A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Wheelspin

Imprisoned with a dinosaur in paradise

Pigs do fly to Mexico

sunny 25 °C

While waiting in the queue for my breakfast serving of ‘huevos rancheros’ – eggs with chillies, tomatoes and peppers in burritos – at our hotel in Merida, I had my view of the chef’s creativity blocked by a woman of ample proportions and an American accent. I’m not saying she was an American – just her voice. At that time of the morning I’m not particularly convivial and I was concerned that, given the visually obvious ability of my fellow hotel guests to consume, there may not be enough food left for me to demonstrate my appreciation of the chefs’ special efforts. My demeanor changed when I overheard my sight screen with the US voice say, “I don’t know why the Mexican’s stay in the US. They should come here; the food is Mexican and everyone speaks Spanish. They would love the music and would easily make friends”. I couldn’t agree more.
Our tour passed the very place our guide told us was the site of the asteroid or comet impact that destroyed the Dinosaurs. The Chicxulub crater. There is little to be seen at ground level, but aerial shots reveal something big happened. Much bigger than the 10,000 years of property development which has taken advantage of all the broken rock laying about. As a result, scientists from all over the world come here to study the site where mysterious minerals have been found. Personally, I believe they are just taking advantage of an all expenses paid holiday at the worlds largest resort region. More later. My own opinion for the demise of the dinosaurs is they couldn’t compete with the tourists here. The tourists ate their environment and the dinosaurs as well. More later. Flypaper is also skeptical of the extinction theory. She told me that she saw some dinosaurs out the window at lunchtime. The following day at lunch she pointed them out again. I could understand her confusion but, in a very compassionate way I gently corrected her error. “That’s not a window dear, that’s a mirror”.
Throughout Mexico there are pyramids, temples, ruined cities and piles of rock that, I agree, look like the work of demented human rock collectors. To be honest, I’m not keen on climbing any more ancient man-made tourist attractions. My thighs and shins ache (coming down is just as bad as going up) and I’m embarrassed to be seen creeping up steep staircases on all fours looking like a monkey searching for a dropped pitahaya. (Dragon fruit - Worth the search because it’s a bit like a Kiwifruit). In the north, Aztecs built stuff while in southern / eastern regions the ruins are principally of Mayan origin. In 40 degrees Celsius (its winter now) I couldn’t care if they were piles of dinosaur poo but our guides had gone to a lot of trouble to co-ordinate their stories so I went along with it. Exercise in this temperature has taught me many Spanish words of which the most important is ‘cerveza’. This is the only word that isn’t a swear word. I don’t understand why an enterprising Mexican hasn’t set up a beer dispenser at each rest level of a pyramid. I’m also at a loss why another hasn’t built an elevator or escalator. This country is wide open for entrepreneurs.
The Mayan ruins feature many cylindrical posts purportedly right outside the head honchos’ palace. While the esteemed historians and scientists mentioned above are united about the meteor impact, they are surprisingly divided regarding these common, easy to see structures. Some say it’s a sundial, others a phallic symbol while yet others claim it’s a whipping post for naughty Mayans. I think this says a lot about the individual historians’ predilections. I agree its too fat for pole dancing but ventured the option of an early traffic light pole – something which remains popular in the cities even today. (Evolution is popular among the scientific community.) Another thought I had was, perhaps it’s the evacuation meeting point during an earthquake. The crumbing edifices convince me I’m on the right track. However, neither idea is gaining traction among those who get paid for their silly ideas.
Following a hectic schedule of cultured tourist activity, Flypaper thoughtfully decided to include a few days of R & R at a beach resort. I fear this may be her worse idea to date. We arrived late in darkness. The road from the highway to the Caribbean beach was spookily like a potholed track to a refuse collection area. I considered Mexican Mafia and mysterious missing tourists. Suddenly we emerged into a stunning glitterance of palatial extravagance – which had me even more worried. The ‘disgorgement area’ – the covered arrival portico, was large enough to turn an articulated Mack truck with a house on the back. Along our journey during daylight we had seen dozens of million-dollar entrances to the playgrounds of the mega-rich. Now we were in one with little chance of escape. Being unable to think better, I slipped my credit card into my sock and followed Flypaper into a spectacular cavernous reception area. Surely the entrance to heaven – which I had hoped to delay a little longer. The registration process was arduous and numerous signatures were required under incomprehensible Spanish Conditions of agreement. We were kidnaped by a porter who was already holding us to ransom by commandeering our humble luggage and taken to a cell that would house several families. Flypaper expressed surprise there was only one toilet and disappointment she had inadequate clothing to fill even a few of the wardrobes. Having seen the shopping arcade in a wing off reception, I became more worried and mentioned the need for financial reserves in our old age. Following the decision as to which of 10 restaurants we would dine at we ventured out. 3 hours later we returned to our room disappointed to have discovered there were better rooms at the ‘exclusive’ end of the complex and heartened by the fact that the restaurant, bar, theatre and various ancillary services required no payment. Evidently, it’s an all-inclusive price that Flypaper assures me did not require 3rd party funding. I still slept badly.
