All of Central America

Bye Bye Belize

Today we’re leaving the paradise island and on the boat back to the mainland the words “Pass my Aloe Vera to that red guy over there” are heard as a bottle of salvation makes its way to Johan. Back in port we hop on the bus and begin our journey to Guatemala. Before leaving Belize City we pass a somewhat odd graveyard where the graves extend all the way out to the divider in the middle of the road!Lizard The landscape gets interesting as we leave town for the countryside, hardly two trees are the same type and you can see the mountains faintly in the background. Johan is something of a bird guy and since he’s sitting next to me today we keep an eye out for them. I don’t manage to see many but Johan spots both a Parrot and a Toucan on the way.

As we come up on the border we get stopped by a police man for not paying our road tax, as soon as that is settled though we get to go on to the border. At the border there are lots of money changers and I get to get rid of my leftover pesos that I’d almost given up hope exchanging.Humbug I think I get an okay rate since the guy has an ID card and everything showing that he’s a licensed money changer. But next time I go on a trip with lot of currency juggling I’ll bring a note of what exchange rates to expect since the brain tends to not work very well on vacation.

On the other side of the border you need to wait some more and we take the opportunity to get some food. Karina warns us about an ATM in town that people have been skimmed at before. Since Åsa and I are both nerds we decide to use the time we have here to try and find the ATM in question and see if there is any skimming equipment attached to it. After asking the locals, using a lot of gestures, for the location of the ATM (the word is “cajero” by the way, rather useful when you’re a tourist) we head up a hill to a gas station. The ATM turns out to be rather well protected though with a thick piece of plexi glass around the card slot, so there is little risk for skimming.

The Guatemalan currency, the Quetsal (named after the bird), is roughly 1 to 1 with the sek, making it easy for our vacationing brains. Guatemala is the first cheap country we’ve come across so far and we get lunch for two for under 30 Quetsals.My palm leaf hat As we get deeper into Guatemala we also get higher up. The vegetation is thicker and greener and there are lots of cozy little villages to look at on the way. Our goal is a town called Santa Elena (the one in Peten province) and we arrive just before nightfall.

The hotel is really nice but we’re told not to wander around on our own in town since it has happened to other groups that they’ve been robbed. So when it comes to dinner time we’re a rather large group heading out. Too large in fact, we’re so many that we can’t really decide and Åsa and I make a break for it and eat dinner at some food court in a mall nearby. Malls are kind of fun to just wander around in when you’re in a country you don’t know much about so we do just that and look at what the price levels are and so on. It seems for instance, that cameras and other technical goods are about the same level as in Sweden, while food, candy and booze is significantly cheaper.

Exit fee: 40 blz
Sandwich + beer: 30 quet
Snacks and beer: 24 quet
Dinner: 55 quet
Candy: 62 quet

All of Central America

Money Laundering

Johan and I have decided to go diving today so after breakfast we go to the dive shop and try out equipment. Everything is close here in Caye Caulker so there’s just a 200 m walk to the dive boat. We’re going to be diving with two Americans and a Canadian but they’re not very talkative. Going out to the reef takes only about 15 minutes but as we come near to the dive site the waves are pretty high and it’s kind of rough going jumping in. CanyonsI get in okay but Johan who hasn’t dived in a while hasn’t got the right amount of weights and is struggling. All that fiddling with high waves and all has gotten him seasick as well, so he decides to abort the dive. Good call!

Down at the bottom it’s calm though and we make our way through reef canyons while seeing lots of lobsters (the kind without claws that looks like a sissy). They’re bunched up in little caves along the reef wall but you can spot them rather easily since the antennae stick out rather prominently. There are also a lot of large lion fishes and our dive master uses a spear gun to pick them off as we go. Lion fish is having a supremely bad dayThe reason for this isn’t that he’s a sadist, rather that lion fishes aren’t native to the Caribbean but rather the product of an accident during hurricane Andrew when an aquarium in Florida was damaged and a bunch of them was released into the sea. Ever since then they’ve been living the high life since they don’t have any natural predators in this area. So a lot of the divers around here are doing what they can to keep the numbers down by spearing and feeding them to moray eels.

