Saturday, March 31, 2007

lost highway

While driving around the southwestern desert bits of America, I can't help but miss music. Andy and Laurie's Volvo doesn't have a stereo and my only company has been the sound of the engine, the rush of the wind and the occasional junk yard attendee while hunting for a replacement. I'm amazed at the amount of analysis and introspection that can go on when you're driving in silence for 6 hours straight. Why did I do that stupid thing when I was 17? Man, I could have saved so much money if I had only stayed in Australia. Why does that girl still get to me? Who was that guy in that movie.. the one with the mouth and the teeth? Did I just run over a rabbit?

An internal conversation forms to pass away the time. You begin deflecting the maddening tedium of desert driving by talking to yourself in your head, with occasional vocalized outbursts. I remember when a friend of mine who did a solo bike ride from Adelaide to Darwin returned home, he would finish his sentence with a self-confirming grunt for about a month afterwards. Now here I am, singing to a non-existent radio as I drive 70 miles an hour down some back road, occasionally laughing at a Simpsons episode I saw 6 years ago and swearing at the night. But it is this same internal conversation that brings on its own particular brand of madness. Over analysis, self-criticism, paranoia and anxiety can easily replace the laughing and singing. David Lynch signs the lease to your mind, rips the lino in the kitchen while shifting the fridge around and makes himself at home on your couch. Scenarios which would totally be out of order in reality, become as real as the wheel in your hand and the world turns into your greatest enemy. Thankfully, the American desert isn't as stupidly big and uneventful as the Australian desert. I've listened to enough music, watched enough TV and can reminisce over enough interesting situations to keep me occupied. And I really did hit a rabbit.

Over the past year, I've acquired and swapped music with those I meet on the road. In London, I met this guy from Perth who hooked me up with a bunch of good music, including some random Australian stuff, which has been fun to dole out to people along the way. Unfortunately, at a party in Mexico City where my laptop was plugged into the stereo, Kevin Bloody Wilson's "You Orta See Me When I'm Pissed" started to play, and I had to explain the dark side of Australian culture to the Mexican party goers. I've also been introduced to the world of playlist torrents, where 100 or so songs have been put together and people then offer them up for illegal download. In no way does this help the artists you're listening to, but it does give you a broad spectrum of music to listen to, when things like JJJ, Three D and Triple R aren't available or have irritating high rotation.

A few listening suggestions:

Xiu Xiu, The Greats, The Dears (still), Band of Horses, The Knife, Kevin bloody Wilson.

This is the first time in a while I've know where I'm going to be 3 months in advance - I'm about 5 Big Kevs excited, but you guys will have to wait.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Vegas Baby, Vegas

There is really no easy way to describe the time I had in Vegas. Fucking fantastic is a good start, but that might understate things a little.

First off, Andy and Cindy were my hosts. Super laid back with only the decision of what tropical country they'll live in next year to worry about. Their apartment is on the 21st floor of this brand new hotel and condo complex, just behind the MGM grand. HDTVs, Egyptian cotton sheets, wifi, whirlpool bath, access to gym, and massive pool, etc. In a word: Plush.

On my last day in town, we arranged to meet up with some friends of theirs from Austin at Denny's to grab a bite to eat and then go hiking somewhere out of town afterwards. As we pulled into the carpark of Denny's, a reality stage show begun to unfolded in front of us. An old bloke, - who had on the worst (maybe the best, depending on your world view), wig ever constructed. The subtle Elvis stylings were greatly enhanced by bits of natural hair hanging out the side and the back - was having some car trouble. He was trying to jump start his circa 1989 V8 something with some other guy's circa 2007 4 cylinder something. As we all hopped out of the car, the old guy and his ever so eager assistant (who was covered head to foot in grease and seemed to have 3 different nervous tics fighting it out, occasionally colliding with each other causing for a big twitch and then a funny look at onlookers), were trying to clean the crap off of a pair on ancient jumper cables. Andy offered his brand new set, dug about tin the back of his car and presented it to them. We then left them to their devices, entered Denny's and put our name down for a table for 5. Seeing that we had a 20 minute wait ahead, we went back outside and waited for the Austin girls to show up, watching the drama of the car continue. By this stage, the original guy who had offered his car had given up and left. Andy and I, being the nosy types we are, added our two cents to the equation: "oh, so last night you were driving, you turned your headlights on and then 10 minutes later you engine died? Well that sounds like your alternator". The tic guy used us to confirm his earlier suspicions and looked really pleased about having some allies on this one. "as I was sayin' (tic), the alternator". He asked why I talked funny. I said I was from Australia. He then started talking about Australian women and about his aim to go there and marry one. By this stage, I had lost interest in fixing the car, opting rather to watch the calamity of characters duke it out for hands on the hips advising supremacy. There was tic man, a young Mexican guy, slick and this guy with a bandanna and a baseball cap on. The tic guy you know, and there was nothing really stand out about the Mexican guy, but slick and the bandanna hat guy were the bees knees when it comes to archetypes. Slick: A biker looking guy with a few DIY cell block tats on his hands, long unkempt hair, dusty denim pants and big cowboy boots, calling people "slick" at random. The dude with the bandanna and hat didn't say much or offer help, but hovered around the scene with his jeans deliberately slung half way down his thighs looked as if his morning dump had been unceremoniously interrupted. That be what the kids of today are wearing huh? The Austin girls show up and we leave Denny's, satisfied with what we had seen and not up for the extra wait for a table.

We go to a bagel place and over breakfast we learn the Austin girls (Amy and Cali), have gone out the last two nights, both are awfully hung over and have not slept or eaten properly for 48 hours. We all scoff our bagels and hit the road, headed to Red Rock for some boulder jumping. We spent a few hours exploring the terrain, splitting up and eventually joining back up for a debrief. Cindy had spent her rock climbing time sun baking, Cali spent it "napping", while Andy, Amy and I tried to out do each other with how far we could get. There were some fairly fearless jumping across big gaps in rocks ala those scenes in cop movies where a cop runs after the bad guy, jumping from roof to roof - but with less San Fransisco car chases.

Once we got back to the city, the Texans returned to their hostel, Andy went a played hockey, Cindy had a party nap and I went for a bike ride. It really is my happy place, cruising around a fresh city slower than a car but faster than walking. Made it to Fremont street, but the TV roof thing hadn't been switched on yet, so I just wandered about looking at the ghastliness of early afternoon Vegas. One weird thing was the music selection coming from the PA system. Tool's Sober played through its entirety and made for a disturbing soundtrack to groups of people stumbling about with 2-foot long margaritas in hand. Lenny Kravits came along straight after Tool and saved the day, returning the atmosphere to the preferred level non-confrontational subliminal niceties.

What is with this country and booze? I know this place was one of the few places prohibition caught on and the federal government withheld road funding a few years ago to those states who didn't tow the 21yo drinking age line, but jeez. Not letting people drink until they're 21? It's like a time bomb ticking away, finally exploding on the streets of Vegas, New Orleans or Cancun. When I was in Mexico, it was a few weeks before the US school year Spring Break. Some of the older Mexicans, who don't speaka da english too well, think "Spring Break", the war cry of beefcake college students, translates to "DESTROY EVERYTHING". I saw the same thing in Prague with English Bucks/Hens nights. These dumb arse westerners go to these places, get thoroughly liquored up on the cheap local poison and then maraud through the street, shouting, punching, smashing, shitting; all with assumed license. This may have something to do with this uptight feeling i get from the general public. Maybe that has to more with being ruled by fear, no public health care and ridiculous levels of competition between thy neighbor, but for argument sake I'm chalking this one up to the booze. By the age of 21, I had gotten most of my stupid drunken experiences out of the way, writing them off with other stupid things I did as a teenager. That said, many of the stupid things I did were a result of being drunk, but let's not get tangled up in detail here. In Austria, you can walk into a bar when you're 16 and buy a beer, but that country produced Red Bull, Hitler and the schnitzel so take from that what you will.