However, the next morning the full light of day exposed further horrors. We found ourselves among hundreds of other captives at the largest breakfast facility I’ve ever experienced. 3 of the restaurants combined their resources to provide an array and quantity of foods that explain the existence of the poor people in Mexico. Foods of every preference for every ethnicity were available … and most guests were taking advantage of their hosts generosity. Both feet in the trough. Many kept the barman scurrying around (Yes – Barman … first time for me at breakfast) making Bloody Mary’s and other alcoholic rejuvenators – all for free. New Tequila and Mezcal bottles were arriving every few minutes. Some bottles contained alcohol preserved snakes. These were not free, but the additional cost didn’t deter those wanting a better poison. After a couple of circumnavigations of all food stations and conscious of 2 further meals and unlimited free snacks during the day ahead, I adventurously opted for fresh fruit (some of which I’d never seen before) and which seemed to make up the 3rd or 4th tier of most diners’ plates. During observation of our fellow guests I considered the fact there is no measurement scale for fabric pressure. There are accepted scales for temperature, speed, volume, distance, earthquakes, etc. There is a scale called Elastic Modulus – eg. A rubber band has a low elastic modulus – but nothing I’m aware of that we could use in the instance off (say) … “If that person eats another donut they will move from a x to a y on the tee-shirt pressure scale. Some big numbers would be scored here. Now you’re probably thinking I may have also been on the Tequila that morning but, believe me, just looking around was sufficient to induce a desire to make attendance at the gymnasium compulsory for those staying more than 48 hours. Many stay for weeks and I’m told that some women purchase 3 or more swimming costumes during their holiday.
I was touched by the number of couples, gay and heterosexual, who dressed in matching clothes. It made a statement – “This one belongs with me”. I wanted to ask whose idea was it, who made the clothes purchase and had it worked? In most instances the more masculine partner looked a bit glum, or perhaps conscious that the shirt wasn’t his preferred colour. Often there was a considerable age difference between these couples. I so wanted to discuss their lifestyles with them but feared Flypaper would have unpacked the leash.
We are always pleased to read the little cards in hotel bathrooms urging us to reuse towels and encouraging other efforts to conserve water. Very prudent – especially in hot dry regions reliant on subterranean aquifers such as the Yucatan peninsular. We do our best and sometimes only flush every second time as taught at primary school when the water pipe required repair because the 11 year old lawn mowing contractor crashed the self-propelled mower into the drinking fountain. (That job was worth 10 shillings each fortnight during the school holidays and thankfully the school secretary, my mother, didn’t deduct damage costs.) I digress. I’m sure we all agree its important to save water. Imagine my astonishment when the waiter deposited a very large ice bucket containing 5 litres of ice at our dinner table and thrust Flypapers bottle of ‘Casa Vino Blanco’ into it. 5 litres !!! It was the turn of the waiter to be astonished when I asked for the wine to be withdrawn and left on the table. I tried to explain that cold white wine loses most of its flavour resulting in a $60 bottle tasting just like a $10 bottle. Slightly cooled (8 – 10 degrees is perfect) releases the aroma and taste. The waiter quickly concluded I was a looney and left us to tip the 5 litres of ice down the drain. That was equal to a complete flush the following morning. Shocking waste.
An entertaining aspect of buffet dining is the disputes between guests. They argue over who deserves the first omelet or the last sugar donut. Its not just a comment like,” Excuse me I was here before you burst onto the scene and stole my food”. Its an ongoing dispute about rights, class distinction (what colour wrist band), lost holiday time, the number of starving children waiting back at the table and relative need. (Who is the fatter.) Even when one party realizes the sausage is getting cold and apologises, the other conues on the high moral ground going for the kill. Before you know it, the most indignant will switch sides and demand the apologiser take all the food in the hope they will feel bad about their very existence. Its even better when other waiting guests pitch in with a comment. As I found out to my detriment. They both joined forces and zeroed in on my funny accent, obvious low social status and inability to spit when talking.
I peeped over a wall into the trash collection area. As you do. These are places of excess – especially food waste. Some people don’t even eat all their 3rd or 4th helpings! Large wheeled bins overflowing with food scraps made me wonder if they shouldn’t run a pig farm nearby. But then I realized that would just be a duplication.
Few of our friends and acquaintances will be aware of the “Mayan Riviera”. It’s a region stretching about 50km (30 miles) along the Yucatan Peninsular in Eastern Mexico. There are dozens of unbelievably spectacular resorts similar to the one we experienced. They generally specialize in ‘All inclusive’ holidays as, once you’re inside one of these places, there’s no need to go anywhere else. The Caribbean coastline features beautiful beaches, warm weather and a cheap vacation experience. Some cater for the gay community, others for honeymoons, a few are ‘adult only’ and all have at least a ‘romantic’ restaurant. Canadian and US holiday makers have found the Mayan Riviera and deserted Florida, France, Spain and all other traditional holiday resorts. Check it out – Google ‘mayan riviera’ or just go to an example page - https://travelyucatan.com/mayan-riviera-hotels/. If this is your style of holiday you’d better be quick before the prices rise. One thing is sure. Flypaper has not trained me for a sybaritic or hedonistic lifestyle – I’ll never be back.

