Charly and I played four games of chess at El Jardin. He would taunt me in English when he was winning and mutter to himself in French when he was not.
The second game took place on the night Aye left Samaipata. She and Charly had been carrying out a little romance during her month of volunteering at the hostel. She had told me I was an interesting character – often reserved, then suddenly happy, kind and funny.
While Charly and I played, Priscilla cooked a late dinner for everyone. Pancakes with spinach and rice with vegetables. In truth, it was Priscilla’s laughter that brought out my silly performances. It rang long, deep, and full of immaculate joy.
I won the second game, but only after we both had cheated. Charly loved to play – at chess, cards, and with all his little initiatives in town. He worked at l’Boheme, the bar on the corner of the plaza run by two Australians, and was looking to start a little sandwich business with Nano, the French-Bolivian owner of Café Mamakylla. I spent many hours there, writing while Nano lounged in the hammock and chatted with friends in the little back garden.
During Priscilla’s dinner, Christian arrived, to our chorus of ‘hey, joven!‘ and ‘buenango!’ phrases he managed to insert into every second sentence. Our relentless caricature of him was partly my fault – often I found his rapid accent difficult to understand. But, with his deep, booming voice, those few phrases – ‘que onda, joven?’ and ‘saborosanga!’ were others – were a pleasure to imitate, especially for the entertainment of a crowd.
The night before, he had made vegan pizzas for the entire hostel on the open fire in the garden. A chef from Brazil, he worked occasionally at the restaurants in town, cooking specially themed, one-off menus – Indian, pizzas, gourmet chocolates, anything.
It seemed like almost all the travellers in Samaipata with working some kind of angle. Even Paulina, the Chilean I had met at the Rainbow Gathering, had started volunteering in two local schools, advertising Thai massage services on all the hostel notice-boards, and, together with Priscilla, selling chocolate truffles in the street that they made in the kitchen at El Jardin.
We stayed up late that night, waiting with Aye for her 3am bus. Sitting around the stone table outside the kitchen, we smoked, listened to happy music and tried not to be sad.
At the same time, I was messaging mum. The week before, I had decided to start calling home more often. For the past few months, I had been in only intermittent contact – writing emails every now and then, and otherwise relying on the blog to keep them updated.
I suppose I had been trying to be independent. To strike out into the world and allow the time and space to peel back the layers of what I had been before. To shed myself of the influence and opinion of others and go only my own way.
I’ve always preferred to travel alone. American Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote that “a man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
But, while it might be expeditious, such a preference can make for a solitary existence, especially if you are moving fast. Two days here and three days there is hardly enough time (in most cases) to form deep relationships. And with something new always on the horizon, it can be easy to lose sight of the people that might be passing you by. Entering a new city or hostel every week, you get used to anonymity and subsisting on the small talk of strangers.
Two and a half weeks at a Rainbow Gathering had been a complete – and, at times difficult – reversal. Spending the following month in Samaipata – a small mountain town whose name in Quechua means ‘High Resting Place’ – left me feeling much more connected.
On one of my final days there, I walked to the plaza after lunch. On the way, I saw Agathé, the French baker of cakes. In the peatonal, there were two others from El Jardin, selling jewellery and oils in the street. In the plaza, I saw Priscilla with her truffles and others I knew relaxing across the square. The spry, oaken melody of a violin passed through the palms, and I saw Venecia playing on the steps of La Chakana. Suddenly, a powerful ‘Buenango!’ ripped through the serenity. I turned to find Priscilla laughing at me between the trees.
I found a place to work at a table painted with a chess board. Soon, Venecia moved into the plaza. While her son climbed on the obelisk, she played the most incredible music. All that occurred in that plaza became a scene both tragic and beautiful, an exquisite tableau showing life universal in the figures of the locals making their daily routines, passing along familiar paths between the obelisk and the palms.
Sometimes, you need to be alone. There are things about yourself that you can only discover with solitude. It’s all too easy to run away from yourself into the comfort of society – why address your problems when you can avoid them drinking at a bar with friends? In order to develop true self-knowledge and to grow, we need the peace and reflection that only comes from withdrawing from the effect of others.
But, at the same time, there are some things that can only be realized in good company. Friends, family and lovers have the power to recognize and bring out that which is best in you, which can be forgotten without encouragement and affirmation. Being alone robs those who care about you of the gift of your presence. Generosity and selflessness are some of our finest qualities, and its hard to be generous when there’s no-one around to give anything to.