Matt: A very strange day today leaving South America and heading back into the modern Western world. We had had all day to spend in Lima and eventually got to the airport, through the slightly nuts Lima traffic, where we had a panic moment when the check in assistant couldn't get us booked in - a problem caused by the changes of our flights after the Mexico swine flu incident. So after about 25 panicky minutes standing at the check in desk with the dude getting totally foxed by the computer - we are finally sorted and heading towards the plane.
Another incident free flight and we get off the plane in New York JFK at 8.30am with most of the day to kill before heading to Newark airport and a 4pm flight to San Antonio.
We have to get from JFK to Penn station, via Jamaica, Queens and the Long Island Railway. Again, everything goes smoothly apart from finding out that there is no where at Penn station to leave our bags, so the sightseeing we had planned is scuppered by having all our gear to carry (we are now laden down with extra bags of gifts that we picked up in Bolivia and Peru).
We head off much earlier than intended to Newark to check in for our evening flight - again, a very easy transition. It is about this point that it really begins to sink in that we are really back in what we would consider our world and apart from the accents, this really is much like being back in London. For the first time in weeks I really feel like a scruffy b******. In Bolivia and Peru it didn't matter that our jeans had holes in, our hair was getting long and unkempt, our shoes were held together by tape and I was sporting a pretty scruffy beard. In South America, we fitted in with all the other backpackers. Clean clothes were not a priority - here I feel a bit out of step with everyone else.
At Newark we head straight to the check in desk an encounter more ticketing problems, which the lady at the counter sorts quickly and efficiently, muttering about how someone at BA has screwed up, but she is American Airlines and sorts it all, so we won't have any more issues for any of our upcoming flights.
So, now baggage free, we head of to revel in the delights of the first world - food, American style. Large unhealthy sandwiches and strong cheap coffee. Pretty tired by now, and feeling quite scuzzy, we both enjoy being able to sit and watch and listen to Americans being loud and brash while we eat and drink and flick through magazines at the News stands…
A few hours on and we are on our flight to San Antonio, with a short stop in Chicago where we have to get off and back on the plane, then we are off to SA.
Arriving at San Antonio we are greeted by a very happy and relaxed big brother Ed. Life back in the USA obviously suits him. After some big hugs we are escorted out to his big, white, Texan style pick up truck - sweet. Before long we are travelling through the America of the TV. Wide highways, neon shopping malls and huge cars everywhere.It is quite a change from the mopeds of Thailand or the rutted, dirt roads of Bolivia.
We get back to Ed and Jenna's lovely (desperate housewives) home. It is good to be with Family after 7 months. It is late and the kids are fast asleep, so after a quick look around and lots of oohing and aahing at their beautiful new home we settle in for a beer, a chat and then some well deserved sleep.
We are going to be in San Antonio for 8 days and we quickly slip into the pattern that is going to dominate the week. Getting up late, big breakfasts of good American coffee and bagels, watching TV, playing with the kids (pretty, pretty princess, marble race, tea parties, trampoline), drinking beer, eating food off the back garden grill, staying out of the sun and the heat (even though it is still spring it is stinking hot), enjoying the air conditioned house and watching the regular thunder and lightening (although you wouldn't expect it in Texas - it rains like f**k here).
It is so good to be in San Antonio, and although we both genuinely miss the rougher side of things that we have experienced, we are glad to have made it in one piece to see Ed, Jenna, Sean and Mia. We feel like the USA is very safe and soft in comparison to some of the places we have been through. Walking up the edge of the highway to the mall seems perfectly reasonable to us, although we do get some strange looks from inside the huge American automobiles. How else were we supposed to get there apart from on the edge of the highway? The pavement we were walking on just disappeared into a grass bank that we had to scramble up to get any further.Anyway, it was worth it for the mahoosive iced tea at the starbucks at the other end.
Jenna is even nice enough to lend us her car so that we can get out and about a bit. So off to the mall we go. A bit out of practice though when it comes to shopping, and in backpacker fashion we get a few odd stares from the over done department store staff. We both realise that we have forgotten how to deal with big style consumerism and get a bit freaked out by all the choice and fancy stores, so drink iced tea and coffee instead while we stand about sweating in the humidity before retreating to the safety of the air conditioned car and heading home.
This is our second trip to San Antonio and it is nice to have the opportunity to head back to the River Walk and see what has changed. It is Kel's birthday while we are here and (due to lack of babysitter) we end up going out, just the two of us, for a night at "Rosario's" - a funky, neon lit, Tex Mex diner, where we have awesome food and cactus marguerites, get a little drunk before exploring the River Walk at night and heading to "Howl At The Moon" to watch the two piano fun and get a little drunker.
We spend the last few days in San Antonio with a visit to Ed's work to play with the guns (I especially like the nickel plated drug dealer '45), and to the most awesomist shop I have ever been in "The Bass Pro Shop". This place is like the best camping shop you have ever seen crossed with the Natural History Museum. There is every stuffed animal you can imagine (lions, zebra, wolves, rabbits, snakes… ) all arranged in natural poses. They have a two story fish tank that the lift goes down into so it feels like you are in the tank. There is a shooting range where you use a light beam shooting rifle to hit various animals which react to being hit (a squirting skunk, a spitting snake, a clucking chicken etc). You can buy everything from freeze dried food, to Frisbees, to house wares, to crossbows, to automatic weapons. It is safe to say that the kids aren't the only ones running about wide eyed and excited in this place. We are even lucky enough to receive from Jenna "Bass Pro Shop" t-shirts over birthday cake that evening.
The 8 days seem to pass quickly, and it has been a real pleasure to be Ed and Jen's first visitors in their new home. It is a fantastic way to draw our trip to a close (well almost a close) to spend it with the San Antonio Wallaces, especially as this was an unexpected bonus that resulted from the whole Swine Flu debacle, so I guess we can thank Davy and Lynne for having to move their wedding to Cyprus so that we got this opportunity. San Antonio is too hot a humid for me, and the mosquitos the size of your face are hard to handle, but it certainly seems to suit Ed, Jenna, Sean and Mia. They all seem happier and healthier than when living in England, all that sunshine and space must suit them. Thanks Ed and Jenna.
Well, we finally had to repack our backpacks, thankfully a bit lighter and full of clean clothes, see Sean off to the school bus, Ed off to work and Mia off to nursery and Jenna drove us to the airport for our flight back to New York and the last three days of our journey.