Day Six : Wombling libre!June 2, 2016 in the United States
In the hushed yet excitable tones of Sir David Attenborough, I remark that on Day Six I awoke to an extraordinary sight; a beast whose majesty is eclipsed only by its scarcity in the wild and in the presence of which so very few can claim to have been.
Luke was awake first ('Lukus Awakii-Firstus')
But the most fascinating feature of the untamed Lukus Awakii-Firstus is that despite stirring from slumber several hours in advance of the rest of the pack, it is somehow able to be the last one prepared to depart from its night-time lodgings. Such a radical trait would indeed be worthy of further academic study, were there any applicable value in it whatsoever.
When Luke was ready we got in the car and headed off for food. They say you can tell the measure of a man by the breakfast he chooses. I can't remember who said it; I might have read it on a Kellogs box, but there can be no questioning of our collective masculinity when we commence our day with four Denny's Grand-Slams. Our second such brekkie of the trip to date, the only measure that concerns me is that of an expanding waist-line; ballooning wider daily and transforming texturally from tight, sinewy firmness to a flappy, fatty, cookie-dough-like bulge.
Next we stopped at a gas station, where Mark once again showed himself to be the hero we all know and agree he is. Whilst inside the station kiosk buying gas (heroic in itself, but it gets better) he was able to find something I've looked for literally everywhere I've been since I got here (aside from that one place we don't mention we went). But Mark achieved what I failed at and found and purchased for me a whole bag of Coffee-flavoured M&Ms! They're yet to be eaten as I'm afraid they might be the 'Best-Thing-Ever' and doubling back round to that particular gas station to buy more would be costly from a scheduling perspective and likely unpopular in every other perspective.
From there we headed to Carlsbad Caverns via a picturesque drive through the appropriately-named Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This was very much the third instalment in the geological formations trifecta after the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley and Mark was in his absolute element as we undertook the 2.5 mile walk down, down, down, slightly up then further down, down, down and around the humongous underground caverns network. We actually nearly didn't get in at all as Woody threw his entrance ticket in the bin, like, seconds after he bought it. But the ranger gave him an ocular pat-down, deemed him not to be a security risk and allowed him through.
Whilst wandering through the caverns, Luke postulated that the location might lend itself well to an action sequence in a James Bond film; for instance Bond might have to rapidly descend through the cavern in order to disarm a terrorists' bomb. Though I questioned the overarching strategy of a plot to bomb an empty, underground cave-network, this nonetheless sparked a back-and-forth that became increasingly ludicrous until Luke had to take a break on a bench, hunched over and giggling uncontrollably like a schoolgirl. Either due to 'science' the differently-composed air in the deep caverns somehow precipitated this giggle-fit, or alternatively Luke actually IS a schoolgirl and his portrayal of being an adult male with a job has been but a ruse. I also laughed a bit, mainly laughing at Luke laughing; a little like a schoolgirl laughing at another schoolgirl, but way more manly.
Woody, Luke and I completed the cavern-walk, then approximately two days later so did Mark. We joked that he must have stopped to take a picture of every rock in there, but he corrected us by telling us he'd actually taken two pictures of every rock in case one didn't come out properly.
We took the elevator out of the caverns and began the journey South-West to El Paso. We stopped briefly at a roadside historical marker detailing the events of the 'Salt War', an escalation of the 'Pepper Skirmish' that resulted from the 'Ketchup Conflict' during the 'Condiment Campaign'. But seriously, people died.
We arrived in El Paso late afternoon and headed straight to the border that our visas, car rental agreement and gut-reaction upon seeing it prevented us from crossing. Mexico doesn't look great, but we waved to it as we drove past the border-fence. I like to think that if any Mexicans had spotted the mildly condescending wave of comparatively-rich, white-privileged tourists actively avoiding setting foot in their country, they would have appreciated it.
We checked into the 'Budget Inn Motel', where the only thing 'budget' was the price, the rooms, the a/c units, the remoteless, CRT televisions and the general feeling of security whilst on the premises. We headed out to a nearby Mexican food place recommended by Mark's guidebook called 'Chicos Tacos' (the restaurant, not the guidebook). The signage proclaimed the chain to be an 'El Paso Institution', meaning it isn't good or successful enough to have expanded into other cities.
The food was as interesting as it was decent; that is to say, 'quite'. The 'Tacos' were narrow, crispy things served in a sort-of tomato-based 'soup'. The burritos were closer to expectations, though only loosely rolled and containing potato instead of rice. Maybe this is actual, proper Mexican food and what we've been eating from Old El Paso and BarBurrito are mutated renditions of the original traditional versions. Or maybe they're just fucking with the tourists.
Having earlier been the fabled 'Lukus Awakii-Firstus', Luke was tired so went back the motel after dinner whilst Mark, Woody and I headed down the street to a bar I'd found on Google Maps called 'Howie's Good Times'. En route we passed a place called 'Cabaret' advertising 'Girls, Girls, Girls ; topless and fully nude!'. This not being the 'good time' we were looking for (well, not for a moonlight-robbery $15 cover charge...) we continued on to Howies.
If you were to imagine a typical American bar, this would be it; neon lights, pool table, friendly/busty barmaid and a casually discriminatory attitude. We were made welcome on the express condition we weren't gay and we ordered a round of tequilas; not because any of us liked them but because we were near Mexico and it felt obligatory - or else I considered it obligatory and thrust this obligation unto the others.
Can honestly say I've never before enjoyed a tequila, but doing it 'properly' (lick of salt, shot, lime) as I've somehow never done before I found it surprisingly palatable. I had the idea that they should pre-mix these elements into one whole, long drink. Woody then told me what a Margarita was.
We staked out a spot at the end of the bar and our novelty value as 'travelling Brits' had soon drawn in a cluster of folk (Mike, Louie, Marc and Jennifer) with whom we chewed the fat regarding our trip, the differences between the US and UK, the dodgy reputation of the restaurant we'd just eaten at and the potential gastronomic distress we might subsequently and resultantly experience.
The owner was very proud of his beer selection, though with the majority imported from Europe they were slightly less-special to us. I had a California-brewed milk stout, Woody had a disgustingly fruity pale ale that he seemed to enjoy and Mark had something else. Though one of the key features of where we'd been seated had been duly noted by all of us, it was noticed as we left that we'd been sat in something a sign referred to as 'Horny Corner' with the 'breast view in the house'. Even considering the multitude of sights and viewpoints we've experienced this week, I know what I'd rather have on a postcard.Read more