Bolivia makes me feel like a westernized white person from America. Which, no surprise, I am. But more and more, the deeper we go, the further in we get, the whiter I feel. Obviously I’m not talking about skin color but yeah, that too. But who cares about that, nobody here even cares about that, except maybe the kids. No, I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about how every day on a regular basis, increasingly, I present like a high-maintenance clean freak with agoraphobia and lots of allergies to basic shit like flour and water. Listen, bottom line, Bolivia makes me feel like a pussy. Especially when it comes to hygiene and exposure.
Hygiene for example: there is so much Bolivia and so little me I’m starting to simply yield. Also, let’s be honest, hygiene is a form of maintenance and I loathe maintenance. So yeah, fuck it, When in Rome (if Rome is the second poorest country in South America) maybe you don’t floss because flossing requires, regardless of technique, sticking your fist in your mouth. And trust me if your hand looked anything like my hand you wouldn’t stick it anywhere near your own mouth. Okay wait, that’s not true. Just the other day I caught myself casually observing, as if in the midst of an out-of-body experience, the three of us, barehanded and joyful, sharing a bag of imported potato chips after a long day of riding bikes through literal shit, some of it human. The chips were barbecue flavored and they were finger-licking good, Goddamnit. The three of us crowded together, huddling around the bag, cramming and jamming, jamming and cramming, going for it, bag to mouth, one after the other in spite of the dirt and the funk and the feces in our fingernails and all over our fingers and now the corners of our orange-encrusted mouth holes. But still, I draw the line at fisting, and maybe I don’t know how you do it, but I personally can’t floss without fisting.
“The transition in situations like this is always a source of mild to medium discomfort. But here it’s so severe, abrupt and absolute as to be alarming. It feels less like the exercise of peeling back the layers of comfort and civility through a few nights sleeping in the dirt and the need to shit behind a rock, and more like parachuting into a 16th century cholera epidemic.”
I started peeing into my titanium Snow Peak cup two nights ago. We were at Edgar’s and it was late and James and I were pretend sleeping in the back room. The only way out was through Edgar’s bedroom and I’d already done the lo siento necessito bano fire drill a few hours earlier so I located my titanium Snow Peak cup which is actually the bottom portion of a french press kit, emptied out all the CLIF bars/gels/ropes/sticks/nuggets/pouches I keep in there, and filled it to the brim with hot piss. Titanium, in case you didn’t know, is very conductive. Also, I don’t know about you but my urethra governor or kegel or whatever you call it is out of practice so watching that 20oz cup fill-up in “real time” was terrifying. Also, FYI, laughing uncontrollably with a headlamp on, especially if the headlamp is the primary light source illuminating a delicate procedure, is not recommended. And finally storage, even in areas not prone to earthquakes, was a source of mild concern. I mean, you really just don’t want that puppy to spill even a little bit.
Two nights later, throughout our evening at Mountain Bivouac #1, I urinated into my titanium Snow Peak cup no less than three times. That night it was because I was in a tent, and it was raining outside, and everything I owned was already wet and close to being ruined. Also, I’m lazy, and the seal had been cracked so to speak. I mean, until Bolivia I’d never dreamt of peeing into a permanent vessel I intended to continue using for drinking and eating—the morning after Edgar’s insomnia camp I used the cup after a quick rinse for coffee and oatmeal, and it was fine—but now that I had, and there were no negative (so far) side effects, it just seemed like a “move” of sorts. Like a new part of my camping repertoire so to speak. Sidenote, I first remember hearing about the “pee cup” from Patrick aka @ultratradition on day six of Brodrick Pass because apparently, Club Macho founder Benedict aka @ultraromance is a practitioner. Anyway, that same night I also accidentally shit in my ninja suit a little bit. It wasn’t too bad, I just needed to wipe three times with three different wet wipes and the mess was all cleaned up. The next morning I put the trash from my dinner along with the dirty wet wipes into the cup which was now a miniature makeshift trash can and carried the hazmat bundle that way all the way to the Mountaineering Luxury Hotel, where I emptied the cup onto the concrete floor, more or less wiped it clean with the same t-shirt I’d been wearing for the last three days and filled it first with scrambled eggs and mayonnaise, then with off-brand beef flavored top ramen, and finally with a few rounds of genuine Coca-Cola. Things are just different in Bolivia.
