Mexico/States 2007

Watford Travel Blog

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Mexico/Los Angeles                                                                              18,825 words



            Like all great journeys, this one started from a humble beginning and you don’t get more humble than the local library of Luton, officially the worst town in Britain. We had just finished successfully capturing the Luton library work quiz with our Mexican themed team (Mas o Menos), when my friend Mike informed me that Rage Against the Machine were reforming to play a one off gig.  Rushing back with our nameless trophy, as no-one wanted to pay the £10 to have our name engraved; we leapt online and discovered that they were indeed to play a desert festival in California called Coachella.  Through the haze of budget tequila and euphoria from our victory we decided it would be a great idea to book a pair of tickets when they went on sale the next day.  Conveniently this was at the exact time both of us finished work in towns with no internet cafes.  Realising that we could potentially miss out on seeing the greatest band this side of Bruce Springsteen, we had no choice but to recruit the one and only Judas to purchase the tickets for us.  Now despite the fact he was unemployed and had suffered through numerous trips with me before, he decided upon seeing the line-up that he would purchase a ticket as well and the haggling over the journey began.  Mike wanted to go just for the gig due to his A level English exam, Judas can’t take the heat and so I decided (after ruling out Vegas and San Fran), that we should spend ten days in Mexico and then head up to Los Angeles. This successfully overrode everyone else’s concerns. 

            It would be approximately two weeks before the first difficulty surfaced in this carefully prepared madness.  While recovering from a carnival party in Lisbon (An event which saw Dick Tracy singing from a bloody tampon dangling from a woman dressed as a tampon, someone trying to slit my throat with a plastic sword and most brilliantly Jesus replete with own cross leading the conga), I received a phone call from Judas claiming that he was being investigated by fraud squad.  Having booked all of the tickets on his card, fraud squad was concerned that there was illegal activity going on.  Who could blame them?  Three tickets bought for a festival outside of LA, three flights from London to Mexico City as well as LA to London and three flights with another airline between Mexico City and LA.  There were also some greyhound tickets from LA to the festival.  Now I understand it would require a phenomenal amount of intelligence to decipher these seemingly random and unrelated transactions.  I mean it doesn’t look like a holiday at all.  I mean these places aren’t even connected.  Well certainly not if you are fraud squad anyway.  Having prevented these card napping revelers, they then proceeded to cancel the tickets.  Only they did this by booking a second set of identical tickets.  For if these thieves are going to randomly book stuff they were going to get so much of it they wouldn’t know what to do with it, except maybe take some friends.  This great work from Barclay’s finest saw Judas’ card hit its limit.  This left him having to debate with the flight companies why he would book two lots and with the fraud squad why he would book anything at all.  When he finally resolved this we were left with further problems.  We had booked specific seats, which were now lost, but on rebooking we could not have them for they were occupied.  Of course they were.  By us of course.  The ghost flyers.  I could just imagine the flight crew getting pissed off while they waited for us to board our nonexistent seats while already sitting on the aircraft.  All this because you want to save some money by flying such quality airlines as Alaskan Air.  I have to say however, that despite the fact they have a talking moose on their booking site they are actually not bad.

            Two months of tedious work passed, interspersed only with a Rachid Taha gig at the Bataclan in Paris (electrifying atmosphere to Barra Barra).  The day of departure arrived and on the way to the airport our group was struck by two unfortunate events.  Due to unforeseen circumstances Judas could not make the flight and would have to join us later on in LA, while Mike managed to have a minor car crash on the way to the airport.  Replete with running updates about bones sticking out of his dad’s neck and my sister’s ominous foreboding about flights and it being God’s way of saying not to fly, we seemed to stumble across an odd Amish convention at the airport and the omens did not look good.  Somehow Mike’s dad managed to get him to the airport before booking himself into hospital and despite coming down with some sort of energy sapping virus we made it to the departures lounge.  It was here where I was summoned back to the desk by the sinister sounding tanoy system.  Hearing my name blasted over the tanoy unexpectedly put me off guard and recalled memories of Hunter S Thompson in the ‘Great Shark Hunt’ where he is summoned to the desk convinced that they had uncovered his copious drug binged story of fraud in Mexico.  Tentatively approaching the desk with that mix of apprehension and insouciance that kids have when sent to their head teacher, I was questioned as to whether I was flying alone.  Puzzled, I motioned to Mike, but they were wondering what had happened to Judas.  After explaining he was not flying, but failing to mention his future arrival (that would prove costly) we were finally allowed to board our airborne fortress complete with grotesquely overweight man who had to bring an additional seat belt to fasten to his two seats.  Now this American Airline flight appeared to lack any kind of order, with people sprawled all over the place and going wherever they pleased.  This would however prove useful for sleeping purposes when it was discovered that the best in flight movie was Miss Potter.  We were also alerted to a potential problem with the Coachella tickets.  The festival organisers would only accept them in the presence of the card holder and with Judas still in England we were in trouble.

            Onboard the flight was an odd assortment of folks, but if a Lost situation was to develop, the plane was clearly devoid of a Kate.  The air stewards soon brought round refreshments and I thought I was offered a choice of orange juice or ‘pineapple’.  I chose ‘pineapple’ only to be confronted by something called cranapple.  What kind of bastard offspring of a drink was this?  Unlike the other two, Microsoft Works challenges its existence as a word and if I had not drunk this bitter mix of two acidic fruits, so would I.  Only an airline food company could produce such atrocious beverages and I strongly advise people to opt for the orange juice, as you never know what you could get.  The music channels were full of Coachella bands as well.  They even mentioned the festival under DJ Shadow and thoroughly deflated; I switched to the country channel and went to sleep.  It was only when I was awoken by a fully fledged thunder storm that I realised this flight was about to get worse.  The captain bravely tried to take the plane down in this storm, while it pitched and rolled like a roller coaster.  The wing was rattling so hard it looked like one of those planks from those cartoons after wily coyote springs off into the canyon.  While we pitched around like a fly in a wind turbine I glanced around and noticed a Yankee in front of me was reading a book entitled Panic.  I wasn’t sure if this was a novel or she had found some sort of self help bible for flying.  Thinks were getting worse however and following one swift drop of a few hundred metres, the pilot hit the thrusters and aborted the landing.  Over the tannoy came the pilot’s calm voice stating “the wind was a little strong for the wings there so I decided to go back up, circle and try again to see if the wind has eased.  If not we will have to head to another airport.”  Hmm I would have opted for the latter after the first run and with my sister’s ominous voice echoing the bad omens; I suddenly discovered I had acquired a hitherto unknown fear of flying.  I could sense from the palpable fear, crying and vomiting from the back of my plane, that the other passengers did not share the optimism of our happy go Yankee pilot.  While we swung back in for the hail mary landing, Nickelback started up on the radio.  My mind could not help but flash to Touching the Void and the main guy fearing he would die to Boney M in his delirium.  Here I was, in much less physical pain, but feeling the mental torment of also possibly dying to some awful band.  The pilot, to cheer us up, put on Two and a Half Men.  A gurning Charlie Sheen is not my idea of solace and then, as we pitched around, the radio changed to a song called gravity whose chorus was “gravity is dragging me down, down, down.”  It was all getting too much for the girl reading ‘Panic’ and she completely broke down.  So with everyone but Mike (he claimed never to have been worried) bracing for the worst, the pilot some how managed to land the second smoothest landing I have ever felt (you can’t beat Continental) and earned a tremendous round of applause before everyone burst into tears. 

            What better way to celebrate a death defying flight than to get straight back on another plane to Mexico City in the same thunder storm.  First, however, we had to negotiate a flooded La Guardia airport.  Being told we could not check in our bags, we were ordered to frog march across the airport through the rain with just one other man and a persistent street sweeping machine for company.  This machine seemed to follow us wherever we went.  It even appeared at the top of an elevator we took and jammed the doors of the monorail we decided to take.  It was like a cleaning version of the film Duel.  The other man turned out to be Benjamin Zaccariah, a history lecturer from Sheffield University.  It’s not often that you randomly bump into someone, whose work you have studied and he was off to a conference in Mexico City.  While we were chatting, all three of us were subjected to these luggage protecting bands the Americans insisted in installing.  While one American (credentials unproved) chatted to Mike about ‘soccer’ I was asked if the purpose of our visit was business or pleasure, to which I replied ‘transit’.  This meant they told me to keep my pointless thirty day visa (for all 30 minutes) and only later did I read that failure to surrender this card can lead to being banned from future entrance to the country.  The fact that I ended up with two visas by LA would not go down well.  Those luggage protectors would prove pointless, with Mike easily snapping his and Mr Zaccariah having his secured through the empty side pocket of his rucksack.  Having negotiated a full immigration check for no real reason, we set off for Mexico.  The night ended with Mike getting handed an immigration form in Spanish.  At least we got some early practice in the language.

            The first day began very early at Mexico airport, with me negotiating in Spanish, to work out where the nearest underground station was.  Having reached it, we set off towards the main eastern bus station, which is a particularly useful place to store luggage for the day. We intended to head out to Teotihuacan before taking a night bus to Palenque.  While Mike was fascinated that all the taxis were green and white Volkswagen Beatles, the underground became a more immediately pressing concern.  Schooled in many of the premier undergrounds around the world, we were still not prepared for the scrum that is the Mexico City underground.  Having boarded with full rucksacks on, we slunk to the back of the carriage and waited for our stop, while people piled in and I can’t emphasise ‘pile’ enough.  People would take running jumps from outside to crush into the carriage.  By the time our stop came up we were so sandwiched in that we could not move and just had to watch as the doors opened/closed and we carried on along the line.  This continued for some time and I began to wonder if we would just have to wait until the end of the line, but about five stops further I managed to charge off, having adopted the local’s tactics. Mike, on the other hand, carried on down the line.  I motioned that I would see him coming back the other way and went round to wait.  About fifteen minutes later Mike came back the other way and we decided to perhaps avoid the mainline, at least during rush hour.  In the remainder of our time in Mexico City we managed to avoid anything quite so frustrating and outside of the mainline it is relatively easy to get around, especially if unencumbered with baggage.  During particularly busy periods the last three carriages of every train are reserved for women alone and guard barriers prevent any men from getting through. 