Leaving Fremont street, I headed back towards the centre to meet up with Andy and his mates for post-hockey beers. Beers out of the way, i chuck the bike in the back of his car and head back to the apartment. We hang for a bit then headed to the Stratosphere, the big sky needle casino at the border of the Strip and the old town centre. We wanted to squeeze in a couple of the rides on the top of the building before meeting up with the others. $20 buys you a trip to the roof and two rides. We picked the Big Shot and Insanity. The Big Shot lifted us 200 feet above the top of the building, giving us one of the best views of the Las Vegas Strip you could wish for. After that was Insanity, a rotating swing thing that spins around while being put out over the side of the building. Great stuff that succeeds in confusing your brain into thinking that no matter how many rides you've been on before, this time you really are going to die. I love rides.

The Diamond Club, which is a room that maybe 6 of the casinos have for their high rollers and big spenders was our next destination. Through some imaginative maths, Andy and Cindy are both members and inside we met up with their friends Troy and Heather. In this room, a paradise of free booze, food and entertainment awaits those privileged enough to get inside. As I ordered my third drink and ate my little gourmet sandwich, the line from Withnail and I came to mind "free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can't". Gold. I imagine a world where every necessity is comped for you by a big casino. What a socialist utopia that would be.

Once we finished our long island ice teas, we made our way to Jubilee, the quintessential Vegas stage show. Because we had booked our seats the night before (another free service offered with this fancy Diamond club), they were front row centre. Before the show started, I leaned my arm on the stage and just laughed at the situation. The show started, and sure enough it was complete with feathers, elaborate staging and semi nakedness. I've never seen that many boobs in the one place before so close up. Our seats really put us amongst it. I could hear the stage jewelery rattling, see bandaids covering arse tattoos and with the men's cod pieces in the Roman tribute, well lets just say you could tell who waxed and who shaved. Really overwhelming that close up and I suggest to the others the concept of seeing the same show in the same seats, but on acid. The horror. The horror. If you ever get a chance to see it, make note of the seamless transition in scene 8 between the tribute to the victims of the Titanic to the celebration of Yankee Doodle Dandy, complete with 20 semi-nude, semi-spandexed Yankee Doodlers. Who needs acid.

I managed to leave Vegas without gambling my money away, killing my liver (completely) and marrying some slapper. Thanks to Andy and Cindy for providing a totally unexpected but utterly fantastic Vegas adventure.

Next stop: The Grand Canyon.

Monday, March 26, 2007


finally.. a crazy person talking some sense.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Desert

On Thursday, Andy and Laurie flew to Hawaii and left me their car to do with what I wish for a week. Legends. Andy left me some maps and I drove north east into the desert. As I wasn't in any hurry to get anywhere, I took the smaller, older highways rather than the massive, quicker interstate freeways. The landscape changes enough every 10 miles that it doesn't have the same feeling of nowhere as Australian deserts have. Which can be a good or a bad thing depending on the way you look at it. They're also a whole lot smaller, but don't tell a yank another country does something bigger than they do. Once I started getting into the more remote areas, dark clouds took their place above and started doing their thing. The one time I drive through the desert and it rains. It rains hard. Lightning. Thunder. The whole works. I parked the car on a hill and watched a couple of storm fronts battle it out about 15 miles away. The open bits of sky between them bathed the landscape in bright desert sun, while where I was sitting was dark, gloomy and wet. I drove on, passing through little towns, using a map and Andy's GPS to navigate my way there. On the south side of the Joshua Tree National Park, I stopped at a little diner in a town called Desert Center. I walk in and find chaos. There are three people scurrying about trying to clean up the water leaking through the decaying roof. Containers of every size and shape are littered about the floor collecting the brownish water dripping from the ceiling. I find a dry seat, sit down, order some food and start chatting with one of the ladies who work there. A 24/7 truck stop, Desert Center Cafe used to be one of those towns everyone stopped at before the big Interstates bypassed it. During the 1940s, the army stationed 400,000 troops at a nearby base, translating into lots of business for all the locals. Now all that's left of these days is some dusty old photos of the building when the neon worked and there were Borises parked out the front.

I finished eating, left and drove on into dusk. I figured I could find a spot to pull over and sleep the night, I just wasn't sure where. I was running low on fuel and pulled into a place on the border of California and Nevada. The pumps had closed 20 minutes earlier and the next town where I could get petrol from (Needles), was another 50 miles away. I drove on, a little worried my metric mindset for judging fuel would underestimate the imperial distances involved. I took my chances and reckoned I could make it to Needles ok, but only after finding a place to sleep for the night. I drove for about 20 minutes, found a small dirt side road and drove down it for a little bit. I found a an out of the way space to park and got comfortable. I woke up a few times thinking hillbillies were trying to kill me, but it was just my mind confusing dream with reality. Eventually I drifted off again and had the most vivid dream about Antonio Gramsci and Karl Marx having an argument about socialism. Gramsci was saying to Marx that the reason why his and Engels theory on socialism is flawed was because it doesn't factor in the influence of culture on the populace and only articulated humanity's needs as those necessary for animal survival, failing to accommodate for the complexities of human emotion. Karl Marx retorted saying his theories were just fine and sighted that because his beard looked like Papa Smurf's, he had more authority on the issue.

No, I wasn't eating Peyote.

I woke up early, drove to Needles, filled up and continued on my way. I arrived in Las Vegas early yesterday afternoon and eventually found the place I'm staying, hiding behind one of the behemoth casinos on The Strip. I'm staying with Cindy and Andy (a different Andy), in their plush apartment on the 21st floor of this brand new hotel complex. Nice.

More on Vegas in a couple of days.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

watch this space

San Diego is a military town. There's a few naval bases scattered around the place and the marines have a couple of airports. Top Gun, the movie once described by a friend as America's way of getting over the failure of Vietnam, was filmed here. Up the coast, massive hovercrafts cruise across the beach and into the Pacific, Humvees bounce across the dunes and fighter planes buzz overhead, going through their exercises. Those tax dollars aren't going spend themselves are they?

If you go out at night San Diego, chances are you'll run into someone who works in or with the military. A couple of nights ago, I went out to a wine bar with Andy to celebrate the birthday of one of his friends. Californian wine is not a bad choice if there's no Australian grog laying about. The Merlot I was drinking reminded me of some of the stuff that has come out of the Mclaren Vale. Similar climate maybe? As our group started to thin out, I overheard the people behind me talking about Australia. I shoehorned my way into their conversation and chatted with them for about half an hour. The three guys all worked in the Navy and the girls as nurses. Funny how things don't change. The guys had seen a lot of the world, including a great deal of the port cities in Australia. One of them was telling me the time he had visited Perth. He and another sailor had gone out after an official navy event. Because of the nature of the event, they were both dressed in their full uniforms, so they stuck out like sore thumbs. As the night wore on and the bar hoping became slower, things got a little more groggy and fuses became shorter. They bumped into a group of about 10 students who took a particular disliking to them (thanks to navy guys connections with the war in Iraq), and then proceeded to shout insults at them, descending quickly into a fist fight. 10 vs 2. Not a good outcome. They said they were used to getting lip about being in the military and that everyone understood it was just one of those negative things that came with the job. Next week they're off to Kuwait.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, a military cemetery on a hill overlooking San Diego, is set in a beautifully peaceful part of the world. Used as a burial ground as far back as the 1700s (by the Mexicans), it is a place where rest and reflection comes naturally to visitors and occupants alike. A few years ago, when the cemetery was running out of space to commemorate the dead, a wall was erected along the side of the hill facing the city. On the wall, marble tablets engraved with dates, names and religion are lined up in rows. The tablets remember people who have either died during service or who have died since they served. As they start at one end of the wall and work their way across it, filling it as needed. The closer you get to the end of filled tablets, the more recent the dates get. The end tablets baring 2007 are a little weird to see, especially when you see the birth dates are fresher than your own. I couldn't help noticing the blank spaces at the end of these tablets. They reminded me of Anzac Parade in Canberra. There, Australia keeps a collection of statues and monuments honouring the wars Australians have fought and died in. The few times I've been to Canberra, I've wandered up and down this road, checking out the monuments and playing a morbid game of trying to spot similar names to friends and family, occasionally spotting my own name amongst the dead. Reading these names and imagining the poor scared bastard who it belonged to has always got to me. But it wasn't the seemingly endless list of names or the numerous monuments that upset me. It was the empty spaces that had been purposely left for the monuments of future wars that was really spooky.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I spotted this guy in the park, mumbling to himself under a tree, occasionally gesticulating to no one in particular. I walked over to him, introduced myself. He introduced himself as Thursday, invited me to sit and we started chatting about life. After about 5 minutes in he said he apologised for getting confused and then the conversation went more slowly. Thursday was a nice guy who had seen some horrible stuff that broke his mind and eventually robbed him of his ability to navigate through modern day life. Now at the bottom and on the street, Thursday spends his days drunk, trying to forget his time in the military, the jail time he served for shooting someone in LA and his stint at a mental institution in Colorado.

