Saturday, December 23, 2006

Abducted by Aliens?

Is this a photo of:
a) Eventful Woman first thing in the morning?
b) Sleeping Beauty turning into a frog after being kissed by the handsome prince?
c) an alien?
d) all of the above?
e) none of the above?

Answer at bottom of this post

I love waking up in our little adobe guesthouse with the sun shining onto the orange tiles. We can make a cup of tea, sit at the little dining table and look out at the desert and high hills in the distance. As I’ve said before, this would make a great summerhouse for a writer.

Today we dressed in our Land Rover official uniform. Matching shirts and jerseys. The same ones we had been wearing when asked if we were twins.
(Refer to entry for Friday, July 22, 2005 Shoes and clothes - what more does a gal need?)

We wore our jeans as well. I laughed when I thought of Land Rover’s marketing manager back in New Zealand. He had said that we should always look smart in our corporate jerseys and never wear jeans on official business. Yeah right – this is the man that did NOT know that older Land Rovers were made of aluminium and offered us magnetic logo signs to put on the sides of our Land Rover.

We took the main road through the desert towards the Land Rover dealer in Albuquerque. I loved the sound of this name and rolled it around on my tongue. It was sycophantically named after Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 8th Duke of Alburquerque, Viceroy of New Spain. That was in the glory days for Spain when they ruled at least half of the world and all of New Spain (now North and Central America). Over time, there was some rebellion and the first "r" was dropped in the spelling of modern day Albuquerque.

We were going to see Bob Johnson, a sales representative for this dealership.

We had contacted Land Rover North America before we left New Zealand to advise of our plans and route through USA. They must have circulated the information, and our contact details, because Bob found out we were on our way. I can still remember the day he rang us up in New Zealand to invite us to call into Land Rover Albuquerque. He was excited by the sound of our adventure and wanted to give us a warm New Mexico welcome. He asked about our route and whether we were going to tackle higher altitudes. I was very taken with his expression "naturally aspirated engines" and that he hoped that the mountain passes might not be too difficult for them.

Bob was hoping to lure us to call into Land Rover Albuquerque. We were certainly attracted to his warm friendliness and enthusiasm. Did he know that I would fall in love with his Home State, as well? Meeting Bob just reinforced what a great place it was.

The whole team at Land Rover Albuquerque made fuss of us. The receptionist, who was the mother of the dealer owner was "over the moon" at our visit. She cooed over our Land Rover articles and said she had never met celebrities before.

We spent quite a bit of time there. The sales people were busy but, in between sales appointments, there was always someone wanting to talk to us. The show room and garage servicing area were clean and modern. There was a big New Mexican desert mural in the Service Reception area. The showroom had New Mexican art works and wall hangings. Above the museum, on a high wall, was a museum-like display showing Land Rover’s heritage from older Britain, the redcoats in the New World, the USA outdoors country of kayaks and shooting, right through to the more modern era of Land Rovering.

Around the perimeter of the outdoors sales yard, was something called "The Ride". This was a rocky, paved demonstration track, with curved and hilly sections designed to demonstrate a Land Rover’s ride ability. It was possibly the only time some of the yuppie Santa Fe Land Rover owners would be close to anything off road.

However it was a great sales tool. It had been cunningly designed to fit a Land Rover Discovery’s specifications. Some of the hills had break over angles that didn’t suit American Jeeps or the Japanese 4x4’s, and the Land Rovers would confidently roll up and over them, whereas other so-called "off road vehicles" wouldn’t.

Bob drove me on "The Ride". It was very tame for me, but his commentary was most interesting, as he described various clients who clung to the door handles and shrieked in excitement.

We cruised back to Santa Fe for a look around in daylight. Although there were a lot of adobe buildings, the place had a clean and sophisticated look. In a nod to its history, I felt it appeared more like a New Spain than a New Mexico.

Santa Fe was totally different to anything we had seen in USA to date. The street names were mainly in Spanish. I’ve heard tourists to New Zealand sometimes comment that the Maori names sound/read all the same and they have trouble navigating. Now that we encountered so many Spanish names at once, compounded because they were so long and that I had trouble pronouncing them, I finally understood what they meant. I would be reading the map to TH and garbling that he had to take a left onto "Carmen Rhinoceros" when he would be reading a street sign called "Carmina Rancheros".

Sarah and Joe had invited friends to dinner and we had a lovely farewell night with them. We would be moving-on in the morning and I felt sad.

We were caught by daylight saving change overnight, with the clocks being put forward. So, we left at 11am, later than we’d like. I had a dry, sore throat. Sarah had warned us to drink a lot of water because of the dry air at this elevation, and I thought I had been too lax about that.

We turned the Land Rover’s nose south. We were planning to "crash" into Roswell that night. South of Santa Fe and coming down from the high desert elevation was a different sort of New Mexico. Flat desert, scrubby tussock and nothing but the road and power lines stretching out far in front of us, forming an infinity "V" in the distance. The tussock was a little lighter in colour than the dirt. There was nothing to relieve the dullness. Even the sky was a flat blue, without clouds to provide contrast or show that at least the heavens might be alive. Still life. We seemed to be the only thing crawling on the face of the earth.

Periodically, we would pass through almost deserted and abandoned towns like Encino and Vaughn. Boarded up buildings and graveyards of big, old yank-tank cars from the 1960’s and 70’s. An ancient tow truck was still connected to one old wreck. The tow truck driver’s door was ajar. It looked like the truck had hauled in this one last load, and then the driver had just stepped out of the cab and simply walked away.

I wondered whether this is what "Sleeping Beauty" would deteriorate too, if she had pricked her finger here, instead of in Fairyland (or Hollywood)? Probably the handsome prince would not think to come here. No one would find "Sleeping Beauty" amid the tarnished chrome and oxidised paintwork, stretched out in the back of an old black Cadillac hearse.

The road runner birds relieved the boredom. Heroes of the "Road Runner" cartoons and the official New Mexico State bird, we were on sharp look out for them. However, we never actually saw one – only nebulous dust squirts as they zoomed away from the roadside. These could have been the elusive desert jellyfish and not roadrunners at all, of course.

Later in the day we stopped at Bitterroot Road, about 30 miles out of Roswell. This was where the UFO was supposed to have crash-landed in 1947, in the famous "Roswell Incident".

We stepped out of the Land Rover and waited. A tiny wind had got up. It ruffled our hair ever so slightly. Apart from that, nothing happened. There was no searing lights, "Close Encounters" music or little green men. We didn’t see any shiny alien metal bits masquerading as a weather balloon. No bureaucrats or "spin doctors" materialised to deny that anything significant had happened. We hung around for awhile, but it was no use. I guess we’ll have to find our own accommodation tonight instead of being abducted by aliens.

We pulled into Roswell visitor centre just before 6pm. The very helpful staff gave us brochures and all the information we needed on aliens and other tourist attractions. The International UFO Museum and Research Centre would open at 11am. The art gallery opened at 9am and had some excellent Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. There was a campsite nearby, which turned out to be amazing – it was one of the few campsites in USA that had flat grass to camp on, no trees overhead to drip water and no stones underneath to bend tent pegs, or make for an uncomfortable night lying on them.

My sore throat was now scraping painfully at each swallow and I was starting the "sneezel" stage of a cold. We turned in early.

There is nothing like the seeing the wide canvas of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting to bring all the glories of high desert New Mexico back into mind. She had such an eye for colour and detail. Just a small detail in her work can mesmerise. As well as desert scenes she painted incredibly detailed flowers and native flora. I wanted to stand and look for hours that morning in the Roswell Art Gallery

But, in the quiet of the art gallery, my sneezes and snuffles seemed extra loud. We finally decided to give the gallery patrons some peace and quiet and we headed for the UFO museum. Maybe they had a cure for a cold?

The International UFO Museum and Research Center was established by an enthusiastic team of volunteers in 1991. These volunteers had realised that key witnesses - whether protagonists or antagonists - were approaching old age, and they set about recording and videoing their statements. Since 1991, time has taken its toll and several of these witnesses have died. Fortunately, their stories were recorded and are now preserved in this museum

It is not a flash, interactive place for bored teenagers with a 5-minute attention span. Instead it had panels of information, transcripts, photos, all laid out in a sequential, time line. The museum presented both the claims and counter-claims of whether aliens had landed at that site on Bitterroot Road.

I have no idea what really took place that night in 1947. However, one thing I am damn sure of, is that something happened involving the crash landing of an aeroplane, space shuttle, experimental aircraft, or even an alien space ship. Then, something went even more wrong with the survivors (whether human or alien) and there was a huge cover-up. There was too much "spin" in the official reports and denials, as well as obvious tampering with evidence. There had to have been a cover-up of some sort.

But what really did happen? Hopefully the truth will be out one day. In the meantime, all power to the volunteers who have done a magnificent job with this museum.

The museum had lifted my spirits for awhile, but by early afternoon my cold had developed into a full-on heady fog in my head. We decided we would try to get to my cousin Susan in Texas that night. There was a long way to go. She assured us, when we rang, that they would stay up for us.

