Monday, January 02, 2006

When New Years Eve Goes Bad

One of the more esteemed guide books refers to Mexico as a very surreal country. It can certainly be rather odd. My travel companion, nearly famous Bath spice trader James Ransome (check for some great offers), and myself have been eschewed the the offbeat backpacker trail for a shamelessly touristic trip. We are making an effort to make no effort. All difficult to get to or difficult to pronounce places have been avoided, hostels have been shunned (except for the unfortunate double bed incident in Oaxaca which only hardened our attitude), whilst mariachis, sombreros and large moustaches have been warmly embraced...

Sorry about the delay I´ve just had to explain "take care, mate" to a Mexican fellow internet user..

Top Tip 1. Anyway the first piece of travel advice I can give you is never to fly Air Canada, particularly if if invoilves a transit in Toronto. The Canadians don´t seem to have quite worked out what is necessary for a hassle free transit (or perhaps they have and it´s all part of a dastardly plot to annoy Americans) but somehow me, my bags (eventually) and my annoying "handluggage only" companion made it to Mexico City....

I´ve just had another delay whilst I try to help my new Mexican pal find his English girlfriend´s phone number on the internet..

Mexico City was a whirlwind of tacos...

I´ve just discovered that my new friend´s house was destroyed in a volcanic eruption which also destroyed his phone. It just proves that you should always keep a list of important phone numbers away from active volcanoes.

To continue... Mexico city was a whirlwind of tacos, saltly beer and... well it was pretty much as you´d expect except for being cleaner, less polluted and marginally safer than I would have imagined. We´ve stuck resolutely to our tourist agenda, our only failure being when we foolishly made our way to Mexico´s largest produce market (in search of some fabled spice or other) and were unable to find our way back again. A long walk at dusk through a less than cheery part of town convinced us never to make this mistake again.

Tip number 2. The Mexico metro system is great. Apart from the occassional armed robbery it is really safe, all the stations have really elaborate symbols to differentiate them (such as a cannon or a feathered head dress), and you can buy some cool things from the many salesmen who spend their lifes riding the metro. My personal favourites were the book of mathematical formulas and the questionable hits of the 80s DVD (Bonnie Tyler anyone) in which all of the tracks appeared to have been copied seperately from MTV or VH1.

All good things come to an end and we had to leave Mexico City behind, but with fresh memories of bizarre pub conspiracy theories, chillies that made me cry and the best fruit cocktail/salad thing in the world, I realise it will always be in my heart.

So on New Years Eve, after a 6 hour bus ride, myself and my tetchy companion rolled into Oaxaca, a lovely colonial town up in the mountains. Unfortunately, due to illness, James wasn´t able to accompany me to the New Years celebrations in the city´s main plaza. So after I´d tucked him up at the pathetically early time of 9.30pm, and pausing only to eat a rather salty tasting grasshopper, I headed out alone to find the action.

Suffice to say that things were so exciting on the streets that I found myself attending mass. Now it was a spectacular church and the conveyor belt nature of the whole service (with people coming in for a few minutes and then heading off again) was quite interesting but it really wasn´t part of my New Year´s plan. The tequilla fuelled parties in the streets had failed to materialise and instead kids tried to bounce enormous sausage shaped balloons onto the cathedral roof whilst Mexican families shared sparklers. No-one even seemed to know or care when midnight was, if it wasn´t for my radio controlled travel alarm clock (great Christmas present Polly) I wouldn´t have been able to celebrate the passing of the old year quietly to myself. It was at this point that things suddenly fell apart. The group of kids who I´d seen throughout the evening spraying what seemed to be high powered jets of shaving foam at each other suddenly multiplied exponentially. Rapidly the main square was becoming a very dangerous place to be. I took photos from the sidelines as expensively attired couples on after dinner strolls were suddenly attacked from all sides by rampaging kids who´d obviously eaten too much candyfloss. In addition to the shaving foam came the new dangers from flour bombs and confetti filled eggs (these 3 substances don´t mix well). As any war correspondent will tell you, there is a fine line between getting the story and becoming part of the story. In the frenzied atmosphere I´d made my one, fatal mistake, I´d become detached from the tourist spectators and found myself surrounded by cream covered dervishes. I had no chance. Within seconds I looked like a posh dessert (my stripey top only adding to the effect). I even took a direct hit down the throat as I tried to shout for help. I valiently tried to fight them off and even paid a couple of dollars for some cans of foam myself (no time to haggle with the conviently placed street sellers). It was now a free for all, no-one was safe....

When I came to my eyes, ears and throat were stinging and raw. The little devils had cunningly used highly poisonous foam that had been dumped on Mexico by multinational companies who were blocked by health and safety regulations elsewhere. When I awoke this morning I had the pleasant surprise that I could still see but I am still not sure whether I only have days to live. If this is my last email then have a great 2006 and try to learn from my mistakes. Otherwise I´ll be in touch.


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