During the dive he spears probably six or seven of them but sadly there aren’t any morays around so he just lets them drop to the bottom. We see more barracuda and interesting corals, but no turtles or rays this time. Between dives we go to shallow and calmer water so we can snorkel for a bit and eat some fruit. This is when I discover that I’ve been doing the entire dive while still wearing my money belt, ooops… Fortunately money is designed to be able to handle stuff like that so they’ll probably be okay.

The second dive is more or less like the first but slightly shallower, which I don’t mind since the first one was really good. The coral landscape is awesome with large coral hills interrupted by sand filled canyons that allows for small caverns on the walls where interesting things hide out. There’s lots of Lion fish this time as well and our dive master even brings a really large one up into the boat to have for dinner later. Johan’s sea sickness hasn’t gone away so he has been lying down on the floor of the boat the entire time, unaware of that his legs has been sticking out into the blazing sun and now the result is showing.Idiots on sticks He’s looking more or less like a cooked lobster and is starting to feel the pain.

Back at the hotel I happen across J1 and J2 who are really excited after today’s snorkling trip where they got to manhandle both sharks and stingrays! Having rested a bit (and hung my money to dry) I hook up with Daniel and Åsa and we start exploring the Caye Caulker by wandering aimlessly. We come across a guy me and Johan spotted this morning sporting a hat he has made out of two palm leaves. I buy one of them and start getting a lot of attention from people wanting pictures or just looking at it, well spent 10 blz. Stopping at the Lazy Lizard for a Baileys Colada we sit down to watch the ocean and dip our feet,Sunset in paradise discussing the fact that we’re probably the three nerdiest people on this trip.

We do some more exploring and manage to capture a beautiful sunset before hooking up with some of the others back at Lazy Lizard where we’re spend some time watching a bunch of douchebags balancing their way across some poles standing in the water. It ends predictably with one of them almost impaling himself on one of the poles. All of them eventually fall off, all of them but one, the guy who started it all, a generously bearded hippie who has been slowly and methodically making his way towards the end and actually makes it just before it gets really dark.

We end up going for dinner at Bamboo, a great place down at the beach featuring chicken bingo (where you bet money on a number and the winner is the one who has the number where the chicken takes its first dump). You sit at giant swings at the tables and the place is packed. When we eventually get the food we understand why though, it’s absolutely fabulous!

Diving: 80 blz
Hat: 10 blz
Baileys Colada: 10 blz
Food: 70 blz

All of Central America

The Great Blue Hole

Half Moon CayePickup is at 6:30 and we manage to be there on time, getting some nice pictures of the sun rising. The boat ride to the Blue Hole is over two hours and the seas are really rough on the way there. The boat isn’t that large either, so most of the passengers are just focusing on surviving the 2.5 m waves. The captain is really competent and since I don’t seem to have any propensity for motion sickness I’m greatly enjoying it. The other passengers are mostly loud Americans, they are really friendly though and we chat a lot on the way.

After about 45 minutes we get inside a stretch of small islands and the seas calm down enough for us to use the bathroom safely. 20 minutes later it is time again for more of the same, this time we get to see some dolphins chasing the boat and jumping high in the air, awesome!Exiting a cave At last we arrive at the hole and the captain gives us a briefing about the hole and how it was discovered by Jacques Cousteau back in the seventies. We’re going to do a deep dive here, all the way down to 40 meters, so we have follow the dive masters closely and be vigilant for nitrogen narcosis. Our dive master Cynthia gives us a run through of the signs we’ll be using and tells us about what to expect down there. The main attraction are the huge stalactites that comes down from the overhang at around 40 m, that’s why we go so deep. The deep dive means that we do no stay down very long, only about 20-25 minutes.

