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Saturday, 31 January 2015

MEXICO - THE IGUANAS

I was looking through the window when I saw a blue circle formed by an atoll in the Caribbean Sea. Ricky and I did not fly to India after all: I had a business trip to Merida, in the Gulf of Mexico and we ended up in the Yucatan Peninsula. The taxi drove us from Cancun International Airport to our hotel in the famous 7-shaped island, connected at each end to the mainland with bridges. The narrow line of land, where the modern beachfront resorts are located, separates the Caribbean Sea from the calm lagoon. The palms, the white sand beaches and intensive colours made of that place a paradise on earth.

The porter carried the luggage to our room and he opened the door to let us in. Ricky and I stood there speechless: the room looked great for the money and next to one of the beds there was an A.C. box and a window with an enchanting view on the clear blue sea. “I’ll sleep there, may I?” Asked Ricky pointing to the bed close to the window. “Sure, I am happy to sleep far from the air conditioning box anyway.” I replied.

We spent the whole afternoon by the beach, where we tried to suppress the tiredness caused by the jet lag and after the magical orange sunset we ate a delicious “fajita de pollo” at the local “Fat Tuesday” restaurant and we had some drinks. It was past midnight when we decided to go home, it was dark and we opted for an unusual shortcut, as we were too tired to walk the long way. We were crossing a green, when we heard a weird noise and we saw the black shape of a reptile that we had never seen before. My friend and I got scared, we run away as fast as we could and as soon as we reached our hotel, we looked at each other and started laughing to tears. “How silly!” I said and I touched my face as I felt the pain of the sunburn. Apparently my half Mediterranean skin wasn’t used to the stronger tropical sun.

Before going to sleep we went the reception to book that very same room again for the last night in Cancun, where we would have returned after a journey through the Yucatan Peninsula. At 1am, we were exhausted and as we touched bed we crashed.

“Psss, Mattia, Mattia… Wake up… Have you heard that noise? Wake up…” Ricky kept on saying in the dark. “Which noise?” I asked half asleep. “I don’t know, I think I heard something and it was not human…” Added Ricky.

We turned the light on but as there was nothing to be seen, we went back to sleep.

“crrrrr… crrrr… crrr…”
“Oh my God! What was that?” My friend and I stood up immediately and turned the light back on.

After looking everywhere in the room without finding the source of that spooky noise, I decided to call the reception and ask for someone to come over. A few minutes later a middle age chubby guy knocked at the door and Ricky let him in. The man had a budge pinched on the top right of his jacket with written: “Animal Protection” and he could not speak fluent Spanish, in fact he spoke some kind of indigenous language, which I could not understand. “Oímos un ruido muy extraño – we heard a very strange noise” I told him in both languages. The Mexican man started looking around but he did not seem to have any luck either. Some five minutes later another “Animal Protection” younger man, who could speak both Spanish and English came to help. It was 3am when our Mexican rescuers decided to abandon us there. “Aquí no hay nada – There is nothing here”. Said the younger of the two. “Please don’t leave us, you have to protect us from that animal!” we begged. “Crrrr… crrr… crrrr…” Added the unidentified creature. “You see!!! There is something!” Concluded happily Ricky and I. It came from the A.C. Box. A green iguana had made its nest for the night there and it was impossible to chase it away, as the box was locked. After half an hour of failed attempts, the Mexican men waved their arms in the air to make us believe the iguana had flown away and they left us alone. Of course the iguana had not flown away, in fact it kept us awake for the whole night and on the day after we were told that iguanas do not fly.

***

On the 12th of April at 10am our bus left Cancun bus station heading to Chichen Itza. We drove a few hours through the jungle, we crossed the border between the Mexican State of Quintana Roo and the State of Yucatan, where we had a short stop in the city of Valladolid and we reached our destination in the late afternoon. We got off the bus some three kilometres away from the ruins, where we saw a small resort with five or six bungalows hidden by the dense vegetation and we decided to spend the night there. Fernando, the owner of the resort, cooked some rice and two delicious tortillas for us and after dinner, he showed us the “cenote”. “The cenote is a sinkhole containing groundwater… The Mayas used this cenote in the Pre-Columbian time… They used to cast the victims of their human sacrifice rites into the hole… Some skeletons were found by Sir Edward Herbert Thompson in 1904” enlightened us Fernando. “Do you want to see the light show at the ruins tonight? I can take you there, if you want…” added Fernando.