The countryside was not very interesting. The navigating was fairly easy in this open, highway travelling and I closed my eyes and let TH get on with it. My throat was on fire, my head felt like a pumpkin. I just slumped in my seat. At some point we drove over the State line into Texas. TH calculated we’d never get to Susan’s in time for dinner. He knew my constitution needed food regularly and suggested we find something quick.

Even with a sore throat, the thought of food perked me up. We came to a small, sleepy town. I spotted a fast food restaurant with a drive-through. There was a sign saying they closed at 7pm. It was 6:55pm by my watch.
Being the front passenger in a right-hand drive vehicle, I was nearest to the "place your order here" speaker. I waited patiently for "Can I take your order?" When it never came, I pushed the call button. After a little while a somewhat surprised voice asked if he could help us.

I said that we’d like fries and burgers. The voice very politely said that they were closed. I protested that it wasn’t yet 7pm. There was another pause and then the voice, still very polite said, "Sorry ma’am, but it’s nearly 8pm."

We had lost a whole hour. I just knew it - we had been adducted by aliens and hadn’t realised it. And then I thought, what say we’d lost more than an hour? Were we even in the same day, same year, or even the same century? My fevered fuddled brain grappled with this. I started to gabble about what day it was and whether we were still in America, when TH leaned over me and asked if Texas was in a different adjusted time zone to New Mexico. The voice affirmed this. TH then apologised, advised that we were tourists and asked if there was anywhere else open at this hour.

The voice said he didn’t think we were "from around here", but he was very happy to give us directions to another eatery. It turned out he was the manager and had stayed behind to finish some paperwork in his restaurant. He was curious about our "kinda different looking vehicle and accents" (and no doubt the mad female one) but remained polite and courteous throughout our conversation over the speaker. We thanked him and drove out.

We found the other restaurant and grabbed some much-needed tucker. The food rasped and tore at my throat, but I forced it down with lots of drinks. I felt warmer and less exhausted, now that I had boosted my energy levels.

TH stopped at a phone box to ring Susan again. San Angelo was still at least 2 hours away, she said. Of course, in our old Land Rover, TH estimated it would be more like three.

We rode on into the night. The flash of on-coming headlights lit up our driving compartment and sparked headache thumps inside me. I pulled my Land Rover cap over my eyes and curled up on the seat. The gentle purr of the Land Rover engine lulled me to sleep.

The change in engine speed and turning of corners woke me as we drove into the outskirts of San Angelo, just after 11pm. We had to ring Susan for directions on the phone a couple of times. My usually good navigators’ brain was too addled to work things out.

We finally drove slowly down Susan’s street. Her husband, Mort, was waiting outside to guide us into their driveway. He was still wearing his business clothes and seeing him waving his arms in welcome, his white business shirt gleaming in the street lights was the most wonderful thing to see.

They bundled us inside, cups of tea and coffee were placed in our hands. It felt like home and very safe to be in their embrace. Susan ran a bath for me with sweet smelling oils. I soaked in it, thinking this was what heaven must be like. Well, apart from having a headache and coughing. The sheets had been turned invitingly back on our bed and we slipped under the covers.

I’d like to say that I had a dreamless sleep and awoke all refreshed and healthy. But the next two days passed in a dreadful bout of diarrhoea and hot and cold sweats.

I got up and dressed each day, but spent most of the time lying on our bed or languidly lolling in Susan’s kitchen. I’d lost some weight on the trip, and my clothes seemed to hang off me, adding further to my distressed demeanour. Susan became more and more concerned at the dark circles under my eyes, the feverish brightness in them, and my long periods of listlessness and exhaustion. A bout of bronchial-pneumonia some years ago had given me a nasty sounding bark whenever I coughed. It sounded a lot worse that what it was, and I was used to it. She wasn’t, of course. I kept saying I was all right, and that I was just tired and had probably picked up some sort of bug.

On the second day Susan wanted to call a doctor. There had been so many exhausting moments on the trip, especially with F2’s horrible behaviour, that I just felt that I needed time-out to recover. We agreed that, if I was no better on the third day, I would give in and see a medic.

On the third day, the fog had cleared in my brain. As soon as I awoke I felt the immediate change. My body and brain were calm and quiet. The fever had gone.

Answer to photo/multi choice question: (b) Sleeping Beauty

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Eventful Woman Wins Challenge

Eventful Woman is delighted to annouce that at approximately 10:30 am on Thursday 30 November (NZ time) she won her battle with the National Novel Writing Month challenge.
Her word count was verified with the National Novel Writing Month hard working automotons at 50,406 words.

Send CHAMPAGNE now!!


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eventful Woman is taking part in National Novel Writing Month over November.

No more posts until December.

Send chocolate NOW.

Cheers, EW

Monday, October 30, 2006

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

You know what they say about the drink called margarita? One margarita, two margaritas, three margaritas – FLOOR!

That was me, three margaritas and I almost fell on the floor. I managed a reasonably elegant stagger to my cousin Sarah’s car, and to stay upright for about the first minute on the way back to her place. But, then I flaked out on the back seat. TH, who had sat in the front seat, said later that my snoring was appalling. I’m not sure if I believe I was that bad. But, it had been a heady day.

We’d left the shrine of miracles (El Santuario de Chimayó) late morning. There was time for a drive up to Truchas before lunch. For those of you that don’t speak Spanish, just try saying Truchas (like churches, but with a TR instead of a CH) It maybe hard to say, but it’s a place that is great to look at. In fact, don’t waste too much time trying to say it, just spend the time on getting yourself there.

Truchas (which means trout in Spanish) is a tiny, mountain town (population around 1000) perched on the scenic high road between Taos and Santa Fe. The town’s relative isolation over the years has meant it has remained unchanged over the centuries. The distinctive adobe architecture is likely to remain preserved now that there finally is a backlash against the "McCulture" of everywhere else.

At 8400 ft (that’s the same height as Mt Egmont/Taranaki) and with the clear, dry desert air, I felt I could see forever at Truchas - not just the mountains and valleys, but far, far beyond. One of my favourite artists is Georgia O’Keeffe. While she wasn't born in New Mexico, she had lived nearby on "Ghost Ranch" for nearly 40 years. She called this area of New Mexico "The Faraway". Her paintings of the rocks, flowers and desert landscapes captured the soul of the place.

I loved the green of New Zealand, but I was really smitten by this very different landscape. There was something in the texture and contrasts of the mottled browns, reds and tans that struck a resonance within me. It was completely unlike my homeland, yet I felt like saying to TH, "Let’s sell up in NZ, and come here to write, photograph and make babies."

And, I know what he would have said, "but, what about the surf?"

I have always lived near the ocean and can’t bear to be too far away from it. I love surfing – just the feel of waves makes me feel more alive than anything else.

Finally my hungry stomach rumbles diverted my attention from the glories around me. Sarah suggested we eat at Rancho de Chimayó, which back near the church.

This was a beautifully restored, century-old adobe hacienda, serving native New Mexico cuisine. It is still owned by the Jaramillo family and their ancestral family photographs hang on the white washed adobe walls. As well as a restaurant, the Hacienda has seven guest rooms, most with their own private courtyards.

We sat on the restaurant’s terraced patio for lunch. It was there I got my first taste of their Chimayó cocktail margaritas – a potent local tequila mix, with apple cider and fresh apples, slush-frozen in tall, wide-brimmed glasses, which were rimmed with salt. Very tasty and very more-ish.

Hence, I had one too many and dozed off on the way back to Sarah’s home at Pojoaque. At least I was spared more grim sights of the pilgrims on their way up to El Santuario de Chimayó.

By evening, I had recovered sufficiently to venture out to Santa Fe for dinner. In the falling dusk as we arrived, I could see attractive adobe buildings, gathered around a town square. There were lots of art galleries and small shops selling exquisite local goods and crafts. Joe and Sarah had selected a cosy little adobe bistro/cafe, called "Celebrations", on Canyon Road. The food was based on the traditional northern New Mexican style, with red and green chile, but with added taste sensations provided by imported ingredients. Perhaps earlier thoughts of the ocean motivated my choice. I had a delicately spiced scallop and salad dish. A perfect blend of tastes and it was delicious.

It had been an amazing day. I held hands with TH in the back seat of Joe and Sarah’s car and lolled my head back so I could see the shining desert sky out of the back window. Millions of stars lay cradled in the embrace of the mountains on the far horizon. Fabulous!

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Easter Tidings

It started to snow. And then some more. We pulled on as many layers we could and turned the Land Rover’s heater up to full bore. The snow piled up on the road and I was thankful we were in a Land Rover.

As we headed south, I noticed more Spanish looking, adobe houses. The New Mexico highway markers were like a star burst - a circle shaped with four prongs jutting out of the edge. I later discovered that this was an ancient, local icon called a Zia. And, it did represent the sun.

Right now, I could have done with more sun and less of the cold, white stuff. Was it only a few weeks ago, that I was so charmed by the snow? Well, I had been there, done that. Now I wanted more warmth.
The sun lazily put in an appearance, and by the time we pulled into my cousin Sarah’s driveway, in a little place called Pojoaque (NM), the snow had vanished.

