Welcome to Gringo Centrale

I was sleeping. Or dozing deep from lack of sleep when they bundled in. Two young French guys, surfers and giddy. We talked. It was their last night before returning to France and they wanted to get drunk. Well…could I say no? Little did I know that at 10am the next day, I’d be sitting in a strip club with the Deputy Minister of Energy, two lawyers, two sober, fully armed policemen, the two French guys, bored strippers and the dregs of two bottles of tequila. How drunk were we? Well the politician was passed out on the stage while trying to dance with the girl. I knew I loved Mexico from that moment. Nothing changed.

One plain reason I loved Mexico was I was out of the States now. There was a noisy chaos, bustling streets, colonial architecture, markets, huge churches, a Rodin exhibit, couples kissing, old people sitting in the parks talking, policemen arresting men who refused to lie down. In short, real life. Not sanitised, privatised, personalised life. People were together and not afraid to be so. I also arrived at a great time. It was Independence weekend and a free Manu Chao concert in the main zocalo. Despite the drizzle, I loved the gig, not really for the music but the student political riot that arrived half way through and the subsequent police charge. I watched it all at close hand and got my picture taken with the riot police after. We also went to the pro-wrestling, as you can tell from the pictures. The nightclubs were crazy and the tequila was cheap. I went to the Great Pyramids at Teotihuacán and the Anthropology museum, all of which was interesting stuff, but I just loved the energy of the city, the grandeur and the challenge.

I left after 5 days and headed south to Oaxaca and then San Cristobel, two old Spanish towns. I travelled with a ridiculously tall American guy Mark. The towns were quaint and all and we visited churches and temple complexes but it all seemed rather slow after Mexico City. I left and headed north to Cancun, primarily to get a flight to Cuba (the blog is here) but there, in Cancun town, away from the Americans, I met a bunch of Swedes and French and got thoroughly plastered for a few days. In the bed opposite me was Claude, a 50-something French Canadian economist who daily started drinking at 8am (as I got into bed), first with whiskey, then beer and then wine. The guy was constantly paralytic and incomprehensible. Free entertainment per evening.

Returning from Cuba, Ben and I headed south to Tikal in Guatemala. We travelled through Belize, amazed at the Caribbean feel and the languages spoken. Fluency in English was perfect and the laid-back feel of the place with the warm winds and bumbling, packed transport, was a world away from Mexico. We got stranded in a border town for the night but managed to go to a festival and be the only gringos in town. We finally got to the island of Flores, a beautiful lake-bound island, small but serviced and were fortunate to see Semana Santa (Easter) there. The town streets are decorated with coloured sawdust pictures of religious significance and then a solemn parade circles the town. The townsfolk dress up in their best and I have to say there were some cracking women. Tikal, the great rising Pyramids through the jungle canopy, was spectacular and you need real guts and stamina to climb these things.

We moved onto Antigua and got spectacularly trashed for someone’s birthday, the party becoming a clothes swapping affair. Antigua was quite a gringo hangout as was LakeAtilan, rightly described as the most beautiful lake in the world but shrouded in low cloud and rain when we arrived. We did meet Dougal and Igor and those two German girls and as usually Ben and I led the party and ploughed through 4 bottles of Rum. Igor, the EuroStar attendant proved a classic, reading tarot cards and asking too frank sexual questions. Dougal and I also had a few beers a few days later in Antigua.

After a few nights in Antigua, Ben and I went separate ways. The dude was a cool guy and we’ll have some beers in Melbourne next year. He headed south to El Salvador while I ploughed through Guatemala and Honduras to the diving islands of Utila, the warmest waters I’ve ever encountered but alas no whale sharks and an expensive trip. I had a few decent beers though. But I did love being on my own for a while, talking in Spanish, playing football, carrying my bag through the dark streets. I returned to Guatemala and stopped in Antigua, had a few beers, managed a quick trip to Hooters, Guatemala City (got the T-shirt, not many do I guess) and returned to Mexico City with Benny the Danish chick. A few nights of drunkenness left me ready to leave for my flight to New York. I had loved it. I will go back, would work there, couldn’t stay forever. But I will be back.

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