Belize Revisited

“How long do you intend to stay in Belize sir?”
“I’m not sure. We thought we’d just play it by ear and see what happens.”
“Well, enjoy Belize whatever you do. Welcome to Belize!” Said the Immigration Officer in a strong Caribbean accent as he stamped our passports. We climbed back into the car and left Mexico behind, geographically and culturally. Belize is a different world.

Gone is the litter, gone are the packs of dogs (generally) and gone is the everyday struggle to speak a second language. Mexico has been tough. Really tough. To be fair to Mexico it has generally been due to a run of bad luck, rather than Mexico per se. But either way it feels good to be back. Eight years is a long time and it’s difficult to believe it has been that long since we were last here, but the place hasn’t changed much. People still smile and wave as we drive by. Everywhere feels welcoming, easy and laid back.

As we left the northern Mexico/Belize border behind we first arrived in sleepy Orange Walk. Most places were closed for Sunday and the streets were empty as we drove around looking for a bank where we could get some Belize dollars. We found both an ATM and a Chinese takeaway. Result! We also later found Marmite in Belize City, panic on the streets at the hands of an over reaction to a few gang member killings and a right rear puncture on the Niva which led to Liz acting as a counter-weigh so I could jack the car up.
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With full bellies and wallets we drove on to Crooked Tree, named after the misshapen trees that were logged by Scottish settlers over two hundred years ago. The Scottish settlers married freed slaves and both the cultural mix and the crooked trees can still be seen in the village today. (Although we didn’t actually see anybody with ginger hair.) We used Crooked Tree as the base to revisit the Maya ruins of Lamanai. Meaning ‘sunken crocodile’, the ruins sit on the shore of the New River Lagoon and most people take a boat from Orange Walk to reach the ruins. We however decided to drive there via the Mennonite village Shipyard. It felt odd trundling along the road, dodging buggies pulled by horses and people in dungarees and wide brimmed bonnets. If nothing else, Belize is diverse in every way.

Last year alone Lamanai had over 23,000 visitors. So it came as a nice surprise that we were the only people there. The ticket attendant dozed in the hot sun as we walked along the jungle track to the entrance and he sat up with a bit of a start as John said hello enthusiastically. Despite John’s lack of manners he was allowed in for free and made Lamanai his play ground. We marvelled at the pyramids with admiration while John scampered over them with total abandon. For his own good and the good of the ruins he eventually went on the lead. He had his first encounter with howler monkeys and a single spindly and rather territorial spider monkey. We found it’s not easy to take the animated protestations of a spider monkey seriously. No matter how hard they shake the branches, beat their chests and shriek they still look far to flimsy to perceive as anything other than comical. They look a little like a rather hairy but naked Spike Milligan.

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Having had our intended snorkelling activities rudely interrupted by a crippled Andy Patrick back in Mexico (who I’ve very pleased to say is now home and beginning to mend), we drove south to Hopkins with a view to swimming with the fishes. We had never been before and relished the idea of a beach break. A bit of snorkelling, some good food, Garifuna culture and walks along silvery beaches with the sand between our toes. It turned out to be a day of looking for a section of beach that didn’t have twenty cabanas on it or twenty dogs. The wind howled and the sand blew in our faces and we ate overly salty food in the rain. We left Hopkins behind for the Mayflower Reserve, twelve miles inland, where we found tranquillity, jungle waterfalls and a place to sleep for £3.00. We stayed for three days.

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Eventually, the need for washing overcame us. We had been intending to wash some clothes since before we went to the aid of Andy in Mexico, and even then the need for washing was getting desperate. (By the way Andy, we somehow have two pairs of your undies. They’re very comfortable.) We decided to drive northwest to San Ignacio to do the washing and then on to Mountain Pine Ridge for some more solitude. However, our plans changed when we saw an email from Ray at Pook’s Hill saying, “pop in”. So we did. We had looked after Pook’s Hill Jungle Lodge for a short spell last time we were here and had become firm friends with the owners – Ray and Vicki. On our way to San Ignacio we called in with the intention of seeing when would be convenient to stay longer but in true Pook’s fashion we ended up staying the night. In all our travels around the world we have found that the tranquillity of Pook’s Hill cannot be surpassed. It is a truly special place and it was lovely to catch up with Ray.

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We did however tear ourselves away the next day, reluctantly, and are now in Mountain Pine Ridge as intended. We have just this moment done the washing in a mountain stream and have turned the pine trees into a Chinese laundry. We’ve been enjoying travelling some of the lesser-used roads in Mountain Pine Ridge and are currently camping at the corner of Navy Road and Silvestre Road. Neither road is on any map and the sign is hand painted. We’re not actually too sure where we are to be honest. We’re surrounded by overly large and fresh puma tracks which appear to have been hot on the heals of a tapir. I hope the tapir is still in one piece but can’t help but hope that the puma has also recently eaten! It’s nice to be here – kind of. There’s a soft whistle in the air as a breeze drifts through the pines. They’re silhouetted against a cloudless sky and a million stars in every direction. There isn’t a car to be heard, there isn’t a single light from an overhead plane, just as there is no light pollution from a village or town anywhere near. Neither Navy Road, nor Silvestre Road has a single tire track upon it, other than ours. The only marks on the road are our own, the wildlife or those of the fissures made by the seasonal rains. No one has been here in a very long time. Belize is only a small country but it is still so easy to loose yourself here. Belize is a very special place.

