While packing my Gorilla-taped travel bag recently (DEET? Check. Yellow fever inoculation card? Check. Imodium? Check.), I got to thinking about the nature of travel in the sociological context of the Mountain Time Zone.
One of the biggest differences between the two places between which I have been splitting my time of late — the Roaring Fork Valley and New Mexico’s Gila Country — centers upon how people view “vacations.” In the heart of the Rockies, “adventure travel” reigns supreme, while down in the Land of Enchantment, folks seem perfectly satisfied taking trips decidedly lacking in adrenaline output, unless, of course, that output comes out of the blue, unplanned, which, now that I think about it, is pretty much the definition of “adventure” — like, fairly recently, when one of my buddies was driving to San Diego for some languid beach-hanging and found himself instead facing a judge in a dedicated federal drug court in Phoenix. Now that’s adventure!
High Country folks tend to transfer the things they ordinarily do in the Rockies — backpacking, skiing, mountain biking, paddling, jumping off cliffs with little-bitty parachutes, whatever — to their vacation venues. Plenty are the mountain dwellers who, after a long ski season, just as the snow’s finally melting and the flowers are starting to poke their heads through the still-cold earth, pack up their downhill equipment and head to New Zealand or Chile for some, yes, skiing. More commonly, you’ll have veritable convoys of green license plates heading west toward Moab, not to sit in the sun and read, but to interface intensely with 200 miles of gnarly singletrack. For those people, if you arrive back home with anything less than 40 stitches and limbs covered with abrasions, you did not get your money’s worth. Worse — you are a wuss.
On those rare occasions that my family took vacations when I was a kid, there was a decided lack of abrasion-seeking. The plan was always to rent a house on the beach for two weeks and basically hang out and chill. Sure, there was some fishing and a whole lot of frolicking in the surf, but that was about it on the action front. My parents were of the opinion that a bit of relaxation went a long way. And thus it was with most of America in those days.
When I was old enough to start planning and executing my own forays away from home and hearth, they generally took the form of multi-month bike-touring or backpacking trips, or journeys to Third-World cesspools to seek out wildlife and wild spots, or long, willy-nilly road trips to points generally unknown, which often included tense crossings of international borders with illicit substances hidden in the trunk.
Couple years ago, my wife and I bought round-trip tickets to, of all polished places, Cabo San Lucas, a place that, even in the context of Mexico these days, is so civilized as to scarcely rate even a cursory mention in a column. (I decided upon that destination at least partially to compare and contrast how it had changed since my last visit, almost 40 years prior.) We rented a car (the smallest/cheapest available, literally a Chevy “Chevy,” which I guess added a smidgen of potential adventure to the equation, for, if we had hit anything larger than a squirrel, airbags would have been deployed, (except that I don’t think the vehicle sported airbags) and proceeded to drive, basically, from one remarkably coiffed town to another, where, while in those civilized places, we basically didn’t do shit. The most adventuresome thing on our agenda was not making hotel reservations in advance. Woo-hoo! Ain’t we wild!
We drove around southern Baja, spent a lot of time lollygagging in the Sea of Cortez, had some decent meals, drank a fair number of beers, went to bed early and returned to the States refreshed and relaxed. It was indeed a very weird experience for a couple that, literally on its first international trip together, found itself ass-deep in the Nicaraguan Contra war in 1984, something that made my soon-to-be father-in-law real happy.
Well, OK, there was that one incident with the cow with the trash can on its head. We were sitting in a faux-thatched-hut outdoor bar in Barrilles and, while we drank, a cow with very long, sharp horns ambled down the main drag, something that caught the attention of the reveling patrons for about seven seconds, like, “Hey, we don’t see that back home!” Then it was back to the NFL game, which was being broadcast on a new big-screen TV.
On our 10-minute walk back to the hotel room, which, truth be told, was a bit on the wobbly side, we looked ahead and saw that same cow standing in the street. But something was sorely amiss. There were several local curs barking at it and nipping at its ankles. And the cow looked to be wearing a top hat. Turns out that the damned cow had a metal trash can stuck to its head! It must have poked its nose in the can looking for who knows what and, because of its long, sharp horns, when it lifted its head, the can came with it. The poor bovine was extremely agitated, swinging its noggin around violently trying to dislodge the trash can.
By the time we got close to the cow, several local residents had come forth to see what was causing all the commotion. “We’ve got to help the poor thing,” my wife slurred. “What do you mean ‘we’?” I responded, knowing exactly who “we” was. So, like a moron, and against the fervent advice of the locals gathered there, I slowly made my way up to the bow of the cow. Though it was blinded by the trash can, it obviously sensed my presence, because it started to swing its head even more violently. “Don’t do it!” one man yelled, likely in full expectation of having to apply first-aid to a gored gringo lying bleeding profusely in the street. But I proceeded anyhow. I timed my grab between the head swings, those massive, sharp horns zipping right in front of my face, latched onto one of the trash can handles and, with one desperate pull, removed the can from the poor creature’s noggin.
The agitated cow snorted, pawed the dirt road, shook its sharp-horn-adorned head a few times and started toward me, fire in its eyes, apparently too dumb to realize I had been its savior. I was thinking now would be a perfect time to have a bullfighting cape. Maybe even a matador buddy standing right there. The only thing I had standing right there was my wife and numerous locals who, judging by their expressions, were thinking how lucky they were to have such a wonderful form of entertainment pretty much fall out of the sky on an otherwise quiet night.
Then the aforementioned curs started barking again and nipping at the cow’s ankles and the cow responded by running up a side street, trying mightily to shish-kabob a canine. And, just like that, it was over. The locals returned to their homes, and we continued our zigzag stroll back to the hotel.
Besides that, about the only other notable thing that happened during our two weeks in Baja was getting kept awake while staying at the famed Hotel California in Todos Santos by the loudest all-night town party in Mexican history (which, believe me, is saying a mouthful), which had been organized to celebrate the feast day of Saint Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians (mostly, we came to learn, bad musicians). And, oh yeah, another night, I ate a large order of the most-piquant jalapeño poppers served up EVER. A fairly noteworthy digestive adventure promptly ensued.
And that was it. No leeches, no communicable diseases, no machine-gun fire off in the distance, no dangling by my fingernails above a precipice, not even any minor scrapes. I felt a little guilty and a little lame, like maybe age is catching up to me more than I thought. But it was OK. Next time, though, I’m going to a place where the plumbing does not work, where there are snakes and tourist-hating guerrillas and 19 types of poisonous biting bugs and guaranteed sweat and bruises and contusions and a populace that speaks some language called Zzjjyibi.
Contributing editor M. John Fayhee leaves soon for a trip to the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. That’s more like it.