North America


I wrote a page about my week in Texas in December. It’s longer than most entries, so I put it in its own page. You can read A Texas Fairytale here.

After starting out the month by spending a week sharing a room with roaches and mosquitoes, I was glad to arrive in Minnesota and be welcomed into a warm, cosy house. Meghan’s family made me feel like one of the family when I stayed with them for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s. It was my first Christmas away from home. After 22 years around the same fireplace, I knew it was going to be different this year. It was my first white Christmas.

WalterOn Christmas day Meghan and I built a snowman called Walter. With his open arms, charcoal eyes and Mexican hat, Walter stood proudly in the garden, facing us through the kitchen window, happily embracing the cold. Walter made my Christmas.

My mum had sent me a package for Christmas that had my stocking in it, so it still felt a little like the Christmas I’m used to. Although we didn’t open our presents until 10pm, but that was unusual for everyone. Meghan’s grandmother said, “I’m 82 years old and this is the latest I’ve ever opened my Christmas presents!”

I went skiing for the first time in Minnesota, and loved it. I was jealous of all the little kids who were fortunate enough to have snow every year, and were doing tricks and jumps off snowboard ramps, while Meghan was trying to show me how to put one leg in front of the other and walk.

I flew to New York from Jamaica, and stayed there for 4 days with Meghan and her friends on Long Island. Some people in America go crazy when it comes to Christmas decorations for their houses and gardens. One house had caused the street to become gridlocked from so many people trying to see the house and garden. The entire garden was filled with illuminated ornaments, while the entire garage was converted into a luminous nativity scene. Besides seeing some crazy Christmas decorations in New York, I also saw the most breathtaking view thus far: the entire New York City skyline from I-278 in Brooklyn. 

Explosions in the SkyThe reason I was in NYC was to see Explosions in the Sky. I saw them on two of their three dates at the Bowery Ballroom. We managed to get close to the front on both nights and had perfect views. The first show was incredible. I read afterwards that their record label thought it was one of the best shows they’ve ever done. They were amazingly tight and went insane during the intense parts. I felt like I was on drugs (I wasn’t!) and I’m so glad I have seen them now, at last. The venue was the size of upstairs Zodiac, but with the bar downstairs, so the crowd was perfectly silent during the quiet parts of their set. They said it’d be their last tour playing small venues because they had to play three nights at that venue to satisfy demand, and their next tour will have to unfortunately be at larger venues. Shame.

Jamaica was probably the best and worse place I have ever been to. Everyone there is a hustler. Locals see a white guy and think he wants drugs or sex, because they all think – and this is probably true – that the only reason foreigners come to Jamaica is for drugs and women. On the first night I arrived, one guy offered me ganja, cocaine, magic mushrooms, ganja cake, opium, and finally, after I said no to all those things, I was offered his bitches.

A rasta and his speedboat, NegrilOn the second night, I stayed at a place recommended by Lonely Planet. I must have an out of date book. My “hotel” was a hurricane-battered dive on the beach. There were no mosquito nets, the bed had a filthy mattress that was once white and is now black (although the bed had clean sheets), and after I paid, I found a used tampon in the sink. Shortly after I arrived, two women came out of the room next to mine and offered me sex while they held their kids in their arms. I ignored them, and they started shouting things like, “What? You don’t like blacks?” It was ridiculous.

After a couple of days I finally got out of Negril. I met a rasta called MC Karl and he showed me the real Jamaica. He took me on a four hour drive out of the city and we went to his home, an unfinished, abandoned hotel, high up in a rainforest. Surrounding me was the deafening sound of the jungle. The sound of a billion crickets. In the compound, there was no running water or plumbing, yet this guy lived there with about 10 other families. When we went into his bedroom, a little boy ran across the hall into his room. It was sad; the boy only had one eye.

Poverty is everywhere in Jamaica. Most people are unemployed (70% of the population) and live in single-room wooden sheds with corrugated iron roofs. I saw a one-legged rasta have to hop across the street as he had no crutches. Locals think white people have money, and since I was the only white person around most of the time, they all tried to force me to buy anything they had. Most of the time it was weed or ‘Jamaican pum-pum,’ but sometimes painted wooden fish or manky bananas. I’m quite pleased to say I never gave in to anyone’s offers, despite often having people chase me down the street.

