November 21st 1981

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I am going to consider, against all precedent, that this day began at 4.30 yesterday, since, to all practical purposes, it did.  The bus journey took about 22 hours, + tho’, as I have said, it wasn’t all that bad, like any bus, it was crowded + noisy + smelly.  And then there was the other problem… but I’ll come to that.  The dark hours on the bus were periods of drugged numbness, sinking too slowly to sleep, only inevitably to be awoken for some stop, usually a 20 minute rest, but the craziest being customs + immigration, I don’t know, some 150 miles into Mexico.  Along with nearly everyone else, we had to drag ourselves + our luggage off the bus + thro’ customs.  Many were searched – we were waved straight thro’ + back on the bus.  Later, that problem I mentioned – I discovered I had diahorrea.  Great.

The daylit hours were not much more interesting, but we finally arrived at Los Mochis on time.  Set about finding a hotel, the one mentioned in the guide being far too expensive, but fortunately Val had the energy to find us another for $200 (that’s pesos) – about $US8.  We wandered, getting various bits of shopping, + buying our train ticket for Creel the next morning.  We then returned to the hotel… + there we stayed.  Val slept for a while, tho’ she was a bit ill too; I was just ill.  She woke several times to see me sitting on the toilet – there was no door.  Eventually I took some Diocalm, + half an hour later I was sick.  Then, at last, I could sleep.  I had been, as well as ill, profoundly depressed all day.  I think mostly it was culture shock, suddenly thrust into a world over which I felt I had no control.  Mostly, of course, this is a language problem – my Spanish is schoolboy, + rusty at that.  I think also I am feeling homesick – tho’ that, too, must be associated with ordinary sickness.  When ill, one wants the comforts of home.

So, stomach problems – destined to be a part of our lives for quite a while, and disturbing, seeing as we had eaten very little since arriving in Mexico.  Possibly as much nerves as anything.  Not yet getting much of the buzz of Mexican life.

November 20th 1981

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Mexican street scene

I was up + awake at an early hour – perhaps celibacy agrees with me – so trotted downstairs + amused myself for an hour and a half – 2 of the r’s – while waiting for Val to appear.  She eventually did, shorn of some of her locks.  She’d practised self-mutilation + had chopped off lumps of her hair with the nail scissors – it looked alright tho’.  I then rushed out to cash the cheque (at last!) + buy Val a book of tunes – Liz had given her the penny whistle.  Then to begin our Mexican adventure.

First was a cheap trolley-bus to the border, then a short walk across a bridge to Mexico.  Immigration there caused no fuss whatsoever, + granted us 90 days in the country.  Immediately over the border there were people selling all sorts of junk, + trying to solicit us for taxis.  We went first to the bus station, where a lady who spoke English was able to tell us a little about the buses.  Decided first to look around the town, tho’ we had to lug our bags with us, there being nowhere to leave them.  Happened upon the tail-end of an apparently rather uninteresting carnival, then just wandered a little, mingling with the crowds – it was a very crowded town – and trying, unsuccessfully, to adjust to the abrupt change we’d just undergone, from Am to Mex culture.  We bought some fruit – some oranges + huge fat bananas – + then returned to the bus station.  Decided to buy first class tickets to Los Mochis, since that was only a few pesos more expensive than the 2nd.  A little complicated, since the first step was from the poxy little town station to the brand spanking new one a couple of miles out.  Met a couple of Australians at the “newie”, but they’d already bought 2nd tickets, so hoped to see them at Mochis.  Bus left at  4.30 – it was the usual Greyhound style, but simply different in clientele.

And so, we finally arrive at the point where our travels begin.  We have had a six-month introduction to being away from home, but this marks the point when we moved away from a familiar culture.

But at least we have a return to appropriate photos, even if today’s is a bit on the dull side.

November 19th 1981

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Reserve postcard no.3 – by now, Alcatraz

Up early + straight to work.  While Val packed up all our worldly belongings, I shot off to the shower.  And then, when I returned, it was my job to pull down + pack up the tent, while Val in turn trotted off for her ablutions.  And then, bye-bye Campland, and off to Mexico, or such was our intention.  Lugged our stuff out to the bus stop, + while we were out there started to hitch.  Which turned out to be a good idea, because the second vehicle along stopped for us + took us some of the way.  Mind, we still had to catch a bus from there, + it was a flat-rate fare…  Still.