This will be our last blog for a while. Now that we’re here we’ll be visiting friends and chilling out for a while. There won’t be too much ‘blog worthy’ stuff happening; just plenty of washing in all probability.

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Is It The End of the World?

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7 Days ago
It’s the 2012 Maya End of the World Rally and we’re being led into Guanajuato by a Police escort as part of the official parade from which the rally will start. It has been hard work, stressful and expensive to get to this point. The past four weeks have seen the little Niva taken apart and put back together again with only hours to spare before the rallybegins. New ball joints, bushes and wheel bearings. Its been an expensive nightmare to get to this point but we’ve finally made it. We’re in the procession and everyone is on a high. The excitement and anticipation of the rally ahead is intoxicating. And then we hear a dull thump and the car lurches to the right. A few seconds later we hear a loud and rapid grinding sound coming from the front right wheel. After all the work and hope another faulty wheel bearing is in the process of bringing our rally to an end. After just half a mile. With our hazard lights flashing, the Niva grinds to a halt and we can only watch all the other competitors drive past us, all bar one. Nothing much is said. What can be said. Fortunately, the mechanics who we’ve come to trust are only a short distance away so we do a U-turn to head back down hill to the sound of metal tearing itself apart.
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The mechanics see us pull into the garage and their faces fall in disappointment. Only a few hours before five of them were working feverishly on the car. Fitting parts, changing fluids, washing and polishing. They look just as disappointed as we are. However, within ten minutes, despite the red hot metal, they’re taking off the wheel to replace the faulty bearing.

Four hours later we were still there but the determination of our personal pit crew had us back on the road and in pursuit of the other competitors by late afternoon. Fortunately the first challenge of the rally was local to Guanajuato so we hadn’t lost any distance, only points. In the meantime we’d managed to find an Internet connection and sent Andy Pattrick a message. He’s our good friend and only other English competitor in the rally. We arranged to meet in the high desert above Guanajuato for the night before carrying on with the rally to the next challenge. Just as dark fell we found him waiting in the middle of nowhere for us as only a good friend would.
Above GTO1
5 Days ago
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Today, I’m sitting in the clearing of a forest surrounded by Monarch butterflies. It’s a stunning part of Mexico, three-thousand, three-hundred metres up in the mountains. Pine trees are all around and sunset orange Monarch butterflies dance in the air in every direction. Our tent sits beside a trickling mountain stream in a wide natural clearing which offers views along the valley for mile upon mile. Reaching the breeding grounds of the Monarch butterflies was one of the challenges of the rally. Everything here is beautiful. However, I’m not interested. I’m sick of our bad luck, the hand of fate and the injustice of everything. Coolant is dripping from the water pump in a steady stream and once again our rally seems to be over. The bearings and seal in the pump have gone this time. Will anything ever go our way? We know that whatever is ahead of us will involve limping to somewhere where we can source new parts and a wait of who-knows how long. Sometimes life on the road offers little enjoyment. Two days of trouble free running after five weeks of hard work to get the car ready seems very unjust. We love the Niva and its taken a hammering on its journey South from New York. We can’t blame it for having another fault but a little more than two days of problem free driving would have been nice. Andy is still with us and his company and second opinion help, but we need to think about our options.
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monarch2

3 Days ago

We waved Andy off this morning with mixed emotions. The three of us have spent three days and nights up in the mountains with the Monarch butterflies. Even without our mechanical problems we wouldn’t have continued with the Maya Rally. The organisation of the event did little to convince us that it was a worthwhile endeavour and our interest in the whole thing has died. Andy felt the same and three days in the mountains seemed like a far more attractive and relaxing option. However, our mechanical problems have dictated that we must go our separate ways. Andy is here celebrating his 40th birthday and we will not allow our problems to get in the way of that, even if he would. Andy is going to follow the dirt roads South through the high mountains on his 250cc dirt bike. He’ll have the time of his life and we’re pleased he’s off enjoying himself.
Andy
After much study of maps and weighing up of our options we plan to head towards Oaxaca to get the water pump fixed. With luck the bearings will hold up and with regular stops to top up the coolant and oil (which is also bleeding out), we’ll get there in two days.

Later……

The thermostat needle is in the red and we’ve pulled off the road with steam bellowing out from under the bonnet. We’re in the middle of nowhere again and the water pump has died to the sound of a screaming bearing. We’ve done fifteen kilometres (9 miles). We sit beside the road for an hour before seeing if we can limp any further. Ten minutes later and we’ve made it to a State-owned Pemex petrol station but the needle is already back in the red and there’s no way we can go any further. The Pemex station is on the edge of a small village and we ask around for a mechanic. This is not where we wanted to be. There are more donkeys than cars here, but an older man comes over to offer assistance. It’s hard to understand him but the upshot is that he knows of a mechanic and he drives off in rusted VW beetle. Thirty minutes later he returns but hasn’t been able to find the mechanic. Three hours later and we’re still at the petrol station but eventually someone comes over on a BMX bike with a King Charles spaniel variant in hot pursuit. It turns out he’s the mechanic. His home and garage are only around the corner so we kick the engine over and drive up the hill as slowly as we can while he peddles as fast as he can.

That night…..

