Friday, 7 December 2012

Stop jumping

Arrived in Uyuni with a few hours to kill, took a picture of John in a tiny railway car so that made him happy then bought me a trilby. Pretty sure that makes me a tool but it was the lesser of two evils with the still peeling burnt scalp.

At our tour office we couldn't halp but notice two loud, irritating Australians and two miserable looking Americans. Crossed our fingers that they wouldn't be in our jeep, which, of course, they were. Charlotte was bumped off to another company but looking at our group it felt like a bit of a result on her behalf.

After an hour in the car with the Australians I was ready to get out and walk back. Our worries about them had been confirmed and then some. They were loud, rude, selfish, disrespectful of our driver and just occasionally, annoyingly funny. Every time they saw a dog they shouted 'Perro' which, as you can imagine, was fun for all of never. The Americans on the other hand were a decent just engaged couple who could hold a conversation.

Salt Flats stop 1: Train cemetary. Some rusty old trains. They'd made some swings and a see saw out of some of the remains. It was a load of idiots taking pictures in silly poses. Not my thing. In fact I'll take this opportunity to say how much I hate jumping photos. WHAT ARE YOU ACHIEVING YOU MORONS? Sure take a photo as a memory but then lets just enjoy the place.
Wherever there is a popular attraction I'm forced to endure:
'You jump on 3 I'll click on 2'
'Damn, okay I think I have to click on 1'
'No you jumped on 2'
'Nearly got it, maybe I click on 1.5'... And so on until anyone who wanted to just sit and enjoy the view has cut their wrists any anyone who isn't sat with me being miserable and intolerant has formed a queue to go through the whole same dimwhit jumping process. Who was the first person to start this trend and how do I have them murdered?
Had to wait ten minutes for the Australians to finally get back.

Stop 2 - The salt flats themselves. Interesting place. Each Jeep that turned up had a load of white people get out taste the floor and confirm that it is indeed 'salty'.
Having had our twenty minutes of staring time we once again had to wait for the Aussies. So delayed that I  had to shout out to them and point out that the driver had been beeping his horn for them. They had been busy taking 'nudey photos'.

Stop 3 - Lunch. One of the Australians was incredibly rude to the driver to the point of threatening him because he wanted to get into the bags on the roof of the jeep and get his sunglasses. Our driver, Gregorio, was half way through preparing food and rightly ignored the twat.

Stop 4 - Cactus island. Weird island in the middle of the flats. It has Cacti on it. Got a bit of time to walk around and leave the Australians which was good because I'd had enough of them calling Gregorio any name but his own. 'Greggo, Gregorrrrry, Gregamundo'.

Stop 5 - Salt hostel. Pulled up to what looked like a dump from the outside. Team Australia tried to start a mutiny and wanted to steal the Jeep and go somewhere else. Me and John got out and had a look at the place. It was charming, with salt floors and walls and a great view across the flats.

Day two - Some incredible views of flamingo filled lakes and volcanoes. I'd also managed to be a little less irritable around the Australians.

video

Day three - Up at 4:30 to see bubbling mud and geysers then take a dip in hot springs. Not a bad way to start a day. One of the Aussies heard me whinging about them always being selfish and late and I was impressed to note that he asked what time we should get out of the springs. He was still 5 minutes later than the rest of the group but this was an improvement. Couple more stops before leaving the group and crossing in to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Lunch and a stroll around then 23 hours on a bus to Santiago.

La Paz

On our first night in La Paz we signed up to go and watch Cholita wrestling. It was simply bizarre but one of the most entertaining afternoons imaginable. Every fight had a clear goody and baddy, usually indicated at the start by the referee affectionately hugging the baddy then kicking the goody in the crotch. The first fight was between a man in colourful mask and a dodgy dancing man in a skeleton onesy. After this came the cholitas themselves - women in bowler hats and frilly dresses with big petticoats. It was certainly no WWE in terms of the acrobatics but they didn't hold back, as one observer put it we saw a whole lot of gusset. They would also steal people's drinks from the audience then bash each other with the bottles covering the audience in fanta.

Day two we were off to cycle 'The World's Most Dangerous Road'. The road descends from 4700m to 1200m and is one hell of a day out. I bottled a couple of the designated photo spots. I was quite close enough to the edge that once claimed 80 lives in a day thank you very much. There was even the ridiculous suggestion that we all do jumping photos at a particularly scenic ledge. I must have jumped all of half a centimetre from the ground and was told to have another go, my reply was of the sweary variety. I don't like heights but the scenery and fun of the ride made it all very worth while.

Day three. I was not a well boy and spent the day poorly sick in bed. David was suffering even worse, so much so that he took himself to hospital and spent the night on a drip. We'd been planning to move on that night but when John and Charlotte went to the bus station they found out that the last bus to Uyuni had left earlier in the morning because the next day was Census day.

Day four, census day. For the first time in ten years Bolivia was having a census and to do this they had decided to shut the country. Nobody was allowed out on the streets without government permission so for us it meant a day sat in the hostel. We had cards and there was a bar, it was fine. In fact we were in the best company possible. Pontus is the biggest fan of games on the planet, not a minute would go by when he didn't turn whatever was happening in to a game of some sort so we had a good day. In theory the hostel was not allowed to sell beer on census day but they got round this by hiding everyone's drinks and telling drunk people not to speak to her when the census lady arrived.

Final day in La Paz was spent drinking tea after some hugs goodbye to David, Pontus and Angela then Charlotte, John and I headed south to Uyuni and the salt flats.




Machu Picchu and that

Lima, Peru. Went with John to look at the central squares. Found a little shop selling people's old black and white photos so bought John a picture of a group of old women who were having a great time. He got me a man on a horse. Followed this excitement with a 22 hour bus ride to Cuzco.

Cuzco, Peru. Machu Picchu as you may have heard, is a pretty good place to stare at. We stared at it for two hours and it was a whole bucket load of awesomeness. Rather than hiring a guide we made our own tour and so if you are to ask me or John for the history of Machu Picchu we would tell you that it was built by a colony of half Russian/half Dutch people who had a big thing for goat molesting ceremonies.

Next day in Cuzco we wandered about a bit and got John a hat and sunglasses. Within 24 hours he had lost the hat and broken the glasses. Next move was on to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. On the bus we met Suffolk David and Swedish Pontus who I'd met in Quito, their Australian friend Angela and a tall, friendly Manc called Charlotte. For the next week they became our travel family. When buying the bus ticket we'd been told the bus was definitely directo. Directo my arse! Near the border we were bundled in to a minibus with our packs strapped to the roof and after the border there was another minibus change, but this is all part of the fun of travelling.

Went to the ropey Copacabana beach and took a dip in the lake unaware that it is essentially a gert big sewer. Walked up a hill which was not very tall but because of the altitude it was one of the hardest hikes I've had. Collected some wood on our way back down and John and I built a fire by the lake to see out the night. A thunderstorm came and spoilt our fun, completely soaking us and battering us with hail. During the day we'd got sunburnt. Me through my hair so badly that I had a peeling bonce for the next week giving me quite disgusting, chronic dandruff.

Nice day out visiting Isla Del Sol on the lake followed by a short bus to La Paz.





Sunday, 2 December 2012

Meeting the Bro


Got to Lima the day before John was arriving and walked to a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet. It was fully booked and so was another nice looking place on the same road. I turned a corner to be presented with a choice of two rough looking hotels, one had a big neon sign advertising the 20 soles price and adult films, I chose the other. It smelt a bit but it was cheap and I needed a wee so I took it. When I laid down on the bed I noticed it had mirrors on the ceiling, a classy joint.

Explored a bit of Lima, then back to the hostel for early night of TV and sleep because I was down to the last of my cash. Had to throw a pair of pants in the bin because a poo disguised itself as a fart. Sneaky bugger.

Successfully met John at the airport, this was no small feat for anyone who knows my brother or me. He'd brought my replacement card with him and it even worked allowing me to get money out for the first time in weeks.

Went out for Chinese, served by a giggly 12 year old waitress. Back at the hotel I didn't mind sharing a bed with John but there was something not right about sharing with him under a mirrored ceiling.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Baños and baños


South from Otovalo through Quito and on to Baños. Watched a film on the bus about a Muslim man with aspergers, sort of a brown Forrest Gump. It would have been good if one of the key characters hadn't been killed by a football to the chest.

Baños is a fun place to be, hired a bike for $5 and cycled 60km to Puyo, which is less impressive than it sounds, it's all downhill. Made some one day friends, had a night of travel chat and attempted Salsa dancing.

After Baños I had to hurry up in order to get to Lima in time to meet my brother so carried on south to Cuenca for a night which was a nice enough city, then on to Loja where I went in to a hotel and checked out the crappiest room I've had this trip. It smelt bad, mouldly with a hint of public toilet but I'm not fussy so I left my bags in it and went down the three flights of stairs to pay $9. Back up in my room I discovered that the toilet not only had no seat but it was broken and didn't flush so back down I went with my bags to ask to change rooms. Describing the problem required a silly mime of the shape of a toilet and me doing a flushy flushy motion followed by waggling my finger and saying 'roto el baño'. I was told there were no other rooms, despite there being more than a dozen keys still hanging on numbered hooks behind her but someone would come up and fix it.

