We arrived in Veracruz, Mexico at around 1pm local time. Yippee! Unfortunately for my itchy, goddamn-month-behind-schedule feet, the shipping agent says I’ve got to wait on board until 4pm before I can go to immigration and hit that goddamn road. Grr!!
Because I’ve landed a good 1000 miles north of where I was supposed to be landing, I’ve got to get a bus down to Panama via Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and then back up again.
Because I didn’t get a chance to go to Fed-Ex in Jamaica, I don’t have a guidebook, or a map – well, I’ve scrawled a quick map on the back of a scrap of paper in my back pocket. It’ll do. Let’s hope something is heading south this evening…
So at 4pm, it was time to say adios to my comrades on board the good ship ‘The Linge Trader’. They were a good lot, maybe not as much fun as the crew of the MV Miriam, but they were a little under-staffed so they didn’t have as much downtime to spend entertaining a rather waylaid traveller from Liverpool.
I left the ship with Raymundo, the wonderful shipping agent who sorted me out with my passport stamps and who took me to the bus station. Veracruz , MEXICO!! Yay!! I’m so excited…I could pop! I’m actually on Terra Firma and today, I begin the long trip down to Panama . I can’t wait.
The bus for the border left at 6pm. Perfect timing. Well, here we go again…The bus was fast and VERY well air-conditioned and they had little mini-jack sockets so you could plug in your headphones and listen to the bus company’s surprisingly good playlist, which was just BRILLIANT! Loads of Spanish-language versions of all the old classics as well as just the most bizarre tracks thrown in for good measure (the jive-funk version of the theme from Star Wars was the best bit). Ahhh, long distance coaches, how I’ve missed you. Although, got to say – bit cold – AC whacked on full all night… brr…
I pulled back the curtain and enjoyed the starry night sky without it moving to and fro…to and fro… to and fro…
Here’s the video of me getting here from the Dominican Republic:
The Longest Day Part I. So, we got to Tapachula near the Guatemalan border early in the morning to find another bus to Guatemala City waiting to take me away, ha ha. So goodbye Mexico, I’ll see you again next week. The journey into Guate City was fairly uneventful, as was the quick change for San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. I got in about 7pm.
After an amazingly scary oh-dear-it’s-dark-I-got-no-map-where-the-hell-is-an-ATM-when-you-need-one walk around the city, I found a bus that was leaving at 3am going all the way through Honduras, Nicaragua and ending up in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It would get me in at 10pm the same day. All good. I threw my bag in the bus station office and headed out to the pub.
It was in the Irish bar (there’s always an Irish bar) that I met Jorge and Rene, a couple of locals who took me under their wing. Beer was downed, jokes told and stories exchanged and before I knew it, I was being whisked off to a Sushi Restaurant (what’s with all the Sushi on this adventure? It’s becoming a recurring theme). There I met Memo, one of Jorge’s mates…and we decided that since it was getting late (almost midnight), it would be best to head to the beach.
We got there in Memo’s car, screaming and raucous – and it was perfect. Everything the beaches in the Caribbean should be (but aren’t) – free to everyone, wooden huts and hammocks (not concrete and walls) music, people dancing, a bar still serving…
At midnight, I placed my hands in the Pacific Ocean. I’m now thirty. Hear that Pacific? I’M THIRTY!!!! The Pacific was overwhelmingly indifferent. I returned to my beer, whom I know loves me. Memo, Jorge and I drank in the cool night air. We could have been in Thailand. I really couldn’t think of a better way to see in the big three-o.
I had a bus to catch, and – damn! – it was leaving very soon. Memo drove like a maniac. But he drove like a maniac to the wrong bus station. San Salvador has no central bus station, every bus company has it’s own garage. Some, annoyingly, have two.
As the seconds ticked away, we drove around and around the city like Jack Bauer with the squits. Hang on – I recognise that poster! The bus station is over… but then…
The police pulled us over.
Memo was outraged. He had to get this Ginger Gringo to his bus. Why are the police pulling him over? I thought he might have been speeding. Not so. After searching us and the car for drugs or bombs or whatever, they continued talking to Memo, who was getting increasingly infuriated with their intransigence – my bus left in less than five minutes and I was yet to buy a ticket.