We jump in and check that our weights are okay before descending. The fishes here are huge and you can see the giant rim of the hole just 5 meters down or so. Carefully monitoring our descent rate we go over the edge and down into the hole. Visibility isn’t all that great, but every once in a while we see a shark coming out of the blueness a few meters off. They’re never very close though so there’s no reason for concern. We level out at 40 meters and make our way under the overhang and swim between the almost meter-wide stalactites. The air is really heavy to breathe now since it’s five times thicker than up on land, I also recognize that I’m a bit dull-headed from the nitrogen narcosis so I double-check every reading of the air gauge and dive computer.Triggerfish Before you know it we’re on our way up, again being careful and letting air out so that we don’t ascend too fast. We see a couple of more sharks and as we come back up to the rim the captain has lowered an extra tank of air just in case and a rope to hold on to while we make our decompression stop.

This time it’s a beautiful coral wall that drops off deep and we see turtle, more sharks and a few Barracudas. This dive is much better and since it’s rather shallow we get a nice 45 minutes. Toward the end some people are running low on air and go up with one of the dive masters while the rest of us go with the other dive master through a cool almost-cave and I get a nice picture of Jason just in front of me as we exit the cave. This ends the dive for me and we go up to have lunch at Half Moon Caye.

Half Moon Caye is a real paradise island, taken straight out of a travel magazine with palm trees looking just right, white sand and azure blue ocean outside. There is also a bird watching tower if you walk a couple of hundred meters. On they way you can see Iguanas and we actually do, but I never manage to get a picture of it. The actual tower looks out over the treetops and in each one is at least one nest of young Red Footed Boobies (gotta love that name). The Boobies are that kind of bird where the male has a big red sack under the beak that they inflate in order to make the female birds swoon.

The last dive is done at a site called the aquarium and once again it’s a reef wall disappearing down deep into the blue. As we jump in, one of the dive masters have put some bread into the water, so there’s a feeding frenzy going on with some rather large fish. Really fun in the beginning, but they tag along for the ride and after a while they actually get a bit annoying. Lots of fish and interesting coral, we get to see another Black tip reef shark, a turtle, a huge Moray Eel that was swimming along with us right out in the open instead of just lurking in a cave as they usually do.Dinner Suddenly dive master Cynthia starts banging on her tank and points out into the blue, out there are a gang of Eagle rays, a bit smaller than the rays I saw before but still magnificent.

The way home is much more calm and the crew treats us to some rum punch, basically a smashed watermelon and a three liter bottle of rum, making everyone rather chatty. Back at the hotel I just rest for a bit before hooking up with Isa, Jenny, Lina, Emma, J1, J2 and my room mates Daniel and Johan to go for dinner. We find this place on the beach that for once has excellent service. The evening the is wrapped up at the Lazy Lizard where I discover my new friend the Baileys Colada.

All of Central America

Caye Caulker

Good thing Thorstein found his way back yesterday because we need to make an early getaway to be able to take the boat to Caye Caulker in Belize before it gets dark. But since this is Mexico the bus is of course late even though our local travel helper Oscar phoned several times last night to remind them to be on time.

When the bus eventually comes we load up and start our journey to Belize, but we get no further than the first stoplight.Colorful housing Because then the bus just stops dead, exhibiting all the symptoms of a dead battery. So while everyone is theorizing over what’s wrong with the bus our driver takes out some tools and dives into the engine room. And lo and behold, not fifteen minutes later the bus actually starts up like if nothing happened!

There’s an uneventful drive on the really good Mexican roads down to the border. We hop off just before the border in some kind of mall area as it is the only chance to get lunch along this road. It’s actually a McDonalds and Johan is once again very upset that they don’t serve any El Maco, what gives Mexico?! That should be your national dish!

At the border you have to pay a fee of $24 just to get out of the country. Seems weird, but Karina claims that it’s quite common actually.The Lazy Lizard I charm the customs lady by commenting on her nice nails and gets a smile and a Belize stamp in my passport. With some luck I’ll be able to fill a passport for the first time in my life!

We arrive in Belize City harbor ahead of schedule and buy some local beer while waiting for the boat. The ride is about an hour and it’s almost dusk as we arrive at Caye Caulker, Karina helps us to set up a diving trip to the Belize Blue Hole – a world famous dive site which is a giant cenote, 300 m across and entirely circular. It is 124 m deep and inside it sharks are known to hang out, Hammerheads have been mentioned for instance. Christian and I book the trip for tomorrow, and it will take almost the entire day, starting at 6:30 am.

