Sit on a sunny, sandy beach at the end of a four-hour drive from downtown Phoenix. Yes, we’re back in Rocky Point, Mexico (Puerto Penasco), where the shrimp are huge and the people are friendly.
The only problem with staying at the Sonoran Sky Resort is that the condo is so comfortable we have to force ourselves to leave the balcony overlooking the Sea of Cortez…not to mention the infinity pool and various hot tubs. Ah, the beach is calling…
Stroll for miles in the sand and collect seashells, while dolphins and an array of water birds feed on fish in the sea. There is no question that folks are returning to Rocky Point, after a barrage of negative media several years ago scared them away. It is time to revisit, folks.
While walking the sandy beach, we come across a half-full RV camp, which was all but deserted last year. “I’ve been coming down here every year for thirty-years,” Jim says from his circle of RV Campers. “The people here are the nicest in the world. I just don’t understand why we can’t cook Mexican food this good back home in Colorado.”
Truth be revealed, I travel to Rocky Point mainly for the shrimp market. These big blues sell for only seven dollars per pound, and the venders will even clean them for you. You can take up to 50 pounds of shrimp across the border per vehicle. Fresh Halibut (Flounder) sells for three dollars per pound, and a bag of steamer clams is even less. Marcos, a fish monger, says that he does not like to go fishing. “All you see out there are whales and dolphins,” Marcos says. “I like to stay here on land and talk with people from all over.”
The Malecon shows signs of bustling again. Groups of tourists weave through the shops. We see many more USA license plates this year (2013), as compared to last year. The Canadians are a bit sad to see their private paradise rediscovered by folks in the USA, but they are still gracious. “Come down to our condo,” says a man from British Columbia. “We’re having a feast with lots of shrimp and beer.”
In the end, though, Rocky Point reminds us to relax and enjoy the moment. The laid back atmosphere and easy going people provide a nice break from “life in the city.” Like Jim said, “As I’m driving out of town, I’m already thinking about when I can return.” Ron Mitchell
For the best condo reservations on Mexican Beaches, visit: www.seasidemexico.com
Mare and I moan in delight upon entering our luxurious Hyatt Hotel room that overlooks the Gulf of Paria in Port of Spain, Trinidad. We slip into hotel robes, crack some Carib beer, and then sit on our private balcony where we stare at silent cargo ships. Today is Christmas Eve. Santa’s sleigh arrives as a room service cart. Oh yeah, Babe, that’s what I’m talking about. This is a trip where we do nothing but relax.
On Christmas day we roam around the hotel before deciding to not use the gym facilities. Instead, we have some spicy tuna pie for breakfast. Ah, the tropics certainly are nature’s version of Viagra. All shops downtown in Port of Spain are closed anyway, and warm rain forces us to stay inside. For Christmas dinner, let’s sip martinis and eat sushi.
The day after Christmas is Boxing Day. Yes, everybody drives on the left side of the road here. We hit the streets and find that again, all shops and restaurants are closed. We take a two-hour walk in the humidity, around the Queen’s Park Savannah and along a row of plantation owner mansions called “The Magnificent Seven.” These mansions were built in early 1900. Trinidad gained independence from the UK about 50 years ago. Different from most Caribbean Islands, Trinidad has a thriving oil industry and is not dependent on tourism. Perhaps that is why folks around here seem genuinely friendly.
Okay, time to do something. We arrange for Ian, a friend of the concierge, to drive us north, along the twisty Saddle Road over the mountains, to Maracas Bay on the Caribbean. Trinidad is the southernmost Caribbean island. Long ago, this hunk of the Andes mountain range broke from South America, and now sits across from Venezuela. Tobago is the tourist island of this country, and we choose to avoid the ferry that could take us there. Instead, we hang with the locals on the beach.
Hot Bake Shark highlights every vendor’s shed in the small beach community of Maracas. A ball of deep fried dough is cut in half, and then filled with breaded, deep fried shark. Hot peppers, tamarind (I wish someone would have told me not to eat the seeds) garlic sauce and lettuce are some of the fixings for this tasty sandwich. Despite all the deep fry, we rarely spot any folks who are overweight. As a matter of fact, most men, women and children are downright beautiful. One man explains that most folks fill their glasses with scotch. No wonder they are so friendly. “Come back during Carnival,” he says. “Everybody shares food and booze and nobody’s a stranger.”
