Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

. . . Four Days of Communication at HK

I am beginning this blog while sitting in the Best Western in Woodbury, NY, not far from Sands Point, NY the home of The Helen Keller National Center, where I just spent the last four nights  and days.   It the most rewarding conference of any kind that I have ever attended in my thirty-six years in the field human service,  my twenty-seven years in that of visual impairment or my twelve years as an O&M instructor – having attended a pile of conferences throughout.   I am not however casting disparagement on the others I attended,  because I always learned new things and usually came away greatly enriched.  But even after four days  of demanding work from dawn ’till dusk and beyond, with only five-minute breaks between sessions, working lunches and sessions after dinner,  rather than being exhausted I was so energized I practically floated to my car when I left.  At the seminar we covered mountains of valuable material and while I will summarize the gist of what was offered, no way could I ever do the material justice, but really that is not the purpose of this blog.   As I was leaving the conference, many of my colleagues requested that I send them copies of the photos I took and I think displaying them here is probably the best way I can make them easily available  without emailing monster emails to everyone.  Below before the pictures start is in a tiny nutshell summary of some of the sessions and activities from the conference, but first I would like to mention and thank all of the participants and instructors for the help, support and camaraderie that they generously offered throughout the experience.  I would, from the bottom of my heart like to thank:

Colleagues:
Landra B. 
(Ontario, CA),   Magali G. (Ashland MA),
Wayne M. (Denver CO),  Monique M. (Denver CO), Chantae S. (Sands Point, NY),
Amber W. (Kalamazoo MI), Katie C. (Indianapolis, IN), Patrick G. (Burlington VT){my roommate at HK}), Merri L.(Riverside CA), Tricia M. (Sands Point, NY),
Debra S. (Talladega, AL), Sherrie W.(Hempstead, NY), Feng Y.(Salt Lake City, UT),
Heddy Z. (Riverside CA).

Presenters:
Anindya “Bapin” Bhattacharyya
, BA – Technology and Training Specialist Helen Keller National Center (San Francisco, CA)
Eugene Bourquin, DHA, COMS, CI & CT, CLVT – Senior instructor Orientation and Mobility Department at Helen Keller National Center(Manhattan, NY)
Eleanor Carlson, MA, COMS, GDMI Helen Keller National Center – Regional representative (Denver CO),
Deborah Fiderer, BA Supervisor Community Services Helen Keller National Center, Monica Godfrey-Lehrer, MA COMS – Supervisor Technology Department Helen Keller National Center
Carol Hammer, MA, CCC-A, F-AAA – Audiologist Helen Keller National Center
Deborah Harlin, MS, TVI Supervisor Technology Department Helen Keller National Center Joseph McNulty, MA Executive Director Helen Keller National Center
Dona Sauerburger, MA COMS Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (Gambris, MA)
And last, but far from least
Sr. Bernadette J. Wynne, MA Coordinator National Training Team Helen Keller National Center.

I would also like to offer special thanks to my roommate Patrick, for being the best of all possible roommates imaginable.  I would also like to thank my fellow team members –Landra, Monique, Christie and especially Jill our student — who all helped me greatly to get through the very challenging task of beginning to learn and implement techniques to teach deaf-blind mobility skills  in downtown port Washington.  Oh and thanks to the interpreters and their great feedback as well.

Also, I would like to thank the kitchen staff for providing us with three square meals daily that were really quite good, along with their good nature and the sense of humor that they exhibited while dispensing it to us.

 

Our first session offered us a history of deaf-blindness and most of us were surprised to learn that Helen Keller was not the first person of deaf-blindness who was formally trained.  We found out that Ms Victorine Morriseau (1789 – 1832 had that distinction and that the second one was Ms. Laura Bridgman born in 1829 and who attended the Perkins School for the Blind in 1837.   We then found out that the third person with deaf-blindness known be educated was Julia Brace (1807 – 1884) and that Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) was the fourth.  Also in this session we also learned about the history of deaf-blind education, who is included in that population and the breakdown of the physical conditions that lead to deaf-blindness.  We learned about the major causes of Deaf-blindness and we learned how Rubella was the leading cause in history for the condition, and that today Usher’s Syndrome is the leading cause.   We also learned the characteristics of  Charge Syndrome and how this genetic effect brings about deaf-blindness.

In our next session we learned about the characteristics of deaf-blind culture and how it differs from those of  both non-disabled and other disabled populations and after that we jumped right into the much larger topic of communication with persons who are deaf blind along with a general discussion of various signed languages; what is and is not a language; the role of the interpreter; the responsibilities of the interpreter and much more that I could possibly do justice to in this blog.

Next, (and I am not sure whether this occurred late Monday or Early Tuesday) we learned about the various technology available to people who are deaf-blind to aid in communciation.   Without going into detail, I will list the items discussed.   We learned about: The Brailliant B40 Braille display; Screen and text enlargement programs such as  Window Eyes and ZoomText; Features in the iPad that can be used by users who are deaf-blind; The DBC (Deaf-Blind Commuicator; The iPhone 4s, and more, including other adapted devices like the sonic bat-like  Mini-guide and the iBill a talking/vibrating money ID machine.  When we had finished our session with technology,  Our FL (Fearless Leader) Gene announced to us offhandedly that right after this session, we would be heading to Port Washington, where we would all be hopping on a train to Manhattan to participate in a “Street Crossing Race”, an activity that none of us had the faintest idea as to the nature of.  We soon found out.

After the group convened at the train station in Port Washington and Gene instructed in how to get our tickets, we obtained them and boarded the train and headed for Penn Station in the Big Apple.   Along the way Gene entertained us with bits of his endless fascinating knowledge of the area, pointing out restaurants and other landmarks along the way.  Also along the way he gave us the basic idea of what we had in store for us in the “Street Crossing Race.”  We found out that when we got to the starting point — 7th Ave. and 34th St. — the two teams — our group was divided in half —  would congregate on the opposite corners of 34th Street and 7th Ave.  At the starting signal, one member from each team was to don a blindfold and using her or his cane, walk to the next corner (35th), stand there and display a sign like the one below . . .

. . . by holding it over the non-cane side shoulder until a passing pedestrian gives the tapping signal and after that person guides the participant to the other side, also the helper has moved on and cannot observe,  the blindfold is taken off and passed on to the next victim.

Although I did not express it, I will admit that when I looked up the 7th St. sidewalks on both side of 34th to see people flowing five abreast in a solid mass toward us, I was experiencing more than a small degree of skepticism about the efficacy of this endeavor.  However as we tapped our way through them, those masses parted for us as if they were the red sea and in my observation none of us waited as long a  minute at our respective corners before a good Samaritan helped us across.    After this thoroughly uplifting experience Gene took us on a tour of some of the sites, which ended at famous John’s Pizzeria, where we all sat down and shared a delicious meal of a variety of slices.  We arrived back at HK, quite tired, but still energized by this wonderful activity, even after a fifteen hour day.

In our next session, we were instructed and began the discussion on the need for economy of language when communicating spoken language with the deaf-blind through an interpreter.  We learned how to shave down the dialogue we use when speaking with an interpreter — simplifying and condensing our English to its most simple and direct form, so that it more closely mimics the language of people who are deaf — ASL.

Even though I know I did not cover one tenth of what was offered to us at this seminar, I hope that gives anyone that is interested a little idea what went on there.  If you work in the field of visual impairment or deafness or both, and you even think you might work with a deaf-blind person in the future, I strongly suggest that you either get your administrator to come up with the funds or you scrape them together yourself to attend the next conference at HK.  If you do, you will not regret it.

Anyway, here are a few pictures I took at Helen Keller and the surrounding area:

This first pic is of the conference room where we were tortured – er… instructed.

The next is a sculpture located in the yard of the main building entitled “Seaform I”, and which was sculpted by Alfred Van Leon.

Here is a shot of the front entrance . . .

. . . and here is HK’s sign on the front gate:

With occasional comments interspersed, what follows are the rest of the pictures I took during the experience that I have to share with you.

Hard at work in the conference room:

The next group of pictures is from our amazing trip to Manhattan:

On the train . . .

. . . and in “The City” — Unfortunately, I was so involved in the Street Crossing race, both when I was under the fold and when I was observing my fellow participants, that I left my camera in my backpack for the whole thing.  If any of the rest of you who took photos of that activity would like to send me a few, I will include them here.

And one final parting shot of a familiar Manhattan icon — the taking of which almost left me behind:

And to wrap things up, here are a few more pictures I took from the nature preserve right next door to Helen Keller.

After leaving the conference I needed to make a brief stop in Port Washington to get my patched-together-with-a-paperclip glasses fixed and after that was done, I buzzed back to take a drive through The Sands Point Nature Preserve located next to Helen Keller to take some pictures and the results are included below, along with a few familiar faces that I captured when I arrived at the beech.

That’s all folks!

PS: You may notice that I have written quite a few blogs on various subjects.  I just want to warn those of you who might be somewhat of the conservative bent to probably shy away from those blogs in the “News Rants” and “World Blogs” categories as they tend toward the polemic as regards the political right.  However, feel free to go there and I welcome any comment you make positive or negative — “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  François-Marie Arouet.  You can get a brief overview at all of them by just reading my blog blog, which is a narrative index giving a brief description of and linking to all of my blogs — well, most of them.

PPS:  I invite anyone to point out Typos, misspellings or omissions you would like included.  In fact, if there is a portion of the event any of you would like to expound further on, feel free to say as much as you like in the comment section and I will insert it in an appropriate portion of the blog.  BTW I have already found about a bajillion little errors that may have been corrected since you last looked.

Hey Folks,

Just thought I would write a blog that gives a short description of the more than fifty blogs I have written so far.  My blogs are divided into categories, so I will arrange this blog in the same way.  Note that some of my blogs fall into more than one of my categories, but they will only be chronicled once below. The blogs are listed in each category in chronological order from the oldest to the newest.

ADVENTURE:
In “The Mexico Expedition“, I tell about an expedition my father and I went on in the jungles of Mexico. In “Shrimp Boats” Although the next blog, entitled “Grand Canyon” is yet unfinished, I published it anyway and at some point will finish this massive blog about the fun-filled trip to the Grand Canyon with the family of my best friends.  Economizing Words details a four-day conference I attended on Long Island, where I began to learn techniques for teaching mobility skills to persons who are deaf-blind.

