Archive for the '03 Mexico 06/07' Category

Rain and Breakdowns (february 15th – march 15th)

Posted by on Apr 02 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

Jungle retreat and sugar cane country

When we left Veracruz the strong northwind was at work. We got pushed arround on our bikes, even Flo with the trailer and somethimes had to wait for a gust of wind to siminish before we could peddel a few 100 meters. We didn’t ride far, the sky promised rain and we weren’t in the mood for a wet tent (our tent floor is leaking). So we looked for a hotel. The only one in our prize range was quite shabby, but there was no choice. The room had no window, the promised hot water was cold. Something was leaking out of the bathroom on to the bedroom floor, growing into a smelly puddle. The air humid and not exactly fresh. Next morning Flo had a flat tire.

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Over the next few days it seemed like the weather just couldn’t decide for sun or rain and we kept changing in and out of our raingear. The air was always humid and warm. We were always feeling sticky. Two days brought us up into vulcanous regions again on 300 meters above sea to the Laguna de Catemaco.

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The Bahia Escondido, a jungle retreat to fill up empty “travel batteries” at the lake side, had been recommended to us by a Swiss guy. He had seen us riding through town shortly before it got dark and followed us. He said:” I know a place for you to camp, a good place for a child to play…” That night we spent in a hotel, to tired to ride another 10km. But the next day we headed over there, meaning to spend one night. We ended up staying three!

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Chan enjoyed playing at the water with Flo and I cleaned the trailer, fixed some clothes and cleaned and oiled the bikes. The sun had won the battle against the rain clouds and so we relaxed in the shade of the jungle. Chan found a book about the fauna of the area and was fascinated by the picture of howler monkeys. He loved the jaguars and turtles too. We learned that the cell phones we heard along the highway were actually birds calls and we saw a baby tarantula up close for the first time!

Then we left the jugle for the flatlands and sugar cane fields between Veracruz and Villahermosa. There are refineries in most towns and a steady drizzle of black sugar cane ashes settled on our skin and clothes. Small trucks, overloaded with cane sticks passed us, loosing part of their load to the side of the road. The air was filled with a sweet smell, almost to sweet for our noses.

One after the other

One night we arrived in a town just before it got dark and looked for a hotel. Flo was carrying our packs upstairs while I was parking our bikes in the tiny lobby. Some nice mexican gentleman helped me lift the trailer over the doorsill. When we wanted to put it back down I got really scared. The wheels were haning down in a funny looking way. I called Flo, still holding the trailer in the air, not trusting those wheels to hold the weight of the shell. Flo came running down the stairs and looked the trailer over. He put the wheels into their right position and said:” It’s not all that bad I think, we’ll have a closer look up in our room. When everything was upstairs, we turned the vent on and hoped into the shower to get rid of the black slime sticking to our skin. Then we needed to fill our bellies and finally refreshed we had a second look at the trailer. The screw holding the suspencion in place was broken, one part of it still stuck in the trailer shell. The trailer could still roll. We just had to find a new screw and get the broken part out of the shell. We were planning on taking this on in Coatzocoalcos, where we had been invited to by Luis, a young mexican who had passed us in his car a few weeks earlier. When we arrived in the city, Luis had just moved into a new place. He picked us up at the Plaza and drove us and the bikes to his house.

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After dinner he had a look at the trailer, a ship mechanic himself and then fixed it together with Flo. He had all the necessary tools on hand. The days had become almost unbearably hot, but luckily the airstream while bikeing cooled us a little. The highway was now really bad. We were back on the coata, which was worked on in some places. The surface ws ruff with big potholes or gravel, even rocks on the broken pavement. It was really uneven too with sudden drops or bumps. Riding in the back I didn’t see one of these drops and one of my lowrider bags went flying and my front wheel blocked. We didn’t figure out what happened to the wheel right away. But when Flo, our bike mechanic took a better look he found the wheel not true anymore. It was so bad, that he had to adjust it right away. While he fixed it trucks where rushing by, Chan played with his cars and I assisted whenever one of them needed a hand.

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The day was getting hotter and hotter. We had lunch in the shade of an elefant shaped tree at a lonely gas station and we drank 1.5 liters ice cold mango juice – gone in only a few minutes. When we rode on, my belly started to feel a bit wired. We passed swamps which smelled awful.

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I started to feel a bit sick. At a highway restaurant we stopped for the night. After an ice cream I felt a bit better. Flo rode into the close village and I started cooking in the shade of a palapa. The land in these parts is mostly swamps and they really smell bad, or was it the sewage of the restaurant? Again I started to feel sick. I coldn’t eat much and needed to lay down. So Flo cleaned up and I put up the tent. Suddenly swarms of mosquitoes attacked us. Chan and I fled into the tent, I couldn’t move anymore. I felt horrible. Poor Flo was now the only target for the aggressive mosquitoes. Chan didn’t really understand that his Mama was sick. He kept saying, that I was just a bit tired. Flo had just finished getting our beds ready when I puked the first time. Luckily we had some empty plastic bags on hand. Flo put Chan to bed who was fascinated by me puking. I needed a few more bags during the night. It was terrible. Once a man came from the restaurant, telling us, that our tent was in a very bad spot. That there was an animal arround with a deadly sting. It wasn’t a skorpion nor a spider, we didn’t understand what kind of animal it was nor could we move everything at that point. We never encountered that dangerous animal. Luckily there was a hotel in the close by village where we stayed the next day. I was really weak and couldn’t eat much, but my stomach was now stable.

Until we reached Villahermosa we had about two flats a day and my back rack broke where it is attached to the frame of the bike. It was an easy job to weld. Flo bought new tires, his were already worn through again.

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Stone heads and pyramids

The La Venta park in Villa Hermosa was a nice break from the almost unbearable heat of the early afternoon. The park nicely shaded by jugle growth, presents huge sculptered human figures and altars of the Olmec culture which flourished about 1150-150 BC. One of those heads weighs 20 tons!

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This park also features some of the regions animals like spider monkeys, parots and ozelots (jaguar like wildcat, size of a big house cat). It was almost impossible to get Chan away from the monkey cage. He was fascinated by the “Chanmonkeys” riding on their “Mamamonkey’s” backs.

From Villahermosa to the intersection for Palenque there wasn’t much change in the landscape. The ride also wasn’t very pleasant because the road was under construction in some parts while other parts were really bad and narrow. We were passed frequently by by big double semi remolque trucks and had no shoulder.

