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Letters from the road
Saturday, 29 August 2015
Mad dogs and english men.
The Hill photo IMG_0119.jpg

       Over the years I've had many offers to try a spot of bike riding in Great Britain. I've easily managed to resist the temptation. If I’m going to fly to the opposite side of the world to get on a bicycle, it better be sunny, warm and dry. None of these things do I associate with the English summer. It isn't called a green and pleasant land for nothing. For some reason this changed after watching Michael Palin walking from Liverpool to Sheffield. What could be more pleasant than strolling along an old canal in the sunshine with a pub conveniently located every couple of hundred meters. Better still, do it on a bike, more time to chat to the quirky locals at the pub stops. The stars all align. My cousins want me to drive them around Europe, I'm being forced to fly to Heathrow, and I've forgotten about the English definition of summer.

       This may come as a surprise to some of you but sometime I do have to work. A thanks here to the Australian Tax office for giving my life meaning. So I passed the planning off to my brother Mick. “Bike, Pubs, Canal, Liverpool to somewhere close to Liverpool”. Over the next couple of months I got regular emails with things like bike hire, and suggested route in them, which I skimmed the headers of, and then replied that’s fine. He even managed to sucker our friend Cath, to coming along. And thus I found myself at Euston station with a ticket to Liverpool, and a nagging thought in the back of my head that perhaps I should have read a few more of those emails.

      I arrive and catch up with Cath and Mick at the station. We have a nice hotel booked in a converted mill in the middle of town, Cath has borrowed her sister’s bike. Just a` little summer rain to great us. Did you know the Beatles and Cilla Black where born here? Not that you can move more than ten feet around town without being reminded. Liverpool is a wonderful town with lots of bars and great old buildings. It's industrial history is everywhere, from the imposing East India` Building, to the old dock warehouses now turned into trendy flats and cafe's. We avoid all this and go for a dodgy Indian buffet in the back streets. The next morning we wander off to collect our renta bikes, it's only raining slightly.

Mick has also persuaded two English couples who we met in Cuba to come along as well. This is a stroke of genesis, not only may they have some idea of where we are going, Andrea has taken up the mantel of master logistics planner. I learn that we are ridding the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). A two hundred mile trek that does follow some canals (without pubs), and climbs the Alpe D' Huez of England. First day, a leisurely fifty miles, the basted didn't put that in the header. We head off through the town bike trails down to the river. The sun comes out, and a brisk tail wind springs up. We ride along the Manchester ship canal ( to big for pubs), then duck on to one of the many abandoned rail lines that criss cross the area. All around us are remains of mighty Victorian industries. Coal pits, canals, train lines,and huge viaducts, all abandoned. A small note here on English bike paths, they are perfect except for the local councils love of putting obstructions on them. Every Kilometre, especially at the top or at the bottom of a steep hill there seems to be a narrow gate which you have to weave your bike through. A lot of time and effort has gone into making these extremely difficult to get a bike through, add random large rocks placed in the middle of the path, and you have made your signed bike path the most impracticably way of getting from “A to B” on a bike. Our track mainly avoids towns, but being Tom and Andrea's local they manage to find us a nice pub for lunch. Only 20 miles to go. After lunch continue till we hit Manchester. Only 4 miles to go. We ride around the Mersey and lose the trail. Only 4 miles to go. We leave the Mersey and hit the streets. Only 4 miles to go. Eventually we get to Tom's house where we are staying for the night. Only four miles to go becomes the standard distance measure to anywhere from now on. A few beers, a quick shower, chuck our washing in the machine,off to the local curry house for a non dodgy curry and some reds. Life couldn’t be better.

       After a fab breakfast, we head out on our next leg. Tom brings out his riding secret. One hundred millilitre shots of condensed beetroot juice, this is the gear Lance Armstrong was on. For the next four days every time I go to the loo I think I have bowel cancer. The ride is only forty miles across what poses as a mountain range round here. Fortunately we are in the Costa del Sol of England so the weather is perfect. A few stops and a couple of hills and we find a pub for lunch. The trail continues rising slightly along an old line with great views as we rise above the valleys. John and Burnie, our other couple become our de facto leaders, John blazing the trail, and Burnie keeping an eye out for the pubs. Eventually we can see the top of our days ride, Its only about 4 miles down hill on the other side. There is a 3 mile tunnel through the hill. Great. Unfortunately it's full of high voltage power lines, put there after the line closed. We have to push (not ride) our bikes up a goat track another couple of miles to the summit. Eventually we get to the top, roll back down to the other end of the tunnel, only to find we need to ride back up the main road to get to our hotel for the night. It's worth it, beer and good grub await at the end. We all sleep well.

      Day three. Selby only another leisurely 50 miles. Who organised this again.. I arrange to meet a mate, John at the end. Weather good as you would expect. Cath's sister has stuffed up her flights, and she has to leave us at the end of the day. That’s her story anyway, “Liz make sure she buys you a bottle of wine”. The trail is meant to be pretty much flat from here but some how we get lost and go down a steep hill. It takes us a hour to find the trail again. We ride another 4 miles to Bently train station . Three generations of the same family under 40 pushing prams, and a lack of trains are the only remarkable things about the place. Much to Cath's disgust we have to ride 4 miles back into Doncaster to get her a train out. She escapes while I try to find a loo in a Brit Rail station. We give up and check into the local motel. Total distance 37 miles. Bummer I missed John Stoddart for a bit of chat about the cricket which the Aussies are loosing along the track. Thank god for small mercies.

        Day 4 50 miles, weather ominous. Trail flat. A good days ride past old airfields and along canals again. A bit of a Cuban tail wind ( straight in your face ) has sprung up. Lunch in Selby and I finally meet John for that chat. He joins us for the afternoon but heads back when the clouds arrive. We have a bit of trouble finding a place to stay so end up doing 60 miles for the day. It's starting to rain as we pull in to South Cave for the night but the food and beer is good

       Day Six. 15 miles. Weather crap. The English summer has arrived with a vengeance. I get out the rain coat. Mick and I only have 15 miles to Hull. The others are foolishly going on to Hornsea. Another 15 miles. The track is good and we stop for a cuppa at the Hummber bridge which we can barely see through the mist. Soaking we finally get to lunch, and afterwards bid our English friends goodbye. They struggle along a muddy track for the next couple of hours but arrive in the end after a couple of punchers. I jump on my bike to ride a couple of hundred meters to to the car hire place. I've go a flat. It's close enough I'll walk.

      We drive 200 miles back to Liverpool, through the mist to return the bikes, and spend the night in Southend reliving a bit of faded English glory, Basel Faulty would have been right at home at our “Prin of Wales Hote”. The Letters had fallen off the end of the sign. G n T, full English Breakfast, and a view over the mud where all available though. Back to Hull next morning to return the car, we arrive right on our 24 hour time slot. It's like ground hog day.

