The Emirates Volvo Estate outside our flat at 12:15pm, ready to whisk me away to Dubai International Airport for my 3pm flight to Los Angeles.
An Emirates Boeing 777 on finals in the distance as we make our way to the airport on the E311. As the main purpose for this trip was to attend a conference in San Diego I was fortunate to be travelling in Business class today.
And about to check-in at the Terminal 3 Emirates First and Business Class area.
My flights for the trip were:
Day 0: Flying Emirates (EK) from Dubai to Los Angeles (DXB-LAX).
Flying Interjet (4O) from Los Angeles to Mexico City (LAX-MEX).
Day 4: Flying Aeroméxico (AM) from Mexico City to Tijuana (MEX-TIJ).
It was my first time travelling to the USA since 2009, and since the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act had been passed in 2016. The Act mean't that if you had travelled to a list of seven countries since March 2011, you were no longer eligible for the US visa waiver program (VWP) and had to apply for a visa at a US consulate or embassy. I had recently been to six of the seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Sudan but not Libya) so this unfortunately applied to me.
Thankfully the visa application process was relatively pain-free though. It took me almost an hour to fill out the online application form which included listing every country I had visited in the last five years (all 96 of them) and then booked a consulate appointment for the following week. The US consulate in Dubai is quite busy as it is one of the main places for visa applications for Iranians, but it was relatively orderly and after fingerprinting and an interview of all of two questions, my 10 year US B-1/B-2 visa was quickly approved and issued in the last few weeks of the Obama administration.
Despite having a valid US visa I was still a little nervous though, especially with the recent (and failed) Trump travel bans for certain nationalities, promises of 'extreme-vetting' and anecdotal news reports of US border agents becoming more vigilant of people coming into the USA.
My nerves certainly weren't helped either when I noticed the 'SSSS' on my boarding pass!
Short for Secondary Security Screening Selection, I had read online about this dreaded acronym, with some people reporting that they had apparently been put on a 'black list' for something as relatively innocuous as transiting through Istanbul Atatürk Airport. For my coming travels I had to enter the USA three times over the next 2 weeks so was a little worried. I had deleted any photo's on my phone from previous travel that might raise any interesting questions (e.g. an AK-47 toting Kurdish YPJ fighter in Syria) and decided to just hope that everything would go smoothly.
After passing through immigration and security I headed up to Level 2 to the Business Class lounge.
It was the same lounge I had visited last year for my trip to Canada.
It was just after 2pm and I hadn't had lunch yet so grabbed a few things to eat.
At the gate ready to board. My secondary screening only took a few minutes, with my shoes, bag and hands swabbed for explosives and my water bottles taken away from me (as I didn't have a receipt for them as I had bought them at a vending machine).
Our Boeing 777-300ER for today's 16.5 hour flight to Los Angeles.
And my seat 17K. Fortunately the seat next to me was empty so I didn't have to worry about climbing over someone to get to the aisle.
A glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne soon after getting seated.
And the men's amenity kit.
Another EK 777-300ER under tow beside Terminal 3 as we taxi to the runway.
Two more EK 777's lined up behind us as we wait our turn for take-off.
Watching the Ben Affleck film, The Accountant, while we wait to depart.
And making our ascent over Deira shortly after take-off over.
Looking down on the snow-capped mountains of Iran.
A glass of tomato juice and mixed nuts just before our first meal service of the flight.
The menu for today's flight to Los Angeles.
For the starter I had the herb-coated tuna loin on green bean salad with edamame and roasted red peppers.
The amount of snow below increasing as we continue our journey north over Iran.
The tasty roasted beef short ribs, served off the bone with barbecue sauce, fingerling potatoes and steamed green beans for the main.
Followed by an amazing cheese board:
Belton Red Leicester: Mellow English cheese with a distinct russet colour.
De La Huz Iberico: Firm and complex Spanish mixed milk cheese.
Tomme des Pyrénées: Mild cow's milk cheese from the French Pyrénées.
Cropwell Bishop Stilton: Rich and velvety Nottinghamshire blue.
And some divine Pacari Chocolate all the way from Ecuador to finish.
Watching Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. As with The Accountant, it was a movie I probably wouldn't pay to see, but good enough to entertain on this very long flight.
About 6 hours into the flight I started to get a little tired so reclined the seat to get some sleep.
After a couple of hours I woke up briefly near the North Pole.
Looking down on the Arctic ice cap below.
The view out of the windows of the Canadian province of British Columbia after waking up a few hours later.