If I hadn’t been drunk, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but hell, it’s Central America and I’m thirty. Let’s do something I’ve never done before in my life.
Let’s bribe a policeman.
So I did. Will this make you go away? I ask, hoping he doesn’t speak a word of English as I passed over a 20-dollar bill.
An awkward moment. Was I to spend the rest of my birthday in a prison cell in El Salvador for attempting to bribe a policeman? No. Don’t worry – it’s El Salvador. The policeman stuffed the twenty in his pocket and before he could say adios, Memo was tearing down the highway towards the bus station…
Only to get there five minutes late. The bus had gone. But all was not lost. Memo spoke to the people in the bus station and they said there was another company’s bus that does the same route down to Costa Rica, and it leaves at 4am.
Only – my bag was in the station office, and the only guy with a key had gone to bed in the hotel upstairs. Tonight was turning into a 1980s text adventure. North, north, up. A troll blocks your way. Pay troll $20. Troll shuffles off. Knock on door. Awaken keymaster. Keymaster unhappy. Get key. Down, south, south. You can see the office door. Use key with door. East. Get bag. Drop key. West.
So eventually Memo and I made it to the King Quality bus station at 4am, just in time for the bus. After thanking Memo profusely for such an excellent birthday adventure, I plonked myself down on the back seat of the bus next to a cute Argentinean girl called Sophia. Within 5 seconds, I was fast asleep.
By this stage of my Herculean bus ride, it had been a week since I’d had a hot shower. To say I was beginning to smell a little ripe, would be an understatement! The bus got me to the Mexican border before Mexico had decided to open for the day, so I found myself waiting for a) Mexico to open, and b) the bus to the capital to show up. I had been told that the bus arrived at 10am. But you should know by now not to trust anything anyone says, ever. It came at 1pm.
I was so excited to be back in Mexico – Mexican FOOD!! Woo! Enchiladas, Nachos, Burritos, Fajitas OH YEAH…
I just wanted to stuff my big greedy face, but a nasty side effect of the malaria tablets I’ve been taking (incorrectly – they aren’t joking when they say plenty of water) is that when I eat or drink anything I get a sharp pain in my chest – like when you eat too many cold McCain’s Oven Chips too fast. So I did a great Homer-eating-Pinchy impression over dinner – dinner that we didn’t stop for until midnight.
It was an overnight bus, and it was pretty grotty. I didn’t get to make any new friends, so I just turned on my ipod, looked out of the window at the ever-changing landscape and zoned out.
All I got to see of Mexico City was the outskirts and the bus station, but I hear it’s not much too look at anyway. Driving close to Tikal in Guatemala without getting to see it, was much more upsetting for me. We arrived at about 7am. A well-timed bus left the capital for Nuevo Laredo (on the US border) about 90 minutes later.
This bus was the best of the lot – cheap, fast and it showed a load of great movies – including Leon (The Professional) and Babel – makes a change from the 1980s action movies that tend to dominate this sector of captive audience entertainment. Although I really don’t understand why Central American bus drivers insist on setting the air conditioning to Hot.
Outside, the landscape was becoming more and more arid and dry – greenery had given way to cacti and dust. This was the Mexico we all know and love, but before I knew it, we had hit the border with the U. S. of A.
I had two hours to get across the border. It was 2am, nobody was there so I figured I had plenty of time. But it took ages. And, annoyingly, the taxi driver who took me over the bridge didn’t stop on the Mexican side to get me stamped out. The yanks didn’t care about that, they just kept me talking for an hour while they searched my bags three – yes three – separate times. Carlos the Jackal here, yeah.
By the time US immigration had finished with me (thankfully no rubber gloves involved), I had to hurry to the Greyhound bus station so didn’t have time to go back to Mexico and get stamped out. Hope I don’t have to go back to Mexico any time soon – they might not let me back in.
The madness of leaving at night, drunk and without a weather window slowly dawned on us – looking to port and looking to starboard, electrical storms cackled like mischievous witches in the heavens. I mean, sitting in the middle of the ocean inside what is effectively a large lightning conductor has got to test the judgment of even the most illogical earthlings.