Then we’re off to find a place to eat, Oscar recommends Rose’s Grill and we manage to get a table even though the place is packed to the rafters We’ve haven’t had much to eat the entire day so Johan, me and Therese order two main courses, thoroughly confusing the staff. When we eventually do get the food it’s delicious, grilled fish kebabs, pork chops and side orders of fried African bread fruit and rice. Afterwards we wander off to our designated water hole for the evening, the Lazy Lizard bar, but places here on Caye Caulker close really early for some reason and there aren’t many people around. So we call it a night and go back to the hotel.

McDonalds: 40 mxn
Departure fee: $24
Blue Hole dive: 380 blz
Rose’s Grill: ? blz

All of Central America

Mayday, Norwegian Lost!

Today we get a chance to sleep in since there’s nothing planned until 4 pm for me. Up at about 9 am Daniel and I are outside our room talking with Lina and Emma when Johan pokes his head out. He looks a bit worse for wear and explains that Thorstein and Peter came into the room at around 1 am and started drinking whiskey. Suffice to say that some time in the morning, for reasons unclear, Thorstein decided to go out of the room and sleep on the floor of the reception.

We give Johan five minutes to freshen up and then head out to find breakfast. We end up at some overpriced Mexican joint. It’s hard to beat 100%, but we feel that we need to find some variety as well. Afterwards we wander the streets aimlessly, looking at people and being shouted at by barkers. We end up at the beach, and eventually at a beach bar with happy hour between 12 and 2 pm! The drinks aren’t very good but the prices are so we hang out there for a couple of hours.

Then some more aimless wandering until it’s time for my diving. I meet Warren and Charles at the dive center, they’ve already had two dives today and are going for two more now with me. Eric is our dive master and is a cheerful Mexican guy in his thirties. We get our gear and head down to the boat that is right on the beach. The sea is rather choppy today with waves 3-4 dm at least, so bobbing around on the surface isn’t all that fun. We soon go down though and it’s not that deep, most of the dive is at around 10-12 meters and the reef is sort of sponge shaped. It’s mostly soft corals with a lot of those fan-like things that go in purple and brown. Visibility is so-so, probably due to the wind these last two days, around 10 m or so. We see mostly smallish fish, up to 20 cm, but a few larger ones. Suddenly Eric looks all excited and starts waving frantically. As I look where he’s pointing I can see three large Stingrays emerging from out of the blue, majestically flying by at about a 6 m distance! They’re probably about a meter and a half between the wingtips and positively awesome!

It’s really hard to top that, but we also see a tiny Lion Fish, some sort of flat fish hiding in the sand and a Moray Eel lurking in a cave. We get back into the boat and await darkness for our second dive. I chat a bit with Warren who’s a manager at some company buying computers. He goes on about how he’s the manager of 55 people and how hard he works and how he makes the companies that wants to treat him to dinner buy pizza for everyone who works for him instead. I guess he fancies himself quite the guy but he comes across a a bit of an ass to me, but maybe that’s just the Jante talking…

For the second dive I leave the camera on the boat, since the pictures probably won’t be very good in the darkness anyway. We don’t see much on the second dive though, visibility is still poor and there just isn’t much fish. We do see a boxfish the size of a house cat though, a bunch of smaller, white, rays with triangular-shaped thorns on their tail and about 25 cm between the wingtips flapping about on the sea floor. The main event however comes in one of the caves where Eric discovers a Moray Eel as thick and long as a teenage girl’s leg! The Moray is the last interesting thing we see before heading back. The two Americans are disappointed of the dives and brings it up several times, I’m kind of pleased though, but maybe I’ll get pickier as I get more dives under my belt…

Going back I find the others (surprise, surprise!) at 100%, so I join them for some drinks and food. Taking the way via the beach and a gelato parlor we finally find ourselves back at the hotel. Before going to bed, me and Johan are doing some surfing when we see that Thorstein has posted to the facebook group of the trip! It seems that he has gotten lost and is wondering via facebook where the hotel is, that’s the information age for ya! After having a good laugh Johan finds out the hotel address and Thorstein is later safely returned.

