Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Rail Tales - Adventures on Public Transport

YOU know, I’m no weirdo… but I sure do seem to attract them.
I can be sat on a train or bus with maybe a hundred MILLION seats available around me and the weirdo will always walk up, sit opposite me, and engage me in some form of nonsensical conversation.
Because I’m just too nice to be rude I always seem to let them talk. And the next thing I know 40 minutes has passed, we know each other’s names, and I think I’m beginning to smell like he does.
Ahhh… public transport. Don’t you just love it?!
Stripped back to its essential purpose it provides the same thing all over the world – the place where every weirdo in town hangs out.
Whether it’s actually on the bus, train or tram, or indeed at the bus, train or tram station, these areas are the unofficial homes of the strange sorts who drift through day and night just being, well… weird.
If they’re actually on the public transport they’re in transit, and so provide almost a travelling entertainment show.
Every city’s the same. And believe me when I say that San Diego, situated right next door to TJ, is no different.
I crossed the border last week for a series of secret squirrel meetings - which sadly I can’t talk about right now.
Anyhow to get to Fashion Valley, where the meeting was taking place, I had to get the ‘trolley’ which – by UK definition – is an over-ground train.
The trolley took over an hour to get to the valley stopping at various industrial and residential areas, and Down Town.
And I knew, as soon as I stepped foot on it, I would be ‘entertained’ shall we say.
For someone like me getting a seat on public transport is like playing Russian roulette with an equally sinister possible eventuality.
Do I choose to sit next to the fairly sane-looking woman reading the newspaper whose hair is slightly mad-looking?
Or how about the guy staring out the window seemingly minding his own business, whose hand is rather worryingly close to his groin.

Hand placement debatable...
Hmmm… next carriage then.
I’m never sure whether the guy I sit next to will ask me for directions, or pee on me.
(For the record the latter hasn’t happened yet but we all know it’s only a matter on time…).
In any case the bottom line is if something strange is going to happen to you in your day, you can bet your bottom dollar it will happen on public transport.
On this particular day last week I jumped on the trolley, briefly forgetting the risks.
About five minutes in I looked up thinking ‘is that guy to the left of me staring at me?’
Sure enough he was.
He must have been little over 25 but the crazed focus and greyness of his tired eyes told me he had experienced far more in life than a young man should.
He didn’t engage me in conversation. He simply stared and made noises. Very LOUD noises.
He gargled, he whooped, he giggled, bleeted and barked, and he made bird noises – oh, and he muttered the occasional swear word.
All the time, staring.
Needless to say I switched carriages at the next stop.
The next carriage seemed okay at first. The seat next to me was free so I had a moment of relaxation.
And then the wire-framed black guy sitting opposite piped up ‘you look like a guy who knows about style…’
‘And you look, and smell, like a guy who just soiled himself…’ I thought.
Oh god. Can everyone just leave me alone, I pleaded in my head.
The icing on the cake came when, at the next stop, a guy jumped on board and asked to have the spare seat next to me.
He seemed okay and perfectly sane at first. But I soon realized he had some sort of facial skin complaint, which meant he couldn’t help but scratch himself.
Oh, and he really REALLY smelt of fish.
Did he have serious issues with his body odour? Or did he actually work in a fish market? Unsure. But I definitely wasn’t going to ask him.
The worst part was that this day was a particularly balmy 32 degrees. Everyone was sweating – including the fish guy.
And – whether on purpose or not – he proceeded to over-enthusiastically rub his sweaty arm and shoulder on me with every turn of the track.
What do you do?! Do you ask him to stop even though he might not actually know what he’s doing? Or do you let him continue with the thought in mind that this is now some sort of homo teasing game.
‘Oop… my stop’.
I get off, at – it soon becomes apparent – one of the roughest neighbourhoods in San Diego.
Still at least the chance of being peed on is minimal.
I need to buy a car.
People are indeed strange when you’re a stranger.
During that same transit I also saw a huge black man sitting opposite a three foot tall golden Buddha. You know, that’s an everyday sight right?
Another girl was so heavily tattooed it was difficult to make out whether she was born that way and had skin colour tattoed on her.
Getting in amongst the general public you also can’t help but rate people’s dress sense.
And a great many Americans seem to have some of the most bizarre fashion, well, disasters.
I mean, people wear sunglasses on their faces, and they wear them on their heads but… what’s with wearing them on the back of your head?!
These people might just as well wear T-shirts saying ‘tool’ on them.
I also hate people who wear their caps backwards. And then you see these people putting their hands up to shield the sunlight from their eyes. I’m sorry but WTF?

