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Day 310-315, 17-22 May 2009: sea, dolphins & radar: World On a Boat!

August 25, 2009 by , 2,188 views  
Filed under Baja California, Central Mexico, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

It felt weird to cycle fully loaded once again. Once we closed the door of Brian’s apartment behind us we were back on the road, even if it was just for 5km :)

We headed into the Marina on the North side of La Paz as agreed with Michael & Deborah. They had come over for dinner the night before; I had prepared a kilo of shrimps that Brian had told us to use. It was spiced up with a jalapeno seasoning and Ivana had cooked an excellent curry. It was goodbye to a large kitchen again, as the Good News (the name of the boat) had a very small kitchen area and as we would often not be all awake at the same time, we would not really cook big meals anyway.

The deck of the Good News with our bikesWe started unpacking the bikes on the pier and I tried to make the bikes as small as possible, taking of the pedals, lowering the seats and turning the handlebars. We managed to tie both bikes and some bags at the front of the ship and the rest of the bags went inside, under our little makeshift bed next to the kitchen.

The last tests of the autopilot did not go 100% well, so we decided to do more test the next morning to prevent going around in circles later. This meant that we had to sleep at sea for the first time on our trip, but . The weather was nice and we had no problem with the calm waves, but the heat was keeping us awake.

The next level: Off to Puerto Vallarta!

Interior of the Good NewsThe next morning we really took off. Michael fixed the autopilot and after some restarts it worked wonderful. There was not much wind so we had to use the engine most of the time. We were just passed the port of Pichilingue (named after the Dutch port of Vlissingen!) when I saw some big as well as small things jumping out of the water.

The big things turned out to be huge Manta Rays. Most of them were just cruising along, with only their two different coloured wingtips sticking out of the water: one side is light and the other is black as are their belly/back. But others made big jumps and floated more than a foot or two above water before falling back into the sea.

Michael thought that they might jump like this to squash parasites upon impact. Having grown up in a low grade video game era (cough..commodore..cough..64.cough :)), I just felt we were entering the next level.

The smaller critters were flying fish, though they looked more like walking fish, staying very close to the water surface. We were still feeling ok, but were fearing seasickness the moment we would leave the safe coast and head into open water…

Michael, Deborah and Ivana on the Good NewsWe sailed through the evening and anchored in a small bay, totally trusting our radar, GPS and depth meter (I am pretty sure there are more suitable terms for all of the things I write, but I am a rather complete Nautical N00b, as I usually stay away from sea-level as far as possible :))

Cleaning the dinghy and the first dolphin shows

We had been lazily enjoying the first part and had slept well, but in the morning we had our first job to do: clean the dinghy! After only a few weeks in the water, a lot of stuff had grown on the bottom of the rubber boat and it took several hours and hard labour to scrape it off on the sandy beach and then row it back to the Good News.

5 O clock dolphin show in the Sea of CortezAs a reward we got to see our first dolphin shows soon after: a large group of playful dolphins appeared on the horizon and soon they crossed our path, jumping out of the water as they passed. We all stood on deck, applauding when there was yet another high jump.

Friendly Dolphin in the Sea of CortezThe next few days we would joke about the ‘10 o’ clock & 5 o’ clock show’ as there seemed to be a contest going on somewhere, with many groups participating. Some of them far away, others swam next to our boat and seemed to enjoy racing the Good News!

Night Vision & high powers

As we had helped successfully with raising, lowering and changing the sails and I have plenty of GPS experience, the captains trusted us to watch the boat at night. We took 2 hours shifts, with the other 3 persons sleeping.

It was peaceful and intimidating at the same time, sailing through the dark night, with hardly any difference between the water and the sky above it. Just the sound of the small waves hitting the bow and the wind in the sails in complete darkness, save a small light at the mast and the glow of the radar and GPS screens… The graveyard shift was hard and regularly I had to stand up the bench with my face into the wind to stay awake.

The 3rd night we suddenly noticed some lights ahead and got on the radio to find some sleepy Mexican fishermen floating on a couple of boats, each a few kilometres apart. As Michael knew they use huge nets, we tried to find out where they had dropped them and fortunately Ivana’s Spanish speaking skills were available. Still we barely missed some buoys, but nothing got stuck in the engine.

Sea Turtle in the Sea of CortezThe last day, just after a huge turtle had come by and the 12 o clock show had paused, we stopped the engine and went for a swim in the middle of the deep blue ocean.

It was an eerie sight, looking underwater: with goggles, I could see the rays of sunlight disappearing into an endless depth, from light to black, erasing any sense of distance. It was refreshing though :)

We also had some time to talk about deeper meanings of life and travel. As Michael & Deborah were active evangelists, our conversation inevitably hit the religion bump. We believe in a separation of church and state, freedom of religion as well as from religion, and politically and socially –human rights- we were clearly also on opposite ends.

Michael was sure that there was a deeper meaning behind our journey and miscellaneous ‘talents’, even though I assured him, that we are simple, independent people and do not work by decree of Higher Powers. We would have some interesting email conversations afterwards as well, agreeing to disagree.

Still we had developed a tight friendship over the past days. Clearly even deep-rooted basic beliefs are not strong enough to hold same-minded travellers apart.

Tierra firma

Nuevo Puerto VallartaMichael had it planned well and we entered the bay of Puerto Vallarta in the late morning. We were happy we had had the opportunity to live the cruiser’s life for a few days and even happier that neither of us had gotten sick. Still it felt good to have some solid ground under our feet.

They decided to stay a night in the marina and as we were crewmembers, we also got our complimentary day pass to the accompanying resort. This meant the s-word! Swimming-pool!

My Marina card in Puerto VallartaWe flashed our cards to anyone around, shopped in the supermarket and spend some hours near and in the swimming pools. We almost felt one of ‘them’, if not for the fact that we sipped water from our Polar Bottle instead of Mojitos cocktails and did not spend that night on our million dollar air-conditioned boat, but in our hot tent on a deserted parking lot…

Good NewsIt was time to fix Kowalski & Greeny up, as we had to mutilate them to get them strapped to the boat 4 days ago. We re-connected all bits and loaded them up. We had bought some Good-Bye drinks and wished our new friends a safe journey South.

Though we still did not know which road to take it was clear that it was time to hit the road again. We have to be in Cancun in 5 weeks time to pick up our mums from the airport. Mexico is simply huge and there is so much to see everywhere. Even with some rides, we will never be able to make this distance, roughly 3200km/2000mi, in time, so we need to make some choices soon..

Will we make it? Any way, Central Mexico, here we come!

Day 300-310, 7-17 May 2009: Chillin’, refillin’ and cruisin’ in La Paz

August 21, 2009 by , 1,988 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

When we entered La Paz, we checked our CouchSurfing inbox for replies to our requests.

Sunset from Marina PalmiraActually a few people had replied positively, including Brian from the US, who had just left for California. Still he offered us the use of an empty apartment he owned and we gladly accepted as we had our own mattresses & stove. When we checked our email again to look up the directions, he had written us again:

‘I decided to invite you to use my regular apartment… You need a good rest.’

Just a few simple words, but they turned out to mean a lot more. His ‘regular apartment was not regular at all and perfect for us. Quiet, with a view of the sunset from the huge balcony, a swimming pool below and Wi-Fi to catch up with work. Coming from 1400km of dust and heat, we were literally overwhelmed and got again convinced that if you work hard enough good things will come your way…

R&R

Gringo Gazette: SwinefluIvana, Malecon, La PazWe spent the next days resting and recovering from the desert. Brian’s apartment was at the Northern end of the Malecon, the nice stone pedestrian boardwalk that extends to 2km on each side of the centre.

We rode to town often, to eat (great tacos at El Rancho Viejo), to relax, to see the town and to prepare our trip to the Mexican mainland. Brian’s blender worked overtime to make liquados from all the fruit we fed it.