Dropped off right next to the Greyhound Station where we unloaded ourselves of our bags in a locker, + then set out to cover what seemed like a multitude of chores.  We had to buy a universal sink-plug (no trouble), + some pens (likewise); buy a card to send to Liz + Brent (ditto), fill out Australian immigration forms + send from a PO, buy some heavy reading (no sweat), + a frameless rucksack (couldn’t manage that in our price range.)  Then, all that we had to do was get our cheque from A1 (Seattle) cashed, + we’d be on our way!  And that was where Plan A folded.  Tried to cash it at a bank (or 2) – Nope.  Tried a check-cashing shop – nope.  Eventually, I left Val at the Greyhound stn., + caught a bus out to A1’s San Diego office – annoyingly where we’d been dropped off – + manged to find it after much walking + more asking.  And then… then… then all the guy there did was give me another  – local – cheque.  So caught the bus back, tried the check-cashing place again (still no way) + finally returned to Val, who’d had an equally desperate afternoon.  Called up the YMCA, despairing of leaving San Diego tonight, + the guy there was funny, being indignant that I should enquire about a double room – even when I didn’t.  Calmed down when he found we were in the AYH tho’ + got cheap accommodation.  Treated ourselves to hamburgers then went to a singalong with free coffee – both were pretty awful.

Thwarted in our attempt to leave the USA, at least we were able to move out of Campland; as happened so often, we were stymied by bureaucracy; I don’t suppose our cheque from A1 was very large, but we were in no position to write it off.

Hopefully, tomorrow we leave America, and dive into a new culture.

November 18th 1981

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The Empire State building (no, not somehow transported to San Diego.)

Slept like 2 logs, + when we awoke had no idea of the time, so just lay around for what seemed like a reasonable amount of time, + then got up.  Val made some breakfast – back, I’m afraid, to the old standard: a jam sandwich, a banana, some milk.  Ho hum.  After seeing the wasteland on which we were to camp, we had almost resolved to move on today, but the Jacuzzi + swimming pool had somewhat softened our resolution, + we thought we were due for a rest in any case, after the hectic 1200 mile drive.  So we wandered over to the beach, + sat down there for a while, lapping up the sunshine.  While we were doing that, Val read (an H E Bates “Larkin” book) while I set about catching up with the diary, which had been sorely neglected.  After a little while tho’, a cold wind sprang up, so we left the beach to find shelter.  In fact, we moved a couple of times, each time being driven on by the wind, finally gravitating towards the pool, where at last we were able to get out of the wind + hot.  When, of course, we jumped in the pool.  And then warmed up in the Jacuzzi.  And then strolled over to the games room, where we spent a swift dollar or two.  Yes, we were certainly taking it easy today.  So easy, in fact, that we were rapidly boring ourselves rigid.  We were trying to work out how people could stand such a life for 2 weeks or so.  I suppose it would be better in a large group.  When it got dark, back to the Jacuzzi – it was really hot in there this evening.  Very Californian, just sitting + rapping.  Dragged ourselves out + back to the tent to cook hot dogs – bloody marvellous they were.  Then to the café, to drink coffee + watch a great edition of The Muppet Show on their big screen TV.  And then… an early night.

Our first – and actually probably only – experience of Californian hot tub culture, considerably affecting our decision to stay another day.

Still no photo, so postcard no 2 from the early days of our trip (bought to replace the one we thought we’d lost on the street.)

November 17th 1981

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The first postcard we sent (though actually we dropped it in the street, and it was sent by a kind local)

Considering it really wasn’t a very big car, we managed to get a surprisingly good night’s sleep.  We were parked in an ordinary suburban street tho’, so thought it wise to move ourselves fairly early.  First job of the day was to find the Australian Consulate, and this proved to be a surprisingly simple task.  We were a little early for it tho’, so once we managed to find a parking space for the car (no mean task) we had some coffee + then went on up.  A brief wait, but then we were told it would take about a week to process our applications for a working holiday visa, so we took the forms so that we could send them on to Mexico City.  Then we hit the road, finding the highway to San Diego with no trouble at all.

An easy, pleasant, uneventful drive.  Arrived in SD, + set about finding a campsite.  The first we tried was expensive, + we were about half-way downtown to another one when we decided the first one was nearest to where we had to deliver the car, so we returned there.  We took the cheapest area, a dirt lot, and it was just so depressing, just us + a battered old camper on this barren, wasted moonscape.  We pitched the tent as fast as we could considering the ground was solid, then shot off to deliver the car (only pausing for Val to have a final go at removing the ink-stains… with nail-polish remover!  Didn’t do very much tho’.)  Fortunately the lady who owned the car didn’t check that bit, so as soon as she signed the cheque, we ran.  It had been a good car, costing $63 to drive down.

A bit of a walk back, then the best bit of the camp-site, relaxing in the Jacuzzi.  Lit a fire afterwards, to cook some soup + beans, then did the washing, then sat in the café, then bed – I, at least, was shattered.

End of an era.  Or, if not exactly of an era, of a diary.  Or, to be a little more precise, of a volume; for since the trip doesn’t stop here, then neither does the diary.  I am in contemplative mood, + have been blessed with a few minutes for reflection, since at the moment I am sitting in the lobby of the San Diego YMCA, waiting for Val to appear from her dorm.  (For explanation, see Vol II, Nov 20th.)

I am apprehensive about the future, since perhaps 5 months of travelling around the US + Canada had not prepared me as much as I had hoped for the prospect of venturing into another country with a virtually unknown language (I really don’t know how well failed O-level Spanish will serve us.)  I realise of course that the main purpose of this trip is exploration, + that in a sense all that has gone before has served as a preamble.  But still…

What else has happened in the world?  Ronnie Reagan is making noises about nuclear disarmament, but nobody, least of all Russia, thinks he is really serious.  At home, Chuck + Di have announced they’re going to have a baby, yet despite this evidence of rebirth + regeneration, Maggie grows ever more hawkish.  In addition to that, just a day or 2 ago, England either made it or failed to make it to the World Cup finals.  I cannot be sanguine about their chances.  Musically, the big song of the moment has been “A woman like you” by Foreigner.  And so…

I’ve enjoyed writing this diary – have even contemplated keeping it up at home.  It has been difficult at times, but I think I shall enjoy reading it in the future.  Also, it has helped to ease many partings.  Inevitably, one says many goodbyes to people – this preservation of those people helps to keep them alive for just a few days longer.  And so… goodbye.

So, an explanation of the accompanying photo. As I have feared, there are occasions (with more to come, I feel) when we simply do not have appropriate photos for the place we have reached. Sometimes, (as with Campland) it is because we did not feel sufficiently inspired to take any photos… though one’s perspective does change. On reflection, a record of the desolation of Campland might have been of interest. At other times, it is because circumstances have robbed us of the photos – the loss of a film (or even a camera!) makes for inevitable gaps.

How to fill them though. Having recently looked through the postcards we sent home regularly to our respective mothers, I have decided to include some of them. Out of place, inevitably, but, at least, a picture…

As for the post, first indications of a nervousness about what was to come, plus the reaction to finishing a diary; little did I know then, it was to be the first volume of eight!

November 16th 1981

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A terrific night’s sleep, + then breakfast.  And then, I think, a misunderstanding.  Val asked if we could possibly stay for another night, + Nisrin said just a flat no.  It sounded strange, since they’d both been so friendly, but it was her decision.  And then, when we left, she said we could stay – I think it must have been a misunderstanding.  Anyway… 