The mechanic has taken the water pump apart and only confirmed what we already know, the inside of the pump is a mess. But with parts it’s salvageable, if the parts can be found. Lada Nivas are as rare as honest politicians in Mexico (or anywhere else) and unless we’re in luck and the parts that we need are universal we’re going to have a problem. However, for now, without camping options or hotels anywhere near, we are camping in the mechanic’s brother’s partly built house. It’s a concrete shell but it also happens to be in the same yard as the garage. It will do us ok for the moment and the mechanic and his family have been nothing but wonderful. They are good people and we’re lucky to have found them.
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2 Days ago
Zitacuaro is a bustling city built for function and little else. There are no beautiful plazas, parks or splendid churches. It exists to meet the needs of people who need stuff. I’m one of them and I’m standing in the fifth shop that sells water pumps for cars. I never knew there were so many variations on the pump of a car cooling system. There are hundred of them. Its mind boggling. What is even more mind boggling is that the specific shape of the pump for a Lada Niva is not covered by any of the numerous variations available. Having run out of shops for ‘bomba de agua’ it’s on to a fabricators. If I can’t buy one I’ll have it made. Mexicans are nothing if not resourceful. There is very little that isn’t possible with time and cash. The fabricator weights up the challenge with my broken pump in his hands. After some time he eventually gives me the nod and tells me to return in three hours.

Three hours later I have a shiny new pump in my hands, still warm and covered in wet paint. But he guarantees that it’ll work and for less than £30.00 I find that I’m smiling for the first time in days. Smiling genuinely as opposed the half-hearted smiles I’ve become used to giving people when something is on my mind.

Hopping into the first taxi I can flag down I return to my friendly mechanic still smiling and he can see my relief. Everyone is pleased for us and either in celebration or to give the mechanic space to work, his family pile us and John into a pick-up and we go off for a picnic by a local lake. In a time of adversity we’ve been fortunate enough to collide with a lovely family. They’re caring, honourable and a little crazy, in that particular Mexican kind of way. There are so many family members here that they seem to tumble from every pore of the three houses that fringe the garage. We had a great time but it was ironic that we had to call our mechanic out when the pick-up refused to start on the return back.
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machaninc casa 2
We spent a couple of evenings with our new friends, laughing, talking and comparing our different lives. In many ways they weren’t that different – aspirations, hopes, dreams etcetera but as we talked by the light of the kitchen fire pit under a corrugated iron roof, we couldn’t escape the fact that these people had very little in the world but they had given us everything they could offer. When our car broke down yet again we thought everything was going wrong. As it happened, it was a necessary evil that allowed us to meet some lovely people and be reminded of the kindness of strangers.

Today
We have just over two-hundred miles under our belt today and the temperature gauge is reading just under 90 degrees – exactly where it should be. The wheels are quiet and the differential is doing its job without fuss. Every hour I’ve checked the oil and water levels and they’re still fine each time I look. Everything is as it should be. Except my composure. The last few weeks have taken their toll and until a good few days of trouble free driving have gone by I don’t think I’ll relax. Every squeak has my heart beat racing. The Maya Rally feels like a world away and just a distant waste of time. All I’m concerned about now is finding somewhere for Christmas where I can relax with a margarita. But one thing is for sure. Wherever I find that margarita, I’ll be toasting the numerous people who have helped to keep us going when it all felt so desperate. Mexicans, and everyone else alike – thank you.

The Rewards of Guanajuato

Today is Liz’s birthday. We spent the morning wandering around the city of Guanajuato, relaxing, chatting and eating a small lunch with some rather dodgy wine. While we ate, a kid of eight or nine years old came over to us. His clothes were hanging off him, he was covered in dust and he was hungry. We gave him a bread roll with some butter on it and he wandered off satisfied in some small way. It made us think for a moment about why we’ve been in Guanajuato for over three weeks now and our conversation turned to the workshop that Liz would be doing later in the day (and is now at while I write this).

CameraWe’re working with Katie, who is the Director of a not-for-profit organisation in Guanajuato that works with people around the city to raise awareness of issues, develop positive relationships and generally help those people who are less fortunate than most. With Katie, we’re working with two groups of young people who’ve had a raw deal (and still are having a raw deal). Liz is now in La Venada, a poor district of the city which suffers from the ravages of poverty. She’s there teaching photography and developing a ‘photo-map’ and 3-D map of the area with both children and adults to explore some of the plusses and minuses of the place. In many ways there’s a strong community in La Venada but it’s a largely forgotten and misunderstood area of Guanajuato. A photo-map is a simple thing but it helps people to explore what they like, don’t like, want to change and develop ideas. Even in poor communities people have the right to aspirations and new skills. Liz is enjoying her visits to La Venada and we inevitable spend a lot of time talking about our two projects. Liz has La Venada, I have Buen Pastor Home for Girls.Lav1