 Thanks to Mick and Andrea for the planning, Tom for the bed, and the rest for being silly enough to come along.

 

Click The pic for more photos


Posted by bondrj at 10:52 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 29 August 2015 10:59 AM NZT
Friday, 17 July 2015
Ruinas y Cenotes
Vehicle Assembly Building photo 20150303_111111.jpg
 
Ruins and Swimming Holes
Ruins are an individual taste. One man's castle is another man's pile of rocks, sometimes not even a very impressive pile of rocks. Two friends of mine  (you know who you are) are great fun to accompany on a site visit. She sees a magnificent ancient greek temple, He sees a pile old rubble ripe for a unit development. Myself I have a bit of a foot in both camps. Mexico has many great Mayan/Aztec sites. Some of theses survived successfully for many hundreds of years, only to then be abandoned then resurrected by later civilizations. These people believed the original creators where gods. Teotihuacan,Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Monte Alban, are pretty much, must sees if you are going past. Thirty years ago I first visited  Mexico and wandered many of these sights. Tourist guides where the locals trying to make a buck, Fences and keep out signs were non existent. Pay ten Pesos at the gate or sneak in the back door. Bash your way through the bush like Indiana Jones and climb whatever you please. In the eighties for  twenty bucks I reckon I could have taken an excavator in with me. I have fond memories of sneaking up to the Sun Temple, climbing down and checking out  rocket man from "Chariots of the Gods" fame. Nothing like some Magic mushies and turning out the torch four stories down at midnight,in a burial crypt to bring history to life. Sadly such enlightened attitudes have changed. In Palenque a million peoples acid breath has closed the rocket god's tomb to visitors. Most of the major temples can only be viewed from the ground.The sites are still spectacular but a bit like Ayers rock It's not quite the same. Fortunately the ancients were productive little bastards.There still are plenty of lesser sites where you can climb till your heart's content. Unfortunately many of theses will fall into the pile of rocks category.
   Cenotes on the other hand are something I can never get enough of. The Aztec's believed in the heaven, the earth, and the underworld. Gods lived in heaven, temples on earth worshiped them, and foretold celestia events, Cenotes were the paths to the underworld, where virgins and captured enemies were sacrificed much to the relief of the goat population. Eighty million years ago a giant comet smashed into the earth just north of Mexico. The resulting shock waves shattered the limestone allowing water to seep in.  This eventually developed in to cave systems. Where the roofs collapsed in places, you are left with bright clear lakes connected with underground rivers, The water in them teams little fish, flickering shafts of light reflect off the walls. Stalagmites climb out of the warm pools,  underground rivers keep the pools crystal clear. Stick your head under the water and low roofed little caverns become grand ball rooms, full of mirror balls and mysterious paths to the unknown. These are the swimming pools you have always dreamed of having in your back yard. Maintenance free and ever changing.  Central America and the Caribbean are full of them. See Ya  later I'm off to catch up with the gods.

Posted by bondrj at 12:06 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 17 July 2015 12:35 AM NZT
Sunday, 7 June 2015
Thanking God in Las Vegas
 photo 20150330_223959.jpg
    "God thank you for coming to Las Vegas, God knows we need you here. Vagas ain't what it used to be". Thus we were greeted at the ramp door on our flight from Mexico.  No Shit. Vagas ain't what it used to be. The old deal was simple. Vagas was a mob owned neon illuminated hole in the middle of the nowhere. Walk two blocks off the strip, your surrounded by sand. You came here to gamble, solo, there was nothing else to do. Casinos gave you free booze,  cheap rooms and the odd show starring a 60's has been. If you knew the system, you could live for practically nothing. Free breakfasts and $3.99 banquets were the lure every casino used to suck you in past a never ending row of one armed bandits, and smiling croupiers. If they did there job properly in two days, you would be hitching back to Texas, after blowing your last twenty bucks on a 35 to one "get out of jail" spin on the wheel of death. If truth in advertising existed the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign would have "Thanks Sucker" written ten feet high on the back of it. The place was the perfect cash cow.
    Then greed killed it. Las Vegas was the fastest growing city in the US for 20 years running. The mob left and the corporates turned the place into a retirement village, with a amusement park in the center. One hundred percent non recourse mortgages, and a global financial crisis did the rest. When the music stopped, it was hit harder than just about anywhere else. States everywhere else legalized pokies, and all of a sudden the average loser did not need to jump on a plane to pay his voluntary tax. 
     Like a roller coaster its still worth a spin but it's lost it's dirty rotten soul. Heres a bit I wrote thirty years ago in the good old days.  Vale old Vegas. I will miss you.


     Imagine your driving through the desert, hour after hour, mile after mile, gas stations, wierd military bases, and cactus are the only things that mark the passage of time. It gets dark and only gas stations come and go, then on the horizon a dull glow appears. As you go on it gets brighter, half an hour later the glow is enormous and as you top the hill it appears, a tiny neon blip in the middle of a dry valley. “The strip”. 3 miles of pure fantasy. As you drive toward the lights, billboards everywhere extol the virtues of 10s or better video poker, $1.99 meals, 50c drinks and cabaret shows.

 

   You park the car free in the middle of the city, something unknown in the U.S. You hop on the monorail shuttle bus and your off into the world of the unbelievable. The first thing you notice is the light followed by the noise. The lights dull almost dark but punctuated by flashing miniature bulbs, thousands upon thousands and then the noise 5000 poker machines, crashing and clanging, paying out and taking in.

 

   Come in, come in, all interstate visitors get a free chance to win a car. Step right up, step right up, $1.50 to win a helicopter, 75c to win a Ferrari, 15c to win a new Chev a penny to win a .357. Time stops. There are no clocks, things happen 24 hours a day, in the corner the band plays, down the hall $1.99 for a 4 course meal and as much as you can eat up on the mezzanine.

 

    At Circus Circus the stage is set in the sky above the Tables, It drags the punters in, bright flashy lights keep them mesmerized. The kids to the video games, the adults to the slots, look up, see the lion tamer, the traipse act. The real show is on the floor below. Time stops, reels turn, coins clatter, Ma and Pa feed the machines.

 

    Walk out the front door and grab a handful of coupons on a way for a free telephone call at the Stardust, or a free meal at the Nevada. Hey the sign out the front takes as much power as a small town to run and uses $5000 worth of electricity a month. Enter the next place, the games the same, only the characters have changed, block after block, mile after mile, everyone’s a winner.

 

   You wont believe this but one of the guys at the hostel was telling Me how he needed to get a job in the morning and at 7 o’clock that night he rolls up in a chauffeur driven limo. He’s come to pick up his bags. Seems like he went down the Mint, put $5 on the blackjack tables, 5 hours later he’s $70,000 richer ($100,000 - 30,000 tax), and the casino has given him a limo, a room, and some Hookers for the night.  And if they don’t get it back off him again tonight, tomorrow he flies home to Austria,. Everyone loves a winner.