So we dropped the sails and threw out the sea anchor – but this is the Gulf Stream – it’s like the bit in Finding Nemo with the surf dude turtles – you can’t fight the flow baby. Even with no sail, no engine and a sea anchor deployed, we were still doing four knots toward Mexico – four knots towards instant fried crackly doom.
Captain Johnny laughed at me for hurriedly putting my gloves on. You think that a tiny bit of leather is going to save you if we get struck by 100,000 volts, sailor?
Er…. won’t it?
The laugher followed the Captain as he made his way downstairs to eat a banana.
Luckily (and because Zeus and Pallas Athena are looking out for me, obviously) the storms passed harmlessly to the sides of us. So now there was nothing stopping us heading FULL PELT to Mexico. Except for the fact that Captain Johnny wouldn’t let me turn the engine on, so we slowly meandered our way over the wibbly-wobbly water towards the land of the cactus standing, snake chomping eagle and ludicrously big hats.
I set out a fishing line (really nothing much more than a lure on the end of a string) and caught a BIG FISH. Well, it was the biggest I’ve ever caught – a Maui Maui I think it’s called – lots of lovely bright colours. Tasty too.
When we got to Isla Mujertas, the little spit of an island a few miles off the coast of Cancun, it was dark and Captain Johnny, being the wonderfully impractical piratey buccaneer that he is, decided we would try a night entrance to the marina.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…
Only, aren’t we’re a bit close to the bea… THUD!
We were more grounded than a naughty teenager. I mean, I was happy to hit Mexican soil, but this wasn’t quite what I had in mind…
So for the next panicked half-hour we went a little crazy trying to rescue the yacht from the slow shifting sands. We put the sails up and Johnny damn near blew the engine, but eventually we managed to shift ourselves free. Panic over. Poseidon’s last laugh, our last trial by sea. Johnny thought it best just to anchor up in the middle of the channel(!) until daybreak, so that’s what we did, taking shifts to make sure nothing went bump in the dark.
In the morning, I made a huge arse of myself trying to pull up the anchor (all those years of never going to the gym finally paid off BIGTIME) and before too long we had successfully manoeuvred into the marina and plonked ourselves down between two yachts.
Had a chat with Kerri on the CB (desperately trying to resist the overwhelming urge to get on channel 16 and shout Calling all cars! Calling all Cars!) She reckoned immigration could take a day or so to complete. Johnny wasn’t convinced so hopped into his trusty dingy and shot off to town. I just had time to have a (long overdue) poo and pack my stuff when he returned to say it all looked quite straight-forward. No medical, no sniffer dogs, just head over to Immigration, get stamped in, then see the port captain and get stamped off the crew list and we were done.
And so I came to say goodbye to the old lady of the sea – she held together magnificently on our little jaunt; save a broken cleat, a broken griller, two torn sails, the main sail slipping off the mast, a couple of damaged sheets and a host of other major and minor technical issues. Actually, it’s a miracle she made it all in one piece – there are just so many things that can – and do – go wrong on the yacht. Scares the bejesus out of me. Good job I’m invincible.
A bus left for Mexico City at 6pm from Cancun (very ugly concreted place, Isla Mujertas is much nicer), so we jumped on one of the frequent ferries over the water, squeezed onto a local bus, had a few final beers and then it was time to say adios to Captain Johnny, but with any luck we will be learning more of his wisdom during the great South Pacific island hop next October.
So on the bus and one the LONG road north to Halifax, Canada. A whopping five day bus ride. And I haven’t had a shower since Key West. Nice!
The Mexican bus, as predicted, was great. LOADS of leg room, some great movies to watch (dubbed into Spanish, but hell, it improves my bitchin’ skills) and a lovely American girl called Leigh to chat to. She was a nurse in Iraq. That’s pretty cool.
We drove past a huge complex of Mayan pyramids, all lit up beautifully in the night air. There are sirens out there – stuff of the world I want to stop and see, but this is not that story. This is the story of one guy trying, against the odds, to step foot in every country in the world this year and I’m six weeks behind.
Strap me to the mast, the sirens will have to wait.
