Dull days of isolation and interaction and inner and outer and interior y exterior, so on and forth and around and around. A massive bike ride found me sweaty and in an artisan market, not before being chased by an angry dog barking at my heels and I’m all like fuck, how am I going to go back past it? Which turned out to be a more pertinent question than I’d imagined at first because I overshot the turn-off to the market and the angry fucker was standing on the road, waiting, watching, his territory now at peace until the next wayward stranger swings by. And I failed to think there and then and stopped a few metres down the road so he could clearly still see me. So I ride as fast as I can at the bastard, knowing I have little other choice and that he doesn’t really look like he has rabies, or she for that matter, so shooting past I cringe and pedal like a maniac, expecting the worst, but it just sits there, watches me pass like I’m a moron and I fly way down the hill, wandering how these situations work then. A crusty old crumbly old road, fun riding, locals watch me as they do everywhere, strange long-haired white dude (they’re light, but not quite as white as I compared to the night); and finally I get to the market, like seven kilometres of uphill-downhill riding, where I dump the bike and wonder round for all of half an hour, but it was worth it because the ride was awesome and on the way back I’ll see two little kids and have a little chat with them, very basic, because my vocabulary and abilities in Spanish are still less than that of a child…! At the market there are some interesting folk and I attempt to play an African instrument with a nice Chilean girl who owns the store and plays guitar; she says she is learning to sing and when I go back inside the shop to check out other instruments I hear her singing to herself and think wow, if she’s learning, then where am I at? Beautiful sound, odd stabby rhythms I’d love to be able to play. I buy some hierbas, pretty cheap and a lovely smell, then wander aimlessly some more and finally hit the road again, simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the ride (which turns out to be far easier, mostly down-hill somehow, which I don’t get because it seemed evenly up and down on the way here…). Previously, I’d had too much coffee with Rodrigo, getting carried away reading some beautiful poems by Walt Whitman and chatting away about music and literature. So I was wired when I left and pretty much the whole time, heart beating rapidly, unhealthily fast; stomach turned inside out with anxiety, it’s like coffee brings out the beast in me it’s that god damn evident, but the riding is nonetheless enjoyable and I see locals picking up other locals in little pickup trucks as if it’s no thing, wondering why, back at home, I’d fear death asking a stranger in the outback for a ride. Some John Jarat motherfucker looking to do some serious physical and psychological damage. Shiet. But I feel safer seeing it, knowing that I’ll probably have to thumb a ride to Cochiguaz because no public transport exists to get there (I see now why everyone says the people there are weird and isolated). I look forward to that journey. So getting back and after having decided a few more days here is a good idea, I drink beer and mourn my dying confidence in the Spanish language, but then remember that it’s early days and that I have a history of pessimism, like some weird criminal record but associated with my attitude rather than the many crimes I’ve committed. Moving on then. Beer, walking; I have made it a fairly regular thing to just walk around town. I’m convinced that the people have dubbed me ‘the gringo around town’, though I have no evidence for that at all, save for the many pairs of eyes that gaze as I walk; but I think the idea is funny anyway, so I continue imagining that that’s what I am to them. The old gringo around town. What is that guy even doing here? On my night-walks I also gawk at the stars for extended periods of time because…no, I need no reason. Next day I decided to climb a mountain without realising that I’m really going to climb a big old fucking mountain. It seems like some allegorical story as I begin by walking past people who seem to be from a congregation—it is Sunday after all. The first group include a kindly looking pair of women, one older one younger, who approach me gleefully with pamphlets about Christ reading ‘Who Really Rules the World?’ and they even have them in English so I kindly take one in each language, planning to use them to further my Spanish. Next two young gentlemen, very well-groomed, who I thought were of the same congregation but apparently their pamphlet is different and I see that old familiar word ‘Jehova’ on one of them, and the more confident of the two points to the pamphlets I have shown him from the ladies and lo and behold he speaks a word of English and says ‘Wrong!’ and I laugh saying, ‘Ahhh diferent, es diferente!’ before moving along, but not before shaking their hands politely. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but I’m off to climb this mountain to check things out for myself; thank you for the invitations though. And so up and up I go not really knowing what I’m doing and in skate shoes, sliding all over this beasty mountain; but it’s a friendly mountain, I can tell, it seems to speak to me in ways that are actually quite simple. Thinking I’m in isolation, about a quarter of the way up (it’s hard to tell because these mountains overlap and go on forever), I bump into a horse-riding group. Well, further up I must go. I say hello and continue up, up, up and the town looks beautiful from here, I can see a lot: the entirety of Pisco Elqui, the endless mountains surrounding it, the snow-peaked ones in the distance, the meandering valley itself continuing around a bend. It’s like nothing else. And the silence between the mountains is something I’ve always found other-worldly; there is nothing like it. Just the sound of silence. A gentle hum which is no hum. The frequency of the mountains. Hovering birds keep me company just as I think of my loneliness again and they seem to follow me up and up and then I see a tent, some climbers have camped here; I bump into one, the another, the latter being the more sociable as he shakes my hand immediately and asks about where I’m from. Despite my explicit lack of understanding he talks and talks and I nod and nod and it doesn’t seem to matter because he’s so friendly that the communication is had anyhow. He wants a photo of me so I grab his mountaineering stick and smile like a fucking mountaineer. He’s happy and I ask him how much further you can go and he babbles on and on and I heard pinto blanco which I think is white point; this is then confirmed when I see…a white point. We shake hands again and he goes down and I go up to the white point, slipping and sliding all over this beast of a mountain; when I get there I fumble about, eat some cookies and eventually come to rest in some shade, with no one else about, and meditate for a while. It’s utterly peaceful here. Time passes. Nothingness. A few trails of thought and cloud. Birds. Rock. Vibrations. A low hum and breathing, breathing. Sigh of relief. Nothing. I make a pile of rocks and place it next to the white point. A man on a horse comes but I don’t try to speak with him here. He goes. I sit a while more and eventually descend. One injury on the way down as a big rock is dislodged by my miscalculations and lands on my heel. Not too bad though. Slide all the way down in my skate shoes and sit at the bottom, regaining something. Back into town, back into the room. Another night, where my confidence will yet again be pummelled by the locals when I fail to even buy a beer with clarity. Nonetheless, I know it’s a test of a kind and there will be rest in knowing it’s fine and that learning as such is not done in dust it is done in the light of night, far distant times, with many new signs and without that feeling of being resigned. On time. I also met a nice shaman lady with whom I had a great conversation, making amends for the other failed ones; we spoke about plants and healing and interconnection and many things, in increments; but most importantly about how much can be said without words. So that’s why I have been smiling at everyone. North in a few days. Signal diminishing; over, and, out.