Saturday, January 28, 2017

~ Arriba Nuevo Mexico

 "After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music" ~ Aldous Huxley

Robert Griego y Roberto Griego.

Some may say that traveling 2,200 miles to see a concert is a bit on the crazy side but that's what happened last week. 

The headlines read, Roberto Griego performs at Islata Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His music is straight-up New Mexico and I'll soon be there to hear him for myself. 

It will take me two days of riding but the trail is already etched in my mind.  My bike knows the trail ahead and eagerly responds as I leave Three Rivers at 7:10 am.  Our nearby lake is collecting more water from the recent rains and there, coming down the road around the lake towards me, is another biker.  Not just another biker, but Dennis Reneau.  My left arm lowers and he responds in kind ~ a biker's greeting.  In just a few seconds, he knows it is me by the expression on his face.  It warms my heart.  I always try to connect to something at the start of the trip and hold on to that connection as the miles wear on me.  Seeing Dennis today was that connection for me.  He was on his way to work at Sequoia National Park but soon those days will be behind him.

My brother Leo is working when I stop at 11:30am by the Barstow Detective Office for a quick visit.   He introduces me to his fellow workers and they hear about my plans.  One detective comes out to look over my bike and I sense that he is trying to imagine the trip that lies ahead for me.  I explain that by 7pm I hope to be camping, just south of Ash Fork, Arizona.  Gilbert and I call this camp, Upper Satellite.  It is 550 miles from Three Rivers.  The country-western songs from the small transistor radio keep me company. The stars are bright and my dinner cooks over a small fire.  In the fire's reflection, my bike rests and so do I.

In the morning, my plans to head south into New Mexico change.  My sister Elva and Robert, who live near the Abo Ruins, will not be able to join me at the concert.  It makes more sense now to head directly east to Albuquerque and camp.  I stop by Belen to visit with my first cousin Tudie Romero and his wife Erlinda.  We laugh and share stories and he makes me feel like I'm really in New Mexico.  Erlinda serves us food and her red chile is hot but so good.  She gives me a gift for Denise which I pack carefully in my saddlebag.

Isleta Resort & Casino is 11 miles from camp Motel 6 and there must be 2,500 people there at the showroom.  There are other performers there too -- Al Hurricane, Al Hurricane Jr., Tanya Griego, and of course Roberto Griego.  The music begins and many are already moving forward to dance.  Roberto Griego is fantastic; his music moves everyone and couples dance quickly to the sounds of his Spanish music.  He has a powerful voice and most of his songs are in Spanish. 
Honestly, there is one song that I hope to hear.  It is his new release, Arriba Nuevo Mexico.  It is special to me because he sings about my home village, La Joya, and our families -- "Los Griegos, Romeros, y los Moyas."  He sings many songs and at the end, he sings his final song, Arriba Nuevo Mexico.  I am content; this ride was well worth it, his music sought to that.  I tell him later, "I traveled from Three Rivers, California to hear you tonight, hoping to hear Arriba Nuevo Mexico." 

My memento signed by a great musician.

There is a line forming with his fans hoping to get his autograph, so I talk quickly.  It is now my turn.  He signs his name to his CD, Arriba Nuevo Mexico for me.  

"Who should I make this out to?" he asks matter of factly.  I show him my ticket that I purchased on the internet with my name printed on it.  "Please make it out to this name,"  I point with my finger.  "Well, that is me,"  he says, "but what is your name."  He asks again and has that confused look in his eyes.  

"My name is Robert Griego and I was born in La Joya, New Mexico," and in the blink of an eye, a connection is made.  He lifts his head up, looks directly into my eyes, and says: "That is something, you are from La Joya and we have the same name!"  I explain that I am the son of Sebastian Griego and Nancy [Moya] Griego.  Roberto Griego was born just 6 miles from La Joya in a small village called San Francisco, a stone's throw from Bernardo.  My dad may have been born in the same village but he called it Rio Puerco.  Today, there just a few dilapidated houses to remember their colorful past.  We have our picture taken together and that, to me, is very special.

Pablo Griego ~ La Joya cemetery.

Coming down the hill into La Joya has always been magical for me.  I make a hard left turn at the bottom of the hill and go to the cemetery to pay my respects.  I see all our families -- the Griegos, Romeros, y los Moyas.  

The petrified tree for Pablo is there too just as Ruben, Gilbert, and I left it.  There is a headstone that lies between Silvestre Moya, my grandfather, and Alejandra Griego [Romero], my grandmother that has always been a mystery to me.  I look closely at the cement cross but it does not bear any clues.  Then, at the base of the cross, I find a small tin plate with the faint name Amborio Peralta etched on the plate.  It turns out that he was married to Eleonore Moya, sister to Silvestre Moya.  They did not have any children.  Another sister, Silveria Moya married Candelario Trujillo.  They had two children David and Ignacio Trujillo.  Ignacio married Eutimia Peralta and they had three children (Lallo, Lydia, and Eloydia).  Genealogy is a slow process but another part of the family puzzle is solved.  It now makes sense that the previously unidentified cross belonged to the family.  

My respects are paid.

Silvestre Moya, La Joya cemetery.

I spend little time at our mom and dad's house and then go to see a neighbor, Stanley Esquibel.  He proudly shows me his garden and newly leveled field that will produce hay this summer.  He brings out some red chile, rice, and saltine crackers and we eat, both sweating freely from the chile's heat.

My ride home west is easy going and I'm on the scenic route -- Socorro, Magdalena, Pie Town, Datil, Quemado, and Apache Creek.  Apache Creek is surrounded by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.  I set up camp near a stream.  There are blue herons and ducks nearby and hundreds of elk in the meadows.  There is plenty of firewood and I have a very cozy camp.  

I decide to ride into Reserve for breakfast but the only cafe there is closed on Monday and today, yep, is Monday.  There is a historical statue of Elfego Baca in the village that catches my attention. 

Elfego Baca ~ Reserve, NM.

He was in a gunfight with 30 cowboys or so, surviving over 4,000 shots into his house.  The battle lasted over 30 hours and the incident became known as the Frisco Shootout.  There is much more about this historical incident but I am hungry, so I push on towards Luna and Alpine, tasting breakfast.

Pete Taylor, " a fine gentleman and archeologist."

From Reserve, I ride past Luna, New Mexico, and the Blue Crossing where our dad was stationed during the CCC's in about 1935.  The story is well documented in the video, "In Search of POP25" and my post, A Ride into the Past, so I'll pass over that.  

However, the archeologist who found this site is Pete Taylor and he is important.  He works at the Springerville (Arizona) Ranger Station, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and I call him to see if he is in his office.  The good news, he is there.  

As I walk into his office, there on the bulletin board is the picture of our dad next to the petroglyphs, the picture of Gilbert and I at the same spot, and my letter thanking everyone who helped with "In Search of POP 25."  

We talk and it is another great connection with our families history.

The end was worth the miles.

The rest of the trip can only be described as pure misery for a biker.  The winds from Arizona to California is fierce.  My bike strains as it fights the wind blowing from the west, and occasionally from the north.  

From Laughlin to Barstow, the wind is not only stronger but ice cold.  I hoped to camp at Walker Pass near Lake Isabella but the rain appears to be turning into snow right before my eyes.  Walker Pass sits at 5,300 feet and again, I head for lower ground. Camp Motel 6 in Mojave is just ahead.  It is windy the next day over Tehachapi but not nearly as severe. 
I arrive home 7 days later.  It was Roberto Griego who made this trip possible and he did not disappoint me ................ Arriba Nuevo Mexico!

The odometer records 2,240 miles . . . .

Monday, January 16, 2017

~ Wild Africa, part 1 ~

“Wildness is the preservation of the World” ~ Henry David Thoreau.  

Robert, Keith, and Denise Griego ~ our 1st trip into the wild bush of Botswana

Africa is a magical, mysterious, and faraway place soon to be destiny for this 26 year old working for the National Park Service at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in the wilds of Montana.  

My name is Robert Griego.  

It is cold here, but I love the Crow and Cheyenne country that is our new home.  My wife, Denise and I grew up in sunny Southern California but this is Indian and cowboy country.  They call this the Big Sky Country and Montana lives up to its slogan.  The landscape is enormous and the night sky brilliant.  The milky way and big dipper are within an easy hands reach in the darkness.  The Bighorn River is perhaps one of the best wild, fresh water trout rivers in the world.  The Crow and Cheyenne are masterful horseman.  I love to see them ride horses; I love their spirit.  My good friend Dave Small is a Crow and he shares his family, culture, and country with me freely.  We would go deer hunting together much as the Crow did many years ago on horseback.  We also played together on an all Crow basketball team that spoke Crow, except for me.  My team mates hollered as the game began "just be Crow."

A Yamaha 350cc came with me from California but the Montana snows would prove too tough, so it stays mostly in the garage.

My job at Bighorn Canyon NRA with the National Park Service is great but the piece of paper in front of me is somewhat unreal.  "The government of Botswana, Africa is seeking a professional in the field of Administration to help us in the development of our National Parks."  Denise and I have always wanted to go on an African safari but the cost was way above our means.  My background is in Park Administration so I read on.  "The Peace Corps, United Nations, the Smithsonian Institute, and the National Park Service hope to attract qualified person(s) to help in the development of our National Parks."

That night at home in Bighorn Canyon NRA, I slowly passed the job announcement towards Denise.  She reads on with delight.  Africa!  "I think you should go for it" were her first words, holding nothing back.  She was really the naturalist between us and I knew she would love Africa.  And so, the thought process began.  Africa!  Why not me?  "OK, but what about your son who is only 1 1/2 years old," I argued with myself.  Doubt settles into my thoughts and I am very unsure of this decision to even apply for this job before me.

The questionnaire before us wants to know, "Why do we want to come to Botswana, Africa and why are we perfectly suited for this assignment."  We were asked to assess each other and to describe why we thought our partner is really suited for this assignment.  In reality, I kept substituting the word adventure for assignment.

"Once my husband starts a job, he continues until the job is finished."  I read and then reread her words and my confidence grew.  "She felt that I could do it."  "I would do it."  And before I knew it, I signed my name to the application and off it went swirling in the cold winds of Montana.  You must remember that this is before cell phones and all communication and decisions would be carried by the U.S. Postal Service.  Words had to be specific, deliberate, and full of resolve to be heard.

"Thank you for your interest in our position with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana, Africa.  You are selected and we look forward to your arrival."  I was overwhelmed.  Three weeks later, Denise, our son Keith, and I were packing for a journey that would change our lives forever.  The National Park Service would place me in a leave without pay status for 30 months, allowing me to help the Government of Botswana, and would guarantee a job when I returned to the United States.  I told myself, "How could I possible pass up this opportunity."  We stored all of all belongings with a moving company in Billings, Montana and had very little as we packed for Africa. 

Many years later, I would reflect on these moments and realize that is was one of the best decisions of my life. 

My good friend Warnell Roberson would drive us from my parents home in Barstow, California to the Ontario International Airport on a trip that we could not possibly imagine.  We made a brief stop in Washington D.C. and met with Jim Sherburne of the Smithsonian Institute - - "The Peace Corps thanks you for willingness to help the country of Botswana with their National Parks.Jim continues with his remarks. "You and your wife will be Peace Corps Volunteers en-route to Botswana.  But once you land in Botswana, you, Bob, will become a United Nations Volunteer."  This sounds confusing and he makes me a bit uneasy when he adds "we have never used this program before, you will be the first -- a National Park Service employee, Peace Corps Volunteer, United Nations Volunteer, all working for the government of Botswana, and oh yes, coordinated by the Smithsonian Institute."  He adds, "You'll be fine, we are here to support you for the next two years, you can count on that."

I believe what Jim had just said, but in reality, I barely knew where Botswana was and had never been to Washington D.C. before, let alone east of the Colorado River.  The taxi driver who drove us to our hotel that night was very direct.  "If you're going to Africa as you say, then buy all the diapers you can for your baby.  You may not find them in any stores in Africa."  Ok, now I'm worried.  What have I done.  Our son, Keith, is only 1 1/2 years old and I can not imagine his future in Africa.  Denise and I cling onto each other as the jet plane roars down the runway towards the Atlantic Ocean to a far away place called Botswana, Africa.   We could not turn back even if we wanted too.

Denise is 24 years old and I am 26 years old, and securely between us sits our son, Keith playing with a stuffed animal.

The flight to Johannesburg, Africa was long.  With a 1 1/2 year old it was extra long.  "What are we doing here?" I asked myself over and over as I stare out into darkness on this long flight.  In the long hours of the night, things actually got better.  The flight from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Botswana was short by comparison.  The landing on the small airstrip was dusty.  The landscape was flat and then I saw the Land Rover coming towards our plane in a whirl of dust.  His hands were waving even before the Land Rover stopped. 

"Welcome, my name is Wolfgang von Richter" he said almost out of breath.   "I'm with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and welcome to Botswana" as he grabbed out our sparse luggage and took us directly to the Presidents Hotel in downtown Gaborone.  Gaborone is the nations capital which has asphalt for twenty miles around it and then nothing but dirt and more dirt all the way to the wilderness of the Okavango Delta in the north, some 600 miles away.  

The hotel is directly in the middle of the local mall, full of people and their energy.  The people are very friendly and speak English.  Only 48 hours earlier we had left our Crow friends who were also very friendly and spoke English.  An ocean is now between us.

Keith Griego and playmate Patrick ~  Gaborone, Botswana
"You can stay here at the President Hotel until there is permanent housing available for you and your family."  In retrospect, they did an outstanding job in welcoming us to Gaborone, Botswana.  However, back then I was very worried.  We stayed at the President Hotel for three weeks, then we moved on to the Holiday Inn, before we moved into our home at 2753 Nkwe Close.  It was a beautiful two bedroom house with an empty garage.  There was no landscape but that would soon change.  Our neighbors welcomed us to their neighborhood and said that the name Nkwe meant Tiger.  The people here were friendly, helpful, and just like our Crow friends in Montana.

"Welcome.  We hope you are settling into your home."  Wolfgang was very kind and truly made us feel like we were so welcomed.  "UNDP tries to provide transportation but we can only offer you a motorcycle," and as his words faded, I perked up.  He continued.  "We have two motorcycles for you to select -  a Honda 250cc or a Yamaha 125cc."  I've owned Yamaha's my whole life and this was an easy decision - - "I'll take the Yamaha" I said with out any hesitation. 

The Honda 250cc would go to another United Nations Volunteer who I would later meet.  His name is Jerry Neville and is coming to Botswana from Australia.  He would be stationed at Chobe National Park in northern Botswana.  Later, he would allow me and Denise to ride his Honda 250cc for an adventure of a life time from Chobe National Park, Botswana to Victoria Falls, Zambia.

We would be lucky to return alive.

The Director, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, was Mr. E.T. Matenge.  Despite being a chain smoker, he made me feel so welcomed, valued, and loved his country, people, and its wildlife.  I like him very much.

Jerry Neville, Robert Griego, Shoe Minato ~~ Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa
I rode my Yamaha 125cc daily to and from work.  My official job title was Game Warden, Administration.  We are part of an international team -- me, Jerry Neville from Australia, Shoe Minato from Japan, and a guy from India who never showed up.  We were the new team and attended UNDP orientation in the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. Our friendship would last a life time.

In a developing country, things work in a unique time and it is best to adapt.  Jerry and Shoe were our maintenance experts responsible for the construction and development of the infrastructure of the national parks, campgrounds and roads and such.  A major job in a developing country like Botswana.  I would help with the Administration of daily operations, and because the guy from India did not show up, I assumed his job as Finance Officer as well.  I was lost. 

Thank goodness for the British.   

Anthony Ziegler was a senior game warden and provided the order that was necessary in any organization meant to survive and thrive.  He helped me immensely.

Anthony's new 80cc Suzuki and my 125cc Yamaha ~ Gaborone Airport

In America, Anthony would have easily been a Senior Park Superintendent at a Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Everglades National Parks. 

He was the thread that held the Department together and exhibited amazing leadership qualities.  Even our Director, E.T. Matenge knew that.  Anthony was from England and could easily be called an explorer in his early days in Africa, working and living in remote places like Uganda.

He also was the Department's pilot, and later with a bit of insistence on my part, a motorcycle rider. "I need to take the Department's airplane for a test run, would you like to go?" Anthony asked.  The aerial view of Gaborone and surrounding villages was amazing.  I felt very lucky to join him on this flight.  I had never been up in a small plane before.

He and his wife, Felicity and their two children, Pip and Martin lived nearby.  In the days ahead, we would go out on many family trips into the bush.  The Zieglers' would become our good friends and now live in Burford, Oxfordshire, England. 

Later, we would meet Vic and Jane Simpson and their daughter Katie who was Keith's age and they too became good friends.  Vic was a veterinarian in Botswana and their family now lives in Chacewater, Truro, Cornwall, England.  Vic is a bird expert.

We are fortunate to also meet three American couples who are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in Gaborone, Botswana.  Mike and Karen Davis and Joe and Lynn Passineau are in their twenties and Ruth and Malcolm Smith are in their late sixties. The day after Malcolm retired as an airline pilot in the United States, they joined the Peace Corps.  Together, we traveled into the bush to discover wild Africa.   Their love for nature and wildness was there with them even as we met on that first day in Gaborone.  I could see the passion in their eyes.  They were real, hard core Peace Corps Volunteers answering President John F. Kennedy's call to serve our country.

Years later, I would find a Peace Corps saying that I love:

~ ~ Do people tell you, you're over the hill?
What if you were?
Over the hill, over a stream and over an ocean.
To another continent.
Thousands of miles from your own.
Where the process of improving the lives of others improves your own.
What if you're over the hill?
What's over the hill anyway? ~ ~

Africa is wild.  Wildness is in Africa.  The National Park Service in America knew the value of wildness but it took Africa for me to fully understand and appreciate its innate value.

The bush is wild, and despite the Tsetse fly that tried to kill us, we loved it.

In the days ahead, we would get lost in the bush, get stuck in the sands of the Kalahari Desert, camp among the lions and hyenas, and get charged by a bull elephant, all in pursuit of wildness.

Wildness was there directly in front of me; I touched it, I could smell it, I wrapped my arms around it, and I hoped to save it forever, and then some.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

~ Wild Africa, part II ~

“Wildness is a necessity” ~ John Muir

Denise, Keith, and Robert Griego ~ Kalahari Desert ~ Botswana, Africa

Our first trip into the wild bush of Botswana was only 20 miles from home.  There are three of us on my motorcycle as we leave the paved road of Gaborone.  Keith is tightly between me and Denise and he can barely move.  The dirt road is full of wash boards that make the going slow.  There is a mountain that is not very high but we plan to climb to the top for a view of the surrounding area.

"A fierce army attacked us without warning"
The top of this mountain will be a perfect spot for our picnic lunch.  As I park the bike, they come down the hill like a mad army catching us off guard.  Ten, twenty, maybe more, some followers but others fierce leaders.  "Denise, carry Keith, and start moving back towards the bike" I say as calmly as I can.  "Do not run, and walk slowly."  I pick up a stick that is now above my head.  My stick will be no match for them, but I hope to deter them some if needed.  Their large teeth are clearly visible.  Their loud barking is only getting louder as they come towards us, some jumping in the air, clearly agitated.  This army is a group of wild baboons that own this mountain.  Baboons can easily tear an animal apart with those big teeth.  Our retreat convinces them that we do not want a confrontation and they begin to settle down.  Never the less, we get on the bike and speed away towards the Gaborone Dam where peaceful birds abound.

I'm settling into my job and assuming the duties of a Game Warden, Administration with more confidence.  There are about fifteen administrative staff who support the Department in accounting, procurement, personnel, mails and files, and warehouse operations.   Lucas Seguco is responsible for the warehouse operations and I like him immediately.  "Hi Bobby, we need to deliver supplies to the Game Scouts living in the bush.  They depend upon us."  No one, except my mom, ever called me Bobby.  Lucas is a hard working employee and will be a invaluable as we wander some lonely tracks into the wild bush of Botswana. 

Game Scouts, Director Matenge, Senior Game Warden Anthony Ziegler, and auctioneer
Before we go into the bush, the Department will conduct an auction from confiscated animal furs and horns.  These wildlife items will bring revenue into the Department's budget.  Senior Game Warden Anthony Ziegler is in charge.

We will take one of the Departments 4 wheel drive Land Rovers, a tent, and a 30.06 rifle.  I owned this same rifle in Montana, went deer hunting with my Crow friends, and know how to use it.

Once we leave the established dirt roads, we begin to follow faint tracks into the bush.  Lucas is continually asking people that we meet for directions.  We are heading towards Nxai Pan National Park.  There we would meet Tuppence, a Department of Wildlife and National Parks Game Scout.  He is responsible for patrolling this National Park, some 2,500 square kilometers.  He tells us that within the mopane woodland, there are lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, springbok, jackal, and bat-eared fox.  Once the rains have started, gemsbok, elephant and zebra migrate to the area. 

Game Scout Tuppence ~ Nxai Pan National Park
He is living alone and welcomes us graciously to his camp.  He is wearing his uniform smartly and looks every bit a Game Scout in the bush.  "How do you patrol such a large area" I ask.  His answer is simple, "Well, I use to have a donkey but the lions ate it.  Then, they gave me a bicycle and it was very good, until the thorns punctured the tires.  Now when anyone comes by, I ride with them, and patrol the Park."  

One Game Scout and one National Park ~ amazing.   We leave him some much needed supplies and he is very appreciative for them, though I sense he loved the company even more.

Lucas is Setswana and has such an easy going personality that I wish I could bottle up and take back to America with me.  "Bobby, the bridge looks unsafe."  "I'll walk across it first, then you come if the boards hold up for the Land Rover."  I nod that I understand and hold back on the Land Rover with the gear in neutral.  Lucas is bouncing up and down on the boards and then, with arm waving, motions me forward.  The boards creak and we slowly cross the bridge that may have been unused for a long time.  He gets back into the Land Rover and we continue on a faint track towards Chobe National Park.  We camp in the bush, and in the night is the unmistakable sound of a leopard.  In the morning, lion tracks are all around us.  The lions had walked directly next to us and must have eaten well earlier, as they did not bother us.  We never saw the leopard.

Then, we stop abruptly.  The flat tire sees to that.  I once heard that two Peace Corps volunteers had twenty-seven flats on a similar trip.  After the spare tire is used, then they had to patch the tubes over, and over, and over again.  Our flat tire is fixed and we continue down the faint track.

Our 1st flat tire - towards Chobe National Park

That's when all hell breaks loose.  "Roll up the windows, tight" Lucas shouts.  It is hot but the Tsetse fly is persistent.  Soon, they are coming up from the floor boards and we are frantically trying to kill them.  It is very hot inside and Keith is now crying.  The Tsetse fly carries the sleeping sickness and this is a serious moment, so the windows remain up.  We kill twenty or so of the flies that managed to find their way into the Land Rover.  I see Lucas shiver as the danger has passed.  "Ok, Bobby, you can roll down the windows, they are gone."  I love Lucas, he is astute and pulled us through this difficult time.  Chobe National Park is within two days of driving but we will camp at Savuti Channel tonight.

""The charge begins"
"I barely escape his charge"
The hippo is in the water a good distance in front of me.  He seems at ease as I walk forward with my camera in hand.  Then without warning, he charges.  He lunges out of the water towards me, and I am taken back by his speed.  I run backwards as fast as I can and narrowly escape his charge.  Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal.  I knew this, yet, this hippo made me really appreciate this fact.  This is the real deal, wild Africa.

Lucas, says that there are some prehistoric paintings here, up in the rocks.  We search and find them.  This piece of earth is perhaps the most wild I've ever seen and we have not seen another person in days.

Our first sight of the Chobe River ~ wild and amazing
Pictographs ~ Savuti Channel
Soon, we are at the outskirts of Chobe National Park after three days of driving through the bush from Maun.  Lucas has never been here and neither have we.   The Chobe River stops us cold.  It is breath taking.  There are crocodiles and hippos in the water and we are clearly deep into the wild Botswana bush.  We hope to find Jerry Neville soon; we will spend several days with him.  He lives in a large house with 4 or 5 bedrooms.  He lives here by himself and welcomes all of us to his home.  Jerry is another United Nations Volunteer from Australia and also works for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.  He reports to Senior Game Warden Mike Slogrove.  Mike and his family live here and recently experienced a devastating accident.  Mike's wife was killed in an accident when her gas stove exploded and killed her.  At the time, she had one child that I remember. 

Her name is Sue.  As fate would have it, we would meet her again thirty-five years later on our second trip back to Botswana.
Keith Griego and Thomas ~ Jerry Neville's Honda 250cc
I love Chobe National Park.  It is wild with free roaming elephants, lions, hyenas, zebras, and wart hogs everywhere. 

"Jerry, how far is it to Victoria Falls" I ask.  "It is about 60 miles on a dirt road, but I've never been there," he adds in his thick Australian accent.  Jerry offers to lend us his Honda 250cc if we want to make the trip.  "If you could watch Keith, we could be back before dark" I suggest.  Jerry adds, "Of course" and with that we begin to inspect his motorcycle for the trip in the morning.

Jerry rides a Honda 250cc and it is full of petrol and he again reviews with me how it works and where his tools are stashed.  Jerry's cat, Thomas, sits on top while Keith plays with him.  Without too much fan fare, Denise and I are off for Victoria Falls in Zambia.  The ride there was uneventful and our first view of the Victoria Falls is spectacular.

Victoria Falls
We approach the edge of the falls, take pictures, and then hear unexpected gun shots.  Our first instinct is to duck.  The shots are being fired from across the river.  Then shots are being fired from our side of the river and with a few pictures it was time to get out of Dodge. 

The trip back to Chobe National Park is easy going until we stop for a short rest on the side of the road.  Then off to our right, unknown to us, stands a big bull elephant.  He quickly shows aggression, his trunk trumpeting, and his legs pawing the ground fiercely.  Once his head goes down, he is on a dead run directly for us.  "Kick start the bike fast, and don't stall it," I scream silently to myself.  The Honda 250cc accelerates quickly.  In the rear view mirror, I see the bull elephant losing ground behind us.  It was third gear before I barely out distanced the charging bull elephant.  On the way back to Chobe National Park, I try not to think what could have happened if that bull elephant had caught us.  I could have stalled the bike and it would have been history. 

"We narrowly escape his charge"
When we get back to Jerry's house, we grab Keith and didn't let go for a long, long time.  While Chobe National Park was our first real trip into the bush, it would not be our last. 

Mike and Karen Davis, Peace Corps Volunteers, would come with us into the Botswana bush.  Jonathon Mowepsa has replaced Lucas at work and he too would accompany us.  This time, we traveled with a large 5 ton Bedford truck, capable of carrying large amounts of essential supplies to the outline posts.  We all bring whatever we can to contribute for our food for the journey.  When we pick up Jonathon in his village, he is tightly holding a rooster in his arms.  That first night in the bush, we stop and make camp.  "You can kill my rooster for dinner tonight," Jonathon says.  Mike and I agree and grab the rooster.  Our plan is to take our axe and cut off its head quickly.  It's dead, but not as quickly as we hoped.  We pluck the feathers and it cooks slowly and perfectly over our campfire.  As we pass around the meat, Jonathon says that he can not eat it.  "Why not, it is cooked perfectly" we say.  "It was my pet rooster, and I can not eat it" he says.  Quiet is all around us.  He had brought everything he had for our trip and it was his pet rooster.  Even though we did not want to eat his rooster, it would be an insult to him not to eat it.  In time, we ate his rooster and thanked him graciously for his contribution.

That night, Mike, Karen, Denise, Keith, and I sleep under the 5 ton Bedford truck.  Jonathon prefers to sleep inside the cab.  Late into the night, Denise hollers "there are hyenas out there, and they tried to grab me."  Mike and I jump up in our underwear with the 30.06 in our hands and see nothing.  Our flashlights do not reveal any shining eyes.  We conclude that Denise was having a dream that any one of us could have had, after all we are deep in the wild bush.  Mike and I fall back asleep slowly, yet I keep one eye open.

The engine is making a terrible sound and we stop.  We are in the middle of the Kalahari Desert.  With the hood up, we look over the massive engine.  The oil dip stick does not show any oil, a bad sign for sure.  "We can't drive it much further without oil" Mike says.  "How stupid of me not to bring extra oil" I tell myself.  Jonathan has an idea.  "Perhaps, we can find a cattle post that might have oil for a well pump."

Horseman, Mike Davis, and Jonathon Mowepsa ~ Kalahari Desert in search of oil for our truck

This cattle post did not have oil ~ water was pulled up by hand
We begin walking, not sure of how far we would have to go before, and if, we find a cattle post.  We leave Denise, Karen, and Keith behind with the truck.  "Lay under the bed of the truck for shade and honk the horn if there is a problem" we say as we head off into the wild bush.  After several miles, we meet a man on horseback. Jonathon asks the man in Setswana "Do you know where there might be oil used for a water pump."  He is unsure but points in the direction that we should travel.  We follow his directions but find nothing.  We are tired and decide to head back to the truck where we will spend the night.  After several miles in the desert sun, we are tired, thirsty, and hungry.  Denise and Karen have a surprise for us.  They have made dinner ~ bean burritos, chili, with freshly made tortillas.  We can't hardly believe what they did.  Making tortillas from scratch at home is hard enough.  We eat, relax, and sleep.  We will decide what to do in the morning.

The engine is making painful noises.  It wants oil but we continue never the less along these desert trails.  As we reach Gaborone, the noise is deafening.  The head mechanic looks over the truck and shakes his head.  Trying to tell him about looking for oil is pointless, so we hand over the keys and leave quietly.

Our two years in Botswana go very fast and while we made more trips into the bush we also traveled to neighboring Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa.  These trips were not on my motorcycle but a used Volkswagen Beetle that we bought from a priest in Gaborone for $700. 

Keith Griego ~ Our broken down VW Bug
On our first trip into South Africa, the front right tire starts to make bad sounds.  I pull off the tire and discover the bearings on the hub are frozen preventing the wheel from turning.  In fact, the bearings are melted and now useless.  There we are stranded on a lonely dirt road, miles from the nearest village.  I remember seeing a small garage about 30 miles back and maybe they could order the part.  Just then, a truck stops and the driver looks down at the busted wheel.  He and his family are going in the direction I need to go and invite me to jump on to the back of their truck. 

"Do you have any parts that look like this one," I ask the man at this small garage.  "Let me see" and he begins rummaging through a box of spare parts.  I can't believe it but the used part he just found is a perfect match.  Imagine that, in the middle of nowhere, and I find the exact part that is needed.  I hitch a ride again and there is Denise and Keith trying to stay cool in the hot sun.  The bearing goes on easily.  I pack it with grease, mount the tire, and the repair worked!  In Africa, being resourceful goes a long way.  We continue onto Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria.

President Sir Seretse Khama, 1976 ~ Botswana's 10th anniversary
Botswana, perhaps the most democratic country in Africa, is celebrating ten years of independence.  The president is Sir Seretse Khama.  A very strong, well liked president.  In retrospect, we were so fortunate to be there at this important national event.

The Peace Corps Director thanks us for our service and explains that we could either get a prepaid airline ticket home or we could receive the cash equivalent.  We chose the cash and take 3 1/2 months traveling home with our backpacks and camping gear.  This journey would take us to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Tahiti. 

In Tanzania, we meet other Peace Corps volunteers from Botswana who are traveling home as well.  We all combine our money, rent a Volkswagen bus with a driver, and travel to Ngorongoro Crater for several days.  There are lions, elephants, zebra, giraffe, hyenas, gazelle, buffalo, all living in perfect harmony.  A perfect ecosystem.  We camp in the crater.

Before leaving Botswana, I decide to take along a book to read that I brought from Montana.  I would read it but never finish it.  The book immediately attracts my attention, but in reality, I would still be reading it unfinished, thirty-eight years later.  It was written by Robert M. Pirsig.  His story is called, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

In Australia, Jerry Neville meets us at the Sydney Airport.  Earlier, we sent him a letter letting him know our plans and hopes to see him.  He is living with his parents and they graciously welcome us into their home on Rickard Street in Merrylands.  We go camping in the outback, see wombats and kangaroo, and climb the tallest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko -- all 7,310 feet.  Jerry takes us for a boat tour around Sydney and we see the famous Sydney Opera House.  We continue home, arriving at back at the Ontario Airport in California full of stories.  It was impossible to tell them all these stories without sounding like a pair of crazy travelers who had been lost in the desert for years. This 3 1/2 month journey home was amazing and memorable. 

Robert Griego and Sue Slogrove, 2006 ~ Mapula Lodge, Okavango Delta
Thirty-five years later, Denise and I would return to Botswana to once again touch the edge of wildness.   We would go there with the tour group, Road Scholar.  We were all looking forward to staying at the Mupula Lodge deep in the Okavango Delta.  We loved it.

The young lady who operates the lodge warmly greets us.  As we introduced ourselves, I said "Denise and I were here in Botswana 35 years ago.  I worked for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks."  She immediate asked if I knew a Mike Slogrove?"  This was Mike's daughter who I remember as a 3 year old.  She remembers sitting on Jerry Neville's motorcycle.   She also tells us that she operates the Chobe Crocodile Farm in Kasane.  A small world and I was very proud of her.

And, oh yes, I am still reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I am determined to finish the book this time.  At twenty something, I did not understand what Mr. Pirsig was trying to tell me.  At sixty something, I am still trying to understand what he is saying to me, but I listen closely this time.  His message is becoming more clear with each word, yet, deep down inside, I really do not want it to end.

I have also found something that had been forgotten years ago.  It is my detailed journal recording our plans, sights, and emotions as we left Botswana for America on that journey.  The journal records daily events that would be etched in our minds forever.  Some good, some not so good.  It would record the people we met, where we slept, the food we ate, and the wonders we saw.  All these images paint our adventure, after all we had just traveled around the world. 

This world was huge, wild, and we touched it.

The Chobe River ~ perhaps the most wild place in Africa

Tracks we must follow ~ there are no signs

Towards Chobe National Park

We must carry our petro ~ Lucas on top, towards Chobe National Park

Game Scouts and Keith Griego ~ Francistown
Game Scouts with confiscated ivory ~ Lucas, Denise and Keith Griego

Camping with Joe and Lynn Passineau ~ Kalahari Desert

Dr. Livingstone was here

Denise, Keith Griego and Lucas ~ Baobab Tree

Lucas inspects bridge that we will cross

Camp site ~ lions were nearby

These two lioness were 200 yards from our Savuti Channel camp

Savuti Channel

Keith and Denise Griego ~ Nxai Pan National Park camp

Denise, Keith Griego and Karen Davis
Joe Passineau ~ Kalahari Desert where we got stuck
Bushman Ladies and Robert Griego ~ Kalahari Desert

Thursday, January 5, 2017

~ Hágoónee’ ~

"I have been to the end of the earth, I have been to the end of the waters, I have been to the end of the mountains, I have found none that are not my friends"  Navajo Proverb

"Before my eyes, a sacred land, Monument Valley" ~ Robert Griego
Gilbert and I agree, Monument Valley would be a great ride and without much discussion, we decide to do this trip.  It is hot and that will be a factor in our ride but ride we do, never-the-less.  He has been to Monument Valley before but I have not.  That will soon change.  We decide to meet in Barstow and have lunch at Plata's Mexican Restaurant with our brother Leo.  He joins us and we tell him about our plans.  I see that Leo would love to join us and maybe he will someday.  He use to ride a Triumph 650cc in his younger days and has rode my bike a few times in La Joya.

Day 1, Upper Satellite Camp (near Ash Fork, AZ).  I won't lie, but 540 miles across the desert on a bike will drain you, especially when the thermometer across the desert reads 110 degrees.  We drink what seems like gallons of water along the Interstate 40 rest stops.  The sun and wind quickly take back most of the moister but we feel refreshed.  We press on hoping to arrive at our first camp before dark.  It is very hard starting a fire when the wood is hidden in the darkness, so it is very important to arrive before dark.  This is always our first priority.  We arrive an hour before sunset.  Gilbert spots a dead tree and ten minutes later we are cooking our gourmet dinner over an open campfire:  hot dogs, green chile, tortillas, downed with ice cold beers, American and a few Fosters.

Gooseneck State Park ~ aka Sky Rim Camp
Day 2, Goosenecks State Park (aka Sky Rim Camp).  This primitive camp is high on a Mesa, looking down on the San Juan River.  Bluff, Utah is about twenty miles away.  The stars are so bright our fingers almost touch them.  I stretch my fingers upward that just fall short of those bright stars.  We have a small fire and we thank God for such a beautiful spot.  We collect hundreds of small pieces of wood for our fire to heat our cans of stew and tortillas.  We go through our ritual of finding the Big Dipper, the North Star, and what we fondly call the Circle of Eight.  The smoke from our small fire seems to sense that we are here.  Goosenecks Camp just doesn't sound fitting for this beautiful spot.  We ask the Sky and Earth that we be able to rename this spot to a more fitting name.  Gilbert focuses on the Sky and I the Rim. 

Together, with the smoke from our campfire , we respectfully ask that we be able to name this spot Sky Rim Camp.  The puffs of smoke agree.

A ride back in time ~ sacred Monument Valley
The ride into Monument Valley was awesome.  We barely drive a few miles and we stop for pictures.  At one rest stop a young Navajo man is selling jewelry.   "Can we take some pictures of our bikes, just over there?" we ask.  "OK," he says.  "Where are you guys from" he wants to know.  "California" and he shakes his head, "long ride."  "Thanks, we'll see you later" we say.  He replies, "Do you want to know how we Navajo's say, see you later?"

So there we are with him taking our first Navajo language lesson.  "Gilbert, you try to remember the first part, and I'll try to remember the last part."  We continue our ride, taking even more pictures.  We practice the phrase the young man taught a few times.  In Kayenta, we stop at a local market where many Navajo ladies are selling jewelry, used items, and food.  What a better time to try out our Navajo.  We leave the first group of ladies, and say "see you later in Navajo."  They all begin to giggle, like high school girls.  Feeling good, we eat some Indian tacos and again say "see you later in Navajo."  Again we get giggles.  So we ask, "why do you laugh?"  One of the older ladies tells us that we keep saying "stinky feet."  Now we just stick to English, leaving a bit embarrassed.

A few years later, I would meet two Navajo ladies at the Yamaha shop in Flagstaff where I needed a new tire.  They were there to repair their 4 wheel quad used to tend their sheep on the reservation.  We both were there before the shop opened to be first in line for service.  "Good morning" I say.  The young Navajo says "good morning" but the older lady just looks at me.  "She only speaks Navajo" the younger lady says.  After my new tire was mounted, I saw them leaving as well.  To make a long story short, I had stopped earlier by Canyon de Chelly National Monument and asked the Navajo Park Ranger to please write down the Navajo words "see you later" for me.  He did and I practiced with him.  He shook his head in approval.

Before I fire up my bike, I walk up to the older Navajo lady as they are getting ready to leave and say "hágoónee’ ."  She smiles and repeats the phase, "hágoónee’ extending out her hand."  The younger Navajo lady simply said, "I didn't know you spoke Navajo -- your pronunciation is very good." 

Gilbert and Robert Griego ~ North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
Day 3, Dancing Aspens Camp.  An earlier fire has scorched miles and miles of trees, as we head towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The wind is ferocious   Our bikes shake violently with the powerful wind gusts which come from nowhere.  We pull over to a safe spot and we look at each other in disbelief.  This wind was intense but even loaded 1,000 pound bikes can be blown away. 

As we ride along the highway, we smell food and turn around.  There is a Navajo family selling Indian tacos; we each have one.  Further down the road, we see a Navajo lady with beautiful jewelry that she is selling.  We tell her about the wind and she tells us about two visitors that were recently blown off the rim of the Grand Canyon to their death.  We feel lucky. 

We plan to camp on USFS land and while there are many suitable spots, the wind is relentless, so we push on further.   Finally, the wind is behind us and we take the first dirt road on USFS land we see and we set-up camp.  We take a short walk which leads us to a historical corral which has fallen down with time.  There are aspen trees all around.  It reminds us of an earlier time when these hills had roaming horses and mules used by guides or hunters.  The North Rim is still 20 miles away.  We sleep soundly after nearly 1,000 miles.

Day 4, Mesa Road Camp (aka Wind Rock).  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is priceless; our words can not match its beauty.  We pull off our levis and boots in the parking lot and put on our shorts and tennis shoes/sandals and walk along the rim in awe.  We frantically take pictures as does everyone else and walk about five miles.  Little did we know that a five mile walk would really wear us out.  We stop at Jacob Lake and lay down beneath some pine trees exhausted after riding only 42 miles.  We resist sleeping which comes easily and force ourselves to move on towards Fredonia, Arizona.
Our camp site on the cliff ~  Mesa Road Camp

Our goal is Zion National Park but the scenery slows us down considerably.  Gilbert spots a herd of Takonka and again we stop.  We are reminded of the song, "old Griego in Search of POP25" who roamed the Badlands of New Mexico in search of buffalo. 

Our camp is high on a mesa among the pinon pines near Virgin, Utah where sweeping views of Zion can be seen below us.  Our serenity and confidence, however, will be shaken by high winds.  We quickly place heavy rocks on our tarps and sleeping bags to prevent them from blowing away over the cliff by the winds.  The wind blows fiercely and ice cold all night, and in the morning, we are covered with sand.  The heavy rocks did their job and our gears did not blow away.

Our iron ponies braved the cold wind as well, but they are eager to move on to lower lands, so we head for Hurricane, Utah. 

"The wind nearly blew us off the cliff" ~ Mesa Road Camp
Day 5, Walker Pass Camp.  I am riding alone now, Gilbert is home in Barstow, California.  Walker Pass Camp sits about 5,500 feet near Lake Isabella, California.  This is a BLM primitive camp site used primarily by the hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  There are about 20 young boys and girls who are playing music and laughing.  I do not know how many miles they have been hiking, but I guess many, as they quickly go to sleep as the first wave of darkness arrives.

I remember an earlier camp out here with no one else around.  Then, without, warning, a voice behinds says "are you having supper."  I called him wandering "Jack."  He had been on the PCT for weeks and saw my fire.  He was lonely and just wanted to talk.  He thought he had made lots of noise as he walked towards my camp, but I just didn't hear him.  He was a good guy after all, only asking for some water which I gave him gladly.  

My transistor radio picks up the Window Rock radio station and the Navajo chants comfort me well into the night.  'Wandering Jack' finds his spot a few hundred yards from me and is gone before I wake.  Must be a serious hiker.

Day 6, Tres Rios Camp (aka Home).  This has been one of our best rides and our ponies are now free to rest, traveling through Monument Valley, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and hundreds of miles of open space through Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California in our pursuit of wildness.  Our faces and arms have considerable sun on them.  Gilbert is resting at home, but I feel as if I'm still moving and it takes a day to return to 'normal.'  

The odometer records 1,939 miles . . . . .

"I feel like the end of the world is just there" ~ Robert Griego
Gilbert Griego, Monument Valley ~ hágoónee’