We dropped Mum off at the motel in Santa Fe. We were going white water rafting down the Rio Grande, with the New Mexico River Adventure in Taos. We drove up to their shop where we collected our life jackets and helmets, and had a safety talk. We were then taken down in a a van to the river, where we met Sawyer, our guide, and an American grandfather, mother and son from Arizona who would also be in our team.
We were travelling about six miles downstream, so not too far, but with plenty of Grade 3 rapids. William and Dad were put up front and I was back left. We soon learnt to follow instructions over the Rapids – all in, dig forwards, high right – and managed to manoeuvre ourselves over the eddies with loud whooping and cheering the whole time. The group just ahead of us capsized though, which excited Sawyer who explained that guide would be getting $200 taken off his paycheck, and we went onto rescue their lost water bottles and shoes.
Sawyer is from North Louisiana and told us that he’s learned to hide his country accent so he doesn’t get made fun of – but in reality, he is a true hillbilly. He gave us a demonstration of his real accent and then showed us that he could yodel – a talent he picked up out of boredom while working on a chicken farm one summer. He told us how Oscar Wilde is his favourite writer and The Alchemist his favourite book.
We stopped halfway for a picnic of watermelon, tortilla chips and salsa, Oreos, and homemade lemonade. At this point, Dad tried to clamber out the boat while some boys were pulling it to the shore, and he basically ended up doing the splits whilst also nearly face planting the bottom of the river. Sawyer showed us a Apache drawing of a lizard and a cross sketched onto the volcanic rock, dating back hundreds of years. As we continued down the final Rapids, we went past some barking dogs on the rocks and sawyer told us how a family had bought a huge patch of New Mexico land and now camped here over the summer. These dogs protected them, but we could see their tents just behind the shrubs and their children were playing on inflatables out in the river. We made it back to base about four hours later, sunburnt and having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
That evening, we walked from Motel 6 to Santa Fe’s centre about half a mile away. The centre consist of just one central plaza, with a few small streets leading from it. Santa Fe is the country’s oldest state capital, energised by the easy melding of three cultures – Native American, Hispanic and Anglo – with ancient pueblos, 300 year old haciendas and stylish modern buildings standing in close proximity. This historic plaza links the 400 year old city to the past, but artistic and bohemian pursuits keep the vibe fresh.
We were hoping to eat at a restaurant called Tia Sophia’s as we’d heard that it does amazing chilli but, unfortunately, when we arrived, we realised it was just a breakfast/lunch place. However, a kindly Bill Bryson-esque man in a Hawaiian shirt and straw boater must have seen our confusion and asked if he could help. After explaining that we needed beer and vegetarian food, he reeled off a list of possible options around the plaza and we ended up following his advice and going to the Plaza Cafe, where we gorged on fajitas. As we left, we heard a band playing in the plaza bandstand and there was a huge crowd clapping along and dancing. We joined lots of other people standing on the memorial for a full view of the fiesta below. After a while, Mum and Dad went and joined the party, dancing along to the band’s two final songs amongst everyone else’s cha cha and salsa. The band finished and it was time to head back to the motel. We had donuts the next morning and then it was back into the car – onwards to Tucumcari, still on Route 66 but leaving the high altitude canyons and mountains behind, and getting closer to the flat plains of the Texas border.