I left the hotel for the evening, had dinner and found a pool bar where I played alone, used their toilet and later returned to my room to find no improvement in the toilet situation. Quite a depressing evening, not real depressing like spending every day in a loveless relationship and a job you hate but certainly not fun... that is until, Forrest Gump, the actual one (I don't want to call it the white one, that sounds bad, although I don't think it is), came on the tele in English with Spanish subtitles. ¡Corre Forrest, Corre! Along with the tele the room did have redeeming features, a family of fifty or so flies in the shower were well behaved, quiet and kept themselves to themselves. There was also a plastic garden chair which no self respecting hotel room should be without, so I made sure I had a go on that to get my money's worth.

After a day in Loja it was night bus to Piura in Peru and that is where I am now.

Cocks


For some reason South American bus stations are usually nowhere near the cities. Quito's was no different so instead of taking an hour and a half on two buses I got in a cab. My driver drove, even by South American standards, like a fucking lunatic. He must have learnt how to drive on Mario Kart, he flew from lane to lane with his foot flat to the floor then hammered on the brakes when he realised the empty lane he'd cut across in to had a parked car in it. When I told him I was going to Otovalo from the station he made a phone call and after swerving to avoid one of Wario's green shells he said he'd take me all the way for $70. If he'd have asked for $70 not to take me, I'd have paid up on the spot. Somehow we made it to the station after 45 minutes of me clinging on, him waving his fist and beeping lots, he had even had a second horn installed in case his first beep wasn't loud enough. Then it was a much more relaxing bus ride to the market town of Otavalo.

As well as wandering the market that on Saturday engulfed the whole town I visited Parque Condor, a bird of prey sanctuary. I don't like seeing birds caged up, doesn't seen right. Bugs like corners so sticking them in a box is probably a bit of a treat but birds are meant to roam free. These had been rescued from somewhere worse and couldn't be released because they were now reliant on humans for food so it's not too bad but I still can't take as much pleasure as I should from some of my favourite animals. Two wild humming bees on the way out did the trick though.

Another of my activities in Otavalo had me setting aside the bird  lover in me to go and to cock fighting (And before anyone posts a comment, no I wasn't one of them). Let's just lay out the facts of what an evening at the cock fighting entails:

  • There are thirty fights and each fight has a time limit of ten minutes and twelve seconds - no idea why.
  • There were men, women and children present and most had a cockerel to fight.
  • Before a cockerel goes in to fight he is prepared by taping a curved metal spike to the back of each leg, clearly not enough damage was being done by the beaks and feet alone. 
  • There is a referee with a whistle, not sure who the whistling is for, and another man who helps pull the birds apart when their metal spikes get tangled or one is seriously injured. 
  • Although there is some effort to stop the fights when one chuck was struggling, out of the five fights I saw there were at least two lifeless birds who didn't get to go home - dying in the ring counts as a defeat as well so a pretty crummy way to go. 


The sport is brutal, more so than I'd expected and I didn't enjoy it as such; it was interesting, in a way, to observe from a cultural point of view though. It's like if there was a public hanging, you might all be against it but if it was going ahead regardless you'd at least be a bit curious.

Adios Colombia, Hola Ecuador


Moved on to Cartagena for a night, walked round the pretty walled city then back to the hostel to read and break the front off the air conditioner.

Next morning I successfully made it to the airport and even to Bogota, after that my performance was piss poor having not properly priorly planned. First I went to the wrong queue and then from the right queue I was sent away to get a leaving stamp.

When I made it back to the front of the check in I discovered that in order to enter Ecuador you need proof that you are leaving it either overland or a flight out of South America. I was told I could go to use the internet to book this then come back. First of all, this is a stupid rule because anyone could have a bus booked and not get on it. Second of all, half way to the internet I realised I wasn't going to be able to book anything as I still had no bank card.

I apologised to the girl who was going well out of her way to help me and almost resigned myself to missing the flight. One final roll of the dice was to install Skype on the computer in the internet cafe of the airport and then use it to phone home and home Mum or Dad could book me a ticket. Fortunately this worked out but at the expense of an open ended trip. Bus website was broken so ended up with a reasonable flight back from Rio on 10th December.

It all worked itself out, as these things usually do, and I made it to Quito. Shared a taxi from the airport with a Swede and a Brit I'd met on the flight and the following day successfully picked up a Western Union money transfer. Things were back on track, touch wood.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Call Centres

Christ on a bike I hate call centres. Spent two days on Skype banging my head against the table and talking to a never ending line of banking people none of whom could help me.

My wallet was pick-pocketed in Taganga on what was supposed to be a last night with my temporary travel family. I can even pin-point the theft to within a minute, it was between me buying four drinks and me dropping a bottle of beer, smashing it on the floor. Still enjoyed the night but after I'd cancelled the card the aftermath was just a big ol' pain in the arse.

I had a few pesos, some U.S dollars and a cash passport with a few quid on it that I'd kept separate but it wasn't enough to cover my hostel bill and onward travel which needed me to get to Cartagena in two days for a flight to Ecuador.

'So the new card can't be sent to Colombia it can only be sent to my U.K. address and takes 2 days?'
'Yes sir'
'Can I make a payment from my account to my cash passport please?'
'Not unless you have telephone banking set up'
'Can I set that up now?'
'Of course you can'
'Excellent let's do that'
'Certainly sir, It will take five days to process before you can make payments'
'Oh. Is there any way I can get hold of some cash or make a payment'
'Yes, I see you have on-line banking set up, you can use your pins entry machine to do that'
'I did bring my little machine but I need my card for that don't I?'
'Yes sir'
'So... any other ways?'
'In any Barclays branch'
'We've already established I'm in Colombia, they don't have Barclays here. So without my card there is no way of getting hold of cash or card?'
'No sir, sorry'
And then we sat on the phone in silence for about 30 seconds.
'Well thank you for your time, you've been helpful, Barclays' systems have been frustrating'

I know it's my fault, I should have known about these sorts of things before I left but I just assumed that as they must deal with this sort of thing every day I'd be fine. In the end I had to rely on Ida for a loan of 100,000 pesos and then I got my parents to Western Union transfer some cash to Quito. If it wasn't for these lovely people I'd have had to resort to making jewellery or selling my body and it would have been several months before I'd be able to buy a bus ticket through those methods.

Back to School

In Taganga for a week to study Spanish with a tutor. Life there fell in to a routine staying in Villa Mary, basically a family home with a few spare rooms ($5 a night) and here is a typical day:

09:00 Wake up sweaty. Shower.
09:30 Sweat some more, scratch bites, peanut butter sandwich for breakfast.
10:00 Do some homework and go over the previous days lesson.
12:00 Pop round the corner for lunch to a house that has a couple of tables outside it. The choice, chicken or beef served with rice, chips, patacones, beans and salad with ice-tea. Filling and tasty ($3).
14:00 Start school, I say school, it was a roof-top balcony with a view out of the sea. We even did some of our conversation in hammocks.
18:00 Finish school, head hurting from too much information, buy Aguila beer ($1.50) to start relaxation time.
19:00 Back to Villa Mary to read and play with Daisy, the family's dog. Daisy has a very ugly, loveable face and stupid pink hair ties giving her pig-tails. She smells.
20:00 Dinner somewhere then read Che's biography and maybe study some more before bed.

My tutor was a nice man who'd had an interesting life. He spoke such good English because when he was in his mid twenties he left behind his wife and kids in Colombia and went to work on a cruise ship, not enjoying it much he got off in Maine, U.S.A with only $5 in his pocket and managed to stay for four years. Our conversations were a bit odd, he'd tell me things in half Spanish, half English so that I could understand them then ask my opinion. Things like what do you think about the idea of a socialist republic in Colombia or what was my opinion on him cheating on his wife once while he'd been in America. It's pretty hard with very limited Spanish to answer these questions, perhaps this is why we're taught about simple topics like pencil cases when we learn in England.

On the final day of lessons I blocked the toilet. There's a sign saying don't put paper in the loo but after 26 years* of wiping and dropping it's hard to break the habit so I slipped up a few times. Anyway, probably a bit too graphic. Thinking my Spanish was better than it is I tried to explain the problem to the friendly woman who runs the hostel, from the moving of furniture and mime display that followed what I'd actually said was 'the toilet is a roadblock'. Still a long way to go with the learning.

*This is a rough estimate, you'll have to ask my parents when I started doing this for myself.




Paradise

Took a day trip from San Gil to a quaint little town called Barichara with Luke, Rae-Anne, Gesine and Ida and here I had two servings of brownie and ice cream for breakfast. We asked the way to walk to another village called Guane and the four people we asked all gave contradicting directions but we managed to find the path and an hour later, Guane, very pretty. Tried a local speciality called Chicha, it's a fermented maize drink - bloody awful.

On from San Gil overnight bus to the Caribbean coast and a night in a shabby little fishing village called Taganga then with Luke and Ida on to Parque Tayrona which as you'll see from the picture is more than a little bit pretty. To get to the beaches we first took a bus and on the bus we were treated to live adverts, first a guy selling crackers and then a man selling some sort of toothpaste. He had pictures of decaying teeth and gums and seemed to give an excellent presentation, so impressive was his spiel that all but two of the other people on the bus left having bought a packet of the paste and at least one toothbrush! After the bus you have to hike for an hour and a half through the jungle which adds to the fun of arriving in paradise.

