From the beach, to the cable car, to the biggest city in the world

May 8, 2007

After leaving dear old NZ, things have moved apace. Well, not exactly, but in retrospect it feels like it as in the space of just a few weeks, we’ve moved through four different countries.

There’s no way I could pretend five days at the wonderful Octopus Resort on Waya Island in Fiji was rushed. The place is disorganised (booking, checking in and checking out were a shambles, but one that ultimately benefitted us thanks to them misquoting prices and giving us an upgrade for two nights), but rushed it ain’t. Lying on the beach there made me realise that, during our nearly five months on the road, we’ve hardly stopped to just take in the sun and air, and read, and, yep, laze about with the best of them.

Octopus Resort

It was great. (Damn this wordwrap, or lack of). A real treat. Been desperate to actually just do some reading, and get a suntan. Which I did. But it was also a really convivial place. There wasn’t really anywhere you could go or anything else you could do, so we just hung out with other guests, getting to know some great folks. The management even erected a screen beside the pool and we watched a movie under the swaying palms and stars. Albeit it a somewhat rubbish movie (Smokin’ Aces – a disappointment from Joe Carnahan after his excellent previous film, Narc). A few days later they showed Fellowship of the Ring – which was a great fix for me, though sadly the big screen was out as the projector or something wasn’t working. Boo.

It was a wrench to leave Octopus, especially as first impressions of the place we stayed one night before leaving Fiji weren’t good. Stoney Creek Resort was out of the way, deserted, with half-finished building work, and a grim mosquito welcoming committee. It was actually a cool, sweet place, with friendly hosts, but still, that first impression after leaving Octopus was a shock.

Anyways, beach blather is boring. After the bafflement of crossing the date line, then catching another flight out of LAX, we made it to San Francisco. What a town. What can I say? Iconic, multicultural, cosmopolitan, lively and topolographically marvellous, it’s just great. And thinking back, I didn’t spot a single McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or Starbucks. There seem to be more here in central Mexico City than in central SF.

Visiting San Francisco restored my faith in the USA, something jaded by years of barbaric neocon rule and horrifying foreign policy.

San Francisco isn’t without its problems of course – the begging and homelessness is sad to see, and oddly more prevailant in downtown SF than here in downtown Mexico City. It’s particularly telling to have all these beggars juxtaposed with all the shining palaces of consumerism round Union Square (Tiffany’s, Macy’s, Bloomingdales etc). But what a town. Loved it. Wish we could have stayed longer, based in our cosy room in the Dakota Hotel on Post and Taylor (a surprisingly restful place considering we were on the first floor – aka floor 2 in US speak – by a busy road).

It was another wrench to leave there, especially given we were flying to LAX, then on to the great unknown of this here mad megalopolis. We arrived late last night, thoroughly cautioned about the dangers of unauthorized taxis, and thankfully made it into town (to the zocalo), along with a young British girl who was very weary after coming all the way from Fiji (and being the only one on our plane to have her luggage lost).

This is the biggest city in the world. Supposedly, a thousand immigrants arrive here every day. The mind boggles where they all fit, considering the city was built on top of the old Aztec capital, which at the time was an island in a lake, surrounded by mountains. The lake is now gone, replaced by miles of very very dense conurbation. All nicely swathed in fog. The fact that it’s at 2400m above sea level makes it an even more striking place. A city on a swamp in the mountains; a city of with layers of history (the wonky cathedral itself sits on the remains of the main temple of Tenochtitlan). The mind truly boggles.

As most of the museums are closed on a Monday, for a good chunk of today we just sat at the top of the Torre Latinoamericana, 180m ish of 1950s steel and class. (For those who know south London, it kinda resembles a mix between the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and the Empire State). Great views down onto the crumbling old colonial buildings and streets full of cars (including the classic green and white Beetle taxi) and into the smoggy distance. We also checked out some amazing Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio National which tell much of the history of Mexico and its main city (prior to and after Cortes got busy with his sword).

It’s now 8.20pm and I’m getting hungry again. Honestly, my stomach (well, both mine and Fran’s) dictates so much of our activities on this trip. Gawd knows how it’ll fare in the land of Montezuma’s Revenge. Still. After some food, maybe a hasty retreat to our hotel (recommended by our Mexico advisor, Dr J Russell) as people advise against being on the streets late in the evening.

Buenas tardes. Hasta luego.

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