My black water tank is already half full after only four days here, which may be a bad sign for future boondocking trips. I sort of feel guilty about it, but hey! when you gotta go, you gotta go. Am I flushing with too much water? Using too much toilet paper? I'll have to ask Gary and Judie.
Got my first SKP (Escapees RV club) hug from Betty, who's staying with her husband Bill in a dilapidated travel trailer in the next site over from Gertie. They're from Texas, but are planning to live here in Arizona. Bill is a huge, toothless bear of a man with a foot that's badly infected due to diabetes, and requires daily treatments; he gets around the campground on an Amigo electric scooter (the four-wheeled variety). They have a Chihuahua—a very calm one!--named Beethoven.
At about 10:30 Judie, Pauline and I left in Pauline's Jeep Cherokee to see the monastery at St. David. Pauline gave us more than our money's worth, as she offered a detailed running commentary on the people and places between Sierra Vista, Benson and St. David, taking us on several interesting side-road digressions. To tell the truth, the area we drove through was pretty depressing—parched and economically depressed. Many properties were abandoned, including some that people had obviously put a tremendous amount of work into beautifying with ponds, greenery (now black and brown) and so on. When we stopped at a convenience store, the local newspaper's headline read "EXPERTS WARN DROUGHT WILL GET WORSE."
We were stopped by the Border Patrol on the way to St. David—a standard INS roadblock. A bored, very Hispanic fellow took a quick look at us and asked whether we were all US citizens. (I resisted the momentary temptation to reply "How about you?") We could hardly have looked more Anglo, so he waved us on.
The monastery at St. David was beautiful even in drought. Oddly, the monastery also has private homes and an RV park (!) on the grounds. Judie wondered aloud why anyone would want to live in this situation, but to my eye it was by far the most attractively landscaped place we'd seen in a generally desolate (by New Jersey standards) area. I could well imagine wanting to live near the monastery's woods and gardens.
Apparently the monks are mostly self-sufficient, but supplement the monastery's income by selling honey. There was a little store near the entrance, but a sign announced that it would not reopen until midafternoon...and we knew we weren't going to stay that long. I did, however, stop long enough to photograph a beautifully shaped wooden bench on the store's cool, shady veranda.
The monastery is dominated by a truly enormous cross—easily 80 or 90 feet high. I couldn't figure out whether it was made of concrete or steel, but it must have been a fairly challenging engineering task. We wandered around for about 45 minutes, following the stations of the cross (a kind of scavenger hunt for Catholics) and reading all the tombstones in the tiny cemetery. Several bore the star of David, which surprised me. The monastery's founder, a man named Hasenfuss (German for "rabbit foot") who was originally from Dedham, Massachusetts, had just died the week before at age 68, according to the local paper.
About halfway through the stations of the cross we passed a roadside drainage culvert with a trickle of water flowing in it. Pauline insisted on lingering by that culvert to listen for a few minutes to the water flowing—such a precious sound in this arid land.
Leaving the monastery, Pauline drove us to Luiz's Mexican restaurant in Benson for a not-too-memorable meal. I have seldom had Mexican/southwestern food I didn't like, but my chicken tortilla salad managed to be greasy and unappetizing. I ate about half of it and then plead a full belly. When we asked about deserts, we learned that everything they had was deep-fat fried. I decided instead to eat the apple I'd brought with me , and we headed back to Sierra Vista with Judie driving while I chomped on a juicy Mac.
Gertie was above 90° F. when I got back, so I turned on the swamp cooler. This is the second day I've used it, and in this dry climate it really does work. As I write this, the temperature is 82° after about an hour of operation. I'm going to need all the cooling I can get, because I have promised to make my Mexican chicken for Gary and Judie tonight, and I'm going to be using Gertie's oven. Luckily, the temperature drops rapidly after sundown and Gary and Judie aren't coming over until 7:00.
— Later —
Well, the dinner didn't exactly come off as planned. I had spent some time rearranging things so that there'd be room for the three of us at the table. (Despite all the storage room this rig has, things are a bit cluttered at present because every bit of available space is packed with Judie's and Gary's stuff, so there is no room for me to put away my own belongings!) Judie truly did pack an incredible amount of kitchen stuff in here—for example, the oven (which I needed to bake the chicken dish) was absolutely crammed with pots and pans. But by stacking unused cookware on the van front seats and rearranging the stereo, I managed to make Gertie look presentable for company. I even set the table with Judie's fancy placemats.
Then I prepared the chicken. Everything went fine until I tried to light the oven...and couldn't. Judie was here by that time (Gary was napping after a very difficult afternoon with last-minute problems on his software project) and neither of us could get the main burner to light, though the pilot lit up just fine. After about ten minutes we gave up and Judie carried the two rolls of chicken-stuffed filo back to Tessie to bake in her oven. Of course that meant we ate at their place, so all my preparations were for naught.
The Mexican chicken turned out very well and both Gary and Judie were very appreciative. It made me feel good to be able to do something in return after all they've done for me. When you think about it, it's quite remarkable: they invite me down here, let me stay in their motorhome for a week and a half, feed me, take me to see the local sights, give me the use of one of their cars...these are unusually generous people. Gary and I are getting along well and becoming friends; I've enjoyed our after-dinner conversations (even though they keep me up late and I fear I'll have some serious jet-lag to deal with when I get back to New Jersey).