Although Mare and I have been together for some 24 years, we’re acting like young honeymooners. Yeah, babe, nothing like a tropical island to kick things ups a notch! Later, back at our hotel we find an escape from deep fried food, and munch on some fresh grilled kingfish and veggies.
After two days on the beach, we look forward to returning for our final night of paradise in the luxurious Hyatt. The beach is great, but the Maracas Bay Resort offers an overpriced (US100) block cement room that should only earn maybe US30 nightly, if it were not the only game in town.
Back in Port of Spain, we venture onto the now busy streets to taste some street food, Roti, the unofficial national dish. Roti comes with goat, beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables, cooked in curry and smothered in sauces from mango to potato, and then rolled in a cornbread/like tortilla. Full and satisfied, we head back to the Hyatt…where we relax one final evening. Ron Mitchell
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Mare and I have some exciting plans for 2013…, One goal is to backpack in Mongolia and visit the annual wrestling/archery/horseback riding festival! Ron Mitchell
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.
Mare, Jack the dog, and I reflect upon our second consecutive summer of volunteering as campground hosts at Chilkat State Park in Haines, Alaska. Over 4,000 visitors from around the world visit the host’s cabin deck each summer. They marvel at glacier and wildlife views, and are curious about the couple with the barking dog inside the cabin. We are curious about them too. Many of them envy our position, until hearing about life without running water and electricity. We engage in more social interaction here than back home in downtown Phoenix.
Here’s an honest day in the life:
A Swedish couple enters their car, ready to leave. Mare spots a moose. I motion for the couple to come out and see it. They hurry out and fumble for a camera. The moose suddenly charges them. They run around their car to escape, and the moose veers back into the woods. They are exhilarated, perhaps with soiled pants, but have a good story to tell.
Dale picks me up and we head out on his boat to pull the crab pots that we dropped yesterday. All pots are empty, with the exception of some starfish. It happens. He drops me off at the cabin.
A woman and two guys run towards me in a panic before I get through the door. “Can you haul our dogs home? They just got porcupined!” A large black husky and a boxer greet me, their faces peppered with white quills. I pet one and get pricked. “Gotta get these out quick,” the guy says. “Quills keep penetrating and I only have one pair of pliers.” I loan them my Leatherman before dropping them home. I probably will never see that Leatherman again.
Shortly after, the Ranger calls Mare to warn that Fish & Game shot a mama Grizzly Bear because she was breaking into residential freezers in town. Her two first-year cubs got away and are looking for food. They are dangerously unpredictable. Mare and Jack and I walk the grounds, warning campers about the cubs. Their mama is dead because of people feeding her, sometimes unknowingly, by leaving food and garbage behind. That teaches her to associate humans with food. “A fed bear is a dead bear.” At least three of the bears that Mare and I knew from last summer were shot this year because of that reason.
Finally, back at the cabin we crack a beer. I’ll grill fresh caught Salmon, thanks to a friend who knows that I didn’t catch much this summer. It happens. As soon as we sit, the crackle of car wheels on gravel is followed by footsteps on the cabin deck. Jack barks. We try to ignore the visitors, but cannot. One of us goes out to explain the view, and then answer the same barrage of questions about the couple in the cabin with the barking dog.
In a few days I’m heading to the lower 48 to attend book signing parties for my recently published novel, Broken Collar. I look forward to comforts of civilization, but worry about Mare and Jack being out here alone for 10 days. At least we have good friends that will look-out for her. Also, Jack barks differently when a bear is nearby, than he does when a visitor arrives.
At five o’clock the next morning a neighbor (nearest is 1 mile away) calls for help. The bear cubs were in his garage, so he called Fish & Game who told him to shoot them, so he did. It was both a mercy killing and a safety measure. Otherwise the cubs would die a slow death of hunger and exposure if left on their own – who will teach them to hunt and hibernate? Afterwards, “Game” informed our neighbor that statute dictated that he skin both, and bring the skins to the office. I helped him. Neither one of us had skinned a bear before. The image of that butchered carnage still simmers in our memory.
We absorb our final days of breathing the pristine beauty of wild Alaska. The screech of eagles, rumbling of waterfalls, and blowing wind through the temperate rain forest in this fjord will soon be replaced by beeping horns, sirens, planes, helicopters, and the smog and asphalt of downtown Phoenix.