It’s like how later that same night in the Mountaineering Luxury Hotel, under a set of world-class blankets, I had a wet dream about Stacey Stilts and jizzed into my ninja suit—that poor thing really took a beating on this trip. The crazy thing is I haven’t had a wet dream since 1988, but listen, altitude and stress will do weird things to you. Speaking of which, the following evening I had a dream that I was in Los Angeles breakdancing on a piece of cardboard in the middle of a bike path. Everything was going fine until I was surrounded by a grip of dudes from 18th Street who all wanted the amulet Mike Cherney made for me. Shit got kinda rowdy and next thing I know I was dismembering fools left and right. Straight limb-from-limb style. I guess I went crazy or something, but whatever because nobody got my amulet and eventually everybody left me alone. Apparently at that point I didn’t feel like breakdancing anymore because all of a sudden I was having sex under a freeway bridge with my cousin Denise who I haven’t seen since 1995.
“It’s clear to me the dreams and the diving head first into every health code violation possible is a byproduct of increased anxiety. I have so much of it these days it’s like my new baseline. Basically now, sometimes, when I’m lucky, I have a relax attack or two but otherwise I’m pretty fucking wound up. All the time.”
Anxiety isn’t new to me, I’ve been managing it for the last two decades. Anymore it’s not really a problem except sometimes when I run into people I know but whose name I’ve forgotten, say like in a grocery store or post office for example, and I can’t avoid them because we’ve already made eye contact and so we have to walk over and start talking to each other and but still I can’t remember their name. I start sweating. Especially if I need to recall whoever’s name to maybe make an introduction to someone I’m with. But even if I don’t, I sweat. And sweat. And sweat. All over my face. Like sweat running down my face. So quickly and so intensely that sometimes people want to rush me to the hospital and/or at the very least insist I lie on the floor next to some boxes in the dark in some back room while they take my pulse. Also, please don’t make me give a speech. Also, every time I get on a plane I take a Xanax otherwise flying is pure terror. But listen, generally that’s the extent of it.
So no big deal but sure, since landing at El Alto things have been a bit heightened but nothing was acute until we stopped for lunch a little less than half way up Pelechuco Pass on Day 02. That’s when shit started getting weird for me. I was dizzy and I felt like I was going to pass out and I could barely eat so I started talking pretty seriously about bailing, like just calling it, like just giving the fuck up. I started by quizzing Kyle incessantly about the names of various buses and destinations all related to finding my way back to La Paz on my own. I also asked him how to say key phrases in Spanish, shit like do you have a room I could have for the night? or where does this bus go?. Also, since I was carrying about two thirds of the cash we needed (collectively) for hotels and the bus back to La Paz, I made a point of dividing it up11Side note: doing even super basic math at that this point was pretty difficult. keeping only what I would need should I, I don’t know… turn around and ride back down to the town of Pelechuco and throw my Fat Boy into the river.
“From that point on, basically every minute of every day was a contingency party for me.”
The next day, after going over the wrong pass and having to sleep at altitude, I tried to turn around about an hour into the final push over Pelechuco. Kyle wouldn’t let me though, he said something stupid like, whoa, hey, Daniel, let’s just go over to that rock over there [pointing to a rock about fifty feet up the road] together and see how you feel then, what do you say to that buddy, does that sound like an okay plan to you, I mean, that rock is pretty cool, and it’s not that far away, I sure would like to ride to that rock with you bud, come on, let’s do it for old time’s sake. And for whatever reason I believe him that it’s a good idea to ride to this fucking rock he’s all cranked up about and in the five minutes it takes us to get over to this placebo huckleberry rock of his I’ve forgotten how bad I want to go home long enough to get a visual on the pass, and once I get a visual, then I’m fine, for now, on this pass.
I think what I’m reacting to is the exposure.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to fight for hours, one step at a time, to get to a pass, on the other side of which is who knows what, and ride over it like BASE jumping into a black hole if black holes were filled with Amazonian weather systems, day after day. But I’m going to try anyway, here goes: