Death Valley, California. Hotter than Hades.
Sans reservation, we arrived at Furnace Creek Campground, 268 feet below sea level. The park ranger informed us unequivocally that the campground was FULL. ‘You’ll have to turn around.’ Feigning a U-turn, I drove in – and immediately found a vacant, primo spot. I sauntered back to the entrance booth and slapped down my 22 bucks.
The light you are seeing left that galaxy over 2,000,000 years ago.’ At this revelation, one family became visibly agitated – and abruptly left the group. As they departed I heard the matriarch exclaim, ‘2,000,000 years. Hasn’t he read the Bible?’
‘Gee, you were lucky,’ the ranger said. ‘Yup, lucky,’ said I. Coincidentally, precisely the same thing had occurred the night before at Stovepipe Wells campground, 30 miles up the road. And, ironically, it was the same lady whose instructions I had disregarded. Fortunately, I am a rather nondescript fellow and she didn’t thwart my advance. I wandered back to our site and set up the BBQ, although I probably could have fried the chicken directly on the searing pavement.
Late, after dinner, as the desert air began to cool, we heard a chewing noise outside the RV. Thinking it might deter intruding varmints, Florence instructed me to pee around the perimeter of the motorhome. A job I was up for. In the morning all was clear. No chewed hoses, flat tires or leaking parts. Feeling secure, we packed lunch and embarked on a stunning, strenuous hike to the summit of Wildrose Peak, 10,000 feet above the salty Death Valley floor. Late in the afternoon we returned, exhausted, to a camper full of… mouse turds.
Turns out our nocturnal intruder was not an external varmint, but one living amongst us. Before bedding down for the night, I set a trap under the sink. After midnight a loud ‘snap’ sounded. One dead mouse. I stepped out into the moonlight and discarded the stiffening carcass. And, my bladder being full, I gave the exterior one last precautionary piss.
The next night we attended an astronomy program outside the Furnace Creek visitor’s center. The topic was the speed of light. ‘For instance,’ the speaker explained, ‘it takes about 8 minutes for light to reach us from the sun. The nearest star is a couple of light years away. Our galaxy is over 100,000 light years across. And that,’ he said, pointing to a small fuzzy patch in the dark sky, ‘is Andromeda. The light you are seeing left that galaxy over 2,000,000 years ago.’ At this revelation, one family became visibly agitated – and abruptly left the group. As they departed I heard the matriarch exclaim, ‘2,000,000 years. Hasn’t he read the Bible?’
After the talk we stayed behind and shared our binoculars with a curious young couple from India. I pointed out some constellations as we chatted. He was a cardiologist, finishing his internship in Pittsburgh. The Indian government had funded a large portion of his education. I asked him if he intended to return to India after completion of his studies – or whether he might remain in the US to mine the riches of America’s fecund medical system.
‘Ah, this is the difficulty,’ he said. ‘Were I to stay, I shall certainly become rather wealthy. But if I return home, I can help a great many people. But there are also some drawbacks. In India the equipment is quite inferior. Also, oftentimes when a doctor operates and the outcome is poor, or perhaps the patient does not survive, the angry family beats the surgeon mercilessly.’ Then, looking up at the magnificent Milky Way and its billion myriad of stars shining onto a California desert, he said, ‘I shall have to ponder this.’
After my rendition of Peaceful Easy Feeling, Nathaniel stood up, stepped behind an enormous eroding rock, and began to weep. After a few minutes, he re-joined us at the fire and approached me for a thankful hug. ‘Sorry, man, but that was so emotional. I haven’t cried like that in forever.’
Out of the dark, a shaggy middle-aged American couple emerged. They introduced themselves as Chuck and Moonbeam. They had just completed their daily sun salutation. Chuck excitedly regaled us with his notion of the universe. ‘I’m an earth, moon, sun type of guy. But Moonbeam, she’s more outer planetary.’ I thought this description odd, given his wife’s moniker, but decided not to quibble over such minor galactic details.
‘Did you know the earth’s magnetic poles are reversing today?’ Moonbeam asked. I tried to explain that any wobble in the earth’s axis would take thousands of years and it would be difficult to note a reverse in polarity, even in a thousand lifetimes. Undeterred, she revealed excitedly, ‘Just this morning my daughter called to say she too felt the vibe.’