IMG_BPastorsmall1I’m working (and laughing) with a group of young girls who during the week live in a church run home for girls, but each weekend have to return to their real homes to face poverty and sometimes abuse ranging from minor stuff to extremely major stuff. I’m working with the girls (and one lad) to teach them how to use photography to document and explore their lives at the home with the nuns, or Madres who look after them. They’ve also chosen to use photography and interviews to explore the world of street dogs and the people who do what they can to care for them.
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Every single child on the project has asked to take part and they come along to the workshops religiously. (Excuse the pun – entirely intended). They listen, they enjoy themselves and they concentrate on the projects in hand. They are dedicated to photography and to each other. Not one of them complains about their situation, or shows any sign of anger (to us) or goes around with a chip on their shoulders. These are children who deserve our time and are children who I’ve come to respect for their strength of character. I’ve also come to admire the Madres who look after them.
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There are few people who are more cynical about religion than me. (Religion as opposed to faith that is.) I find it too difficult to believe in a Divine power that seemingly sits back and allows so many atrocities of mankind to take place. No- religion is not for me thank you very much. However, just as man commits atrocities, man is also capable of incredible acts of kindness. I have only admiration and deep respect for nuns who look after the children at Buen Pastor. I’ve heard that God is all about love. I have no idea if that is true any more than I know if God exists at all, but what I do know is that the place in which I am working is overflowing with love. Love with a capital ‘L’. I have never heard a raised voice; I only hear laughter and reason bouncing around the thick walls of the old Colonial building. There’s calmness about the place. The streets of Guanajuato rattle with the sounds of barking dogs, busy traffic and difficult lives. When I step through the tall narrow double doors where these girls live and I hear the latch close behind me, calmness descends in a veil of tranquility. It is literally a safe haven from the outside world. I walk along open corridors to be greeted by the big, white smiles of the girls. I walk around a corner and find a Madre sitting on a stool as she combs the hair of a little girl and they both look up and say hello warmly. A couple of other girls run past and shout “pizza” at me. An in-joke from when I ordered one-too-many pizzas with them while out photographing the city with them. Then I see the psychologist and I’m reminded of what this place really is. It’s a happy place for girls with deep, deep scars. It’s a privilege to be trusted by them and I’ve become very fond of them. Both the girls and the Madres alike.
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For anyone who travels and would like to really get under the skin of a place while also doing something for someone else, take a look at www.dogoodasyougo.org

IMG_BPastorsmall5In the mid-sixteenth century, John Bradford was reputed to have uttered the words “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” His words were later popularised as “There but for the grace of God go I.” Well, maybe there’s some truth in that.

In the meantime, we’re also trying to prepare for the 2012 End of the World Maya Rally. We’re supposed to be taking part in the challenge-event from the 12th to the 21st December but things hang in the balance for us. Our four-wheel-drive Lada Niva only has two wheels at the moment and its questionable that we’ll get the parts in time to fix it before the start of the rally. However, we have good friends in Guanajuato and should we miss the rally, we’ll laugh in the face of adversity with Katie (aka Clancy), her boyfriend – Alex (aka The Doctor (‘cos he is)), and Beth (aka – Sweet Cheeks).
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Our good friend from England – Andy Patrick also arrives today or tomorrow to join us here and on the rally, should we make it. The Niva may not be well but things could be a lot worse.

Happy Birthday Liz. I hope you like the new wheel bearings and other spare parts that I got you!

Next time:
Elvis is in the building,
More doing good stuff; and,
The 2012 Maya Rally starts to warm up.

Reflections From Mexico

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:

HotelWhile 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.
John in the dunes

Indias 1Beyond 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. India's bike

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.
tire change

 boxes on bonnetAn 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.
Moon over Big Bend
camp in Big Bend

AraMonday 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.Spirit

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.
John and Spirit playing
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.

Next time:
• Its Mexico init,
• Something goes bang (repeatedly); and;
• No dogs allowed.

The Dirty 1300

Our preparations for this part of our trip down to Belize by way of the States and Mexico saw us meticulously planning every aspect of the journey south, not least the equipment we’d be needing along the way. Sand ladders, mosquito nets, hot weather sleeping bags and a tent with high ventilation properties. Everything needed for scorching deserts and tropical sun. Unfortunately, (as per the last blog) we still find ourselves freezing our ‘proverbials’ off at 12000 feet. It’s not even like we’ve been forced to do this, we’re doing this through choice! My mum recently asked how on earth she gave birth to a son like me. She hates the cold, hates ‘roughing it’ and loves her creature comforts. Conversely, I’d go as far as a dose of frostbite in pursuit of travel if circumstances called for it, as would Liz (lucky for me). As I understand it, the being born bit was all quite natural and run of the mill, however, the travel bit is proving to be rather challenging right now. I do like to think that where there is challenge there is reward though, however optimistic that might be.

We’re now just about coming to the end of what we now affectionately call the Dirty 1300; 1300 miles of dirt roads linking together as the Shadow of the Rockies Trail, and while its been hard its also been breath taking. Sometimes as a result of the cold admittedly but more often because of the stunning views and variation of landscape. If you have nothing better planned for a few weeks, we’d highly recommend it. The maps aren’t always too clear but that’s a part of the fun.

Lost

Since our last blog our toothpaste has continued to be frozen for large portions of the day and we’ve discovered that it is still possible to breath while encased in two sleeping bags, two blankets, a thermal top, fleece, balaclava, hood and down jacket. We’ve also discovered what a pain in the backside it is to encase yourself in such regalia to then realise you forgot to put the wash bag in one of the bear bags up the tree a hundred metres away to ensure that no large and furry mammals with big teeth and claws visit us in the night. We love the bears and have seen a few from a distance, I’m pleased to say, but we don’t want them in our tent. It’s a shame they like our food and toothpaste so much as well. It really is rather inconvenient having to hang anything edible or smelly up a tree every night. Everything from soap to chilli and the cloths we cook in go in the bags. Sometimes there’s more stuff up the trees than there is in the tent or car. One evening we were forced to employ the 12 tonne winch to get it all off the ground. (How much food do two people and a dog really need I have to ask myself.)

