23.11.09 Palenque, Mexico.
If you spent the late 1980's in Britain drinking newly-imported, skinny-necked 355ml bottles of Corona at 2 quid a pop, you were, quite transparently, a twat. A worthless, pink-shirted bozo, suckling at Lord Fashion's distended purple teat with all the grace and imagination of a speed bump.
Forgive yourself - everybody else has - and pull up a chaise-longue while I tell you about the 940ml bottles of Sol that are available in Roadside Bar Mexico, in this, the Year Of Our Lord 2009, for one pound and twenty-five pence. Try drinking one of these babies outta the bottle! They look, do they not, like particularly beautiful pregnant women. Stout with hope and promise!
To clarify - if you were a Corona or Sol bottle-sipper in Britain in the 1980's, you were a social and intellectual homunculus. If you continued into the 1990's, you were, and remain, a whey-faced boob, no doubt hectored nightly by your disillusioned, running-to-fat bride.
36 hours in Mexico's Chiapas region have passed, and I'm doolally with excitement about the place. After the skinny little isthmus of Central America, Chiapas seems huge, with endless directional options compared to the "keep going west-north-west" feel of the preceding six countries.
My first-impression-meter of a country has been tweaked by now to respond to these four stimuli:
1. What's the border like?
2. How much is the lager?
3. Wozzit look like?
4. Good or bad cops?
So here we go. The Guat/Mex border at Las Mesillas is the quickest and easiest I've been through anywhere. I recommend Sunday lunchtime. There's a sliding scale of deposits you "have to" pay on entering Mexico, based on the age of your vehicle, to deter you from selling it. 1998 = $300!
The customs guy tells me this is payable only in cash. I feign poverty, employing the "pockets-out" gesture. He nods and we continue with the paperwork.
"All done!" he smiles, after 10 minutes.
"Er - what about the $300?" I remind him, keen as beans to be legal (I've bought Mexican insurance off of the internob - if I'm stopped at the lights in Mexico without insurance and a juggernaut smashes into the back of me, whatever is left of me goes to prison, hilariously).
"Ah, sod it. Happy trails!" he responds in Mexican. What a country!
Onto point 2; I think 75p a pint is, in 2009, almost too small an amount.
Point 3; It looks bloody amazing. Bloody. Amazing!
And finally; I've been stopped once today (at one of four roadblocks), and they were charming, friendly and by-the-book; just wanted to see my passport.
4 out of 4. MEXICO IS AWESOME.
25.11.09 Escarcega, Mexico
I have to be in Cancun on Sunday to meet Naz, last seen in Buenos Aires. It would've been quicker to go through Belize, but sod that; it's $200 to get a bike in and the cop situation is supposed to be worse than Honduras. The "attraction" of Belize is the diving. There's only one sort of diving I'm interested in, and it doesn't involve an oxygen tank. Usually.
Puerile? For sure. Crass, offensive and unfunny? No doubt. My only excuse is a mood-swing caused by -
a/ 16 number twos in 24 hours (sixteen!)
b/ leaving the sapphire-canopied Arcadia of Chiapas for the flat, overpriced drabness of southern Campeche.
In Escarcega I inspect four hotels before giving in.
1. An overpriced sterile box.
2. Overpriced at $35, and full anyway.
3. A circa-1920 Parisian urinal disguised as a hotel with no parking.
4. Seems OK, until you notice that the TV was manufactured in 1968 (really - the channel changer is a dial) and they don't sell beer. Gaaaah.
A long walk up the road yields a bar - fine - that shuts at 6pm - what? - and a restaurant that sells beer but makes me walk four feet from my chair to smoke, even though it's largely outside. Booooh.
OK. That's out of my system. Tecate, Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo are all solid, workmanlike lagers (unlike Sol which I've decided is a little bit watery), and the latter comes in 710ml bottles, two of which seem to reverse the above-noted mood swing quite convincingly. Plus Man United lost 1-0 to Besiktas (I know!) at Old Trafford today. Ho ho!
