Sunday, 28 March 2010

These Are a Few of My Favourite Things

There are no pictures to go with this blog because the upload speeds here are atrocious


Things I have appreciated on this trip: cheap fags and occasionally the opportunity to smoke them indoors. I'm still only halfway through the 400 I bought in Costa Rica for around a pound a packet, and although my lungs no doubt would rather I found a new hobby it's certainly been something to occupy my hands with and mitigate the unpleasantness of adopting a marijuana free lifestyle. One vice at a time I tell myself.

My wonderful Dell laptop, which, dodgy touchpad aside has outperformed all my expectations, keeping me in touch by text, voice, video call and blog; creatively productive and thoroughly entertained. All my L-R-G clothes which always leave me feeling quietly confident that, although my apparel may be slightly brash, it's quality, well engineered brash. The fantastic All Saints wallet Sy Hackney gave me for my birthday last year which never fails to make me feel like a gent.

My British passport - the rest of the world’s immigration systems have not quite caught up with what a bankrupt and oppressive regime it now represents and I have regularly been waved through borders far faster than those bearing less respectable documentation.

My rather late entrance to the worldwide party that is Ableton Live! - despite my long term resistance to its charms I have been revelling in the ability to not only continue to develop my dj skills in the absence of decks, but to perform moves that are simply impossible with the traditional pair of turntables.

The ocean. The ocean has been a near constant companion on this trip. I am no beach bunny, and in fact I have no doubt that most of my readers would be both shocked and appalled by how little time I have spent on the frankly idyllic beaches that have been practically on tap since my departure from E11. The simple fact is that, without excellent company I swiftly grow bored on beaches. After taking in the majesty of the view, the blueness of wave and sky and the whiteness of the sand I am left rather stuck. I am not a surfer, and serious sunbathing reduces me to tears of tedium - not to mention that for me to survive more than half an hour of equatorial sun requires me to wear sunblock of such a numerically well endowed nature that it renders the entire exercise rather intellectual. Despite all this...perhaps it's best to describe it as indifference...to actual beaching, simply knowing that an unimaginably vast expanse of roaring, thudding, powerful ocean is a mere stones throw away has provided a rather subtle feeling of...satisfaction.

My Nokia N86 smartphone which has been a solid stills and video camera, apart from in low light, an mp3 player, a backup video player and web browser, currency and unit converter and which I used to write the first draft of this blog while sitting in an upmarket Indian restaurant in Fiji.

Things I have not appreciated so much. Sadly, my Serato setup. The one gig I have played on my journey had a system installed. And that was in my first week. Since then there has been no call for it whatsoever and I’m pretty sure the vinyl will be fatally damaged by the time I get it back home. Other than that I think I have used everything else in my kit, from the mini travel gaffa tape, to the Nintendo DS or the shiny Adidas track pants (perfect for flying)- they have all found their time and their place and justified their existence.

My shoe choices have worked out, after being supplemented with some smart trainers and I’ve used and in some cases replaced all the toiletries. The only thing I’ve really missed? I laughed at it when I say it on the list of must have items provided by my favourite camping shop, but I really wish I’d brought...a universal sink plug. No hostels have plugs in their sinks - never ever thought it would get to me, but there you go. People are strange. Wherever you go.

Voodoo out.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Zombies of the United States



Well here I am in a town so small it doesn’t really have a name. It’s a collection of houses by a motorway; my hostel's street address is 59,000 and something. I’m on the north shore of the most populous Hawaiian Island; Oahu, in a district imaginatively called North Shore. It’s the home of surfing's most prestigious international competition and, surprisingly, it’s as grey and miserable as a November morning in Leytonstone. This suits me fine as my shorts need a wash and I can bust out the denim.



I know it’s been a while since I wrote: I did do a short piece on the woes of American public transport but I decided no-one wanted to read a thousand word rant about trains. Suffice to say they have about three trains, which are very nice and modern, but they don’t join up to each other. Or the airports. Which makes them about as much use as a Play-dough drill-bit.



When I came back from San Diego on the Amtrak double decker to go to Venice Beach I couldn’t get from the biggest train station in LA to one of their biggest tourist districts on the underground and had to make a one-hour journey by public bus through some pretty damn ropey neighbourhoods. My subsequent journey to the international airport, which was only a very short distance away, again had to made on a special hotel/airport shuttle service (private minibus) as the state simply does not feel it necessary to enable these kinds of routine journeys by public transport.


