And Whilst you Looking Up, Look Back …

It’s a year since I saw my son.

Sometimes, when the words won’t come, I gaze at the photos that face me. Collages and frames litter my desk, balance on books, are hung on the wall opposite me. And I recall in each the adventures then, there …

On my back as a baby when he was one – giggling and bundled up in unfamiliar clothes for an English winter; driving to Cape Town when he was four. We parcelled up the two children we had then – I discovered Hat was on her way as we trundled through a dusty Caprivi Strip and I knew that it definitely wasn’t the eggs I’d for breakfast. The siblings she meet 7 months later amused themselves in the back of the car, looking at books, fighting or gnawing biltong. My son played on a beach in Namibia and I watched the sun settle into a watery western grave and pondered at how unusual; I’m used to seeing it rise from an ocean bed in the east.

And there he is in the cold high Atacama Altiplano; we were in Chile to visit Hat who was working in Santiago.

And I remember that you should not wear Converse at 4,000 mt elevation, and temperatures of -10C. I thought I might weep with the pain that pinched my toes that morning.

Chile’s Altiplano, where the skinny snowy spine of the Andes thickens a little and presents as the most extensive area of high plateau on earth outside Tibet was cold and crack dry and clear. The kids and I had been there, me with my freezing toes, since before sun-up so that when we arrive at El Tatio Geysers I could see them rise pale ghosts against a still dark sky, a thin, tall crowd of night-workers.  When the sun rose, they faded into the brilliance, their heat dissolving on the warmth of dawn.

The Altiplano is the high end of the Atacama, where Chile touches fingers with Bolivia and where the earth cracks and rocks and smoulders for the seismic activity that brews beneath. Here, for the lack of humidity, you can see for hundreds of miles so sand and snow and sky and towering peaks are sharply silhouetted and you wonder that you’re not in an overly Photoshopped gallery. But I know I’m not – as if for proof my grown up children post Insta images #nofilter.

I had expected the sand – sand that spreads as a show of spice, turmeric yellow, chilli red, cinnamon dust.  It’s a desert right. And the skies. But the snow? The ice? The take-your-breath-away elevation and freezing toes? No. So for a week I soar, then plummet, from peak to salt pan, ten wool layers (and cold toes) to cotton t’shirts and shorts.  

Up here, on another icy morning I watched my (then) 27 year old son gaze across unruffled waters as he quietly reflects upon his future. It is pin-drop silent up here, at least he can hear himself think, I thought to myself. I watch him as the Laguna Miscanti reflects a little itself: sand and snow and sky, its surface is mirror smooth.  

I look at these pictures now and am sad I haven’t seen him for so long, but grateful for the adventures, they make me smile.

There will be more, I reassure him when we speak, each stuck in our respective corners of the world, suspended in time, as if caught in amber.

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