We also visited Brian’s friend Claude Vogel, who not only owns a great-looking restaurant called Capricho’s (merci for the margarita’s Claude!), but seems to singlehandedly have photographed all of the photos appearing on Baja Sur’s postcards. He has published several great photo books, showing all the well- and unknown spots of the peninsula, it was fun to chat with a fellow-European living in Baja.

Bing at the Cathedral squareOne night we entered the town square –as it is a few blocks away from the sea it is actually not visited much-, where we heard a strange succession of words through a speaker:

‘El tortuga (the turtle)! El Negrito (the small black kid)! El borracho (the drunk)!’

first we thought it was a strange Spanish class, but we found out that the side of the plaza was lined with chain-smoking old ladies playing bingo, with pictures instead of numbers :)

Bike goodies!

Changing oil of a rohloff hub (3) Robbert from Santos Bikes had sent us a package from The Netherlands, to a La Paz address of a friend of a fellow cyclist. It had arrived perfectly and not only contained new oil for our Rohloff gear hubs, but also a new headlight! Mine had already been wrecked in the plane to Fairbanks (a few centuries ago?), and though I managed to fix it a few times, it had definitely died. The new one works even better, so we can safely be caught out in the dark again.

Rohloff gear hub on a Santos Travelmaster bicycle The 14-speed Rohloff gear hubs we use on our Santos Travelmasters are almost maintenance free, the only thing you need to do is change the internal gear oil every 5000km/3000mi. We were getting close to 10,000km, so we changed the oil for the 2nd time and also tightened our chains a bit.

I will write up a detailed manual when I have time, but basically it is very easy: inject cleaning oil, ride around to mix and clean, take out old oil and cleaning oil and inject new gear oil. Easy as that :)

Getting rides on the Net

DownTown La PazWe had already gotten to know The Net in Juncalito. All cruisers get together on the VHF channel 22 every morning at 08.00 to discuss the weather, news, outgoing mail, stuff to trade and more. They answer questions for newcomers in the area and offer very useful info. One section is called: crew & rides, where the cruisers can mention if they need a crew and boat-less people like us can indicate they need a ride!

We preferred a boat ride to the ferry. Not just to save some money, but also so we could learn a bit more about the cruiser’s way of life we had gotten to know the week before. Also it would be safer to watch our gear then when tucked away between large trucks on a ferry…

Flying topless bronze lady, la PazBrian had a handset he told us to use and we got on The Net several times with our story and a request to get a ride across the Sea of Cortez. We even left a note at the Club Cruceros clubhouse, where many cruisers come to exchange books, borrow DVD’s, chitchat and drink coffee, but had little luck. The problem was that hurricane season was approaching and most cruisers were on their way North, back to the US or at least Baja Norte.

We met one couple that was till planning on crossing, but their boat, the “Good News”, had a broken autopilot and were waiting on replacements parts to come from the US and had no idea when and if they were going ad if there would be space for us…

Malecon, La PazDownTown beach, La Paz (2)

Free ferries for the next cyclist & more Good News!

The old guy and his paper boat, La PazFellow cyclists Anna & Alister (http://www.thefuegoproject.com/) had kindly sent us a lot of information about the crossing. They were the first to point us to the fact that besides the well-known Baja Ferries, crossing to Mazatlan, there is another ferry company, called TMC (http://www.ferrytmc.com).

Though they are marketed as a cargo ferry, they also transport cars, RV’s, foot passengers and cyclists! They charge quite a lot less than Baja Ferries (http://www.bajaferries.com), especially for cyclists with a fully loaded bike. We got in contact with them to see if they maybe would like to sponsor us in exchange for some exposure, here on our blog, so other (bike) travellers know about them.

They agreed quite quickly ad offered us a free crossing for us and our bikes! :)

DownTown beach, La PazBut that same afternoon we got Good News! Literally, as captains Michael & Deborah told us that the spare parts would arrive in the next days and that they would like to invite us on their boat to get to know each-other.

We had a nice time and even though they already had agreed with another traveller to take him along, they said that we could fit as well on the 12m boat, though it was not yet clear where we would fit our bikes and gear…

We took the chance and told TMC Ferries that we appreciated the offer a lot, but that we were going to cross on a sailboat instead. I asked them if we could maybe offer the next cyclist a free crossing instead? Again, they agreed, so if you are a bike traveller reading this and are looking for a crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan? Leave a comment below, the first ones to comment (arriving in La Paz this year :) will get a free crossing, we will put you in contact with the right persons.

We had to say goodbye to the swimming pool and the comfort of a home. It was time to start packing our bikes again, but this time not for the road, but for the sea…

Ivana living the hard life Sunset from Marina Palmira (2)

Coming up next: WorldOnaBoat!

Day 297-299, 4-6 May 2009: Baja California Sur, pt3: through the desert to La Paz

August 19, 2009 by , 1,279 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

Note: only a few photos in this report as the scenery was quite boring and often it was too hot to stop for photos, but instead some more stories, hope you like them as well!

We had been advised to take a ride as the last section to La Paz would be ugly and boring. We had cycled over 1100km/700mi in Baja California so far, and still had more than 300km/200mi to go before we could rest in la Paz and think about the crossing to the mainland.

4th May 2009: from the beach to the dust & food confusion: Juncalito – Ciudad Constitucion, 97km (+40km ride)

We said our good byes to Roberta and headed our loaded bikes back onto the main road. We passed the exit to Puerto Escondido this time and continued over relatively flat roads. The walls of the mountain range we had to cross looked down upon us with indifference.

We had read in an old guidebook that the next climb was one of the longest, steepest and most dangerous of the peninsula and had decided we would try to get another ride, as the combination with the heat and lack of sea-wind would be a horrible way to wreck my knees again.

Just at the bottom of the hill we found a new bridge with a nice wide shoulder where we parked our bikes and flashed our thumbs up at the passing pick-up trucks. Soon a nice man stopped in a huge SUV; we loaded the bikes, headed into the air-conditioned cabin and quickly made our way up 40km of steep and narrow ascents, very happy we were not pushing our bikes on the black tarmac.

He was going all the way to Ciudad Constitucion and asked if we wanted to join him to there, but we declined. It is always a hard decision when somebody offers a ride, especially when it is hot, windy and boring, but we have come here to cycle and felt bad enough about the ride so far.

He dropped us at the highest point and as the wind was in our face, we enjoyed the constant downhill towards the city. But soon the road turned horizontal, while the wind picked up in speed and temperature and soon we found ourselves fighting the giant blow-dryer at 10km/6mi per hour, while cursing ourselves for not being in an air-conditioned car when we could have been… We stopped exhausted in Ciudad Insurgentes and treated ourselves to some refreshing liquados.

Fortunately the road had made a 90 degree turn when reaching the city and the last part the wind came from the side and even from the back and we were in Ciudad Constitucion quickly. Traffic was very busy between the cities but the road wide and we had no problem. What turned out to be more difficult was finding a place to sleep in the city. We asked several people with gardens and even the Police for a place to pitch our tent, but all turned us down. It was already close to dusk when we left the city, trying to find a place outside of town.

Only a few minutes outside the city limits I noticed a great garden. The house was deserted, but a little ahead were some people underneath a row of fruit trees. Sure, it was ok to camp and if we needed some sweet grapefruits? They were intrigued by our trip, or tent and our stove, but when Ivana started to cook our daily pasta meal, problems began.

Antonio and Sarah, Ciudad Constitucion Sarah, the mother of the bunch, looked at our meal and then at us and back at the spaghetti again.

Que es eso, sopa?’, ‘What is this, soup’?’

‘Pasta! We eat if every night, good energy and tasty!’

‘Hmm. But how are you going to eat it?’, she replied.

We looked at eachother. ‘Well, we have a very nice tomato sauce today!’

Sarah looked perplexed.

