Central America & Mexico

30th May 2011
Yeah I know. Still going. No one is more surprised than me.

I am in Tijuana, sitting on the balcony of a sketchy downtown cafe. The area is buzzing with the kind of seedy energy that draws gringos to this maze of rat-shit bars, donkey show theatres and neon tunnels. A combination of cheap tequila, easy sex and the threat of violence. There is a beggar in the street below with a beard and one leg who looks like he sailed with Ahab. Ten hookers of revolting appearance are parading up the street and chickens are picking around for insects. At the end of the street, a police car is trundling along, maintaining an appropriate speed of measured authority.

Central America has been fun. Notable travelling companions on this leg of the trip have been Niels and Marie in Ecuador, and Kristian (left) across most of Central America:

Who's the other one with the intriguing sexuality? We'll get to that in a moment. Kristian and I travelled together for about a month, misbehaving and pushing the boundaries of discourse. He's into all the same crap music I like. Most recently, I have been travelling with three Swedish dancers. Yeah, you heard me homeboy. Three of them.

Some people seem to think that the lack of recent updates means I now have a job. Me, working? Heaven forfend. It's nice to know you've missed me ranting about petty nonsensical irritants.

I just had my first bath in a year and a half, while listening to some ambient industrial music. Que tranquillo... On the negative side I have run out of pages in my passport, so I am temporarily without an identity, like Ralph Fiennes in that movie. The Mexicans decided not to make an issue of it at the border, probably because I am as obviously British as a scale model of Buckingham palace made entirely out of PG Wodehouse books stuck together with gentleman's relish.

Let's kick off where I left things last time, on the Ecuadorian border. I zipped round Ecuador in three weeks but managed to take in most of the important stuff. I climbed a couple of volcanoes, swam at some pretty average beaches and tried not to offend the indigenous communities. Quito is very nice for a South America capital, gentrified by rows of deciduous trees and full of nice plazas.

  • Guayaquil Customs: Shipping the car across the Darien Gap was exactly the bureaucratic nightmare I had feared:

    The door of the customs office opens at eight o’clock and the petitioners sprint upstairs to grab a ticket and squeeze into the tiny, oppressively hot waiting room. You then spend several hours sweating like a pig in a sauna with your face was pressed into the armpit of an obese lorry driver in a string vest.

    It is most disagreeable.

    At ten o'clock, the officials appear and start making coffee in their vast air conditioned office, while we blink at them from the other side of the glass, jammed in like battery hens. Eventually a hatch opens (tiny, to prevent cold air escaping) and they start processing the applications. The numbers on the board change so slowly that you feel like you're in some sort of Einsteinian time dilation.

    When I finally make it to the desk, six hours later, I find a sour-faced oaf with the build of a Chicken McNugget with tits. He looks through my paperwork, mouth set on sneer alert for any signs of a mistake, finds none, then grunts a few hostile inexactitudes about "further requirements".

    I appear calm, but inside the engine is smoking. I ask him what precisely these requirements are. He just shakes his head and gestures to the next guy to come forward. I mentally trace the trajectory of a crossbow bolt through his head but say "thank-you". Public officials, having no self-respect, demand a show of public respect. If they don't get it, they will proceed to make your life a living hell. You'll get your reward in heaven, my friend.

    Fortunately I have done this a hundred times before. I wait around the building until the guy I am looking for emerges for a cigarette - a pallid, disaffected-looking youth in his late twenties with oily hair and thin, inexpressive lips. This benighted wretch is a customs coordinator - the lowest, most trivial drone in the system, who spends his days sweating over a photocopier in 50 degree heat while making just enough money to cover medical treatment for his paper cuts. Although he has no actual authority, he is the guy that stamps all of the paperwork. Two hours, a hundred dollars and a pack of Marlboro Lights later and the soul-wearying debacle is complete.

  • Mini-guide: The one that most people think is a hat. Panama was part of Colombia until 1903 and the Panamanians finally got the middle of their country back from the Americans in 1999. For most of 80s, the country was run by General Noriega, a leader with the brains of a bag of popcorn, the human kindness of a rattlesnake and the humility of Caligula. The country has recovered from this decade of murderous buffoonery and is now one of the few going concerns in the region, a result of the canal and a small industrious population.