Chan’s sandals and rainboots found a new home with people we could stay along the way. That kid just grows unbelievably fast, so fast, that people arround here think he must at least be fiveyyears old!

On the road to Palenque wild growling sounds came out of trees. We shouddered by the thought of hungry jaguars, but luckily they are too shy to be sitting high up in trees nect to the highway like howler monkeys do!

It had been raining on and off. Once we fled under the roof of a welder to escape one of the worst downspouts. Later we didn’t care too much anymore. We just wanted to reach town and find a place to stay. It had already been a long day and on top of it a screw on my lowrider broke and we had to fix the lowrider to the frame with a strap.

So Chan was the only one staying dry. This time the pouring rain didn’t sop after a few minutes. In fact, it didn’t stop at all anymore that day! We pushed our bikes into the hallway of hotel. Everything was dripping including Flo and me. When our bags were up in our room and the bikes and trailer locked up, the onwer of the place was sweeing up the puddle we had left behind us.

We spent the next day fixing my bike, doing laundry, stocking up with food and e-mailing, before we headed out of town to El Panchan about 5km away at the entrance of the park to the Palenque ruins. During that day we fixed 5 flats on the trailer, the last one only just before we reached El Panchan.

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We rented a cabaña in this quiet jungle hideout. While eating dinner we met a german family with two kids. The eight year old girl really enjoyed reading stories to Chan and just play with him and Chan had a compagnon he could understand quite well for once.

We didn’t enter through the main gate but instead followed a trail up to the site from the bottom of the hill. Like this we first discovered residental ruins of the ancient city which were small but a good start to climb and explore. Chan loved it and wanted to see more ruins.

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So we climbed incredibly steep steps up through dense forest and entered a huge grassy area with the bigger and more famous pyramids spread over it. Chan immediatly wanted to climb the tallest one, but it was closed to visitors. Instead we explored El Palacio, the politically most imortant structure on the site. There were still some beautiful stucco and paintings remaining in some of the chambers and we climbed down into dark hallways and rooms where mayan kings once ruled their city.

The mayan culture reached its peak between 500 and 750 A.C. Most of the huge cities, some of which accomodated more than 20’000 people, were abandoned between 750 and 900 A.C. Scientists speculate about the collaps of this in mathematics and astronomy highly advanced people. Some say the cities were abandoned because of a major draught, others, because the dense population exploited the area’s food supply. Still others mention warfare between cities. It remains unclear however, why at their heyday the majestic cities were abandoned. It is known though that the Maya didn’t disappear but spread out and settled in small villages. Most of their descendants live today in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula.

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After a playbreak with Chan’ s german friend, and two more climbed ruins with breathtaking views, we hiked the trail back along a river and beautiful waterfall.

Another day we spent in El Panchan. Our bikes needed service, two more flats on the trailer had to be fixed, some of Chan’s clothes needed mending and I cut both Flo’s and Chan’s hair a bit.

Our last days in Mexico

We covered the stretch from Palenque to the Belizan border in seven days. The country was flat and a bit boring. The only excitment were the howling of the monkeys and the sudden rain showers. Luckily we managed to always be in reach of one of the huge concrete structures serving as bus stops to find shelter from the almost violent but quick down spouts.

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We camped next to roadside restaurants or stayed in hotels to get a break from the incredible heat. One day we arrived at some other mayan ruins at Expujil quite early, got a hotel room and visited the ruins. Then we went back to the hotel and took a nap in the cooling breeze of our vent. We woke up hungry arround six, cooked, ate and went back to sleep.

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We were looking foreward to our next country, Belize, now. But it wasn’t because of it, that we biked 96km on our last day in Mexico. We just reached the village we had planned to stay over night too early to ask for a place to camp. So we ate lunch and continued to the next one. There we took a break again in the shade of a small park and then asked arround for a place to cam, since there was no restaurant. We were told to ask the village principle who was at a meeting in Chetumal, the city. He would be back arround five, we were told. Five was an hour before it got dark. In Mexico, if someone should be back at five, this means maybe he will be arround by 5.30 but most probably some time after six! So we would have waited arround in uncertainity if we could stay or not until it got dark, which we had done already once and it wasn’t pleasant. So we continued our ride to the next village, where we knew was a restaurant. When we arrived, we had covered 96km. We were exhausted, but we had a place to put up our tent and just enough time to buy an ice cream to reconcile with Chan for a too long ride in the trailer, cook dinner and escape the mosquitoes.

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Three months in the life of a three year old

A toddler when we entered Mexico, Chan is now a big boy, as tall as he can stretch his arms while standing on his toes. On his birthday he agreed that he didn’t need mama’s breast anymore with tears in his eyes. But now he wants to be involved when we talk about our route and we have to show him on the map where we are. He knows what’s teh ocean and what’s the highways. When we stop riding he usually asks:” What are we doing here?” If we stop for a break or lunch he will unpack his cars or rake and shovel or go looking for a nice stick. If we are looking for a place to spend the night, he wants to go and ask or have a look at the room as well.

When we push our bikes he climbs on one by himself and proudly sits on the seat, it doesn’t matter for how short a ride. As soon as we unpack, he is grabing a few things as well to carry them to the tent or our room.

When we have a flat tire, its usually Chan who sticks the pad onto the tube and he somethimes helps to pump it up too.

People often ask us:” But what is he doing all the time in the trailer? Isn’t he bored?” Of course there are moments when he doesn’t wnt to ride. Mostly though he is occupied as soon as he is in the trialer. He loves to take things apart; many toys he was given to only lasted a day! Ohter times he plays with his cars, or reads stories to himself which can sound like this: “Nooooooooo! Not with a fox aaannniwheeeere!” Somethimes he has to scold his donkey like this: “Eeeseliiii. Du haesch aen Seich gmacht! Ich bin haessig mit dir! Muesch noed alles Wasser in Ahaenger usleerae!” (Little donkey. That was wrong! I’m really angry with you. You shouldn’t empty all the water into my trailer!)

Often our little guy just watches the landscape go by and comments on what he sees: ” A mama horse and a Chan horse look! Hey! A coca ooola truck, look a coca ooola truck!”

Lately he also asked to hear stories about Vancouver and the playgroup we used to join up there. Usually I start with a few sentences and he finishes of the story out of his own memory. We added stories from along our journey and it is amazing how much he remembers, often details which Flo and I had forgotten about! Peggy and Theo from San Francisco come up a lot, especially Theo’s tractor and the train set he played with while we stayed with Peggy’s family. Also Kayla is remebered a lot, a girl he played with at a beach on Baja California or the many matchbox cars he could play with at Steve and Linda’s in L.A.

Somethimes Chan just wants to talk with us, practicing English and he will ask us: “How do I say … in English?” Then he will tell us to speak back in English.

In Mexico we often saw kids going to school wearing school uniforms. Chan was fascinated mostly by the knee high socks the girls were wearing and a few times he said:” I want to go to school too, then I can wear those funny socks as well!”

And here a last glimps into a three year old’s life on the road: Once he had to fart in the trailer, but it was a wet one. I discovered it when we took a break and his bum smelled. So while changing his pants I asked:” When did that happen?” And Chan said:” Hmmm, about 3km ago!”

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4 comments for now

Up and up and up we go! (january 18th – february 14th)

Posted by on Feb 14 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

Mother Theresa`s sister

Only once we were getting lost when leaving Guadalajara. As soon as we reached the Autopista we were fine. But traffic was immense and the air was full of exhaust. Breathing hurt nose and throat, the eyes were burning and we couldn`t talk because of the never stopping noise of engines. Finally, about 40km south of the city, we could breath again. Looking back we could see a dome of brown pollutet air. Francesca, a 70 plus year old woman, claiming “the world” to be her home, told us, that some 40 years ago, you could see the mountains arround Guadalajara, which then has been a pretty small town.

Francesca was born in Indonesia and grew up both in the Netherlands and Switzerland. She lived in Mexico and the USA among lots of other places. Now she made her home in Guadalajara for three months of the year, working with street children, then for another three months near San Francisco to meditate and get back some strength to work another three months with the street kids and finally, the last three months of the year she spends in Switzerland. This impressive old lady has worked with Mother Theresa once and now carries on the work by herself within her own limits. She has “her” few kids she works with. She tries to teach them to read and write, so that they can go to school at their age level. Some, she said, simply need attention, it’s not possible to teach them anything. They can’t concentrate anymore. Their short lives have been through too much abuse. So Francesca listens to them, brushes their hair, gives them baths and is just there. Children get dumped onto the street because their families can’t afford them. Some are beeing stolen from their families and used for prostitution and later dumped again. Some are foster children nobody want’s to be responsible for.

We get a lot of gifts

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A friend had given us the address of a canadian couple, Rhoda and Jim, living in Ajicic on lake Chapala. We could stay with them for two nights. Rhoda cooked two delicious dinners for us and after weeks of only cooked veggies, we enjoyed green salad. For Chan Rhoda, a grandmother, had special treats ready and bubbles in a frog shaped bottle, which is now presious to him. The Chapala Riviera is known for its big “norteamericano” population and there really seemed to be more “gringos” than mexicans in town!

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Jim had recommended the route arround the lake for little traffic and scenic views. That meant for us riding west instead of east for half a day and enjoying a BIKE PATH for over 10km!

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The south side of the lake wasn’t touristic at all, the lake shore was lined with lots of small farming and fishing villages. The first fields we passed were raspberry fields, full of berries in the middle of winter! Then came onion, corn, squash and jalapeno fields. The water of course, is taken from the lake, which also serves as sewer for Guadalajara and the communities arround the lake.

The ride was hilly but easy and in the late afternoon we started to look for a place to spend the night. In one of the small villages we were told to camp right on a plaza next to the highway. We felt a bit exhibited there and asked a mother, who came by chatting, for a better place. In the meanwhile Chan and her kids started playing together. She thought we could stay in her brother-in-law’s house, who was in the USA, but she wanted permission from her inlaws. She sent her husband to ask his father and we chatted at the plaza. Then she brought us hot soup and warm corn tortillas. We waited for her husband to return until well after it got dark. It was really getting late, Chan was tired and we were hungry again. So we cooked dinner and the mother reassured us for the second time, that her husband would be back within an hour. It was 10pm when we weren’t patient anymore. Finally she showed us the entrance way to her brother-in-law’s house, which was roofed over and fenced in. We were happy to finally have a place to unpack. When the tent was put up, the husband and his father came back and they came over to unlock the door. They said we should sleep in the house because of scorpions. So Chan and I went inside the empty house to prepare our beds and poor Florian had to take down the tent again and lock up our bikes. In the morning the mother brought us warm tortillas with scrambled eggs.

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The route along side the lake was pretty flat but then we left its shores and climbed up into the hills for about 5km. It took us an hour. The downhill ride was 6km long and within 10 minutes we were at the bottom! That night we put up our tent on the fenced in parking lot of a family restaurant. Chan had once again a playmate his age and we got a delicious home baked sweet bread for desert.

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In return we could fix the daugther’s bike which she needs to go to school. In the middle of the night Flo and I woke up by the rhythmic sound of raindrops hitting the tent. We fell back to sleep, but every time we woke up again, the sound was still there. We had to get up and reorganize our luggage. Our rain gear had been packed away for the whole trip so far. Chan was the only one happy about the rain. Wrapped in rainpants, boots and jacket he took his wooden sail boat and floated it in the puddles. It took us a while to pack everything up , but finally the bikes were ready. Then came the restaurant owner and brought us hot lemon tea and granola bars for Chan.

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It rained the whole day. Flo and I were soaked by early afternoon from sweating underneath our raingear. Chan was safe and warm in his rainproof trailer. Now we had to deside whether to stay in the next bigger town or taking a chance and ride out on the Autopista to cover some more kilometers. We chose the first option and looked for a hotel. The only one we found looked pretty highend, but Flo asked their prizes anyway. We paid 28$ for a night in what looked like a four star hotel at least. Our room was huge with tv and a big bath tub. We tried to let water in but it didn’t work. They had cut off the water because they were adding on to the hotel on one side. In the evening the hot water worked and we took a nice long hot shower, Chan playing with his buckets in the bath tub.