Walking through the downtown area of San Diego, I saw many people who looked lost. It was as if life itself had run over them and left dazed and confused. A great deal of the people sitting or shuffling around the streets looked as if they had lived there for some time. Badly camouflaged bottles in brown paper bags. Shopping trolley and rubbish bags full of all their worldly possessions. After travelling through a bunch of third world countries, poverty is such a different experience when the person asking for help speaks English and has blue eyes. I visit these "rich" countries like USA and England and see more homeless, lost souls and broken human beings than I did in places like Mexico and China.

People in charge of things, please invest more time and energy into mental health programs. Don't let Thursday be our tomorrow.

Friday, March 16, 2007


An excerpt from a conversation between an old man and the guy sitting opposite him I overheard on the bus yesterday.

Old man: Hey You! You know what a Leprechaun is? You know, those little men who live at the end of rainbows with gold and stuff? The Irish things.

guy: umm.. yeah

OM: Well that's you! All you Mexicans are like leprechauns to me.

guy: I'm actually from India

OM: India! Dang (slaps thigh). Which part? Bangladesh or some shit?

guy: no.. Just India

The bus here in America is a depressing place. Forlorn faces, vacant stares, shabby clothes, no smiles. Like a Dementor, the bus sucks all life, hope and motivation from you. I'm guessing for people in California (where appearance can mean everything), not having a car can really put you on the bottom of the social hierarchy. That is if you let it get to you. If you’re not living downtown, suburbs are spread out, while services are concentrated and the public transport is fairly substandard. The car is king here. I remember back in Adelaide being disturbed by traffic jams consisting of cars with only one person in it. Here it is far worse. Apart from Andy (who rides his bike or takes the bus to work), everyone drives.

The P-Funk gig was cool, but George hasn't done as well as Bowie or Jagger when it comes to massive amounts of drugs and the passing of time. For most of the gig he hobbled around the stage, waving his arms about from time to time, occasionally holding his ear to egg the audience on for cheering. He did sing a few lines in a couple songs, but dressed in pjs and moving slowly, he looked as if he was at a hospital rather than a gig. Regardless of George's condition, the show was entertaining, with Parliament banging out tunes for almost 4 hours. Thankfully about 2 hours in, the tall people in the audience standing in front of me all left. Truth be told, Americans are generally quite tall. Last night, I couldn't help noticing the backs of people's shoulders and heads. While at the MX concert in Mexico City, people were generally shorter, making for a nice clear view of the stage.

I've been listening to the music recommended by locals all throughout my trip. Each country visted has meant a whole new bunch of music to listen to. England charged me up for at least a couple of months, and yeilded more Australian music than expected. Now that I'm in California, I'm hearing stuff popular with the locals. Having not heard The Grateful Dead until now, they are certainly not the metal band I had always imagined them to be. Favs have been The Dears (who I thought was another side project of Damon Albam), Regina Spektor and Mogwai's soundtrack for the Zidane movie.

Right now, I’m on the train with Andy to go visit Laurie in Irvine for the weekend. The train seems a little more exclusive than the bus, but that maybe because they serve beer and coffee. Irvine is in Orange County, where the highest concentration of Hummers per household in America is. Great. On the topic of being shallow, I can’t believe the superficial commentary of this BBC article about Valerie Plame. Very much from the bottle journalism here. That’s opinion, not news.

I’m still dreading (secretly looking forward to), trying out the fast food here. There is so many burger chains it’s ridiculous. Wendy’s, In and Out, Jack in a Box, Burger King and the all mighty McDonalds. Incidentally, a big golden arches sign is visible from the other side of the border while in the line up to cross over from Mexico. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is here in force and Starbucks has its own ice coffee in regular shops (still doesn’t compare to Farmers Union). And there are these things called Triscuits, which are like savoury mini wheats, but they are way too salty to eat heaps of them. I think I’ll skip on the 44 oz sodas that are usually found in chubby little hands.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

behind the 8-ball

The Marlbourgh MX Beat.

The oddest music festival I have ever attended. Maria's other couchsurfer, Liam (another Australian), had joined us for the day's adventures. After farting about for a couple of hours, we made our way to the venue, an area of undeveloped land in between a bunch of fresh looking office buildings and ritzy hotels on the outskirts of the city. We park the car and just as we get out it begins to rain. By the time we got there the event was sold out. We needed tickets and after about 20 minutes of bugging people in the line, we get them and enter. We go through security, get patted down and then get corralled into a huge long tent, lined on both sides by about 100 people sitting at computers. Not understanding the signs or instructions, Liam and I follow the gesticulations of a security guard and end up at two terminals next to each other. We're are asked for ID but I wasn't carrying any and became worried I wasn't going to get in. The girl serving me just shrugged, asked if I smoked and which band I was mainly here to see. Liam on the other hand who was carrying ID, had it scanned and then had to sign his name into the computer with a digital tablet thingo. We kept exchanging "WTF?" looks, as at all the festivals we had gone to, neither of us had experienced such a thing. We get in and the fun begins.

The event (sponsored by a cigarette company), was giving out free packets of smokes, and there was a rumour floating about that a big tent in one corner of the venue would open its doors after 11pm and give away free booze. Liam and I scoffed at this ridiculous idea and bought beers. We watched a couple of bands together, met a few of Maria's friends and wandered around the venue. At some point we lost each other and I bumped into one of Maria's American mates, who I chatted with for a bit. Originally from New York, she has been living in Mexico for the last 4 years. She had an interesting perspective about the place but said that her time was almost up and was about to move back home. Maybe. The next band to come out was Architecture in Helsinki, who strangely enough have a bit of a following in Mexico. As soon as they started playing, all the locals begun jumping around singing all the lyrics. Surprising stuff and left me feeling a little un-Australian, not knowing the lyrics and all. During one of the songs I did some muppeting, where you sing the chorus bit (the part everyone knows), and then move your mouth along with what you think is the lyrics for the rest of the song. I swear the girl playing the keys looked just like ex-dollhouse member Marlaina. I remember an odd cowinkydink about the band and laugh to myself. It's 5! starts playing and I sing along with the Mexicans, with only minimal muppeting this time. I met some other Australian's in the audience and danced with them for a while. I tell a few people that the band is not from Finland, and then rattle off a few more Australian band names (AC/DC from Australian?). To my surprise, Midnight Oil is well known in Mexico and were pretty successful here in their day.

I'm not really sure of the running order of bands that night. I spent most of the time bouncing between chatting with people, waiting for food and walking over to the stage area to see who was playing. I think the next band was Tapes n Tapes, which were cool. Spoon (a band I listened a lot to while cycling Austria), were a little more subdued than expected and took a while to warm up. There was more 'sitting on the floor and playing with peddles in a prog music fashion' than I expected from the lead guy. The big screens on either side of the stage made the band member's heads look 5 metres tall and I imagine what a 5 metre head would be like. Weird. At some point during Spoon I run into Liam and the others and we dance about to the more up tempo poppier stuff the band saved for the end.