I had never met Sarah before. Our contact had been via her older sister, Susan. Like her sister, Sarah had red-gold hair, blue eyes and a very friendly, welcoming nature. Sarah, Susan and I were descendants from one family in Ireland. That family had left their homeland in the 1860’s. Some had gone to USA and the others came to New Zealand. One hundred years later, in the 1960’s, Sarah and Susan’s father started investigating his roots. He made enquiries in NZ and finally tracked down my father. As well as being pleased to find each other, they were delighted to discover that they had two daughters the same age - Susan and myself. We became pen pals and have been "talking to each other" ever since. Susan came out to NZ with her husband and family not long after my mother died. It was like we had always known each other.

That day on the Land Rover expedition, as Sarah opened the door and I saw her smiling face and laughing eyes, I felt that I had always known her, too.

We had our own little guesthouse, in Sarah’s yard. It was a proper mud and straw adobe building, coloured in earthy tones with bright blue window frames and doors. Inside, the sun streamed onto the Spanish rugs and orange flagstones. Pueblo designed wall hangings splashed their bright colours across the white internal walls. It was a fully self contained unit with a step up to the huge flounced bed platform and a step down into a small, cool coloured kitchen. Sarah had thoughtfully stocked the fridge with everything we could possibly need, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. I went straight for the raw carrots. They were fresh and magnificent.

Later, over dinner we met Sarah’s husband Joe, an intelligent man with a kind face, and their two lively young daughters Emily and Hailey. It was so great to be part of a happy, family home.

As I lazed back in our wee adobe house, very contented and with a full tummy, I thought how nice it would be to stay here for the rest of the year. We could just pretend to drive around the world in a Land Rover, and periodically send digitally enhanced photos to friends and various press agencies – Land Rover in front of Eiffel Tower/Taj Mahal/herd of camels, etc, etc

And, so, that’s exactly what we did. (Yeah right, only kidding)

There’s an unbelievable sense of freedom in waking up and knowing you don’t have to pack up and move on. We slept in and then I lay in bed and ate grapes and carrots. TH must have got tired of peeling grapes and he finally stirred me from my pit and over to Sarah’s place for a proper breakfast.

Sarah made a delicious dish called "Seattle Babies." This is a whipped milk and egg mix, which is poured into a fry pan to cook, and then served with lemon juice and sugar. Yummo!

It was the week before Easter and Sarah had arranged for babysitters, so she could be free to take us on a special outing to the legendary shrine - El Santuario de Chimayó. As the local equivalent of Lourdes, this is probably the most visited church in New Mexico, especially at Easter time and the days that lead up to it. Annual pilgrimages occur every year. Most pilgrims start walking in Santa Fe, twenty-seven miles to the south, but others come the eighty miles from Albuquerque, walking part of the way barefoot or crawling the last few yards on their knees (a common tradition in Spain and Latin America).

We rolled along in the comfort of Sarah’s car. The roadside scenes fascinated me. Groups of people plodded along the winding road, some carrying huge crosses, others flagellating themselves. Still more hobbled on bloody and blistered feet. No one seemed alone. There were always supporters, possibly family members who also carried food and water, for the barefoot pilgrims or those struggling with heavy crosses.

When we arrived at the Chimayó Shrine, I didn’t know what to expect. I am not a catholic, and didn’t want to show any disrespect. But, I was quite shocked by what I had seen. Sarah encouraged us to at least see inside the church, which was a Spanish mission styled building.

We were greeted by a priest, who asked us where we were from. Of course, he then assumed we had made our own long pilgrimage. We were shunted ahead of the tired, the lame, the thirsty, the humble, and given our own personalised tour. I tried to explain, and that I didn’t deserve any preferential treatment, but the man thought I was being overly modest (as all good pilgrims are). He’d never met New Zealand pilgrims before and was very pleased and honoured to be our guide.

The tour finished in a room festooned with hundreds of abandoned crutches, and leg clamps. There were also lots of before-and-after photographs. In this room is the sacred, healing dirt of Chimayó.

By now our priest had heard from Sarah, that we were only at the first stage of a long journey around the world. He insisted we must take a precious sampling of this sacred earth to keep us safe. I was mightily embarrassed at having such a mistaken fuss made of me, and I hung my head with shame. The priest, interpreting this as more modesty, personally scooped up a sample, blessed it and presented to me. I accepted it with grace and good manners as, in a way, I was on a personal odyssey. That priest was more perceptive than I thought. He ended up being more right about the effect this Land Rover expedition would have on me, than I realised at the time.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Model Eventful Woman

It took two hours to dry the tent off from the snow and damp, in the morning.

However, we had a relaxed time with Dennis "Pop" Ryan, who runs the "Mom and Pop RV Camp" with wife Frances.It was snug in his warm shop and reception area, with the happy chatter on Dennis' model railway, humming in the background. TH does a bit of modelling (aeroplanes and cars) and, while he and Dennis had a long discussion on the technicalities, I was happy to loll by the heater.

Dennis had also modelled a number of hobo figures, which were huddled around tiny, little campfires in various miniature railway camps. We purchased a male and female model, as we felt they represented our gypsy lifestyle. Dennis painted a moustache on the bloke and coloured the female's blonde locks to my brunette colour. He said that he'd named these models Jo and Annie. TH and I laughed and showed Dennis our passports. We each had another name from the one we were usually called by. TH's was John and mine was Anne. Dennis was so chuffed with this coincidence that he threw in a miniature campfire as a complimentary gift.

The tent was finally dry. We quickly packed up and waved Dennis a fond goodbye. Passing though the camp gates we had a good chuckle as Dennis' final farewell sign to help travellers with a safe journey:
Antenna Down?
Step Up?
Seat Belt On?
Wife on Board?
Safe Trip!

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Awesome Arizona

"Who shot at you?" was the first question we were asked when we stopped at Canyon de Chelly. Two Canadians, looking somewhat distraught, were staring at the bullet holes in the Land Rovers’ side window. We were in the real "wild west" country. Most of it, 27 million acres in the Northeast sector of Arizona, was Navajo Tribal Trust Land.

The "bullet holes" were TH’s idea of a joke. While they looked quite realistic, they were stick-on fakes. It was surprising how many people they fooled.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay") National Monument is one of the longest continuously inhabited areas of North America. Before the Navajo, were the Anasazi pueblo peoples. They had carved out stone houses on the impossibly small ledges, which jutted out from the steep canyon walls.

The land surrounding the canyon was dry and scrubby, but we were told that the canyon floor stays green and fertile all year round, protected by the tall rocky walls of the canyon. Apart from perching on a cliff edge, I could see this would have been an attractive place to live.

The living Navajo community maintains this culturally significant area in partnership with the American National Parks Service.

We had driven up from the Petrified Forest National Park, following Big Joe Petrillo’s recommended route. I loved the colour contrast of the red cliffs and the sage-green coloured bushes. However, the "spoiler" was the large numbers of empty alcohol bottles and cans, thrown from cars as they sped past. We’d seen the same thing in Nevada.

We continued north to Monument Valley. John Wayne country. The land of many Western movies, where isolated buttes and mesa thrust up from the empty, sandy desert.

The valley is not really a valley, but a wide flat, desolate landscape, interrupted by these crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of red, sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.

I’d seen these views in so many "ride into the sunset" movie endings - the darkened outcrops silhouetted against the dying sun, the "heroes" galloping away into small dots, while the melancholy, accompanying theme tune plays on into the fade out. I wondered which movie cliché character I was. The Good? The Bad? Or The Ugly. Maybe all three?

There was no question about what Monument Valley was. It was "The Fabulous", with its deep, rich, iron oxide red colours.

By now it was getting late into the day, and we needed our own "fade out" place to spend the night. Camping in Navajo Land was restricted and, distracted by all this majestic beauty around us, we had missed the fact that the only camping ground (amongst the 27 million acres) was back at Canyon de Chelly.

We huddled over the map. The next "biggish" town was Shiprock in New Mexico and we headed in that direction. TH spied a "dry weather road" just out of Lukachukai. If we could get through, it would get us to Shiprock before nightfall.

Avid blog fans will know that this road petered out into a muddy, impassable track. On it we encountered some very drunk men who thought we were married twins from Nooo Zeeeeeeland. (Refer blog entry for Friday 22 July 2005, entitled: "Shoes and Clothes – What more does a gal need?"). Check out:

We high tailed it, back down the dry weather road, and continued on to Shiprock, by the conventional highway.

As it got dark, a chill wind blew up, hurling dust and tumbleweeds across the road. In the pale light from our meagre headlights, the tumbleweeds looked like wild, hairy monsters screaming along in front of us.

Shiprock did not have a campsite. We grabbed some dinner and pressed on to Farmington. We pulled into "Mom and Pop’s RV Campground" at 8:30 that night. We had driven 350 miles over a 12-hour day. The friendly owner looked rather sympathetically at us - two cold, tired, dusty, dishevelled strangers with funny accents, and who had blown into his camp, along with a now icy wind.