            Our first impressions were not massively favourable of the city, but then the places we visited on the first day were the equivalent of Heathrow, Kings Cross and Victoria Coach Station, so it was not fair overview.  The city itself is fairly vast, but it is quite possible to walk (albeit for a fair while) around the majority of the central neighbourhoods and sites.  Crime never appeared too evident and with all the bad press via Man on Fire and its reputation as the kidnap capital of the world, we were never troubled, day or night.  Our first stop was the coach station where I bit off the indestructible tag the Yankees had insisted we use.  So much for that.  Meanwhile Mike had succeeded in exploding his shower gel over everything, from his toothbrush to his contact lenses.  While it meant my hair would go without basic conditioner, it meant that all the grease and dandruff would no longer trouble his teeth.  It was in this bus station that we decided to store our bags and we were mortified that the price for one day was $100 a bag.  Having decided that not even a one luggage town in the middle of nowhere and run by Bill Gates would charge that, we eventually realised that the dollar sign was a signifier for Mexican Pesos and breathed a sigh of relief.  We successfully purchased our tickets for the night bus to Palenque and headed north to the main railway station, in order to find a bus for Teotihuacan.  Now Lonely Planet says the buses depart from a kiosk on the northern side of the terminal and after much confusion we realised they were wrong and it was in fact the southern end.  Well that or I was upside down with my bearings.  Bus tickets are cheap out to the archaeological site of the Aztec capital and once you’ve negotiated where the place is, the rest is pretty self explanatory.  There were a few little cafes inside the station, which gave us our first chance to sample some local cuisine, with Taqueria about the best London has to offer.  We had a lovely rice pudding taco thing, a spiced pork stew and Mole (a bean paste which Mike found disgusting and I edible, but nothing more).  Not fully satisfied we went back to order some more and because we had played food Russian roulette (a game we began in Portugal for eating randomly with no idea what it is), I thought the Mole was the pork stew and Mike was delighted to get a second helping.    

            The bus ride to Teotihuacan was uneventful apart from four chord wonder.  This man could play the guitar as well as any British winter Olympics sportsman can compete in their sport, but he was doggedly persistent in his uselessness.  After making our ears bleed for half an hour with his compositions and butchering of famous tunes, he proceeded to pass around his hat.  I pretended to be asleep, but this wily veteran of tourist skimming was having none of it.  Evidently he had not identified us as Londoners.  Any non native Londoner will tell you that they arrived in the city full of pity for the beggars there, but after losing £20 and spending 3 hours progressing just 100 feet down Tottenham Court Road, you soon learn the art of ignoring them mercilessly.  Having honed my contempt at university and making exceptions only for those who make me laugh, (after all you pay for comedy at the clubs so may as well pay on the streets if entertained) I successfully paid him nothing for his torture.  Perhaps the west could employ him as an alternative to extraordinary rendition, for he can render anything ordinary extraordinary through sheer incompetence.  We arrived at last during the midday sun at Teotihuacan and made our way through the first waves of tacky hawkers.  Both Mike and I suffer from vertigo and upon seeing La Ciudadela I figured we were going to struggle somewhat.  Neither of us wanted to miss out on climbing some of the monuments however and we both struggled to the top.  Turning around we were confronted by a fabulous view along the street of the dead to what looked like a monumentally tall building.  Ah bugger.  I looked over the edge of where we were and concluded that it was going to be very tough going making it up the Pyramid of the Sun.  We both descended, Mike just slow enough to leave me being heckled by a man insisting that I really ‘did’ want to buy a jade jaguar and Mike informed me that he was not going to climb any more of these ruins.  I figured that I hadn’t come all this way to let my fear get the better of me and having traversed another platoon of hawkers I reached the foot of the Pyramid of the Sun.  One long panoramic glance up told me I was perhaps a little brash.  Mike decided he would stay and brave the hawkers ala Captain Oates.  I figured I would get down and have someone try to sell me a Mike shaped object made from Jade.  Having left Mike to regret his noble sacrifice, I glanced up at my Everest with dread and made a start.  The first sections lack ropes or barriers, but are close enough to the ground to fancy your odds if you fell.  Then after winding up a few metres you are confronted by a long set of stairs going straight up the side of the pyramid.  There is a rope that follows the middle of the path and that gives you the security to haul yourself up, but two thirds of the way up this gives way to a section with no support bar the sides of the stairs.  Why they have this section, other than to test who really wants it, is anyone’s guess.  I was apprehensive about taking this section on, as it offered no protection and I think I only continued because going down is so much scarier than up.  Eventually I made it to the top, past a section where the stairs were hip high and I’m 6’3” so it must be real mountaineering for shorter tourists.  At the top is a long wooden plank platform with a barrier.  Of course.  At the top, where it is totally flat, they provide security.  Yet three quarters of the way up, on the slope, it’s not needed.  Makes perfect sense.  Needless to say the way down was far worse, but just before you get to the bottom, when you think you are safe, there are some death defying stairs that are the width of half a foot for no reason other than the Aztecs evidently liked slapstick falls.  It is a tremendous view from the top and well worth the climb, but those that are afraid of heights or prone to accidents should beware.  Though at the Temple of the Moon I witnessed a man of at least 20 stone sprint the entire stairwell, only once teetering and threatening to scatter the fellow tourists like a well placed ten pin strike.  The rest of the site is well worth visiting, with the museum situated next to a nice cactus gardens, though as we exited we were treated to the sight of a smiling old Mexican woman seemingly masturbating a cactus.  Me and Mike both exchanged looks and figured ‘each to their own’.  One piece of advice, is to wear sun cream, for the lack of cloud cover makes the sun that much more intense.  After claiming that I don’t burn (except for in Wild Wadi Water Park in Dubai in July, where I ended up needing silver nitrate), I was promptly incinerated on my arms and neck and t-shirt wearing was ruled out for a few days.  It wasn’t the last time I would tempt fate and fate would waste no time putting me in my place.  We eventually struggled back to TAPO station queued for an hour on the wrong side and had to dash around to the bus checkpoint where Mike was groped and then hit in the head by the security woman.  It had to be the only incident I have seen where the groper takes offence to the groping and dishes out some more punishment to the victim.  Having negotiated the masochistic bus security we boarded the bus and it was on to Palenque.

            In my great wisdom I had chosen seats next to the toilet on the understanding that this would get us greater leg room.  While that proved astute, the slowly deteriorating smell soon offset any benefits.  To add to the assault on our nasal senses, the coach company decided to show Jean Claude Van Damme films and fail to dub him.  I wasn’t sure if OCR had joined the global coach company’s union that necessitates ocular torture with such offerings as the Transporter (London-Paris) and anything with Chris Tucker (Riga-St Petersburg).  The coaches of the large Mexican coach companies are air conditioned and useful for long haul journeys, but represent poor value for money when compared to the local Combis.  They are about a tenth of the price and while you may be crammed into every seat on the smaller vehicles and they are often not exactly in the centre of town, they are better equipped for meeting locals and seeing how the average Mexican travels.  They also offer the opportunity to hail them down on the side of the road.  We arrived in Palenque early in the morning and had now gone 48 hours without a shower, so naturally I decided we could hike to the ruins.  While they are not as close as most maps annoyingly suggest, they are not quite so far away that you couldn’t walk it.  Yet, as Combis are only about 50p, with hindsight it would have been the better option.  Having negotiated a gaggle of turkeys who looked up for a fight, skirted a resort, passed a school with its own football match taking place in a concrete ultimate fighter pit and deftly negotiated a mad old man next to a giant hole, we finally surrendered to a passing lift and for 20p we drove the remainder of the way.  It was our first Combi and resembled the Scooby Doo van with the upholstery torn up like Shaggy had developed the munchies far from food.  The owner, as most Mexican van drivers would prove to be, was very amiable and our only companion was a small girl who seemed intent on throwing crisp packets out of the window.  We would stumble across this girl again the next day, selling sweets on the streets of Palenque, where I felt compelled to buy a pack of halls soothers, thereby depriving her of more stuff to litter with.  Of course we thought we would be in Guatemala at that point so it was a doubly surprising coincidence. 

            The ruins of Palenque themselves are spectacular, with their jungle setting and almost mist shrouded elegance in the morning.  This quickly gives way to blistering heat in the afternoon.  Beware the Howler Monkey Man.  This is not, as may be implied, a man/monkey hybrid, but in fact a man who offers to take you on a tour of the jungle in search of monkeys.  At first I was unaware he was a salesman and was consequently chatting in my pigeon Spanish, but it soon dawned on me.  My inbuilt London resistance, honed through years of resisting stress tests from Scientologists on Tottenham Court Road, kicked in and we politely refused his services.  So he found some other unsuspecting Americans and because we were not interested, we followed them to find the monkeys without paying, only to run into people selling us useless trinkets made from jade.  Damn it.  They even trap you in the jungle.  Returning to the ruins I decided to climb every monument in defiance of my vertigo, while Mike continued his quest to find more ancient ruins that could be used as great fight locations.  This obsession started with those pillared caves in the Gaudi Park in Barcelona and has not slackened since.  I did manage to entice Mike to climb one of the monuments, but I think that had little to do with my platitudes and more to do with the entrance being through the inside and it possessing a ball court that would provide a thoroughly satisfactory fighting pit.  If you start at the top rather than the bottom of the hill, you get to descend away from the ruins and through the various waterfalls (including a nifty little rope bridge) down to the museum.  Having explored the ruins thoroughly, we left down the track in search of a Combi.  Needless to say we failed and ended up walking all the way back to the town in the blistering heat.  At one point we were even chased by a water salesman, but I suspected that he may have jade carved bottles of water in his ice bucket and began a slow motion chase until we lost him and managed to negotiate a man taking a piss on the side of the road.  Back in Palenque we managed to find a Combi (the place is well marked on the Lonely Planet map and to think we only took one because coaches don’t run to Frontera Corozal.   I highly recommend them as a preferable form of transport to the main coach companies) heading to Frontera Corozal.  Palenque town itself is a bustling little town that was part western saloon town, part market, part developing concrete city.  Little quirks such as the dogs and cats in tiny cages and the battery packed chicks lent it a tougher character, while the bright colours made the place a whirling dervish for the senses.  It was probably our least favourite town until we got to Tuxtla Gutierrez, but the ruins are the main draw for the town. 