After a lazy day, swimming in the bath-warm water, our second night in the park ended sat on a rock looking at the stars and getting a bit deep discussing life, death, the universe and everything. It was one of those perfect travel moments you picture before leaving.

The next morning the reality of Paradise hit in. I was covered in mosquito bites and added a bee sting to my toe by stepping on one barefoot on my way to the showers. My tent and everything in it were covered in sand and mud and I was sunburned all over. Look out through the palm trees to the sea though... definitely worth it.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

San Gil

Headed north on a bus to San Gil with Luke, Rae-Anne, Gesine and a new addition to our travel alliance, Ida, a blond Swedish girl who like Gesine had been in South America for the best part of a year. Luke is 6' 5'', good looking, built like an olympic swimmer and at the age of 20 is studying a degree in management with an emphasis on adventure tourism. He has worked sampling soil and firefighting in the wilderness of Canada which meant he got to be a proper adventurer, meeting lots of bears and taking countless helicopter rides. He really should be very easy to hate and yet he is immensely modest and likeable; I didn't meet anyone who didn't think so*. Rae is two years older and has also had an equally full and exciting life as well as being super fit and seemingly good at everything. With the independent travel experiences of Gesine and Ida not only was I not the alpha male in the group, I wasn't even the alpha female. Then again this isn't a tall ask and everyone was excellent company.

Comfy bus, uncomfortable roads but great scenery. Got to San Gil and all five of us with our luggage squished in to a taxi the size of a fiesta.

Evening spent playing Tejo. Tejo is a sort of national sport in Colombia, it's a bit like darts, except instead of darts you use kilo weights and instead of a darts board there is a wet clay square twenty metres away and instead of a bulls eye there are triangular paper packages filled with gunpowder. So not really a whole lot like darts but a whole lot of fun. Especially when you hit the gunpowder which I managed once but only from the girls line while we were warming up.

San Gil is a popular centre for adventure sports so the next day we went canyoning and caving. All sorts of hairy experiences, squeezing through tight passages, shuffling along ledges above scary drops in to the darkness of the caves. Then to the outside world to jump, abseil and repel our way through the canyon. It was a good day to be alive.

Our guide Miguel was excellent and I enjoyed a conversation with him about Jhon Viafara which is not a sentence I've said before. He later told us about a local medicine (drug), Ayahuasca, from what I know about it it has similar active ingredients to LSD. Miguel spoke about it with religious fervor as it is only prepared by local Shamans who see it as their mission from God to enlighten the world through the healing powers of the Ayahuasca and it is only taken in special ceremonies. Since first taking the 'medicine' Miguel has given up cigarettes, alcohol, meat and is trying to give up cheese. What Miguel didn't talk about very much was that the first effects of taking Ayahuasca are vomiting and quite possibly soiling yourself. Everyone has the right to make their own mind up I suppose, you just have to ask yourself: Is spiritual enlightenment really worth a dirty pair of knickers?

*We did meet one guy who didn't seem to like Luke but he was a complete tool, a Kiwi called Tony. Having started a conversation with me about the 'awesome workout' he'd just done Tony then cut me off from whatever polite filler I was responding with by saying 'Your conversation is boring me, I'm going now'.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Colombian Highlands

From Bogota, north to a small town called Villa De Leyva. I was pleased to be journeying with a German girl called Gesine, a doctor who had been travelling for nearly a year, and two tall fire-fighting Canadians, brother and sister, Luke and Rae-Anne. Villa de Leyva is a most agreeable, picturesque town with cobbled streets and immaculately presented whitewashed houses overlooked by forested hills. Our hostel, Colombian Highlands, was great too, with hammocks and pretty setting but Luke and Rae had been assigned a double bed on the assumption that they were a couple. With no other beds available I let Luke have mine and took the opportunity to camp in the garden, saving £2.80, or at hostel fridge* prices - four beers.

The four of us set out for a day of sightseeing in Villa de Leyva. 
Site 1: Clay house, £1.75. A house made almost entirely from clay. Quite cool as houses go.
Site 2: Big Stone, free. Marked on the tourist map but not exactly a sight. It was fairly big and it was indeed a stone. 
Site 3: Estación Astronómica Muisca, £1.75. An archaeological site over 2000 years old. There are two lines of stones that helped to tell the ancient Muisca people when to plant crops and celebrate the equinoxes. This clever calendar takes up a small part of the site, the rest is a field full of large stone penises, worshiped to help fertility. Well worth a visit if only to watch - and participate in - the hugging of a 15 foot nob.
Site 4: Fossil museum, £2.10. Some big dinosaur fossils and a bunch of amonites.
Site 5: Pozos Azules 1 (blue pools 1), £1.05. Yes it was only a quid but it was ridiculous. How someone had the cheek to stick a rope up and label this as a tourist attraction is beyond me. There was nothing blue about them, they were browny green and set in barren, unattractive land. It resembled a building site before the building starts. The idea that someone might genuinely enjoy looking at a brown pond is a joke. I am certain that there has never been a return customer to the Pozos Azules. 
Site 6: Pozo Azule 2 (blue pool 2), £1.05 to look at it, £2.10 to swim in it. Still not blue, still not pretty but it had three wooden diving boards so we cooled off in the water (me in my pants because I'd lost my swimming shorts somewhere in America). 
Although the sites were not all that great the day was a good 'un finished off by making pasta, chatting and playing cards together outdoors. Certainly beats a day at work. 

*Help yourself to beer and drinks from the fridge, keep a tally and pay when you leave. Marvellous idea. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bogota


Flying in to Colombia I was immediately excited by the hustle and bustle of people and impressed by how friendly everyone was. Even the passport check was welcoming instead of intimidating but then again I guess most people aren't smuggling things in to the country. 

Bogota is different from most cities I've visited. On one exploratory walk I reached the south of the city which I'd been told to avoid. I was getting stared at in an uncomfortable way so I turned back and found myself in what I dubbed the balaclava district. Fifty plus small shops lined up next to each other all selling nothing but army clothing and balaclavas. This is how the city is arranged, in one area there are over forty pet shops and in another a string of shops selling lamps. 

The streets of Bogota were lined with riot police while I was there because there are regular protests from various disgruntled groups. On my second day there were seventy arrests and tear gas filled the streets. There is also a very real risk of being pick-pocketed. In the hostel among a group of ten travellers one had had his passport stolen by three women who squirted water on him and then went to pat him dry, and another had his wallet nicked. Despite the dangers of the city everyone I met was in agreement that Colombians are in general extremely friendly people. 




The Cranky Croc hostel had become a home from home, everyone seemed to know everyone as soon as they arrived and the evenings were spent socialising in the common area and playing cards. One evening I got in to a heated debate with an American, Ruben, who I had got on well with for a few days. We agreed that America was ridiculous, particularly with its dishing out of Ritallin to children, Ruben himself had been on some form of medication since the age of eight. Where we came to disagree was over the American's right to bear arms. I brought up a statistic that I'd read that there were more shootings in Los Angeles schools than there were in all of London last year*. Ruben's reaction: 'There wouldn't be so many shootings if all the kids had guns'. There may be no hope for society. 

Bogota had been interesting overall. Time to see some countryside and head north towards the Caribbean coast.

*This was actually a statistic from 1990 but it may still be true.





Saturday, 13 October 2012

One Man Wolf Pack. Vegas and Zion National Park


Back on my own again with mixed emotions, I had six days to kill until my flight to Colombia. The first few days in Las Vegas, often taken in by the flashy lights and superficial fun. These days were punctuated by some bad news from back home that made me feel very lonely for the first time in a long time, but after an evening watching Ted in my hotel room I picked myself up for my final day in Sin City.

In the four days I'd been there I had not had a single win in any casino. I'd gambled modestly in most of them but I figured all bad streaks come to an end so I donned my cowboy boots for the last time and took ten dollars of chips I had left over to The Orleans. Black Jack was my game and my first hand was Ace Queen. The others around the table variously congratulated me and begrudged my beginners luck which carried on over the next hour to the tune of $100 profit. I was proud that I cashed in and although it didn't cover my gambling for the week I'd only made a small loss now so I retired to bed happy and excited about hiring a car on my own the next day to get the most from my final days in the U.S.

Picked up the car early and headed out of Vegas to The Valley Of Fire, another incredibly pretty part of the world where I did some walks and took some photos. Arrived outside Zion National Park, Utah at dusk, pitched my tent and walked in to the small town of somewhere or other, I forget the name, for dinner. Being on the edge of a national park it was too expensive for a meal so I decided to have a couple of pints of liquid dinner and then head back to my tent for squashed bread and peanut butter. That was the plan, but some Austrian bikers with limited English were doing a round of shots as I was about to leave and they insisted (sort of, they just asked) that I join them. Well I think we can all guess where this ends up. Several rounds of shots later the bikers left and the barmaid, 28, 4 kids, 2 marriages, 1 divorce, 1 dog, who had been chatting with us asked if I wanted to come along to some sort of after party for a Moto-X event that had been taking place nearby. It never ceases to amaze me, the generosity of strangers, I physically wasn't allowed to pay for my own entry and thanks to a beer selling friend of the barmaid we drank for free with regular trips to the car park where his stock was sitting in his trunk... sorry boot.

Final day, headed in to Zion Park proper and again it was an infinitely pretty parade of vistas. I did some walks and took some photos. Bloody marvellous finish to this section. Drove the car eight hours back to Los Angeles arriving at 9pm and slept for a bit in the airport before my morning flight.

