Johnny Chicago! Who’s the man? Johnny Chicago! When we searched about on the interweb and the Facebook groups for a boat sitter, we didn’t realize we’d be getting a celebrity. If you wanna know more about the amazing, the intriguing, the garrulous Johnny Chicago. About a month after arriving at Nuevo Vallarta, John fell overboard, into the crocodile infested water, where he floundered about drunk and injured until someone heard his gurgling pleas for help. That was the catalyst for Johnny Chicago to leave his drunken ways behind and become clean living Johnny. Fast forward to October, and we arrive to find our boat stuffed full of used water bottles and the dock covered in what some would call trash, but to John, its all treasures, discarded by those with lesser imagination. When we met our neighbour, Cristobal, from a few docks down, he knew of our boat. “Johnny Chicago stays at your boat,” he told us “he sailed here with an African pirate that he hides, a Somalian I think.” Others in the area had heard rumours of Johnny harbouring a fugitive from the dark continent. “Johnny Chicago, a legend in his own mind!” Declared Jaun, who operates one of those raucous party boats you see covered in drunken sunburnt tourists. John has difficulty with keys, he lost enough of them that the marina gave him a volume discount on them and reduced the deposit he had to pay whenever they gave him a new one. He also doesn’t like to learn new tricks, like how to flush the toilet on the boat. He confided that one time he new he couldn’t make it to the marina washroom, but that wasn’t to be the moment he learned to flush, instead he put newspaper down on deck and took his shit right there in the open air. Johnny Chicago! But John isn’t just an entertaining carefree, bohemian, he also successful took care of everything we asked him to do, so if you ever need a house/pet sitter, Johnny Chicago might just be your man. Today is a big day, John is moving into his new place, with his new roommates. He’s landed a job at a restaurant here in Nuevo, best of luck with your endeavours John. Our hurricane turned out to be a dud, at least here in the Bay of Banderas, I’m sure it was thoroughly unpleasant further up the coast. Willow’s arrival is imminent, very exciting for us, we haven’t seen her since Mazatlan. That was like eight months of Willow free living, although we saw her sister Olivia in Toronto in August, which is almost like seeing Willow. Willow can be a polarizing figure, some people love her, some people block you on Facebook if you mention her name. I was thinking about trying the parasailing at the beach here, until Cristobal commented “It’s dangerous, but you’ll probably be ok.” So I’m wondering what kind of dangerous we’re talking about. In Acapulco they’ve had some Parasailors hit buildings, I guess that hasn’t been an issue in Vallarta but the landings can be a little sketchy, with a guy on the beach waiving flags and blowing on a whistle, the parasailor is guided in and a couple of big Mexican dudes attempt to “catch” you. I watched one lady do it successfully, she made it look pretty easy, and the guy told me if I bring a friend we’ll each get a $10 discount. Cristobal tells me he can get me a better price than that but isn’t confident that I won’t break my legs. Life’s full of tough decisions.
Tropical storm Willa became hurricane Willa yesterday, and by the time we rolled out of bed this morning, Willa was being touted as a dangerous category 5 hurricane. If you’re not up on your tropical cyclone lingo, the 5th and final category is the nastiest of all. What that means for us is that about a hundred miles southwest of us, is a raging beast of a storm with wind howling at 155 mph. Currently the weather folks are saying it’ll make landfall to our north, somewhere between San Blas and Mazatlan. We’re under a tropical storm watch with our fingers crossed that it doesn’t decide to turn toward shore early. The locals are taking this thing pretty seriously, boats are being moved further into the estuary and the docks closest to the breakwater are being left empty. There’s already flooding in some areas, but apart from the rain, we’ve yet to feel the effects of the storm. Looking at the pretty pictures the US National Hurricane Center has on their website, we’re predicted to get 60 to 70 mph winds when it passes. Storm surge may be our biggest concern. We’re in a marina with high rise hotels between us and the bay, but the breakwater is just around the corner and they’ve already moved some boats that are further out on our dock. This is an exciting, potentially life threatening situation for us and I plan on keeping you informed and maybe even getting some great video, you know the genre I’m talking about, where the reporter is clinging to some fixed object while the storm rages around him. We’ll see.