    Friendliness rating: 8/10

  • Stuff I did: While waiting for the car to arrive, I spent a week surfing near the small village of Santa Catalina. I found a wonderful hostel called Surf Point, run by a French chef. I can't tell you what a luxury it was to eat French food. My days were spent surfing, swinging in a hammock and spearfishing for dinner. I would gladly have stayed longer. The hostel had a particularly fun crowd, mainly French surfers:

    The car finally arrived in one piece and after blowing away the accumulated dust and insect-corpses, I was on my way.

    Costa Rica
  • Mini-guide: The only country in the region not to have had a proper civil war. In recent years, Costa Rica has cultivated close ties with the US, igniting a real estate frenzy and a massive build-out of SUV dealerships. All local flavour has leaked out of the country and it’s now basically a kind of nature theme park for American retirees. The country is run by President Laura Chinchilla, who posters proclaim "wields the stick of righteousness". This is nonsense. Everybody knows that righteousness does not come in the form of a stick but rather as a cream or spray.

    Friendliness rating: 5/10

  • Stuff I did: The country has a ton of famous national parks, which is one of the reasons it attracts so many visitors. Corcovado National Park was my favourite - far bigger, wilder and less visited than the others. Although I am not a huge fan of rainforests, there are few places that are more swarmingly alive. Corcovado feels ancient in an organic, sentient way, with vast strangler figs knotted around each other. The minute you wander off the path even a few feet, you become acutely aware of how soft and vulnerable you are in this suffocating ecosystem.

    Along with every backpacker in the country, I did the ziplining in Monteverde and some pretty tame trekking in the surrounding cloudforest.

    Don't ask.

    We spotted the much sought-after respledent quetzal by sneakily following another couple who had hired a birdwatching guide. Not much else to report, although I did enjoy a crocodile safari in the south. The three largest had been named "Mike Tyson", "Fidel Castro" and "Osama bin Laden".

    Climate Change
    The "ecotourism" buzzword is ubiquitous in Costa Rica and boils down to unsubstantiated marketing claims. The country is chock full of well-meaning types saving the place. I just can't help winding them up. The fact that people become so agitated when you question the assumed fact of environmental disaster makes me doubt their motives. If you suggest that everything might be OK after all, they go mental. "This is absolutely outrageous. It flies smack in the face of our unified group-think!". They really get off on the outrage, leaping to their feet with their hands in the air as though raving in a field in Wales.

    They trot out loaded and threadbare arguments that seem to boil down to cows farting and whatever those evil Arabs are putting in their oil to make it bugger up the atmosphere. Now, I’m not an actual scientist in the sense of fiddling with bunsen burners and knowing anything at all about science, but my opinions, through diligent bullshitting at dinner parties, are as tight and defined as Randy Couture's abs.

    People love to believe in Armageddon. It makes their lives seem more exciting. Plus it's fashionable and everyone wants to be in the popular group. It appeals to people's ego-driven need to make a difference, whence comes the warm feeling they get when they buy organic parsnips.

    I'm not saying that I have any sympathy for resource companies that rape the landscape. Their denial of climate change is so transparently self-serving that a child could see through it. I am also opposed to the destruction of the world's wild places and mass extinctions on aesthetic grounds.

    But saving the planet? The planet doesn't care if it's 30 degrees in the shade or 100. It didn't give a crap when the dinosaurs disappeared and it won't if we go the same way. The planet will be here long after the geological eyeblink that it will take for us to die out or leave. And the climate is constantly changing. Ecological niches appear and others disappear. Those species that are able to adapt will survive and those that can't will be replaced. The point is that humans can't destroy the planet, although we can destroy its capacity to keep us alive.

    Botom line, all green issues come down to one problem: too many human beings. There is good evidence that the population in 50 years will be lower than it is now, and even if the population continues to increase, so does the risk that the self-regulating nature of such systems asserts itself and we are aggressively culled by means of war or disease.

  • Mini-guide: The one with the cowboys. Run for decades by authoritarian commies in khaki fatigues, Nicaragua is a country rich in horses, dust and bean-breathed peasants. There are crushing shortages of practically everything else and the country's wide ranging problems are far beyond the ability of whoever is being referred to as “the government” at that particular moment. These worker’s paradise things just never seem to go well.

  • Stuff I did: There aren't a whole lot of attractions in the country. We spent a couple of days on Lago Ometepe, lazing around and pretending to be interested in the local petroglyphs. We visited the colonial cities of Leon and Granada. Granada is nice enough but a tad over-restored. I preferred Leon, which is smaller and has a more local vibe. We went drinking there with some fun Danish girls that I had picked up in Granada, and spent the entire evening fending off aggressive local guys who would move in whenever one of us was at the bar (check out the guy top tight). Kristian pulled and was insufferable for days.