At 10pm the Mexican man drove Ricky, a couple of French tourists and me to the ruins of Chichen Itza, “The mouth of the well of the Itza”. The moon and the stars were hidden behind the density of the jungle and we could hear the howling of indigenous animals.

“I will be back to pick you up at 1am.” Said Fernando before driving away.

There were already a few other people at the Mayan ruins. The guardian welcomed us and took us to our seats. A couple of minutes later, the show started and everyone stop talking. I was staring at the Temple of the Warriors, which had turned red through the spectacular special effects, when 2 men walked in front of the light projector and we could see their shadow on the façade of the temple. The show, the jungle, the music and the ruins gave a mysterious atmosphere to the Mayan site, the same place where human sacrifices had taken place a few centuries before.

Ricky pointed at the sky and he showed me eleven triangular lights with a tiny tail. “That must have cost a fortune!” Commented my friend speaking to the guardian, who was sitting next to us. “Those lights? Those aren’t ours …” Replied the old man with a worried face. Seconds later the eleven lights vanished

That night Ricky and I could not sleep, we were not used to the howling of those indigenous wild animals and we were thinking about those unidentified lights in the sky. We asked ourselves if the guardian had lied, or if he had told the truth, in which part of the jungle the source of those lights could have been. The day after we visited the ruins again and we went on top of the pyramid. From up there we had a fantastic view over the site, but it took me about one hour to get down those steep steps with the use of my ass.

***

In the afternoon a 2nd class bus took us to Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, where we were welcomed with torrential rain. The streets were flooded and we could not find any taxi, so we walked our way to the hotel, soaking in the water, which sometimes reached our knees. After dinner we were too tired to go out again, besides on the following day I had my work appointment, which I could not miss. My friend and I went to our room and at around 2am, when the guests of the hotel had finished partying, I closed my eyes.

It was not easy to find the branch of my company in Merida: the streets were numbered, but those numbers did not seem to be always in the correct order. At 10am we found the office and we met Javier, the local engineer. The Mexican employee showed me the equipment, he explained me how the node was connected to the other routers and I took note for my presentation. After two hours Javier offered to take Ricky and me for a sightseeing tour of the colonial district with its car. The Mexican man could only speak Spanish, so I had to translate into English for Ricky, who had also some questions regarding the colonial time in Mexico. I told Javier about the lights we had seen in the sky of Chichen Itza and he told me that a few days before the Mexican Military had seen those lights in the area of Campeche and they were classified as U.F.O. Javier was not a good driver, I was feeling dizzy and I asked him to let us down. “Muchas gracias, Javier!” I thanked him and as soon as he drove away I threw up. “What if they were Martians?” joked Ricky.

***

After leaving Merida, we spent two days in Campeche, the capital of the homonymous state. On my travel guide I had read that the colonial city was founded in the 16th century, as the Conquistadores had built their houses on the pre-existing Mayan city of Canpech. Our hotel was next to the walls, which had protected Campeche from the pirates and the buccaneers. “Iguanas, Mayans, Pirates, Martians… Mexico has surely lots too offer!” I thought smiling. On Monday Ricky and I took a bus back to the Caribbean Sea coast and we reached Playa del Carmen. The fishing town on the Mayan Riviera gave me inspiration to write this book. From Playa del Carmen we took a ferry to the Caribbean island of Cozumel, where we spent the whole day by the beautiful exotic beach and in the evening we visited the town of San Miguel.

The following morning we woke up early, we took a southbound bus and we reached Tulum, the pre-Columbian Mayan site on the coast. After visiting the main temple on the cliff, we went down to the town, where my friend wanted to buy himself a cap. I was looking at some postcards, when I heard a Mayan seller trying to convince Ricky to buy something from him. My friend did not give in the pushy seller and he bought his cap in the shop across the road, provoking the rage of the unsuccessful man. “Why did you buy it from him and not from me?” Shouted the Mayan ending up his sentence with some incomprehensible words, which sounded like a spell. My friend kept on walking and he turned his face from time to time to look at the angry man.