HUMOR
This category has several entries, but two are rather silly like, “Anti Aging” “Cream” which does not deserve an explanation and “Lovesick Squirrel“, which is also rather weak. I do think that my blog about “The Empty bus“, which details my most embarrassing moment is, if I do say so myself, pretty funny. In “No Virginia“, I shared one person’s(was unable to find who this piece originally came from) scientific analysis of the impossibility of the existence of Santa. In “jokes” I add a few favorite jokes I have received from hyper space over the years. In “National Bake Sale” I make my own tongue-in-cheek “modest proposal” as to how to solve our national debt crisis.

 Miscellaneous World Blogs
In “The Big Ponzi Scheme“, I explain why I think the free enterprise system is one giant Ponzi Scheme.  In “Taxes 101“, I decry America’s aversion to paying taxes.  In “Wiki leaks Realization“, I applaud how these revelations reveal just how stupid our world leaders (mostly men) are.  “Don’t ask Don’t Tell” is just one of my several blogs that attack the moronic bigoted behavior in the world.   In “The Wal-Marting of America“,  I talk about how China has adopted a similar policy of that adopted by Wal-mart to economically crush everyone but them.  In ‘A Letter to the Rich“, I send these sycophants a warning.    In The God of Abraham VS Spirituality,  I detail reasons why belief in this god,  contradicts its adherents claim to spirituality.   “Jesus“, is another of my polemics against bigotry.  In “The Age of Stupid“, I mourn the current anti-intellectual climate fostered by the right wing-nuts of the republican party.    In “Inherent Bigotry“,  I detail how I think the bigotry is inherent in the three major religions that dominate the world today — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.    In” There is a fine“,  I talk about why parents — not teachers — are the ones who are really the ones responsible for the education of their children.   In”I’m Tired of the Bleeping Censorship“, I point out how silly trying to control media language with “‘bleeping” offensive language is.   “Are the Republicans the New Sodomites?“,  is not actually one of my blogs, but was a New York Times OP:Ed in which Nicolas Kristoff, gives an amusing quiz that points out just how out of touch with reality the Christian right are.   In “Corporate Person-hood“,  I decry the supreme court’s decision that gives corporations the same rights as real people and I make an argument why they are not at all human.  in “Good People“, I give my opinion on what it takes to be a good person.   In “Not for Profits Please” I give my argument why these entities are a superior way to proceed in the future.   In “In the Tradition of Tomas de Torquemada” I decry the religious zealotry of Rick Santorum.    And finally in this category, I wrote two companion blogs,  “Racism is …“, which explains why we should stop using this archaic word and “Ethnic Bigotry is caused by?“, which details what science has discovered about the sources of bigotry.

NEWS RANTS
In “My Take on Egypt” I talk about what I think really spurred the Arab Spring.  In “McCarthyism Reincarnated“,  I make a short comment on the ravings of Ann Coulter.  In “Nuclear Lies“, I argue that no matter what we do with this form of power, it will never be safe.  In discuss the meaning of “Cults“, and in Bill Maher’s comments about conservative woman… I argue that Mr. Maher’s comments is neither a sexist nor misogynistic.  In Here’s Something I rant about the Supreme Court decisions on corporate person-hood.

PICTURES
 In “Pictures“, which is not really a blog in my list, but a menu item at the top of my blog, I display some of the favorites from the pictures I have taken.   I display some pictures of my master in “My Cat: Wheatina Turdmonky“.  Lastly in this category, I chronicle the tragedy of  “A Green Heron Saga”

WEIRD
This category had a few entries, but the others have already been mentioned in other categories, so there is only one left.  “A Mystery Noise”  Tells about an actual, very frustrating experience I had in my home one long night.

SHORT STORIES
I have two short stories of my own in this category, “Symbiosis” a completely fictional short short story about an encounter with an unusual individual and “Words in Time“, another short short of mine with time travel as its theme.  And finally in this category, I put in one that is not mine “The Story of an Hour“, by Kate Chopin.  Although only one page long,  this is one of the most powerful short stories I have ever read.

WORDS
In this final category, I offer on blog that lists some of my favorite “aphorisms” in general and then two more that deal specifically with “Death” and “Ennui”  I also include a list of “Aphorattemts” which lists some original quotes of mine.

Note: Oops! I accidently clicked “publish” instead of “save”. This blog is still under construction. Feel free to browse through it, but as of today, it is sixty-five pages long when copied and pasted into a Word file and I still have quite some way to go.
Ross

My best friends were going on a family camping trip to the Grand Canyon National Park and invited me to join them.  I jumped at the chance.
They Are:   Mark(Dr. Mark Hama), my best friend  since our days together at the Univeristy of Texas in Austin in the late ’70s;  his partner Linda (Dr. Linda Kornasky) — who became my other best friend soon after she and Mark met while both earning their doctoral degrees at tulane in New Orleans;  Their two  children: Sebastian(12) and Lincoln (8) — calling these two precocious would be like calling Mt. Everest a hill — great kids.  I have known them since birth and am their honorary “Uncle Ross.”Mark and Linda are both tenured English professors at San Angelo State University and Linda is in charge of gender studies.

So after much discussion and collaborative internet searches the travel plan evolved into this: I was to fly to Albuquerque where Mark’s parent’s live to meet Mark who would have  already driven the eight hours  there from San Angelo with the kids.  I was then going to spend a few days around Albuquerque to see the sights and possibly ride the Tram to the Sandia Crest (11,000 + feet) with the kids.   And when Linda, who had been finishing up her last summer grading arrived, we would be off the the Grand Canyon.  We would camp at the Canyon Campground for four nights, hiking the canyon and seeing the sights, including on the third day driving 100 miles north to Page Arkansas to ride the Colorado through Glenn Canyon on a rubber raft for five hours.  Then after returning the 100 miles from Page camping the final night at the Grand Canyon, Bright and early the next morning, we would be off to beautiful-in-fairy-tale-proportions Sedona, Arizona for two days at a luxurious Best Western.

That was the plan and although I thought it was a rather tall order, that schedule was followed exactly.  What follows are the details, the adventures and unexpected happenings along with my favorite photos from the six hundred plus  I took.

Embudo Canyon


On my first full day in Albuquerque, Mark’s dad dropped me off at the trail-head at Embudo canyon near his home so I could hike around up there and get a few pictures.  The trail itself is pictured to the left and winds around and up into the foothills of the mountains beyond.  I got my first taste of the higher altitude hiking as I walked to the top of one of these foothills.  Albuquerque airport is one mile above sea level and the Hama’s home and the beginning of Embudo trail are at about sixty five hundred feet,  so hiking and particularly climbing is much more challenging than what I am used to in central New York State.  For example, my house is at four hundred and sixty feet and it is at about the highest point in my town.   Below are some pictures I took  of myself using my remote control as I scrambled up a large rock :

Also got a few pics of the Fauna and Flora:

The shot below is a Panorama of Albuquerque from the highest point I achieved that day:

The Sandia Crest

On Sunday, the last day before we were to leave on our trip, the boys and I took the tram ride to the Sandia Crest, which towers over Albuquerque reaching a height of  10,678 feet — roughly a mile higher than the already mile-high city.  It makes one feel very small riding in that little box with the vastness all around and below.  To give some perspective to our height, see our tiny shadow on the ground in the picture to the right — the green around it is full-sized trees, not moss.

Our ride to the top took about 20 minutes and was filled with a stunning Vista in all directions as we swayed and lurched our way to the top.  Photography was difficult, as the car was very crowded, so we did not get many good shots on our trip up and on the return trip, the car was totally packed, so we got only a few on the way down.  The picture to the left may look like a small pile of rocks, but the smaller ones are actually house-sized and the big one on the right is the size of a four-story building.  The picture to the right shows the view of Albuquerque off in the distance in the valley below.  Below is a view of one of the trams viewed from the observation deck on the crest, followed by a blow-up of the tram itself:

 Both Sebastian and Lincoln manned my camera on the tram and took some pretty good shots.  Here are a few of those:

Once we arrived at the top and before we began our hike, we found the view pictured to the right —  a maze of wooden of walkways with railings winding all over the whole crest, with an elegant restaurant nestled in the middle of them.   We then had a delicious meal in that restaurnant in preparation for our hike on the Sandia Creast Trail.   Even though we all over-did eating the excellent food, after staggering out of the restaurant, we somehow were able — after several false starts –to find the correct trail-head and start on our hike — an experience that was made more difficult both by our full stomachs and by the effect of the thinner air at this altitude. Here are some of the shots we got on that hike:

 

 

 

 


and finally,  a picture of the stone house that was our original goal, but that we did not make it to because we were too pooped to do so:

 

The Grand Canyon

So, when Linda arrived from San Angelo on Sunday and after enjoying a delicious meal prepared by Carmen (Mark’s Mom), we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening preparing for our trip.  The process of packing everything we could possibly need for this adventure into the Hama’s Honda Odyssey  — tents, food, stoves, air mattresses, sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights, backpacks, rain ponchos, hats, sun screen, clothing, hiking sticks, leggos and various electronic equipment — was coordinated and supervised by Mark, who is truly a master at this because when the job was done, I would have challenged anyone to find a space in the back of that van into which a credit card could be inserted.

We headed for the Canyon early the next day and after about eight hours we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park.  The boys and I who had never been there before, were surprised by the large Ponderosa pines that filled the park.  We had the picture of the area being a sparse high desert.  The park is quite large and it took some driving around to locate our camp-site, but when we did, everyone pitched in and and everything was quickly set up.  Our campsite, pictured at the right, is about a mile from the rim of the canyon and is cozily nestled in stands of Ponderosa Pines, mixed with various other deciduous and non-deciduous trees.