            Our bags were strapped to the roof of the Combi along with bags of potatoes and cages of food.  I wasn’t initially certain the string would hold everything, but by the end of the journey I had come to yearn for these vehicles instead of London public transport.  It was a four hour journey in a cramped van, which could not have been pleasant for our fellow travellers due to the length of time we had gone since we washed.  The corrugated iron sheds we passed and the abject poverty were shocking, but it was interesting to see how many buildings were adorned with spray painted campaign slogans or slanders for the Presidential elections that had taken place the previous October.  In an area famed for its loyalty to the Zapatista rebel movement, there were still a lot of places with slogans pro Calderon.  Yet regardless of the authenticity of this artwork, it was in stark contrast to the general apathy in the UK with regards to anything political.  This was a point that would be further rammed home while staying in Mexico City.  After a while my travel narcolepsy set in again (Judas finally concluded that it isn’t that I can sleep on any form of transport, but that it is impossible for me not to), but Mike took in the full vista of our travels through the outer areas of Chiapas province.  Chiapas has a reputation as being a potentially dangerous region to travel in and again like Mexico City I think this is highly exaggerated.  If you keep your wits about you, you are unlikely to run into difficulties.  We eventually arrived in Frontera Corozal, via Bonampak (that we intended to visit the next day).  Most tour guides say that is easier and cheaper to visit the frontier on a tour, but I would disagree with that assessment as long as you possess a competent amount of Spanish for prices and directions.

            Frontera Corozal is a dusty little dirt track of a town on the river border with Guatemala and also the site for the lanchas up the river to Yanixchilan.  We arrived as the only two foreigners to a fleet of six taxis.  The fastest shoved our bags in the back and we figured we had chosen our ride.  We travelled through some dusty roads down to the water side and the Jaguar Inn that was populated by us and two elderly Americans with their guides.  Having sorted ourselves out with a room we wandered down to the river in time to witness the townspeople washing their clothes and swimming in the river at dusk.  That was a particularly cool visual, with the excitement of being able to see Guatemala only 60 metres or so away across the river.  We had tomorrow’s itinerary all ready and drafted.  We would view Yanixchilan, then boat across and make our way to Flores by nightfall.  Or so we thought.  Damn money.  I knew I had run out, but I was unaware until now that Mike only had about £10’s worth of Mexican Pesos.  We went back to the hotel and reading the Guatemala book realised that you could only exchange dollars and sometimes Euros.  We had sterling.  About £350’s worth and completely useless.  I had known that we should have exchanged it for dollars at the airport, but still I had not done it.  This currency would prove unchangeable until it was stolen in Los Angeles, but I didn’t think much of the thief’s exchange rate.  Never mind.  For we could use a cash point.  A quick check with the guy at the desk alerted us to the nearest cash point.  It was of course in Palenque.  So we were 4 hours away from the nearest cash dispenser with £10 in useful currency.  Shit.  That has to rank amongst the most basic rookie errors when travelling and I had made it.  The bus back to where we had come from cost about £6, so we had £4 to eat with, which got us just enough to survive.  I could see Guatemala, but I could not go there.  I was about 10 miles from Yanixchilan, but 200 miles from the means to get there.  A mad thought occurred to me to swim the river just to touch the bank, but I dismissed it.  Luckily I am heading back next year or that would have been crushing.  People had said the itinerary was overly ambitious.  I laughed them off, but they laughed last and all due to stupidity.   Having eaten our tiny chicken and having spilt half of the only coke I could afford, we limped back to the room and redrafted the itinerary for the south of Mexico (which actually included a few places I am glad we visited).  We had one more challenge to negotiate and that was the mosquito net.  Both Mike and I had malaria tablets (they surely can’t be worse than the disease), but only Mike had got inoculations for Hepatitis and Typhoid, so I felt a little vulnerable.  I also incompetently hooked the mosquito net over the bed but left a massive gap near my head that I somehow missed.  So while Mike got dressed into his mosquito bands, that stank and resembled those armbands you used to get as a kid when swimming, I mocked him and brooded.  He would have the last laugh though, when we awoke in the morning.  He awoke snug, protected and stinking.  I awoke refreshingly clean, bitten and witnessing 4 mosquitoes fighting each other on the inside of my mosquito net as they looked for a way out.  Now that clearly wasn’t right and what the hell was that giant thing on the outside of Mike’s net.  We left sheepishly surrounded by the sounds of the monkeys that the Palenque man had failed to find the day before and took a taxi back to the bus depot.  Without a hint of irony we ended up going back to Palenque with the same driver and on the same Combi we had taken down there.  While the driver was probably wondering what these crazy gringos were doing popping down to the middle of nowhere for one night, we were left with the horrendous smell of ourselves from the day before lingering on the seats.  

                Now its not every day that you get woken up by a man pointing a gun in your face, but today was just one such day.  Having slipped into the snug embrace of narcolepsy again, I found Mike prodding me while a government soldier/Zapatista rebel (it’s hard to tell the difference) asked him where he was from.  Not trusting his point and grunt method with an armed man, I had to explain we were English, which elicited the reply “Francais?”  I just nodded.  After all I’m used to being thought of as South African or Antipodean and even as Dutch recently in Seville.  I figure they reckon I can’t be English as I can manage the odd sentence in a foreign tongue.  While the soldiers were tremendously friendly (as they always seem to be, my friend managing to get invited to a New Years party by them in Fiji while she was there for the military coup), we figured they may rob us of our wad of useless English notes when they went onto the roof of the minivan.  We needn’t have worried though, as due to the uselessness of our gringo currency, they probably had no need for harsh toilet paper.  Back in Palenque we settled in for some beers to ease the disappointment, before heading to an internet café and regaining it once again.  It’s remarkable how easily a terminally slow connection (that refused to give us results from the cricket world cup) and that damn @ key that’s impossible to access on foreign keyboards without some mastery of code cracking and advanced yoga can bring you down.  The mood was pretty low, beer aside, due to the fact that we would have been seeing Tikal the next day, but instead we were treated to a long bus journey with the world’s worst selection of films (Herbie Reloaded, Zathura, Flight Plan and Sky High.  Still there was no Van Damme.  Maybe we can get Tarantino to sit through this and then he may make the gay buddie porn film starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal entitled ‘Double Comeback.’  Splits and squints galore).  Luckily the scenery off the bus more than made up for that on it.  As you head towards San Cristobal de Las Casas you ascend through the cloud gardens on a beautifully winding road that meanders like an emerald snake up to the most beautiful of colonial cities.  Despite not having many locals and seemingly predominantly dominated by foreigners it is a perfect place to retire for a few days.  You could imagine office types stumbling across it and bewitched by its charm, staying to learn pre-Mayan basket weaving.  The streets are cobbled through the middle, but it’s almost shrouded in a permanent dawn lighting.  We took ourselves a taxi to a hostel run by a Frenchman on the outskirts of town.  It’s very conveniently placed, incredibly cheap and we ended up having a dorm to ourselves.  Wandering around the town we stumbled across a bar showing Mexican football.  Mike was pleased as his Mexican team was playing and the quality of football was surprisingly good even if we faded and rather meekly headed for an early night.

            San Chris De Burgh as Mike’s poor Spanish insisted in calling it does lack things to do during the day however, so having gorged ourselves at the pastry shop near the bus station (phenomenal stuff) we decided (I decided) that ‘we’ would love to go out to the lakes and to El Chiflon waterfall.  We hopped on one of the busses and headed down to Comitan (where we got Flight Plan again as a film) and having neatly sidestepped the woman howling like a wolf and ironically exiting San Chris de Burgh as a rather fine lady in red disembarked from the coach, we eventually got there.  Now Comitan is a small dust bowl of a town with nothing much of note to recommend it other than it having Combi stations for the lakes and El Chiflon.  We found the one for the lakes down a hill and up some back alleys.  It was to be our second Combi journey and the one where I fell in love with the vehicles so much that I decided we would use only them and not coaches except for night bus journeys.  One driver bundled us into his van and went to get his paperwork while another driver bundled us straight out of the other side and into his van.  He then drove around the corner and proceeded to attempt to break the record for the most number of people inside a minivan, which left me with half an arse on the seats, but on the plus side I got some yoga practice for those damn keyboards.  We rolled into the lakes without having to pay any tolls (because locals don’t pay and they probably couldn’t see us in the scrum), but had to negotiate our way out from the back of the bus past everyone, which should have been a physical game in the Crystal Maze.  Luckily our Mexican tube experience enabled us to pile out and into the vast expanse of the lakes with only a few vendor huts and a small boy offering horse rides to keep us company. 

            Being effectively a large child obsessed with water and holes, we headed up to the river and caves.  We passed through runaway chickens, like at the start of City of God and travelled down to a picturesque little underpass with boulders and logs over the running water.  Now while most people would stop and enjoy the tranquility, I went bounding out across the rocks, before falling off the side of one and injuring my knee. Mike was meanwhile abandoned to a point and grunt conversation with some Mexican cyclists.  Having satisfied my inner child’s exploratory habits, I decided we should head into a cave that had no discernible light.  I had done this in Sintra in Portugal before, where I had disappeared so far into a tunnel I could see nothing in either direction, which brought on memories of the Descent.  Yet this time it was not too bad, as people had placed strategic candles at various points to suitably bathe any disastrous accidents with a morbid glow.  I was determined to make the deepest candle and for Mike to come along as well, though he seemed skeptical as I slipped off unseen rocks into pools of mud.  Mike, not being a fan of the outdoors, was finding this about as exciting as any non-American finds baseball.  The lakes would be a great place to take some kids to suitably knacker them out and anyone who loves a bit of scenic exercise will be well served.  We trekked back caked in mud and stopped by one of those lakeside shacks to sample the obligatory quesadilla.  Mike was just commenting on how fresh the meat looked hanging up when a fly happened to land and crawl all over the ham.  Now this food was cooked in copious grease, from meat hung all day in the heat covered in flies and cooked on a stove that looked like it could double as a latrine and yet it was surprisingly tasty.  Despite my inability to understand the woman’s scattershot Spanish, I had concluded that if we did not suffer ill effects from this then we were safe for the holiday.   After all who needs health and safety (especially if you are foolish enough to head to Mexico with none of the requisite inoculations) or even change, as Mike found himself tipping big due to the lack of it.  We would really push ourselves today for food, with an open air fruit salad at El Chiflon later on.  The lakes are fabled for their varying hues, but Mike was unimpressed claiming they all looked the same.  While some were definitely less impressive than others, there was one beautiful lake on the left hand side on the walk from the drop off point to the entrance.  It is a beautiful deep blue, which looks like a net has been hung through the morning dew of the trees capturing a surreal blue colouring.  Your eyes can’t quite work it out at first, but it eventually becomes clear that it has a perfect reflection of the trees from above like a crystal mirror, yet the near water was transparent with tree roots snaking like veins through the lakes bottom.  They seem to reach for the reflection like a child might play with a mirage, stretching but not really believing something is actually there to grasp.  Now while I’m an ardent lover of bodies of water, Mike thinks it is an odd sexual perversion I have and that I should never be let loose in the wild.  We carried on and Mike was beginning to flag (experience severe boredom) when we stumbled across the park entrance surrounded by machete wielding farmers.  My luck was to kick in here as well, when a random Combi swung by and we hitched a lift to Comitan. 

