Alaska to Argentina – A Review!

TOP EXAGGERATIONS:

  • That title. I got to Nicaragua.  G got to Guatemala.  Woeful.
  • “Don’t go to Mexico man! They’ll kill you and cut your guts into drugs.”  No they won’t.  They’ll make me a delicious taco and cut me a slice of lime for my beer.

TOP UNDERSTATEMENTS:

  • “This Jeep Cherokee should at least make it over the Alaska border.” She did quite a bit better than that, Stavros and Ben.
  • “She may have some trouble with the radiator though.” Reduced to walking pace up any hill by her steaming innards, the air con fixed to MAXIMUM HEAT to take some of the furnace off her bubbling engine, I would say she did have some trouble in that department, yes.
  • “You and Catriona might hit it off.”
  • “The boat ride to the Corn Islands can be a little bumpy.” People were Team America spewing.  Everywhere.
  • “I don’t have that much money.” – Zabrina the German who travelled with us for 6 weeks. Pretty sure she still owes me $400!
  • “Moose don’t like humans too much, you should maybe stay out their way.” They are the angriest vegetarians on the planet!  And that includes SNP supporters.

TOP 5 ANIMALS (that we saw, not just in general – that would be irrelevant.  And it would obviously read – octopus, gorilla, puffin):

  • Whale Shark!
  • Manta Rays!
  • Wild Boar!
  • Brown Bear and cub!
  • Sea Turtle!

Unlucky moose.  Marked down for your anger issues.  Same goes to the Coral Snake that slid over G’s foot.  Too scary.  Oh, and the howler monkeys who sounded like orcs.  Or the squirrel monkeys that tried to crap on us.  Or that Reef Shark that swam at me when I was de-misting my goggles.  All disqualified! Rotters!

TOP 6 NATURAL WONDERS:

  • The cenotes of Yucatan, my personal fave going to this one: 
  • The coral reef off Belize. Like an aquatic Manhattan.
  • The Giant Redwoods of California.  Giant.
  • Any bit between Jasper and Banff. Nature just showing off.
  • This volcano. 
  • G’s invisible arse. How he sits on a toilet confounds me.

TOP 5 MAN-MADE WONDERS:

  • Tikal, Guatemala.
  • Boeing Factory, Everett, Washington. Biggest building (by volume) in the world!
  • The works of Diego Riviera. He looked like a constipated toad and cheated on Frida Kahlo with her SISTER, but sir – I am a fan.
  • El Mirador, Guatemala. Biggest pyramid in the Americas.  Basically a mountain but built by people who didn’t have the wheel.
  • A little convoluted, but certainly a wonder and certainly man-made – the wreck of one of the gun boats from the Bay of Pigs debacle, gradually being consumed by the coral and fish, like nature is cleaning up the evidence.

TOP 4 TOWNS OR CITIES

  • Guanajuato.  Just look at it.  Incidentally Diego Riviera’s home town!  
  • Havana – Like a once beautiful salsa dancer now addled with booze and falling apart.  Simultaneously ugly and devastatingly pretty, it’s Moscow + Madrid and it’s fantastic.
  • Portland – A man with one side burn serving you a craft beer while a homeless person brews you an espresso from a gramophone.
  • Leavensworth – For those who say America has no history – go here!  To a town entirely crafted to look like a historical German town!