Those who know me might observe that my tent looks a bit small to accommodate my 6’4″ frame they would be right — it is a child’s tent.   This sleeping arrangement came about as a result of a conversation Mark and I had on the phone when we were originally planning this trip.  He asked my height to find out if I could — corner to corner, fit in a tent he already had.  He said that when he measured the tent from corner to corner it measured slightly more than 6’4″, so he proclaimed that I could in fact fit in the tent.   But in his measurement, he did not take into account the thick inflateable air mattress I would be sleeping on which raised the floor an additional five inches and due to the inward curvature of the tent walls, the full stretch-out distance was reduced to about 5’9″.  However, since I can only sleep comfortably in fetal position, this did not prevent me from having comfortable sleeping throughout the camping experience.  The alternative — being able to stretch out, but submitting my skinny butt to the hard earth, will never happen.   My being in such a small tent did however earn some strange looks from some other campers who happened to glimpse me emerging from it, rather like a snail from its shell.

Just a word about tents in general here:  Whoever comes up with how many people a particular tent is supposed to hold, must be using very small people in their formula.  For example, the Hama’s tent is supposed to be a “six man tent” and the found it very cramped with the four of them in it.

After setting up the camp, we prepared our first meal — Hotdogs, chips and Pork ‘n’ beans  on a trusty Coleman Stove that Mark’s dad had passed on to him.  By the time we finished eating it was nearing sunset and all were eager to take our first look at the Canyon, so we all hopped in the van and headed that way and arrived at the observation point just before sunset.  The pictures cannot begin to capture the vista that unfolded to us.  Because of limited space and because of the bulk of the thing, I did not bring my tripod, so getting pictures at this time of day was a bit sketchy.

Here are two more from that first evening:

By this time, we were all getting pretty tired and ready to hit the hay.  We had planned on having S’mores around the fire, but decided that could wait until the next night.  Linda chose our campsite well when she booked it, because it was right next to the bathroom, so when we finished our ablutions, we were all out like a light in about ten minutes.  I slept quite well, roughing on queen-size battery inflated bed and it was good that I did, because we were all up before dawn in preparation for a very full day.

The Bright Angel Trail

    The picture above is one I patched together from four separate photos — it took that many to cover the whole trail — actually most of the trail as some of the trail could not be viewed from the place on the rim from which I took those pictures.  These pictures were actually taken two days after our Bright Angel hike as we were on our Rim Trail hike.    Note that I  traced the trail in red in the picture above.  The trail-head is near the  visitor center/Restaurant, which appears as a tiny faint blob in the picture above and then switches back and forth for 6.1  miles down  — the part that is visible in the picture that is.  The rest of the trail from that point where the red line ends near the lower left corner of the picture, becomes very steep and difficult and continues about another 10,000 feet (as the crow flies) to the river.   To the right is the whole trail pictured on a map.

     Ones whole sense of distance and size is very challenged by this experience.  Note the red arrow pointing at the cotton woods that appear like moss on rock as opposed to what they are massive trees — some with trunks twenty-five feet in diameter.  I never actually viewed these, as we did not make it that far down the trail, but Mark had made the trek all the way to where that red line ends back in the day.   As you can tell from the picture the trail switches back and forth causing the descent to not be very steep for the most part, but hikers are encouraged to stay away from the edge of the trails, which have no railings and and often offer edges with precipitous drops that would surely be fatal if one slipped.  We all stayed away from those edges as we hiked. Below is selection of pictures taken on that hike:

We saw hundreds of people both going down and coming up the trail and what an international group. I spoke with people from: Germany, Switzerland, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Italy, Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, Guam.

We get a bathroom and drink stop

The next two pics are of one of the park rangers taking a break in the shade of an overhanging rock from his daily trek of the whole Bright Angel trail.

We wound our way down, for what seemed like forever, but all of us were in very good spirits and holding up quite well, with plenty of water, fruit and energy snacks to keep us going and healthy.  In this very hot and dry environment, one can become quickly dehydrated if large quantities of water are not ingested.

At a point roughly 2.5 miles from our start, I started to worry about the fact that what goes down, must at least in this case, come back up and I expressed my concern to the rest of our group.  The kids of course wanted to continue further down.  I did not mention earlier that the temperature at the rim was hovering at or above 100 degrees and the temperature increases steadily with descent into the canyon until it reaches a sizzling 115 at the bottom, so at our current level it was getting more than a little warm.

At this point, I put my foot down and said that if the others wanted to continue on they could, but this senior citizen was heading back for the top.  The kids reluctantly agreed to begin the ascent and Mark and Linda agreed as well — I suspect with much less reluctance — and we started what felt like a twelve mile hike back to the Visitor Center.

As we wound our way to the top, we took frequent breaks with the frequency increasing as we approached the end.  Just before we reached the top, we were hit by a flash rain shower that was very welcomed as it cooled us off somewhat.

Once finally at the top, we noticed that we were all starving — not that we didn’t have food on our trek, we had consumed many bottles of water, multiple granola bars, apples and oranges, but we were very ready for a sit-down meal so I treated us all to a hearty lunch at the visitor center restaurant.  After this we staggered to the van and headed back to the campsite.  When we arrived we received quite a surprise as a 600 LB cow moose was casually licking water off my tent — apparently an easy source of water for these beasts after the infrequent rain showers there.  She did not seem in the least bit distressed as I walked up and took the picture and when she had licked her fill, she casually ambled away and as she did, multiple campers snapped pictures of her and I was also able to get a pic of her with Sebastian and Lincoln in the foreground.

When everyone settled down from that experience, we started to prepare the fire.   Each site has a cement pit with a large hinged grill over it for building our fires.  Beyond small kindling, no wood is available near the campsite and of course you are not allowed to cut any wood from trees, so you have to buy small bundles of wood at eleven dollars a  pop, so we used our wood rather gingerly.  Mark instructed the kids in the art of building a fire and in a short time we had a roaring blaze over which we prepared our S’mores – a toasted marshmallow sitting on top of chunk of Hershey bar which are both then  squashed between two graham crackers.   S’mores are a tasty but extremely messy treat, that was made slightly more so by the fact that Linda had purchased unusually large marshmallows — about the size of hard balls – which had a tendency to ooze out profusely when pressure was applied to the crackers.  When we had put out the fire and cleaned off all of the sticky stuff, it was time for bed as again we would be getting up very early the next day to head out on the next leg of our adventure

The Glenn Canyon Raft Trip

Early the next morning, as soon as we could drag our rather sore bodies out of bed, prepare a breakfast of oatmeal cooked on the Coleman stove  and complete our toilets, we hopped in the Van to head for Page Arizona where Linda had reserved a trip for us all down the Colorado through Glenn Canyon — Glenn Canyon is basically the same as Grand Canyon, just further up the Colorado and not quite as deep.  Page is roughly 186 miles away — a rather circuitous rout — but it is a pleasant drive especially in the morning before the Earth begins to bake.

Once underway, we made good time and amused ourselves with various car games such as identifying and chronicling  all the different state licence plates we could see — an activity that continued throughout our trip with only a few states missed by the end; playing twenty questions; and posing math problems — Lincoln demonstrated the ability to solve the two variable algebraic equations posed by Mark and I, in his head.  Did I mention he is eight?

When we arrived in Page, we headed directly to restaurant/boutique where we were to catch the bus that would take us on the first leg of our journey.   We had plenty of time to sample the food of the restaurant  before the raft trip where we all sampled their excellent wraps and smoothies.  After we finished eating we browsed the boutique, buying a few souvenir items until it was time to board the bus for the trip.

      I had envisioned that the bus trip would simply involve us being transported to the river by bus.  Although I should have known this is not possible as the river is roughly thirteen hundred feet down in a canyon with precipitous unbroken cliffs on either side, I realized that I really hadn’t thought that out very well.    What actually happened was that we drove around for awhile until we suddenly found our bus facing a huge sandstone wall with a giant un-lit  tunnel easily large enough to accommodate our bus.  From the opening one could observe that the tunnel went downward before it disappeared in blackness a few feet from the entrance.

        As we began our descent the bus driver explained that the tunnel is two miles long and that when we reached the end of it, we we would be at the bottom of the dam, our raft departure point.   The tunnel that was obviously bored through solid sandstone,  has no artificial lighting, but about every quarter mile the tunnel is intersected by a shaft about fifteen feet(I estimate) in diameter that runs from the tunnel out through the canyon wall, affording a pool of brightness eight times during our descent.

When we reached the bottom and emerged into the brightness, we were immediately issued hard hats which we were required to wear to avoid being cracked on the head by any random loose chunk of sandstone that might decide to fall off the canyon wall and were then ushered to our raft and after donning our required life-jackets all of us – roughly twelve in our group — piled on the raft.  The raft, called a J-rig is a thirty-seven foot inflatable pontoon raft powered by an outboard motor and piloted by our guide Kevin.  One could either sit on seats in the lower center part of the boat, or straddle the one of the pontoon on either side as I did affording me the ability to cool off by dangling one of my feet at icy fifty-five degree water.

Here is what the dam looked like when we started our journey:

     Before started down the river, our guide pulled our raft up next to one of the dam’s spillways where just being near the evaporating water gave us some relief from the well-over-one-hundred degree temperature.  As we cooled, he gave us us a brief speech about the dos and don’ts on the trip and after that we were on our way.

Here is another shot of the dam shortly after getting underway:

Here is a shot of Mark taking a picture of the dam:

Remember those shafts I mentioned that offered us some light as we came through the tunnel in the bus?  Here is one of those:

And another of those up closer to the top, near where we entered the tunnel originally:

      It is difficult to represent how much one miscalculates distances in situations like this.  For one example of this, in the following picture you see the canyon wall in the distance and you see raft just like ours made tiny by its distance and it appears to be near the canyon wall behind it, but it is way less than half-way to it:

  We tooled on down the river with the amazing sandstone walls towering over us for a few miles and then our guide turned off the motor and asked us to  look up at the top of the cliffs.  What we saw were tiny ant-like dots up along the rim.  The guide explained that those dots are people at one of the vista points on the canyon.  At that point, as I am sure he does on every trip, he insturcted us all yell “JUMP” in unison on his queue, and we did.  It was a good loud yell and reinforced by my decibels I am sure they heard us up there, but Fortunately nobody jumped this time.  After our shout, the guide told us a story of a previous trip on one of the rafts.   One of the  guides had his group do the same thing and just as they finished their yell they watched in horror as a figure tipped off the cliff and began to plunge into the depths.  However, after dropping about twenty or thirty feet huge wings unfurled and the jumper revealed itself to be a California Condor.  The huge birds that stand nearly as tall as a man and have up to a sixteen foot wingspread.  They are not native to this area, but since they are severely endangered in their natural habitats a breeding and release program has been started in the canyon and according to our guide it has been quite successful.  Unfortunately we did not see one of those on our trip.   The picture below is a telephoto shot of the people on the canyon edge — they looked much smaller to the naked eye.