Posted by Wheelspin 12:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged ocean resort & riviera crater mayan coral tequila yucatan chicxulub turquesa Comments (1)

The poo ruined my shoes

Who would want to be a shoeshine boy

I considered there were a lot of Mexicans in Texas … I was gobsmacked when I arrived in metropolitan Mexico City. 25 million !!! With another 100 million waiting at the gates. Its still only the 10th largest city in the world – but it’s the one that may be in the biggest trouble sometime soon. The founders of Mexico City (Incas) didn’t give much thought to tectonics and there were obviously no ‘Geotech’ requirements before building. They build on a few small islands in the middle of a huge lake – then reclaimed the bits between – then reclaimed the bits around the edges. Today, the lake is gone and the whole city sits in a large flood plain on a deep bed of mud. The Italians make a big deal about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Should the ever venture to Mexico they will be humiliated or at least humbled by the leaning city. Virtually every building leans. The whole city is wobbling its way down at 150 – 200mm (6 – 8”) each year. If someone inadvertently pulls out the critical plug it may gurgle into oblivion overnight. I looked in our closet for lifejackets. The most shocking thing is … nobody is wearing a hard hat. The city council manages by building steps. Whenever a street or block of buildings sink, they add a couple of steps to provide access. Little effort is made to fill up the cracks and even gaps. Mobility impaired people just beg in their own local neighbourhood. The official line is the buildings are too heavy. Therefore, it’s the owners fault. There’s 1,485 square kilometres (573 sq mi) of owners to blame including the world’s richest man. None seem perturbed by the fact they can’t get insurance. Que Sera Sera. Earthquakes happen on a regular basis. The cathedral even has fancy a plumb bob dangling from the dome down to the centre of the transept. When we visited, it was wobbling around like crazy – as were the chandeliers. Those praying seemed to be very fervent. I suggested to Flypaper and our guide it may be a good time to stand outside in the middle of the city’s largest square or at least pop into a confessional. My advice to all living in Mexico City … be sure to wear respectable pajamas to bed each night.
One is very conscious the city smells a bit. Actually, it smells a lot. It appears very tidy and everyone uses the trash cans. Even the beggars are more presentable than their counterparts in other countries. The smell is due to the fact no-ne seems to understand sewage doesn’t run uphill. The ever-changing subterranean humps and hollows create unexpected discharges. Often in embarrassing places. Recently the posh street of upmarket European brands found their clients reluctant to wade through raw sewage to purchase jewelry and branded clothing. It wasn’t that bad. I would have thought their 6-inch heels would have coped.
The teeming suburbs feature numerous brightly coloured houses. These are the homes that have been completed and all services connected, including cable TV. At that point the city can charge taxes. Needless to say, few people connect the final service they believe they can exist without. .Electricity, water and sewage are popular, but telephone and TV now have other options. As an incentive, on completion, the city pays for the paint. They only have 5 colours. Shocking pink is popular, followed by a striking purple and a very bright green. The hillsides appear as a psychedelic montage. Perhaps the dense haze isn’t ‘pure’ smog.
This city is believed to have the most museums in the world. I am one of the few tourists who can proudly claim to have avoided every one. (But we did puff around and up a few archeological sites which I hope are not included in the museum count.) This city boasts several huge pyramids. Around the world pyramids were all the rage a couple of thousand years ago. Many still exist and serve to cause painful thighs for days after climbing. They all seem to exist in hot climates. By the time I had conquered the pyramids of the sun and the moon I would have considered becoming a human sacrifice rather than struggle all the way down again.
Mexico has suffered its share of dictators. Our guide assured us the incumbent President is the latest. He is mystified by the fact, when voting closes the anecdotally most popular party is well ahead – but when everyone wakes up in the morning, the computers claim another party has won – again. The highest paid guy in the ruling party is reputedly the IT guy. I am also reliably informed there is a tremendous amount of corruption in Mexico. It certainly looks like it. One fact that leaves me suspecting our guide may have a point or two is the fact that the streets are teeming with police. I don’t profess to be a mathematician but, it appears 30% of the population are police, 30% are waiters, 30% are taxi drivers and the other 30% do all the work. (For the politically correct, these calculations refer to all genders.) A surprising number of men appear to do manual labour. That’s a sign the economy is improving and the country is swiftly emerging into the western world. The philosophy is, ‘It’s better to have everyone in low paid jobs than high unemployment. What a radical notion.
For the commercially alert there are always interesting ideas to appropriate. Just 2 doors from our hotel is an arcade featuring windowed displays of all sorts of hardware. Each has brief details, a web search, price and a prominent stock number. All items are very attractively priced. Obviously the ‘shop’ has a cost/overhead advantage. When the decision to purchase is made, the stock number is written on a slip of handy paper and given to a sleepy girl who shouts it over a hand-held radio into the unknown. Moments later a voice, that could be God or even the President for all I know, booms, “Si – gable gable”. (My Spanish is still a bit shaky). The girl demands payment which, when approved, she confirms into the radio. After a nerve wracking few minutes, the purchase descends from a hole in the ceiling – in a bucket. Obviously, there are big savings to be made in delivery systems.
Driving in Mexico City is just like all emerging nations. Awe inspiring. Swerve and dive. Look forward and rely on good peripheral vision. It works. Brake pads wear out pretty quickly but it’s a small price to pay to enable the traffic to actually move. Our guide was a bit slow on start off but I soon realized he was conserving his reflex ability for developing opportunity. I admire how everyone survives on instinct. Everyone except motorcyclists – they survive by divine compassion. We can’t teach Mexican drivers anything but in NZ they would be dobbed in by the secret police on the 555 hotline. Pity. Auckland could cope with twice the traffic without adding any infrastructure.
