So this is it, the final Canada instalment, admittedly sent from the UK (owing to my early release for good behaviour), but still relevant and definitely necessary in order to sum up a very long and eventful summer. I think it is fair to say that there have been numerous ups and downs, some more significant than others, but as with everything, it is the ups that tend to remain with you long after the downs fade into obscurity- probably for the sake of sanity. So it seems fitting to finish the Canada saga on a high, with a report on our five day trip to San Diego with most of the usual suspects, all intent on making this one count.
Things got off to a bad start when we arrived at our hostel, our home for five nights, and the eight of us, all clad in our standard blue shirt/blue jeans/brown loafers combo, piled out of our newly rented people carrier with some light guffawing, each clutching an army-issue camouflage backpack. Imagine our surprise when we looked up and saw an enormous, glowing peace sign sitting proudly on top of our multi-coloured hostel, which subsequently proved to be filled to the brim with pot-smoking, dreadlock-sporting, pyjama-wearing hippies. Clearly we were not going to fit in. Things went from bad to worse in the hostel as we proceeded to go out every night into the wee small hours and return perhaps slightly less quietly than was encouraged by our ‘chilled’ neighbours. Every night brought a new complaint, the finest of which consisted of the enormously fat, in house ‘IT specialist’ saying, disturbingly calmly, to me “If you touch that again, I will throw you down the stairs”, as I attempted to help him fix the Internet at 3am by inspecting wires and checking the sturdiness of modem buttons- I am pretty sure I was being more helpful than he gave me credit for but owing to his size I took his advice and abstained. Needless to say we were not the most popular in-mates for our five night stay and not one of us has received a post-visit ‘thank you, come again’ email.
Indeed the nightlife of San Diego had much to offer, despite being hugely overpriced, and we made every effort to see as much of it as possible. And what better way to do so than on an organised pub crawl- sold to us by a chap called Bud, outside a bar, who clearly saw us coming a mile off and funnily enough has not been seen since. The clincher was the offer of three nights for the price of one on “San Diego’s best night out”. We paid up instantly, ignoring the theory that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is, and braced ourselves for three of the biggest nights out in history.
To say that the first night was a damp squib would be an understatement on a par with describing the prairies as ‘a bit flat’. We arrived at the first bar at 7pm, on time and raring to go- ready to meet the hundreds of promised punters, all equally keen to embrace the buzz of the town. To our surprise we were met by an almost entirely empty room, save for four girls and what looked to be a tumbleweed bouncing across the floor. Of the girls, one was running the night, another was on a job interview to take over running the night and the remaining two had, only an hour ago, been duped into the same fate as us and were not looking particularly thrilled to be there. Classic. Not to worry we thought, the night is young, plenty of time for people to arrive. But they didn’t, and for the rest of the night the 11 of us were dragged from bar to club to bar by Melissa, the painfully professional ‘one running the night’, who never once stopped smiling and at no point chose to acknowledge the fact that her pub crawl was making Titanic’s maiden voyage look like a roaring success. Naturally we found the whole thing hilarious and clung on to the sinking ship all night- and the following two nights as well (they were free, why wouldn’t you?), which did turn out to be a lot busier and thus less amusing, but worth it just to see the smiling look of despair on Melissa’s face each time we came back for more.
We did also manage to squeeze in some daytime activities. We visited the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier built in WW2, which is larger than the entire Royal Navy (give or take); we had lunch in Hooters, the all-American family restaurant and home of America’s simplest waitresses- it’s a wonder how they get the job, oh wait… We also made numerous attempts to visit a water park, which resulted in one of our finest adventures yet. On the back of a waiter’s advice (bad start to any story) we decided to cross the border into Mexico to go to the water park there, as it was “Mexican, so it’s more extreme.” i.e. they have less/no health and safety laws in Mexico so your life is in your own hands. As it turns out, that was the case from the moment we crossed the border, as Tijuana is not known for its first world attributes- they don’t even check your passport at the border, you just drive in. Unperturbed, we cracked on, before turning off the highway, where Google maps instructed us to, and came face to face with what can only be described as an authentic Mexican slum, complete with stray dogs; half naked, grubby children playing in the streets; little tin houses sweating in the heat and menacing looking groups of men on every street corner. For some reason they had installed anti tank ditches across the road at every junction as well, apparently something to do with drainage but they clearly had a sense of humour about it, as each ditch caused our poncey people carrier, filled with eight nervous looking Gringos clutching their swimming trunks and sinking further into their seats with each ditch, to scrape agonisingly slowly along the floor at naught mph, as the entire shanty town emerged from various tin huts to watch this seemingly hilarious spectacle unfold. By some act of God, and after what felt like an eternity, we made it through unscathed, before, to our horror, less than a mile down the road, we reached an unsurprisingly deserted water park. Not ideal, and less ideal still was that it had no water in it. We were reliably informed by Jose the caretaker/random passer-by, through a series of elaborate hand gestures, that “Park dry for winter”, although I suspect that the lack of water was more to do with the ‘shanty town chic’ look they had going on than anything else.
A little disheartened we made for the border (back through the slum, over the anti tank ditches at naught mph and through the massing crowds of slum dwellers now in uncontrollable hysterics) and then spent two hours in a queue for the border- turns out it’s a lot easier to get into Mexico that out of it. It wasn’t until we finally got to the front of the queue and were asked how long we had been in Mexico and we answered “only a few hours” that we realised just how dodgy we must look. A car full of young men, popping over the border for a few hours into one of the world’s most notorious drug producing countries and our ‘purpose-of-visit’ was to go to a closed water park in a Mexican slum.
This was made worse when we later found out that there is in fact a perfectly good water park (with water) in San Diego. This did not look good. Unsurprisingly the border guard treated us with plenty of suspicion before saying “You fellas got any fruit on board?” Naturally we said no, to which he said they were going to have to search the car for fruit anyway. Really? Fruit smugglers? Give us some street cred. We don’t even qualify to be potential drugs smugglers. As if that wasn’t insult enough we then sat sweating nervously, for a further hour, waiting for the man with the rubber gloves to have a ‘moment alone’ with each of us, before being simply waved through without so much as a pat down, presumably on the theory that whatever fruit we were attempting to smuggle had gone off during the endless wait at the border. So after seven nerve-racking hours in our family sized sweat box we made it back, a little fraught, with nothing to show for our troubles other than the comfort that we had lifted the morale of some impoverished Mexicans and no doubt some U.S border guards as well.
So all in all San Diego was the perfect finale to a lot of fun trips over a very eventful summer. I owe my sanity to my comrades-in-arms throughout the sentence- they made the good times good and the bad times just about bearable, although I would have had a far cheaper seven months without them and they owe me a new liver so we’ll call it evens. As much as we have whinged about the last seven months, and believe me we have, there has been a lot of fun to come out of it, not to mention a number of key life lessons learnt- don’t antagonise Czech waiters, they will just punch you in the face; stereotypes are there for a reason- all Germans wear lederhosen- fact; tandem biking is not cool, under any circumstances; if you are ever nervous about going into America just tell them you are in the Army and everything will be alright- unless you look like a gang of fruit smugglers, then nothing can save you; and finally under no circumstances should you ever consider visiting the Canadian Prairies, take it from me, there is absolutely nothing out there.
By Rich Glover