TOP TIPS FOR BACKPACKING

  • Unsure of where to eat in Mexico or Central America? Look for the restaurant that A) has only garden furniture and B) isn’t empty.
  • Kindle’s save space for books brilliantly. But they are a nightmare for Lonely Planets.  Nightmare!  “Oooh let’s go to this point on the map…”  “Don’t touch the screen!  What have you done!  It’s gone back to the contents page!  How do I find Nicaragua again?!!”
  • Don’t listen to G – travel towels are essential. (Saying that, always check if a hostel will provide a towel for free and never refuse).
  • Also essential: swiss army knives, a good multi-plug adaptor, a silk liner, spare plastic bags and a back pack that opens on the front as well as the top. If you are Scottish – SUN CREAM.  Lots of sun cream.  And only with a screw top!
  • Don’t buy your hiking boots off a stoned hostel receptionist in Anchorage. They will not fit you and become a massive burden.
  • Back packing with a giant SLR camera looks like a right royal pain in the arse.
  • Never refuse an invitation.
  • Beer under a dollar and it’s not a brothel? Stay the afternoon!
  • Hostel has a ping pong table? Stay the week!
  • Hostel proudly proclaims that it’s a party hostel? Guaranteed to be filled with knobs. Stay somewhere else and sneak in for the drink promos.

BEST MUSEUM:

Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.  The guided tour was to be deep fried in a Mayan-Aztec batter.  A whole spectrum of history split wide open like the spleen of a human sacrifice.

 BEST FOOD:

Mexcio.  Mexico.  Mexico.  Specifically – pastor taco with cheese.  (And coriander, onion, habanero sauce and more cheese if possible).    When this is done right you enter another dimension.

BEST DRINK:

There’s a bar in Trinidad, Cuba that does this pina colada.  It costs $3.  It’s served by a man in a red dinner jacket.  It’s definitely the best thing on the planet.  That moment when a young child first tastes chocolate?  Better.  What about when you first fell in love?  Nope.  Won the lottery?  Married Eva Mendes?  Went to space?  Better than those, even if you added bacon.

BEST MEMORIES:

  • Racing a Cuban train on a horse with a bottle of rum in one hand. One of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
  • A night time sneak to the top of El Mirador to watch the stars sparkle.
  • Staying the night in a church crypt in the Guatemalan mountains after the whole village came to our rescue.
  • Buying Gina.
  • Selling Gina.
  • Our final night in Havana. Rum on the Malecon with dozens of locals and fellow travellers.  A solid Cuban farewell.
  • Climbing Mount Hope after an earthquake. And then joining the locals afterwards for a sing-song in their tiny bar.
  • The Corn Islands. Who wants to buy a house there with me?

WORST MOMENTS:

  • Getting Chikungunya fever for the day and not feeling my hands for 3 hours. Mosquitos are proof there is not a God.
  • Eating the free “food” that came with our beer in Campeche. Pretty sure it was ash-tray rolled in toilet paper.
  • Being told by spiritual guru Court Johnson that my twin soul is none other than Graham bloody Fleming.

THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE FOR LOOKING AFTER US!

Mark and Letty in Sewerd!  Austin in Anchorage!  Ciaran and Katy in Banff!  Craig in Kelowna!  Colin in Corvalles!  The three carpenters in Diamond Lake!  Griffin in San Francisco!  Michael Jones and the Monday Night Restaurant in Carmel!  Steve, Genie and Court Johnson in Santa Barbara (and the magic bus)!  Chris and Paige in Los Bariallos!  Ale and Pollo in Queretaro!  Papo and his crew in Trinidad!  The church minister in Campur!  Erin in LA!  Steve, Chris and Jeff in Melbourne!

EXTRA SPECIAL MENTION TO:

  • Petra and Zabrina for seeing Gina for the fabulous opportunity she was! Especially Zabrina for sticking around about 4 weeks and 2000 miles longer than you intended!
  • Karen for being our translator and minder in our first foray into Mexico. Your enthusiasm for diving got G annoyingly addicted to snorkelling.  I bet he’s at home right now in the bath with his bloody mask on.
  • Ellen for putting up with me for 82 DAYS. I just counted.
  • Catriona for continuing to put up with me. You are amazing.
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Such a Smoothie

The end of the road is nigh!  Alas, my time as a steam-rolling, gravel-shifting, hi-vis workie has come to an abrupt end as the bosses are unceremoniously, buggering off.  They gave us a few day’s notice, which is truly impressive considering they ordered 21 tons of the wrong thing the other day, but it means I have to take another leap into the ever-bustling, never-sleeping Alice Springs job market!  Woooh!