All of Central America

Cave Diving!

Everybody has left for Chichen Itza by the time I get up so I go to 100%, a place I found yesterday with really good food, large drinks and nice prices. Their breakfast is really good as well so if you find yourself in Playa del Carmen, look that place up!

Then off to the dive center where I meet the other diver Charles and our divemaster Aurelien, a really nice French guy. We start gathering equipment and Aurelien claims that it will be really cold, maybe 25 degrees Celsius, so I’d better take double wetsuits. Not wanting to argue I comply, but obviously while calling him a sissy under my breath. All packed up we’re off to the caves. Aurelien explains on the way that since it’s so windy today the cenote we’re supposed to dive is probably really crowded today and he suggest another one. Tajma Ha, that will probably be less crowded. Since he probably knows best Charles and I take his advice and we head over there instead.

On site we go through the dive and rules that go with it. Apparently you’re not allowed to use a snorkel, and really what would be the point, we’re in a cave after all… We’re also only to use the frog kick instead of the normal paddle technique since there is much less chance of stirring up sediment with it. We also go down to have a look at the entrance and it doesn’t look like much, a beautiful little pool with crystal clear, sweet, water and tiny catfish swimming around. Well, time to gear up, Charles is taking his sweet time, mainly because he’s not used to handling his own equipment. The dives he’s been on, that part has been taken care of for him.

After some fiddling (my o-ring needed changing for instance) we’re able to enter the water at last. I’m wearing my GoPro Hero2 camera since I didn’t want to use my regular one when the dive is so technical. We go down, find our buoyancy, and off we go! Looking back towards the opening we went down through is breathtaking, the light shoots down like a giant blue laser beam and all else is darkness. We go through a passage and the cave opens up in a huge room with stalactites in the ceiling, the sense of space is awesome, and the claustrophobic feeling I though might set in just isn’t there for some reason. It’s not scary at all, just beautiful!

The cave goes up and down as can be seen on my dive profile below, so you have to decompress a lot and mind your buoyancy. I’m a bit on the heavy side since we weren’t sure of how much weights I should have but it goes mostly fine, I guess that dry-suit diving pays off. Down at 13 meters or so is the halocline, this is where the sweet water meets the salt water (all cenotes are flow into the sea in one way or another, that is where the salt water comes from) and since they don’t mix they form a layer that is disturbed when you go through it. It look much the same as when you go through a thermocline (same thing but with two different water temperatures) but much more pronounced. It looks like if you put on glasses with the wrong prescription, all blurry. This lasts for a few seconds until you’re fully under the halocline, and then you can look up and it almost looks like the surface up there. It’s really weird. What’s also weird is that the water is warmer under the halocline since it’s sea water.

Tajma Ha cenote dive profile

As we go upwards once again Aurelien points out some fossils along the way. Suddenly we can see the first opening, the Sugar Bowl, the light comes down at an angle and spookily lights old tree roots. We surface to hear Aurelien talk about how the caves are formed and we also see some bats in the ceiling. After a while we submerge again and take a slightly different route back, even though the parking lot was full of other divers we’ve only seen a few so far, which I guess is testament to Aureliens skill in picking a good route for us.

We have a quick snack and some water as we prepare for the next dive. This time it will be more technical Aurelien says, since he’s seen that we don’t have any trouble with our buoyancy. He will take us through tighter passages and areas with more sediment this time.

And sure enough, the second dive takes us on a different route with some very tight passages where you really have to make sure your kicks aren’t too wide and your buoyancy is juuust right. It’s hard, but fun and not as scary as I’d thought it’d be. After a while we reach the turning point, the Esmeralda, this is another one of the openings but it is full of debris and stuff so we never surface. The view is more than enough though, you just can’t get enough of the light pillars coming down and bathing everything in an icy blue sheen. On the way back there is more of the tight passages, with the added challenge of passing through a halocline at the same time. Fun, but exhausting!

