Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Ecuador Road Trip continued...

Day 9 - Destination - Get out of Montanita

Sarah and I left first thing in the morning.. weren´t really sure where to.. just away from drunk teenagers and piss smelling beach.

Stopped back in Puerto Lopez and chatted to fishermen who were busy doing business on the beach... sending cart loads of various slimy creatures off to Peru and Quito. One cart was full of a certain long, skinny fish that is apparently used for burning in factories, cheaper than wood - must stink!

Spent the day on a beautiful beach in a national park - no one else there.. able to sunbathe topless.. heaven.

spent night in Puerto Lopez, found delicious italian restsaurant - yummy pasta much appreciated.

DAY 10 - Destination - Canoa

Beautiful coastside drive all the way. Stopped in a little village for lunch, swam in the sea - got rid of my bum ache (driving for hours does take its toll on that area!), ate some delicious ceviche, chatted to some local men, who were shocked neither of us were married - here the girls get hitched between the age of 15 and 20... after that they are in trouble.

Arrived Canoa about 6pm, where we found our little sister and comic Darrel who had taken the bus 2 days before. Canoa is meant to be a ´quieter´ alternative to Montanita - it is.. but didn´t have the charm that Sarah and I have romantically invisioned.

Day 11. Both woke up in the morning feeling dissatisfied and itchy, so got in Humphrey once again and drove further north passed a town called Pedernales, and found an idyllic little spot on a fantastic beach. A family run hotel.. $10 a night.. a bloody good deal... if anyone ever wants to go to a beautiful beach, eat freshly caught fish, go horse riding, have a very comfortable room with hot water bath, for hardly any money - i´d recommend this undiscoverd little place: Coco Solo its called, Pedernales, Ecuador.. would be good for a honeymoon.

We walked along the beach after arriving in the afternoon and came across a beautiful women in rags, and her five gorgeous little children covered in sand. They lived inside the palm trees which lined the beach. Then the father turned up on his horse, equally beautiful, dark skin and a huge white toothed smile, clearly very proud of his nest.
The woman gave an order to one of the kids, who ran into the palm tree woods, and came back with a huge cocnut. The woman then chopped the top off and presented it to us to drink the juice from. It was delicious.

Discussed our options as to where to go next at dinner. Were going to go north, towards a town called San Jose near the Columbian border, but thought best to asked lovely hotel man first if it was advisable. ¨"Muy muy peligroso,¨he said with a smile on his face, ¨muchos muertes...¨ Turned out drugs being smuggled in and out of Columbia meant there was/is gorilla warfare going on up there.. people just ´shooting eachother all the time,´ and police don´t have any control apparently as they are too afraid of the gorillas. Uhum. So.. we either stuck to the coast, or made our way back into the mountains, stopping at Banos before going back to Quito. We spent one more day at the beach, and then did the latter...

DAY 13

Longest, and hairiest drive yet. I drove for 9.5 hours, not including 3 quite short breaks! Trusty Borocca and Leftfield kept me going. Wound along a very busy road connecting the coast to the higlands for about four hours... stunning views but never ending sharp bends, and too many bullying trucks and buses for Humphrey´s or my liking! Getting stuck behind a huge slow truck was the worst... beacuse it meant there would be about 20 other vehicles behind ours, waiting for me to overtake, and getting more and more impatient until I´d finaaly find a stretch of road long enough to make the manouver anything but a death wish. Several times buses would tail gate me so intimidatingly, and then if they got too impatient, would just overtake me AND the slow moving vehicle, on a blind bend, going steeply uphill... their good faith was quite astonishing, there were a few crosses marking deaths along the way. Arrived Banos 7pm.. dined and collapsed.

DAY 14.

Went horse riding around a smoking volcano, which we´re told could erupt any minute. My horse was very lazy. Sarah sped up the hill while I lagged behind on Caramella. We came to huge drop, at the bottom of which was a fiercely flowing river. We dismounted the horses, left them grazing, and crossed it by means of some rusty iron chairs which hung from a line which connected the two sides.. We swooped across 30 meters above the water! Don´t know what they´re called and am probably not describing them very well, but basically we both felt like Tarzan for a few seconds, and then landed the other side, where we found a charming little house that looked like it was from Hanzel and Gretel. A man inside gave us some coffee. Our guide took us for a brief nature walk where he made a tree bleed and told us the red juice is used for arthritus. Swang back to the horses, and back to Banos below.

The setting of this town is stunning.. flanked by mountains on all sides. It gets its names from the thermal baths, which Sarah and I visited that evening. Delicious. They are below a dramatic waterfall, and full of lots of locals who use them on a daily basis. There was a boiling hot one, and a freeezing cold one.. one then the other, then the other, then the other.. moments of discomfort followed by pure pleasure.. good detox we were told.

DAY 15

Went for a drive to try and find some indigenous villages.. no luck.. this place is too discovered by tourists unfortunately. We both agree we should have stayed in Chugchilian (day 4) for at least another day to explore those hidden depths of Ecuador better.

DAY 16

We are meant to be on way back to Quito right now, but Sarah has lost the car keys, so we are stuck. Someone is driving to deliver us the spare set of keys... its 1pm.. Quito is four hours away. My flight to NY is at 7am tomorrow morning, where I am going for lovely Harriette´s wedding. The keys better get here quick!.. as I´d rather not do the Panamericana in the dark!

