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The holiday market in Plaza El Otorongo, Cuenca, Ecuador

AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A JESÚS PARTY

Ecuadorians’ adoration of fairs and festivals is only surpassed by their devotion to Catholicism. Subscribing to the Catholic credo that there ain’t no party like a Jesús birthday party, these passions intersect in a three-month celebration around the Christmas holiday that exceeds the birthday week excesses of the most self-indulgent sorority girl. Cuenca is the heart of these festivities, upstaging the larger cities of Quito and Guayaquil to draw people from all across the Andes.

HERETICS, PLAGUES, AND FORBIDDEN ART

We doubled back to experience the museum from its entrance. A throne was exhibited near the doorway, the crest of its backrest punctuated by miniature skulls. A doll of a baby lay beneath a grate in a coffin-shaped opening in the floor. There was a guillotine, two bone chandeliers, a number of statues contorted with pained expressions. It was like if the witch who tried to eat Hansel and Gretel made folk art.

PAGEANTRY AND THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE

The Fremont Experience is a walkway connecting casinos, gift shops, and free-standing pagodas in a covered outdoor mall. A Michael Jackson impersonator and a man in a banana hamock had claimed corners on which to busk. Situated between them was a woman in a habit and pasties, intensely focused on her phone in seeming ignorance of her nudity. Heavy equipment could be seen demolishing a building from behind scaffolding touting a forthcoming new Vegas. Zip-liners whizzed past, over it all.

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL THEME PARK AND THE DAM SCAM

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the Disney Theme Park of the National Parks System. The village boasts a rail line, airport, entire fleet of buses, kennel, mule stable, hotels, restaurants, art, geology, and cultural museums, campgrounds, three visitor’s centers, two entrances, and a partridge in a pear tree. Much like Disney, it is also perpetually mobbed. In an act of providence, we were able to secure the last site available at the Desert View Campsite the day before it was to be shut down for the winter. We pitched our tent below an exquisite, craggy juniper and made our way to the Desert Watchtower.

FROM THE SANDY BANKS OF THE COLORADO

The theme of Marble Canyon was to be one of relaxation. We rose before the heat, eating well and taking some time to write. Two ravens scuttled and kabitzed in the shade, watching the slow proceedings of the campgroud. We had a light snack, then drove off to see the Navajo Crossing Bridge. Again, the lush tapestry of history spreads over the entire journey, and we learned of the area’s humble beginnings as a river fording site to Mormon waystation and crossing to its modern role of the gateway into Arizona. The original bridge remains as a footbridge, its successor mirroring both its style and route over the Colorado. Glancing down, we could clearly see the whirling eddies and clouds of silt, layered in shades of emerald, moving swiftly.

The view from Bright Angel Point, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, AZ

LANDS OF MANY USES

We followed the curving road out, in hopes of setting camp with plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely afternoon. The road had become more congested, littered with families in rented RVs and little experience handling them. We hoped they were at least earning the gratitude of their loved ones, so their terrible driving would be to some end. Suddenly, we heard a thwack on the front of the car, amid a flurry of fleeing birds. We sat silently, for what seemed like a long time. Finally I spoke, “I killed a bird in the Grand Canyon.”

LIFE ELEVATED

We fashioned a simple meal of sandwiches and whiskey, adding another layer to our ensembles to keep out the cold. Bryce Canyon National Park is a leader in dark sky protection, and on clear nights up to 10,000 stars can be seen from as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. We surveyed the Milky Way, stretched out over the horizon, our view unimpeded by our campfire. The campsites that had earlier felt so close, now barely visible, their fires, satellites, piercing the darkness.