Sunday, November 05, 2006

Well, I'm Baaaaack.

But I didn't take any pictures. I know, what a dumb ass. Well, I found these on the web for you to get something of a feel for the place.

I fully intended to get a disposable camera along the way, but would you believe we didn't see a single Wal Mart between Llano and Study butte. Other people took pictures. Maybe I'll get copies and be able to post em. We'll see. Settle for this one (click on it to see the larger view).

This is a composite shot of the alternate camp and chili cookoff, but the one I was at looks very similar. Lots of campers, trucks, tents, and home made shelters right out of some Hollywood western set. Yep, there's an alternate cook-off in Terlingua. There's even strife among chili cooks. The original cook-off started in about 1967 at the site where we camped this last weekend. Somehow, some time back in the 80s, there was a falling out among the sponsors of the cookoff, probably over the increasingly rowdy nature of the competition. Lots of drunks and idiots showing up to fight, flash their tits and get pissed drunk over a weekend in the desert, all of which detracted from the original feel of the weekend. So the calmer folks (more establishment, but still rowdy in their way) stayed in the original camp site, and the others bought land 4 miles down the road and built the place you see above.

To give you an example of the difference between the two, at the original spot, where we camped out this last weekend, there were about 120 chili entries in the cookoff. At the other, wilder site, there were 340 entries. Thing is, while the cooks were cooking chili, the other entertainment included a chili wrestling contest (think mud wrestling and substitute chili for mud) and a whole series of wet t-shirt contests. At our camp, we had lots of folks doing floor shows and karaoke renditions of Blues Brothers and Grand Old Opry classics. LOTS of drinking and fun but not like the other place. Ho hum.

Last year, when I was busy rafting the Colorado and my buds went to the cookoff without me, one of the younger guys in our group went to the other camp and took lots of pictures of the goings on there. When he got home, the local grocery store refused to develop his pictures. I guess that's an argument to get a digital camera. I wanted to see the sights, but wasn't in my own vehicle, so I was at the mercy of the others, most of whom have ether been there and don't think it's a big deal, or have never been over there or aren't interested. It costs $25 bucks to get the plastic bracelet that allows you to get in, and most aren't interested enough to pay the fee. I couldn't just commandeer someone else's car and go, so I jumped at the chance to check out the scene when that opportunity arose. As with many adventures, it happened completely out of the blue.

After the judging and awards had been handed out at our camp, with most of the awards going to the same old folks as last time, many of whom are part of a cooking group that is looking more and more like the chili version of the Medellin cartel, a few of the cooks wanted to go to the other camp and see the judging there. They knew some of the folks over there and wanted to see how they did in the judging. They were both quite loaded, so they needed a designated driver. The cops there are on the prowl for anyone who looks the least tipsy, as you can imagine. I'm not a drinker, so I was elected. I think they also maybe wanted a very large sober escort. Couldn't believe my good fortune.

As you can see from the picture above, the rowdy camp is a huge sprawling place, with vehicles driving around, churning up dust 24 hours, and everyone going from place to place in golf carts and 4 wheelers. It's got to be god awful in the heat of the day, but an night it took on the feel of the doomsday settlement in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome". We drove into the place, past the gate where we flashed our bracelet IDs. I'm driving their huge truck, worried some idiot in a 4-wheeler is gonna end up under the tires, simultaneously scanning the scenery for anything that might live up to the stories I've heard. I need to see some boobs or this whole thing is gonna be a bust.

We came to the first road block intersection and the DPS troopers waved us through. Cops were all over this place, trying to manage the legions of fun seekers, having a hell of a time doing it from what I could see. Guess they like to see the occasional tete as much as any other guy. There were vehicles moving all over, bumper to bumper, with intoxicated girls and guys yelling to one another and making gestures. A great time was being had by all. Wet t-shirts were in evidence all over, but I was too busy trying not to run somebody over to take a close look. We drove on toward the red covered amphitheatre (on the left in the above picture) where the judging was going on. We parked (I parallel parked that huge friggin' thing), walked over to the judging and looked for the folks they wanted to meet up with.

Sure enough, they were there, parked in their vehicles, standing on top to see the action. My friends introduced me, and then while they watched the judging I went wandering to see what was up. The t-shirt I was wearing went over big, at both camps. It has a silhouette of a Russian machine gun and red letters reading "thin the Herd". Several people pulled me aside to tell me that they loved it. I kept hoping to see lots of illicit merriment, but I guess I was too late. Turns out it wasn't much of a party compared to some of the things I saw in the Philippines or Thailand when I was teaching on the ships back in the early 90s. There had been lots of fun earlier, but we were just too late, and probably not in the right part of the camp.

After the awards were given out, they set off lots of fireworks to celebrate the end of the cook-off, which really looked cool on the clear moonlit night with the mountains as their backdrop. The sight of all those car headlights running in an endless line, the occasional 4-wheeler and police lights dancing against the hillsides, and the mix of loud rock music, revving engines, and the masses of humanity, all convinced me that next year I'd see to it that I came back in time to see the real stuff.

We went back to our camp and my friends were amazed to hear where I'd been. They'd thought I was helping to work the gate. We ate chicken fried steak and veggies, and later we walked over and saw a great show. They have live bands every night of the cook-off, culminating in the big show Saturday night. There's a guy who's been playing there for 15 years named Mark David Manders, but this time the big draw was Gary P. Nunn. I got to stand right off the stage and hear him play "London Homesick Blues", which is just about my favorite country song, and just about the best cut off Jerry Jeff Walkers album "Viva Terlingua". Me and all the crowd singing along with that classic... It was a perfect end to the whole thing, but it wasn't quite over yet.

We got up at about 6am and started taking down the camp, packing our shit in the trucks. We said goodbye to all the great folks we camped with and hit the road for the 8 hour drive back to Killeen. On the way home, we stopped in Llano and ate excellent BBQ at Cooper's. People come from all over to eat at that place, and my friends had never been there before. We got our food and sat down and saw that the Cowboys/Redskins game was tied up at 19-19 with about 4 minutes left to play. How cool would it have been if only those pussies had been able to protect that ball and win that friggin' game. Damn. Anyway, it was a great time anyway. Got home, stripped by the washer and dryer and took a long shower. Doing a second load as wee speak. Back to work tomorrow morning. It'll take a week or so to get all the crap cleaned and ready for the next trip.


barista grazioso said...

Okay, that's it. I'm coming down and camping with you...what a blast!!!! It sounds like you had an incredible weekend! Lookin' at the pictures though is strange for me. It looks so........flat. Beautiful, but.....flat.

Christina said...

Chili about "feeling the burn", yowch!

Fathairybastard said...

Yep, it's flat, but there's cool mountains nearby, as you can see. None of these shots do justice to the true shabbyness of the old camp site. Caliche desert, scrub, etc. Completely deserted accept for one week a year in November.

Mushy said...

Great shots from a good time. thanks

barista grazioso said...

It would be quite the adventure camping down there. :) Your mountains look like your hills out here LOL. Unfortunately, we have massive flooding out here right now, so camping doesn't sound so good at this time. :) But Monday Night Football rocked!

jules said...

My best friend teaches school in Terlingua. It's a weird kind of beautiful down there. Thanks for your kind words during the recent events with my son.

phlegmfatale said...

Ya know, I really want to go down to Terlingua for the cookoff sometime - maybe I'll get around to it next year. Sounds like a hoot.