Have formed a worryingly close bond with Humphrey.. I talk to him and pat him regularly. The only other relationship I can equate it to in my life, is the one I had growing up, with my horse, Calypso. That is insulting to darling Calypso, as at least she had a brain! Oh dear. Well anyway, having always said I wouldn´t care too much what my first car would be, as long as it moved, I´m not so sure about that now. Humphrey has given me standards! Not one flat tire, break down, or any problem at all, along the worst roads i have ever seen in my life and over two thousand kilometers! He is filthy, so much so you can't read the number plate, my hands have blisters on them, and my left arm is browner than my right. But I will miss him, and all the places he´s taken us, greatly.

xxx Jacquetta

Monday, 2 February 2009

Ecuador Road Trip. Jan/Feb ´09

Dear Friends,

I´ve been meaning to write an update for over a week now but have not been near any internet cafe and so am going to have to catch up now.. will try and be brief as possible..

Galapagos Islands - truly stunning. Family, family friends, beautiful boat, uninhabited islands, snorkling with hammer head sharks - yes - I was quite terrified to see them 6 meters below me, hundreds of turtles, sea lions, blue and red foopted boobies, giant tortoises, and many very colourful fish.

Now - I am on a road trip with my elder sister, Sarah, which is a lot of fun. Yes, I only passed my driving test the day before I left UK, and yes, it isn´t exactly advised to drive on the roads here, but we both decided it was worth taking the risk, and are still in one piece now, day 8. The rewards have been great.

DAY 1 - Destination - Volcano Cotopaxi - Andes.

Found Humphrey at Budget Cars in Quito.. both horribly hungover after a night´s partying with some Ecuadorian gentlemen who we´d become aquainted with before going to the Galapagos at a cocktail party. Bleary eyed, but never-the-less determined, we agreed Humphry was perfect. He´s sort of like a jeep - called a chevrolet or something... he´s maroon coloured, has four wheel drive and apart from the occasional burp, is very polite indeed. After getting directions out of Quito from a kind american guy who ran a bookshop in the center of town, we set off towards the Pan-American highway. Sarah only admitted to me yesterday that she was absolutely terrified as we sped along the busiest highway of South America. She did a very good job of hiding it at the time, as buses and trucks overtook us on both sides and hooted aggresively while doing so. If you´re wondering why on earth she let me drive on these god forsaken roads having just passed my test, she didn´t have a choice. She cannot drive a manual, so if we were going to do this road trip - i HAD to pass my test; hence quite the enthusiasm I expressed in last blog about passing...

Anyhow, after a few hours we tailed off the highway, and headed steeply up hill towards our volcano. After passing through a charming little town called Machachi, the road became a narrow mess of lots of large stones all piled on top of each other. It was getting dark and pouring with rain as we wiggled our way for about 1.5 hours up to the top, where a watchman let us into Cotopaxi National Park. Ten minutes later we{d found our lodge, but it was pitch black by this time so had no idea what around us. Were greeted with warm smiles and a delicious soup followed by chicken and rice. Went to bed shattered.


Woke up to see a snow capped volcano standing proudly outside our window. Surrounding it was a Devon/moor like landscape. It was a clear morning and we were told we were lucky to be able to see the whole of the top of the volcano. We walked for an hour and a half to the bottom of it, where there was a lake. We lay down and both expressed that our heads felt like they were about to explode. My eyes hurt and I felt a bit dizzy. We walked back to the lodge, and relieved to be able to lie down we decided to check what our guide books said about Altitude sickness: "....can cause coma and even death." I lay on my bed head pounding, thinking I was about to die for about 15 minutes. Sarah asked a guide that was with a climbing group if this was the case. He laughed and told us we were fine at this height, 3500 meters, and gave us some spare pills he had to help with the pain. Bit silly of us not to have throught about this minor detail of altitude problems... ah well.. you live you learn!
That afternoon we went on a little tour with Humphrey through the beautiful surrounding landscape. We saw wild horses and visited a hacienda.

Day 3 - Destination Quilatoa.

We set off early towards Saquisili, a lovely town south of Cotopaxi which was having its market day. We wondered round the cobbled streets and got stared at by indigenous tribe people who{d never see two such tall girls in their lives. My blond hair makes us even less conspicuous. Quite funny. Bought some Alpaca ponchos and rugs and continuerd our journey. The road now was getting deep into the mountains, which meant it wound round and round a lot, and there were lots of blind bends the edge of which were very long drops to flat land. Humphrey and I took it very slowly, being sure to hoot before every bend in the road. There were hardly any other vehicles, thankfully, but if something did come up behind us we would politely pull over and let it pass. Feeling rushed on roads like that would have been dangerous... so we were sure not to let that be the case. We also had an extra pair of eyes peeled on the road, and all in all the three of us were a good team.

We were getting quite tired about 20km before Quilatoa, so stopped for the night instead at a lovely family run hacienda along the way, near a town called La Tigua. Mario and Marionetta had 76 cows, 50 sheep, four lamas, pigs, horses, chickens, and several dogs one of which was a Saint Bernard who welcomed us with sloppery licks inside the house. We chatted away to Mario that evening. I was amazed by how much I could understand - my A level spanish is coming back little by little. They cooked us potato soup and chicken, rice and veggies for dinner, very proud that it was all organic and home grown. It was delious I must say... the best part though was "dulche leche" at breakfast the next morning... sort of caramel like spread to put on bread.. delicious...

Day 4 - Destination: village on the "Quilatoa Loop" called Chugchilian.

Marionetta insisted we rode their lamas up the hill and back before leaving, so we obliged -it was very unfortable and quite hilarious.