The drum ceremony; MC Karl and 85 year old maroon.However, good things did come out of my time in Jamaica. I went scuba diving for the first time (and loved it), swam in the sea every day, went into the rainforest, witnessed a drum ceremony by maroons, and met some interesting people. I also had some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten in an all-organic restaurant in Ocho Rios.

I must admit though, after sharing a room every night with roaches or mosquitoes, and feeling like my wallet was being raped every time I paid for something (Jamaica is more expensive than the States), I couldn’t wait to return to America.

Halloween party, MassachusettsSomehow two months have passed in Boston, and already I’m packing my things. Time flies when you’re doing nothing, especially when you’re having fun doing it. It’s been great to not have to work after a dull year at Sophos. Although I have been doing some work for Safenames and Meghan’s uncle (www.olsenimages.com), it was only about a week’s worth, and I could do the work without having to get out of bed. I had plans to do productive things with my time in Boston, such as learning Spanish, reading up on all the South American countries, and updating my website – but none of them got done. Laziness has been too good to resist, especially guilt-free laziness.

All that laziness is about to change though, as I’m off to Jamaica on Saturday. I was supposed to be going today, but I was no way near prepared. Last night I had hadn’t packed, and didn’t have anything for the hot weather, so I changed my flight to Saturday. That’s definitely the number one thing about RTW tickets. I must’ve rearranged my dates 10 times in North America alone.

Although probably the worst thing about the One World ticket is the inability to fly to Cuba and the US (actually it’s the fault of the US government, and their “Trading With The Enemy Act”), which is why I had to book my Jamaica to Cuba flights separately, and is now the reason why I’m not going to Cuba. Last week the Jamaican travel agent emailed me to inform me my flights have been “cancelled,” and they’re issuing me a refund. No proper explanation, they simply said “it’s beyond our control.” I’m quite gutted as it means no taxi rides in 1950s cadillacs and no communism for me, since I’m staying in Jamaica now.

Jamaica should still be good, Meghan’s uncle has been many times and highly recommends it, and it’s still in the Caribbean, so I will still see white sandy beaches and experience a culture way different to Europe and the US. Meghan’s uncle told me where the cool kids hang out in Jamaica, so I’m heading there, hoping I won’t spend the week alone (there are no youth hostels in Jamaica.)

So yes, I’m leaving Boston for good on Saturday. It’s kinda sad as it feels like I just arrived, but I’m looking forward to seeing Jamaica, Explosions In The Sky in New York, and eating chicken fried steak in Texas. I can’t wait to meet as many Bush-loving Texans as I can, and listen to their views on life.

Snow in Montréal It was Thanksgiving last weekend. Since Meghan had a break from uni, we decided to boycott Thanksgiving and visit Montréal for 4 days. It was an 8 hour bus ride there, so we got the night bus and woke up in the morning to find thick snow Montréal. It was so pretty – and so cold! We had to wear at least 4 layers of clothes at all times, and even the locals were saying it was cold for that time of year (apparently it gets as cold as -40 degrees Celsius in February!) While walking around the city, I decided that if I could choose any city to move to, it would be this one. It has beautiful old architecture and old cobbled streets, every sign is in French (even more so than France), a superb lively music scene with jazz and blues bars everywhere playing live music, the people are friendly (much like in Edinburgh) and it has so many indie record shops and clothes stores that it puts Camden to shame!

We stayed in two beautiful b&b’s there (not quite “budget” travelling!) The second one was very Victorian-esque, with antique furniture and decor everywhere; it felt like a step back in time. We had a four-poster bed in our bedroom, an en-suite with a tub in the middle of the bathroom, and a bidet! (I’d never used one before.) The landlady was a lovely old Hungarian woman, who went out and bought food (and a rose) just for us and made sure our stomachs were completely full. She told us one the time she went to London, in 1956, before she moved to Canada, and how life in London was back then. She told us that she used to see the gentlemen doing the gardening on Sundays, and in banks there were unmanned tables with change on it, for people to change their money. She also said when people were getting on buses there was never any pushing or shoving (compared to Hungary, she said), and when she went to a football match and the opposing team scored, the English men would clap for the other team if it was a good goal! I think she was a little disappointed when I told her England wasn’t like that anymore.