I think I might know what you’re thinking, ‘how could our boat be in Mexico City?’ Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘are Canadians allowed to go to places in Mexico that aren’t near a beach?’ Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Mexico is a country and a city?!? You just blew my mind.’ I should stop guessing. It’s been a long haul for us this summer, both literally and figuratively. We drove well over a hundred thousand kilometres, and passed through 29 States and 6 Provinces. We need a vacation, sailboat cruising may sound like a vacation to the uninitiated, but it can be kinda like a job at moments. So the decision was made to spend a few days unwinding and seeing the sights, but why Mexico City? Simple, we’ve spent months in this country and almost all of that time has been in tourist cities, fishing villages or National Parks on remote Islands. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t visit an inland Mexican City, and where are you gonna find more Mexican culture than a city with 20 million Mexicans? Before it was the Capital of Mexico it it was the administrative and financial centre for much of the Spanish Empire. Before that it was Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire. You get the picture. Our first full day in the city, we met up with our friend Sarah from Denny Island and headed way south to the very bottom of this vast metropolis. How did we do it!? Easy, Sarah’s a Mexico City expert, she knows the metro, she knows how to not get ripped off by cab drivers and she knows what time of day Uber is cheaper than a cab. Boom, we win! Xochimilco, say that three times fast. I can’t even say it one time slowly. Anyway, that’s the place where there’s canals and you can hire a boat with a guy pushing you along with a long pole. Like Venice but less romantic. Our boat driver was possibly the worst boat driver ever. He appeared to be dying of some sort of plague, he lost his pole twice and fell overboard once. All in all I highly recommend the canal trip. I should also mention that this boat was more of a party barge than a conventional boat, it has seating for 20, yet there was only three of us. There are many attractions along the canals, the one we chose to go to was the fish with feet. Apparently it’s an endangered species, very rare and unique. I felt like Charles Darwin embarking on the Beagle. Turns out the fish were in small dirty aquariums and we had to pay 10 pesos to look at them. There was also puppies at the fish place, so that was nice.
On the Uber ride from the airport, I asked the driver about the famous black market in Tepito. He looked horrified “please don’t go there, it’s not for tourists.” He went on to explain that there are so many markets in Mexico City with quality items, Tepito is full of cheap knockoffs, stolen goods, drugs and criminals. That’s why we decided to leave our cell phones and wallets at the hotel and hide our cash in several pockets. We spent about an hour and a half wandering the market and felt like we barely scratched the surface. Some of the streets are completely covered in yellow tarps suspended between the buildings. It’s a maze of store fronts and street venders selling fake brand name clothing, pirated dvds, sex toys, sporting goods, cheap electronics, comic books and almost anything else. It’s the only place I’ve been in Mexico where the smell of marijuana hangs in the air. Some of the streets are closed to automobiles but occasionally you need to leap out of the way as a motorcycle rips between the stalls.
I ended up getting a pair of knockoff Vans for 200 pesos, not a bad deal if they last a few months. Anyway, we made it out unscathed, but it’s as sketchy a neighborhood as I’ve ever been to. Later in the day we walked through the optometry district, and damn, I’ve never seen such high pressure salesmen! We were literally assaulted by men and women in lab coats hawking stylish frames at deep discounts. We quickly retreated to our hotel with sore feet and took a nap.
Before heading off to Mexico, I canceled my phone and asked for a final bill.
They did send me a final bill, that I paid. As you can see, I even had a credit.
But they wanted more money from me. They didn’t send me another bill, but in November, they sent me this heavy handed email with no further explanation.
True to their word, I was contacted by a collection agency. I told them politely to fuck off. Watch your bills closely folks, these guys would chuck their own grandmothers under a bus to fetch a nickel.
On the interstate between Los Angeles and Los Vegas there’s a town the has no reason to exist apart from the interstate. Or to be more accurate, the people driving on the interstate. It’s a place to load up on fuel and supplies and take a rest after the traffic of the city subsides a little. Baker California is a one street town with tourist traps, restaurants and gas stations. It’s home to the worlds largest thermometer and claims to be the hottest town on earth. Today the thermometer only read 96 when we arrived and 100 by the time we finished lunch, but I’ve seen it well over 100. There’s a flying saucer shaped establishment that sells beef jerky and ice cream. But one business stands out. The Mad Greek is the Greekest of the Greek restaurants. It’s almost a cliche or parody of a Greek restaurant. It also has great food and enormous portions of delicious food. Cheers to the mad Greek, you do your homeland proud.
