Yesterday I told about one of my first encounters with Mexico, – the Mezcal, and that was pretty twisted. Something even more twisted however, happened before that encounter, already on the way from the airport to the two friends that house me in Mexico DF.
Picture a humid, dark night. There are no stars on the sky, it is slightly foggy and there is no fresh breeze in the wind what so ever.
Picture a blond, 1,83 meter tall girl arrive, hungry and tired after a long journey and with a way too heavy backpack on her shoulders. She has no phone that works, but an address of a friend of a friend living in the city. She takes the strict message of the friend of a friend to order an authorized taxi seriously, pays for it and realises she really needs to pee. But the taxi personnel is already calling for her and before she knows it has thrown her bag in the trunk of a white, old car that looks just like any other white, old car.
She gets in to the taxi and off they go into the dark night.
That was how I arrived yesterday.
Shortly after I find myself in the taxi of a young man, that at first glimpse didn’t seem as friendly as I imagined Mexicans would be at all. I try to initiate a conversation with stupid comments about the weather, the hectic traffic and that I’m stunned over being in a city this size. The driver answers in an extremely little interested tone and I start wondering why the hell I didn’t pee on my way out of the airplane instead.
After three minutes the taxi driver that has seen me concentrating on my phone, asks if I’m watching a GPS.
Yes, I say.. Im trying to loc… “In case Ill kidnap you?” he interrupts me and giggles.
Our eyes meet in the mirror.
“Uhm, well yeah”.. I say with a false ironic tone.
Thoughts run trough my head, my need to pee becomes stronger, and calmly I try to finish my initial phrase: “I’m just trying to locate myself in this massive city”…
He laughs out loud, looks at me in the mirror and asks where I’m from. We chit chat a little about his take on Europe (expensive, safe and far away) and soon we’ve become a bit closer.
Fifteen minutes later (me all the time secretly keeping an eye on that GPS) he is answering to all kinds of questions I’ve asked him. He tells me things like where to go for a dance in my neighbourhood, what areas not to visit never ever in the city, how I had to be very careful in general being a woman on my own and more interestingly inside info about how the authorized taxi system works. He tells me that drivers get as little as 12% of the fixed prices set up by the company and that using their own cars!
We agree it isn’t a very good deal at all, and I suggest that maybe other taxi drivers hold the same opinion and that they could go together and demand a salary raise (I know, a very Jeanett-save-the-world-move of me).. He tells me he thinks it would be impossible and admits fearing to loose his job. “After all to be a taxi driver is a quite popular position, and unemployment is high here” he says, and continues: “But luckily, working with tourists brings extra tip money”.
I tell him I agree with that, while at the same time realising I hadn’t withdrew any national money yet. The ride was paid for with credit card at the airport and as it already was midnight and we were approaching my destination, the last thing I wanted right now was to find an ATM…
So I apologize to the driver for my inability to tip him today and smiles to him through the mirror. He replies with a slight exhalation, gives me a smile that looks much more like a grin and says: “I’ll have to kidnap you then,” before stepping on the gas pedal so we accelerate rapidly down the street.
A little disturbed, sudden pictures from the movie Taxi driver came to my mind so I yelled: Dios Mio, que loco eres!! pretending not to sound too worried after all. Shortly after he slows down the car, giggles a little and says: We are here, honey. We are here.
As Ive never been to this place, I look out the windows onto the dark street thinking to myself what the F. was the door number again, is it really true that we are here? but before I know it he has already opened my door. I recognize the street name on the lighting GPS on my phone’s screen and decide to trust him. He puts my backpack at the front door and tells me this is a good neighbourhood, and that he hopes I will enjoy Mexico city.
I intent to pretend like nothing of the craziness Id just lived through had happened and walk over to the doorbell to find the right number to call, not sure whether to expect a knife in my back or a warm hug from the driver. My friend’s friend answer and tells me she’s coming down, and so I turn over and take the driver’s hand, saying: Im sure I will enjoy it here, muchas gracias.
