Archive for April, 2013

Warburton CaptainCongratulations to all those selected to be a part of this year’s tour of Australia, and especially so to Sam Warburton for being asked to captain the British and Irish Lions.

It makes him the first Welshman to be captain of the team since 1977. I can’t wait to get out to New Zealand and Australia where I can enjoy all of the tour later in my travels without having to get up early to do so. I will be seeing them play at least one game in the flesh too.

British & Irish Lions 2013Being good enough to play for the team which only tours every four years and is made up of the best of the best of the home nations rugby sides, is the absolute pinancle of any player’s career if you are from the UK.

For that reason I think the press should be making more of the fact that anybody has made the team, rather than running the story with the headline that Jesus Wilkinson is not going because he didn’t feel up to it.

It is pretty insulting to everybody who does want to go down there and will be putting absolutely everything on the line for games which they may only get one opportunity to play in during their career. I can only offer my utmost support to anybody who has been selected.

The test match I saw with Genevieve and Clem in South Africa four years ago still remains the most brutal game of rugby I have ever seen. I’m looking forward to the same level of commitment this time around and no quarter being given by either side. However I can admit to wanting the Lions to win the series a tad more than I should, due to the two Aussies who abandoned me in the desert in Mexico.

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Hotel Washington

The Hotel Washington to be precise, which is the only place I saw in Colon that was at all clean.

My Rough Guide to Central America had recommended the hotel as a decent pit stop for a drink so Robert and I had made our way there safely, more by luck than judgement. 

Washington Foyer

It is an oasis of opulance inside the foyer where chadeliers and marble dominate everything in sight.

All of which is such a contrast to everything we saw outside of the high walls around the hotel.

Washington Pool 1

The receptionist had directed us through to the area around the swimming pool when we asked for a drink.

It is perculiarly placed with its backdrop of the rusting shipping freighters that are moored up alongside the hotel in the waters at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal. 

Caribbean Boats 1Once there we had got a table under one of the canopies (you can just make out Robert waving) before the masses of local families arrived, and neither of us felt any need to move on for hours.

It was the first time I had seen the Caribbean, but the second that I had seen two oceans in one day. We spent hours there having some food, drinking a few beers, watching the ships go by and cooling off in the pool, all the while enjoying the fresh breeze off the sea.

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Anatomy-Colon

I am not talking here about the piece of anantomy at the end of the human digestive tract, but it would not be an unfair comparison to make.

I am talking about the town of Colon at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, which Robert and I decided to go visit today. The first problem we had was getting there because the train that runs the length of the Canal was not running due to it being a bank holiday in Panama on Monday 

Colon Building

This meant we had to take the bus which was very cheap but the driver decided that seats were not necessary for everybody on the express option we had chosen, and invited an additional dozen or so to stand in the aisle along what would otherwise have been a fairly comfortable coach. After paying for my ticket I had kept my wallet in my grubby paw so as to keep a close eye on it, but this backfired because I put it down to get water or something else out of my bag and then failed to pick it up upon leaving the bus. I realised this a short stroll down the road from the bus station in Colon and nearly sprinted back to the bus where fortunately we had been the last ones to get off.  The driver let me on and thankfully I found it, the $200 it contained, along with one of my credit cards. Sooooooo Lucky!!

Colon Tenement

We had read that crime was a bit of a problem in the town before heading off, and as we walked down to the coast from the bus station you could see why. The town had once been very rich due to being a way station for the transfer of gold, silver, etc from Central and South America to Spain, and there were a few signs of a faded glory but there was no indication of any wealth left in the town we saw, anywhere. 

Police Patch

I was pretty sure that we were heading the right way to get us to a bar that had been recommended but saw a policeman so double checked with him. He confirmed my belief that the Hotel Washington was just a few hundred metres down the road, but when I went to head off he stopped me and asked why we were walking around the area. ‘Did we have any idea how dangerous it was there? You should not be walking anywhere in this city.’

Even though we were only a few hundred metres from our destination and could have walked the distance in a couple of minutes, he would not let us leave his side until he had got us into a taxi. It was only $2 but by the way he had spoken to me (as a rule I do have enough Spanish to understand people now) there was no doubt in my mind that it was probably the best $2 we would spend all day. 

Zona LibreOf the rest of the town we had hoped to visit the Zona Libre or free zone later in the day, which is a duty free walled area that the locals are not allowed into where designer goods, electronics, etc can all be purchased but the bank holiday had put a stop to that too. That may have been a blessing in disguise however, because I have been looking for an excuse to replace my troublesome laptop for some time now, and buying one only to have it stolen upon leaving the gated area would not have been money well spent!

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Calle UruguayThis is a picture of Calle Uruguay taken during the day time. Looking at it you might find it hard to imagine anybody having fun there, but at night the place is transformed and the streets are lined with people queueing to get into the many establishments which were all deserted when I took this picture.