Y como lo va a comer?’, ‘How are you going to eat it?’ she repeated, this time a bit louder.

As my Spanish is not so good, I was not sure if I had understood her correctly, but Ivana’s face looked just as puzzled as I felt. Ivana tried a different answer.

‘Well, we have a fork and a spoon, Harry has a foldable plate and I eat from the pot, look.’ and she showed Sarah our limited but useful cutlery and cooking gear.

No, that was clearly not the right answer, either. Sarah called her son.

‘Antonio!!! Come here. Go to the tortilleria and get the gringos some tortillas!’.

A few minutes Antonio came back –on his bike!- with a full kilo of hot tortillas. Sarah handed them over and said that at least we now had something to eat our soup with. She also served us delicious fresh and sweet juice, but clearly was still shaken from the thought that somebody would even think about having dinner without tortillas…

5th May 2009: 110km through the desert, from Ciudad Constitucion to El Cien.

Early next morning we shared or peanut butter sandwiches with Sarah and her kids and took off. The road was still flat, the wind was still good and we had a good average on the first 55km. Then slowly we headed more inland again to cross the peninsula for the last time and things turned bad again.

The hills started to come and together with the road, the temperature rose with every pedal stroke and soon crossed the 35 degrees (95F) mark again. It was time to stop for lunch, but there was no shade anywhere and the few restaurants were all closed or demolished.

Finally, after 80km of cycling, I stumbled into a small loncheria and ordered a cool refresco under the hot tin roof. A few other customers did not believe that I cycled Baja California, let alone from Alaska and looked at me as if I were a Martian. soon Ivana arrived as well and slowly they got convinced I was not 100% insane after all, though at the same time they realized what we had done, they clearly did think we were mad as a rusty doornail.

In the back room was an old abuela, sitting in a rocking chair, watching TV, shouting orders to various grandchildren running about. ‘Change the TV channel! Get me a drink! Stop shouting!’. While we were dozing off with our heads on the table, we suddenly heard her shout again.

Siesta, km 128‘Braulio! Get some colchonetas for the Gringos!’.

And lo and behold, the little guy named Braulio arrived moments later with 2 large blue plastic-covered foam mattresses for us to sleep siesta on! We thankfully rested our tired bodies under the watching eye of yet another Virgen de la Guadelupe, and various other items that might need to be returned to the Museum of Bad Taste soon…

When the temperature had dropped slightly, we hit the dusty road again and rollercoastered to ‘El Cien’, (‘The Hundred’), simply named after the 100 km sign, indicating the remaining distance to La Paz. We got another tempting offer to hop in a car and arrive in La Paz that same night, but declined. We refilled our water bottles in a restaurant and made camp behind a deserted house, watching the stars fall and the police check random vehicles.

6th May 2009: back to sea through hills, heat and a tornadito: El Cien – La Paz, 105km, 750m up, 850m down

Today we planned to finish our trilogy of 100km days and get all the way to La Paz.  The good thing about the desert is that it actually cools down considerably at night and when we left at sunrise, the air was fresh. We even encountered some fog on our way, but soon it was just down to the sun, the hills and us again. There was not a flat bit, all either up or down, but definitely more up, both in time as in distance.

deserted restaurantAlso here the few buildings and towns on the map were physically or functionally not there and after 50km we were longing for some shade and a drink. It took us another 2 hours and dozens of hot hills before we stumbled in a small shack where they had a working and filled refrigerator. Another guest showed us the centipede he just caught: huge and poisonous, it just fit in a plastic 600ml Coke bottle.

They mentioned that there were bigger restaurants just a mile up the road and so we continued a few minutes and stopped for siesta. We had some ramen noodle soups left and cooked ourselves some lunch when Ivana said that a tornado was coming. I thought she was listening to the loud radio that I had completely blocked out and asked her where and when.

‘There!’ she said and pointed behind me. A thin but high dust-devil slowly crossed the road and came towards the shop next door, selling 2nd hand goods. It looked like just another collection of twirling dust, but once it hit the neighbours’ shack, several large metal pieces of roof came off and flew several meters through the air. After it passed, Ivana went to check, but apparently nobody got hurt. The little boy from the shop came in as well, almost falling over from laughter and joy. He could hardly speak, but pointed up in the sky behind him and managed to utter a few words in Spanish, roughly translated as’ The dog was flying!’ before he fell over laughing again. Life in the desert…

Ivana rollercoasting into La Paz (2)Ivana rollercoasting into La PazOnly when we walked a few meters outside, we noticed that we were on the summit of a hill, not far from La Paz.

It was basically one 20km long downhill to the city’s edge. We enjoyed the nice slope, only interrupted by some low-grade rollers and before long, we reached the coast and after cycling some very busy roads entered the charming center of La Paz. We bumped into the French in their RV again and then went to find a WiFi spot to check if any of our CouchSurfing requests had been answered…

Coming up soon: heaven in La Paz, new oil, free ferry and cruising The Net

Kowalski! Status report!

We spend about a month cycling from Tijuana – La Paz, stopping in several places along the way. We took some rides (probably about 100km together) and cycled about 1430km (900mi). After the flat tire on the first stretch we had zero flats, nor any other problems with our bikes.

My knees held out well, not getting better, nor worse, but I had very few problems with my back. Ivana had gotten sick from eating bad food, but that passed in a few days time. All in all a hard but satisfying experience, that we would not have liked to miss out on… More reflections later, for now here are the trip sections as described above:

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Day 292-297, 29 April – 4 May 2009: Baja California Sur, pt2: Hot roads, Bahia Concepcion, hidden gems and cruisers

August 16, 2009 by , 1,892 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

29 April 2009: Mulege – Buenaventura beach, 43km, 500m up and down

Beaches at Bahia ConstitucionOnce we managed to leave Mulege, we quickly started climbing, cutting off a rough piece of coastline. The moment the sea-breeze was out of our face, the heat took its place and we had to stop often to drink and recuperate.

The reward was the first view of Bahia Concepcion, breeding place of whales and lined with small beaches, sometimes accompanied by hotels or loncherias, but just as often completely empty.

Beaches at Bahia Constitucion (2)We had enough of the heat after 43km and entered a restaurant in Buenaventura Beach for our siesta. They had Wi-Fi, so as always we stayed too long, and decided to camp out on the beach.

We were accompanied by a French couple, that we had met a few times before. They were living & teaching on Martinique, but had bought a large campervan and, together with their 3 kids, were slowly heading South.

In fact, as we had seen them several times, they appeared to go the same speed as us, enjoying all the small places on the way, instead of rushing through them as most other Baja visitors do on their way to Cabo San Lucas.

Campsite Buenaventura Beach, Bahia ConstitucionFishing dogs at Bahia Constitucion

Rodolphos family, Buenaventura beach Buenaventura beach, Bahia Constitucion

30th April 2009: Buenaventura beach – Bahia Concepcion South, 20 km, 150 m up/down

El Requeson Beach, Bahia ConcepcionWe stuck around the restaurant all day, reading stories online about this strange swine-flu disease that was bothering the rest of Mexico, but Baja was still ‘clear’.

Before we were really packed, it was already to hot to start cycling and therefore we went swimming instead, checking out the small stingrays and fishes near the beach.

Only 2 hours before dusk it started to get bearable and we started cycling after all. Google Earth had been friendly enough to warn us for some big climbs coming up once we would leave the Bay, so we thought it best to save that for the cool of the early morning and went looking for a place to pitch our tent.

beach camp, bahia ConstitucionWe happily cruised over the empty road while in the distance a large group of dolphins passed by, heading North.

At the most Southern point of the Bay, we found the remains of an old RV park and though there was nothing usable left, the dirt access road was smooth and led straight to the beach, where we pitched our tent.

We watched the sunset with our bowls of pasta in our hand while a few wandering cows passed. Queen’s Day (In the Netherlands); It cannot get much better than this.

