photos – Emma Lake

Of the 10 years I lived in Saskatoon, most of my favourite memories are from the Long’s cabin on Emma Lake, close to Prince Albert National Park.

To see the photos jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive. OPEN icon

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get a robot pet

I’m always trying to convince friends — at least those friends feeling guilty about not walking their dogs enough — to trade up to a mechanized pet.

Like this hatchling dinosaur, Pleo.

Daniel Engber in a recent Slate magazine article liked Pleo best of the available “Animoid” alternatives.

I’m 32 years old, I’m not married, and my dogological clock is ticking. For almost a decade now, I’ve been an armchair pet owner, studying breed lists and taking Web quizzes on what kind of puppy to adopt. Then, during a recent bout of anxiety over my impending menopaws, I volunteered to dog-sit for a friend.

It turns out that a real, live dog is nearly as demanding as a human baby—except a dog never learns to pour its own bowl of cereal. According to my dog-sitting instructions, I was to provide the animal with two meals every day plus three promenades around the block. (Happily, I was spared the unenviable task of brushing her teeth.) Forget drinks after work. Forget that film screening. Forget dinners out. Heck, forget even going into the office.

And so I became aware of my membership in a sad demographic that includes shiftless magazine editors, small children, and senior citizens. We’re the sorry lot that adores animals but is too lazy, uncoordinated, or infirm to take care of them. …

Slate – Rrrrrrrobots!The search for the ideal animatronic pet.

Watch a Slate V video comparing all the robo-pets in action.

Mexico – Feliz Navidad

Dec. 1999

rick_mug

I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas.
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas.
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas.
From the bottom of my heart.

Just in time for Christmas, I’m back from Mexico — happy to be out of that boring perfect weather into the festive Canadian cold & slush, the urgency of impending blizzard.

I got lucky finding a flight home from La Paz, Mexico just hours before the 25th.

baja_mapI got there by ferry from the mainland, over to Baja — a stark, dry, littered wasteland which none-the-less attracts over 50 million! visitors every year.

“The land supports a variety of obdurate and malicious flora; there are thistles underfoot and Cardon cacti (the world’s largest) towering overhead. … Every growing thing, or so it seems, sticks, stabs, or stinks.
(Tim Cahill)

I went to Cabo. I can’t explain it.
(Bill Bryson)

I guess I wanted to see for myself the tourist trap described by my guidebook as a depressing jumble of exorbitantly priced hotels, pretentious restaurants, rowdy bars and tacky souvenir stands…. Its quintessential experience might be to stagger out of a bar at 3 am, pass out on the beach, and be crushed at daybreak by a rampaging developer’s bulldozer.

I hitched with 2 of those Mexican architect / developer condo commandos who had been up boozing all night & whom were now driving home to Cabo. We passed an overturned 4×4, crashed the night before.

“Probably drinking & driving. Another beer Amigo?”

Cabo San Lucas is smaller & less glitzy than I expected. The marina will be stunning when the construction is finished. Looks like a good town for a blow-out.

But I didn’t stay.

Sorritos Beach

For weeks I had heard rumours of a free, dry surfers beach. Undeveloped. No toilets, no water, no power. Surf fishing. A mucho hip hang-out.

Somebody said it was called Sorritos beach but I couldn’t find it on any map. It’s there. Head towards the water on the dirt track closest to the km 64 road marker.

Idyllic spot. Perfect weather, cloudless but for the spray haze off the huge breakers. You can walk the beach, read, doze in the sun, or watch the surfers crash.

It’s dark by 5:30 pm this time of year. And the slim crescent moon dipped into the sea early leaving more room for the stars. I made a wish at every meteoric flash.

From Sorittos I wanted to try the most popular hike in Baja, Sierra de la Laguna, a unique alpine meadow nestled high between peaks on the peninsula.

baj

Receiving more than 10 times the normal rainfall, this oasis in the mountains grows palms, oaks, aspens, & pine trees; providing refuge for species now extinct in the rest of Baja.

I didn’t make it. About 2 hours from the top, my leg muscles cramped up. I was finished.

My hiking partner, a young Brit named Richard, dashed up without me. I felt he was fit enough. He had recently sailed 2000 miles from Seattle to San Diego, then mountain-biked another 1000 miles in Baja — without a hat!

I sat. Enjoyed the fantastic views out over the desert to the sea. Read “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.

Richard rejoined me next day for the hike down the mountain and the 11 mile! hike out to the highway through thorn forest, sand, & blistering heat.