So the day was spent entirely at the mercy of the rather wonderful Mexican bus service. Leigh got off the bus somewhere in the middle of nowhere to climb a mountain, and so I was left with only the movies to keep me company. Eventually we rolled in to Mexico City; unlike silly places (like London), Mexico City doesn’t cram all of its long distance buses into a shed in the middle the town – it’s got a different station for each of the four cardinal points (pay attention, London), so getting in and out of the vast metropolis is fairly straight forward.
A short taxi ride to the North Bus Station, and a wonderful selection of buses to choose from heading up to the US border (unlike the ‘socialised’ bus service of the US, which gives you the option of Greyhound, Greyhound or (if you’re REALLY lucky) Greyhound.
The bus was due in the next day at 11am. The Greyhound bus I was planning to get to New York left at 1.45pm.
Everything going to plan. I love timetables, don’t you?
For somebody with my fun-seeking personality traits it may come as a shock to some of you that I’ve never knowingly taken an illegal drug.
The closest I’ve got was haplessly sharing a ‘Happy Pizza’ in Cambodia back in 2002: coming from the country that also has a ‘Happy Rifle Range’ I (rather naively) thought it would be the Cambodian equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Well it wasn’t for kids and I didn’t get a toy, but do I have to concede: it did make me happy.
So despite all the travel, all the gigs, the random house parties and music festivals I’ve attended over the years, nobody has ever seen me smoke a joint, snort a line of cocaine or declare I can fly after taking acid. I don’t need acid to fly, I have Ryanair.
Okay, some people may have seen me in a nightclub sweating like a madman and hugging random strangers while simultaneously attempting to chew my own face off, but that’s just how I dance.
If I get a little agitated when some narcotic is being passed around in my presence, it is not because of the existence of said narcotic, but because of the looks I get from my peers when I politely decline. A kind of ‘do you think you’re better than us?’ look which I don’t really deserve. Of course, I do think I’m better than them, but that’s only because my healthy arrogance leads me to believe I’m better than everyone… it has little or nothing to do with what they choose to suck into their own bodies.
So it may come as a further shock when I say that I am 100% in favour of the ending of prohibition and the legalisation of ALL drugs. As soon as possible. Obviously not to make my life easier, I don’t grow them, deal them or take them: but to make this world – the only planet we’ll ever know – a more peaceful place for everyone. Everyone.
And, guess what? There’s a whole bunch of powerful people who FINALLY agree with me…
But (I hear you scream) drugs ruin people’s lives!! Yes. Yes they do. But then so does falling in love with the wrong person, getting pregnant at 16, your boss being an utter bastard, eating too much, not eating enough, bad tattoos, plastic surgery, adultery, modern architecture, World of Warcraft, RELIGION!!! …but none of these things are illegal in the Free West.
Although Modern Architecture possibly should be.
I hope you don’t think I’m being unduly flippant here comparing drug addiction to adultery. Look at the suicide statistics: drugs (if involved at all) are almost always a secondary factor after relationship breakdowns, mental illness or peer group isolation. ‘They ruin people’s lives’ is an inept an excuse for keeping the status quo as when people say ‘There’s no point in getting rid of Hitler / Stalin / Pol Pot / Idi Amin / Trujillo / Pinochet / Milošević / Saddam Hussein / Colonel Gaddafi / Mugabe / Bono – because somebody else will just replace him.’ Don’t get me started on that one.
Humans do tremendously dangerous things in their everyday lives – they drive cars, climb ladders, breathe in all kinds of germs on The Underground, get drunk, change lightbulbs, eat undercooked meat, climb aboard a jet plane or take leaky wooden boats over high seas with no radio. We can’t (and shouldn’t) stop them doing these things, but we can all work together to make these risky propositions a little less fraught – health and safety guidelines, for example. The same should be true of drugs.
Mentally competent adults living in a free society should be able to claim 100% ownership of one thing: their own bodies.
Your own body should be the one thing that is inherently YOURS. Whatever bonkers thing an educated, mentally competent adult wants to do to their own body – so long as it harms no others – should be the alpha and omega of human rights. If we can’t claim ownership of our own faces, arms, legs, hearts and livers then we are nothing. Your body is the one thing that every human – from the shoeless orphans of Kinshasa to the privileged toffs of Cambridge – has dominion over from birth, and that’s an authority that no other human should be able to take away.