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In the morning we were dried up, though the roads were still dotted by puddles. We were on the Autopista again, traffic wasn’t bad and we had a good shoulder. We were now heading into the high plateaus of Michoacan, and the whole stretch was more or less uphill. We took our lunch break at a caseta (toll booth) and someone brought us a sweet guava specialty and a coconut pie and a red cross worker gave us two bottles of energy drinks. We spent the night under the roof of a tequilleria still in construction and were thankful for the shelter. As soon as we had parked our bikes, raindrops started their rhythmic sound on the roof. It rained on and off throughout the night and the last drops fell just before we left for the day’s ride. That day we climbed over 2000m for the first time on our journey and this twice. We made good use of the energy drinks and had to take many short breaks to catch our breath. Just before the next rain hit, we reached another caseta and found shelter there. Florian rode into the close village to get water and groceries and Chan played in the grass behind the caseta store while I was writing. Flo came back with a 20l bottle of water, the only option besides buying ten one liter bottles for 3 times as much money. Just when we had everything packed away for the night, the rain started again…

In the morning one of the caseta coffee shop workers came over with some juice for Chan and chocolate chip cookies for us. Our ride was uphill again for the first 10km, and uphill again after a short downhill ride. Finally we could look down onto a basin with a lake in its middle. It looked like an easy ride for the last 20km, but after a only 5km downhill sprint we climbed up again more than we believed could be possible by the shape of the landscape in front of us. I started to think, that maybe it was a mistake to be riding towards Mexico’s highest mountains. When did we decide that?

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Anyway, we finally reached a small village half way passed the lake and asked for a place to stay. We were sent to a hot spring swimming pool. There it was really frustrating to find out, what we had to pay for the night. The bath attendant said the day costs 25 pesos per person and 15 pesos for a child and the night would be 30 pesos per person. We tried to explain, that we only needed a place for our tent and wouldn’t use the hot spring. And what we had to pay if we would enter now at 5pm. He said that we had to pay both the day’s rate and the nights rate if we entered before 7pm and that we had to pay another day’s rate if we stayed passed 7am. I was really angry, this was just too much after a hard day pedaling. Flo was a bit more patient. But we stopped discussing and just started cooking our dinner right at the entrance to the pool. Shortly after 6pm Flo went to talk to the attendant again and he let us in for 80 pesos in total. Not very cheap, but about the prize of a campground, only we had to be gone before 9am.

Life at a caseta (autopista toll booth)

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Somethimes we arrived at a caseta quite early, but desided to stay, because there wasn’t much on the stretch ahead, or because we were simply exhausted by all theat up hill climbing. Casetas are good places to observe Mexico’s gap between rich and poor. Rich people who could be anywhere in the “first world” and wouldn’t look misplaced, arrive in their shiny cars. They get out for a smoke or a coffee and a snack and drive on. Truckers stop for a meal or nap and continue their ride. Whole families of village people await them eagerly, equipped with a window scraper and a bottle of soap water. For a few pesos they clean windshields and lights of the parked cars. They work as young as maybe 5. Somethimes a grandparent watches the children and keeps them busy. Some families put up foodstands out of cartboard boxes or other material they find right there and sell their home made food: corn on the cob with spices, tacos, soups, etc. Some a bit better off, arrive by car themselves and sell honey, sweets, bread or artisan products. The stream of cars slowes down after dark, but now its trucker time. Their loud engines sound throughout the night and only in the early morning hours, shortly before sunrise is it, when everything quiets down to hardly any noise.

Casetas aren’t my favourite places to spend the night, though they seem safe enough because people are arround 24hours a day, there is usually water and snacks and they are certainly interesting for people watching!

Surrounded by Mexico’s highest mountains

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Toluca was our next stop. We were lucky to find a cheap hotel, where we stayed for three nights. We needed some rest before we took on a ride on smaller roads into the middle of some 3000-4000 meter high peaks. That close to Mexico City (only about 50 km away), we didn’t want to take the fast highways. There was so much traffic and towns didn’t seem to end; already here it felt like one big city with dense areas and some a bit less populated. And up we climbed again, away from hustle and bustle and into fresh air.

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The climb wasn’t too bad and soon we reached our day’s destination. Again we spent the night on a construction site on one end of a village.

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We really enjoyed that ride in the midst of what looked like hills, but actually are peaks over 3000m. The villages up here were more rural. There were less cars and tractors but rather horses and hand plows. One tiny village struck us particularly: The few houses were more like sheds fixed togehter wit cloth, plastic and a few pieces of wood and rock. Lots of skinny dogs were fleeing out of our way. Eight, nine or was it ten children dressed in rags were watching us passing by from behind a gap in a fence.

Then the high plateau we had climbed up to for days now, ended abruptly. Steep slopes terraced for farming suddenly opend up the view into far away mountain chains. Somewhere behind those mountains and valleys must be the pacific ocean…

Although it was more downhill than uphill from here, the day was quite tireing. We followed the edge of the high plateau down to Cuernavaca, which was interrupted by fingerlike ridges stretching out into the deeper lying country. Every downhill was followed by a steep up hill ride. Exhausted we stopped for lunch earlier than planned and then kept our fingers clutched to the breaks until almost into the center of Cuernavaca.

Again we rode arround the city to look for affordable accomodation. Then we strolled to the center plaza in search of food. It was Mexicos’s constitution day and people were every where. Tons of little stands with food, arts and crafts or children’s toys were everywhere. It was quite a challenge to get anywhere with a small child sucking it all in. Later we had a cup of coffee and listend to different street music and a classical concert in the center cazebo.

In the claws of the Vulcano Popcatepetl

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Leaving Cuernevaca was as usual with big cities, a challenge, stressful not only mentally but also for our lungs, eyes and noses. We had to decide now, if we were to take the Autopista through a bit less hilly terrain towards Puebla, or smaller roads closer to the Vulacano Popocatepetl (5465m).

Fed up with the hills, we had decided for the Autopista. We wanted to get to the Gulf of Mexico as fast as possible now, including Chan, who was looking foreward to the ocean. But this time the shoulders were just as wide as the trailer and covered with red gravel. Traffic was quite bad and of course we had two flats on the trailer in rather dangerous spots with almost no space to fix them. Then a truck flew by only centimeters from the trailer. I had enough and told Flo, that I would take the route by the Vulcano. What choice did he have?

The next day I was crampy and after only about 20km I couldn’t continue. So we stayed in the most expensive campground on our whole trip so far, but there was no other option. At least we could enjoy a beautiful view of the snow covered Popocatepetl, Chan had swings and a swimming pool to play with and the owner gave us a bag of oranges and an avocado (pronounced abakate). The next day I was feeling much better which was good, because the road led steeply uphill after the first two hundred meters. We needed to rest in the next village after only 7km. Then we were told to take a road to the right and started flying down a valley. Flo didn’t like it and we stopped after one kilometer to ask directions of someone else. This is a good thing to do in Mexico because ten different people will give you ten different directions to the same place. Only if you get the same information at least twice you can be somewhat sure that it is the right information.