Summary of the United States: Lot's of great scenery, few too many Americans though.

Next Stop, Colombia.





Wednesday, 10 October 2012

USA Road Trip - Three Man Wolf Pack

Tuesday 2nd October

Wanted to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, missed it by an hour bt still among the first people at the West Rim site. It was breathtaking. I walked off up a hill to get a view to myself. I was gone less than an hour but I hadn't said where I was going and came back to find two angry looking girls with a security guard. They thought I might have fallen in. The security guard wasn't impressed either, apparently I'd been trespassing although there were no signs to tell me. I was forced to show him all my pictures and delete them.

At some stage Martha lost some expensive sunglasses and even though we took Ray's happy bus* back round to the places we'd been they didn't show up. Had lunch at a Cowboy Ranch included in the admission to the park where we were greeted by Geronimo's great great gandson. He is the front man in a band called Fatality and it was his last day at the ranch before going off on tour with Metalica. He told Madlen he loved her.

From the Grand Canyon it was back to Las Vegas for our last night together and we decided to book a room ahead and splash out a bit on a $150 room. Not understanding the website what we'd acually done was book three average rooms at $50 a night. They were able to rectify this and we got a good suite where we watched The Hangover ready for a night out.

Our night didn't quite match The Hangover but it was eventful. On our way to the strip Madlen spotted a stray kitten about to run on to the highway, she caught hold of it but it got free and bolted in to a gap in a concrete wall about 4cm wide. The gap was so tiny that the kitten got stuck solid in the middle. I got round the other side and tried pulling her through but her face was being squished and her eys were bulging as I did so. It would die if we did nothing so I continued to pull while a homeless lady who went by the name of Litttle Bit pushed. It's a strange feeling not knowing if you're terminally crushing an animal or saving it and fortunately she got out and pooed, it had obviously been a scary moment for the wee girl.

Madlen fell in love with the cat and christened it Miss Lucky, we flagged down a police woman who said she could take it and they would find her a home. Madlen wasn't comfortable with this and said she would take her. Madlen and I then fell out. I was too blunt telling her she couldn't take her on the plane and besides she didn't even have a place to live yet. My logic was fair, my delivery was harsh. We patched things out and then Martha and Madlen fell out and then Martha and I fell out but it ended with us all friends again back at the hotel.

*Ray was a bloody idiot who amused me greatly. I spent the next few days doing impressions of Ray pretending I was driving the happy bus.

Wednesday 3rd October

Dropped off the car, explored some of Vegas's casinos and rode the roller coaster at New York New York. Finished our time together with a barely edible meal in a Taco place. Emotional hugs goodbye as the girls got a taxi to the airport. I was going to miss the girls, it had been a week I will always remember with great fondness.


USA Road Trip part two

Sunday 30th September

Drove out to Sequoia National Park to see some big trees. The girls seemed to be getting on very well again and I managed to get an hour to myself. In the evening we found ourselves in a small town called Beatty in Nevada, it had been a week since I'd been to a pub which quite frankly isn't on when I'm on holiday so I excused myself and left the girls playing on their laptops. The pub was a whole lot of fun. I joined some middle aged locals for a couple of games of darts and shots of Tarantula Azul tequila. Because I was having fun and knowing that a drunken night out was exactly what our trio needed to bond I went back to the motel to get the girls. I was glad they came and being in the middle of nowhere Martha did get served. We were the last ones there at 2am having had a cracking night, dancing on the bar and coming together over our shared level of drunkenness.

Monday 1st October

The night out had made things a whole lot better, I was even being told 'So is your face by Madlen' something that had upset her several times when I'd said it to her earlier in the week. It was a good days driving stopping in Death Valley and at the Hoover Dam to a motel next to the Grand Canyon ready to get up and explore it early tomorrow. The Tarantula Azul took its tole on Martha who was sick several times along the way, not helped by it being 46 degrees outside.

Road Trip USA. Wobbly start.


Wednesday 26th September

Picked up the Ford Focus and Madlen drove us to Palo Alto to meet Martha's cousin Dave who is starting an MBA at Stanford. He gave us a tour of the immaculate campus which has its own golf course and is where Tiger Woods studied. Another famous alumni was Reece Witherspoon so I made the joke 'Did you hear on the news she was stabbed yesterday. Yeah Reece, Reece, Reece?'
'Witherspoon'
'No with a knife'.
We had the car now, I'd paid my third of the cost, they were stuck with having to put up with this and my newly acquired knowledge of bugs for another six days.

Found a motel in Monterey that worked out very cheap for the three of us.

Thursday 27th September

Glyn's first go at driving a left hand drive car on the right of the road. It was a success and the road down the California coast past Big Sur was fun to drive with twisty bends all the way. Too foggy to fully appreciate the views though. Bought a portable speaker that lasted for four hours at which point we realised I'd thrown the charger in the bin. Waste.

Driver swap at Hearst Castle, historic by American standards. It was built in the 1930s.

Lunch on a beach, feeding squirrels and passing an elephant seal colony on to some town near Los Angeles. At the motel we hit a snag. At some stage Martha had lost her purse containing her cards, money and driving licence. We turned the car and luggage inside out but it was definitely gone so she had to cancel her cards and where a lesser person might have panicked I was impressed to see she held it together. Comiserated by ordering pizzas and drinking beer in the room.

Friday 28th September

Down the California Coast to Los Angeles with a stop off on Malibu beach for a play in the sea with a couple of dolphins and for me to get sunburnt. As we drove off I caused a car behind to swerve because I'd left the cold pizza box on the roof of the car. Checked in to a hostel in Hollywood, walked along the walk of fame, popped in to a dull part of downtown and finished the night in a cinema watching Finding Nemo 3-D.

There was a definite atmosphere hanging over the group, I couldn't work out if I'd done something wrong or if it was a girly fall out. Guys never can tell these things but perhaps I was making too many decisions. For example it was my decision to check out downtown which was rubbish, we went to the wrong part.
Glyn: So what do you fancy doing?
Girls: Don't mind
Glyn: Shall we take a stroll around downtown?
Girls: Don't mind
Glyn: Well okay let's go. Left or right?
Girls: Don't mind.
Glyn: Okay let's go left.
And so on. This meant I was making a lot of the decisions on details but I've come to the position that if someone says 'don't mind' they will have to accept any poor decisions made on their behalf.

Saturday 29th September

Drove to Venice beach and walked along without conversation as three separate people. There was eye-rolling and sighing from the girls. Once again I'd made the plans for the day but it was that or sit around saying 'I don't mind' and 'maybe'.

After the beach Martha and I went to the Warner Bros studios tour and Madlen went to do her own thing as she wasn't willing to pay the hefty $50. At that price I needed to be impressed and to be fair I was. We sat on the preserved set of Central Perk off of Friends, saw the sound stage for the Big Bang Theory and a lot more props, memorobilia and T.V sets. It was all jolly good fun.

Thinking Madlen would be in a distant mood still I was pleased to see she'd perked up after some time to herself and we drove almost tension free to the Hollywood sign for the obligatory pointless photos.

We drove on to Lake Isabella and I suggested we have a few beers and play some cards. The girls went to bed. To me this meant one of several things 1. The girls don't like me. 2. The girls don't like cards. 3. The girls are boring. 4. The girls were tired after a busy day.*

I have to be honest it was a little frustrating that the trip wasn't turning out as full of laughter and joy as I'd hoped. To my mind I'd been trying really hard to help us enjoy ourselves but I was running low on interesting bug facts and unfortunately that is the limit of my mood-improving skills. What was really bothering me was that I still hadn't been properly insulted by Madlen or Martha. Most of my friends take a pop at me within thirty seconds of saying hello. It's four days in and there's still none of the rudeness that signifies a comfortable relationship.

*It was either 1 or 2, the girls stayed up talking and laughing in their room while I drank wine and read in the kitchen.

Pre Road Trip USA

Monday 24th September

Walked to Fisherman's Wharf where I was due to meet Madlen and Martha, the two girls who I was potentially hiring a car with on Wednesday. Although we'd sent a few e-mails to each other and they'd sounded keen I wasn't fully sure they'd turn up, but at the correct time and place, there they were. I reminded myself that the trip was not a definite and tried to be on my best behaviour (save the rubbish puns for when we've actually got the car).

We got on well, I took the girls to my favourite place in San Francisco, the Musee Mechanique which has lots of old time amusements, mechanical games and fortune tellers. Most were 25 cents a go and I went through over ten dollars. The girls seemed amused by the simple machines which was a good sign that we could get on.

Tuesday 25th September

Walked a few hours out to Golden Gate Park, got a bit over excited by a flower conservatory (perhaps San Francisco was turning me) and then came to The California Academy of Science and who should I bump in to but Madlen and Martha. We toured the excellent museum together and then took the bus up to see the Golden Gate Bridge. We did see it, technically, but only the first 30 metres because the fog was so thick. Ah well, it's a bridge, I've seen bridges before.

A few times during the day the reality of the upcoming trip dawned on me. I was about to spend seven whole days and nights with two pretty girls, 20 and 22 years old. In theory a dream come true for any man. Bu I've met girls and some of them, from time to time, have been known to be quite moody, unfathomable, irritating creatures. Coupled with that I have been known to be quite a moody, unfathomable, irritating creature so there would no doubt be a few moments along the way when we'd have our fall outs but I was confident that the experience could pull us through. Who knows. We'll see. I was nervous.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Folsom Street Festival


Folsom Street Festival is the largest BDSM festival in the world, it stretched over seven city blocks and was rammed by the time I left in the afternoon. For those of you who don't know BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism.