“BAAAANG”

I heard and I saw Ricky lying on the ground unconscious: he had just hit the metal bar of the car park with his nose. “Ricky wake up! Wake up!” I shouted and a few seconds later my friend stood up with a painful swollen nose. A bar keeper gave him some ice wrapped in a dirty piece of cloth, which had probably never been washed and she showed us the way to the bus. Once back in Playa del Carmen, I took Ricky to the hospital, where we waited two or three hours in the Hallway between the kitchen’s, the bathroom’s and the X-ray room’s doors. Eventually at 5pm a doctor visited Ricky, he looked inside his nose with a pair of old fashion nasal forceps, he said: “No está roto – it’s not broken” and he gave him a box of painkillers.


We ended our tour in tiny Isla Mujeres and on Saturday afternoon we went to Cancun International Airport to catch our flight back to the United Kingdom.

SUMMER FRIENDSHIP

The small lighthouse was the only terrestrial source of light in miles. The moon was shining bright, reflecting the energy of the more powerful sun. Only the waves crashing into the rocks around the pier were interrupting the silence of the night. Everything was there but the “One”. I was often dreaming to spend hours in that idyllic place with someone special. I had always hoped that I would have shared this experience with someone I loved anytime soon, but I still had a long time to wait. That was enough! I could not waste the night with melancholic thoughts. It was time to go clubbing! I decided to walk my way home along the beach. The feeling of the fresh water and of my feet sinking into the soft wet sand was pretty pleasant. I reached home around 1.am, I took a shower, put some wax onto my hair, wore my favourite clothes and I was ready to party. My parents’ flat was located in the town centre of Rosas. Nightlife was just around the corner. It was a Friday night and most of the clubs had a free entrance. I popped up into the first one but the music was too loud and cheesy. The second one followed, then the third. Café de la Playa felt somehow like the right place to be, so I took a stool, I sat at the bar and I waited for the waiter. “Un Sex On The Beach por favor”. I ordered. “If I cannot have sex on the beach I should at least drink it!” I thought. “750 Pesetas por favor.” I paid my drink and tipped the cute bartender. They were playing Gala’s ‘’Let A Boy Cry’’ when I turned my face and I saw him. He was blond and just a little bit taller than me. His eyes were as blue as the tropical sea and he had the sweetest smile I had ever seen. That night I kicked my shyness away and I decided that he had to be my friend. About one hour later, the Nordic looking guy left the bar and went along the main street that leaded to the harbour. He was walking at a rather slow pace and every time I was about to reach him, I felt so terribly embarrassed and walked even slower to widen the distance again. We went on like that for a couple of kilometers. I don’t think that he ever noticed me, as he never looked behind. Eventually he turned on the left and I decided it was the time to act. Waiting longer was not an option as I would have not been able to follow him unnoticed, along the smaller secondary roads. What could I have possibly told that guy to make me appear interesting at his eyes and make him wanting to spend some time conversing with me? He looked like the fun type of guy who likes crazy stuff, so I decided to be direct and I asked him… “Hey, do you know where I get some grass?” He looked confused and he said: “Sorry, ich habe leider nicht verstanden” So I repeated my question slower, using other terms to describe what I was looking for and he smiled, a killer smile that made my heart beating faster. At that time my German was pretty basic, but luckily my new friend Enrico had a better knowledge of the English language, so that we managed to go on with our conversation. He was from a small town near Mainz in Germany, he told me that he was 19 and that he was there with some member of his family. “I was also looking for grass” he added, “but I could not find any here”. He seemed to enjoy our conversation, he was also happy that he had finally met someone to speak with and he invited me to join him for a drink. I would have never refused such an inviting offer, so we walked together all the way back and we went to the “Surf Inn”. My new friend was really funny and he had a strong German accent, which I found terribly cute. We talked and talked for hours, we went to four or five different bars and we drunk like sponges. I got so drunk that I became pretty slow in reflexes. Enrico was so kind to offer me his cigarettes, placing them one after the other on my lips and lighting them up for me. While Enrico and I were dancing, one of the most ugly men in the club, walked towards my new friend and he kissed him on his lips. That scene gave me a nasty feeling of unwanted jealousy. Enrico revealed to be very straight and run away disgusted, constantly cleaning his mouth with his right hand for at least twenty minutes. In fact, I have to admit that I would have done the same, the brave kisser was so much worse than simply unattractive. It was already 6am when two Spanish girls approached us. 

