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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's a wrap - USA/Mexico

18 February - 13 March 2011

As has become standard for me when I've ended a trip I've taken to doing a last summary or a 'greatest hits' review whenever I managed to complete the final entry on the 'how, why, when and whatever else may have been alcohol related' blog series of my most recent escapades. Sticking with tradition and therefore adopting the same template that I've used in the past, see also;

I bring you the close out of the USA/Mexico experience (yeah we didn't quite make Canada eh!)  within my still continuing domain of Life in a year full of Saturdays, which in it's 'Live' context comes to an end at the completion of this particular wrap up although a different incarnation will appear sometime down the track. Also look out for Reflections in a stream of consciousness which will follow on from where this wrap ends and will basically be a catch up on quite a few places that I was unable to write about whilst chasing my year of endless Saturdays...but for right now we have;

USA-Mexico - 'The Final'

Favourite places:

1. Mexico City (Mexico) - You know I don't even know if Mexico City was actually that great a place!? I'd heard about the rampant drug related crimes and related sketchy activity, I'd read that our government advisory agent was warning people against travel to all parts of Mexico and yet when we got there it was 'none of the above'. The people were quite warm, the food was fantastic and the Hostal Regina was, to quote a line from Man v.Food,  'da bomb diggity'. Obviously we were lucky with the people that we met there but sometimes that's all you need in order for a place to go from good to great. Also, Teotihuacan is only an hour or so drive out of the city and has to be rated as one of the world's greatest sites and sights! That counts for something.

The Zócalo as seen from torre latinoamericano - Mexico City - Mexico

Mexico City - Mexico

2. Mazatlan (Mexico) - Frichot would probably debate me on this one and I'm sure he would rather have seen Tijuana in this spot. Truthfully we could have made much more out of Mazatlan but it didn't work that way. For a place that has a gritty, colonial style old town, a fantastic beach where you can look out over the Pacific whilst watching the sun drop and consume copious amounts of your favourite beverage in the process, as well as it's proximity to 20kms of coastline with uninterrupted golden sand beach, well this for me has got to come in second.

Mazatlan - Mexico

Mazatlan - Mexico

3. Las Vegas (USA) - A 24hour party city where you can literally go nuts whenever you feel the urge. If you're on form then Las Vegas will already have been notified and will be waiting with bated breath to take you down!

The Luxor - Las Vegas - Nevada - USA

Las Vegas - Nevada - USA

4. Tijuana (Mexico) - This place once was great, not so much anymore but one again the people that we met along the way just made it cool.

Tijuana - Mexico

Most Surprising:

I think from the perceptions and the general propaganda sold to us by our government and western news feeds Mexico in general was surprising and therefore as a place Mexico City won the day for me. I could quite easily have spent an additional week there in order to discover both its present and past in all forms and facets.

Mexico City - Mexico

Coolest place for a night out:

1. Las Vegas (USA) - Mr 24*7 will take your nights and then raise you your days. The options and opportunities in Vegas are endless. All things debaucherous originate here and for most people it's where they want to leave them before they head back for home. Too much fun but remember to get yourself a decent loan before landing here, you'll need it!

New York, New York casino - Las Vegas - Nevada - USA

2. Los Angeles (USA) - I think that if you know the deal or the right crowd in LA then it can be a hell of a fun place to have a great night. We spent a great night on Sunset the first night we were in town and had heard of quite a few other places before we left that we should have tried but just didn't have the chance to take down. Once massive problem though, curfew kicks in at 1:30am - there is absolutely no alcohol sold after that time. You either hit the road and head for home or end up drinking Dr. Pepper in some all night diner.

Frichot on Sunset Boulevard - Los Angeles - California - USA

3. Tijuana (Mexico) - Walking down Revolucion in the centre of TJ you can imagine that way that this place use to be back in its heyday. Many places have closed but with that said there are still quite a few joints open and once you're in it's inevitable that  a tequila bottle will find it's way to you and 'somehow' a way that it will get tipped upside down by your new found friend - just note that hours later that 'somehow' you need to find your way home.

Yeah, that cost all of $3.00 - Tijuana - Mexico

Best accommodation:

Without question the Hostal Regina in Mexico City. It's hands down the best hostel that I've stayed at. It's enormous, it's extremely clean, it's close to the centre of town but most importantly it's the staff that makes this place amazing. Rather than being just 'staff' they actually got to be friends within just the few days that we stayed there. I don't know how they managed it but they seemed to know all their guests by their first names. If ever you're in Mexico City then stay here, you'll have a hell of a time.