Bags in tree

The 1300 miles of dirt we’ve trundled along, kicking up great plumes of dust in our wake have taken us through some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever seen on our travels. It’s also taken us through some of the most remote and forgotten corners of the USA. We’ve seen the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans living far away from the cities, people tending dusty valleys, herding beef cows on high mountainsides and entire villages abandoned in the wake of recent economic hardships. We’ve been stunned at the number of homes, stores and farms which have so obviously been abandoned in the last few years. To see it is to realise how hard the USA has been hit by this recession. One day, today may well become known as the second age of ghost towns. Whoever wins the next Presidency has one hell of a job on their hands. For us though, the hardships have been different. Tincup Pass, high in the Colorado Mountains, covered in snow for eight months of the year proved to be one such challenge. At 12,140 feet it was once a hellish route for miners to get to a hellish mine. Today it’s a recreational route for hardcore 4×4’s and the route that the Shadow of the Rockies Trail proposed to take us. Prior to tackling the rock-strewn, single track climb we stocked up on food and petrol in Gunnison, some fifty miles to the east and set off for the pass with nervous anticipation of what lay ahead. You Tube had once again proved its worth as a research tool, McDonald’s had also once again proved its worth as a free wifi spot and car park in which to watch people’s home movies of the pass so we had a good idea of what the route was like. Simply put, it’s tough, very tough. Axle breaking boulders lie embedded in the road (using the word ‘road’ loosely there,) the climb is steep, muddy, snow covered in parts and rough enough to rattle the fillings from your mouth.

Tincup Pass

The first fifty miles to the quaint wooden village of Tincup were paved most of the way, then giving way to good and fast dirt. Turning left and skyward out of the village the road immediately becomes rutted and strewn with sharp rocks all the way to Mirror Lake; the point where sight-seers turn back and the 4×4’s with their high-lift modifications and knobbly tires begin to earn their keep. We stretched our legs at the alpine-blue lake and enjoyed the views along the valley. The kind of snow capped mountains, fir-trees, glistening waters and blue skies that sell glossy brochures were all around us. However, time was getting on and if we were to clear the pass before dark we needed to get going. The narrow and rough road hugs the left hand shore twenty metres above the blue water. Setting off we put the Niva into the low gearbox which gave us half the speed and twice the power. We bounced nervously over every boulder in the road but before long we were past the lake and looking to the higher reaches of the pass. See the (easy) stretch along Mirror Lake here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjsXlZ91BM8

As the road began to climb away from the lake Liz was out of the car and checking the ground clearance for me as I edged forward over the larger boulders. The Russian build quality of the Niva will easily take a challenge like Tincup in its stride mechanically, but with three hundred plus kilos of gear and our bodies within, it sits low on the suspension and we had chosen not to raise the clearance with a high lift kit before we’d left the UK. We had a couple of inches to spare at most over some of the boulders and we had only just begun.

The first half mile to the end of the lake took half an hour in itself and the bridging ladders that had lived on the roof of the Niva until now had already been used twice. We were doing ok. With the use of the ladders we were clearing the bigger rocks safely without risk of hitting the sump or axle but it was taking too long. Far too long. We decided to keep going, see how the road ahead shaped up but another two miles on and we knew that we were never going to complete the eighteen mile pass with time to spare before dark. Without a mobile phone and without the equipment to last a night at 12000 feet the only sensible choice was to turn back and accept that some things are better left alone when you have three hundred kilos of gear and our bodies inside a little car. We gave it a good go, sulked a bit in the cold on the side of the road and then drove back to Gunnison to come up with an alternative route.

Road to Cottonwood Pass

The alternative was Cottonwood Pass, a hundred feet lower than Tincup Pass but reached via a good dirt road with countless hairpin bends and everyone of them with a view for the front of a Christmas card. We stopped at the top, gasping for breath in a howling wind and attempted to take a posed photograph with John. Unfortunately John loves snow and always becomes totally barmy at the mere sight of it. He eats it, pees himself in it, rolls in it and most of all, attacks us in it with his overflowing excitement. He is unquestionably still just a puppy. With poor photographic results Liz comforted herself with cold pizza while I struggled to put something warmer on. Watch the struggle here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6lduhmPoOU&feature=channel&list=UL

Cottonwood Pass

Pizza

Now, having crossed the continental divide between the watershed of the Atlantic and Pacific we are winding our way ever south into New Mexico, Texas and lower elevations where we may just be able to sleep in the same way that normal people do, without the risk of self-suffocation and looking like a Halloween onion.

Featured in our next blog:

  • Its too hot,
  • New Mexico,
  • Tex-Mex, and quite possibly
  • Mexico

In the Shadow of the Rockies

Everything is frozen. The zips on the tent are locked solid, even the toothpaste is just a white iced lump in the tube. It really is rather cold. This is the Shadow Of The Rockies Trail in October, in Colorado. However, its been seriously cold at night ever since we were in Casper, Wyoming.

