Highlights from our trip to Cuba in January 2017
For years now in all those where to live conversations, Steve’s constant refrain is, “I want to be able to do stuff right out my door.”
Way back when before New Zealand, before winery work, when we were just hatching out of Kentucky our plan was to find and settle in a place that had climbing, skiing, trail running and biking close by, really close by if possible.
Now we have all that and more within a short drive or no drive at all.
We are enjoying the bounty, climbing one day, biking another, skiing on the first day of summer. With us though, that is not where the story ends. We are completely overwhelmed trying to find time for it all.
Did I mention we have three-day weekends? We were lucky to land jobs that have us working through the weekend leaving us to play mid-week. We love the idea that we have fewer folks to share the trails and cliffs with but this is Central Oregon everyone is out all the time.
Lately we’ve managed to fit in climbing, skiing, running and some form of biking into those three days. We want to sign up for a couple trail races this fall but that would require us to run more than once or twice a week which might mean we would have to not do something else one of those days. Ahhhhhhh TWEAKED!
I’m counting on Mother Nature to bail me out of this one. The temps are rising and the snow is melting. This should take climbing and skiing out of the weekly rotation. Of course that opens up the potential for peak bagging. And what about a SUP (stand-up paddle board)? Those look fun.
“You going down to the canyon? asked the guy walking into the parking lot. He had come from the Boquillas Canyon Trail, the same one we were about to check out.
“Yeah” I responded with a nod.
“Be sure to look for Victor,” said the man, “he’ll sing you a song.”
Not the typical pre-hike conversation I was used to having with someone coming off a trail. “The trail is nice”, “The view is worth it”, “The climb out is tough” were more common pre-hike exchanges you have with fellow hiking strangers. But Victor? Singing? What were we getting into?
Christmas carols blared outside of lawn & garden as we drifted to sleep in a parking lot on the edge of Fort Stockton. It seems that Big Bend National Park is way down in West Texas. Way down. A bit out of our way and right on the way to Kentucky all at the same time. It was a park Jill had visited before and one I had not. One we opted not to visit on our road trip in ’09 because I wanted to get to a destination where we could climb. A park that made perfect sense to visit this time out. It was December and the daytime temps were warm, it also put off getting home. We’d awake the next morning and drive on down for a few nights of National Park fun on the border.
Through miles and miles of rolling hills and Texas scrub we came to the park entrance, only 46 more miles to Rio Grande Village. The rolling hills gave way to the Chisos Mountains, the scrub continued. We quickly settled on a campsite, this being off season we had our pick of the litter, and headed out for a little hike to the mouth of Boquillas Canyon. Easy. One point four miles round trip. Let the hustle begin.
“We’ll check that out!” I hesitantly responded to the guy in the trailhead parking lot.
We had read about the trinkets that the people of Boquillas made to sell to the tourists. It was illegal to buy directly from them, instead you could legally purchase them in the park’s visitor’s centers. For a marked up price of course. You see Boquillas was a small village on the south side of the Rio Grande River. The Mexican side of the river that separates the first world from the third world along Texas’ winding border with Mexico. Back in the day you could pay a fare and take a boat to Boquillas to buy a bite to eat, cervezas and trinkets. If the river was cooperating you could also wade. That is what Jill did back in 1994, lucky duck.
Then came the attacks of September 11th, the lock down of our Nation’s borders, the and the end of tourism as Boquillas knew it. With no official border crossing in the park, the nearest one 50 plus miles away, a visit to Big Bend National Park changed. Gone was the carefree day trips to Mexican border towns like Santa Elena or Boquillas and here to stay was the presence of the US Border Patrol.
We followed the trail out to the parking lot and quickly climbed to the top of a low hill with dramatic views of the twisting Rio Grande and sweeping canyon walls. And there it was by the trail, the hustle. A small pile of trinkets and walking sticks complete with a price list and payment can. Really? Right here? Huh? It wasn’t a sight I thought I’d see. All the park propaganda warned of purchasing crafts off of Mexican residents, not from a trail side flea market stall. OK it wasn’t that bad, more interesting than anything. Instead of direct sales it was more on the honor system. Slide over and leave your wares at the busy tourist spots in this popular border park and come back later to collect the profits. It only got more interesting.
Remember that guy we met in the parking lot? Something about Victor and a song? As soon as we reached the edge of the river and turned downstream toward the entrance to the canyon it started. The sound of the rippling river was interrupted by the distinct sounds of song. Mariachi? Tejano? Whatever it was it didn’t matter, somewhere out there in the Texas or Mexican river grass was a guy singing to us. We stumbled onto Victor’s collection cup soon there after.