 

    Feel a bit lonely, rent a girl (this is Nevada you know) of course its not legal on the strip but in the next county and they give a private limo service. All major credit cards accepted. Then perhaps you feel like something a little more permanent. Wedding chapels operate 24 hours a day. For $49 Elvis can marry you and your girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, cat, dog, car, handgun. No blood tests, free documentation, flowers, photos and motels all arranged, for extra cash of course, or use your credit card, or someone else’s, it doesn't matter. Get a government cheque, any government cheque and they will cash it for you minus their take, they get payed whether its hot or not.

 

   You walk back out to the car. How long has it been? 2 hours or 2 days, Times stopped you've walked a million miles, pulled a million slots your tired and broke. You start the car the noise slowly disappears, you drive, soon the lights are just a dull glow, suddenly its back to desert, cactus, gas stations every now and then, and lonely black miles. Did it happen? Did it really exist or was it just a dream, another gas station: you start to wonder.

 

For a few more pics click here 

 

 Ps. For a feel of the old Vegas go to Reno, 70's decore, cheap meals and you can still smoke at the tables.


Posted by bondrj at 2:35 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 7 June 2015 9:33 PM NZT
Friday, 8 May 2015
Socialist Biking.
Town photo 20150313_095902.jpg
       The original idea of going to to Cuba, was to go bike riding. We normally just rock up with some bikes and a brief idea of where we are going, then wing it from there. For one reason or another this wasn't going to cut it in Cuba. Finding a place to rent, buy, bikes in the internet non friendly Cuba while in Oz wasn't very fruitful. As a matter of fact finding anything web based in Cuba is pretty hard. There are plenty of bike blogs, and tour's that offer some good information, but nearly everyone seems to take their own bike. In Cuba everything is owned/organized by the government, think of your own experience with your government. Yer I know, not hopeful. Right. Second problem. When first mentioned we got a few of the Fat Boys interested, but this gradually dwindled from four to three to two. The Fat Brothers tour was it.
      No bikes, two people, the only other option was a organized tour. We chose this one here, as for the process involved in that you will have to ask Mick. They sent us lots of information, which I didn't read, as close as I could get to winging it. At some stage I gave them money, which should be illegal under socialism, but they took it anyhow. Welcome to Cuba, land of paradoxes. The trip was all inclusive, all we need to do was buy a couple of meals, and pay some tips. After a couple of days in old Havana, we headed off to our first hotel to meet up with our group. Our first hotel would be familiar to any one who has been to the old Soviet Union. It's even owned by the Russians and is only missing the Intourist logo out the front. Saying that, it had a pool. and was ten times nicer than what I was expecting. Most of our group were arriving that night so we ate the buffet and tried to guess which other dinners would join us tomorrow. Unfortunately all our guesses turned out to be a polish netball team. Being an English company, our group of eighteen was mostly English, Canadian, with a couple of Irish, Aussie, South African stragglers. Most but not all of us had some riding experience. We met in the foyer after breakfast, there we were introduced to our guide Eric, drivers Tuna and Miguel, and bike mechanic William. They gave me a helmet, apparently I was meant to bring one, and a nice mountain bike. I hadn't read the itinerary, so from there on pretty much every thing was a surprise. 
       We rode back into old Havana,and were cruising down one of Cuba's rare hills, when the bloke in front of me took a huge face plant into the bitumen. First thought, now the guide is going to earn their cash. Second thought. It is the guide. I thought he had broken his jaw as there was claret everywhere, and he landed with a huge splat. Great start, scratch one guide, and the only English speaker. I hope they come in six packs if this keeps up. Once he had been despatched to the hospital on one of the buses, our bike mechanic William took over as leader, and I got to practice a bit of my Spanish asking about various things we where looking at. We eventually ended up in the middle of town only to find Eric waiting for us, much worse for wear with a bandaged chin, but still breathing. Talking was hard work, and he couldn't ride for a week. He had also hurt his arm, but like the six million dollar man the Cuban hospital system had rebuilt him. They went to the first hospital and they told him he would have to wait for an hour. Not five hours, One hour. This wasn't good enough, so he went to the next hospital and he got seen to straight away, and as always in Cuba, free of charge. We then jumped on to the bus, and off to our first nights accommodation a couple of hours bus ride away.
           This was pretty much the template for the rest of the trip. Eric would give us the profile of the days riding. This generally went something like, "The first bit is hard but the road is not to bad", "The second section is really hard, and there is a hill", "The last section is very difficult, and when you reach town look out because the locals may mug you." Generally the riding was flat and easy, along good but sometimes bumpy bitumen roads. Cubans don't have hills, more speed humps, and the locals were friendlier than most other places I have been to. Rest stops where every 15/20 km, where you would have a snack and fill up your water bottle. You could buy commie cola, or freshly crushed cane juice on the side of the road everywhere. If you got tired you could take the bus and chat to the drivers.  We would either ride  the first part, then bus the last bit, or visa versa. The lunch stop was during, or at the end of the ride. Lunch was either homemade sandwiches in a little bar, or a sit down meal in a restaurant. When we got to the next stopover town we would do a tour. This was hard work after riding as I generally wanted to just have a shower and relax, but there was no other time to fit it in. Dinner was in a restaurant or a home cooked meal from one of the local little home stays that have opened up recently. A few beers in the bar, a bit of a chat, then off to bed for generally a 7am breakfast the next morning. Breakfasts where generally fruit, Bacon, Eggs, and toast, with lots of good Cuban coffee. All stuff I love, but not particularly good bike riding food when you're setting yourself up to do 70 km on a bike. 
      Our group was a good mix. Something's you cannot order before hand, but if you can order a good group, pay extra. Psychiatrists and accountants seemed to be overly represented. Most of them liked a drink, some of them even liked bike riding. The support crew were great as well. Eric the guide, was in his 30's, and kept us amused with facts about the Cuban revolution. This could be a bit of a juggling act sometimes. Quite often with several opposing viewpoints presented in the same sentence. Our drivers Tuna and Miguel, both had young families. Tuna who was in his late forties, had just had his first child. She was only a month old, half of which he had spent driving us around. In the season they quite often do lots of back to back trips, with just one night at home in between.  William the bike mechanic, was the character of the bunch. He normally only rides the first  three days to set up the bikes, but due to Eric trying to remove himself from the gene pool, he became our de facto road leader for the whole trip. 50ish, super fit, onetime professional bike rider, latino, and unashamedly ladies man. He  had 5 children from 5 women in five different places in Cuba. He could ride all day, fix the bikes all night, then try and get  me into trouble with my bad Spanish, and the bar girls before taking over himself. Ten Dollars could buy you a lot of entertainment in Cuba.
        We only had one non traveling day, in Trinidad.Most of our enthusiastic crew went off diving or hiking, the Bond brothers,slept in, then went back to our usual lifestyle. Wander down town, find a coffee, find lunch, have a few drinks, find dinner, find more drinks.  If I did it again, I would pick atrip with a few more rest days, as it's just nice to wander around town and check out the place at your own pace. I loved the riding, but my highlights where the interaction with the locals. Lunch with Tunas extended family, teaching our casa peculiar host how to cook Spag Bol, buying beers and pizza in the non touristy places, and chatting to the locals "wherever". We meet some people on another companies bike trip, and ours was definitely the pick of the two. Because we were staying in the "nice" hotels we also met a few bus tourists who were spending their days being whisked from one revolutionary monument to the next. Riding was definitely better.
       The riding was generally along good sealed roads. Sometimes these were a little rough due to the number of work crews pouring tar on every crack as soon as it appears. Tar and labor are cheap in Cuba. We would quite often ride through little towns with the locals all sitting on their veranda's and using the telephone. The Cuban telephone, that is. Every one would be conversing with the neighbours by yelling acreoss the street, that way the whole village would know what was happening. There was not much traffic to drown out the reception. The weather was very hot to extremely hot if you were English, or warm to hot if you were Australian. Cuba is windy. On our easterly leg we always had head winds, until we reached the end of the island at Santiago de Cuba. After that we turned 180 deg and enjoyed the famous Cuban tail wind our guide had told us about. It blew in our faces all the way back to Havana. We never forgave him. Our bikes were good quality mountain bikes, with the hardest seats I have ever ridden on. The only fault I could find was that couldn't lock the front shockers, and neither could anyone else. This wasn't a great problem as the roads were generally flat. Cuban roads are full of bikes, horses, carts, pedestrian's, tractors, and dump trucks transporting people from one town to another. Cubans are used to slow traffic so the rare car that went past was really good around cyclists.
       We finished up the tour at the Bodeguita de Medio, a bar in Havana that Hemingway used to drink at. All bars in Havana have this in common, even the ones opened after his death.The Bodeguita is the only one surrounded by tourists, that has a capitalist advertising sign above the front door. It's hard to miss. We said our goodbyes, and most people flew straight out over the next couple of hours, We checked into a $30 casa paticular in the middle of town, for a bit of working plumbing and a final couple of Cuba Libre's.
     Oh, and a sleep in.
           
