Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Donde Esta La Fiesta? Central Baja (19th - 27th Nov '10)

A snapshot of our time so far in Mexico: amazing, gracious people, a ragged assortment of dogs, Bimbo Cake, desert birthdays and swimming with phosphorescence.......
The amazing people I could spent hours rambling on about. All the people we have met, passed by, shared campsites with... all our memories are filled with smiling faces. While we can't communicate with ease with everybody the Mexicans are very patient with our faltering attempts to speak Spanish. They still smile and attempt to understand us, even though I get a little stressed when speaking under pressure and have a tendency to blurt out any old thing, such as asking for a room “drunker” (rather than “cheaper”). This tendency can get me into trouble sometimes... the pleasantries that I had been exchanging with the old lady in the laundrette over the folding of clothes (“It's windy isn't it!”, “Oh I like the colour of your t-shirt”) got a little strained when, instead of telling her I would take our friend Lorely's underwear to her, I told her “I touch the underwear of my friend”.
While the people have been wonderful the dogs have been... interesting. We have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the dogs of Mexico (and there is a lot of them). We often get chased by them as we ride along on our bikes and they keep us awake at night howling and barking when we are in towns. But we have also made friends with a lot of them, and they love love. Mexican dogs seem not to wag their tail but their whole body.
We had one black dog follow us for about 10 km one day, out of town and into the start of the desert. We kept trying to send her home but she would soon start following us again. Finally Aiden tried to give her some water and sent her back, then rode on as fast as possible to lose her. Luckily this last move was successful for as much as we enjoyed our black shadow we didn't want her following us all the way out into the desert!
Mexico has also been about the food. Fish Tacos and beer with lime and salt (interestingly good) abound. We have also discovered 'bimbo cake', a variety of cheap cakey goodness, including a delicious cinnamon roll type snack. Sometimes these cakes are almost the only food item for sale in the small, remote shops – but you won't see us complaining! Bimbo cake has got us through long stretches of empty desert.

Our cinnamon roll fuelled journey continued from Guerrero Negro, where I last blogged, down the Number 1 Highway (the only highway) through Baja, passing through lots and lots of desert. And then some more. Luckily we were still enjoying the unique cactus and desert landscape, because there wasn't much else to look at. For a few days our flat desert riding was also helped by some great tailwinds so we fairly flew along the highway.

The night before Jules birthday we thought we would be camping in the desert but we reached the town of Vizcaina which, despite not appearing on any or our maps or Aiden's GPS, was actually a town of some size with a lovely campsite in a walled orange grove. We decided to make full use of the town, go out for tacos and beers, and stay up as late as 9pm! Party on.
Jules birthday celebrations continued the next day with the treat of an exciting ride 70 kms through the desert (this was how I tried to sell it to her). Luckily we arrived that night at San Ignacio, an awesome little oasis town with an old mission and a river with water (something we had not seen for a long time!) plus a bar with cold beer. We camped beneath the date palms on the edge of the lake, and watched the sunset over the water. And of course no birthday celebration (or in fact any day in Mexico) is complete without the presence of Bimbo Cake.
With the desert birthday celebrations behind us we reached the coast again, this time on the eastern shores of the Baja peninsular, at the Sea of Cortez where the water is warm and the pace is slow. We slowed down the travels with a rest day in the town of Mulege and then three rest days camped by Coyote Beach. At Coyote Beach the waves lapped metres away from our tent, we swam and we watched dolphins play and the seabirds fish. We had a fire every night on the sand and toasted marshmallows and went night-swimming with the phosphorescence. The night swimming was a trip highlight, making us into giggling kids as we jumped around in the dark waters with the light from the phosphorescence shimmering all around us. Pure cycle touring bliss. A night swim, phosphorescence shining in our hair and then warming ourselves by the fire. Its a good life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bienvenido A Mexico: Northern Baja (7th - 18th Nov '10)

