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Posts from the ‘Music Festivals’ Category

FINAL FEW DAYS IN MONGOLIA

Our ger next to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

Our ger next to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

Each day of travel on this 14-day tour reveals a new universe. We sing Mongolian country songs in the car with MacGyver and Erka. Mare’s nickname is Jinjiimaa, and mine Chinggis Ron. Today, we find ourselves in volcanic country, where the Rock River runs.

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Ride through some moss-covered lava beds, from eruptions millions of years ago, and then camp in a ger alongside Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake). We look forward to reuniting with Speedy, and his family of tourists. Erka promises a special surprise for dinner tomorrow, our final night.

In the morning, Mare and I hike along White Lake. Yaks ignore us now, as if we have gone native. More likely, we smell like yaks.

Dinner

Dinner

After another hike up a modest mountain, we spot the suspected dinner for this evening’s celebration. “MacGyver bought a goat at the market,” Erka says. “I have some fireworks for our last celebration.”

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I decline the honor of slicing the throat of the goat. Instead, we take a horseback ride to Khorgo Uul, a huge volcanic crater. “Choo, choo!” We yell to keep the Mongolian horses moving during a downpour. We park them, and then climb the crater.

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The natives are restless back at camp, as we drink beer and watch the family butcher a goat. They give the goat head to the respected elder, and believe that eating the eyes will improve vision for elders, but not the young.

Every piece of the goat will be eaten, or used, except for the hoofs.

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MacGyver heats stones in a wood fire. After several hours, he places the stones into a milk can, with some water, and then adds goat meat. Potatoes and carrots top off the can, before a flat piece of rubber gasket seals the top. The stones will cook the goat for at least an hour. He also throws me a hot rock, which I pass from hand to hand. Erka explains that it will heal joint pain.

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After another wrestling draw, we all share a feast of fresh roasted goat…one of my favorite meals of this trip, tough but tasty.
Okay, gorged on goat and bloated with beer, Mare and I pass on the fireworks and head to the ger, for some fireworks of our own.

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We pile into the old Pathfinder early in the morning, for a long, final ride back to Ulaanbaatar. One final visit at a Monastery, Erdene Zuu Khild (100 treasures), which boasts being the first Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. Before Stalin’s Communist purge killed over 1,000 monks, this place on the Silk Road was growing into a trade center, which later moved to Beijing. Currently, it houses 40 student monks.

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“I have a feeling you will miss the Mongolian countryside,” Erka says. “It always makes me sad to return to the city, where most people only care about money. Country people are the real Mongolians. Hospitable and never expecting anything in return.”

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Thank you Erka and Amraa, for lasting memories of a different universe.

Erka, Amraa, Ron, Me, Guuve (Speedy), Sarnai

Erka, Amraa, Ron, Me, Guuve (Speedy), Sarnai

Next stop Sri Lanka!     Ron Mitchell

THE MAGIC YAK

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Yaks carry an unexplained mystic for us. We come upon a herd of yaks while driving through north/central Mongolia. MacGyver the driver stops long enough for Mare to take photos of the herd. Some of them resemble our past dogs. I can even see Jack, the yak.

The view from our tent

The view from our tent

The rest of our caravan arrives at the ger camp before us, on account of our stop, and take the last remaining gers for the night. What a break for us! We pitch a tent next to a river, rather than sleep in a ger with a tourist family. Thanks yaks!

Thank you Magic Yaks!

Thank you Magic Yaks!

Three drivers sleep in their vehicles about 100 feet from us. They want to protect us in case some Mongolians get wild from drinking vodka. We sip cool beers by the river, and pee under a dark sky glowing with the Milky Way. These are the most stars we have ever seen.

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After visiting Orkhon waterfalls, where we could not slip under, we hang with another herd of yaks. Then we enter a family’s ger. Mother fires up her wood burning stove with yak dung, and serves us hot yak milk, which is thicker and creamier than that made from other livestock. Soon, we eat fried bread doused with yak butter and cream, along with bits of dried yak cheese.

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Head onward to the Tsenkher Hot Springs, for a soak and a real shower! I stand naked in the men’s locker room when two female guides bring an entire family through on a tour. I shrug my shoulders, and they pretend to not look at me. At least the water is hot, and I do not have to deal with shrinkage issues.

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The next day, we drive through MacGyver the driver’s hometown province, where the terrain turns mountainous and pine covered. He stops along the road and purchases a plastic jug of fermented Mare’s milk.

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We down several glasses of the mixture…and then he purchases a jug of yak vodka (Mongolian moonshine) which is milky clear and much stronger. Yak vodka can lead to belly rubbing and wrestling.

