Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

A shifty flamingo & being Cupid – all for a free meal

I was informed that the journey between New Orleans and Austin would be different from all others which I had experienced across the USA. For miles and miles there is nothing but mangroves, marshes, large swathes of water that appear to have flooded over the southern banks of the center of the country. The unique highway seems to be a constant bridge. To the south, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the wet lands are American ports, and in places stretching north, there are electricity pylons and cables that disappear as far as the eye can see to the northern, watery horizon. Appearing morbid, it seems like the area is in constant flood. However as I rode west, back towards Texas, I did spot a lone flamingo flirtatiously flapping its way in the opposite direction to me; something which I had never dreamt of seeing.

Arriving back in Austin after the nine hour drive, I slept like a hibernating bear, but following the lavish and stupendous hospitality of the south, I needed to jumpstart my plans to get back onto my original route and checkpoints. Nothing prepares you for the extent of how kind the human spirit can be, and in order to get from Austin TX to Denver CO, it is approximately a 16 hour drive (over 30hours round trip). Despite some words of caution, my super-generous host decided it was best to hire a car and drive me to Denver. I struggled to comprehend this act of kindness, and I think I had problems expressing just how grateful I was.

I have often been welcomed with creative and selfless gestures, but for my personality to accept the gift of a thirty hour car journey was a somewhat overwhelming. It was time to head west again, but this time…across the desert.

I was contacted by a young woman who had seen my plans to travel to a few National Parks between Colorado and Nevada. I received an email asking whether I was looking for a companion to travel with (well if one had a car, I wouldn’t say no!), and asking me two more questions:
1) Could I be trusted (umm, no?!) ?
2) Could I help her with her first camping experience?

Both of these questions seemed a little strange. I find it odd to ask a stranger outright, whether they can be trusted over an email, but then most things I find on the Internet nowadays never fail to seem strange – I understand anyone’s concern. I also found it odd that my new pen friend wanted to go camping with a complete stranger to more than a few national parks – for her very first camping adventure.

When I met Amanda, we instantly became friends – although she did mention that if I was in anyway a little shifty, she would have locked her car doors and driven away, leaving me on the kerb. Grateful for not looking shifty, and for not being stranded in a city on a budget that would barely buy me a sandwich, I think Amanda and I had “an understanding”, and then she then boldly treated me to fish and chips. I say boldly, because as a Brit I can’t help but harshly judge every fish and chip meal that I come across in a foreign country, and rate it against the good old “wrapped up in newspaper” variety that I was brought up on. Amanda went up in my estimations as an American, for she knows a good fish and chips when she has one.

I also understood very quickly the possible reason why I was asked to help her on her first expedition. Her new boyfriend Jon, is an accomplished back-country camper; so to spare Jon the lash of any frustration which Amanda may feel on her first trip, it was up to me to shoulder that burden. It’s my job, to keep their honeymoon period, friction free (so to speak)!
I feel I “Guinea Pigged” the introduction pretty well. Imagine, only with a beard – “helping your outdoor relationship get off to a stress-free start”. I guess we’ll have to see how their future camping trips go, and hopefully, if Amanda and I can survive, so will they. I am obviously expecting an invite to their wedding…where I have been assured there will be a free meal and more importantly, an open bar…

Denver, aka, the mile high city was surprisingly enjoyable – even on a tight budget. There is definitely a wealthy and a poorer side to town, an eclectic few neighbourhoods where the middle-class hipsters live on their porches in the summer, spending time smoking pot and ambling around from cool bar to tasty restaurant. The skyline isn’t all that impressive, with the State Capitol building and the Coors baseball stadium taking centre stage. I enjoyed a day wondering around the city art gallery and another afternoon in the peaceful botanical gardens. It was even hot enough to enjoy an ice lolly (that’s popsicle for you guys stateside)!

After a couple of interesting days in Denver, mainly planning the menu for our budgeted expedition and Amanda borrowing, and begging the equipment she needed to be comfortable (and to survive), we set out west over the Rockies, across the Colorado border and into Utah. Amanda understood my budget, my time frame, and although she provided the fuel, I was going to introduce her to a rather basic way of living. My time of indulgence was over, and a journey via five National Parks, across an uncomfortably-hot, beautifully-arid desert, was between me and, well, some more desert.

Route I70 is a popular one for tourists on their way to any of the dozens of locations of natural wonderments in Utah. Amanda knew I had my checkpoints to hit for World Land Trust and that I would continue to head west after our final stop (where she would turn around to come home, and leave me somewhere by the roadside).

So, for her first camping experience, Amanda left her new boyfriend behind, hit the road with a strange British guy who mentioned he could pitch a tent and keep her alive (I’m resourceful and not shifty remember), and we fixed the plan to explore the following:

1) Arches National Park
2) Canyonlands National Park
3) Bryce Canyon National Park
4) Zion National Park
and although not in Utah..
5) Grand Canyon National Park

It is also becoming clear that my new friend is pretty encouragable, and it’s a good reminder to know that there are some people in the world that are willing to take a a few risks just like me.


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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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