We returned to camp. I took out my ukulele. A 30-something fellow scooted by on his long board in the darkness. When he heard me playing, ‘Andrew’ stopped and asked us to join his group at their fire. We acquiesced. Andrew’s friend Nathaniel sat perched on a cahon, beating a deep primeval rhythm to the desert sky. Their female campmates, clad hippie-style in ponchos, danced and twirled, silhouetted by the flickering mesquite blaze.
I struck up a few tunes. After my rendition of Peaceful Easy Feeling, Nathaniel stood up, stepped behind an enormous eroding rock, and began to weep. After a few minutes, he re-joined us at the fire and approached me for a thankful hug. ‘Sorry, man, but that was so emotional. I haven’t cried like that in forever.’
When the evening ended, they all bid us adieu with hands clasped, a bow and a ‘blessings upon you.’ Andrew added, ‘May you have vivid, happy dreams all the night.’ Then we all enjoyed one last hug.
I stumbled back to the trailer, guzzled a beer, and promptly passed out.
None of this is bullshit.
We hope you enjoyed Death Valley, California – Hotter than Hades.
Thank you to these great local sponsors who make these stories possible!
Click below to read about some of Gerry’s other great travel adventures.
Turn off the relentless news and escape – India part 4: The Spices of Kerala
Since this is the only way to travel right now, kick back enjoy this rollicking good tale from Gerry Feehan.
This is the last in a four-part series on India
After three chaotic days in Mumbai we boarded a plane for the relative calm of Kerala on India’s extreme southwestern tip. The “land of coconuts” is a tropical paradise dense with rain forest, wild elephants, monkeys, tea plantations – and spices. Kerala is home to a wonder of zesty flavours: pepper, cinnamon, licorice, chili, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, turmeric. For centuries the colonial powers fought, won and lost wars over the exotic spice trade.
And from these amazing seeds and roots comes India’s great contribution to world cuisine: curry. We ate curry dishes breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month and never tired of the infinite variety and flavour. In north India meals were largely vegetarian, with the occasional chicken or mutton recipe thrown in. In Kerala, seafood is king and coconut accents every dish.
High in the hills of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary we were enjoying a birding and spice plantation tour when I heard a loud voice boom through a bamboo thicket: “What da ya call that? How many acres ya got here? What’s the name of that spice?”
It was Joe Tourist (see Part 3 in this series). Our serene ornithological outing was ruined.
We’ve all met Joe Tourist. He’s actually quite an affable, well-meaning fellow. JT maintains a permanent grin even when fumbling through his pack or staring incomprehensibly at a map. He’s overbearing and yet teddy-bear likeable. He is demanding – but tips generously. His impatience is legendary. Mr. Tourist is not a “stop and smell the flowers” kind of guy.
When the guide explains something Joe Tourist repeats it, in case you weren’t listening. And when he isn’t listening (which is most of the time) he insists the story be repeated in precise detail. His wife chides him for his foibles – but loves him dearly.
I suppose we all have a bit of Joe Tourist in us.
After a spicy few days in Periyar we abandoned the temperate dry hills, the monkeys – and J.T. – for the hot muggy coast.
Kerala’s shoreline is chock-full of brackish waterways and canals, used for transportation, fishing and, during the annual monsoon, to irrigate the endless fields of rice. These beautiful languid backwaters have also given rise to a robust tourist industry: houseboating on a kettuvallum. We boarded our quaint floating lodge at Alleppey for a gentle overnight cruise.
The European colonists left a curious legacy in Kerala: many Keralans have a Christian given name. Thus our captain Matthew guided us down the canal while mate Mark manned the lines and, in the galley, Luke prepared roti and fresh prawns. The fourth member of the crew was named, naturally… Ganesh.
Keralans are a warm, gentle people. In the morning, as we disembarked and walked the rickety gangplank onto shore, the four disciples bid us a polite adieu. We had arrived at the luxurious Kumarakom Lake Resort where we would spend our final two nights in India.
When you ask an Indian a question, the answer is often a non-verbal head-bobble. This gesture can have a number of meanings: yes, maybe, maybe not. To us Westerners, this cryptic side-to-side head movement can be confusing, frustrating – and also enormously entertaining.