Spoon finishes up, the mystery tent opens its flaps and sure enough, there's free booze flowing thick and fast. Tequila, whiskey, vodka and beer. All free and easy to get. Hardly any line up. Liam and I discuss the likelihood and possible results of such an alcohol policy at a Big Day Out and the idea scares us. Adult are playing on stage as we collect our first drinks. Both members of the group look like they need some sun and some happy pills. Datarock were awesome, even if they are The Casio Brothers with more members, instruments and success. There was a Brazilian band on after them, but by this stage my free boozed memory had become somewhat hazy. The next 4 hours was spent dancing up the front to another electronic group and a couple of DJs. Me and alcohol is a real hit and miss affair. If I'm sitting around at a pub, anything more than 3 or 4 drinks and I get sleepy and want a nice lie down. Put me somewhere I can dance and I turn into this crazed alcohol fueled moves machine, ripping up the dance floor and downing the booze like there's no tomorrow. Well at least that's the impression I have of myself after a few. I think the girl from Architecture in Helsinki came out in a mask and danced around on stage for a bit, but I can't confirm this. At 3am, the ugly lights come on, the music stop and we drive home. The sleep of angels follows.

After the best rest I've had in ages, I wake up at 12 and remember I need to be at the airport at 3. My legs are sore from dancing and packing is a slow affair. I say my goodbyes and leave the house at 1:45. Plenty of time. I jump in a cab for the short journey to the metro station and look at a map for the most direct route to the airport. I figure out a way there that is more stops but only one transfer, rather than the two or three transfers and less stops. I jump on a train at 2pm, but it is really slow between the stations. I contemplate whether or not to take the alternate route (the one with more transfers), but stick to my plan, missing my 3 opportunities of taking the other lines. One stop before my transfer station, the train stops and has a rest for about 10 excruciatingly long minutes. Argh.. While we wait, I buy a CDs being sold by a guy walking around with a speaker pack on his back which is blaring out 80s cock rock and hair metal. The train starts up again and I get out at my transfer station, walking as briskly as possible with a full backpack and sore legs. I turn a corner and the first entrance to the other line is blocked off. Oh dear. I walk a little faster and see that the other two entrances are blocked for renovations. Fuck. My fantastic plan is unravelling in front of me, my legs are sore and my bag is heavy. There is no way I can kick myself for not taking the other transfers. I ask a guard in broken, slightly panicky Spanish what I am supposed to do. He points to the stairs and says "gratis autobus". Right. I walk even quicker up the stairs (my legs are really killing me now), and find the bus going to the airport, but it is spilling out the doors full and I can't get on. The guard at the stop instructs me to wait for the next one and I feel the colour disappear from my face. The trip to the airport now depends on Mexico City traffic and I think to myself, "I'm going to miss my plane". Another bus comes and I scramble on. As the watch I had been using was lost in Cuba (fucking Cuba), my only reference of time is casual glances at other people's wrists and the occasional informative billboard. Problem is, none of them share a common time and I hedge my bets as to which one is correct. For the guy sitting two people up from me, my plane has already taken off - the guy standing next to me, check in has just opened - the billboard we drive by, security should be waving a metal detector around my privates. FUCK FUCK FUCK. The opening sequence of Four Weddings and a Funeral comes to mind and I think to myself how did that ever air on American TV.

Once my fit of internal swearing finished, I concede that I have missed my 3pm flight and think what I could do in Mexico city while I wait for my next one. Just as the wave of acceptance and calmness dulls the panic in my head, the bus stops and everyone gets out. I glance at the guy with the most optimistic time and reckon to myself I can still make it by 3. I figure airlines are like cinemas. Sure, they say the movie starts at 3, but after all the ads and trailers, the film really doesn't begin until 3:20. I jump on the metro for the remaining two stops and arrive at the airport station. I see the station's clock: 2:55. I can do this. I say to my legs, "ok i know we had a big night last night and that we are currently carrying more than usual, but let's make a deal. You get me on this flight and I will sit on a beach for a week". I run. I run like a terrified gazelle runs from a cheeta. On the station's stairs the muscles in my legs feel like they are going to rip through the skin and trip me over to make me stop running. I almost get cleaned up by a taxi crossing a road, but I keep going. . I enter the airport, glance at the time: 2:57 - I just need to run a bit further. I cn do this. Fuck. Deep Heat is pumping through my leg's veins and my bag feels like I'm giving a piggyback to a horse. I catch sight of my airline's office, turn and my shoes lose grip, with the extra weight of my pack skidding me into a wall. I pick myself up and out of breath I indicate to the clerk that I am indeed here and totally capable of boarding my flight to Tijuana. The clock behind him reads 2:58. I'm desperate. I don't want the only flight that I've missed in my life to be this one. He looks at me, asks for my ID and says "check in for this 4pm flight doesn't open for another couple of minutes, but I'll put you through now". I realise that at some point between the house and the airport, I must have got what time I need to be at the airport confused with the actual flight time. Idiot.


The last couple of days here in California have been great. A really laid back, relaxing time. The weather has been beautiful and the beach is really close to Andy's place. There was a funky marine layer cloud system the other day, which made for a great view from the nearby hills of the low cloud settling on the water, stopping at the shore. Going into the built up areas is a little weird. Depending on which way you look, California can be either super beautiful or super plastic. We went out the other night with a few of Andy's mates to a couple of bars, ending up at a 'dive bar', where pool, darts and 80s music took us up to close. Yesterday afternoon I walked down to the beach and sat on some grass just near the sand and read. I've been playing with my new camera and lens combo, loving the results. Tonight we go north to the next town and see George Clinton and The P-Funk play. Bam!

Good luck to Sarah and Aidan with your wedding this weekend. You're both such lovely people and I wish you the best for the future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

California Über Alles

I’m not even supposed to be here today! - Dante Hicks, Clerks

It’s funny how the best laid plans go awry. Right now, I should be settling into some cozy arts admin job in Ireland, making connections, meeting clients, getting a smart haircut, wearing a suit, etc. During the evenings I should be sitting in a pub drinking Guinness, getting ready for the craziness of St Pat’s Day with a home ground advantage.

But I’m not.

I’m in California.

This is my first time in the US of A and I don’t think the idea has concept has hit me yet. While driving between the border and where I’m staying, I saw American flags fluttering on the tops of buildings. I kept thinking to myself “that’s odd, why are people fluttering that flag?”, then it clicked, I’m in America. Der. I’ve been staying with Andy, the American guy I met up with while I was in Hungary. Andy has been a real champ opening up his house and allowing me to get eBay stuff posted there. I now have a replacement camera and a swanky new lens. I’ve met a bunch of his local friends, have been riding his bike around checking out the area and will be hanging out with his equally cool wife Laurie this weekend. Southern California’s dry, warm weather is pretty similar to back at home in Adelaide and for the last few days I’ve been hanging out on Andy’s front porch, laying in the sun reading and doing interweb stuff. This is new.

What does warm the cockles of my heart is the amount of Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid cars getting about the place. What disturbs me is that for every hybrid, there are at least fifteen massive V8 SUVs and high performance big block American sports cars clogging up the roads. None of which look like they’ve ever been near a dirt road or race track in their life. I’m hoping that owning a hybrid here in America isn’t just a fad, as being quite a difficult vehicle to secure, the exclusiveness of owning one seems more important than the environmental benefits. But you know the more the merrier. Apparently you get around the same miles per gallon with a VW Jetta TDI, but the emissions are much less on a Prius. Anyway, I’m not in the market to buy a car. Or am I? More on that later.