Venice beach and its neighborhoods are much more fun than the ones of West Hollywood (which I wrote about a few weeks ago). So, whoever advised us to rather stay in West Hollywood while here is a poop.
Truly, I didn’t get to know more than a fraction of what LA has to offer, so my opinion is probably not worthwhile to take as a travel advice…
However, it’s still my impression that the lifestyle offered in Venice is one of the best in LA. Sure, you got ubercool Silver Lake and some interesting spots further West in LA too, but I find Venice to be so much more real.
I know. It may be a touristy cliche strolling down Venice beach, gawking at the body builders at Muscle beach and getting surprised that the bay watch towers and cars look exactly like in the series.
But I loved every bit of it!
The place itself doesn’t really appeal to the eye in terms of beauty, but its chaotic charm definitely do. The density of street art, skaters, tourists, bikers, restaurants, bars, random (and highly professional) street performances, souvenir & silly-sunglasses shops is nothing but astonishing.
The main attraction in the below picture for instance, is a rather old gentleman who lives by showing people on the street that he can stand on broken glass, with the supportive help of a random person or two holding his hands. Needless to say his engaging American entertainer skills were uncomplainable.
That we understood when realised we’d spend half an hour watching him do the same thing over and over, wooing and awing.
Apparently one key thing to do in Venice is to rent a bike and go as far as we could by the shore. Everybody we know that knows LA told us to do so, and so did numerous bike-for-rent-stands.
To my surprise there were tons of places that rented out tandem bikes, and well… isn’t it just everyone’s dream to bike around on a tandem and live happily ever after?
Passing by smiling families on their day off. A waving hobo at a bench. Two joggers with each their dog in leash.
We pedaled all the way to Santa Monica which is a prettier side of the beach.
Pretty might be relative, but look at these funky houses.
Pedaling all the way is relative too, as the man in front could do that perfectly fine on his own with me on the back. Another reason to love tandem biking!
This was I could shoot pictures of interesting stuff on our way.
Like this mini amusement park – right there on the beach!
And yes! THAT color of the sky is real. It was like this every day of our visit, which obviously makes any Norwegian gal happy.
One of the things I liked the most in LA was the always bright blue sky and surprisingly fresh air – especially in Venice that is – as it reminds me of Cape Town somehow.
Also, the sand is a lot cleaner than Id assume and the water perfect for a quick dip after a long day biking.
I’ll tell you all about our wonderful time in Yosemite national park A S A P – but first Ill take you on a visual journey of the road trip getting there from Fresno.
Starting with a breakfast at a good old American diner.
In places like these (I refer to the more remote, local diners) pancakes are pretty much the only veggie option (if you remember to tell them to skip the bacon).. And they are yummy! Our waiter (also from Mexico) even told us they’re healthy!?
Next on the bucket list before departure was to find a bike for Burning Man, thus we Googled markets in the area, and sure thing; Every weekend there are two separate (flee) markets in little Fresno. We only made it to one of them, which was enough as it was a huge Mexican market with dream bargains. We got ourselves a cowboy hat, zebra scarf, socks and a BIKE.
Walking around on the market was practically impossible due to the heath (35 degrees and no shade to hide in), but when I got to the – in my view surprisingly large – bird sale section I had to stop for some serious purchase considerations.
Why not take some of these poor birds to Yosemite or even Burning Man, and free them free, I thought. After discussing whether they’re better of in these cages hoping for new kind owners, or in the Nevada dessert, we decided to trust the salesmen saying “They are happy birds.”
“So are we” I told myself when we next hit the road for a three hour long journey towards Yosemite National park.
Things we saw on the way:
Oh, America, you little clown.
The last picture is from Nevada, very close to the Black Rock desert where we soon will enter what everybody tells us will change our lives, the Burning Man festival.
