Trek Diary: Day Sixteen (12th July)
As i may have mentioned, i had been waking up during the night, usually in a panic that a bug was crawling on my face. On this night i woke up because i thought the ground was moving and was convinced that Santa Fe was experiencing an earthquake. I’m not sure if it actually did, i highly doubt it and nobody mentioned anything. I must have some really vivid dreams! Too many Bud Lights before bed maybe? I spent the morning continuing the battle in the oestrogen filled bathroom and rearranging the electrical point, so i could charge my camera among all the others hanging of the extension lead.
Just after the photo oppurtunity of some amazing billboard placement, we stopped and had lunch by a river. I ate my bagel sat on the edge of a wall, watching a group of people kayak downstream. The weather had continued from yesterdays trip into Santa Fe and it started to rain as we were packing up. As we were doing so, a group of guys i had spotted earlier came up to me and said, “Dont worry about the rain, it will pass in a few moments. I live here, i know!” He shook my hand and introduced himself, explaining that him and his buds were all of Navajo descendant. I forgot his name, we shall name him Navajo Gangster Guy. He was trying to strike up a conversation with me as my group began climbing into the van. He told me i was cute, i mumbled a thanks and jumped into the van after everyone else. As i turned to close the door, the gangster…gang…were still there blabbing on about my English accent. At this point i was mentally shouting at Steve to drive. I cant handle these situations! I pretty much slammed the door in the guy’s face and we drove off. Although, we did have to to stop a few meters away because we realised Beom was missing!
After an hours drive in rocky desert country we arrived at Four Courners – a renound tourist trap. It was pretty quiet but was full of local people selling Navajo crafts and jewellery. Four Corners is where four states meet, these are; Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. These are marked out on the ground by a series of tiles and plaques. A typical tourist activity is to jump in each one in turn, or you can put a limb in each state for a lovely (rather unflattering) photo opportunity. I tried to mix it up a bit by doing “the crab” bent over the plaques but this just ended with me nearly doing my back in. Instead, we opted for a cheesy group pyramid photo which seemed to entertain everyone else around us. Luckily i was on top and got to squish everyone.
We arrived in the town of Kayenta and headed to the supermarket to grab a few things for our overnight stay. This town also had a Burger King with a Navajo Code Talker museum in it – probably should have checked that one out! Apparently, the local community have a thing for canned “meat” as we saw a whole wall of Spam in the supermarket. We were told that we were going to be having a traditional Navajo dinner of tacos in the park. Being fuss-pots and/or hungry things, many of our group opted for some junk food to keep them going. I had learnt by now that if Natalie bought fried food from the deli, there would usually be some left over. I was right again and scored some chicken! Well played Amy…well played.
The terrain on our journey had gradually become rockier and we eventually spotted the red rocks made famous from Western films. We arrived at the visitor centre where we had a look around and took photos from the viewing deck. We then met our tour guide and jumped into the vehicle that we would be spending the next few hours bouncing around in the back of. I am just glad that the seats were cushioned. Along our drive we stopped at various points in the park to take photos and enjoy the view. After seeing Monument Valley in so many western films and riding around “Diez Coronas” in the game Red Dead Redemption (based on the Monument area) it was exciting to finally be there. It may be very famous but i’m not sure how many people will actually get to see it, as it is situated a bit far from the main American tourist cities. I guess people want to see the Grand Canyon more than Monument Valley, which is a shame because it is absolutely breath taking. Willy, our guide, would speak to us over the megaphone to tell us information about the area or to teach us Navajo songs to sing along to. Willy also had a bit of a catch phrase, “Ooh la la!” which we adopted for the remainder of our trek.
One of our stops was a famous area called “Big Hogan Rock”. The Navajo never used to use names to refer to these rocks, but now they all have titles to distinguish them by. These are usually pretty simple and descriptive, including “Elephant rock” and “The Three Sisters”. The Big Hogan has markings which look like two Indian faces and above this the rock forms an eagles head, complete with an eye hole. We laid against the back wall as our tour guides sang Navajo songs and played traditional instruments which echoed in the natural amphitheatre.
This was to be our last stop before dinner which was just a short drive to another area in the park. The Navajo tacos were not what i was expecting! instead of a hard crisp shell, they were more like a pancake or yorkshire pudding. It was fried dough and tasted amazing! I will definitely be making these at home. They were filled with the normal taco fillings; mince, cheese, salad, sour cream, salsa…so good!
Feeling pretty sick from stuffing my face, we all climbed back into the vans and set off back to our camp. During the journey, the light was fading and the valley almost seemed to glow in the setting sun. A campfire was lit soon after we arrived, where we made smores and listened to the stories and history of the Navajo nation. There were many surreal moments on this trip and this was definitely one of them.
Despite being in the middle of a valley, miles from any artificial light, it was surprising how well you could actually see. The sky still seemed to have a light hue and we were surrounded by the shadowy outlines of the rock formations. As i listened to the colourful storytelling, i glanced around at everyone, who all seemed transfixed by the fire in front of them. Every now and then i would look behind at the valley and felt the urge to pinch myself. I felt extremely lucky to be here. A lot of reflecting happened in that valley.
Between getting lost in the beauty of the place, there was a reality check in the avoidance of a certain drop toilet. Being miles away from any plumbing, we knew our facilities were going to be particularly limited, but i was looking forward to roughing it for the night. The drop loo was situated a good distance away from the edge of camp. I refused to go on my own and bullied Lisa into keeping guard. Drop toilets are never pleasant but the view definitely made up for this one, as I had the entire moon lit valley in front of me. I have a feeling it will be the most scenic wee that i will ever have.
The girls had been planning to sleep inside one of the Hogans for the night but we joined the other group outside where we made a little camp (I planned ahead and got an inside spot!). The boys however, had set up their sleeping arrangements on the furthest edge of the campsite. where we were told all the (scary) wildlife lives. It was obviously a test of their masculinity. As everyone begun to settle down, we were all snuggled up in our sleeping bags when our guide walked by. I took the chance to ask him about the holes in the ground that i had spotted. My face was about a foot away from one – what a stupid question to ask!
Willy: “Those holes? Oh, there are these little rodents that live around here…”
Me (Thinking): Rodents? I can handle that.
Willy “…that like to eat the scorpions that come out of those holes! Why do you think we sleep in tents? Do not worry, you will be fine. Just dont put your hand on one in your sleep.”
We all looked at each other as he wandered of. I did wonder whether he was just having us on, but he looked pretty serious about it all. We then started squealing about how they would be crawling over our faces during the night, which started of a series of giggling fits that were induced by sheer fear. This ended abruptly after getting shouted at by the other group for being too noisy. Being told off worked and we went straight to sleep after that.
During the middle of the night i woke up suddenly and sat bolt upright (again) and i am glad that i did. The clouds from earlier had gone and i now had the entire milky way above me. I had never seen so many stars before, it was absolutely awe inspiring! I lay there for a while trying to take it all in before drifting off to sleep. It is an experience i will never forget.