            The bus ride was even odder than the normal ones, but gave you a greater insight into the local population than you get on the OCR juggernauts.  There was a man with about 20 balloons sitting in the back and these constantly floated around your head while an immensely fat man by the name of Pablo sat in the front and refused to move for anyone getting on or off.  There were two women with young children and an old man who either slept more than me or had actually died, suffocated by balloon man’s wares.  The road back was populated by an immense number of speed bumps for a deserted stretch of tarmac and yet the old man refused to be roused.  Sensing that Mike could take no more countryside I figured a waterfall would cheer him up and headed off to El Chiflon. 

            The Combi drops you off at a dirt track seemingly in the middle of nowhere and you are left to trek up a dusty road to the park entrance, where the world’s most disinterested man charges you entry.  Having skirted this we headed up to be distracted by rustling in the bushes that I hoped would be a Jaguar, but unfortunately turned out to be a particularly fleet of foot Iguana.  The waters when you see them are of the most amazing azure colour, like the canals of Venice only slightly paler.  You can bathe in all of the lower waterways and are only prohibited from swimming under the waterfalls themselves.  Plenty of locals took up the option and I wish we had, but first we had to take on the several hundred metre climb along a 3km pathway that proved taxing in the beating heat.  In fact Mike did not even make it to the top (probably because he did not care) and left me to go onto the 82m waterfall, where a spring crashes through a rock face before plunging down into the azure pool below.  The sheer power from close range is impressive and makes me even more determined to see Iguazu and Angel falls.  The spray has a cleansing therapeutic quality and the combination of sheer power with absolute tranquility has a soothing effect.  I think Mike may be right about my odd obsession with water.  On the way back down we completed our holidayly Samaritan act by helping a Mexican man with his camcorder.  While I have the mechanical skills of a 13th century monk, I managed to work out that he had night vision on and it was subsequently recording bugger all.  He was particularly happy and this time I managed to work out the odd word to confirm this, before realising Mike was suffering severe salt shortage.  In my quest to get him some cheese crisps I opted for the green packet, not realising that this was in fact lime flavour.  Who the hell eats lime crisps!  They tasted worse than they even sound and the only saving grace is they were so fucking awful that it lightened the mood watching each other’s mutual disgust at this food abomination.  We were going to bring some back, but feared that American customs might detain us for bringing chemical weapons into the country.   Having gone back past the indifferent man and almost being run over by an odd hybrid between Del Boy’s robin reliant and one of those London rickshaws, we sat on a bridge and waited for a Combi to come past, yet none were forthcoming.  All sorts of vehicles went by with hitchhikers hanging off them from full Combis, to tractors, to more of those bastard hybrids.  Still, the fact that you can thumb down a lift from the side of any road in Mexico, makes the flexibility of the journey impressive and you never knew who you would end up travelling with.  Kind of like London night buses without the mental illness and vomit.  We returned to San Chris de Burgh to find a quality jazz bar called Da-Da, which played a range of stuff from Jools Holland to a jazz version of ‘I love rock and roll’.  Their cocktail list is equally impressive, especially their self titled one and we managed to get quite cained to cap off the evening.

            We awoke in the morning and stole our exit from the Frenchman before heading off to yet another makeshift destination in Tuxtla Gutierrez.  While we should have been at the lakes and climbing volcanoes in Guatemala, the improvised destinations were proving to be the better places we were visiting in Mexico.  Tuxtla Gutierrez would be the exception, but first we had to negotiate Chris De Burgh’s bus station.  Another visit to that bakery across the road had not prepared us for the vindictive incompetence of the station guard.  The machines had broken in the bus station, prompting the usual panic when people realise they have to work mathematical equations out with their own brains, rather than renting out a mechanical helper.  Our bus was leaving shortly and the queue was going nowhere.  Perfect conditions for the English you would think, but then a ‘helpful’ guard informed us that we could get tickets round the other side of the station.  Dashing round we were met with blank looks and forced to return further back in the queue behind some surfer dudes on a pilgrimage to Costa Rica.  This guard had been a terminal pain in the arse for our entire stay, boxing us into random compartments and refusing to let us enter the forecourt for the buses until about thirty seconds before they left.  I just assumed his utter unhelpfulness and incompetence was in preparation to apply for a job with the London underground.  We were also treated to a screening of the Cave on our journey and I’m pretty sure the OCR film specialist was an ex member of the inquisition, but on the plus side it did have Jin from Lost in it.  Tuxtla itself is a god awful little cesspit of a town with almost no redeeming features and that’s irrespective of the fact that we had come from a beautiful mountainous colonial town.  The only reason to visit this place is to see the impressive Canon de Colca, but prior to visiting there we had begun to question our choice of destination. 

            Upon arrival you will discover there is nowhere to store your luggage at either bus station and that the city’s layout is a nightmare.  All the streets are a combination of the four geographic locations.  So you would have fourth street south west and fourth street west south and whether it was horizontal or vertical depended which came first.  The city is split to north and south roads, though you would have west north and east north depending on which side of the dividing line you are on and as you can imagine this is a Rubik’s cube of a problem.  If it sounds complicates, just imagine navigating it.  Or at least that’s my excuse for marching off into the far suburbs of I think west south.  Of course I soon realised my mistake and headed back to south west where my head promptly exploded.  Having figured out Tuxtla’s first test, we still had nowhere for our damn bags, so I figured our best option was to rent a hotel room just for our bags.  While we were leaving for Oaxaca that night and we sweated in the mid day sun, our bags would have their own cosy room to grow acquainted.  This may seem like an extravagance.  It is really.  But then it beats carrying the buggers.  Having made sure our bags were happy we proceeded to taunt all known medical practice by playing Russian roulette with our food.  It’s a game we invented in Portugal and consists of ordering randomly in languages you don’t fully understand.  Mike managed to get chicken which was ok and to this day I have no idea what I ate, but it was hairy and tough so I presumed it was tongue.  Seemed like the safest assumption.  Food tends to be ridiculously cheap in Mexico, though quality does vary dramatically.  That being said we had a flame barbecued Mexican dinner in this town which was the best food we ate in Mexico and the reason why I quantified Tuxtla as having nearly no redeeming features.

            Having flirted with culinary suicide again we proceeded to what would be the last outdoor leg of the trip, against which I had offered Mike the security of much drinking and galleries in the remaining towns.  We bundled into our little Combi and sadly this would be our last ride in the sardine vans for this trip.  Oh well there’s always next year.  We arrived into the small town at the entrance to the canyon to the familiar tunes of Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, but also to the unfamiliar sight of a giant inflatable pharmacist dancing along the street.  The sad thing was he still had far more rhythm than me.  Not knowing where the river was, we decided to take a taxi.  Now I hate taxis, but sometimes you just have to take one… even if it takes you round one road to the river and then drives up and down to make it feel like a longer drive before charging you a quid.  I have been fleeced before by taxi drivers but never this blatantly.  A taxi driver in Istanbul once drove round and round before fixing the meter while we weren’t paying attention.  Upon driving off his car broke down though, so I figure he received divine retribution.  This arse would have to drive round the corner and explode if karma were to equalise here.  Literally fuming we walked down to the lancha launch where ‘la chica bomba’ sorted us out for a ticket.  The lancha ride is good value and takes you up and down the canyon with a stop at the far end so their cohorts can fleece you for food and drink under the shade of the hydroelectric dam that powers a large section of Central America.  The complete journey takes about 3 hours and the tour is informative; well the bits I understood were.  Mike and I were forced to move as our two lard arse gringo bodies were unbalancing the boat and I was sandwiched between a ninety odd year old woman and a young kid.  Having balanced the foolish gringos and avoided chopping up the little kids who seemingly took pleasure in swimming around the propellers, we launched up the canyon.  The locals on board were really enjoying themselves (seemed to be a family trip).  I was on water, so naturally ecstatic and Mike was grimacing as best he could, to indicate how much he wasn’t having fun.  We stopped frequently for rock faces, strange shrines that looked like pirate grottos, some monkeys and what was apparently a crocodile.  Yet this ‘crocodile’ never moved and I couldn’t help but think they had nailed it to the floor (alive or dead) like those cruel men in Dubai who tethered the camels to the floor with rocks and string.  Unlike those camels, who were led into rebelling and breaking free by their Bactrian Spartacus, this crocodile refrained from biting anything out of the buck toothed guy at the front.  I would strongly recommend this trip however, as speeding through a watery canyon while picking up a tan for my pasty arse was well worth the time.  We did have toilet issues though as I could not work out which was the gents until someone informed me that caballero was horseman.  Quite why they had a wild west theme in the canyon I don’t know, but each to their own.  Be careful at the waterfront or four chord wonder’s mates the organ/piano/‘boy who bangs stuff’ band will try to fleece you.  Eventually we made it back to Tuxtla, liberated our bags, grabbed a shower and handed the keys to the incredulous owner.  By this point I was grouchily tired and the station was packed though we ended up on a bus with an odd Frenchman and his green obsessed girlfriend.  To make matters worse the bus had air conditioning.  God I hate that stuff.  You freeze to death in a country where the weather is a lovely thirty odd degrees.  If I wanted to sit in a fridge, I would.  Anyway on to Oaxaca.