The Botanical Centre in San Diego's incredible Balboa Park - imagine Hyde Park, but with all the South Kensington Museums, both Tate's, the ICA, the Globe Theatre AND Kew Gardens all inside it - stunning

You’ve all read many times about how dependant the USA is on the car. Let me tell you that it is no exaggeration. Even in the rich, populous, progressive towns and cities I have visited the infrastructure for a car free life simply does not exist. I can only imagine what it must be like in rural areas but I have only yesterday read a despairing account of a man who has to drive 40m between stores because there are simply no public crossings and his children are not safe.



What is strange is the way the drivers behave around the occasional pedestrian they do encounter. Whereas in London both foot and car passengers are always in a precocious rush, each exploiting any gap they come across, here all the drivers slow down and come to a halt for you at traffic-light free intersections. And it’s so strange because I'm used to just letting the cars go and then walking behind them, but here I’ve been locked into a number of traffic halting impasses where I’ve been waving at the driver to proceed and he’s refused.



I have come to the conclusion that it is because they feel sorry for the pedestrian, assuming he or she is either a lunatic lefty-liberal or one of the army of disenfranchised non-persons that populate every urban area.


Didn't have a suitably grim shot of an 'untouchable' so I've used a beautiful sunset to symbolise hope instead :P

Even here in Oahu where a two or three bedroom wooden house of unappealing and uninspired design can sell for over $3,000,000 (they say London has inflated property prices – San Diego and Hawaii laugh us out of town) and the average income is no less than $63,000 annually there are still the homeless by every retail outlet, on the beach and surprising you by being completely normal looking and then begging money, food and cigarettes on the steps of Starbucks.



More than the rampant safety culture, more than the sheep like pedestrians waiting for a signal to cross an empty road, more than the doggy massage parlours and relentless, insular, ignorant and paranoid patriotism; what has upset me again and again and made me sure I could never live in the United States permanently is its divisiveness, elitism and willingness to abandon its citizens. There are people and then there are non-white people and then there are the non-people. If you have an accident, and your arm is horrendously mutilated and your insurance will not cover it then the government will pay for the operation. But if you will never work again, you will never be insured again. And you will never be able to repay the government or pay taxes again. So you join the army of the disenfranchised untouchables forever cursed to remain outside of society looking in through beard and beer obfuscated rimy eyes, sleeping on cardboard with a jacket over your head.



Now, every country has its failings. America’s market systems have driven huge growth, globalisation, the creation of many technologies for which we are all dependent on a daily basis. Taxation is relatively low. But give me the Norwegian system any day. I’d rather pay high taxes and know that every human being is given at the very least all the chances they need to try and be who they want to be, all the healthcare possible to help them survive. And can probably get a bloody train to the airport.

Voodoo out.


ps. in response to my last post about Disney songs, two people requested 'everybody wants to be a cat' from the Aristocats, so here it is! I've never seen the film, but I think I might have to now :)

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Some banging Disney tunes

Random I know, but I fancied something light hearted after all that writing...



A Friend Like Me from Aladdin

Robin Williams smashing it :)




Can You Feel The Love Tonight from the Lion King

The instrumentation is so phat in this. One of the all time great power-cheese ballads!



A Whole New World from Aladdin

Aww...



I Wanna Be Like You from Jungle Book

Sung, of course, by the inimitable Louis Armstrong.


Any one else got some favourite Disney bangers?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Costa Rica Round-Up



I’m in the departure lounge of San Jose International, and it’s cute! Petit, one might say, sporting as it does a meagre sixteen gates. Heathrow probably passes sixteen gates sitting upon the throne post-breakfast. I like to imagine it would have a full English and then read the Telegraph while at stool. San Jose International is very busy this morning, I suspect an expansion project or second international airport will be necessary very soon.

----------------------------

It’s been a while since I did any bona fide travelogue-ery so I think a round up of my Costa Rican exploits is in order. It’s as brief as it could be. Which when you are writing up around a months worth of travel isn't very brief at all.