I've not counted how many penises...peni?...willies I've seen in my life but after entering the festival and walking for five minutes that number was now many times bigger. I was prepared for a fairly liberal and perhaps shocking experience but at 1pm on a Sunday in the street you don't expect to see a short fat man, naked save a cowboy hat, boots and cock ring tugging out a gentle Tommy Tank. In. Sane.

There was spanking and torture, people pretending to be dogs and a whole shed load of nudity and messed up costumes. I was definitely under/over dressed in shorts and t-shirt, one guy in yellow hot pants and a leather harness even stopped me to ask if I'd stumbled in to the fair by mistake. I felt a bit out of place (which I think is the correct state of mind in the circumstances) but another man told me my top was cute and a lady (possibly, it had breasts) gave my bottom a slap with her whip so that made me feel better. The full on gay porn film being made in one of the rooms overlooking the street was a bit much but it was all so confusing I wasn't sure where my boundaries for taste were for the day. I may never be shockable again.

Another Greyhound, Another Nice Person and Phoques.


On to San Francisco a good likeable woman called Tammy was sat next to me and we chatted easily, although the main topic was not an easy one. Tammy's son Jason, who was born in the same year as me, had died a year earlier. He'd been mucking around with his fiance after a few beers, he picked up their gun that he had emptied of bullets the previous day, put it to his head and pulled the trigger. It wasn't empty.

Tammy recounted stories of how much her son enjoyed his life rather than lingering on the death although understandably she was never going to fully get over it. When Tammy got off we hugged for longer than you normally do with someone you've known for two hours.

Arrived in San Francisco and teamed up with another lost looking backpacker, a Parisian girl called Chloe. She was a two seat hog and initially came across as stuck up but we ended up getting on well. Found myself a bed in a friendly hostel then helped Chloe find the place she'd booked, it was miles away and looked like the sort of hotel where you can pay by the hour. We had lunch in an organic vegetarian restaurant which was predictably crap and then I left Chloe to go and explore San Francisco and see some sea lions.

Chloe and I had arranged to meet for drinks in the evening on a random corner we picked on the map. It turned out to be a dodgy corner so I was stood under a sign for XXX DVDs and was offered drugs and women by several people whilst checking my watch wondering how late it would be before I gave up. After twenty minutes I noticed Chloe on the other side of the street. the cheeky cow had gone in to a bar and got a beer and I only saw her because she came out for a fag. She made up for this poor behaviour by flirting with a man who bought us expensive cocktails. Went for dinner and decided that for all her Frenchness I liked Chloe, mainly because she laughed when I used my French to tell her I had a crocodile in my pencil case. Her English wasn't great and I was impressed that we could just about communicate in French when needed. We hit a dead end when I tried to tell her about the sea lions so I had to do the clappy hands Aaaaarrrr aaaaarrr seal impression which drew some funny looks from other diners. Apparently seal in French is 'phoque'. Getting down to what the difference was between a seal and a sea lion I gave up and concluded that a phoque is a phoque.

Portland


Wasn't overly enamoured with Seattle, it's a city. It's fine. On the greyhound on to Portland, Oregon I met some normal, nice people for a change, Madlen and Martha who I discovered were hiring a car in a week from San Francisco to go down the coast of California then on to Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Within a few minutes they had invited me to join them on their road trip to share costs and driving which sounded very good to me. We'll see if it pans out.*

Portland was much more agreeable than Seattle, especially the people, the hostel and the bar that became my local for the two days I was there. On the first night I chatted baseball with some sports fans which resulted in me giving a one hour tutorial on the rules of cricket. The night continued on to a house party to celebrate a girls birthday. The house had three residents plus two others renting the sofas, one of these sofa residents was passed out very drunk, people were stacking various objects on him and I learned that the rule is 'If you pass out with your shoes on, you get a penis drawn on your face'. When the man woke he got very stressed at the girl who drew the penis saying "I work for a charity raising money for kids so you'd be responsible for kids not getting any money". He also had a job interview the next day which I hope he didn't get. Despite his charitable work he seemed like a dick and his response also suggested he wasn't planning on washing before heading out the next day for his interview and fund raising. Another questionable, very stoned looking character offered to become my weed dealer, I declined and then an albino rat woke up and came out of the hood of his hoody. The rat was passed around and seemed happy enough until he bit a chunk out of the birthday girl's ear. She thought this hilarious even though it bled badly for the rest of the night.

Day two in Portland was spent in the best bookstore I've ever seen, Powell's books. Promised myself I'd come out with one book but the excellence of the place meant I got four. As the sun came down I went to a part of the city where thousands and thousands of swifts slowly gather to form a bird tornado before all diving in to a school chimney tower to go to bed. A hawk came in for some supper but the flock of swifts all chased him off, it was an amazing display of nature.

Back to the bar in the evening I chatted to Gentry, a guy I'd met at the party who has a chip on his shoulder and with good reason. He was born in Newcastle and moved to Portland when he was thirteen. When he arrived no-one could understand his geordie accent and so he was held back a year by his school and forced to attend speech therapy classes. He now spoke with an ugly American accent, I felt bad for him.

*It did pan out, I'm three weeks behind in this blog.

Double Rainbow


Back in Vancouver I was picked up by my friend Vicky and her house mate Nadia. Vicky and Nadia have their own language consisting of sayings like 'Double rainbow', code for both of them having an orgasm. They are both perverts who talk endlessly about men and sex, there was plenty of laughter all weekend, I like them and their hosting very much.

On the Saturday night we went to watch Hot Chip in concert and on Sunday I was taken on a sight-seeing tour to some great views over the city followed by dinner and drinks in a quiet bar. Because the bar was quiet I did a forward roll and we argued whether or not it was different from a roley-poley. Either way the location was in my top ten places to do a forward roll.

Monday Vicky drove us to Seattle, crossing the border we were made to wait in line for an hour because of me. When we arrived at the front of the line the man looked confused, told us we hadn't needed to line up and sent us on our way. I thanked the girls for a fun weekend and went in search of a hostel, I found a crap one in Chinatown and spent very little time in it. Spent the evening watching Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles for $6, most people left early as the score was 10-1 to the Orioles after seven innings but they missed a nearly dramatic turn around... sort of, they got back to 10-4 in the ninth innings.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Victoria Bug Zoo


The Victoria Bug Zoo is genuinely freaking awesome, I was a pig in shit. Learnt an awful lot about insects and and got to hold a tarantula, a scorpion, a spiny stick insect, a praying mantis, a cockroach and wear a millipede as a moustache. Really very happy I did it. Brilliant.

There were only five visitors in the zoo, a family of four with children about four and five years old and it was all done by an informative guided tour. Looking at the leaf cutter ants the guide asked 'Does anyone know who the biggest ant in the colony is?'
I was straight in with 'The Gi-ant'. I waited for the round of applause but the others just politely pretended I'd said nothing as a tumble weed blew past. The guide carried on 'It's the queen' Well of course it's the bloody queen, who do you think you're talking to? Four year olds?... Oh. Right.

If you are ever in Victoria please, please, please go to the Bug Zoo. It's not even mentioned in the Rough Guide to Canada, I will be writing to them to make sure this oversight is corrected.

The rest of my time in Victoria was equally enjoyable, attended Rifflandia festival where Band Of Skulls were playing and The Flaming Lips headlined. Cracking.


That's the way I roll


Spent a day in Vancouver, quite nice, art gallery, park, saw a skunk. In bed by 6:30pm and slept through until 9:00am which made up for the lack of sleep on the bus.

Next day across to Vancouver Island and the pleasant city of Victoria. I'd planned for one night followed by exploring the island. I stayed for three as I liked it too much to leave.

Something I rarely note down is the walking I'm doing. Most days I just get up and explore until I'm lost. Being lost is my favourite.

Some Africans have to walk six hours to fetch some water and as the old joke goes "so why don't they move?". I think they don't move because they like the walk, think about it, the sun is always out in Africa from what I can tell and they don't have to worry about being home in time for Coronation Street (thanks to sky+) so why not snap up some of the cheaper out of town real estate and enjoy a good walk every day?

One of my days in Victoria began with me passing a flyer advertising Victoria's bug zoo. In my head I told myself to strap in because today would be a good day. Saw a nice bit of lawn in a park so I did a forward roll. Even though this behaviour isn't normal for the over ten year olds it made me smile so plplplplhhhlll you all (this is my word for the noise made when blowing a raspberry). That is just the way I roll.

Found a cafe by a marina with excellent service from the pretty server and free, efficient refills so I drank about four cups and had a long, amusing three way phone conversation with my parents that covered topics from Dad's fishing trip to Mum inadvertently going to a dogging site. Once again a caffeine hit that I'm not used to kicked in and the joyful French woman sat at the table next to mine was submitted to far too much of my talking. I spewed out a sentence too fast and without pauses 'It's a great day to be alive I'm going to the bug zoo next I like bugs maybe to the museum after that I hear it's very good but maybe I don't have time I suppose it depends how long I spend with the bugs I don't normally drink coffee excuse me for talking too much I think I have had enough coffee' so I paid the bill and left to see the bugs.