He said he didn’t get many campers at this time of year and the camp was mainly for RV’s. However, he let us pitch our tent in the sheltered side of his camp store. Close by was the camp’s excellent, heated amenity building with plenty of hot water for showers. We had long, wonderful showers, clambered into our thermals, zipped ourselves into our tent and then our hooded sleeping bags.

During the night I heard the strangest soft, squidgy sounds. Like someone was kissing the outside of the tent. I woke the long-suffering TH. He peered out and said, "It’s snow. Snow falling on the tent."

We snuggled back down. It was warm and cosy together and we drifted back to sleep.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, September 11, 2006

Getting our Kicks

Big holes in the ground! We’d seen a lot on this trip. But, meteor crater (Arizona) took my breath way - 4,100 ft (1.2 km) in diameter, 570 ft (174 metres) deep and over three miles (4.8 km) in circumference. It has starred in several movies. NASA astronauts trained there in the 1950’s and 60’s. It certainly still has a "wow" factor. Not bad for something that had smashed into the earth 50,000 years ago.

We had been scooting along the remnants of Route 66 for most of the morning, ducking back onto highway I-40, when Route 66 petered out. It had been fun. While there were no longer the ubiquitous trading posts every second mile, there were wonderful remainders of the golden age of "the mother road".

We had sought out Route 66 near Williams (Arizona), a few miles south of our friendly Red Lake Hostel. Williams was one of the last towns on Route 66 to be bypassed by I-40 in 1984. While other towns had suffered from the by-pass, Williams’ proximity to the Grand Canyon meant it has retained some prosperity. In addition, Williams’ entire downtown business district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Onwards towards Holbrook, we discovered some "ghosts" along Route 66 – old adobe motels, faded billboards, cracked roadways, derelict cars and crumbling gas stations. We did find one trading post still open, The Jackrabbit. While it had souvenir postcards of jackalopes, sand paintings, rubber tomahawks, interesting old stuff and imitation Indian goods made in China (these would have been "Made in Japan" back in the 1950’s), we didn’t find the wonders of an earlier age - packages of rattlesnake eggs, cactus candy and tumbled stones. It didn’t matter - it was still quite a blast having a fossick through everything. We had the freedom to explore as we liked, especially as the area around Route 66 in Arizona also had many natural wonders – Walnut Canyon State Park, Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.

Approximately half way between Flagstaff and Winslow was Meteor Crater.

Imagine our surprise when we pulled into the information centre car park and met F1’s Series I Land Rover coming out. We stopped for a brief chat. They had left Grand Canyon before us the day before and managed to reach Williams before the worst of the snowstorm. They had decided they would head south for warmer weather. F2 told us that there was nothing more to see in Arizona. We gave them a big grin and waved them off.

After "standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona" (from the Eagles song "Take it Easy") we trundled on to Holbrook, where you can still bed down at the Wigwam Hotel.

These motel rooms are large, individual concrete tepees. Fabulous.

The next morning was the 1st April, my birthday. I was 42 years old. I looked myself over in the mirror – I wore no make-up and I hadn’t done so for over a month, I had red lines in my cheeks, chapped lips and dry, cracked hands, thanks to the parched, desert air. I had gone back to chewing my nails and I was also convinced that I had at least one, age-caused "kidney spot". What had happened to the sophisticated businesswoman, I used to be? I guess she was turning into adventure woman.

The motel’s promised breakfast of Danish pastries was delayed for some unknown reason. We had a long day planned of around 300 miles. The proprietor felt sorry that we would have to depart on empty stomachs. She gave us three Oreo cookies each to help us on our way. This was the first time I had eaten these rich, chocolate biscuits. Wow, what a pity I hadn’t grabbed the whole packet.

Petrified Forest National Park was unusual. As we drove into the park, the first thing I noticed was the rolling, Mars-red, hillocks of sand. Then, I saw the "forest". I don’t know what I had expected. Maybe, I thought I’d see trees frozen upright, as still and dead as trolls caught by sunlight. But, it was a lying-down sort of forest. Great logs of wood, petrified into stone, lay flat on the ground.

The remaining stumps jagged out of the ground, like decaying brown teeth. Upheaval in the land, and erosion, had caused the trees to break. When they crashed down, their brittle trunks had scattered into huge chunks and shards across the desert.

The rust-coloured, contoured land rolled on and on. It was a grim graveyard for trees. Later, where there were no more trees, nature had compensated for the devastation, with the Painted Desert. It was aptly named, as brighter white, green and yellow minerals splashed colour into the iron ore red sand, as if dripped from a paint box.

Check out these photos on:

Have a look at these great pictures of some other New Zealanders on their Route 66 adventure in Arizona:

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, August 14, 2006

Big is beautiful

Big Joe loomed in front of us. A huge mountain of a man, with the flowing white beard of a hermit and an uncompromising hand gun on his hip.

I goggled at the gun, "do you get trouble around here?"

"Nothing I can’t handle myself," replied Joe, as his hand lovingly caressed the gun’s butt.

A snowstorm had blown us into the Red Lake Camp Ground and Hostel, several miles south of the Grand Canyon. Joe was the proprietor and local trouble-shooter. He looked us up and down and, despite our funny accents, decided we were harmless. He offered us a double hostel room for $US16.

The day had started with a frosty morning back in Tuba City, Arizona. We were warm in our three season sleeping bags, and were surprised at the 1-inch frost on top of everything outside.

Later we split up from F1 and F2, as agreed. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. On one hand it was so good to be free of the considerable encumbrance and rocky moods of F2. On the other, we had serious obligations to our sponsors to drive around the world with a 1948 Series One Land Rover for the marque’s 50th anniversary. We had waved off that very same Series One, leaving us in our classic, but not old enough, Series 2A 1966 Land Rover. While the plan was to get back together by Washington DC, I was having major doubts on whether the separation would give F2 the space she said she needed, or whether the whole thing was doomed to fail because of her difficult personality.

I was still maudlin as we drove into Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon looked wonderful with its dusting of snow and it was certainly vast and huge. All around me people were "ooh-ing and aah-ing", but I felt unmoved, like I was dislocated from the world. Maybe I was mourning the loss of everything the expedition should have been, and now wasn’t going to be.

For the sake of TH, I pulled myself together. The time with F2 had been very hard on him, much harder than on me, and I knew I shouldn’t spoil it further.

TH found a special viewing area, where there were fewer people and more shelter from the biting wind. We just sat and let the canyon work its magic. Its yawning chasms seemed to drop forever, right down to the small, silver sliver that was the mighty Colorado River at the bottom. It made me feel like all my problems were inconsequential specks in the gigantic cosmos. At last I felt calm, for the first time in weeks.

I didn’t notice the darkening clouds, or the increased snowflakes hurrying around me until TH touched my arm. Time to move on.

The storm gathered strength as we headed down to the town of Williams, still some miles away. Our primitive windscreen wipers dragged themselves across the screen, weighted by the snow. I could hear their little motors whining with the effort. We decided not to risk burnout of these motors and had to resort to hand cranking the wipers.

It was almost total whiteout conditions. We both peered intently ahead. TH was driving and I cranked his wiper every second. Occasionally, I swooped the one on my side across the screen. It was on one of these chance sweeps that I glimpsed the edge of a building.

"Stop", I said, "there’s something over there."

I cranked the wiper as fast as I could. Through the swirling snow, we made out a low-slung building and the word "HOSTEL".

"That’ll do", said TH and swung the Land Rover towards it.

We plodded inside to be greeted by this huge, gorilla of a man. Big Joe, with his big, white beard. He looked like Santa Claus with a gun.

It turned out to be more Santa Claus than a gun toting mad man. That said, I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to use the gun, if he needed to.

He offered a comfortable spot for travellers. His rooms were spartan, but clean and comfortable. There were also a reasonably priced washing machines and dryers in the laundry. We washed and dried a swag of washing, while cooking up a feed in the eating area at the back of Joe’s general store. Joe provided microwave ovens, knives and forks and free tea and coffee, if you bought the food in his store. He’d been a trucker and knew what comforts long haul travellers needed. He was also good company and he advised us of what to see and do on the road ahead.

That night I slept very well. The first time for ages.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, June 12, 2006

Cold Comfort

Who would work in a tourist information centre? There were benefits of course – the chance to work in an area with "drop dead gorgeous" scenery, such as Zion Canyon. And fabulous it was – huge canyon cliffs towering over us like in Yosemite, but warm red rock instead of grey. With the heavy falls of snow the area was a winter wonderland.

We poked our noses into the Visitor Centre. A large board was hung over the information desk. On it were written the answers to the four most commonly asked visitor questions in Zion Canyon:

1. Where are the toilets?
2. How far is it to Bryce Canyon?
3. Is it really that far?
4. How long is the 12-minute video?

(Sigh) Imagine working amidst such glorious scenery and being asked such inane questions day in, day out.

We drove around the Zion Valley, making the most of this opportunity. From the year 2000, these roads would be closed forever to private transport between March through to November. At that stage it would be buses only in an effort to manage the 3 million visitors per year.