     For another illustration of the distortion of size and distance in this place, observe the large arch-like indentation in the wall of the canyon, just about in the middle of the picture below.  Note its size:

Ok, Lets take a closer look at that.  Now how tall do you think that arch is?

Ok, here is how big it is:

    That’s right that arch is as high as two football fields are long.  Our guide said that when he was told this he had a hard time believing it, so he went there on his own and climbed from the river through the rock debris below the arch(that debris is actually the remains of the section of the wall that fell out to form the arch) and up to the point where he was standing at its base.   It took him a full hour of very difficult climbing to get up there — something he said that he doubts he will do again.

We saw occasional groups of Kyakers on the river, as well as anglers along the shore:

   About half-way through the trip, we docked our boat at a landing next to a side canyon leading off from the Colorado.  From that landing a trail the leads back into the canyon to huge wall on which petroglyphs etched into this wall by the [fill-in] Indinans  about [fill in] BC, displayed.  Before we walked up that trail to see them, we were all invited to take a dip in the fifty-five degree waters of the Colorado.   Most everyone on the boat, including the four of us, made a quick entry and quicker exit and were quite refreshed by it — momentarily, because after walking about one hundred steps up that trail, we realized how much cooler it is on the river than off.  Here is a view of that canyon and a few pics of those petroglyphs:

     I got some pretty good shots of birds along the way, especially this Great Blue Heron, who appeared to be posing for me:

   We also saw what our guide said was a Peregrine Falcon.  We could tell with the naked eye that the bird was indeed a raptor, but it was not until I later after I enlarged and examined the pictures that I found our guide was right.  Here are some shots of the falcon:

Here are some more miscellaneous shots as we floated along our way:

See the rock in the next picture?  This is a telephoto shot and that rock appeared much smaller to the naked eye, but it is really larger than a three-story house.

    Toward the end of our journey down the river, our guide pulled up near one of the other rafts to perform a ritual river ceremony.  The guide on the other raft, clearly a native American, produced a traditional wooden recorder-like pipe on which he produced a melodic native tune that resonated well.   When he had finished and applause were given, our guide pulled out a harmonica and played a nice little ditty, which he afterward said was a Dylan song, but which I did not find recognizable as such.

And finally my personal favorite from the river trip:

After five fantastic hours, we sadly reached the end of our trip and debarked and after a quick rest-room stop, we scooted through the intense heat to our bus for the hour-long drive back to Page, where we retrieved our van and headed back for Grand Canyon, to spend our final night there and then bright and somewhat weary the next day to tackle . . .

The Rim Trail

   Once back at the Canyon we made a much needed stop at the showers — We did not have showers at the camp-site, the showers are all housed at one central location and each shower is coin-operated, sucking in eight quarters for a ten minute shower.  The guys took turns showering and timing the others, ensuring that we finish our ablutions before the time ran out.  Linda had to fare for herself, but emerged with the same level of squeaky cleanliness as the rest of us.  Refreshed and quite hungry  we headed for the elegant dining room at the El Tovar Hotel, where Linda treated us all to a scrumptious dinner in honor of Mark’s just having officially received his tenure.   I had rack of lamb, Linda and Lincoln both had Buffalo steak and Sebastian had [fill in].   We enjoyed the excellent cuisine, while being afforded a wonderful view of the canyon rim from our table.   After all of that, we somehow each had one of the many fabulous desert choices on the menu.   Well satisfied, we then rolled back to our campsite for a little time around the campfire before our final night in our tents.

  Early the next morning, we headed for our last hike in the Canyon on the rim trail.  This trail as its name suggests runs along the rim of the Canyon and although there are some ups and downs on it, it is much less challenging than the Bright Angel trail, as the return walk is pretty much the same as on the way out.  We only walked a mile or so out on the trail, stopping to take pictures along the way.  Here are some of those shots:

A very lonesome small tree:

Still Life — Old Fart on the Rim:

Grandpa Hama had given both of the boys each an MRE.  MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat and these are the replacement for the C-rations that GI’s used to consume whenever in the field.   The new twist on these is that they contain chemical Pucketts  that when mashed produce surprising heat, which quickly cooks the contents, and will also burn ones fingers smartly if not handled carefully.  Anyway, the boys both prepared and ate their culinary offerings, without injury.

 

To be continued ASAP

SHRIMPING


It was early in May of ’72 and I had just finished the second semester of my freshman year at Auburn Community college, in my home town of Auburn, New York.   I was at my friend Tom Shayler’s apartment, where we were discussing possible forms of summer employment.   As we were talking, Tom’s brother Pete came through the front door carrying his back-pack and guitar while dragging an army duffel-bag behind him.  He had just arrived in town on a Greyhound from South Texas where he had been working on the shrimp boats.  With very little encouragement, he proceeded to tell us all about “;Port A”(the barrier island of Port Aransas, Texas) and the adventures awaiting anyone who chose to tackle the sea and become a shrimper there.  With glowing eyes and gesticulating arms, he told us of beaches, beautiful girls in bikinis, of the free atmosphere on the island, of the sea and the surf.  He then proceeded to romanticized shrimping into an adventure right out of a Hollywood dream.   He had my very naïve attention completely.

I left for Port Aransas the next morning on a Greyhound bus, with only $25.00 in cash, my guitar, an army duffel-bag with a small quantity of clothing, my toothbrush and an old army blanket.  The ride from Auburn to port Aransas is endless – a fifty-five hour assault against body, mind and soul.  The ride alone would have been bad enough, but a couple of factors made the trip much worse.  For one thing, the food – available only in the bus stations – was horrendous.  In most of the “food” venues located in stations along the way, vending machines are the only source of nourishment.   I examined one of the cold-cut sandwiches that I had purchased from one of these machines and was struck the distinct impression that the lettuce had been grown in the sandwich by using the slimy green lunch-meat as a rooting medium.  It was eat this garbage or starve because although no one forced it on you, it was your only choice as these stations are invariably located in the worst neighborhoods of any town with no grocery stores near by.  To compound these lovely travel conditions for what seemed like at least half of the whole trip, I had a gentleman sitting next to me who massed at least three-hundred-fifty pounds. He had the isle seat and kept me firmly crushed against the wall and window for our whole time together – with emphasis on together.   He finally got off in Texarkana, which is a town located not surprisingly where the north end of Texas meets the south end of Arkansas.  His departure was doubly satisfying because not only was I going to be able to breath and move my limbs somewhat as I rode, I was in Texas.  This second point did have me somewhat confused though, because the trip, as I stated before, was supposed to take fifty-five hours, but I had at this point only been traveling for thirty-eight.  Curious about this I went to the front of the bus and asked the driver why we were so ahead of schedule.

“Son” he said with an obvious Texas Drawl, “We aint ahead uh schedule.   Got a lotta Texas to go through ‘fore we get to Port A.”

He was right, because when we pulled into Aransas Pass, which is Port Aransas’s sister city on the mainland, it was two A.M. and just fity-five hours and fifteen minutes from my Auburn departure.  The two-legged bus was my only transport to the ferry for the island because excepting myself, the bus driver and a few sleeping passengers on the bus, Aransas Pass appeared deserted.   I was so tired that I don’t know how long it took me to walk the several miles to the ferry, but once there the ferry ride took less than five minutes.  By the time I got to the island, it was three in the morning, so not having any other sleeping accommodations, I just walked for the beach, climbed up on one of the dunes that run parallel to it, lay down my army blanket, and slept soundly until the unforgiving Texas sun awoke me sometime before noon.

I wasted no time in running down the steep slope of the dune, across the beach and into the gulf.   What a feeling!  It wasn’t my first time in the gulf.  I had been to the gulf-side of Florida several times with my father and a few times on my own, but after what I went through to get there, this time was by far, the most rewarding.  I went out to about neck-deep and just let the surf and current carry me along for about twenty minutes.  When I came in, I realized that the undertow had carried me quite some distance down the beach.  I knew which direction I had gone, but wasn’t sure quite how far.  Looking up at the dunes, which run parallel to and the whole twelve-mile length of Port Aransas’s beach, I realized that it might be difficult to find my stuff because although I knew in which direction to travel, the dunes and the beach look pretty much the same in any one place as in any other.  Finally, after about an hour of walking on the beach and climbing up and down dunes, I found my stuff.  It was good that I did, because while I was still in the water bouncing along, I noticed a rumbling of hunger in my stomach and by the time I found my stuff, I was famished, so the next thing I did was go in search of food.  This I found at the first place I came to after leaving the beach from one of the many feeder streets that lead to and from it.  The “restaurant” was called the “Blue Dolphin”, and it was the greasiest of spoons.  As I walked in the first thing I noticed was a smell of not to fresh fish mixed with disinfectant.  I was so hungry, that even this did not serve to weaken my appetite, so I decided to eat there.  The waitress, typical of the local residents of Port A, at least those who are above the age of thirty, was probably in her fifties, completely desiccated by the sun, and croaked in a too many cigarette voice,

“What can ah do for ya’ honey?”

“Sure would like some breakfast”, I said as I plopped down in the stool at the counter.

“Sorry babe”, she said with a smile, “but we only serve breakfast ’till eleven, and it’s twelve-thirty now.  How ’bout some Chicken Fried Steak”?

“Sure”, I said with a puzzled expression on my face, “What on earth is that?”

“Oh Jesus!”, she cackled, ” You must be a Yankee.  Chicken Fried Steak is the national food of Texas!”

“Well then,” I said displaying an enthusiastic smile, ” since I just arrived in Texas, bring on the Chicken Fried Steak!”

As she prepared it, I let the possibilities run through my mind as to what this stuff might be composed of.  Was it chicken fried like a steak?  Was it steak fried like a chicken?  Was it both chicken and steak fried together?   What it turned out to be was awful.  The “steak” consisted of what appeared to be the lowest quality hamburg paddie.  This was dipped in a batter that I think was mostly lard, and then fried in what appeared to be more lard in a skillet.  The results were very unappetizing, but, remembering one of my father’s favorite expressions “hunger is the best seasoning”, I ate it anyway because by then, I would have eaten an old shoe, which would have been much more tender.   Somehow,  I managed to hold this disgusting lump in my stomach..

