In Laos, a tiny country bordering five countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China, there are primarily Buddhists, heavily influenced by Animism and Hinduism. There they blindfold a cow before butchering it because the butcher does not want to be recognized later when the cow is reincarnated. I watched it many years ago from a far enough distance that I could not see anything while drinking Lao Lao – their age-old equivalent of whisky — and waiting for our Baci — ceremony of the souls — to begin. The Bhagavad Gita. The Hindu equivalent of the Jewish Torah says:
“When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in furtive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.”
I pondered this during our day in the Grand Canyon in Arizona as we got off the tour bus and headed for a much-needed almost freezing beer in the touristy area of the south rim. If I play this right, I thought, and somehow through hard work I can go beyond the “mode of goodness” to something even greater, I could come back as a chipmunk in a United States National Park! I meditated on this over a Fat Tire watching throngs of well intentioned kids and adults feed the chipmunks everything from peanuts to ice cream. There was my master theological plan — my spiritual quest. Those tiny fat mammals looked so happy. This, I thought, this was as close as you can get to enlightenment on this earth and the higher planets beyond – these Grand Canyon National Park chipmunks.
Many hours and degrees Fahrenheit before we started our day at the trailhead by Mather Point, our pack consisted of a gallon of water, some Soppressata, some Boursin cheese, a jar of local pickles, shelled sun flower seeds, Wasa flat bread, and a bottle of an Italian red we found. Oh, and of course, we carried a can of Underwood deviled ham spread that my travel companion looked at with disdain.
The pack was rather heavy and we made our way along the perimeter of the canyon along our 15-mile hike we planned that day. This is a leisurely hike with no elevation, and 15 miles to trained athletes, such as us, is of trivial consequence. Well prepared, we moved on.
After 45 minutes and a majority of our water depleted, we decided on a travel team meeting. Arguments for each side ensued with flailing of hands and a lot of gnashing of teeth. Finally, the meeting came to a vote. We elected an 8 mile hike to the end of Hermit’s Rest, picnic there, and then ride the air conditioned tour-bus back to South Rim and the ice cold beer already mentioned.
The view was spectacular, and I enjoyed it while developing swamp crotch – a condition not native to California where I grew up and acclimated over fifty years.
We reached the end of the trail and found a shaded private overlook to gaze at this incredible geological accomplishment while making Wasa flat bread sandwiches of gouda cheese, Italian cured meat, really good pickles and for some of us, canned deviled ham. There was absolutely no way in the vast reaches of the fiery netherworld, where good chipmunks never go, that we were going to open that bottle of wine. We were too exhausted and too dehydrated. Readers who know me will understand the severity of conditions when I say I didn’t open the wine.
We took the bus back to El Tovar hotel built in 1905. It was built by architects to be a cross of a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian villa in an effort to take the traveler’s mind beyond the hundred degree heat. Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, and President Clinton stayed at this hotel. I do not pretend to assume Einstein’s love for a dry long arduous desert hike, but knowing the others, I’ll wager Teddy alone made the same trip as we did on foot before drinking cold beer and margaritas as we did on the veranda of this wonderful hotel.
Although a bit touristy at the south rim with its car access and lodging, the park is still dangerous and should respected. Some 685 people have died at the park since it’s been open. It’s no surprise that being young and male is a significant risk factor here. Of the 55 who have fallen off the south rim, 39 were male, eight of them hopping from rock to rock posing for pictures including a 38-year-old father from Texas who was pretending to scare his daughter and then really did fall 400 feet.
My travel companion and I see nothing of the sort but we did miss the commotion the following day. This is an excerpt from the U.S. government website.
“On Wednesday, July 16 sometime between 2:30-3 p.m., MST, a bat landed on a visitor while she was standing in front of the Tusayan Museum, [..] within Grand Canyon National Park. The bat crawled on the visitor’s shorts, shirt, and leg for at least 10 minutes. A crowd gathered around the bat to take pictures. This bat was later captured and euthanized and tested positive for rabies on July 19. The identity of the individual is unknown at this time.”
Overlooking the vastness of space, we decided on a slightly more civilized course of seeing the rest of the canyon. We opted for an Eco-Star EC-130.
I notice getting into our Eco-Star that my travel companion was getting prolonged attention for her safety. This was a good outfit I decide and unlike Belize, I make no effort to inspect the gas gauge.
I caught this photo of my travel companion staring at the pilot. I’m perplexed at this as I thought he was a bit out of shape. It is true that he was wearing a uniform. It’s also true that he can fly a helicopter, but that can’t be too hard. Yes, he did have a good microphone to headset voice. Still, I wonder at her missing this incredible aerial view of one of the wonders of the world, and I decide to keep a close eye on both of them.
That night, exhausted and after our eight-quarter-eight-minute public showers, we stop at the grocery store near camp and found some frozen fish parts, bread, wine, and other ingredients. I cut the onions, garlic, chili peppers, and vegetables and cook them until soft on the bottom of my cast iron named Betsy. I put in a bottle of wine, a can of crushed tomatoes, some water, what’s left of our cilantro, and let it slow boil for an hour while we talked and drank. Then, I put the fish in and let it simmer for another half hour with salt and pepper. The cioppino was perfect and we dipped our French baguette into the broth and ate the crab and fish until gone while enjoying the stars and replaying our day.
The following day, we pack up our stylish convertible Mini Cooper and head for California. This was our longest stretch between camps and even so we decide to take a long stretch of original Route 66 at Seligam, Arizona.
This tiny town gets three to five tour busses a day and we stop at this souvenir shop/café called the RoadRunner where ironically we had one of our best meals on the road.
Past Seligam and now on the old two-lane highway with decaying buildings and ghost towns, we traveled for a few hours to Kingman, close to the California border. Once in California, the state that borders the Pacific Ocean, we experience our highest temperature reaching 114 degrees in some places. We were glad for the convertible top being up and our air-conditioning on.
Temperatures dropped 50 degrees between Victorville, California (where we were glad to simply drive through without stopping) and Santa Barbara where we turn north and make for San Francisco after spending a few nights with my mother, whom I must mention or she will disown me, and reach Moss Beach, our final campsite and home.