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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTales of Retirement in Paradise 

Chapter 11: Below the High Water Mark
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars

Fantastic dolphin ride at Vallarta Adventures Dolphin experience in Nuevo Vallarta

Husband and me with two of our most lovable friends

Mountain Man Todd and me at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona

Husband filming the grandeur that is the Grand Canyon

We went down, down, down until it was just us, the river and the magnificent canyon.

Dressed to the gills for the upcoming shooting of the rapids!
This tale is not about Puerto Vallarta. I am including it for two reasons: one, I want to tell you about a fantastic program for us retired folks - Elder Hostel, and two, I want you to understand that living in México has not dulled my appreciation for the beauty that is the United States of America or lessened my admiration for the wonderful Americans who work so hard to keep our country the finest in the world.

(The same reasons for including this Tale stand today and I am very hopeful that our Democratic President who will be elected in November of this year will begin to restore the greatness that was ours when I wrote this book in 1995!)

"Ride the Rapids of the Colorado," "Swim with the Dolphins," "Walk the Great Wall of China," "Dive the Barrier Reef of Belize." Advertisements for an adventure club? No! My list of things to do during this lifetime. I am rapidly marking them off and soon will have to come up with a whole new list, which I assure you won't be hard. (As predicted, I was able to mark all ten of them off several years ago and am now working on my new list!)

On our trip to Cozumel I marked off "Swim with the Dolphins" when I not only swam, but danced, frolicked and lay perfectly still in the water as they jumped over me. Then came the highlight of my adventure; sandwiched between two bottle-nose dolphins, I held tightly to their pectoral fins and sailed through the water for the ride of my life! (Since then Husband and I have swum with the delightful dolphins here in Vallarta with "Vallarta Adventures" and it is still ranks up there as one of the great thrills of a lifetime!)

The next year we walked the Great Wall of China, an immense wall constructed to keep the rest of world out. We were astounded at the size and extent of the wall, and the idea that a wall could keep the rest of the world at bay. But what really overwhelmed us were the tiny shops of the entrepreneurs that dotted the streets, the thousands of Chinese tourists who, after forty years, were finally seeing their own treasures, and the people's incredible interest in everything American. This was tangible evidence of the human spirit's longing for freedom of choice that in time, prevails over any system that tries to mold everyone into one mediocre entity.

That leaves only the "Dive the Barrier Reef of Belize" on my list. But, not to worry, we plan to take care of that with another Elder hostel trip in the Fall of 1995. (We did it and it was fantastic! We have since dived the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and reefs in several other seas and I have to say that Belize's reef ranks right up there with the very best. Let's just hope that we have to sense to do what needs to be done to protect those grand reefs and our small ones right here in the Bahia de Banderas.)

Now back to the subject at hand - our adventure on the rapids of the Colorado River in Arizona's magnificent Grand Canyon. Husband and I signed up for a seven-day Elder Hostel program billed, "Grand Canyon: The Ultimate Adventure."

The adventure started with an uneventful two and one-half day drive in the old VW van (no banditos, no car trouble and no nights in exotic motels) to Yavapai College, Prescott, Arizona's unique community college. Situated a mile up into the blue Arizona sky, and surrounded by over one million acres of National Forest, it is the ideal setting for studying the natural and human history of the canyon.

Our coordinator, Dedicated Dave, a mild mannered man of infinite patience and understanding, greeted us warmly. He described the activities for the coming week and gave us thumbnail sketches of the instructors. He tried to assuage the fears of those who envisioned death by drowning, snake bite, or rock slide, as well as those whose main worry was to plug in the hair dryer or the electric razor.

He explained the working of the cafeteria that we shared with the regular students and the regs of the local motel in which we were housed. He distributed the course material and recommended early-to-bed as it would be early-to-rise all week.

The next day we gathered eagerly for the first lecture, "The Geology of the Grand Canyon." Our instructor, Mike the Wild Man, greeted us behind long, wiry red hair and a beard gone wild. Not even a really bad hair day could explain his look; only the bone in his nose was missing. His love of the Canyon and its origins, as well as his vast knowledge of the subject, came through as clearly as his voice; we soon forgot to look at the hair and beard.

Hold on a minute! Geologic time had to wait a little longer. What the participants wanted to know immediately - what was uppermost on their minds - was how did they go to the bathroom while on this rafting adventure on the river? You would never believe the number and variety of questions that can be asked on this subject and would find it even harder to believe some of the answers.

