Excerpt: Dharma Bum

Escaping the Bolivian desert
The Jolly Pilgrim, Part 9, subchapter 119

On gratefully arriving, sunburned and exhausted from six days in the desert, I found a campsite and pitched Nguthungulli the Tent next to the thick trunk of a mammoth pale-green conifer. I moisturised my sunburnt face 13 times that afternoon, and spent two hours cleaning my body and laundering my sweat-drenched clothes. Then I went to the local shop, bought a huge picnic, ate it all and slept for half a day.

San Pedro di Atacama is a small pristine settlement, with streets that look like the set from a spaghetti western and a whitewashed Iberian-style chapel. It’s right at the edge of the driest desert in the world and, whichever way one looks, red cone-shaped mountains command the background. Oliver and Nick, two English fellows camped next to me, are packing expensive-looking racing bicycles. They’ve come to Chile to have a two-week cycling adventure in the high plateaus. Pussies.

I’ve been on the road for more than 22 months. I err on the side of keeping quiet about this but, travellers’ conversations being what they are, I’m occasionally asked the direct question. When that happens I deliver an abridged summary of my pilgrimage. As anyone who’s been following what’s been going on in my head for a while can imagine, it’s kind of difficult to explain.

Only a fraction of the equipment I left London with is still with me. I now have a singlet from France, a hoody from Istanbul, a pair of glasses from Bangkok, boots from Sydney, a bag from Byron Bay, trousers from Quito and a hat from Canoa (I misplaced the Aussie-plonker one in the Andes). I’ve still got my original star chart.

It’s been a year since I saw anyone who’s known me for more than a few months. This has taught me that there is a level of interaction one can reach with other human beings after two days, another level after a month and then a more intimate level. There are some things of which this hobo’s life leaves one starved. I’m feeling pretty lonesome.

I am, however, holding it together, unlike Nguthungulli the Tent, who is going off the rails. Last night the Jolly Pilgrim and he were enjoying a bottle of the local Merlot (soft and fruity with good elbow) when Nguthungulli began taking a series of ridiculous positions that were clearly intended to provoke me. He is a juvenile tent.

Sometimes Nguthungulli the Tent talks to himself. The local people give him funny looks when he does this. I remind Nguthungulli that if he mumbles in public people will think that he is crazy. Nguthungulli fails to heed my warnings, or to acknowledge my clear victories when I set clever logical traps for him then laugh at his stupidity. Revenge is my fruit salad.

I worry about Nguthungulli the Tent. I also worry about those other infernal tricksters: the bees.

An excerpt from the travel and philosophy book, The Jolly Pilgrim.


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