My First Personal Encounters in New Mexico

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Driving into Taos, I remembered that Amita’s guide book had described the small town as a kind of exclusive hippy colony and that the local tribe still inhabited the Pueblo a couple of miles north east of it. I had actually no idea what a Pueblo was, or who the people were who lived there, but that was where I needed to go to find out about the origins of my dream catcher.

I asked the American woman to drop me off at the edge of town. As I was not sure what was going to happen, I said goodbye. They told me that they would stay around for the day, exploring Taos, and in case I decided to return with them, we could meet up later on the Plaza.

(from: Welcome to New Mexico)

I wandered up the road, along a creek that gurgled merrily as it snaked through the brush. It was as cold as back home around this time in March; I felt the altitude in my head and bones and smelled snow in the sharp gust rushing down from the mountains.

After a mile or so, I could see in the distance what looked to me like a giant termite hill crossed with a sandcastle slightly melted by the tide.

It was hard to make out as its colour blended perfectly with the surroundings. Was that the Pueblo? Suddenly a figure appeared next to me. “What is your business here?”, a wiry guy with dark skin and almost longish hair, growled at me in a strange English accent. He seemed to be in his thirties and looked somewhat dishevelled and confused.

I apologized as politely as I could for having disturbed him, and said I was travelling through the area and wanted to visit the Pueblo. “So then, what is your tribe?” he asked a bit friendlier, briefly but intensely staring into my eyes, inspecting my hair which was tied back in a ponytail, and earrings. (I used to wear small golden hoops in both ears). “Well, I come from …” and I told him as much as seemed relevant at that moment.

He kept listening, shaking his head, and motioned me to follow him into the brush. I felt nervous but did not want to insult him. He was quite a bit smaller and definitely thinner than me, so I thought I could risk following him.

He guided me down to the creek where we sat down at a scenic spot. Then he started to talk, in a shy melodious voice, about where he came from. I did not understand much as it was all about tribes, clans and families, and what seemed to be very complex relationships between them.

He spoke about how he grew up in the Pueblo with his mother’s people, but then left to go to a bigger white town where he hung out with other relatives and got into trouble. He kept repeating how much trouble you could get into in the towns, especially because of drinking. Only very recently a cousin had gotten upset during what had started as a minor argument, and then proceeded to bury a hatchet in his brother’s skull.

I listened quietly as he explained how now the family was trying to free the cousin from white man’s prison in Albuquerque, and get him back to his family so that they could straighten things out with the right ritual ceremonies.

His eyes had filled with tears, then he fell silent, he seemed to have disappeared inside of himself. After waiting for a while, I wanted to excuse myself and walk away, to anywhere. He grabbed my arm, and suddenly energized spoke about the town and that I should not return to the white people. I should come with him – he and his friends were preparing a warrior lodge and he invited me to join them.

He was very insistent and I felt somewhat trapped. The thought of being stuck with him and his friends in some pagan ritual did not sound appealing. I could not think of anything to say, so I opened my rucksack and rummaged inside. There, amongst all the necessities, was the book I had left all those years ago on my bedside table, the one Jim Pepper had commented on when we first spoke. I had taken it along, and forgotten about it.

So, with a solemn face and grave gesture, I handed it over to the guy by the creek. The sun was setting in his back and drawing a halo around his frame, I nodded, got up and left. With quick strides, I made for the town which was located in the opposite direction from the ancient native settlement, glowing in the last light of day.

As far as I was concerned, my time amongst the Indians was over. Done.

The women had indeed waited for me at the edge of the town, near the Greyhound station. Amita wanted to go to Santa Fe, and I saw no reason not to keep my promise to accompany the woman to her conference in Denver. Colorado seemed as good as any other destination. I was rather depressed and offish, said goodbye to Amita and almost missed her saying: “I’m staying in Santa Fe, we will meet again.

The drive went peacefully for a while. The woman asked me about what had happened with the Indians, those poor lost souls, and I mumbled something about it having been somewhat strange. Suddenly she asked me about my religious belief system, to which I replied innocently that, despite having been brought up as a Catholic I felt more attracted to the Asian spiritual ways.

This prompted her to very sternly educate me about the dangers of such fallacies, because: “Jesus Christ will come, in glistering silver armour, riding a snow white steed, piercing the clouds with his spear, saving the just and destroying the infidels …” she went on and on.

Bloody hell. I was obviously travelling with a rather fanatical Christian sect member (Southern Baptist as it turned out), but somehow, following my experience by the creek in Taos, I viewed this as part of a personal tour through the Wild West psyche, and listened politely, nodding to the colourful and quite entertaining interpretation of various Bible stories.

As it was dark outside throughout most of the drive, I failed to appreciate the mountain ranges we had been driving through. When we arrived at the convention hotel on the outskirts of Denver, I insisted on taking my own room. The woman became somewhat nervous, and pleaded with me to join her at the meeting with her group. I agreed passively, and after freshening up made my way through the labyrinth of concrete corridors to the conference room she had pointed out.

As I approached the door which had been left slightly ajar I heard passionate singing, interrupted by inhuman-sounding sobs and shouts. “Blessed Lord, we thank you for delivering this lost soul to us, for entrusting his salvation into our hands …” it was the voice of my travel companion, hysterical, elated and tearful. Who could they be talking about??

Oh damn, was this meant for me? I instantly panicked and, when I saw someone approaching the door, turned on my heels and ran. Around the corner, I crashed into a heavy bronze sign, reading ‘Happy Hour’ and lunged through the swing doors of the bar.

There I hid at the far end, behind a voluminous guy adorned with lots of gold jewellery, surrounded by heavenly made-up, high-heeled company. They enquired about my obviously serious predicament, and I told them all. “Welcome to America“, he said and ordered a double whiskey for me.

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