    There are also some nice islands on the Caribbean side but that's about it. The Nicaraguans have the worst cuisine in the world but somehow, this is a country whose sum is considerably greater than its parts. The people are exceptionally nice.

  • Mini-guide: The one with the world's highest murder rate. A sterling effort in what was a very competitive field this year. Honduras came in first despite all the help that the Iraqis and Afghans have been getting from the US. Governed by a revolving door of bumpkin dictators, the country is a total flea pit, with a capital that is probably the most culturally irrelevant city in Central America, if not the world. Their cuisine is impressive for its fat content, though not for its quality.

    Friendliness: 1/10

  • Stuff I did: We spent less than 24 hours in Honduras. It was enough. The contrast between the Nicaraguan side and the Honduran of the border was incredible. In Nicaragua there was an old money changer dozing in the shade with a few fat flies buzzing in lazy circles around his head. In Honduras we were immediately assaulted by a mob of shirtless drunks. Kristian had me lock him in the car while I did the paperwork.

    We zipped through about a hundred police checkpoints and managed to avoid attracting attention by having Kristian pretend to drive with a stick on the passenger side. My main memory is of seeing the mother of all tarantulas on the road. It was about the size of a baby elephant, with bazookas attached to its feet.

    El Salvador
    Mini-guide: The one with the civil war. A squat little taco of volcanoes, war criminals and toxic waste, El Salvador spent more than a decade locked in a vicious class conflict driven by generations of colonial grudges and deprivation. As usual, the side of the angels is not entirely clear. The Americans were heavily involved, regarding the country as a vital linch-pin of something or other. Tiny and massively overpopulated, El Salvador attracts no visitors whatsoever except die-hard surfers.

    Friendliness rating: 9/10

  • Stuff I did: I expected to find a criminal wasteland, lorded over by the local oligarchy, the so-called fourteen families. Actually the place was pretty clean and the locals were incredibly nice. We met some friends of friends who took us out clubbing, and then to their house on an island in the beautiful crater lake of Coatepeque. After a few days in San Salvador, we found an amazing hostel on the coast where we spent several days as the only guests doing a bit of surfing and virtually nothing else.

    I am developing a bit of an issue with surfing as a sport. When you get up on a wave, the weightlessness and feeling of speed is incomparable. The problem is that there are too many surfers in the world and too few good waves. The take-off zone is typically just a couple of metres wide, and is crowded with surfers competing for every wave. This makes for a pushy and aggressive atmosphere in the water, which I strongly dislike. It compares very unfavourably to the vibe on the sky slopes or on the mat in jiu-jitsu.

  • Mini-guide: The one with the drugs. Guatemala sits like a clootie dumpling at the western end of the region. Guatemalans are plain and hefty, have little sense of humour and consume awful stodgy food in large quantities. For most of the 70s and 80s the country was run by a military regime that waged a particularly ugly extermination campaign against the indigenous population. You get the picture. The Americans taught them important democratic skills like kicking witnesses down stairs and pistol whipping student demonstrators.

  • Stuff I did: Guate is by far the most popular destination for backpackers in central America, mainly due to three destinations: Antigua, Tikal and Lake Atitlan.

    In Antigua we initially stayed in the Jungle Party hostel, before realising that we weren't quite "party" enough. The city has considerable dilapidated charm, with a bunch of crumbling churches, abandoned buildings and boarded-up ruins.

    Atitlan, marketed as the world's most beautiful lake, was nowhere near as nice as expected, partly because it pissed down with rain every day and partly because of a smelly algal bloom problem that precluded swimming in the lake. We had a fun weekend, however, spending the first day drinking in a hot tub with two American girls and the second attending a fancy dress party at our hostel. Read and learn at the feet of a master:

    A day in the life - The Rapture Party

    The theme for the party turns out to be "Rapture", due to the fact that some cretin in America has predicted the end of the world for that day. The Lost Iguana has a full range of ludicrous outfits for the guests to choose from, mainly womenswear from the seventies. We spend a solid hour trying on various nonsense. Kristian still has his ridiculous moustache from the barber shop disaster in Nicaragua. I have been hacking purposefully at the roots of his self-esteem to get him to shave it, without success. Here, this monstrosity could actually be an asset. He already looks as camp as a row of tents, so the outfit was a breeze:

    As God is my witness, there was nothing else that would fit me. Sadly, I have an unusually large head so the wigs were a bust.