Some nuts again and a glass of lemonade before our second meal of the flight.
For the starter I opted for the delicious air-cured duck served with blanched asparagus.
Seafood à l'Armoricaine for the main. Lobster, prawn and scallop in Breton-style shellfish sauce served with sautéed courgettes and mashed potatoes with mustard.
Watching the sun set for the second time today.
And the delicious chocolate cake with apricot compote for dessert.
Looking down at the lights of Los Angeles.
Parking up at a gate at Tom Bradley International Terminal. We had arrived on time just after 7pm and my onward flight to Mexico City wasn't due to depart until 11pm. There were slightly earlier flights but I had wanted to give a few hours buffer in case I had any issues with US immigration.
Following the signs for B-1/B-2 visa holders.
After a short queue to use one of the immigration kiosks, I scanned my visa, punched in 'no' to a few questions (carrying over $10k in cash, importing food products etc.), collected my receipt and was directed to another queue to see a border officer.
After expecting the worse it was thankfully a complete non-event. After a quick "Is your trip to the US for business for pleasure?", I got a 'B2' stamped in my passport and was on my way to collect my suitcase from the luggage belt.
After exiting from Tom Bradley International Terminal I made my way to Terminal 2 to check in for my Interjet flight to Mexico City.
It was 3+ hours until my flight to Mexico City so I made the one mile trek to the famous In-N-Out Burger restaurant.
I was still full from all the food from the Emirates flight, but I had heard alot about the tasty In-N-Out burgers and ordered their signature Double-Double combo.
The In-N-Out Double-Double is often ranked one of the best fast food burgers in the USA, so I had high expectations on what I was about to taste.
The burger I got though was a little underwhelming to say the least. Two wafer thin patties and literally an inch thick wedge of lettuce to fill out the rest of the burger. I was looking forward to juicy beef layered with melted cheese in a bun, but all I could taste was mouthfuls of crunchy, watery lettuce with only a hint of burger meat and bread! Definitely two thumbs down.
After the disappointing end to my In-N-Out pilgrmage, I started the trek back to Los Angeles International Airport.
A United 737 passing low overhead.
And inside Terminal 2 after passing through security. My last time flying through Los Angeles International Airport was back in 2004 and it had definitely improved.
The Interjet A320-200 waiting at the gate. With my trip to San Diego, I had initially considered doing a quick trip to nearby Tijuana. I wanted to see and do a bit more in Mexico though rather than just 'tick the box' with a day trip over the border, so organised my travel to the US a few days earlier to spend some time in Mexico City.
There was ample leg room onboard, no extra fee's for checked luggage or seat assignment so I was a bit perplexed how Interjet is classified as a LCC (low-cost carrier)?
Free cool drink and potato chips served soon after take-off.
An article in the inflight magazine on Presidente Trump.
Although my bodyclock was still out of whack, I put on my eye mask and ear plugs and got a couple of hours sleep.
We arrived at Mexico International Airport slightly early. No one was around to manoeuvre the jet bridge so we had to wait 15 minutes until someone showed up. The queue for immigration was quite long but as it was early morning I was in no rush to get into town. The visa on arrival was a very generous 180 days too!
I then headed to the taxi stand to catch a ride for the ~30 minute drive into Centro Histórico.
It was unfortunately too early to check into my hotel and they were fully booked so I couldn't get a room even when I offered to pay.
After storing my bag at the hotel, I headed out with my camera to do some exploring.
Newspapers being sorted in the early morning.
El Sol de México.
EcoBici, a bicycle sharing system in the city with 444 stations and over 6,000 bicycles.
Niño y niña.
Burger King and Starbucks.
Stopping at a bakery/café at about 9am for something to eat and some much needed caffeine.
Hombre y mujer.
Volkswagen. Production of the original Beetle did not end until 2003 in Mexico and there are still quite a few of them on the streets.
Inside the Church of San Hipólito.
Just before 12pm I was finally able to check into my hotel, Fiesta Inn Centro Historico. Very reasonable, modern and clean for only $80 a night. I was dying for some rest but soon headed out again to get something to eat before the 12:45pm meetup time for a tour I had booked.
At a local restaurant, enjoying my first taste of real Mexican food, the "nuevo león". Two cranitas tacos, two of arrachera and two of chorizon, served with melted cheese and guacamole. Very tasty!
After the tasty lunch I headed down Francisco I. Madero Avenue to the meet up point for my tour today to Teotihuacán, the ancient remains of a Mesoamerican city situated 40 kilometres north-east from Mexico City.