Click the pic for more photo's..

Posted by bondrj at 12:48 AM NZT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 May 2015 10:00 PM NZT
Wednesday, 15 April 2015
Viva La Revoloution
Until Victory Always photo 20150320_183339.jpg

 Cuba 2015

 

     When we first landed I thought they had made a mistake. I peered out the window through the misty rain at a dilapidated semi abandoned 1950's terminal in need of a good paint. Bugger I've got on the wrong plane and ended up at Heathrow. An old bus eventually arrived, and they herded us on to the terminal, 60's, minimalist style. I looked at the crappy fluorescent lighting, and realised that I wasn't at Heathrow. Most of the lights where working. There is a bit of a line through customs, but none of this " how long are you staying here ? " crap. A quick stamp on the visa we are through,and free to stare at the baggage carousel.
     This is Cuba. Along with our baggage at the check in counter we are surrounded with the delights of the decadent west. Ac units, stoves, car tyres, boxes of who knows what. Every one is allowed 40KG of baggage allowance and the local take full advantage. They bring back every thing but the " Five Brothers", more of them later. Cuban customs search every bag thoroughly looking for, Sat phones, GPS's, undeclared capitalist goods and porn. Well mostly porn. My bag comes out with a broken zip, and the keys to the padlock which where on a clip on the outside missing. Good start Guy's. Where here to go bike riding but have opted to start our trip with two nights of luxury in the Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana. It was a favourite of  the Mob, and Al Capone, and has my hotel picking essential. A pool. From the bar at the top you can look out over town. First stop go to pool, first thing order a drink. Cuba Libre. First observation of the Cuban Economy, rum is 80% cheaper than coke by the proportions in my glass. Vitamin R as our guide calls it, it never seems to be in short supply. A staple at every meal along with the 5 brothers. Beans, Rice, Chicken, Pork, Fish. 
     Next day we wander around town, which is seeing the effects of 55 years of socialist revolution. At the Museum of the Revolution we learn what CIA has been up to . Any industry that has collapsed, disease, pandemic that has struck, or mysterious failure of the great socialist plan, can squarely be traced back to the agents of evil. The main industry here seems to be museums. Cars are museum pieces, most buildings that haven't fallen down also. Factory's are preserved in almost the exact state they where when they where nationalised in the 60's, a few zombie workers hang around,nothing much else seems to emerge from the halls or chimney's. The grand train station has more platforms than the country has working engines.
     The sole exception to this seems to be the oil refinery just across the river which belches out black smoke over town 24/7. Advertising is limited to bill boards of three dead dudes. ( or all most ) Chavas, Fidel, and Mandela, with some inspirational slogan underneath , like " The revolution is the only thing stopping people slipping back in to fudel serfdom." "Viva la Trabadors" or "Implement the  ideals of the 6th workers congress"
    The few local newspaper I looked at are full of outcomes of the local committee meetings. Uncle Chavas made a gift of supplying the Cuban people with access to the state run Venezuelan TV. The locals think its nice to have an alternative point of view, while in the hotels we can get Fox news, and Mexican soap operas.I reckon they should show Fox News to the Cuban people as that's enough to make any one hate Americans and capitalism. They probably don't think the locals would believe it was not propaganda invented by the state.
    Since the collapse of Russia, and more recently Venezuela, things have been pretty tough here. The Cuban average wage is about a dollar a day. The get free housing, health care, education , and subsidised food rations. Still Cubans end up spending about 80% of there wages on food. Fortunately the good old capitalist tourist has stepped in to help out our brothers. Tourists unlike locals demand things that work, so the government is busy rebuilding the centre of old Havana. New  restaurants and bars with apathetic government workers, that take only CUC's ( Tourist Money) are springing up around town. A fleet of modern Chinese buses whisk "las touristas" from one museum to another, or back to one of the nice tourist hotels where most things in the room will sort of work, probably not all at once. You may have hot water but it will only come out the bath spout, only cold will come out the shower head. Hotels generally have cards so you can log on to the internet, but no working computers, or computers but no cards. My favourite was the breakfast buffet that had cereal, bowls and milk that where only available one at a time so you could not have a bowl of inedible coco rocks even if you wanted one.
    All the same most Cubans seem reasonably happy with their lot. Large quantity of cheap vitamin R may go some way to explain this, but they take justified pride in their revolution. Also their survival in the face of the imperialist Yanquis. There is great music everywhere.No need to search for it , it comes to you. You cannot sit quietly anywhere in old Havana without a three piece band miraculously appearing in search of a tip. Capitalism has again reared it's ugly head and it is now possible to own a small restaurant, or rent out a small room as a B and B. These are generally the clean places with good service and fully functioning bathrooms at a fraction of the cost of the  government hotels. Of course the government does it's best to discourage this with tax and hordes of paperwork, but still some people seem to be on the up. Crime and corruption are pretty low. Cubans a free to complain about their government but not change it, and unlike most other central american country's they actually do receive some services. People sit out in the squares and chat, rather than watch TV.  All in All 4.5 out of 10, not a pass but better than a lot of other places I have been. 