One of things that have really overwhelmed me a little has been the shear amount of choice one has here when it comes to what you buy, with cafes and fast food joints being the big surprise. The many different varieties, combination and configurations one’s breakfast and coffee can come in can be a bit confusing, especially after a night on the turps. This morning, when I asked “Can I have one of those bacon and egg sandwiches with a coffee please?”, the next 5 minutes was spent choosing what type of bread, milk, egg style, spread, sugar, etc rather than me eating my greasy morning saviour.

This range of choice has prompted more existential questions to spring up in my head. ie – does more choice give people freedom or just a greater false reassurance of freedom? What has prompted this thought has been the political debate in the comments section of a previous post, where an anonymous person and I have been discussing the merits of communism verses the evils of capitalism. Socialism fails because it relies on everyone getting on with each other, which as history shows, doesn’t tend to happen on the world-wide scale required for socialism to work. Socialism would work if all humans interacted on the same level as one another, with everyone living under the environment and controlled conditions. This would be also have to be a world with no emotions, no desires, no jealousy, no betrayal. Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You hoo hoo ooo ah oo.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

dead-set ledgend

On Sunday, as Australian army Black Hawk helicopters thumped overhead, reporter Eric Campbell and cameraman David Martin from ABC television's Foreign Correspondent program contacted Reinado supporters and then walked with them for two days through rainforest. Constantly evading Australian surveillance, they were led towards a jungle hideout. Finally, a coded telephone call led them down a mountain road and Reinado emerged from the darkness — wearing an Australian army uniform. READ MORE

Awesome. No wonder he's my favorite Australian journalist.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

like sands through the hourglass

Yesterday I met up with Abraham, the couchsurfing guy who contacted me after I already had said yes to my current host. I caught the metro all the way out to where he studies at the University city, which is exactly that: a city. With a student population of over 250,000, a supermarket (which doesn't sell booze on Fridays), a internal bus service (9 different routes), an extinct lava pit (man I wish I had my camera), a library which is covered in the world's largest mosaic, a fire station and an ex-Olympic stadium all to it's own, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is a behemoth of a campus. Abraham took me for a drive around it. The drive took a good 20 minutes, and there were a couple of traffic snarls along the way. We hung out at the campus for a while with a few of his friends, and then headed back to his girlfriend's place for a while. We had some beers, mingled with a few more of his friends, ate tacos and left for a party for his friend who had just finished his masters. We got a bit lost on the way, but it turned out that the party was a 10 minute walk from where I'm staying. I dropped some stuff off and grabbed a jumper. A great party, I met plenty of interesting people there and learned about student culture in Mexico City.

You know that time of the year when it's daylight savings and you have to move all of your clocks forward by an hour? And that one clock you forget to change will be the one you'll be relying on on that morning you have an important meeting at work? Birthdays are kind of like this. Your brain goes through the motions of changing every age register inside you head to a new number, so that when the question "how old are you?" is asked, the new updated number comes out. However, after a couple of beers at the masters party last night, my thoughts must have been mingling in the lounge room inside my head, where the time on the VCR had yet to be flicked forward to 28. During a conversation I was asked how old I was, and casually I answered "27", and continued on with the conversation. About a minute later I realised my mistake and then thought I would sound stupid correcting myself on how old I am, so I kept quiet. Like a chump. Now I feel like I've covered over my true age through some desperate act of clinging on to youth rather than the true reason, the onset of dementia thanks to old age.

For what it's worth, I had a pretty good birthday this year. Maria and her folks took me out to a fancy seafood restaurant and treated me to some Mexican / Central American dishes. There was plenty of corn related food type things, and surprisingly a dish with raw fish, which didn't taste anything like Japanese food. Compared to the previous two birthday (2006 I was in the middle of giving away everything I owned to go travelling, 2005 everything seemed to be falling apart around me), it was a fairly good day. After a party nap, Maria took me out to meet some more of her friends at a little house party which continued until the wee hours of the morning. Dancing occured, chatting photos transpired and a shoe was thrown out a window, supposedly never to be returned. While I miss my mates back home, I was treated as if I had been in Maria's inner circle of friends for years - which for someone I only met only two days earlier is pretty cool.

Today I go to the MX Beat concert. Tomorrow I go to Tijuana.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

i walk the line

Mexico City is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to Mexico City.

Ok.. Mexico City is big, but thanks to it being wedged between a few mountains, it doesn’t feel as infinite as Tokyo or Shanghai. The smog also keeps things in check, becasue once you get up high enough to get an overview of the city, the chances of seeing any further than about 10km is pretty slim. I’m really loving it though, but it’s weird not having my camera to record stuff. There is so much to see and do here, and the people I’ve been staying with have been awesome. I continually find myself staying with females with this couchsurfing thing, but I assure you, I am asking an equal number of guys as I am girls. Girls just seem to reply more often. Must be my charming photo on my profile.

The first day in Mexico City was a blur.

Having caught the plane from Havana at 6am (with a 3am checking and an 11pm mugging beforehand), I made my way to the Australian Embassy to fix up the lost passport issue with only a 20 minute nap on the plane powering me through. I had some help from a British guy and his Austrian girlfriend who had caught the same flight as me. They had a map of where I wanted to go and about 8 times more brain power than I was able to muster, so I followed them into the centre of town assuming the embassy was there. Sure enough, it was in a satellite centre about 6 metro stops and a transfer from where I thought it was. We swapped email addresses and I floated my way to the embassy through the city’s vast metro network. I arrived at the station, got out my compass and headed west. I heard that life was peaceful there. I trudged through a few food markets, walked across a rather nice park and briefly shared directions with a really attractive Mexican girl. I fall in love really easily.

The guys at the Embassy noted that I looked a little strung out and took pity on my updated situation. “So let’s get this straight, you lost your passport 2 weeks ago and were mugged last night? Right. Cuba wasn’t so good on you then?”. I assured them that I had been travelling for almost a year with no issues and that Cuba seemed to be where my number was up. While waiting for the paperwork to be processed, I found my way to a Starbucks for coffee and internet. Oh my. What a difference a day makes. 24 hours earlier I had drank an espresso (one of three things on the menu), in a central Havana restaurant where the phrase “you want flies with that?” wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary. Now I was in Chai Latte with skim soy milk land, where 5 types of chocolate cookies are for sale and the girl behind the counter smiles as she gives me my change (correct). I called my sister. I tried to call my mum. I sent some emails. I read lots of news. It’s weird to describe the most polluted city in the world as a place that feels like a breath of fresh air. I’m totally convinced now that communism doesn’t work and never will. Self interest, nepotism and greed will always be its downfall, where as these things drive capitalism. Sure, some people miss out, but they should stop being homeless, disabled and dumb and stuff. Unless we have robots and computers organising society and telling us what to do, communism will never work. And I don’t care what Red Evan says, even if he does agree to watch the Matrix with me.

I returned to the Australian embassy and found myself waiting a little bit longer. I flicked through their copies of The Australian and cringed at the tourism video playing in the corner featuring our fearless leader spurting off some bullshit about how Australia celebrates its multicultural way of life. Just as long as you don’t look too foreign. I tune out and amuse myself by making an impromptu “DUNNY” sign for the toilets. Got to make fellow Aussies feel at home when they go to lay some cable. Paper work gets sorted, I need to return in a couple of days to pick up my Emergency Passport and I go hunt down some food. I then call Violeta and organise where to meet up with her. Other side of town. Great.

I arrive at the Metro station and walk out into the middle of a pirate dvd and taco circus. Fuck. I’m so not ready for this. Ducking in and out of first person and recollective tenses, I find my way to a clear bit of footpath and look for the Telmex sign Violeta said would be the first thing I see as I left the station. Nope. Not there. Two girls, one with curly blonde hair and another with straight dark hair approach me. “Hi. How are you?” I assume this is Violeta and her friend and ask “how did you know it was me?”. “umm.. We didn’t”. It wasn’t them. I ask a few people where the Telmex place is and the point across a road which is 4 lanes wide in each direction with a 100 metre strip of grass and trees between. Sort of like a big version of Port Road back in Adelaide, but with the chaos of 1,000 Japanese butterflies fluttering their wings. Someone is waving to me. Yep.. There is certainly someone waving at me. Ha.. So that’s what a Mexican Wave looks like. I get back to Violeta’s place. Conversation consists mostly of me recollecting the previous night’s events and me expressing my interest in showering and passing out somewhere dark and quite.

