After close to 3 months road tripping across the west coast of the USA it was time to get down to the business at hand; heading south.
Felt strange getting on the bus to Tijuana from San Diego, kind of like the real trip was beginning now. I loved every minute of traveling the states, but it was a different experience road tripping and having a car to live out of, now it was back to what I was used to…backpacking!!
Managed to get rid of all my u.s coins at the border crossing to Tijuana by buying a huge bag of heavily discounted and heavily out of date pretzel m&ms. I feel it’s always a wise decision to eat several hundred grammes of expired Mexican chocolate when entering a new country. Crossing the border into Mexico was easy….a little too easy; nobody actually looked at our passports, we just got off the bus and walked through a building and out of the door into Mexico. When we realised that we’d actually just walked straight into Mexico we turned around and went in search of someone to stamp our passport for fear of being squeezed for a bribe when trying to exit the country without an entry stamp. Eventually found a booth to pay for our passport stamp and to our surprise when we walked out of the building again our bus was still waiting for us. Decided not to stick around in Tijuana as we had heard it was a bit of a hole so headed south to Ensenada. Ensenada was a cool little port town, not a lot to see but was a good introduction to Baja California plus stayed in a cool hostel.
We got a lot of recommendations of places to go in Mexico from an older American guy staying in the hostel but then the conversation turned to his conspiracy theories and we were cornered in the kitchen for an hour while he explained to us how the world really works. I’ve never heard the word ‘chemtrails’ used so many times in one conversation. From Ensenada we continued south on an overnight bus to La Paz. Before boarding I was unaware that toilets on Mexican buses were not capable of handling the disturbing aftermath of a dodgy burrito and expired m&ms. Within the first 10 minutes of our 17 hour journey I’d managed to fumigate the entire bus. My bad. The bus made a mysterious stop at 1am…turns out it was to have a cleaner come on board and sort out the toilet situation. Oops. You live, you learn, you shit.
La paz was a really cool little beach town, nice waterfront boardwalk and some decent beaches and places to eat. Continued our ‘winding down’ from the us trip by just hanging out and being beach bums for a couple of days. Also actually attempted some exercise for the first the time in a while by going for morning walk along the waterfront. The locals looked confused, I don’t think they’d ever seen a gringo with a completely shaved shiny conehead and beard break the sound barrier power walking. We had planned on catching a ferry across to mainland Mexico after a couple of nights on la paz but discovered that the ferry wasn’t for another 2 nights so had some extra time up our sleeve. Had heard cabo San Lucas was a touristy resort town but decided to check it out anyway. What we had heard was correct; resort central. Got hassled constantly to go on fishing tours and various other shit, one of the many reasons I’m not a fan of resort towns. Cabo itself was kind of cool, I could picture it being an amazing place maybe 20 years ago before the shitty beachfront hotels and cheesy restaurants moved in. Still had a pretty good time despite not being the biggest fan of the place, did what everyone else was there to do…get smashed! Discovered our hostel had a bottle of tequila in the fridge with a note on it with a very dangerous word written on….’free’.
Myself Kelly and a German guy called fritz or clause or some such German nonsense finished the bottle with some lime and headed out on the town! The evening’s events are all a bit hazy, I actually used to hate tequila but for some reason on this occasion I thought it was the best wetness I’d ever had in my mouth. Went to several bars across town and scored some pretty good deals. $5 for 2 beers and 2 shots of tequila sounds fair to me! The night ended with me eating a mysterious meal from a street cart…maybe a burrito? Maybe a kebab? Only the drunken Mexican food gods know the answer, all I know is I woke up with the taste of tequila and onions seared into the roof of my mouth mind and soul. Also as the day went on it was revealed that Kelly the vegetarian had eaten some of my meal…a win for carnivores everywhere! It seemed like such a great idea at the time drinking a tonne of tequila and beer and then catching a bus in the morning and an overnight ferry. What a fucking dickhead.
The walk to the bus station was torture. Set off late after throwing our belongings in our bags and scoffing breakfast. Walked out into the already meltingly hot sun with 20 minutes to make the half-hour walk to the bus station to get our bus in time. Somehow managed to get on the bus about a minute before it took off. Felt like a big greasy blanket full of shit all day. I could feel the tequila seeping out of my skin and soaking the bus seats. Truly horrible trip. Made it back to La Paz in time to get a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal outside of town and even had time spare to nap on the concrete floor before getting in the ferry. The ferry was surprisingly good, reclining chairs, a free meal and an amazing sunset from the deck.