    On the way out of the country I try to buy some cigars. I can buy 150 with my credit card, which is to many to bring back to Australia, or I can go to another shop and buy ten with cash which I don't have enough of. I give up and go to the bar where for my five CUC's I can get a Cuba Libre or two coffees for me and Mick. I explain to the barman in my best Spanish that I am a good brother because I am buying my brother a coffee with my last change even though I want a rum. He gets me the coffees. Then when I sit down comes over with a rum and a smile. Thanks Cuba.

 

Click the pic above for some photos


Posted by bondrj at 3:20 AM NZT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 May 2015 10:02 PM NZT
Monday, 2 March 2015
Head West Young Man

Zipolite photo 20150224_134157.jpg

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      Mick had that bunny in the headlights look , as he stepped into the bright lights of the arrivals hall at Mexico city's main airport. It's not that the place is different. It has a Burger King, is clean, and looks like any other new airport in the world. It's just that you are in , “well” , Mexico. Drug cartels, be heading's, corruption, Julie Bishop telling you not to come here and, if you accidentally do, leave straight away for some where safer like Syria. Stuff plays on a travellers mind during a 3 hour flight inbound. All the other gringo's had the same wide eyed stare, like the Federales where going to come and steal their children the moment they walked through the gate. Thats not correct they generally wait till you get outside before they steal  your children. Fortunately not all was lost, “My names Russell and I'm here to help”. After the obligatory welcome, I grabbed a bag and headed past a bunch of well armed cops keeping a eye on things. I already had a spare smart card transport pass, which is the most difficult thing to obtain at the airport. On to the bus, another cop stands in the door way to look after you. Twenty minutes later we jump off on a quite dark street near the down town area of Zocalo. Not to worry its Monday night, not many people around but plenty of cops to keep us safe. It turns out that they have just broken up a long running union demonstration in the main square, most of the cops aren't here for us, there here to stop the teachers reoccupying the square. Has the same effect though. We arrive at our hostel which is in a stylish restaurant/hotel complex. I think the hostel is the old staff quarters, but whatever it is it's very smick. We head out to dinner past our police escort.

      Down town Zocalo, during the day time is much less daunting. The shutters come up and the place is full of people, restaurants squares,and, shopping. It's not Guatemala, there is no one with a 12 gauge pump action guarding the Nike's store. Like most big city's, the centre is full of shops selling the important things, Joyeria ( Jewellary), Zapata's(shoes) and Ropa (clothes). There is lots to see here, and the place is big. The city is home to some 21.2 million people, making it the largest city in the western hemisphere. We head off to the local park which houses a whole pile of museums. The anthropology museums houses a fantastic history of past and present cultures, a day in it's self. It's a great place for architecture lovers, My favourites are, Placio de Bella Artes, the old university full of mosaic murals, and the Reforma area full of new skyscrapers, and shopping plazas. The public transport is good, cheap, and quick. In five days we see about 100th of what's on offer.

      The local bus station TAPO, is a huge circular building, just out of the centre of town. From here hundreds of buses leave daily to all parts. Where off to Puebla an old town full of churches, about 4 hours away. The first class buses are quick and safe. You get searched more getting on than a Jahadi flying El Al. Twenty dollars gets you a comfy lay back seat, a snack, drink, set of headphones and a couple of latest edition pirated movie s, quite often in English with Spanish subtitles. Square tick, Church,s tick, then off to Oaxaca. more churches, and museums, good grub, and the odd ruina (pile of rocks). I am going to explode if I see another gold plated church full of bleeding Jesus's. We miss Hierve el Agua but you cant do everything.

      It's time for a change of transport style, for twenty bucks we catch a Colectivo seven hours to the beach at Puerto Escondido. Colectivos are small 12 to 15 seat vans prone to roll-overs, due to the large amount of luggage tied to the roof. It's a long day of twisty bumpy roads sitting on a hard seat. Finally we arrive to find ourselves in the Bali of Mexico. We check in to a nice resort and live it up “Map Boy” style. Cocktails around the pool $ 2.50, each and a bang up steak dinner. We head down the road for Crapes on the beach for desert.

      Next morning it's back to cheese n bickies. We catch the chicken bus 70km down the road to Zipolite. (Zee-po-lee-tae) The bus has no muffler, no ac, and no padding on the seats. Everyone else is sitting at the front so we take a couple of seats at the back. There doesn't seem to be a speed limit in Mexico, so every thing travels as fast as it will go. The way the locals solve this problem is by putting what feels like a curb and channel across the road at random locations. These are generally in front of restaurants, and other high value targets. You are free to go past schools, and kindergartens at full speed. We soon discover the suspension has been removed from the rear of the bus as an economy measure. Every time we go past a restaurant it feels like the back of the bus with the wheels removed, has been dropped off a four foot high wall on to a concrete slab. After an hour , my kidneys feel like they have been used to train a bunch of kick boxers. We jump a taxi for the last 10km with a couple of Canadians escaping the winter back home, and cruise in luxury down to the beach.

      I'm really glad Mick wanted to come here. I was here 30 years ago with a couple of friends when there was nothing on the beach but a couple of huts. Mark and Karin used to work in the fishing industry in Alaska during the summer and head down to Mexico with little more than a guitar, and a few clothes for the winter. We stayed in a grass roofed, 30 square foot, adobe hut that leaked like a sieve when it rained, and baked when it wasn't. The bed room was a couple of hammocks hung under the tin veranda. There was a tap out the back in the middle of the paddock with half a 44 gallon drum and a shower head hanging off it. You left the tap open, and when the water started it refilled the drum, if you happened to be there you could also catch a shower. Rent was $5.25 a week split 3 ways. I won't mention the toilet faculties. The beach was 30 meters away the next neighbour was 500. The beach was a mile of pristine sand with a couple of small islands at each end, and a couple of good surf breaks. There where a few other hippies camped out in the bush, Surfing, Hackey sack, The Grateful dead, Bob Marley, and smoking Gunga where the main pastimes. Food was a twenty minute taxi ride to the market at Puerto Angel once a week, or a bit of bartering with the locals. Clothes where optional, Karin is a pretty little blond, and all the local Mexican boy's used to come down the beach to watch us go for a swim.