First of all, he declared, the temperature of the Colorado is somewhere between 40° and 45° F. That was shocking enough for me. I won't put a toe in the Pacific if it falls below 70º. When he went on to say we would be constantly inundated by the frigid water, thus continually wet and cold, bathroom problems, for me, shrank in comparison.

However, the rest of the group was not to be derailed. Educated men and women - all highly trained in their own professions - wanted this bathroom deal spelled out! What soon became abundantly clear was that with five million visitors a year in the Canyon, rules of sanitation had to be strictly followed. (1) Thunder Boxes (self explanatory, eh?) would be provided at the camp site. They were strictly reserved for solid waste! Thank God we were on the honor system! (2) Liquid waste was to be deposited "below the high water mark." (3) Each person would carry a plastic bag for paper with eventual placement in large trash bags.

Sounded simple enough. The questions finally ceased, and Mike got on with the geology. Later small groups of women, (not being as well equipped to handle this problem as our spouses) huddled together to discuss where the high water mark was and how we would find it. I had visions of waking up in the middle of the night (as I am wont to do), wading out into that freezing water until you could no longer see anything but my head (my personal high water mark), taking care of business, and spending the rest of the night in cold wet agony.

Others had the same idea. Finally, the word spread that the high water mark was on the shore. We could find it by looking at where the ground had been wet and could safely find an area both private (well, maybe semi-private) and dry. Sweet relief! Interest grew once again in the geology, flora and fauna.

Soon we boarded a bus for our first field trip with Dedicated Dave and Gentle Joanne, wife of Wild Man Mike. Talk about opposites attracting! Joanne was comely, soft-spoken and so sensitive to nature she wouldn't even pluck a leaf or a wild flower for her explanations, preferring to leave everything as she found it.

After a scenic and educational walk around the lake where we learned much of the local flora, lunch was served - a sumptuous barbecue lunch. Mountain Man Todd followed with a remarkable "show and tell."

As a local youngster, he became so intrigued with the lifestyle of the legendary Mountain Men that he devoted his life to learning everything about them, including how to make the tools and clothes of the era. He greeted us dressed in full regalia: tight buckskin trousers, black beaver hat, rifle encased in beaded and fringed leather. Todd sported a nicely trimmed, bushy black beard and mustache which enhanced his friendly smile, his sparkling eyes, and his authentic Mountain Man look.

This modern Mountain Man took us back to the days when mountain men and local Indians trapped beaver, scraped and stretched the pelts, and traded them for beads, blankets, mirrors, food, guns, and ammunition. We were transported to another time as this earnest young man held us spellbound.

As the week progressed, we absorbed the culture of the Grand Canyon's ancient peoples from Dave. Mike infused us with his enthusiasm for its geology and archeology. Thus prepared, we boarded the bus to the South Rim of the Canyon. There, backpacks filled with canteens, cameras, film and the prescribed plastic bags, we climbed down, down, down into the canyon.

My brain struggled with the incredible sight before us and thought of the eons of time of its creation. Pink, gray, blue and purple granite - folded, melted and solidified, molded, eroded and uplifted - all channeled down the center by the mud laden Colorado. Birth, death and renewal had cycled endlessly in this stark and harshly beautiful canyon.

Each of us met the canyon in her own way; some stayed at the top, others climbed part way down. A few of us die hards kept going until Mike thought we had reached the level of our competence. We turned boulder niches into seats and, in silence, surveyed the vastness.

The experience was very personal; a doctor told me he could only liken it to hearing Beethoven for the first time. Some felt a commonalty with their Maker; others were caught in the seemingly endless evidence of time. Though from different origins and directions, the ultimate feelings of awe and reverence we felt while perched on the outcrops of the Grand Canyon's wall, accorded each of us an unequaled life experience.

By now we were beginning to know each other. We were from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and of course Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, México. We were business people. doctors, engineers, homemakers, nurses, professors, public servants, and teachers, Even a big shot from the Elder Hostel's Boston office joined us for the trip. He was there for a first time experience like the rest of us. As the days passed thirty-some strangers were melding into a cohesive family.

Polly G. Vicars and her husband of 57 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.

Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars.

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the included information for research and educational purposes • m3 © 2008 BanderasNews ® all rights reserved • carpe aestus