            We arrived in Oaxaca a slave to the whims of travel again, for I really needed the loo and there were none around.  Never before had I picked a hotel to stay in on the basis of my bowel movements, but my discomfort forced us to book a night in the nearest hotel regardless of price.  It turned out to be quite nice, but a fair distance to the town.  Not by my standards of colossal walking, but far enough for Mike.  Having settled in, we went across to what appears to be a local chain of restaurants called Chachos.  Now they do great quesadillas, but only if they are fried and exceptional milkshakes.  We were however accosted by a bearded tramp like the guy in Amores Perros only this one wasn’t a hitman… I think.  He was merely trying to sell us what looked like furry place mats.  Mike claims he couldn’t work out what it was, but either way, it was clear we didn’t need any.  Yet our kind no thank you prompted a verbal tirade, as the bearded tramp went insane.  I’m sure he was saying something along the lines of us having loads of money and how could you possibly not want a furry place mat?  Your food could germinate in the plate and in time evolve into a new species.  Perhaps this old man himself had once started off life as a bit of food on one of his plates and needs to sell more to further the species.  Yet he seemed to be approaching violence and was luckily ushered out of the door by the owner of the restaurant.  In Oaxaca we found that the locals will try to sell you even more useless items than at Teotihuacan.  Oaxaca itself is a lovely little city and while not as picturesque as San Cristobal, it had a greater cultural scene and wasn’t crawling with as many tourists.    

            We headed into town to the Oaxaca cultural museum, whose audio tour was narrated by Leonard Nimoy.  Mike was unimpressed that every room had apparently been a dormitory when the building had been a monastery, but then what else do monks need.  That question was answered in the final room which had apparently been a huge toilet.  The museum is worth wandering round and contains some interesting items as well as some significant filler.  While visiting the later rooms I thought I heard what sounded like a bomb going off, but Mike thought I was just mental (it would later transpire that it was a minor earthquake but we were unaware of it at the time and neither of us had felt one before).  It was actually quite mild unlike the Buncefield explosion that threw my bed into a wall and which again had no confirmation, causing me to think I was perhaps going a little mad.  Oaxaca being the centre of contemporary Mexican art, we also had a look around the modern art gallery, which was smaller than I imagined it would be, but contained some interesting pieces.  There are multiple art galleries scattered around the town, but I didn’t find it as thriving as I would have expected.  The main Zocalo in the town is quite nice and ringed with cafes, while in the middle a band performs each night for the locals/tourists.  It was here where we suffered a uniquely English problem.  I sat down and Mike headed off to buy drinks.  While he was away buying drinks from one café, a waitress from the other one came up and due to the English weakness of being unable to offend anyone I ordered two hot chocolates that we would not need.  Meanwhile Mike was experiencing his own difficulties.  He was in the other café and they were informing him that they would not serve him at the counter.  So I’m ordering from one café and Mike can’t bring us drinks because we weren’t sitting in his café.  So naturally he took a table on his own and was forced to receive table service.  There he was being delivered a drink to a table he had no intention of sitting at and ordering two to drink on his own.  He promptly hailed a waitress immediately after being served and paid the bill.  He then got up and carried them out to our table where he was met by my surplus drinks.  Damn English.  Walking away laughing at our incompetence I had to check as a shoe flew past my face.  Some young Mexican girl had obviously been watching too much Austin Powers and we scooted out towards the hotel.

             I was busily thumbing the Lonely Planet for a bar for the evening and had settled on a blues joint near the centre of town.  Mike was feeling the need for beer so we ducked into a bar to get some drinks while we planned the night.  I thought this bar seemed quite cool, but it was only later that I realised the bar we’d randomly entered was the self same Bar Del Borgo we had intended to go to that night.  The place was a great little blues dive and the barmaid was exceptional, even managing to persuade me to buy some peanuts (still hate them), although I did knock a beer all over the table (stylish) for the second time on the trip prompting my new nickname of ‘El Mopo’ to go with the myriad others.  We ended up back at the square again that night prior to Bar Del Borgo and plenty of tourists had seemed to materialise from wherever they had been in the day.  In Oaxaca there is a scheme with the local street kids that is run where people spend from a minimum of a month teaching languages and crafts to the local kids to wean them off begging.  It seemed a good way to encourage entrepreneurial spirit and it’s a shame they could not find better items to sell than little plastic lobsters.  I mean, at least furry place mat guy had a natural pitch.  What can you do with a plastic lobster?  It was probably designed by the man who came up with lime crisps.  Not seduced by the plastic lobster and still smarting from the thrown shoe, we were not seduced by their wares.  However the street kids were persistent and impossibly endearing so I asked one little girl “tienes pizza?”  She nodded but was reticent in taking it from the plate so we wrapped up a piece and gave it to her prompting her to disappear happy.  We repeated this with a couple more kids, especially as Mike was not overly fond of his pizza, until the owner, evidently displeased, decided to take the rest of our food and turf us out.  Still time for some beers however before we left for Mexico City and the glorious underground in the morning.

            We awoke and sauntered over to Chachos where it was infinitely worse than the day before, barring the place mat man and by now the malaria tablets were beginning to have some nasty side effects and generally made you feel so crap you began to weigh up whether malaria could possibly be as bad.  Our last Mexican bus trip was predominantly uneventful apart from one moment where the coach stopped and someone came on with a video recorder, recorded everyone and left.  So now I have been an extra in a Russian orthodox priests visit of Moscow and have probably appeared in an OCR promotional video in Mexico.  There was also an incredibly camp bodybuilder, with shades, shorts, white bowling ball clogs and a light blue t-shirt with “I am the one and only captain” blazed across it in sequins.  It is impossible to do this oddball justice, just like the Billy Bob Thornton look-alike in Barcelona who travelled with only an apple in a plastic bag for luggage.  He also decided to lie across the whole carriage and refused to move for anyone who needed to use the toilet, even the old ladies.  The man has the pleasure of being one of the most arrogant arseholes I couldn’t understand.  We rolled into the capital in the early evening and headed for the Zocalo.

            There were a group of people dressed in Mayan outfits seemingly doing a rain dance and boy did they get their wish over the next couple of days.  A massive stage was also set up in the Zocalo and the television later on seemed to suggest that Aerosmith had played there that night, which would have been a terrible miss as we were staying in the Hotel Rioja down Cinco de Mayo road.  Yet it seems with hindsight that there had been a rally for Obrador against Calderon’s electoral victory.  We had been lucky to avoid too many riots/protests so far, while friends of ours had been forced to skip Oaxaca the previous October due to protests and fire bombed buses.  Our room ended up being up on the fifth floor which had a great view, but a taxing climb.  It also came with its own special name, which I forgot later on that night and we ended up playing room charades with the doorman who never ceased to be amused by my Spanish.  Our hotel also seemed to be the skiving place for local law officers, because every time we entered the lobby there was at least three of them watching day time soaps.  While I accept that me and Mike are highly important individuals and I was flattered by the armed guard, I figured it was a little over the top.  That evening we just passed through the park, neatly divided between metallers and reggae enthusiasts and the odd guy playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it’.  We decided we would just go to the cinema and watch Goal 2 and 300 and popped into a café en route.  The service was so painfully slow I thought I was in Ask and I managed to knock over another glass.  My incompetence was beginning to know no bounds so we headed across to the cinema, past the arcade with eighties classics.  Now the pre-film adverts were better than the average British fare, but veered from extremely conservative to incredibly raunchy (Adam and Eve apple drink) like a convention of vicars on crystal meth.  Goal 2 proved an uninspired choice, despite the film, because the Spanish sections were not translated evidently and Mike had to rely on my pigeon comprehension to grasp any of it.  The cinema also had two chairs facing the audience.  I figured this must be some odd Mexican concept, where people watch the audience to make sure they behave or that the last two people in get the short straw.  While I ran through the possibilities in my mind, Mike pointed out that there was a gap for two seats that was for wheelchair users and I conceded it was possible his explanation was correct.  During the film Mike and I were sat with a Mexican family, whose kid insisted on running back and forward in front of us before deciding he wanted to watch the film stood in front of Mike.  While this was annoying I suddenly felt something in my trouser pocket and turned around to find a three year old girl trying to pick pocket me.  Now its not often you are a potential victim of crime and your biggest concern is that you will be arrested on some kind of pedophilia charges.  If those seats had been occupied by Mexican security it would not look good having a minor’s hand in your trousers.  I was shocked and mortified, the kid scrambled crying to her mother and the parents looked at me as if I was a monster for scaring their juvenile criminal of a child.  Now maybe the kid didn’t know what she was doing or maybe she and the boy were a fledgling Bonny and Clyde.  Walking back from the cinema that night was intimidating at first due to Mexico City’s reputation as the world’s kidnap capital, but I can honestly say that is very over exaggerated  and for the majority of the time it felt far safer than London comparatively.

            Mexico City is a vast city, but at the same time it is possible to walk around the majority of the central suburbs, as we tested in our pursuit of a launderette.  The first two in the northern suburbs were shut and we ended up walking far south into Zona Rosa before we finally found one.  That being said they were incredibly efficient, getting our washing done and vacuum sealed in time for the wrestling the next night and were not even too annoyed when I knocked their chair of washed clothes over.  We spent most of the day wandering around the various suburbs as most things were closed on Mondays.  There are several monuments around the main roadways that are architecturally impressive, but Mike pointed out that this could easily be any city in Spain and that it’s only when you exit the large urban areas that you can draw a distinction between various countries.  We passed the US embassy with its long snaking queues of individuals hoping for an opportunity to get pilloried by the American press in their pursuit of a better wage.  There was also a useless traffic officer there who seemed to wave a flag for no particular reason, as he refused to stop any traffic for any pedestrians.  We also travelled further south into the posher neighbourhoods and through a park where there seemed to be an odd trio of a baton twirling girl, a guy with a ball and a third guy playing a violin.  Was an odd ensemble, but it seemed to work.  They also had a group of dogs on leads and seemingly random people would show up to take these park resident dogs for walks.  In a city where dogs can quite freely roam the streets that seemed an odd concept, but maybe it was therapy for the rich locals.  This area and gardens were so peaceful and serene; it seemed odd that the chief of one of the security forces in charge of the drugs crackdown would be executed here in his car less than one month later.  We had a few drinks in various areas and headed down to the university in search of student bars, but it appears that the campus is apparently in a remote suburb where we got trapped for a while, as despite a vast station on two sides there is only one vendor for tube tickets.  One thing you will encounter on the Mexican underground is the shit music sellers.  They clamber on and play snippets of music from a cd on mini stereos, which is annoying because as soon as you enjoy a track they have skipped to the next one.  Also you can’t look too enthusiastic in case they think you want to buy their cd.  It certainly makes the train journeys more interesting, with montages of music, but I only once saw one of them actually sell a cd.  That night, having left an internet café that played the Crash Test Dummies on loop, we were battered by the storm that those guys in the Zocalo had been praying for the night before.  With the usual tropics storm crushing every living thing under a torrent of water, we decided to cut out losses, grab some food from the 7/11 store and head back to the hotel.  While I got a burrito and burger which would destroy me the next day, Mike was trying to indicate to the shopkeeper that he wanted a Big Hot One hot dog.  Rather than getting me to order it, he preferred to try drawing pictures and negotiating with no mutual understanding.  While both of them loved this, those in the queue found it less amusing.  Meanwhile I was accosted by another wild eyed beardy tramp, but I gave him some money, as with this storm his night was going to be crap enough as it was.