South Texas with a couple days off, it’s 99 degrees and the sun is shining, what to do? I suggested we go to a water park or at least some place with a pool. Kirstyn wanted no part of that, she wanted something much hotter and dustier. “How about a dude ranch?” She suggested. We found just the place, the Rio Grande Vista Ranch advertised that their two day ranch rider package would “Turn city slickers into Vaqueros over the course of a weekend.” “That’s exactly what we need!” Kirstyn exclaimed. I love westerns, and this sounded perfect. We’d be riding the range of the famous fictional Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus Mcrae. So we booked our package, which was surprisingly inexpensive, and headed to the store to purchase the gear we’d need. We found a store that advertised “GUNS AMMUNITION SADDLES WESTERN WEAR” Its surprisingly easy to buy a gun in Texas, so when we left the store, I was wearing chaps, spurs, boots, a big white Stetson and a 357 magnum strapped on my hip. The proprietor of the store assured me that a gun permit would be an unnecessary extra cost. Kirstyn was similarly attired but with a cute little Derringer tucked in her leather vest. On day one of our ranching experience, we arrived promptly at 6 am. “Don’t be late, tardiness is unacceptable” the email from ranch owner, Kitt Carson read. When we arrived, he was waiting to meet us in front of the bunkhouse “Call me Kitt!” He shook our hands vigorously with a broad genuine smile. “Let me introduce you to the ranch foreman, he’ll be your guide.” He started toward the stables. “Captain McDonald is his name, he’s a tough S.O.B. But fair, you’re gonna love him.” When we stepped into the stable The Captain was supervising the saddling of some horses. Kitt introduced us and left us alone with the Captain who said nothing during the introduction, occasionally spitting tobacco juice. “So you’re a military man?” I asked. The Captain looked me up and down, said nothing and spit some tobacco juice near my boots. Very awkward, I was thinking to myself when the Captain finally spoke “saddle those horses hippie.” The words seemed to appear as if by magic from behind his large moustache, no lip movements were apparent at all. He was a tall man, white haired and wearing boots, jeans and a plaid shirt. An imposing presence. “Yes sir” I said impulsively. Have you ever saddled a horse?” I asked Kirstyn as we headed in the direction the Captain had nodded almost imperceptibly. As luck would have it, Jesus the ranch hand was ready to help us out. “Is the Captain always like that?” I asked, speaking softly enough I was sure the Captain wouldn’t hear. “He’s a mean S.O.B, and don’t fuck with him” Jesus advised. Kirstyn and I exchanged glances “Oh good”
Out on the range, after Jesus had showed us the basics of horsemanship, we rode out to gather some cows and move them to a new grazing area. At least that’s what I think we were doing, the Captain wasn’t very forthcoming with information. There were several other guests on horseback, all Texans from places like Dallas or Houston. We spoke very little amongst ourselves, Jesus had warned us the Captain doesn’t like idle chitchat. Some of the cows were in a mesquite thicket and the Captain decided I’d be the best candidate to get them out. “Go in there after em hippie.” His voice wafted out of his moustache followed by a stream of brown juice. I spoke gently to my horse, hoping he would know what to do. My horse did know what to do, he found a path into the thicket, ducking under some branches. I didn’t duck enough and ended up on the ground with my shiny new Stetson in the dust beside me. The Captain shook his head in disgust and shot a stream of juice into the dirt beside my hat.
That night we slept in old army surplus sleeping bags on the ground next to a small campfire. Apparently the bunkhouse was for the folks that bought the fancy package, they also get steak and red wine rather than the canned beans we had for dinner. The Captain warned us that rattlesnakes might climb into our sleeping bags before riding off to his quarter for the night. “What do I do if a rattlesnake does climb into my sleeping bag?” Kirstyn asked the Captain’s back as he rode off. He spit tobacco and carried on. The other folks in our group looked as frightened and confused as we did.