No caption needed here...
Anyway, Jacks and I are off to look for a car.
Hope you’re all well! Oh, and a big 'HELLO' to my followers in Russia, Ecuador and Poland! x

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The edge of reason

I’M not going to lie to you, the last couple of months have felt like an extract from Bridget Jones’ diary – only with me as the lead character.
A). Finally finish doing up house in England creating perfect living space and awesome batchelor pad – check.
B). Book random holiday to meet beautiful Mexican girl I met randomly online seven years ago – check.
C). Accidentally fall in love with beautiful Mexican girl in a moment’s glance – check.
D). Seemlessly lose level-headed nature, quit job, rent house and move to Mexico to be with beautiful Mexican girl – check.
Seriously, all the craziness of the last 15 or so weeks is not lost on me.
As I write this I’m sat in the bedroom of my new home in my new life in Tijuana Mexico.
I have no job, no car, and a very vague grasp of the language which surrounds me.
But you know what, as I've said before, all those things I held dear – aside of course from my family and real friends – bear no real significance to what I feel now.
It’s true what they say, your possessions start owning you.
So giving up the iPhone, the car, the HD TV, the all-singing all-dancing stereo surround system, the Sony PS3… the list goes on… was the single-most liberating thing I’ve ever done.
Some people have suggested that, at the age of 34, I’ve had some sort of mid-life crisis.
That’s crazy. I mean, those people in the throws of a mid-life crisis buy a car – they don’t move to Mexico! Love makes you crazy right? In my case I think it just accentuated it.
I’ve never been happier.
Things have been difficult at times. And there has been a pretty large sense of Groundhog Day on more than one occasion.
My life at the moment consists of me waking up late, taking breakfast, playing guitar, watching a movie and greeting Jacky when she returns from work (repeat x 7).
My plan has always been to take a break from work, throw caution to the wind and see what comes up.
During the course of my new-found life of leisure I have of course been attempting to find work. But christ, bureaucracy over here is interesting to say the very least.
I’ve been trying to ‘volunteer’ my journalistic services to a large international event which is coming up in October.
To ‘volunteer’, unpaid, it transpires that I need to have a special visa.
This visa is apparently only obtainable in Mexico City, which is a good three-hour flight from here. And it costs some serious money.
We contacted the immigration office here in TJ and they said – because they’re ‘friends’ with the international event organisers – that they’d ‘waive’ the necessity for me to get the visa.
Only snag is that they also said they aren’t prepared to give me a letter supporting this.
So it seems I can’t even volunteer legally without spending a chunk of money flying to central Mexico.
They did however offer me a ‘tourist’ visa for $15 which will allow me to stay here for 180 days as a holiday-maker. That’s the same passport stamp which I got for FREE on arrival in Mexico.
I tell you, someone really needs to set up a website for tourists which has valid visa information. They’ll make a mint.
You phone the British Embassy in Mexico and they say they ‘don’t deal’ with visa enquiries and pass you on to an $18 a minute hotline.
I do miss working for The Herald. Working at the paper you couldn’t help but feel a kind of responsibility to its readers.
The stories we wrote had an impact on people’s lives. They kept people informed of what was going on and what was right, and wrong, with society.
More often than you’d actually believe ‘Brian’ from Tamerton Foliot would be one of my biggest supporters – if only to help him publicise his monthly table top sale in the village.
“Hi Tristan, great work in Afghanistan… how long were you there?” he asked in the first phone call I received in the office after three months on the frontline.
“Well, actually it was…”
“Anyway,” Brian said interrupting.
“I need you to put something in the paper for me…”

"Get me the President.... oh, hi Brian"
Each to their own I guess. It was a good reminder that what you do is only important to those that find it important.
And that’s why – regardless of what a great many people in that newsroom thought – I always had my feet on the ground.
As I said in my somewhat emotional leaving speech at The Herald, I loved every single minute working there. I loved my job.
However in March within minutes of meeting her, I found something I loved more.
So now I find myself in Mexico, which I actually find hard to believe, is apparently a ‘third-world’ country.
I mean, what’s a ‘second-world’ country?!
The other weekend Jacky’s family took me to Pancho Villa which is a Mexican outdoor swap-meet or market.
Pancho Villa swap-meet/market

Jacky’s dad said it was important for me to go as it was the ‘real Mexico’.