    We start drinking early at the bar, with him acting as the immovable object to my irresistible force. Man, I seriously cannot take my alcohol any more. Doubtless my tolerance will be back up to speed within a month of getting back to London, at which point I will drink everyone under the table as further proof that I am Jesus. I had been planning on stalking a German girl who had flirted with me earlier in the day. I start chatting to her, but she seems nervous and starts rubbing her legs like a cricket. Turns out her husband is standing behind me.

    No plan survives the battlefield, they say. I introduce myself to two French girls. One, Celine, has amazing eggshell-blue eyes. She is twenty two, which is a little young for me but whatever. I go to wash my hands and on my return an American admirer has started maneuvering her ineptly around the dance floor. Cometh the hour, cometh the transvestite. I unleash the swinging robot arm and other classic moves, trailing clouds of glory in my wake:

    Within a few minutes the American is toast. I take her to the bar, leaving him standing on the empty dancefloor like a mental patient in an abandoned asylum. More drinking follows. The dance floor starts to warm up considerably:

    At this point, I have Celine corralled into a corner and am talking a raft of miscellaneous appalling bollocks. I have just starting to explain that the eskimo kiss is an integral part of Austrian culture, when she suddenly looks over my shoulder. "Oh god!". Her knuckles go to her mouth. It's her blasted father, who I saw earlier. In D&D terms, this is a daunting opponent - wagging finger +6, hard stare +3, immunity to persuasion and special skill "guilt trip". He comes over and greets me with a look of the "I know your game" variety. He mentions some tosh about getting up early in the morning and she sighs and follows him off to bed. Furious anger for approximately 30 seconds, but it passes and I bobble off. Then, another vodka redbull. And I live again.

    I go over to see how Kristian has been doing and find that he has been ambushed by the mother of another girl. You cannot make this shit up. It's like there is some kind of parental conspiracy going on. He is despondent. Dolor hic tibi proderit olim, my son. By this point I am pretty soused. Nonsense ensues. Someone draws a Hitler moustache and eyebrows on me. Most of the photos seem to have come out blurred, possibly because my hands were shaking with rage and jealousy.

    After lake Atitlan we went to the famous indigenous market at Chichicastenango, where locals sell produce and traditional healers offer their services. Like all indigenous medicine, this basically involves wailing a prayer to the gods of the earth and then expelling the bad spirits by sacrificing a chicken.

    Next we drove up through the mountains to the beautiful limestone pools at Semuc Champey. The drive was the usual third world stock car race, with hairpin bends, washed out sections of road and locals overtaking like suicidal maniacs.

  • Miniguide: The Carribbean one. An agreeable anomaly in the region, Belize is basically just a mainland extension of Aruba. Belizeans are a bewildering mix of Creoles, Maya, Garifuna, Mennonites and foreign expats. Mennonites are similar to the Amish but in some minor respects different. I could have taken the time to research these differences, but really, who gives a toss? The god-awful advertising slogan "You'd better Belize it!" is everywhere.

  • The country is the size of a postage stamp but has a surprising amount to see - ruins, jungle, caves, waterfalls etc. The usual deal. The beaches on the mainland are garbage as the barrier reef prevents the buildup of sand. Most tourists head straight out to the cayes where there is good diving and nightlife. Caye Caulker is the cheap one where the backpackers hang out. I had an excellent time there. There are no cars on the island. Everyone gets around by walking or using massively over-priced rental golf carts. The highlight was an incredible snorkelling trip to Choi An Marine Reserve. We saw manatees, eagle rays, green turtles, sharks, you name it. Awesome:

    The south of Belize is great. I especially liked Placencia. It feels like an accidental destination – just a bunch of rickety wooden houses on stilts, beached fishing boats and lazy gliding pelicans. This is a place where every single person says hello to you. From here I did some sailing and visited a few of the remote atolls:

    In any central American country there are three boxes that must be ticked - beaches, colonial cities and pre-Columbian ruins. A beach is a beach and I would rather dig out my eyes with an apple corer than see another colonial church, so I'll focus on the ruins.

    All of the sites worth seeing are in Yucatan, Chiapas or northern Guatemala. There are plenty of others in Central America, but trust me, don't bother. There are some off-the-track sites in Yucatan that are worthwhile, especially Uxmal and Sayil. You will probably be the only visitor and can scramble around the place as you like. It’s fun imagining high priests whispering incantations to hideous fanged images and loitering around in temples made of the impacted remains of conquered people's skulls.

