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.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Paper trails

IN the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Or so they say.
And if you’re one of the few – if not the only – places in Tijuana selling rolling papers, you seem to have a license to print money.
Yes in this blog first there was the search for the holy kettle, then came the hunt for the red sauce, and this last week has seen me go on a quest for Rizla.
Needle in a haystack? More like trying to find a Mexican named ‘Frank’.
Listen I’m not proud of it but hey, I smoke.
Not a lot, but enough to miss it if I don’t have it. A bit like missing out on the first cup of coffee in the morning, or finding out that the cinema has run out of popcorn shortly before the start of a much-anticipated film.
So a few weeks ago I discovered I was not only running out of Golden Virginia tobacco, but also Rizlas, or rolling papers.
I guess there are tobacconists here selling baccie – mainly for pipes – so that’s never been a huge issue. GV is replaceable until I can get back to the UK to buy some.
But without rolling papers you can’t roll a cigarette.
You can’t simply grab the nearest copy of El Mexicano and use the Chinese art of folding.
And I’m sure as hell not buying a pipe.
Sure, I could have ordered some papers online for delivery but I didn’t realise I was running out until I ran out. And besides, if I order now I probably won’t see a delivery before Christmas knowing the postal service.
And so began the hunt for papers.
“No biggie” I thought.
A couple of days after running out I popped into two general liquor stores to ask for ‘rolling papers’.
Well, I say ‘ask’ for rolling papers. I simply said ‘tienes?’ (you have?) and then did the universal finger and thumb rolling action.
The first shop owner shouted ‘no’ and pointed to the door. The second just said ‘out’ before looking over and nodding at a makeshift security guard to assist.
I just as well had been wearing a T-shirt saying ‘Mexi-can lick my b*lls’ for the reaction it got.
I tried a few North American-style corner shops but still nothing.
Even the tobacconists drew a blank, and a frown.
And then it dawned on me why I got the initial reaction.
People over here, and in the US, simply do not smoke roll ups.
So when people see me rolling a cigarette they immediately think I’m rolling a joint.
“Marijuana?!” has been shouted in my direction more than once.
Followed quickly by a look of disgust.
One of Jacky’s friends believes it’s only a matter of time before I actually get arrested.
I was beginning to give up on the search until someone half suggested some downtown tattoo parlour come jewellery shop.
We trekked across town and eventually found the place. I honestly didn’t know whether I was going to get lucky or emerge with a dodgy facial piercing and inappropriate spider web tattoo.
I asked the question again ‘tienes… um…’ cue finger and thumb roll.
‘No’ was the reply.
But then a kind of wink-wink nudge nudge action occurred and I was led through the back of the shop. The owner or manager took out a large set of keys and slowly and carefully unlocked a steel-barred door.
‘What the f*ck have I just asked for’ I thought as I was led into the dimly-lit back room.
And there in the back, displayed almost picture-perfectly on a glass shelf were a few packs of rolling papers.
“Amazing,” I said excitedly.
“30 pesos,” came the response.
Er… nearly £2 per pack?!
Oh what the hell. Money can buy me love.
Mission accomplished.
On the way back home on the outskirts of TJ, it dawned on me the number of pharmacies dotted around the place similar in frequency to the number of Spar shops in the UK.
They are literally everywhere.

Mas barata: 24-hour pharmacies for drugstore cowboys

Of course the reason is that neither Mexico, or indeed the US, has a National Health Service.
Instead they have countless pharmacies, and doctor and dental practices battling it out for business.
Seriously, in the UK the average Boots shop is pretty large but over here they have like ‘mega’ pharmacies with daily deals on pills and potions.
It’s almost surreal to see some boasting ‘24-hour’ service. I mean, 24-hour kebab shops, 24-hour Tesco… 24-hour Superdrug?! Weird.
But I guess when you’re ill, you’re ill.
Jacks tells me that Mexico, specifically TJ, has something called ‘medical tourism’ which is a large part of the city’s economy.
Every day thousands of Americans cross the border into Mexico simply to buy medicine because it’s cheaper than the US.
Anyhow, I’m off for a smoke.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Seasons in the sun

I’VE finally discovered, albeit reluctantly, what it feels like to be cooked like an oven chip.
The last week or so in Tijuana has seen temperatures rocket to somewhere near the obscene.
You know, the sort of temperatures where you could easily fry an egg on the pavement.
For a fairly pale-skinned Englishman it’s been a jolt to the system.
We have no air conditioning in the house so we rely on ceiling fans. Which, going back to my earlier comment, really does make you feel like you’re living in a fan oven without an ‘off’ switch.
By day temperatures have peaked at around 44 degrees. By night, a mere 25 degrees.

Feeling hot, hot, hot... and this was nearly three weeks ago

And the best is apparently yet to come.
Every year this region (Baja California) experiences something called the ‘Santana winds’.
Despite the name it has nothing to do with the legendary guitarists’ problems with flatulence.
It has everything to do with the blustery dry winds which sweep off the Arizona desert and across the region. They apparently make breathing difficult. And just to add insult to injury, you also have to close all the doors and windows because the wind brings with it dust and sand.
The mere mention of the winds brings a look of horror and discomfort to a Mexican’s face.
And seeing as we haven’t yet experienced this natural occurrence, I’m inclined to pull the same face just thinking about it.
For me it’s been strange adjusting to the ‘autumn’ in Mexico.
In England it’s one of my favourite seasons. That feeling when you wake up one day, and you just know, that autumn has arrived. You can sense it in the air and feel it in the breeze.
Well we might as well be living on the face of the sun because, despite the fact it’s now autumn here, it feels like the height of summer to me.
The heat in Afghanistan, where I spent three months mid-summer in 2010, was intense. But we had air con.
Here we literally just cook in our own skin. Even people who visit the beach mostly sit in the shade.

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside (albeit in the shade...)

Impromptu Mexican jam session en la playa

You walk outside on particularly hot days and TJ is like a ghost town. People stay inside until it cools off.
I’m minded to sit outside like a sun-worshipping rock star. But hey, I stand out enough as it is let alone with deep agonizing sun burn.
But hey, when we have ventured out and about, my new home-town is still as fascinating, fun and downright weird as it has been since I arrived.
As I keep saying, things are very different here.
Picture the scene, we’re sat in Burger King one night surrounded by kids with ‘happy meals’, or whatever the king calls them.
All their noise is drowned out by the volume of the large television screen which sits central and imposing in the restaurant.
We tuck into our food, I glance up and ask… “Um, what are these people on the chat show talking about?”
“Oh, the woman is teaching the guy how to control his ejaculation…” Jacky nonchalantly replies.
“Oh, okay…”
I’m loving it.
Only in TJ.
My mum asked a few weeks ago why I haven’t sent her a postcard.
It’s simply really. They don’t sell them here, at least... I don’t think they do.
I can’t imagine that pictures of armed men with blacked out faces standing next to a taco stand would really sell here.
I don’t know, maybe there’s a market there that I’ve just cornered?!
Besides for some reason unbeknown to me the postal service is, well, pants.
A letter takes between five and nine weeks (on average) to arrive here.
I think a postcard from an astronaut on the surface of the moon would arrive quicker.
I wish I knew why. A second class stamp here might as well boast a sticker saying ‘ignore until the moment the sender thinks it’s lost – and then send’.
And the postmen in TJ don’t wear uniforms. It’s like giving your post to a random guy in the street on a motorbike hoping that he is who you think he is.
This place is indeed fascinating and I guess, that’s what makes each day so captivating.
Thanks for reading.
Oh, and ‘привет’ to my Russian readers!