Our Trip

On June 6th Kenton Lambert and Alex Lawson will be taking part on a cycling expedition south. This expedition will be taking the two through 9 countries starting from the west coast of Canada with goal of making it to Panama City. Along the expedition we will be posting blogs and pictures of the journey to keep friends and family up-to-date on our progress. Come and join us for the adventure, follow the blog, add input and get inspired. It will be a good ride!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Boats, Bikes, Buses, and more

The ride from Cabo back up to La Paz was taken in 2 parts.  The first stretch was filled with road construction and was a hot and sweaty ride.  We pulled into a little store for a water break and some food, covered in road grime from the long and dusty stretches of construction.  Pulling out a bunch of loose change that had accumulated over the past few days to purchase some cool drinks we must have been looking pretty rough, and to the Mexican family eating at a restaurant next door, I guess like homeless foreigners.  Concerned that we wouldn't have enough money to buy food and water in the next town, we were offered 150pesos... This marked the second time on the trip a Mexican had offered us money - a clear indication that maybe it was time for a shower and some laundry! 

We found a nice little spot in the pretty town of Todos Santos, about halfway between Cabo and La Paz on the Pacific Side.  After a quick cleaning, we headed out in search of some cheap street meat.  Our stay, however, would not have been complete without a visit to Hotel California, the original luxury hotel the locals had us convinced served as inspiration for The Eagles.  A quick Wikipedia search and an over priced beer later convinced us that it was nothing more than another tourist trap.

The ride back into La Paz, our favorite place in the Baja, was going pretty well until Alex started feeling sick.  With a killer headache, nausea, and pretty much all the symptoms Pepto-Bismol claims to cure, it was looking like the culprit may have been our dinner in Todos Santos.  We arrived back at Francisco's place in La Paz, where Alex was, unfortunately, bedridden  for next few days.  Feeling significantly better after resting up, we said our good byes to the best friends we had met on the trip so far and prepped ourselves for the next leg of the journey.

With no more road left to bike in the Baja, our only option beside turning around and biking North was the ferry to Mazatlan.  We were able to get on a trucker ferry leaving a day sooner than the tourist one, and it ended up saving us a bunch of bucks too.  As we loaded the boat we soon realized why, but it was afloat, and that's all we needed.  We set sail across the Sea of Cortez just in time to see the sun set behind the Baja, thankful for all the good times, good people, and fond memories that had been created over our 30 days in the Baja.

The kitchen on the ferry produced some traditional Mexican trucker's grub for dinner, which if we hadn't been hungry, would have probably gone untouched...  Too cheap to pay for a sleeping cabin, before it got too dark, we decided it would be a good idea to stake out our camping grounds for the night.  We found what we thought was a good spot, and fell asleep under the clear starry sky, with the motion of the ship gradually rocking from side to side... until around 2AM when THUNDER STRUCK!  We awoke abruptly in the eye of the storm, torrential rain, and significantly rougher seas.  We quickly gathered up all the gear and went to see if we could find shelter in the crowded operators lounge.  

We awoke early to clear skies with land in sight.  We were headed to the coastal city of Mazatlan on Mainland Mexico - a place that is unfortunately becoming more and more known for its drug violence than for its sandy beaches and palm trees.  We had been warned of some of the dangers on mainland Mexico, just as we had been about the apparent dangers of the Baja, however, we knew that a more cautious approach would be necessary here. With our safety in mind and the realization that the deadline we had set way back in June to get to Panama was not realistic we had to make the difficult decision of taking a bus.  As we disembarked from the ferry, we wheeled up to the military checkpoint where we were invasively searched - the young soldiers seemed convinced that we were smuggling some sort of contraband in the saddle bags.  Finding nothing but some smelly camping gear and a few groceries we were waved through.  