It is very possible to see Teotihuacán by yourself but the tour with a local guide was only $44 and included dinner with a local family and a few other things so was great value and I was definitely pleased I took the easy option.
Astrid, our tour leader today (in the red t-shirt), then walked with us through Francisco I. Madero Avenue.
After a short walk we then boarded a trolleybus for the ride to Terminal de Autobuses del Norte (Central North Bus Terminal). Also on the trip today was an Australian couple, an Indian guy and a few Americans.
At Terminal central del norte where Astrid bought our bus tickets for the one hour ride to Teotihuacán.
And joining the queue to board the bus. We didn't have to wait long at all and were soon on our way.
After an uneventful one hour ride we arrived at Teotihuacán. As well as a part time tour guide, Astrid was also studying archaeology at university, so was very knowledgeable about the history of Teotihuacán.
The origins of Teotihuacán are quite mysterious, and it is not certain who founded and built the city. It is believed that it began as a religious center around the first century AD, with major monuments continuously under construction until ~250 AD.
Some of the restored and vibrant Teotihuacán murals.
Unfortunately over 70 piece's of the murals were gouged from the walls and looted in the 1960's and sold to American art collector Harald Wagner. Wagner then bequeathed them upon his death to the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 1976. Fortunately 70% of the looted murals were returned to Mexico soon after.
The murals are the main source for understanding the ancient city's religion and culture and feature gods, flowers and animals such as coyotes, owls, snakes and jaguars.
To the left is the Pyramid of the Moon, the second largest pyramid at Teotihuacán. As well as other tourists there were souvenir sellers offering everything from sun hats to jaguar horns.
And the view from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, looking down the Avenue of the Dead.
At the base of the 66 metre tall Pyramid of the Sun, the largest pyramid at Teotihuacán and the third largest in the world.
And making our way to the top. With the 2,000+ metre elevation combined with my jetlag and lack of sleep it was a definitely bit of a struggle!
Looking across to the Pyramid of the Moon. The major monuments in Teotihuacán were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD, possibly due to an internal uprising against the ruling class.
Astrid giving us another dose of history of the site after we caught our breath from the climb to the top. After the fall of the city, various squatters lived on the site and knowledge of the huge ruins of Teotihuacan was never completely lost. At the beginning of the 20th century major excavations were performed and the Pyramid of the Sun was restored to celebrate the centennial of the Mexican War of Independence in 1910.
After our very interesting tour of Teotihuacán we walked into the neighbouring town of San Juan. At our first stop, at a local family home/business.
José giving us a talk on how Pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant, is made. When the maguey plant reaches 12 years old, the centre begins to swell and elongate to store sugar for a flower stalk. The flower stalk is then cut off and maguey sap, known as aguamiel (honeywater), is collected. The plants produce up to 600 litres of aguamiel for about four to six months before they finally die.
The aguamiel is then subsequently fermented into Pulque. The fermentation process is continuous so the pulque must be consumed within a certain time before it goes off.
After tasting some of the Pulque, we got try some mezcal and 100 Anos Tequila.
Mezcal is made from any type of agave plant whereas Tequila is made only from the blue agave plant.
Like Tequila, Mezcal is often drunk straight.
After being a little bit merriier after the tequila, mezcal and pulque tasting session, we hopped into a pair of taxi's for the short ride across town to our next stop.
At a local business that made jams, sweets, spicy sauces and liqueurs from different varieties of cactus.
Getting even more merrier from the frequent offers to sample the sweet cactus liqueurs.
Trying the Teotihuacano Licor de Xoconostle.
The sombrero wearing, half-drunk gringo's grinning for a cheesy but fun and memorable photo!
After the very interesting taste testing, we went for a walk through the town.
Tienda. A gentleman who was kind enough to let me take his photo in his store.
Walking through San Martín Centro. It was great to see a part of Mexico outside of the big city.
The final part of our tour was having dinner with a local family. Some Mexican Chicken soup with avacado and sour cream to start.
And some chicken tortilla's with rice and guacamole. It was really great to enjoy an authentic meal eating in a local families kitchen.
After thanking María and Eduardo for the very tasty meal we headed off to catch the ride back to the city.
After a short walk we boarded the bus for the ride back to the city. I was pretty exhausted after the long day as well as the jetlag and immediately passed out as soon as the bus started moving.
Back in Mexico City at about 10:30pm where we then caught the metro back into the city centre.
After thanking Astrid for the great trip out to Teotihuacán I made it back to my hotel at about 11pm and crawled into bed after a long but very cool first day in Mexico.