A wonderful winter camping adventure pulling sleds as if we were en route to the North Pole. Luckily we had great weather.
To see mugshot photos of gymnasts from the 2000-2001 season jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive.
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. …
Watch a Slate V video comparing all the robo-pets in action.
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.
I 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.
I went to Cabo. I can’t explain it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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).
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?
I loved Guadalahara, a terrific & scenic tourist town. But Mexico City was even better. I stayed near the central plaza, the hub of everything.
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.
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.
Mexico’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.
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.
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.
From 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.
But how will I get home for Millennium Eve? I have no ticket, no plan.
Hola from Mexico!
Land of the Catholic Church, strong family ties, music, fiesta, sentimentality. And Tequila!
My parents are retired, “snowbirds” for the past 10 years. They summer in Crawford Bay, B.C. & winter in the States. They’ve been wanting to try Mexico instead of the U.S. for a couple of years, but had some concerns, especially regarding taking their Jack Russell, “Pete”, across the Mexican border.
We did some research on Mexico, then finally decided to head for Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara. I drove down with them.
This year my Dad had a cataract removed, and an “intraocular” (IOL) artificial lens attached to his good eye. The doctor was reluctant to do the procedure since my Dad is blind in the other eye (hockey accident). However, the operation was a great success, his vision restored to near 20-20. He’s much more confident behind the steering wheel.
We shared the driving, rolling down to Mexico in my Dad’s home-made fishing camper.
Driving in Mexico is interesting. We alternated modern 4-lane toll roads with narrow 2-lane “free” highways where huge trucks pass each other full-speed, no more than a hand width between them. The detours, unmarked speed bumps, and unexpected potholes are even more dangerous.
I love the deserts. But the best scenery was south of Puerto Vallarta where the narrow road snaked through lush jungle-covered canyons. Many rivers, beautiful waterfalls. Little yellow butterflies blew “like confetti” (Ronald Wright) around the truck.
We advanced steadily from RV Park to RV Park. The most modern was spectacular “El Mirador” in San Carlos, a yachtsman’s paradise. Here we watched Canada geese still flying south. I scrambled the rocky upthrusting one morning.
I liked, too, a tiny well-run Mexican place in Lo de Marcos with its earth-shuddering breakers. Pelicans, sandpipers, & hermit crabs.
And the next night at Boca de Iguana, near Barre de Navidad, where the beach had a haunted, shipwrecked feel. I found a shore cave with a shrine to the Virgin, empty but obviously still used by the faithful. The votive candles were still burning. On the other end of the beach was a deserted, crumbling wreck of a Hotel. Was it destroyed by earthquake? The ghosts couldn’t tell me.
Our immersion in the RV lifestyle was a bit of a shock — I shouldn’t have been surprised — we LIKED it. You meet people from all over North America & Europe. They are even more friendly & helpful than backpackers.
Retired folks join “Caravan Clubs” with names like “Tracks” & “Escapees“, read magazines like “Coast to Coast” & “Family Motor Coaching”. Many are fanatically devoted to their high-tech motor homes. It seems they all travel with their pets.
Still, RVers have too much time. In one park we saw a Swiss couple cranking out German beer-drinking tunes on mechanical music boxes which they’ve hauled all over North America. Everyone brought lawn chairs over to watch. The highlight of the day. It was surreal.
We aren’t RVers. My folks want to rent. We were headed to the most popular retirement destination in this country, Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara. High on the Mexican plateau, Chapala is claimed to have the best climate in the world, though the lake itself is polluted & receding.
En route, I was looking forward to seeing, but then disappointed by, the usually spectacular “Volcan de Fuego de Colima”. The smoke & lava wasn’t visible when we drove by.
They’ve got great volcanoes in Mexico, though. In nearby Pariutin, in 1943, a farmer discovered a new sinkhole in one of his cornfields. He tried to fill it in. Ten months later it was an active volcano, 1700 feet high. As I speak, at least 2 other Mexican volcanoes threaten.
Reaching Chapala took us a week in Mexico. That was long enough in a cramped camper. Even the dog was going a little crazy.
When we reached the popular “Pal RV Park” in scenic Ajijic village, near Lake Chapala, we were all happy to have arrived. (Note: The Park was converted to owned condos in 2004.)
Here I had hoped to help search-out a nice rental unit at a reasonable price; to ensconce my parents in a satisfactory hidey-hole; to be the “Great White Son”. I anticipated about 3 days of pounding the cobblestones, hard bargaining, savvy negotiation, pushing the limits of my Spanglish.
Yup, you guessed it. My parents rented the first place they saw — while I was gone walking the dog. We hadn’t been there more than 40 minutes.
Even worse for my ego, they made an excellent choice. Couldn’t be better. A perfect spot in the very epicenter of gringo Mexico.
They rented a Casita (“little home”); very Mexican, fully-furnished, fireplace, private garden patio with fish pond as well as a roof-top patio with a view of Lake Chapala.
The RV Park provides swimming pool, Laundromat, clubhouse, 24-hour security, cable T.V., telephone. All mod cons.