1st May 2009: Bahia Concepcion – Juncalito, 106km, 918m up/down, average temperature: 30,2C/86F…

Blooming cactiThough we did not leave at sunrise as planned –there is something unnatural about waking up in the dark, even when it is the International Day of Labour- we managed to get up the steep first hills before the heat caught up with us. The road was windy and therefore dangerous, as trucks could not see us from far. So we walked and pushed our bikes on the steepest bits, so we could get out of the way quickly when needed, while saving our knees.

Vultures, trash and cactiThe day seemed to progress nicely when we were treated by a nice slow downhill the next 20km, but then it turned into a hellish experience. No shade for a rest, the hot headwind slowed us to a halt, while small hills were followed by a 13km constant climb with the temperature cheerfully climbing to above 35C/95F as well. It cannot get much worse than this.

All the places that were marked on the map were either no longer there or closed and/or decaying, so no refrescos could be bought. We had both run out of water and stopped a passing ambulance for some water (we got about half a litre), to prevent further rehydration.

Ivana in downtown LoretoFinally, after 65km (40mi) and almost 6 hours on the road we could start the downhill towards Loreto, a dusty town with a friendly old centre, including one more mission. Mission, Loreto

What was more important was the water filtering shop in the beginning of town (the friendly owner donated 2 litres of cool water, where can I sent the recommendations for sainthood?), an overpriced supermarket and the juice bar in downtown selling fresh OJ by the litre and a nearby hose to wash the salt of our faces.

Once our body temperature had lowered enough to approach that of the air surrounding it, we headed out for  our last section towards a small town named Juncalito. We passed some ugly new housing projects, with unnaturally green lawns and fake ponds. Meanwhile the temperature finally dropped a bit. Even with the cool morning and the freshening evening we clocked an average temperature of 30,2C/86F, during the 12 hours we had spend on & around our bikes; too much for comfort and we were ready for some rest.

It took 2 small but nasty hills before we reached the house of Roberta, a WarmShowers host in Juncalito. She lives with Smooch the cat in this small town, off the grid, but powered by solar panels and the caring of the neighbours, who immediately came out to greet us and to hand us all kinds of vegetables.

Roberta had even prepared a wonderful dinner for us; we felt we rolled from a hellish nightmare of a day into a cyclist’s dream and soon after our feast we started a well-earned rest…

2-4 May 2009: In Juncalito: sea critters & festive cruisers.

Ivana sea-kayaking near JuncalitoWe stayed 3 days in Juncalito as there were too many fun things to do to rush and we enjoyed Roberta’s company.

One of her neighbours borrowed us 2 kayaks for a few hours, so we could circle a nearby island to check out the pelicans, crabs and fish. We will need to cross the high mountains in the back soon, but for now we enjoyed being at sea-level.

It was a great trip and a welcome change from the bike, finally some upper body exercise…

Crabs on small island near Juncalito

Fishies, JuncalitoHarry sea-kayaking near JuncalitoSea stars, Juncalito

Festive Cruisers

Loretofest, Puerto EscondidoIt also turned out to be the time for the “Loretofest”, a yearly gathering of cruisers, i.e. people living and travelling on their boats. Most cruisers seemed to be in their fifties, but there were also younger and older ones as well as kids travelling.

Loretofest party, Puerto EscondidoThey had all come to Puerto Escondido (“Hidden Port”, 5km from Juncalito), to meet up and celebrate their lifestyle together, while raining funds for the less fortunate local youth.

Ivana and I entered a bubblegum-blowing contest on the 50’s night, enjoyed the cooking of the cruisers at the tasty potlatch and caught up on some work using the harbour office’s Wi-Fi. It was interesting to see this totally different subculture, that actually had quite a lot in common with us BikeTravellers, living and travelling outside the lines…

We were happy we had found Roberta’s little piece of paradise to rest, but we had to leave her, Smooch and the dozens of hummingbirds circling her balcony, to get on the road again. One more long stretch separated us from La Paz, gateway to mainland Mexico!

Smooch the cat, JuncalitoHummingbird, Juncalito (2)

Hummingbird, Juncalito (3)Hummingbird, Juncalito

Kowalski! Status report!

Total km: 9225. Knees and back were ok, though slightly overcooked. I pushed the bike when it got too steep and that seems to help prevent further injuries. So far no more flat tires in Baja California (after the one the first day in the North), so that is above expectation. Bikes are doing well, but they are looking forward to the 2nd oil change in La Paz…

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Day 286-291, 23-28 April 2009: Baja California Sur, pt1: Across Baja, records, annoyances & Oases

August 10, 2009 by , 3,620 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

Better late than never...Finally, we have time to sit down and write some more trip reports… As the sign on the right says: better late than never, right? :)

We have been enjoying Mexico a lot, we will try to get you updated on this wonderful country, filled with friendly people.

So what happened? The last report ended just above the 28th Parallel, which separates Baja California Norte from BC Sur (South). Different name, still a desert :)

We stayed 2 nights in a roadside motel, as Ivana was not feeling much better. Coincidentally, we started to hear the first stories about some strange flu that was spreading in the mainland, just after we had booked flights for our mums, who are coming to visit us in East Mexico, the end of June. Maybe that is why the hotel staff looked so suspiciously at Ivana? And why was the biggest Mexican flag we had ever seen suddenly gone from the state-crossing? It was time to move on and for once (!) the fabled Baja wind was in our back:

26 April 2009: 28th Parallel – San Ignacio, 159,25km!

Oasis San IgnacioYes! We beat our previous distance record and by a large margin, 40km more! After a quick stop in Guerrero Negro, we zoomed through the boring desert. We were too late for the famous whale season, so we had to make do with a cheeky coyote instead. A quick lunch in a most depressing dust-covered town called Vizcaino and then back on the pedals.

‘Come on Ivana, we still have 50km to go!’

‘But I thought you said we would do 100 today?’

‘Nope, I said 140!’. Lost in translation again, and a soft grumble was my reward.

It turned out that our map had an unmarked section (distance-wise), so that is why we found ourselves still on the bike after 130km. We decided we might as well enjoy the wind and continue to San Ignacio, a well-known oasis in the middle of the desert.

San Ignacio squareUs in San IgnacioWe made it just before dark and marvelled at the strange sight of fresh water (the first non-sea water we say since leaving Ensenada) and palm trees. After a quick tour around the charming plaza and an inventory of too expensive hotels and campsites, we made our camp on on a deserted property nearby only used for alcohol-consumption by some friendly locals.

The next morning we found the place that our fellow biketravellers had been writing about: Casa Leree, a small and homely B&B near the plaza. Owner Jane, who is working on chronicling a photographic history of San Ignacio, offered us to stay for a few hours so we could work a bit using her Wifi, and even gave us some snacks for the road.

San Ignacio mission Ivana, San Ignacio

25 April 2009: San Ignacio – Santa Rosalia, 81km, 830m up, 888m down

The next day was one of those annoying days. Annoying because we had to start with a steep uphill, forcing us to push our bikes in the first kilometers. It seemed to improve a bit with some nice downhills, but then it got very annoying using a gazillion ‘vado’s, small ‘rollercoasters’. Up. And. Down. Rinse and repeat.

It was followed by some extremely annoying stretch: a fierce headwind on a gentle but constant and 25 km long slope. Uphill that is. It made me check my back wheel and tire every few minutes as it felt I was rolling two flats, but alas, it was just lack of horizontality, strength and freshness, both inside as well as outside my tired body. The desert did not seem to end and the only positive point in the heat was that the really big hill, Volcano Tres Virgenes, was clearly to steep to climb, so somewhere on it’s flanks must be a downhill hidden somewhere.

Volcanoe Las Tres VirgenesIt did come, but the full speed drop was too steep and curvy for comfort, only brief and followed by yet another slow climb in even harder wind, while the only shade offered was some itchy and prickly bush on the side of the road.

