Verticality and Other Internal Constants
The Andes are a compendium of life in the vertical with the occasional interspersion of horizontal or almost horizontal space; but it is at the mercy of the vertical slopes that climb into the sky and down to the rivers hemmed in by everlasting mountains. The sun is at the mercy of the vertical land, its hours modified by the bulk of stone and earth that here challenges the heavens. The land stands in both challenge and symbiosis with its human inhabitants; the Andean people have over the centuries of life up against the vertical landscape forged a way of living within it. The little villages rise as on scaffolds along the ridges; narrow aqueducts (a particularly greenery embraced one is pictured below) and dizzy trails thread the mountains and mock the distance and height, that is, for the Andean peasants. A gringo from sea level, even one used to walking, finds scurrying around the rocks rather more difficult. Climbing stairs is temporary bursts of anguish and pain and then short euphoria. And the villages are all stairs, stairs and short ramps and then more stairs.
All along the slopes are little fields- maize, potatoes, cabbages, alfalfa (as in the photo above, the field of Geronimo who also owns a little store- with Coca Cola and Inca Kola- tends cows and burros and makes excellent cheese and herbal tea), hay, beans, more potatoes (potatoes are life here and the variety is staggering). They cling to the upturned bones of the earth mountain in the distance looking painted on and inaccessible. Yet people toil on these upanddown places and turn out food.
And then there are the flowers that climb over the slopes and narrow vertical streets of the villages. The mountains are gardens turn on their side and set wild. Color and shape woven into the land like poetry turned loose but rhyme still intact. The whole vertical land is poetry, precipitous and alarming and difficult but incredibly beautiful and rewarding.