AJ Club 2I had eventually sobered up after the previous night’s lunacy, so Robert and I once more headed down this way to see what mischief we could find the following evening.

This was the nightclub where we had met our knee drilling cage fighter, and we opted not to dive in there preferring to try something else instead.

AsheThis disco is across the road from Prive where we had been the night before and we had seen loads of people piling in here, so thought we would give it a try.

Straight away I was struck by how many pretty girls were in there, and the two of us thought we had hit the jackpot because of the amount of attention we were getting. To say that there was a lot of beautiful women in there is like saying there is a lot of water in an ocean, however it soon became clear that just about every one of them was from Colombia and they were all ladies of the night.

Colombian SmileThe ratio of Colombian hookers to men was something like ten to one and they spend the entire night’s work walking round, smiling at and then stroking any man who comes in and shows a modicum of interest. I don’t have any interest in buying some company, but Robert and I had a fun evening in there chatting at a great table we had bagged, making short work of plenty of drinks whilst enjoying all the smiles being sent our way by the beautiful women.

I hope I sell my car soon because this place is worse than Las Vegas. (Or better depending on your perspective.) Sin City doesn’t come close to covering it, and I need to move on before boredom gets the better of me.

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Various

As a teenager I used to listen to quite a lot of music by the Jimi Hendrix Exprience, and remember with particular fondness the John Peel Sessions E.P.

The music of Jimi, Mitch Miller and Noel Redding just ticked the right boxes at the time.

It is currently the Saturday afternoon after my rather crazy night out in Panama City and rather annoyingly I was woken at 11am this morning by Panama’s unique interpretation of this trio despite having only made it to bed some time around 7am.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceThe sexagenarian version I am being treated to have considerable less hair than their pychedelic counterparts but have been making the most unbelievable racket for nearly four hours now singing at the top of their lungs and butchering many classic tracks from bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It is killing me.

After the excesses of last night I have a banging head today and somewhat ironically have had to ask the guys who are all old enough to be my dad to calm it down a bit. After four hours I just couldn’t take any more, and I swear that if they dont heed my request soon I am going to go upstairs and get my ukulele, bring it down and beat someone to death with it!!!!

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Blackjack

I have been in Panama city for nearly two weeks now and hadn’t really been out on the town at all, so was rather pleased when a Canadian chef, who is also called Robert, arrived at the hostel because it meant I had a wing-man to take on the town with.

Our first port of call was the casino where we spent several hours winning and losing at the Roulette and Blackjack tables, not paying much heed to the advances of the ladies of the night that were circulating the floor.Eyes

Next we moved on to the bars of the Hard Rock Hotel where there was plenty of eye candy on show. It is also fair to say that as a result of the proximity to Colombia there was rather a lot of nose candy being enjoyed by many of the local patrons. In particular I will always remember one particularly manic young fella whose eyes looked very similar to those of this cat, who seemed to be having trouble staying upright. In addition to shouting how much he didn’t like the United States of America at the top of his lungs he would not let us accept anything less than the fact that he would definitely be the President of Panama in 2049. Bold worlds for a guy in his late teens but I suspect he may need to sort his coke habit out if he wants to make that happen.

We were getting raved at by a number of wide eyed people, so decided to move on to the bars of Calle Uruguay, which had been recommended by a lady we had met earlier in the evening. The fantastic street is lined with bars, and is full of the young and the beautiful. It was still rocking when we arrived some time around 2am. We bowled into the busiest looking club and with our very limited Spanish were soon attempting to chat with the locals.

MMAI can’t really recall how we got talking to him but we were soon befriended by a half Spanish and Colombian bloke who for legal reasons I will call AJ (also for reasons that will become clear to avoid getting undue attention from the USA’s DEA!) His English was quite good and we got on famously with him, when at first he was telling us how he had recovered from having broken his neck in a MMA professional fight (That is Mixed Martial Arts or cage fighting for the uninformed.) The damage to his spine was clearly visible so we took him at his word on this.

His mates were pretty cool too despite deciding that I was the spitting image of Charlie Sheen, and they insisted we carry on partying with them when the bar stopped serving just after 4am.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18646053There was nowhere close by still open, so we had to join AJ in his car to travel across town to the private members club he had in mind. He seemed alert enough to drive, but after he had snorted copious amounts of cocaine up his nose off the dashboard whilst driving down the road it was clear why that might be the case!Drill

As if that wasn’t mad enough he then proceeded to tell us in a very off the cuff manner that he had previously been an enforcer for his dad’s drug running operation in Colombia, and that his preferred method for eliciting information from people had been an electric drill applied to the knees! He said he had recently stopped because he didnt have the stomach for it anymore.

I am something of a cycnic and wasn’t sure whether to take all this with a pinch of salt, but both the other Robert and I had already noticed the deferance with which everybody seemed to be treating AJ with, and the casual nature with which he passed all this information on was quite chilling.