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Of course we had to climb back up again to follow another valley. Soon this route too was leading downhill and on the other side of the canyon we could see the road leading steeply up again. This time it was morally a challenge! it took us the whole day to cover 20km with an average speed of 7km/hour. Also the last meters that day were steeply uphill. Exhausted we asked at a carpentry, which had been recommended to us, if we could stay for the night. The workers at first said that we would reach the next bigger town just in about an hour and that it was pretty flat from now on and almost the whole stretch on pavement. What, the raod wasn’t paved all the way? That would be a worry for the next day! I just explained, that it had taken us the whole day from the second last village to here. Mouths open, they almost couldn’t believe it since by car its only a matter of an hour or less. We could stay and Chan had a blast playing in the saw dust. We built a slide for some wooden rolls he had found and looked how far they could roll.

And then it was morning again and still the raod led up steeply passed the last houses of the village, so steep, that we had to push the bikes partly. And as we were told the night before, pavement ended and the road surface was now riverrock cobble stones. Even on the parts that were a bit down hill, we could only move with walking speed. But of course it was mostly uphill and a few times I had to park my bike and help Flo push the trailer up. The view from up there was stunning though and certainly worth the hard work as were the people we met along the way riding their horses, walking with bundles on their backs, plowing by hand with the help of a horse or an ox.

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Then we reached the next village, where we were told that the road was now paved all the way. For about two kilometers we flew downhill on beautiful new pavement which then ended abruptly and turned into rocky gravel. Poor Florian had to work double as hard with the trailer attached to his bike. And poor Chan was sitting in a bumpy ride, but we had no choice now than to continue. The gravel road turned into a path and a few more times I had to help push the trailer. Ashtonigly many people were on the road and many times we were asked:”¿Es cansado?” We smiled at them:”¡Si, si!” They probably thought we were nuts! Many times people tried to send us back to the Autopista, the way we had come from. But now that we had made it that far, there was no way we would turn arround!

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The next village we had a paved road back! It was only one line, but it was downhill! Yipieee! Our pleasure was not for long, though the road stayed paved for now, it was leading uphill again along another canyon. We were looking foreward to the next village, where we wanted to stop for lunch, but at its entrance another challenge awaited us: The main route through town was under construction and we had to take a detour of course on a river rock surface, steeply up and down, up and down. Flo was as angry as he can be and rushed over the rocky road, the trailer bumping all over the place behind him. I followed more carefully since one of my lowriders started to loosen up by all that vibration. After a while Flo stopped his face white of anger. In front of us was the steepest slope ever. He told Chan to climb out of the trailer. but Chan had had enough as well and cried. Flo took my bike and pushed it up. I hold Chan and tried to comfort him and to explain what was going on. Then Flo and I pushed his bike with the trailer together. Chan was walking next to me crying loudly, tired and still not sure of what was happening. On the top the road had some surface close to pavement, not too rocky. Flo had to cool down, I was holding Chan carressing him softly and we all needed to eat. When we had all calmed down, we took on the last few meters to the town plaza where we bought lunch. After a good break we rode the last 15km, half of that day’s distance, in a bit less than an hour. it was all down hill and paved, although with many potholes. Still, this was peanuts compared to the past two days. In Atlixco we looked for a hotel again and took a day off to rest.

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Beamed

There is not much to say about the stretch down to the Gulf of Mexico. We rode about 270km in three days and felt like we had been beamed into the tropics. One night wrapped in hats and jackets next to another 5000 something vulacano, the next sweating without blankets.

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From Puebla most of our way had been down hill. We followed the Autopist again, which had good shoulders. Thousands of bicyclists and a few runners came the other way. Support vehicules following them. They were on a pilgrimage to the virgin of guadelupe in Mexico City.

We spent a loud caseta night again in the spotlight of a store, because the manager felt this was safest for us. Steeply downhill we flew, passing through four tunnels and passing three trucks down, down, down.

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The air got thicker and thicker, it was humid and hot. The birds calls suddenly sounded different, like the once of the jungle and like jungle it looked arround us.

Now we are in Veracruz. It wasn’t easy to find a hotel because its Carnival! But we have to stay another night. Chan is right now enjoying playtime at the beach with Flo and we need to find a good bike shop. Flo’s chain tore on the last meters into Veracruz.

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Tropical coast and highland (January 3.-17. 2007)

Posted by on Jan 21 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

More beach vacation

The ferry ride wasn´t too bad but not exactly relaxing either. All the cabins had been booked out so we stayed in the passenger seating area. Chan palyed with all the kids arround us and Florian was reading stories to a whole bunch of them for at least an hour. Well past our bedtime we finally tried to find some sleep. Chan bedded on Florian´s jacket between the seat rows got most sleep. Flo and I took turns sleeping squished between the seat rows next to Chan and on the seats which arm rests couldn´t be moved.

In Mazatlan we had no idea where to go. We needed to find a bike shop for my break so we wanted to stay in the city for the night. But first we tried to find the tourist info. On the plaza next to the cathedral a police officer could give us reliable directions and some local guy warned us about bag snatchers. At the information they couldn´t any hint about camping but showed us the location of bike stores and a supermarket on a city map. Just when Flo and Chan stept out of the information building, someone said:” Oh, bike travellers, how exciting!” This american fellow and his friend looked like they would know their ways arround a bit and I asked them about campgrounds. Tom instead of giving directions, invited us into his house which he rented on Isla di la piedra right at the beach.

After we had found a good bike break, ann acceptable Mexican highway map and bought groceries, we headed down to the dock of the water taxis to Isla di la piedra.

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When we arrived with our heavy loaded bikes, it was absolutely no problem at all for the ferry men. We got a boat for ourselves and a “steerman” helped loading the bikes, panniers and the trailer. We crossed over for 50 pesos and on the other side they helped us unloading onto a wobbely board walk. A narrow road led us through an idyllic village living of fish and coconuts, to a beach overflowing with tourists.