What would you rather share the highway with? A juggernaut piloted by someone with a hard-to-come-by Heavy Goods Vehicle licence, the test for which involves an eye test and preferably a bit of psychological profiling; or a 34 year old taxi with "God Help Me" painted on the rear window?
28.11.09 Cancun, Mexico
Trade: di-methyl-hydroxy-loperamide. Street: Imodium. These pills are valued at two quid, and amazingly - against all intestinal logic - they work even if you've "got one in the chamber", acting like a rectal Super Slurper and turning a difficult, "can we go yet / dare I even check out of my room?" morning into a breeze. Hoozah for Big Pharma!
Two weeks in Cancun with Naz have slipped by, and I feel the urge to pass on some tips if you're headed that way.
1) Book the Grand Royal Lagoon Hotel in advance on the interplop for $27 a night, with every third night free. Balcony, room service, big room with triple bed, air-con, fridge, super-efficient cleaners, pool and Cancun's cheapest lager (15 pesos in the GRL bar; 54 pesos in a stupid Spring Break horror-disco up the road).
2) Just across the road you'll find the Intercontinental. Swan in like you own the place, and you can use their much bigger pool, sun loungers, beach and internet cafe for no money.
3) Fancy a spot of booze? Take a ride down the main drag to the Bel Air Collection hotel. There's a jacuzzi bar in the pool, where, if you play your hand subtly, you can arrive at midday and pay $20 to suck down as many cocktails as you can stomach before the pool bar shuts at 6pm. For my money, the stand-out snifters from the fairly extensive drinks menu are the Flamenco (it's pink - get over it) and the Sombrero (like coffee ice-cream with booze in it).
4)... I have to interrupt myself - I'm overcome with emotion as Campeche's Christmas Parade passes below my terrace-bar table.
The Nativity float has, frankly, finished me off. All the beloved characters are there - the, ah, Virgin, Mary; poor old Joseph; the porky little Christ-Child himself; the Three "Wise" Men; an elephant (?); Ronald McDonald; and somebody dressed as a 500ml plastic bottle of Coke. *cries*... Anyway:
4) Go to Isla Mujeres - fantastic beaches and everything's half the price. DO NOT hire a sun-lounger from the spiv on Playa Norte. He'll want 10 quid for an hour, and, as we've established, if you can convincingly pretend to be a paying guest at the Intercontinental, they're free.
...I must butt in on myself* again - the toilet in this bar has a sign over the sink suggesting you should wash your hands before, as well as after going to the lavatory.
Eh? I suppose if you'd just come in from making sculptures out of dog muck you'd want to wash your hands before, but under normal circs, what? I mean, why?
5) If you book a rental car to drive the 110 amazingly flat, straight miles to Chichen Itza and back, and the people at Budget "upgrade" you to a Nissan X-Trail, you should probably be aware that it does 100mph really rather easily, enabling you to get there in record time; but that on the way back, various dispirited Mexicans will attempt to throw themselves into its path; also that the headlight on-off switch operates on a hair-trigger principle, and that it's positioned on the end of the indicator stalk. Oh Christ.
Also that the name "X-Trail" does not, under Mexican law, imply any ability to negotiate a speed-bump above walking-pace without breaking it. It is, on balance, WAY more dangerous to drive an X-Trail sober, in Mexico, in the dark, than it is to ride an Africa Twin under similar conditions after a cocktail or "two". Not that I'm condoning anything blah blah etc.
Naz enjoys a pint of lager.
So - thanks for coming Naz! Well done us for still being alive, and Christ Damn You to Hell for beating me twice on the poker table.
I cannot believe it's nearly Christmas - again. Last back-end, as we say in Kent, I had garage pies and hot dogs for Xmas dinner. If I have to stab it myself, and cook it with a fucking cigarette lighter, I WILL HAVE TURKEY THIS YEAR.
How about that Tiger WooYAAAAAAAWWWWN! Really - does anyone (other than his wife) give a toad's pube?
