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November 27, 2005

Pardise and Poison - Zipolite

Everything I own is failing me. First the camera went, and now that Willie came through with a digital camera, to support our cause, my USB stick won't work. This, of course is making for a real hassle in getting all the juicy photos from my computer to the Internet. One day I'll own an electronic device that doesn't break, but not today. Such is life.

Since Mexico City, we've moved to the Pacific Coast and crossed the line from North American Mexico to Central American Mexico. The tumbleweed and cacti have been replaced by jungle vines and banana trees. What was once sparse desert is now dense jungle. The cool mountain air has been replaced by the salty, humid breeze of the Pacific Ocean.

Zipolite is the name of the place we're at now. No Holiday Inn's, no swimming pools, no ATM's, and barely 200 meters of paved road. It's all hammocks, lizards and beach huts. Maybe we've died on the way? Maybe we were all killed in a dramatic plunge from the narrow road into a jungle crevice. It's a beach paradise that could very well be heaven. Until two hours ago, It could have been argued that this place was perfect.

Karma is a funny thing. Maybe, as humans, we're always looking for patterns in nature; maybe it doesn't actually exist. Either way I can't deny the co-incidence of events as Brian laughed and laughed at my obvious discomfort as I rolled in the surf throwing my delicious ham and cheese breakfast crepes up and into the sea. He was giggling and exclaiming that 'I probably had a weaker stomach than any other human being.' Just moments earlier he'd forced me under in the pounding surf, while I aggressively gulped for air and ended up with nothing but seawater.

While I was declaring that 'he'd get his'. My little Stingray friend was no doubt positioning himself underneath Brians feet and would strike a moment later. The laughing stopped. By the time we got him out of the water his foot had already started to swell. Every local we talked to said it would blow up like a basketball and would be more painful than a scorpion sting. He'd have to get a taxi to the next town and see a doctor for some shots to deal with the swelling.

As it turns out it wasn't that bad. It was only a glancing blow. Within a half hour, the swelling began to subside. There wasn't even time for a photo. For now he's back lounging on the beach and walking with only the slightest limp. No real drama and he we've all had a laugh about it.

November 26, 2005

¡Olé!

Ryan has now clearly set the stage and put enough pressure on me to stop procrastinating and start contributing. As the good man mentioned, I've had the right passwords since New York, but have a habit of putting these things off.

Today (22nd) as our crew departs from Mexico City, it is difficult to write a post about the time we spent in The City without rambling on about crowded street and subways, smog, all-night clubs, street fiestas, and (of course) beautiful women. While it all continues to resonate in our brains, Ryan and I are still jumping at any opportunity to talk about the strange and 'quintessentially Mexican' bullfight we experienced Sunday night.

We first learned of the weekly happening on the road from Zacatecas to Guanajuato. Guierrmo (our driver) spoke of the spectacle and its excitement, but did not have to work hard to convince us. Romantic visions of the bullfighting world depicted by Hemmingway in The Sun Also Rises were churning around in our heads and we were game.

Ryan and I went to the fight with three boys from the hostel who were as far as we were from being 'afficiados' of the sport. Even after the 50 pesos were paid for admission to the upper deck of the 48,000 seat ring, we had little idea what to expect. A yearning for tortas exasperated the problem and a food stop at the door ensured that we arrived in the fight too late to slowly figure things out. As we walked into the ring the first bull was teetering on the edge of defeat. Along with the horse-mounted picadors, the first matador had inflicted many wounds on the gallant beast. The audience was now silently awaiting a quick death. When the 19 year-old failed to deliver after several attempts, the audience became uneasy and even began to leave the stadium. Everyone in our group became quickly disgusted and began to question our choice of entertainment.

There were misgivings among us as the second bull was introduced to the ring and the various actors got to work. The enraged bull darted out of the pen and made a point to charge and ram anything that moved. Strangely dressed people quickly began to systematically get the attention of the bull with the intent of making him run laps around the stadium. Once sufficiently tired, the 19 year-old stepped in again to do the typical cape laden dance with the bull. Loud shouts of ¡Olé! were called out as the matador and the bull danced complete circles in the mud. The cry of horn signified the end of the first round, and the picadors lined up for their turn. They emerged on heavily padded and blindfolded horses bearing spears in their hands. It took little more than an instant for the bull to charge, and we were certainly taken off guard. He heartily chose the black horse as his next target and ran fast. Moments later the obedient horse was pinned against the wall - minus the picador who had fallen in the dirt. Our sympathy was immediately diverted to the horse as it slumped to the ground; unable to move under the weight of the leather armor. Although we concluded that we were now looking at a dead horse, this was fortunately not the case. As the matador ran some artistic diversions on the other side of the ring, the horse handlers removed enough armor for the horse (and picador) to walk out of the ring.

