What we had decided to do was go to La Peña. We did not go to South America to do it. We were already in South America for another reason which we had forgotten. But then we heard of it, La Peña, and thought we should do it, though we didn’t know what it was. We asked a man and he told us we would have to go to the mountain. We took three buses and a jeep and it took two days. We arrived at last at the foot of the mountain.
The path to La Peña was winding and high and jungly. We walked, my boyfriend and I, stepped around stones and went up. On the way, we talked about it, what would it be like, La Peña? I said I thought we should light candles, that to light candles would be nice. He said he hoped there wouldn’t be any tourists. I said there would be at least two, he and I. He said that depended on whether we counted ourselves as tourists. He thought that maybe I was a tourist but he was not. In that case, I said, I was lucky because I wouldn’t see myself so when we got to the top I wouldn’t see any tourists. But poor him, he’d see me and have that horrible experience of tourism in a holy place. Yes, but you’ll still know you’re there, said my boyfriend.
On the path we met a spiritual guide. We would not have known that was what he was if he had not told us. He said he would guide us a little way for a small fee. We could walk on the path ourselves but we said it would be fun to be guided. The three of us walked a little way until we came to a creek. Our spiritual guide showed us the statue of the miracle man of the creek. The statue was small and it was of a man in a black suit carrying a briefcase. We thought it was an odd outfit for a South American miracle man but we said nothing. Our spiritual guide smoked a cigar in front of the statue. Nothing happened except an enormous butterfly floated by, big and blue as in a fairy tale. I didn’t see it. Everyone did except me—everyone, my boyfriend and our spiritual guide. No one thought to show me.
We left our guide by the creek and kept climbing up and winding around to La Peña. My boyfriend said he hoped, more than candles, that someone would be selling cokes at the top as it was damn hot. Then I stumbled over a tiny tiny man. He was crouched in the middle of the path. He said to us, “La Peña!” and we said, “Si, si, ahora vamos,” which means yes, yes, we’re on our way. As we walked off, I tripped over his can. It was rusty and aluminum and had a piece of string attached to it of which he held the other end. Toy? I don’t know. I shouldn’t name it. It was his.
We climbed and climbed and it was certainly hot. Who knows how high it is, my boyfriend said. You can’t even see the top from here. Then we came upon two men going down. They stopped on the trail and held out a box. It was a small box, like for shoes, and it had flowers on top made of plastic and sparkling bits on it like glitter. We asked what was in the box and they said a virgin. It was a very small box and no one could fit in it, not even a virgin. But they insisted and even cracked it open so we could see and yes, there was a virgin inside but it was made of plaster so we didn’t think that counted but they were convinced. They said they were bringing the virgin to the waters. We talked a bit and then we said goodbye.
We climbed and climbed. It went on forever. We thought we’d never make it, at this or at anything else. We thought there was no top, no end, only striving and rest to gather thoughts and strength. We thought we’d have to go back, return defeated. Then suddenly we arrived and we were there. It was the best of everything we had hoped for. We lit candles and we drank cokes. We did not count ourselves as tourists. We saw it, La Peña, and then we went back down.
That should have been the climax, La Peña, but it wasn’t. The climax came at the bottom not the top. We couldn’t find a jeep to bring us back to the buses. We walked and walked, asked the people in the dirt floor huts. No one knew or they weren’t telling. We were alarmed and sweaty. What will we do? I said to my boyfriend. There were no restaurants, no hotels, no concrete. It was a small crisis. He held my hand and we were brave. We sat on stools and waited. At last a jeep came splashing through the puddles and stopped. We were saved. We took the jeep and three buses back and later an airplane back and later other things forward and back, forward and back, with arrivals in between.