Peace & Love
Departing LA today was fun. We had googled a selection of Walmart stores located North of the city as we needed to stop by one to purchase important camping equipment for our upcoming two nights in the Yosemite National park, followed by a week in the Black desert city. Finally buying stuff at Walmart felt like biting the bullet, yes, but trust me, we tried for days to find second hand equipment on Craigslist first.
We found our store in Van Nuys on our way out of town, and already there we felt so far away from LA the way we’d got to know it. The area seems to be inhabited by a massive group of Latin Americans, yet due its urban history also represents a hot spot for many young professionals. Driving through the area however, most avenues offer sights like densely situated small houses, many of whom have a flag hanging high in the garden. Part from that you’ll see shopping malls, car shops, areas of trailer houses and a bunch of cute little men with their cowboy hats on strolling the streets.
We started to feel like we were in America.
An hour later on our way to Fresno, our 3g stopped working. Soon we had no service at all. So much for T-mobiles’ promises of working anywhere in the US. For another two hours we cruised up highway 5 surrounded by a flat and mostly uninhabited landscape, before it got dark and hundreds of signs of fast food chains and motels were the only lights that illuminated our way.
Though I dislike branding overall, I’ve loved my first US road trip experience in which my old dream of staying in a typical motel now is to be fulfilled.
Here from a gas station close to Fresno. How authentic!
Next to it we spotted a motel and went to check out their vacancy. Nobody was in the reception however, yet a group of truck drivers had thrown a party and welcomed us to join them. Unfortunately due to our tight travel schedule we had to reject their offer.
However, a little later we found the perfect motel downtown in Fresno.
We’re only stopping by here to get some sleep, just like everybody else does in this city – on their way to, or from – Yosemite National Park. I’m so excited to finally be on a road trip, and so excited to be going to Yosemite tomorrow!
One of the most eventful days ever is going to an end.
Just back from a road trip in Gran Canaria. Our initial plan was to check out small villages around, chatting with locals and eating great tapas. As Ive never been to Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Can before, we took what my ignorant mind would assume would be a quick pass by before heading to more remote corners of the island. Somehow Ive figured Las Palmas is a little bigger than Eivissa, the capital of Ibiza. Don’t ask me why! Entering the city I soon understood its even more of a Capital city than my bloody own capital Oslo of Norway (which happens to BE a official capital by the way!!) Considering population figures Oslo is bigger, also the areal is MUCH bigger, but again I was reminded about Spanish history and how influential it is, what a great era they once had – hence the pompous antique buildings today representing the cultural center, cinema, concert halls, and of course shopping malls.. And the streets just never ended…!
Fifty traffic lights later always surrounded by vibrant city life and hordes of tourists, neatly planned parks and wide avenues I was again reminded how small and town-looking for instance Oslo is. Nearly suprised by my own non-awareness of how AWESOME Las Palmas is, I texted my new Gran Can friend Borja and apologized. He forgave me thank God, and at the same time gave us tons of tips on what locals like to do in his city.
Wanting to go back for the crazy celebration of San Juan, we decided to leave Las Palmas alone for today and headed to the tiny village Santa Brigida.
On the way we picked out the narrowest streets on the map to feel lost in the middle of nowhere, and counted to 200 cactuses before deciding to stop. Like always, that is a killer plan to get thirsty. And what do we find? Calletera Vandama, whatever that means, which situated us on the bottom of a hill with a sign indicating we had two options from now. Either to go play golf, or to follow the sign with a fork and a knife on it. Golf in the freaking dessert doesn’t sound very interesting although I thought for a while it could be funny to go see what freaks had placed a course on TOP of a mountain in dessert surrounded Gran Can, for the fun of it. And to check out what color the (potentially fake) grass had, in order to tick it on or off the Responsible Tourism Gran Can list I’m making.
Nah, we chose to follow the fork sign.
Arriving to the parking lot I read BODEGA, and was sold. Winery. Yes. We like! As Hilde is pregnant, Arild and I figured we’d get even more alcohol if we shared a homemade bottle. And the best was that Hilde agreed to just watch us drinking imagining how nice it must taste in a place like the one we had found. From seeing the cars in the parking lot we sensed that the place was popular among the posh locals. Maybe they were golf players coming here to dine, we thought?
