We were high up and the air seemed more see-through than usual. The only people around for miles, we felt good and ready for our New Year’s Eve in the Peruvian Andes. We spent the day exploring Huascarán National Park, geeking out 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 comedy us-shots on Breen’s camera, and then fell asleep: an unconventional but enjoyably unremarkable New Year celebration. Until the journey home the next morning.
Waking with the sun, and still cosy inside our tent, we peeked out at peaks of snow-capped mountain. Clouds rose and sunk making a meteorological kaleidoscope of an ever-changing landscape. Little birds flew down to the entrance of our tent and ate the crumbs we had thrown out, and then splashed around in the clear 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.
We soon realised, after rising from our graves of yesteryear, that there had been some developments during the night. 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 packing up and cooking breakfast when the cows started to become increasingly interested in us. I began to feel sketchy and then Breen did, until we both re-sketched the whole scene before us into a picture of inane calamity, framed by our new-found bovinaphobia. We decided to eat our food behind a fence, hoping the uninvited ruminants would get bored and leave.
We returned to find them still lurking around our tent and 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. Self-drawn images of stampedes and maimings began to appear in our collective mind.
Outraged by our own stupidity and desperate to start the journey home, 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. It worked…up to a point: all but one ran away. And that one remaining cow instantly knew she had won. She took two steps towards us, and Breen and I fled the field again, Laurel and Hardy style.
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 by the minute. We waited. She waited. A stand-off. And there we stayed, defeated by an animal domesticated since Neolithic times. A New Year’s Bovine Nemesis.
She never got bored. Countless excruciating hours passed before we finally saw some trekkers who I ran over to and, red faced, explained our situation. They looked understandably confused. We felt understandably embarrassed. Our saviour strangers hopped over the fence and with an understated ‘shoo’ and a small flick of the hands, every single cow fled, our nemesis included. Relieved and mortified at the same time, we were a million miles away from our morning of hope and possibility.
After collecting our camping things in comedy haste in case she 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 the evil one, and the situation remained stable. Legs tired and still feeling like 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 our painfully slow journey home, when we were fenced in by our own stupidity at the foothills of the Andes on New Year’s Day.