The early Mormon and Methodist settlers had given religious names to the rocky features of the park. Zion means place of refuge. There were "The Patriarchs" (Abraham, Isaac and co), "Angel’s Landing", "The Pulpit" and, causing more than a few sniggers in our group, "The Great White Throne".

We drove out of Zion Canyon and Utah, back into Arizona. A roadside billboard announced our next destination "Grand Canyon – Greatest Earth on Show".

The countryside was dreary after the wonders we had seen. More like what we thought Death Valley should have looked like. Grey dirt making a barren, dusty landscape with straggly clumps of tussock. The land looked drained of all moisture and the roadside was littered with empty booze bottles, something we didn’t see a lot of in Utah. The bottles were no doubt flung out of car windows and we kept on the look out for drunk drivers.

We passed some tacky, almost falling down stalls advertising Navajo jewellery (in American spelling of jewelry), mats and carvings. They didn’t look very appealing. However, just after we had driven past we spotted some hilarious signs: "OOPS, YOU MISSED US" and "FRIENDLY INDIANS BEHIND YOU".

We cruised into Tuba City looking for accommodation. There were slim pickings. One motel at $US75 per room, the motel’s campsite at $US11.00 per tent, and a youth hostel at $US50 per room, with a shared bathroom. Unlike New Zealand campsites, we noticed that this campground had a heated toilet and shower block. With hot showers, our thermals and our three season sleeping bags, we could make ourselves very cosy.

After the previous cost overruns, TH and I happily plugged for the campground. F1 was paying all of his and F2’s personal expedition and accommodation costs. F2 was hanging out for the motel room and, for once, F1 questioned her. However, the answer was that we could share the motel with them to keep the costs down. I coolly pointed out that while this would reduce their costs, it would increase ours, and, if they had helped us out by sharing a cabin the night before, then we could have helped them now.

The problem was compounded by their ignoring TH’s pre-trip advice about packing warm weather gear. In the snowy roads, and in their spartan canvas topped Series 1 Land Rover (which did not have a heater), both F1 and F2 had been very cold. Still, they had refused to buy even woollen hats and gloves in the many tourist places we had been. F1 was still using my spare pair of gloves, which I was annoyed about, as I could have done with an extra layer on my hands.

F1 suggested we try the youth hostel. I didn’t even have to answer that one. F2 promptly refused to go anywhere that she had to share a bathroom with unknown others. It was hard to believe how she had managed the amount of camping that she had said she had done back in New Zealand.

Team meltdown was, by now, almost complete. We camped and they paid for their own motel room. Tomorrow we would go our separate ways.

However, sometimes people can surprise you. TH and I had just made our tent comfortable when there was a knock on our tent pole. It was F2 with a steaming cup of coffee for each of us.
"I made this in our room for you. It will give some warmth."
It was a kind gesture and one that gave me hope. Given time, perhaps she could make it work with us later in the trip.

Maybe, just maybe.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, June 05, 2006

Meringues or Rotten Eggs?

Death Valley bloomed like nature had never intended in such a parched area. Record levels of rain (this means just over 5 mm) had fallen over January and February, and the desert had burst into a fertile plain. Flowers, plants and insects had leapt into life. People were travelling for days to see the phenomena. We grumpily said that we wanted to see how it usually looked.

The relationships in the team were just as strange. The morning after our departure from LA I tried to explain to F1 and F2 how I had felt and how TH had felt cheated and betrayed when the choice for Route 66 had been arbitrarily overruled by them and without any discussion.

For the next two days it felt like TH, F2 and myself were all walking on eggs. The atmosphere was ultra sensitive between us - not just the delicate sense of trying not the break anything, but also the tension of egg whites whipped into stiff peaks. Everyone did try to accommodate the other, even F2, but I had a mounting sense of hopelessness. This team was never going to mix well enough to become wonderful meringues or pavlova. At best we were only ever going to be a flat soufflé. At worst, rotten eggs.

In the meantime, all we could do is keep moving on. Parts of Death Valley are below sea level but, of course, being in the desert means dry and waterless sand. The campsite at Furnace Creek was minus190 ft below sea level.

A recent flood (even with only 5 mm of rain) had washed a number of rocks and stones into the camping area. It was the only place in Death Valley that looked like the brochures, and the only place we were allowed to camp. Even on our airbeds, it was an uncomfortable night. At least it wasn’t cold.

We headed north to Las Vegas the next day. We found a cheap hotel on the outskirts that night and then drove our Land Rovers down The Strip. Wow, even in this city of amazing architecture, the people thronging the streets all pointed at our "historic jeeps". It shows that old Land Rovers are sassy enough to hold their own – ANYWHERE.

We again pointed ourselves north in the morning – we were on our way to Utah and Zion Canyon. The mountains in the distance were flat topped, similar to the ones in the grand canyon (and area that we were also aiming for, after Zion Canyon) They looked like a row of back less chairs, or square stools, looking down into the valley.

Utah was cleaner, smarter and tidier than Nevada. Probably something to do with gambling being prohibited in that state. The local state highway signs were in the shape of a beehive. How typical of the church going, Mormon forefathers to choose the symbol of an industrious and busy creature. (That is, hardworking and not allowing the idle hands that the devil could make use of).

Snow was down to road levels and the temperatures were freezing as we drove into Zion Canyon. It was much too cold to camp. We found some fully furnished cabins for $US44 per night. There was plenty of room in each for the four of us to share, which would have helped us with costs. However, F2 was having none of it.
"We need our privacy", she announced.
"You could have the bedroom and we’ll sleep on the floor in the lounge," I offered.
"We need our privacy", she repeated.
"You’re not helping the team effort."
"F**K the team!"

So, it was to be ROTTEN EGGS.

We each moved into separate cabins.

Later F1 visited us in our cabin. He tried to make peace, but it was hopeless. It would have been so much better if the expedition had remained just the three of us as originally planned, and without the last minute and uncomfortable addition of F2.

He didn’t see it like that and I didn’t expect him to. He had demonstrated time and time again that he either didn’t notice F2’s behaviour or that he was blind to it. In fact, he often didn’t notice anything at all.

Whichever Land Rover was in the lead each day needed to keep the following Land Rover in visual sight. If we were in front and the road was busy, windy, or snowy, I (in the passenger seat) would look back to save TH taking his eyes off the road in front. F1 would nearly always be the driver of his Series 1. Without exception, his hands would be at "ten to two" on the wheel, his head would be slightly to one side, his face would be completely devoid of any emotion. His expression never seemed to change. With my over-active imagination I used to wonder if he was some sort of robot inflicted on us to watch and monitor the range of emotions and reactions us humans expressed, particularly when pushed to the limit.

Often when we stopped at the end of each day F2, TH and I would talk about the things we had seen. On one memorable day, we actually saw a prison chain gang. This was an unbelievable sight for someone from New Zealand. But, F1 said that he hadn’t noticed. It was a phrase he used many times on the expedition and it never failed to surprise me.

So, back to our snowy night in Zion Canyon, I knew that I couldn’t expect him to notice why the team had fallen apart. Perhaps if he had a stronger nature or the ability to stand up to F2, things may have been different. And, I am not saying that it was all F2’s fault. We were just incompatible.

We let F1 deliver his "marching orders" from F2 that they split up from us. We agreed to let everyone have a chance to "think about this idea" and review the next night. There wasn’t going to be any thinking of course. It was obvious that one person’s mind was already made up.

Bearing in mind the vital components, it was hard to imagine our expedition could survive by splitting up. Our purpose had been to take a 50 year old Series 1 Land Rover back to England for the 50th Anniversary of the marque. F1 had the Series 1, while TH and I managed the sponsorship package and all communications, planned the route, updated the website and provided the photo-journalism articles. We did have separate tents and cooking equipment, so each team could be self-sufficient in terms of accommodation, if required.

TH and I were also very conscious of the responsibility we owed our sponsors to complete this trip in the way we had promised and that didn’t embarrass or compromise them. It was our only hope that, given enough time apart, we would be able to come together with F1 and F2, in UK, without an obvious display of tension. The story (spin) would be - due to time running short, and that we still had 2500 miles to cover in USA, our temporary separation from F1 and F2 would enable TH and I to visit my relatives in Texas, while the others went on ahead in their slower Series 1.

It was hugely disappointing to be forced to make this decision. However, I could see no other choice. We couldn’t continue with F2 behaving as she did and she didn’t seem to be able get along with us.

At least this way there might be a chance we could complete the expedition.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, May 29, 2006

It never rains in Southern California - it pours

Hey, it does rain in Southern California! The day dawned wet and grey. On other LA mornings I had looked out the window and felt I had woken up in a Californian oranges advertising clip.

My neck ached as a result of all the wild rides at Disneyland. I was also pre-menstrual, which meant feeling bloated, headachy and slightly emotional. (All right, I admit PMT can sometimes make you feel like a chain saw murderer, rather than only slightly irrational). But, the others also seemed edgy, including the two men. So what was eating them? Probably some apprehension about starting off again. We all seemed a bit tired and no one really wanted to get going. We dawdled over breakfast.

I thought that once we started on the road, things would be better. They weren’t.

