I was rather silly today, for my first day in England: I arrived at The Generator at about 7am this morning; and once there, I promptly went to bed. "I'll just have a nap for a few hours", I told myself, "my alarm's set for 10am". Big mistake! My alarm didn't wake me, of course; and when next I woke, I discovered that it was 2 in the afternoon. Oh s$%# — perfect recipe for jetlag. Should have kept myself awake all day today, and crashed in the evening. I guess that being in The Americas for so long has made me forget about jetlag, as it's been a while since I had significant time zone differences to cope with. I can only hope that it will only take me a few days to recover from my mistake, and to adjust to GMT.
After I arrived in New York this evening, and got through immigration, my first order of business was finding a hostel in which to spend the night. Considering that it was 12:30am by the time I got past the gates, I was kinda dreading this a bit. I hadn't made a reservation anywhere, as — unlike for the South American hostels — none of the hostels here in New York accept simple "online booking requests"; all that they accept online is a live advance credit-card payment, which I wasn't prepared to make. Anyway, I knew it wouldn't be fun searching for a bed at this hour on a Saturday night; but I never imagined that it would be this hard! I had the phone numbers of 6 different hostels: I called all of them; and of the places that I called, 3 didn't respond, and the other 3 were fully booked. Apparently it's Columbus Day long weekend here at the moment, and New York is packed with visitors. Just my luck, eh?
Call me crazy, but I'm doing it again! That's right: almost killing myself climbing Huayna Potosí, two months ago in Bolivia, just wasn't enough. I've got my crampons and my ice-axe at the ready, and I'm off in search of snow-capped peaks once more. This morning, Tony and I set off on our expedition to climb to the top of Volcán Cotopaxi, whose peak is 5,897m asl. A little lower this time (about 200m less than HP), and apparently a little easier too — but still one heck of a challenge.
A piece of advice for anyone who's planning on shoving 160 US dollars inside their shoes, and on then hiking through mud and through small streams: don't do it. Today, a small misstep in a river crossing on the Salkantay hike ended up costing me much more than a pair of wet feet. Keeping money in your shoes may sound like a good idea, as a precaution against theft; but there are other ways to be robbed of money, apart from having it pulled out of your pocket.
Clearly, the lack of loose change is not something specific to Mexico, but rather, something that's widespread throughout the Latin world. Today, on my first day in South America, the no tengo cambio saga reached maddening heights of frustration, as a taxi driver refused to accept a 50-sole bill from me.
Steven bought this while we were waiting for our flight to Vancouver, in the terminal at San Francisco airport. It looks like a diluted kind of orange-juice drink, but it proudly proclaims on the label: "contains no juice". Wow, a drink with no juice — just what I was looking for! No juice at all, eh? That's pretty extreme: even more so than, for example, "may contain traces of juice". I tell you what: I'm leaving this crazy country real soon, but it's not soon enough.
This morning was not only a hectic rush, but also a major pain in the behind. After a hurried breakfast, I power-walked from The Green Tortoise, down to my friend at Millenium Technical Services, who needed my hired laptop back today. MTS didn't open until 9:30am, and I had to be back at the Tortoise at 10am, to catch my shuttle to the airport, so that I could catch my plane to Vancouver, which was scheduled to fly out at 12:25pm. All went well in terms of timing: I made it to MTS; I gave the laptop back; and I made it back to the Tortoise in time to catch the shuttle. The only bad thing that came out of this morning's activities was a Wells Fargo cheque for USD$300.
This trick has to be even more widespread than the "almost free" lie, and it's even more aggravating. You go to the ATMs in Mexico, and you usually get a wad of 500-peso notes, sometimes with a few 200s thrown in. Then you try to use these notes to pay for something — dinner in a restaurant, for example. 9 times out of 10, they'll be rejected, with the excuse "no tengo cambio" (lit: "I haven't got change"). ¿No tiene cambio? Why the hell not!
My accommodation in Veracruz, Hotel Amparo, was a pretty basic, budget lodging. When I was first shown to my room, I noticed that there was no shower in the bathroom. I just assumed that in Mexico, if you stay somewhere dodgy enough, you shouldn't expect to have a shower available. But it turns out that I should have underestimated a bit less, and observed a bit more.