Outland: Chapter 4
It had been almost a week of travelling up the continent, following the Peruvian coastline that sharply jutted out into the ocean. With only limited cooling inside of the cockpit, I could feel myself sweating as the mid-day sun beat down on me. We were soon to reach the equator, which would mean the best opportunity for us to travel long distances, surviving on the longer hours of the daylight powering the panels. After that, though, I began to realize that I had no real plan for heading farther into central America.
One dotted along the coastline were various rivers, coming down from the Andes to eventually head out to the ocean. As I continued north, I found that many had dried up into vague trickles of water sitting atop the ground. My suspicions told me that people had finally decided to block the water farther inland, using it all before it could get wasted into the salty ocean. It seemed nobody lived out in the deltas anymore to make use of it.
Bordering the water, I could see fields of the black loamy dirt, sprouting bits of green that grew up despite the lack of water. I imagined at one point that one could have seen people working fields out here. I read the gauge on my instrument panel, showing my remaining supply of water. If I found a sizable stream of fresh water, it would be in my best interest to siphon some up into my tanks to be filtered and sanitized. My greasy face and hair told me that showering wouldn’t hurt, either.
I could feel Gulliver’s heavy feet sink ever so slightly into the soft dirt and vegetation with each step through the lowland area. I began to drift off, watching as each slow step propelled us slightly further. A loud knock jarred me awake, and another had me sitting up in the seat.
Standing up, I jumped around to look out the back port-hole of the cockpit, where I could see a few figures of people having appeared behind me. “Bring us to a stop, Gulliver.” I ordered.
“Yes, Andrew.” Came the response, as the creaking of the machinery stopped. The small figures outside jumped around, throwing more rocks in our direction. Sliding down the ladder, I had Gulliver open the bottom hatch and I climbed down to the ground, raising my hands in the air as my feet touched the ground. I suspected what I might have been facing, but I remained cautious anyways.
Behind the tall river grass, I could see the figures come closer, small faces peeking out at me. I cautiously dropped one arm down, moving it back and forth in a waving motion. The kids slowly crept out of the foliage, looking at me and up at Gulliver cautiously.
One of the little ones shouted at me in Spanish, more quickly than I could catch. In the other one’s hand, I could see what looked like an ear of corn, shaking in his hand. They waved me down, and I released my guard to come follow them. Trudging through the rough grass, I found the kids leading us through the alternating prints left by Gulliver wading through. Stopping at one of the depressions, I finally realized where they had lead me.
Crushed under Gulliver’s foot were various thick stocks of corn, now bent and shattered against the ground. Around us, I spotted more plants laying intact, including some wheat, tomatoes, and what looked like peppers. Kneeling to the ground, I attempted to pry off some of the ears of corn, finding ones that remained intact. The boys seemed upset at me, and I tried my best to apologize in the few words I knew.
A voice called out to them suddenly, deep and harsh. Appearing from behind the tall stocks, an older man walking with a long wooden stick made eye contact with me. Hands full of the sheathed corn, I stood up and bowed my head. The kids quickly ran to his side, rambling at the old man and making gestures at me. The old man shook his head before turning up to glare at Gulliver, rolling his eyes in disbelief.
He spoke to me, and from what he could understand, he didn’t seem upset. The kids hid behind him, shooting mean glances my way. Shooing off the young ones, the old man waved at me to follow him. Still carrying the corn, dumbfounded, I followed after him, trudging through the tall, bristly grass. I could hear the trickle of water more prominently as we moved farther inland.
I had failed to spot any signs of any others around during my approach, and I soon learned why. Coming to a clearing of short-trimmed grass, I noticed the burrows built into the side of a hill, covered mostly with a thick layer of sod. The two children from before ran around the encampment, drawing a few other children, younger ones, outside. From one doorway, I noticed a tan-skinned woman peering out at me. The interior of the building seemed neatly furnished and alight with candles, very homely.
Another, younger man, came out of the second burrow. With some direction from the older man, began building a fire. I attempted to help at the young man’s request, but my experience doing such a thing was lacking. I could sense him scoffing at me, before shoving me off to partially shuck the corn.
The woman from before eventually brought out a few raw, salted fish, shoving spits through them to prepare them to go onto the fire. I quietly sat back, watching the group act so efficiently. As the food cooked, I eventually was able to coax some conversation out of them through my broken Spanish. They told me that the two families had once lived out on the coastline operating a fishery before the water rose and destroyed everything they had. Not wishing to leave the land, they built up the dirt houses that they now inhabited.
Despite feeling often tongue-tied and at a loss for words, they commended me on my attempts to speak to them in their language. Many of my coworkers in the corps were from this part of the world, so I adapted myself to communicate with them. Sadly, I also heard many stories of my coworkers coming from the states up north treating the locals like trash as they passed down the coast.
I apologized for trampling their crops, but they just laughed and told me that the kids had overacted, especially seeing Gulliver standing several meters like some sort of monster. The food had cooked up by that time, and I managed to eat what felt like a feast. The feeling of proper company, as well, felt like it had been lacking for so long. That night, they allowed me to sleep on an extra blanket on their floor.
The next morning, I found the woman and children a few meters away, washing clothes up in what was left of the river. I dove in downstream, hitting the silty bottom almost immediately. Despite the heat of the day still mounting ever higher, the water was cool and refreshing. I heard the cackling of the children as they jumped in after.
After drying off, I grabbed a quick bite with them, telling them I would return shortly. Running off, I quickly arrived back at the location I had left Gulliver, just beyond the short hillside.
“Welcome back, Andrew.”
“Good morning, Gulliver.” I said, arriving at the top of the ladder to the cockpit.
“You found people here, I would conclude. Were they more accommodating than that particular inhabitant of the house from the other day?”
“Very much so.” I said, engaging the manual controls from my spot in the pilot’s seat. Trudging inland, this time carefully watching my step for any fields of crop plants, I found my way to the shallow river I had visited previous. I could see the family start to walk my way, eyes fixated on my place inside Gulliver.
Kneeling over, I twisted up Gulliver’s hand into a big scoop, digging into the old riverbed. With a swift motion, I dragged out a large swath of the silt that had built up over time, leaving a path wider and deeper for the water to flow. The mud danced up in the water before beginning to settle, and I could see the children in awe and excitement for their newly created pool. With a clunky movement, I waved out at the family with Gulliver’s arm, before turning around and heading back northward.