After checking in at the Kumarakom I noticed we were short towels. I returned to the lobby and asked the chap at reception if he could remedy the problem. “I shall try my level best, sir,” he said with an assuring head-bobble. “Room service will fulfill your request, anon.”
Indians have borrowed many quaint British niceties; the bobble is theirs alone. And the towels did indeed appear – quite a bit anon.
After a hectic four weeks, it was odd lounging around a quiet resort, removed from the overwhelming crush of humanity. We were soon bored with lazing in the infinity pool. Florence and I exited the guarded gate for one last dose of India. People nodded shyly as we strolled the narrow lanes. A storefront business advertised Ayurveda – Kerala’s ancient form of therapeutic massage. On a whim we pulled out our last rupees. Within minutes I was laying flat on a wooden-slatted table slathered in aromatic oil. When the session was done the masseur handed me a glass of water.
I quaffed the whole jar and then asked, “Is this water safe… bottled?”
“Oh no sir, good water, not bottled,” he assured me, pointing to an earthenware vessel in the corner. I detected a slight head bobble.
It was Monday. We’d be home Wednesday. I prayed that any intestinal distress would be deferred for at least 48 hours.
The journey home was a two-day endurance test. To avoid a nation-wide general strike and highway blockade brought on by the demonetization of the rupee, we left for Cochin airport at 5 a.m. for our flight back to India’s capital. We then had a half-day layover in Delhi before a 14-hour flight to Toronto.
As we searched for the Calgary departure gate at Pearson International, a hubbub emerged from the Air Canada first-class lounge. A guy was bellowing to his wife, “Okay, okay, we’ve done India. Where’da ya want go next. I say we see Belize.” It was Joe Tourist.
We hurried by.
It was tough navigating the icy road home from Calgary. On arrival in Red Deer, unable to keep eyes open, we collapsed into bed at noon. Before passing out I turned to Florence and said, “Oh my god, we’re going to Belize next year. Do you think we might run into that Joe Tourist guy again?”
“You never know,” she said. ”It’s a small world.”
If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C. (www.exploreindia.ca) capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.
Here’s are Parts 1-3 of Gerry’s series on India.
We hope you enjoyed The spices of Kerala. Click here are more travel stories.
Monty Python and Medicine Hat
In the midst of our coronavirus infested world, the search for distractions during mandatory 2-week quarantines reaches far.
While some hunker down and binge on Disney +, Fast and Furious, Little House on the Prairie, Game of Thrones, house hunting shows or the holiday themed film fests on various networks, others will sit down in front of their TV fireplace channel and catch up on their reading and handy men destroy, rebuild and re-imagine their environments, the truly bizarre among us turn to Monty Python…
It is true, while many of the above pursuits are admirable and give us warm fuzzies, Englands’ famed comedy troupe can be seen on Netflix in their off colour, politically incorrect humor.
But what appeal does Monty Python hold for those who still call Alberta home?
“I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep at night and work all day,” brings to mind the lumberjack and his girl surrounded by the beloved RCMP singing their chorus. Nothing says British Columbia to Python fans more than this.
But how can fans of Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and their amazing co-stars count Alberta as part of the mythos?
There is no need to fear, while Toronto barely ekes a mention, the great metropolitan centre of Medicine Hat can indeed claim comedy immortality!
During Cosmetic Surgery, a plastic surgeon is expecting a patient who sports a particular malady…a very large nose. The problem is that the very large proboscis is a rubber nose held on with elastic!
With that kind of set up, satire rules and well, let’s allow the script to tell the story.
(Cut to profile of Raymond Luxury Yacht from next sketch who has an enormous false polystyrene nose. Superimposed arrow pointing at nose.)
Voice Over: Number nineteen. The nose.