Today I head to Coyoacán. I went there last week with French Sarah for some funny looking interpretive dance and yucky tasting drink. I was stopped in the street by a bunch of men dressed like mosquitoes, who then interviewed me in Spanish. I think I minced my words and said "penis" rather than "I'm having a lovely day, thanks for asking". This got a laugh and was considered ridiculous from a bunch of guys standing around in full body lycra suits, with tea strainers for eyes. There was a camera involved and according to the people I'm staying with, the likelihood of me popping up on some random Mexican cable channel is quite high. Frida Kahlo's place is out that way, so is Trotsky's. There are also some cool clothing stores where I'm hoping to refresh my wardrobe.

PS - is this not one of the best festival line ups you've ever seen?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

we're all the same underneath

Yesterday, I went for a stroll through Chapultepec, the massive park near the financial and diplomatic area of Mexico City. On the recommendation of my sister, I was headed to the Museum of Anthropology and Natural History. The walk through the park past all the stalls selling the contents of an upended showbags, wrestling masks and funny looking corn chips is worth the visit alone. After flirting with the idea of buying some 10 Peso sunnies, I got a little hungry and scouted for a place to eat. I spied some food stalls off the main path and headed towards them. Half way down the path, a guy brandishing a menu came running up behind to direct me to his stall. As I had my headphones in I only heard him when he was right next to me, and he scared the shit out of me. I guess I’m still a bit jumpy with that personal space thing. No way was I eating at his dog’s bowl taco stand now. After finding a place that looked ok, at the same moment I decided to buy something without meat I forgot the Spanish word for beans. While hunting my phrase book for the word, a young blonde hair gent, dressed in a white shirt and a black tie, with a black name badge came up and asked me if I needed help. Sure. I was hungry, a little tired and totally up for this Mormon to process my order for me. A cheese beanie taco. It has a different name than the taco, which I've totally forgotten, but for argument sake is a big taco.

With my order finalised, I ask the nearby table of Mormons if I can join them. I figure it can’t hurt to sit down and chat with these guys, as they are sure to speak English if anything. Just don’t get talking about Jesus and all that other nonsense as that always ends badly when this little ape gets talking about that fairy tale shit. We talk about travelling, the logistics involved in being a missionary in a devoutly catholic country, bikes (and not riding them in Mexico City because you will die), and growing up in other countries on account of parents being missionaries. I’m fascinated with people who grow up under these conditions. No matter what their political leanings, religious beliefs or musical tastes, I always find their stories interesting. Maybe this is because I love travel or grew up in sleepy little Semaphore, but I dig chatting to these people. I tell them about my random Mormon meeting in Hungary and they laugh. I work out that it’s March 6, one year since I left Australia and there’s a few nods of approval from the Mormons. We’ve kept the conversation polite (ie all about me), and the subject of god and his magic powers hasn’t come up. Then one of the older, more well trained door salesman pops the question: “so do you believe in god?”

Great. There goes a nice, normal conversation about bikes, Mexico and travelling. I know it’s something that occupies most of your life, but once I said “no” to the god question, you could have worked it out that I didn’t want to visit your temple or watch your Spanish videos about why I’ve had it so wrong for so long. But no, this isn’t a normal conversation. This is a sales pitch. The biggest problem I have with Mormons, Jehovahs, Resistance, Unionists and any other membership dependent organisation is that it’s just a fucking pyramid scheme. Like friends lost to Herblife and Amway, you can’t have a normal conversation with them. They are always looking for an in to get you hooked onto their idea, to help you understand that the answer to you’re every woe is somehow found in the magic 9 step program, previewed in the brocure they’re leaving with you. I had this a few years ago when I ran into a friend at a pub I hadn’t seen in ages. As I was about to leave, I gave her my mobile number and we said we’d catch up in a few days. We caught up, and within about 5 minutes she was on the play about this amazing new system she’s discovered. This thoroughly pissed me off, as she had only been keen to catch up with me to snare me in her sticky web of sales pitch. Nonce. I saw her a couple of years later. She said that the whole thing had fallen in a heap about 4 months later and that she ended up spending more money than she made on whatever the snake oil she was peddling.

“Well, our lord Jesus Christ has many answers for you.”

“Funny, I didn’t have any questions. Look, religion is great for building community and giving people hope when there is none. When you guys travel overseas it must be great to be able to find people with a similar way of thinking and hang out with them. Sort of like an instant community. But sorry guys, it’s just not my thing.”

He then goes into a diatribe of how his sister had cancer and how he prayed for her and then magically two weeks later it left her body. I then told him about how a friend of mine’s parents, who were devoutly religious and had spent the younger years as missionaries, had a bad car accident thanks to a drunk driver hitting them. My friend’s mum was killed (after a rather painful, drawn out death), and her dad had lost one of his legs and his best friend. My friend, a girl who believed in god, first got angry at god and then lost her faith. The Mormon said that god sometimes does things to test our faith and that his faith had been tested on a few occasions. I decided not to get into my old anti-religion routine where I give converting the bible basher into an atheist a go, but I resent them having a 5 minute conversation with me and then trying to devalue everything I believe in. No point acting hypocritical and doing the same thing. I did think afterwards that riding a bike through Mexico City would be a good way of testing one's faith and wish I had challenged them to some kind of duel. Extreme Mormons maybe?

I finished eating and as if to convince me of his ideas, the team leader tells me about the magic healing powers which had been handed down to him from some old guy who touched him as a kid. Hmm.. I get given a little card inviting me to the temple where there are plenty of videos and material for me to see. Me: “it’s in Spanish right?” Mormon: “errr, yeah. But I’m sure someone there could explain it to you”. I decide to play their game and invite them to come to the Natural History Museum with me. “It’s very informative and I’ve been told it’s really good.” The sales pitch guy looks at me uncomfortably. I think he worked out what just transpired. We say our goodbyes and leave it at that.

The Museum was interesting. Enough English to keep me off the street for a few hours. I ran into the Danish guys I had met in Cuba and again on the top of the pyramids last week. Their group had now been reduced to 2, with one of them going to Brazil and the other one doing her own thing in Mexico. We all decide the world is a small place and casually say goodbye, with the idea of randomly bumping into each other somewhere else. I laid outside on the wall of the pond warming myself up in the sun, drifting off into dusk like sleep for about 4 minutes while listening to music. Afterwards, I walked through the park, bought a cup of fruit, which I ate with the help of a squirrel and an old lady asking for money.

One weird thing I noticed when I started to use the internet again here in Mexico, was discovering I’m being stalked. Well, not really. Back in September I signed up for this thing called Last FM and then completely forgot about it. Ever since then, every song I’ve listened to on my computer has been logged and then uploaded to this website for all to see. I only discovered this when I did a search for a friend of mines band on Google, which then brought up my profile on Last FM. I’ve now added a link to it in the side menu of this page.


I have written good stuff about Cuba, but right now it’s in my bad books and I will continue to represent it as a backward hole devoid of culture and full of criminals until Fidel gives me a phone call to personally apologise for the misadventures I met with while in his horrid little country.

Mexican adventures soon.

And here's the reason why I'm not in California now:

Marlboro MX Beat - March 10 - 75 Peso ($10 AUD)
Architecture in Helsinki, Spoon, Tapes 'n Tapes, Cansei de Ser Sexy, Diplo, ADULT, Datarock, bonde do role, Los Super Elegantes, Chetes, La Gusana Ciega and los superelegantes

Friday, March 02, 2007

It didn’t end when the fat lady danced

My last day in Cuba was great.