We missed our turning to Chugchilian and so drove in the wrong direction for about 45 mins, through a cloud, until we sensed something wasn{t quite rioght and found someone to ask. Back we went, and finally found our track to Chugchilian. The guide book warns of a bumpy ride and it wasn{t kidding. The dirt track winding through the mountians that leads to Chugchilian from Quilatoa (which we decided we{d visit on the way back from Chugchilian)is the worst bit of road of the whole of the "Quilatoa Loop," a route that passes through various indigenous villages in the mountains, of which we were doing half, and then going back on ourselves in order to keep going south. (Sorry - you´d probably need to look at a map to understand what the hell I{m talking about). Humphrey went into four wheel drive, and we splashed through deep muddy puddles, down down down, bending round and round and round, dodging massive muddy potholes and trying not to get stuck in mini ditches along the way. We passed many brightly clothed indegenous people along the way, and gave lifts to the ones carrying heavy sacks of corn on their backs. They smiled and waved, again, utterly bemused to see what the hell was driving passed them! They all wear trilby hats which look so cool - as with many a tribes people around the whole - they got style.

We arrived, head spinning from tricky drive, at about 3pm. We walked through the village and to the top of the hill from where we looked down into the Rio Taochi canyon - quite a vision - an expanse of green meddows, forest and clouds beneath us.
Slept the night in a lovely family run lodge which had a wood burner in our bed room. We were very grateful for this having had permanently cold feet for the last couple of days. There were eight other travelers staying here, who we sat around a table with at dinner while the family cooked us all a delicious meal of potato soup, pork with a delicios peanuty sauce, salad, and amazingly - pizza! We made a plan with an older american couple and two young swedish girls to go to Quilatoa the following day. We were going to spend a day in Chugchilian horse riding and hiking, but once we consulted our diaries and maps we realized if we wanted to get to the beach - where we are now, and have time to enjoy it, we´d better get a move on with our journey west to the coast. Not sure if we made the right decision here....

DAY 5. Destination La Mana, stopping at Quilatoa Lake along the way.

Again, Humphrey did a very good job of not getting stuck in the mud on the strenous, very muddy, very bendy drive back up the track towards Quilatoa. We started early in the morning, and gave the swedish girls a lift, meeting the americans at the top of the crater in which lies Quilatoa. The view from the top was very impressive... a massive turquiose blue lake sat calmly at the bottom flanked by the steep walls of the crater. It was formed by a volcano 300 years ago. It took us half an hour to walk down, and an hour and a half to walk back up... we were offered mules but resisted the temptation, just, arriving at the top sweaty, red faced and panting like dogs.

After lunch we set off west. The road from Quilatoa to La Mana is one less traveled (most people keep heading south throuigh the mountains and gradually get to the coast that way, but that would have added four extra days.. our way took 2), downhill all the way, unpaved and goes through a ´"cloud forest" which is pretty much what it sounds. If our parents could have seen the road we were negotiating for three hours, they may have had a minor heart attack. It poured with rain and visibility was at best 30 meters, at worst 10. Headlights on, four wheel drive, windscreen wipers going at full speed, Sarah, Humphrey and I cautiously wiggled our way down and out of the Andes, through thick forests which seemed to trap any cloud that came its way. Finally the air cleared a little, pot holes became fewer and further between, and we were able to see the sub tropical lanscape that now surrounded us. Greener than green hills of tall trees flanked the road, the air became thick, humid and warm, and the colourful clothes and trilby hats disappeared. Two hours later we were in La Mana, a town not even given a mention in Lonely Planet, but apparently a safer alternative to Quilatoa, the bigger, Chinese industrial town about 30km north, notorious for its thieves, we were told.

DAY 6. Destination - Puerto Lopez on the coast.

A whole day of driving through various different landscapes and towns brought us finally to the coast. As we drove through Quilatoa and then Pinchicha (another town warned about) we were careful to keep windows shut and doors locked, and asked only policemen for directions.

We listened to Faithless, Simon and Garfunkel, Killers, and the Stones as we sped along now relatively good roads through stunning green green landscapes. As men who sat on the side of the roads saw us driving passed, their expression went from ones of sleepy abandon to dumfounded at the sight of us... two girls, one very blond, driving a car through their towns - you could literally see them thinking - what was that?!! Either that or they wistled, and I have to admit to feeling a little like I was in a film, I´m Thelma and Sarah´s Louise.

We stopped in Monticristi for icecream and to buy high quality panama hats... and about half an hour after that the glistening Pacific ocean shone ahead of us. My god were we happy to see it!

We spent that eveing and night in the charming fishing town of Puerto Lopez.

TODAY - DAY 8 - Destination - Montanita, where little sis Charlotte has been since Quito.

Got here yesterday afternoon. Its like Disney World. Everything is built with bamboo and catered for the tourist. The average age is 20. The beach is packed with hippies and Sarah and I feel old. Its party party at night time with lots of drunk sweaty fools trying to chat us up. Charlotte has made two friends, who are both very entertaining. One is a Columbian who is constantly stoned and doesn´t know any english apart from "No problem".. - how he and Charlotte, who doesn´t speak any spanish, have become friends is quite amazing to observe. She chats away using a series of frenetic sign language.. he says no problem, and somehow they have formed an incredible bond, and do everything together. Darrel is a Canadian comedian who finds the surroundings about as terrifying as I do, but last night made me see the funny side. I was very grateful to him. Charlotte is loving it all, and says she is more relaxed than ever. Sarah and I, while we see the attraction, are not quite so attracted, and so will leave tomorrow morning.

I am loving the freedom of driving.. love the way we can get up and go, or stop, whenever we want. Road trips, now I have my license, are the way forward.. honestly not sure I´ll be able to go back to buses and trains after this experience! Sarah and I make a good travel team. She has been concentrating on the road as much as I have, and Humphrey and I are very grateful.

We have to be back in Quito on the 10th, so will head north along the coast now and hopefully find some more adventures along the way....