Casper became an impromptu destination for us when we decided we needed to have some mail sent out to us. Its only merits (for us) were that it had a post office and was roughly a sedate weeks drive away from where we currently were in South Dakota. Our post consisted of a couple of exchange-rate-free credit cards that hadn’t reached us in the UK before we left and a tick removal kit courtesy of the wonderful Anna Tuk Tuk Rowlands (Thanks lovely!). We also had a stack of maps on their way to us, which collectively laid out the route known as The Shadow of the Rockies Trail. We debated having our post sent to us by UPS but when the estimate came in at £60.00 (±$90.00US) we thought again. We took the slower but far cheaper option of using good old Royal Mail. They estimated 7 days for delivery. That’d do us nicely at £9.80 thank you very much. We spent a slow and relaxing seven days driving across Wyoming and the remainder of South Dakota and it was very nice too. The days blended into one another with uneventful rest, camping here and there and taking the dog for a walk in pastures new.

Seven days ticked by and then became nine and our £9.80 post would be waiting for us. We planned to swing by the US Post Office, run in, pick up the maps, credit cards and tick kit and put the peddle to the metal for Colorado. The maps were there, the credit cards and tick kit wasn’t. It was mid afternoon and after a quick chat we decided we’d drive up Casper Mountain, which can be seen from space apparently, so Wiki says, and find somewhere to camp. The little Niva gasped its way up the mountain in second gear and after an hour of driving past No Trespassing signs we stepped out into the rarified and freezing air and snow at a potential camping spot. The dog hardly had time to pee by the time we were back in the Niva and considering Plan B. It was bloody freezing.

Car in snow

We found ourselves back down the mountain in no time at all and searching for official campsites around the city. Every one of them was shut and it was getting dark. For the first time in exactly a month to the day we ended up getting into a hotel. That night Casper itself was gripped by plummeting temperatures and a couple of inches of snow. Perhaps the hotel was a bit of a blessing after all. The shower certainly was. We packed the Niva again, raced around to the Post Office the next morning, ran in, asked for our mail and left disappointed. Still no mail from the UK. On to Plan C. With only summer sleeping bags, a summer tent and a few warm blankets we went in search of a campsite again. At 4:00p.m. we checked into a second hotel. Not good. Lets face it, we didn’t need a second shower already! We spent the evening grumbling, watching NCIS in a hotel that looked oddly like the inside of a swimming pool with floor to ceiling tiles on every wall, inside and out. The grumbling was added to when number three toe came into swift contact with a desk leg in the hotel room, unintentionally I hasten to add.

Toe

The second morning arrived and we once again packed up, raced around to the Post Office and were about to ask for our mail but were stopped in our tracks. “Ah, Christopher Smith!” said the postman.
“Um, yes.” I said wondering what I’d done to either be remembered or watched out for. I scanned the walls but there weren’t any Wanted Posters around. “Yes, that’s me, do you have some good news for me?”
“Nope, there’s no mail for you here.” My face dropped and I cursed the previous customer. I’d paid his $1.50 postage for him because he didn’t have any change and the card machines were out of order due to the bad weather. He thought I was doing him a good deed but there was a part of me that did it in the hope that there was some Devine power who’d see my good deed and change my fate. “Just kidding,” he said, “here ya go.”
I felt like a little kid. My £9.80 post (plus $160.00 hotel bill) was here. “Brilliant! Do you need some I.D.?” I asked.
“No, you’re ok, its all yours.”
I skipped from the Post Office waving the little packet at Liz and John in the car, grinning with the car keys hot in my hands. We sped out of Casper like we’d just robbed the bank. Next stop The Shadow of the Rockies Trail.

The idea of doing the Shadow of the Rockies Trail began with a quiet suggestion from Liz. “I was talking to Andy & Maya and Andy P. before we left the UK and they said we should do some of the Trans America Trail. We’re going North South but we could do the Shadow of the Rockies Trail instead. It’s kind of the same thing, what do you think?”
I thought back to her last idea, to buy a tuk tuk in Peru and try to get it over the Andes from the Amazon to Nazca. That idea nearly got us and others killed and was an utterly stupid undertaking. “Shadow of the Rockies Trail? Never heard of it but why not!” I’m now shivering in the morning frost at 8000 feet with frozen toothpaste every morning.

Liz map reading

map close up

Gold and cliffsThe days are full of glorious sunshine, which takes the chill off the cold air. Everywhere we look the colours of the Rockies are super saturated, golden leaves against grey cliffs, red earth against blue skies. However, the nights are star filled and the temperature plummets to well below freezing. The three of us sleep fitfully in the tent as the cold comes in to join us. Half the hours of the night are spent lying awake, too cold to sleep, wanting the morning to come that little bit quicker. When morning does come our water and milk is frozen, and there’s no chance of a reviving cup of coffee. (Not least because the stove is knackered anyway.) But it’s all worth it. The scenery and solitude of the areas we’re finding ourselves in is breathtaking. The tiniest of dirt roads wind through the mountains. The roads don’t seem to go anywhere and then a turn off will go to an isolated ranch somewhere. We carry on our way and camp wherever and whenever we like. Sometimes we think we’re in the middle of nowhere, in a quiet spot that hasn’t been visited for years. The place is empty.