The only entertainment was a vulture eating a very flat 5-foot snake off the road, but the rare but aggressive traffic that day made me focus on my handlebars rather than my camera. We managed to get some water off a nice old guy who lived alone in a house. There was a sign with some cutlery on the road, but he looked as if he had never seen it before and food was not to be found.

Ok, we were getting really close to  Santa Rosalia no and still had several hundred meters to descend, (it was rather safe to assume that the seaport of the town was actually at sea-level). A series of warning signs about the upcoming drop convinced me that I should wait for Ivana and while I posted next to the road, a huge and fast caravan of policecars and SUV’s rushed by at an insane speed. Some buses and pick-up trucks that apparently either got sucked into their slipstream or just hypnotized by the flashing police lights followed, all about 25cm apart and like a suicidal metal conga line of madness they dropped down the steep road together.

One of the last drivers had motioned to me excitedly, while motioning backwards. I did not see Ivana, so I headed back up the steep hill, but she appeared before i reached the top, totally angry and very shaken. The cars, under leadership of the police, had driven her off the road and almost hit her with their crazy antics. I tried to calm her down as we had a dangerous slope ahead. In fact is was also annoying: I hate it when you spend 25km going uphill and then you lose all height gained on a slope so steep (I guessed 12-14%) and curvy that we need to brake all the way down. The road was lined with crosses for those whose brakes were less strong than ours, maybe Magura should make some brakes for pickups as well…

last dusty slopes towards Santa RosaliaThe annoyance was not over yet as we got another few small but nasty uphills, before we finally could go down to sealevel and cruise along the Sea of Cortez towards the town.

‘A French town’ it was called in many guidebooks. Guess the authors have never been in France. It did have its own charm though, but the problem with all the houses built close together, was that there were no gardens and therefore no camping space. We had cycled all the way to the end (up) until we reached the scrubby neighbourhoods our guidebook had warned us about; plenty of stares but no place for our tent. We asked the Police and Firemen, but they were too busy guarding tonight’s fiesta.

Fiesta in Santa RosaliaThe fiesta turned out to be a very long boring speech by the governor in which he proudly proclaimed that he did had done parts of what he was hired for in the first place. While we ate a large pizza next to the square, with our bikes rolled next to our table on the patio, it seemed that we had located the missing Mexican flag as well, nicely hung behind the politicians.

They were probably the ones arriving late and almost killing Ivana on the way with their escort. The ‘party’ and the day ended with very loud and very annoying music, but even though we pitched our tent just 3 blocks away, in the driveway of the Red Cross, we were off to sleep soon…

26 April 2009: Santa Rosalia – Mulege, 68 km, 500m up and down

Eiffel's Church, Santa RosaliaSome time between the moment we rested our head and the moment the dogs woke us up in the early morning the party had ended and upon closer inspection the town was quite nice.

We found the claim to fame: Eiffel’s church, which was not only special because it was designed by Eiffel, of the Parisian Tower (and Lady Liberty’s frame, how’s that for Freedom Fries!) fame, but also because it is the world’s first know prefab building, packaged in boxes and reassembled here.

main street, Santa RosaliaThe other famous place, the bakery, was less impressive than any random counterpart in France, but still supplied us with enough carbohydrates to head into the dusty desert again.

Panaderia Boleo, Santa RosaliaI actually had a good day on the bike, but Ivana had it tough. More hills, heat, road construction –BC Sur seems richer, they are actually building nice bridges to replace the annoying and dangerous vado’s- and roadside grave markers.

More desert gravesOn top of a hill I saw a naturally flowing valley heading to wards our destination around some steep hills and told Ivana that we were almost there, just 10km more, all downhill.

Ivana and SupaFlyAlas, the awful truth was slightly different from the deducted version. Even though the psychopathic engineers that had decided that the roads better go over those steep hills were the true culprit, I was of course the bad guy, but the mood cleared when we saw the nice oasis of Mulege, another palm tree-covered surprise in the desert.

We had to search all roads in the village before we found the house of Bill, our host for the night, but once we arrived we could enjoy the fact that we had had yet another nice day in Baja, and according to the the stories of travellers before us, the best had just started…

Oasis MulegeWe stayed 3 nights in Mulege, relaxing and eating fish taco’s with Bill. He enjoyed our cooking and we could catch up with some work before heading into the last section of Baja California…

“Mulege is the safest place I have ever been, with regards to crime! There has only been one murder and that was a gringo guy being stabbed with a barbeque fork by his gay lover!” according to Bill.

The biggest danger is coming from the skies and sea though: the hurricanes have hit Mulege hard, with many houses  -including Bill’s former place- being destroyed by Hurricane John in 2006. The water level of the river rose so much it touched the bridge (normally you can drive a big truck underneath) and many people had to run for their lives. Nowadays more big houses are being (re-)built and lots close to the sea and river are being sold to unsuspecting Americans. Though it is a pretty quiet place, you might want to read this post on the famous BajaNomads forum before you decide to invest in ‘this Piece of Paradise”…

here are a few pix from Mulege, let us know if you like them by commenting below!

Restaurant, Mulege Ivana, Bill and Fish tacos, Mulege Mission, Mulege Ivana in Mulege

Soon to come: Baja California Sur, pt 2

Kowalski, status report!

Knees: still ok! They hurt after cycling, but on the road they are quite fine. Santos Bikes are still stringer than the people riding them, they will probably outlive the human race…

Here are two tripsections as described above:

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Day 281-285, 18-22 April09: Trucks, dust, wind, heat: Baja California Norte, Part2

April 30, 2009 by , 4,612 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

18-21 April 2009, past San Quintin –Rosarito, via El Rosario, Sonora & the desert..

The roads were dry and empty but the fresh sea wind kept us cool. That is, until we headed inland and up a very steep hill. After some pushing we ended up at another military checkpoint on top of a mesa, before the road dropped quickly into the dusty town of El Rosario.

We bought some yoghurt and even though we had only cycled 50km, we decided to stay the afternoon and work in the Internet cafe. The previous owner was the current pharmacist and he send us to a place on the far side of town to pitch our tent: Baja’s Best.

It is a nice restaurant and B&B, run by ‘Eduardo’, American Edward Lusk, recognizable by the large ‘Starbucks’ sign on the side of the yellow building. Not sure if the coffee is from SB, but according to Ivana (who, unlike me, likes the beanjuice) the freshly made stuff was great.

When we go in for the evening, 3 drunk Mexicans are singing loudly. The youngest one starts messing with the friendly rottweiler Bruno, to the point that Bruno is about to attack. His two friends try to persuade him to stop, even lock him in his car, but somehow he manages to escape and stumble back in again. They are living proof that it is not wise to drive or ride after sunset on the Highway 1…

We camped on a nice patch of grass, a luxury in Baja and when we packed the next morning, Ed’s friend and neighbour Duffy came by. He was intrigued by our trip and bought us a breakfast in the restaurant.

We had been warned about the next section of the road, dangerous for all vehicles and cyclists in particular. Not only was it about 500m up, but the road was narrow, curvy and for some weird reason some curves were grading outwards creating danger for trucks.

As we would spend the next day pushing up most hills we decided to take a ride and got one a minute later, with Angel, a nice guy from La Paz. He mentioned that there had been some car-jacking on this section and that not everybody might stop for hitchhikers.

We quickly passed steep hills and very narrow corners and felt the centrifugal forces resulting from the road-designers’ engineering mistakes from the back of the pick-up.

Ivana in the Catavina desert (4)After about 60km we got out and started cycling and immediately regretted not having stayed on another minute as the road climbed up steeply out of a small valley. But even worse, once we got to the top, we almost got blown off the road.