We found the bus station without too much more hassle and checked out the routes and rates.  It appeared as though all roads south passed through Mexico City, so we bought the tickets.  With still some time to burn we headed to the restaurant across from the bus station for some pancakes and WiFi where we made contact with a friend we had met on the wharf in La Paz over some Coronas.  Jon had said if we were ever in Mexico City to ring him up.  So we sent him an email and within a few minutes he replied saying he would be more than happy to put us up for a few days.  Stoked on finding a place in the city close to the population of Canada, we went to board the bus.  The driver of the big coach demanded a 300 peso surcharge for the bikes, which we thought was a bit steep.  We offered to pay with credit card, but as predicted, he only accepted cash.  Threatening to pull our bikes off the bus, we settled on 200 and took our seats.
Groggy and still half asleep from the overnight bus ride, the first thing we noticed as we dragged ourselves off the bus was the cooler air temperature in Mexico City, a nice change from the heat and humidity of Baja.  The second thing we realized as we looked over the massive city map of where we were and where we were going, was that if by some miracle we weren't hit by a car en route, we would likely spend the rest of the day lost in search of Jon's house, asking for directions at the end of every block.  Fortunately, as we left the bus station a crowd of taxi drivers rushed to our assistance.  We found a car with a solid looking roof rack and lashed the bikes to the roof of the tiny Nissan.  The drive from the north end of the city to the south end, where Jon lives, gave us some perspective of the shear size and the number of people living in Ciudad de Mėxico.

The next few days were spent touring around the city, which to our surprise was quite scenic with grand statues, water fountains, and lots of greenery.  The fast and efficient metro made getting around a breeze.  Jon and Aaron were excellent sources of information and pointed us in all the right directions to the must-see sights.  Jon even helped us plan a route as we headed south from Mexico City to Guatemala.  We decided again, that to make the most of our day, we would take another red eye bus ride.  We took some farewell photos with our courteous hosts and hit the road just in time to catch the midnight bus out of the city going to Oaxaca.

We arrived in Oaxaca, Oaxaca around 5:30am and managed to find the impressive Zocalo in the center of the city.  As no restaurants were yet open, we sat and watched as the town slowly came to life.  Some pancakes broke our fast once again, and we found a cool little hostel to stay at for the next couple of days.  The city had a very European feel, with the cobblestone roads and lots of quaint cafes.  We met up with another CouchSurfer, Carlos, who wanted to show us around the city a bit.  We had some really good food for dinner and then went to a couple of his favourite bars and Carlos hooked us up on a tour of the surrounding countryside for the following day.  We visited a small carpet-making factory, swam in some beautiful spring-fed pools high up in the mountains, learned how to make Mescal at a local distillery, and of course did some taste-testing there as well.  On the tour we met two Scots who were in the country to run a half marathon in Mexico City.  Impressed by the prospect of anyone willing to physically exert themselves amongst the smog produced by millions and millions of commuters, we wished them good luck.

Our final stop in Mexico was Tapachula, a border town with Guatemala that we had been warned about as being a seriously dangerous spot to be.  Once again, we found safety among the locals and were graciously welcomed into the home of Couch Surfer Ana for the night.  Most of the day in Tapachula was spent catching up on sleep from the long overnight bus ride, however, the evening was full of entertainment.  We were invited to a wine tasting that Ana was conducting at a local school where Ana had studied to be a connoisseur.  It was fun trying to communicate with Ana's mother, who speaks no English, and it seemed as though our Spanish was improving as the night went on, however, I believe this perception may have had something to do with the wine. 

We woke up pretty early the next day feeling some of the negative effects of the wine tasting, however, we were not going to let that slow us down, we were on our way to Guatemala.  From Tapachula we rode the 45km stretch to the border - 1 peso to cross the bridge, a stamp in the passport, and we were in a new country.  Judging by the number of curious looks we were getting, gringos on bikes aren't often seen around these parts.  We found the chicken bus station, exchanged the last of our pesos to quetzales, and began looking for a bus to Xela.  This last part wasn't too difficult as the drivers of the chicken buses were pulling us in every different direction fighting for our business.  We found what we thought was a descent looking chicken bus and within seconds our bikes were snatched out of our hands and crammed into the tiny luggage compartment and the bus was rolling.  We had to switch buses about halfway through the trip, however, the bus we were getting on this time was looking a bit more rustic.  Our bikes were quickly yanked up onto the roof, complete with saddle bags, and just as the bus was taking off, Kenton made a last ditch effort to try and secure everything.  Crossed fingers and prayers were needed for more than to keep our bikes from flying off the roof, Chicken Bus driving in Guatemala is taken more seriously than an Olympian preparing for a gold medal race.  Two rookie mistakes were made: 1. Never sit over the wheel wells unless you are looking for some serious air; and 2.  Never look out the front window.  Visions of flying over the 1000ft cliff on the right or slamming into the oncoming semi as our driver felt it was necessary to pass on a curve going uphill, crossed our minds more than once.  Eventually we came to the conclusion that we would just have to trust these guys, they are professionals and this is what they do.  