      Things have changed a bit in the last thirty years, the beach is still here, clothes are still optional, and there are still a few of probably the same hippies hiding out in the bush. There are now palapas ( little huts ) all along the beach interspersed with restaurants, and small hotels. Some time in the 90's the Italians discovered the place, so you can get a good coffee, and great pasta here. Italian is spoken almost as much as English. There is a little road that runs behind the beach with shops and cafe's now. At night time it is filled with hippies selling jewellery on little tables between the cafes. The building code hasn't changed much which gives the place a nice ramshackle feel. There are no ATM's or credit cards taken, as a token to the 20 year olds the camp sites have wifi. We are staying in a nice bungalow that looks out on to the beach, the showers are still cold, and the attitude relaxed. I could stay here for a month.

     Unfortunately it's not gonna happen. Tomorrow back to Purto Esco, then off to the Yucatan. No 40 hour chicken bus rides for us. We catchen da plane. Hasta Luego Dude's.

 For more photo's Click the pic


Posted by bondrj at 10:28 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 2 March 2015 11:55 AM EADT
Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Mexico DF

Museo Nacional de Antropología photo 20150213_160847.jpg

      This story is actually from my Bro. You can't say I'm not an equal oppourtunity employer. I even pay  him the same rates I get. Click the pic for more photos

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      The night I arrived in Mexico, Russ met me at the airport and after catching the airport special bus (30 pesos rather than the usual 6) and checking in we took a small walk down the equivalent of Bourke St. It was eerily quiet with all the shops steel shuttered with multiple padlocks and the odd group of hooded youth loitering. After we'd walked six blocks the people we saw mostly were the “Policia Federal” huddling in groups and armed to the teeth, sporting riot shields, ballistic vests and helmets. More police in cars with red and blue flashing lights operating, cruised past. Had I dropped into a war zone?

      To read “Lonely Planet” or what we read of Mexico in the papers there's a “bandito” behind every door and a drug cartel gangster ready to put a bullet in your head just for looking sideways at him. What I'd seen from the bus and the police presence hadn't quelled my fears.

      The next morning we ventured down the same street and it was transformed. I was expecting to be hassled from the moment I left the hotel but I felt a lot safer here than in the US. Yes there were beggars on the street but nowhere near the numbers we saw in San Francisco and the spruikers trying to sell you stuff are probably worse in Lygon St. Buskers did there thing juggling, dressed in costume or grinding their organs with their “monkey” (a man dressed in cream uniform) passing a cap for donations. People sported business suits and well dressed women wore long pants and t-shirts or jackets. The shutters had all come up and all the “friendly faces” of large Corporates such as McDonalds and Starbucks mixed it with the local businesses. The police were still there but the riot shields, etc seemed less ominous in daylight. Most of them just seemed bored. Traffic was in gridlock and all seemed “normal”.

       After San Francisco where you just need to look like you're about to cross the street and cars will stop, Mexico City is altogether different. Traffic lights are just a vague indication of whose turn it is and it's up to the pedestrian to assert their right to cross. Indeed the police will often continue to wave cars through the red and it's not until a sufficient bulk of humanity has amassed before pedestrians are motioned to – even then you have to keep your wits as bicycles (brave souls) and motorbikes weave around.

       The architecture is what stuns me most about the city. Amazing art deco and Victorian era edifices with interiors still intact – think the ANZ building in Collins St. There's a restaurant chain called Sanborns which is a bit like the old style Coles Cafeteria but with table service. Entering its original restaurant (since 1903) is akin to entering a grand ballroom with granite columns towering skyward toward a decorative glass canopy. Well attired waiting staff show you to your chair – you can dine like a king – all for the bargain basement price of about $20/head!

      The buildings of the State are even more impressive with the “Palacio de Correos” (Palace of the Post Office) literally being a palace complete with ornate elevator crafted by a fine Italian foundry at the turn of last century. In the Internet age it didn't seem to be doing much business but no-one seemed to care. Across the way is the even more impressive “Palicio de Belles Artes” with similar architecture but also sporting murals from famous Mexican artists. Included is the notorious mural re-painted by Diego Rivera after it had been rejected by J.D Rockefeller in New York. It contained an unfavourable image of him and an image of Lenin which Rivera had refused to paint over so Rockefeller had it destroyed.

      On the subject of art we were privileged to be taken to the university campus where Jane's 2nd cousin, Luis; works. It's a sprawling site of some 1500 acres and includes a nature reserve (we saw lizards and a black squirrel) and a cultural enclave which was hosting a symphonic orchestra recital when we were there. It's not on the normal tourist trail but Luis showed us the amazing facilities and explained the history of the campus including the many amazing mosaic murals which tower many stories high on most of the campus buildings. They display many historical and cultural aspects of Mexican society and are all made from mosaic tiles perhaps a couple of centimetres square. There was also many modern sculptures from the 1980s which neither Luis or we cared much for but some must like. Many of Mexico's most learned have graduated from this campus and is well worth a visit.

      Another “must see” is the “Museo de Anthropologica”. It houses much of Mexico's cultural heritage and is well laid out with many excellent dioramas and replicas of much of the Mayan and Aztec sites together with the original relics from them. We spent a whole day there and I probably could have stayed another few hours if my back and knees had held out better!

      My favourite was the replica of the tomb at Palenque which is no longer open to the public due to condensation caused by the breath of the millions of visitors so this is the next best thing. It's the tomb of the ruler who was buried with a jade face mask and made infamous in the 1970s by Erich Von Daniken's book “Chariots of the Gods” in which he purported the tomb lid showed an ancient space craft – it has since been de-bunked by many Mayan scholars as usual Mayan imagery. Ironically I almost missed it as it's downstairs from the main Mayan displays and there's no signage to it but Russ sniffed it out. This was quite surprising as the rest of the place is well signed including much English.

     Lack of signage is a common problem with the underground rail. Mexico City has a great Metro system but unlike London or Paris where the Metro has ornate entrances, often the entrances are just steps leading down. After a while you get the hang of looking for the crowds disappearing like rabbits down a barrow but for the first few days we could be standing just metres from an entrance, staring bewilderedly at our map. It's surprising as once you're downstairs there's a whole city of commerce and good signage for all the lines and connections. Maybe they ran out of money for the entrances!

      The signage aside, the Metro was designed and built by the Swiss in the 1970s and 80s so works well with a modern swipecard system (Myki take note). At about 50 cents a trip and with the roads choked by traffic it's what everyone uses to get around. Again, reading the travel books you'd be lead to believe the Metro was full of thieves and pickpockets but even in peak hour crammed in tight there seemed to be little problem – though I did keep my hand in my wallet pocket just in case! Where Metro doesn't cover, Mexico City has taken its grand boulevards and dedicated one of the lanes exclusively to the Metrobus system (Hoddle St, amongst others could do with this) and these interchange with the Metro proper, making getting around this megaopolis of 20 million a breeze.

