MEXICO, 11th – 18th November 2018
I found Chris in a motel in Yuma. It was two days after his mad race project and he was in surprisingly good shape. I guess the big TV showing English football matches and the pizzas he had made in the microwave had something to do with it. I myself was quite tired after having done my own kind of race from Prescott to Yuma in four days instead of 24 hours. Knowing about the motel room in Yuma had had me get up at 5am that morning ready to hit the road by the first daylight to get to a bed, shower, Chris and a half day of resting and I finished the 90 kilometres ride by 1pm. Chris told me I’d done well and added that it wasn’t meant to be patronizing and I asked him what patronizing meant anyway. It was great to be together again and to share our different stories and I was once again immensely impressed with what that man is capable of due to what you could either call stubbornness or determination. I can’t chose, but I love it nevertheless.
The hotel had a pool. It looked nice and more than that, it finally gave us an opportunity to play Pool Football, a game that we had engaged in often throughout our time living in Australia (where a blue pool was a part of our apartment complex) and even though the water was actually rather dirty and really cold, we got our inflatable tubes inflated. Yes that’s right, since Montana we have carried with us two inflatable tubes in bright colors to be used next time we found a suitable lake or pool. Which we now finally did. I scored a goal early on and Chris tried all he could to equalize (in his defense he had a strong headwind against him) but after two halves it was still 1-0. But it was not the victory that had me laughing and smiling like a happy fool. It was merely the fun of playing games with Chris and the sweet memories of our time in Australia it brought. Carrying those tubes for three months was all worth it.
The next morning we woke up to the 90th and last day of our stay in the US. I was so excited to get to a new country. I usually always am, but this time even more. After six months in North America I was again hungry for some more adventurous adventures, hungry for cultures and countries more different from the my own and hungry for the cheap tacos I’d heard so much about. Just beyond that border it was all waiting for us. Mexico, Central and South America. A new chapter in our journey. More than a year of cycling south into the yet unknown of Hispanic culture, language, food, music, mad traffic and exotic nature. My travel heart was beating passionately for every next pedal stroke towards the border.
And it was indeed something else that I had never seen before that appeared as if out of nowhere after the border guard smoothly let us through to Mexico (only requesting a fee of 30 dollars each for the service…). From the nothingness on the American side we suddenly stood in a bustling street full of dentists – and shops selling souvenirs, bracelets, colourful blankets and sombreros to the white Americans who daily crossed this border for a cheap teeth deal. Dentists touts shouted their deals to us, smiling men watched us and greeted “Welcome to Mexico” knowing that we hadn’t come here to have our teeth done, and rhythmic and warm music escaped the shops and car windows and danced around in the chaos. It was wonderfully crazy.
And then a few hundreds metres later it was all gone again and we suddenly cycled on sandy roads through a quiet village of simple, decaying concrete houses. A little shop out of a window selling drinks, old commercials painted on wall in bright colours, cars slowly bumping over the occasional patches of tarmac, dogs running around doing their own business and again the same soulful music from a car workshop in the street. It was such a change, such a contrast to the US, that it was hard to believe it was real.
That it was real quickly became all too obvious however when we left the little town on a main road. It was an old road only just wide enough for two cars to pass each other and with a good number of cars driving at speeds that certainly didn’t feel safe on such a road. Not knowing the mentality of drivers here (were they patient or inconsiderate, would they wait, give space or squeeze through where there was no space?), I constantly bumped off the road onto the sandy slopes to just get out of their way. Suddenly the memory, the feeling of the terrors of the traffic in China, the claustrophobia and distress, was back in my mind and the idea of all that was ahead of me, Mexico, Central and South America seemed daunting.
Luckily Chris had found us an alternative route on gravel roads, and despite being a bit sandy here and there it was a great way to enter Mexico. So much better than the narrow road. Once again it was hard to understand that we had only just left the motel in Yuma that morning when we passed through dusty villages with homes of wooden huts without running water. People lived here under such poor conditions. And their dogs protected their homes from anything moving past, chasing us menacingly and wildly barking through village after village. This had not happened since Central Asia and I had lost my indifference to them, their teeth and growls filled me with terror like they were supposed to. Chris showed his care for me by fearlessly facing them while I got away and received my admiring thanks for him being a real man. No, really I am so lucky to always have him trying to keep me out of the most discomfort and danger.