Post notes: My Leatherman was returned. Book signings in Ohio exceeded my dreams. Back in Phoenix our toilet leaked with every flush and we had to piss in the yard until the plumber arrived…that did not happen with outhouses.
Jack now swims in irrigation water rather than in the Chilkat Inlet. He barks at intruders rather than bears. Perhaps life without running water or electricity is easier than folks think? We miss Alaska…
Time to cross a few snow plains and climb again.
On the peak of Mt. Ripinski, we begin to see the city of Haines below.
Our legs are shot, we’re running out of water, and we’re only half-way through! Again, the view comforts us, and there’s nothing like eating a handful of trail mix while sitting on top of the world.
Through the woods, we sidestep scat while singing and making noise to ward off bears. Will this trail ever end? I’m starting to feel old…especially in the knees. The rooted straight-down trial tortures our joints but the constant sweating cleanses our toxins. Going to have to re-tox soon!
Finally, we reach the end with a highly respectable time of 7.5 hours, on a trail that brochures tout as an 8 to 10 hour jaunt. Jack the dog waits for us in the truck, what a good boy. Jack gets rewarded with an evening at a real house. Our closest neighbors, Dale and Renee have a place in paradise,
dwarfed only by their generosity. We spend lots of time drinking, fishing and hanging out with each other. As a matter of fact, we go halibut fishing the next day on Dale’s boat, but catch nothing worth keeping…sometimes that’s how it goes.
I’m down to two weeks left in Haines. I have a book signing at the Haines Public Library on August 22nd at 3:00PM, and then head to the lower 48 for book signings in Columbus and Mingo Junction, Ohio. My novel, Broken Collar is available on Amazon.com or Bottomdogpress.com or nook at Barnes & Noble.
For now, we have only a couple of weeks left to check off the bucket list. For me, absorbing and enjoying the environment here will probably fit the bill, but who knows what Mare has in store? Thank you Abundant Universe: www.ronaldgmitchell.com
A professional hunter spots mountain goats from the scope on our host cabin deck at Chilkat State Park. Finally, I get to show visitors live mountain goats for a few days, until one day we spot four hunters, gutting 2 goats in the snow above Rainbow glacier…Needless to say, the other goats are now hiding…perhaps a reminder that life is short, so we’d better enjoy while we can!
With about one month left in Haines, Alaska, we’d better get busy doing all the things we have intended. We jump onto a raft that floats down the glacier fed Tsirku River, where water was ice only eight hours ago. This was a free float for the volunteers and supporters of the Bald Eagle Preserve on the anniversary of its inception. This braided river float brings us into the Chilkat River and then to the Native American village of Klukwan, where we are fed potato salad and cold cuts after a traditional ceremonial dance.
Then we find the prized Chanterelle, and pick pounds. Mare brings these and the cauliflower shrooms to the expert in town, who goes by the name of “Fun Guy.” He says, “Those are beautiful chanterelles!”
Fun Guy hesitates. “But those aren’t cauliflowers, they’re corals, which you shouldn’t eat, although some Native Americans use them as a laxative.” Hmm…better stick with the Chanterelles from here on out!
After staring at Davidson Glacier across the Chilkat Inlet for two seasons now, we finally get a chance to get up close and personal. We take flight in a four-seater and cross the Inlet where Drake drops us off on the beach below Davidson Glacier, promising to pick us up eight hours later. Hiking through pristine woods, making noise to keep bears at bay, we follow a well- marked trail.But things change as we get close to the glacier and we have to forge our own trail on cliffs and through the bent Aspen that disappear near Davidson’s base.
We change routes on the way back as a huge, blonde grizzly bear eats in the meadow fifty yards away. When we round a yurt, one of two residences in view, a huge man appears. “I’ve been living here for eight years and have never seen a bear,” he says. “The scat is everywhere, though.” I tell him that maybe he scares them away. He laughs and asks us to send him a photo of Blondie. Drake, the pilot from “FlyDrake”, picks us up as promised and tells us that the yurt man is Mark McManara, a former NBA star, who now gives back as assistant basketball coach at Haines High School.
The next day Halibut are biting! Thanks to “First Choice Charters” we shall dine on Halibut tonight, with a side of Chanterelle soup. Thank you Abundant Universe… www.ronaldgmitchell.com
After several hikes, spruce tip beers and many laughs with Phoenix friends Mark and Sue, we head out of Haines to the top of the Continent. Looking forward to our first motel room in two months, Whitehorse, Yukon has no rooms in town due to the Women’s World Fast Pitch Games. We finally find a smoky room attached to an alcoholic bar outside of town, and enjoy electricity, running water and flushing toilets!