Pete had given me directions of how to find one “Took Choate”(really his given name), who was sort of a sage/beach-bum and friend to all the shrimpers and other regulars that frequent the Port A beach. Took was, he passed away about 10 years ago, truly a character.  He claimed he was a retired psychologist and hog farmer, but at the time of our meeting, he was about 60, prune-like from the South-Texas sun, and always holding a mason jar of “tea” strongly spiked with wild turkey, in his hand as he combed the beach. Old Took told me everything I had to know to get a job as a “header”, which is the entry-level position in the shrimping world.   He said, “All ya need to know is go down to the docks in Aransas and walk around asking if anyone needs a header”.  I later found out that he did leave out a few important details, but I followed his instructions and despite his omissions got a job from the first person with whom I spoke.

I had just arrived at the docks when I saw a very powerfully built man loading boxes on a shrimp boat. As I walked up to him I noticed that his biceps were about the size of my thighs and his whole body looked as if it were stone with only the thinnest layer of skin stretched tightly over it and he was moving a full oil drum around the boat as easily as I might have moved a kitchen chair. When he turned toward me,  I noticed a striking scar that started on his forehead one inch above his left eye – a gray sightless orb – and extended an inch below it on his cheek. He later claimed  that he received this wound in a knife fight that occurred in a bar on the Barbary coast.  Was that a fabrication?  Maybe, but the longer I knew him, the more this seemed believable. He turned out to be the captain of the boat he was loading, and when I asked him for a job he asked me if I had any experience. I wanted to work so much, I promptly lied and said yes. He then asked me where my boots were and to see my commercial fishing license.  Took hadn’t bothered to mention to me that I needed these things, so I said they were back on Port Aransas – another lie, I had neither.

At this point he stopped his lifting, turned toward me, gave me a funny look as he said, “go get that shit and be back in two hours ’cause there’s work to be done and we we’re leaving at 0600 tomorrow for Campeche, Mexico, all the way across the Gulf, so get a move on.”;

I walked away both excited and scared. Excited because I was going to sea. Did I mention that I had never been on a sea going vessel before?  Scarred by the fact that I had just been hired to do a job that I knew nothing about, by a person who could easily crush me with one hand – one finger.  Soon excitement won out, as it often does when “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.  I was a little worried though about having to buy things like a license and boots, because I had exactly $14.00 left.  I went to the bate store where these things are sold and feared that my “adventure” was finished before it even started when I found that the license was $12.00 and the cheapest boots $30.00.  When I told the guy in the store of my financial problems he asked me who I was planning to go out with.

“His name is Johnny and his boat is The Gulf Queen”, I replied.

“Johnny”, he said with a look of surprise and a slight frown on his face, “yep, I know him.  He’s a real good fisherman, but let me give you a piece of advice.  Don’t give him any shit, ’cause he is one mean sum’bitch!  You’ll have to pay for the fishing licence, but I can give you an old pair of boots I got out back”.

“Thanks”, I said with much relief, but I doubt that it sounded very enthusiastic.

After this I hopped the ferry back to Port A and went over to Took’s house. I was pretty nervous about my upcoming employment, but some shrimpers who had just returned to port with a great catch were having a party on the beach with about 20 kegs, and after about my 4th cup of beer, my nerves not only became settled, I began to actually look forward to the next mornings adventure.  Fortunately the weather the next morning was as bad as my hangover, so we never got started until late that afternoon.  I cannot fully describe the feeling of elation I felt as I stood on the bow of that boat going out between the jetties, but that feeling was short lived.  The captain and the rig-man were both in the wheelhouse above and behind me watching me, talking and laughing, but I could not hear what they were saying over the roar of the engine.  Between the Jetties – two piers that bisect the island, allowing vessels to pass through the island and out to sea – the water is relatively calm, but when our boat passed beyond them, we immediately encountered waves of at least ten feet.  The result of this was that one of these monster waves came dashing across the bow drenching me and practically washing me off the boat.  Like a drowned rat, I went back to the cabin to dry off as the Captain and the rig-man roared with laughter.

We were about 14 hours running time from our destination, which wasn’t actually Campeche, but about 20 miles out in the Gulf from the coastal town. There is a strictly enforced ten mile limit imposed by the Mexican government and one may not fish closer or risk the consequence of being arrested by the federales and having ones boat confiscated, so most shrimpers don’t even come close to that limit.  We were I later found out to be fishing for White Prawns, which run in size about 10-15, which is a Shrimper term for ten to 15 shrimp per pound.  One fishes for these at about sixty fathoms — that is roughly three hundred and sixty feet.

Once we got out in the Gulf a good distance the waves were mountainous.  Each one towering over the sixty-five foot steel hull boat and creating the impression in this observer that the giant precipice of water was about to come crashing down send us to the bottom of the sea.   At the last moment, and always to my amazement, our boat, like some toy, would bob to the top of this wave, giving a view of the deep canyon separating us from the next monster wave, that always seemed bigger than the last. It didn’t take much of this before retired to my berth – a bunk bed, which resembled a coffin attached to the bulk-head.  The captain had gone to his private Cabin before we left the Jetties because he said he always got sea-sick for the first two days of every trip, however the rig-man informed me that was because he always left port after at least a four day bender and with a large hangover.

I found out, much to my relief, that sea-sickness is not a problem for me, but standing up was.  The only place I felt safe from falling on my ass was my berth,  where I planned to stay until we reached calmer waters on the other side of the Gulf.  But by 2:30 in the morning, I began to get real thirsty and decided to venture to the galley to get a drink. I accomplished this by holding on to anything I could  to keep from falling. Once there, I retrieved a gallon plastic jug from the refrigerator and unscrewed the cap and just as I started to drink, a wave hit.  I must mention here if a wave hits the boat head on or on the side it makes the boat roll, but if it hits at an angle it has an extreme jarring effect. This was the kind of wave that hit, knocking the jug from my hand and spilling its contents all over the deck below my feet. Then another wave hit, this time from directly starboard causing the boat to roll to about 45 degrees port. My feet slipped and I fell to the slippery deck, slid on my butt across it,  hitting and flying over the flange at the bottom of the galley’s port, out on the open deck, and finally clutching the steel railing with my fingertips just as I was about to slip into the dark waters that would have been most certainly my grave!  I pulled myself back onto the deck and carefully clutched my way back to that nice safe coffin, where I stayed until we were ready to anchor the next morning.

I was awakened by the Captain Screaming, “ get your ass out here the anchor is already down and its time to get to work”

The first thing I heard as I walked out on the deck in the morning was the captain ordering me to , “Rig some tickler chains on that net”.

My reply to this was “Do what?”

“I thought so”; he said with a cold smile, “knew you were lyin’, got somethin’ to show you – C’mere”.   He then took me to the railing on the side of the boat and pointed down into the water.  What I saw below paralyzed me with fear, because swimming back an forth and all around the side of the boat, were about 20 sharks. Two or three were at least 15 feet long. He let me take in their majesty and power for a minute, and then he said , “If you don’t learn all you need to know to do this job by tomorrow, they are gonna have a nice little snack.”.

It was grueling work and I was really in poor physical condition, but I learned quick.   I also learned what it is like to live in constant fear of a tyrant.

As is customary,  there were only three of us on the boat. The captain, the rig-man, and the header.  The Captain’s job is to navigate the boat, locate the shrimp and generally oversee all functions of the boat.  The rigman’s job was to make sure that all the nets, ropes, chains, knots,  pulleys, winches, and cables are in working order and in addition to those duties, and as is tradition is the boats cook.  The  header’s job is to head the shrimp and do all the dirty, uncomfortable, and backbreaking work on the boat.  Jobs Like cleaning the bilge tanks, hand hauling the tremendously-heavy-when-wet anchor rope, and cleaning the dead and rotting fish from the nets at the end of each fourteen hour day.

The nets were 65 feet long and about 30 feet across the mouth.  They were played in and out by two separate winches with giant spools each filled with one-inch steel cable.   When the nets are being dragged, sixty foot steel booms are extended from both sides of the boat and the cable from each one of the wenches is guided out the boom on its repective side of the boat via pullys and then out behind to attach to the net.    Each net has attached to each side an eight hundred pound “door”, which is a massive wooden affair with lots of steel on it to weight it down and that always reminded me of one of the giant doors on a medieval castle.  These doors were attached to the net in such a way so that they would both make it sink to the bottom and cause the mouth of the net to stay fully opened as it is being dragged.  With our nets at 36o feet, we had to have about 1/2 mile of cable played out from each winch as we were pulling the nets.  So, operating the winch could be a very dangerous affair.  No loose clothing was allowed on the boat for that reason.  If you were working the winch and a piece of your clothing got caught, you would be drawn into the spool and sliced up neatly.

The worst task is the heading of the shrimp this is accomplished  by grasping a shrimp just where the head section 1 meets the tale section between ones thumb and pointing finger, and squeezing until the head pops off. It is grueling work because a header has to dig through about 2000 pounds of (mostly) dead sea life just to decapitate about 50 to 100 pounds of shrimp. This must be done while sitting on a four inch wooden stool, not unlike a very short milking stool,  with ones legs splayed toward either side of a mountain of dead sea life.  While sitting in this extremely uncomfortable position with the torso thrust forward between his legs the header scoops into the putrid mound digging out the shrimp with a tool like a garden hoe but with a wider blade and a shorter handle. At least this most difficult chore I did not have to do alone,  because when the nets have been emptied on the deck under the baking Mexican summer sun , it is necessary get the shrimp headed and iced down in the hold as soon as possible to prevent spoilage.  Also, since we will be at sea for 26 days, icing the shrimp is not sufficient to prevent spoilage.  Directly after they are headed, they are dipped in a vat that is a solution of BHT (preservative) and water.  Yes folks, the fresh shrimp you have had probably isn’t that fresh, and it has been preserved.

