Friday, April 27, 2007

Brutal Bureaucracy

Throughout my travels I have stumbled across monumental bureaucracy. Usually it doesn't affect me too much, what do I mind if they have to fill in and stamp three bus tickets three times for our 30 minute journey? And if it avoids corruption then I guess it's a good thing. But occasionally it frustrates one to screaming point. This might end up being a very long boring story.

Pressie For DaddySo in Oaxaca I posted three things, two large envelopes at 300g each and a wooden armadillo for my dad, which I packed in a box, wrote his name address on and took to the post office. The only trouble I had was with the cost, a total of about £30, over double the total cost of the presents I was sending (the usual ratio), and since they only had small value stamps I had to cover half of each parcel and letter with stamps and my saliva. Now we get to Puebla, a couple of hours away from Oaxaca, I have two boxes to send. It was difficult enough packing them, it made me realise how helpful everyone had been in Oaxaca. So I get to the post office and the guy tells me the boxes need to be wrapped in manila and tied up with string. WTF? So I go across the road to the papelaria for the third time and ask the moody old woman who wouldn't give me any boxes, and ignored me so much the second time that I nearly walked out without paying for the two sheets of paper, but she tells me that I need to get the post office to check them before wrapping them, I try to explain that they just sent me over, but she wouldn't have it so I return to the post office, they send me straight out again, I guess because I practically packed the parcels in front of them and they didn't see any hint of drugs or arms. So the moody old woman wraps my parcels and asks me to address them. After I've addressed the first one she tells me that I need to put my return address on it. Now I haven't left enough space and I can't really see the point, it's not like I have an address in Mexico, and if they can't find one address in Steyning how are they going to find mine? So I tell her that the address is my address. She huffs and puffs. Eventually she finishes both packages and I return to the post office. The guy is finally satisfied and weighs up the two parcels at 400g and 800g, which for some reason only costs £10, less than the presents cost!

So if you do get something from me, be very grateful, and if you don't then it's either been eaten up by customs, or I just lost the will to live before I finished posting it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Odds And Ends

Oh Bye ThenWell Maddy got off ok, and has arrived safely home. I'm glad to say that in the last few days in Mexico she really managed to begin living the Mexican life, with such choice quotes as:

"Is that a cockroach, or is there an elephant stuck to the ceiling?"

"Jamie that man just full-on groped my arse."

Of course I went looking for said man, to show him how western democratic justice works, but unfortunately he'd managed to escape me after I wondered slowly in the wrong direction, shaking with fear at the thought of finding him.

I Was Here TooIf you've been checking my photos recently you may have noticed that a strange Machu Picchu-like structure has cropped up in the middle on Mexico City. Well actually no it hasn't, I just uploaded Diego's photos from the Inca Trail. So that's that mystery solved, now we just have to work out how they got all those stones up there and so perfectly shaped without the use of wheels, metal tools or animals.

A blast from the past of a different jungle trip came in the following form from a fellow Lost City trekker:
i find myself in a weird mood in this current circumstances, kind of summering up my trip and looking back at things in a nostalgic manner; from meeting up with jamie kitson i can say i learnt this short, yet very true line that i found myself thinking about over and over again - "if it`s worth doing, than it`s worth doing well".

It's odd what you leave people with, I don't even remember saying it to him, mostly I asked him what the army was like and tried to keep off the subject of politics. He's Israeli.

Something I meant to mention about Colombia and all of America in general is this road system. The block system. It might be logical and easy to navigate, but it isn't half boring! Colombia though, decided that it wasn't boring enough and numbered the roads. Calling the north-south roads "Races" for some reason. But then Bogota decided that this was too boring and decided to renumber a whole sector meaning that lots of buildings now have two addresses on them, one crossed out in red.

UPDATE - So the phrase "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well" was being applied to drinking, most of the guys were drinking warm rum with warm coke, and I couldn't stand it, I went out and bought a giant bag of ice and a giant bag of limes. If it's worth drinking, it's worth drinking well. And I hope I didn't cause any offence with the Israeli comment, I've liked every Israeli I've ever met.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Food And Drink. Minus The Drink.

Doll's ChurchMaddy and I went to an Italian restaurant last night. It reminded me how irritating Italians can be on the subject of food. They seem to think that they're God's gift to the human palate. Well no! You're not! Italian food is boring! The first mouthful may be the most delicious thing you've ever tasted in your life, but then every other mouthful is exactly the same. I want some variety here people! And if you try to explain this to them they smile at you in this condescending way and say "But darling, you've never had proper Italian food." That's right, I've never been anywhere near Italy. No wait. I have. Twice. And you know what? I can't even remember the food! That's how good it was. (Actually I do remember the pizza that was like a biscuit with some cheese on top. Great!) And the other thing they say to you is "But darling, you're English, you wouldn't know good food if it bit you on the tongue." That's right, you lived in Britain for twenty years and you never even found an Italian or Indian that you liked? "But darling, that's not British cooking." Right, every single dinner you ate in that twenty years was cooked by a foreign chef. And those aren't national dishes you're eating, those are British variations on a theme. My mum cooks great lasagna and spaghetti bolognese (fuck off Adam:), but the only thing that's even vaguely Italian is the pasta, and where was that produced? Italy?