By the time the final round began, we were glued to the action. Ryan turned to me as the over-confident matador was almost gored for the second time and asked (in his typical fashion) "what if I really like bullfighting?"

The fight continued as such, bull after bull - until six dead ones were dragged out of the stadium. As the other people in the cheap seats began to take notice of us, we were continuously bombarded with wine skins and offerings of cheap beer. When it was over, we emerged glad for the experience - but had confirmed many of the misgivings we originally had regarding the sport. Ryan and I agreed to frequent no more bullfights outside of Spain...

-Brian

November 24, 2005

Desolation Angels

Day 48

Then come the long daydreams of what I'll do when I get out of there, that mountaintop trap. Just to drift and roam down that road, on 99 fast... and on in the morning... -why plan? I'll just drift down the road looking at unexpected events and I won't stop until Mexico City.

-Jack Kerouac

November 21, 2005

Teotihuacan - Outside of Mexico City

Teotithuacan - Main Street

This city was abandoned and in ruins even while the Aztecs flourished. In fact nobody even knows the name of it; Teotihuacan is simply what the Aztecs called it. My Aztec is rusty but I think it means 'The Place Where Men Became Gods'. We went, but honestly, I don't feel any different.

Thanks Tom, for letting me steal your pictures.

November 20, 2005

The Softer Side of Ryan and Brian

Hi everyone, it´s Caroline here, the random English girl that R&B picked up in San Diego. Hope you don´t mind me comandeering the website for a sec, but I just wanted to recount an incident that I figured the boys´ friends might be interested to hear. And you can bet your life they won´t be mentioning it themselves...

It all started on a bus the other day. There have been quite a few of those in the past few weeks, but I believe this particular one was from Chihuahua to Zacatecas. We settled into our seats for the day-long drive, during which we were treated to a few movies to pass the time. It was after lunch when the driver decided to screen a love story called The Notebook, and since it was in English for once, all of us (Brian, Ryan, another Brit friend called Tom, and a gay Canadian couple we´d started chatting to at the bus station) sat back to watch.

Now I have to admit I did fall asleep during part of the film, so perhaps I missed a vital part of the story and wasn´t quite as engaged in it as the others were. While I did enjoy what I saw, I can´t say I was particularly moved by it, and probably felt a closer bond with ET than I did with any of the characters in this film. However, it seemed I was alone in my thinking... as the closing credits rolled, I turned to the seat next to me to see Ryan looking heart-broken, grief-stricken, and wiping a tear from his eye.

¨Are you crying?!¨ I said (probably in a pitch so high only dogs could hear me).

¨It was sad!¨ he replied with a sorrowful sniff.

And as if this wasn´t shocking enough, I looked across the aisle to see Brian looking equally red-faced and emotional, and apparently scrabbling for a Kleenex. What was this? My two strapping, rugged, outdoorsy Canadian travel buddies were weeping at some cheesy chick flick?! And worse, was I some kind of cold-hearted ice-queen that I wasn´t overcome with emotion?!

I looked over at the two other Ontario natives to see their cheeks wet with tears, and realised it was only my fellow Londoner Tom who´d managed to keep his composure.

Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and decided it must be a Canadian thing. Either that or the boys were tired and emotional after so many hours on the road. But bless their hearts, we´ve promised not to mention it again so no teasing, you hear?!

November 19, 2005

Mexico City

So we´ve moved away from the series of sparkling clean Spanish colonial towns of the North and opted for something a little more raw. We bused it to Mexico City and have a place at a hostel in the middle of the city. While we spent today at the giant Mayan pyramids of Teotihuacan just out of town (a friend took some pictures...I´ll post them tomorrow) by far my favorite bit about this town so far are the masses of people and the smog. Nearly 20 million. After Tokyo, the second largest city in the world. Nearly two thirds of the entire population of Canada squished into a tiny mountain bowl. The bowl of course, keeps the wind out and the smog in; it blurs any semblance there may be of a skyline. It truly is a spectacular sight.

It seems to me that people back home are starting to get the feeling that I should get my ass in gear and start 'getting around the world'. I hear the sentiment, and feel it too sometimes... I'd actually imagined Mexico to be not much more than an obstacle between us and Central America. I was dead wrong. It's too much to pass up; If you can steer clear of the giant resorts and dig into proper Mexico, it really is an amazing place. I'm dreading, I may feel this way about every country I get into.

I'm having trouble tearing myself away from everything to post on a regular basis and have come up with an idea that may work. Brian has had the necessary access to post here since New York, I'll prod him a little, you may see something from him. As well, Caroline, the British backpacker we´ve been travelling with is actually a proper celebrity gossip journalist and has agreed to help with my volume as well.

