I’d only been back home from Russia and Europe for a few weeks and was just getting over that post-trip depression when my phone started ringing. It was Tiny, a lad I’d served overseas in the Army with. He was a rough bloke from the bush who liked hard liquor but was a gentleman you could rely on. He’d recently lost an ear in a pig hunting accident when he rolled his ute and the roof-mounted spotlight had somehow swung in and severed it right off. He was a few hours walk from the nearest town and had to walk to get help. When he eventually got back to his ute days later one of his dirt bikes had been stolen from the crash scene. I never asked if they’d also taken the ear.
Tiny told me that he and his long-term girlfriend had recently split up. He told me he’d previously booked an overseas tour for them and couldn’t get a refund and wanted to know if I’d come with him. I wouldn’t have to pay for the tour but I would have to cover my own flights there and back. I said yes straight away as I was only working casually as a security guard at a university until I worked out what I wanted to do with my life (again). That meant I wasn’t held down like most people by a full-time job, or family for that matter. I was thinking about going back to the Army but that could wait. Tiny was somehow still in the Army after losing the ear. It had happened between unit postings and just went unnoticed until his next yearly medical assessment. He had told me that there was a young female medical assistant performing the medical assessment. She new to the Army and, by gaining her sympathy, somehow got her to dodgy up the hearing test. The army even offered to buy him this new synthetic ear and he showed me the brochure. Tiny had also gone AWOL on our one week’s leave from East Timor, however his dad talked him into coming back and he flew in a few days later. I remember he was charged and was a prisoner for a few days. I saw him moving piles of rocks around the base as a punishment.
I was looking forward to the trip. It was going to be a good bash that’s for sure, although I knew there were going to be some interesting moments as Tiny was pretty loose and liked a few beverages and a good brawl. I remember first meeting him when I joined his section before deploying to East Timor. He’d invited some of us newer guys over to his house for a BBQ one Saturday morning. We all respected him as he was a lot older and had already been on a few trips with the Army. Most of us in the section were new to the Army and all lived on base. We piled into a car and drove to his house, bringing the usual BBQ items that a guest would take. We rocked up to a modern house in the suburbs and knocked on the door. There was no answer so someone tried to call his mobile but it rang out. We noticed that his garage door was half open so after a while we worked up the confidence to go in that way. After all, we barely knew the bloke. We went in and made our way into the lounge room where he was sprawled out on a couch snoring heavily. He’d obviously had a massive night for even after we tried to wake him up a few times he didn’t move at all. It wasn’t until about 15 awkward minutes later that he woke up. He got straight back into the beers and we never ended up having a BBQ.
After a quick stopover in Los Angeles we flew into Mexico City to begin the 21-day trip around Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala. It was evening as we descended into Mexico City, I had a window seat and the view below was amazing. There were dozens and dozens of flashing police car lights all over the city, it was like some kind of massive emergency was taking place. Someone later told me that due to problems with police corruption if a police car was on duty they had to have their lights on to attract attention to themselves, but I liked the mass emergency story better. We were met at the airport by a driver from the tour company and led to a small minibus where we got talking with a couple from New Zealand who were on their honeymoon and doing the same tour as us.
The place looked pretty rough and poor, and there were definitely some streets there that you wouldn’t want to find yourself in after dark. We checked into Royal Hotel Zona Rosa, which was in an area of Mexico City called Zona Rosa. It is the main nightlife/restaurant/shopping area of the city and was quite safe for foreigners, although we didn’t see many others there. The driver told us that traffic was such a massive problem in Mexico City that when you purchased a car you were given a certain coloured number plate, and could only drive the car in the main city area on certain days to try and reduce congestion and promote the use of public transport. It was a good idea but a lot of people who could afford it were just buying additional cars so they could drive every day.
On the first day we drove around the city and visited a few museums, which really wasn’t Tiny’s thing but it must have sounded good when he booked it with his ex-missus. The main areas of the city were quite nice and there were many sights to be seen. There was some commotion going on and there were large units of riot police deployed with shields and full protective gear. We drove past the American Embassy and there was an epic fence around the whole complex. The guide told us that it is always getting hammered by protesters due to visa restrictions and the like. We also drove past the mansion where ‘Man on Fire’ was filmed.
We were on our way to some ancient Aztec ruins on the outskirts of the city known as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. On the way we stopped off at a massive church where a huge mass was going on. We were told photos were allowed but definitely no flash. We walked in for a look-around and a quick history lesson, and were standing off to the side of the altar structure looking at the large crowd. All of a sudden Tiny accidentally took a photo on his camera with a flash. Everyone stared at us. Man, it was awkward. There couldn’t have been a worse place to have done it. We drive past some pretty large slum settlements like you see in the movies, then finally arrived at the pyramids. We weren’t really interested in the history but had a good look around for the day. We ended up going out that night and getting pretty smashed. There were barely any other foreigners about. The tourist industry was dead due to the aftermath of the global financial crisis and a lot of venues were hurting. I went back to the hotel on my own, leaving Tiny with some Mexicans and an Israeli who owned the bar. He came back to the hotel an hour later with a random Mexican to get some more money and go back out.
Good morning Mexico City, can’t complain about the view
The ‘Man on Fire’ mansion
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where Tiny took a photo with the flash on