On the Road Again

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

We made it! Our rather tight schedule - planned to allow us to get our van out of Peru without incurring the wrath of the merciless Customs Authorities - was successfully implemented. Leaving our friends in Ottawa was a bittersweet experience, as we were reluctant to abandon that soothing and supportive environment, but we felt the time was right to move on and fend for ourselves again. We didn't fully realize until later how much we had come to rely on the many "comforts of home" that had been provided by our legion of hosts over the past two months! Several of our friends reported that as we flew southward that Sunday evening, there was a spectacular display of Northern Lights over both Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Sharon's eye did fairly well, although it probably didn't need all the stress and worry, long flights, and drives over 13,500' high altitude passes. We had managed to stay in Ontario for the two weeks recuperation recommended by the eye surgeon, and had received a good progress report and the "all clear" to travel and resume our trip. Although the healing process was slow in the beginning, and the eye was very tender and scratchy for many days, the vision (although still variable) has gradually improved to the extent that surgery on the second eye next summer is already a distinct possibility. It will likely still be another two or three weeks before the full extent of the improvement is apparent.

The flights down were uneventful, and we were able to see Mike's godmother Zarela for a short visit again in Lima. The taxi drive to catch our flight for Cuzco was a hair-raising mad dash through lunchtime traffic to the airport, as the tickets didn't reach us at our hotel until we were supposed to be checked in. Just an added measure of suspense that we really didn't need! We found the van in good shape - it had been nicely covered with a tarp by the hotel - and it started up at the first turn of the key. At this stage, with only three days remaining before the deadline, the last thing we wanted was mechanical problems!

A full day's driving from Cuzco got us over the high Andean passes and Altiplano, and we turned off at Juliaca, just 40 km before reaching Puno, where Mike spent the first year of his life. We drove in reflective silence, flooded with poignant memories: the pregnancy that was diagnosed and treated as typhoid fever; the actual birth in Arequipa that was like a particularly bizarre episode from Mr Bean; the regular walks to the market in Puno, where we had offers of up to one million soles for our gorgeous, fair-haired youngster; the overnight sail across Lake Titicaca to Bolivia, where we proudly pushed Mike up and down a La Paz boulevard in his trendy stroller; the travels to Canada, England and the US when he was just three months old - this kid had more air miles in half a year than most get in a lifetime! Mike has been taken from us, but no one can take away our beautiful memories.

The horrendously rough roads that we remembered from 25 years ago have now been replaced with smooth tarmac, which made the drive a lot easier than we had expected. We reached Arequipa, nestled below the watchful sentinel of Volcán Misti, by early evening. The rays of the setting sun warmed the white volcanic stone that is the principal building material in this beautiful colonial city. The floodlit Plaza de Armas was just as stunning as we remembered, the focus of social activity for the evening.

The following day we pressed on through the desolate southern desert from Arequipa to Tacna - 1,100 km of mostly mountainous driving in two days. Arriving at the border with Chile, our hearts sank when we were told that we lacked the required permits to exit with our vehicle - new forms had been introduced while we were away! Not to worry, a friendly border official pulled a few strings and managed to conjure up the necessary paperwork within the hour. So, we made it out of Peru with lots of time to spare - well, twenty four hours anyway!

We have now been staying in a desert campsite near Arica for almost two weeks. We desperately needed some time to re-energize our exhausted bodies, and start to heal our broken hearts. We thought we were really ready to be alone with our grief, but found that the early days were extremely difficult to get through by ourselves. However, we are now finding that time does heal, but it looks as though it will be a long, slow process.

Tomorrow, we will be heading south through the Atacama Desert, and as we plan our route we find that we are actually starting to get a little excited about exploring Chile - this 4,300 km long string bean of a country nestled between the snow-capped Andes and the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, another poem. This time, suggested by Laurie Sattler of Pakenham, the mother of one of Mike's classmates at the Aviation Technology Program, Sault College:

It Isn't
For the Moment
You Are Struck
That You Need
But for the Long
Uphill Climb
Back to Sanity
And Faith
And Security.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
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