I last travel blogged my waterfall scaling escapade in Montezuma. As you may remember I was not impressed with Montezuma town proper. It’s very dirty, very touristic and the huge number of dope smokers means it fully earns its nickname ‘Montefumar’ (fumar being the Spanish verb for smoking). Not the ideal location for a reformed pothead to find himself in. My actual destination was Manuel Antonio on the southern Pacific coast of the mainland.


Montezuma bay


on a boat

Next up however was a one hour speedboat ride across the bay to the infamous tourist destination Jaco. Which is either pronounced ‘hack-o’ or ‘yakko’ depending on the dialect being spoken. I’d been warned not to go and that it was full of ‘disgusting’ prostitutes, but that's where the boat left from.

It was a horribly built up pit of sleaze there’s no doubt about it. The only thing it had going for it in my book was that the hostel was the single place I have stayed at so far (USA included) that has been equipped with a frankly luxurious 3Mb broadband connection. And it had air-conditioning.

Needless to say, I tucked myself away in the dorm and downloaded several series of Top Gear which has been my faithful cultural anchor throughout the journey so far. I will soon have watched everything Clarkson and co have ever recorded and am not quite sure what I’ll do when that fateful day finally arrives. But I digress.


The hostel in Jaco


I checked out of whatever the hostel was called (probably Jaco Backpackers or some such) around 7.30am and went to queue up for a bus before the sun got too hot – Jaco is the hottest Costa Rican town I visited. I got talking to a nice American lady who was an experienced CR veteran. We boarded the bus to Quepos together but sadly I’d overcompensated for the massively dehydrating effects of Jaco’s supremely inhospitable climate. I had to bail in a small town called Parrita and find myself a portacabin.


Now this was not quite the disaster it might at first seem. Firstly the inter-town buses cost around $2 a piece despite the large distances they cover so I wasn’t massively out of pocket for my unplanned toilet stop. Secondly, as is usually the case after around five minutes, conversation with the female had dried up to a trickle. Thirdly I was supremely happy to be in a medium sized Tico town which was not in any way touristic. I had a wonderful lunch and some free wifi at a place called Don Camilo’s, which is a fairly generic restaurant name in CR, and caught the next bus to Quepos, which cost a dollar.

At Quepos I did not stop to do any sightseeing as it’s another dodgy little tourist trap and immediately boarded the Manuel Antonio bus, tame monkeys and giant iguanas set firmly in my sights.



In Manuel Antonio I stayed at the imaginatively titled Manuel Antonio Backpackers.

It was probably my joint favourite time in Costa Rica. Some of the Swedes from Funky Monkey turned up and I met a bunch of interesting Canadians, Americans, Germans and another Brit. I made a visit to the national park and saw a kind of giant rodent, several very tame Howler and White-Faced monkeys and a variety of large lizards and iguanas. On another trip a friend also photographed a bright green venomous snake in the act of consuming a large toad two or three times the size of it’s own head.


The provocatively named 'bastard palm'



Houses in Manuel Antonio - there are many different styles of house building in close proximity: mock Asian, European, Latin, Modern

We also went out to a couple of awful attempts at a club night which reinforced my notion that should I experience a total death of ambition at some point I could make a fortune with a truck and a soundsystem travelling around the country putting on decent shows. ‘Cause they don’t have any. The 20 years past visit’s of Depeche Mode and Iron Maiden are still being discussed and while I’m sure it does exist somewhere a native music scene was at no point promoted to me. Each town just has a ‘discoteque’ or two playing the some combination of salsa, meringue, house and reggaeton. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you realise all the DJ’s are playing from the pretty much the same bag.




From Manuel Antonio I plotted an expedition to the mountainous cloud forests of the Monteverde region. I hoped to do the whole trip in one day. I got on a bus to the port town of Puntarenas and settled down to the metal-fusion stylings of Planet X. Sadly, when I arrived and booted it round the corner to the Monteverde bus stop I’d missed the last bus by half an hour. I was going to have to pay for a night in Monteverde and a hotel room in Puntarenas. Puntarenas stank, and looked like someone had transported Southend-on-Sea to Mexico and then dropped a bomb on it. It was ruined and I felt a constant need to look over my shoulder.