A swift couple of chores, + then on to the next item in our decadent LA trip – a visit to Hollywood, +, in particular, Universal Studios.  Val navigated us there perfectly, we parked +… took our place in line.  Not for too long tho’ – soon thro’ the gate.  There were 2 parts to the tour – first an actual conducted tour thro’ the different semi-permanent sets, plus a couple of demonstrations.  It was great, driving thro’ whole streets of facades, with houses used in various films + series, plus lots of staged events – an attack from Jaws, a collapsing bridge, a flood, amongst others.  Best of all a trip thro’ a revolving ice tunnel.  There was a lecture on filmic special events, using various volunteers to demonstrate particular things, + Val + I managed to get to act Buck Rogers + Wilmer in a space scene, costumes + all.  It was great fun, + we did all right.  The 2nd half was 4 separate mini-shows – all free (well, we’d already paid for them.  They were Animal Actors (sad but interesting), a horror show (silly), a stunt show (funny) + screen test, when a bunch of volunteers got to make a mini-version of Airport 77.  I got to play a part, a navy technician – not a large part, but it was fun to participate, + interesting + funny to see the end result.

After, we took a drive to take a picture of the Hollywood sign, then a  nightmare journey back + forth thro’ the rush hour to try + find Westwood village, supposedly a good area.  It wasn’t special, but we got to see a great movie – “Priest of Love”, with Ian McKellen as D H Lawrence.  Slept in the car.

Pretty much our last hurrah at conventional tourist activities for quite a while, but clearly we were easily pleased.

Not sure that I quite understand why we didn’t stay with Akhbar and Nisrin, since the impression is that the misunderstanding – if that is what it was – had been sorted out. But perhaps by then the damage was done. Anyway, we slept in the car – nothing too unexpected there.

November 15th 1981

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Val with Micky

Life awoke in us again at getting on for 9 o’clock – then it was time for the big enterprise of the day, the outing without which no trip to America is complete, essential for the understanding of the US sub-culture – we were off to Disneyland.  It was easy to find, being right next to Highway 5, and then it was simply a matter of parking the car in a vast parking lot, + joining the throngs of people heading for the entrance.  We bought a Disney passport each – unlimited use of the place for $10.25 – + zoomed on in.  We weren’t in 5 minutes before we ran into Michael Mouse Esquire, so I took a picture of him + Val.  Then a succession of rides + events.  I’m sure I can’t remember the exact order of doing things, but here they all are, more or less in (my) order of enjoyment.  1. Runaway train.  Not much more than a roller coaster really, but fast + fun.  2. Matterhorn bobsleds.  I liked this because Val sat in front of me between my legs, so I had something warm + soft between me + disaster.  Just a rollercoaster again, but in + out, + up + down this huge man-made mountain which dominates the place.  (We went on both these 2 twice, once at the beginning + once at the end of the day – the second time was fun-est.)  3.  Space Mountain.  The best parts about this were first the queuing up (!) when they really built up the atmosphere of a real space flight by the use of sounds + props, + then the part of the ride at the beginning where you are dragged up the long first slope in order to begin the run-down.  Then, by using lights cleverly, it made it appear both as tho’ you were being fired at by laser guns, + as tho’ you were spinning.  After that, it was a roller coaster ride thro’ the dark, with a few special effects.  Val liked this best.  4. Pirate ship.  A sort of a boat trip, thro’ a whole mass of special effects – a short couple of runs down ramps at the beginning as well.  Lots of mechanical pirates, plus parrots, treasure, burning houses etc.  Val liked this 2nd.  5. Haunted house.  Similar to above, with variety of “ghosts” – mechanical, some holographs.  Best bit was at the end where you looked in a mirror + saw a ghost riding in your car with you.  6. Bear jamboree.  Inordinately silly stage show, with a variety of mechanical bears singing various country songs.  What else at Disneyland?  Oh… a train ride, a journey to Mars, a trip thro’ a shrinking machine into a microscope, a ride on a people-mover, a raft trip to Tom Sawyer’s island, a look at the Swiss Family Robinson’s home, a ride (for me) on a flying Dumbo, + (for Val) on a carousel, a trip on a rocket, a 360 degree film of the US, a journey thro’ the 7 Dwarves’ mountain, + in Mr Toad’s car… + a parade (tho’ just a short one.)  Yes, we certainly were determined to get our money’s worth.  And yet…