A black bear highlights our otherwise uneventful drive to Dawson City. We plan to drive the Dempster Highway 500 miles north to Inuvik before taking in the music festival in Dawson.
“Get yourself a campsite across the river now,” a bar patron who recognizes Mare from our cabin deck in Haines says. “Take it for the week then you can drive and come back. They’ll fill-up for the music fest this weekend.” Wally ends up buying a copy of my newly released novel, “Broken Collar” (available at www.amazon.com or www.bottomdogpress.com) as I just happen to have a few copies under the truck seat.
After setting camp, we bounce along the Dempster, a road which some call “Dumpster.” Our Tacoma pick-up with 180,000 miles on it vibrates constantly along this road and makes Jack the dog nervous. Rushing streams, fox, and the slate grey mountains of Tombstone Territorial Park enhance our white-knuckle drive.
Fireweeds are among the first plants to regrow a burnt forest, thus their namesake. However, the
trees here are not burnt, but are stunted black spruce, which lean due to the permafrost under them.
The all-day drives brings us to the half-way point at Eagle Plains, where gas costs seven-something per gallon and shack rooms cost $150. A countless number of semi-trucks fill the grounds. We decide to camp in the Tacoma…
A trucker wearing a muscle shirt is covered in Harley tattoos. “It was human error that broke the ferry cable in Fort McPherson,” Rocque (Rocky) says with a French Canadian accent. “The river is running too high from days of torrential rains, and the cable man should have let out more slack. We’ve been here for five days waiting to get the green light to Inuvik.”
“How long would we have to wait to cross on the ferry to Inuvik?” I ask.
He laughs. “Trucks are lined up trying to cross that’s why we have to wait here. Inuvik is out of supplies. It could be days.”
Back at camp, behind the sea of trucks, we finish the last of my homemade lentil soup. A while later, a furry, Grey Jay bird munches on Mare’s vomit. It is quite a colorful collage of fresh cut carrots and celery. Perhaps the soup was in the cooler too long.
After a night of daylight, (it does not get dark here this time of year) we eat breakfast at the truck stop and talk to a couple who were stuck in Inuvik for eight days. We decide to head back down the Dempster and camp next to a river in Tombstone National Park, where soon we munch on chicken chili and beans cooked over a fire and nobody gets sick. Jack even gets to swim in the river.
Back in Dawson City, we are glad to have kept our campsite. “No alcohol allowed on the grounds this weekend,” a Ranger tells us. Then he whispers, “But nice quiet folk like you can drink, just be discreet.” Great…I must look like nice quiet folk these days…When did that happen? I don’t think I like that.
During a hike along the river Jack swims again. We spot a rickety raft. “Do you get across the Yukon in that thing?” I ask.
“Why not?” A rouge Hollander responds. Mare snaps his photo and we move on to a shipwrecked steam paddle boat. Perhaps they should have used oars also.
We hit the music fest for one night, which is about my limit for drunken crowds these days… Am I really nice quiet folk? The tourist trap drink in Dawson is a mummified toe in vodka, and the toe must touch your lips. I want to do it, but they only offer it from 9 to 11 p.m. and it is already midnight. Still the sun shines…
The next day’s drive takes us across the “Top of the World Highway,” through the northernmost customs post in the states. Immediately the scenery turns lush and we spot a bull Caribou. A small herd of young Caribou run towards our car, until Jack’s bark scares them away.
After a buffalo burger in the town of Chicken, Alaska, we reach a clean motel in Tok. Wow! Need shower following 5 straight days sleeping in back of pick-up, the three of us, lined-up as straight as logs. Tonight I pick up a pizza and we eat in bed watching movies…man, what luxury for nice quiet folk.
A mama Grizzly with two first year cubs greets us on the way back home to Haines. We love our cabin! We love our friends, and thank the Abundant Universe.
The eagles find a score…something fishy washed ashore…they catch more fish than I. We did cop some fresh Alaskan Dungeness crab, though, thanks to our friends and nearest neighbors, Dale and Reenie. Let’s head to the fishin’ hole.