When Herman Cortez arrived here wearing a funny hat in 1519, the Aztecs gave him a cup of hot chocolate. In return he gave them smallpox. Having discovered Mexico is the home of chocolate I quickly donned my own funny hat and invaded a café. I was also given hot chocolate but with 2 differences. I had to pay for it and they gave me burnt lips. While not a communicable disease (my goodness – I’m wary of those) I still consider it an act of unfriendliness and its time they got over the revenge stuff.
We escaped Mexico City for something less relentless. As Mexico is a big country we decided to fly between our various destinations rather than spend days on poor roads. Instead, we spent days in airports. Air Mexico (Aeroméxico) is the major domestic airline. It has only suffered one fatal accident outside Mexico – but remains silent regarding internal mishaps. Aeronautically minded readers will appreciate hot climates at high altitude can cause issues with ‘lift’. This is the critical factor that enables ‘flight’. More heat and height, less lift. Because of high altitude and heat, all our landings could have been legitimately logged as crashes. I suspect doing so looks bad in the airline promo stuff and pilots hate seeing that on their CV’s. To its credit, Air Mexico is a very consistent airline. It was consistently late for every departure. It also serves excellent peanuts. At one airport during the delay, Flypaper released a few coins for me to have a coffee. This resulted in a visit to the toilet where I noticed an unusual pair of shoes below the cubicle wall next door. Two hours later following a 2nd treat I again took relief. Concerningly, I saw the same shoes and reasonably assumed the wearer was the same person. I reported the observation to Flypaper and asked her opinion. Afterall, the guy may be dead or worse, it may be the pilot. Her reply was reassuring, “The queue to the gate will be shorter”.
Our 2nd stopover was a small regional city called “Wah-Haka”. That’s what its called, but on a map, you should look for Oaxaca. It may be a mean thing to think, but I hope the Spaniard who concocted this spelling ended up on a pyramid as a guest of honour. Its given me no end of trouble. Wah-Haka is the ‘Tokoroa’ of Mexico. There’s a museum and some historical stuff but property values are not increasing. It has a shabby look – but in fairness, this Mexico, most places look similar. Unlike Tokoroa, this city and surrounding region has UNESCO World Heritage status. People have lived here since 10,000 BC. There have been 4 prominent civilizations and they’ve all been property developers. Over time there have been a lot of rocks moved around and stacked up here and there.
Our city walking tour guide, Jose, is 75 years old. When he called at our hotel I wondered if I should borrow their defibrillator for the afternoon. We strolled a couple of locks then he asked us if we could walk on slowly while he went off to collect another couple. Then, he ‘ran’ off up the street! Annoying! I looked at Flypaper and said, “This is going to be a tough afternoon”. Just about the time we were about to collapse, Jose took us into a Chocolate factory and plumped us up on the famous local delicacy. What a great guy, He earned a good tip after all.
Duel carriageway Toll Roads are becoming popular in Mexico – popular with the ‘guvmint’. The principal of ‘tolls’ is to provide cash to build and maintain the highways. So far, numerous short highways have been built but they have not raised sufficient funds to provide maintenance. Perhaps the reason is horses, cyclists and handcarts don’t have to pay. Surely, they should. People pushing their vehicles do pay. The long straight roads are in fact slaloms where drivers swerve to avoid vehicular calamity. It’s a challenge of reflex vs vehicle suspension strength. Often the roads win. Vicious speed bumps are used everywhere to slow traffic – except at military roadblocks. There, they simply dig up the road to resemble a shallow quarry. Nothing less than a tank could exceed 5kph which provides the military or police time to empty the magazine of their machine gun into the wayward vehicle. The reason for the roadblocks I’m told is to search for guns and drugs. Evidently the authorities are short of both. They have no concern about, Nicaraguans, Hondurans or even Columbians enroute to the USA. Anyway, these people don’t have guns or drugs – they can easily get them on arrival in Texas.
Southern Mexico is not the country portrayed in the movies. It is a tropical region more correctly associated with Central America. Should you ever feel inspired to visit, think again. Places like one we found ourselves in, Palenque, is full of 7th century Mayan ruins. Sure, the piles of rock still exist but all the good stuff like carvings, artifacts, significant bones and other stuff proving the Mayans were more than compulsive rock collectors, is in the cultural centre in Mexico City or Madrid. Mexico City has the best Bull Fights but Madrid has the best wine. Hope that helps.
Occasionally ancient Mayan city-state lords were women. As a result, these women became more masculine as they assumed roles that were typically and traditionally male roles. I’ve noticed this happens when we experience female Prime Ministers in NZ. Surely there’s a lesson to be learned. My abiding memory of this region … climbing Mayan temple ruins uses the same muscles as climbing Aztec pyramids.
Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico … although laziness is popular too. There are thousands of churches to visit and be awed by the lavish décor. Many close for siesta so perhaps the faiths are not so far apart. We have seen virtuous pilgrims cycling enroute to holy places struggling along with wooden crosses on their back. In times past, they walked for weeks, even months to demonstrate they devoutness. Now-a-days, the most pious choose an even more arduous pilgrimage involving greater penance – they take the bus.
Most of my knowledge of Mexico stemmed from comics read as a child. It’s a pity the internet has ruined this fine source of information. My understanding was all Mexican men wore a ‘sombrero’. They don’t. I never saw one anywhere. This is a great disappointment as it makes it much more difficult to separate the locals from the visitors. The easiest way I managed to distinguish was the locals were sitting behind enormous displays of brightly coloured trinketry pleading while the visitors were striding past attempting to be oblivious to the presentations under their noses. Also helpful, Mexican men have better mustaches as do many of the women.
I could tell you about Mexican food – but I don’t feel sufficiently qualified. Unlike my experiences in some other countries, I have only examined the food eaten once. That’s a compliment.

