I am back in the land of the living.
Since then I have had a shower, a bath, I have clean feet, clean nails, clean hair, and long sleeps in a proper bed with pillows and mattress. I am back to wearing impractical clothing, and jewellery, and my Aussie flip flops. I did four loads of washing, and put everything in the dryer. I can go into town, and buy coffee, and go to the shops.
These are important luxuries which I will never forget.
Apart from mosquitos I did not get bitten by anything nasty. And whilst I love mud, I had plenty of it to wash off. I still have some kind of plant resin stuck on my shorts. I still have a weird shaped burn on my leg from sitting one day partly in the shade and partly not. It wasn’t for very long, but the sun that day was hot.
We went to Canyon de Chellys (pronounced de Shay), which is across the border in Arizona, and where Spider Rock is.
The sunburn happenened on the way down into the canyon. We walked in.
We were accompanied by a local woman L who told us that we had to first introduce ourselves to the canyon before walking in there. We had to explain our lineage, both maternal, and paternal, and each set of grandparents, and where we were from, and our name, and our purpose for entering the canyon.
It was very polite and I liked the sentiment of it. Also, it was interesting listening to each person introduce themselves, and tell a little bit more of their personal stories because alot of us were strangers to each other. But even though I was sitting partly in the shade, I still got sunburnt on legs and arms, because I was wearing totally impractical clothing and no sunscreen. I hadn’t really comprehended the amount of time it would take to walk in there, and also, our departure was delayed by a number of hours because of delays in the permit office, and so we were out walking in the heat of the day instead of the morning which had been the original plan.
So I was the first casualty, and people were very nice in looking after me and giving me lotions and good advice.
When we arrived at camp it was such a relief because all the tents had been put up for us by L’s nephew. There was an outhouse. Actually two outhouses. I better divert here and elaborate on the poobags. When we were preparing for the trip, M’s friend W had given us solemn advice about carrying dozens and dozens of poobags in case the food didn’t agree with us and because there was no toilet. She also scared me sideways with stories of rattlesnakes and scorpions. I barely slept that night wondering what madness had prompted me to sign up for this trip. M said that she could do an etheric salt circle around the tent which would keep rattlesnakes away. I have never before heard of such a thing and did not feel at all comfortable relying upon it. Apart from anything else, how would the rattlesnakes know that there was an etheric salt circle there? Are we going to put up a little sign? I can be sarcastic sometimes. W then said that it might be wise if I carried pepper spray – the rationale being that it works on bears, and so it might work on rattlesnakes. M said she is not scared of rattlesnakes, and neither should I be, and she said when you fear things you bring them to you and so if snakes come to the tent it is going to be my own fault for being scared of them and attracting them.
M is not scared of anything.
She did mention, at one stage, that there was no way in the world that she would be sharing a tent with me if I was coffee deprived and had pepper spray.
Next day Robbyne’s husband was checking in with me to see if I had put together all my essentials for the trip, and like a good little girl I told him that I even had poobags. He looked perplexed and wanted to know what on earth I was going to be doing with those. I told him what W said, and he got very stern with me, and said that if he had not told me to bring poobags, then poobags were not needed, and I shouldn’t be listening to other people who had not even stepped foot in the canyon. After that, he thought the poobags were funny and told everyone about them, just like I am doing now. I can promise you that not a single poobag was used on that trip, but everyone will remember the story.
Robbyne’s husband also told me that he had been to the canyon three times, and only once seen a snake, at a distance, going in a different direction. So no pepper spray.
My tent mate actually ended up being a lady called C, and she and I got along very well. She has this ability to say something really funny and unexpected in a serious situation with a deadpan face. So she really had me rolling around, and in fact it was just as well, because humour will always save the day.
We camped under trees called Cottonwood trees, and the first night (which was our ‘fine’ night) we ironically thought it was raining all night, because of this gentle pitter patter, pitter patter noise, which was very relaxing, and turned out to be the rustling of cottonwood leaves in the breeze …. little did we know what real rain on a tent sounds like ….
I now understand the story about the Princess and the Pea.
I am the Princess.
Camping is the Pea.
I must say – humour did save the day – the whole group was blessed with individuals who, although strangers from different places, all shared a great sense of humour. I think the whole experience would have been different without that. At night we sat around the campfire, under the stars, surrounded by canyon walls, and sharing our respective Princess and the Pea experiences of the day. Even M (to my observation) became a Princess and the Pea because she had a dodgy camp mattress and she had us in stitches with her description of her attempts to get some sleep. So we all shared stories and laughed our heads off, and scared the wildlife away. It was good for the soul.
On the day when we were going to be changing camp and going to Spider Rock it really did pour. Mud everywhere. And because it was that filmy mud you get in a dusty place, we were all slipping and sliding about in it, and once again, only humour saved the day. That day we got a massive downpour I got marooned in my tent surrounded by water, wearing a little red raincoat (borrowed from C), and my little leopard suitcase all packed and ready to go, . So I became the Princess and the Puddle.
