Saturday, 21 February 2015

Desert Dancing

For those in the know: Palpa ~ Pisco. Peru. 1st. February.

Like trying to describe a country dance, without resorting to diagrammatic footprints, arrows and Franglified steps like "Paddy Ba", describing my reactions to desertscapes is difficult. Using words like 'dry', 'stark' and 'naked', are easy cliches. 'Painted' has already been appropriated for an Arizonan one. Yet that is exactly how I see them, mid morning.

The light still has depth, the shadows still have length, yet that light is starting to lose its strength, starting to flatten out. A softening scape, it eventually fades, the hills rendered down to a graduation of cardboard cutouts in shades of faint light. Sitting, waiting through these moments, the colourscape evolves, no one view remains constant. That slow disintegration of detail, that chiseled horizon, now a simple soft imagination.

The road rising and falling through bands of low hills, pressing into a low pass, quickly emerges to yet another change of aspect. Another flat grit pan, its far edge my next horizon, my next ridge of red granite tors. The sand dunes washing up on the windward slopes, settling into every crack and crevice. There's little time for boredom, nor the contempt of familiarity. Only, I keep being assured that this a wasted space, that there's nothing to see, the inference being that we're wasting time. Take a 'plane. Little time for boredom, as up in front are a bank of mountains set the breadth of our horizon, into which the road seems unwaveringly intent on heading.

Closer now, these high ridges have wrapped themselves around us and there's little indication of the escape route. We've been in this situation several times, the fun lies in betting which way the exit might go. The odds offered are poor: it can only be left or right, up is a given, the chance of a long tunnel is minimal. I can trace the line part way by following a milk tanker's reflected silver flare, then it pops, it simply disappears. Swallowed into an amorphous mass of mountain.

Fortunately this is Peru, where gradients are friendly to happy hill-slug cyclists, the climb enters a tangle of switchbacks, ridges and gullies, eventually topping out through a rock cut of exquisite shapes, and yet another selection of mountain forms set as a backcloth to yet another sandscape of desiccated watercoloured paintings.