Tambo Siberia: Lost in the cold mists of time

Aug 3, 2017 | 7 comments

The wiry Páramo brushed against the stiff fabric of my rain pants, causing a soft rasping sound.

I had been hiking alone at 12,500 feet for a couple of hours. Partly cloudy skies and the magic of Tambo Siberia had lured me into the southern Caja’s, a rugged area that’s part of South America’s central Andes Range. An hour ago those skies closed behind me like a theatre curtain, replaced by the leadenness of a sky with neither light nor texture. I kept on in the thin, moist air hoping for the light to return but unwilling to wager a single cent that it would. I was bushwhacking, alone, somewhat cold and a little hungry. I was miles from any trailhead. The Páramo grows in very dense clumps and after a few hours, the walking can become a tedious. My camera backpack had morphed into a cruel taskmaster.

I was standing near the edge of a series of precipitous cliffs overlooking a deep valley filled with clouds. A freshening breeze had come up earlier in the morning, carrying the clouds in from the coast, about fifty miles away. The only sound was a gentle soughing of the wind as it caressed the hard grasses of the Páramo. Air currents spirited ghostly fingers of dense fog from the adjacent valleys into the rocky outcroppings. The window of opportunity was closing. I shucked my pack and opened it to retrieve a camera.

I made a couple of quick captures, settling on a perspective that allowed for a view slightly wider and lower than normal human vision. I was composing my photograph so my viewers would imagine they could see their feet in it if they looked down. The low, flat light falling across the scene amplified the sense of desolation that already embodied the wilderness.

There was a real sense of timelessness to the place; it has always looked this way. Along with the stones on the rolling slopes, my camera and I were about to be enveloped in the fog bank. Nearer the lip of the valley, tenuous mists were beginning to shroud the stones. Visibility deteriorated, to be measured in mere feet. Now, it was just me and the atmospherics. Even the Páramo had  blurred in the fog’s heavy mist.

Deeply chilled by the moisture-laden winds, I shouldered my pack and took a quick compass reading. There was nothing visible to give me a heading. Some of the mist condensed on my cheekbones and ran in tiny rivulets to the corners of my mouth. The vapors of my breath added their tiny part to the fog’s efforts.

The comforts of coffee and a hot fire waited, but too many miles away to demand much consideration. I turned my back on the magical beauty and desolation of Tambo Siberia and started trekking.

Brian Buckner

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