Trouble brewing...

Trouble brewing…

We eventually set up a tent outside one of MacGyver’s friend’s ger…here comes another bottle of yak vodka, yogurt, dried cheese and then some snuff.

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Back at the yak herd, a cow gives milk to orphaned baby yaks. Mare, who grew up on a dairy farm, tries to milk the cow. The cow kicks the milk bucket, drenching one of the family members, who did not look happy. Mare does better with a yak. Go figure.

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Back to the tent. No beer tonight as our stomachs are ready to erupt from all the milk products. Here comes Erka with a bowl of homemade Mongolian noodles, mixed with yak meat…and yet another jug of yak vodka. With no outhouse here, we sleep with the tent unzipped and skip the second course of vodka.

Back on the road...

Back on the road…

In the morning, we go inside the ger to say thanks and goodbye. Here comes hot yak milk, butter, and a yak cheese that is as hard as Formica. Oh no, shots of store-bought vodka all around. They don’t want us to leave…they get bored out here and rarely have visitors. Hey, any excuse for a party. We pull ourselves away, and head north to Terkh Lake. Whew! Thanks, yaks. Ron Mitchell

CAMELS, DUNES, AND MARE’S MILK IN THE GOBI

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A bouncing, twisty ride brings us to a ger near the Khongor Sand Dunes…a remote area of the Gobi desert with extreme temperatures in summer and winter. MacGyver the driver, and Speedy, need to repair a broken stabilizer bar. First, though, they serve us fermented Mare’s milk, (from a horse, not my Mare) which has some alcohol content. We feel our stomachs simmer, and suspect that they are trying to get us drunk.

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A nearby herd of groaning camels produce an eerie song, similar to ghosts in distress.  Ah, “free day” this afternoon, as the two drivers and guides want to watch the Naadam wrestling finals. The family ger has a solar power panel, complete with flat screen television. The camel ride we expect will have to wait until tomorrow. These guys deserve a break anyway.

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After the drivers and company get liquored-up from Mare’s milk, two baby camels are stuck in the mud by the river, interrupting their sports viewing. Erka tells us that they had to dig down to the camels’ toes, and then pull…which stimulates a side effect of Mare’s milk…let’s call it colon cleansing. I picture them lying on the ground in mud and, well, you get the idea.

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The bond between MacGyver and I strengthens the next morning. We hunch down, stare at each other, and then clench at shoulder level. The wrestling match is on, baby. He is smaller than I, but incredibly strong, like a Mongolian horse. After a while, I throw him off of me, and neither one of us hits the ground…a draw, both of us out of breath, but we do the Mongolian victory dance anyway.

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Mount the camels, in between the humps. This feels like a circus ride, slowly moving in a single line around a very hot desert. After the ride, they want to drive us to the dunes, but we decline, with a plan to climb them ourselves early tomorrow morning. Bring out the hot cans of beer.

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At five o’clock in the morning we walk to the Khongor Dunes, which are about 1,000 feet high and 70 miles long. Of course, they move with the wind like a slow, slithering snake. Barefoot, we crab-crawl sideways to climb this steep mountain of soft sand.

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Take a breath every 15 or so strokes. Finally, we reach the top, where a gust of sandy wind greets us with a blast.  All alone at the top, we watch the sunrise.

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Fly down the dune, stepping and sinking in knee deep sand, sliding to the bottom. Can’t believe that we still have callouses on our feet.

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MacGyver hooks a welder to a generator, and repairs the broken stabilizer bar. Off we go…bouncing and twisting, testing the weld. Hours later, we stop in a random ger, sip hot goat milk with salt, (try not to swallow the little floating black things) and eat lunch of ramen soup. A teenage boy serenades us with his flute, made from PVC pipe. Lots of fermented milk lately. Stomachs starting to boil.

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On the road, we stop at Ongiin Khiid Monastery ruins, where in 1939, Stalin’s Communist Purge bombed, murdered and tortured over 1,000 Buddhist Monks.
Finally, a ger camp with a shower! Okay, barely more than a cool, dripping faucet, but enough to take off at least one layer of grime and stench…Tomorrow we head to Orkhon waterfalls and maybe stand under a real shower.    Ron Mitchell

NAADAM IN RURAL MONGOLIA

Horse races at local Naadam festival

Horse races at local Naadam festival

Let the games begin! Mare and I are fortunate to observe Naadam in the rural town of Dalanzagad, where the entire village participates. The most traditional form of celebrating these games of archery, wrestling, and horseback riding are found in the small villages.