For now, we´ll be in this city at least until Willie arrives on Monday, and are planning some exciting things. For now, Robbie Willams is playing a free outdoor concert in the Zocalo down the street. I'm not much of a fan but it seems that all of humanity has descended on the square. I shouldn't be sitting in front of a computer....

We've got to go.

November 15, 2005

Chihuahua - Zacatecas - Guanajuato

Day 40

In almost all human activity patterns emerge; routine creeps into our lives as surely as water flows downhill. My life as an aimless traveler is turning out to be fairly predictable in many ways as well. Since arriving in Mexico we've stayed, without exception, two nights in each town before moving on. We travel to wherever strikes our fancy by day, find accomodation, shower, eat then head out on the town to explore a little and sample the nightlife. The next day is usually spent seeing the sights and doing whatever it is that travellers do before heading out again with whatever new friends we've made along the way. And there are always friends.

If there's one thing that travelling induces in people, it's camaraderie. Immediately we all have a common ground combined with fantastic stories to tell; It's impossible not meet people. Since heading inland to Creel and getting away from the resort/touristy places, we seem to be moving en masse with a dozen or so travellers who periodically come and go. It's giving these picturesque colonial towns a real small town feel and, of course, is plenty of fun.

These towns, particularly Zacatecas and Guanajuato make me feel like I've left Mexico and landed smack in the middle of Spain. The narrow cobbled streets are steep and kept meticulously clean while colonial buildings crowd and seem to pile up on each other. There are no traffic lights or neon signs. They are obviously protective of their images. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Zones.

Still no Camera, though Willie Paul, a friend of ours, is flying into Mexico City on the 21st to make our duo a trio. He's promised to arrive armed with a digital camera so expect to see photos again on this site then.

November 11, 2005

Montezuma Exacts His Revenge

Day 36

In the year 1519 Hernan Cortez invaded what is now Mexico with 550 men, 16 horses, and 1 cannon. Less than two years later the Aztec king, Montezuma II, had been killed and the mighty Aztec kingdom was no more. After murdering the Aztec leader, many of Cortez's soldiers fell victim, not to Aztec spears, but rather an intestinal parasite during their retreat. His men believed the mysterious illness to be a curse placed on the foreigners by Motezuma himself. The curse continues to affect almost all foreign travellers to this day.

Having spent two days exploring the canyons and pine forests of Creel we felt it time to make a move. Not wanting to backtrack, the city of Chihuahua became our only logical destination. The bus ride out of the mountains to Chihuahua takes six hours to complete and would have been a pleasant journey had I not been locked in an epic battle with the Curse. There was no time for talking, reading or even watching the scenery on this trip. No, every ounce of energy was devoted to keeping the contents of my stomach actually in my stomach. Each minute seemed an eternity.

It's now one day later, and I'm pretty sure I've survived the worst of it though I certainly didn't win every battle. Less than an hour into the bus ride, I found myself wrestling with the door to the washroom on the bus only to discover that it was locked and out of order. No way. How could it be? In the hundreds of hours we've spent riding buses so far this trip, I've never once seen one that didn't work. What are the odds? Was this some kind of cruel joke? My initial horror at the discovery turned into pure terror. My stomach refused to wait. With nowhere left to turn, I was forced to leave a mess on the floor at the back of the bus. Thankfully the bus wasn't crowded and the mess was mostly water, as I'd deposited the rice pudding I'd eaten for breakfast into a pot-hole on the street moments before boarding.

This same routine repeated itself several times before making it to Chihuahua, and the safety of our hotel. A quick 18-hour nap seemed to solve most of my problems, and I feel I'm slowly putting myself back together. While it looks like Brian may have escaped unscathed it seems Caroline may be having her turn. She's currently splitting her time between the toilet bowl and her bed. We'll have to stay in Chihuahua until all parties are back up on their feet, until then Brian and I will spend some time exploring the city of Chihuahua, as far as I know, it's one of the best places in the world to buy cowboy boots.

November 08, 2005

The Copper Canyon

La Paz and our beloved Baja are worlds away from us now. I'd intended to put something up a couple days ago, when the pristine waters of Balandra Beach were still fresh in my mind. I'd planned to paint a complete picture of the Utopian beach from the blue sky straight down to the sandy Ocean floor. I wasn't quite sure how to put it; what words could I use to describe the sharpness and utter blueness of the sky? There's gotta be a better word than 'blueness'; just a little longer and I'm sure I'll think of one. How was I to describe the impossible contrast that existed between the rocky desert mountains, that had the bay surrounded, and the color and diversity in the life that teamed below the surface of the water? I didn't have the words to illustrate the beauty inherent in the thin white band of beach that separated the two extremes. We were all alone in our paradise save two devastating spanish girls who remained always just out of conversations reach and eventually disappeared in a beat-up old jalopy; forever. I wanted to somehow describe the scene I saw as I moved my mask from the stark, above-water environment into an impossible, alien world teaming with schools of strange fish of every colour swimming amongst stingrays, manta rays and plain old sun-rays, then back up to the blistering desert above. The diving gear was our own (bought earlier in the day). This was no guided tour. We were discovering this strange world on our own. Yes, I've spent the last couple days contemplating how I would write it and have missed my chance.... The world wouldn't wait; the red arrow marking our position simply couldn't hold still. The moment has passed.