Hostal Regina - Mexico City - Mexico

Everyone say 'hammered!' - Hostal Regina - Mexico City - Mexico

Best place to get totally lost:

1. Las Vegas (USA) - Any time of day or night this place is operational. You can lose your money, mind and a lot of time and not worry about where you are or where you're staying. As long as you have the internal fortitude then you can try and match Las Vegas, the king of 24*7.

Las Vegas - it'll beat me!

2. Tijuana (Mexico) - When a guy comes up to you and says, 'Hey do you want something? Girls, massage, donkey shows?' then you know that getting lost might eventuate in some type of experience that you didn't quite anticipate.

Welcome! We have everything you want and many things that you don't

3. Mazatlan (Mexico) - 20kms of sandy Pacific coast beaches on its doorstep, unbelievable sunsets and a cool old town make this a place that you could easily loose yourself in for a week.

Mazatlan - Mexico

Best place to drink and get totally lost:

1. Las Vegas (USA) - Seriously you 'could' actually lose the shirt off your back here and it would be a valid scenario. Nothing more needs to be said.

2. Tijuana (Mexico) - Drink and go to a donkey show, I dare you! Then I dare you to make it back to your hotel with your wallet in tow.

3. Mexico City (Mexico) - I blame Hostal Regina for allowing Mexico City to make it to my top three. There are times when I wished I 'had' lost my room key, would have made for a more convincing story with some people.

Best drink:

1. Red Trolley (Karl Strauss Brewing Company) - Universal City - Los Angeles (USA)
A great medium-bodied beer with heavyweight malts. From what they say on their site it's brewed with a half tonne of caramelized malts for a rich copper colour and toffee flavour...and yeah, it's tasty!

2. Vanilla Cappuccino - Any Oxxo location in Mexico
An Oxxo is pretty much like a 7-11, just that there's 100 times more of them in any Mexican City. These coffees were our saving grace day in and day out. A post hangover recovery in a country where a cafe was more than a chore to find, this caffeinated thing of beauty was 'the fix'.

3. Tequila - Mexico City (Mexico)
It's ubiquitous isn't it? Think Mexico and you think tequila! I'm sure the tequila that we had in Mexico City wasn't even very good but when mixed with a party atmosphere well, it just made it dynamite.

Best meal:

1.Torta de chorizo - A hole in the wall shop - Avenida Mesones - Mexico City (Mexico)
Jet didn't try this out but there was a great little hole in the wall place on Avenida Mesones that made the BEST tortas (basically a type of sandwhich made from a unique style of bread). They place some spicy chorizo mince on a grill, laid some cheese over it, covered it with avocado and a few other items, then 'hey presto', a sandwhich of magnificence. It was simple, elegant and my way of starting each day (or was it afternoon) in Mexico City.
2. Down on the beach - Mazatlan (Mexico)
Another fiesta of simplicty. Swordfish, grilled prawns and a simple salad. I think the salt from the ocean had a lot to do with it but when you're chilling on a beach with a great meal and beer in hand, what else do you really need?

Tough living here in Mazatlan - Mexico

3. Buffalo wings - Malgard Public House - Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles (USA)
These things were just damn tasty. The right amount of spice and taste which in turn got carried along with a few medium bodies ales. I think Frichot would probably debate me on this and add Mel's diner on Sunset as number three on this list. Actually, I think his top three here would be quite different and from what I know he probably would have gone in the following manner;

The Melgard Public House - Melrose Ave - Los Angeles - California - USA

Frichot's top meals
1. Buffalo wings - Mel's diner - Sunset boulevard - Los Angeles (USA)
I think he has to remember that he was 'a lot' a drunk when we arrived here and that anything at this point would have served him justice. 

Mel's diner - Sunset Strip - Los Angeles - California - USA

2. Jack in the box - Tropicana Ave - Las Vegas (USA)
A great mixture of size, grease and good 'ole fashioned burger technology. I can understand why this would have made the Frichot top three.
3. Johnny Rockets - Melrose Avenue - Los Angeles (USA)
We got into the chilli cheese fries big time and these guys did it right. Their shakes were damn good also.

Johnny Rocket's - Melrose Ave - Los Angeles - California

My guilty pleasure
The burrito hot dog - Pink's Hot Dogs - Cnr of Melrose Ave & La Brea Ave - Los Angeles (USA)
Two hot dogs, in a tortilla, filled with chilli, cheese, sour cream and all other things that could deliver a heart attack with four bites. It was just way too much but 'oh so good' for the journey. 