GAY RIGHTS IN ITALY

I'm tired of reading the usual articles regarding homosexuals denied rights in Italy. I believe time has come to focus on the family, but it is especially necessary to give more rights to the heterosexual people in Italy. In fact I heard that homosexuals are well accepted in the boot-shape country. Every so often someone a little weak commits suicide, but it is not because he or she does not feel accepted by the society. They are just weak.

I am also tired of trying to explain to the Italians that the country needs laws to grant same-sex unions and laws that punish discrimination and violence due to sexual orientation. Even the suspicion that such laws would have the effect to save the life of a single person, giving him or her the strength to believe in a better society, should prompt us to ask for it quickly. After all, they are laws that are now in place all over the western civilizations, in South America, South Africa and parts of Eastern Europe. They are having discussions in Vietnam and even China, even if these countries are still far from a solution. The new friendly Pope says it with other words. Even the Church seems to be more modern than Italy.


I'm tired because I no longer believe in my country, and for me it's too late to change my mind. I lived half of my life in Italy and the other half in Europe. Forgive me if I detach for a moment the Belpaese, the beautiful country, from the continent where it belongs geographically. I don’t do that maliciously. I do that to try to make you understand what my life was, when I lived in Italy and how it has been and it is in other western European countries, where I lived and where I live.

SZCZECIN & HOT BEER

Szczecin is a Polish city I visited a couple of times when I used to live in Berlin. The city was destroyed during WWII but there has been a great reconstruction of the old city centre. I went there in winter so it was pretty cold and the Oder river which crossed Szczecin was frozen. In cold day in Poland it is recommended to drink the local hot beer. Here something about HOT BEER: Delicious!


VICTORIA PEAK HONG KONG

My favorite spot in Hong Kong is Victory Peak. I was there at least three times at different times of the day. The view is spectacular, and if you reach the peak at the right time you will be able to admire the beautiful night light show of the Hong Kong Skyline. You can reach the peak with the tram. It is a very steep tramway and a very historical one. Worth the ticket and the long queue. Once you reach the top there is a compulsory walk in the mall to reach the exit. There you can find various restaurants too. There is nice walk from that point onwards among the most exclusive residential area of Hong Kong. You will be able to see also the most expensive villa - from outside that is...
More information about the Peak and the tram here.





BANGKOK WAT PHRA KAEW AND GRAND PALACE

One of my favorite sites in the Thai capital city is the Wat Phra Kaew. The Wat Phra Kaew is a marvelous religious site located in the grounds of the amazing Grand Palace. All the buildings in this site deserve to be seen closely. Each building is decorated to the minimum detail and on the many Thai sunny days the light reflects everywhere on the golden tiles making the whole are sparkle. It is a unique place that cannot be missed if you visit Bangkok. Remember to where long trousers or you will not be allowed to enter the site. Be early as queues are huge.










 

LANTAU BIG BUDDHA

Lantau's Big Buddha is one my favorite site in Hong Kong. Lantau is a large island next to Hong Kong island that also host Hong Kong's airport. The Buddha is on top of the mountain of the island. It can be seen from a distance and from up there you have amazing views. It is also fascinating as it can happen that you are surrounded by the low clouds... In Lantau we also visited the village of Tai O, of which I wrote a post a while ago. Tao O is Chinese fisher village built of stilt houses.