To be continued...


Monday, 26 January 2009

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Driving test to the Chateau. 13.01.09

Dear Friends,
I am in LA, it's 10pm and I feel knackered. I only got here yesterday so the jet lag is hitting hard (it's 6am UK time)... I would go to sleep if I didn't have a flight to catch tonight at 1am, to go to Panama City and then on to Quito, Ecuador, where I am meeting my family for a fabulous trip to the Galapagos Islands.
The big news is that I passed my driving test on Sunday. I have been trying to get my license for seven years, and had already failed five tests, so this is truly a triumph. Oh yes - watch out you other road users... I cannot WAIT to join you. I thanked the examiner as if I was a candidate in X factor who'd just been told by Cheryl she's through to the next round, and I gave Walter, my very fat, Chilian instructor who makes outrageously racist jokes all the time, a huge kiss on the cheek, and he blushed bright pink.
I was here in LA doing a show today. It was one of those very rare shows where the designer actually booked girls older than 22. Indeed, Alex Wek, Caroline Ribiero and I had a good old catch up, reminiscing on the crazy days and catching up on gossip. The catwalk was a lot shorter than usual, and there was no champagne, and each girl had eight looks instead of 3. Fashion clearly is not escaping the hard times.
Oh, last night, after arriving and doing a two hour fitting, I went to meet my friend Anthony James (fantastic artist - does amazing sculptures involving mirrors and branches) and his beautiful and lovely wife, actress extraordinaire Phoebe James, for dinner at the Chateau Marmont. I didn't realize it would take 1.5 hours to get there (this job is in somewhere called Orange County - its miles away from the LA I know!) but it was worth it all the same. We sat outside - I ate the delicious steak they do and drank lots of white wine. At the end of the meal though, some idiot guy called Federico someone or other who thinks he's a big shot (I was soon to discover), collects art, and who I've met a few times in NY came over and asked Anthony if he could 'borrow' me for a second. Anthony quite rightly said he'd better ask me, which he did... I asked why... he said he wanted to introduce me to some people he was sitting with. I said no thanks, he said, come on, please, don't be silly, just a minute, at which point my curiosity got the better of me I'm afraid and I obliged. I went over to be sat at a table next to Ali G, who was engrossed in a conversation with the person on his left... Federico rudely interrupted him to introduce him to me... I could see his annoyance and felt like a complete plonker. He sweetly made an effort to talk to me... but all I could think was "what the hell am I doing here? Why did I let this idiot man steal me away from my friends so that he could show off to Ali G that he's friends with a model? ... Oh god - this is one of the funniest men in the world, and I want to tell him that, but that must be the first thing that comes out of everyone's mouth - that or - oh please do your Borat impression! and he must get bored of that..." so instead, somehow.. god knows how, I got us onto the conversation of fox hunting, and how its really not as cruel as people think... He looked baffled. Then Federico jumped in to say, "Hey Sasha, this girl's a huge maardel, she's so successful - she's proabably earned more money than you have" (absolute bollucks). I was embarrassed. It was gotesque - some people really do only think about money and think their own standing in society is measured purely on how much 'success' they have sitting at their table. Ali G looked as unimpressed as I would be if the roles were reversed. I promptly excused myself, promised Federico I'd call him next time I was in LA so we could have lunch, went back to my table and deleted his number from my phone immediately. Lesson: do not, under any circumstances, be so curious as to ever think it might be a good idea to follow someone you don't know well, to a table of strangers, especially in West Hollywood the night after the Golden Globes!
Must go and catch my flight to Equador... I shall be keeping you all posted on my Darwin inspired adventures!
xxx Jax

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Campaign Obama. 07.11.08

Dear Friends,

Wow. I am still buzzing. Aaaaaagh!! Even though Obama losing was never really an option, the magnitude of the fact that he won only hit us all properly once it happened. The USA has a black president. WOWWWWWW!!!! AND – he is AMAZING!!! I truly believe the world is a better place now. I am feeling so elated!! I wonder how long this natural high is going to last!

So, let me tell you how the last few days campaigning was. Over the weekend volunteers from all over the place pitched up to help us knock on doors. One woman came from Manhattan with her two sons, 8 and 12 years old. They were so sweet and eager to help; they knew they were helping to change the world; Obama was their hero and they would do anything to help him win.

On Sunday we had to place door hangers on each and every door of each and every Obama supporter in our vicinity. The hangers gave information on voting as well as the address of the corresponding polling station for that house. In the morning I was behind a table in the office making sure our volunteers were given the correct door hangers for their particular turfs. Then I was sent out to do it myself as we ran out of volunteers and skipping one door was not an option. For every door we didn’t reach, a possible vote for Obama could be lost, purely because that person didn’t know where to go.

The first shift of canvassing that I did happened to be with Doug, my host who makes delicious bread and who is also writing a novel, I found out. We were a good team and figured out a good system. He drove while I jumped out and did about 5 doors at a time. I think he got a little bored of just being in the car the whole time and so along the long streets he would get out too and do the evens while I did the odds.. we’d then meet back at the car, and onto the next street.

By the end of the afternoon I was literally running from one door to another, trying to reach them all before it got dark. It didn’t work… The last 40 or so doors I reached (out of about 200 all together, all scattered around the place) were in the pitch dark, lining the quiet streets of Berwick, a gridded, quite dreary town about 15 mins drive from Bloomsburg. It was so dark I couldn’t see the numbers on the doors properly until I got right up close to them and shone my phone on them. It was exhausting, but once finished I felt good… mission accomplished! We were in the office that night till 2am, compiling the packages to give to the canvassers the following day.