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Archers of all ages and genders compete for the highest score of their province.

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Wrestlers clench each other until one of them touches the ground, with any body part except the hand. They have no time limit. Wrestlers are the heroes of Mongolia, held in the highest esteem.

The bullpen

The bullpen

There is only one champion, and no weight classes. A six-time champion recently lost the presidential election, but collected 44% of votes.

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Mare and I devour skewers of mutton with tender cubes of fat, along with several khuushuurs (fried mutton pancakes), while waiting for the most exciting event…horse racing.

Traditional Naadam food, khuushuur - fried mutton pancakes

Traditional Naadam food, khuushuur – fried mutton pancakes

The best jockeys, between ages 10 and 11, run the small, powerful Mongolian horses for 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) before crossing the finish line.

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The winners of all 29 Provinces in the country advance to the center city of Ulaanbaatar the following year, where one champion will emerge from each of the three games.

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Mongolians are not good at team sports,” Erka says. “They need individual dominance. It’s not in their nature to take one for the team.”

Tsagaan Suvraga

Tsagaan Suvraga

It is time to bounce and sway on the southbound road, towards the Gobi Desert. The landscape transforms into Arizona-like terrain. Rugged roads lead to Tsagaan Suvraga, where huge limestone formations rise from the limitless, flat landscape.

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Bam! The rear stabilizer bar snaps in half. While MacGyver works his magic, Mare and I walk with Erka through Yolyn Am canyon, which fills with ice in the winter.

Yolyn Am

Yolyn Am

MacGyver fixes the broken stabilizer by cutting a long strip of rubber, from a tire inner tube, and wrapping a metal pole around the bar with the rubber…a temporary repair that works.

Onward to Bayanzag, (flaming cliffs) which resemble the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale. By now, the Gobi sun bakes us. Erka, Mare and I lose the path on top of the cliffs, and find relief by backtracking to the vehicle.

Having no shower for days, we smell pretty rank. Back at the ger, we are happy to sip hot beer, and await “ger service” of a mixed mutton dish. We share some of our store bought beer with a Chilean couple, and a woman from Indonesia.

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Tomorrow, we head to sand dunes in the heart of Gobi, where MacGyver hopes to find additional tools for much needed repairs. Thank you Abundant Universe!      Ron Mitchell

EXCURSION INTO THE SOUL OF MONGOLIA

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“Comin’ to ya…down a dusty road…, Good Mutton, I got a truckload.” (Mongolian Soul Man)

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We take off on a 14-day excursion into the wild Mongolian countryside, after booking this tour through the Khongor Guest House. Into the old Nissan Pathfinder we go, with Amraa, our driver, and our English speaking guide, Erka.

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Soon, we bounce and twist over impossible dirt roads, often blazing new trails.

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After sleeping the night in a ger, a herd of nanny goats awakens us with their cries, while horses whinny, and dogs bark in the distance.

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In the Mongolian countryside, you never know who will walk into your ger.

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“There are 3 million people in Mongolia,” Erka says. “We have over 40 million livestock.” We pass herds of two-hump camels the deeper we delve into the Gobi Desert. The small weeds we roll over smell like onions. Erka explains that they are herbal, used as medicine, as well as sprinkled onto potatoes.

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This land goes on forever. It feels like I’m standing on the North Pole, looking around and down the slope of Planet Earth. Countless individual cotton balls cloud the bluest sky.

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We come upon a family in the middle of nowhere, whose car has a broken front axle. Amraa (who earns the nickname MacGyver) jumps out, as does the other driver, Guuve (who earns the nickname Speedy). Guuve follows us in his Land Cruiser with three other tourists, as it is safer to travel with two cars in the Gobi.

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They get right to work, and remove the front axle, replace and grease bearings, strap a long bolt along the broken axel and wrap cable around it. One-hour later, the family is back on the road. Guuve was once broken down out here for two days before another car came by to help. Everybody helps each other without saying a word. It is the Mongolian way.

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Erka cooks for us. Nescafe every morning, and mutton mixtures most days, along with bottled water. A bond between the four of us begins to build, as we drive many hours each day listening to Mongolian country music, while marveling at the endless view, as well as the driving skills of MacGyver.IMG_1946

Having cooked meals is the only luxury out here. Going to the bathroom means an outhouse where you squat over a hole between two planks of wood.

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The other option is to walk out into the vast steppes, where you have a much better view. We hope our supply of toilet paper lasts.

