10.04.2011 - 13.04.2011 17 °C
I’m sitting here in an internet café a few minutes down the road from my hostel. A large middle-aged man has fallen asleep on his keyboard and is currently snoring the house down. I’ve tried informing the woman working here (like as if she hasn’t heard) in the hope that they would wake him up. She just went ‘yeah he is’. So I’ll just try and ignore him as I type this.
Sunday was indeed the longest day I’ve ever had – 41 hours! It was all nicely straight forward though I must admit. The flight was just under ten hours. I managed to get the aisle seat I was hoping for, watched a film (Hereafter with Matt Damon, bit rubbish) and then drifted off to sleep, all without the aid of my precious sleeping tablets. I must have been more tired than I thought. When I woke up, it was time for breakfast and I was almost there. I just love it when that happens. When I arrived into LAX airport the security was a pain in the arse. It took me well over an hour to clear not one but two customs desks that did the same thing. And an additional baggage scan. There must be a lack of trust going on with the Americans and their security guards. I thought showing the passport, having my photograph taken, giving them my fingerprints and answering a long line of questioning would be enough to satisfy them. Obviously not! Still, better safe than sorry I guess.
Once I finally cleared customs I took a shuttle bus to the train station and from there a three hour train to San Diego. The scenery on this drive is meant to be great but unfortunately I fell asleep for most of it and missed it! I’ll have to try and keep myself awake on the return journey for a bit of it. After checking into my hostel, I went out for dinner and had a general look around. Apart from the much cooler temperature in comparison to Fiji, the first thing that really sticks out at you are the homeless people. There are a lot of them in San Diego. In fact I found out today there are 10,000 homeless living here, out of a population of just over one million. Scary… In addition on my second day I came across seven different people who were definitely insane – they were just randomly on the street when I was walking around. Most of them are talking to themselves out loud (they weren’t on their mobile or ‘cell phone’). Others just stand there looking spaced out in an almost zombie style fashion. It’s weird, you go to countries such as Laos and Cambodia and you don’t see any of this. But in the USA you can’t escape it. The other stereotype of morbidly obese Americans is also rearing its ugly head (the ones in scooters wearing flowery moo moos) and I haven’t even visited a theme park yet.
Anyway, the homeless, insane and morbidly obese aside, I’ve enjoyed the last few days here in San Diego. It’s a little bit overhyped if you ask me but it definitely is a city worth visiting. On my first day I took a bus to Balboa Park which offers a vast array of attractions including a handful of museums and a massive zoo. I decided to visit the Air & Space Museum. I mainly went for the space section, which of course you had to pay extra to get into. You can view space shuttles, take part in interactive educational games, touch a piece of rock from the moon and view videos on space travel. One good feature there is the infrared camera. You can see a picture of me below – the red parts are the hottest sections.
After that I stopped by the Science Museum which was free in. They had an IMAX there too so naturally I had to go. You can’t beat those documentaries on those huge screens! I saw Galapagos, a nice little feature film on some of the rare and endangered wildlife on the famous island which is just west of Ecuador.
The next day I took the ‘hop on, hop off’ bus around San Diego city. I got off at two of the stops – one was at the Old Town which is heavily commercialized into a ‘Wild West’ style town. Another stop was at the Marine harbor where you can visit three large ships and two submarines. One of the old fashioned pirate style ships is being used for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film. That evening I headed out for drinks with another guy Dominic who I met here and found a nice little bar featuring ‘buy one, get one free’. A very drunken but cheap night was surprisingly had.
Today I woke up with a banging headache but had no choice but to get up. I booked myself onto a tour of Tijuana, the Mexican border town. It’s only 45 minutes away and I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico. Naturally I’ll go back another time and visit it properly. I had heard a few dodgy reports prior to the USA about going to Tijuana. Stories about police robbing you, holding you hostage etc. had been told to me by more than one person. I was assured by the tour company that if it wasn’t 100% safe they wouldn’t be running it. I met another girl in the hostel who wanted to do it too so we took the gamble. Obviously as I’m writing this, I’m still alive and not locked up in some Mexican prison cell! I wouldn't have been impressed.
It was a great trip. We only had a few hours to spend in Tijuana. I’m a huge fan of Mexican food so first on the list was getting some nice authentic Fajitas for lunch. A Vietnamese tourist from the bus joined us. It's not often you see tourists from South East Asia as given their salaries most of them unfortunately cannot afford to travel far. However this guy is working as a senior brand manager for a drinks company which explained it. It was cool having a chat about Vietnam with him, discussing the cities I had visited and having a go at some phrases I had learnt along the way. He made a comment that he didn't like the pushy style of the Mexicans. Before I could say 'pot kettle black?' he admitted that the Vietnamese are just as bad. I didn't argue. Anyway, the waiter in our restaurant made our salsa in front of us which I thought was a nice touch. The food itself looked great. I’ll be honest in saying it wasn’t the nicest Fajitas I’ve ever had (there were bones in the chicken pieces) but it was still tasty and nice to finally try Mexican food in Mexico. After that I went searching for a small souvenir and managed to get myself something for three dollars (bargained down from 14). The Mexican people are incredibly pushy. They are essentially all over you like a rash clambering for your dollars. My experience in South East Asia has gotten me used to this type of thing so it didn’t bother me too much. Just smile, say no thanks and quickly walk on. And keep repeating it!
The final part of the trip involved getting some photographs and an obligatory cheese-fest photograph which you can see below. Even I'm a bit embarrassed by the level of commercialised mozzarella cheese in this one but I paid a dollar so it’s being featured either way. I felt sorry for the donkey (painted as a zebra) so I bought some food for him after.
On the way back to the border we could see the two large walls separating the two countries. You can see a photograph below. The crosses on the walls signify the death of each Mexican who was killed trying to cross the border illegally. This was quite sad to see…
When entering Mexico, you’re not required to show your passport (bizarre). On the way back to the USA, it’s like getting into Fort Knox. The queues are incredibly slow and in similar fashion to the airport you’re given a long line of questions to answer. The officer I had couldn’t find my American Visa stamp on my passport – I frantically had to search through the pages for it and for a few seconds I had that awful feeling of ‘what if they didn’t stamp me in LAX?’. Thankfully, they did and I got through – but not before they could ask me ‘why have you been to so many communist countries?’. He was referring to my stamps for Laos, Cambodia and possibly even the Russian Visa I have. Even though they’re no longer a communist country he did scrutinise it quite closely. I kind of froze up and stupidly replied ‘I’m not a communist. I was just visiting as a tourist’. He looked at me straight in the eye for a few seconds with the standard serious face before finally telling me to go through. Phew!
Tonight I’m getting to bed at a decent time as I’m up early for my train back to Los Angeles. I’m meeting up with my Canadian buddy Troy and we have a nice little itinerary planned for the next few days. This time next week it’ll be back to reality at home again in Ireland so I better make the most of it…