On Monday Sam and I spent the whole day on campus. We got a huge white board, wrote on the top “I’m voting for Change because…” and had all the students write their different reasons why they were voting for Obama with sharpie pens. We were there till about 8pm, and there wasn’t a white bit of space left by the end of the day. Among the reasons were “we deserve better health care,” “we need to restore our image in the world,” “Sarah Palin is scary,” and “He’s cute and smart.” It was the first time we stayed on campus after dark, and because students weren’t rushing from one class to another, they were more relaxed and actually able to hang out and chat to us. One of them approached me and thanked me for all the hard work me and Sam had been doing: “You’ve been out here all day! You must be tired… can I buy you a coffee?” He sweetly bought me a caramel macchiato – it was delicious.

Another boy who I recognized came up to me and had some questions. I’d spoken to him about five days before. He was tall and skinny with dark hair and searching eyes. His name was Alex. His whole family were Republicans, and the first time I spoke to him he told me he was leaning towards McCain. I’d told him about my views on the Obama foreign policy compared to the Bush/ McCain one, which he’d found really interesting, but was still worried about a few issues. “I don’t know… I just feel safer with McCain… I mean, I’m worried about this ‘change’ that Obama wants to make… he wants to change our country… and we don’t really know him, and people say he’s a socialist and stuff… and what about him being related to terrorists?...” It was clear he’d been brain washed by all the propaganda of the McCain campaign, which from the flyers I saw set out to instill fear into people as their only means of getting their vote. As calmly as I could I sat down with Alex and we went over everything. I probably talked to him for about half an hour. He wasn’t stupid.. it was like he knew deep down that all these things he’d been told about Obama weren’t true but he needed to hear it from someone. A lot of kids that came from Republican families didn’t know anything about either of the candidate’s policies, didn’t know why they were republicans.. they just were and that was that… and they didn’t want to learn… not this one. Alex told me he’d sleep on it and decide in the morning. I crossed my fingers.

There were a few steadfast McCainites I managed to converse with and I have to say that a few things that came out of their mouths, particularly when discussing Iran, were quite terrifying. One boy said “ I think we should just bomb the fuck out of it,” and another said, in a tone far too relaxed for the point he was making, “Yeah, we need to get rid of Iran…” The ignorance and obstinacy was infuriating, but I managed to keep my cool, just.

Election Day. Sam and I had assembled an army of about 15 Obamarite students who would help us all day. Our mission: To get as many kids as possible to get in line at the campus polling station, and not let them leave! Each volunteer was assigned a different floor in each of the various campus ‘dorms’ (a building containing roughly 700 apartments each) to storm, and throughout the day our troops went knocking on all their doors to urge them to go and vote! Safe in the knowledge that the majority would vote for Obama, we did not discriminate between Obamas and McCains. We couldn’t waste any time trying to figure out who they would vote for. They just had to get to the polling station!

I was stationed outside the polling line from 7am until 8pm. My job was to urge the students not to leave the line for any reason. At the beginning of the day, between 7am and 8:30am, the queue wasn’t longer than about 50 people at a time. Even then, students would arrive, peer in through the door, and mumble something about coming back later before I’d jump in front of them, big smile, and exclaim, “ The line is only going to get longer! I wouldn’t leave now if I were you!” “Really?!” they’d say, “Ah man! Ok.. if you say so…” And it did get longer… 50 people soon turned into 100, 150, 200… we had to open up another big room next door so that the queue could overflow into it. It was amazing. All the work that Sam and I had done over the last two weeks (for him 2 months) was finally showing its results. More and more and more students flooded in, almost double the number that had queued in 2004. Several times I found myself frantically re-arranging 20 students at a time in order to make another bend in the line so that they could all fit in the room; “ if you guys can just move this way, yup… great, and you come behind this guy here, and you here, and yes, you here.. exactly.. there you go,” and the snake would wiggle its way round and I would feel like a steward at Stanstead airport on the 27th January dealing with impatient holiday makers.

There were three professors all on board as well. They spent the entire day inside the queuing room, doing everything in their power to keep the students happy. Boxes and boxes of Dominos pizza arrived throughout the day, as well as coca cola, People and Us magazines, and even a stereo to play music… ANYTHING to keep them happy! Still, many attempted to leave, and for every one that did, I did everything in my power to make them stay. In my head, their vote would determine the results of the entire election;

“There is nothing more important than voting today! Skip class! Your professor will let you off!” - We had a sheet on which they wrote down their names and that of their professor, whom we would call and explain their reason for missing class – “ this is the future of your country! Don’t you want to be part of history in the making?! Please don’t leave! You’ll regret it!”

I felt as if I was in a battleground. And on top of it all there were three McCain supporters standing outside who did nothing but bitch about me all day. I decided to try and kill them with kindness; went up to them, smiled and introduced myself. One of them replied with; “Hi, I’m Nancy, and I am a native American, where are you from?” “ I’m from England, but have lived in America for seven years, and I still pay taxes here… Is that good enough for you?” That shut her up. They were ruthless I have to say… bit of a shame… there needn’t have been any hostility... guess they were just plain angry.

I saw many familiar faces walking in and out of the polling station all day. I saw many whom I’d bugged and bugged, and felt satisfied in the knowledge that had I not bugged them they might not be there. I saw Alex walking out. My face must have given me away instantly… I was dying to know who he’d voted for and was praying it wasn’t McCain. He clocked me, smiled, and told me he’d voted for Obama. I’d been so stressed out all day, and when he told me that I just leapt on him! I gave him a huge hug and told him he’d just made my day, in fact my whole two weeks, in Bloomsburg!