We can’t get away with saying that everyone who has ever taken drugs is insane. If that were the case, over a QUARTER of the British population would be certifiable. And that’s just the people who didn’t lie on the survey. There are millions of functioning cocaine users all over the UK. Chances are you’re sitting less than 50 metres away from one RIGHT NOW.
Of course there is plenty of “well, I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but other people – you know, stupid people – shouldn’t” being bandied around, but even with a monster ego like mine I couldn’t even think something as arrogant, well, not with a straight face.
But I come now to the crux of the argument: making something legal does not make it ‘right‘. There are enough people out there who disagree with abortion – fair enough, nobody is going to force them to have one. People don’t like horror films, fine – don’t watch them. I can’t stand Russell Brand: happily I have a remote control. When drugs are legalised – and I’m confident this is something that will happen in my lifetime – I will continue to pass on the joint to the next person. I don’t smoke, I have never smoked, I hate smoking and I’m not going to take up something I detest just because it’s legal. Did legalising homosexuality make otherwise completely heterosexual people gay? Of course not. I’m never going to degrade myself my snorting a line of legal cocaine any more than a holiday to Spain is going to make me want to fight a bull.
‘But we need to protect the children!’ and on that point, Mr. and Mrs. Knee-Jerk Reaction and I heartily agree. But do the maths. Governments around the world waste TRILLIONS of dollars trying to stop drugs entering their countries and locking up dealers. Turn that around. With legalisation, regulation and taxation governments would not only make billions in tax, they would save billions by cutting the prison population by up to THREE-QUARTERS, all but eradicating drug-related crime, as well as the massive savings that would be made on things like policing, customs and legal aid.
All that extra wonga could be spent on IMPORTANT THINGS like education, health care, and stopping terrorists blowing stuff up. It could be spent not on protecting a 21 year old accountant from himself, but on educating kids on the real dangers of drugs (like the problems cannabis can cause to a developing brain) and on severely punishing people who give or sell drugs to minors. Hell: there’d be enough empty cells to throw them in.
At the moment the only people befitting from the status quo are the drug dealers. If anyone can suggest to me a criminal activity that is as profitable or as easy as dealing drugs I’m all ears. A note to would-be jewel thieves: you’re in the wrong business, mate.
And don’t give me that hackneyed old crap about some drugs being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others. The ongoing Mexican Drug war last year resulted in the cold blooded MURDER of more people than ANY OTHER WAR CURRENTLY BEING FOUGHT IN THE WORLD TODAY.
And where does most of the cannabis – soft lovely squishy friendly hippy cannabis – that’s in the United States at the very moment come from??
Mexico, of course!! Hey stoners! That’s a f–k load of blood you’ve got on your hands! Well done you!
The time has come for us all to band together for the good of ourselves, our communities, our civilisation… and support this movement to rid the world not of drugs (because that is proving impossible) but of drug lords. And the only way to do that is by legalising the whole stinkin’ lot of them.
Yes, I agree that drugs are not the best of ideas, but all we are doing with this daft prohibition business is making a bad situation worse. Drugs exist. They always have and they always will. While vast numbers of humans on this planet want to try them, we’re never going to stop them.
If I want to dick around with the chemical composition of my own brain, (MY brain, not yours) no farmer in Colombia, mother in Mexico, kid from Moss Side or policeman in Baltimore should have to sacrifice their lives to the process that makes that possible.
I decided at a young age to never take drugs – not for religious reasons, not for health reasons, not because I’m a party pooper, but because the whole dirty business – and it’s nothing but a business – made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.
Their left hand for giving money to drug dealers when they were younger – something they both admit – and their right hand for supporting the profits and business practices of today’s drug lords by keeping drugs illegal. Whose interests are these bastards representing? Us? Or the drug lords… and the global trail of death and misery that they leave in their wake?
Even as the war on drugs continues to pile up the casualties, drug rehab program options for addicts everywhere continue to increase.
One thing is for sure: my hands are clean. I’m putting them up in the air and surrendering. The war against drugs has been lost. It’s time to declare war against the drug lords: a war we can win without firing a single shot.