This is a slightly belated post so apologies in advance. The margaritas, sand and surf have got the better of us. Who can blame us, we’re in Mexico. Anyway……. once upon a time, well, a week or so ago actually:
While Liz cooks our supper on the camp stove in a basic but clean room, dust is swirling around in a choking fog on the streets outside. The dust is lifted by the rumbling trucks that constantly wind their way through this particular town in Mexico. I have no idea of the name of the place but it’s just like so many of the other towns we’ve passed through on our way South. It’s unclear where the sides of the road become the pedestrian areas, everyone fights for space on the road or roadside whether in a vehicle or not. It all feels a bit edgy to outsiders like us at first but even amongst the jostling and personal battles for a way through the melee, people smile at us, wave without inhibition and greet us with openness. This is the Mexico that dispels the myth that everyone is a murderous bastard caught up in the drugs war. Mexico is a book not to be judged by its cover. Millions of people live in places just like this, working hard, trying to make ends meet and looking after their families. There’s nothing here to speak of, just as there wasn’t in the previous town or any of the town before that. There’s little commerce, agriculture or money of any kind but somehow people seem to managing. Right now though, there is just dust, lots of dust.
It’s not a place we’d have chosen to stop given the choice. We were heading for a remote part of the Chihuahua desert that has a proliferation of deep blue fresh water springs, but a suspected broken CV joint has dictated that we stay here in this town for tonight at least and then work something out in the morning, hopefully, eventually. This evening is not a good evening, its been a stressful day ever since the knocking sound started coming from the front driver-side wheel but situations like this are what happens when your chasing the horizon everyday. Not every day is a good day. Such is life.
On the up side, we’re no longer freezing every night in the Rockies, we can now use our toothpaste as Colgate intended and we have exchanged endless mountains for endless desert. The Shadow of the Rockies Trail, which we had followed for over 1300 miles spat us out in the flat expanses of New Mexico. Now, at long last we can put our hot weather equipment to good use. New Mexico was a State we had always wanted to visit and then, upon reaching it we wondered what on earth possessed us ever to visit such a featureless place. That may be a little unfair on New Mexico, there was an interesting hillock or pattern of shadow once every few hundred miles or so as I recall. Only White Sands National Park really made the several hundred miles of very straight and very mundane dirt roads worth the effort. In amongst the flat expanse of a wide desert valley just left of Alamogordo the purest, whitest blinding gypsum dunes appear as an isolated sea of beauty surrounded by missile testing ranges and museums dedicated to the development of things used to kill people. It all seems a bit at odds but there is also every chance that the missile testing is the reason that the dunes are still around today. Despite the missile ranges though, the area is stunningly beautiful and more importantly, it was John’s first experience of great big fun-for-all-the-family dunes.
John, on the face of it is just like any other dog. Outgoing, happy, full of fun and loving. He is without any shadow of a doubt man’s best friend; certainly this man’s. However, when you consider that he’s still only 19 months old and in that time has had seven operations and lived for a long time on copious amounts of drugs, boxed into a metal cage he shouldn’t really be as fun loving and trusting as he is. He should be fearful, timid, even aggressive but no, he’s just an average crazy dog who when seeing sand dunes in the desert for the first time has crowds of people doubled up with laughter at his antics. He spent a good couple of hours running in every direction and often in no particular direction at all. He ate the sand, chased it, pounced on it and barked at it. He conquered the dunes in his own unique and stupidly over the top way. It was great to watch and unexpectedly emotional.
Beyond the dunes lay Texas and the splendor of Big Bend, the second and final National Park on our list of ‘must explore’ places since reaching Southern USA. A noisy rocker arm dictated another pit-stop for a swift oil change in the middle of nowhere and we reached Terlingua just as the sun was setting over the mountains of Big Bend. Covered in oil, harassed and hungry we checked into a motel under orange skies and slept like it was the first time in a week. Not feeling impressed with the buffet options of the hotel for breakfast the following morning we drove three hundred metres up the road to India’s Café. Little more than a shack with a lean-to porch it was nevertheless a popular little place and frequented by the locals too; always a good sign. In a thick London accent a guy of retirement age sporting chefs whites, nylon shorts, sandals and white socks asked us what we wanted and tried in vain to remember what the days specials were. We later discovered that after a life in the British Navy William had swapped a life on the ocean for a life in the desert thanks to his wife – India. They both shared a love of poetry and from opposite sides of the Atlantic swapped their own poems on an Internet poetry forum at a time when the Internet still used modems and telephone lines. India’s daughters said “Hell mom, if it don’t work out just send him back!” and on that note she invited him over and they’ve been together ever since. To watch them sharing a work area smaller than the average domestic kitchen and somehow being able to make fantastic food there’s little doubt that things worked out ok. The mischievous banter and little affectionate pats here and there confirmed it as well.
We had seemed to have been eating eggs with everything for an eternity so India made us up some beef tacos and a Bad-Boy Hotdog for me. The Bad-Boy consisted of a 12-inch hotdog wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and served in a bun with chili, onion rings and cheese. It was the most original breakfast I have ever had. It could only be called ‘inappropriately divine’. With full bellies we set off into a surprisingly heavy wind to explore the National Park. Threatening clouds hung over the mountains, the mountains we were heading for. Not put off we checked in at the Visitor Centre to get our wild camping permits, paid our $10.00 and excitedly drove on to see how close the Visitor Centre’s description was of our coming nights chosen spot. With the exception of a howling wind the description proved to be accurate. We could indeed see Mexico on the other side of the Rio Grande, we could even have thrown stones onto Mexican territory if we wanted to (and we did). However, now that the Rio Grande has been dammed it’s a shadow of its former self. It’s now more a case of Rio Trickle, silted up and full of invasive plants. Nevertheless we’d made it to the shores of one of the most historically influential rivers of the modern world. Aside from that, our campsite was nothing more than bare ground surrounded by a diverse range of cacti species. It was just what we wanted.