F1 and F2 suddenly decided that they had to find a camping store to replace the glass on their lantern lamp (the one that had broken that night just outside of Yosemite National Park). I couldn’t believe it. After just mucking about seeing the sights for the last three days, they left it until now to do this. We waited over an hour before they got back.

We had planned to start this leg of the trip where Route 66 almost splashes into the Pacific Ocean. But, F2 thought we had delayed enough and complained about time wasting. I gave her some straight answers about that, including that TH had spent hours planning the route in advance which included his dream of driving on Route 66. A path that she had agreed to, when we planned the expedition back home in New Zealand.

Steve and Nancy happily drove on ahead of us to show us the way. There was very little parking available when we arrived at Santa Monica Boulevard and TH could only shoot off some quick photos, almost grabbed out the window of the Land Rover. It wasn’t the highlight that we had hoped for.

We finally left LA at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A crazy time to set off. Steve and Nancy suggested we should start afresh the next morning and invited us to stay another night. We probably should have. But, no, we stuck doggedly to our decision to leave that day.

We were caught up in a traffic jam on the Interstate freeway until 4 pm, due to a car accident. The drizzle continued to ooze down.

Finally, the last of the suburbs straggled past and we were out on the open road once more. Signs on the Interstate periodically showed the various exits to Route 66. At each one, F1 and F2, who were in front, just drove straight on. TH got angrier and angrier. He flashed his headlights, the agreed warning sign to stop, but this signal was either ignored or was not seen.

TH was really pissed off. This expedition had been years in the planning. He was our route master and he had spent days, weeks even, preparing for this moment. He shouted and ranted. I could understand his huge disappointment, but it was only the start of Route 66. It did stretch across at least eight states. We would be in the lead the next day, and we could then dive off as many times as we liked to explore the remaining bits of “the mother road”.

But, that wasn’t good enough. He railed and stormed, each time yet another exit was driven past.

Anyone who has suffered from PMT will know what was likely to happen next. It’s like some huge big pressure. It builds so your head feels like a pumpkin, your body a tight balloon. Everything is stretched to breaking, including emotions. It can be managed in calmer circumstances. But, not if stress levels are pushed to the max. I hadn’t felt this bad before - like dynamite under a laser beam.

The “pumpkin” burst and the seeds rocketed out in equal doses of rage and tears. This is the reaction men find so inexplicable. Screeching and crying all mixed up together. I ranted that he was over-reacting and behaving like a spoilt brat. I howled that he probably wanted us all dead, including me, so he could just do what he liked, when he liked. I could see him happily trotting along Route 66, contented and serene. All was right in his world and nary a thought for his dead wife, lying mouldering and unlamented in her cold grave. (Did I say earlier in this blog that I was just SLIGHTLY irrational?)

Rage only lasts so long. The adrenaline runs out, leaving exhaustion and a feeling of hopelessness behind. TH and I retreated into our own bubbles of misery. We weren’t speaking to each other and definitely not to F1 and F2 when we stopped at our motel for the night.

The ground slid sharply away from the car park next to our unit. While removing our bags from the Land Rover TH slipped on the greasy tarmac . His digital camera slid out of his grasp. Making a grab for the camera, both he and it skated over the car park edge and down the embankment. I rushed over, fearing the worst.

He was muddy and the camera was damaged. He blamed his shoes. He was wearing his dressy leather ones. But, their leather shoes weren’t good in wet weather.
I screamed, “why the hell aren’t you wearing your desert boots?”
“The have holes in the soles!”
“You were supposed to get new ones before we left home.”
“I ran out of time. I had all these things to do.”

Bloody TH. He always had an excuse. If only he said, even just once, that he had stuffed up. But, not this time. The excuse was that there were too many other things to do. As if I wasn’t busy at the same time? I was the only one who had to work at my job right up to the end before we left, just to make sure there was enough money.

And, that was another thing – money. Because of the colder than expected weather, we had needed to use more motels than campsites. Because of F2’s inability to share with us, the costs were starting to mount up. Things were very tight and here we were in another motel and we would also have the expense of buying new shoes as well.

It was the last straw of an extremely frustrating day. I hurled myself onto the bed in the motel and sobbed into my pillow. TH is more used to me being “Wonder Woman” and couldn’t understand why his action woman had stopped being wonderful. I didn’t know why, either. I burrowed under the duvet and just hoped the end of the world would come.

Once the sobs had settled to soft hiccuping snivels, TH was able to lure me out with some tasty food he had prepared. I was always very food motivated. The end of the world could wait until I had, at least, one last meal.

We said we were sorry for upsetting each other. I tried to explain how I felt. I wasn’t used to behaving like that. We had invested so much time into this big trip and the whole thing was getting spoiled.

And, I was really concerned at F2’s continuing tense behaviour and her complete unwillingness to be part of the team. She only seemed to co-operate if she was forced or bullied into it. It was easy to say, “if that’s what it takes, then I’ll do it.” But, I was very uncomfortable with that, and worried what the long-term effects would be – on her, as well as me.

I talked to TH about the day I’d had the huge shouting match with F2.

I described to him how disturbed I was that I got so much stimulation when I changed from “Jekyll” into “Ms Hyde”. I felt I could turn into someone I wasn’t. What if “this thing that I wasn’t”, was the only way to subdue F2’s tantrums and demands. Was there another way to continue on a team expedition, without that?

And, what about TH’s hopes and dreams for driving Route 66? Why should he have to give up on all that because F2 thought she could suddenly decide differently. There didn’t seem to be any easy answers. One thing was clear, neither TH nor I wanted to compromise our marriage.

We agreed we’d find a way forward and went to sleep in each others’ arms.

© Eventful Woman, 2006

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Motoring into Big LA

"LA is a great big freeway" droned in a loop in my head. We would hit the "big smoke" later in the day. Each Land Rover team was armed with maps and written instructions on how to get to our accommodation that night. TH and I were in front. The Series One hugged closely behind.

The countryside was lacklustre, dusty and flat, made even more ugly by the numerous oil wells. The pumping machines toiled all day, every day, like giant grey seesaws, sucking the land dry. Huge highway advertising signs further blighted the landscape. Most were dull with the exception of one for a pest control firm – "Zero Return on Infestment".

The San Fernando Valley yielded a few welcome spots of colour with the last of the Californian wildflowers before we hit Interstate Highway 5 into Los Angeles. Up onto the onramp and suddenly we were sucked into eight lanes of traffic. It seemed we were in a maelstrom, a tidal wave of metal hurtling us forward. Our engine was screaming at full revs to stay afloat in the tide. The smaller engine Series One bobbed uncertainly in our wake and was lost behind.

We couldn’t stop or slow down and all I could do is hope that the maps and training I had provided F2 would be enough.

The highway signs were easy to follow and, long in advance, I spotted the signs for Highway 405. We whizzed ourselves through a gap in the traffic to position ourselves into the correct lane and zipped off onto Highway 405. Later, the Venice Boulevard exit was also well marked and we slid down the off ramp with sighs of relief. While we were waiting at the traffic lights, the Series One came hurtling down the exit ramp to pull in behind us. We all grinned at each other, as we were justifiably proud of ourselves.

A few more turns brought us to the home of Steve and Nancy. Like Mark and Anne (in Klamath Falls) TH had "met" Steve on Rovernet, a website "chat room" for Rover and Land Rover fans. Again, like Mark and Anne, he had offered us accommodation in his home, even though we were complete unknowns. Steve owned a Land Rover Defender 90.

Steve and Nancy were lovely and very welcoming. They were in their early to mid thirties, but looked in their 20’s. Steve was dark and good looking, with a zest for life that was infectious. Nancy was tall and more serious, but very charming. We were lucky to have such generous hosts, particularly as downstairs part of their house was being seriously renovated. All the floorboards were up and we had to pick our way over the wooden crossbeams. It was like an enormous cattle grid. The kitchen downstairs was intact and this led off to a den/TV room. Upstairs were the bedrooms and bathroom. TH and I were given the guestroom, with a very inviting, huge queen sized bed. F1 and F2 brought up their air mattress for the spare room.

Back in the kitchen Steve was making us coffee. I heard a strange, snorting noise coming from the den. At my raised eyebrows, Steve said that he must introduce me to Pricilla and Peepers. I thought perhaps they might be two dogs, but that was a very unusual sound for a dog. Something was butting against the door into the kitchen, accompanied by more odd snuffles and snorts. Goats, maybe? Steve grabbed a handful of pellet shaped nibbles from a dish and moved towards the den door. He called out over his shoulder, "stand back". I didn’t know whether to brace myself or leap up onto the bench.

Fortunately, the den had a barn door arrangement and Steve opened just the top part. There was raucous squealing, determined rat-a-tat drumming of hooves on the door and I was halfway up on the bench before Steve could throw the pellets out into the den. Steve tossed the pellets, there was a slight pause as I saw them arc into the air, before pattering onto the floor. Instantly, there were screams, squeals and a lot of crashing and banging. What the hell was in there???