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Nomadic families fold up their gers and move four times yearly, with the extreme seasons, to care for their herds. Mare and I usually sleep in one of their extra gers. Erka approaches these families and asks if they have room for us. They never say “No.” In fact, they enjoy the company, and offer us bowls of fresh goat yogurt, as well as Suutei tsai, which in this part of Mongolia, is hot goat milk with salt.

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We sit outside the ger in the evening, usually with a can of warm beer. The exhilaration and awe of this “other” world inspires a foreign spirit within us.

Along the way tomorrow, we hope to catch a local Naadam festival, an annual celebration of Mongolian Independence. This holiday features competitive games of archery, wrestling, and horse racing…an integral part of the Mongolian soul.     Ron Mitchell

MONGOLIA, HOME OF CHINGGIS KHAAN

Chinggis Khaan Statute outside of Nalaikh

Chinggis Khaan Statute outside of Nalaikh

Ride a Mongolian horse through Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Try not to fall off, while gazing at crazy rock formations that surround a lush valley. Families live in gers (yurts), and tend to free roaming cows, horses, and tourists.

Riding horses in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Riding horses in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

A family tends to Mare and I, providing a ger for sleep, as well as three meals…mutton with pasta, mutton with potatoes, and then mutton with rice. Ain’t nutton’ like mutton! Fresh, unpasteurized yogurt is served for dessert.

Mutton, mutton, mutton

Mutton, mutton, mutton and carbs!

Climb turtle rock for a panoramic view of the valley.

Can you see the Turtle?

Can you see the Turtle?

We walk about every dirt road we can find. I use my one and only great talent of finding a beer in every country, and soon we drink warm cans of local brew.

Finding beer in the middle of Mongolia

Finding beer in the middle of Mongolia

Only 3 million people live in this vast country. Roughly half of them live in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Just yesterday, we were dodging them on the streets, where impossible traffic congestion shows no respect for pedestrians.

Parliament House in Sukhbaatar Square

Parliament House in Sukhbaatar Square

Roam around the great bronze statues of Sukhbaatar, and Chinggis Khann, at the massive Sukhbaatar Square.

The Victims of Political Persecution....

The Victims of Political Persecution….

We visit the Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum, which graphically displays the communist effort to eliminate Mongolia’s intellectuals and “revolutionaries.”

Ger for the night

Ger for the night

The spirit of Chinggis Khan, embedded in the Mongolian people, eventually overcomes all would be conquerors. Mongolia remains an independent country that cherishes its cultural history, which always welcome travelers with a smile, and what they need for survival.

Two weeks on these roads could be a LONG time

Two weeks on these roads could be a LONG time

We are on our way back to the city, bouncing on dirt roads and dodging cows.

Sunset from the train our first night in Mongolia

Sunset from the train our first night in Mongolia

At the Khongor Guest House, we arrange a 14-day Gobi Desert excursion, which will give Mare and I more than just a taste of this vast, fascinating country, not to mention a local Naadam Festival or two…stay tuned! Thank you Abundant Universe.  Ron Mitchell

Atlin Arts & Music Festival

Young boys gather around a picnic table. Two large plastic bottles of Vodka on the tabletop hold their gaze…until they spot Mare and Jack and I backing-up the pickup truck about three feet away from their tent. A sign with an arrow pointing south reads, “Quiet Campground.” A sign with an arrow pointing the other direction reads, “Not So Quiet Campground.” We slip into the ambiguous border, like back in time when the smoking section on a commercial airplane ended at aisle eighteen.

“This place is already full,” a man camping on the other side of us says. He’s about my age, but camping with a group of young children. I wonder how he will deal with the obscenities spewing from the young boys next door. The man continues, “You should be okay in that spot. Just leave room for folks to walk through.” He points to a strip of mowed grass that separates a patch of weeds from another crowded campground, perhaps the quiet one?

Sixty-miles off of the Alcan Highway, a twisty gravel road with constant summertime construction leads to Atlin, British Columbia. The lone road also leads back out. This town of 400 population thrived during the gold rush of 1898. Now, it survives as a destination point that sits along the largest natural lake in British Columbia, Canada.

The Atlin Arts & Music Festival is back, after a one-year absence. (Annual event since 2003) Pets are strongly discouraged, and no amplified music will be permitted in the campgrounds. Acoustic jams are okay…ahem, heavy metal blares from the boys next to us, while dogs roam freely.

