Fifteen years ago today, I published my first post on my blog. How time flies. Oh, if I could only go back to being that 30 year old, just about to head off on a backpacking trip to Mexico, and do it all over again. But time is a funny thing, a one off deal. We are stuck in the moment, moving forever forward and never backward. Perhaps this is just as well. Had time moved backwards from my birth, the year would be 1927. I’d have lived through World War 2, the Great Depression and I’d currently be looking forward to (or backward to) the General Strike. I guess I would have lived to see the Moon Landing, but I’d have been too young to appreciate it. So it’s probably just as well that time does indeed move forward – I got the better part of the 20th century.
It’s trendy to repeat the name New York. It’s just how it’s said. I can’t think of any other city that needs its name to be said twice. But then, each city has its own little catchphrase. It’s London calling, not Paris, after all. New York is perhaps deserving of its moniker. It truly is twice the city compared to most other metropolis’. I had a week there in 2003 and blew more money in those seven days than I had in two months in Mexico. But it was worth every penny. Or cent.
I saw a show on Broadway – Thoroughly Modern Millie. Which remains the best musical I have seen. I walked from Harlem to Manhattan. Twice. The first time deliberately. The second, due to lack of choice. I watched the most artful robbery ever, along with a little crowd of onlookers that the robber had gathered around. Yes, the robber gathered his victims around him. He did a trick with a dollar bill. Then a five dollar bill. They were good. He asked if anyone had a twenty. They gave him a bill, and he performed another trick, and returned the note. He asked for a hundred, and someone gave him one. And he ran.
I walked around the site of the World Trade Centre. I took the Staten Island ferry to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I did a walking tour with an Anglophile university lecturer – for a third time I strolled half the length of Manhattan. I had a fantastic time. Alas, I brought back so few photos. Memory cards were pricey in those days, with limited space and it was a long holiday. But I’ve found those old snaps on disk, snazzied them up a little and uploaded to Flickr. Snazzied or not, they remain mediocre. At best. Click here to have a look.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed backpacking. It’s a culture, not just an activity. Overnight buses, cramped dorms, sleepless nights, do-it-yourself tours. I’m not a backpacker anymore. Those days are gone. I don’t need luxury. But I do like to have my own room. I can handle a thin mattress. But I don’t much want to clamber up a ladder to the top bunk. There’s an awful lot about backpacking that an intelligent person doesn’t miss. And look, I’m forty years old. My joints creak a little these days. There is one thing that I do miss though. The people you meet.
You bump into all sorts of people on the backpacking trail. They make or break a destination. I had mixed fortunes in Mexico, but only really bummed out twice. Tulum was full of couples, and I was rather the odd one out. And in Guanajuato, I bumped into some Brits bent on a beer binge. We quickly went our separate ways. But mostly the people I met were good bunch.
I met the gang of guys and girls above on a night bus from Tulum to Palenque. It was a horrible 14 hour journey, and I slept not one wink. As a group we managed to find a single room in Palenque at about 6am and went to bed. They two guys woke us an hour later – they’d booked a trip to the Agua Azul. A place I must return too. It’s tough to fully appreciate somewhere on just an hours sleep.
The two girls on the left, from France, were the only ones I kept in touch with by email, albeit for a brief spell, after the Mexican adventure ended. I also traveled on with them to San Cristobal. The large chap in the green shirt, I remember him for a day’s worth of whining. He broke a sandal. Jeez, it was just a sandal. If he should stumble across this post, I’d like to say sorry for my unspoken contempt for his whining. As I found out later, he was right – it is next to freaking impossible to find a size 11 shoe of any sort in Mexico.
The crew above I met at San Blas. Two American guys and two British girls. We spent nearly a week on the beach, boating up rivers and drinking in town. I got on better with the guys. But I met the girls again a week or two later in Creel, in the Copper Canyon. We were in the same dorm. They came back very late one night. The lights were out, everyone was asleep, and a full moon bathed the room in a ghostly light.
They decided to chance it. But I wasn’t asleep. I had one eye craftily open. I saw both full moons that night. If the not unattractive blonde girl should by chance find her way to these parts, then I’d just like to say…nice bum.
The final photo. I remember the guy sitting down was a decent guitarist. He struck up a few riffs, or whatever you call guitar songs, in the town centre one evening. The guy standing up was French. And stone deaf. Travelling by himself. That’s courage for you. Some swine stole his Lonely Planet travel guide, and he had only just started his trip. In the interests of mending a thousand years of broken Anglo French relations, I gave him mine.
I was, after all, virtually at the end of my trip. A bus to Chihuahua beckoned, and then a final bus across the border at Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. I just photocopied the few pages I needed. But my Lonely Planet guide was precious to me. It had taken me across the country. A very loyal companion, so it was. And I had a ton of notes in it. I gave him my address, and he promised to post it back to me.