We made it to Xela in one piece and, amazingly, with our bikes as well.  We had made contact with another cyclist who lives in San Cristobal, a small town just outside of Xela.  We stayed with Carlos for 3 days and he took us on some long rides high up into the mountains of Guatemala.  It was the first real unloaded biking we had done all trip and it was a good thing we ditched the saddle bags as we followed Carlos up some of the longest ascents yet and steeps that made the hills of San Francisco hills look like speed bumps.  We were well looked after during our stay and ate the best food we had eaten all trip, most of which came from Carlos' organic garden.  As a treat on our last night we had a goat leg that had been injected with beer and marinated, one of the tastiest pieces of meat we had eaten on a long time.

Carlos had recommended the ride from San Cristobal to San Pedro, a small town located on a large freshwater lake about 70kms away.  He had cautioned us about the long and steep descent down to the lake which we took with a grain of salt after conquering hills we didn't think could get any steeper the day before.  The air temperature was very comfortable as we climbed for about 2 hours and after a really nice stretch of highway riding we made the turnoff to San Pedro.  The hill Carlos had mentioned was covered in switchbacks from top to bottom and was at such a steep pitch the brake pads could barely keep the loaded bikes from loosing control.  It was a long and slow downhill as we had to stop several times to let the rims cool off.  Our brake pads worn much thinner by the time we finally reached San Pedro, it was time for a dip in the freshwater.

San Pedro was an interesting town that we soon learned contained a high number foreigners and expatriates.  We found a cool little spot to stay right down by the lake.  Costing us less than we paid for camping in The States, we decided to stick around for another day and kick back in the hammock.  

We loaded a colorful looking chicken bus early the next morning, relieved that we had to go UP the gnarly switchbacked hill, it was hard enough keeping the bikes on the ground let alone a rickety old cheese-wagon, top heavy, and carrying close to 4 times the number of people than there are seats.  

It was a surprisingly smooth ride from San Pedro to Guatemala City, where we were dropped off and left to find the Tica Bus Station.  Fortunately we were not too far away and found it without much trouble. It is something we had wanted to avoid, however, with our time frame and for sake of simplicity needing to cross 2 more borders we bought bus tickets from Guatemala City all the way to Managua, Nicaragua.  

The bus ride was broken up with a stopover for the night in San Salvador where we had lined up to stay with a Couch Surfing friend who was teaching English at a private American School.  The part of San Salvador where we spent the night was actually just like a night back in the US.  We had cold draft beer and wings and paid for it all with greenbacks...  This is when we found out why the money exchangers at the border would not give us Salvadoran Colóns, apparently they had been abolished in 2001 and the entire country switched over to American coin.  Will, our CS host, gave us a piece of floor and the hammock to rest up a bit before we had to jump back on the bus for a 5am departure to Managua.  

Our intention was to avoid staying in Managua for the night, however, with only an hour of daylight remaining and travel around the Latin American capital at night not recommended, we were forced to try and find a spot close to the bus station... A part of town we soon realized we did not want to hang out in too long.  First thing after breakfast we caught the chicken bus headed for Granada.  We had gotten use to the rough treatment of the bikes by this point as the bus hands hauled everything up onto roof-rack.  When we got off in Granada, some local guy handed us a flyer for a hostel that was situated in the forest canopy about 20kms down the road.  Looked like a pretty cool spot, and looking to get out of cities, we headed towards Poste Rojo.  Turns out the hostel is actually a treehouse, and after making the long and arduous climb up to the office/bar/kitchen, the first thing we were offered was a nice cold Toña - the local Nicaraguan Cerveza.  We hung out in the Treehouse for the night enjoying some good conversation with the other travelers. 

Lacking the motivation to pack up and hit the road again, we spent the following day at the treehouse as well.  We took a hike into a crater lake created after an eruption 20 000 yrs ago or something, and a refreshing dip in the pristine water.  Despite having the protection of a roof, the tent got drenched from the heavy afternoon rainstorm including thermarests and sleeping bags, so the night was spent slung up in the hammocks offered by the hostel for an additional dollar.  

