Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trekking the Birthplace of Food

Trudging across the snow by the dim light of a headlamp, I can barely make out the shapely Mexican hips that serve as my guiding stars. An Australian behind me sneezes on my fleece hoodie. No one should be up at this hour, but a long line of climbers zigzags over the face of the frozen volcano under a moonless sky.

The owner of the hips is a fashionista. Her white fur boots pad softly across the surface like a pair of dainty rabbits while her silky black leggings alternate as smoothly as a deer in stride. Meanwhile, something different is happening at the rear. There’s a clomping and snorting that calls to mind a cart horse drunk on rotten apples.

Our base hut is far below. Yet, the summit cone looming above never seems any closer as I put one foot in front of the other like a mantra. A weary step off the path produces an ominous cracking sound. “Wake up mate or you may never wake up again!” scolds the Aussie, which inspires mamacita to make the sign of the Cross.

I’m nauseous, dizzy, and cranky from the altitude. “You know I love Australians bud, cuz you guys make us Americans look almost civilized.”

The reply is as classy as the source. “Better hush up pretty boy or the primitive from down under might make you his wife.”

“Silencio hombres, por favor!” A comment from the beautiful girl tames the savage beasts like Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

The starry expanse above and the icy glacier ahead wink back and forth at each other, sharing an inside joke about us silly creatures traipsing over this desolate terrain. The wind howls between some huge boulders clustered beside the trail. A sudden gust whips off my hood, soaks down my hair, and moans away into the distance like a phantasm.

The snowy incline gives way to a sheer vertical slope of loose gravel. I must do three things simultaneously: scramble up with my loaded pack faster than the rockslide pulls me down, catch more breath from the depleted atmosphere than is lost in my hectic dash, and keep an eye out for that crucial opportunity to score points by helping the fair damsel in a moment of distress.

Regrettably, Mexican women tend to be tough with low centers of gravity like mountain goats. Fortunately, they’re masters of the savvy thespian art of pretending to need a man. (Whether women truly require men or not, men need to feel needed, so all the world’s a stage and we are merely players.)

We clear the scree slope in an hour. Though I’m the one hyperventilating and wobbling over the abyss, she’s the one thanking me with a hug. “No problem ma’am, all in a day’s work.” I don’t actually say that, because I can’t actually speak.

On a positive note, the Aussie is rendered speechless as well. None of the multitudinous profanities or ten regular words that comprise his vocabulary escape the lips between gasping and wheezing. Still, his red chapped mouth retains an impressive capacity for long-distance target spitting. Enough on that.

We sit down to watch a sunrise cresting spectacularly over the range of peaks and valleys stretching off to a molten gold horizon. I meditate to slow my breathing. Though elemental forces should be revered, they should also be in balance. This is too much frozen water and petrified earth with too little breathable air for my taste.

Even so, we must now scale the glacier. Attaching crampons to my boots and donning an axe, I take a timid step onto the slick blue surface. Owwwww! Ice feels really hard and cold on your butt, so I guess you aren’t supposed to fall on it. A warm brown de-gloved hand extends toward me. While she gently wipes the frost from my rosy cheeks, an unexplainable increase in body temperature melts the ice from the rest of my anatomy.

For two hours, we crawl upward and occasionally slide downward. A blazing sun turns the glacier into a blinding slippery mirror then forces us to strip down with unbalanced clothing items slung all over our packs. We’re almost to the peak. Nevertheless, I’m stiff, bruised, and growing increasingly careless. I can’t breathe or think well.

Woozy from altitude and delirious from lack of sleep, I plant my brown leather boot on a soft spot and fall through the ice. No need to worry. The laws of nature and common sense dictate that an author cannot die in the 1st post of a series. So I don’t. Stomping and covered with furry frost like an arctic Sasquatch, I ascend the final stretch to the summit. Victory isn’t always pretty.

Sit down to muster some thoughts sufficiently spiritual and profound to justify a cold, wet, exhausting day. Nope, I’ve got nothin’. I visualize the Buddha and also the brown sugar, but apparently epiphanies can’t be ordered up on demand. Who knew? Why would a person spend real cash money to slog up a slushy mountain then spend precious time chronicling said foolishness in a blog? You got me.

Wait, that’s not the way to draw readers into a narrative. I need a noble purpose for my quest. How about this: people climb mountains because they’re there, but people write stories because they’re not there and need to be created? That’ll work. For some time, I’ve known that the world is clamoring for a meandering tale about the history of food sprinkled with my occasionally funny and often inappropriate musings. So here it is. Ta-da! Can I get back to my story now?

Sitting atop a glacier at 18,000 feet isn’t the typical Mexican getaway. No beaches in sight. Likewise, a mix of nuts, grains, berries and green tea extract isn’t normal Mexican food. Hardly food at all. While this fuel propelled my body up Mount Pico de Orizaba effectively enough, I prefer raising my soul to the heavens effortlessly with the spiritual and sensual adventure that is fine cuisine. Why lift cold muddy boots when you can lift a warm silver spoon?

Still, this frigid barren apex offers a breathtaking view of the birthplace of food in the Americas. Peaks and pine forests give way to swamps and rainforests. Beyond that, the Gulf Coast gracefully curves like the voluptuous Olmec women who once paddled these tropical shores in canoes bursting with equally-fertile produce. Life feeds on life in the food chain, so all edibles require liquid water. The best place for that is midway between frozen Mars and steamy Venus, then halfway between Canada and Patagonia. Behold the lush primal pantry of Mesoamerica. Welcome to the buffet of the gods!

If you eat food on a regular basis, this series is for you. Okay, starving supermodels can read it too. Even cover girls holding one of my books upside down with a confused but photogenic expression need not panic. I’m here to serve. In a humanitarian effort to reduce illiteracy, this author will do a live reading at the home of every supermodel who requests it. That’s just the kind of guy I am. Now that we’ve donated some time and space to Bimbos Without Borders (or any other bookstore), let’s get down off this icy volcano before I freeze something that’s hard to thaw out. Plus, I need some real food.

Descending to the town of Orizaba, I crash at a hotel then breakfast in a cafĂ© with my new friend and literary muse. Birds are singing from every pine tree and the lady is smiling. I eat the classic Mexican breakfast of eggs cooked with a tomato, onion and chili salsa, plus corn tortillas and hot chocolate. Seems simple enough. Yet, the invention of these basic foods is a fascinating story of human creativity (except for the eggs that long predate culinary magic whether originating before or after the chicken). Let’s trek the birthplace of food in the next few installments and uncover that story together, shall we?

1 comment: