Entering the land of the Tohono O’Odham native Americans
Cycling in the USA is like being inside a kaleidoscope. It is so changeable, landscapes go from cacti-tales to magnificent Irish-alike highlands. It is, of course, spacious too. As soon as we get out of a town we are right into the Nature, and it takes hours before we see another place to buy groceries. We are really in the wilderness but it never really feels like, it is all safe and taken care for. Signboards, information plaques and checkpoints are plenty and parks even have emergency buttons for ‘lost’ Mexicans. Riding through Native land comes closer to the untamed feeling though. It seems to be more normal. I don’t think the Tohono people drag buggy’s behind their RV’s. They may have huge casino’s to make money but they seem to lack the need for more, more and more.
Cycling through Native land we come upon a positive looking town with an optimistic feel, the only one. Business is going well enough in Sells. The supermarket, an Arizona family branch, doesn’t sell wine or beer, something I find out after searching the store 3 times over. People seem to have big alcoholic issues and therefore alcohol is banned. So that is a big difference, another oddity is that we are not attacked by pit-bulls, instead I am asked for something to eat by a skinny, scabby, hairless, once white pit-bull.
The native people of this land are beautiful with light tanned, strong faces. The look in the men’s eyes is often a fiercely yet soft one. Long black shiny hair for both men and women, but often bulky fat bodies. I am also gaining some weight, as Tom and I stop at every eatery and each shop we see, although most are closed, the natives don’t see much worth in opening their roadside shops.
Cactus branded in the dark of my eyes
I get the feeling the Tohono O’Odham’s are another kind. Their land is unspoiled and they don’t seem to be as materialistic as their American brothers. Perhaps it has to do with poverty, as the housing of the O’Odham’s consist mostly of shacks and a miss-match of wooden trailers surrounded by crap. I can’t help it but thinking of a country in development, yet there is an enormous awareness for Nature as the land is empty. Simply empty. No dirt and no disturbing half finished buildings. The O’Odhams, and I guess that counts for all the Native Americans, horde together, unlike the Americans who often want to break free from community and their duties and get a ‘slice of heaven’ out in the desert, all alone. Here in the O’Odham reserve it is pure beauty. The ‘slice of heaven’ here is a big, big chunk. Unspoiled Nature where millions of cacti may grow as they please, although cutting a cactus is against the law all over Arizona.
After the rain little orange and yellow flowers sprout up. The roadside holds a kind of reddish, ocher and orange algae with a fluorescent intensity. As far as our eyes can reach we see dark olive-green creosote, tall saguaro’s and pale green prickly plants, growing on hilly ground, onto mountains and far over it. And that’s where we camp. We enter another beautiful camp spot through gates which are open or which note ‘close the gate behind you’.
One such early evening, we decide to stop after a huge midday meal not long after we had breakfast -but the chance to eat burritos and corn chips with salsa is something we can not ignore-. We end up on a patch reminding me of a botanical garden. Wild donkeys frisk around, trying to defend their territory and everywhere, just éverywhere are cacti. Super high saguaro’s, organ pipes, prickly pair, ocatillo, many cholla’s, all kind of fishhook barrel’s, and pincushion’s. Their needles stick in and under my skin and won’t leave for months.
Ton and I take a bag of Lil’ Dutch Maid Ginger Cookies to complement our already overflowing belly’s. In the tent I close my eyes for a moment and see little saguaro’s floating on my iris. Little on my retina but sometimes over 20 meters high!
Stealth camping with a huge flickering flames
Never am I cold, although temperatures goes down to minus 5. We always built a fire, whether it is raining or not, and I am always made a huge chai, which I drink perched very close to the fire. Of course, fires are not really the best way to be unseen, especially not in native land where all the land which meets the road is fenced. Cycling on the Ajo–Tucson road bordering Mexico we see more border patrol vehicles than any other road. The guards drive along the fences slowly, thereby not overriding the very tasty ‘shaggy mane’ mushroom which we eat for breakfast the next day. A delicate taste as it were an unknown tropical ocean food.
Cycling on the rather quiet roads of the state route 86 we see many graves equipped with bottles or stone urns, I think it is to mark the reason of their dead. The graves are often very kitschy and adorned, yet I don’t stop to admire it, we do stop to spot the Crested Caracara, or a miniature hill with ants. I get to see a tiny bird called Black Tailed Gnatcatcher, a huge Turkey vulture and an impressive Great Horned owl up close, but unfortunately all dead. The owl is such a magnificent beast yet so delicate that I pick its remarkable light body up to let it rot in a quieter spot.
What about the people of America?
I really wonder about people’s lifestyle. Never are we invited. I guess it is because we now are two people (loving our privacy). And perhaps because this is America, not Kurdistan. When we cycle through housing-schemes, mostly shaggy trailers or a seemingly thoughtless set up of fenced-off wooden houses, I try to have a look inside. I try to eye the people at the post office really well, I try to gauge the customers in the supermarket, I try to view the people sitting high behind the glass window of their RV. I try to get an idea about the people who are often so open and friendly to me when I wait for Ton when he’s in the supermarket. I imagine how their living room is, how they eat and where they sleep. I don’t come any further with my investigation than I did in Oman: people simply do not invite us. Would I be here on my own, I would make use of Coach Surfing or Warm Showers -since I can not afford the hotel rates- I would knock on someone’s door to fetch water or simply give in to my curiosity, and sleep over.
On the other hand, now we get to choose exactly where we want our camp, we choose spots mostly unseen from the road. Even when we pile-up the wood lavishly and ignite it in huge orange flames, we are reasonable sure no one notice us.
A few hours before dusk an opposite car, a police vehicle, comes our way. He roars his siren and have us stop. Its a local police, he must know we have slept the night on his land. Land which is all fenced off but has signs saying ‘please close the gate’. He asks us: ‘Are you heading to Tucson today?’ We answer ‘yes, we do’ and he must guess we are not cycling 30 kilometer an hour, thus sleeping the night again at his Land. We can’t make it to Tucson in one day -especially not since the winter days are short and we never start before 10 o’clock- although we are 70 kilometer removed from it. This police is the first policeman who shows human interest, all the border patrol cops are either bored or chatting about football with their equally dull colleague. ‘Be careful, people drive fast here and it get’s dark soon,’ and he slowly pulls up.
Different countries, different police
Apparently, American police may not stop people who do not trespass the rules of the country, whether they are legal or illegal. Police may not ask for your passport or identity card if there’s no reason for it. I do not mind at all: I was followed by Nigerian undercover who insisted to show him my passport. Which I did by holding it myself firmly, surely not handing it over. I was followed in Iraq too but I did not hand over my passport where the sincerely friendly police excused himself and said ‘sorry madam’. Indian police wanted a proof of approval, to which I lie I was getting that very document in the town I was heading to. Iranian police was very often a grotesque show of power, although the new rule forbade tourists cycling in the country. So, I don’t mind police stopping me over, that is not having said I will be cooperative, but it is surely an interaction with the local people.
I might have said that there is no culture in USA, no culture in food at least. We all know about obesity and where it might have started. Enormous supermarkets selling gallons and kilo’s of whatever processed not so real food does not have to be the reason of an unhealthy diet. Cycling neither. Even so I eat quite large quantities and never have I eaten so many cookies. I have gained about 7 kilo, but that is fine because I came from a low amoeba weight. And I am a cyclist. Food. Food. Food. And therefore I am so surprised to see this line in a far away town in Arizona: ‘A healthy diet cures more than a good doctor’
‘A healthy diet cures more than a good doctor’
I should have believed Ton when he said that a pizza can be delicious without tomato paste. I should have known better because when in Mata Amritanandamayi Devi ashram there was such great food to be found that my taste buds were as enlightened as when Amma & her crew start singing. This food was mostly made by Americans, yes! Ton brings me the best, most authentic yet incredible renewed and original pizza’s from Tucson’s Time Market Deli & Pizza. Farmer markets and organic supermarkets sell many kind of tasty granola bars and Medjool dates are no better anywhere else, although I cycled to Mauritania to find the best.
It is a fact that much food is made from corn syrup and that a lot of items are just not real. But not the items with ‘real fresh’, ‘real mayonnaise’ and ‘real farm’ on it.
Real bagels -I don’t really know for sure if they’re real- with sesame seeds are popular by others too. I hear a plastic bag fall from my bicycle, something unusual since the great stack of food is placed neatly balanced on my bicycle and around our campfire. Falling items are a failure on my part, quite an impossibility. When I hear another sound of the plastic bag, I shine my light and the beam hits two round little eyes. A blondish desert fox tries to steal the sesame seeds bagel.
There are more animals in our camp. The evidence shows itself usual in the mornings, when I go back to my own appointed toilet, to see my heap of faeces turned over, toilet paper messed around and sometimes my collection of processed food is simply gone.
To be continued… yes, the fox does continue such things, as well as this story.