Two full days of travel have brought us out of the tropics more than 2 km above sea level to Creel, deep in the Sierra Madres. The first order of business on this leg of the journey was to get over to mainland Mexico. We were whisked across the Sea of Cortez aboard a giant ferry to Toplobampo escorted by a few curious dolphins and whales spouting their approval in the distance. After one night in Los Mochis on the coast it was time for something completely different.

The Copper Canyon Railway gets it's name from the the Barranca Del Cobre (Copper Canyon), the largest of 20 spectacular canyons. Nine of these canyons are actually deeper than Arizona's Grand Canyon. How anybody could build a railway through this terrific wilderness is beyond me. From Los Mochis it was a 12-hour roller coaster ride for little more than $30 USD aboard the economica class train. Half the price and, as far as I'm concerned, far better than the stuffy first class trains as much of our time was spent actually between the rail cars with our heads hanging out always peering around the next corner.

Our little-engine-that-could started like a pussy cat through sprawling farmland but finished like a lion as she spit and sputtered her way upward through infinite tunnels and over impossible spans. She bravely hugged the canyon walls paying no heed to discarded rail ties and wrecked rail cars crumbled below.

It may have something to do with the euphoria we both experienced as the train reached it's climax. I have no proof that it happened but Brian and I both swear that we saw the sun set multiple times from both sides of the train as she spiralled forever upward. Was she racing the sun? Was she winning? In any case, it did set and we arrived in the mountain town of Creel in the dark. It's early in the morning and if you'll excuse me, we've got some exploring to do...

November 04, 2005

Dia De Los Muertos

Day 29

While Mexican children have, for obvious reasons, embraced the concept of free candy that Halloween offers, The Day of the Dead is a holiday that includes entire families along with their dead ancestors that has roots going back long before the Spaniards arrived with their catholic and pagan holidays.

We were lucky enough to tear ourselves away from the year round spring break of Cabo San Lucas to the much quieter and dustier colonial village of San Jose Del Cabo 33 km East for Dia De Los Angelitos (All Saints Day) on Nov 1st and Dia De Los Muertos (Day of The Dead) on Nov 2nd.

In San Jose Del Cabo, most of the excitement can either be found in the town square or out at the city cemetery where tombs and gravestones are extravagantly decorated with flowers and pretty much any other offering you could imagine would help dead souls feel welcome. Apparently this is the only day each year that they can visit - so why not treat them to a decorative feast?

What is particularly surprising is that the holiday, though it deals with death, doesn't appear to be morbid in the least. It truly is a celebration; a homecoming. Our Swedish Inn Keeper, who'd been living here 18 years, mentioned that Mexicans, more than any other culture seem to treat death with little sadness.

As the sun was setting, we were the only obvious foreigners at the cemetery along with what seemed to be the entire town. These are the photo opportunities that tear me apart as I mourn my broken camera. Children played, girls fussed over the decorations and flowers while old women armed with straw brooms fought a losing battle with the dust. All the while the lords prayer en espanol permeated the air; competing only with the vendors selling all sorts of balloons and strange snacks from decrepit bycicles. Had my belly not been full of marlin from a stir-fry we whipped up earlier in the evening, I would surely have tried them all.

In any case, that was 2 days ago. We've since moved back up to La Paz and plan to ride the ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Los Mochis and take a train into the Sierra Madres for a change from the desert, cactus and beaches of the Baja Peninsula.

November 01, 2005

Discussion Forums

About a week ago there was some talk of a discussion forum. Almost immediately Dave Ward , a friend from my days at John Island Camp, agreed to install a free package on my server. Thanks Dave.

Here´s the link to it: Discussion Forums

I´ve held off this long before giving out the link because I wanted to figure it out first. This I haven´t done. Nevertheless anybody who´s interested can register and post to it. I´ll try to make an appearance now and then.

As always, I appreciate any feedback or requests, but will be slow in implementing anything as I´m always rushed due to the fact that I pay for Internet access.

Oh yeah, Cabo San Lucas isn´t all bad; it´s actually quite nice. We handed out candy to hordes of tiny Mexican children last night from our hotel doorstep, away from the big resorts by the sea. And today we hiked out the the dramatic cape. The very bottom of the Baja peninsula, where the Pacific meets the sea of Cortez.

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