Posted by Wheelspin 18:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico roads city air poo artifacts mayan palenque pilgrims aztec catholicism toll Comments (0)

Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates

sunny -21 °C

Austin is the State Capitol of Texas. Few Americans know that. Even fewer people in countries outside of the US know that. All they know is Texas has the biggest of everything. This is not completely true – but there is some big stuff here. Austin is only the 4th largest city in Texas but when some cunning politicians tried to move the archives to Houston which would transfer the capital there, a mad woman called Angelina Eberly blew the side of the General Land Office Building out with a 6lb cannonball while the thieves were at work. The city erected a statue of her downtown and nobody ever messed with her again. Its an appropriate city symbol.
The biggest bat colony in the US lives under a bridge right in the heart of the city. Every night thousands of silly tourists watch about 1.5 million bats head out to feed. This has become big business. The most common question asked is, “What is that smell?”
Weird is big in Austin. For example, the Little Long Horn Saloon has a version of Bingo that involves chickens, chicken feed, and what happens after chickens eat. For $2 you get a ticket with a number on it that corresponds to a number on the table. The owner, Ginny, unleashes the chicken and the crowd waits for it to poo on a number. Serious coin to be won here – the locals flock to play. Another example is the Museum of the Weird. Definitely worth a visit and … Since 1963, Austin has celebrated the birthday of Eeyore, the fictional character from Winnie the Pooh on the last Saturday in April. It also features the race circuit that hosts the US F1 Grands Prix. It’s an iconic circuit. This is a great place.
The US is very pet friendly. For example, the Austin hotel next to ours near the airport is the Park & Zoom. They offer valet service for your pet and car, exclusive dog swimming pool and a program to improve your pets attitude towards you. I suspect many people ask if they can leave their children there. The city boasts 466 pet friendly restaurants. Many don’t require your dog to be on a leash and most have a pet menu. Pet friendly businesses are a fast growing category as more realize pets rule the family and often are the largest spenders.
The subject of pets reminds me of a radio advertisement we heard. We flick through countless radio stations while driving in attempt to find something to listen to. We seldom succeed. In the southern states Country & Western and new age Gospel stations prevail. Occasionally we pick up a gem like this. An entrepreneur has developed 29 varieties of pyjama’s for the whole family – including your cat and dog. This certainly is a country of opportunity. One morning we saw a guy who had donned the wrong pyjama’s. He arrived at the Fast Food shop for breakfast dressed in his dogs garment. I peeped into his huge F250 truck to see what the dog was wearing. Seems like the dog refused to go out in public.
Texas has lots of oil reserves … and they aren’t going to run out any time soon. Confusingly, a US gallon is 3.8 litres not 4.5. Petrol price is US$2.30 per gallon – that’s very cheap - NZ0.87c per litre. As a result, the populace is continually mobile. I suspect they all rush out and drive whenever I am on the road. Austin’s enormous flyovers maintain progress – the city would be paralyzed if they relied on traffic lights. But it makes a crazy dodgems environment as drivers zoom from one side of the highway to the other looking for their exit. Given half the traffic are gigantic trucks whose wheels are about the size of our rental car, I’m terrified most of the time. Dallas is worse. I was mentally scared in Dallas and don’t want to talk about it until counselling is complete.
There is basically only one category of food in Texas – meat. It does come in mind boggling variety – from Texas BBQ to hamburger patty with lots of spicy Mexican options between. Vegans are tolerated but must feel ill catered. I suspect they principally exist on moral indignation. Austin is the home of Texas BBQ. There are hundreds of these specialist restaurants but about 6 are serious tourist attractions. Many have ques of salivating diners waiting outside dreaming of the surprisingly tender poor cuts that are used. (Eg. Skirt / flap.) A typical plate of consists of enough protein to feed a family in NZ for 3 days. It is possible to get corncob, potato and salad / coleslaw in a bucket on the side. The meat is slow roasted / smoked for many hours, sometimes 2 days. It melts in the mouth and, from the appearance of the dominant customer group, immediately forms another layer of body fat. It’s a metaphysical marvel.
Texas steakhouses are the next level of dining preference. Again, quantity is a big factor in customer expectation. The meals are obscenely huge – but supremely delicious. Unfortunately, I now understand ‘delicious’ is another word for ‘positive weight accumulation’. Let’s be fair. The whole US has a serious weight issue but the others are very understanding and see this as an additional profit opportunity. There are products, spaces and assisting apparatus designed to accommodate this portion of society. I have also become very understanding. The food in the US is outstandingly delicious and moreish in the extreme. It’s a never-ending variety of sugar, fat and sodium. Scrumptious. There’s healthy stuff too. The labels’ explain its made from reduced sugar, fat and sodium – and it’s not nearly as tasty. We went to a ‘Dairy Queen’ franchise for lunch one day. After accepting our modest order, the cashier convinced me I hadn’t lived until I experienced their new ‘Health Blizzard’ – a whipped ice cream full of fruits, nuts, chocolate and ‘other’ beneficial nutrients. It was fantastically fabulous!!! I wanted another – until I felt the increased tension on my belt and checked the nutritional details … 1160 calories! The additional information made me wonder if I should call my doctor immediately. The US doesn’t have an obesity problem, they have an addiction problem. I’m hooked already.
It appears Mexicans represent about half the Texas population. Their food preferences are available everywhere. Supplementing these are the well-known ‘fast food’ outlets. The requirement to work in these establishments is an air of impatient surliness and the inability to speak clearly. At every food outlet from the BBQ to the snack bar, customers are bombarded with questions. A local is prepared with the answers – a visitor is stunned with varietal overload and no idea of the implications of poor choice. It’s probably all that saved me having to buy a new wardrobe. The embarrassment of declining the options is observing the astonishment of the order taker. They stand aghast saying something I’ve interpreted as … “You don’t want the stuff that is included for free?” They show serious concern when I decline the gallon of sugar fizz that seems obligatory with each meal. Even coffee comes in paper cups that could be used as large flower vases. Flypaper & I often purchase a minimal meal – and share. I feel so inadequate.
Driving through the outskirts of El Paso the most horrendous smell assailed us. Flypaper looked at me and expressed doubt when I denied responsibility. I reasoned even the spicy Taco for lunch couldn’t have produced this much distress. Having eliminated the in-car sources we looked out the window. Alongside the highway, for about 10 miles were successive enormous cattle feed lots – both beef and dairy herds. A little research revealed some of these lots hold over 30,000 cattle. Collectively 100’s of thousands of stock. Daily, an average cow produces about 7 gallons of milk (25lts) and 18 gallons (60lts) of manure. Manure management is another very ‘big’ thing here in Texas … but its not something we heard boasted about. Seems like they just realized putting that much raw fertilizer on the feed pastures results in a large percentage going straight through to the water table. Much of this leaches straight into the Rio Grange River and on into Mexico … so that sort of effectively reduces the problem considerably.
We left Texas and travelled through New Mexico into Arizona to stay with friends. They live on a 10 acre lifestyle block in the wilderness not far from the Grand Canyon – which we visited. We’ve been to the canyon way back in 1978 – disappointingly, it hasn’t changed much. (Although the tourist infrastructure has developed to cater for millions of visitors.) Obviously, the intellect of the visitors has deteriorated as they now publish a book entitled “Off The Edge”. To date 685 visitors failed to return home. The book details every fatality and is updated each year given about 12 additions need recording. Many are skeptics not believing it is a mile to the canyon floor – so they lean out to check. That’s the American way – question everything. Some die of a condition known as hyponatremia – drinking too much water with inadequate salt intake. (This is quite common all over the ‘developed’ world as gullible people roam around sucking water continuously.)