Our next destination was one that we had chosen many weeks ago while doing research on WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms)  destinations in Central America.  The Abundance Farm  is located just outside of Jinotepe in a rural area of southwestern Nicaragua.  The Abundance Farm is an organic self-sufficient family farm homestay where volunteers can visit for a couple of days or a couple of months... according to the website.  Also according to the website, there is lots of work to be done there, an ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables grown right at the farm, and an abundance of organic food.  We were dropped off at an unnamed intersection that looked to be in the middle of nowhere.  Not entirely sure if we were even in the right spot, we followed the directions that we had gotten off the website and directions from a few locals who knew what direction to point us in.  Eventually we came to a few small shacks that looked similar to all of the other houses in the neighborhood and were warmly welcomed by our hosts at the farm, none of whom spoke any English, except for the 20yr old son, Yisidro, who knew a few broken words.  We were shown to the guest rooms, which had obviously not housed anyone in quite some time, and were given a welcome greeting from Leonidas, the father, of which we understood nada.  Taking a moment to look around, it didn't take us long to realize the lack of abundance and that this place was a far cry from what had been described to us on the website.  The farm itself was less than an acre, hardly big enough to be a self-sufficient enterprise for a large family, and contained no garden, no farm animals, and other than a few sickly looking banana and papaya trees, no fruit.  There were three underfed and starving little puppies who fought viscously over the scraps of food thrown on the dirt floor of the kitchen, and besides cutting wood for the fire (which Yisidro had under control), there was no farming or labour to be done at all.  Before even having an opportunity to move into our rooms, we were asked to pay the $10/day per person fee to stay so that food could be bought.  $40 is just under what Leonidas makes during one full week of work during the dry season, so by Nicaraguan standards we thought it was a bit much for our two night stay, though we were not about to enter into a bargaining dispute with anyone.  We took a trip to a nearby waterfall which was actually very scenic, and were able to take our wash there before dinner, which consisted of rice and beans.  We had an after dinner sip of Coffee and went to bed wondering what tomorrow at the 'Abundance' Farm would bring.

For breakfast, we had rice and beans once again, which left us wondering where all this money we had just paid was going.  We hopped on our bikes following Yisidro on the mud roads with a pannier full of Nancite Fruits, which Yisidro had given us to carry and for whom they were for we did not really know.  We made a stop at Yisidros brother's house and he hopped on his bike to join us for the ride.  We were heading to the Pacific Ocean for a swim and were making Nancite deliveries to a few family friends.  The swim in the ocean was worth the lengthy ride, but as we had taken our time to make various stops on the way there, the ride back to the Abundance Farm was mostly under the cover of darkness, which made for very difficult riding conditions on rough roads that a 4x4 would probably find challenging.  We finally arrived back at the farm just in time for rice and beans, which, was supplemented this time with a piece of chicken and some watermelon... happy to see that a trip to the market had been made.  We washed off as best as we could with a bucket and water from the well and hit the hay. 

Breakfast the next morning was significantly more filling than the past three meals had been and afterwards we said goodbyes to everyone and packed up for the bike ride to Jinotepe where we were catching a chicken bus heading to Isla de Ometepe on Lago de Nicaragua.  The past couple of days on the Abundance farm had been a mixed experience, and while we questioned the legitimacy of the Abundance Farm Project, feeling as though we had been tricked into going there, it gave us a brief opportunity to observe the lives of a very poor Nicaraguan family.  Despite lacking most of the amenities a North American family would consider essential, everyone seemed very happy, singing, whistling, and carrying out daily routines...  kids left to their own imagination to entertain themselves without any of the technology ubiquitous in our society.  Although we felt at times that we were being taken advantage of and objectified as gringos with deep pockets, we were warmly welcomed by everyone we met, made to feel at home, and treated just like we were part of the family.  

The chicken bus arrived in Rivas, Nicaragua with plenty of time for us to bike to the harbour and catch the afternoon ferry out to the island.  We arrived in Moyogalpa and found the cheapest place we would to crash for the night, which at this time of the year, we noticed many businesses offering special promotions cheaper rates vying to attract anyone passing by.