On my way I passed a father and son looking out at the departing water plane that flies between Victoria and Vancouver.
Son: 'Where's that plane going?'
Dad: 'Africa'
Being able to lie to kids has to be one of the best motivations for parenthood.

After this I saw a man and a woman catch a goose in a net then wrap it in a towel. I don't know if they were going to help it or eat it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Another Greyhound, Another Nutter


Leaving the Rocky Mountains was like leaving a girlfriend, I was going to miss them but I had to do it if I was going to see some more sights. I was taking the overnight greyhound bus to Vancouver and even though there were only a couple of free seats left some people were still spreading themselves across two seats or were sat in the aisle seat with their bag next to them. This pisses me off. Surely it is common courtesy to leave an empty seat accessible and play the lottery of who is lucky enough to get the double. If I was on a short trip I'd have picked the seat next to the person who was making their spare seat least convenient. As it was a twelve hour ride I decided to be a pacifist and took the one free aisle seat. It was next to a small man (result, more space) who was fetally curled up, gollum style, muttering to himself (hmm... not such a result, we'll see how this pans out).

Definite nutter.

I christened him Rainman because he spoke like Dustin Hoffman's character in the film, repeating the first part of a sentence at the end of the sentence. 'There should be a sign, I can't see a sign, there should be a sign'. It was hard to tell when he was talking to himself, me or the world in general. He was very jittery, intensely staring out the window and with some sort of sign fetish from what I could work out. Occasionally he calmed down after popping some pills from a little orange bottle, I liked these times as they allowed me to rack up a full eight minutes of sleep.

Come morning, about 4:00am his discomfort escalated. He was leaving Winnipeg for the first time in his life and hadn't quite worked out how the world functions. The idea of the earth spinning was definitely something he hadn't got his head around. He said 'We're three hours behind Winnipeg here, the sun should come up now. We're three hours behind Winnipeg'. 'It comes up at seven thirty there, it should come up at four thirty here, it comes up at seven thirty there'. This was too big a conversation for me to have at this hour in the morning. I figured he'd see the sun come up for himself.

Come 7:00am still with two hours left until Vancouver Rainman became worryingly agitated.
'I can't see the fucking sign, I can't see it, I can't see the fucking sign'. And my particular favourite of his eruptions: 'Fucking look at those road works. They're fucking standing there fucking doing fuck all the fucking fucking fucks' all I could reply was 'yeah, bloody roadworks eh'. Seconds later Rainman leapt up and shoved out past me in to the aisle to try and get a view out of the front window saying for the hundredth time 'I can't see the fucking sign'.

By now everyone on the bus was aware of Rainman and looked to me as if I was his carer. I decided I would try to help and asked him a few questions trying to understand his obsession with seeing the signs. From what I could work out he only had an address on a scrap of paper for a contact in Vancouver, not having traveled much he thought that he would be able to see the street name on a sign and get out there to find the address. He thought that the bus stopped for each individual passenger and when I told him that's not how it works, there were just a few designated stops he looked perplexed. How he had managed to get on the right bus with such a limited knowledge of public transport God only knows.

In a final panic Rainman leapt past me again at the stop before Vancouver downtown thinking it was time to get off. On discovering it wasn't the Vancouver stop the tirade of expletives, well just fuck and fucking repeated over and over, was awkward.

Rainman's final sentence to me before getting off was 'I need a fucking lager, I gotta fucking get off, I need a fucking lager'. I knew how he felt.



Saturday, 22 September 2012

I like Being Kidnapped


Woken by Julien throwing up/dry wretching in the loo. Showered, put laundry on and headed to a chocolate shop for a coffee date I had arranged for 10:45am with a girl I met in a bar. She never showed up. The day hadn't got off to the best of starts but it turned in to another reet good 'un.

It was the day of the Banff triathlon so I stood by the side of the road in the sunshine and cheered strangers on, earning myself a bag of goodies for my enthusiasm. All the goodies were power-bar related and tasted horrible. Back at the hostel I went to cook myself some lunch but in the kitchen there was a crazy hunch-backed woman mumbling to herself so I ran away to hide in my room for twenty minutes. When I returned she was still there, still talking to herself but now there was another normal person who I could share sympathetic scared eye gestures with so I made my super noodles while crazy lady shuffled in and out of the kitchen cursing at fridges and cupboards and kettles.

Rented a kayak for the afternoon which is the perfect way to spend time in Canada. On the river two girls in an inflatable dingy said hello to me and we hooked our boats together for a bit of a float, chat and... what's this? A beer from your cool box? Don't mind if I do.

Michelle and Jenny are most excellent people. Seeing that I had a pen they said we should draw pictures for each other. Not a suggestion I've had before, but a good one. I drew a goofy cross eyed man waving, wearing women's underwear. Michelle drew a river and mountains and Jenny just hung on to the handles trying to decide if she was enjoying herself. Jenny can't swim and has a fear of water.

We pulled over to a wee beach so that Michelle could get in the water for a wee and as the clear water looked so inviting I stripped down to my flowery underwear and dived in (upstream of Michelle). An initial feeling of 'this is perfectly relaxing' was replaced after three seconds with 'f--- me it's cold'. The girls invited me back with them by Michelle asking Jenny 'Can we kidnap him?'. Spontaneous days out are exactly what travelling is all about so I popped back to the hostel to get showered and changed and then they took me to Michelle's house in Canmore, a beautiful house with large wooden deck and mountain views. We sat round a fire, toasting hot dogs and doing conversations very well, mostly about serial killers!

I only returned to the hostel two days later having had a great weekend, playing frisbee golf and making some great new friends. So yep, I like being kidnapped.


Banff Hostel Fun

Spent a couple more days in Banff, walking and making temporary friends. Entered a quiz on my own and finished a not respectable seventh out of seven. In my hostel room in Banff was a Quebecois called Julien and one morning at twelve (I know it's not the morning but it was only just after I woke up) his first action was to offer me a beer. Those who know me will know my answer, I rarely have the in-head debate anymore. It is both polite and fun to accept a beer and so Julien and I ended up going through a box on the patio.

The amateur alcoholic part of me is not one that I am proud of but it is a key part of what makes me Glyn. Without this side the majority of people I would meet would be well adjusted, decent members of society and my decisions would be based on logic. And where's the fun in that.

Julien was a character I never fully worked out. He kept asking me about the BNP and I said I was ashamed that they had any following in Britain. His opinion was a little more pro BNP and right wing in general. Julien is shaven headed with black goatee with a number of tattoos all linked to being proud of his cultural background. He reminded me of Ed Norton in American History X in appearance. I'm pretty sure one of his tattoos is a cross that was used on the helmets of the Nazis.

Thankfully Julien's views were only of the mild racist nature and he didn't push his opinion and allowed me my own. It was more about not losing the culture, particularly the French-Canadian culture of his youth. As we drank that afternoon it would appear that Julien had been on a session since the early morning, he became slury, swaying and irritating. I made my excuses and left. When I saw him several hours later Julien had a protective dressing on his arm - another tattoo. There should be, and probably is, a law against letting someone drunk get permanently marked. Worried that he may have a swastika under the dressing it was a relief to see some ugly Greek symbol, something to do with his grandfather.

Joined a couple of other guys in the hostel in the evening, found ourselves invited to a fortieth birthday celebration. In the hired room there was a noticeboard with post-its for people to sum up the birthday boy in one word. He seemed like an excellent sort so I chose 'Gentleman and legend' because I can't count. One of the others from my room chose 'blowjob' thinking no-one would know. He was caught in the act but the people at the party saw the funny side and took no offense. Finished the night in town playing pool (badly) and dancing (very badly) in an empty nightclub. Good times.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I'd Give A Badger A Good Kicking

After the indulgences of the weekend in Canmore I went for a long, tough hike up Mount Rundle and came back down it parlty on my bottom. I was knackered and got the best nights sleep I'd had in months. It felt like two full days had passed because of the clarity of the dream I had. The dream started with me waking up in the U.K. ready for the first day back at work (which it was for my ex-colleagues) and the dream turned almost to a nightmare.

Despite the school being a cross between the school I went to and Hogwarts I was convinced this was reality and my travels had ended abruptly. I was supply teaching and all the worst parts of the job were there: Kids embarrassing their school, being rude to visitors, ignoring staff and generally acting up like like all normal little gits should. I became panicked which is normally where a dreamare would end but instead it carried on for a full two days of teaching and extra curricular activities. There was football with the students and I got tackled by a twelve year old letting him go on to score the winner against my team. I had a house and family with an ex-girlfriend and dozens of screaming children, I was in hell and because I wasn't waking up I figured this was my actual life now.

When I eventually stirred awake I still felt like I was in my own bed at home and the sound of a man pulling up his jeans with the belt jangling was disturbing. The total immersion I'd had stayed with me all day, not something I'm used to from dreams. Normally it would just be one or two weird moments that I'd remember like when I kissed my friend but he had bicycles for hands and was thirty feet tall. I'm not sure I liked the feeling of remembering my dreams that vividly, hopefully this doesn't happen again.