            We awoke to the same miserable weather and an even more miserable mood.  Last nights food had rattled my bowels and I should have guessed that, having survived fly ridden lake food, it would be a 7/11 that would finish me off.  Flicking the television on we were greeted with scenes of a massive riot, which seemed oddly familiar.  On closer inspection it suddenly became clear that this was in fact our road.  How we’d missed the mass protest out the window I don’t know, but its not every day that you wake up to your hotel surrounded by riot police.  Well in our case it was, but normally they were watching soap operas, while today they were embroiled in their own real life tragedy.  Curious to work out what was going on and presuming it was an anti-Calderon rally, we stole out into the streets and wove our way between the lines of police.  It was difficult to get close to the action and the brief glimpses of signs in the crowd seemed to be auguring something about the death of children.  Seemed serious.  Rounding a corner near the Mexican art gallery we were confronted by two opposing crowds of people, one of which was carrying baby sized coffins and it became clear it was a rally linked to abortion in some way.  Upon our return we would learn that the Mexican legislature had passed a law legalising abortion and that there had been serious opposition to the spread of a law that already took hold within the federal district of Mexico City.  Interesting to see how the abortionist liberal movement is gaining ground within Latin America, while the conservatives are slowly reversing the trend within the United States.  As the ultimate moral conundrum it has always intrigued me how there is such limited debate in Europe outside of the staunchest catholic countries.  I mean if life begins at conception then under statutory definition abortion would be murder and yet to make it illegal would cause phenomenal social problems as well as encouraging backstreet abortions.  Yet while practical, is it correct to legalise murder and I’ve always had a degree of sympathy for anti-abortionists who claim it is a civil rights issue.  Well at least since I was mullered in a debate by a Republican housemate of mine.  While I find people try to over complicate life (when most things are really quite simple) through cowardice or fear, in order to justify not making a decision, abortion is an inherent catch 22 of an issue.  Still, the debate was still clearly raging in the Americas and it was interesting to be in the thick of the action when a seminal decision is being made.  Being present at the vanguard of a ‘liberal’ movement and not necessarily sympathising with all of its aims is a position I don’t find myself in that often, but it’s interesting how a fiscal conservative was willing to take such a bold social move.  We skirted round these crowds towards the cathedral and I again wished that I could travel through regions where issues and ideology still inspired a degree of fervour rather than general apathy and where inspirational pioneers provoked passions in the general populace.  The recent French election also went some way to show how much people can still engage with real choice and leadership as oppose to individuals who take their queue from the press rather than leading the press with ideas. 

             The cathedral is in the main Zocalo and due to the mass being performed, I was prevented from completing my mandate to climb to the top of everything.  Having touched base with one requirement, we headed to the Belles Artes Museum and the Museum of Mexican Art to canvas the local artwork.  Most of the Belles Artes Museum was shut, but we were still fleeced for full price.  There are however some great frescoes at the top of the museum by Diego Rivera.  These were particularly impressive for modern artwork and the capitalism v communism piece was particularly interesting, depicting the divide between the two, with one missing its head and the other its arms.  While Rivera falls on the opposite side of the ideological line to myself, his political commentary was cuttingly accurate for an artist and irrespective of the individual satires (capitalist soldiers in gas masks, soviets marching as one, communism missing a head, capitalism a heart, capitalism containing a bourgeois champagne cocktail event and communism people listening intently to Lenin) the overall composition is a phenomenal piece of artwork aesthetically.  The Mexican Museum of Art contained a fuller collection of artwork, with mixed results.  It is definitely worth a visit though and for those hardcore tight hobos out there it contains a video of the frescoes in the Belles Artes Museum, therefore making sure the money we spent there was even less worthwhile.  Having feasted upon some culture we decided to head down to El Chon for some authentic Pre-Mayan food.

            Now the roads leading to El Chon head past market stalls playing 300 (still in cinemas) and Shakira (Everywhere), but they do add to the hustle and bustle of the city and along with the railway stalls, were the only parts of Mexico City to mark it out from any other major Hispanic city.  Cars crawl through crushing roads, while pedestrians swarm like ants caught between the twin perils of being run over and being accosted by a furry place mat seller.  Having wended our way through and spurned the offers of such wondrous items as a cigarette packet which opened to reveal a penis (a bit like a less sinister version of my friend Tim’s fabled cock out time), we eventually came to the restaurant that promised us armadillo.  Yet upon arrival we were informed that there was no armadillo being served and snake had been crossed off the menu (flashbacks to Cuban restaurants and their damn ham and cheese sandwiches without the cheese came to mind).  So while Mike opted for chicken and I don’t know what I ate we were still treated to the bountiful options of the Pre-Mayan starters.  These included maguay worms, ants egg spaghetti and crickets amongst others.  It fell to Mike to play Russian roulette for us and while I secretly hoped against the maguay worms, the rules meant we ate what we got.  Mike spun the gun barrel of a menu and fired the chamber marked cricket.  I had heard once of Farringdon market doing crickets in lollypops and when Borders opened in Watford I wanted to hand them out with 10cc’s “I don’t like cricket, I love it” playing, but I was overruled.  I also learnt from a cookbook that cockroaches are the ideal size and shape to stuff a baby tomato.  Have to remember that for the next cocktail party.  Needless to say Mike was not too impressed when we were brought our wraps and a plate of dried dead insects.  I wasn’t much more favourably disposed, but I figured it would make a good story, so I wrapped up a bundle with some guacamole and got ready to bite.  As I lifted it to my mouth, one of them fell out the back and the illusion of this being a burrito was spoilt.  In all honesty the first bite had no effect as my brain was determined not to like it regardless of taste and my body went into full rebellion, but by the second bite it had surrendered to reveal a crunchy and slightly spicy taste.  The crickets turned out to be moderately nice, which Mike agreed with, even though both of us figured we probably wouldn’t eat them again after three burritos worth each.  El Chon does do takeaway so if you find yourself in a Mexico hotel room with a craving for grubs and ants eggs, they are only a phonecall away. 

            After this we headed down to the main park in the west to visit the modern art gallery.  It began to pelt down with rain again, but we resisted the urge for protective eye gouging sticks.  The modern art gallery is quite small and predominantly populated by photographs of various regions of the world.  By this point it was clear that my bowels were not going to be up to the task of sightseeing, but I’ve never been one to allow my body to dictate to me what it will or won’t do.  Having firmly put my body in its place, it obeyed by forcing me into a park cubicle to vomit five times and it began to exhume itself from every orifice.  There is something surreal about staring into a toilet bowl, like a particularly bad night out and seeing insects pour into a bowl from within you.  I felt like a drunken candyman.  We staggered around to pick up our washing and pass a fountain covered in foam and it seems that we had missed an impromptu fountain foam fiesta.  While this miserable rain sodden island is incapable of having even a decent summer, the Mexicans had made a top notch street party out of a bottle of fairy liquid and an insatiable craving for entertainment.  While I don’t for one second imagine that living in South America is one giant party, I suspect it is pretty close to it.  My friend in Buenos Aires even informs me of a friends day they have in Argentina and while every event is celebrated, we British can muster a session for new years and St Patricks Day only.  Quite sad really and an indictment of our scathing social ineptitude when it comes to public displays of exuberance without several gallons of alcohol inside us.

            Still reeling, what else could we do on our last night in Mexico, but go and see some lucha libre wrestling.  Having got to the back alley arena we bought tickets to sit up in the gods in a kind of circular cage surrounding the ring.  Imagine a structure combining the theatre dress circle seating with those caged fences you see in ultimate fighting championship and you will be close.  The bouts were not generally that amazing, but the crowd atmosphere was pretty impressive.  Early on they had a high level of filler matches and the rules appeared to be odd, with no logical pinfalls and what appeared to be a two out of three falls structure.  Things really began to pick up when a small wiry heel named PGP came out.  He was immensely adept at firing the crowd up into a bloodlust of hatred, but the penultimate bout would prove the most interesting from a sociological point of view due to it featuring a flamboyantly gay wrestler.  He was booked to be a crowd favourite, but it was interesting sitting in a conservative catholic country while an audience is steered towards cheering for a man who is flamboyantly provoking them with overtly camp actions.  It was interesting that there were large chants of ‘puto’ all around the arena, excepting a group of women who were clearly cheering him on.  Towards the end of the match every other wrestler turned on him and beat him down repeatedly and while he had entertained, the crowd changed reaction.  While they had been baying for the gay wrestler to get beaten badly, all bar a small hardcore section changed their tune upon actually witnessing the wished for beating and while it was interesting to see prejudices so blatantly exposed, it was also interesting to see how even vehement opponents can be won over to a degree by some exceptionally sympathetic acting.  The lucha libre is worth going to as long as you can avoid the vending salesmen who patrol the crowd like lions on a heard of wildebeest.  Just waiting for that unfit straggler who becomes vulnerable to the offer of coke and a hot dog.  As we left we just had time to find out that I’d been done with a fake twenty note earlier in the day, as one vendor looked on incredulously at the fraudster gringo, before we got ready for our flight to Los Angeles at the crack of dawn.