A gale-force wind was coming from the East and as we were headed SouthEast, it was almost impossible to cycle. The dry dusty storm pushed us all over the place and every truck passing created dangerous vacuums. It took us over an hour on relatively flat ground to cover 10km and we were happy to get some shade and a soda in a small ‘llantera’ one of the many car workshops (‘Body & Pain_’ as I saw once in San Diego ;-)) along the road.

Cactus forest in Catavina, MexicoWe headed up as well now and the speed dropped even lower and we quickly ran out of water as we were basically fighting a life-size blowdryer at full force. In a small restaurant we bought a gallon of water. We had to buy our first plastic container on the trip as there was simply no water to filter around, we were in the middle of the desert.

Another hour later we stopped at a place that was called ‘Sonora’ on the map, which turned out to be exactly one house on the side of the road. We decided to call it a day as we had only done 30km in over 3 hours and were completely exhausted. Santiago, the owner of the ranch and his son Alonso, let us camp outside and we watched the milky way, while the wind stopped exactly at sunset…

Ivana in the Catavina desert (3)The next morning we left early to avoid the wind, but it had gotten up early with us. Still it was not as bad and we made it to Catavina relatively quickly. Catavina, the touristy little town in the middle of the desert of the same name was a depressing place.

At 10 o’ clock in the morning we entered the local abarrotes, the name for the small minimarkets that were to be found in every dusty place in Mexico, selling basic un-necessities and some useful items like water.

Sunset in Baja California, MexicoI saw a large electric waterfilter (‘Reverse OSmosis + UV!’) as asked the woman if we could refill our bottles.

She said the filter was working and the water was safe, but when I checked the back of the machine the electrical cord and plug were tied in a not, covered with years of dust and spiderwebs, so unfortunately we had to purchase another plastic container…

The other clients all bought either beer, or coke and liquor, while the sun was still rising. We bought some refried beans burritos and some quesadillas and watched a half-drunk family get back in their battered old van, 6 people on 3 seats, the rest was on a mattress in the back, sipping litre-bottles of beer.

It was getting hot, so we headed back up the hills. Sometimes the wind was pushing in the back, then either it or we turned a bit and got mummified from the front. Ivana’s thermometer said it was 45 degrees Celsius (113F) and even though I drank more than one litre per hour, I could not pee a drop in a course of 2 days, the water just evaporated from our bodies.

Kowalski in the desert Ivana in the Catavina desert (2)Valle de los Sirios, Baja, Mexico

Still it was a great place, giant cacti between graffiti-covered boulders lined the quiet road and we felt in a different world. The odd cirius trees were growing everywhere as well, simply a single almost-straight trunk, sometimes ending up divided near the top, but generally without any branches.

We had already climbed a lot during the day and as some places on the map were were out of business or simply did not exists, we had not rested during the hottest period. After another steep uphill where I had to again help overheated Ivana push her bike up, we were passed by a pick-up who offered us to take us to the next place. It was only 16km and most of it would be down-hill as we were on the highest point, but Ivana wanted to get out of the sun. The cold beer the guys gave us eased a bit of the pain of 10 minutes of driving down a nice steep slope.

We entered the small ‘Loncheria’ (where you can buy, yes you guessed it, ‘Lonch’) and had a short conversation with the sturdy woman behind the counter.

‘Buenos tardes (Good afternoon)!’ we greeted.

‘?Que queria?’ (What did you want?), was the reply.

We tried again with a greeting but got the same reply. We bought some water and asked if we could pitch our tent somewhere around the place.

‘There is a hotel somewhere.’, she pointed out towards the desert.

‘Where and how far?’ we asked out of politeness, adding that we were on bicycles.

‘There!’ she pointed again into the dust.

After this depressing person and similar place added enough tension between us to cause a short fight about taking rides, we decided to make some extra miles to make up for it and to enjoy the cooler afternoon air.

Desert camping in MexicoWe had seen a small place called ‘El Crucero’ on the map, 29 km away. Even though it was late, we had some great down hills and the wind was suddenly pushing, so we made it just before dark. The only downside was that there was no place to be found anywhere.

As we had to get off the road before dark, we followed a sideroad until we were out of sight and pushed our bikes into the desert. We were warned about the many spikes and cacti that had punctured so many a biketraveller’s tire and camping gear, so we carefully tried to remove the spikes from our path.

Stupid gringo as I am I tried to kick away a small fallen part of a cactus, but it punched right into my hard sole and managed to warp around, into my foot at the same time. I had to ask Ivana to pull it out, which took a lot more effort than getting it in…

We did not need to put the tent-fly, so if we hadn’t been so tired from this hot and hilly day (103km, excluding the 16km ride!) we could have watched the gazillion stars from our matresses…

Joshua Trees in MexicoCactus, Baja, Mexico

We woke up to another hot day. We were sweating at 7 in the morning trying to get our bikes out the minefield of spiky things. Somehow I like the desert, but when all animals, plants and animate objects are apparently only put there to make life harder or even end it prematurely (in the case of some plants and many insects, snakes and spiders), it was good to be on the hot dark road again…

Abarrotes Lupita, Villa Jesus Maria, MexicoWe learned from our mistake and stopped before 11 o’ clock, lounging and lunching on some car seats on the patio of a small Loncheria until it was a bit bearable again. We had gotten a book from our host Gary, back in Oregon, and due to lack of power and Internet (though my solar panel was charging the batteries) I finally had time to start this great travelogue: Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend

We spent 4.5 hours in Punta Prieta, waiting for the sun to ease its angle on the Mexican part of the earth’s surface, while fat girls cared for babies with American toys. I managed to make the world a slightly better place by killing about 10 flies in the meantime. Guess that Buddhism, the last religion that had any hopes for me, also has given up by now…

Sharing the road in Baja California Lunch and shade in the heatwave Sunset and cyclistPunta Prieta, Baja California, Mexico

It was still 40km to go to our next destination, Nuevo Rosarito and we rushed through the hills, over smaller and then bigger rollercoasters.

I waited for Ivana besides the road on one of the rare flat parts where you could see half a mile. Ivana was almost next to me, when an oversized SUV with Californian license plates, loaded with beach-stuff and two fat guys approached her with about 70 mile per hour (112km/h), swerving wildly to the left just before hitting her, then wildly back just in front.

All this on a clear road with no other traffic, perfect sight and a maximum speed of 30mph (60km/h). While passing they gestured maniacally with their hands indicating that we were crazy, to which I kindly attended them to the longest of my fingers.

Almost all large Mexican trucks always give plenty of space and wait when it is even a little bit unsafe to pass and then waive or honk friendly when they do, but somehow it is always the typical obese beach-yankee in their useless oversized SUV’s that think that they own the country, that are the biggest danger on the road…

Sunset arrival in RosaritoI was still pissed off when we zoomed down towards Nuevo Rosarito and stopped at the first restaurant we saw.

To celebrate the survival of our first real dessert we ordered some fried fish and camped our tent in the nice backyard, where we even discovered a hot shower!

But the night turned out less pleasant than expected. Not only were big trucks stopping all night long, their stinking diesel engines running stationary for hours before pulling out of the restaurant, but we both woke up feeling sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up my dinner, while Ivana passed it through the natural way, but at an unnatural speed and viscosity.

22 April 2009: with empty stomachs from Rosarito towards the 28th Parallel, 76km

Brave plants in Mexican desertWe felt weak but luckily the road flattened out after some minor climbs and even the road surface that for 10km had resembled something out of a horror movie rather than asphalt returned to Mexican normal.

It was still hot and though close to the sea, the vegetation was mostly limited to thorny things and surprising amounts of a close cousin of the Joshua Tree, but I also discovered some tiny brave berries on the desert floor.

Lunch in Villa Jesus MariaHalfway was a place called Villa Jesus Maria, not much more than a truckstop, where a nice family cut up a delicious fresh fruit mix on the spot. Ivana’s stomach was till upset and she due to her cramps she stuck with safer foods.

