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Change of plan... Due to the automotive cock-ups, mishaps and hidden expenses of Australia and New Zealand, I could no longer afford to drive and fish all the way from California to Miami to get my flight home. Thing is, I didn't really want to go home yet anyway either. So where is cheap and "near" California? The answer? Central America, of course!!! So there's a brief stop-over, before heading down to the border, but only after a spot of people watching in LA and the odd nostalgic pint of Stella Artois (and the accompanying nostalgic hangover).

The rain splattered the windows of the taxi to Nadi airport, and I felt happy to be leaving and embarking on a new leg of my tour, despite being subjected to a half hour rant by the driver on both politics and religion. These are subjects about which I know little and understand even less, so after nodding and shrugging at what I guessed might be the appropriate points in the rant, I checked in at the desk with my ears still ringing gently. 

Due to the stormy weather the flight was to be delayed by at least two hours. Great. I found a bar and ordered a beer, and somehow the time ended up being passed with a sweet elderly couple from Scotland who were furtively slipping plastic cups of their duty free whisky under the table as we waited. By the time the hour of take off came around, they had metamorphosed into some kind of lush version of The Krankies, and as I joined the queue at the gate they wished me well and declared how nice it had been to meet me; four times. The eleven or twelve hour journey passed uneventfully, which as far as plane flights go is always for the best I find, although because the plane could only take off half laden with fuel due to the foul winds, there was a stopover in Hawaii for a top-up. My how I wanted to be allowed off the plane for a while when we got there. This wasn't so much to see anything of the island, but more to get out of range of the guy from Seattle next to me who had been farting quietly but uncontrollably for the previous five hours. I hoped that it wouldn't have permanently tainted my clothes by the time we arrived in LA.

Before travelling to Los Angeles, I'd expected it to suck. In fact, virtually everyone I'd met who'd been 

Fishermen at Santa Monica Pier and fair. I was impressed to see the bloke on the left pull out a Postman Pat and a Bob The Builder on the next two drops down.

there had told me it would suck. As the plane circled LAX airport over the vast sprawling city, I gazed down at the acres of concrete through a thick sepia smog that smothered everything in it's shroud. Nothing I could see suggested anything other than that the 'suck' predictions would prove correct. The smog looked as foul as the mud-spattered fug created inside the plane by the bloke from Seattle.

After eventually getting out of the chaos of Los Angeles airport (surprisingly one of the worst I've ever visited!), a 


Look!! Mini-Me off Austin Powers!! Truly mixing with the stars now.

bus was taken to Santa Monica since I had been advised that it was one of the nicer districts of the city. I lugged my baggage through the streets and checked into yet another dorm room at the Santa Monica YHI, before heading out to investigate the area and it's world class people-watching. A few lovely Stellas (a relief after a lengthy period of non-stop Fiji Bitter!) were imbibed as the street entertainers, beggars, glammed-up shoppers and other urban wildlife went about their business, until the journey and Belgian lager caught up with me and the hostel bunk beckoned. 

This was to be the weirdest jet lag I'd ever encountered, brought about by leaving Fiji late at night on the 23rd, then getting through a 13 hour journey across the international date line, and finally arriving in the city of angels... and it's still the evening of the 23rd! I had no idea what was going on for a couple of days, and I'm sure I would have slept the sleep of the dead had it not been for the redneck jerk in the bunk above arriving back in the room completely off his box at 3am and then causing a scene about my towel hanging to dry on the end of the bunk. This ended up in an exchange of a few words, most of them beginning with F, before he blacked out on the bunk and began his death rattle snore and my jet lag finally claimed me for the rest of the night.

Above: I'd read that Lemmy from Motorhead was living in LA, but never expected to actually meet him in Venice. Another great moment in life. 

Below: "Ocean views" in the realtor's blurb sheet was pushing it a bit.


Against all expectations, the few days spent in California were really enjoyable: wandering the streets of Santa Monica, window shopping and people watching, and visiting the pier along the beach - even relenting there and buying a pair of mirror aviator style shades: it was California after all. 

Most of the birds gathered around the famous Muscle Beach, but I found myself more at home with the gulls down on Mussel Beach.

I never saw one of the dozens of fishermen lined up there catch a single thing though (I had no problems empathising...). I asked one of the blokes how he was doing:
"Not good, man" he replied, "but last week I did catch a bass here like this big!" he added with some excitement, indicating the monstrous proportions of said fish with his palms barely more than a foot apart. Gazing down at the choppy, turbid water, and not inspired, I decided my rods would stay in the tube while I was there and only see the light of day in more promising looking spots in weeks to come.

Another evening was spent sampling more of the great food and drink available there, finally settling on a few pints of Stella  in an English pub on Santa Monica Boulevard. I must have been getting nostalgic for home at this point. While the beer was slipping down a treat, a conversation was struck up with two strange-fruits at the bar who turned out to be British ex-pats that had been living and working in LA for several years. So long in fact that one of them was wearing a leather jacket, roll-neck sweater, tight jeans, Cuban heels, wrap around shades (inside the pub- at night) and all garnished off with a ponytail on top- a truly bizarre combination. Only in LA. I wondered if he worked in advertising. 

The subject matter turned to "soccer" (that's football, to give it it's correct terminology), as it does, and it became an everyday pub conversation I've had a thousand times. Until it got around to the bit where the bloke who didn't have a ponytail told me he'd been playing five-a-side that evening and was still a bit shaken up. "Why's that?" I asked. 