Noone came along on a big white horse and rescued me.
But the consensus was that I looked hysterically funny.
In the midst of all the chaos, Robbyne thought it would be amusing to turn up wearing this shirt her friend gave her which says “trust me, I’m a professional”
There was a chance the trip to Spider Rock Canyon would get an 11th hour cancellation because of the rain. Or, that having arrived successfully (we had to first see if we would be able to cross 32 river beds swollen with flash flooding) that we would not be able to set up camp there because of the weather.
Enter Bobby Van Winkle.
That is actually his name. He says he does not know how his forefathers got that name because he is all Indian, from the Navaho tribe. They spell it Navajo. He has a business running jeep tours in the canyon. He was actually born AT Spider Rock, and so was his assistant Dennis. Their stories about their childhood growing up in that canyon were really interesting.
But anyway, due to a very recent change in Navajo Nation permit rules, we needed to be escorted into the canyon by Bobby. When he turned up he found everyone in a flummox about whether or not we would go, and camp there (because of the rain).
He is a fairly quiet fellow, and he just sat back for a bit observing, and then after awhile he said he he has a Hogan there in the Spider Rock canyon that we can sleep in and a campsite. We can use it if we like. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He even has a portaloo … can you see it in the photo …
SIGH …….. what luxury …….
He who has a portaloo has many friends …..
So we ended up, courtesy of Bobby and his four wheel drive vehicles, and his Hogan, and his portaloo, getting to the Spider Rock Canyon and staying there the night.
It was raining but we did not care.
It was the most sublimely beautiful place.
By the way, I should say that a Hogan is a little hexagonal wood and mud building that people in the canyon sleep in …….
Here is me crouching at the first ‘view’ we had of Spider Rock, before we actually entered the Spider Rock canyon. I am crouching because I did not want to spoil the view in the picture. The reality is that the view is so huge that I could jump up and down in front of it and still not affect it.
Bobby unloaded a tent from his Hogan and placed it outside, right there in front of Spider Rock and told me that I could sleep in it if I wanted to. So I slept there, with the full moon shining in between clouds and rain, looking at Spider Rock standing tall and proud in the mist and the rain and the moonlight. It was the first thing I saw when I woke, and the last thing before going to sleep. I was grateful for that beautiful experience, because it was what I flew all that way for, and endured everything else for.
I found out next day Bobby actually had given me his tent and he had spent that night sleeping in his car. If I had known that I would not have accepted. I just assumed that it was a spare tent. He also had piled about half a dozen pillows on top of the camp mattress in the tent so that the Princess and the Pea would be comfortable, and he had laid out beautiful woven Navaho blankets.
So because Bobby was so kind and gave up his tent for me I want to promote his business. He has a Navajo Nation permit to take you all the way to Spider Rock, and he runs Jeep tour. So if you are in the USA and want to experience Spider Rock perhaps try to contact him. His business is called Tseyi Jeep Tours, and Tseyi means “canyon’.
It was also my first four wheel driving experience, in mud, and flooded creek beds, and slippery-dip dirt roads, and I LOVED IT – it was so fun – and Bobby was such a calm and experienced driver that we never felt unsafe. The drive was fantastic.
Spider Rock is a place where traditional people go if they have lost their way in life and become confused, or if they have chosen to weave a new dream into their life. There are legends about the place and it is considered sacred as the spiritual home of Grandmother Spider who they say was the first dream weaver, and who gave to the human the gift of the dream and the ability to weave your own dreams into your life. The symbolism of the spider web, and the dream weaver, is part of the dream catchers that you can buy fairly easily these days. I love the way that Spider Rock sits in its own magical little perfect lush and green canyon, surrounded by this confusing labyrinth of dozens of dead and dusty canyons that would deter most idle passers by, or anyone who did not have proper directions. It keeps it pristine and special for the dedicated loonies like us!
I feel that my life is changed now from that overnight experience at Spider Rock, I feel calmer and more confident about my direction, and even more in awe of the grand beauty of this planet. I am so grateful and touched that I was able to get there, against the odds, from the other side of the world, and a little bit proud of myself for persevering. And now I have experienced camping for the first time.
Actually speaking of camping, on one of my flights I was seated next to a man who lives in Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and he works for the Polar Institute. His job involves organising and leading scientific and surveying expeditions to the North and South Poles. He was very friendly and chatty, and passed the time telling me the craziest camping stories that I have ever heard. Always good to get some perspective on things …….. at least we didn’t have to worry about starving, man eating, Polar Bears that can cover 50 metres in the blink of an eye … ……. and various other dangers ………
I am back at Mt Shasta now, staying in Robbyne’s beautiful house and enjoying many creature comforts. Tonight three people in our group are celebrating birthdays and we are dressing up, and going out this evening to a nice restaurant.
14 September 2014, written about Canyon de Chelles, in the Navajo Nation, Arizona, USA
Spider Rock above
14 September 2014 – written about Canyon de Chelles, Arizona, USA