Toilet panarama

And then we discover something as unexpected as this………

Toilet

Evidently the hunters of the pronghorn deer in these parts like their comforts. Pussies.

For the vast majority of the time however, we really are in the middle of nowhere. Rounding a bend on a road just wide enough for the little Niva we were greeted by an outstanding view of Rockies which demanded that we pulled off the road and camped at the spot for three nights. We even managed to find a patch of ground that was free of the tinder dry grass of Colorado which allowed us to have a warming fire in the evenings without risk of setting the world on fire.

Camp fire

Frosty windowAt 8000 feet everything froze over night as usual but all was not lost. Fortuitously we had purchased a six pack of alcopops which remained ice free. 10:30a.m. might be just a little early to break into the hard stuff but Mike’s Hard Limeade was a savior while the world thawed around us.

Alcopops

Coffee beansUnfortunately the stove situation didn’t improve. Not so much because of the stove itself, which leaked gas at an alarming rate but more because of the coffee. We have now made a note to check that the coffee we are buying has been ground as grinding it ourselves isn’t a great option since we don’t have a grinder. We’ve now given up on the coffee, the stove and the idea of being warm for a while but the scenery makes up for everything, whether it be mountain, forest or lake. We are in a stunning part of the world, that’s for sure.

Dawn lake

Pee & Pinnacles

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Why is it that when you find yourself confined to a small space with no possibility of escape do you immediately need to pee? In this case, confined to a tent by a couple of hundred buffalo. We’d been camping in a remote part of the Badlands National Park for a few days and seen the herds of buffalo grazing the plains with methodical progress around the park. They’re such beautiful creatures (kind of) from afar. Up close and personal they are, quite frankly, sodding intimidating.

Diffused sunlight began to warm the tent on this particular morning. I lazily opened one eye to see two big brown eyes staring back at me. John had been awake for a while it seemed. I lifted my head slightly to look over the top of him and saw Liz’s brown eyes also staring back at me. She too had been awake for a while. I heard a distinct low bellow, a kind of powerful audible rumble and looked at both Liz and John again but it didn’t seem to be their normal dawn chorus, if you know what I mean. Then I heard it again and realised it came from outside and I immediately knew it was the buffalo who had come to visit. In fact, they were right out side. A very large and distinct shadow moved over the tent and a guy rope went twang. Liz’s eyes widened. I needed to pee.

I once read somewhere that animals see things such as tents as solid objects, they don’t realise that there may be something inside. An optimist may, well have written that theory, but I chose to put some stock in it anyway. (I’ve also heard that pepper spray and bells are a good deterrent against bear attack. I hear bear shit always smells of pepper and is full of bells too.) Shadows continued to move across the skin of the tent, slowly, methodically. It was mesmerising and surreal, and as we got more used to watching them go this way and that it became enthralling. As long as we stayed put they would just do what they do and we could get the kettle on once they moved off, we just needed to play the waiting game. The psychological effect of having to sit it out was not doing my bladder any favours though. 

Two and a half hours later the shadows had moved away and the low bellows of huge male buffalos sounded more distant and, well, safe. I unzipped the tent door, did a quick recce of the area and sprinted for a toilet called the South Dakota prairie. The buffalo were a good hundred metres away. A few of them paused from their grazing to see what I was up to. I was past caring.

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They stayed within a reasonable distance of us for the rest of the morning and we spent and hour watching them over breakfast. We’d lost a couple of guy ropes off the tent and a rather inconsiderate buffalo had, unlike me, not waited to go to the toilet and left a very large, steaming ‘message’ six feet from the door.

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We’d been in the Badlands for a few days and had just moved from the Northern Park to the South Park. The majority of visitors only go to the Northern Park, and for good reason too. Its more accessible and the views are stunning. Pinnacles of cream, rust and sulphur yellow reach for the blue skies as an impenetrable wall of beauty. We had chosen the Badlands as our first goal in the USA. We hadn’t been before and the name alone suggested that it had to be seen. We weren’t disappointed. However, our National Parks Guide Book (thanks Mum) suggested that the South Park should not be missed too, although four-wheel-drive was recommended. The South is very different. Mile upon mile of shimmering, undulating prairie which then gives way to what looks like oceans of grey and cream ash interrupted by sharp fingers of rock which rise up as canyons and buttes. Deciding to leave the buffalo to their own devises and hoping that they’d respect our tent we went off in search of Sheep Table Mountain, the highest point in the park and an 18-mile drive away by dirt road. The road was good all the way aside from the usual corrugations that try to shake every bolt loose from every vehicle that passes by. We soon reached the bottom of the mountain and drove for another mile or so up a narrow canyon and out onto the flat top of the mountain itself. The views were as spectacular as anywhere in the park. Pinnacles, peaks, lakes of ash of every colour and pine trees clinging to precipitous ledges wherever there was a foothold, and there weren’t many footholds around. A geologist’s tour joined us at the lookout for a few minutes. Seven people jumped out looking a little tired but still with cameras in hand, ignored the view, photographed the dog and the car and drove off again back down the mountain the way they had come.

