It was an early rise this morning. We had a lot of things to cover – travel, activities, and an evening out for some. We were headed for Albuquerque by way of Durango. After getting ready and whatnot, I decided to go down and get some breakfast – or at least see what was on offer. Wandering down to the hotel lobby/eating area, I found a range of cereals that I’m sure are available in Australia, a contraption to make your own waffle (which I dared not use due to my fear of injuring myself, and the overall effort I would have to exert compared to, say, eating a yogurt), and a range of diary and pastry products. I opted for (surprise surprise) yogurt, got myself a glass of apple juice, and sat myself at a table.
There were some other people from the tour group meandering around the food, getting their own, and then going off to eat. As I sat there, alone, I realised that nearly everyone seemed to be traveling in groups of 2 or 3. It would appear as if most of the tour group had formed their own cliques some time down the line. I thought back to the trio of nights that I had opted for rest/alone time, and realised that I had probably missed out on falling into one of these groups of friends. I was, for a moment, disheartened. Then I realised that it might not be the worst thing, because I wouldn’t be obliged to go around with the same people to things each time – I could bounce from one group to another. Beneficial, I thought, because spending time around the same people for sustained periods sees me get annoyed.
I finished my breakfast and headed back to the room, where Father was packing his things. I had the luxury of time, having readied the night before, and watched some more television. Eventually, we both walked downstairs, and sat at a picnic table by the bus, waiting to load up. The rest of the group trickled in, and eventually, we were somewhat of an amusing sight. The weather was still quite overcast, and it had rained not hours before we were all gathered. Regardless, there a whole head of us stood in board-shorts, rash-vests, sun-blocked up, and in thongs and sandals. In the middle of a wet and puddly carpark, with grey clouds overhead. Why?
We were headed to Durango, in Colorado. Running through the town that has been the setting for a few Westerns is the Animas River, good for whitewater rafting during the Summer. It was Summer, and I was rafting. The other option, which I would have liked to do too, was jeep riding through the local wild areas, where abandoned mines and scrub make for interesting photos. But it was one or the other, and rafting won out, purely because one could get wet. A majority of the bus chose rafting too.
We were off soon, and chugging up the road for a couple hours. Before we were to get into our activities for the day, we had to get our photo taken. One of the options is to buy the group photo of the tour. Contiki decided that the mountain-filled backdrop of Durango was as scenic as you would get, because that’s where our photo was going to be. I wish it was better timed, because everyone was dressed like a dork.
Our photographer met us there – a cheery fellow. A lot of the bus was, well, hung over from the night before, so this joking, smiling guy didn’t go down well with them. We arranged ourselves (much like in school) in height-order, and then lined up. A few clicks later, and with knees hurting from a very painful crouch (my dratted height meant that I was too tall to be sitting at the front, and too short to be standing in the 3rd and 4th rows), we were done. I had opted not to buy the photo. It was $16, and when we were signing up, I was a bit jaded as to have not been included in any of the cliques. Plus, I expected that I would take enough photos of the others to not need to spend the money. And surely someone would upload a copy onto the Internet.
There was going to be an opportunity to buy a second photo. The way the tour worked, you could do the L.A. to New York tour, you could do the L.A. to New Orleans part, and then leave, or do the New Orleans to New York. Obviously, I was doing the whole thing, but new people would be getting on in New Orleans, after some left (including Father), and we would be taking a second group photo. I thought maybe I will be more socialised by the group by then, and would want to buy the photo. I recorded in my diary though “probably not”.
We left the outskirts of Durango for the city centre. Once we got there, and pulled up out the front of a supermarket, we had a talking to. The rafting can get a little dangerous, and as a result, you have to sign a waiver. When David, our Californian tour guide, said waiver, with his American accent, we weren’t too sure what he said as he rambled through the spiel. One of the group members, Garreth, who ended up being in with the group of ‘boys’ who I didn’t take to that great, sang out (in his broad Australian accent) “D’ya mean a ‘waiva’ mate?”. David replied “Yes, a waiverrr,” in some attempt to mock our accent. It backfired, because for the next 20 days, 45 Aussies would randomly call out “Waiverrr” just for fun. Well, fun for us. Then, it turned into any word that ended with ‘er’ or ‘or’ etc. It was crazy, it was hilarious, and it was some more fun.
We unloaded from the bus, milled around, and split up into groups – rafters and jeepers. We rafters filled out our waivers, and then were confronted with an conundrum. Our thongs and sandals weren’t allowed because they might fall off if we fall in, and then we could cut our feet (I think that was the problem). As a result, we could pay $12 for some swimming shoes or get some gaffer tape and tape those suckers to our feet. Initially, I reached for my wallet, then had second thoughts, put it back, and decided that I’d be taping my thongs to my feet if only because of the absurdity.
Soon, our ‘flip-flops’ neither flipped nor flopped as we all shuffled to the bus that would take us to the Animas River.