As for the  reason most of the sea life is dead when dumped from the net,  the sea water being funneled through the net forces the water through gills so rapidly that they can’t take in oxygen from the water – the poor creatures literally drown.  For some reason, the various types of crabs survive this, so about three times an hour when reaching for a shrimp, one of those little bastards, particularly blue crabs,  will nail one between ones fingers in that oh-so-tender-part, with it’s pincher.  Painful! The most painful part of the whole experience is caused by the shrimp themselves, or rather the acid in their system, that consequently gives them their pink color.  This poison is delivered to you via a sharp spine located between and protruding beyond the eyes of the shrimp.  Even the most seasoned header will be stabbed several times during a heading session and a beginner’s hand will probably look like a pin cushion, as mine did.  It’s painful when stabbed, and it stings somewhat like a bee sting for awhile, but the worst part is the “shrimp poisoning” that occurs after about three days of heading.  The acid starts to build up in the joints of the hands, and the results mimic the symptoms of arthritis.  For me it just got worse the whole first trip, and it didn’t go away until I was back on Port A for three days.  Though not as plentiful as the crabs, sea snakes (deadly poison) don’t drown either, and on two separate occasions I had one chasing me around the deck. Weather or not it was one of the poison variety, I do not know, but I didn’t let it bite me to find out.

Shrimpers put in about 14 hours of hard work every day. 26 days is the usual amount of time out, and that was how long it was that trip – the longest 26 days of my life.  It wasn’t all bad though. We never pulled the net in that I didn’t see some new denizen of the deep I had never heard of or seen before. One of the most remarkable and also sad sights I saw was a family of stingrays killed by the net.  When the net was dumped on the deck at the top of it was one large stingray, and I mean large, at least 200 pounds.  All around it and under it were about 50 tiny miniatures of it.  This creature was probably over 100 years old, and we had snuffed not only it’s life, but the lives of it’s extensive family so somebody could have some shrimp cocktail at the Holiday Inn and so the sharks circling our boat would have a feeding orgy when we shoved the carcasses of the roughly nine-teen hundred pounds of non-shrimp, off the boat.

One evening just before dusk on about our fourth or fifth day out,  I found myself with nothing to do, so I explored the boat.  While looking through a box filled with various miscellaneous fishing-boat  odds and ends, that I found in a storage closet near the stern, I found a fish hook.  This was no ordinary fish hook, at least not to me.  To me an average fish hook is a small piece of wire bent in the shape of a question mark,  measuring an inch high and half an inch wide, with a barb on one end and a loop bent in the wire at the other where one attaches a fish line.  This hook was exactly like that, but in gigantic proportions.  The “wire” was eighth inch steel rod that was ten inches high and five inches wide.  I immediately took it to the captain who was leaning on the rail looking westward in the direction of the coming sunset and asked him if I could use it to catch one of the sharks next to the boat.  As I walked up to him he turned his head toward me,  noticed the hook and laughed while saying:

“Oh, I see  you found the baby shark hook”

“Baby Shark hook?” I laughed, “That hooks big enough to hook any shark.”

“No it aint”,  he said and he sounded serious, but I still thought to myself that surely this hook was the hook of hooks and I pressed on:

“Well, “ I asked with excitement clearly showing in my voice, “ do you suppose I could try to catch a shark?”

“Sure” he said with a kind of a snort, “go ahead, but how do you plan to do it,  hang over the rail by your feet holding the hook in your hand”?

“I don’t know”, I said, “ was hopin’ you’d show me”.

“Ok, “ he said, “I’ll rig it for you, but I’m warnin’ you go for a baby shark, like that one”.  He was now pointing down into the water.  I followed his finger and saw what the captain referred to as a baby shark.  It was about five feet long and probably weighed more than one hundred pounds.  He then turned to me and said, “ you hook that baby right there and you’ll have some real work bringing it in.  He then went to work  immediately rigging the hook.  First he attached one end of a twelve inch length of quarter inch chain to the hook and then spliced the other end of this “leader” to a fifty foot piece of half inch nylon rope.  The other end of the rope was securely tied to the steel rail, after which the captain carefully fed the rope through his hands onto the deck so it formed loose coils that would not tangle up.  He then stooped down and picked up a squid from the deck, a squid I might add, that I had missed while cleaning the deck.  Glaring at me as he slid the hook into it he said “all right, here you go!  Just keep away from that rope, if you get tangled in it, you get pulled in there with them”, he said as he pointed over the rail with his thumb in almost a hitchhikers pose.  I decided to stay clear of that rope.

“You sure I can’t go for that one”?  I asked as I pointed at a true monster.  It was a good twenty feet long, and  massed at least three thousand pounds.

“Look”, he said with a vicious smile that really accentuated his scar and made him even more scary than usual, “go ahead and go for any shark you want, but that hook cost me $15.00 and if you lose it, you bought it.  Just drop that squid down near the shark’s nose of your choice, and he’ll go for it”.  This he said as he turned his back on me, went in his cabin, and let the spring-loaded door slam..

I stood there for a minute, debating whether to go large, small, or medium, and then I did what I usually did at that time in my life, the stupid thing.   I went for the big one.  All of the sharks were swimming in circles around the boat in hopes of yet another snack after that days major meal from our nets, so it was easy to wait for sharkzilla to get into position.  It was just like the captain said.  I dropped the hook with the squid on it in front of  the monsters nose as it made a pass and couldn’t help notice that the hook sure looked tiny next to that shark.  Sure enough it bumped that squid with it’s nose, opened it’s cavernous razor rimmed mouth, which, just the opening of created enough suction to bring the hook and squid in.  It then simply closed it’s mouth, and lazily started to swim away.  It never swam fast, but straight away from the boat until all the rope played out, went tense, and then snapped as if it were my grandmother breaking a thread after darning my socks.  I pulled in the remaining twenty feet of rope and stared at the frayed end.  This rope was five thousand pound test.  I read that right on the box it came out of and I remember this clearly because it also read on the box:

½ inch Nylon  rope, yellow

5000 lb. test

a product of

Colombian Rope Company

Auburn, NY.

Auburn  as you remember is my home town and I had worked for Colombian Rope company in a previous summer job, so that’s why I am sure of the ropes strength.  As I stood there looking at that frayed rope, I heard the captains cabin door open, saw his head pop out and heard him yell:

“That’ll be 20 more for the rope – grand total 35”, and then his head disappeared inside and the door slammed, but his head quickly reappeared and he added, “And, don’t let me find any more gotdamned stinkin’ dead squid on my boat after you clean the decks, or else”!  With this his head disappeared a final time followed by the loudest slam so far.  A sudden image of a Cuckoo Clock from hell entered my mind.

Up until this point, and after his first warning, I had never really been too scared of the Captain.  I quickly learned to do my job and he mostly left me alone except in matters concerning the boat.  The encounter I just had with him was really the first non-work interaction we had, and I would have been a lot more likely to follow his advice had known what I would find the next day in that very same closet where I found the hook.  It looked like a jewelry box and was made from nicely varnished oak.  It had no lock so I opened and it contained somebody’s various personal items including: handwritten letters in envelops with return addresses from Ireland, a few pens, and most importantly it contained the passport of one Patrick Michael McKinney of Dublin, Ireland.  I was immediately puzzled about this and I felt a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Why would somebody leave such valuable items on a boat?  The captain was in the wheel house pouring over some charts, so I closed the box and went in there to ask him.   He looked up as I walked in and then looked down at the box in my hand  and as he did his face went to a frown and he said in machine gun succession.

“you’ve been diggin’ through my stuff again.  Don’t dig through my fuckin’ stuff.  Shit it already cost you 35 bucks.  Christ you don’t learn do you?.

“Sorry,” I said now wishing I had left the box in his “fuckin’ closet, “I didn’t think you’d care, I’ll put it back.

“never mind”, he said quickly grabbing it from my hand, “I’ll take care of it, you just keep your hands outa my shit.  Got it”?

“yes”, I said, but stupid me couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I added, “I was just curious why anybody would leave his passport behind is all.”

He stared at me for a moment and then looked down at his charts while saying “Beats me where he is, just took off a couple months ago and I aint heard of him since.

“Oh,” I said silently, “well I’ll stay out of your stuff from now on.  I went to my berth and lay down my mind full of fear and whirling with questions.  Did Johnny feed that guy to the sharks?  Did he plan to do the same with me in leu of paying me?  My next thought was, I need to get out of here, but then I realized that there was no getting out.  We hadn’t seen land in our five days out, and we wouldn’t for another twenty when we returned to port A.  I was stuck with my plight.  I made a vow right then to myself to be extra careful for the rest of this trip not to cross Johnny and to do exactly what he said and or advised from then on.  As the days went on, the panic lessened, but didn’t dissipate completely.  So you can imagine my elation when on the 26th day when I caught sight of the jetties of Port Aransas.  I am sure that Christopher Columbus had a similar rush.  As we were motoring our ways between the two cement walls that form the jetties, the captain approached me and said with a smile,

“Well, looks like we made it back.  Didn’t know if you were going to make it, but you did a pretty good job after I straightened you out a few times.  We’ll be going out again in three days,  are you coming?”

“Sure, “ I said, but my thoughts went along this line: “Just get my feet on dry land, and give me my pay Johnny and I will see to it that our paths don’t cross again.

Actually, I think I might be going a little hard on the old captain, who, If he is still alive is at least seventy.  For one thing, he never lied to me as I had to him, and for another, he was a good shrimper and knew where to find those shrimp.  I also doubt that he murdered poor Patrick his former header.  What probably happened was that Patrick decided to not go back out with Johnny – – no big surprise there – – and had gone on to work on another boat.  Why hadn’t he picked up his valuables then?  Probably because he was at sea whenever Johnny was on land and visa versa. This is because a hypothetical career shrimper works eight months out of the year and is at sea during most of the time.  One captain could easily go a whole season without seeing the one who docks his boat in the next berth.  As a side note, If a shrimper  starts his career when he is twenty-one and works until he is sixty-one, that means he will have spent very nearly two thirds of those forty years – about twenty-six years – on a boat with two other guys. That spells

g-r-i-m to me.