      Here in the capital, food is a smorgasboard with everything available from expensive Western junk and delightful cafes as mentioned previously to street stalls selling standard Mexican fare such as tacos and enchiladas for about $1 a pop. Luis tells us that the basic wage in Mexico is about $A5/day so even at these prices food is too expensive for many so it's not surprising that the Mexicans are an enterprising lot with many taking on 2nd jobs selling all sorts of things to make ends meet. While riding the Metro it's pretty common for people to come through the carriage selling everything from Western CDs to long bits of elastic - for what purpose I'm not sure. If they're not selling product they'll be strumming a guitar or singing along with a “boom box” strapped to their chest in a cacophony of sound. Some deserve the few pesos they're given, others you'd pay to go away!

      So that's pretty much sums up my impressions of the first week in Mexico. Unfortunately I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped as I ate a part of one of the aforementioned tacos that Russ was having or perhaps ingested some local water which gave me the touristas for a day – his system had already acclimatised! It did allow me to become well acquainted with the Mexican plumbing though and aside from remembering to throw your used paper in the bin beside the facilities (common in much of Latin America), always remember to take spare paper with you- I learnt this the hard way and as Luis said, “this isn't Germany”.

      Adios for now, We're off to the Modern Art gallery.


 


Posted by bondrj at 4:22 PM EADT
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
The Spanish School

Learning Spanish in Antigua lake atitlan photo 20150201_090744.jpg

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    Thirty Years ago I passed through Antigua in Guatemala on my way north, and thought one day I might return. Antigua is the old Guatemalan capital, The capital was moved to Guad City in 1717AD after an earthquake destroyed the city. It is known for its old churches and plethora of Spanish schools. It is probably one of the best places to learn Spanish in the world.

       It took a bit longer than I envisaged, but here I am again, enrolled in a Spanish school, and living with a local family. I took me five days to get here on a bus via Oaxaca, and San Christobel in Mexico. Thirty years ago the civil war was winding down and the country side was devoid of people. Soldiers would stop the bus and drag people off. Every body else got searched. If you read the Australian Government travel advice you think things had gotten worse. Don't walk anywhere by yourself, never at night, never carry anything of value, except a couple of Quatzals, in an old wallet, be prepared to be robbed at any time. In reality the place has changed beyond recognition. The countryside is full of people, Antigua has McDonald's, Burger King, and Domino's pizza.

       I live in the Casa de Ava, a house on the north side of town with a great view of three Volcanoes that surround Antigua. Some days I can see puffs of smoke and fire, or feel rumbles coming out of the active one on my was to school. At night the town is well lit, and relativity safe apart from the odd explosion of what sounds like gunfire, but is actually firecrackers celebrating someone birthday.

       My school the Antiguena Spanish Academy charges around $180USD for 4 hours of one on one Spanish lessons 5 days a week, with full board with 3 meals six days a week. My Spanish host family have been boarding gringos for twenty six years. There are up to five of us here along with Ava, Ceaser, and there three adult children. We also have another relative, who studying in town and the and the odd friend staying over. The house is also a commercial laundry, $2 a kilo and your washing returns clean, ironed and tied up in neat little bundles.

      Ava is a magnificent host, she feeds us, and her family three times a day around a noisy big table covered in food. The menu constantly changes, eggs, pancakes, and toast in the morning. Soup and Salads, for lunch, Casseroles , Squash, silverbeat and more for dinner. Every meal comes with the obligatory. Guatemalan coffee, beans and rice. There is always lots of lively banter around the table in broken Spanish. In the house we are a UN of nationalities, Chinese, Australian , Canadian, Japanese, American, and English. My house mates are mainly in there twenty s, and studying at the same school. At night we often go to a bar for some music/trivia/banter, quite often in the afternoon we head for a coffee or to do a bit of haggling at the market. My friend Selena is keeping the Guatemalan market economy going just by herself. The city is fairly small, and after a while you seem to know most of the other students in town. My hose mate Jessie currently has a war running with Ava. The spend all day plotting surprise attacks, and covering each other with pica pica, which is a fine glitter used for celebrations. Check out the video here and you will get the idea.

       My day starts at seven when I get up for breakfast, we meet around the breakfast table and consume café trying to wake up. About twenty to eight I'm generally at the front door shouting “Rapido Rapido Chicka's” where late at the girls, while Jessie who studies in the afternoon returns to bed. Most people attend school in the morning for 4 hours, some do more but most find 4 enough. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to school and we chat with other random students we meet on the way. This is often in English but not everyone speaks English so it is quite often in Spanish, and more often Spanglish.

       I take my lessons at a table in a huge quite garden seated opposite my “maestro” Chenni. Some times it's conjugating the dreaded Spanish verbs, but more often than not we just talk about anything that comes to mind. 4 hours a day over a week covers a lot of topics. I am lucky as I already know some Spanish. My friend Emma rocked up straight from London in the middle of the night with absolutely no Spanish to be, greeted by a table full of people early the next morning babbling away. She looked a bit shocked, and had to spend the next couple of days learning words, a week later she has the basics and is doing well. It was hard work though, combined with much of the scourge of students “tareas” (homework). Most students get some tearea every day, be it, learning some new words/conjugations, reading a story, or translating a short passage into Spanish. My teacher is very good. She is a lady about my age and has been teaching for about thirty years. Most people change teachers every couple of weeks, but I haven't. At ten we take a break, and I generally wander out to one of the food stalls, with a coffee. Nachos, rolls, tortillas its all fresh and good. Lash out the most expensive thing is about a buck. I chat with the other students who rang in age's from 18 to 80, before heading back for another one and a half hours. Then the school stuff is finished for the day. We wander back for lunch at the “casa”, sometimes diverting for a coffee.

       At one Ava serves lunch which could be anything but to quote the Hilltop hoods “its all good”. The school does an excursion most days at two, these are a great way to meet some new people and check out the town. Some days it is a walk checking out hidden treasures in the old town, or simply a walk up to the big cross that looks out over town. Other times it's to the market, and on to the chicken buses, an adventure in it's self. We see nut farms, convents with great views, chocolate factory's (My Favourite), and locally artisan produced fruit wine. (Tasted like it was produced on death row). Afterwards we take in a coffee or wander around the market. This is generally followed by a beer at the Sunshine Grill and Pizza with Jesse who has just finished his afternoon lessons. Dinner at seven, followed by more tareas on a quite night, or in to town for a band or trivia at the Irish pub. The days are long but there is no shortage of things to keep yourself amused.