  • Chichen Itza: Meh. The site has the usual ziggurats and a very impressive ball court, but the location in the middle of a flat dusty plain is uninspiring and you can’t climb any of the structures.

  • Palenque: Great. Beautifully restored in a forest setting. You can hear the roar of howler monkeys as you go round it.

  • Tikal: My favourite. You get more of a feeling of discovery here than at the other major sites. It's bang in the middle of primary rainforest and we saw more wildlife wandering around the ruins than I have on most of the jungle tours I have been on.

  • Teohtihuacan: The main pyramids are impressively vast, but not as atmospheric as those in the jungle.

    Mexico is a busy, fascinating place full of perfect beaches, toblerone temples and jostling, honking cities. There are plenty of "issues" of course – notably a drug war, endemic corruption and so on. What ails them is "fatal but not serious" as they say. Plus, what's the big hoo-ha about corruption? This is Mexico for God's sake.

    Mexicans are a boisterous lot. You couldn't really call them hardworking. The capitalist work ethic is rooted shallowly in the infertile soil of their Latin temperament. The girls are pretty, but young people here have a terrible habit of texting constantly. They go out to dinner in a group and then sit in silence for two hours as they text other friends.

    Highlights: The Yucatan peninsula is the tourist epicenter and has many of the best temples and beaches. When I arrived in Merida it was 48 degrees and the humidity was unbearable. The air was like porridge. I thoroughly enjoyed driving around the peninsula visiting ruined haciendas. These gracefully decaying buildings are dotted around the countryside. I spent hours taking pictures of them, all of which turned out to be dross. When you get too hot there are an endless number of beautiful cenote sinkholes to swim in:

    The beach at Tulum is incredible. There were virtually no tourists at this time of year. The American dry socks types tend to do their “descend and conquer” thing at Christmas and the college kids come to get drunk at spring break. I did some spectacular diving in the cenote cave systems around Tulum. Possibly the best diving I have done:

    Guanajuato: I knew that it was lovely even before I walked around it because it says so on a sign on the way into town. Tiny cobbled streets so small that even when you press against the wall you still get hit by wing mirrors, tiny tattoo parlors, bakeries the size of a cupboard and little bars tucked into holes in the wall. It has a very European feel. Of course, the place is a total tourist trap, but it's a nice one.

    Mexico City: Mexico City was considerably cleaner and less intimidating than I expected from watching "Man on Fire". Tidy rows of palm trees line the avenues and the undercurrents of greed, aggression and self-preservation are further below the surface than I had thought. I just followed my rule for foreign capitals - if you have no idea what you're doing, walk fast and look angry.

    The Mexican Drug War
    In the five years since things really kicked off, the death toll has passed 40,000. The Mexican army patrols in tanks and the murder rate is higher than in Basra. Piles of burned bodies are regularly discovered in the countryside, often with the heads and fingers removed to prevent identification. "Haircut and a manicure" it's called. Most of the victims are cartel soldiers but plenty of civilians are killed in the crossfire. You can’t be too precise when you're seventeen, high on crack and firing an Uzi into a bus station.

    This war will never be fought to a meaningful conclusion. Narco officers risk their lives taking down major drug dealers in hugely expensive operations, fully aware that they are disrupting supply for no more than a couple of days before the resulting gang war allows a younger, more ruthless outfit to take over. In July, the army killed Chapo Guzman's "coronel" in Guadalajara. Now that he is dead, the violence has skyrocketed as other cartels try to fill the power vacuum.

    All this comes down to a single issue - the futile American "war on drugs". This war is responsible for a multitude of evils. Leaving aside issues of personal liberty, there is the destructive effect on black communities in the US and the suffering inflicted on local people in Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. By supporting the price of street drugs, the war has dramatically increased drug use by turning it into a hugely profitable business. Drug dealers are thriving on the free advertising which inevitably accrues from government scaremongering. Luckily they have a marvelous deterrent in the form of the prison system, with a negligible 65% of prisoners reconvicted within two years of being released. Saddest of all is the fact that the war continues to be waged largely as a means of maintaining the vast criminal justice edifice that it created.

    The simplistic and unscrutinised central premise, "drugs will destroy our children", has elected hordes of politicians, all selling the lie that harsher crackdowns and stricter sentences will make the problem disappear. The solution is simple: accept that this is a war you cannot win, legalise drugs and regulate the drug market. No matter what, a certain proportion of the population will become addicted to drugs - be it alcohol, heroin or sleeping pills. I doubt this percentage will change significantly if drugs become legal.