He went on to explain that he'd accidentally ran into an opponent "during a play" and knocked him to the floor. The guy picked himself up, showered him with a volley of abuse, and then stomped off to his car to fetch his gun. The situation was only defused by his 


Above: Even big names like Yoda are finding work hard to come by in Hollywood these days.

Right: The future for yours truly? Looks that way at the moment, but I guess there's worse ways to earn a living. Not many though.

team-mates when they made him take it back to his car and put it back in the glove compartment. Obviously coached by Eric Cantona. Like I say, only in LA.

I awoke with a Stella-head on - another nostalgic treat - and decided to have a day off from the stuff to try and let my brain regenerate a few of the murdered cells. But as it turned out, that night I shared a dorm with four Japanese kids who took it in turns to play musical beds until 5.30am - up and down all night like little oriental pogo sticks on Es. How I wished I'd had some Stella to kill off any brain cells I had left at that point. I love dorms.

As luck would have it, LA was the place I also met up yet again with my travel buddy from back in the Lake District Peninsulas, Lynneth Wilko, who had long suffered being stuck with me and the Scarlet Battlecruiser (R.I.P.) 

Had a look at most of Sunset Boulevard. 
No one told us it was 24 miles long. 
And we got off the bus at the wrong end.

in the now distant days of Australia. Having been back to England for a few months to top up the coffers a little, she'd decided to go travelling again, so LA seemed like an ideal place to cross our paths once more before heading off on a tour of as much of Central America as we could squeeze in. A fine idea. Not least of all cos it meant if I played my cards right I'd just spent my last night in a dorm.... Spot on.

The sightseeing in Los Angeles took us down to the terrific Venice Beach, which was all very bohemian and scene of perhaps the very best people watching on Mother Earth. Every facet of mental health issues can be viewed from your very own cafe seat beside the sidewalk. I loved it there. From the bloke dressed as Jimi Hendrix roller-blading down the tarmac knocking out his tunes on a guitar and a distorted amp, to the dude with his drum kit set up all alone in the middle of the wide sands of the beach. From jugglers, mime artists and karaoke freaks to hippies and beatniks blagging it as tarot card and palm readers. From pink poodles in frills and bows to overweight forty-something ladies with peroxide hair, hot pants and lipo-scars like bullet holes. From Spandex wrapped muscle bound poseurs to 400 pound lard-arses in cycling shorts. From silicone breasted bimbos with their pneumatic tits to reincarnations of Janis Joplin and the Mamas & Papas... they're all there on show along the Venice Beach sidewalk. Never, ever a dull moment. I'd recommend a Saturday afternoon at Venice sidewalk to anyone visiting LA.

The sidewalk is in contrast to the designer districts around Rodeo Drive though, with it's regimented and 


spotlessly clean streets saturated with Mercedes,  BMWs, Porsches, Ferraris, Range Rovers and Hummers.The shops with their thinly stocked shelves of designer garments and accessories, empty apart from a handful of wealthy customers. The whole ambience was of that of being artificial, almost stagnant and lacking any sign of vibrancy. Maybe that was just an unfair impression of it I developed in the couple of hours we spent snooping around there, but whatever, the only chance we had of walking out of the shops with anything would be to do a Winona. One look was enough.

With a day left in Los Angeles before starting the journey down into Mexico, it made sense to go and cast an eye across Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood, so the bus was taken in that general direction, and eventually we got off at the intersection with Sunset. We began to walk through what appeared to be a normal, if pretty upper class, Californian suburbia. We walked a mile or so, and still we'd seen nothing of interest. So we turned right around and walked back the other way, past the junction, and another mile in the opposite direction. Again without seeing anything of interest. We went into a real estate office to ask directions. An hour and another bus ride later (through Beverly Hills) we got off on the Sunset Strip. No one had told us that the boulevard is 24 miles long, and that we'd got off at the wrong end. 


Above: The tart's palace that is Rodeo Drive. The only chance we had of coming away with a souvenir? Do a Winona I'm afraid.

Below: Boho-cool Venice Beach. "Just say NO to the fork!!!". It's hard in the US though, judging by the amount of lard-arses wobbling about the place.

The afternoon was spent amongst the hoards of like-minded tourists mooching around the Chinese theatre, the Kodak theatre (being prepared for the Oscar ceremony) and staring at the stars in the pavement at the hall of fame. Oh, and searching for a view of the famous "Hollywood" lettering up on the hills... and being distinctly underwhelmed when we did manage to clap our eyes on it.


As much fun as LA was, it's not somewhere that's exactly budget-friendly to the backpacker. So Mexico soon loomed into the sights of the Greyhound bus, via San Diego of course. A couple of nights there in a hostel in the French Quarter of town - although only after dragging my overweight pack round the streets for two hours in search of a room. It seemed that due to regeneration of the city centre that every place we tried was either shut down or in the process of shutting down.

This stopover gave us an opportunity to visit the Mexican embassy there and get the paperwork in order, something we thought would take some patience to get worked out. As it turned out, the lady at the desk just gave us a form each, told us to fill it out where we stood, and then hand it in at the border when we got there.
"And that's it?" I asked.
"Yes sir. That's it".

We left San Diego and headed for Mexico early the next morning, bound for the frontier town of Tijuana, and figuring that we might get to find out just why it's referred to as "the porous border".

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