We lock Jack the dog in the back, (where we will also sleep for the next two nights) and head for the music venue. A band called, “Home Sweet Home” from Whitehorse, Yukon performs fiddle music with two fiddlers and one guitarist. Nice. Next up is “Headwater” who strum fiddles, acoustic bass and ukeleles for a toe-tapping crowd. This band earns a billing in the program as “a fine, old-fashioned acoustic quartet from Vancouver who works their asses off.”

Back at not-so-quiet-camp we find our coach hemmed-in…behind us two women (one whom I recognize from a laundromat in Haines) pitch a tent which blocks the “walk-through.” In front of us a man finishes building a picnic table with a chain saw. He walks toward me. “Hello, I’m Wally.” We shake hands. He resembles Crocodile Dundee with a hat and no shirt. 

“Ron, you and Marilynn are cool neighbors.” He grabs two beers from the cooler and hands them  to us. “Don’t make any plans for dinner tomorrow night. I’m cooking a sockeye on genuine Yukon logs.” I thank him. He talks as he pitches his tent. “The first time I tried to set up this tent I was at a Grateful Dead concert in Buffalo. I did some acid and couldn’t figure it out, so ended up using it as a sleeping bag.”

The nineteen-year-olds next to us get me high. Soon, Mare and Jack and I sit back and absorb the atmosphere. Wally yells from his chair, “Ron! Hey Ron, make sure to eat some sockeye with me tomorrow.” I thow him a thumbs-up.

The nineteen-year-olds now drink Rum from the bottle and a few women join them. They get me high again. One guy climbs under the truck cap and cuddles with Jack and Mare, who is not quite sure what to make of it. A light darkness descends.

Before I know it, I am shirtless and nineteen-year-olds line up to take turns punching my stomach. (Abs of flab become abs of steel after a buzz) Thankfully, they know not the art of throwing a punch, and they are drunk. They get me high. I have to go to bed. Still, they stick their heads into the back of our truck. “We want to be cool like you guys when we get old.” I hand them my notepad and tell them to write something that I can read in the morning. When I looked at it later, all they did was draw penises and Chinese Dragons swallowing babies.

We wake to the sound of nineteen-year-olds retching. They look as horrible as they feel. On the other hand, I feel better than I deserve. Mare and I try our best to avoid the horrendous, (4) outhouses on the crowded grounds. Mare wins that battle.

After some coffee and scrambled eggs, we shoe to the venue and witness “Laughing Yoga.”Yes, widen your mouth, stick out your tongue as far as you can, and laugh powerfully from deep within your belly. Do this for fifteen minutes.

Back at camp, we sit behind the truck where weeds smell like puke. “Ron!” Wally yells. “Sockeye at six o’clock.” He waves us over for a beer.

I like the CD you’re playing, Wally.”

He pulls it from the player. “It’s your’s. Keep it.”

“I didn’t mean”…he interrupts.”No, you love it more than I do.” Wally tells us a story about his best friend. A woman liked his friend’s shirt, so the friend took it off and asked her to trade shirts. She said that her shirt only cost about five bucks. His was crafted while he was in Tibet. He gave her the shirt because she loved it more than he did. “Ron, I don’t want to get too attached to material things.”

Mare, Jack and I walk to the waters of Atlin Lake. Jack dunks under and retrieves rocks, while Mare and I share beers with two bush pilots. They tell stories of falling through thin ice and into the Yukon river, lucky to survive. One pilot is from Arizona. 

Soon, we eat sockeye with Wally and about fifteen other people. Shawn, his camping buddy, rips apart cardboard from a 12-pack, and makes plates and utensils with it. Elbow macaroni in tomato sauce compliments the dish, along with desert brownies brought by others. We bring wine. What a great dinner. What awesome folks. This crowded get-along-well-with-others spews love, like a Canadian Woodstock.

Back at the music venue, jazzy, energetic trumpets, accordions and guitars from “Maria in the Shower” blow us away. One musician plays accordion with one hand, and holds a trumpet to his lips with the other. Afterwards, we sit cross-legged in the front row where Tom Jackson incites our tears with his touching lyrics and baritone, country voice.

Wally appears in the beer garden. I notice that he actually owns a shirt. We hug like long, lost friends. He wants to buy us a beer, but we are worn and want to head back. A group of folks party the entire night at Wally’s site, but Wally is in bed, like us. We wake again in the morning to the sound of nineteen-year-olds retching. Time to hit the road, so we snake the truck through the tents. However, I could not bear to leave before placing my business card on Wally’s windshield.

A woman from the all-night party group sticks her head in Mare’s window. “Are you okay? Did we bother you too much last night?”

“No, not at all.” I grab her hand and kiss the top of it. Then I become aware that she had just emerged from the outhouse.