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We pushed our bikes through soft sand to the hard packed sand close to the water and rode away from the tourist part towards a quieter end of the beach where Tom had at the same day, in fact just a couple hours before we arrived, moved into his house. Tom cooked dinner and then we walked over to his US aritst friends who live on the island 6 months of the year. We ate dinner togheter and talked well into the night. For four days we enjoyed another beach vacation. Every morning Tom had coffee ready when we woke up and cooked some special breakfast for us (pancakes, french toast, …) Every morning between 9 and 10 in the morning a herd of horses passed by on the beach in front of the house and on the other side people would bring purified water. We played on the beach with Chan, relaxed, read in Tom´s guidbook for Mexico, did some laundry, visited Mazatlan and our first real mexican mercado (a huge building with stand next to stand of meat, fruits, vegetables, herbs, cooked food, but also clothing, jewellery and much more.

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Somethimes it´s good not to know what the day will bring!

Roberto, the upstairs neighbour had organized a taxi for us to get to the highway, Mex 15, to Tepic. Like this we didn´t have to take the water taxi into town anymore and find a way out of the city. We got the tip to ride on the cuota (toll highway) rather then the libre, the older highway, from our germand biketravel friends. And really, the cuota had good shoulders, was in good condition and had far less traffic than the libre. We stopped at the first caseta (toll booth) for the night, which wasn´t a problem at all. In fact, the store manager was so fascinated by our journey, that he gave us all the water we needed for free plus coffee in the morning and sandwiches for lunch as well as some phone cards to call our families! He told us about two other bike parties, who had passed through and that he was now collecting pictures of bike travellers. So he added us to his “gallery”.

The landscape had changed quite a bit from the desert of the Baja. Now it was green everywhere, almost jungle like. There were fields of corn and other plants we don´t know, mango plantations and cows grasing between brushes and somethimes walking on the highway. The air was humid and heavy. It was hot and after only a short while on the bikes, we were soaked with sweat.

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After maybe 30km the cuota was closed to traffic because some parts weren´t quite finished yet. We stayed on it all the same and had a relaxed ride. No traffic was bothering us there were only now and then some service cars or locals passing.

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The further we rode the more work the cuota still needed. The construction workers all waved and smiled at us asking: “De donde vien?” Nobody seemed to mind us on the construction site. We stayed on the cuota fro three days. The second day was by far the best, where at our day´s destination, Estation Ruiz, we could set up our tent behind a store and take a shower there!

With a good early start we began the third day on the cuota, but after only a short distance we had to leave the unfinished highway. A bridge was still under construction and we had to switch to the close libre. An endless queue of traffic awaited us, mostly trucks. There was no shoulder at all, the highway was windy but the traffic speed neverthless quite fast. One truck honked and rushed by, we had just enough time to escape into the ditch, when some construction workers called us back onto the unfinished cuota. It wasn´t paved yet here, but hard packed gravel was still better than this crazy traffic.

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From the junction to San Blas the libre joined the cuota which was open for traffic here. The highway was old though, parts of it didn´t have a shoulder and where it existed it was covered with garbage or cracked up. Traffic was still very dense and on top of it we were climbing steep hills through tropical forests up into the mexican highlands. It was very hot and humid and Chan couldn´t stand being in the trailer anymore. We had to take an emergency stop. With juice and wearing only his underware he was content in the trailer again and up, up, up we climbed. After some time slowly climbing and on each “top” discovering that we still had to climb some more, now Flo was morally worn out. i tried to keep our spirits up as good as I could. And slowly, slowly, meter by meter we continued on a particularly bad cracked pavement. Finally the caseta appeared, the first chance for us to stop for the night. But for the first time in Mexico, we weren´t allowed to put up our tent. So we passed and climbed some more meters and asked at one of the many tiendas and again were told to ride on. We just couldn´t ride the last 4km uphill into Tepic anymore. We didn´t have the nerves anymore to ride into such a busy, big city and search for appropriate accomodation. But we had to continue. There was a nursery on the other side of the highway and finally, although the man present was hesitant, the woman let us stay on a nice grassy area of their property. There was a trampolin for Chan as well as swings and sand to play. And the owner reassured me that there weren´t any dangerous animals arround; no scorpions or snakes, despite some warnings from a tienda ownder at the casseta.

Late next morning we headed into the city, but first had to fix a flat. We rode straight to the supermarket, where Chan played on some cars which move when money is put into a slot. He didn´t know it, but Mexicans just love our blonde little companion and some paid a few rides for him. Flo was meanwhile organizing a few things on line. We spent the rest of the day at a trailer RV park playing soccer and taking a shower.

The next day we had to still run some errands and left Tepic late. What a disapointment to find the sign: “No bikes allowed” at the entrance of the toll highway here. We could see that there was far less traffic and a nice shoulder. But we turned arround, out of swiss correctness or stupididty maybe, and took the old highway, the libre.

Soon I was completely stressed out again by the amount of traffic, especially truck traffic, passing us. We took a pee break for Chan and me and ate some snacks than put ourselves into crazyness again. Then the sound of a sirene started up into our backs and a police car slowed at our side. “Porque aqui?” Tienes el cuota!” We pulled over and tried to explain that we weren´t allowed on the cuota. The officer thought we were “loco” and finally he decided to escort us with flashing lights to Chan´s delight, to the next entrance to the cuota.

