Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sober

Well, we learned how you say, "Coyhaique"...

I have pictures and stories that cover the bottom third of this country, but they must wait.

We arrived at our WWOOF farm in Caulin - Chiloé four days ago. It has been a sobering experience to say the least. WWOOFing at this farm was our first move in planning this trip and (for me) the last thing I expected to fail us. But, with our bus tickets purchased for Osorno on Monday - it is safe to say that it has failed us.

There are various reasons which maybe I will have time to detail in Osorno (right now I have to finish this update before catching our minibus back to the farm). Suffice it to say, the farm (or lack thereof) has not lived up to what we understand to be the spirit that drives WWOOF. We arrived volunteers eager to learn farming practices and Chilote culture and now we are free labor for a cabaña hotel.

Our immediate plan is to spend another week in Chile (between Osorno and Valparaiso) - assuming we cannot find any lodging via CouchSurfing. Then to retreat to Buenos Aires (via Mendoza) to lay low for some weeks in Palermo with Marko, our savior.

During that time we will regroup, possibly attempt WWOOFing again in Chile. Odds are we will just bus it to the Atacama - then make our way to Peru where the economy is a little more friendly to people with time.

This is all far in the future..and with much still to say about the past - I will say no more for now. It is of course important to maintain perspective. We have been very frustrated by our last week in Chile, but we are fortunate to have this problem and we are fortunate that if we persevere we still have much to see and do in this continent.

Till then..

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How do you say, "Coyhaique"

It is nearly two in the morning. I will have to wake-up in less than six hours to grab my last breakfast here at Kaweskar in Puerto Natales. Then Kaitlin and I are off to the bus station for our twenty-four hour ride north along Ruta 40 to Coyhaique, Chile.

We know very little about Coyhaique and the surrounding towns, Puerto Aisen and Puerto Chacabuco - but they all sound good in our heads and they are bordered by national parks and have affordable bed and breakfast type establishments that will be a welcome break from the busy hostel crowd..and it isn't Calafate or Bolson or Chalten or Bariloche.

We are determined to get back to speaking Spanish and figuring out what exactly it is that people in South America do - not what people traveling to South America should do.

I feel, to a certain extent, that my needs for this trip as a whole are fulfilled. We have proven ourselves worthy by three weeks in one of SA's biggest urban settings - without any major calamity and we have ventured into the volatile Patagonia and emerged trim and hardy.

From this point, everything is bonus. I still have my preferences, but I won't fret now about having to "accomplish" anything. I have a frame of reference now. I have caught a glimpse of the different ends of the spectrum and it is something I am malleable enough to endure - hell, even thrive in. That feeling is a comfort no matter what continent or country you roam, but for me in this time it is invaluable.

So we set off for Coyhaique. We have two weeks to see what there is to be seen in this Andean enclave before we intend to take the ferry from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellon on Isle Chiloe. Opening yet another path..

But first Coyhaique, Aisen, and Chacabuco - and sleep.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Torres del Paine - Day Nine



A strange day. Our alarms broke our slumber at 5:15am, but still somewhere close to brain-dead, we were startled by what must have been monkeys cackling outside our tent. We still can't be sure exactly what it was. We sat and listened for five-ten minutes as it grew ever distant. We chalked it up to the Guanaco - crazy animal, but we still can't be sure of what it was we heard.



With our bellies full of cold oatmeal, we skimmed down the path from Guardas to Refugio Grey. I think I only stopped for this picture to prove that we were not solely focused on the path. But maybe we were. We could taste the return to Pehoe - which meant the catamaran to the buses - which mean the buses to Puerto Natales - which meant hot seasoned food prepared by someone in a kitchen..and beds.

We made a five hour hike into a three hour hike. We originally meant to catch the 12:30pm catamaran, we made the 9:30am. I revealed the last of my salami that I had been saving for this victory ride out of the park. Though I chewed with vigor and triumph and anticipation of the comfort soon to come - I simultaneously sensed myself longing for the primal playground receding from my sight.



Once to the buses, the driver told us we would, "stop at Administration before continuing on to Puerto Natales" - which seemed logical enough. We thought we'd pick-up and backpackers that had hiked out of the park to that point, turn around and make our way to town.

We were made to get off and told that he would be back at one o'clock. I was at first angry, but then remembered this tends to be the way of things down here. Giving up on anger, I started playing with everything that wasn't nailed down in the Ranger's Station. Thus...