What he failed to mention was that I needed to go in disguise as a ‘real’ Englishman in that market was going to get charged three or four times the price a Mexican would.
Puppies, furniture, medicine, fruit, fishing rods, pirated DVDs, car parts – you name it and it was being sold.
By the look of it I’m pretty sure a few people actually emptied their vaccum cleaners onto a table and tried to sell their contents.
I walked away with a squash racket for £2, a picture frame for £0.70 and some nail clippers for about £0.80. Result.
On the way back I was also surprised to see a sort of car rally going on on a stretch of wasteland.
This is apparently the weekly car sale where private sellers bring their vehicles to sell.
Did I mention that things are somewhat different round here…?
Anyhow, I’d best get back to doing um… nothing I guess.
I’ve actually got it down to a fine art, and I reckon that in four years time I’ll be entering the Olympics competing against other lads of leisure. At least then I might find it more interesting.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Home is where the heart is

TIJUANA has plenty of prominent landmarks and monuments.
The huge 160ft Mexican flag which flaps proudly over the city streets in the breeze, the spectacular arch, the awesome red-coloured Cerro Colorado mountain – these are all standout features.
But for me, there is one spot which stands out above all others as a symbol of what is both good and seedy about this place.
As you drive out of the city up into the residential areas, there on the right, is a building – on one side it plays host to a Church of England church, and on the other side is a lap dancing club called ‘Los Baldes’.
For saints and sinners... this building has it all
Even the club’s sign, fixed below the sign for the church, reads ‘noche de milagros’ (night of miracles).

There’s almost a divine beauty to the placement of the two establishments next door to each other.
I guess at least when you’re done having fun you can go and confess your sins a few steps away.
It really is hard to imagine a city in this world which has a worse reputation than Tijuana.
“Well, at least you’ve got a flak jacket,” was the obvious and uneducated comment from a Herald colleague before I left for Mexico’s shores.
That same colleague asked if Jacky and her family lived in a “tent”.
Yes, and they sharpen their spears and arrows before going hunting for food every morning.
I guess you can’t blame him, thanks largely to Hollywood Tijuana is seen as a tequila-swigging gun-slinging town – the latter day Tombstone.
When I mention I live here people immediately kind of cower, thinking I'm going to 'open up a can of whoop ass' or something.
It’s only when you have a direct link to a place that you begin hearing that place mentioned in films time and time again.
Sadly each and every time that mention is a slur. 
Personally I find TJ to have a gritty charm. It has a ‘can do’ mentality and a ‘f*ck you’ stance at the same time.
It’s kind of like how I imagine Iggy Pop to be.
TJ’s city centre is much like any other with high-rise buildings, Starbucks, and malls.
The ‘down town’ area is full of bars, taco stands and tourist shops selling sombreros and bottles of cheap tequila.
As you make your way out of the city there are areas which I guess you’d call well, poverty-stricken – or close to the definition. The sight of these areas reminds me of the vast residential areas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Like Rio these areas criss-cross the plains below the mountains like a giant patch-work quilt.
TJ is not the nicest place in the world – far from it.
If you want to find trouble it wouldn’t be too difficult.
But hey, look out your window... do you see golden palaces and rabbits skipping gleefully on the scissor-cut lawn?
I’m guessing not.
It’s a fascinating place. Its home to three million people and many of those people are from different backgrounds and areas of Mexico.
With its proximity to the US it also plays host to people from countless other countries who are here to knock on America’s door.
I still believe I am just about the only Englishman here.
Having now spent nearly seven weeks living in TJ I can honestly say I have been bowled over by the positivity of the people.
As an Englishman I know full well how we’re used to building things up far beyond their worth.
And as a nation we seem to enjoy knocking these things down again just as much as building them up.
Back home in Plymouth the grey skies seem to reflect the overall mood.
But here in TJ people stand with their heads held high. Yes, they agree that it’s not all be a bed of roses (citing some pretty extreme violence a few years ago revolving around the drug cartels) but they want change.
And I think the glorious climate has something to do with that foresight.
They want to shed the image which has been so long-associated with this city.
One thing which is sure to do more harm than good is the potential setting of Hangover 3 in the city.
Rumour is rife here and – while many people living in other areas of the world would say for sure that TJ would be the perfect setting for the third debauched installment – to me the prospect seems sad given the efforts that are being made to change the perception.
When I tell people I’m now living in Mexico I’m sure their minds immediately picture white sandy beaches, endless sunshine and tequila.
Sure the endless sunshine and tequila are in abundance, but the idyllic image is pretty far removed.
Tijuana is kinda like America’s ugly step brother who lives next door.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder.
Did I move to TJ chasing a dream of those white sandy beaches and tequila shots? Er, no.
I moved here to be with a girl who, with a mere glance, turned my world upside showing me that our lives don’t have to revolve around our jobs and the opinions of others.
My view every day is of Jacky. And there’s nothing more beautiful than the view of her smile each and every day, and the knowledge that I put that smile on her face.

As a newly-made friend told me a couple of weeks ago: “Tijuana, by its mere nature, attracts people who are re-inventing themselves.”
So let’s create something beautiful.

Oh, wait... news just in. We had a rather unwelcome visitor three nights ago in the form of a baby camel spider.
I spent a total of five months in Afghan and didn’t see one in the whole time. Seven weeks here and look what ran across the kitchen floor...
While the mere sight of it was terrifying, what was more alarming was the way – when cornered – it ran at us with its front legs held aloft.