You haven’t had a BEER until you’ve first climbed off a mountain then trudged 11 miles thorough desert. You haven’t.

We limped into “Frank’s Shut-up & Drink” (something like that), the kind of bar that attracts end-of-the-liners; washed-up surfers, trust fund kids, eccentrics, & run-of-the-mill alcoholics who drifted west, then south to Land’s End.

One of my companion morons wants to be King of North Dakota where he heard he can buy a house for $3000. I advised him, “Why not Minot? The reason, it’s freezin”.

Run to the sun?

If you ever want to travel Mexico I’d recommend to motor Baja, to drive a VW van or older model American-built shaggin’-wagon-type camperized van. These are easily repaired. Bring a tent & toys: kayaks & motorbikes.

And if you ever need to flee home, talk to me first. I’ll tell you how to vamoose to Mexico. No Butch / Sundance shoot-out. Guaranteed.

We plan someday to kayak Espiritu Santo island out of La Paz, Baja.

kayak

Happy Holidays!

I’m thinking of you, hoping you follow your bliss over the holidays, taking some time to do exactly as you please.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

– Ricardo

Northern Mexico

Dec. 1999

rick_mugThis was my first time traveling in … Mexico. The first time to see Mexican cowboys in their white shirts & cowboy hats; school girls in their incongruous but apropos Scottish plaid skirts; the colourful indigenous Indian peoples; the Catholic canoodling in public places.

Sure I’d flown many times to Mazatlan; partied it up in my 4-star Condo, dined in great restaurants filled with Gringos, danced on Joe’s Oyster Bar. That’s not Mexico, of course.

Actually, I never had much interest in backpacking Mexico. What little I knew of Spain & the Spanish speaking world left me “no sympatico”. (I later, after a trip to Madrid, softened this position).

mexmap

Spanish contributions to world culture? I could name Don Quixote, El Greco, Gypsy Kings, Picasso, Bull Fighting, Tapa bars, Tequila.

But Mexico seemed a land devoured by the cruel & rapacious “conquistadors” & the always ruthless but sometimes noble Catholic Church.

Cortés, young & ambitions, on arrival there, had all his ships but one destroyed. It was conquer or die. There was no retreat.

The Spanish colonial legacy, their “Black Legend”, is not a proud one. Historians are quick to point out that while heretics were being burned in Europe by the Spanish Inquisition, thousands of innocents in Mexico were having their hearts ripped out still beating.

Some of the Mexican tribes were blood-thirsty. I don’t think that mitigates Spanish sadism.

In the end, European disease was the main genocidal killer in Mexico, same as in Canada.

“New Spain” was a rich & fertile land: agriculture, fishing, mining. Gold & silver! I was struck that Mexico is geographically identical to Arizona & Texas, yet the U.S. is the richest country in the world & Mexico still a developing nation? How to explain that?

If California had remained part of Mexico would illegal “Coyotes” be today trying to cross the border into Oregon?

Mexico City

I loved Guadalahara, a terrific & scenic tourist town. But Mexico City was even better. I stayed near the central plaza, the hub of everything.

church

25 million+, a quarter of the national population. Some say it is a violent and dangerous city. Certainly I’ve never seen so many cops, soldiers, bullet-proof vests, & weapons.

Despite the reputation, Mexico is getting pretty civilized these days. The hard-core backpackers are mostly in central America where the road is wilder & travel currently less expensive.

I did meet one American who was robbed in Mexico. His night bus was stopped, men with machetes & guns boarded, they took everything including his passport.

Last year during a train robbery, a German tourist who resisted was shot dead.

Mexican heroes mount insurrections. That’s part of the problem. I got caught-up in a massive traffic jam / parade. Was the Pope in town? Or that other religious icon, Santa Claus?

No, it was a reenactment of the ride of Pancho Villa who, eulogized as a hero of the Revolution, is even better known as a bandit, murderer, & womanizer.

A bigger concern to me than thievery is that Mexico is loud & polluted. Can you believe that recycling STILL hasn’t come to most of Mexico? The litter is dreadful.

Yet myself & everyone I met really enjoyed Mexico City. No problems. It’s quick & easy to get around on the world’s 3rd largest metro system (after Moscow & Tokyo) to the many well-run tourist attractions; museums, huge murals, Voladores, the Indians who fly suspended from a tall pole, tied-on by ropes.

pyramids

Just north of the city is “Teotihuacán”, the impressive ancient capital. It was larger than Rome in its imperial heyday”.