I did make good money on that trip.  With my share of the fish and my headers share 2, I  walked away with $435.00.   Now this may not sound like much, but this was thirty-eight years ago when “the buck” went a lot further.  In addition, all meals on the boat were provided and I certainly had no other way to spend money out there.   Although I went out on two more boats that summer, the first was by far the most lucrative trip.     When I say “fish”, I am referring to the occasional Red Snapper or grouper we would catch when Johnny strayed over a reef or a rock pile with our nets.  On one of these deviations, we hauled in about 900 pounds of snapper and the 150 pound grouper pictured to the right.  Also note in the picture the boots that were donated to me.

As per my mental ruminations during Johnny’s job offer to me, as soon as I had my money, I was gone, with no plans to see Johnny again.  In fact I never did.  What I did was immediately purchase a $400.00 cashier’s check which I then mailed home to my father.  The money was to help pay for  my college expenses and I was real happy to be sending it, because my father did not have huge confidence in my success as a professional fisherman — my rather sketchy employment history and even sketchier academic record to support his doubts.   When these factors are coupled with the fact that I had to borrow the money for the Greyhound from him, I left Auburn in less than his best graces. So, sending this money was the best “I told you so” I ever experienced.  My Advice to would-be summer shirmpers: Wait tables

PS: While the other two boats I went on were less lucrative than this, there are some interesting details I would like to relate and will continue with the saga in a future blog.

1 Actually the head section is a misnomer, it includes all the internal organs of the shrimp, by removing this, the incidents spoilage is greatly decreased and delayed.

2 This headers share was $5.00 a box.  A box is one-hundred lbs Of headed shrimp.

THE MEXICO EXPEDITION


What follows is a transcription of a journal my father – Ross E. Deforrest Sr – recorded about a winter-of-1976(or was it 77?) trip he and I took from Austin Texas to the Jungles of the Yucatan, Mexico.  We accompanied James Strickland(Strick) our fearless leader – also of Austin – and three of his friends — Kevin Keen who chronicled the event using a thirty-five multimeter movie camera, Jim Wright, one of Strick’s spelunker friends, Oveh (don’t know last name) a German national who joined us for reasons that neither Strick nor I can remember —  on an expedition to try to locate some previously unexplored or catalogued Mayan ruins, that Strick, an avid amateur archaeologist had found out about after an archeologist friend of his died and the man’s wife invited him to examine her husbands maps and journals of his extensive expeditions to the interior of Mexico.  While looking through those papers, Strick found one map that had “Pyramid” penciled in on a small river in the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula and Strick, who is well versed in the locations of all archeological sites in Mexico had not heard of Pyramids in this area,  was spurred by this discovery to form our expedition.

I would like to note that my dad was sixty-eight when we took this trip.  The fact that he even came along at all is a testament to his toughness as ten years prior to this he had fallen off the roof of our three story house landing on his head and breaking his neck.  The Doctors examining him at the time thought he would probably never walk again.  However, after one year at Upstate Medical Center strapped to a hi-tech bed that turned him like he was on a spit and one year of painful rehab, my father was back out on the golf-links staggering through nine holes  swinging the club with his good arm due to partial  paralysis on the other side of his body.

I tried to follow dad’s journal pretty closely, but did some grammatical editing, along with some further clarification and comment on some points.  My comments are all bracketed and in italics.

Monday December 27th

We Left Austin 9:30 a.m. Monday December 27th, stopped at San Antonio for lunch and arrived in Laredo at 3:00 p.m.  We put Strick’s RV in storage and rented a taxi, piling 6 packs and six men in that one taxi.  We then sailed easily through customs and were soon delivered to the railroad station, stopping along the way to exchange some Yankee money for Mexican Pesos.  There was about a 3-hour wait for the train, but the interesting crowd of locals, left no time to be bored.

Once on the train, all of Stricks organizational efforts paid off beautifully and we were finally settled in private individual rooms with all facilities, including easy conversion  to sleeping quarters[These “roomettes” were truly remarkable.  There were two comfortable seats next to the widow that unfolded into beds that afforded an excellent view of the jungle and small villages through which we passed and there was a third seat on the adjacent wall that that when lifted up revealed the rooms toilet.]  So, about 7:00 p.m., we headed for Mexico City, with Strick and Rossie [I am Ross Junior and my father and family always used that moniker to differentiate us], rendering an appropriate[but fairly discordant] tune on the guitar.

Our train, The Aztec Eagle, fluttered along through the night with frequent stops, and in spite of some tossing about by uneven rails, we greeted the dawn well refreshed.

Tuesday December 28

We arrived in Mexico City about 8:50 pm on the 28th after just a little more than 24 hours on the train and checked into the Hotel Monte Carlo[a large hotel, apparently a one-time show piece, but now past its prime and frequented almost exclusively by bohemian travelers from all over the world –  mostly sporting backpacks].
Wednesday December 29

The following morning we slept late, then all went out for Brunch and were then off to explore the National Museum of Anthropology, with an emphasis on the Mayan section.  Strick wanted to find out if there was any mention in the archives about the locations of the ruins we planned to try to locate.  We found none.

After we left the museum, we visited the Castle of Maximillian Von Hapsburg, which has been converted to a museum, preserving the splendor and elegant way of life of an emperor and picturesque beauty of a regal era in Mexico’s history, which has disappeared except as it is preserved here.
Thursday December 30th

We started at about 8:30 p.m. for a visit to the pyramids in the mountains above Mexico City.  There are two main pyramids, one honoring the moon and the other the sun.  The Sun Pyramid is the largest by volume of any in the world and is surpassed in height only by the Great Pyramid in Egypt.[I climbed the roughly 800 feet to the top of that thing and it was a chore due to the thin air at 2160 meters (7082 ft) ]

We arrived back at the hotel at about 1:30 P.m., expecting to have plenty of relaxation time, but found we had to vacate our rooms by 2:00 P.M.  We were allowed to pile our packs in the hotel lobby, while waiting for out 8 p.m. departure on the train for Palenque  [ each of our packs weighed roughly 60 pounds, and included such things as snakebite kits and small collapsible shovels]. At six O’clock, we decided to leave for the train station.  But, when we tried to get taxis we were told we would have to wait at least ½ hour, due to 6:00 – 7:00 being the rush hour.  So, we decided our best bet would be to haul our packs the 3 or 4 blocks to the main St., where the taxis were supposed to be more plentiful.  On the way, Rossies pack fell apart, due to a broken frame, scattering his duffle along the crowded street.   When we got to Main St., the taxis were still few and far between, but we finally made it to the station, with just enough time to clear all the boarding hassles and were on our way only minutes after boarding.

We spent the night before New years Eve, rolling in constant zigzagging curves southward and awoke to a much different looking terrain.  We passed many large ranches, but gradually saw more and more jungle.

Friday, December 31st

As we were to spend New Years Eve on the train we had been farsighted enough to stock up with plenty of liquid refreshment[My father failed to mention that being New Years Eve, the train was filled with revelers and and a fare number of nubile females.  My father did not fail to apply his charms on them].  So, when we arrived at Palenque at 9:00 p.m., everybody was in a very good mood.  However, when we got off the train, we found that all the hotels were filled with holiday travelers, but one of the hotel patron’s showed us pity and allowed us to lay our sleeping bags on the patio outside, so we got a fair nights rest.  [At this point in his journal, my father has put a bold asterisk and just put the words,  “scorpion – snake other hotel”, and wrote nothing else about these words.  I guess he planned to elaborate on that later, but never got around to it.  Anyway, I was there, I remember both the “scorpion” incident and the “snake hotel” reference quite clearly and I will now diverge slightly from his chronicle, to tell you what happened].

My father said we “got a fair nights rest”, and that was true even on that concrete slab.  When I woke up,  I was lying on my side  with my face cradled on my bent arm.   As my eyes slowly focused on the patio in front my face, I realized  that a huge black scorpion was staring me dead in eye about three inches away from my nose.  I squealed something like “Strick scorpion” and after hearing him stir from his sleeping bag,  and waiting  endless   seconds,  Strick’s leather boot came smashing into my frozen view crushing the would-be face-puncturing arachnid.

The “snake other hotel” phrase, refers to something that the proprietor of the pension we ended up staying in, showed to my father.  It was a dead fer du Lance  in a jar of preservative liquid.  The Fer du Lance is a particularly aggressive poison snake found in that area, whose bite is more deadly than that of a Cobra, delivering both hemo and neurotoxins.  He told my father that the snake was found in his competitors pension across the street.  My father of course, immediately went across the street and asked the proprietor of that pension about the snake, and that fellow insisted that the snake was found in our Pension by our host.  “Otherwise’, he argued, how is it that he has the snake?  Now back to dad’s chronicle.
Saturday, January 1st

We were able to find a restaurant for breakfast, enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Huevos rancheros(eggs and hot sauce) and at about 10 a.m., headed for the ruins.  Even though Palenque was not our final destination, it was on the way and the ruins there are world-renowned.  We spent the rest of the day browsing through the amazing structures, which testify to a culture about which there are still many mysteries.

On the way home, we all managed to thumb a ride in the back of a truck full of workers, which was passing us as we waited for the bus.  We thus got back to the hotel beating the bus, and ate our dinner well contented with our efforts.

In the evening we held council to decide the best way to make our next move.  Due to our limited knowledge of one of our stops, the village of Candalaria on the Rio Candalaria, we decided to send out a scout to explore the possibility of getting a boat to ferry us to our destination, which by Strick’s reckoning was many miles up the Rio Candalaria from the Village of Candalaria — our final train stop.  Kevin was chosen for this mission and was rushed to the train station for a 10 p.m. departure.
Sunday January 2nd

Everyone but me was off to the ruins again at 10:00 a.m., — I stayed behind to get some rest.   I wish I were up to all the walking involved.  I couldn’t make such a trip without Rossie’s help.  He has carried my pack most of the time and never a word of complaint [I kept them to myself].

Kevin returned from his scouting trip at about 3:30 p.m.  He had covered a lot of ground in so short a time. He had traveled by train, taxi, bus, he had hitchhiked, he had walked and he had complied very complete report, which gave us the courage to make our try for an exploratory trip up the river. Our objective were ruins and caves near a place called Rancho Nuevo, an undetermined distance up the Rio Candalara from the village of Candalaraia, which is about 4 hours north of Polenque by train.