Jules and I had been a little nervous about heading into Mexico because while we were cycling through the US most of the people we met were incredibly negative and had warned us not to go to there. We had got to the point where we would just lie and say “Mexico? no we're not going there.. that's a crazy place”. Mexico has a very bad reputation and of course there are areas that are dangerous, particularly if you are a member of a rival drug cartel. However, we are pretty cautious and plan on avoiding the bad areas, and so far we have been absolutely astounded by this awesome country. The people are welcoming, friendly and quick to a big smile or laugh (particularly at our terrible attempts at speaking Spanish).
We were shown the generosity of the Mexicans early on, staying in a 'Casa de Ciclesta' (a free house just for bicyclists) and then in the garage of Pedro, who was working in the local park of a small desert town. We had planned on camping in the park and had been sitting around cooking and eating our picnic dinner when Russ started up some mimed conversations with Pedro, who was collecting the money at the public toilets. Russ and Pedro had a singalong on Pedro's guitar and then Pedro asked us back to stay in his garage/shed. He didn't want any money from us, he was just worried we were going to be cold in the park so he invited six random, grotty gringos back to stay with him. Hmm.. are these the Mexicans that everyone warned us about?
We had also been warned about the taffic rin Mexico but the majority of drivers are very considerate and they wait until there is enough space before passing us. The truck drivers have been particularly polite, pulling out and give us lots of room when they pass us, which is more than I can say for many of the drivers of the big RVs who come from north of the border. In fact one tourist RV driver told us he would run us off the road if we were in the way when a truck was coming! Obviously he has not discovered what that second pedal next to the accelerator is for.
Although the roads have been narrow and most have no shoulder we can always hear the trucks and cars coming from a long way off. When necessary, if we are on a blind corner or there is traffic coming the other way, we can pull off to give them room. Every time they pass the truckers give us big grins and waves and everybody yells “hola”.
Even the army convoys that we see on the road have been friendly. Posed with massive machine guns pointing out from the tops of jeeps or armoured cars, the soldiers wave and take photos of us as they pass. At one entrance to a military checkpoint Lorely somehow didn't see a giant orange witches hat in the middle of the road and plowed straight into it. The soldier in the camouflage hut on the side of the road pretty much rolled around on the floor wetting himself in mirth (well, if some gringo on a loaded bike comes riding out of the desert and straight into a traffic cone you would find it pretty funny too!).
We had entered Mexico with our cycling gang (Lorely, Russ, Aiden, Maurice and ourselves) at the much maligned town of Tijuana (tequila, sex or marijuana) but we just cycled around the outskirts of town and headed towards the coast, where we tried to get onto the toll road. Unfortunately bikes aren't allowed on the toll road and the guard at the booth (very goodnaturedly) refused to let us on, so I asked him if we could go down around the back of the toll booth and then push the bikes back up the embankment and back onto the road further along. He said this was ok for us to do, and then gave us directions on how to carry out this illegal activity. Ah I love Mexico.
We actually had to do a number of similar cross- country manoeuvres in the next few days, heading to and from the toll roads -across road embankments, through barbed wire fences, along a stone wall, up little goat trails and through a section of road closed off for roadworks. Poor old Maurice's first introduction to cycle touring was a little out of the ordinary. I had to assure him we didn't usually go cross-country as much as we had done in our first few days in Mexico!
At the beach in Tijuana we started cycling south along the main (pretty much only) highway down to the south of Baja. After a few days inland we reached the beach again, where we had to say goodbye to Maurice who was finishing up his cycle touring taster. The next day we reached the small town of El Rosario, where we had a rest day camped in the backyard of the very helpful Duffy and got our supplies for the desert.
After El Rosario, the road started climbing and the next few days were spent up in the beautiful high desert, riding alongside a variety of cactus scattered across the landscape. At one point the landscape changed to boulders tumbled across the hills with Dr Seuss-type tall cacti reaching to the sun. It was hot during the day, but cold at night in our wild camps under the expanse of stars, with only the sound of the wind and the occasional rocking Mexican circus music from cars out on the highway.
We stumbled back into civilisation at a sizeable town called Guererro Negro. Having only passed through small pueblos or little loncherias (cafes) over the last few days it was nice to have a rest day in a hotel, to shake the sand out of all the body crevices and to wash for the first time in about six days! Back to the desert tomorrow...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SoCal and LA LA Land: Santa Barbara to San Diego (27th Oct - 6th Nov '10)