Not wishing to see our tent torn to shreds in the wind just yet we slammed the Niva into four-wheel-drive and set off into the remote corners of the Park on dirt roads of dry riverbeds, shingle and bedrock. We rocked and rolled our way across stunning landscapes of sandy cactus fields, sedimentary rock cliffs and expanses of shattered volcanic debris. As we climbed out of valleys and descended over rock-shelves we covered millions of years at a time. The area is impressive to say the least. Four hours later we emerged back onto the main paved highway, dusty, shaken, exhilarated and to the distinct hissing sound of a puncture. Evidently some of the sharp volcanic rock had bitten back and slashed a tire. Not to worry, we always kept a spare wheel on the roof where we could easily get to it without having to get everything out of the car first. Five minutes and we’d be rolling again.
An hour later just about everything had been removed from the back of the car and we’d attempted to jack the rear up seven times. We (I) hadn’t account for the fact that the weight in the boot (trunk) was behind the jacking point, as was the punctured rear tire. We were at first confused and then taken aback to notice that although we’d jacked up the rear of the car it was in fact the front wheel that was off the ground. So much for keeping the spare on the roof to make life easier. Systematically we lowered the jack again, removed some heavy stuff from the boot (yes, I know – trunk) and placed it on the bonnet (I mean – hood). As more stuff was piled on to the front with no discernable effect we then took it all off the bonnet for fear of denting it, opened up the bonnet and put everything directly on the engine instead. After an inordinate amount of time pissing about in the cold and ever increasing wind the spare wheel was finally fitted to the car.
We returned to our campsite finding it to be more of a dust bowl than ever and sat discussing our options as the wind rocked the car violently from side to side. Ninety minutes later and we were back at the motel feeling a little cheated. At least now back in Terlingua we could look at getting a replacement tire in the morning. Or so we intended. It transpires that the USA is very fond of its 15-inch wheels and it’s also very fond of its 17-inch wheels. Even 14-inch wheels can be come by. However, 16-inch wheels are more rare than rocking horse shit in the USA. They simply don’t exist. And of course we have 16-inch wheels as per the Russian standard. Maybe this is a new incarnation of the Cold War; it’s a theory anyway.
Morning came and it was back to India’s for breakfast and more Bad-Boy hotdogs. India, a proud and larger than life Texan woman through and through greeted every customer who came through her doors with a big hug and a playful thump on the arm. She used the excuse that it was for some past transgression during her long friendship with them. I asked how long she had to know a customer before she started to hit them and discovered it was just a couple of days, her order book hit the back of my head making me feel strangely at home. Just like so many of her other customers we were both also given hearty hugs from her as we left. William shook our hands and we parted for what we thought would be the final time.
We called in at the local store for water on our way back to the park to continue our sightseeing but found ourselves still there an hour later. Preparing to leave and checking my mirror to back out of the car park with our water safely tucked away a Ural motorcycle and sidecar pulled in alongside us. I nudged Liz, “Hey look at this!” I said looking towards her for a moment. I then immediately recognized the dog in the sidecar, complete with his crash helmet and goggles. I knew the rider had to be Ara, a man we had never met but whom we had known of for years via his Internet blog. Earlier this year we also became affiliated as both Ara & Spirit and Liz and I are supported by the Ted Simon Foundation. With mutual appreciation flowing freely between the five of us (including John and Spirit) an excited conversation soon sprung up and the cameras were out in a flash. It was a random and chance encounter that would later take us from respect on the Internet to a new and firm friendship. With India tutting at us as she found us still in the car park while she popped out for more supplies we pledged to stay with Ara & Spirit on the following Monday night. They don’t have an address as such, just directions off the highway into the desert, and with that we set off back into the park for a couple of days.
Monday came and we found Ara & Spirit waiting for us just where they said they would be, living on their plot of land under a sky that goes on forever. John & Spirit did laps around the place like two mischievous kids without inhibitions. Anyone would have thought they had been friends all their lives. Spirit is a fine American Pit Bull who was abused as a young dog, rescued by Ara and now lives as his inseparable companion and is the perfect ambassador for American Pit Bulls the world over. They are undoubtedly lovely dogs. Visit Ara & Spirit’s blog (and it is ‘their’ blog) to read why. The Oasis of My Soul. We have followed Ara’s blog for several years, enjoying Ara’s insights, reflections and journeys, both spiritual and physical. I have admired his photography every bit as much too. He writes from the heart and for himself, it just so happens that what he writes is worth reading.
We pulled up a couple of chairs and an easy conversation went back and forth. Friends of Ara’s joined us too and we chatted late into the night under the huge stars of a Texas desert sky. It was a perfect afternoon and evening together. One of those rare occasions in life when everything feels right for a moment in time. The following morning was full of laughter and genuinely solid friendships as we put an inner tube into our punctured tubeless tire to give a round black thing a new lease of life. See the video here. A Second Chance For A Black Round Thing.
Our evening with Ara was our last evening in the USA prior to driving to the town of Prosidio to cross the Mexican border the day after. We began our journey though the States with new friendships in New Jersey with our cousins-several-times-removed, Hannah & Paul and we left with new friendships in Texas. It sums the good old USofA up for us perfectly. Smiles all the way.
• Its Mexico init,
• Something goes bang (repeatedly); and;
• No dogs allowed.