So, we all left Palenque on the train at 10:00 p.m., first class we hoped, as we were all tired and looked forward to relaxing on the train.  We watched our train pull into the station and as it stopped we all headed for it with packs on our backs, amid a mass of hurrying, pushing locals.  I move a little slower than the others and by the time I reached the car, the train was already moving and I just made it by being pulled on by Rossie and pushed from behind by a couple of bystanders[Literally: My father I through on the train].

Our visions of restful trip vanished as we tried to crowd our way into the car, which was crowded even before the mob of people who came on with us.  None of our party ever got a seat, but sat on the floor or stood swaying in the aisle along with at least twice as many passengers as the car was designed to carry[ I must interject a small piece of information that at the time(or ever) my father was unaware of.  During the time that he was resting at the pension before our train trip.  One of the other’s in our group, a German fellow about my age named Oveh and I took a walk back to the ruins.  Just outside the ruins was a bunch ramshackle tents where various multicolored hippies from all over the world gathered – Palenque is world famous for its Psilocybin mushrooms  — reportedly the strongest in the world.  Next to this encampment we encountered an individual stirring the contents of a large black caldron filled with a white creamy soup he referred to as “cream of Palenque soup”  Of course both Ove and I had a cup and by the time the train for Condolaria was ready to leave, we were highly hallucinatory and made the train ride quite a trip indeed].

After 3 ½ torturous hours, we arrived at Candalaria and tottered with our packs to the hotel or what passes as one.  This hotel is crude, almost defying description.  Wind, noises, odors and other nameless horrors came through the so-called walls non-stop[ lath walls through which the jungle could be viewed].  The beds were home made burlap cots in all stages of collapse.  The odiferous toilet, located in the open hall outside our room, was flushed occasionally by dipping a bucket in an oil drum filled with water in the courtyard.  Usually the flushing was left for the next victim. [I would like to interject more on that my father did not include.  When we walked into this village, which is definitely not on a tourist route, we may have been the first northern Americans to have ever visited.  Being Mayans, none of the villagers topped five feet, so when the saw or motley crew, and especiialy me – 6’4” tall, in torn very short cut-offs and with blond hair down to my ass and a machete hanging at my side, we were immediately escorted to the mayor of the village who demanded our passports.  Of course, I had lost mine, but Fortunately, Strick, who speaks Spanish smoothed things out with the official and I did not rot in a Mexican jail]
Monday, January 3rd

However, we managed to survive the night and made a deal with a river boat owner, whose boat was named “The Pioneer”, to make a special trip up the river at noon.  Our party-of-six were the only passengers. [the boat, I-kid-you-not,  looked like the African Queen and The fare for this trip was roughly fifty cents a piece]

We got on our way at about noon.  Our boat was 30 feet long, had a throbbing diesel and traveled about 10 miles per hour.  We chugged for 2 ½ hours between banks covered with tangled jungle and with an occasional clearing where some native had hacked out a primitive home.

We finally arrived at Rancho Nuevo at 2:30 p.m.  We had expected a small settlement[my personal fantasy included Gauchos on horseback, full course meals on a Hacienda, listening to a live Mariachi band, while sipping various exotic drinks in coconuts], but found instead only one conjugal family, who had homesteaded the land and had owned it for 30 years.  We asked to stay through Strick, our interpreter and were welcomed by friendly, if shy smiles from the whole family[Actually Strick only spoke with the patriarch of the group, who fortunately spoke Spanish along with Mayan.  He was a rugged individual, dressed in western garb, wearing a hat similar to that of Indiana Jones, and had a pistol at his hipThe children and his wife could be seen peeking out at us from the surrounding jungle and from the hut, but we never heard a peep from them.  I did notice that every member of the family had perfect glowing white teeth, totally without the benefit of modern dental hygeiene – a testament to their natural diet]

Their home is very crude.  Built of bamboo, vines and palm fronds, with a course dirt floor.  There were also several buildings besides the living quarters used for storage and animal shelters.  They had chickens, turkeys ducks pigs a plenty, horses, cows, dogs(7), cats, a parrot and more too I am sure.  They raise corn and other crops and with the fish from the Rio, are just about  self-sufficient.  As they have to be – a trip to town by dugout canoe[the only means of transport available to them], takes 20 hours.

Shortly after our arrival our host and his son swept the litter, which was a mixture of the droppings of all the animals, from one of the thatched shelters and said we could store our packs in there and sleep there as well if we cared to.  Three slept on the shed floor and three in tents.  No one mentioned how soft the ground was.
Tuesday, January 4th

The next morning, we prepared a leisurely breakfast of odds and ends and about 10 a.m., our host guided us(in his dugout canoe) to a pyramid on his Ranch.   The ruins were badly deteriorated and covered by jungle growth.  We found crumbling masonry now filled a hole at the peak of the pyramid that had apparently been an entrance in the far past.  We were not equipped for much digging, but with machetes did uncover a large number of pieces of pottery, plus some cutting tools of flint.  We did not bring any artifacts away, but were satisfied to be the first outsiders to explore the ruins.

In my dad’s journal at this point, there was a note that simply said “Snake” and I guess he planned to fill this in later, but I guess he never got around to it.  Here is the way I remember it:

After that first trip up to the pyramids in the canoe, I noticed that I was starting to feel poorly.  My stomach was upset and ironically was suffering the opposite of “Moctezuma’s Revenge”.  So, on the next morning, when the whole rest of the group were heading out in the canoe to the pyramids again, I decided to stay behind, feeling to weak to accompany them.  When they returned some hours later, I found that I had missed out on quite an adventure.

According to Strick, who related the experience to me, shortly after the canoe got underway,  a large boa, roughly 20 feet long with a head “as big a a German Shepard”,  gliding about a foot above the water, slithered into the river from the bank and headed toward the canoe.  The fourteen year old son of our host, pulled out his pistol and shot at the beast, but missed.  This only apparently scared the snake, who swan directly at the canoe, possibly mistaking it for a log, and crawled right into the boat.  As Strick put it: “

The rancher was hollering, the his son who was standing up in the dugout shooting, Kevin Keen was hollering and he jumped up to get a better picture. Kevin’s sudden  movement threw the narrow dug-out off balance and he nearly fell in. That threw off the sons aim.

As you will remember the dugout was heavy shallow and narrow so with  all this jumping around the sides of the dug out where occasionally dipping under water. With all this happening 

my first good view of this big  Boa was of it’s open mouth.  It’s head came over the side of the dugout directly where I was sitting.  Its mouth was size of a big German Shepard’s – but the head was wider and the teeth were longer and sharper.  Until that moment it had not dawned on me you could get a serious bite from a nonpoisonous snake.  My reaction was grab my machete but I could not swing it without hitting whoever was in front of me — I think it was your dad.

The snake did not die nor did it appear to have been injured- once it started to climb in the dugout the shooting at it stopped. I think it must  have been repelled by the screaming of a little girl. (or maybe that was me screaming LIKE  a little girl — as I said, once the snake’s head was in my lap my memory  became foggy) However do have a recollection of it swimming away and reaching the bank.  I do not remember the name of the rancher, but I do recollect that he was eager to get the bank to empty the dug out of the water ( that he insisted was not “river” water)“.

In the p.m., the others traveled up the river in our hosts dugout canoe, with the rancher and son as two-paddle-power.  They were to explore a cave and another pyramid about two miles up the river.

Rossie and I had decided we had had enough roughing it and were heading for home.  We had our packs ready on the dock waiting for a small boat, which plies the river about daily.  We were made to understand the boat would come along between 4 and 5 and could be flagged in.  At 5:30, the boat rounded a curve up the river and came chugging towards us.  We didn’t know if the boat would stop or not, but after some frantic waving the boat headed our way, much to our relief, as the next boat could be in a couple of days.  We hopped on the boat and were back in Candalaria in 2 ½ hours and got a hotel (?) room for the night.

Wednesday, January 5th

We had no definite plan, but decided to continue north to Merida[on the western cost of the tip of the Yucatan across from Cancun] , where we could perhaps get a bus back to Laredo.  After looking over the map, we decided we would forgo 8 more hours on the train to Merida and detrain at Campeche, as the same bus travels there.  We followed that plan.  However, when we arrived in Campeche and checked at the bus station, we found that all buses were reserved and we would have a 3-day wait.

So, we checked into the Hotel Mexico – a place to sleep and that’s it.
Thursday, January 6th

In the morning after breakfast, Rossie went to mail some post cards and on his way back, ran into to Strick and the rest of the group, who we had last seen way up the Candalaria and who we did not expect to see again until we got back to Austin.  This was quite a coincidence, as they had no idea where we were heading when we parted, nor did we as it turned out.

Our reunion was brief, as we were just about to leave for the train station and they were going to rent a vehicle and do some more exploring.  So, we said goodbye again and went our separate ways. [We got together at a restaurant for a meal and I would like to detail an amusing moment that occurred there: All six of us were sitting around a large round table and were preparing to order.  Oveh (of the magic mushrooms) decided to show off his Spanish skills, which beyond fairly good pronunciation, were weak.  To show off his Spanish, he ordered the drinks for us like this: meaning to order six cokes, which would be seis cokas – he said instead “seis cacas”(six shits).  He said this very clearly and loudly so that all in the restaurant could hear and there was a moment of silence before the entire place erupted in laughter.  After we parted ways, Strick and the rest of the group traveled back to the Museum in Mexico City to report our find of the Pyramids and that report is now there chronicled]

We had to settle for 2nd class tickets and the train was as crowded as usual.  Fortunately after a few stops, we finally able to get seats, for which we were very grateful as the trip to Mexico City was to be 36 hours.

When we arrived in Mexico City, a day and a half later at 9:00 a.m., we found that we had to spend another night there, because our train for Laredo had already left for that day.  So, we booked another room in the Hotel Monte Carlo.

We were able to get 1st class seats and a Pullman compartment for our last leg by train, so traveled in comparative luxury the last 24 hours to Nuevo Laredo.  Once there, we had no problems getting through customs and were deposited by taxi at the Greyhound terminal and caught the bus to Austin, where we were met by Carla[my wife] and were soon back home and glad to be there.

We were very happy to be safely home again, but will always remember our once-in-lifetime journey of over 5000 miles to the Yucatan Peninsula and how we became authorities concerning travel by train in Mexico.