       Week ends are time off, people head to the lake, climb the volcanoes, have parties, or just chill out. The bagel barn shows a free English movie each night. People from the capital drive up to go clubbing at the one noisy local night spot. There is plenty of places to drink and dance. We often go to house next door is known as the “terrace”. It hosts a continuously revolving bunch of gringos. The locals at street level sell the cheapest beer in town, the next level is the front door/ living area, and on the roof is a large garden with a nice view of town and the volcanoes. Every one is welcome and they party just about every night, week ends are no exception. Funnily enough the locals call them “Los Terroristas”.

     Sadly it,s time to go, I have to go meet Mick in Mexico City, to continue our journey. As a parting gift the fire volcano has a major eruption on my last day, and for the first time in sixteen years showers the city with ash. It's like gritty snow falling from the sky covering everything. It gets up your nose, fills your lungs, hurts your eyes, and makes a clean shirt filthy in 30 seconds. I can take a hint. Thanks Antigua, I will miss you.

More Photos here


Posted by bondrj at 10:10 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 10 February 2015 10:49 AM EADT
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Ode to the electric shower
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        The picture above is of an electric shower these can be found in third world countries like Guatemala, Somalia, and England. The UN definition of poverty is entirely derive by the number of such devices in the country, hence the English score highly.

        The operation of the device is simple. You turn on the tap, there is only one, sometimes marked cold. Try to only hold onto the plastic thingy unless you like being thrown across the room, or want to wake up quickly first thing in the morning. The water pressure then starts the heater. At first the water will be cold, this is normal. Water will be falling from the bottom, sides,and top of the device, but mainly from the hole where the electrical wires enter the device, quite often a loud buzzing can be heard coming from the device. Continue to lower the water pressure until one stream of water feels slightly warmer than the others this stream is generally at the rear pointing towards the pipe, try not to touch the pipe. The heater is perfectly adjusted when the heater ceases to function if any other person in the block turns on a tap. Enter the shower stream quickly, if your head starts to tingle you are to close to the device. Try squatting. Remember to leave the stream before hypothermia sets in. Try not to touch anything metal within a couple of meters of the shower basin.

       The electric shower is sort of like Alchemy for hotel owners. In the original, the object was to turn Lead into Gold, these devices try to turn cold water in to hot with similar results. The actual

amount of heat provided can be calculated buy using the formula below.


E =MC²U


E = Energy in Kilowatts

M= Total electrical output of the country you are in.

C= Shower flow in litres per second

U is the universal electric shower constant for your device which is always “0”


       The great advantage for Hotel owner's is it allows them to say they have hot water without actually providing it. Hence something for nothing.


Posted by bondrj at 11:59 AM EADT
Monday, 19 January 2015
LA

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LA,

swimming pools, movie stars

dirty streets and dirty cars.


    My first trip to La was a bit hectic. Within 24 hours, I'd bought a car , drunk a pile of beer, and ended up outside a bar at 2am talking to a Nam vet who was smoking some killer hooch and, talking about flying through the jungle at night while someone shot tracers the size of basket balls at him. Twenty Four hours after that, I had been to Disney land (closed for winter), the Pinto had blown up, spraying the windscreen with greasy anti freeze, whilst refusing to run when stopped at the lights, and I was, in a hot pool In the Sera Nevadas with a girl I had picked up at the airport.

     I've been here plenty of times since then but nothing has lived up to those first couple of crazy days here more than thirty years ago. I declare right here I like Los Angles, but it can be a bit daunting for the new comer. My very first impression of LA was this place is an absolute dump. Sure everything is covered with a fine dust, the houses all look the same, every where is a 3 hour bus ride away. Hay, there is still some great things to do here.

     I left Melbourne at 11.am on a Monday and arrived in LA about five hours before I left. This meant I had to stay awake after a sixteen hour flight for another nine hours at least, until my hostel opened at three. Fortunately there are plenty of low stress things to do here. I heeded to the Pantry café in downtown La for a classic breakfast. Five bucks gets you scrambled eggs, toast coffee and grits 24 hours a day the same as it has the last 90 years. A bit of a wander around downtown to pick up a few things I'd forgotten then off to the bright lights of Hollywood and Vine. Hollywood used to be a dump for the down and outs when I first came here, now its just a tourist trap. Still worth seeing, try your foot prints in Fred Astair's, Check out Marlin's star on the sidewalk, catch a latest release at the chinese cinema where they hold the Oscars.

      LA is the land of cars. It's criss-crossed by huge freeways that seem to crawl along 24 hours a day. Never driven in the US. LA is not the place to learn. Fortunately there is now an alternative, there is a great metro system here. Don't worry, LA is huge, but you can relax on the subway while you cruse around. Buy a TAP pass ( $1 take note Myki) stick in some extra cash and you can jump on and off the Metro all day long. There are now trains from the airport to downtown and plenty of other places you don't want to go, Buses take you everywhere else. Your never lonely as there are always plenty of people talking to themselves. The bloke behind me at breakfast was having a loud conversation on his phone for half an hour. It was only when I went to leave I realised he did not have a phone. Don't want to talk to your self, most people are quite happy to have a chat. Spanish seems to work most of the time, occasionally English too. WASP,s don't take the bus.

     From Hollywood it's the 704 bus to Santa Monica through Beverly Hills. This is where the mythical Californian's live. Unfortunately you, I, and most of the rest of LA can't afford it. Fortunately the express bus whisks you past Rodeo Drive in a flash so you don't realise what you are missing. Once your at the beach you can stare down at the stars houses beside the Santa Monica pier. Walk south to Venice beach. I don't recommend swimming as the water is about 10 deg all year long. Grab a cheese steak/ beer combo, then watch the roller blader's /gym junkies watch themselves.

By now it,s 6PM and being winter here dark. I've just missed the 33 bus so it's a twenty minuet wait, freezing my arse off out side a 7-11. My new home is in Crenshaw South Central. LA. Home of rappers and Drive by's. “What was I thinking when I booked this” . I get off the bus, grab a burrito, and walk down a relatively quite street to the hostel. No cruising dudes in lowered caddies, no tooled up 13 year old's in hoodies on street corners. The hostel looks like an old southern mansion, it has two huge Fan palm trees with there tops lit up in the front yard. It's fairly new and purposely built by the owner an older black gentleman who greets me with “James Bond we've been waiting for you”. Being two stories it's out of character with the surrounding neighbour hood of small low rise bungalows. It even has a swimming pool, and my favourite part a full breakfast. I find out the lit palms help you find the place at night, you can see them from a mile away. I crash and sleep soundly.

I'm actually on my way to Mexico, so LA is just a rest break in the flight. The next day I check out the La Brea Tar pits, and the farmers markets. The pits provide a lot of the fossils world wide to museums with the best on display there. You can watch while they dig them out “very slowly”. The Market is LA's top tourist destination apparently. I can tell you they have a happy hour and good food. Mean while gotta fly. Voy a Mexico. Click for more.


Posted by bondrj at 9:14 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 24 January 2015 12:08 PM EADT

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