The Ralph Nadir

In 2004, Ralph Nader, a Princeton alumnus, returned to the home of his university days to bolster his run at the presidency.  I heard of his after-party plans at the local micro-brewery/pub and took the brisk walk up Nassau St. to crash the shindig.  Nader is a bit socially awkward, but he was doing his best and graciously signed my blue bumper sticker.

About the only way that story relates to this entry (besides the cute play on words in the title), is that some democrats would have you believe that Nader brought about a new low point for American politics.

Every trip has one.  Some come earlier, some come later, but there`s always a make or break point where you ask the question: is it worth it to go on?

My life about to get flipped upside down: Doing `the freeze`on a mound of salt
My life about to get flipped upside down: Doing `the freeze`on a mound of salt

I recently reached the nadir.

It had been three days since I spent the night in a bed.  We had just begun one of the most anticipated treks of the sojourn into the Salar de Uyuni, famous for its surreal, magical landscapes.  At the first photo opportunity, I found dead batteries in both of my cameras.  In the middle of the desert.

I cursed the sky and thought to myself, what could be worse?

At the suggestion of one of my fellow trekkers, I used my memory card in a friend`s camera in an effort to capture at least a few of the essentials.  When I went back to review, to my horror, I discovered that the entire card had been deleted.  The impostor camera had copied the 2 photos I had taken with it on top of the 200 photos I had taken prior.

I stewed.  Why God?  Is there anything more you could take?  From a traveler: his memories?  From a photographer: his pictures?  In silent rage, I began to seriously contemplate the question.  What could be worse?

The day turned into night, the jeep into a hostal, and as if in response to my queries, that night was one of the most miserable of my life.  I was too hot and too cold.  My body compulsively shivered while my head throbbed with dizzying heat.  My stomach muscles became fatigued from contraction.  The hostal was wilderness style: cement walls and floors, no heat to tame the sub-freezing temperatures, no seat on the frequently-visited toilet down the hall, and a door without a handle that jammed just when you needed it to open quickly. The only luxury was a garbage can I placed next to the bed to vomit in.  I`ll spare the gory details; suffice to say there was no sleep that night.

Weighing heavily on my mind were eight more hours in a jeep over pinball roads with aching insides and the realization that I was light years from real medical care outside of special tea (the Andean solution for everything) if I had contracted anything serious.  Fear, really, was my chamber maid.

I was actually very lucky that two of my travel mates were medical students.  They dispensed advice and drugs with foreign names of whose effects I had no clue.  Eventually, I tapped into my emergency stash of antibiotics, which thus far has proven very effective.

Writing three days later, it is difficult to portray how low that low was.  I was finished, ready to pack my bags, change my plane ticket and fly home tomorrow, to never leave home again. 

The important character trait is, simply, perseverance.  Things will always look up.  After three days staggering about in the arctic cold and wind of the salt flats, we descended today into the shorts and sandals warmth of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  My nostrils don`t ache from cold, dry, oxygen-depleted air.  Tuukka helped me to realize that my pictures weren`t really deleted just creatively hidden by my Lima-bought point-and-shoot camera.  Delicious baked salmon made the first meal I`ve been able to digest in days.  Soon, I`ll have a shower and clean laundry. 

Things are looking up…


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