A sign beside the lookout said “Four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles only beyond this point.” It sounded like an invitation so off we set. Before flying ourselves and Niva out the USA I had spent a good deal of time learning all about serious off-road driving techniques by way of watching You Tube. Now the school of You Tube was going to be put to the test. Two wheel ruts reached out into the distance over a sand plain of sage bushes. The wind had eroded the loosened soil so that an impromptu channel had been cut into the skin of the mountain top. I locked the diffs and put the gearbox into low range, we drove into the channel with four-foot walls of sand on either side of us. The bed of the track was initially flat and steady but after four hundred metres the left rut began to get deeper and the right hand rut began to get higher. The tipping point of a Lada Niva is 43 degrees but I can’t remember if that is front to back or side to side. It was getting precarious either way. There was no possibility of turning around and the loose sand meant that reversing was next to impossible. I looked at Liz who was sitting a couple of feet height up than I was and she didn’t look happy. Her lack of happiness was confirmed when she uttered the words “I want to get out!” I thought about mentioning that she was acting as good ballast but didn’t feel that referring to her as ballast would be good for our long-term relationship so I pulled to a stop and she literally climbed out. John somehow remained asleep in the back and together we set off down the mini-gorge wandering how the over-sized four-wheel-drive American pick-ups could get down here. Given that there were no other tire tracks it was a safe assumption that they didn’t try it. Remembering my You Tube training I kept the Niva true and steady and another four hundred metres on John and I emerged as conquering heroes. Well, I did, John snored lightly in contented bliss. I waited for Liz to catch up and off we set again.

The road carried on for another two miles and Liz got out another three times, once even with the dog but with every obstacle my confidence in the Nava increased. Nothing that we faced seemed to be a great challenge for it. Many jokes have been made about Ladas over the years and most of them justified. For example:

 

  • A man goes into a service-station and asks 

“Can I have a windscreen-wiper for my Lada?”

    “Okay” replied the man in the garage, “it seems a fair swap“.

 

  • What’s the difference between a Jehovah’s Witness and a Lada?

    You can shut the door on a Jehovah’s Witness.

 

  • How do you avoid speeding tickets?

    Buy a Lada.

However, the challenge of Sheep Table Mountain left me in no doubt that while our little Niva might rattle, crawl up the hills in second gear and 70mph is an aspiration, increasingly as we take it off the black stuff and into the outback it comes into its own.

Sheep Table Mountain was a treasure of the park and we had most of it to ourselves. When John woke up we took him for a run well away from the cliffs and with not a sheep in sight he ran and ran and ran. At least until he froze to the spot some forty metres from us, he was looking at the ground intently, not sniffing it, just looking at it. He lifted one leg and then tried to lift two simultaneously, putting one down again gingerly when he’d loose his balance. He looked to us, looked to the ground and tried to stand on just two legs at opposite corners again. And then we realised the problem and I went trotting over to scoop him up into my arms. He’d run into a patch of ground covering thistle-like plants. The poor little chap looked utterly helpless and while our parental instincts came charging out to save him, we still had a good laugh at him anyway. 

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We left the Badlands with a sense of privilege at what we’d seen and a thought for the people who had tried to make this their home as America was being populated. They were always going to be doomed to starvation. Still, at least the view was nice. 

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From the Badlands we drove due west to the Black hills and persuaded Jerry to open up the Wolf Camp for us. He said that all the campsites were closed for the winter now and it was time to go trout fishing. We told him we knew, his was the fourth place we’d tried and I think that persuaded him to take pity on us. We needed a shower and an internet connection, (particularly the shower); otherwise we’d have just wild camped as usual. He lay down a strict list of does and don’ts but went about it nicely. “Don’t let the dog off the leash in the camp or my wolves’ll get a sniff of him and it’ll send’em wild in the pen.” “Don’t wander around too much tomorrow night, especially with the dog. I’ve got a guy coming to hunt deer and he’s paying good money.” 

Jerry was a nice guy and we spent the evening with him, his wife Cindy (or Killer Cindy as she was known from her internet password) and the staff at the camp who were all spending their last night together with an open bar barbeque before going their separate ways. We ate some humongous sausages and burgers while people argued about the pro’s and con’s of government handouts (with passion) and Jerry talked about stripping off and flailing himself with sage sprigs like the Lakota do. His spirit animal was the wolf, which is why he kept five of them locked up in a cage apparently. Go figure as the say. That said, he was a man with a big heart who opened his home up to us and we were grateful.

True to his word, the following day we returned to Wolf Camp to find a man up as tree fifteen metres from our tent with a large crossbow in his lap, just like the ones we’d seen in Wal Mart. He wore full camouflage and didn’t even twitch when we all looked in his direction and waved. WE spent the night wandering what or who would be dying tonight but woke to find him gone and no traces of blood in the area. Either he was very good or very bad. 

Spearfish and Devils Tower were our next stops. Having had a couple of showers and looking much better we found a secluded corner of a large forest and made it our own. We followed a forest track for several miles until it was blocked by a fallen tree and decided it was as good a place to camp as any, so we did. Three days of seclusion were enjoyed in the middle of nowhere once again. John particularly enjoyed foraging for body parts and bringing them to us for our inspection. A mule deer scull and antlers were a particularly pleasing addition to the hood of the Niva. Devils Tower was however viewed through a low freezing misted rain. We took a single photograph from over the top of the bins of the Devils Tower Trading Store and drove on for more adventure.

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Our next update will include such topics as:

  • You have mail.
  • This little piggy went to market.
  • The cold sets in, and;
  • In the Shadow of the Rockies.