Puntarenas

There was no internet in sight and the tourist information office was shut because it was a Sunday. I found a bank that bizarrely was open and they told me to check in to the Imperial Hotel as it was cheap. As I’d already spotted it I decided to take the path of least resistance. I never really felt that paranoid in Costa Rica, but walking around the place with my big touristic backpack made me feel, and look, like a target and I wanted rid of it ASAP.

I the entirety of my life I have rarely encountered such a poorly-monikered facility as the ‘Grand Imperial Hotel’. A crumbling wooden edifice it was managed by a fat, balding fifty-something man who could literally only read by holding items such as bills, maps etc around two inches from his squinting visage. He was still quite capable of renting me a smelly little hole of a shack for $20. I put up and shut up, set my alarm for 6am and got an early night.



I have to admit that Puntarenas was slightly more attractive in the beautiful morning light. I caught the 7.15 bus after a traditional beans, rice and scrambled egg breakfast – which really sets you up for the day but doesn’t leave you feeling as bloated as an English. It was a tiny little broken down thing but yet it bravely set off like a faithful pack animal responding to its master’s whip. It was a slow and winding crawl, sometimes on tarmac and sometimes on gravel but many hours later we shuddered into Monteverde with what was left of my spine.



The village of Santa Elena forms the tourist hub of the Monteverde region – from here you can book all kinds of activities ranging from coffee plantation tours to bungee jumping. Sadly the first thing I had to deal with was the ridiculously pushy host of the place I’d booked into. Everywhere, from the booking confirmation email, to the receptionist, to a poster on the bedroom wall and even extending to an obviously fake laminated letter beneath the transparent table cloth on the kitchen table was the repeated instruction to only book tours through the host.

I really hate being told what to do.

So the repeated exhortations just made me want to absolutely nothing, especially nothing booked through her. The village did have a snake warm and ‘Insect World’ however so I trundled off to pay them a visit.



Insect World was up first and it was, tbh, a little bit disappointing. The downstairs was full of glass display cases of the kind that went out of fashion in the 1950s. Hundreds of pins skewered a host of giant, exotically coloured and shaped beetles, butterflies, scorpions and spiders. Possibly most dramatic were the giant locusts whose size simply astonished me. Upstairs they have the live stuff, which is what I’d paid up to see. Poisonous scorpions, big skittery tarantulas, a Wandering spider – which did NOT come out of its cage, no surprises there – and various big cricket-y hings, giant beetles etc. The guide was absolutely fearless, poking and prodding various fearsome bugs that simply couldn’t be bothered to appear threatening. I declined his repeated offers to hold the wriggling beasties.

I pootled up the hill to the snake farm. Which turned out to be a snake zoo. I’d been hoping to hold some nice big snakes (funny how I love holding snakes but would rather run a marathon on hot coals than hold a tarantula) but that wasn’t on the agenda. I did see some pretty cool snakes though. Interestingly, none of the venomous snakes were moving, whereas several of the much larger constrictors were very busy – trying to escape from their glass prisons. Some of them were performing quite astonishingly acrobatic feats in their attempts to scale the walls of their enclosures.


The deadly Eyelash viper


The next day my buddy Bren showed up and we checked into a far nicer hostel a couple of doors down the street. Here the dope smoking, music loving host got us beer and mainly just let us get on with it. A vast improvement.

Bren convinced me that we should book places on the ‘Extremo’ tour in the morning.



Ever heard of a 'canopy tour'? No, well there all the rage in CR. Basically they involve either walking, swinging or zip-lining through hills and tree-tops. Extremo involves 9 cables crossing valleys at heights of...I don't know. Far too bloody high!



They pop you in a climbing harness and then you hike to a hilltop, get attached to a cable and then zip across the gulf separating two hillocks. There is also a Tarzan swing where you are attached to a rope and then pushed off a ledge to have a swing around...trouser-browning stuff. Then there's the superman. 1km of cable with no controls on your speed...


video

It's fine for the Special Forces I'm sure, but I was never meant to travel by being strapped to a half inch steel cable and pushed of a cliff by a small man called Jose.