(A man sitting behind a desk in a Harley Street consulting room. Close-up of the name plate on desk in front of him. Although the camera does not reveal this for a moment, this name plate, about two inches high, continues all along the desk, off the side of it at the same height and halfway round the room. We start to track along this name plate on which is written:
‘Professor Sir Adrian Furrows F.R.S. F.R.C.S. F.R.C.P. M.D.M.S. (Oxon), Mall Ph.D., M. Se. (Cantab), Ph.D. (Syd), ER.G.S., F.R.C.O.G., F. FM.R.C.S., M.S. (Birm), M.S. (Liv), M.S. (Guadalahara), M.S. (Karach), M.S. (Edin), B.A. (Chic), B. Litt. (Phil), D. Litt (Phil), D. Litt (Arthur and Lucy), D. Litt (Ottawa), D. Litt (All other places in Canada except Medicine Hat, B. Sc. 9 Brussels, Liege, Antwerp, Asse, (and Grower) ‘.
There is a knock on the door.)
Specialist: Come in.
(The door opens and Raymond Luxury Yacht enters. He cannot walk straight to the desk as his passage is barred by the strip of wood carrying the degrees, but he discovers the special hinged part of it that opens like a door. Mr Luxury Yacht has his enormous polystyrene nose. It is a foot long.)
Specialist: Ah! Mr Luxury Yacht. Do sit down, please.
Mr Luxury Yacht: Ah, no, no. My name is spelt ‘Luxury Yacht’ but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’.
Specialist: Well, do sit down then Mr Throatwobbler Mangrove.
Mr Luxury Yacht: Thank you.
Specialist: Now, what seems to be the trouble?
Mr Luxury Yacht: Um, I’d like you to perform some plastic surgery on me.
Specialist: I see. And which particular feature of your anatomy is causing you distress?
Mr Luxury Yacht: Well, well for a long time now, in fact, even when I was a child … I … you know, whenever I left home to … catch a bus, or… to catch a train… and even my tennis has suffered actually…
Specialist: Yes. To be absolutely blunt you’re worried about your enormous hooter.
Mr Luxury Yacht: No!
Mr Luxury Yacht: Yes.
Specialist: Yes, and you want me to hack a bit off.
Mr Luxury Yacht: Please.
Specialist: Fine. It is a startler, isn’t it? Er, do you mind if I… er.
Mr Luxury Yacht: What?
Specialist: Oh, no nothing, then, well, I’ll just examine your nose. (he does so; as he examines it the nose comes off in his hand) Mr Luxury Yacht, this nose of yours is false. It’s made of polystyrene and your own hooter’s a beaut. No pruning necessary.
Mr Luxury Yacht: I’d still like the operation.
Specialist: Well, you’ve had the operation, you strange person.
Mr Luxury Yacht: Please do an operation.
Specialist: Well, all right, all right, but only … if you come on a camping holiday with me.
Mr Luxury Yacht: He asked me! He asked me!
(Cut to lyrical film of Luxury Yacht and specialist, frolicking in countryside in slow motion.)
The skit, like many of Pythons short segments is brilliant for its elephant in the room symbolism and simply ludicrous conclusion- something very Alberta, camping!
But the real pay-off for Alberta tourism is the very large, over the top professional creditations that the expert claims…The phrase….except Medicine Hat jumps off the screen and clearly either means that inhabitants of Medicine Hat are above skit humor OR the inhabitants of Alberta’s natural gas city are safe from malpractising proboscis surgery!
Either way, inhabitants of Medicine Hat can indeed claim comedy glory and honor that Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer cannot even begin to comprehend!
Long live Python!
And Money Flowed in the Streets….
U.S. Coast Guard rules cruise ships must stay at sea with sick onboard
Turn off the relentless news and escape – India part 4: The Spices of Kerala
Ninth Albertan dies from COVID – Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s Alberta Update for March 31
Central Alberta1 day ago
25 COVID cases in Red Deer – Central Alberta Update (April 3)
#RedDeerStrong2 days ago
#RedDeerStrong – Group focussed fitness studio F45 offers fitness opportunities for isolated athletes
Top Story CP2 days ago
First Nations face governance crisis as pandemic threatens elections
Calgary15 hours ago
To wear, or not to wear a homemade mask? That is the question.
Alberta2 days ago
Premier Kenney announced five more COVID deaths – Alberta COVID Update for April 3
Alberta2 days ago
Alberta to release COVID-19 projections early next week, Kenney says
Community2 days ago
#WithGlowingHearts thanks employers who support Reservists
Alberta2 days ago
Calgary firefighters plan ‘Drive-By Birthdays’ to brighten mood during pandemic