The bus picked us up again at 1pm and hurdled through the park, around blind curves, to the stop where everyone was exiting the midday catamaran. I tried to stomach the futility of it all, the contempt, the lack of control. I was boiling again. Having been a commando with my own affinity for eight days.. I was once again at the mercy of the inefficiency and inconsideration of others. I was becoming civilized again.



And Kaitlin slept..

We made it back to Puerto Natales with time enough to shower and head out the door to La Mesita Grande (The Little Big Table) where we feasted on splendid pizza and beer. Then we went back to the hostel where a New Year's celebration was planned. We made salad and with a couple from Switzerland and the hostel staff (Omar, Mauricio, and Omar's girlfriend) we rang in the new year with mounds of asado, pasta salad, brownies, Austral beer, box wine, and champagne!

It was a feast, but I was still hungry! We filed outside and danced to our own countdown sponsored by Manu Chao. We ran out of numbers, the champagne flowed, and everyone got a strong hug and a kiss on the cheek..or some variation thereof. There were too many signs of affection to keep track of - everyone fumbled to show in their own way that they were happy.

And so we had returned.

Torres del Paine - Day Eight



The most crucial day for weather of our trip, was our best day of weather. What more can you say?

Here we have our make shift gaiters. Reports from those that had been over the pass were that the first third of our hike would be nothing but mud. Finally, the mythical mud!

So we wrapped our socks in plastic bags and then duct-taped the bags to our pants and left with Waheed from Oregon. Warriors all.



And they worked! The mud was more fun than foreboding. Truly, it was knee deep at times, but with the weather clear and our spirits high, we tromped and laughed our way through the forest.



Doesn't quite do it justice..

..nor do the rest of these pictures.





We made the Pass with, I suppose, relative ease. By this time our lungs, legs, and bones were powerful, in-tune. The snow added a certain level of difficulty, but our determination to traverse was too great - we could taste the glacier.









And we made it. Again, to another world. The surface of some other planet. Paine Pass leveled off to become a tarmac of fist sized shards - one side the deep muck forest - the other a deceptively massive glacier. We stayed there for a while as the wind took off down the slope and out over the ice field, eating chocolate and being proud.







A glacier, especially of this size, is something one truly must see for oneself. No picture can manage the scope. Even though I trekked nearly half its length and spent an evening watching it - I don't quite think I understand what it was I was seeing. The magnitude.







Energized by the crossing of Paine Pass, we convinced ourselves that we had enough in the tank to soldier on past Campamento Paso to Campamento Guardas. Making it to Guardas would make the last day a simple five hour stroll out of the park - I'm still not sure which would have been best.

The path from the summit to Guardas was a literal obstacle course at times. The trail had been so deteriorated by snow and sludge that we slid down portions of the descent as if we were taking for granted the once-every-four-years snow on Kite Hill in Clemson. It was fun and disconcerting. Climbing up a massive ladder was random and fun, climbing down as gusts of wind toyed with your pack was not. We hopped down the trail until our knees revolted. We were forced to ascend stair after stair. It was haphazard and infuriating, but just like the weather - it was temporal.

We arrived in Guardas a little after midday and with the understanding that this would be our last night in a tent we happily set-up our digs. That evening we talked for some time with the couple from Seattle. They had been kind enough to let us use their stove and they were forthcoming with exciting parallels in interest: Seattle, education, humor, and of course travel and nature...

We exchanged contact info. Bethany knows some principals and other potentially important figures in the Bay Area and might be able to save me some trouble in figuring out who I need to speak to. They also offered their guest bedroom next time we come up to Seattle.

Offers that can be made anywhere, but when you're huddled in a three wall shelter eating mystery soup and dehydrated mac and cheese - you don't feign interest or sincerity. I will keep Jerry's business card and we will write to them if/when we make our next trip to Seattle. So many good people...

Torres del Paine - Day Seven



The original plan was to cover the 19 kilometer stretch from Seron to Refugio Dickson. But we were now warriors and presumed that a 19 kilometer stretch rated as six hours had to be almost entirely flat. We'd play it by ear, if we made good time, we'd stop at Dickson for lunch and then get to Los Perros so we could have an extra day incase weather turned poor on the Pass.