Chris with some flying Dumbos

When we first got in, we were really excited, like a couple of 8 year-olds.  And then… well, very quickly, it seemed to wear off.  Probably it had a lot to do with the enormous queues for each + every ride, + maybe it was something to do with the enormous crowds (tho’ they were entirely understandable.)  Also, tho’ it was true that the place was really well laid out, it seemed to suffer from a certain lack of imagination, especially in connection with the rides.  They really only had 3, with variations thereof – roller-coasters, roundabouts, and a sort of slow-moving ghost train.  Still, it made a fun day, + we both enjoyed ourselves.  Meher had given us the phone no + address of her cousin in LA, + we tried to call him earlier, to see if we could stay there tonight.  He wasn’t in, but we tried again just before we left the place, + after some umming + ahhing he said sure, come on over.  We managed to find the place with not too many littler problems, + Akhbar + his wife were very friendly – giving us food, conversation, + a bed.  Nice ‘n friendly.  PS We also took a ride in a submarine.

Just a little embarrassed at the enthusiasm – and detail! – with which I describe our trip.  Disneyland is a little passe nowadays, but at the time we had seen nothing like it, as theme parks had not yet really arrived in the UK.  So this really was a taste of the strange, exotic, and exciting… though it wore off quickly enough.

November 14th 1981

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Saleem

Life returned at about 3.30 am, still nearly 200 miles to go – we decided to stop off at Bill + Meher’s for breakfast.  I started driving, + managed about 45 mins before passing the wheel over to Val.  It seemed to her that I barely slept at all, but awoke with a jerk at 5.30 to discover that Valo had covered most of what was left – only about 50 miles to go.  I took over again a little while later when we stopped to get some gas, + drove to Bill + Meher’s (tho’ Val had to help me with some of the navigation once we were in Hayward – I had forgotten the way.

Arrived a little before 8, + they were very pleased to see us, + gave is breakfast.  The morning passed very pleasantly, sitting, talking, drinking tea, playing with the kids.  Saleem in particular had grown up some since we had last seen him, + had learnt many new words.  And then there was repair work to do, since yesterday Val had had a little accident.  A biro in the back pocket of her jeans had flooded, + stained the car seat.  We had got as much of it out as we could as soon as we noticed it, using petrol, but still there was a distinct + noticeable stain.  Unfortunately, it also resisted Meher’s spot remover.  After lunch, we slept – we had intended to leave, + push on with our journey, but Meher persuaded us to stay for the day, especially since there was a party that evening at a friend of theirs.  We did compromise tho’, + said we would leave at about 12 that night.  A really good sleep, then up + ready for the party.  Val borrowed a long skirt from Meher, which made a pleasant change.

The party was a good one, tho’ I have to confess I was really too tired to appreciate it fully.  As usual, there were huge quantities of food, + something which somewhat surprised me, a certain amount of booze.  Talked with lots of people – they do make an effort to include everyone, even clear outsiders like ourselves.  There was some singing (nice) + poetry telling, + finally a singing game which we couldn’t join in with.  Then a long, tiring drive to LA – we slept in a rest area just outside.

Apologies for the photo, included merely because Saleem is mentioned, but this is an old photo, from our previous visit. But I am running short of useable photos, so am rather clutching at straws. Nice that we should have received such a warm welcome; I had always thought we – or rather I – had been a bit rude during our stay before.

November 13th 1981

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Friday the 13th – not that such things bother us, of course.  Up early, out of the hostel, + down to the bus-stop to take the bus out to Renton where the A1 office was.  The reason for the early start was two-fold.  1.  The girl couldn’t promise to hold the car for us, so we were trying to get there before someone else snaffled it away.  A long wait for the bus, then a long ride at the end of which we missed our stop because the driver forgot about us, so we had to catch another bus back.  Then, again, a wait for yet another bus.  Debated whether to walk from there, eventually deciding against it, as we didn’t really know where the office was.  When, however, the bus we wanted finally arrived, it drove straight past us without stopping.  Terrific.  That rather forced the decision upon us, so we enquired directions, + walked to the office.  The car was still there, + very nice it looked too – a gold-coloured Pontiac Grand Prix.  We filled out the forms, and then were on our way.