Before going back to the hotel I book two more dives for tomorrow, one twilight dive and one night dive. Waiting for the others to come back from Chichen Itza I black out on the bed totally exhausted from the diving. I regain consciousness a while before the others come and bunch of us find ourselves at the already proven 100% where we fill up on their giant drinks. Johan is very upset about the fact that they don’t have any taco tubs or medium sauce, but what can you do?

Breakfast: 120 mxn
More diving: $150
Dinner: 200 mxn
Drinks: 100 mxn

All of Central America

Meeting Mexico

Hotel breakfast is awesome, omelets cooked on demand while you point at ingredients (yes, of course there’s bacon!), a yogurt wagon with all sorts of stuff to put in like dried mango, pistachio nuts, fresh strawberries, seared peaches. The staff walks around offering coffee (only slightly disappointing) and freshly squeezed orange juice. It may be pricey, almost $20, but it sure is tasty and we leave questioning the need for ever eating again.

The flight to Cancun is uneventful but as we meet up with Karina at the airport we learn that we will have to wait for the rest of the group who were booked at a later flight before leaving for Playa del Carmen. Ah well, shit happens, more time to sow and cube…

The Mexican roads are concrete clad and rather nice actually, the scenery is uninspiring however and when we arrive in Playa del Carmen it’s already getting dark. Karina gets the info session out of the way and I decide to try and find a diving place to book some diving for the remaining two days here. Central Playa del Carmen is actually rather nice, despite being chock full of tourists, very clean as well – I have no trouble walking around barefoot. After a few blocks I happen upon Scuba Playa which seems like a rather trustworthy place since the first two questions I get are “When was your last dive?” and “How many dives do you have in total?”. So after a lot of questions and deliberation I booked a two dive package for the next day. I also talked to them about the possibility of doing a night dive for Saturday and sure enough, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The evening is wrapped up with some chicken tacos and a nice juice drink. I also look at a few Lucha Libre masks and get to know the names of a lot of the wrestlers. Each wrestler works out his own unique design, but usually varies the color of the mask for each fight. I end up buying an official Mexican football jersey though and even though I haggled the price down to half I suspect I was robbed…

Breakfast: $5 (plus $15 voucher)
Two dives – Cenotes: $129
Dive equipment rent: $20
Jersey: 700 mxn
Dinner: 130 mxn
ATM fees: 80 mxn

All of Central America

Delightfully Dallas

I arrive at Arlanda just before 2 am and make myself comfortable at our designated meeting spot. At about 4:30 people start showing up, seems like a timely bunch. Aside from Thorstein who I traveled in India with I discovered the the Friises who I went on the transsibirean trip with. We’re sent off by Eddie at the Pink Caravan, since our tour leader Karina is already on location in Mexico.

At Heathrow we have our first celebrity spotting when Robyn is going on the same plane as we are (she looks really good, like she was to walk up on stage right then and there). But aside from that, Heathrow means trouble as we learn that the plane has some technical difficulties and they have to get another. This means that we’re about 2-3 hours behind schedule taking off. We don’t manage to make up that much on the way either but remain optimistic since we had over 3 hours stop in Dallas. The crew also assures us that the customs people on the ground has agreed to ship our luggage directly from our plane to the next instead of re-checking our bags like we were initially told to (which just highlights what a sham the security procedures are when you can just sidestep it when there’s money on the line).

Just before we land we’re told however that we won’t be making our connection after all and that we will be issued hotel vouchers and a new flight in the morning. Oh well, that might be nice as well, I’ve never been to Dallas. The staff at the airport in Dallas leave something to be desired however, they’re mostly helpful but seem unable to admit when they don’t know the answer to a question and instead direct us the wrong way a bunch of times. It is especially hard to get a boarding pass for the new connection for Cancun the next day since the staff at both American Airlines (the airline that will actually fly us there) and British Airways (the airline that brought us here late) are both pointing fingers at each other. So after having been given the runaround for about two hours we’re finally on our way to the Hyatt Regency hotel.