The Pyramid of the Sun has the same base as the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but reaches only about 40% as high. Still, it’s the 3rd highest pyramid in the world & a long climb up.

I enjoyed the holiest of Mexican shrines, the Basilica de Guadelupe, abuzz with pilgrims, tourists, & pickpockets.

maryMexico’s “most binding symbol” is the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadelupe, a manifestation of Mary who magically appeared to a Mexican Indian in 1531. Her cloaked image is everywhere.

At the marvelous Museum of Anthropology I finally got to see the famous, mysterious giant stone Olmec heads; mysterious because (carved about 1000 B.C.) they have Negroid features, famous because Homer Simpson has one in his basement.

(By the way, “Los Simpsons” is a big hit here.)

San Miguel de Allende

Near everyone loves this charming colonial town. Cobbled streets, public squares, classy restaurants. An arty & crafty treat.

It used to have quite a Bohemian reputation — Neal Cassady, the real-life hero of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” died here.

Later San Miguel attracted artisans from all over the world. The quality of the art is high. If you’re into hoarding useless possessions — I mean, collecting inspiring ethnic art — you should rush down here.

Me? I’ve almost completely given-up on travel trophies. But I did attend the Taiwan Ballet in one of the beautiful historic theatres. Lovely.

Guanajuato

guan

Accompanied by Anna & Chris; tall, slim, raven-haired identical twins from Brazil, I went next to Guanajuato. Gorgeous mansions, colourful houses, excellent restaurants — one of Mexico’s most fascinating colonial cities.

Not a single street runs along a straight line; this is a town crammed into a steep ravine. Why the impossible topography? Because one of the richest veins of silver was discovered here in 1558. For 200 years it produced about 35% of the world’s silver.

Most zany of all, the city traffic passes underfoot through a confusing maze of tunnels. That made for a nice pedestrian tourist experience.

The wealthy silver barons built fantastic cathedrals in which they could repent their guilt — in some mines as many as 5 workers / day died of accident or illness.

Copper Canyon

I was keen to HIKE in Mexico though hiking as a recreational pursuit is astonishingly undeveloped there.

High up on the continental divide is Creel, population 4000. Saturday night. As in any other cowboy town, there’s nothing to do but drive the truck up & down the main street with windows open, Mexican music blaring.

Sunday was “tranquillo”. As I climbed up to welcoming Jesus on the hill, I reflected that I like Creel. It turned-out to be my favourite town in Mexico.

I was befriended (that can’t be the right word) by a Mexican con-man named Rene. Over Huevos Mexicanos he told me a version of his life story. Rene’s a vagabond wandering Mexico without money or possessions, living day-to-day by his wits and charismatic personality. He learned his English working illegally in Brownsville, Texas transferring goods from Mexican to American trucks — $20 / truck. He made it sound easy to cross the border.

Creel is not much more than a little whistle-stop lumberyard & outfitting town. The trains rocked my little Hotel room beside the tracks. But this is the jumping-off-point for the slightly famous Copper Canyon.

The Copper Canyon is deeper in places than the Grand Canyon & covers 6 times more territory as the rivers carve through Mexican highlands to the sea.

Batopilas

canyonFrom Creel we took a spectacular 7 hour drive down into the bottom of the canyon to the quaint, photogenic village of Batopilas. Here you’ll find more horses on the street than motor vehicles. One hombre rode by reins in one hand, a grande beer in the other.

Down in the canyon, most of the population are indigenous Tarahumara Indians. The girls & women look wonderful in their traditional costume of brightly coloured pleated skirts & accessories. (They adopted this from the fine Spanish ladies they first saw 300 years ago.) Most of the men have assumed the Western uniform of jeans & baseball cap.

Traveling I’m generally not much interested in the native peoples. It’s usually the same sad story we’ve seen in Canada.

But the Tarahumara (the “People who Run Fast”) are fascinating. Traditional hunters, the men run down deer for food — literally run deer ‘til exhausted. The men can’t run faster but they can run much, much longer.

The Tarahumara first appeared at the Mexico City Olympics marathon. Later boostering Americans started bringing them up for ultra-marathons. The big race is in Colorado, the “Leadville 100” miles. In 1993 Tarahumara finished 1st, 2nd, & 5th though they run in home-made sandals.

Next I climbed on to the famous Copper Canyon Train; 655 kms, 39 bridges, 86 tunnels, fantastic scenery. It’s an amazing ride, one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Good trip.

But how will I get home for Millennium Eve? I have no ticket, no plan.

Adios!

– Ricardo