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You know you’re in Texas when

--when the bas relief of the Dumas TX motel waffle iron is oddly asymmetric. You study the strange edges in the dim light of the breakfast area with a growing suspicion, but flipping the heated iron over, following the instructions, you see someone's presumed you wanted a waffle the image of Texas.

Ya’at’eeh from Tuba City, Arizona!

I'd envisioned myself hiking alone in Sedona for three magical days, vortexed into a frenzied energy, taken by wizened hippies to a hillside lair for impromptu meditation. Instead, in spite of the brazenly gorgeous Sedona landscape, I felt the whole place to be a pseudo-spiritual, wildly affluent, corporate-run and supremely phony tourist trap. I was slightly horrified to feel this way about such a beautiful place, and tried to lecture myself into giving further consideration, but to no avail. I got the hell out of Nirvana Dodge after a single (albeit lovely) hike. That was yesterday. Today I headed north out of Flagstaff on Highway 89 with no particular plan. Shortly after the city faded from the rearview and I was facing the open road, I turned on the radio and heard "You're listening to Indian Public Radio." This heralded a perfect Tony Hillerman-esque adventure, I was sure of it, and I was flooded with good cheer. From the radio came gentle Indian flute sounds, haunting-dancing-with-wolves-vision-quest sounds, which had the hair on my arms standing instantly at attention. Within thirty seconds, however, a techno track and a Navajo-accented rapper barged into the song, resulting in a somewhat bizarre Eminem/Kokopelli kind of thing. I was enthralled. A retrospective about Harold Drake's radio show "The Church in Your Hogan" was next, followed by a short discussion of cultural taboos associated with Indian suicide, and an admonition to speak openly about such things. Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, and then this song by some sweet-voiced Hopi girls: Hey, Cousin! Nice to see you again! Do you have any duck tape, Cousin? Because my muffler fell off again. Duck tape. Sigh. Indian glue. I was becoming giddy. I took the Navajo Trail (Highway 160) east onto the Navajo reservation and soon came upon Tuba City, a dusty little town of 8,000 residents and seemingly little else. I drove down Main Street and saw house after house boarded up and nothing but dry dusty fields all around. I don't know where the actual people live, but the town seems reserved for ghosts. In front of the elementary school, at two in the afternoon, were twenty long yellow school buses awaiting what couldn't possibly be that many kids. In fact I didn't see any kids, yet one after another the buses pulled slowly away from the curb. Maybe each rural denizen has his or her own bus. I went into the trading post/interactive Navajo museum ($9)/internet café hoping to find authentic Indian crafts. The store had some very nice moccasins which, on closer inspection, were made by Minnetonka Moccasins -- a big corporation headquartered in Minnesota. I tried on a cute black straw cowboy hat made by some beachwear company in Oregon. Then I spied a truly adorable backpack purse of Indian-patterned wool and leather, manufactured -- big sigh -- by Pendleton, the company responsible for the boiled wool jackets of my Junior League days. I couldn't find anything else to do in Tuba City, so I ate some trail mix in the car, drank some warm

On the tea-horse road to Tibet

Lady, lady, I take you today. No ticket! No tourist! I'm standing in the town square reviewing my inventory of polite rejections when, lo and behold, my rogue sense of intuition wrests its way to the forefront and I hear myself saying, "Okay, so where are we going?" An abnormally large Naxi woman emerges from the shadows and sizes me up. "You ride horse?" she asks rather skeptically. "Sure, I ride horse," I respond indignantly, at once calling to mind a favorite movie, True Grit. Rooster Cogburn: Mr. Rat, I have a writ here says you're to stop eating Chin Lee's cornmeal forthwith. Now it's a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of the same. See, doesn't pay any attention to me. [shoots the rat] Chin Lee: [Runs into the room] Outside is place for shooting! Rooster Cogburn: I'm servin' some papers! Okay, I know that had nothing to do with anything, but I liked it. Anyway, thanks to trusty intuition, and the kind attention of my guides Richard and Li, I had a most magical day. I rode a shaggy little horse four hours up a steep mountain trail -- the very path that for hundreds of years has linked southwest China to Tibet. At the summit were views of the Yangtze River and the breathtaking Snow Mountains, known to us as the Himalaya. When the blue haze lifted, I could see all the way to everywhere. TO THE LEFT OF THE CENTER PEAK IS THE MOUNTAIN VILLAGE ALPINE FLOWERS AND CROPS MARIJUANA MAKES A PRETTY CONTRAST THE NAXI VILLAGE VIEW OF LASHI LAKE ME LIVING LARGE ON A TEENY TINY HORSE PEPPER BERRIES NAXI WOMEN PICKING PEPPER BERRIES A BOY HIDING BEHIND HIS CABBAGE AFTER TEN MINUTES OF CAJOLING HE'S READY TO POSE ALPINE DOGHOUSE THE MASTER'S CAMPSITE FIRST BEND of the YANGTZE RIVER LOOKING TOWARD TIBET MY TRAIL GUIDE OUR TRUSTY LITTLE STEEDS MARIE AND RICHARD INCONSEQUENTIAL THE NAXI MEN AFTER I BLEW THEM A KISS!