First up though, a re-cap of what has gone before.  The Aboriginal guys who introduced me to Dreamtime and gang signs, all unceremoniously buggered off last week.  They’d had enough of the bosses it seems, although when these same bosses had hired them it made local papers – “Indigenous lads come good” etc.  So all a bit embarrassing in the end really.  In their place, a wee French guy, who popped up in a jeep not too dissimilar to Gina at a campsite we were resurfacing, and asked for “un travail.”  He became a lot better at the steamroller than me sadly, although my seniority meant I was allowed to drive it anyway, despite the wonky lines in the gravel.

There were a couple of recent hiccups.  One involved the tar hose detaching from the lance, which when attached, sprays the tar evenly over areas ready to be gravelled.  However, the detached hose violently sprayed tar very unevenly all over me and a nearby wall belonging to our client.  Tar isn’t easy to remove from your skin (or your client’s wall).  You have two options – Degreaser, which is meant for machinery and the burning of your skin tells you so, or baby oil, which is slightly less effective but far less blindly agonising.  My shelf in the bathroom looks like I’m an infant mechanic.   Another hiccup involved the night-time job we did resurfacing the local Alice Springs KFC car-park (no free zinger burgers unfortunately).  I was asked to ensure the taps on the back of the truck that sprayed tar were all activated.  I missed a couple.  The truck then sprayed the whole car-park with two great chasms of nothing seared down the middle.  To fix this was a hassle.  The bosses, and the bloody cheeky French guy, let me know this repeatedly.

But I am now tar-free, and straight into the illustrious world of juice making!  This new occupation involves forcing various bits of fruit into blenders and whisking them off to tables of alternative types in yoga pants and woven hats.  It’s a bit of a contrast to the tar, but a welcome one to be sure!  For one, there’s a lot less swearing and casual racism, and for two, my back doesn’t ache from shovelling stones for hours on end.  It’s all power smoothies and super foods now!  Another plus is that Catriona works at the same café, which means we get to see a bit more of each other, even if it is her pitying my attempts at carrying two beverages at the same time.  Without the construction work, I lost the pick-up truck they lent me to get about town, so I purchased a bike.  I’d bought and built one for Catriona a couple of weeks back, which was a mighty hassle, so asked K-Mart (the cheapest purveyor of flat-pack bikes in town) if they could assemble it for me.   “Certainly Mr Thurlow, not a problem Mr Thurlow.  Just pay $16.50 and pick it up next week.”  Wonderful.  So off I trotted today to collect my shiny new stallion.  Within ten minutes of riding the thing towards home, both tyres were punctured and believe it or not, THE HANDLE BARS CAME OFF.  They hadn’t so much as assembled it as gathered the bits together in close proximity to one another.  I phoned up their customer service and asked them if they could repair the bike.  “Inner tubes don’t come under the warranty Mr Thurlow.”  “Well, maybe as a courtesy to me as THE HANDLE BARS CAME OFF, you could give me inner tubes free of charge when I pop in, by foot.”  We’ll see.  I’ll be there on Monday with my diplomatic hat on, and a detached hose filled with bubbling hot tar.

We’ve managed to see a bit of the surrounding countryside thankfully – Mount Gillen on my 30th birthday, which was spectacular and Ellery Creek, which is a cliff-flanked spring pool in the middle of the arid ‘Red Centre.’  Properly impressive.  I went for a swim in it and would happily compare its temperature to Loch Ness in winter.  A bunch of locals were egging me on as I waded in beyond the point of no return (the balls) and before I knew it I was under and losing my pulse rapidly.  We are planning our next wee adventure to Uluru, which is the politically correct way to say Ayers Rock.  Like Inuit for Eskimo, or ‘K-Mart bike technicians’ for ‘a shower of incompetent bastards.’  Off for a smoothie!