The tour company had me over a barrel. The choices were to not pay any extra and visit the south rim, which entailed a 10 hour return journey for one hour at the canyon with a pretty poor view of it. Or I could upgrade and and go to the West rim. The extra $80 would reduce my travel times to 4 hours return and give me three hours at the canyon.
I didn’t want to be forced into this extra expenditure but the thought of 10 hours on that bus made me open my wallet. Although I seriously considered ditching the canyon altogether in favour of extra time in Vegas.
I slump into an uncomfortable doze on the coach. As is common on this trip I am woken by crackly Mandarin booming out of the speakers above my head. We’re ordered off the bus to quickly take photographs of the Hoover Dam where we’ve made a very brief stop. I take a couple of photos as I look at the dam through bleary eyes, before being corralled back aboard.
The next time I wake my teeth are being shaken out of my head as the bus navigates along what seems too be an off-road route. I close my eyes again, fearing the travel sickness will take over.
The first stop is the gift store, which is filled with over-priced wares. I bumble around, disinterested, waiting for the guide to give me my vouchers for the shuttle and lunch (everything at the Canyon is apparently based on voucher-exchange).
I hear what has become my name for this tour ‘VICTORIA! VICTORIA!’ and the guide impatiently hands me my vouchers. I try to get out a question, but she puts a hand on my back and pushes me towards the shuttle departure stop.
The second stop offers mediocre views and an eatery that looks distinctly unappealing. People elbow each other and sigh heavily, everyone trying to get a shot with a good background view and, the troublesome part, no one else’s head / arm / back looming into shot.
We’re penned into a fairly small area, and people queue to sit on a favoured rock which offers a reasonable photo potential. I line up with the rest, to take the exact same middle-of-the-road shot.
Then there’s an option to either join the lunch queue, or join the shuttle bus queue. I hover close to the food area, checking if what’s on offer is even remotely appealing. It isn’t.
People working are busy handing out gruel in exchange for vouchers and their demeanour does not invite questions. I look around for anyone else working there, to see whether it’s worth me chancing the food at the third and final stop, Guano Point.
I see a man hovering close to the rope barrier. As I approach I start to question whether he does in fact work there, or whether the care-worn Grand Canyon jumper he’s wearing is simply a sign he’s been here before. He looks at me, sucking his lips into the gaps where his teeth once lived and confirms his employment.
He struggles to understand my accent, but I get what I take is confirmation of the possibility of food at the next stop. I see him looking at the Union Jack emblazoned on my sleeve, with the words ‘United Kingdom’ across the centre. He reads is out, looking puzzled and asks ‘Where’s that?’.
‘United Kingdom, it’s in Europe. I’m from England’. I respond.
‘Oh. Never heard of it.’ He says, looking bored. Then he sees my camera and I can see the cogs in his mind begin to whir as he says excitedly ‘I’ll take a really good photo of you!’. He lifts the rope barrier and gestures for me to duck underneath. I look around, mildly panicked, looking for reassuring smiles from people.
‘Don’t look at anyone else, just go under’, he instructs. If I’d been feeling a little tense, this sentence took anxiety levels to 9 out of 10. I needed witnesses, I was about to be thrown off the Grand Canyon and I at least wanted someone to be able to give a description of the culprit. Where has everyone gone – oh no, this is it! Despite my fears I compliantly go under the rope, although I do manage to splutter that I wasn’t going anywhere near the edge.
If you’ve read my camera bombing blog, then you’ve seen the result. All I needed worry about was an embarrassing photograph. I’m still not sure whether he worked there or not, but I was just happy to be alive and not plummeting to my death.
The third and final stop was by far the best. The unobscured views to the base of the canyon and more freedom to walk around make it a far more satisfying stop. The helicopters flying around below look like toys, giving scale to the mammoth natural wonder.
A girl dressed in what I presume is an immitation of native american dress shivers against the wind and hugs her ski jacket around her as she counts heads onto the bus back to the main gift store which doubles as our group’s departure point.