The Regency turns out to be a really nice hotel with rather luxurious rooms but I don’t linger long since I’m planning to see some of Dallas before it gets too late! I talk to my fellow travelers and try to get them to come with me in search for an authentic Texan steak house (I’ve had one recommended by several people already that is on Grapevine, just a shuttle ride away form the hotel), but they have all decided to use the dinner voucher to eat at the hotel restaurant. I can’t really blame them since it’s a free meal for up to $35, but since this might be the last time I’m in Dallas, or Texas for that matter, I want to go for the real McCoy.
My plan starts off badly however when I discover that I missed the last shuttle bus by mere minutes and that the next one isn’t for another hour. The concierge suggest I get something in the hotel restaurant on the voucher while I wait for the next shuttle and that seems like a good idea. I join the rest of the group at the table and order a starter (if I should expect to down a steak later I better not fill up before). I get a smile from the waitress when I ask for some kind of girly drink and fetches the cocktail menu. The service is kind of slow though and I never manage to get my starter before it’s time to catch the shuttle.
The shuttle drops me off right next to the steakhouse and I’m greeted by a very friendly staff. I start asking all kinds of questions and end up with a lemon drop martini and a 22 oz steak that I’ve forgotten the name of, a ribeye something. The steak is hands down the best one I’ve ever eaten (that makes for two of the best steaks I’ve ever had within a couple of days since Derya and I went to Östgötakällaren before I went to the airport in Stockholm), perfectly grilled and seasoned with the meat just melting away in the mouth. My waitress is delighted as I sing the praises of the beef and wonders if I want dessert. As I alluded to feeling like a beached whale it’s not a very serious question. Before leaving I quiz her about the surroundings, if there is anything to do while I wait for the shuttle back which is still an hour or so away. She says that there isn’t much to see along the Grapevine, and besides, it’s all closed now anyway. But there are a few bars there and her favorite, the Tap Inn is down the road. It’s a ways down the street however and I’d better take a cab there. But with 22 oz of steak in my tummy I’d rather walk, so I start down along the Grapevine. The area isn’t terribly interesting, it’s a mix of one of those places where you put big box stores like Elgiganten and IKEA and a regular city center (a mall the locals call it), but there are a variety of touristy stores scattered along the road and eventually it actually looks more like a city street.

At the end of the street I finally locate the Tap Inn (after walking something like 700-800 yards, not that far if you ask me) and it’s a cozy place with $4 drinks and karaoke night. I start idly looking through the list of songs when a guy gets up and starts singing, rather awesomely, a country song that I don’t remember the name of. The guy comes up to the bar afterwards and we start chatting. He’s a freelance contractor named Chuck that fixes up houses and sells them who comes here after his 12 hour workday to relax a bit before going home. We get along great and before I know it he has convinced me to sing Creep by Radiohead, not being a guy who says “no” that often (especially when I’m on vacation) I agree even though that it means that I have to follow his incredible performance.

It doesn’t go all that great, but okay I guess and I’m enthusiastically cheered on by Chuck and the others. After some more chatting it’s time for Chuck to leave, but not before giving me his business card and telling me to look him up next time I’m in Dallas and he’ll fix me up with a place to stay and show me around. This southern hospitality sure is a wonderful thing! He also sings one last song, Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and it’s even better than the first one.

All this means that I missed the last shuttle back to the hotel so I need to find a cab (walking is not an option here in the US). Unable to find any I walk into a gas station to get the number for a cab, the problem is that they need my phone number so that the driver can locate me and my Swedish number won’t do since it’s too many digits. I have to ask the gas station attendant for his number and it all works out fine in the end. While waiting for the cab I chat with the attendant and as he hears that I’m on vacation and for no less than five weeks he gets a bit bitter and tells me that he hasn’t had a vacation for eight years. Maybe there’s an upside of living under an oppressive socialistic regime! =P

The cab driver is a friendly Kenyan guy and we chat about ABBA and the Jante law. All accounted for a pretty good start of my vacation!

Today’s spending:
Hotel drink: $12
Shuttle: $5
Awsomests steak evar: $42
Lemon Drop: $10
Tap Inn drink: $4
Cab back: $20