It was getting late in the day, or actually it was only 3pm, but because of the new timezone it would get dark already at 4.30 and we still had to cycle 20 kilometres to get to the motel we were aiming for for the night. I had felt absolutely safe all day, but being so close to a border that is notorious for smuggling and crime, we felt it was not the place to take the chance of wild camping in a field. Also all the fields were full of crops and people harvesting either vegetables by hand or cotton with machines, so it was impossible to hide away in the tent. Therefore we sprinted as well as we could through sand pitches and past barking dogs along the irrigation canals that were like mirrors of calm, clean water and by sunset we reached the little town and the motel. Relieved and happy we went to the only restaurant in town having the only thing on the menu: tacos and that was just we wanted anyway. Our first tacos experience and of course we overloaded the little tacos with beans and guacamole and fresh greens only to have it all flow out of the back end when we took a bite at the front. But they came with a spoon and napkins, and we saw we were not the only ones using them, so we felt confident we were on the right track with those tacos.
We ended up staying in the motel for three nights. The first one we had planned, a rest day after our races to get out of the States and to aclimatise a little to the new place we had come to, meaning eat more tacos and learn how to ask if we could play Eureka Ball on the lawn in Spanish. And then play Eureka Ball (for more details on the results see Chris’s daily blog here). The next day we left the motel to cycle west towards the main road, Route 5, that we could follow south down the peninsular. But first we had to find a supermarket and the only one in the area happened to be in a town 10 kilometres east of the motel. In the end it took us most of the (short) day to get there, do our first shopping in this new country and speak with a nice Mexican man in the shop who also helped us get purified water for our bottles, and then of course eat lunch in the town’s pizzeria to variate our tacos diet a little.
So on our fourth day in Mexico we were still only 50 kilometres into the country, but with no tight schedule on our hands it didn’t really matter, only I was by now getting very eager to see more of it because I had really liked the feel of Mexico so far. Chris led us through another 40 kilometres of farmland and little, sleepy villages and I was all eyes and ears – which was also useful in The Spotting Things Game that we played that day, but despite my best efforts Chris still won by the end of the day. But I had still seen the colourful bushes and lemon trees, the old car tires made into decorative fence sand gardens, the kids playing at the school, the grimy food stalls, the brightly painted shops, the empty base ball arena, more mad dogs, dusty roads, wooden shacks, young people in love, women gossiping in their gardens, hammocks, cotton balls on brown bushes, big groups of people harvesting and packing onions in the fields, a little shrine for the Virgin Mary and the water in the canals so surprisingly clear that it was refreshing just to look at it.
By evening we had reached the Route 5 which to my great relief had a wide shoulder where we could cycle safely and it now led us away from the farmland and into the desert. The next day we passed both a patch of real, wavy sand dunes and white salt flats that looked like snow. I’m always amazed how much variation you can actually see in a desert. All day we were passed by fast going 4x4s on their way to watch the Baja 1000 off-road race and we ended our 100 kilometre day camping opposite dust clouds and motor roars from the race.
But peace had returned when we woke up to a clear blue sky the next morning amongst the first of many cool desert plants we would see on our way down through the Baja. We had already eyed a blue strip of ocean the previous evening. It was the Sea of Cortez on the east side of the peninsular, the first glimpse of ocean we had seen since we had left Vancouver six months earlier. I was excited to finally be by the ocean again. The coast line was lined with various holiday resorts and there didn’t seem to be any public acces to the beach, so we tried our luck at a fancy looking gate to a big resort. To my great surprise the guard had no objections to us going to use the private resort beach. Two rough-looking vagabonds rolled down the palm tree lined avenue past colorful holiday palaces and the tennis courts busy with a tournament to an almost empty, perfectly white beach. Oh it was bliss to feel the salt water slowly dry off the skin in the warm sunshine and have nothing else to do. Until Chris challenged me for a beach volley match of course, which he won tightly even though he got highly distracted by the flying ATV that kept circling over our heads. A toy for the retired expat.
We had rented an apartment via Airbnb in San Felipe, a little town on the coast another 15 kilometres down the road. Here we were received by Luis, the host, in the afternoon, and after moving in to our residence we went out to explore the town. By the sea we found the lively promenade, the Malecon, which of course reminded me of the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, but also of the beach promenades in Surfers Paradise in Australia, Den Haag in Holland and Batumi in Georgia. Despite the immense differences between these countries the presence of the sea carried the same vibe onto shore. It was a place to stroll, a place to eat pricey with seaview or snack from a food stall, it was a place to sell tacky souvenirs, it was a place to watch the kids play in the sand and the seagulls in the air, it was a place for stray dogs to find scraps, at place to get drunk, a place to gossip, to kiss, to sing serenades like generations before. It was a place to watch the changing light by the end of the day and everyone seemed to be drawn here. It was a place to live.
Yuma – Ejido Monterrey – San Felipe
302 kilometres cycled