There air seemed more see-through than usual. We were the only people for miles, and ready for New Years Eve in the Peruvian Andes. We spent the day exploring Huascarán National Park, getting hyped about the size of lichens and forcing our feet into bone-ache streams of cold. As the sun dropped, taking the temperature with it, we settled into our tent and drank wine. We sang loudly for a while, took some comedy us-shots on Breen’s camera, and then fell asleep: an unconventional yet enjoyably unremarkable New Year celebration.
Until the next morning.
Waking with the sun, and still cosy in bed, we peeked out of our tent – we could see snow-capped mountains. Then we couldn’t. Then we could again. Clouds rose and fell, creating an ever-changing landscape, like a meteorological kaleidoscope. Little birds flew down to the entrance of our tent and ate the crumbs we had thrown out, and then splashed around in the stream next to us. An auspicious and inspiring start to the New Year, and it definitely beat the hungover dark skies of home. Feeling liberated and full of the joys of the spring in our step, we got up.
And so the tale begins...one that seems silly now and seemed silly then. But happened.
We soon realised, after rising from the graves of yesteryear, that we were now sharing a field with lots of cows. Cows with big horns. We (‘Lived-On-A-Small-Holding-Breen’ and ‘Worked-On-A-Diary-Farm-Pawlik’) were cooking breakfast when the cows started to become increasingly interested in us. I began to sketch out, and then Breen did, until we had both re-sketched the whole scene before us into a picture of inane calamity. So we decided to eat our food behind a fence, hoping the uninvited ruminants would get bored and leave.
Having finished eating, we returned to find them still lurking around our tent and now mooing their way through our rubbish bag. And of course, because we had re-sketched the morning, we didn’t see ordinary cows, we saw ferocious Andean ones. We were stuck outside the camping area, convinced that the killer cows were going to start ripping our tent apart, and too scared to do anything about it. Self-drawn images of stampedes and maimings began to appear in our collective and tiny little mind.
Outraged by our own stupidity, we decided we should get Big And Happening, brandish some sticks and run into the field shouting. A highly complicated plan involving intense cow psychology…and it worked. Up to a point: all but one ran away. The one remaining cow, now called Bitchface, knew she had won. She took two steps towards us, and Breen and I fled the field again, Laurel and Hardy style.
Bitchface the bovine bully began waiting at the fence, guarding the entrance like a multi-stomached sentry. She was, in short, being a right cow. We waited on the other side, ridiculing our self-made dilemma and concocting cow warfare plans. Sheepish about a cow and very cross with ourselves, we sat under the sun, which was getting hotter and higher in the sky. We waited. Bitchface waited. A stand-off. And so we stayed, utterly defeated by an animal domesticated since Neolithic times. A bloody New Year Bovine Nemesis.
She never got bored. After countless excruciating hours we finally saw some trekkers who I ran up to and, red faced, explained our situation. They looked understandably confused (obviously Bitchface feigned disinterest and looked particularly benevolent at that moment). Our saviour strangers hopped over the fence and with an understated ‘shoo’ and a small flick of the hands, every single cow fled, Bitchface included. Relieved and mortified at the same time, we were a million miles away from our morning of hope and possibility.
After collecting our things in comedy haste in case Bitchface returned, we started the trek home, glad that mountains can keep secrets. We passed some other cows on the way to the turquoise-perfect waters of Lago Llanganuco, but luckily they’d not yet had a chance to chat with Bitchface and the situation remained stable. Legs tired and still feeling like proper wallies, we got a combi with no seats down to Yungay, rolling around on the floor with lots of ladies in petticoats and hats. To this day we remain mortified when we think of being in that place we didn’t want to be: losing to a cow and stuck at the foothills of the Andes on New Years Day.