Too early to check into the Hostel San Jorge, I drop my bags and headed out to wander. It is chillingly cold topped off by traffic, clogged sidewalks, pollution, and noise. I wade through the jetsam to arrive at the Plaza 9 de Julio to see the majestic buildings and the beautiful park, which is the heart of the town.
Milmahuasi, the hostel that has totally been sight unseen and that will be my favorite of all. Dora, Filipe, Ale, and two Italian guests are in the main room, sunlight-filled with The Cure playing full on. The place is charged with amazing onda (vibe) and I am immediately happy and comfortable. My room is perfect: beautiful colors and so comfortable with its own bathroom that is comes with 24-hour hot water! Eureka! There are four beds. I will have Vanessa as a roommate that night, but she is barely there as she comes in late. The beds are covered in striped Andean rugs and the mattress is more comfortable than mine at home.
I buy a hat, which is more than necessary here and walk down and down to where two rivers meet.
...wild pigs lapping water from the rivulet I must cross.
That evening I meet Ale at the hostel as arranged. We climb, walking straight up the village to an even higher incline towards El Mirador. We then take an obscure path, climbing into the night, clothed in stars with the very narrow path lit by his small lantern. A guitar plays in the distance, the player’s voice following us. The path is fine with rock and gravel: the mountain is one big precipice. I don’t look down, not that I can see anyway. I’ve had a maté and am jittery from it, so I am not as centered as I should be. In moments, I am slipping as the matéine throws off my equilibrium, but we proceed cautiously. I need to stop here and there, heart pounding with the aerobic work of climbing, but loving the sensation. Still higher, and yet higher we go. Ale asks me several times if I want to stop, but I choose to go all the way up and we do.
Back to the San Jorge Hostel, which is entirely open to the elements downstairs and where the arctic common room upstairs and equally freezing rooms are more than unwelcoming in this weather. I have a room to myself, courtesy of Reuben at the desk, who has also given me a blow heater. The Greek motorcyclist is back with a sprained wrist, and others flock in the common room to watch TV and get what they can from the meager heater by the window. I doze as I hog the screened in flames, watching TV and dominating the remote until I’ve had enough. I wrap myself in as many clothes as I can and dive under a mountain of blankets, the heater blowing full tilt. I drift off immediately, with dreams of hiking and adventure and never-ending routes opening up ahead.