So we were finally heading to ‘the real Mexico’ as a few people had put it to us. Arrived in Mazatlan hangover free and keen to shower and sleep. Found a cheap hotel with an amazing location on the waterfront that a guy in the last hostel had recommended. Hotel Belmar is one of the most surreal places I’ve ever stayed, it was a fancy grand old hotel in the early 1900s with around 200 rooms that had been left to decay and crumble and was now looking a bit shabby. The mayor of Mazatlan had been assassinated in the lobby in the 30s, John Wayne and other celebrities used to frequently visit it but then it shut down and began to rot. At one stage it had a rat problem…so the caretakers dumped hundreds of snakes in the boarded up hotel to take care of them. Genius! We scored a dusty sweaty room for roughly $9 each and spent some time poking around the ruined sections and hanging out on the roof watching the sunset. I loved Mazatlan, lots of character, awesome quite old streets back from the waterfront with brightly coloured houses and cool shady little town squares with old restaurants surrounding the square. Heard music everywhere we went, old guys hanging out playing guitar on park benches, jazz bands out the front of restaurants and just generally heard music wafting down the streets from somewhere. Mazatlan had a lot charm, could see that years ago it was a very posh seaside getaway but now everything was slightly run down and in disrepair but I think that only added to the character of the place. Or maybe I’m just weird.
From Mazatlan it was another overnight bus to Zacatecas…overnight buses! What a joy, especially when the guy in front with his two screaming kids decides he needs to spew in a plastic bag/all over the floor. Don’t worry though, the driver had a can of air freshener. Smelt like crisp morning dew in springtime. Got into Zacatecas and found our hostel despite Google maps trying to sabotage us. Cool old building with a nice old gent working behind the counter who had invented his own form of language known as the Mexican mumble.
Had a cheeky nap to recover from the lack of sleep on the bus and then headed out into the beautiful hilly town of Zacatecas! Awesome place, had loads of amazing buildings and cool alleyways but hardly any tourists. Tried my new favourite meal, gorditas! So good and do cheap, just pick a variety of fillings for them to stuff into the pita bread and chow down! Just make sure you Avoid the sloppy pork crackle gorditas…not a pleasant experience.
Wandered around town looking into the many churches and catching a cable car up to the top of the hills for an excellent view of the city and then chilled out attempting to learn some Spanish on the hostel rooftop. Next day we went into the silver mines that the town is famous for and did a tour in a Spanish. Kelly acted as translator and I now know the word for several minerals in Spanish. Knowledge is power my friends. That night we decided to go for an evening walk and found a crowd of 20 or so people dancing around like maniacs in a town square while a small marching band went nuts and got everyone moving. After ten minutes of standing at the side and having a little dance around too we decided to follow the crowd when the marching band took off playing through the streets. Traffic was stopping while everyone conga lined across the road and partied on the streets.
After a while we saw another band with another even bigger rowdier crowd heading up the street towards us….and they were following a donkey. We made the choice to abandon our group and cross the street to tag along with the other crowd. We Noticed that everyone in this group was carrying a small bag and had a ceramic shot cup tied around their neck. Took roughly ten seconds before we were offered tequila and had two separate guys running off in search of shot cups for us. They returned with a bag of cut limes and another of salt plus our very own tequila shot cup that was promptly placed around our necks and filled with tequila from the massive 5 litre plastic bottle. We were now a part of the family! Got introduced to the bride and groom, their brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles and many many cousins. The man with the 5 litres of tequila was making his rounds topping up everyone’s cup but we were soon taken over to the donkey where we discovered it had four massive terracotta urns full of tequila strapped to its sides. That’s when things began getting messy. Everyone was incredibly friendly and happy to meet us and insisted that we do a shot every minute or so. I’m really not sure how it happened but I am now deeply in love with tequila and lime. It might just be that I like lime and I’m willing to put up with tequila for an excuse to suck a fat juicy lime.
Too much tequila was had to recall all the specifics but I’m sure it was an amazing night. Kelly and myself were separated early on when an auntie of the groom decided she was her ‘Australian best friend’ and grabbed her around the neck to dance around and meet everyone in Mexico. I was cornered by a 5 foot guy in a cowboy hat with an extremely impressive moustache and forced to speak in front of a group of teenage girls so they could giggle at my Aussie ‘surfer dude’ accent. The flow of tequila was constant and the mariachi band kept pumping out music for the crowd to go mental too. I remember looking up and seeing the groom being thrown above everyone’s heads, caught and then tossed up again. The young guy that was in charge of dispensing the donkey booze had passed out on the steps of the square we were now gathered in and the donkey quickly ran dry of juice. Luckily there was a deli selling booze across from the store so every single can of beer in the shop was bought and piled onto the steps for everyone to get into.