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“Los signales son mi problemas!” or something like it he explained. At the next village another police car joined us and again we had to pull over. They took our pictures for the report at night and wanted to know the purpose and destination of our journey. Finally they were satisfied and one car escorted us the last stretch to the cuota. At the toll barriere we had to wait while they discussed something with the attendant. Then they signed us to come as well and explained that we either had to pay a car´s rate to use the cuota or push our bikes arround the toll house through some dirt and grass for some 10 meters. We thought they joked, but they didn´t. So we pushed our bikes over some curbes with the help of all of them while the police car blocked the entrance way to the cuota. We needed some snacks after this unusual experience and then took off on a nice new shoulder with very little traffic passing us. Only 15 more kilometers we wanted to ride and stop at an intersection where we assumed a few houses or at least a tienda. But there was a mistake on our map and a misunderstaning with a toll barriere attandant and that particular intersection never appeard. When we realized what had happened, we still had to cover more than 20km to the next village. It was already pretty late, we had only a little more than an hour of daylight left. We were all tired, but I didn´t feel confident enough to just camp at the side of the highway. Besides, there wasn´t a good spot in sight anyway since we were riding along a lava flow. So we kept riding, uphill of course. Finally we seemed to be at the top and there was a sign: next gas station 10km. “Uff! We can make it just at night fall!”, I thought. We could look down into a long valley and far below us I could see the lights of Jala, the town with the gas station. I started to count the kilometer markers: 9km, 8, 7, 6, We will make it, we will make it, we will make it!” I murmured to myself. But then Flo slowed down and stopped. “What´s the matter?”, I called. “A flat!” As fast as we could, we unloaded Flos bike, took the wheel out, exchanged the tube, pummped up and loaded again. By now it was night and we attached our flashlights on the bikes and rolled off. “5km, 4, … Flo slowed again. Another flat, the back wheel again. And we repeated the same story. Flo was really angry and didn´t say a word. Chan was super patient and just needed to hold my hand now and then. Flo was ready to roll again, when I realised that my back wheel was flat as well. Now we didn´t have any spare tubes anymore. Flo lost it for a moment and threw his bike on the ground swearing. Chan started to cry, he haden´t seen his daddy like this before. I yelled at Flo to please get down to earth again:” Stop acting like this, just pump up my tube so that we can roll again. It´s only 4 more kilometers. We need our strength to get to that damn Pemex station. Look at Chan, how patient he is. He doesn´t need this!” I fed him some granola bars and he pumped, I jumped on my bike and rolled. Still 3km to go and my back wheel was flat again. Pumping- 2km- flat- pumping up and rolling. I pedalled as fast as I could, luckily it was all downhill. We were so close, there were the lights of Jala and still it was out of reach. 1km- flat to the rim- pumping and pedalling. Now I was at the exit, Flo pumped and it lasted to the bridge about 500m further. Now I pushed my bike up the bridge, Flo went ahead and waited on top for me. he pumped again and I rolled another 500m. There was the Pemex. I sent Flo ahead and pushed my bike to the gas station. Never had I been so happy about a gas station!There was nice grass around it, waiting for our tent to be mounted. Flo asked the attendant if we could spend the night there and explained that we just couldn´t go any further, pointing at my flat. she let us stay and I had to cry out of relief that we made it. Tired to the bone we cooked, played with Chan, put up the tent and at 9.30 crawled into the tent.

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The next day we only rode 16km into the next bigger town and took a hotel room. The afternoon we relaxed at the plaza and Chan played away.

One more night we spent at the roadside at a caseta and than we arrived in Guadalajara.

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Here we are now spending our last of four days. We found what we wanted for our bikes (5 new tubes, tuffy, a kind of tape to put in between the tube and the tire to prevent flats, new rim tape for my back wheel, 2 new tires for Flo´s bike and we fixed one of our mirrors at a car body shop), I at last got my new credit card, Flo bought a new mattress at a therma rest store (his wasn´t inflatable anymore from almost our first day in Mexico) and Chan got a small traditional wooden drum and new shoes which he needed badly. Tomorrow we will be leaving this city again.

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Baja California Sur (Dec.18.06 – Jan.2.07)

Posted by on Jan 19 2007 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

Mountain passes and beaches

Already one month has passed since our last update! By now we are well into the mexican mainland, taking a break in Mexico´s second largest city Guadalajara.

But back to Guerrero Negro on Baja California Sur: Leaving the town, we were riding almost the whole day straight into a south eastward direction. the first curve was some 5km before the town we stayed that night. The landscape was a bit boring with little view into a flat country of brushes and some cacti, but closer to the ground were millions of pink, yellow and orange wild flowers blooming.

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A long gradual climb brought us well past San Ignacio. It was the third day after we had left Guerrero Negro and we would arrive in Santa Rosalia today after a relatively easy ride, we thought. But after about 10km I had a flat that needed to be fixed at the side of the highway in a steep curve. We passed dark lava flows and vulcanos framing our view of soft hills covered with cacti, blooming brushes and wild flowers in purple and blue colours. The highway kept winding its way up and up and a strong side wind didn´t help us move very fast either.

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Finally we seemed to be at the top and whizzed down a very steep and windy pass only to start climbing gradually again on its foot. Again we had reached some highest point and could finally see the Sea of Cortez in the distance. Again the highway brought us to its lowest point with only a few very steep curves and again we had to climb another hill, steep but luckily shorter and whizzed down for the last time towards the sea. Our shadows were long already and we were tired. Entering Santa Rosalia we passed through the remenants of what was once a french mining town, cartboard houses on the hillside and garbage lying arround everywhere.

On this side of the Baja it seemed to be a little warmer although still not what we had expected from people´s accounts of hot beach weather. Neverthless we decided to take a rest on one of the many beautiful beaches of Bahia Conception.

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It was one of the really windy days and we were looking for some wind shade. And there they were, small palm leaf palapas on a dream beach! One seemed to be waiting for us and we put our tent up inside.

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Soon there was no empty palapa left on the beach and we had a Canadian couple as neighbours which invited us into their Rv to get out of the wind. On the other side was a playmate for Chan from California (USA) with her mother and oncle. One whole day we rested and played at the beach. The wind was taking a break as well and let us enjoy beautiful warm sunny day.

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From the Canadian couple we could borrow kayaks to explore the bay and from the Californian´s we got bread and water. In the evening another family with a bunch of kids arrived in a van. They lit a fire and soon all the kids played arround it eating snacks. Fascinated by our journey all of our neighbours helped filling our panniers before we left the next day. So Chan got organic apple sauce and juice, we got dried fruit, tortillas and mandarins. In the morning they cooked coffee for us and hot chocolate for Chan and Kayla the californian girl gave Chan some of her toys. The wind had again picked up quite a bit and was blowing from the right direction for us. We were riding over 90km that day, into Loreto, where we stayed for Christmas. Of course the bike store was closed so duct tape hade to immitate rim tape to prevent more flats in my back wheel. I´ve had so many flats over the past few weeks and all on the inside of the tube. They couldn´t have been caused by thorns or glass splinters. Finally we figured it out: When my wheel had been replaced in Monterrey (USA), the mechanics put the old worn out rim tape back in, which was now not staying in place anymore, wrinkling up and cutting into the tube.