Went for some bird watching and bear hunting. I didn't see a bear but the trail was marked as high likelihood so I ran through what my defense strategy would be if one was to attack. You're supposed to talk calmly so I'd tell it the joke 'What cheese do you use to get a bear out of a tree?.. Cam-on-bear.' If it didn't leave me alone I'd get my penknife at the ready with the corkscrew out - as that one's easier to pull out than the knife. Then I'd get eaten. I wondered what the toughest animal I could take down bear handed would be. I'm no Legolas against the oliphant but I reckon I'd give a badger a good kicking.

Being alone with my thoughts, I enjoy my mind on days like this. And still with all the glorious scenery as a backdrop that I can't imagine tiring of. And even better, now school is back in I can really appreciate the feeling of 'I'd be going to work right about now'.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Rocky Mountains Wedding Crasher


I had booked on to a tour from Jasper down to Lake Louise. The pick up was at 8:30. I did not make the pick up. Possibly $100 wasted.

Packed up my tent and strolled back to town to see if I could still get to Lake Louise that day. Made up an excuse about my watch being in another time-zone. I even wound my watch back an hour and showed the woman I was begging to. She may or may not have bought my lie. Either way I was able to swap my tour for the direct bus. Missed out on some apparently special sights but the drive was still spectacular, past a glacier and a black bear.

Tried some root beer. Didn't like it.

Lake Louise (gorgeous) was followed by Banff (also gorgeous), things were good and met good people and saw more great views but let's spin on to the fun of Canmore.

Had a two hour wait for the bus to Canmore so I decided I'd try to hitch-hike. Was picked up after ten minutes by a hungover girl who took me to McDonalds in her beaten up old pick up. Thanked her for the lift then tried to find a bed. Four hours later, having walked out to the hostel 5km out of town and back and around town I managed to find a motel with a bit of space. Even though it was the cheapest motel in town, at $100 it was still three times my daily accomodation budget. As the Canmore Highland Games were in town it was my only choice. Why the Canmore Highland Games are a thing I have no idea but they've been running for twenty two years.

If I was used to hotels the first things I would have noticed about my motel room would have been the badly stained carpet and odd smell. As I'm not, I was excited by the fridge, hob and little bottles of shampoo. Having a room to myself I did as any self respecting man would have done: Got naked and had a wee with the door open.

Met up with Pete and Shauna and their friends Kristy, Clayton and Megan. They were in town for their friends wedding so were squeezing in to one hotel room where we played drinking games and had a fun evening. Clayton was asking Kristy about her heated mattress
Clayton: 'What temperature does yours go up to?'
Kristy: 'Max'

We joked that I should be a wedding crasher the following night but I said that wasn't cool on someone's big day so I couldn't. Popped back to their hotel the next morning to steal breakfast and thank them for having me. Next up I figured I should check out the highland games.

Briefly strolled the park and watched some people throw heavy stuff then found my way to the beer and music tent. The music was all Irish but it was excellent. Watched the official opening ceremony which was a load of ridiculous pomp and ceremony. I loved it. Found myself smiling like a special child all day. Bagpipes though, what a cack instrument. There were three hundred pipers and most seemed like normal people. I don't understand that.

Over some Irish dancing I befriended a girl who had had a very full and troubled life. She had been given the all clear two days earlier after suffering from ovarian cancer, her ex boyfriend was murdered and she was fairly well off thanks to her talents as a cocaine dealer in Vancouver. She'd left the city to escape that life and was working in a restaurant for a bit before moving on to Spain. We drank for several hours and then she went to work half cut.

With the sunshine, bagpipes, drinking and new friend I was feeling very good and decided that crashing a wedding might be okay after all. To do this I needed a suit and luckily the taxi driver was happy to help out. The only issue was that his waist size was 40 inches and he had definitely given me the shirt and tie he cared least about. I looked idiotic, but at least I'd made an effort. I'm not sure how acceptable my presence was at the reception but I certainly felt welcomed and I think I behaved myself, not taking advantage of the free bar. I did take advantage of the limo that was provided to ferry guests back to their hotels though and I joined Pete, Shauna, Clayton, Megan, Kristy and two others at their swanky hotel room to conclude the night with some Royal Reserve (dreadful rye whisky).

Canmore and everyone in it had been good to me. I recommend it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

It's Good To Walk


Time for The Rocky Mountains.

Jasper.

My accomodation was in a 44 bed dorm in the one hostel in town, which isn't in town it's 7km away. So not great but Jasper is a beautiful small town.

Found out that despite normally needing to book three months in advance one camping spot was available to walk The Skyline Trail - rated one of the best walks in the world. This is one of those lovely times when things just work out for you. Got myself kitted out with an extra pair of warm socks and set my phone alarm for the next morning.

I haven't seen that phone since. It was only being used as an alarm and had no SIM but I can't work out where it went. Fortunately I woke at 8am anyway, only an hour late, and figured even though I couldn't make the bus to the start of the trail I'd maybe be able to hitch a lift. Things work out for me moment number two: Found a guy in the hostel who was one of the other twenty people walking the trail that day, his friend was driving to the start and they could give me a lift. Too easy this travelling lark!

The group became five as their friends joined us and as we seemed to get on well we spent the first day walking the 22km together. I won't go on about the views because you can see them in pictures and they don't do it justice. Plus reading about pretty things is boring. I'll try and sum it up with one word: Incredible.
Cooked some supernoodles then went for a walk up to a waterfall where I saw an animal that I thought was a goat crossing the fall. It was too big for a goat though so maybe a deer? Then it faced me and it was quite clearly a wolf, reminded me of the gmork from The Never Ending Story. They are much bigger than all but the freakiest big dogs. It was the icing on the cake of the views I'd been spaffing over all day.

Both days had a great variety of jaw-dropping, incredible scenery and blah, blah, blah. Sorry, but it was dead good and the two days were the highlight of my trip so far.

After finishing the trail I still had 13km to go back to town and another 7km to the hostel. I tried hitching but nobody fancied picking me up so I was still walking as the sun started to go down. I'd left a note at the hostel to see if they could reserve me a bed when their computer was working again. Nothing was guaranteed but I was on a run of luck... which came to an end. No beds at the hostel.
I had enquired on my way through Jasper at an average looking motel. The girl on the desk said 'I'll write the price down for you'
'No need to do that I won't be offended' I replied. It's a good job she did write it down - $174. I pretended I'd think about it but we both knew the kid who needed a shower wasn't coming back.

The panic ended before it had begun as the campsite only 3km from town had space for a walk on spot so I headed back, finally getting a hitchhike lift from a family of South Africans and pitched my tent in the fading light. I was overdue a shower and they had some, indeed I liked the campsite so much I signed up for four nights.

The days in Jasper were good. Got my haircut one day, thought I was doing good flirting with the hairdresser until she said 'So what is this trip some sort of mid-life crisis?'. Ego dented, no big tip for the hairdresser.

Loved Jasper so much I wrote a poem, this is how it goes:
Mountainous peaks, peaceful creeks,
I'm in Jasper
And as per my wishes I will make this the time of my prime,
By drinking wine,
Really? Wine?
Sure a beer wouldn't go down better?
Alright, I'll have a beer.

Won't try poetry again for a while.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Edmonton

While in Edmonton I was a guest at Pete and Shauna's new house. They are a couple I met in New Zealand and had stayed friends with them since. For the next three days this friendship worked out very useful for me as they are overly generous hosts. If you know them and they like you, go and stay with them, make sure that Zorro - the cat - doesn't steal your breakfast though.

Day 1: Checked out the Edmonton Fringe Festival but we didn't see any shows just soaked up the atmosphere and watched the uniformly awful buskers. One man by the moniker of Magic Brian spent ten minutes building up to a trick with a false thumb that I had in my Paul Daniels set when I was ten. We later saw him outside his empty show tent looking depressed.

Day 2: Shauna and I played golf. They have girls driving round in carts selling beer to the players here. That seems like a good system to me. Most of my round was rubbish but did hit a purple patch of birdie, par, birdie. Followed that up with 8, 7. This is similar to how it goes with beer and pool, two beers and Glyn kicks ass. Three or more beers and ass kicks Glyn.

Fun day followed by a couple of the good shows of the Edmonton fringe, an improv show called Truth or Dare and a late cabaret show.

Day 3: Elk island provincial park. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard it was full of loads of bison, moose and elk. Technically we did see a moose and a bison but both from a distance. The main walk of the day was a two hour stroll, we didn't realise however that it was through mosquito territory. We were destroyed and couldn't enjoy the walk. I asked if we might see a beaver as there were lots of dams. Apparently they're nocturnal though. Shauna did say 'You can see a beaver tonight if you want'
Pete quipped in 'Steady on Shauna, don't I get a say in this' hee hee.

I thanked them both but would see them again in a weeks time further down the rockies when I would have need to thank them some more. But we'll come to that later.

Monday, 27 August 2012

All the excitement of the greyhound


The bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton took 52 hours in total. Here are the events of day one:

I sat on a bus today.

And here are the events of day two:

For most of today I sat on an uneventful bus. For most of the journey I had had two seats to myself, that changed at Thunder Bay when the most enormous passenger of the trip boarded. Of all the seats available he chose to sit next to me, perhaps I have a friendly face, or a skinny arse. Either way I was left with half a seat thanks to the 6'5" (height and breadth) of the excellently named Andrew McCooey. As the driver came down the bus to count the passengers he pointed out that there was a double seat available further back. To my astonishment Andrew declined. Unbelievable! I was too shocked/polite/British to say I'd take the other seat but if Andrew was staying on all the way to Edmonton I'd have to move.