You know when you really, really want a T-bone steak, and it's on the menu, which you saw 3 hours ago but weren't hungry then, and after 7 Coronas you ask to see the menu again, just to be polite, and, following 2 minutes of pretend-chin-stroking you beckon the waiter over and order the longed-for T-bone, and he says "Sorry sir - only New York steak", and you remember that the only other New York steak you've had in Mexico smelt like a dog's nappy, but you ate it anyway because you were literally starving to death, even though you'd been to the lavatory 16 times in 24 hours? That's why I'm going to Burger King in a minute.
And now the classified football results, read by Charles Hawtrey:
Fulham 3, Manchester United nil.
Arsenal 3, Hull City nil.
*illegal in Alabama
23.12.09 San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
I line up the camera to get a shot of the "Beer & Tacos" sign just as Victor Bloody Meldrew lurches out of the doorway. He's a cantankerous American nut-job, 65-ish and bald as a toad.
"HEY! What d'you think you're doing!" shouts Baldy, closing the door marked Yuletide Banter.
"I'm taking a picture of that sign", I reply truthfully.
Bald Freak: "You better not be taking a picture of me!"
Me: "I wouldn't take a picture of you if you paid me. I'm taking a picture of that sign."
Bald Freak: "You should ask first if you want a picture of me! I don't want nobody taking no pictures of me!"
Me: "Well, if you quit yapping and get out of the bloody way, perhaps I can get on with taking a picture of that sign, you nutter."
Bald Freak (very angry now): "Ah, stick it in your ear!"
Me: "Stick it up your arse, you nutter!"
As you can see, Baldy ended up actually being in the picture, which clearly, without his intervention, would not have made it onto the internet. Stupid old git. Happy Holidays!
Songs I would pay a Mariachi band to play right now:
Electric Funeral - Black Sabbath
Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse - Aphrodite's Child
Jailbait - Motorhead.
Guitar chords for all three of these songs are freely available on the intersqueak, and I gots the money. Let's get to it!
The fellow at the next table has some back on him. Clad in supermarket leather, it's like that of a Basildon rhino. Wide? Sure! His shoulders are such that, were he to attempt to dive into the Manchester Ship Canal, he would get stuck on the edges. His woman is tiny and weak. If the situation should take an unexpected ugly turn, I'm confident I could neutralize any physical threat from her with reasonable speed. On the other hand, unless I rescue her from the Big Lad she'll be crushed to a paste. Below his terrible leather problems there are chinos and cheap slip-ons, on incongruously small legs 'n' feet. Ah cain't do nuthin'. He would shatter me with one punch.
Christmas Day, San Cristobal
Aside from the threadbare (to the point of being oven-ready) parrots in the courtyard, El Cocodrilo is an excellent bar, right on the main square and cheap like 1989. But! Whoever decided that the appropriate soundtrack to accompany a few lunchtime Margaritas on Christmas Day was Roger Waters, deserves a biro in the sternum. Unless they change the CD in the next 2 minutes, I'm going to hoick out my aorta and inexpertly garrote myself, leading to an avalanche of unfavourable Boxing Day headlines in the San Cristobal Trumpet.
A quick note of thanks to Roger Waters' mum, who emailed me just now to say that if she was forced to listen to Roger Waters on Christmas Day, she would be tempted to pour herself a large Bleach 'n' Tonic ("Swedish Mouthwash", she calls it). Subsequently her mail becomes increasingly garbled, and eventually so frighteningly obscene that I'm unable to quote from it lest the FBI are watching. Something in there about "kicking my own knees off". Chin up, Mrs W - we share your pain.
00.01, 01.01.10, Tuxtla Gutierrez
2.1.10, Tuxtla Gutierrez
If you look like you've never been within 500 yards of a hot bath, it's reasonable to assume - I think - that you didn't wash your hands the last time you dropped a deuce. So thanks buddy, but no, I'll pour it myself, and GET YOUR FILTHY PAWS AWAY FROM MY GLASS. Ahem.