Sunday - February 18
I left my casa around eleven to go have a friendly chat with my original casa (more on this later). Afterwards, I wandered over to a Cubano café and grabbed an espresso for about 5 Aussie cents, then walked around for a bit killing time before meeting up at noon with the two Swiss girls I had met the day before. After about twenty minutes of waiting, I went back to the casa, grabbed my laptop and headed for one of the fancy hotels to do some typing in their café, where me and the laptop wouldn’t stick out as much. I found a spot and began typing away, moving around the room periodically to avoid the Cuban band who were stalking an elderly Canadian couple who were also playing their own version of musical chairs. Seriously, some of these bands in hotel lobbies in Cuba remind me of seagulls fighting over burnt chips. Once I had had my fill of maracas and halitosis, I headed back to the casa to drop my stuff off. On the way there I heard my name being called out from somewhere. Looking around I find the Swiss girls hanging out of a window in a nearby building, waving at me. They had mixed up 11 for 12 and had decided to do a tour of what looks like a deserted building. We arrange to meet up in an hour and then hang out for the afternoon as planned. I return to the hotel lobby, read a little and just as I was about to take my turn on the internet, the girls show up and we go searching for lunch. Hmmm.. Greasy fried rice. Now with more bone and less correct change. We walked over to China town (I only saw one person who vaguely looked as if they had once thought about visiting China.. No actual Chinese people here), and introduced them to Senoritas, my favourite pastry delight in Cuba.

The girls invite me back to their casa, which is a 10 minute drive from the centre. After debating prices with a row of dodgy looking taxis, we decide to change tactics and try our luck at flagging down a random car. In Cuba, there is a culture of ride sharing and isn’t really hitchhiking when it’s done on this scale. It’s simple. If a car is going the same place you want to go and there’s room for you, then jump in. For example, it’s the law that all government cars (the ones with the blue licence plates), have to pick up people. There are even dudes dressed in yellow stationed on major roads keeping track of this. A car stops for us and we stumble through some Spanish to tell the driver where we want to go. The girls cram into the back and I hop into the front seat. Turns out our driver is a dentist and he speaks enough English for me to have a conversation with him. Dr Angel has two daughters, who both live in Florida and he is unhappy with the conditions he must work under. There isn’t enough money for the right equipment and the pay (equal to around $50 Australian a month), is a pittance. He feels change is coming and has been looking forward to the time he is able to travel abroad freely and maybe visit his grandchildren. We didn’t drop the F word, but it was the white elephant sitting on the dashboard keeping watch over the conversation. We get to our destination, give him a couple of CUC for the ride (about 5% of his monthly wage as a dentist), and say our goodbyes. He hands us his card and says that if we ever need help while in Cuba, he’s our man. We walk down to the girl’s casa and the lively Mrs Guevara opens the door and gives me a big hug. I had met her the previous night and we had gotten on really well, considering our lack of a mutual language. She’s in her 50s, rather corpulent and has a laugh like a klaxon (which is accompanied by a hearty slap on the back).

The girls tell Mrs Guevara about the attempted scam of two jinetera (female con artists), who had tried to make the girls pay a ridiculous sum of money for some drinks they didn’t want. This got Mrs Guevara all steamed up and she started educating the Swiss girls on what to do next time they encountered such a scam. This did involve plenty of gesticulating and words like “putana” and “joder”, and even while my grasp on the Spanish tongue isn’t that great, I could tell she was annoyed.

I realised I still had my laptop with me and seeing that the girls had just started their trip and I was just about to finish mine, we went through a few of my photos from the places they were intending to visit. Afterwards, Mrs Guevara offered to make us all hot chocolate. She went and turned on the radio to a local salsa channel and I took the opportunity to practice my dancing with her. Hearty laughs (and back slaps), ensued and the hot chocolate was served, which was much better tasting than the shit they dished out at the chocolate museum. I gave one of the Swiss girls my camera and got her to take some action shots of me and Mrs Guevara dancing. Heart warming stuff.

After chocolate, the girls and I went dinner hunting, and ended up walking a long way through what looked to be a normal suburb. Trees, driveways, lights. It was all there. We asked a few people where to go for pizza and eventually found a place that would allow us to eat there as long as we didn’t take up any of the tables. While we waited, we sat on a concrete bench, drank our overpriced drinks (from a fridge which had caught fire just as we were being served), and then received our pizzas, which we were handsomely overcharged for. We ate our Cuban Hawaiian pizzas (the least offensive of Cuban pizza), on the restaurant’s front steps, not taking any care with the spillage of pineapple coming out of the end of our taco like pizza. We headed back to the casa, passing a Don Bosco community centre (reminded me of the one on Sydney road in Melbourne), which was hosting the local AA meeting. We flirted with the idea of getting a taxi, which ended up being way too complicated. We got back to the casa and we said our goodbyes. I was on limited time as I had to get back into town to grab my bag and head to the airport before the taxis dried up. I walked back to Dias de Octobre (the main rod heading back into town), and jumped on a local bus. I was quite chuffed with this as I hadn’t ridden in the rickety local buses yet and now that I was just about to leave the country, I had got my chance. The 15 year old driver wrestled with a gear stick which was bigger than him and the guy collecting the fare had already organised piles of peso change and slotted them into the gap in the window.

On the way back into town, I got a little disorientated and finally spotted a landmark I knew, the big modern looking performance space on the Malecon. This space reminds me more of the main mall in Brisbane than it does of anywhere else in Cuba. That said, Brisbane’s version doesn’t have a bunch of black flags and a digital ticker spouting out 50 year old pro-revolutionary slogans. I got a couple of photos of the well lit flags and walked along the deserted Malecon, enjoying the storm tide crashing up against the sea walls. Most of the road had been closed to traffic as there were huge waves spilling over onto the road. The sky was clear so there was no risk of rain, but the mist thrown up by the big waves was refreshing enough. I spotted a little club half full with old Cuban guys kicking back listening to a two piece band banging out a few numbers. It reminded of me of what I had liked about Cuba. Through all the overcharging and the rip offs, Cuba is at it’s heart a place of relaxed living with plenty of spare time to spend with your friends and family. It’ll be a rude shock when that whole dream of capitalism comes true. I continued walking down the Malecon until I reached the road that lead to my casa. I had about 30 minutes until my taxi was due to pick me up and I figured I’d like a sit down before doing the airport thing.

I walked past an outdoor bar which was closing up for the night (with about 5 small dogs helping), and over a street where there was some light traffic was going past. As I crossed the road some young guys called out to me “where you from?”. This is usual fare for a Havana city corner, and I replied “Japan”. I then ducked up another street, which was about 2 streets over from where I was staying. There were some people about and on the corner, a bar had been taken over by a rather exuberant looking game of dominos. I then caught sight of some cock and balls graffiti, something friends back at home were making a collection of. I stopped, turned around and walked a little way back, with two guys walking past me. As I adjusted my pack to get my camera out, I glanced at the corner I had just passed by and there was a small crowd of about 15 – 20 people there, looking in my direction. This I thought was a little odd. Then I turned to see that the two guys who had just passed me had also stopped, one about two metres from me, the other about three. They were looking at one another, so I figured they didn’t want anything to do with me, but their proximity did make me feel uneasy. Then one of them said to the other “¿aqui?” (here?), and before I knew it the guy closest to me was behind me with his arm around me neck while the other guy was busying himself with grabbing my camera. It took a little while for my brain to work out what was going on, but before I could yell or defend myself, the guy in front had got a hold of my camera and was legging it towards the Malecon, through the small crowd looking on in wonder. The guy who had a hold of me then tried to relieve me of my backpack. My brain clicked into gear and I finally worked out what was going on, and used my backpack to pull the guy from behind me to my front, where I began wrestling for control of my bag. One of the straps was still slung over my arm, so I had a good grip on it, but he kept tugging at it with all his weight. The straps gut into my hand, but I was able to pull the bag closer to me and get a better grip on it. This brought him closer and we both ended up on the ground fighting for the bag. He initially fell on me and I yelled in his ear and kicked backwards into what I think was his crotch. Then I just held my bag safe, yelling directly into his ear as loud as I could. After a bit of this, he got up to sprint off, and I tried to grab his leg but he was too quick.