Pink's Hotdogs - Los Angeles - USA

Best bars
1. Rainbow bar - Sunset Boulevard - Los Angeles (USA)
We had a great time here and it was our first night out on the trip. In terms of the type of bar it was, well, it was actually quite plain. I mean it did have a type of 'hidden' upstairs section that acted as a bit of a novelty and it is a well known haunt of Lenny from Motorhead - which is part of the reason why Frichot loved it. In my estimation the venue itself, I thought, was average but we met a few people, had fun and Frichot met his first celebrity, Ron Jeremy. 

The Rainbow Bar - Sunset Strip - Los Angeles - USA
2. The Viper bar - Tijuana (Mexico)
A fairly plain bar that played some fantastic rock/grunge/punk music and had a great crowd. We were on the look out for something just like this and it delivered in spades. How can you go wrong with 1.2 litre bottles of beer for $1.50!?

The Viper bar - Tijuana - Mexico
3. The Snake Pit - Melrose Ave - Los Angeles (USA) & The Melgard Public House - Melrose Ave - Los Angeles (USA)
These two places were located a few mins walk from one another on the same road. The Snake Pit was a great 'local' to have in terms of it's proximity to the Orbit Hostel and the Melgard had a great range of beer, great food and a French-Canadian publican that had intellect oozing out of his chosen stance of elegant silence.

The Melgard Public House - Melrose Avenue - Los Angeles - USA

The Snake Pit - Melrose Ave - Los Angeles - USA
Best video
The drunk cab ride in Los Angeles takes this one out. This was our ride home, or rather our attempted ride home whilst we zig-zagged up Sunset boulevard. Somewhere along the way Frichot made the call that some exotic entertainment might fit the bill nicely, and well, the end result was this
Favourite/best photos

1. On a Greyhound, between Los Angeles & Las Vegas

Again, this is one of those scenarios where it may not necessarily be the best but it's the one that always catches my eye. I actually really like the relection in the mirror and therefore the implied transience.

2. On the beach in Mazatlan - Mexico

The elements here are cool. I took better photos in Mazatlan in terms of framing but the colours of the sky in this photo sell it everytime.

3. The Joshua Tree - Mojave desert - California - USA

Anything that reminds me of U2 is going to hit a sentimental mark with me. This is one of those times where I wish I was able to lose the reflection in the bus mirror but eh, 'it still goes good'.

4. View of Teotihuacan from the pyramid of the moon - Mexico

An amazing place, what more do you need to say?

5. Frichot pulls a LA sign - Los Angeles - USA and a 'Punch buggy' - Mexico City - Mexico

Frichot 'cooling it out' with his LA sign.

This is so typically Mexico City that it just has to make the cut.

Best shot taken by someone that's not me

Me on top of the pyramid of the sun - Teotihuacan - Mexico

Can't argue about this, when you ask someone to take a photo for you then you kind of hope that they might be able to pull off a decent show like this.
Coolest moments
1. Standing atop the Pyramid of the Sun - Teotihuacan - Mexico
It's a place that I'd always wanted to go to and just setting foot in the complex got me emotional for 1.5 seconds (I can be such a girl sometimes). Climbing to the top of the highest (legally climable pyramid in the world), taking in the view in 360 and experiencing that with a great friend, well it just made for a cool moment.

  Pyramid of the Moon - Teotihuacan - Mexico

2. The confetti assasinations - Hostal Regina - Mexico City (Mexico)
This night commenced as a pathetic little pinata construction class in the foyer or the Hostal and turned into a wet rag throwing tequilathon which somehow turned into a confetti war (which I may have instigated). It's rare for so many friendly and cool people to be in one piss weak class at the same time but that's the way it eventuated. When your night closes out at 5am the general rule is that you've had a decent night.

The confetti assasinations - Hostal Regina - Mexico City - Mexico
3. Lucha libre - Arena Mexico - Mexico City (Mexico)
I thought this night was going to end with me slashing my wrists from boredom. Seriously, it commenced with a wrestling bout that looked as though a bunch of Mexico City accountants had got together and had one too many short blacks...but as the beer flowed and the night progressed I found myself getting into the theatre, the mayhem and excitement of the crowd. I cheered for everyone, just because I could. We then followed up the Lucha libre night back at Hostal Regina with a Mexican cooking class, and...wait for it ....many tequila shots!

It could be something desperately seedy or it could just be the after affects of the lucha libre
Honorary cool moment:
Now this wasn't a cool moment for me but it was cool in the sense that I'm sure for Jet it was the cherry that landed on top of the ice cream that was the trip. I don't know how or why it happened but Jet met the leading singer of Suicidal Tendencies, Mike Muir at LAX and then we were lucky enough to take a couple of snaps with him at Brisbane airport.

