This whole time, it feels like we might as well be on the moon, but this afternoon, we actually go to the moon. Valle de la Luna, we are coming, bitches, and we are pretty excited to see the real lunar landscape, the one where the Mars rover runs a test run or five hundred, just ‘cuz.
This is now our third excursion since in San Pedro, and sadly, we see that we part from our trusted red tour bus and trade it for a white minivan, all of us crammed into one another’s armpits, me stuck next to the stinkiest Frenchman around by simple virtue of sharing his language.
Lucky for me and unlucky for our Spanish tour friend, Graham parlays an excuse to get me to mid-row next to him and away from stink master–who, yes, when your girlfriend tells you that odor emanates from your being and talks about how much she looks forward to a shower this evening, do us all a favor and get the hint, bro!, and for the love of god, keep the pits closed, man!–and it’s off we go through a stunning landscape of red-ochre and black sand Rift Valley with snow-white ridges.
Felipe is most definitely not Pablo, and for this, we are sad.
After more than eight and two months on the road, respectively, we come to appreciate proper and knowledgeable guides, and well, Felipe is about ten years shy of maturity. We are all his buddies, we think, and he is more interested in surfer vibing it with us and flirting it up with the two Chilean girls most definitely smitten with his California cool attitude.
I try to inquire about the tour overall for a sense of where we go and why and how–for, I know myself, and managing my expectations makes me a happy camper and is most definitely the sign of a noteworthy guide–but Felipe comes just shy of telling us to chill out as we blow by stellar shots, and when we clamber out of the vehicle for the umpteenth time to hike up to a scenic view, he barely mentions the need to carry agua and solid shoes.
Total amateur hour, and Graham and I hang back with meme and pepe since Felipe is lost in the sweet promise of twenty-year-old lust. No matter, for all there is to do is roll our eyes at this man-boy in need of serious growing up and we blow by him and his posse to crest the top of the sand pile, the promise of mind-blowing views to the rest of the moonscape and neighboring volcanoes calling our names, Graham and I psyched to find this Utah-esque landscape here, black sand creases rising to a red stone walkway.
Here, Felipe surprises us with what appears to be actual cultural knowledge, his tale of how the two volcanoes used to be side-by-side, the female volcano next to the male volcano. That is, until brother volcano gets a little jealous, and for her safety, head honcho man sends the woman dome away, clear on the other side of the horizon. But, once a year, the two meet again when the shadow from the male volcano falls on the female volcano, apparently on June 15.
It is the first time we hear Pachamama interwoven in local lore, Felipe telling us that for the indigenous people, the land, the earth, every where is imbued with spirit, alive. This, we surmise from other tales of volcano drama from throughout the Andes, and now, we want more details, more information on how native worldview collides with centuries of missionary work.
But, there is no time for such serious conversation, for Felipe has another segment of the Valle to show us, the caverns, and here, he insists that the best way to visit volcano tunnels is sans head lamp, for, really, they are best experienced in total darkness, limbs and skin free to brave the glass-paper that is volcanic rock, its grittiness sure to knick and scrape like none other. Our older couple happily borrow my headlamp–yes, this becomes a backpack staple and godsend way back in Asia and rarely leaves my side–while Graham and I meander our way up and over with the glow of the iPhone, flashbacks to Belize’s ATM cave trip on the tip of our tongues, image of sacrificed, calcified Mayan remains as fresh on our minds as it was five years ago.
We emerge from the depths of cavernous darkness in time to see the sky threaten the end of the day, the rainbow of sand colors almost aglow in the evening light, and I find myself granting Felipe a hall pass for the timing, although, not the execution.
The Valle de la Luna is striking, and I regret not following the off-the-beaten path advice and biking to this splendor, a mere 13 miles out of town, instead of cramming a day’s worth of discovery and marvel into a marathon hour of in-and-out minivan action.
Then, as if to drive my opinion home about our questionably competent tour guide, Felipe announces that our transportation is no bueno, the victim of overheating, and he hems and haws us to the sad conclusion that our grand finale of a Valle de la Luna sunset will be nothing more than a highway-side sunset, our van poised on the outskirts of town to watch a pretty vista of volcanoes turn from color to shadow.
So fitting, it seems, and Graham and I turn to each other and almost wonder aloud our thoughts, ridiculous, we know, for we are most definitely not in the US of A and this type of denied tour orgasm is most definitely not met with the same customer satisfaction.
Still, our minds go there, and we’re left whispering to each other, eyebrows cocked: Does this mean we get a refund?
Most definitely not, señor.