The weather was incredible and the vistas a more subtle shade of stunning. With the sun bouncing off of everything it was impossible not to gawk at the shadows racing over the valley or the wind whipping across the ponds and daises below.





We can't be quite sure where, because our map was so poor, but about two hours from Refugio Dickson, we paused along the path. We both had heard a bizarre noise, but didn't speak. I thought a puma had gotten ahold of a boar. I didn't even know if there were wild boar in the park, but to me that is the sound I heard and so I became defensive. My senses hightened, I scanned the thicket. Nothing. We waited in silence, exchanging bemused glances.

Then more sound, something rustling through the brush, coming towards us. It was impossible to tell whether the movement was erratic fumbling or blind rage. I raised my trekking polls towards what I thought to be the origin of the sound. Moments later, no more than twenty yards directly infront of me, what appeared to be a llama appeared tromping through the grass, bleating aimlessly, the most unusual sound.

I would later find out it was a guanaco, but at the time I only knew it resembled a llama and that llamas were generally ill-tempered, they spit. Who knew what a wild llama, bellowing in this unnatural way, would do..

But it was not concerned with us at all. We stood there frozen as it lept, bleated, lept and strode, paused and bleated, then galloped across our path and down the valley.

Kaitlin and I laughed, wide-eyed and flush.



We destroyed the trail. We were champs. We covered the 19 kilometers in around four hours, but we weren't counting. We took off our shoes at Refugio Dickson and watched as two gauchos drove a train of horses carrying empty supply contains back to their stable.

We had seen these men leading day hikers on horseback up to see the Torres. I had scoffed at them then - they really played the part! And now I was feeling a bit ashamed. On the backside of the park there was no one to perform for. These guys were bounding through the forest leading ten beasts down loose and mucky slopes. They controlled them with calculated yells and cracks of the whip.

I felt like we were back in San Telmo on Museum Night, when the local youth poured in from the streets to dance to folk music. It felt real.



We had rested at Dickson for quite some time as more circuit goers began to arrive. Waheed from Portland, Jerry and Bethany from Seattle. They marveled at our pace and heads inflated. We strutted into the forest, self-assured.

Over the next four hours we would be humbled greatly. Weakened by our dependence on the map and our unfamiliarity with the terrain - weakened further by a weather system that moved in. We should have made it to camp by now. The sky was grey, we were rising in elevation, it was colder and starting to turn wet. We passed the bridge on the map, we should have been there already.

There were two bridges on the map and we crossed five. There was no way to tell just how far we were from Campamento Los Perros. We hadn't seen a single soul. The terrain turned to rock. Sleet was now coming at us sideways. We had every layer on and were starting to soak through with cold.

We kept pushing though and after two more mounds of rubble, I saw two figures in the distance. These lunatics were leaving Los Perros on their way to Dickson in the middle of what, for me, was armageddon. But I was grateful for their lunacy. They told us we were indeed on the right course, that camp wasn't much further, don't worry.



We stumbled into camp, what could have been an outpost on Mars or Tibet or post-apocalyptic anywhere. Everything was wet. People scuttled from their tents to this green smoking hut.

We set up everything, settled with the park ranger, bought two chocolate bars, and made our way to the hut. We were in the bar scene in Star Wars, minus the funky space music. The room was full of all sorts of people - none of them clean. We made our way to the wood stove and choked ourselves with chocolate. Nearly every other cooking shelter in the park had been a cramped three walled structure - this was luxury!

We stayed there till our bones smelled like smoke - chatting with those that would tackle the Pass the next day and those who had already made it. Sharing information and hopeful expressions about the weather. Grateful to sit and be warm, but exhausted from the hardest day of the trip - we collapsed in our bags with the promise of an early morning and hope for good weather.

Torres del Paine - Day Six



I was having apprehensions about continuing. Everyone was leaving. Rob and Blanche had left the day before. Antti and Laura were leaving today. All with the promise of hot food and warm beds.

The forcast for us was the same as the five days prior. Uncertainty. We had heard from some climbers at Campamento Torres that the weather report for the next four days was stellar, that three days out the weather reports tended to be accurate. I played the skeptic though, falling into the horror stories we had heard about the tempermental nature of the Paine Pass.

Not to mention, Kaitlin's cough had flared up and I didn't want to turn our backs on the quickest exit incase things really got bad. We made a deal. If she slept through the night, we'd continue on..