Let the Games begin!

BEIJING- I've run myself ragged over the past five days trying to get a sense of China as she gears up for the Debutante Ball, and so far I have a pocket full of threads awaiting a tapestry. I must say, China is a country of great contrasts. A communist country with in-your-face capitalism everywhere. A landscape of unbelievable beauty made hazy by poisoned and polluted air. Oppressive heat and humidity and noisy throngs of people outside; feng shui, gentle music, and cool crisp air inside. I'm staying at the Beijing Hilton, temporary home of the United States Olympic Committee. As you can imagine, the level of service is over the top. Since the Bush family's arrival at the hotel next door, security has been tightened and my perfect oasis is now tainted by the presence of wand-wielding uniformed guards. Worse still, the trophy wives of important men have invaded, and they are putting the staff through their paces. The upside is that they are fun to watch and secretly mock. Regal lionesses to my happy little mountain goat. Ha! Today the torch arrives in Beijing. The city is electric. I don't have a ticket to the Opening Ceremonies -- no surprise since they run about $3,000 each. But my friend with Olympic connections tells me that we may meet with some last-minute luck, so I'm dressed and ready to go. For now, I leave you with some pictures of the mountain goat on location!

Trekking in El Chaltén

Veni, vidi, vici! This hike to Lago de los tres in El Chaltén was my very favorite day in Argentina. It took about 9 hours round trip with stunning scenery the entire way, including bunches of glaciers. Mount Fitz Roy, named after the captain of Darwin's Beagle, is in the background. There was a guy with a little propane stove handing out hot coffee at the top, which was great because it was freezing. Of course, pictures don't do any of it justice! Autumn in the Andes. Amazing, amazing, amazing!

Lighthouse at the end of the world

While in Ushuaia, I took a boat ride through the Beagle Channel to faro del fin del mundo or, as it is more commonly known in our secret language -- known to almost no Argentinians -- lighthouse at the end of the world. This is the very same lighthouse around which Jules Verne spun his pirate tale The Lighthouse at the End of the World.   I imagine that Cape Horn, south of the Beagle Channel, probably boasts a lighthouse or two of its own. But, as with most things he wrote about, Jules was darn close to correct!

Can u say Ushuaia?

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA- Today I am in Ushuaia, on the island of Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost city in the world. Woot, woot! I took a leisurely boat ride through the Beagle Channel -- so named for the ship in Charles Darwin's famous journey -- and learned about the Yamanas, the indigenous Fuegons as they like to be called. Right. More on the Yamanas later, but I think they will prove my theory about the body's natural thermostat. Nearby are the Straits of Magellan (Ma-fricking-gellan...think of it!) and the Drake Passage, one of the world's most dangerous waterways (Go Shackleton!). It's the place where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans commingle, where nature definitely has the upper hand, where time is measured by migration and weather, not by the clock. I can understand why this part of the world led Darwin to ponder the origin of species. It's quite an amazing place. Another cool thing about being far far away from Estados Unidos is that you meet people from other countries. It's not so much the people that I care about, for they will be gone from me in mere days. But the information they impart about the U.S. is very interesting. Today I had dinner with a guy from Madrid. He had some interesting things to say. He said -- I swear I'm not making this up -- that the country's current financial meltdown has been orchestrated by what he called old money. The old money players -- the names we all know and many that we don't -- have always held the cards and been able to take the chips at will. With the rise of the dot-com era, and the explosion of high-technology in general, the old fuddies have been losing their grip on the American power grid and have been forced to share the pie, loosely defined as the system, with young upstarts who play an entirely different game. Backgammon versus Wii. The meltdown will lead to the collapse the financial system as we know it (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase -- who, oh who, will be next?!), the dollar will tank (but who really cares when you've moved all of your assets into offshore investments and South American real estate?) and the government-corporate consortium will join hands, chant tick tock the game is locked, nobody else can play, and the lawn bowling can continue uninterrupted. And for those of you who rail against conspiracy theorists, everyone who lives outside the U.S. is a conspiracy nut. However, they prefer to be called intelligent! Gotta run. My thirty minutes are up!

Intestinal design

      Can you figure out what this is? Look closely and think, think, think. This particular item has been singled out of thousands of similar items for Best Design honors.   Check out my blog at Culture Chakra for more juicy tidbits.