Tony Montana

Having seen Scarface both of the tourists in the car are now fairly certain we may be somewhat out of our depth. However we have by now arrived at the club which was not too dissimilar to that of Tony Montana’s in the film. AJ is greated like a king by absolutely everybody in there and despite a healthy amount of unease at the situation we were made very welcome.

Galicia FlagNo further tales of villainy were recounted to us, and we spent most of the rest of the night talking to all of AJs friends including some bloke called Alessandro Rodriguez Boyd Morgan, who could barely speak but was trying to convince me he was a direct decendant of a famous Welsh pirate. (More on that to follow at a later date.) He was also somewhat amused at the idea I was David Hasselhoff, and kept trying to fluff up my hair so I looked more like the Knight Rider. I was also having a fun conversation at the bar with the husband and wife OAP bar tenders from Galicia in north west Spain that were running the place. I have surfed in their neighbourhood and whilst I told them of the beaches where I had got in the water they kept free pouring unbelievably strong G&Ts into my glass.

After a few hours Robert and I decided we should probably be on our way, and unsurprisingly did not take AJ up on his offer of a lift home when we said our goodbyes. We left the club and caught a cab with surprising ease. Although once again there seemed to be an inappropriate amount of deferance being shown by the cab driver to the crowd from the club who had walked us to the street. A quick drive across town to our hostel later and we staggered through the door and past the restaurant where the other residents were by now having breakfast in the dining area long after the sun had come up.

A great night. Absolutely frigging bonkers, but a great night!

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Semi Final

There is the obvious language connection with Spain, but even so I have been staggered but the extent of the support for the two giants playing in La Liga.

On my way south through Central America I have seen buses, taxis, cars and even newsagents dedicated to either Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Football CrowdThe shirts of the two teams are on view throughout the continent. It is only really in Panama I have seen a significant number of other shirts (for the national side) being worn at all.

I took this picture of one of the many crowds that were forming around each television in the shopping mall during one of the recent Champions League semi fainals against the two German teams.

Messi & RonaldoWith both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich putting four goals past their respective opposition during the recent games the collective disdain was palpable.

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Mosquito

I am getting restless having been sitting around for as long as ten days, and it is even longer since I saw a surfable wave.

The customs process is out of my hands though so I just have to be patient, which is not really my greatest attribute.

It does not help that after a week of bite free sanctuary in the air-conditioned luxury of the Hotel Milan I am now getting savaged by the local mosquito population. I wake up every day feeling like somebody has poured acid on my ankles! It is killing me.Heat

I also haven’t been moaning about the heat of late, but don’t think that it has stopped being oppressive. The lowest it has got here is 32C, but there is generally a breeze which makes it tolerable.

It is much beter than the mercury pushing 50C as it was in the car on many occasions while I was driving south, but if you go for a walk, you inevitably seek the shade after about 20 minutes because the heat just saps the energy from you.

I also don’t have the sea to cool me down, so my wave crave is building all the time.

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FlagAmongst Israelis, Brazilians, Canadians, Americans and Germans there are a couple of Vietnamese guys staying in my hostel.

I have made a point of saying hello and trying to have some fun with everybody here so they were no different.

However to say there was a language barrier is a bit of an understatement. Neither side can pronounce the others vocabulary, there isn’t a great deal of similarity between the different dialects and none of the three of us can speak a common language.

pictionaryOnce I discovered they were from Vietnam however, I refused to give up because I am going there later this year.

I came up with the idea of drawing a few things Pictionary style which was just the catalyst we needed to get a ‘conversation’ going. One set of Olympic rings, London 2012, and a couple of family trees later we were off.

I spent most of last night doing this but towards the end of the evening Tuyen who was the most ‘talkative’ suggested we try Google translate on my laptop. For the next two hours we typed into the screen a question or response to the other and just waited for the internet to work its magic for us. It wasn’t always perfect e.g. I still have no idea what he meant based on Google’s translation of ‘Wish intention bees Viet nam’ but it was a surprisingly effective means of building bridges as well as being quite a lot of fun too.

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City 2Panama is a city which is almost exploding upwards towards the sky. I understand that the skyline has changed dramatically in the last 15 to 20 years and the number of people living here continues to grow because of the ever growing trade market and retirees are embraced with open arms from around the world.

The Screw 1There are many tower blocks throughout the city which are very impresive, and many more currently under construction, but my favourite has to be the building known locally as ‘The Screw’

 

It is actually called ‘The Revolution Tower’ and is owned by a property management group.

 

However to me it looks like the results of a particularly drunken game of Jenga, where people’s unsteady hands came up with the twisted creation.

 

The Screw 2From directly underneath it the view is even more striking.

I wonder what it is like to work there.

They have probably missed a trick by not attaching helter skelter styled fire escape to the outside edges.

Leaving work for the day would never be more fun!

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