Read Part 1.
I was woken by the sun peering over the top of the mountain, a blinding light against a magnificent blue sky. I turned my head away from the brightness, and then I saw it: my backpack lying on its side, contents strewn on the ground. I sat up with a start. My backpack had been safely stowed away at my feet. Someone or something had moved it. I quickly got out of my sleeping bag and inspected my things. Whatever it was had only been interested in the food, and even then, not all of it: my snack bars and chocolate had gone, but the soup packets lay untouched.
I was uncertain as to what to do next. Whilst this was probably the work of some small animal, and therefore posed me no threat, it was a stark reminder of how vulnerable I was on the mountain. I still had enough food and water, so decided to shake off my apprehension and press on.
After a quick breakfast, I packed up my things, and headed up the staircase towards the peak. It was a stunning, cloudless day, and the sun provided a welcome warmth after the night’s chill. I made good progress, despite needing frequent stops to catch my breath, because of the high altitude.
Then the staircase came suddenly to an end, about two hundred feet below the summit, and opened onto a small, level area surrounded by rock on three sides. There was no obvious way to ascend any further, unless I wanted to climb around the outside of the rock, which I didn’t, not having the skills to safely manage on my own. I took off my backpack and sat down, feeling slightly deflated. Even the distant view of the mighty peak of Yerupajá did nothing for my mood. What was the point of building a staircase that led nowhere? Even a simple shrine to Pariacaca the thunder god might have been something to talk about, but this? Nothing.
I decided to have a bite to eat, and then make use of the good weather to descend all the way to the bottom of the staircase. I put some water onto boil, and watched the bubbles slowly form on the edges of the little pot.
“You make tea?” said a voice.
I started, and leaped up, almost upsetting the pot of water.
“Very sorry,” said the voice, coming from nowhere. “I never know how best to say hello.”
“Where are you?” I said, looking around furiously.
The voice giggled. “You no can see me.”
“Why can’t I see you?” I asked.
“Is because I am insubstantial,” said the voice
“You mean without substance?”
I resisted a smile, and sat down again to turn off the water, which was now boiling.
“I man, like you, once,” continued the voice, “long time ago, but then learned way of the mountain, of eternity life.”
“But you don’t have a body any more,” I replied.
“So it is not really life, is it?”
“What you mean?”
“Would you like some tea?”
“I no drink t… ah, see what you mean. Yes, not life, different.”
“What do you do?”
“No do. Be.”
“I see,” I said, dropping a tea bag into the hot water. “I think I’d miss the substances of life.”
“But you die,” said the voice, “then gone… no more.”
“I’d rather life for a while, than not live for a long time, if you see what I mean.”
“You wise man.”
I smiled in the direction of the voice. “Not really. Just fond of tea, I guess. So, how did you become like this? I mean learn the way of the mountain.”
“I learn from Lord Pariacaca.”
“The thunder god?”
“Right here. I sitting where you are, sipping cocoa after long climb, when tap on my shoulder.”
There was a tap on my shoulder. Quite firm.
To be continued…