At the University, out of 1971 votes (record number on campus by far!) we got 1370 for Obama. Columbia County, the one we were responsible for, and a notoriously republican area, lost to McCain, but marginally, and by 7% less than in 2004.

Obama won Pennsylvania overall by more votes than any Democratic candidate has since 1964.

Watching the results come through on a big screen back at Headquarters, we all cheered when Pennsylvania was called, and again when Ohio was called, and there were hugs and kisses all round when Obama reached 270 votes. We cracked open some champagne and were all glued to the screen watching the people cheering all around the world. The crowd in Chicago was astounding… I don’t think they stopped for a full ten minutes. I had goosepimples all over my body while the enormity of what had just happened slowly sunk in. We all just kept looking at each other, exclaiming “Oh my God!!! This is amazing!! Aaagh!!!!” Then we heard shouts and screams coming from outside, and saw about three or four hundred students from campus rushing down the road towards us, every one of them ecstatic! Sam put on his “For Voting Info come here” sign that stuck high and clear out of a rucksack that he wore on his back, and we went out and joined the celebrations. The students mauled Sam, and I got several hugs as well, from students thanking us for all “everything we’d done for them.” Familiar faces were wild with huge smiles, and every eye I caught shone with joy and excitement. I couldn’t stop smiling either… There are few times in my life I can remember feeling that euphoric. As I said before, we never let ourselves consider Obama losing, but I don’t think any of us really dared to imagine how great it would feel once he’d won, either.

The students paraded back up the road to their campus dorms and back in the office we eagerly awaited our hero’s speech, which, I’m sure you will all agree, was out of this world amazing. I know our grandchildren will be You Tubing it in 100 years from now. He was strong, determined and so in control! He looked so handsome and didn’t look down once as he addressed his country. Every girl around the world went a little weak at the knees as he called Michelle ‘the love of his life’ and I think any man that doesn’t admit to having just a slight man-crush on the guy is lying.

What Obama’s campaign achieved is mind-boggling. His policies made more sense than anyone else’s, and his character of course shone beyond any other candidate’s in years, but his campaign strategy was ingenious, and without it I’m not sure he would have managed the landslide victory that he had. He inspired more volunteers than any other candidate has in history, and we knocked on more doors and made more phone calls than any other campaign has ever done. He ensured that millions of Americans who would never usually vote, were informed and educated enough to know about him, his values, and his policies. Last weekend, in Pennsylvania alone, Obama volunteers knocked on nearly 2 million doors (about 300 of those were mine)! The McCain Palin campaign, with their negative robocalls sent by the push of a button, simply couldn’t compete with the Obama grassroots plan.

Such is the power and popularity of Barack Obama that already, Americans I speak to feel a huge sense of relief, freedom, and pride that they have missed for eight long years. No longer when they travel will they sheepishly pretend to be Canadian, and they are hopeful that a new era is beginning… Obama has his work cut out for him, that’s for sure, but I think he’ll manage. Ok - I am in love with the guy so maybe my opinion is slightly tainted, but it’s pretty amazing that over night, literally over night, he has, already, changed the way Americans see their own country. I never imagined I’d say this, but I am jealous of Americans right now! Where is England’s Barack for god’s sake? Gordon and David just don’t quite match up somehow! Well I suppose I must remember Obama’s influence will spread far and wide. We will all be affected by him somehow, and for now that’s good enough for me!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Campaign Obama. 2.11.08

Its 1.30am (thank you daylight saving) and I just got back to my lodging after another long day. Pretty shattered but the adrenaline and apprehension that comes from working on this campaign is kicking in and keeping us all going. I have not had much sleep this past week, and cannot believe I’ve been here already for 11 days… it feels more like 5.
I cracked dead pan Sam, we are mates and having a lot of fun together… he is not the serious moody person I took him for at ALL.. it just took my introducing him to Hot Chip’s “Ready on the floor,” and we bonded, and have since been playing the song through speakers on campus and boogying away with big Obama signs on our heads as bemused students pass us by. I actually don’t think I’ve ever made quite such a fool of myself as I have in this fight for Obama… ANYTHING to get them to listen! I got on a shuttle bus that drives around campus the other day and just plonked myself down next one student after another… chatting away… did you know Obama this, Obama that… please vote for me as I can’t… and then there’s my face recognition problem which means that I have now talked to so many of them that I have no idea if I’ve already engaged with them already or not… starting to get a few rolling eyes.. “yes… you asked me yesterday…” aaaagh! But Sam won’t let me stop… ever… bug, bug, bug, bug… that is how we will get them to the polling station… it doesn’t matter how annoying we are… it’s the only way of assuring they will go. After this experience, I promise this: I will never ignore a big issue seller again, or for that matter, one of those charity people who stand on the street outside WH Smith in Notting Hill Gate and come up to you with a huge smile and ask they can speak to you for 2 seconds… THAT is what I’ve been doing! It is demoralizing at times but I know that in the grand scheme of things, mine and Sam’s work on campus is making a pretty huge impact. More than double the number of students to the last election have registered, and our goal is that every one of them votes… and I think its going to work.

I am not writing well as I am very tired so please forgive if I repeat myself like I did in the last blog a couple of times… I am dribble writing…

So every day last week I was on campus from 10 till 4pm, and then in the office from 4 till midnight earliest preparing for GOTV (Get out the vote) first day of which was today. Thursday the door signs for each and every Obama supporter in our 10 sq mile vicinity arrived with addresses of their polling station on them. There are about 15 different polling stations, and each voter whom our amazingly sophisticated data system indicates wants to vote for Obama, must get one hung from their door so they know exactly which one to go to on Election day. The problem was that there was a hiccup and we got sent incorrectly addressed signs (about 5000 of them) and therefore had to spend about 5 hours sticking correctly addressed labels onto each and every sign. Sam, Catherine, Jeremy (best boss in the world), and I were sticking labels until 3:30 in the morning. We all bonded over label sticking, Hot Chip and Dire Straits… such a mind numbing job that we could all for once actually converse at the same time as getting Barack to the White House… everything happens for a reason.. Personally I have felt much more relaxed in the office since. Catherine did a ‘what would you rather’ on Jeremy: every day for the rest of your life stick labels, or have Obama lose the election. Absolutely seriously he answered that he would stick labels every day for the rest of his life.