Many Vados, zero riversThe next 40 km were almost straight and as the wind changed from coming from the side to slightly from behind, we raced along the empty desert, passing many ‘vado’ signs.

It is hard to believe that these dips in the road have ever seen water, as we had not seen a drop of fresh water since leaving San Diego…

From miles away I could see a shape in the sky, that turned out to be a giant flag, rivalling the one in Ensenada for size, beating it in location: in the middle of nowhere.

The position was not as random as it might have appeared as we were approaching the 28th parallel. Not only a nice circle around the planet, but also the border between two Mexican states: Baja California Norte & Baja California Sur, the latter even being in a different time zone.

Little boy, Villa Jesus Maria, MexicoIt was time to get my Internet fix and as Ivana was still feeling sick we checked in the first motel we saw with ‘Internet’ on the side.

We got half price and awarded ourselves with an easy rest day before turning our clocks one hour ahead to Southern Baja Time. We survived the Northern part of Baja California. Not unscathed though and it is interesting to see what the even larger Southern part will bring…

Day 274-280, 11-17April09: Trucks, dust, wind, heat: Baja California Norte, Part1

April 28, 2009 by , 2,671 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

We stayed a few days in Ensenada. Gerardo, who lives in the US, came down for a day, to resupply the local bikeshop (‘TNT’) with new bikes and parts and took us out for breakfast in the centre of Ensenada, where we visited a nice coffeeshop with Wifi. The town was virtually deserted, no tourist in sight.

Ivana’s knee was still hurting a bit, but we enjoyed the little house that Gerardo has opened up for cyclists passing South. We visited his friends Delia & Jose Antonio often and enjoyed just walking around the neighbourhood.

Downtown Ensenada Delia and Jose Antonio

15th April, Ensenada – Santo Thomas, 35 km

Yonke RomeroIt was time to hit the road again and we made our way across busy streets. We noticed a lot of ‘Yonke’ signs and realized that it one more Mexicanisation of an English word, ‘junk’!

After I took a photo of the Romero Yonke, for my friend Romke Jonker :), I turned to take a photo of Ivana approaching and almost shot her being run over by a truck that passed way too close for comfort.

It was going slow, but we were warned…

Ivana and the truck Ivana and the truck (2)Ivana and the truck (3)

On top of a hill we saw our first of several military checkpoints. They check for weapons going South from the USA to Mexico and beyond and drugs going the opposite way, but never once did we have to stop, nor were our passports or bags checked.

Doctor Viridiana, Santo Thomas, Mexico (2)We did more climbing than expected and as Ivana started feeling some pain, we decided to call it a day in a small town of Santa Thomas. The local campsite wanted more cash than the hiker-biker sites in the USA, so we continued down the road to ask for a suitable place to pitch a tent.

We found a small local hospital where a nice doctor was teaching the local and rural population about birth control, AIDS, nutrition and more.

She did not only share a nice ‘sopa de mariscos’ (seafood soup), but offered us the office to put our mattresses, so we did not even have to pitch a tent.

16th April, Santo Thomas – Colonet, 76km

We got our first taste of Baja climbing today, slowly climbing over a 450m high slope. The road was not too busy, but once we hit the steepest part, the road curved and we realized that although we could hear them coming from a kilometre away, the big trucks could not see us, so mostly we waited on the side of the road to let them pass.

Mexican DinnigIvana riding the transpeninsular

We had seen many signs depicting ‘campsite’ along the way, but they never had any direction, explanation, name or distance attached to them, so we never actually saw one.

The town of Colonet seemed to be nothing more than just a few dusty convenience stores along the highway, but when we went in one of the side roads we found a nice central Plaza, where we could ask the Police for a place to camp.

We entered to see about 5 guys lounging lazily in comfortable chairs, watching some soap opera on TV. One managed to get up and showed us a place in the backyard, where we could sleep. When we headed to a nearby mini-market to buy our totopos (nacho chips!) and salsa and to refill our water bottles (cheaper and more ecological than buying bottles), we got a lot of positive comments from kids and elders.

One family that apparently already had seen us on the road got so excited that they invited us to their house for dinner. As they could not explain much more than ‘up and behind that steep hill’, we decided to put our bikes in their van and -after letting the police know that we wouldn’t be staying- off we went.

Gerardo and his family lived outside of town in a small place, erected by a church group. Around it a few dogs were keeping the cows away from the food for the pigs and the chickens. They also had a campervan, which was normally reserved for his 3 girls to study, but now they insisted that we use the bed inside after we shared our totopos and some quesedillas, sharing mutual stories, 7 people around the light of 2 candles…

Areli, Colonet, Mexico (2)Our home in Colonet, Mexico

17th April 2009: Colonet – past san Quintin

Gerardo, his wife and 2 daughters left at 6 in the morning to catch the bus that would take them to work on the fields, paying about $10 per person per day. We spent some time with the 3rd daughter, Areli and then headed out on the bumpy road, back to Highway 1.

Mexico Highway 1 is just a two lane-road, exactly 2 trucks wide, divided in half by a mostly uninterrupted non-passing line. As with all traffic signals (stop signs, speed limits and even distances to the next town), this is merely a polite suggestion, and rarely appreciated.,There is no room for a bicycle if two vehicles are passing each other, so we had to be watchful all the time and our little rear-view mirrors were lifesavers.

Fortunately a large part of todays trip, a small part beside the road was paved, creating a narrow shoulder as wide as 1-2 feet, just enough to make cycling a bit more relaxed.

We passed some busy parts, the area called San Quintin was full of large and small trucks, but right after, traffic was much rarer and the wind was finally in our back for a while. We noticed some regular patterns around the road: trash every meter, ripped car tires every 10 meters and a memorial sign looking like a grave amidst car debris every kilometre or so…

This area was home to many tomato & strawberry growers and we ended up camping at a rest area between big farms, while big trucks were roaming around non-stop.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of Baja California Norte!

Middle of nowhere minimarketYet another ghost-river Desert boy, Mexico Yet another fatal car crash

Day 268-274, 5-10 April 09. Into Mexico, a different world

April 19, 2009 by , 14,173 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

5th April: Point Loma, San Diego – Tijuana, Mexico

Ivana, Mexico onlyIt took only a few hours to get through San Diego, over some bike paths and then into San Isidrio, the border town. We had been warned that we should not try to use the pedestrian crossing at the border, having read horror stories about crunched bikes and bags.

So we were happy to see a sign that basically said: Bikepath to Mexico, not for pedestrians. That sounded like a plan, but alas, the short path ended up in front of the pedestrian turnstiles. Se we headed back up the ‘one-way’ short path and decided to take the final 100m of the busy Highway 5 instead. We cycled over some empty lanes and waited until we were stopped by either a human or physical barrier.

Dead-end bikepath to Mexico100 meter later, we saw only Spanish signs and saw people walking everywhere. Apparently we had entered Mexico, through a one way border: no luggage check, no passport check, no questions, no sign ‘You are Leaving the US, please call again’ nor ‘Welcome to Mexico’!

This was not only very weird, but also posed two practical problems:

  1. We had to leave the white slip of our temporary visa at US customs, to prove we had left within the allowed time.
  2. We needed to get a Mexican tourist cad, kind of like a visa, which would allow us to stay for 180 days and go further South than Ensenada (100km South, the furthest most US citizens go and where this card is not needed).

You would think that there would be more people crossing the border with a visa, but apparently not. After asking several people, we were told to cross the Mexican side of the Highway on a footbridge, follow the stream of Mexicans trying to get into the US.

Waiting for the US border, TijuanaAnd lo and behold, just before the border entering the US again there was one young guy looking cool in a US uniform on the other side of a big gate. I handed him our passports, he ripped out the 2 small pieces of paper and added them to a larger pile already in his other hand. That was it. No exit stamp, no receipt, just a guy collection visa papers and who knows where they end up. Guess we will find out whenever we want to enter the US again.