After half an hour of squashed silence Andrew spoke 'Where you from?'
'England'
'I got a friend from England. He used to live here but he got deported'
'Oh'
Five minutes passed then Andrew spoke again
'How long you been here?'
'About a week in Canada'
He reached in to his wallet 'You seen Canadian money before?'
'Err. Yes I've needed to use it a fair bit this week'
'How about American?'
'Actually yes, I was in New York at the start of my trip' He seemed disappointed that he had nothing to show and tell so he rooted in his wallet and puled out a card: 'Firearms Licence'. Oh God.

'You wanna know why my buddy got deported?'
'If you want to tell me then yeah'
'He stole his Dad's money and car and got in a high speed pursuit with the cops'
'That would do it'
'He like to drink too much'

For five hours I was sat next to/underneath Andrew McCooey and the conversation ran as smoothly as a rubix cube down a sandpaper slope. I couldn't figure him out, he was either slow, a danger to the public, desperate for a new friend or all three. It was like the most awkward first date. Topics he covered: What movies do you like? What food do you like? What music do you like? Do you like drinking? - actually that part of the conversation went on well for a while.

Some good and odd McCooey conversation tit bits, usually dropped in with no link to any other part of the conversation:
'If you go to a strip bar you know how to get the girl to dance up to you? Ignore her. I'm telling you it works'
'Thanks, I'll bear that in mind'

'Your light on your watch, you know how that lights up?
'No I don't actually'
'Uranium.'
'I'm not sure that's right'

Occasionally it got scary. After I'd fallen asleep for half an hour Andrew woke me with a nudge and asked 'Did you get some sleep?'
'I was sleeping yeah'
He leaned in and whispered 'Did you hear about the guy who had his head chopped off on the greyhound?'
I became very aware that I was pinned in to my corner of seat with no escape route. Andrew continued 'After he did it he walked up the aisle holding the head up by the hair. It was on this route too.'
I nervously replied 'It wasn't you was it?'
'No. But that's why I never sleep on the greyhound'
And thanks to Andrew I didn't sleep again on the greyhound.

Eventually an explanation came for Andrew's conversational oddities. At age thirteen Andrew had been knocked off his bike by a truck and suffered brain injuries that took him years of rehab to recover from. I felt bad for judging him earlier but was glad I had chatted to him. It had been the most interesting part of my journey and he was just looking to be friendly.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Niagara, Toronto and Ottawa


After the megabus from New York I arrived Saturday morning in Toronto and was impressed with how quickly I located the hostel. However, on arrival I found out that I'd messed up my booking, it was for the following Saturday and they had no beds tonight. Nor did any other hostel in the city. But the HI in Niagara did have space so I went back to the bus station and made my way there instead.

Niagara is a nice spot, but full of tourists, as you'd expect, so I took the standard photos and headed back to the hostel for a pleasant evening with a pleasant group of travelers.

Monday, Toronto
Explored the Toronto islands then off to the skydome to watch the Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays in the baseball. I think I like baseball, quite a good sport. After the 7th innings comes the 7th inning stretch. Nearly all the crowd gets to their feet and follows the lead of the mascot and cheerleaders in a spot of aerobics. I couldn't see it taking off at the cricket.

Some of the crowd around me took me under their wing and tried to answer some of my questions about the league. They were pretty much clueless, in a season of 200 games it would appear that regular fans just turn up for the odd game to enjoy the beer and the aerobics. The Blue Jays won after two extra innings so everyone was happy. As I left I saw a group of girls in I ♥ BJs t-shirts.

Ottawa
Chose to stay at the Ottawa backpackers which as luck would have it had filled up their main dorms so I was taken next door and had an apartment to myself. Bought a bottle of wine and a tin of ravioli and settled in for the evening. At 10pm a 47 year old called Andy who was originally from Ottawa arrived and took a private room in my apartment. We went to a restaurant together and Andy had some dinner whilst writing out two full pages of A4 recommendations for me of things to do in the area. After food Andy headed home and I found a lively bar with open mic music. A group of locals invited me to join them playing drinking jenga. One of the group, Sarah, seemed to like me (what does that prove? She's not blind), so we arranged to meet the next day to do a quick tour of Ottawa.

Went to the houses of parliament with Sarah, the main plan was to find the Cat Village, one of Andy's recommendations. Sarah had never heard of it which made me think it might not be real but after some inquiries we got there. It was everything I'd hoped it would be. Literally, all it was was one slightly crazy man poking a cat with a stick.
'How many cats are there?' I asked
'Six' replied the bearded man still poking the cat
'I heard rumour of a couple of raccoons too?'
'At night. They come for food but they don't stay here'
Sarah asked if she could pet the cat
'No, he's pretty mad right now. He'd probably scratch you' said catman
Well I'm not surprised he's mad, you're poking the poor bugger with a stick.
The Cat Village made me happy. This was a good day.

For those of you who are interested Sarah was a bit dull and young (18) so there was no romance. In fact she was too young to drink in Ontario so she was using her cousin's I.D. Her name was actually Julie. Julie wore glasses on our tour of the city. It turns out that she genuinely was a bit blind the night before.

Ottawa was good and so was having a bit of space in the apartment so I spent another couple of days there, visited museums and went for a 40km walk out to a park on the French Canadian side of the river. I took a stick for the walk. Her name was Sue but she was no Herman. Too arrogant and French, I left her by the road after the walk wondering if any stick could ever live up to the quality of my reliable old buddy, Herman the stick. It seems unlikely.

Up next, a 50 hour bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

New York


Thursday - Museum day. Apparently the Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays so I went to the Metropolitan instead. I enjoyed a lot of the stuff which is unusual for me in an Art gallery. Impressive collection of painters: Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Pollack, Warhol. My favourite - favourite is underlined as a spelling mistake on this computer. Stupid Canadians - was a photo of a man tucking his willy away mangina style*. He looked like he was having a great time, who can blame him.

After the museum I stepped in to a bar and befriended a local drunk called Eric.
'So your name is Clint, like Clint Eastwood'
'No, Glyn'
'I never met a Clint before'
'You still haven't, I'm Glyn'
He then introduced me to all the bar staff as Clint. I gave up trying to correct him.

Passing another bar I popped in for one happy hour beer. I emerged six hours later pissed as a fart. It wasn't my fault though, the barman was very friendly and explained American football and fantasy American football to me. The league system is still a bit of a mystery. I didn't pay for many drinks because a kind American banker called John who had lost a million dollars in the recession - bit careless - insisted on buying me several drinks. He also said I could stay in his house while he was on holiday the following week. His holidays consist of him telling his wife he's going fishing while he just sits on his boat smoking weed.

John left and I noticed the shots and beer had hit me. I was stuck in conversation with an arrogant republican arse and every time I tried to reason with him after he made a ridiculous claim about socialism I would end up losing my train of thought and slurring 'I can't remember what my point was, but I know you're wrong'. It was time to leave.

At 5am I woke up on a park bench nowhere near the bar or my hostel or the route between the two. Oops.

The final day in New York I walked the high line path and then got my backpack ready for an overnight journey to Toronto. New York was good, I enjoyed it and its people very much.

*Mangina is also underlined red as not recognised as a word. As is recognised.

It'll all be fine


And so it begins... although it nearly didn't.

I came very close to cocking up the whole start of my trip by not looking in to the U.S visa. I didn't have one at all the day before I left and only by chance helping my brother book his flights at STA travel did I find out I didn't have one. I should have known better but fortunately my application was accepted and I dodged a pricey bullet.

There are things I will miss about home, not least my Mum and Dad. In the car on route to the airport:
Mum: 'Why are you wearing your sunglasses? There's no sun'
Dad: ''Cos I'm a cool dude and these are good sunglasses. They work in the dark'

At the airport I hit another snag. The U.S visa requires you to have transport out of North America booked to prove you're not staying. I had a bus to Canada booked but that was not enough so I was taken to the ticket desk and had to buy a flight. Off the top of my head I said Los Angeles to Bogota, Colombia. I booked it and now had to add a few more destinations to my itinerary. Panic over, I was on my way.

In the plane I was sat next to a girl called Jo who was on her way to the Dominican Republic on behalf of the Christian Union. She would be directing a half improvised play on the gospel of Mark in Spanish. It sounded bloody awful but she was a nice enough girl so I wished her well.

Through immigration, giving all ten fingerprints and an eye scan. I was in. Had a stroll through central park and bedded down in my hostel at 9pm (2am GMT).

After a good nights sleep I woke to be greeted by a stressed looking American lad in his pants. Even though there were two people still asleep in the dorm he spoke at normal American speaking volume (150% of other nationalities volume). He complained that he had been kept up by a Fat man in the bunk below watching a film on a laptop. The irony that he was now stopping others from sleeping was lost.

Walked to the bottom of Manhattan for the view across to the Statue of Liberty. The Liberty island is further away than I expected.

In the evening went out with two of my roommates who were as geeky as me. A German scientist and an American pharmacist. The question 'What do you think of the 2010 health care reform act'. They were good people and I learned that in the U.S.A. there are more deaths from prescription drug overdose than from automobile accidents.

After a pint met up with Asa, an Israeli I met in Slovenia and two of his friends and we went to the Top of the Rock, 67 floors up for a night time view out across the New York skyline. A good way to end a day.