After talking with a few locals we decided to head to a small town on the smaller half of the island called Merida.  We did a combo of bike and bus to get there and as we peddled into the first good looking spot to set up camp there was a large contingency of other tourists.  Curious what was going on, we soon found out that they were all vets from the states who had just arrived for a week of volunteering on the island as it lacks any veterinary care.  Their first task was an autopsy on a large boa constrictor that had been exposed to some poison which we were able to observe.  All week though, locals were free to bring in any animals they had for a check up.

The next morning we woke up to the screams of pigs being castrated which kicked any craving for bacon and eggs.  We had made plans the night before to climb a volcano close bye. For the hike we were required to hire a guide so we hooked up with a few others at our hostel to split on one. The hike was a bit of a slog but wasn't to bad and we finally saw the howler monkeys we had been hearing for the last few days. At the summit of the volcano we were rewarded with a great view, ate some lunch, and started the trek back down for a swim in Lake Nicaragua. 

Later on that night our guide from the day invited us out to a bar and introduced us to the cheapest bottle of rum around. Priced at $1 for an unmarked bottle of questionable content we went bottoms up with our hiker friends from the day and had a great night. Our activities the next day were a direct result of the night before. We relaxed on the lake and wrote this blog which has been long over due. We plan to be in Costa Rica soon and have come to the final two weeks of the trip.  We have a bunch of poker chips for the casinos in San Jose... Planning to cash in on the 17th!

Hope all is well back home.

See yeah soon.


Friday, 12 August 2011

The Pearls of La Paz

First of all, apologies for having been incommunicado for a little bit as it is mango season down here and we have had our hands full for the past week with that - more on that later.

We found our first pearl of La Paz at a yacht club just outside the city where we stopped to do laundry and have a shower.  We ended up bumping into the owner of a Baja adventure company, who was celebrating the christening of a new dive boat, and were invited to go out that Saturday to a protected island where we could go snorkeling with sea lions.  After settling our excitement, we biked into town to meet up with our couch surfing host, Francisco.  Night had fallen by the time we made it into town, but the beautiful waterfront was lit up and busy.  We unloaded our bikes at Francisco's house and headed out for some pizza with a few new friends.  

We found fresh donuts at the supermarket the next morning, yet another pearl, as we haven't found any of these delicacies since leaving the states!  The majority of the day, however, was spent riding around visiting the local bike shops in an attempt to find a new tire and chain that would fit the bikes.  It took some time, but La Pazs' bike shops proved to have the best service and supplies of any that we have been to in Baja so far.  We met back up with Francisco and another couple later that day, and after picking up a few Ballenóns (gigantic bottles of beer communally shared between 4 or more people) we hit the beach with some fresh ceviche.  A late night out on the town ensued at a local's bar where we met many more of Francisco's friends who all spoke fairly good English.  Amused at our inability to hablar español, we received our first official Spanish lesson of the trip, which I think consisted of learning profanity and just about any way you could think of to tell someone off.  

We were up and at it early for a Saturday to meet up with our contacts from Baja adventures.  The boat we were on, as it turned out, included a complimentary bar and all-you-can-eat buffet, which you can believe, was taken full advantage of over the course of the 6 hour voyage.  As we pulled up to the island harboring the sea lions, it became apparent that they are quite the tourist attraction judging by the number of other boats trucking tourists out to their home in the sea.  We received some safety instructions, in Spanish of course, put our fins and masks on, and dove into the clear water to try and get a better glimpse of these beasts.  We soon learned that their habitat is protected to within 30ft. of their island as our guides yelled at some of the guests who were getting a bit close to the wild animals.  Every so often a sea lion would dive off the rock and we caught a really good view as it swam right underneath of where we were snorkeling.  We boarded the ship for the ride back to enjoy the dying minutes of the open-bar service.

The next day, we hitched a ride to a popular surf beach on the Pacific side of the peninsula with some friends we met through Francisco for a lazy Sunday  of swimming in the surf and enjoying a few more Ballenóns.  After watching a scenic sunset over the ocean, we headed back to La Paz for some runs on the Malicon and rested up for the beginning of our ride to Cabo San Lucas.  