Either way, its beauty had to be explored further, so we approached the restaurant and an old handsome man welcomed us with someone we’re sure was his son. We entered and discovered a place so historical, peaceful, and green: Bodega Bandama. It’s named after the street, just that the V is swapped with a B (B & V pronounces the same way in Spanish).
Both outside and inside it was full of flowers and plants, with a modern, yet cute looking bodega fenced with glass walls into the corner of the restaurant.
We got the menu which seemed amazing, but as it unfortunately exceeded our budget we went to the bar instead. The owner – that spoke English abnormally well (considering he is Spanish) – correctly guessed what country we’re from and accompanied us in the bar for a chat. He told us he inherited the place like 50 years ago and confirmed it was his son we met earlier. The homemade wine was delicious and after two glasses I felt in love with the thought of just staying here learning all about wining (one of my old dreams), and marrying his good looking son! 😉
Starting to get hungry, and keen on seeing more of the area, we decided to leave this timeless little spot and promised the old man we’ll be back another day. A little tipsy we headed toward the next village where Arild and Hilde yet had not been and where rumors told us there was an interesting monastery. From the bodega it took 15 minutes to get to Santa Brigida, a tiny town where we easily understood they love painting their brick stone houses in all kinds of colors. Often even defining the rocks in the cement in another color than the wall it self, a funny style that make many houses look like the skin of a giraffe:
In Santa Brigida we asked some toothless locals pimping in a bar what good restaurant we could find, and got instructed around the corner to the town’s square. The paella was perfect, even more accompanied with the local beer Tropical and a burning sun above us. The waiters were super smiley and service minded, probably even more so today as Spain was about to play against France in the quarter or semi finales (is there a difference?) Two of the waiters were actually Argentinians, something I spotted on their accent, and told us they are many on the island working in the catering sector. One of them was hanging up a huge Spanish flag over our heads to the clients’ thrill, and bottle corks started popping. They offered us a Ron de miel (honey rum) after the meal to digest better, and since this was going to be my first Honey Rum, and I always love these Spanish local liquors defining parts of their local drinking culture, I got super eager to take a picture of the bottle.
And now something awful happens: Eager to document bloody EVERYTHING I got the rum bottle handed over so I could “capture it forever”. Pulling it towards me, I accidentally hit an ashtray (I didnt even know was on our table) to the floor where it literally exploded into pieces and went in ALL directions. Ive never seen anything like it!
Everybody literally stopped living for 3 seconds till the glass pieces found their place and the crushing sound disappeared. I hardly dared to look over to the tables next to me, just sat there with the hands in front of my face saying No, No, No… The waiters came running and said “no pasa nada.. no pasa nada”, and when I looked up I met people’s terrified eyes and saw a lady picking glass from her t-shirt.. I ran over to the tables around and asked if they were fine, told them how sorry I was, how clumsy I am.
Soon everybody around had assured me they were okay, but somehow my mind just couldn’t believe it. Arild (that obviously also was shocked (Hilde was in the loo at the time)) tried to calm me down and soon people started smiling again and cheerfully singing ‘Espana, Espana’ (for the upcoming match).
Oh my. That feeling in my chest was worse then the feeling I got taking the timber sledge on water with my mum at the age of 5, being forced to sit IN FRONT of her, sure I was gonna fall out and into the sea.
The next 15 minutes we spotted glass pieces in other restaurant clients’ chairs -FAR away from were we sat. That nobody was injured is really a true miracle.
My paralyzed state slowly blurred first 30 minutes later when we arrived to the monastery up in the hills of Santa Brigida. Hilde told me there were monks living here for life, but at the time I couldn’t even think of what to expect by that. It was my first visit to a monastery, never actually thought of what they’re all about.
I am so thankful for having cool friends with ideas like these, cause that visit turned out to change parts of my view of life.
To be continued asap!