A group of local fishermen are in my spot. Usually, the bears are there. Okay, so I head across the bridge and fish the other side of the Chilkoot River, where a person is in danger when bears arrive on account of only one way in and one way out. Hey, there’s plenty of fish for all.
Eagles swoop onto the river, talons extended to snag a fish. The guys across the river from me have caught two Sockeye so far. Their loose Labrador runs across the bridge and down to where I’m fishing. “Don’t be bringing any bears to me!” I yell loud enough for the beer-bellies across river to hear.
Mare and Jack walk around taking photos, and bears appear at a safe distance, across and down river. Mare puts Jack in the truck even though he is on a leash. A professional photographer sets up a tripod. Wow, a bear and her cub play and hunt for food. What an awesome sight…until the loose Labrador attacks the bear cub. The cub rears up and the dog scats back to his ill-mannered owner, who puts him in a truck along with his other buddies. The photographer runs off as well.
However it is too little too late; the bears are distressed…pissed. Once we see them start to run onto the bridge, in fighting mood and maybe in search of that dog, I dash up and into the truck cab where Mare had already jumped inside.
You just can’t predict what a bear will do, especially when stressed, so when two other guys run to our truck of course we let them in. They had nowhere else to go. Four of us squeeze into the front seat, along with my fishing pole with a “pixie” plug still attached. We shut the doors just as the bears run a few feet past us and into the woods. The bears stare from only a few feet away. “Thanks for ruining things for everybody else,” I hout over to those fishermen who feel that they own the river. They just stare at me, mouths open, with their dog running loose again.
The next day, two guys approach Mare out on our deck at Chilkat State Park. “Thanks for saving our lives yesterday!” They take photos in front of our truck. They are from the Czech Republic. Although we could not identify their accent, we shared their smiles.
Mare and I luxuriate in lounge chairs on the Solarium deck of the Alaska Ferry, Columbia, for the next 3 days. People pitch tents with duct tape on the cement deck in front of us. Jack is captive inside the truck cab down below on the noisy car deck. He has not gone to the bathroom during this 38- hour stretch of water. Most big dogs are in the same boat so to speak, and do not go to the bathroom during short walks on the crowded car deck. They think they’re in a house and refuse to dirty the rug. Finally… first stop on land is in Ketchikan and all is well for an hour-long walk and fifteen-minute dog pee.
Hard to believe that only one week ago we hosted two book-signing parties. My novel, Broken Collar caught a publisher and is now available at: www.bottomdogpress.com; or http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Collar-Novel-Ron-Mitchell/dp/1933964561/ref=tmm_pap_title_0. The story is about a priest’s return to his hometown steel mill village and the working class world of sinners and saints, fueling turmoil to his longing for both the heavens and the heart. Purchase a few copies, please, so that we can continue to travel the world…, okay, no more plugging.
Our minds begin to slow down. The ferry glides through the Inside Passage with pleasant stops in Wrangell, Petersburg and Juneau. Ferrying into Haines we see the snow-capped peaks of “Little Switzerland” and it feels like we’re coming home. We cannot get into the camp host cabin on account of snow, so Ranger Preston puts us up at 19-mile cabin in the Eagle Preserve. Each November, 4,000 eagles converge here for the final salmon run on this continent. We may try and stay up here until then…
Finally, we get into our cabin at Chilkat State Park where once again moose and glaciers and spouting Orcas welcome us. We look forward to living without running water and electricity now that we are wiser from our experience last summer…we shall see.
At the watering hole, (literally) a man tells me that this past winter in Alaska set record-breaking snow levels and also set new records for relationships breaking-up. Two months of no direct sunlight and being socked-in gave couples one of the toughest tests in years. One woman told us that she and her boyfriend made it through winter, but the heavy rains this spring are bringing them to the brink.
Let’s go fish for Sockeye. After three full days of casting from the shoreline, I get out there at 4:00AM (been daylight since 2:30AM) and hook our first Sockeye salmon of the year…drag him onto shore and pounce on him. The fish flops all over and I end up holding him down with one knee and sort of a headlock. I knock him out with a rock, and am gassed, out of breath and glad that nobody was there to see me look like such a fool, but we will eat fresh fish for dinner, then with eggs in the morning, then in salad at night and then with eggs again the morning…yeah, baby we’re all back home. Just ask 10- year old Alaska Jack who is diving for rocks in the Chilkat Inlet like a puppy.