"Have a look", said Steve. I inched my way towards to door and peered over. Two, pot bellied, Vietnamese pigs were storming around the room, knocking over the furniture, snuffling up the pellets and squealing in delight.
Wow, this was my sort of house. I just LOVED pigs. Seeing my delighted face, Steve said that he had been worried I wouldn’t like them.

He opened the bottom part of the door and they stampeded over. They were the size of half-grown piglets but with that energy, they could easily knock over a human adult. Steve gave them each a pile of pellets and they settled down to graze, while I admired them. They had black, almost hairless bodies, twirly tails and neat little claws. Peepers was the smallest. He had his eyes closed, and he chewed on his food in a contented way, emitting the odd satisfied grunt. Pricilla kept an eye on Steve and I while she ate. Her bright eyes constantly flicked to Steve’s hands, to check out if he had more food. She was definitely more opportunistic of the two.

The den opened up into the garden.
"Come and meet Fido and Fluffy", Steve said.
"Hmmmm", I thought, "after those pigs I bet these are not going to be cats or dogs."
And, they weren’t.

They were two desert tortoises (turtles), each about the size of a large, kitchen mixing bowl. They had three babies, as yet unnamed. Fido and Fluffy didn’t make any noises at our approach, and barely noticed us. Much quieter sort of pets.

We stayed with Steve and Nancy for three happy days.

The day after our arrival, F1 and F2 visited Universal Studios. TH and I had been there on a previous visit to LA, so we had a rest day. Well, sort of a rest day. I wrote another article for the Land Rover magazine that we were on assignment to, while TH caught up on maintenance chores on our Series 2A Land Rover.

I sat in the den with my laptop and worked all day. Every time I needed a break, I would put my computer safety out of the way, and then throw pellets to Peepers and Pricilla. I don’t know who had the most fun – the pigs or myself. Occasionally, I would go out in the garden to see Fido and Fluffy. Sometimes they would look up at me, inscrutable, while chewing slowly on whatever they had in their mouths. Dull maybe, but I had never seen turtles up close before, so I was still fascinated.

On our second day in LA, the Local Land Rover parts dealer, "British Pacific", treated us to Disneyland. He was also called Steve.

Steve Hedke was a Disney junkie from way back. His parents brought him to Disneyland at aged two, when the park opened in 1955. He has been a "Gold Pass" member since then.

He met us when the gates opened at 10am, used his Gold Pass to secure free entry for us, and headed us straight for the Indiana Jones "Land Rover" ride. There was a long queue but we chatted Land Rovers and compared adventures. Soon we were at the head of the queue and in the front row of this exciting, jungle ride. We lurched up and down, sometimes in darkness, with flashing explosions, gunshots, rolling boulders, poisonous darts, and the best part for me, squishing "rats" under the wheels, before zooming out into the light.

Steve H paid for our lunch and gave us British Pacific hats and tee shirts. He had to get back to work in the afternoon and he made sure we had Disneyland maps for the rest of the day. He, Steve and Nancy, Mark and Anne were some of the many people in America, and the rest of the world, who’s generosity and kindness made our expedition special and memorable.

After a big and happy day, we staggered back to Steve and Nancy’s home. We had pizza for dinner, with the voracious Pigzilla (our nickname for Pricilla) trying to grab it off our plates.

Tomorrow we would have to hit the road again.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Sunday, May 14, 2006

How not to be eaten by a mountain lion

Photo: The General Grant Sequoia Tree. Eventful Woman is the
small figure to the far right of the photo.

If seeing bear proof lockers again was scary, then my heart really thumped when I read the signs about what to do when meeting cougars (mountain lions).

Don’t run
Don’t crouch down, try to appear as large as possible
Hold your ground, move away slowly while facing the lion
Pick up little children
(and throw them at the lion - only kidding)
If lion behaves aggressively, wave hands, shout, throw sticks and stones
If attacked, fight back
!! (yeah, right)

We were standing in the snow at Sequoia National Park.

Most of the roads were closed because of heavy snowfalls and we had decided to take the short walk to see the large General Grant sequoia. I had been enjoying myself scrunching along in the white stuff. And, then I saw the cougar warning sign. Eeeeeek!

My palpitations were just settling down when I spotted another, slightly smaller sign warning of other dangers in the park - rivers, lightning, plague, ticks, poison oak, carbon monoxide, giardia in the water, rattle snakes and hypothermia. It was a wonder that I didn’t turn tail and bolt to the safety of the Land Rover.

Instead, TH and I continued to plod along in the snow, puffing ourselves up to look bigger, while looking out for handy children to use as missiles. There were not a lot of people around and I hoped the cougars were not hungry.

We finally paused in front of the General Grant tree, named in honour of Ulysses S. Grant. Used to our own gigantic Kauri trees at home, we did not fall into a hushed silence as the promotional material suggested. The Americans claim this to be the world’s third largest living tree, but that probably means America’s third largest. However, it was pretty impressive. The height was 267 feet (81.5 metres) and the circumference was 107 feet (32.8 metres) at ground level. It’s estimated age is 1800 – 2000 years.

I fingered the bark, which was soft and spongy, but splintered under my touch. It was quite dainty and fragile for such a big tree.

Back in the Land Rover I read over some of the Park’s promotional bumph, while TH brewed up a cup of tea. The Park Rangers write a regular newsletter called "The Sequoia Bark" (very clever). I enjoyed reading the winter notes of Ranger Mary Anne Carlton:
"The Douglas squirrels go from tree to tree for safety. Sometimes you find a little midden where one sat and ate the fleshy scales of a sequoia cone. You can tell coyote tracks from domestic dog tracks because they travel in almost a straight line. Coyotes don’t lollygag around, they’re saving energy by going the shortest distance they can to survive."

The warning sign I had seen didn’t mention coyotes. I checked Ranger Carlton’s notes about cougars. She said that there was more chance of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a mountain lion. Hey, didn’t the warning sign mention lightning as well? It was time we stopped "lolly-gagging" around and got out of here. With almost all the park roads closed, there wasn’t much more we could see anyway.

The countryside flattened as we drove further south towards LA. We tossed off our jackets, hats and scarves as the day warmed and we motored though acres of the orange and olive groves. The whole landscape had changed quickly from the start of the day and was now dry and flat, with clumps of cacti and Phoenix palms. The buildings took on a distinctly Spanish look. And, there were lots more people around.

Coming from the wide-open (and deserted) spaces, the increasing numbers of people and traffic, made me suddenly feel unsure and apprehensive, like a nervous country girl about to hit town. I had become "city shy". Take me back to the cougars and coyotes.

I pushed my irrational thoughts aside and told myself that these folks were just going about their usual life and work. The farmer ploughing his fields, the kid happily skateboarding, the people in the Ute (pick up) with their crop of vegetables piled high in the back were all just that, and not about to suddenly whip out their machine guns, as in the movie of my fevered imagination. I saw a cow shaped letterbox outside one house. "See", I told my pathetic, nervous inner self, "they have novelty letterboxes just like we do."

A funny sign lifted my spirits. It advertised the benefits of "gusto" wind machines, which are used during cold weather to stir the air, and protect the orange and olive groves from frost – "Cure for the common cold – gusto wind machinery"

I had finally settled into some sort of inner calm, when a large, battered Chevrolet, circa 1970’s, pulled close alongside of us. The driver was gesticulating wildly, hooting his horn and skimming dangerously close. After veering in and out alongside of us for a few metres, he zoomed ahead and cut across us, slamming on his brakes. There was no choice but to screech to a halt. As the dust settled I saw F1 and F2, who were navigating as front vehicle that day, continue on ahead as if nothing had happened.

The man in the Chevrolet flung open his door, and walked quickly back towards us. He was quite short, middle aged to elderly and didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons. Even so, we were on high alert. I couldn’t see his face, which was in shadow from his baseball hat. We decided to remain in the Land Rover, which would have a distinct height advantage over him. TH kept the Land Rover in gear, ready to steam forwards and push the Chevrolet out of the way, if necessary.

The man whipped off his baseball hat. He was grinning all over his dial as he shouted out, "Say, are you my long lost cousins from Noo Zeeee-land?" We stared at him in shock. Of all things, this was not what we had expected. By now he was alongside the Land Rover, peering up at TH with joy and amazement on his face.

"Cousins?", repeated TH.

"I sure hope so. The name is Gay Lucas. Put it there", the man said, thrusting his hand up into the Land Rover cab.

The penny dropped. Our sponsorship logos, which included the Lucas brand, were emblazoned all over the sides of both Land Rovers. The words "New Zealand" were also in very bold letters. Gay Lucas had been driving on the other side of the highway. He had seen the Land Rovers, then the logos, had whizzed around in a U turn and started chase. He’d recently studied his ancestry and had read that a branch of his family had immigrated to New Zealand.

And now here he was, clinging to the side of our Land Rover like an over-excited kid on his birthday. He was very disappointed that we weren’t his cousins, or that there wasn’t a rich Mr Lucas, back in New Zealand, who had sponsored us. He was keen to stay on and talk about how we might help him find his cousins in NZ. We were not keen at all. He seemed mad eyed and over-zealous. High on something, perhaps?

