An unforgettable trip to my mother’s childhood place.
Written and illustrated by Alejo Porras de los Ríos.
I was perched on a rickety wooden chair on the front porch of my grandfather’s house, chewing bubble gum and reading the little comic strip that came inside the wrapper in an attempt to cheer myself up. In the past few weeks, I had learned to ride a horse bareback, I had swim in pristine rivers, I had learned to care for the farm and milk cows, and had experienced the hard work and raw beauty that is country life in Bolivia. But despite how slow time seemed to pass there, our trip to my mother’s childhood home was nearly over. I didn’t want to leave.
My mom joined me soon and watched the landscape with me for a while, her eyes tracing over the intimately familiar topography rife with memories like those I’d just made.
“See that right there?” She asked quietly, pointing to a piece of land in the distance which stood out over the otherwise flat landscape. I nodded.
“It belongs to your grandfather. It’s called The Arch, because there are natural stone bridges on the top”
I didn’t know my grandfather owned a mountain, and my eyes widened to take in that sun-warmed place.
“Would you like to see it? She asked, and the answer burst from my lips before she’d finished.
“Good. We are all going to take the horses up tomorrow. You’ll have to help your uncle and cousin prepare everything!”
I woke up with the sun, something that felt natural there, no clocks needed. Utilizing my freshly acquired, if clumsy, ranching skills, my cousin and I saddled the horses and carefully packed our provisions for the trek. Breakfast was filling and wonderful, but I hardly noticed, excitedly working it down and waiting impatiently for the others to finish.
Finally, we were off, following the proudly lifted tail of the family dog who insisted on leading the way. We clopped along at a leisurely pace for hours, pausing only briefly to freshen up at passing creeks or to have a quick picnic. So joyful was the company that time slipped away and I was surprised to find myself at the start of the mountain slope.
As the land began to tilt, we split up, my grandfather taking the horses up on a safer route, while my uncle lead us on foot towards the challenging ascent of the rocky hillside.
As we struggled closer to the summit, our spirits were encouraged by the sight of the monumental gray stone arch.
Excited, we doubled our pace until we reached the flat top, gasping for breath and sweating like pigs, but exhilarated by our conquest. My grandfather and the horses arrived shortly after. A magnificent view greeted me there: a sea of sweeping green land punctuated by scattered rock formations, all of it being stroked by the wind moving gently across the plain like an invisible hand. I was bewitched. The land’s spell welled up inside me and I swung up onto my horse as if I’d done it all my life. I think the horse felt the spell too, and we both took off running to meet the wind.
Time stopped, then. The hooves seemed to never touch the ground. The air, which had whipped around me before, felt still as we flew with it. I can’t remember who I was, then - the ten year old boy, the horse, the wind, the mountain? It didn’t matter. My soul leapt and wept and flew.
When I returned to myself and then to the others, knowing smiles on their faces, we all walked together to the cliff side to watch the endless sea of trees, pale blue in the distance, rolling and flowing to the ends of the earth.
That day marked me. I returned to my tiny home, a cramped neighborhood in a sea of pavement, but I did not feel that sense of loss or entrapment o malcontent that I felt entitled to, after such an experience. Instead, I carried it all with me. Or, I allowed it to carry me, an untouchable memory, an invisible self.
I’ve never gone back to the top of that mountain again, but my soul sends me postcards from there every now and then.