What's that? Why don't I go to a different bar, if it's that horrible? Is that what you're asking? Well, having walked 22 blocks in every direction looking for one, I thing I can say with near-certainty that there fucking isn't one.
6 Jan 2010 Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
However sated you are with Mexican crooners, can I suggest you don't snap, get up from your table, find the one Doors CD among the 2000 Los Amigos Borrachos recordings, and put on nine songs in a row including fully 10 minutes of "The End"? Sure, life ain't a popularity contest, but being alone in a Mexican dive bar surrounded by increasingly disgruntled locals ain't all that either.
*prays for last chord of "Soul Kitchen"*
"Dust In The Wind" by Kansas is great, isn't it, and their hair "styles" in the video are beyond criticism if you've ever even looked at a drug cigarette; but the question that needs to be asked is this: when they finally split, and the singer released his first solo album, did he call it "I'm Not In Kansas Anymore"? Ha! Ha!
This afternoon's fitting of back tyre #3 - a Pirelli MT90 - onto Her Maj marks the emotional high-water mark of our visit to Tuxtla. We can leave tomorrow! And yet - what's the hurry, Fast Boy? It's really not an amazing town, but there's a half-decent bar, a very special eaterie (lamb-centred), an excellent internet place and a damn good zoo. Hotel San Carlos is all about value at $17, and on top of all that, everyone north of the 28th parallel appears to be freezing to death: here, I sometimes feel like putting my jumper on after sundown.
Holy Jesus, forgive me my sins. It has been 35 years since my last confession, and even then I lied about most of it in a failed attempt to make it a worthwhile 4 minutes. I did not, in fact, set fire to Mrs Colmar's shed, or indeed say the word "vagina" in front of my Auntie Beryl. I have, however, dawdled like a reefer-stunted dormouse in southern Mexico to such an extent that I must now miss out Acapulco and hammer the toll-roads to Mexico City and the north, in order to be only a month behind schedule for the US border. Will five Hail Marys do? Whaddya mean, ten? Split the diff?
Mexico is, it turns out, bloody gigantic, and to see all the highlights in three months would be impossible. Her Maj is gagging for a new chain, and Mexico City is, I'm told, our best bet. Once I've swallowed the notion that I'll have to skip dozens of good bits, and come back to Mexico in some hazy future (because it is an unbelievably fantastic country), it all falls into place. Today we wham up the toll road to Cordoba like a naked, Vaselined Cyril Smith on the Cresta Run. The tolls are - literally - a bitch. It'll cost you the same to take a Honda C90 as a Hummer.
Once again, Lonely Planet (or Made-Up Cack Written By Cold-Sore-Ridden Vegetarian Cock-Punchers Planet, as it's known by anyone who's ever tried to find a bar in any Latin American town on the basis of an LP recommendation) proves off-target, but I find one anyway.
18.1.10 Mexico City
Excellent things about Mexico City:
1. 7-Eleven "Big Lunch" sandwiches. While "Small Lunch" would, in all fairness, sum up the defining attributes of these superbly fresh brown-bread starvation-attenuators more accurately, they are easily the least disappointing pre-packed sandwiches in Latin America. Six-and-a-half out of 10!
2. The traffic. Yes, it's a bloody big city. So Effing What? Someone's done a brilliant job of managing the traffic flow, and there aren't that many nutters to deal with. Six hours riding round the city today - only nearly got killed twice. Ree-Zult.
Excellent things about Marlboro Lights:
1. Nothing. Except the great rhyming slang I've just made up - "I'm busting for a Marlboro".*
My dear old darling, who has now become (in my Corona-sluiced mind) an unholy cross between both of my grandmothers, Queen Victoria and Fatima Whitbread, has gone to the shop for a new chain and some other late Xmas presents. I miss her, sure, but the grinding noise from the twisted chain has got to stop. We'll both look back and laugh some day. Probably tomorrow, which is when I have to collect her.
