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


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?'
'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.


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.