Our friends have given me lectures about the flora and fauna of Arizona. I now know that Humming Birds hum because they don’t know the words and the difference between Crows and Ravens is very slight. Evidently one has and additional ‘pinion’ feather … therefore its simply a matter of ‘apionion’. Travel certainly broadens ones knowledge.
In Arizona I learned one shocking and disturbing truth … if I lived here with my ‘Wild West’ friends I may have voted for Donald Trump. By nature, I am Democrat(ish) – it’s platform involves support for free market capitalism, free enterprise and fiscal conservatism. It does lean a bit to the left which, as a filthy capitalist, would worry me. But the Republicans we know here have all the good toys. Cars, pickup trucks, motorhomes, quad bikes … and guns – lots of guns. All stuff that makes me feel invincible and free. On Saturday night our hosts threw a party in our honour. They invited all the neighbours. A more interesting and friendly group would be hard to imagine. They ranged from successful business people including automatic weapons manufactures through IT specialists, military personnel, tradespeople and professionals. Some carried serious and obvious twin holstered Colt style pistols (that caught my attention) and I’m advised most would have had concealed firearms. I guess they were unsure of foreign intruders and their tendency to be dangerous. I would not like to arrive wearing a frock and tea towel. Our fellow resident guests were Dutch. Even though the Dutch once rivaled the British in terms of global exploration and colonization, our friends will admit to being seriously competitive in the motorsport scene but have no asperations to invade the US. I, on the other hand, would like to rule the US. It’s a place that could easily provide satisfaction to many of the dreams and the desires I aspire to. And its obviously not too hard to do.
My conversations that night were uninhibited. I challenged their gun culture, their lack of concern for global warming, their unconcern for the dwindling oil reserves and reluctance to embrace new forms of energy and their global military presence. Throughout the entire evening I felt like a naked chicken on a rotisserie waiting for the chef to hit the igniter. But – I discovered these ‘salt of the earth’ people had never had the opportunity of discussions of this nature. Here, no-one would be so stupid as to challenge accepted ideology – but we could. There was a guy who had been part of an elite military group tasked with rescuing US military personal from foreign soil when missions went wrong. He had been trained in every military discipline and specialization I always dreamed of – from high altitude parachuting to submarine warfare. I undertook and failed an SAS audition (one in 100 succeed. I was 97 and woke up in hospital) and was totally captivated by the experiences of my new friend. There were experiences that he justified as ‘following orders’ I could never have carried out and he did have ongoing conscience issues that I don’t envy – but I feel privileged to have talked about them. In my view, he is a hero that we can’t comprehend in our idyllic cotton wool society.
These people tend to drive very large pickup trucks – we call them ‘utes’. A Ford F250 would drive right over a Toyota HiLux in NZ without feeling the bump. I’ve driven these huge SUV vehicles. They make me feel invincible and powerful. Like I could suck out an oil well in no time.
During my stay I fired 5 pistols. There are more accurate shooters around, but I can advise you - don’t mess with me under 25 yards. I also had my first experience in a ‘real’ gun shop. For $500 I could have wiped out all the politicians in our city and resolved a few outstanding disagreements. What’s not to like about this culture?
Each morning when Flypaper and I used our bathroom we were faced with an image of ex-President Obama on the toilet roll. I swear I was respectful and chose an alternative option. Flypaper on the other hand, thought it was a concept with satisfying outcomes. She’s drawing up a list in anticipation of finding a printer. If you suspect, you may be on her list (or indeed, want to be on her list) please email a good portrait.
The political discussions were particularly delicate. I pointed out 90% of global opinion and 66% of US citizens consider President Trump is a turkey – while I personally, remained totally unopinionated. My hosts, and their neighbours, are not phased with this weight of opinion. They know it is skewed by the evil media and through the manipulations of wicked Hillary. Let me say, unequivocally with hand on heart, I am also skeptical of media influence. However, I have seen a particularly ‘hot’ picture of Hillary when she was 28 and don’t believe she could have developed such wickedness since then. My lovely hostess held the ‘trump’ cards (pardon the pun). She showed me the unedited direct tweets between her personally and Don T. Don daily asks for her opinion – and in my opinion, she has some good ideas about running both the US and the rest of the world. We have exchanged views and believe me, we could sort it out in no time. However, when I looked carefully at the tweets, I became concerned that the author wasn’t always Don T – but one of his ever-temporary henchmen. I also suspected some of the claims made were difficult to justify should one apply logic and sound reasoning. She quickly pointed out that this was my mistake and these processes were the authours of the past administrations misdemeanors. In the face of wonderful hospitality, impressive neighbourly support and the prosperity evident in their community, I cannot disagree. I was seduced by automotive decadence, local beer and the pleasures being heaped on me. A full belly of meat is hard to reject. Shooting stuff clinched it. Seriously, if I lived here, I would join the ranks of the Republicans. The fraternity and friendly support of the neighbourhood would make me want to belong to this wonderful group. After immersing in the US gun culture for almost a week I concluded … the West may no longer be wild – but I believe it could get very angry.
American readers are going to be questioning all of the ‘u’s in many of the words I use. (eg, neighbour, colour, flavour.) My friends, this is English. English as spoken and written by members of the British Commonwealth. New Zealand is proudly a member of this Commonwealth. I know it’s hard to understand – but you have some matters that are equally difficult to grasp. Let’s just live as friends with strange differences.
On the journey across New Mexico we searched for a place to enjoy the picnic lunch provided for us by our Arizona hosts. Our GPS identified a ‘Serviced Rest Stop’ known as, (this is true) The most complicated rest stop in the world’. We decided to forgo the ‘Scenic Lookouts’ in favour of the challenge. On arrival, the ‘Most complicated blah blah’ had been developed into a Casino. Bugger! We took the next sideroad and chose to stop in the shade of a tree near a small rural and obviously poor community where the only visitors drove old V8 pickup trucks and slowed as they passed. I was conscious I was not carrying a weapon.
A word of advice. Albuquerque Old Town is to be avoided. It only caters for women with a penchant for Indian jewelry and cluttering trinketry. There are no gun shops or automotive dealerships in the whole precinct!!! (And Flypaper wouldn’t let me have dinner at ‘Hooters’ either.)
Wichita Falls is mentioned in a well know song, but it should be recognized for something much better … The Worlds Littlest Skyscraper. Built by a conman, Augustus Newby, who escaped conviction when the judge did something the investors failed to do. He put on his glasses when he read the prospectus. Investors thought the height was 480 feet – the document correctly quoted 480 inches. Only in America.
Much of our journey included the south western 1/3rd of the famous Highway 66. There is so much worthy of comment on this highway it justifies a book. On this and other roads, among countless other interesting things, we have been made aware of penitentiaries. Ominous buildings surrounded by razor wire, buildings disguised with politically correct names (eg. Correction facility), apparent industrial complexes with towers at each corner featuring search lights and machine guns, etc. In Louisiana we saw ‘chain gangs’ tidying up the highway. A sign on Hwy 66 was particularly appreciated … ‘Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates’. This sign, like nothing else, encapsulates the US we have seen. Friendly, informative, helpful, and, just a little bit ominous. I love the place. But, if I lived here, I probably would carry a concealed weapon. As a visitor I rely on Flypaper to keep me safe. She will affect a furious defense while I run.