I stirred in the daylight. Could have been six or nine in the morning. I stirred - Kaitlin stirred. I sat up and she coughed a liquid loose cough, but she had made it through the night..and that was the deal.

So we ate our last meal with Antti and Laura and accompanied them from Chileno to Hosteria Torres. We marveled at the truly clean toilets inside and twiddled our thumbs a bit before exchanging hugs and leaving them with the promise that if we didn't meet up with them in Peru - we'd see them in either Berkeley or Tampere.





Once we got away from the park entrance at Hosteria Torres - everything changed.

The people were gone and even the mountains were gone. For the first time since we had arrived we couldn't see the mountains for more than an hour. The land turned from Jurassic Park to Montana and we enjoyed the easy introduction into the backside of the park.

It was still a six hour trek and nearly all flat on the last half. Though our packs were lighter, shear distance wears at your bones. Muscles rebuild, bones just get sore. But we had left camp early and so we arrived at the immaculate Campamento Seron early. The sun was out and the wind was finally dead. We could take off our shoes and lay in the sun!

Bliss, just like pain, is only temporary in Torres del Paine. We would have soaked in the sun till midnight if we could, but the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up and we hid in our tent for most of the evening rubbing eachothers sore spots.

Around 9pm we emerged from our shell to prepare dinner - just one problem...

I had left the stove pump at Chileno. For five minutes we stood there staring at each other - trying to read what the other was thinking. We couldn't go back for it. It would waste a day, it wouldn't even be there, we'd lose two days of food and forfeit the backside of the park. No Glacier Grey.

Screw it.

We had been so fortunate thus far, we were hot, the odds of someone having our same stove were quite good - but we couldn't be sure because everyone had gone to bed. The attendent was nice enough to provide us with some hot water that made our soup warm enough to put our minds at ease and sleep away our worries.

A problem for tomorrow!

Torres del Paine - Day Five

This night, Kaitlin had another poor night with the coughing. With her now medicated, we blamed it on the cold air - never-the-less it would keep her from making the march to sunrise at the Torres.

So the five of us shivered our way out of camp as snow dribbled infront of our faces in the singular beam of light that was our headlamps. Once it gets dark down here - it gets dark.



The hike up to the base of the Torres was not exceedingly difficult despite being nearly straight vertical in some areas and the white blanket that made the path a wash at times. Still, I felt as if we were in some kind of danger. A combination of having no inkling as to what lay before us, having very little water, carrying what might be access weight in a scramble, and the impending sunrise.

..silly.



Here, I have made it to the base viewing area and the sunrise has just begun to show through the valley. We were early, perhaps the second or third group of people there.



After ten or fifteen minutes, the Torres themselves were looking fairly bleak. We had no idea when things should happen - how fast they would happen - or what exactly was even supposed...



However, as the minutes passed, we became aware of one concrete fact. We were too early. We could have left nearly an hour later than we did, forgone the standing in the snow and darkness, and not have missed a thing. Blanche and Laura turned back - convinced what, if anything, happened - was not worth losing their toes. I was enthralled...





More sun began to show in the sky, the snow ended, and the shroud of stagnant cloud began to burn away from the face of the Torres. The rock face to the right of the towers visibily changed as the sun crept over its surface - this gave us some ideas and kept us confident in the necessity of our presence.



Now more than two hours had passed since we first arrived. The sun was obscured from the Torres by a ridge of rock. We told ourselves it just needed to eclipse the ridge and that if the clouds held off we would be amazed by this natural phenomenon.

But the clouds didn't hold off. A smattering of rogue clouds just thick enough to disperse the suns rays kept bolting over the towers and into the path of the sun's light. As we began to debate the legitimacy of staying and waiting, we overheard a group of locals discussing the morning.

The girl became conscious that people were listening in and turned our way:

"You really need to be here in February. The sun lines up with that valley and hits the Torres dead on.."

OH! ..how silly of us! We hadn't come too early. Our nearly (but not quite) perfect weather conditions were not the problem either.. We were an entire month too early!

We tucked tale and sprinted down the trail, skidding here and there on the slushy snow as day hikers began to make their way towards the Torres. Antti and I got in our tents to catch a few hours of sleep before we moved camp away from the cold of elevation down to Refugio Chileno. For Rob and Blanche it was time to pack up camp and begin the four-five hour trek out of the park.

We woke up later that day and Rob had left his green curry paste for us, beautiful man! Knowing that our soup and polenta for the rest of the trip would have at least some flavor and relieve our sinuses, we strolled casually down to Chileno, set up camp, and hunkered down in the Refugio with a book, some food, and no intention of stepping outside unless absolutely necessary.

We succeeded in this. Between the two couples left, we held our table all day. Reading some, but mostly planning future trips: Antti and Laura coming to the States to crash in our tiny fictional apartment in Berkeley - Kaitlin and I coming to Finland to ride bikes along the hills of Tampere and maybe the guys would take a few weeks to wander around the soccer shrines of Europe and maybe we'd go to Bosnia and Poland and certainly Sweden and Norway and probably Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania - one or all.

We shared fake Pringles and talked about the Holidays away from home. We talked about our families and I wished that I could speak Finnish so I could pry a little less awkwardly. I wasn't sure if we were just poor at asking questions or if we answered their's too thoroughly. The only solution could be that we exchange lives for some time. They come to our country and see how and why we live. We come to theirs and do the same - meet the parents.

It's a thought that keeps me smiling. When the hostel is flooding with new people and you keep asking the same questions and answering the same questions - it helps me, of course to think of my family and friends in the States, but also to think of the friends I have made while traveling - the ones that could be my neighbor anywhere.

Torres del Paine - Day Four



Day four was easily the hardest day thus far - perhaps why only one picture exists.

Every time we set out, we knew next to nothing about what we would encounter. Our map only gave elevation lines every 250meters. We left camp knowing we had over six hours on our plate - that it would be a rough one. But weather had been nearly perfect up to this point, so spirits were still high.



On the trail, I became a machine. After getting over the fatigue of the first two days - I was more or less fit. A hill meant nothing - just the left foot and then the right. Only processing where the best footing would be. Designate. Act.

So I was leaving everyone behind. Pushing the pace. After about an hour of steady incline, the angle growing increasingly intense - I was getting angry. I crept further into my head, pounding my trekking poles into the soil. The steady drizzle only served as a further annoyance. After beating one hill, I would make the mistake of looking up and curse the next hill. They kept coming and I kept cursing and kept pounding my poles.

Finally, from somewhere below, "Jack! A break! Please!" - Antti had rescued us from me.

From this point, I hopped in the back of the train. The trail was more or less a slugfest till we reached Refugio Chileno. We rested for a while here and I observed the day hikers and platinum hikers with disdain. This was our hardest day of trekking, so I could now afford to be jaded.

We finished off our weary bodies with another hour and a half to Campamento Torres. We knew as we climbed up and up and drizzle turned into snow, it would be a cold night. We arrived and everyone set up camp, ate, and got into their sacks as soon as possible. In a few hours we would attempt to make the forty-five minute hike to hopefully see the Torres made into three bright red pillars by the sunrise.

Torres del Paine - Day Three

Kaitlin was naturally torn between the desire to continue on, not wanting to abandon the trek so soon and not wanting to jeopardize her health in a fairly isolated place.

We struck a deal. She would ask the park ranger if he had antibiotics. If he didn't, perhaps we could just skip Valley Frances and head toward Refugio Los Cuernos if there were a doctor there.

The park ranger didn't have any medicine and there wasn't a doctor in the entire park. We were completely on our own.

By this time Antti and Laura were up and while Kaitlin started breakfast, I explained the situation. We didn't want to risk it getting worse. She had taken the cold medicine we had brought and it didn't work - it could only be bacterial.

Antti, "Ah, but Laura has antibiotics! So there is no problem."

The word "prodigious" flashed through my brain.

We were saved by the unforseen third option. And then I was a bit spooked. How fortunate could we be, meeting Rob and Blanche at Administration - Rob and Blanche meeting Antti and Laura at Pehoe - Antti and Laura having antibiotics...

But, things like this happen...



So, the plan was then that we would all leave our tents at Italiano. We would hike up with only our lunches to Campamento Britanico and then another twenty minutes to the outlook of Valley Frances.







video

The trek was rather easy on the way up. We bounced from boulder to boulder - led on by the ridiculous geology before us. Becoming, very simply, that quintessential experience that defies words, pictures, videos, etc...

We arrived in the hollow of what seemed like an advancing wall of stone, snow, and cloud. You couldn't stare at one spot too long for fear that you would be engulfed by the looming peaks in your periphery. I kept smiling and hated myself when I spoke. It was so quiet there and it should only be quiet.