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From Loreto we could see into the Sierra de la Giganta, a beautiful mountain range with steep needle like peaks one chain behind the other disapearing into mist. Early in the morning we started the climb of which american “locals” had warned us about. There were only a few switch backs and soon the Sea of Cortez was out of sight. The next 10km flew by and already we were imaginig ourselves in the next bigger town, when the road lead us uphill again close to a 2-3m rock wall which reflected the heat of the sun upon us. Chan had a hard time falling asleep, his cheeks were bright read and his body wet from sweating. There was no shade to take a break, but I needed to recover for a few minutes in the shade of the trailer while Chan was drying up playing in the sun and Flo was fueling up on avocado cheese tortillas holding our bikes. Finally a long gentle downhill ride awaited us against a strong dry and hot head wind. We stopped for the night at the first village only about 10km before Ciudad Insurgentes and put our tent up behind an abarrote tienda and an abandoned Pemex gas station. Just before we wanted to crawl into the tent we had a drunk visitior who was talking nonsense and was really hard to get rid of. Early next morning he was back calling us, but we pretended to be sleeping and later didn´t see him again.

And back again at the Sea of Cortez

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Mexico! (Decembre 1.-17. 2006)

Posted by on Dec 20 2006 | 03 Mexico 06/07, English

No hablar ingles

All four of us were quite nervous about the border crossing. The road surface changed already about 5km before the border. The higway was now narrow and ruff. The houses on the US side were more or less sheds, everything was dusty. nobody was in the inspection house, nobody checked our passports. There was a patrol officer sitting in his car watching us on the mexican side. We tried to ask him where we had to go to pick up our tourist cards. He just said:” No hablar ingles!” The rest was far to fast for us to understand. But we could make out of his gestures, that we had to park on aparking lot like a car. He would not let us use the side walk to lean our bikes against a wall. So Florian went to the immigration office with all our passports and I held on to our bikes on the parking lot. Getting a si month visa for Mexico was not a problem at all as soon as Florian told the officer, that we were travelling on bicycles. He even put Chan on Flo´s tourist card, so that we didn´t had to pay for him.

Andrea and Joerg had arrived at the border as well and we all went to the famous Tecate panaderia a nd got bread and sweets. Then Andrea and Joerg left, they still wanted to cover some 70km, far too many for us. Our destination was a village about 30km south of Tecate. So we checkt out the first mexican mercato (supermarket) and then climbed out of the city on Mex 3 ourselves.

In the US people had warned us about the roads on the Baja many times. But as usual, advie not from bicyclists who had really travelled the same roads, is no advice to us. We were pleasantly surprised how cars any kind of trucks slowed down behind us, giving us space and passing carefully. Of course there still is the odd driver who either needs glasses or doesn´t care, passing us dangerously. But we were stressed out about traffic much more inthe US, even when we had good shoulders!

We were slowly climbing a hill when it went BOOOOM! behind our bakcs. The car right behind us let the opposite traffic by, then quickly passed us and drove off. The second car honked and stopped on the road. Only in the next village he caught up to us and pulled over. Three mexican men got out. One of them acting quite the show, clapping his hands and rubbing them together while walking in circles, then abrubtly walking straight up to Florian who was in front of me, signing him to stop. He was pointing out his broken front light. The three of them didn´t speak any english, we didn´t speak nor understand spanish, but it was clear, that they wanted money from us gringos, because they bumped into that other car. It was also clear, that it wasn´t our mistake and that all of us knew that. So Florian told them a few times just that and then we left and they drove on.

Anyway, by about 3pm we made it to Valle de los Palmas and didn´t really know where to go or ask for a place to stay. So Flo asked for the Police Station and the officer there was super nice, trying to understand our three words of spanish. He let us stay in the town park. We bought chips and water and cooked dinner. The park was quiet, no one was there. At dusk a car arrived and then another one. They played loud music, then after some 30 minutes drove off again. We crawled into our tent, ready for the night, noises of roosters, chickens and horses all arround us. Then more cars arrived and suddenly there was a party all arround us. Mexican lifstyle or friday night party? Chan fell asleep quickly, but Flo and I sank into sweet dreams only when the last car left with thundering bass sounds late that night.

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Ensenada was noisy and stinky too. We had a flat entering the city because of glass splinters on the highway. We bought groceries at the Gigante supermarket and at a bike shop replaced one of Flo´s pedal baskets which was broken. The four lane highway south was busy, but we had a good shoulder. Past Maneadero traffic wasn´t that bad anymore. The road was winding its way up into the hills through farmed land surrounded by dusty rocky landscapes.

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A frozen tent and 40km/h

We celebrated Chan´s third birthday still on the pacific side of teh Baja. We went for diner in a restaurant and ordered cooked cactus, beans and quesadillas and they even brought decorated chocolate cup cakes and candles for him.

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Then we headed into the central desert of the Baja, the first difficult stretch for us for supply of purified water. There were long stretches without towns, ranchos or roadside restaurants and we had to carry water for two days. For seven days we had to ride at least 50km a day to be sure to eb able to stock up with water again. Food wasn´t a problem. The first day was a long climb up, up, up onto a high plateau. The winds were really strong pushing us arround and slowing us down. we spent the night at a llantera (truck mechaninc) in the middle of nothing but the sonoran desert. In the morning our tent was frozen and frost all arround us. Chan asked for his gloves the first time.

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By now we knew enough spanish to ask for water, directions and a place to stay and to understand about a third of the answers. We never had a problem finding a place for the night, people alwasy let us stay either on their property or in the village park. Our bodies are craving sweets like crazy and we are always asking for panaderias to get some yummy cookies and bread and at lunch we empty a bottle of “sugar water”!

The road was leading us slowly back to the pacific side of the Baja now, out of the mountains into flatter terrain. The wind for once stayed in our backs and blew us over an arrow straight road towards the ocean. To the left and right saguaros, barrel cactus and chollas as well as Dr. Seuss trees (boojum trees) agaves and mesquite trees.

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For over 20km Flo´s bike computer showed a speed of 40km/h! That day we rode 103 km – two days in one. In Rosarito (there is maybe 5 towns on the Baja called Rosarito) we could stay with Manuel and Maria, a mexican couple who had passed us a few days earlier and had invited us to visit them. We took the first shower in days at their place and they were feeding us with a beautiful meal for dinner and in the morning waited with breakfast for us. They both loved Chan who finally spoke his first spansh words.

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Now we are getting some rest in Guerrero Negro, fixing our tent (again) getting the laundry done, before we once again head inland and this time will cross the Baja all the way to the Sea of Cortez.

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