From Monteverde it was a four-and-a-half hour bus ride back to San Jose. Fortunately I’d learnt my lesson and slightly dehydrated myself before the ride meaning it was as smooth and comfortable as a four hour ride in a twenty year old bus in Central America is ever likely to be. I stayed at Galileo hostel again, it’s very like 491 and they are very friendly there. Saturday I had one more Casado for old times sake and caught a taxi for San Jose International.

Voodoo out.

I realise this would have been better as two or more articles... In future should I write more about the travel or my thoughts and random stuff? Let me know.

I understand people have been struggling to sign up to Blogger in order to comment. If you have a googlemail account it’s quite straightforward as you can just link Blogger to that.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A Rambling Confession

I have to admit I'm really struggling with being on my own. I knew that my friends were incredibly important to me, but now I realise how much I depend on them as a kind of buffer zone or distraction from the contents of my head. I wonder as well if chronic fatigue is an issue, because even though I have not smoked marijuana for a month now I often find myself unable to motivate myself. I really hoped that I would study composition, work out and maybe read some philosophy while on my trip. However most of the time I simply need to rest.

I am so thoroughly determined to not waste my life; more than ever I feel that I must make a success of something in my life. Whether it is to be as a DJ, running a bar, being a politician, journalism or continuing to run events professionally I am not content with simply more coasting and unnaturally extended adolescence. But yet I find it so hard to turn these desires into focused, continual effort. And I am not so naive as to believe greatness, or even a measure of success will come without putting in thousands of hours of work. Which is so, so hard for me.

Someone here told me I should think about seeing a psychiatrist - that my depression was a result of putting too much pressure on myself. I wonder - but I don't think you get anywhere in life without being determined to be better at something than 99.9% of everyone else in the same field. And I guess I still believe I deserve to be a superstar.

I don't know if this confessional will cheer you up. Writing some of my thoughts down helps me to process and order the chaos in my head. Another issue is that I miss my ex-girlfriend more than ever. That experience changed my life forever, made me an adult (a bit more of one, at any rate). However clich├ęd it is to write this, she showed me what love was. Whatever genetic function love fulfils it is undoubtedly a very real part of being a human being - yes, some things have yet to be explained by science. Still, I feel that the kind of happiness, stability and love I know I deserve, and the family I will one day have, will only come from continually refining and improving the package that is Robin Eden.

Tears are actually running down my face as I sit in a public place writing this. Maybe they are necessary too.

Don't worry about me too much. I'm safe, and I haven't done anything too stupid. I will persevere and ultimately win whatever crazy game I am playing (I think it's called being a human being).

I wrote this as a letter to my father.

Voodoo out. but not for the count!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

My Big Phat Cock-Up




I remarked to my brother shortly before i left how useless the body's proclivity toward heating up in times of stress is. I had arrived at my local station one frosty winters morning only to discover i had left my ticket at home.

Despite the fact that my respiratory system had insisted on me remaining distressingly cold throughout the walk to the station, as soon as I was mildly distressed i became hotter beneath the collar than a hard pressed Gordon Brown at prime ministers question time.

Presumably our bodies keep the thermostat set fairly low the majority of the time thanks to some part its sell-by date evolutionary dictum to conserve energy. This is clearly unnecessary in a modern world where most of us are dramatically overburdened with calories and, indeed, would welcome the opportunity to consume a few more guilt free. Forget skimming pills and designer diets, imagine being able to lose weight simply by jumping into a chest freezer.

The reason i'm talking about this now is that this afternoon i had a similarly armpit-moistening moment. Funnily enough it was also caused by a transport cock-up. This one was on a substantially more epic scale. I'd been very proud of the hundred dollar ticket to California I'd managed to book myself online. The travel agent back home couldn't compete and I'd been quietly chuffed about it ever since.

Unfortunately, when I went to check in online this afternoon the smile was thoroughly wiped from my face. It turns out there are two San Jose's. One is in California, and there's no prizes for guessing where my hundred flight left from. Or the size of the refund I'll be getting. So, down a hundred bucks, looking at six hundred more on my credit card, sweating like a pig in my, admittedly lovely this time, hotel room and feeling like a prize...

Well, i'm not going to put that in print that it's a family blog. You can fill in the blanks can't you? You managed earlier. Tune in next week!

Voodoo out.

ps, there's a mosquito in here somewhere, I know it!

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