Southern California was unusual in that it lived up to its stereotypes and was exactly what I was expecting. We came over the mountains into Santa Barbara and instantly hit warm air, palm trees and a bunch of wacky people wondering around on the boardwalks alongside the beach.
Our first day in what I consider SoCal we met a guy that told me I had the same name as his mother's dead cat.. even spelt the same way (she died back in '08 rest her soul). Then we had a second crazy guy (who was also drunk just to add to the effect) try to rescue us from the first crazy guy and proceed to tell us we were beautiful and had great butts (that's the nice version). Not much later we watched a woman in a blue tracksuit and a purple leopard print cowboy hat taking her cat for a walk in a pram. The cat was perched inside a child's pink pram (stroller), surrounded by mesh and didn't look very happy about its outing.
The next couple of days south of Santa Barbara we rode along the beaches, past a lot of fancy houses and watched the sunset over the ocean from our campsites. Our last day of riding into Los Angeles was very pretty with the road squashed between the mountains and the ocean. It wasn't as populated as I thought it would be and we rode through some scenic state parks until reaching Malibu. However, from then on in it was the LA that I was expecting, lots of freeways and suburbs. We rode into LA along the beach boardwalks, past Venice Beach, rollerbladers and lots of lifesaver towers (just like Baywatch!).
Coming into Los Angeles I realised we had arrived in the land of beautiful people. We were surrounded by people who were fit, tanned, and wearing beautiful clothes. I was fairly fit and also tanned, but only from the thighs down to my ankles. My feet were reflectively white, I had a white sunglass tan line and I was wondering the streets dressed in my daggy old hiking pants with grease on the legs and holes in the butt. Yeah we felt a little out of place. Luckily we could stay with our friend Stacy, who we had met in the Yukon when we needed a ride through a bushfire. It was great to catch up with her and relax in Long Beach, out of the craziness of LA LA Land.
We were quite happy chilling and catching up with Stacey and Maurice but we kind of felt like we had to go and check out the main sights of LA. However, when we did get in we weren't very taken with the city. It was filled with concrete, malls and fast food outlets and it was very difficult to get around in. We tried cycling (terrifying), catching the bus (painstakingly slow) and walking (just stupid). We quickly retreated to the peace of Stacys House, where we could eat, sleep and relax in the hot tub.
It was Halloween while we were in LA so Jules and I went into West Hollywood (the gay neighbourhood) for the massive street party. It was heaps of fun, we were there in the afternoon and early evening when everyone was just coming out (in both senses of the word) so we could sit outside on the street, have a couple of bevies and watch the beautiful men in their amazing outfits (or lack there-of).. Not since we got dragged to a gay club in Vancouver and saw a naked man showering on stage have we seen so much male flesh!
After three days in LA we said goodbye to Stacey and headed south out of the city. The first night we camped out in a hiker-biker site squished behind the toilet block at a beach - the hiker-biker sites have certainly got less salubrious the further south we have gotten!. The next day we made it to just north of San Diego where we turned inland, into the hills, to Maurice's house. The hills area was very pretty but unfortunately we managed to arrive during a heat wave so it was a fairly hot ride uphill to Maurices. The next day we were having a rest day, which was lucky as it hit 40 degrees Celcius. The hottest November day on record! While at Maurices we spent time getting ready for the next part of our adventure: shopping for some necessities and servicing our bikes (well Maurice serviced our bikes, we just hung around to try and learn and pass him tools).Maurice decided that rather than just tinkering with our bikes he would join us to try out cycle touring for a few days so he spent a couple of days making some adjustments to his mountain bike.. and voila a cycle tourist was born.
Jules and I headed out from Maurices and rode through San Diego, a cool city that reminded me heaps of Perth. We hung out with Team Krusti who were finishing up their trip, so we celebrated with beer and pizza. Our last day in the US we stayed in a campground south of San Diego, not far from the borde,r with Irish Aidan and the Poms - Lorely and Russ. Team Krusti also rode to the border with us on the day we left the US so we had a big cycling convoy through the border town, across the border and into Mexico. Adios USA, Hola Mexico!