Wednesday, 28 January 2015

MY BERLIN AND LONDON

My name is Mattia. I am a single and unemployed 27-year-old Italian guy. I live with my best-friend Adriana, on the 15th floor of a tower facing Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin. From my window you can see the history. There is an amazing view on the television tower, that the Socialists built during the GDR time, the Palast der Republik, which is currently under demolition and the Berliner Dom. Isn’t it incredible? Just about 17 years ago, I would have not been able to live in this part of the city. No Rock ‘n Roll, no Spaghetti alla Bolognese, no Champagne, no Coke… European countries opened their borders and I took the chance to live in this new World, the same one that was so far for the previous generations, but it’s now so close to me. When I was eight, my skating teacher wanted to send me to West Berlin for a week, to spend some time with a German family. At that age the word Berlin sounded to my ears like a nightmare, the city with the scary wall. I guess I was as scared as an American kid, who thinks that the Russians do actually eat children for breakfast. I didn’t make it. Probably my move here was partially linked to that missed occasion during my childhood and to the fact that I am attracted to guys, with blond hair and blue eyes. Everyday I attend a German upper intermediate class in the morning and I get myself a date from the chat room, with one of those blond guys in the evening. These dates are for me fundamental to improve my skills in the German language. I know, it sounds very opportunistic, but you have to admit that having a date with a foreigner like me, in your own country can be pretty funny. There were times when I asked the waiter for “an Ass Sucker’’ instead of an ashtray. Isn’t it easy to get confused between an “Arschlecker” and an “Aschenbecher”? Well it was for me. Once I drank all my coffee and I wanted to ask the waiter to bring me another one: “Ich möchte gerne einen anderen Kaffee bitte” which I translated literally from “another one’’. The waiter started looking at me, with a rather surprised and annoyed face and asked me, how could I have not liked my coffee if I had drunk it all. “Achso, noch einen meinen Sie!  Jawohl”. Well, after a few months you get used to feel like a child that is learning how to speak and the people are most of the time kind enough to be patient with me and my lack of vocabulary. Germans can be funny too with their mistakes in spoken English. Some of them have the ability to “become a present” instead of receiving one, or one can be sinking instead of thinking.

***

My 10th ex-boyfriend Olaf, who had recently moved from London to Frankfurt, was here for the weekend. I forgot to mention that I have a collection of ex partners, as I tend to throw myself into a relationship very fast.
We had a great time and for the first time, since I moved away from the United Kingdom, I started missing London. It has been snowing for days here in Berlin and sometimes going out is not really an option, as hands and nose could freeze off. Berlin nightlife is very complicated. It can be fun, but as everything that is German, it has to be well planned. You simply cannot take the risk to go to “Kino International” and find out that on the first Saturday of the eighth month of the current solar year, it’s another gay club’s night. Pro is, that one would not have to wait long in the queue outside in the snow, contra is that one would have to look in the mirror, to see someone who is not there to work. It was “Schwuz” ’s night. We took the N84 bus to Mehringdamm and walked just a few meters down the road. There we were. The front bar was packed, there were quite some people standing in the queue, waiting to get their hand stamped and feel a little bit like one of those farm cows or pigs. The ink was practically undeletable and one needed to keep their hands in soapy water, rubbing for ages before being able to get rid of it. The music was playing loud, the people were dancing unstoppably and the drinks were constantly served at the bar, but something was definitely missing. I looked around, trying to feel the atmosphere of this new club, a club I was not used to. Some of the guys looked simply gorgeous, blond hair, deep blue eyes and perfect bodies. Some over-exceeded with the gym to reach perfection, “der Waschbrettbauch” or the English six-pack, that they proudly displayed through the transparence of their vests. It is not London. Here one doesn’t get to see anyone drunk by 11pm, the restrooms are most likely still virgin and picking up someone would be considered as escorting. No one was kissing. I told Olaf that I felt like I was in a room full of people, shouting for attention and no one seemed to hear. Suddenly he kissed me, so passionately that made my melancholy disappear for a few minutes. Showing off? No! That is not the meaning I give to two people that display their affection in public. They just live the passion and they are just lucky that they can display their feelings to the World. I moved to Berlin because I was tired of Albion’s madness and now I started missing it. I could write so much more about my life here in Berlin, but I will do it later. I guess I just need to step back in my past and fly to London to get that feeling of freedom from those rules, that make my life here somehow less intriguing than in England.