At first light, Jesus rode into our camp looking worried “the Captain says there’s cattle rustlers down by the little draw, we’re putting together a posse, load your guns”
“What!? You can’t be serious!” One of the men in our group asked “Shouldn’t we call the police?” “Women don’t need to come, but I wouldn’t try the Captain’s patience” Jesus seemed dead serious, so we all mounted up and followed him to where the Captain was waiting for his posse. “They’re down there, behind that thicket, get your gun out hippie and go flush em out” I was stunned, cattle rustlers? Really? It’s 2018, are people rustling cattle? The thought of riding a horse that I barely knew how to control after a gang of armed thieves was not very appealing, but the Captain… Well, nobody wants to see the Captain angry, so off I went.
As I approached the area the Captain had indicated, I could hear men talking. I tied my horse to a bush and quietly tiptoed my way toward the bandits. “Hands up!” I hollered, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say. The men spun around to face me and pulled their guns. I dove to the ground. There were three of them, all armed and now shooting in my direction. I took aim and in the distance I heard the Captain’s voice “Shoot the bad guys not the cows hippie!” Very encouraging, I thought as I squeezed the trigger. The shootout lasted mere seconds I’m sure, but to me, time slowed down. Bullets thumped the ground next to me I took aim and shot several times till I heard the Captain “Check fire! Check fire!” I rolled for better cover behind a fallen mesquite log. As I tried to peer through the bushes I heard a struggle over near my adversaries and a moment later the Captain “Come on out hippie, I got em.” The Captain had three men tied to a tree “Good work hippie, they wasted all their bullets shooting at you, now go find Jesus and get to work!” The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful, and the Captain was almost pleasant, he even suggested we should come back to the ranch again some time. I’ve decided I don’t like horses that much though.
If you were to drive twelve thousand miles a month, zigzagging up and down and across the North American continent, you’d probably notice a few things. For example, America is mostly a big grassy field. Sure there’s an ocean and mountains on the left side and an ocean and ummm… mountains, I can be generous, on the right side, and a muddy river and a foreign land on the bottom. But the middle, that’s mostly grass, a bit of corn and soybean fields, some cotton near the bottom. Canada is mostly swamp, or moose habitat if you like that better. On the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains you’re likely to see some pronghorn.
The pronghorn, an odd species which was described by William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, as “more like the antelope or gazelle of Africa than any other species of goat.” But really, they’re most closely related to the giraffe. He’s an odd little guy, and very quick. So quick he’s believed to be the second fastest land mammal after the cheetah. “Ah huh!” Jeered the anti-Darwinists, “if Darwin were correct, no animal could possibly evolve to outrun non existent predators!” But then in the 1970’s they realized that some bones they’d found in a cave in Wyoming were those of an American variety of cheetah. So I suppose those cheetahs had a rough go of it during the last ice age and life got a lot easier for the pronghorn. And of course we know that Americans hunted any other predators that may get lucky and catch a pronghorn, such as wolves and mountain lions, to near extinction. So these days the pronghorns are living the good life, lounging and grazing. Those are some happy little giraffes.
I was thinking about all the zombie movies and tv shows that’ve been so popular, and it made me think of the customs officer that confiscated my tomato’s the other day. I think I’d rather fight zombies than follow idiotic rules about tomatoes. Bring on the zombies.
Trump’s tariff war is heating up. I usually try to avoid writing anything political because I like people to read what I write, and I don’t care enough to argue about it, but I’m gonna make a controversial statement. I think a trade war is a great idea. Ever since Ronald Reagan our politicians, of all political stripes, have been fully on board with free trade and globalization. The result has been that whoever is the most desperate and willing to work for the lowest wage gets to make the stuff we buy and the food we consume. And if a company can find someone even cheaper, they move to that country. That’s not good for human beings anywhere, it’s barely even good for shareholders. Could this be bad for truck drivers? Maybe, but don’t worry about me. Meanwhile, vast quantities of diesel are consumed to get all this stuff across oceans and continents. If you’re an environmentalist, this could be the best thing that’s happened in years. Don’t tell Trump though.