Before we even got to Durango, I was rather excited about this. I had done rafting at the Olympic facilities out an Penrith a few times, with family groups and for birthdays. It’s a bunch of fun, but I always imagined that it wouldn’t compare to being out ‘in nature’ – something not man-made, and man-controlled.
We loaded up, and met our rafting guides. Ours was Lincoln. He was a pretty good guy, and had one heck of a life. His job, during the Summer, is to go out just 3 times a day rafting with people (like he was doing this morning). During the Winter, he works on the ski fields up in the mountains that surround Durango. He even agreed with us that it was unfair. Oh, and for fun, he goes rock climbing. Quite the active fellow.
We made the river (quite some distance from the city) and unloaded with our flotation vests and rafts. After another safety speech, we were asked to form into three group. One group of 8 would go into a traditional raft where you had to row and do stuff, while the rest would fit onto what I would call en masse rafting – you just sit there with about 16 people on the raft, while the guide at the back just steers. No where near as fun, I thought, as the first option, so I made a beeline for the D.I.Y raft.
For good or bad (as you will soon find out) I was joined, eventually, by the rest of the ‘boys’ group. Most of them were hung over, and most of them I had no real interaction with to this point (because their first impressions reminded me of all those guys at school who I really did not like). So the activity was a toss-up as to whether it would be great or not.
We were into the water, and soon the guys were skylarking – threatening to push people in, taking the mickey out of one person in particular, when Matt (from an earlier post, who started the whole ‘Moustache’ thing) spotted me and started joking around. He said he wanted to throw me in, and then Garreth, sitting at the helm of the boat, said that at the first opportunity, he was going to tackle me in. Good, I though, because it meant I didn’t have to look like a fool and jump in myself. Because I was going to go in, and I was going to get wet, rest assured. All part of the experience.
Floating down, we would have to wait until we encountered any rapids, and we didn’t have to row much. As we gently made our way downstream, I sat there in the sun, enjoying the scene and the moment. Still early in the day, I continued my trend of pulling my moustache to the sides to flatten it down and give it form. I find if I do this every now and then through the morning, it keeps its shape for the rest of the day, and there’s no crazy hairs going every which way. Matt spotted me doing this and thought it was amusing. It probably was for the rest of them who seemed mystified at the sight of a simple moustache. By the end of the whole holiday, I had come to think that the moustache had a sort of power, if you will.
Anyway, Matt was laughing, and someone asked him what was funny, and he said me sitting there twirling my moustache. And then, to illustrate, he did it as if he had one himself. Then he just laid his index finger across his top lip and said “Moustache”. And someone else did it to be funny. And someone else. And then everyone except me and Lincoln was doing it – though me because I didn’t need to, and Lincoln because he had to steer the boat. But Lincoln sure found it funny. That was the new ‘thing’ to do. Someone would say “Moustache!” and put their finger to their lip, and everyone around (not just limited to the people that were on the boat by the end of the trip) would bow their head, and in a hushed tone say “Moustache” and do the finger thing too.
Again, it annoyed me. It annoyed me more than being called ‘Moustache’. But, after a few days of it, I just went with it, till eventually it was amusing for me. It was probably annoying this first day though because they would have done it 50 times in 45 minutes. Excessive, I thought.
Finally, we got far enough down the river for some action. We paddled hard and fast – I was setting the pace for the right side (I’m not good with nautical terms), as I was at the front. I can get a little enthused when it comes to physical activities, so keeping up with me was probably a hard task. We made it through some rapids, went through a peaceful section, then into some bigger rapids, where we dipped and bounced. Seeing his opportunity, Garreth lunged, collected me, and we were in. Some other people went in (legitimate or not I couldn’t tell, as I was already in), and eventually there was one of the tour group and Lincoln left to pull us all back in.
The water, some said, was the best cure for a hang over. It was around 4C, maybe a little colder, and boy did it freshen you up. I was probably (still) a little tired from the morning, not yet accustomed to early rises (even when I’m going to university, I’ll still be waking up later than I was for this holiday). I was certain awake after my dip in.
Once I was pulled back in my boat, Garreth and a few others had a good chuckle to themselves, me included, and we were back into it. We managed to splash the rafts full of the rest of the tour groups (who had no paddles, so couldn’t do anything back), and progressed further. I wasn’t satisfied with only going into the river once, so waited until there was an opportunity and then “fell” back in. I splashed around a bit, and was eventually jerked in by Matt. After resuming my seat, I was glad to have taped my thongs to my feet. It was a bit of a joke that ‘Moustache’ fell in, but all the while I was laughing at them, not with their jokes. “Precious boys,” I thought “what sort of story are you going to tell when you get back? That you floated down the river and that you were too afraid to go in?”
