Often on this journey I feel as though I am sleepwalking. I definitely feel both my sleep and waking consciousness have been affected by this experience. Yesterday we hiked 8 long, hard miles around the Laguna Quilotoa, watching the mist rise and dissipate before our eyes before descending through a canyon to the village of Chugchilan which could be mistaken for a quaint Dutch hamlet. And I can’t decide if this is a typical day or not. I spend the afternoon reading Marquéz and resting, the evening crashing the party of an Ecuadorian adolescent girl dance troupe and trying my best to get the hang of it, and sleeping until 3:15am. The alarm goes off at 3:15 and at 4am we are on the bus back to Latacunga where we catch our next bus to Quito where I am now, just yesterday having stood on the rim of a crater lake, staring into cloud cover and unraveling countryside. Have I been sleeping, I wonder? Have I slept?Dreams fall more heavily and vividly than usually since I left Buenos Aires. I often wake in the middle of the night and tell Paul what I am dreaming so that I don’t forget. Though he forgets and I promptly forget. When I woke at 3am I was dreaming that a dear friend had sent me an email stating simply, “I want to die.” I packed up my things quickly and fell asleep on the bus after wrestling around for an hour. On the bus I dream that I am haggling for a brown cow that I absolutely must buy. I am woken by the conductor, wanting my ticket. I feel this is impertinent. I wanted my cow.
On the Isla del Sol I dreamt vividly that I visited my (deceased) grandmother in Scotland in her old house in Glasgow. I arrived to find that she had fallen down, hit her head, and the resulting “injury” had allowed her to recover completely from a stroke that she had two years before her death which left her paralyzed and absent. In my dream I enjoyed her lucid company one last time and awoke to the blue waters of Lake Titicaca which she would have loved to have seen since she and my grandfather were both great travelers, linguists, and adventurers that put me to shame.
Since I was 10 years old I have had a recurring dream in which I die by drowning. Those who know me best know I love nothing more than the ocean, swimming, playing in the surf. Since we moved to California I have fallen deeply and endlessly in love with these things. I dream often that I am playing in the surf and wave after wave crashes on my head until I see the light, swim towards it, and breathe hard. At some point in the dream a giant wave crashes, all falls dark, the light doesn’t come, I search and search for the surface and can’t find it, I breath in the water deeply, and it’s over.
In the charming tourist town of Baños, Ecuador, Paul and I decide to take a river rafting trip (something I last tried when I was 11 years old in the former Yugoslavia but thoroughly enjoyed). After much discussion, we decided to go for the level IV and V rapids, clearly WAY out of our league but no pain, no gain, right? Paul is a little more nervous since he is less of a confident swimmer so when our guide offers to walk the boat down a level V trip, Paul thinks it’s a good idea. The rest of us decline. We are here to raft. We head into a giant rapid and immediately all 5 in our group are tossed in 5 directions. I feel fine and try to help the two Chinese fellows back to the kayak, knowing that they can’t swim well and they both look terrified. Suddenly I am pulled into a downward whirlpool and everything is dark. I remember my dream and everything is dark. I struggle, looking for the light but I am being pulled down farther and farther into the darkness. I swallow mouthfuls of water, no daylight anywhere in sight. I close my eyes.
A second later I see the sky. I push upwards with all my might and the whirlpool spits me out as fast as it sucked me in. I am choking and bruised from crashing against a cliff face and I feel so alive and so half dead and partially sleeping. Was I dreaming? Had I dreamt?
I wonder often what state of waking I am in. I wake in a village of 60 people and fall asleep in one of the largest cities in Latin America. I sleep poorly, dreaming and waking probably from headaches. I walk at 2500 meters and see the ocean for the first time and there are so many changes that I can’t keep up. I call home to hear familiar voices, to feel part of something stable. My mother says to me, “You are just not someone that handles change very well.” And she is right. And yet I am trying to handle the changes every day here: the change in my sleep pattern, my mood, my elevation, my surroundings, my relationship with my fiancé, my level of my bank account. I am trying to anticipate the changes ahead. Arriving home homeless, jobless, broke, and worried with friends waiting that I have missed for 2 years, with friends that haven’t thought about me once since I left, with friends who have passed away, who I wish, like my grandmother, would wake for one more lucid moment together.
In the meantime, I haven’t figured out how to handle change well, so I stare at the crater lake and breathe the frosty mist, I try my best to keep up with Paul on the long hikes through the Ecuadorian countryside, I look forward to the Caribbean coast, I count the days until I see my sister again, I snap photos of smiling children who have nothing and are happier than I may ever be, I eat 3 meals a day, I fall asleep next to a person I love, and I try, try, try not to worry so much – because I have everything, even in sleepwalk.