Wednesday, June 22, 2005


A quote from Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light (maybe derived from some Upanishad or whatever):
The deathgod smiled. "Catch your breath quickly now, while you may," he stated. "Breath is the least appreciated gift of the gods. None sing hymns to it, praising the good air, breathed by king and beggar, master and dog alike. But, oh to be without it! Appreciate each breath, Rild, as though it were your last-- for that one, too, is near at hand!"
When a sail isn't catching the wind correctly and as a consequence flaps (as the sails did on our boat), it is said to "luff", which may or may not be related to the German word "Luft", "air". There is some sort of bird in the Galapagos, probably a frigate, that makes a luffing sound by vibrating its neck, maybe as part of a mating ritual. It was a bit like a rĂ¢le or what I imagine a death rattle sounds like.

I went snorkling for the first time there. This involved getting dropped off a dingy into a choppy sea in a current leading towards some rocks; a badly-adjusted snorkel; and my usual brick wall when trying to swim actively; plus some anxiety on the part of my wife observing the above, and some anxiety on my part observing the above and observing her anxiety. After a couple of breaths of sea water and a leg cramp, I was about ready to drown in my overlarge and hence very buoyant wetsuit, but made it back to the dingy where I spent the next maybe half hour with my heart racing, trying to catch my breath. Even after a long nap I couldn't seem to get enough air into my lungs, but after dinner I felt ok. The experience was extremely unpleasant but I tried snorkling again the next day under easier circumstances and had an excellent time.

After a week in the islands, we went back to Quito, which is a striking place to see from the air. It's at about 2.8 kilometers above sea level, making it the second-highest city in the world. We then went up the mountain another 0.3 km or so to a sort of resort (formerly a Jesuit retreat). I've never been at that altitude, and felt a bit out of breath and dizzy and headachy. It started getting cold as soon as the sun began to set. The rooms there have fireplaces for heat. The one my wife and I ended up in smelled rather smoky, but someone came and looked at the flue and we were told it would be ok. After dinner I was struck by a migraine and managed to stumble back to our room to lie down. A fire had just been laid. As I pulled the covers over my head I noticed the smell of smoke, and realized it probably wasn't a great idea to be breathing the air, but getting up was not an option at that point. Eventually my wife came along, insisted we be given a new room with breathable air, and managed to move me there. She was suffering back pains so at least we were miserable together. Probably one of the worst nights of my life.

Reading this horribly vivid diary about asthma when I got back gave me some perspective on the above.


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