At the very worst rapids, Lincoln and ‘Towel Man’ Daniel (I’ll explain his nickname in the next post) fell in, and came back into the boat bleeding. The rest of the boat frantically scrambled to get Lincoln back in for obvious reasons, as ‘Towel Man’ floated away. Quickly, he was caught up in a rapid and could have nearly drowned, had someone not grabbed a hold of him and yanked him in. He got caught on a flat boulder, and all the water was rushing over the top of his head, down his face and front. Flail all hi might, he was stuck there somehow. Like I said, the two that went in were bleeding – Lincoln from the bridge of the nose and an elbow, ‘Towel Man’ from both elbows and a knee.
The whole thing was fun, scenic, and a blast. At times it got real exciting – certainly more than at Penrith. As it was coming to a close, I thought that here’s another experience – whitewater rafting in Colorado – like the sunset at the Grand Canyon that would be a real treat to drop into conversations. As we packed up the bus and drove away, I thought that this trip had really delivered some marvels and fantastic times so far. Could it possibly keep up the pace?
We were dropped back at the supermarket, allowed onto the bus to change and whatever else, then go out for lunch. I wandered around Durango, looking for any indication that it might have been a frontier town at one point, but gave up. It was too modernised. I changed my mind, and decided, seeings I was in a crucial swing state, and was wearing my Obama shirt, that I would look for a field office. But, alas, I couldn’t find anything – no field office, not even an indication that there was an election on. Other than my dabbles with C-Span, I could have been devoid of any political immersion. You would not know there is an election if you were in and state between California and Louisiana. I was disappointed.
Returning to the supermarket, I thought I would wisely buy my lunch just before driving again. Wise because it would give me something to do to pass the time, I could buy more and stagger my eating (I had found I needed to eat more than I normally would to keep up my energy levels for all these days of adventure), and would be less hungry after dinner (because I would be full for once). I brought some pre-made rolls, some candy, some drinks, some other snacks, combined with now 6L of Gatorade and my baby carrots.
We loaded onto the bus and left Durango – everyone having had a great morning. It had just gone past midday. The trip to Albuquerque (our final destination for the day) would be a long drive. I would have sat next to a man known by many different names – Keg, Keegs, Tony, Anthony, Keegan, Mudgee, Mudg, Mud – but who I called Anthony out of respect (seeings it was his actual name, and Tony was being used by another Anthony on the bus). He is diabetic, but that didn’t stop him from drinking from lunch time to passing out each and every (and I am seriously not kidding) day. He was a great guy, but he is not nearly taking care of himself. He sat next to me often because, I suspect, he enjoyed sitting next to me. He trusted me to wake him up if he started snoring, or we were getting to a stop, knew I didn’t want an aisle seat, would have decent and substantial conversations with him, I didn’t fidget, kept to my seat, and would keep to myself if he said he was having a ‘rough day’ (i.e. hung over). He was a good guy, but he freaked me out because every day he would test his blood, and would invariably have to inject himself with insulin 9 out of 10 days. This mean whipping out his needle thing, rolling up his shorts and jabbing himself.
I hate needles. I really hate needles.
When we got to our hotel, we were given half hour to turn around and get ready, and head downstairs. I walked around with some tour people trying to find the restaurant attached to the hotel, couldn’t, then did, and sat down at the table with Anthony, Father, and someone else I can’t remember. Our meal was included again, and I thought that seeings I was in a good fishing area, I would try what was billed as the ‘Ruby Red Trout’. The food was excellent, but I tried having a beer (my first taste of alcohol since Vegas), and couldn’t stomach it. I had obviously drunk myself into Budweiser oblivion, so I needed to find a new beer to drink soon.
I finished off my quality meal, bid everyone farewell, and headed back to my room. I was dirt tired from the long day, and had an hour’s sleep, before going down to the laundry to do some washing. Both machines were taken, and there was a lady there waiting for the next one. I looked like crap, and felt it too – an hour’s sleep does worse than it does good with me. But there I sat, waiting for a damned washing machine. I finally got mine (after waiting an additional 10 minutes because the lady wandered off and wasn’t ready for the machine when it finished), did my washing, did the drying, and hauled it all back up to my room.
I decided I needed to iron my stuff, and so began the process where I taught myself the motherly craft of ironing. It took a while to get the load done, but I must admit, I was eager and happy to do it. Sort of like a new game I was learning. “What’s so bad about this mum?” I asked, thinking back to all the times my mother cursed having to do it. The feeling would be short lived, but, for a while, I can say I enjoyed ironing.
After I was done, I was able to enjoy the last hour and some of Ocean’s 13 – on television. Father was still down drinking with the group at the bar – where I should be had I wanted to get into one of the cliques. But I had decided that washing and catching up on a good night’s sleep (so that I had clean clothes and enough energy to do things the next day) was a tad more important. Plus, my disgust with the beer at dinner had left (literally and figuratively) a bad taste in my mouth.
Eventually I was preparing to get into bed when Father walked in. In his ‘country’ style, it took him less than 2 minutes to be in bed and snoring, while I was still milling about. You begin to get a feel for the different types of people, and the different ways of living, not just of the country you’re visiting but of the area your roommate comes from, on a holiday like this. Eventually I was climbing into my own bed, and rugged down for the night.