I feel very much part of the team now, maintaining deference for them all of course (they have all been on this campaign for much longer than I have, and they all have degrees in politics) but now I know more of the ropes and not having to ask every 2 seconds how/ what/ where/ when... I’m even ‘training’ other out of state volunteers as they come in to start their day’s canvassing!

To think I was even considering 10 days ago that I might scadadle out of here to drive to NYC for Halloween last night… there’s just no way I could have!… would have lost any respect any of them had for me… and at 2am last night would have missed our crucial GOTV preparatory meeting… no no.. I am absolutely committed to the cause!

Barack spoke to us on the phone this evening – it was amazing. He made a conference call to all 20,000 teams across the country that are doing what we’re doing. He told us he was proud of us. Soooo cool…! Every time Sam or I feel tired and in need of a boost, we YouTube one of his speeches, and all’s good. One such is watch it and you’ll get it… only takes a couple of minutes.
Yup - love has become a mild obsession… his stickers are all over my lap top and his posters on my bedroom wall. He rocks my world.

I haven’t had more than a 10 minute conversation with Charlotte since I got here…. She has been working even harder than me… its pretty intense.. hope she’s ok she’s gone back to the other town..

There’s a racist who keeps parking his truck outside our office – it has loads of signs on it like “Obama bin Laden,” “Say no to Radical Muslims,” “Why should I press one to speak English?” … what a jerk. We don’t confront him… must’t lower to his level. I got called a baby killer by misinformed student yesterday, and someone walked passed me having a ciggie outside the office today and asked if I supported Obama – I said yes, and he said he felt sorry for me… I asked why… he said “coz he’s a fuckin liar! He says he’s not against guns and he is..” or something like that.. I kept my cool… he was drunk.. not worth trying to explain the details of Obama’s actual plans which won’t ‘take away’ their guns at all, just make obtaining them a little harder.

On the whole though things are positive… there’s an air of something big and exciting happening in this country.

touching lots of wood… polls seeming almost too good to be true…

Oh... Derek, Lyle, and Lauren SD came from NY today to canvass with me. Was such a treat to see them and their little dachsund Monster... and made the whole process much more fun... Derek converted a McCain supporter into an Obama one, Lauren got given two delicious apples by an appreciative Obama supporter, and someone ensured that Lyle is a christian through and through and knows that Jesus will save him. They were the trendiest looking people Bloomsburg has seen walking its streets in a while I think.

again.. sorry for abrupt ending but knackered..

oh.. sorry no pictures yet but my hard drive has run out of space and I don’t know how to do it…

xx Jax

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Campaign Obama. 24.10.08

Dear Friends,

For those of you who don’t know, I am at the moment in a small town in Pennsylvania called Bloomsburg, campaigning for Obama. I’ve been here for 5 days and will be for the next 9 until the election has taken place. I am feeling quite exhausted, and know there is a hell of a lot more work to be done. Since I arrived I have been working from 9am till midnight each day, except for yesterday, Sunday, when I gave myself the evening off after canvassing in the pouring rain all day, feet soaked and hands a little numb.

I lucked out with my accommodation. I am being put up by lovely Doug and Sue, happy to share their house with a stranger for 2 weeks for the sake of the greater good.. Sue’s a teacher at the university and Doug’s a baker… he makes the best bread I’ve tasted in my life (brown whole weat with walnuts and cranberries in it).. The house is 5 mins walk from the office and Dug’s bread for breakfast is the yummiest stuff ever, and just about the most nutritious food this town has to offer!

There are five devoted members of the Obama Bloomsburg office, of which I am now one. Charlotte (my little sis) is based in another town at the moment where her organizational skills are in greater need. Charlotte’s friends Muffy and Catherine have been here for 3 weeks already, and have been working closely with the other two, Jeremy and Sam. J and S are both recently out of college.. Jeremy wears glasses, has thick curly black hair, and hasn’t shaved in weeks (not sure whether this is his look or because he simply hasn’t had time – I mean, he forgets to eat he is so Obama obsessed – it wouldn’t surprise me..) He sways from side to side when standing up... the maternal side of me comes out with Jeremy – I do wish he’d give himself a proper meal one of these days, and maybe more than 5 hrs sleep at some point before the election… but it’s not going to happen. Sam is just as intensely focused on the mission and just about the most deadpan person I have ever come across in my life… I can’t wait to see them both drunk on election night… I suspect the best of their characters won’t quite squeeze through the thick skin that lines their ‘Obama must win before anything else’ phsyche until then. They are both sweet and intelligent boys though, this is for sure.

Since arriving in the office on Tuesday night, I have been assigned several different jobs so far. I was worried I’d be stuck in the office all day everyday as my sister had warned me might be the case… As I’m English there was a worry that any voter contact might be misinterpreted as condescending or cocky – well… so far its been quite the opposite. My very English accent has so far only been a positive asset, and many people seem humbled even that I have come ‘all the way from England’ to help them make a decision that will count towards the future of their country.

I spent three days last week at the campus of the university here with Sam. We based ourselves outside the food hall with posters and flyers, approaching students with roughly the following script:

(With big smile) “ Hello! Can I grab you for two seconds?”