Daytona Motos - authorized Honda dealer - is great, and Enrique speaks English. It's at 13, Fuente de las Pyramides. Ha! You'll never find it.
The Chinese buffet situation in MC is outta control. Three UK pounds will buy you a pork-rib-ridden lunch of physiologically inadvisable vastness. You'll need -
a) a serious lie-down in a quiet hotel no more than 200 yards away;
b) adequate medical insurance to cover the inevitable episode of ventricular tachycardia, despite the excellent broccoli;
c) three quid.
I've spent, in the past, 30 quid on food I wouldn't give to a terminally ill pigeon in Gerrard Street (Chinatown, London, TV's England). MC has restored my faith in Chinese food in a way that, I suspect, a visit to China wouldn't. (I've eaten duck's feet and they're rubbish).
Current thinking re. MC runs as follows: If you hire a taxi, the driver will shoot you in the face, steal your wallet, and dump your claret-smeared torso on the nearest acre of waste ground. If you live long enough to report it to the police, they will a) laugh, b) kill you, and c) rob your corpse. Having been in MC for just over a week, that line of reasoning appears to be all shit. Buenos Aires, Mexico City, La Paz - that's the correct order, capital-city-wise. Don't agree? Tee-Ess, pal!
Women weren't allowed into the superbly ornate Opera Bar on Av. 5 de Mayo until the 1970's, and - do you know what? - thank heavens they are now! At the very least, they brighten the old place up with their gaily-coloured frocks and glamorous cosmetics; and who doesn't enjoy the sound of their musical, tinkling laughter?
I'm from England, so I'm sorry if this is old news to you - we still have cheese rationing, and a banana on the sideboard is sure to raise an eyebrow - but OH EM EFF GEE - the Burger Dog! I'd heard stories, of course, but... wow! I mean, it's a burger, in the shape of a hot dog - or a hot dog made out of burger meat... either way *slurp* it's brilliant.
I seem also to have gone Mad For The Doughnuts as well. What with all that and the Chinese buffets, I suppose I should've got my rear shock reconditioned at Daytona Motos; also I guess I should book two seats for the flight home from Vancouver. I can't see myself suddenly craving celery and walnut bake when I get to Texas.
So. You've ridden 19,000 miles from Buenos Aires, via TDF, up the Andes and through Central America to Mexico City. Your boots are on their last legs (ahem), and, because we live in a throwaway society, you're hoping they last until you get to Texas, where people have heard of Size 11 (UK) feet and you can buy some more. Wait. Stop being a doofus. Look at them! It's just the soles, isn't it? Go and get them fixed up at one of MC's many fine cobbling boutiques, for 20 quid. That's another 20,000 miles right there! One British Pence per 10 miles!
This week, in between eating doughnuts, I've got me boots resoled and bought Her Maj a new chain, a new back tyre, new spark plugs, new coolant, new oil and a new oil filter. And she got washed. Everything is now so fresh and shiny. It's just like starting over.
*stuffs lumps of bog paper up nose, dials work*
Brr Brrr! Brr Brrrr!
-I can't come in today, I've got Swine Flu.
=No you haven't, I've just been to Mexico City in January and nobody had it there, and it's The Home Of Swine Flu, at Swine Flu Time.
=That was funny for 8 seconds in August last year.
-Pine Flu? From going up a mountain?
=No. Shut up.
=That's the same as Wine Flu, but with lager as the active ingredient. Consider yourself sacked.
There are a couple of homeless blokes that hang around outside the Opera Bar. One is the fourth member of ZZ Top that you'd be happy to invite to Auntie Beryl's Xmas Party; you'd look to him for advice on the issues of the day, and you'd be confident he wasn't going to indecently assault your cousins. The other one elicits a gasp, mainly due to his carpet-wig: it's a black Vera Duckworth, while the beard is white. They're both good lads. You're spending $2.50 a beer and going outside every 40 minutes for a smoke - why not give 'em 10 pesos every time. Old beggars - good. Child beggars - go to school!