So the good news is that after eating the whole bread basket and my so-so cannelloni I have decided that I have finally got my hunger back after a bit of a nasty illness. My previous worse ever illness was in Laos, when I awoke at 3am with a sudden onset of Explosive Bowel Syndrome and fell unconscious against the wash bowl (see Mum, I've learnt that one!) on my first visit to the loo. But it got better after that, and only lasted about 12 hours. Statistically this last bout was 2-4 times worse. By Thursday night I was visiting the toilet frequently and after exiting the toilet to wash my hands on one such venture I suddenly felt very weak and giddy and awoke to find myself unconscious on the floor of the shower room. I then had to sit down half way up the short flight of stairs and then collapsed again once in our room, and had to crawl into bed. Maddy asked me why I didn't wake her, I'd thought about asking her to pass the bin in case I was sick, but what else could she have done.

Rainbow Of BeetlesSo today it was Maddy's turn, she started feeling a bit bad after her spaghetti bolognese (yes Adam, with meat). I only realised how bad she looked today after I'd marched her to the bus stop and we were already on our bus to Taxco. I said that we could stay in Cuernavaca, but stoic as ever she said she'd see how she felt after she'd eaten. She ate, and ate a little more at my prodding, about half a slice of toast in all, and then was sick all over her feet once we left the restaurant. we could make out little pieces of spaghetti. I knew it, not just boring but poisoned too! Maybe they heard me. Anyway, we came right back to Cuernavaca.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Food And Drink. Minus The Food.

Wondering why we were still drinking Coronas which we could be drinking anywhere in the world I decided that since we were in the state of Michoacan I'd order a Michelada, which turned out to be a Bloody Mary made with beer (Corona) and of course limes and chilies and had salt around the rim. I am now addicted to the stuff!

The View From Our RoomMaddy and I arrived at Mazunte on the Oaxaca coast Our Romantic Roomlast night, we checked in to our room over looking the beach while it was dark and were rewarded with a beautiful, paradyllic some might say, view when we awoke this morning.

No, we didn't feel any hint of the earthquake.

Monday, April 09, 2007


There She BlowsI wasn't expecting Mexico to be so calm and tranquil. Don't get me wrong, there's been plenty of craziness, not least in Jerez, where they seem to think that mixing horses, fireworks and alcohol (for both the horses and the people on the horses, and the bystanders of course) makes for a jolly good time. Actually I have to agree with them on that one :) And then there was the march of silence (I think) which was silent apart from a drum beat and very occasional trumpet calls, and consisted of an incredibly long march of people mostly dressed in KKK-like robes carrying Jesuses in various conditions of pain and distress, Crossenclosed by the longest rope in the world. But over all Mexico seems a pretty relaxed place, especially Guadalajara, a place which I cannot pronounce if I am reading its name. I've also been quite surprised at the openly gay community here, I think even in Brighton you don't get the openly affectionate gay scene that you get here, but then I guess if your straight scene is open enough to have people groping each other in parks all over the place then it only follows.

Black And WhiteWhen Maddy arrived she said three things, that I am thin (I've always been thin!), that I am brown (I've never been brown!) and that everyone at home thinks that I am having so much fun that I will never come home, well fear not, I am actually quite looking forward to it, but not quite enough to move my flight :)

Another thing that Maddy said was "I fancy cooking tonight." I was flabbergasted, well, surprised. I've been loving the food here, it's so good and so different. The food's been good everywhere really, but here it's really different from European food, goat stew for breakfast with tortillas and limes, sheep cooked in cactus leaves in a hole in the ground with tortillas and limes for lunch and then... actually we've mostly been having a very large late lunch and not much else. With tortillas and limes. In the UK I've often thought what a genius combination beer and limes is, but it's just a default really, everything comes with limes, and chili, and you can get your beer with chili too, it's just way too salty for me. Anyway, the point is I found myself wracking my brains trying to remember how Johanna did her blue cheese sauce this evening, after Maddy's spag-bol (though Adam always swears you can't call it spag-bol if there's no meat in it) last night. I can't usually be bothered to cook in hostels, it's too frustrating and you usually don't really save much money. And so it was. Our bill came to 200 pesos when two can eat well on 150 pesos, though as Maddy pointed out, that doesn't include chocolate, which after the steak was the second most expensive item on the receipt. Honestly, we come to the land of chocolate and she buys Cadbury's!

Again, you might like to have a look at Maddy's photos so that you can get a load of my ugly mug/beautiful face.

Talking of photos, this was recently brought to my attention :)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Go To Colombia

Forget everything you think you know and go to Colombia. It's the most fantastic place. I think it's the only place I'd really like to revisit (apart from Huacachina of course) and the only place I really regretted having to leave. Though that's unfair to Argentina as I spent four months there and am going back, so I don't have to wish for it. Anyway, back to Colombia... Probably the friendliest place I've been, the most paradyllic, the most varied. Though that's unfair to Ecuador, which I hear is also very varied, but I didn't exactly make the most of it, staying for just a week. Back to Colombia... The land of fruits... and... and... the classic jam and cheese combo! What else was there Sonia? Oh just go!

Maddy!I think I am beginning to understand how parents feel, well I don't think "understand" is the right word, as I have all these irrational fears, starting with a very anxious two and a half hour wait at the airport (I knew her plane had been delayed) and continuing when she didn't eat any dinner, little breakfast and then left virtually all her lunch (very unusual for a Kitson/Johnstone/Bowers) so I was very relieved when she ate all her dinner and said she might have a 3rd pancake for breakfast and reported solid pooing afterwards. I managed to allow her to make her own mistake of not putting on enough sun cream despite the clouds (Sarah, I did advise her, but she insisted she'd be ok. She has very pink, slightly painful arms today).

Her pictures are here.