Mixed reactions to this bit… If they are a die hard McCain fan, seeing our badges and posters, they usually look terrified, avoid eye contact at all costs, put their hand up and veer away from me mumbling “no,” “I don’t want to talk to you,” or proudly announcing “I’m a republican!’ or worse “I hate liberals!” or “I’m voting for a president not a ringleader!”… Of the few steadfast republicans I’ve actually managed to engage with in conversation, even fewer seem to have any idea why they are republicans; a couple of reasons I’ve been given are “because that’s what I am,” “I’m pro life!” or, referring to Obama, “He’s gonna take away my gun…” “He’s a radical,” or “He’s a socialist!”

However, I’m glad to say that these people are definitely in the minority. The Obama team here, and indeed thousands of teams all across the country, have done an amazing job of informing, educating, and motivating hundreds of thousands of students in America to a)become aware of the fact that their world lies beyond the small town they live in and that they can, and must, play a part in it, b) register to vote. The stage we are at now is c) think about who they will vote for, and next week they will, d)(touch wood) vote for Obama.

Because this movement has come from a Democratic initiative, these students are mostly inspired by the democratic voice, the voice of Obama, and I do believe for the first time since the 60’s that the youth are starting to think ‘outside the box,’ and realize that their country really does need CHANGE!

So, if they are not Republican, and are not running late for class, on the whole I have had a positive response: “I’m already voting for him!” is regular, to which I respond with a genuine smile and ensure that they know exactly where their polling station is, giving them posters and stickers to take with them.

There are plenty who have registered (because Sam and Jeremy have bugged them enough over the last 6 weeks to do so – good job), but haven’t given much thought at all as to who they will choose, and I suspect are not actually planning on doing so, only to queue for 2-3 hours on election day when they could be lying in bed watching Frasier or playing Grand Theft Auto. This is where I come in…
“Please do vote – its very important… you’re country is about to go in either one direction, or another, and the whole world in watching you... this is a moment in history!” They look quite goggle eyed at this point… Once engaged, I go in for the kill… “I’m English but have lived in New York for 7 years. I love America, I love Americans, but when I go home it upsets me that people rarely have positive things to say about you guys… Bush has given you a bad rep, which you don’t deserve, and I think you need someone who can change things, and I think the only man who can do this is Obama … I don’t know if you know what’s going on in the middle east at the moment, but the Iraq war was/ is a disaster, and you don’t need another one of these…" if they’re interested I divulge the different foreign policies that McCain and Obama have on Iran, and compare the situation to two kids fighting in a playground… “do you separate them, put them in two separate rooms and never let them speak to each other again, or do you sit them down, make them talk, and see if they can come to a resolution?..." I go on to tell them about Obama’s plan to make their education more affordable ($4000 credit a year in return for 100hrs public service), and how health care will be within their means – “I know you don’t need to worry about this now, but once you’re out of college you will, and believe me, at the moment it’s not cheap!”

It’s just about the best feeling in the world when one of them walks away looking enlightened, saying thank you, and that they think they’ll vote for Obama.

If you haven’t already realized, Obama has slightly become my god over the past few days… if I was supportive of him before, I am now mildly obsessed… the more I learn about him and his policies, and the more I compare him to McCain and his policies, and the more people I speak to, the more I realize that the future of this country lies on him being elected. Most inspirational are the people I am working with. Jeremy and Sam, both 23 and recently out of college, have done nothing for the last two months but live, sleep, and work this campaign. They have no social life what-so-ever, and are focused only on doing everything in their power to ensure Obama is elected president… they are relentless… it is exhausting… but the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever been part of in my life!

This weekend I knocked on about 200 doors in the three towns nearest the office. Trapsing around these strange streets (especially in the pouring rain when I did start to question my sanity) I remind myself I am just one of thousands and thousands of others doing exactly the same thing all across the country as part of this mammoth operation that will hopefully get Obama into the Whitehouse. It was quite terrifying at first, walking up to the door of a total stranger, especially with all their bloody Halloween garb they have hanging outside their doors… I mean my god! They really do take it very seriously this whole Halloween thing over here! Pumpkins, stuffed scarecrows, witches, spiders, ghouls, white wispy cotton stuff hanging from pegs, ghosts, all adorn each and every house much more than Christmas decorations do most of ours in England. That and the American flags – EVERYWHERE…( amazing how many people are so patriotic and yet are not registered to vote! ) so yes.. anyway, you can imagine some of these doors are quite intimidating to say the least!

Again, however, the rewards are substantial. Walking away having swayed someone in the right direction is a great feeling. Ronda Macey lives in a dilapidated little house and answered the door with three toddlers at her feet, a baby in her arms, and two young teens behind her. As I introduced myself as a campaigner for Obama, she immediately cut me off – “I ain’t voting for that man!”… I gently asked her why, she said “I ain’t voting for nobody… all politicians are liars and none of them can help me…” I asked her if she knew about Obama’s plans for education and for health care… her eyes lit up and she let me tell her his benefits… she took my flyers with an appreciative smile and thanked me for my time. I’m going to watch her… might even offer to look after her children on the 4th while she goes to the polling station…

Other than this canvassing business, which I must say takes its toll, I’ve been busy inputting crucial data into the system and making phone calls to potential out of sate volunteers… which brings me to you lot in NYC… if you are at all enticed to come here to PA, do your bit for the campaign and help with the essential canvassing next weekend, please get in touch asap! I promise you you won’t regret it, and we need all the help we can possibly get.

Must go to sleep now… big day tomorrow… lots of love to you all xxx Jax