*note for American readers/educationally subnormal English people: Marlboro Light = shite.
5.2.10 Soto La Marina, Mexico
Apart from the towel, with which a 14th century Dutch farmhand would have been embarrassed to be caught wiping off a sow's teats, Hotel Meda in Panuoco isn't too bad. OK - it stinks, inside and out, but the food's excellent. If you're wondering how it's possible for a hotel to stink outside - guess what? so am I - but I assure you it is.
Fog, hailstones, constant rain, potholes and greasy hairpins are the order of the day for 200 miles north of Mexico City, but eventually Her Indomitableness and I glide out onto the sunlit lowlands along the Gulf coast. I get to enjoy the relief of it all for a short while, and then Constable Shitlegs comes along and spoils it all by fining me 35 quid for jumping a red light. I mean really! Well yes, I did do it, but couldn't you forgo on just this one occasion? I've come an awfully long way etc etc.
He takes me up a back alley (so to speak), and before writing the 650 peso ticket, seems to imply that an "arrangement" might be entered into. I'd love to pay him a 200 peso bribe rather than the full-price ticket, but - damn your eyes man! - he's just not quite specific enough for me to be sure that's what he means. Oh well. 20,000 Latin American miles, 200 miles from the US border, and that's the first legitimate fine of the trip.
His 2008 V-Strom looks absolutely knackered, by the way. Her Maj - a full 10 years older - gleams smugly in the background (under a thickish layer of mountain grime).
It's fashionable in Adventure Motorcycling™ circles to dismiss the USA - half a continent! - as "rubbish", and just a place to be got through on the way to somewhere good. Maybe that argument sprang from the shame and humiliation of the George Dubaahyaaaah Bush years; maybe the millions of US citizens who believe in the literal truth of the Bible (the Earth is less than 10,000 years old [sometimes just 4000, which leaves Sumerian civilization in a bit of a tight spot], Noah's Ark actually happened, Jesus wasn't a Jew and he looked Danish, etc etc) must take their share of the blame; but now, with one day left before the border, to try and explain how excited I am about entering the US would be like trying to nail a fried egg to a horse: stupid, pointless, extremely painful and quite probably illegal.
My plan is to cross into Texas tomorrow - Texas! - and head for New Orleans, then Bill Hicks' grave in Mississippi, back to Dallas, up into Colorado to pay my respects to Hunter S Thompson (in the form of Wild Turkey, peyote and automatic weapons); then the Grand Canyon, Vegas, "Frisco", Redwood Country and up the coast to The 'Couv.
If I end up eating Dunkin' "Donuts" three times a day, or I get shot by a seven-fingered pig-shagger in a grubby vest and skinned for curtain-fabric, I'll eat my words, but when I think about what's ahead right now, I get so het up that a bit - just a couple of drops - of wee comes out. Hoo-Zar.
Here's how the argument goes:
Mr A: America? Pah! Rubbish!
Mr B: America? Isn't that where Al Green comes from?
Mr A: Well, yes, I suppose...
The point, quite obviously, is that if Al Green had been the only human being ever to have lived in the USA, and had somehow contrived also to do all the bad stuff (Iraq, Subway etc) it would still have been worth it.
Now add Bill Hicks, Stewie Griffin, Stevie Wonder, Beavis, Fred MacMurray, Mark Kozelek, Mark Eitzel, The Monkees (if you think you don't like The Monkees I suggest you listen to Pleasant Valley Sunday right now), Jon Cryer, Chuck D, Dr Sheldon Cooper, PZ Myers, Billie Holliday, Carl Sagan, Fred Quimby, Oliver Hardy, The S1W's, Lt. Uhuru, Robert Johnson, Steve Buscemi in Trees Lounge, Leland Palmer, Lois Griffin, Ella Fitzgerald, Kate Hudson *experiences recurring dream* and Telly Savalas. End of chat, as my friend Neil would say.
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