I really wish I could remember more details because it was the highlight night of the Mexico trip so far for me, but the tequila has wiped my memory a bit. I know we spent a lot of the night hanging out with some cool Mexican Americans from san Diego and San Francisco, we were fed at some point, I was dancing in the middle of a circle of people who kept calling me ‘sisou’ or something like that because I apparently look like a failed French soccer player and Kelly swears that I was insisting on stopping off at a pub on the way back to the hostel for ‘just one more shot’…..but she has a tendency to confuse her drunken antics with mine. It was a great night and we were made to swear that we would be at the wedding ceremony and reception the next day which we agreed too but the next day when we woke up with another tequila based hangover we remembered we had a bus to catch. Another hungover bus trip. The trip from Zacatecas to Guanajuato was pretty unpleasant but thankfully not too long and we found the hostel quickly. Guanajuato was another cool UNESCO listed town surrounded by hills with nice colourful streets and beautiful old churches. The markets were probably my favourite part of our visit…I ate a chorizo ham and cheese toasted ciabatta roll that made me want to make love to the chefs beautiful mind. The only down side to our stay in Guanajuato was that Kelly ate some dodgy salsa at the markets and got very ill for the next couple of days in Queretaro.
The day had finally come for me to get further into my late twenties. 28 years old…At least I got the getting fat and bald thing out of the way early so don’t have to fear that anymore. Not too happy about the amount of grey hairs in my dirty hobo beard though. Kelly booked a fancy boutique hotel and massages for my birthday (because she’s a bit of a legend) so we had a nice relaxing night with a few beers, wine and a spa. Queretaro seemed like a cool place, small historic downtown area and one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. They did have two dogs in the hostel…never walk into a dorm without shoes on and the lights out when there are dogs around. Definitely don’t pick up the mysterious damp squishy object you just stepped on to investigate what it is…chances are you’ll pick up a steaming mound of fresh dog shit and have to vigorously scrub your hands and feet before going to bed. Kelly was pretty ill for the couple of days in Queretaro and decided it would be a good idea to give it to me as a late birthday present. So generous.
On the bus to Mexico City I knew my stomach wasn’t quite right but I thought everything would be fine once we got in and settled into our couch surfers apartment. As we walked around the streets trying to find his apartment I realised things were a lot worse than I originally thought. My guts were on fire and were about to explode in a violent orgy of brown lava. After we finally got into the apartment and I took care of some business I convinced myself I’d be fine to get back onto the metro and make the 45 minute journey to downtown Mexico City…made it two stops before the intense sharp stabbing pains and the sense of impending doom from deep within my bowels began. I had to run out of the metro station in desperate search of a toilet, luckily there was a KFC across the road so I made a run for it through insane Mexico City peak hour traffic and made it to the sacred bowl just in time.
Now I know people probably don’t want to read these kind of details but I feel that getting the shits is a pretty integral part of traveling; it happens to everyone at some stage. I wasn’t even aware that you could catch food poisoning from another person but apparently so. I got all the pain and none of the joy of actually eating the meal. The metro trip back to the apartment is in the top 5 worst experiences of my life. I was honestly convinced I was going to ruin my jeans and vomit all over a crowded Mexican metro carriage. Felt so incredibly drained of energy and lightheaded as we walked towards the platform I had to sit down on the floor before I passed out. Brought back memories of me fainting on a train in Perth earlier this year due to an extreme hangover and dehydration. Was not keen to repeat that incident.
I was doubled over in pain, sweating and clinging onto a pole in the carriage to stop myself from collapsing. ‘The curse of the Mayans’ the locals call it. Fucking Mayans, they should stick to making shitty inaccurate callanders and stay the fuck away from our salsa! As we exited the metro station I stumbled in a daze not knowing who I was or why the world hated my bowels and gut so much but managed to make it to Burger King for the most relieving feeling of my life. Felt pretty guilty the whole time Mexico City because we were staying in a couch surfer’s house and basically hanging around being miserable due to illness. Kelly thought she was better but it came back with vengeance a couple of days later. As I write this I’m hoping like fuck this terrifying ordeal is over. We did manage to get out and about but it had to be done with skill and finesse and never too far from a toilet. Teotihuacan pyramids outside of Mexico were amazing, the Mayan museum in downtown was really impressive, and xilmilcho ‘the Venice of Mexico’ was pretty cool too. Seeing mariachi bands and guys trying to sell pot plants while floating on a gondola down a canal was a weird sight.
So I now write this on a night bus to the south where we will change for another bus out of beautiful amazing Mexico to enter Guatemala and begin the next phase of the trip; the part where I actually learn some Spanish! Begin Spanish classes and move in with a host family on Monday for three months of lessons and volunteer work. Hopefully I can become at least conversational in three months so kelly can stop doing all the work and I can start complimenting the chefs on their mighty fine empanadas. Only 3 or so weeks in Mexico which is nowhere near enough time to do it justice but I know I’ll be back again at some stage so I’m happy with our trip, great people, great food, great tequila….shitty Mayan curses!!