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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chihuahua and Copper Canyon

Well, I convinced Ashley and Jarret from the crew to put off their flights home and come to Mexico with me when work finished up. So this tuesday our crew parted ways in El Paso, and three of us headed south. El Paso is a wasteland of chain stores and freeways, much like LA but without the grace of trees. You can walk across the border from downtown. It starts to look like Mexico before you actually cross - all the signs in the stores are in spanish, and all the people stop to stare at you with your white skin and big pack. There's a forbidding looking concrete bridge over the Rio Grande, a sad muddy trickle no more than six feet wide, with political graffiti on its concrete banks. So this is one of the mighty rivers of America. Men in fatigues with machine guns on the other side just wave us past to the touristy main street of Ciudad Juarez. There are tons of pharmacys, doctors and dentists there for those who cannot afford such things in the States, intermingled with bars, strip joints and kitshy shops. But it took us more than half an hour of wandering around and not understanding directions in rapid spanish to find an immigration office and get our passports stamped. We got some pesos and took a taxi to the bus station as soon as possible.

Our taxi driver Arturo turned out to be quite the resource. He had run a mechanic's shop in San Diego for ten years, and had a daughter who was a citizen, but returned to Mexico in order to finally get the proper papers. He had been building a taxi business in Juarez and trying to get together enough money to get his papers through. Mexico, he said, was hopeless. The men with machine guns at the border were actually from the Mexican army. Like in Tijuana, the army had come in and disbanded a hopelessly corrupt police force, but was having little success in combating the drug cartels. Arturo's favorite restauraunt had been bombed the day before for failing to pay protection money, he said. We took a bus out of Juarez in another hour, heading for the relative safety of Chihuahua.

We rode a cushy airconditioned bus for five hours, through a sweeping desert of blonde grass with dark mountains rising like islands above it. In Chihuahua, we couchsurfed with three uproarious bachelors that Ashley contacted for us with her couchsurfing account. Koko, Polo, and Gusano, as they called themselves, were a photographer, a professor, and a radio show host respectively. They had opted out of the traditional early marriage and were having a great time sharing a house and hosting lots of travelers. Their house was a simple affair, with smooth brick floors, basic furniture, mattresses on the floor for us, and a few pictures of scantilly clad women. We had a great time with them, drinking and joking and playing puzzle games and taking silly pictures for two nights. It was hard to leave, but Chihuahua itself has little more to offer than a few shady plazas in front of old churches. Gusano said goodbye to us on the radio before we took the bus west into the mountains.

The last four days I've been in a cute little town called Creel, exploring Copper Canyon country. It's been fun meeting travelers at the hostel here. We've adopted Priska, a beautiful swiss ski instructor into our trio, and managed to drag various other travelers out to the bar and riding around on rented mountain bikes with us. Last night we got together a crew of seven to go camp at a hotsprings in the bottom of one of the canyons. We rented bikes and rode the twenty two kilometers out of town with packs. At the bottom, Priska and I were last and we caught a ride with a truckload of raucious police for the last stretch. Ended up having an uproarious evening drinking and joking and singing songs with them in the many hottubs by the river. I had convinced one of the guys who had a bike rack to jerry rig my guitar to the back of his bike and bring it down (yes, I brought the guitar. It was easier than trying to mail it home, and now I'm glad). As soon as I brought it out, all the various groups of people in the tubs were shouting me over and asking for songs and singing along. I met everyone! After sunset fireflies came out above the river, and the hills around us were covered in little blue points of light that turned out to be caterpillars with luminescent eyes. It was lovely.

Tomorrow, I'm headed into the canyon again with Jarret. Ashley twisted her ankle pretty badly a couple days ago and can't come backpacking with us. She was really sad about it until we realized that it just meant she would have to go hang out on the beach with Priska in Mazatlan for a few extra days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Texas (aka - one month living out of a barn)

West Texas was absolutely stunning. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a steep reef of limestone cliffs and canyons that towers over the northern Chihuahuan desert, to the northeast of El Paso. It is surprisingly lush - green grasses intermixed with chaparral, spiny agaves and cactus. Green even in September! There were many maples and oaks in the canyon bottoms, and a sparse forest of juniper and pine at higher elevations.

My trail crew spent four weeks camped in a meadow at the bottom of Dog Canyon. We had the use of part of a barn, with refrigerators, electricity and running water. I felt like I was swimming in luxury after doing the backcountry crew in Idaho, where we had no fresh food and all our water had to be carried half a mile uphill. The stars out there just overwhelm the sky, and there were dozens of deer that came down to our meadow in the evenings (we tried to get some of the bucks to stop fighting each other and take on Salas, with an improvised rack of antlers made of tools, to no avail). Everyone on the crew was great in their own way. We had a lot of fun together! . Our trail project turned out to be in a wilderness area, so I didn't get to use anything cool like dynamite, but we did have an awesome three mile hike up the canyon and out onto a ridge to get to work every day. Thanks to hiking six miles a day and moving so many boulders to make stone steps I'm in the best shape I've been in in years. That's why I love trail crew!