It drove beautifully smooth as… as… anything.  Not that we took it far.  The first stop was a couple of hundred yards down the road for a Burger King breakfast.  And then away.  The car had a cruise control, + that helped to make the driving easier.  I did most of the driving this first day, while Val got some sleep – she was pretty bushed.  Stopped off for a swift free cup of coffee at a rest area, then on again.  About half-way down Oregon, the weather turned really bad, + unfortunately this combined with the most hilly + winding stretch of road.  Had to stop briefly at one point, things were so bad, + shortly afterwards Val relieved me at the wheel.  I slept some, + then she in turn had to stop because of the conditions – this time we had a Californian cop check up on us – no trouble tho’.  Me to the wheel again a little later, + when fatigue overtook me, we just collapsed across each other on the front seat + slept.  A dramatic journey certainly – the most memorable image is of hills all around us, clouds, storm + lightning, with us in the middle in a beautiful, clear moonlit patch.

And so, after several weeks of something pretty much approaching domesticity, we were finally on the road again, with all the excitement, but also discomforts, that that life brings with it.  Still, a day of driving, and not much else.  Nice to have a comfortable car to carry us south.

November 12th 1981

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Liz (typically) with her tongue out

Our last day in Canada, our last day with Brent + Liz.  We’ve really enjoyed our time with them.  They weren’t over-solicitous, yet managed to make us feel at home + comfortable with them.  Moving on, moving on – I’m beginning to look forward to having a home again – bourgeois of me, I know.

A fruit salad breakfast, prepared by B, the finishing touches were applied to the rucksack, we packed… + then time to go.  L + B drove us across the border to the bus station there – we had considered hitching, but the freeway system didn’t make it very easy.  The usual fun + games at US immigration – even Liz had to go thro’ that – but no real problems.  As usual, we were dressed up for the occasion, then into the bus station, bye-byes.  A bit of a wait for the bus, but the time passed very quickly, reading, writing, Space Invading.  Bus journey about 3 hours – very boring, just freeway, so we read.

Arrived in Seattle at just about 4, the sun going down, + silhouetting the skyline – an impressive sight.  Immediately off the bus, got busy on the phone, trying to arrange a car to drive away.  The first one I tried was useless – they had to have a phone no.  AACON only had a Cadillac (again!) to Santa Barbara, so we nearly despaired.  However, tried a small company, A1, + they said they had a car going to San Diego, right on the Mexican border.  We offered to go out there straight away, until we were told it would take us one and a half hours to get out there, so that was deferred until the morning.

We walked from the Greyhound station to the Youth Hostel – only getting lost once.  The YH was a very big, impressive place, + we splashed out a bit of money on getting a double room, tho’ all there was in it was I single bed + 2 mattresses.  Went out for something to eat – the Old Vienna restaurant, nothing special, then back, watching television in the lounge, drying some clothes, taking baths.  I sat thro’ 4 sitcoms to watch a Clint Eastwood movie, “The Beguiled” before my bath.  Also was consumed with sudden last-minute hunger pangs before bed, so bought a couple of snacks from the machine.

And so, farewell to Liz and Brent. Not permanently, however; unlike with some of the friends we made on this trip, we kept in touch, still do, have visited each other several times over the intervening years. We knew Liz before this, of course, but not well, so really this was our first opportunity to get to know them.

And they have had a good life… though hard at times, I would guess, maintaining the farm, and being a part of the island community. Frisbee golf (or, more precisely, disc golf) is the sport of choice, giving them regular social occasions, and on our visits we too have very much enjoyed sitting around on a collection of old car seats, before going off to throw a few discs… which both Val and I were appalling at, by the way.

More sadly, Liz has increasingly been affected by memory problems; some years ago, she was hit on the head by a lump of metal thrown up by the tractor, and that had a dreadful effect for some time, but it was thought that she had made a full recovery. But recently, she had had increasing problems, and in the last couple of years, we have heard, she has lost the power of speech. And this happening when we have been unable to visit… though we hope to do so soon.