Now that's cool! Frichot & Mike Muir - Brisbane airport - Australia

Sketchiest moments
1. Frichot and his impromptu 'USA is gay' song - Avenida Revolucion - Tijuana (Mexico)
When you're in the heart of Tijuana the border with the USA is probably only 1-2 kms away. Our first night in Tijuana none too surprisingly involved a night of drinking which in turn involved a stop at a local hot dog cart. I knew Frichot was on fire when he started taking down hotdog after hotdog, six in all. At the completion of his six set and inspired by his surroundings Jetson came up with an impromptu song entitled, 'USA is gay' - and he just went for it, over and over. Somehow he acquired a roving guitarist to accompany him, a crowd of about 15 Mexicans, inclusive of the hot dog vendor that was now grooving to his dulcet tunes. The 'problem' arose when a native of San Diego took exception to his lyrics and started to go mental as to why this 'English guy' would want to say such a thing about his homeland. For a few moments we both thought that we would be having a fight on our hands, not a great result when the outcome would have been a night in a Mexican prison. Somehow I got around to calming the guy the down and apologising for our alcohol inspired antics.

It started with something totally innocent like this!
2. Crossing the border - Tijuana (Mexico)
It wasn't so much sketchy as it was dodgy. We disembarked and literally walked to the frontier without so much as a sideways glance from anyone. No visa, no entry stamp, nothing that could possibly acknowledge that we'd entered Mexico. We paid for it too. Weeks later in Mexico City, trying to make our escape, we paid for the Mexican's lack of border security.

That's the exit on the Mexican side of the Mexico/USA border
3. The Mummy Ride - Universal Studios - Los Angeles (USA)
This was actually hilarious for me but then again I'm a lover of roller coasters. Somehow I had coaxed Frichot to getting on this ride (a man that despises coasters) do the maths now. What made this 'sketchy' was the fact that the coaster took off into total and utter darkness, it was pitch black and all you could figure out was that the coaster was moving at a rate of knots and dropping away from under your rear end. Frichot screamed like a little girl on his first ride, it was absolutely brilliant!
Uncoolest moment:
Well you can read about it in detail here if you'd like [The Project] - not being able to get on our flight back to Los Angeles and encountering such impolite imbeciles all over the airport just made for one draining, bitch of an evening.

Frichot in despair back at Hostal Regina after one crappy evening
Best comeback:
1. Every day on our trip after crossing the border
We were fiscally struggling each and every day after crossing the border in Mexico. We were waying up our options almost daily, one of which was me heading back to Los Angeles and heading for home so that Frichot could continue on. With some skill, dexterity and assistance from Warren we managed to make it all through Mexico and back home.
2. Frichot climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun - Teotihuacan (Mexico)
On the 'bad side' of a hangover and violent food poisoning Frichot had been vomiting like continuously like a fountain in Hyde Park. Not only was he not at the top of his game health wise but it was an agonisingly hot day for anyone on 'hangover recovery duty'. Somehow, I'm not quite sure how, through will and determination, this guy made the climb with me - now that's a comeback.
3. The Dutch girls re-return - Hostal Regina - Mexico City (Mexico)
Frichot had been tuning in a pair of Dutch girls who had kindly visited our hostel on the night of the infamous Lucha Libre. Somewhere during the evening Jet disappeared back to our room as his food poisoning took a violent turn. Making my way down to check on our hero I asked him if there was anything I could do for him, 'Sure' was his response, 'Bring those two Dutch girls down for me'. Now I don't know what it was I said or what spin I must have given those two ladies but for some reason I did manage to get them back to the room for our hero in waiting - unfortunately my good work was wasted, there was nothing Jet could do when they arrived, he was totalled! 
Total number of  bus rides - 5

Total number of flights - 3

Distance travelled in kms - 30012 k

Number of times Frichot stuck his tongue out when a photo was being taken of him  - 78

There we have it, USA/Mexico all wrapped up. Kind of sad for me now in the sense that Life in a year full of Saturdays in a 'live' sense comes to an end, unfortunately reality has that lousy knack of catching up with you. As I mentioned at the start of this write up my Reflections in a stream of consciousness will look at a few of the places that I missed writing about whilst I was away last year, i.e., Madrid, Colonia de Sacramento, Mendoza, Bariloche & Sucre.

For right now I'm at the point where I need to dream it all up again. New name, new places to see and new people to meet. For the moment I have the idea that finishing off what I left behind in South America is what I need to do, so the aim will be to head back there in December/January this year and take on Argentina, Brazil & Peru.

If any of you feel like joining me then let me know - it's going to be a blast!