Posted by Wheelspin 15:51 Archived in USA Tagged traffic food canyon arizona mexico grand new l boys toys bbq houston texas trucks trump oklahoma oi austin guns pickup steakhouse mexicans flypaper freeways Comments (0)

Priority Ticket to Hell

Don’t carry children in the basket

overcast -20 °C

We’ve been to hell – quite often. For example, the time we were locked in the bowels of an old car ferry chugging across the Black Sea to meet a visa entry deadline into Russia. One engine failed reducing speed to only just forward in favorable wind. Had I been able to speak Russian I would have offered to paddle. The women in charge of passengers – a graduate of the Stalin Academy -indicated that the failed motor drove the electrical system so dinner was red sauerkraut on black bread followed by banishment to our airless cabin down beside the struggling clanking whining prop shaft. It was 38*C (100F) and Flypaper pointed out this voyage was my idea. Another time in Azerbaijan, the place crude oil was first discovered by mankind resulting in an obscene ecological disaster, we stood by the roadside arguing with a policeman who looked at us like a hyena eyeing its next wounded meal. The location was one where natural gas seeped out of the ground and spontaneously ignited making me suspect this was hell, the real deal.

Following our flight from Auckland to Los Angeles – LAX to fellow travelers – we alighted in some trepidation as we’ve been here before. Sure enough, we herded through immigration like fat chickens in a poultry abattoir to have an interrogation, fingerprints and photo taken by a humourless boarder guard to looked himself like an illegal immigrant who escaped the dogs and beat the system. Having discovered we were not on Don Trumps list and passed the test we were allowed loose to find our luggage. Easier said than done as we don’t speak Spanish or African American Vernacular English. Finally, we found a carousel with other familiar temporary harassed aliens. Together we waited 1.25 hours for our ‘priority’ bags. In typical LAX fashion, all the ‘priority’ luggage was unloaded last leaving dozens of travelers, ourselves included, stressed about making our next flight connection. For good measure, someone had ripped the handles off my bag. (That should teach me not to have positive expectations.) Then the problems started. We were issued with bright orange ‘priority’ cards and told to walk East in the herd of panicking travelers doomed to a holiday on the escalators of hell. The orange cards insured we would be harassed by black women wrestlers shrieking in a strange language strategically placed to impede our hopeful progress. Eventually we arrived at a place that was accepting luggage. We offered our pitiful examples only to be told we should have deposited them 40 minutes previous on a pile the appeared destined for redistribution to the poor and needy. In frustration I told the luggage handler he could have them as we intended to sue the airport for a new wardrobe and marched off in search of an aircraft with Houston written on the door. 30 minutes later we were through security, personally searched by an ogre who was skeptical we didn’t even own guns and told to follow the weeping wailing masses that had already missed their flights. A further 10 minutes of jogging in 30-degree C heat found us at a bus stop where the sleepy uninterested attendant assured us this would take us somewhere that may promise an aircraft. Sure enough, after playing dodgems around various runways with enormous aircraft where signs wisely advised our driver to ‘give way to turning aircraft’, we found a shed that displayed the airport code for Houston – IAH. Logical isn’t it. We were amazed there was no queue. Flypaper panted out our hopes only to be told boarding was complete, but the aircraft was delayed so we could continue running in the hope they would open the door. They did – but told us our business class seats had been sold to others, but we could board if we accepted we would travel ‘coach’. We were then squeezed in beside a hysterical woman who bitched she had not been given an upgrade. I decided it wasn’t worth pointing out we had just been given a downgrade and 2 overweight passengers were already chomping into our lunch while we dined on pretzels and apple juice. (The aircraft delay was due to ground technicians pumping too much fuel and difficulties finding a tanker that could suck it out again. Go figure.)

We made it to Houston … and astonishingly, so did our luggage. Rather than push our luck further on public transport we took a cab to our hotel … just in time to learn a looney had slaughtered 26 people in church just up the road from us. (About 200 miles up the road but that seemed close enough.)
For our initial experience we visited a great US institution – Walmart. Our local branch was a shed covering about 10 acres with a 15 acre carpark in front. It had seen better days and so had most of the shoppers. Walmart is famous for attracting weird looking customers causing me to spend a few minutes gazing at my reflection in a shop window to discover if I would stand out. Flypaper assured me I wouldn’t. (I need to think about that) We purchased a GPS system for our rental car. The units fitted by the rental companies cost more than buying your own and I’m proficient with the Garman system given I have units for New Zealand and Australia, Europe, parts of Asia, major cities of the world and now the USA and Canada. The next task was a basic telephone with a local sim card. Again, we have about 7 phones that do little but talk and text. Following an agonizing time making this $50 decision we later discovered the Walmart assistant had sold us a card that was not compatible with the telephone. I felt a little kindlier toward people who choose to carry guns.

Having been in several Walmart’s I have formed the opinion they are not the sort of shop people with a brain should, or indeed do, frequent. The stock is strewn all over the shelves by people who open the packaging to check the product out – then take one still packaged. The shop fittings show signs of abuse. (I understand that and felt inclined to contribute) The employees do their best which typically leaves a lot to be desired. I now understand some people really are unemployable and it’s a mistake to inflict them on paying customers. For all that, Walmart does have one redeeming feature …they provide electric shopping carts for the aged and infirm. These are effectively an industrial grade mobility scooter with a big basket on the front. The basket has a sign ‘No children in basket’. Surprisingly, the only people we have seen using these carts are not the aged and infirm, but the grossly overweight. And astonishingly, quite a few have chubby children in the basket. These people are allowed to vote – and obviously did so recently.