If my deaf French buddy should happen to read this entry, then I’d just like to say you are a thieving little frog bastard. Give me my bloody book back. Quite frankly, I don’t care if ten years have passed, I still want it. Our ancestors managed to keep grudges going over centuries. A decade is nothing, ya hear me?! No, you probably don’t.. 🙂
Tomorrow is a big day for ‘the Mexile’. But more about that, well…tomorrow. Today, I want to take you back nearly ten years ago. My backpacking tour of Mexico. My photos have been on Flickr for years. Or so I thought. I do look back through my shots from time to time. But there’s more than 11,000 of them, so I’m not likely to notice anything amiss.
Except, when looking back at the photos from 2003, I did notice that there was something not quite right. I was sure I’d taken more photos. Yet there were only a couple of dozen in a few assorted albums. And not one from Mexico City. The images were all really small, only 500 pixels wide.I had a brainwave. In the old days, didn’t I burn my photos to disk? I hunted around for my CD wallets and leafed through them. Sure enough, there was a CD with Mexico/New York scribbled on it in felt pen.
Just over a hundred and thirty photos, all full sized and with the Exif info on them, proudly declaring that these snaps were the produce of a Nikon Coolpix 880. Finally, after ten years, I have the photos of that trip, all the photos, uploaded on to Flickr. In two sets. The first is here, and has just basic post processing applied. Cropping, straightening, a little extra contrast etc.
The second set is here. I let rip with my Lightroom presets. There’s no getting away from it. Camera technology has moved on a lot in the last ten years. But for a decade old compact, I think the image quality that Nikon produced has stood the test of time ok. When viewed on a monitor anyway. I was very, very proud of that Nikon. It was, at the time, cutting edge tech.
If you take the time to have a look through either set, I hope you enjoy the short photographic tour of Mexico. Mexico City, Veracruz, Tulum, San Cristobal, Palenque, San Blas, Guanajuato and the Copper Canyon – all fantastic destinations. How lucky was I to have the time and funding to go see them all over a couple of fantastic months?
In June 2003, I boarded a flight in London on my way to Mexico. I knew nothing about Mexico. Nothing. But I had a plan. Bored of life in the UK I set off to seek my fortune in Guadalajara as an English teacher. I’d booked a four week TEFL course of some sort in Mexico’s second city, due to start mid-July. That left a couple of weeks for some sightseeing. The flight was pretty horrific. First stop was Miami, which we circled for an hour due to an electrical storm. Second stop was Merida. The plane on to our destination, Mexico City, was virtually empty. Yet a swarthy chap who was the spitting image of Pablo Escobar decided to sit next to me. Across the aisle a fragile old man looked close to tears and kept crossing himself. We arrived safely at midnight.
Mexico City had (has?) a terrible reputation for crime. I poked my nose outside the airport doors. I had a cigarette. I looked at the taxis. And then I paid the most I have ever paid for a hotel room – the Marriot at the airport. I hadn’t booked a hostel – I didn’t do planning in those days – and I didn’t fancy looking for one at gone midnight. I checked out next morning, dared to grab a taxi and set off for the Zocalo, where according to my Lonely Planet Guide, a decent place called Hostel Cathedral could be found.
Before checking out, I booked my onward flight to Merida. I gave myself four days in Distrito Federal, and considered myself brave/foolhardly for doing so. Four fantastic days later I had already made my mind up – I would return. A week wouldn’t have been enough. Heck, with the hindsight that I’m blessed with, six years wasn’t enough! But on to Merida I went. Then Playa del Carmen, and on to Tulum – it was here that I did the TEFL place the courtesy of letting them know I wouldn’t be attending their course. I was having way too much fun in this fantastic country. Next stop was Palenque. San Cristobal de las Casas. Villahermosa – worth missing in my opinion. Veracruz.
I kept my promise, and then returned to the capital city, and this time spent a full week there. Even then, even with a coach ticket out of there booked and paid for, I kinda knew I’d found home, and I’d be back. Next stop was Guanajuato, followed by an extended stay at San Blas. I met up with chilled out backpackers at the Stoners Cafe and Hostel, and somehow everything just…you know. None of us left on time. I nearly got eaten by a croc. But made it to Mazatlan for an afternoon.
Los Mochis – my most miserable stop on the trip. But it was the starting point of the Copper Canyon rail trip, which was one of the most memorable. And exhausting. Chihuahua was next, followed by Ciudad Juarez, where I crossed into El Paso, USA. My Mexican trip was over. My Mexican love affair had barely begun. One day soon, I hope it will be resumed. In those days I packed a Nikon Coolpix 880. A cutting edge digital compact with 3.3 megapixels.
Memory cards were prohibitively expensive. So I didn’t have an awful lot of room for photos, especially the sort of quantity you expect from a three month trip. As a result I came back with a scandalous shortage of snaps. Some of them are below in the gallery. I do feel, however, that I have somewhat made up for the shortage of photos from that trip since then…:)