Amigos! Amigos! I’ll sing you a song. Never mind he already had, Victor was channeling a carnival barker to drum up a donation for more singing. Sitting on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande with his amigo, he would wait for his audience. Binoculars insured he earned his wages and made sure they didn’t walk off. Its how he made his living, or so he said. We continued on down river to the end of the trail. Sand stacked up to make a large dune against US side of the canyon, sheer limestone walls rose up out of the river on the Mexican side. It was beautiful. But unlike other National Parks where the hustle was contained to the man made villages of commerce catering to the tourists, this place had it out on the trails too. We started back up the hill to the parking lot and were met by border patrol agent.
“Did Victor sing you a song?” asked the agent.
“Yeah” we chuckled, “it was something.”
“He used to ferry people back and forth to Boquills by boat.” the agent informed us, “Singing along the way.”
We chatted with the agent a bit longer and were on our way back over the low hill to our van. The setting was ideallic outdoors, but my mind was transfixed on Victor, Boquillas and life on the border.
We bottomed out in California. Soon after harvest Jill and I found ourselves at the lowest point we’ve ever been since starting our travels back in the fall of 2008, Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point North America. For a couple who like to climb up high and look around it wasn’t exactly tops on our list of places to visit.
As it turns out, a place with death in the name is quite an attraction, well worth a look. From 11,000 foot peaks, sand dunes and canyons the park has plenty to see and do. While not as spectacular a desert setting as Southern Utah or Red Rocks Canyon in Nevada, the park is special in its own right. A place of extremes, from elevation to temperature, Death Valley National Park is another shining example of Mother Nature’s sense irony.
During our stay we soaked in the dramatic landscape, experienced the rare occurrence of rain (of course we did) and hit the lowest point in our travels. You see, every journey is filled with highs and lows. We just prefer to measure ours in the physical sense.
On my summer vacation I was stungrayed! I realize this is not a word but how else do you explain being stung by a stingray? Thus stungrayed.
Somewhere in the mayhem that was August with visits to family and friends in KY and gearing up for a temp move to California, Steve and I squeezed in a proper family vacation with our adorable niece and nephew and their parents. Our little gathering took place on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. Bald Head is not a typical gypsy destination however it proved to be a great place for a vacation with toddlers. With sand & surf a hundred yards from our door, a golf cart to cruise around the car free island on, and nearby pools and ice cream shops for back up, it was an easy week for us kids both young and not so young.
Easy, except for the part about how I came to be stungrayed. First morning at the beach everything was going great: Luke & Sara building sand castles with Steve, the parents shooed off for some walk on the beach time, then there is me deciding the warm waters of the Atlantic are nice enough to overcome my vague unease with being in the ocean and off I go for a little splash around.
Next up a sudden jolt of searing pain in my foot followed by the thought, “that hurt but it wasn’t a shark,” followed by me looking around for a shark anyway cause ya know your supposed to punch them, split second later there was a high step sprint to shore. I pull up at the water’s edge to see a small bleeding cut on my foot. I motion my usually helpful husband over who glances at it and for the next half hour tells me, “you must have cut it on a shell, what else could it be? “ He feels bad about this now but of course he’ll never live it down.
After sitting on the beach and talking myself out of a panic attack, I head in for some ice. You put ice on everything right? It continued to HURT so we soon carted off to the island first aid station located in the firehouse. They knew instantly that I was stungrayed and filled up a plastic tub of hot water for me to soak my foot in – this is the standard treatment. They also checked for a barb – luckily there was no sign of anything still in my foot. Back to the house, I had the rare experience of riding in a golf cart with my foot in a tub of water. A couple hours of soaking and the pain vanished. A week later my MD pals in Denver talked me into a tetnus booster. And now nearly three weeks later I have a swollen, red foot and my first week in CA included arguing with a doc about my need for antibiotics. I won.
The rest of the week on Bald Head was perfect. Steve and I kayaked in the swamp- sounds strange but really pleasant. We took a sailing lesson that turned out to be way more hands on than we expected. Learn to sail is on my list right below learn to avoid seasickness.
Best of all we had a wonderful time catching up with family and enjoying heaps of good food and wine. Ten months or so had passed since we had seen our niece and nephew. They’re growing up quickly for sure but still they wear well the same adorable personalities we’ve known all along. Sarah Clare ruled us all like the powerful princess she is. Luke put forth a surprisingly thoughtful argument of why he should go in the van with Bro-Jill to California.
Someday, Luke, someday.
Upon hearing of my stungray status Eric forwarded me this stringray cartoon. Steve now quotes it to me.