Oh, and the best thing of all: the all-organic, all-vegan restaurant we found on our last night. When we arrived, there were no signs on the outside indicating it was a restaurant. In fact it looked like an abandoned house. But we walked in, and it was like stepping into a hippy world (or the tipi field at Glastonbury). The restaurant was filled with colourful throws cushions, the walls and ceilings are painted with psychedelic colours, tinsel, tin foil, disco balls and subdued lighting.

Vegan restaurant, MontréalWe walked through the entrance room and into another room where a very flamboyant, very gay French man marched up to us in his black & white stripy top and tilted black beret and said in military style, “Have you booked? Have you been here before? How do you know of this place?” After we answered the questions correctly, he sat us down in what appeared to be the “first-timers” room. Another waiter, this one even more French and gay that the last, approached us and said, “Okay, here are the rules: you will get a two course meal, soup, and a main dish. If you do not finish both courses, including all the sauce, then you cannot order dessert, and you cannot come back to this restaurant ever again.” We were offered small, medium and large dishes, and they told us they hate wasting food, hence the reason you’re banned if you can’t finish.

The food was the best food we’d ever eaten; we practically licked our plates clean. Afterwards we went to the ice hockey arena where the Arcade Fire were supporting U2, and stood in the foyer and listened to the last few songs of the Arcade Fire’s set. What better way to spend our last night in Montréal?

A bedtime story, BostonI’ve been living in Boston for three weeks now. So far, I’ve spent most of my time hanging out in the apartment and in the college district nearby. I’ve been learning how save money and get by on as little as possible (such as stealing food in tupperware boxes at all-you-can-eat student cafeterias), and I’ve finally got into a routine of waking up in the afternoon. We have a mouse in our apartment, a cute little brown one who scurries across the floor at night to eat the leftovers from our plates. It’s been great so far, I feel like a student again. Sometimes I think back to Sophos life and laugh at the people still working there, complaining daily about their jobs while refusing to do anything about it.

I’ve been to a few gigs since I’ve been here. Boston has as many venues as London, but still the music scene doesn’t compare to Oxford’s. I saw Mono recently, and Broken Social Scene last week. Both gigs were good but not amazing, the support bands let down the night. The local supports here are nothing compared to those at the Wheatsheaf. Still there are some good out-of-town bands playing soon. Jackie O Motherfucker and Neptune are playing tonight for a Halloween show, so I might go to that, and Bright Eyes and Bell Orchestre are playing soon. Hella played here the other night but I only found out the following day. Gutted!

My first full day in the States, and I went to Vermont for the weekend, to visit Meghan’s aunt and uncle. It’s about 3 hours drive north from Boston. Their house – no, estate – is incredible. They own over 400 acres of land. When you look out the window across the rolling hills of Appalachia, they own as far as the eye can see. As Meghan put it, ”everything the light touches is theirs.” Their house has six bathrooms, two kitchens, and two or three living rooms. They have $12,000 paintings on the wall. It was a class of wealth I had never seen before. They’re upper-middle-class conservative Christians, who were very kind and generous, yet so different to the people who are usually in my life. On the first night we had dinner (Meghan’s parents were there too), Meghan’s aunt said, “Let’s say grace,” and everyone immediately put their hands together, shut their eyes and bowed their heads while Meghan’s cousin prayed, “Dear Lord, I thank you for putting this food on the table…” I had to bit my lip the whole time to stop myself from bursting out laughing. One half of me was in disbelief at what was happening around me, while the other half found it so funny because the only other time I’ve known people to say grace before dinner was the time Michael went to Plymouth, Indiana, and stayed with a family who said grace before eating a McDonald’s.

An after dinner anecdote, as told by Meghan’s aunt, was how much of a “nightmare” it was for her to decorate bathrooms in the house, because she said it was constant “shop shop shop.” She said, “One day I was at the checkout counter in a DIY store and I suddenly realised why I was so exhausted. So I said to the cashier, ‘You know what? I just realised why I’m so tired: I have nine bathrooms! No wonder I feel like I’m always shopping!’” I didn’t say anything. All I could think was: what was the cashier’s response?

Orchard in VermontThe scenic views in Vermont were beautiful, even though we arrived the weekend before all the leaves turn bright red and orange. All I knew about Vermont before I arrived was from the episode of Friends where Ross & Chandler go to stay in a hotel in Vermont and Ross gets addicted to the maple candy. So of course, I bought a box of this overpriced tourist attraction. It’s good, similar to Cornish fudge but not as creamy.