I looked up the road to see what had happened to F1 and F2. They had stopped a distant 200 metres away. Obviously, they were not going to act as the cavalry on this occasion. We extracted ourselves as gently as we could from Mr X and scooted onwards.

We stopped alongside F1 and F2. I shoved open my sliding window, "Why didn’t you come back?"
"We thought you had just stopped to talk", replied F1
"Didn’t you see we were forced off the road?"
"No, I didn’t notice."
"What about all the horns and shouting?"

Again, he hadn’t noticed. I remembered the incident back in the motel room several days ago, when F2 and I had been shouting at each other while F1 was on the telephone. He didn’t notice that either. Maybe he was one of these people that could isolate themselves into their own little bubble.

My eyes flicked across to F2. She was staring straight ahead. I wondered if she had noticed the incident. If she had, she wasn’t saying. Or, maybe she still hadn’t made the teamwork connection."

I sighed. I felt I shouldn’t have to spell this sort of stuff out. But, we were still new together as a team. What was obvious to me may not be that clear to others. Our leg though America was, in part, training for later, when we would be driving through wilder countries on the homeward leg.

So I just said, "keep your eyes open behind you, as well as in front. Remember, there is safety in numbers. If you are the lead vehicle and we stop for more than a few seconds, especially if we are forced off the road, then you need to come back."

They nodded and we moved on down the road.

F2 had been doing well with the navigating that day. But, she became more anxious as the day wore on. I guess the busier roads were having an effect on her too. There was no sign of any campsites and we decided on a motel. After F1 and F2 drove past several in a row, we ended up outside a "Best Western" that was expensive at $US65 per night (remember this was 1998). I suggested we go back to the motels we had just seen. But, F2 had had enough. She informed me that she was tired and she wasn’t going to stay in a dump.

We decided it was best to split up for the night to give everyone some space. The big argument we’d had in the last motel was still fresh in my mind and, while F2 had demonstrated a more even temper since then, she had been very tense at times.

TH and I returned to the cosy "Sundance Inn" down the road. At $US32 per night it was clean and comfortable and it was great to be alone with just each other.

© Eventful Woman, 2006

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Monday, May 08, 2006

My name is Sue. How do you do?

"I’d never sell the house to do this trip", I muttered to TH as we drove on from meeting fellow Kiwis on the road.
"Maybe it’s the only choice they had", replied TH.
"There’s always another way to skin a cat", I replied.

We had stopped at a viewing area for one last look at Yosemite National Park and had instantly spotted a kiwi sticker on one of the campervans (American’s call them RV’s) also parked there. The owners looked about our age and, when in New Zealand, they lived in Waitakere City. They were touring USA for 12 months.

This trip was a life goal fulfilled for them and they had sold the house to make the trip. It was a tempting prospect – a year in one country, when compared with one year to drive around the whole world like we were doing. Imagine staying in Yosemite for a week or more, instead of just a night? Wow. But, I’d never sell the house to do it. TH and I had taken the sponsorship/photojournalism route. (Refer blog entry for 18 July 2005 )

We sadly drove out of Yosemite and trundled along the back roads, aiming in the general direction of Fresno and LA. The paddocks were full of spring flowers in the lush, long grass. Orange poppies, the California State flower, swayed tall and bright amid the other white, yellow and purple flowers. With a warm wind riffling the grass the scene looked like a movie version of a Monet painting.

Later in the afternoon we stopped at dot of a place called Piedra. We were on the hunt for information about nearby accommodation or campsites. The place looked as sleepy and quiet as the old dog dozing in the spring sunshine outside the Post Office.

I was standing looking very lost, clutching my map, in the middle of the road , when a big woman in a uniform appeared from behind the building. She looked military and business-like as she bustled towards me. It could have been a scene from one of those films where a stranger asks for directions and then is swallowed up by aliens, the FBI, or something, and is never heard of again. However, I noted she had a kindly face and she smiled as she asked "Could I help you?"

For a deserted spot, she was the best person we could have bumped into. Her name was Sue and she was part of the US Corp of Army Engineers. They manage dams (among other things) and have developed campsites for the public on the lakeshores of these dams, all over America. Later in our trip we stayed at many of the US Corp of Army Engineers' campsites and always thanked ourselves that we had discovered them via our guardian angel Sue.

Sue told us there was a camp only 10 miles away. It was called Pine Flat Lake, was cheap and had hot showers. On arrival, we pitched our tents by the water’s edge. Dinner was a "fry-up" of sausages, eggs, potatoes and peas. Slouching with full bellies in our campchairs after dinner, we noted a number of fishermen’s camps dotted along the lakeside. They didn’t seem to be the partying sort of fishermen. We gratefully retired to our tent and sunk into a happy slumber.

At 5:45 am there was a great roar of outboard motors, as scores of fisherman roared off in their boats at dawn. Mercifully the dam was huge and the scream of the engines faded to a dull thump as they rode further away. Favourite fishing holes were found, the engines were finally cut and peace settled back into the still morning air. Our sleeping bags, which were lovely and cosy at Yosemite had been too hot last night. I had been restless in the heat, but in the cool (and now quiet) of the morning, I nodded off once more.

The fishermen were still all out there, doing their "male bonding", "fishing ritual" thing when we left at 9am to get on the road again.

As we drove along in USA I loved finding amusing and funny signs. Not far along the way that morning was one advertising a café near Piedra – "The Best Food by a Dam Site".

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, March 20, 2006

Spirited Intent

Photo: Campsite under the pine trees

We were not disturbed by bears, or anything else, in the night. I was cosy as warm toast in my three-season sleeping bag.

TH was always first up in the mornings. He would brew the tea and then thrust a hot steaming cup through the tent flap, while I was still curled up in my bag. I would groggily sip it, while trying to prise open my eyes. Mornings are not my thing.

However, this morning I needed more speed. We had decided to photograph our sponsored tent (thanks to the Kiwi Camping Company ), with the majesty of the Yosemite granite cliffs in the background. This meant we had to break camp and whiz up the tent again, but in one of the spots with glorious views – these places were always "no camping" zones, of course.

We figured that if we got up at dawn, then very few people would be around to notice us. If they did, then hopefully they wouldn’t think that we’d be making camp for the night, at that early hour. F1 & F2 hated mornings more than I did. When we discussed tactics the night before, they decided we would be on our own on this exploit.

After the warmth of the tent, the air outside was rather brisk that morning. We hobbled stiffly about in the cold, trying not to make too much noise in the still quiet campsite. We threw the tent in a big heap into the back of the Land Rover and scampered off to a place we had noted the night before.

We were still getting familiar with this new tent, but it was so easy to erect. There was only one centre main pole and one peg in each of the four corners. Later in the trip, when we were more practised, we could set up our entire camp, complete with sleeping bags, cooking equipment and deck chairs, in less than two minutes.

TH banged off a number of shots with his camera, while I kept an eye out for park wardens and sheriffs. I had our "brag book" ready. This book was our badge of honour, and it proved very handy during the trip when applying for visas, impressing local dignitaries and cutting through bureaucratic officialdom. It contained our press clippings, some give-away promotional material about the expedition and letters of recommendation from highly placed people. On the opening page was a letter from the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Hon. Jenny Shipley.

It read:
"It is with much pleasure that I introduce TH and Eventful Woman (of course she used our real names), who are planning a very special expedition around the world in Land Rovers.

To endeavour to cover approximately 28,000 km and visit over 30 countries over 12 months is no mean goal.

The expedition is certainly a testament to the vision and tenacity of these spirited New Zealanders.

I look forward to following their progress and wish them all the best in this endeavour." Ends.

We hoped that the phrase "spirited New Zealanders" would cover us for temporarily erecting a tent in an illegal spot. If not, then certainly the words "I look forward to following their progress" might signal that we had ‘friends in high places’, which could deter even the most over-zealous officials.

The letter was dated 17 February 1998. We had only secured it in the two weeks before we left New Zealand. In 1997 we had already obtained a letter from Prime Minister Jim Bolger but, by early 1998, he’d been rolled by Jenny Shipley in a leadership coup. PM Bolger’s letter was positioned on the second page of our Brag Book, followed by letters from the Mayor of Manukau City (our home city), the New Zealand Ambassador to USA, and the Chief Executives of two of our sponsors: Repco New Zealand and Rover New Zealand.

After the expedition, a lot of people (non-New Zealanders) asked me how we obtained these letters. The short answer was, we just asked for them. And, we were very proud to carry them, and the good wishes of the writers, on our expedition.

However, as further explanation, we are from a very small country with a tiny population (4,000,000). As New Zealanders, we all love to travel and are often very adventurous. It is part of our unique culture. Accordingly, it is much easier here to request, and receive, letters of support for odysseys like ours, from our political leaders.

Meanwhile, back in Yosemite National Park: There were no bureaucrats at that hour of the morning. A couple of motorists curiously cruised past. Soon we had our tent pulled down and smuggled back into the Land Rover. We returned to the campsite very pleased with ourselves, and looking forward to a late breakfast.

Of note, the day I am writing this blog is 20 March 2006, exactly 8 years to the day that the above events were described (20 March 1998).

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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