The Park is littered with fallen oranges & limes. Cows browse just over the fence. At dusk the bird bath is asplash with noisy customers. The bougainvillea and other flowering trees in the yard are spectacular.
Chapalla is a lovely town. I could retire here!
My Mom is a little paranoid regarding scorpions, though, especially the “deadly little white ones”. We’ve already met 2 people who have been stung.
I’ll set-off for home tomorrow. It may take 2 or 3 weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes.
But it’s been great spending time, taking an adventure holiday, with my parents.
Hey, my Mom actually has an email address for the new millennium. How about that?
Jasper Skyline Trail is listed by Gadd the best hike in the Canadian Rockies. But, to me, it seemed a disaster loomed. These jots were first posted in a friendship newsletter called the red-eye.
Truth is, I’m a city boy. I like a VCR, recliner rocker, comforter, “munching high up the food chain”.
I used to ridicule my Saskatoon friends when they dragged back into town, hypothermic & mosquito-welted from their latest canoeing fiasco.
In those days I didn’t like to walk any farther than from my car to the 7-11.
This summer, back from the under-indulgences of Asia, I’ve been overindulging bagels, ice-cream, & hot tubs. Forget my philosophy of “Voluntary Simplicity”. Deprivation tanks!
I tried a compromise once, joining my Calgary hiking buddies on a Waterton Park trip — while carrying a Sony “Watchman”. As we “trekked”, I gleefully called out the golf leader board to my grumbling companions. Greg Norman was winning the British Open!
Yet during the summer of ‘99 I spent as much time in the wild as I could, returning from overseas specifically to hike.
Actually, there’s more adventure to be had in Canada than Asia.
I had been enthusiastically anticipating the JASPER SKYLINE TRAIL; “the best hike in the Canadian Rockies”, asserts Ben Gadd, our premiere mountain naturalist.
The Skyline is high, over half above the tree line, with some long ridge walks. Panoramic vistas!
We could see Mt. Robson, the “biggest” mountain in the Rockies (from base to peak) though not highest in elevation.
However, recall our miserable “late” Spring. When we phoned from Calgary to see if the hiking trails were clear of snow we were advised that “ski conditions were poor”. (This was mid-July!)
The Skyline problem looming was “The Notch”, a high, steep, windy mountain pass. If snowed-in, it would probably be impassable due to avalanche risk.
I was the most vocal nay-sayer; beefing all the way up during the drive from Banff, complaining in the toilet at the trailhead where we fussed with our packs out of the drizzling rain.
(I only agreed to participate because I couldn’t resist the chance to hike with a manly ice ax. Picture the “blue haze of testosterone”.
We rented those axes. We didn’t actually know how to use them.
One of the guys had lifesaving instructions scribbled on a napkin. But those of us who had seen IMAX “Everest” preferred to innovate in the manner demonstrated by the Jr. Tenzing Norguay. It was great fun “glissading”, boot skiing, steep slopes then falling into an ice ax brake-stop just before the jagged rocks at the bottom.
The rain turned to snow. We slogged through slush. Waded creeks.
My spirits improved when we pulled-out the Tequila & lemon-lime Crystal Lite, clearly superior to the 100 proof Vodka & powdered Gatorade.
The Skyline is a marvelous hike. Wild and beautiful, the mountains somehow more rugged this far north.
We saw mountain sheep, a statuesque mountain goat, and even glimpsed a moose dash across the path ahead.
By the time we reached “The Notch” the weather had cleared, the morning sunshine brilliant.
This was more bad news. The sun softens the snow. We’d been strongly advised to ascend by noon latest.
No matter. It was obvious the snowy pass “would not go”. Winnibago-sized chunks of ice poised ready to come crashing down from the overhanging cornice.
No one had ascended yet this year. The only 2 other hikers (Gita & Lars from Denmark) were dissuaded to “Notch” by an unwelcoming resident wrangler. Instead they proposed to bushwhack AROUND the mountain. This stratagem was seriously crazy, as we told them.
We loitered, indecisively debating our options, watching marmots duke it out (“The Rumble in the Rubble”).
Suddenly John Long charged up the slope. He had had enough gab. I couldn’t catch him — “he was that damn fast”.
I have to commend John (a bachelor) for route-finding, kicking steps into the snow up the entire uncertain and potentially dangerous climb. We had consensus that one of the married men should lead. A single guy still has too much to live for.
We made it!
At the pass we were euphoric, scrambling to the top of the dry adjacent peak, posing for “outrider” cliff-edge photos.
Then — the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen in the mountains. Two tiny specks appeared on top of the even more monstrous icy cornice on the opposite side of the pass.
It was Lars & Gita, the couple who had disdained to follow us. They had short-cut to the very worst possible spot on the mountain!
Somehow, by continued improbable dumb-ass luck, they were able to descend to the pass.
We back-slapped, had a big lunch boil-up in the sunshine.
The big, bad “Notch” was conquered. But, like many other victors, we suffered more hurt at the post-hike celebration than in battle.