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The one where Tim gets a tattoo

December 27, 2009

I took the wheel and sitting on 85mph Miguel (the car) ate up the miles as we left Arizona and entered New Mexico. Again, the scenery changed as soon as we hit the state line. Huge red rocks sprung up from the landscape and red soil lay on either side of the road, broken up with small shrubs here and there. 200 miles later we arrived at the turn off to our destination, Chaco Culture Natural Historical Park. The road was unpaved and cows watched suspiciously as we crawled along the bumpy, rocky road. Along the way icicles hung from small shrubs on the side of the road and fog blanketed the entire surroundings. After 30 minutes of going off road we finally arrived at the entrance and set off on the 9 mile loop road that would take us to Native American ruins.

The first stop was Hungo Pavi, a barely-excavated kiva (great house) with crumbling walls and a huge circular room below ground level. Constructed in 800AD, it served as a community centre for the tribes that lived here. The next stop was Chetro Ketl, which was larger, but still mostly unexcavated. Finally, we arrived at Pueblo Alto, a massive complex of walls, multi-storey kivas and houses connected by roads. In its heyday in 1050AD it hosted a couple of thousand people from neighbouring settlements. The size of Pueblo Alto was incredible; still visible in the cliff behind it were holes where wooden beams supported roofs and various pictographs of birds, men and stars had been etched into the walls. Somewhat awed, we wandered the complex for a while before returning to the car and continuing on to Albuquerque.

This proved easier said than done, as the road out of the park was also unpaved with the additional challenge of mud and ice. Miguel slithered over the road as we crawled along while insane drivers in pick-ups zoomed by, leaving wavy trails where the wheels had been. After a rather nervous 20 minutes we arrived back at the highway and continued along our way. We arrived at nightfall and found the hostel, and set out to find food and drink with two guys, Dave and Nathan from Australia, and an American called Aaron who was driving them around. I had a bizarre incarnation of a chicken parmigiana for dinner before we met up with another group from the hostel and hit some bars in the subdued downtown.

Rising the next day, we found a much emptier hostel; everyone had left that morning. We wandered the streets of Albuquerque up to Old Town, a collection of tourist shops and restaurants, and stumbled across the Rattlesnake Museum, which boasts the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world and a gift shop full of Steve Irwin dolls. The day became night so we headed downtown to a Mexican place called Frontier where a drunk guy kept harassing the manager before he called the cops and the drunk fled on a bicycle.

The next day during a walk down Central Avenue, I heard bells jingling behind me. Turning around, I was faced with the sight of a cowboy riding his horse down the main street of Albuquerque. Rusty asked if she could pat the horse and so he stopped and starting talking to us. His name was Craig, the horse was Skywalker. Craig performed tricks like doing pull ups under the saddle and making Skywalker count. All the while cars and buses zoomed by but Skywalker appeared completely unperturbed. Craig made what we thought was a joke about being on medication, and after chuckling nervously realised he was being serious. He said goodbye and rode backwards down the street.

We set off for Truth or Consequences, a decision based entirely on the name. This turned out to be an inspired decision: the town was full of hot springs. We soaked away the days of car travel in toasty 40 degree water, marvelling at what a wonderful place this was. However, after a chance encounter with a tattooist called Mo, we soon learned that Truth or Consequences is not without a dark side. Alcoholism and drug addiction (meth and cocaine) are huge problems amongst the youth; the Mexican border is only an hour away.

Juarez is one of the deadliest border towns in Mexico; some 2000 people have been killed in cartel wars over the past year alone. While the world reads about Iraq and Afghanistan, this war seems to go largely unnoticed. Along the streets of Juarez you will come across boxes and coolers on the side of the road; more often than not, they contain human heads or dismembered body parts or both: the call sign of one particular cartel. Other cartels favour immolation, eye-gouging or decapitation as their preferred method of execution. We also got talking about tattoos and after a long conversation settled on coyote footprints, an idea that appealed enormously due to its habitat of the American southwest and its role in local tribes’ mythology. We decided to sleep on it and set off home for the springs, before heading out to a steakhouse to cure our steak cravings.

I awoke with the burning question of whether to get inked firmly solved: it was on. We returned to Mo’s, who was not surprised to see us. The table was set up and it was time to shine. After some experimenting with the position, I settled on my right foot and out came the needle and we were off. The pain was strange and hard to describe; the closest I can come to is a burning nail being scraped across the skin. Yet at the same time it tickled slightly and the adrenalin gave me something of a high.

After 15 minutes the job was done and I admired the new foot on my foot. We spoke to Mo for a while, who, amazed we had never seen a gun, whipped out his Colt .45 and let us play with it. If we were ever back in town, he told us to give him a call and he’d take us out to shoot cans. We thanked him and set off for Texas with one foot on the dashboard. Continuing the pattern of different state, different landscape, we were greeted with the sight of oil fields and the smell of oil upon crossing the border. It grew late, and with Dallas still 7 hours away, we stopped in the middle of nowhere occupied by a town called Brownfield. “Where’s y’all accents from?” asked the guy who ran the motel. We were definitely in Texas.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 27, 2009 3:00 pm

    Although the trip sounds awesome, I can’t help feeling disappointed that in the week or so I looked forward to hearing about the tattoo saga, it turned out to be something so minor and not done under the influence of booze that you won’t even regret it when you’re 60. Disappointing indeed.

    Keep truckin’

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