LONDON, ENGLAND, September-December 1998

When I landed at Stansted airport on the 18th of September 1998, I had 300 pounds in my pocket. Back in the early 90s, I used to spend one month every year in a summer school in Britain, so I had an idea on how far my finances could go. Basically, I exactly knew that I had to hurry up to get myself a job, or I would have had to go back to Milan within a week or two. The Stansted Express train left the airport’s station and run at a pretty decent speed through Essex’s countryside. Britain always gave me the feeling to be in Legoland, all those red bricks detached and terraced houses, architecture style that you hardly see somewhere else but there. The plan was, that I would have reached Liverpool Street Station and from there I had to make a phone call, to get in contact with the hostel. “E.L. how may I help you?” said a rather masculine voice. “My name is Mattia Zani and I’ve booked an accommodation at your hostel. I am still at Liverpool Street station. Could you kindly tell me in which street you are located?”  I took the Northern line from Liverpool Street to Tottenham Court Road, I changed there for a southbound Bakerloo line train and I got off at Lambeth North. The weather forecast that I had checked on the previous day was right. Hardly can one be wrong if one forecasts rain showers in England. Despite the miserable weather, there were kids playing soccer on the courtyard of the local church and people were walking up and down the streets with their Tesco bags. It felt exciting, a new life was beginning for me and I would have fought until the end to make it work.

After the registration at the reception of the hostel, I went upstairs to my room. That was the only accommodation that I could find from Italy, 65 pounds per week, 2-week deposit, 1-week agency fee, twin room with a bunk bed, a fridge, a table, two chairs, an outside toilet, that had to be sterilized with the most powerful chemicals ever produced, to get it back to a decent state. I checked in at about 4pm. At 5pm I went downstairs to give my two-week notice.

I met my roommate Francisco just a couple of days later. He was a Spanish guy who had lived in Cologne for quite a while and he had moved to London to improve his English. He was working in a small grocery store somewhere in the city and he had night shifts, which was good news for me as I could have the room only for myself most of the times. I had always been pretty organized: I managed to find myself a job, an English course, a flat and a boyfriend within two weeks.  My adult life had started and I did not mean to waste any precious second of it. There was so much to do, so much to enjoy and so much to fight for. 

***
I can still remember my first manager. She was an Indian lady born in the UK, with a degree in chemistry and it was so clear to me that she had some inferiority complex issues. Normally London is very generous to people who have a decent educational background. This was not the case. Susan’s degree managed to get her a leading position as a floor manager in a fast-food restaurant in Holborn. She took her job very seriously, she was very good at getting the highest profit, she was an excellent worker, but she definitely lacked of customer care skills and she had absolutely no idea on how to deal with her employees. I started cleaning the lobby and I had the impression that this was most likely, the best role that one could get there. There were only a couple of rules to respect, red clothes, red mops and red buckets, to clean the lobby and the kitchen. Blue ones were for the toilets. Trays and tables had also to be cleaned with the red clothes and cleaned trays had to be constantly brought back to the tills. It was an easy job, the most difficult situation that a foreign employee could have come across with, was if an American tourist was asking where the restrooms were or if it was possible to pay in dollars. Unfortunately my “relaxing” time in the lobby ended after a couple of weeks, when an apron was given to me. Only then, I realized that the guys who worked behind the grills didn’t smile like those in the pictures of the employees, displayed in the lobby for customer attention. It was the hardest job I ever did in my life. I was producing non-stop for hours and sweating like a pig because of the heat that was produced by the grills. I can’t remember how many times I burnt myself, trying to get those grills clean and getting the extremely hot oil on my hands. Those very hands that were only used to write, taking care of books, handling remote controls and other delicate stuff. I never had the time to think on how painful it was, to get my fresh wounds close to the heat again. If one were lucky, one would have been given a blue plaster, which would have looked pretty silly on the hand, but it was required for health reasons: No one wants to bite a burger filled with plasters. During my fast-food experience I changed tens of colleagues, good ones and bad ones. The Russians were the best. Vladimir was a very hard worker, he was funny and he helped me a lot in the kitchen. When Susan was stressed out, which happened on a daily basis, she would shout at me and Vladimir would always come to comfort me. He was simply a gorgeous guy with a great heart. Was he bound to be my first real boyfriend?