Later that night after being unable to set up the new simple telephone I called their ‘helpline’ on my New Zealand phone at $1.75 per minute. That was a mistake. The US is a bilingual country and I only spoke British English – which is not one of the options. Its not so bad if I can study the body language and watch the lips moving or look in the direction of the pointed figure. This doesn’t work on a telephone. After running up more phone charges than the new one cost, we discovered the replaced ‘wrong sim card’ did not allow for international calls. This is important. Flypapers phone is a NZ roaming phone – an international call. The reason for the new phone was principally to call her whenever one or both of us are lost. (It’s critical to arrive back at the same hotel each evening because I need to know which clothes are suitable for my next public appearance.) The voice attempting to solve my phone issue agreed to sell me an ‘international extension’ for $10. Sounds like a reasonable deal … except they couldn’t accept an international credit card because I don’t have a US Zip Code. “Zip” I said, “I have all sorts of zips – jackets, trousers, luggage – but none of them are secret … or able to solve the problem. ‘It’ finally advised me to return tomorrow to my local Walmart. (This could be the last correspondence you read from me.)

Next day we took the minor roads East through Bayou Country and passed into Louisiana. We prefer back ‘country’ roads and interesting towns. Anyway, the Freeways are far too scary.
Lunchtime found us in a sleepy town that specialized in catching catfish, crawfish and shrimps. We chose “Edith’s Place” a small eatery named after the lovely proprietor’s wife. We did see Edith – her picture was painted on the wall. It was not flattering. We felt culturally inadequate and conspicuously white. Our host proffered a couple of menu’s and recommended the blackened catfish. We countered by saying we just wanted something small and a couple of coffees. The delightful man replied he didn’t do small but we were welcome to help ourselves to free coffee. He said, “Yower in real Cajun Country nower”. This would not do. We had the reputation of pale faced visitors with a properly registered car to uphold – so we chose a dish described as a ‘Poor Mans Lunch’ … and added, “to share”. Two plates please. He looked at us and said, “My, yower real po-wer an’t yo”. We slunk to a table and enjoyed superb coffee while waiting for ‘meat loaf, corn, weeds, rice and corn bread’. It was delicious – and huge. Us po-wer people left quite bit on the plate – together with the best tip he probably had all week. Oh, nearly forgot. We took advantage of the cleanest and most well provisioned toilets we can recall. On the wall was a sign, “Wash your hands. Say your prayers. Germs and Jesus is everywhere”. This made me recheck my fly.

Evening found us at our French Colonial hotel in the ‘French Quarter’ of New Orleans. New Orleans old town is indeed old. It shows. Situated on the banks of the huge Mississippi River it has had little upkeep since its heyday in the mid 1800’s. While I’ve not seen them all, its streets and footpaths are likely to be in the worst condition in the US of A. There are worse in Central Asia which leaves New O with the challenge of further years of neglect. The buildings emit an air of genuine dilapidation that no amount of new money could replicate. The words ‘shabby chic’ were coined to describe this old CBD. We are here during the quiet time. I imagine the busy season is best avoided – its bad enough right now to bring out the noisiest Jazz Bands and restaurants have the courage to be a bit ‘slap-dash’. Don’t be surprised if your order turns out to be something quite different and presentation is not exactly an art form. Peasant food is passed off as de rigueur. Be prepared for it all to taste the same – highly spiced.

The ‘Old Town’ should not be confused with the greater modern city which is typical of every other modern city – too much traffic, too few parking places, too many hotels and businesses fleecing unsuspecting tourist. The Old Town tended to be habituated by a younger set of dubious gender and an obvious desire toward poor moral behavior. The New Town is teaming with middle aged tourists and elderly woman who moved here on the strength of their late husbands’ life insurance. I was glad Flypaper put is in with the younger set – but disappointed that she disallowed any lowering of my moral standards.

Having eaten exclusively Cajun food for 3 days I consider I’m an expert. This knowledge was difficult to grasp. For one thing, I thought ‘Gumbo’ was short for gumboot – wet weather footwear in the rural community I grew up in. Here it means a spicy fish, crab, shrimp stew ruined with ‘Okra’. (You look it up. I’m afraid to learn the answer.) One thing you can say for sure about Cajun food – it gives one gas. Copious gas. Don’t however be concerned. The Jazz is perfect for disguising the source and one simply has to look searchingly around – to discover everyone else is doing the same. Initially I though the river was the source of the pervading aroma but I believe the correct origin has been identified. Once gassed up it’s possible for anyone with rhythm and a healthy sphincter to join in the music and feel very much part of the scene.
I was having language ‘issues’ in Texas – then we arrived in New Orleans. French Creole language spoken by the Louisiana Creole people and sometimes Cajuns and Anglo-residents of the state of Louisiana. The language consists of elements of French, Spanish, African, and Native American roots. It cannot be understood by anyone proficient in any of those mentioned languages. Whenever faced with a question I learned to say, “mi fanm-mwen” (mee+fan+m+mweh) – “This is my wife”. That way, we cut straight to the final decision.

Following a couple of 'Plantation Tours' at which there were no plantations - just a couple of very large old homes (never-the-less, interesting) the last evening in New Orleans was spent on the Natchez Riverboat cruising the Mississippi. Nothings too good for Flypaper and I even donned a clean shirt for the occasion. This seemed like a mistake when, after 2 glasses of Natchez Jazz Punch I ended up in the engine room. Given the chief engineer wouldn’t let me tune it for more speed the shirt remained good enough for the dinning room – where enough ‘gas’ was being produced to render steam an obsolete energy source. The effects of the Punch were still evident at the end of the evening when we found ourselves peddled home in a rickshaw bike. I considered the skinny young peddler an insolent brat who continued to defer to Flypaper during our pre-ride haggling and between them agreed on an outrageous price for a 3 block ride. I had the last laugh when he navigated to the wrong hotel and had to peddle twice the distance. This gave me ample time to make vocal observations regarding his style, speed and lack of suitable physic to be transporting 2 well fed guests both encumbered by heavy metallic joints. At the same time, I could advise the walking peasantry as to the obvious privileges affordable by a lifetime of hard work and saving.

A lot more of Southern America lies in wait for us.

Posted by Wheelspin 08:34 Archived in USA Tagged telephone new orleans houston texas luggage austin cajun creole louisiana walmart lax gumbo Comments (2)

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