            We scrambled across town in the morning to the airport, where it became a mission to find the airline of the talking moose head.  I had always harboured doubts about this company and after our Atlantic crossing I realised I was beginning to develop a fear of flying.  It does not help when you have condensation running down your window when you are sat next to the emergency exit.  Before we could board however I had to explain again Judas’ absence, although we now had confirmation that he would be joining us in Los Angeles later that day.  The conversation went something like this.  “My friend is not flying today.”  “You are not flying today?”  “No my friend is not.” “You are your friend?”  “No my friend is called Daniel Goodwin.” “Your name is Daniel?” “No he is the other person on the ticket and is not with us.” “Where is he?”  England.” “Not in Mexico?”  Now this continued for some while until he was satisfied I was myself and my companion was not flying.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that this was the last time I would have to explain this on the holiday.  While flying in over Los Angeles it is amusing to see how much Los Angeles resembles Sim City, with its identikit housing in neat flat rows.  It even has the same problem getting water to its neighbourhoods that I used to have in the game.  I had a feeling I would not like this city, but even I was to be surprised by how awful it really is.  Entering customs, we were segregated into queues for locals and tourists.  I quipped ‘what about colonisers?’, but this didn’t amuse anyone.  At this point I was also wary that I had two visa waivers and it stated clearly on the pass that failure to surrender the first one in New York could mean I was barred entrance.  I decided to get straight to the mistake with the customs official, but he was more interested in what this Coachella was that everybody on the flight was going to.  Evidently not a Rage Against the Machine fan.  Having negotiated customs with some gothic Aussies we were then forced to ask directions to the tube/metro from some helpful American outside.  After informing us of where we needed to go, he then mentioned he worked for a charity and would we like to make a donation.  New to the country we had just been to an ATM and this was the equivalent of those tramps who hang around cash machines asking for change.  I still love Famke Potente’s answer in Creep of why they don’t hang around phone boxes where people actually have change.  Only this man had been incredibly helpful.  Mike fidgeted awkwardly and then produced a twenty dollar note for the charity man.  That proved such expensive advice it may have been cheaper to phone 118118 from the States and pay international charges.  Anyway we had discovered the way to the tube.

            Now the tube proved to be almost as awful as the non-existent Cuban railway.  We were left standing on the platform for over half an hour when they only have three lines.  This line has approximately 18 stations and by my calculations they must only run two trains.  That is phenomenally poor for a city of this size and while it services poorer neighbourhoods like Inglewood and Compton (both on the airport line) it is an incredibly inefficient way to travel.  With neither of us able to drive, this was beginning to look like the pedestrian’s nightmare of a city it had always promised.  Especially as it sprawls for miles of concrete mile in every direction.  It is ironic that the state most famed for combating global warming is so hypocritical as to have a decrepit infrastructure that necessitates huge vehicles (especially in the ‘cut off from reality’ richer neighbourhoods) to trawl around, but the superficiality of New York’s air headed sister was yet to fully kick in.  After an hour and a half of painstaking tube travelling, including almost being accosted by a railway marketing man, we eventually came to Hollywood to find our hostel.  Now the stars on the main boulevard are incredibly under whelming and after a while initial curiosity gave way to irritation at the number of people who have brought massive tripod cameras to take photos of obscure stars and Sylvester Stallone.  One thing that will strike you early on in Los Angeles is the stench of desperation that oozes from every crushed dream, in every bar and diner along the streets.  Our hostel was no different, with everyone working there expecting to become an actor.  We were given a tour of the hostel by an incredibly camp Giovanni Ribisi look-alike who had informed us that on his tour to the Hollywood sign he had seen Colin Farrell walking his dog.  Riveting though it must have been, I can’t understand why people would want to hike up a hill to see a sign.  What is even less appealing are the limousine tours of Hollywood homes.  Firstly I hate limos.  Like taxis, but even more pointless.  Secondly, why would I want to pay to become an estate agent for a day on the off chance I see someone that I really couldn’t care less about.  Still despite all these negative first impressions we decided we should head out to the Getty Museum for some art.  Now the tube goes nowhere near there, because of course poor people and those who can’t drive have no need for culture, so we decided we could get a taxi.  Just before that however we popped into Quisnos so I could show Mike the Philly Cheesesteak, but it had been discontinued and I felt that was fast becoming an apt description of my interest in this city. 

            The Getty Museum was free that day, which was lucky as we had to pay $45 to get there (which was $3 more than the flat rate to the airport).  It is an impressive building from which you can get a great glimpse of the huge cloud of polluted smog that hovers over the city like that spaceship in Independence Day.  The art is a phenomenal collection ranging across all periods and it of course included a Salvatore Rosa to mark its class.  You could think of the Getty as Los Angeles’ diamond on a pile of shit, rather like the Parthenon in Athens.  As we were leaving and deciding to take the bus back (which proved a monumental mistake), we learned that Judas had arrived and would meet us in a bar called the Pig and Whistle near the hostel.  The bus journey back, while cheaper than the taxi, took two and a half hours and three buses.  We had to buy more sun cream on the way due to the fact we left it in the hostel and while I like the fact random Yanks will start up conversations based on trivialities such as whether or not you have ever drank Gatorade before, I found the Los Angelinos knew little of their own city.  Two groups of people sent us in the wrong direction, most did not know how to use public transport and my personal favourite was when we asked a woman “where is the tube?” to get the reply “is that the one that goes underground?”  Needless to say my patience was running thin to the point where I mentioned to Mike he would have to go to New York to cleanse his palate of this city.  That didn’t go down well with the locals either, though I did like their onboard bus maps, even if they did constantly break as they showed the bus plowing through the middle of buildings.  Meanwhile Judas was being offered the local beer specialties by the Kelly Ducaine look-alike barmaid in the Pig and Whistle.  Imagining Los Angeles to have its own local brewing houses he was mortified to be offered Budweiser and in order to not cause offense again ended up drinking Miller Lite (mildly potent water) on his own.  Having negotiated two journeys on Los Angeles public transport totalling four hours we concluded that poor people would never be able to work, given how pathetic the infrastructure is. I can’t believe any of the residents here, who have travelled, would actually put up with this shocking situation.  It seemed as if Los Angeles was a manifestation of every awful stereotype the world has of Americans; self righteousness, vacuousness, stupidity, material obsession to a complete lack of self awareness.

            Our night took a turn for the better on arrival at the bar, with the stunning doorwoman (Yankee Heidi) welcoming us to our bar seat and our far from inebriated compadre.  Judas then filled us in on his travails.  He had booked himself a flight with Swissair via Zurich, but had been stopped at customs because he lacked a return flight.  They informed him that without one he would be denied entrance to the United States.  He of course argued that he had a previous flight booked, but they said nothing was on Swissair records, to which he replied that it was booked with American Airlines.  Eventually he managed to persuade them to allow him to log onto their computers and show them the flight details, which they then printed off back over the other side of the airport.  Then with his flight leaving in less than half an hour, he was informed that he would have to go back through customs and rebook into his flight.  So he couldn’t go without the ticket, but if he got the ticket he would not be able to go as the flight would have left.  Eventually this impasse was solved by Swiss cold logic and someone went and got hold of the tickets for him, so he could board the plane and enter this hellhole.  Anyway the bar was decent enough, but we soon learnt that there was a second bar at the back that had live music and stand up comedy.  While we weighed up whether to move or not, they set up karaoke in the main bar.  Two awful croons later we made up our minds and headed out back.  Some of the musicians were tolerable, with one blues guy even being quite good.  The stand up comedy by contrast was the worst comedy I have ever seen.  One guy was trying to use GRILF (granny I’d like to fuck) as a punch line and did a skit about a woman who looks up from the gutter and claims “I used to be a somebody, I used to be a crack whore” and these were the better acts.  It was the only time in my life I have been physically injured from poor comedy and the only amusing bit was a stoner in the back who kept repeating every punch line and laughing to himself, while some Courtney Love wannabe heckled them mercilessly.  One comedian even trailed off with something about his day job and then just disappeared.  If any of these comedians had played the comedy store in Piccadilly they would have been mercilessly destroyed.  Still it had proved to be highly amusing in an unintentional way and we returned to the hostel where Mike would have £350 stolen, to further endear him to the city. 

            Waking in the morning we were greeted by an Aussie who threw Judas out of the room in the morning for lending me a razor, because he had had two passports and a laptop stolen the night before.  My first reaction was curiosity as to why he had two passports.  We also seemed to share a room with a French Chewbacca.  He informed us he may be a while when heading to the bathroom, but I swear the clean shaven human that emerged was not the same fur ball that had gone in.  Perhaps he shaves himself and sends the hair to that place mat seller in Oaxaca.  We would not learn until later that Mike had lost the money and given the Australian’s mishap I figure either he stole the money and fabricated the story or we were both the victim of the same desperate Angelino.  Heading into the town centre, we went looking for a tent, but apparently no-one has ever heard of a tent in Los Angeles department stores.  Having discovered everyone here was a moron we proceeded to walk to the greyhound bus garage.  We ended up walking through the old industrial area.  This was pretty depressing due to the number of destitute and desperate individuals scattered all over the pavement.  Aside from one chirpy individual who offered to be our guide on our hiking trip (hilarious humour aimed at our rucksacks), every individual seemed crushed by a city obsessed with glitz and helping the world’s poor with benefit gigs, while neglecting to even spare a thought for the poor in their own city.  I’ve been to a lot of cities, but none would be as depressing to live in while poor as Los Angeles.  Having walked for about an hour and a half through identikit squalor we eventually happened across the headquarters of Satan himself (or the greyhound bus station as he likes it to be known).

            We sauntered into Satan’s station with two hours to spare, picked up our tickets and took a seat somewhat perplexed as to why people had started to queue.  After all we had tickets for the 2pm bus and it surely did not matter which seat you got.  Its like those people at airports that must queue for ages to get a specific seat when it barely matters.  I prefer to just grab a coffee and read.  As the queue began to grow like a worm on steroids and reached three times the numbers a bus could seat, we began to get a little perplexed.  What exactly were these fools queuing for?  We wandered to the back of the queue and made some inquiries only to find out that everyone in the queue had tickets for the 2pm bus.  Now how does that work?  If a bus seats 200, you sell 200 tickets surely?  Not here.  Here they continue to sell tickets forever and I could quite easily see them selling seven times a bus’s capacity.  Mainly because I had seen them do just that.  Having concluded that the ticket vendors were capitalists gone insane, we inquired what would happen and were met with the answer that it would be first come, first serve.  Or more accurately, given our punctuality, it would be first queued, first on.  This was pure lunacy and fitted this town perfectly, but the next bit of information would push incompetence to new limits.  They had only commissioned two busses to take people from Los Angeles to Indio.  Of course.  Makes perfect sense.  You have a massive music festival with a natural hub for thousands of people so why would you possibly need more than two busses?  Then again, the vendors here seem to think that these busses have a never ending capacity, so they probably figured two was one too many.  As the workers scratched around for further busses (that arrived three hours later), people left for taxis.  Having paid $45 to get to a museum I can only figure that the bills must have been approaching $300 minimum to Indio.  To entertain us, they decided to play a clip of the world’s slowest police chase.  Some guy was evading the cops by seemingly never driving above 10 miles an hour and in two hours the police had still failed to stop him with any of the means they tried.  In the end, the queue of predominantly English people (so it was a bonus for us) were evidently cheering for the driver and I had concluded that even the police were complete morons in this town.