Next problem to solve was to find the place to buy our tourist card. We crossed the highway again, noting the hundreds of waiting cars, seemingly not having moved an inch since we crossed the bridge before. Guess that entering the US is a whole lot harder than leaving it.

The funny (as in funny, interesting, not funny, haha) thing was that last night we watched ‘The Day after Tomorrow’, the apocalytic movie about the freezing effect of Global warming. In it, the US basically freezes overnight and the Mexicans have to close he border as everybody tries to flee South. Only after relieving Mexico from all debt, the US citizens are let in (meanwhile, many already cross illegally..).

We were told to go back on the highway, to we cycled back, against traffic to the ‘border’ and only about 50m before we were about to cycle back in the US (without being checked?). The last of a series of small offices contained a bored man who, after repeatedly asking, was going to sell us our ‘card’, which was basically a receipt. They had put the standard ‘90’ days, but some penstrokes of the official quickly turned this into 180 days.

It had taken us 1.5 hours to arrange these things that in any other border would have taken 2 minutes and 5 meters of travelling, and we made it just in time to the local McDonalds. Not that we were planning to eat there. We had stayed clear of all fastfood (besides Subways) during our 6 months in the US, and after seeing ‘SuperSize Me’ a few days ago at Martin’s place we were very happy we did!

Tijuana, MexicoNo, we had arranged to meet our new hosts here. CouchSurfing knows no borders and we were picked up by two young guys in a car, who guided us through some busy and some not so busy but very steep streets to their house on top of a hill. 5 more flights of stairs and we were in the room, looking out over the odd bordertown.

From the room you could see the border. Not physically, but the line and difference between the houses on both sides is clearly visible (tip: check Google Earth, you will be amazed).

A few days in Tijuana, an over-feared and underrated city

We stayed a few days with Paul (pronounced Pah-ool here) and ‘Chino’. It gave us the time to see a bit of the city that is feared so much in all US media, (even South Park calls it ‘hell’ ;-)).

It is all exaggerated, which is doing the Mexican economy a lot of harm. There is a drug war going on with quite some murders, but unless you are a heavy user, dealer or police officer, you will not be involved. Yes, we saw some police lights and heard some sirens in the night, but not more than in any US city of this size (1.5 million people). We never felt unsafe, even in darker areas, at night, in the suburbs, on the beach. Nowhere.

You notice that you are in a poor country, but what we did see were a lot of happy people, cheering us on on our bikes, asking questions.

Ivana in San SombreroHarry in San SombreroWe were so surprised to hear that many US citizens, even those living in San Diego never had visited Mexico.

They are living so close that taking one wrong turn basically would get them across the fictitious line!

I would invite everybody to enjoy the proximity of such a great and different place instead of getting scared by the remnants of the fear–economy…

Peppers in Tijuana, Mexico It is actually quite nice place, relaxed with many things to see and do. Ivana, Mexico and Harry

And I do not mean the popular red light district that seems to attract the most Americans, but the Museum of Modern Art complex we visited (with a nice cinematic photo exhibition), many great taquerias (taco shops) and a nice central market with delicious food, snacks and other stuff.

Catrina Taqueria, TijuanaOur new friends had just opened a tacoshop themselves, close to the market. They hade some special flavours including a great ‘Chile relleno’ (slightly spicy pepper stuffed with cheese).

Paul had two passports and works as a teacher on the US side. As he has a small motorcycle, he can avoid the waiting lines at the border and can go to work in the US in only 15 minutes…

In the evening they took us to have a tea and see the beaches and the border. It was sad to hear that until recently there were ‘border-dinners, where Mexicans that had been allowed into the US, would come to the North side of the border, to see, touch and eat with their relatives and loved ones South of the border. The new fence, planned all the way to Texas makes it impossible.

US border, Tijuana beachWe could see the fireworks of the San Diego aquarium from our side of the fence. A small boy walked up to it, while on the other side a patrol car was waiting silently.

Just a few miles away, but worlds apart. Again we felt thankful for the liberties we both enjoy, something that the many people that can but never do travel abroad never seem to realize.

9th April 2009: Tijuana – Primo Tapia, hill, fall, flat, toll. 42km.

After they guided us to the start of the Highway, we said goodbye to the guys and started climbing up the 250m (800ft) high hill. It was steep and hot and there was much traffic, but they kept a safe distance. What cycles up must freewheel down, so we enjoyed a nice downhill into Puerto de Rosarito, the tourist place at the beach, lined with new condos and junk food places.

We only stopped to eat our peanut butter sandwiches and then headed onto the toll road. There are 2 roads from Rosarito, the toll road (‘Cuota’) and the free road (‘Libre’). The toll road already starts near Tijuana, but they will not allow cyclists there and taking it would mean many extra miles anyway.

Just past Rosarito we could enter the toll-road without problems. I was slowing down near an exit for Ivana to catch up with me when two cars passed really close without signalling their exit. There was a very small but vertical ramp along the road which kept me from being able to move out of the way.

I managed to keep my balance for a second, but then tumbled over the ramp, down the slope behind it. Kowalski followed a second later, also doing a nice tumble, coming to a halt next to me. My arms were bleeding a bit and I had itchy, pointy things sticking in me all over my body.

Harry's second flat tire, Baja CaliforniaAfter Ivana caught up (“did you fall?” Duh..) and helped me get the bike back on the road we continued up a small hill, but soon I noticed that the going was tough and saw my that my front tire was almost empty.

So on the shoulder of the Toll-Road, I fixed my 2nd flat tire in over 8000km. Yet another staple. Of the 5 flat tires we have had between us, 3 were caused by staples, one by a nail and one by a sharp piece of rock.

We approached the toll booths and were going to pass one lane with a giant red ‘X’ on top, but the attendant/guard came running towards us, rifle loosely over his shoulder. He pointed us towards the sidewalk and asked if we could walk there and then ride again once passed. They do not mind that cyclists use the road, but do not want to get in trouble as all lanes are monitored by video.

Cycling without panniers is not allowed on the toll roadIt was a pleasant ride, sunny but not too hot, and the traffic was not too bad. we passed many areas in development, the Fox studios (where Titanic and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed, the pirate ship was still there) and a giant Jesus statue looking out over the houses of the new rich.

We could use the shoulder all the time, passing those strange signs with a cyclist crossed out..

Jesus wathces over the rich folksWe turned off at a small place called Primo Tapia, where a WarmShowers host named El Lobo lives. he greeted us and we had a nice evening with him, discussing life in Mexico and the US and enjoying one of Ivana’s curries…

10th April: Primo Tapia – Ensenada, 60km

Beach candy vendorWe said goodbye to El Lobo and headed back onto the toll road. It was Semana Santa and many Mexicans were on holiday, enjoying eating sweets on the beaches.

Mexican candyThere was one long climb and when I waited for Ivana to come up, she looked worried.

‘My knee is hurting a lot’. her left knee was very painful and she could hardly cycle, even though yesterday, on a similar hill, she had no problems, so maybe she twisted it somehow.

We continued slowly until we reached Ensenada, passing cliffs and hidden beaches. Sometimes we could see the ‘Libre’ road below and were happy that we were not riding on that shoulder-less road.

Ruta libre near Rosarito beaches, MexicoAt the end of the toll-road was another big toll-booth and another armed guard came up to me and started talking in Spanish.

‘Did you get permission to ride the Toll Road?’ he asked.

‘Yes, in Rosarito’, I replied truthfully, and then showed him the scars and dried blood on my arm. ‘Besides, yesterday a car cut me off the free road, so the police told us the toll road was safer and better’, I added less truthfully.

Baja coastline near EnsenadaHe was intrigued and made no problems and told us to be safe. Ivana was going very slow, even though a strong wind was almost pushing us forward. even though we just started cycling Baja California, it might be time to take another break…