Everything went quite.

Covered in mud from rolling around on the ground, I stood up and looked around for any sign of the perps. Nothing. The small crowd which had formed at the nearby corner had begun to disperse and the surrounds were returning to the usual lethargic weight found on Cuban streets. I shouted “I can’t believe this country. You all just stood there and did nothing. Fuck you all.” I was so angry with Cuba, with it’s people, with me being a tourist, with the dumb fuck running off with a camera he’d struggle to find a charger for. I walked into the dominos place, where the game had resumed, as if oblivious to the commotion outside. All I got was a couple of blank stares. I walked out into the street again, up to where it had all happened. This place was well lit, there were people about. I kept thinking to myself, “these aren’t the conditions for a mugging”. I walked up to a couple who were entering their house. I asked them to use their telephone. The guys said to me in English, “Just go home. Just go home”. I said, “I can’t”. I asked him if he saw what happened. He said “so so”. I asked if he knew who did it. He said, “maybe”. I said, “look, they can keep the camera, all I want is the lens and the card.” He gave this some thought. It looked as if he would be able to do this for me. As he was about to tell me what he could work out for me, two police cars showed up at the opposite corner to where the crowd had been. He said no. I walked up to the police, and used what Spanish I knew to get help. I pointed at the guy and his girlfriend walking away, gesturing to the police to indicate that the couple had seen it happen. I pointed to the guy walking away and said to the police “Hombre Amigo Ladron” or quite simply “that guy’s mate is the thief”. While I was led into the police car, I caught sight of the couple who saw it all get put into another car. We drove past people standing on the streets, the car would slow and the cop sitting in the front seat would turned and point at his eyes, indicating that I should carefully look these people standing in the shadows up and down. We stopped once, but the Cuban guys standing on the corner looked like any Cuban guys standing on any corner. I was in a bit of a daze and the immediate events became a little vague.

The back seat of the police car was a single piece of moulded plastic, which I thought would have been an interesting custom fit for these Ladas. No door handles or armrests though. The seat feels a bit like the chairs you sit on to play video games. I remember a night 5 years ago in Adelaide when Fish gave me a funny coloured pill and I sat down at the table top arcade machine in Mojos for an hour playing Donkey Kong, fascinated more with the lights than with the game play. I did quite well from what I can remember. A great night with a small group of close friends and a spa to help ring in the new day.

I tried to sneak a peak at my laptop, which I was sure had been smashed in the struggle, but was unable to get a good look at it. At least I still had it, smashed or not. We got to the station and the car I was in pulled up next to the car the couple had ridden in. The guy’s door was open and he was sitting inside waiting for the police to tell him what to do. I knelt down and said to him “look, I know you have to live in that neighbourhood, but you know those guys. All I want is the card and lens back. The camera is theirs. If we do this, then I can explain to the police now that you had nothing to do with it.” He said, “we’ll see” and left it at that.

As I went in to the station, I noticed my hand was bleeding around the same time I started to feel my left knee. One of the police officers pointed out that I was bleeding from the head, but was unable to direct me to a mirror or first aid kit for me to fix it. I headed to the toilet to check on my computer. Something I rarely carried with me, my computer has every photo from my trip in Cuba, apart from the ones I had taken that day. I fired it up and everything worked fine. My ID and tickets were still ok, but I had missed my taxi to the airport.

I was put into an interview room and asked to wait. My knee was hurting and my hand was bleeding a bit. The room was lit by a single fluro globe, hanging precariously from the roof by a couple of wires. The light switch consisted of a hole in the wall with two wires with hooks in the end, looped together. I played with this for a while, turning the light on and off. I got the attention of an officer and asked him in Spanish if there was a first aid kit I could use. He said they didn’t have one in the station.

Eventually they let me walk around the station. I found the couple sitting in the reception area, waiting for the police. I sat down next to the guy and began chatting.

Me: I understand your position. You know who did it but because you live in that neighbourhood, you don’t want to point the finger.. am I right?

Guy: Maybe. Do you do sport?

Me: What do you mean? I ride bikes.

Guy: No. like fighting, boxing. To defend yourself.

Me: No. Do you?

Guy: Sure.

Me: Then why didn’t you help me?

Guy: You’re a tourist.

Me: Forget that. For a minute, forget you are Cuban and that I’m Australian.

Guy: Huh?

Me: Forget it. You not Cuban, me not Australian. We are both Human. Comprende? Why didn’t you help?

This worked. Years of Catholic guilt training and I managed to get this guy where it mattered. A look of total self disgust crossed his face.

Guy: I’m sorry.

Me: Yeah. Thanks. Whatever.

The interview with the police lasted for about 40 minutes, and involved me writing the police report and royally screwing the guy who maybe didn't see anything. I kept saying: "Hombre amigos ladron", referring to the guy who had witnessed it. Fuck him. He could spend the rest of the night with the police explaining the actions of his maybe friends. When I got up to leave, the cops asked “Amigo Joshua?” I had no idea what they were on about. And they repeated their question “Amigo Joshua? Australiano” I realised they were referring to Josh, the Australian guy I had travelled with for a few days with in Eastern Cuba. “err.. Amigo Vamos Mexcio –complex hand gesture to indicate last week-

Then they started listing off the other people I had travelled with.
“Pawel - Polanco? Collin - Canadian? You gay? Maria – Austrian. Sylbia – Swiss? Eh? You errr –complex hand gesture to indicate fornication- with Chikas?”

As they led me out, we past a guy who looked pretty fucked up. Blood running down his face and his clothes torn up, he was in a pretty bad way. I felt better about my situation because at least I wasn’t that bad. The cops pointed at him, laughed and said “he’s a gay”, as if that explained away the fact he had been savagely bashed. I managed to get a ride back to my casa with the cops and they dropped me at the door. I woke up the owner, explained in broken Spanish and charades what had happened that night and why I was so late in picking up my bags. She gave me a big hug and it was the best thing she could have done. I felt like crying. I was hurt, tired and totally over Cuba. I left my bags in the casa and went out to see about getting a taxi. It was 2:30am and I didn’t like my chances, however as if by magic a nice Peugeot taxi drove by just as I exited the building. I flagged him down, collected my bags and got in. As we drove around a few corners, the headlights fell on to a Cuban man and a woman having a struggle. The guy was pulling at her bag (or maybe her arm), and she was screaming, trying to get away. I asked the driver to stop so we could help her, but he just said “no” and kept driving.

Talk about losing faith with humanity.

I’ll write about the next 24 hours later, but they occurred with no sleep in between.

My final day in Cuba really sapped my energy and confidence for solo travel. In the last couple of days I’ve really started missing home, friends and family. Clair from Ireland sent me a Ben Fold’s video featuring Adelaide and news of Jo and Craig’s good news has lifted my spirits. Pictures of Pippa getting back into A-town has made me appreciate the good stuff we had together, and I wish her the best, regardless of the mess we made for each other last year. Violeta, the Couchsurfer I’m staying with has been awesome, so have her mates. Sara, Josh and Gus (the other travellers I’ve been hanging out with for the last week), have also been great to hang with.

I did like Cuba, and thankfully I’ve still got my laptop with the photos of the good stuff I saw to remind me that it wasn’t all shit. I hope you're liking them.

Mexico City is tops. I’m loving it. Food, culture, history, people, art – all good. While capitalism isn't the answer, Fidel's "untopia" certainly isn't. Mexico is a stark contrast to Cuba with elements of China’s ultra form of capitalism mixing it up with Latin American and Euro influnces, popping up on every Mexican city corner. Pity I don’t have my camera to capture it. Well, not until I visit Andy and Laurie in California next week where my replacement cam will be waiting for me.

RIP - Billy Thorpe