            Eventually we escaped and made it to Indio, where we rolled in without a tent (after two more mammoth queues), managed to buy one there for $15 (which is inhumanly good given they could have charged anything they like) and were treated to a Led Zeppelin film.  You weren’t allowed to bring alcohol into the camp grounds and given that it was over 40C and the beer was $7 for a thimble of Heineken, we knew it would be a sober weekend.  Quite why all music festivals are sponsored by shit beer like Heineken (not even European strength) and Carling is beyond me.  Maybe locking people in with no choice is the only way people will actually buy it.  Camping in the desert, surrounded by hills is pretty cool, until you wake up in the morning incinerated by the heat.  There is no shelter, there is no shade, there is only burning.  It becomes a problem if you stay up late into the night in the camp, because it is impossible to stay in a tent beyond 8am without being roasted.  That didn’t seem to stop a bunch of guys with a bonfire on the Saturday night, when Los Angeles’ ‘finest’ riot police were called in with helicopters to stop a few drunk dancers.  It seemed a little extreme, but then I suppose they couldn’t take any chances after failing to stop a guy driving slower than he could push it.

            In order to prevent this final part turning into an NME review I will breeze through the highlights of the days.  The Friday saw us see a kick arse albino rapper named Brother Ali and a show stealing main set from Gogol Bordello, with the singer and one dancer leaping into the crowd on a giant drum while continuing to play.  We spent a fair bit of time in the dance tent with acts such as Felix Da Housecat and David Guetta, because it offered some shade, although watching Faithless under the desert sky was awesome.  Saw a country band named Nickel Creek who were too quiet for their billing, a local LA artist named Busdriver which is so odd you have to hear it and unfortunately we missed Amy Winehouse due to her clashing with the Arctic Monkeys.  We’d met a guy from Sheffield who was here predominantly for the British bands and who had stayed in San Diego.  He reckons that place is far better than Los Angeles and I’d be surprised if he was wrong.  Saturday saw a set by Regina Spektor in the blistering sun, a British indie medley and the Nightwatchman.  Tom Morello’s solo project is pretty impressive and because everyone was there to see Rage Against the Machine the turnout was huge.  It became a scrum to get inside the tent, however to escape the sun that had already destroyed the left hand side of my body and you couldn’t touch anything metal or it would weld to your skin.  I managed to catch Andrew Bird and the ends of Hot Chip and The Decemberists, before a disappointing set from Arcade Fire.  The night wrapped with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, before we chose to see The Good, The Bad and The Queen.  That was a mistake as The Black Keys or DJ Tiesto would have been better.  In fact Damon Albarn was so quiet Tiesto overpowered his music, which prompted the cringe worthy quip of “I’m sorry but there appears to be a rather loud ice cream van over there.”  Now that is awful.  I felt embarrassed being English.  Insults which are that pansy are why the world thinks of us as particularly emasculated.  Sunday was always going to be the show stealer.  We managed to see an awesome band called The Coup, whom Tom Morello had recommended, a mediocre Kaiser Chiefs set, Jose Gonsales and we even caught the end of Placebo’s set with “Bitter End” and “Running Up that Hill” (Kate Bush cover), which are my preferred two songs anyway.  We also caught Lily Allen, who was impressive even if she forgot the words to her songs.  The highlight of the festival, barring the headliners was Rodrigo Y Gabriela.  If you have not seen or heard this band then you must for they are amazing live and had the whole crowd (most of whom did not know them) baying for an encore.  Their guitar playing skills are so impressive that Gabriela plays percussion on her guitar while strumming and Rodrigo plays slide guitar with bottled beer.  They also play brilliantly to the crowd, with Rodrigo dropping in Rage riffs to fire everyone up.  I saw them again in Shepherd’s Bush as soon as I returned and they are awesome.  The festival finished up with Manu Chao (who did not play Bongo Bong sadly, but it was still awesome to finally see him) and then Rage Against the Machine.  Manu Chao had been dominated by a cat fight to our left that never seemed to stop and the crowd began to get restless for Rage.  We made ourselves some Rage buddies amongst the many people yelling out combinations of “Coachella, fuck yeah” and “Rage Against the Machine?” “Hell yeah”.  This is what we had flown for.  Their reunification.  I never got to see them play and this time we were seeing them play in their hometown in front of the biggest fans from around the world, all here for what was at the time a one off gig.  I mentioned to Judas that the mosh would be rough and to watch out, before elbowing him in the face during Bombtrack.  Our friends were scattered as I became embroiled in a fight for life amongst the gig of a lifetime.  The mosh was more violent and exhausting than any rugby game I have played in and I emerged at the end of the gig drenched in sweat and barely walking.  In the midst of the music, several people had scaled the video/sound structure and proceeded to be chased around by security like something out of Scooby Doo.  The festival was awesome and after a brief skim of the music I will run through some of the idiocies that further frustrated me. 

The festival included some artwork that was quite impressive from the giant purple multiple Tesla coils to the flame throwing dragon.  Food was not bad either inside the event, but in the camp grounds you were buggered unless you are a firm believer that whatever you eat should be wrapped in a burrito.  They had continental themed areas as well, but I was unaware that corn dogs were massive in Europe and that South America was renowned for its slush puppies.  I was able to try Mate for the first time however and the Calamari was fantastic when you could get it.  Once Judas approached the Calamari stand and went

“Can I have some Calamari?”

 “You want a corn dog?”

 “No, some Calamari.”

 “You want a hot dog?”

 “No, some Calamari”

 “Oh, we don’t do that”

 “You are a Calamari stand!”

  This would be the theme of the weekend, with Mike not managing to get water once because they couldn’t work out what he wanted.  One vendor could not add up seventy, twenty and twenty, but my personal favourite happened to Judas.  American’s have a version of sprite called Sierra Mist and so naturally Judas went up and asked

 “Can I have some Sierra Mist please?” 

“No, we are just a humble institution.  We don’t do those kind of fancy cocktails here.  You would have to go somewhere else.”

 “Ok, can I have a coke?”

  “Yeah sure.”

  Immediately after this Mike went to the stall and asked for sprite, to which the guy replied certainly and produced two bottles of Sierra Mist.  It takes special dedication to be that stupid.  On the positive side the facilities were infinitely better than Reading; I was reliably informed by Mike.  After the final gig, we headed back to the camp and fearful of any more queues and the greyhound bus’ incompetence (and to avoid the immense number of queues we had experienced) we decided to hike to the town of Indio in the middle of the night.  Now this did not rank amongst my best ideas, for the town was further than we remembered, though we did amuse ourselves by leaving our tent pitched.  That should have caused the workers a bit of confusion in the morning. 

            Hiking with full rucksack down the highway, I was struck by the sheer numbers of houses that had imported lawns and established vast sprinkler systems.  No wonder they were running out of water, but then again its only the poor who don’t have it, so the locals probably have yet to notice.  Also what kind of stupidity drives that desire?  If you want to have greenery around you, the simpler option is not to move out into a barren desert.  Of course the festival is held in the Apollo Polo field so extravagance is cranked up to that next level.  The locals offered to give us poor tired Brit’s a ride for a price, but we figured their charity was expensive enough to pass up.  Rolling into town around 3am we realised we did not know where the bus station was and after a conversation in a petrol station, we realised the locals had no clue either.  Better make sure we get some good maps before the American road trip or we could end up anywhere.  Eventually staggering around, we found the bus stop and added Indio to the long list of cities upon whose streets I have slept.  Having prided ourselves on our ingenuity to beat the queues, we soon found that many people had similar ideas and after falling asleep again in the bus station we woke up actually in a queue that people had formed around our prone figures.  Now that takes some doing.  We eventually escaped from there back to Los Angeles and with our willpower sucked dry and our enjoyment of this city at rock bottom, we decided to skip straight to the airport.  Seemingly after endless card games, we would eventually be able to head home, but if it was that simple it wouldn’t be me.

            We rolled up to the check in desk an hour before the flight left to be informed that Judas would not be flying.  This was confusing, as he had a return ticket with American Airlines.  Yet apparently he didn’t.  Apparently if you book multiple flights on Expedia and you miss one they cancel all of them.  This was of course news to us.  It probably stems from a natural miscommunication.  They naturally assumed that if you missed one flight you would not need the other.  We had naturally assumed that if you buy something it is yours until you forsake its use.  Either way we were fucked.  Enquiring as to how much it would now cost for him to fly we were informed that it would be £600, which is ridiculous.  Judas threatened that they would have to deport him, but this seemed a little extreme.  Yet no-one at the end of the holiday had the money to cover this.  While Judas stood and tried to cut through bureaucracy with his anger, Mike and me dashed round to the other terminal and managed to find him a flight with Virgin the next day for £250.  Of course this meant he had to stay a day longer and we last saw him drifting away on a bus to the LAX Hilton (expensive but at least it was close).  He was threatening to go drinking solo in the bar, but I figured he would just end up murdering some Yanks.  Judas would eventually return a day or so later without blood on his hands.  Passing through the security we ended up in a pack of marines acting like arses.  The security guard asked him if he was a marine, to which the marine replied “Is it the haircut?” “Yeah and the attitude.”  The marine took it as a compliment on his macho nature, not realising the security guard was calling him a dick.  Mike ended up spending the return flight with an actor who had been the axe wielding killer in the Hills Have Eyes and various other bit parts.  He proceeded to bore Mike to tears with his photo books etc.  Meanwhile I was just nervous for the flight until I was told we would be flying with Captain Todd Thrower and First Officer Mike Wise.  How could you not feel safe in the hands of people so aptly named for their jobs?  We returned back to the rainy island and travel plans remain on ice until the road trip in 2008.


















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