It is a place that I would go back to at any time in my life and I would stay there. But we eventually left. We had to make our way down, pack up camp, and get to the next camp before sundown.





From Italiano we skimmed across Lago Nordenskjold again, but this time the trek took us down to the denim colored pebble beach and up into the hills where I could see just enough of everything to feel like I was stealing or special.

I didn't want to think the things we were seeing had anything to do with Christmas, but I couldn't help it. It was a gift to be here. It was a different contentment. I justified being happy without my family, by vowing that I would somehow share some substantial percentage of my feeling in that moment - with them.



That night we made dinner outside of the Refugio. The let us eat inside. We stayed till late. Sharing box wine and salami and sweets. We indulged as best we could. It felt good to be warm and in good company, though it was impossible to ignore the staff and structure of the room..and to know that our families were not in the next room.

My belly full of wine and pasta and deli meat and chocolate, I smirked at the intensity of my happiness and slept deep and hard.

Torres del Paine - Day Two

The night before we (Kaitlin, Blanche, Rob, and I) had discussed our plans. Since we would ultimately make our way up to Glacier Grey, we would only tackle the trail to Campamento Italiano. Since Rob and Blanche only had time for the "W" (Glacier Grey to the French Valley to the Torres) they would hike to Glacier Grey and back early in the day, but make it to Italiano for camp.

We had told Rob and Blanche about Antti and Laura, about the peculiarity of Finns (in particular Finnish) that made them, in many ways, more interesting than any Scandinavians we had encountered. Before we parted ways in the morning, I jokingly (again) told Rob that if he saw a blonde couple speaking softly - if he "saw any Finns" to tell them Jack and Kaitlin would be waiting for them at Italiano...



So Kaitlin and I set out, to get in early and relax. Kaitlin had been coughing quiet heavily - so we were thinking hit it hard, then rest.

The path from Refugio Pehoe east was rather tame as we snaked through the foothills between Glacier Frances and Lago Skottsberg. My body felt good, the views were incredible, dynamic peaks and milky aquamarine below. Kaitlin was steady, but clearly nowhere near fit. We stopped periodically for her to clear her throat, to blow her nose, as her cough got deeper and deeper.



Just as fatigue began to creep into my calves we caught sight of a river, a bridge, and campers milling about on the other side.







Here Kaitlin captured one of my favorite moments of the nine days. With our tents up and stomaches full of peanuts and raisins we had nothing but time to kill. Scanning the rocks along the river, I found what I suspected and confirmed to be two rocks molded by time into the perfect lazy seat for watching snow pack slip down the south face of Glacier Frances.

I'm not sure how long I sat out there. Hours? Eventually, I went to get water upstream from camp and when I came back - who is strolling slowly into camp, but Rob and Blanche. I go to meet them and ask them how their trek went. Everything was great, but the trek was long, and... we found the Finns!

Apparently, after hiking up to Glacier Grey, Rob and Blanche had returned to Refugio Pehoe for a meal. Before they left, they saw a young, blonde couple walk into camp. Rob eavesdropped on the almost murmuring couple - now convinced. And in this moment, proved why I had a good feeling about him from the beginning. Rather than shrugging it off and psyching himself out. He approached the couple and asked if they were from Finland (..yes..), did they know Jack and Kaitlin (YES! We're worried about them!), and told them that we'd all meet up at Italiano.

Kaitlin and I were electric. It worked!

We waited impatiently for another two hours. We started to worry. The sun doesn't set until 10:30-11pm here, but it was getting colder and dimmer. We decided to set out just a little way down the trail to see if we could see Antti and Laura approaching.

We made it across the bridge and around the first bend..and who was there infront of me, but a flushed and smiling Laura with Antti just behind.



I'm horrible with candid photos. It's hit or miss as a general rule and you take what you can get. What mattered was that we had managed to coordinate a fairly complicated rendezvous with friends we had made over a thousand miles away - both pairs at the mercy of pay-as-you-go internet cafes and tens of hours on buses that are chronically late. And none of that mattered now, because we made it work.

I must have been smiling the rest of the evening, smiling in my sleep. That is until Kaitlin woke me up in the middle of the night. Her cough had weight, but was also violently staccato - like a dent popped out of a sheet of metal. She said she couldn't breathe.