fiber and two jars of lemonade mix in my carry-on luggage.  It looked suspicious to the x-ray scanner lady, so a TSA security officer took me aside, had me open the suitcase, and proceeded to do a manual chemical test on those ‘powdery substances’. They did a physical check for residue on my hands too.  I noticed an active pat-down and body scan area, but I guess I had already passed the 'suspicious person' test, so got waved past that stop.

All in all, it took me only fifteen minutes to get to my gate, so I had a full 3 hours to wait for my flight. That was fine--I looked forward to reading Silmarillion and possibly even paying for the Boingo airport wifi service. So the second good omen was that I found plenty of uncrowned spaces in the concourse--the scaling back of flights with the bad economy meant that they had unused space. I found an isolated seat right near my gate with a convenient nearby outlet. I took a self-timer selfie sitting there on the laptop.

Third good omen:  I got out my laptop and checked for the price of the wifi service and found that Google was sponsoring a free wifi connection for the holidays--through January 15th! So I got on the internet and got on Facebook first to add an entry there.  Back then Facebook only allowed 420 characters in a posting--does anybody remember that?  I posted the photo at left then checked weather and email and got off the internet and caught with my personal journal.

1:40PM, and I had finished the essential computer activities - still long before my 2:50 boarding time. I ate a package of crackers.  I did some time-wasting browsing.  I went to the bathroom. Then I settled down at my gate and read Silmarillion until boarding time.  It was a peaceful time.  I felt like I was on vacation already.

The plane arrived late and boarded half an hour late because of a medical emergency on the leg before arriving at BWI. But American Airlines was hurrying the process along, so they made up some of the time. My first class seat was the back left one--a window seat. I love window seats.  I remember my very first airplane flight back in the early 1950's--from Delaware to Wisconsin in an old prop plane.  I sat with my nose pressed against the window watching the tiny world below pass by, utterly enchanted.  I'm still that way.

I luxuriated in the wide, cushy leather seat with nothing but a partition wall behind me, took advantage of the on-demand food service.  For $90 I got some warm nuts and a warm cookie.


The north end of Topsail Island, NC from 35,000 feet.  New River Inlet is at upper left.
The weather was clear, so with nose pressed to the window I watched the Chesapeake Bay Bridge pass by below me.  Later I noted the west end of Emerald Isle, NC where my family vacationed every summer during the 1990's.  Next we passed over the north end of Topsail Island--the island my family had more recently adopted as their summer vacation venue. Little did I know it at the time, but I got a great shot from 35,000 feet of the condo that I was to buy in 18 months.

An hour later I watched the setting sun paint the engine of the plane a fiery orange (photo up top). We got to Miami only about 20 minutes late, and I had a great view of the downtown Miami nighttime skyline as we approached the airport. We lost 15 minutes sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to become available.

Once I was in the airport I found out that I had a long walk, from concourse D to concourse J, and would have to go out and come back in through security. Bad omen?   With the late arrival I only had about an hour and a half before the plane for Santiago, Chile left.

Fortunately my luck held.  I found only a short wait to get through security, and this time they didn't do a 'powdery substance' check so the process went even faster than at BWI.  I got to my departure gate with an hour to spare. The boarding began in less than a half hour--very big plane and nearly full to capacity. I had a window seat one row from the back, as requested.  Of course the Gulf of Mexico in the dark wasn't going to offer many good views.

This was a LAN Chile flight - the staff's first language was Spanish.  The plane was immaculate--nearly new, with all the latest techno-gadgets. And clearly LAN's service did not suffer the customer-hostile cut-backs that US airlines have implemented. We didn’t have to pay for blankets or pillows, we got two hot full meals of good quality food served with free wine (!), and they came by frequently, offering all the different non-alcoholic drinks I wanted.

My seatmate was a biker from New York who was trying to travel the whole world by motorcycle--in this case, rented. He was going to be touring around Chile for a week.

The flight time was 7 hours and 45 minutes overnight, and I am incapable of sleeping on a plane.  With my long legs and the narrow seat, I feel cramped--literally.  So the long international flight was torture as usual. And as usual I didn’t sleep more than a few minutes. They served dinner and then turned off the lights around 10:30PM.  I got out Silmarillion and tried to read as I suffered through the night.

Tomorrow - Chile!  Santiago and the Atacama desert.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Eden's Womb - Book II: Lonely Lessons



The cover reveal is here.  Watch for a free preview, coming soon.

 
Somewhere out there, the Gods prepare a place for us to be.
More than a prayer, beyond despair, just close your eyes and see:

We’re queen and king of anything, if only we believe.
It’s written far beyond the Star: that place of our reprieve.

Our faith and love will rise above the daily gloom and dread.
For who we are is perfect par for what we’ll find ahead.

There is a place, where face to face, the water meets the sky—
Where hearts soar free in jubilee, where hope takes wing to fly.

These broken hands can mend the lands: the time we’ve waited for—
Man’s final peace, triumph, release! We’re meant for so much more.

So keep the faith when slith’ring wraith advances through the winds:
She knows that place. Hold on and brace—the epic ride begins …


—adapted from “There’s a place for us” sung by Carrie Underwood, 2010


TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 35




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Continue to the next Chapter
 


All content Copyright © 2015, P.J. Wetzel