    Ending the war would eliminate both the black-market and the criminality that results from it. Since Alaska legalized small amounts of marijuana, Alaskans grow it themselves, without the shoot-outs, street gangs and corrupt politicians. During prohibition, the state was equally unable to get rid of the illegal liquor industry for exactly the same reasons. What stopped the huge criminal organisations run by Capone and others was the end of prohibition.

    A fraction of the gargantuan amount of money currently being wasted on the obvious futility of enforcing drug laws would go to regulation, education programmes, proper treatment for addicts, control of product quality to eliminate deaths from overdoses or contaminated drugs, and access to clean needles to prevent the spread of AIDS among users.

    No doubt I'll cop some flack for this, but I don't care. If the cap fits, wear it. As the Croatian saying goes - tell the truth and run.

    Quote from something I'm reading
    Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
    "Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
    "I don't know," Alice answered.
    "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

    For some reason I am rereading this for the third time.

    Best Moments
  • Going to a local title fight in Valladolid:

  • Spearfishing in Panama:

  • Diving the cenotes:

  • Sailing in Belize:

  • Finding the perfect deserted surfing beach in Pavones, Costa Rica:

    Worst Moments
  • Having virtually all of my clothes stolen in a dorm in Ecuador. Who did this? Answer me!

  • Having to get out within five minutes of entering the water after getting hit in the balls by my own surfboard in El Sunzal.

  • Having the car broken into in El Salvador. They drilled the lock and prised the dashboard off while trying to hotwire it. Same shit, different day:

  • The royal wedding. Sorry, why am I supposed to care about this again?

  • Travelling by bus near San Cristobal while the car was getting fixed. Christ, it was like Asia all over again, with the driver hurling the bus around mountain bends at a hundred miles an hour as if he had ten minutes to live. "At least", I figured "If we crash I'll be dead instantly". I have had more consoling thoughts but this one was not to be despised.

    Best/Worst Food
    To be perfectly honest, there isn't much to say about the food in Central America. Gallo-pinto (beans & rice) is the staple and man does it get boring after a while. Nicaragua and Honduras really have nothing but gallo-pinto, tamales (a kind of cornmeal sausage), and the cardboard crap that passes for pizza. Mexico is a definite step up, although you will occasionally eat a stuffed chili taco that makes your colon commit suicide. Other notable items:

  • Barbecued guinea pigs in Ecuador. I had this quite a bit. Strange things are never strange for long:

  • Pulque, a vile concoction made out of cactus juice. It is approximately 5% alcohol and 95% other things.

  • Barbacoa. This is my favourite thing in Mexico. Lamb, slow cooked in an oven for several hours and served with an oily consomme. I could hear the creaking sound of my arteries hardening but whatever.

  • Belize has Caribbean cooking that is hardly amazing, but makes a nice change. Belikin is the only beer you can get in Belize, which means you can just say "beer" when you order. Nice touch. They also have the world's best hot sauce - Marie Sharp's. I bought about six gallons of the stuff when I visited the factory.

    Mexico is moderately expensive, so I am back in the world of dorms, filthy showers with bars of soap that smell like urinal cakes and porous walls leaking twanging guitar sounds.

    The car is in pretty good shape. I have done some long hours behind the wheel recently. To pass the time, I sometimes imagine that I am the supreme ruler of the planet and need to resolve all of the world’s ills. Issues I have tackled include Iraq, domestic violence and rude drivers.

    After several years of faithful service, my laptop is dead. Or rather, it beeps and whirs a bit, giving it the ghastly semblance of life. This is part of the reason for the late entry. I had written an earlier post on Ecuador, but it went the way of all good things.

    I went for a walk a couple of hours ago and had forgotten that Mexico was playing a world cup qualifier. It was like Day Of The Triffids. Weird. Tijuana is normally overrun with an army of touts, cops, urchins, shoe-shiners and guys trying to steal your luggage.

    It’s now sundown. The mountains are turning crimson and the sun is bursting apart like a ripe melon over the pacific. The ancient gods of chaos are telling me that I should start some serious drinking. I have discovered Guava Mescal - you may never hear from me again.

    The reason I am wasting time in Tijuana is because I had hoped to be meeting someone that I travelled with in Argentina. It now looks like that won’t be happening. What's this? This thing here, that I can just see when I look down? Oh look, it's a knife in my heart.

    It will soon be time to head into the States. I have a few days to work on my gang signs before I reach LA. See you on the other side.