We left the next morning much later than expected and only made it about 60kms down the road to a quaint town called El Triunfo.  Our first fully loaded ride in 4 days was marked with numerous flat tires mostly as a result of sloppy patch jobs, but several of unknown cause.  We pulled into El Triunfo just as it was getting too dark to be on the road and began a game of charades with the locals to try and find a place to camp.  A friendly Mexican family allowed us to pitch our tent under a tree in their backyard and notified a local American cafe owner that foreigners were in town.  Mark seemed happy to have the company and invited us over to taste some pataya.  After downing a bunch of the juicy and refreshing treats, we walked to the only place in town still serving food and ordered a couple of Mexican Hot Dogs.... and for anyone who has had a Mexican Hot Dog, well you know they ain't no normal dog you get in the states.  Wrapped in bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and about 5 different sauces, these things will fill even the hungriest traveller.

Just before getting all packed up the next morning and ready to hit the road, Mark stopped by and invited us over to the cafe for some coffee and the best cinnamon buns on earth, just enough fuel to get us about 25km down the road where Mark suggested we stop and check out this ranch owned by an American couple from Alaska.  So we rolled into Rancho La Venta to meet Bob and his wife Liz.  Bob gave us the grand tour of the place complete with fruit samplings of mangos, grapes, and pomegranate.  Turns out Bob had lined up for a couple of English girls to come and help out on the ranch, but were looking more and more like no-shows, and we were looking for a place to rest a bit and get off the road for a few days.  Bob mentioned that he could use a couple of hands with a few things in the upcoming week and that if we wanted to help out, in turn for room and board, he would be glad to have the help.  So, we signed the contract, unloaded our bikes, and moved in.

The next morning is when we discovered that mango season was in full swing, and our first task was to cut mangos in preparation for the mango wine making process.  We ended up cutting a lot of mangos, and of course, eating slot of mangos over the course of the week.  Our other responsibilities included feeding the horses and collecting the eggs from the chickens. The pool was frequented many times over the week and provided a nice refreshing break from the mid-day heat.  Liz took us horseback riding one afternoon and to our surprise we managed to stay on the horseback despite our lack of experience and expertise.  We were invited to a lovely dinner party that same night where we met a couple of other local ranch owners and enjoyed delicious home-cooked food and home-brewed Rancho La Venta wines.  

Our stay on the ranch provided us with a needed break from life on the road, but, as we turned the cranks on our way to Cabo San Lucas it was good to get back on the move.  We visited some hot springs in a small little town about 80kms north of Cabo which involved a strenuous stretch of off road biking made worse by the recent rainstorms that had washed out the dirt roads.  Eventually we made our camp for the night after taking a quick dip in the granite pools just a short hike away.  The next morning another stretch of off road riding was required to hook back up with the main highway that goes to Cabo.  After spinning the tires and more pushing than riding, we flagged down the first passing truck for a ride.  The driver must have taken pity on us and took us right out to Mexico 1 where we continued our ride down to the tip of the Baja.

Riding into Cabo San Lucas reminded us of the urban sprawl of Southern California and all of the American franchises that we haven't seen since leaving the states was further indication that this tourist destination was overrun with Americans.  As we made our way into the center of the city we found that this was definitely the case as it seemed there was more English being spoken than Spanish.  We met up with our hosts, courtesy of couch surfing, and received a warm welcome from Sebastian and Melisa.  We were served some awesome pizza for dinner and crashed pretty early, a bit drained from the day's hot and sweaty ride.  

Another day in Cabo and then we are looping around back up to La Paz where we're planning on catching the ferry across to Mazatlan.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Cortez The Killer

Hello all,

Coming at you from Conception Bay on the Sea of Cortez. We are now officially out of the desert... well at least  for a couple of days. When we last left you we were huddled under a small piece of shade in some dusty old town with about 150 km of hot desert to go before making it to the sea. This stretch of road brought us through a land of ancient volcanos, giant cactus and a true desert oasis. 

We again started our day at first light... to be the heat, our incentive to make it to San Ignacio, an oasis town in the middle of the desert, complete with palm trees and a nice cool river.  The ride was a cruise, and even though we were within eyesight of San Ignacio well before noon, going any further would require a state of mind more insane than embarking down The Baja on a bike in the middle of July to begin with.  The afternoon was spent hopping from one shady area to another as we toured around the sleepy oasis town.  The Mision was one of the most impressive ones we have seen yet, and after some photos of the central town square, shaded by several very large trees, we were back in the river by our campsite with some cold beverages in hand.  A trip to the cozy B&B next-door in search of some internet proved to be more than we bargained for... In a good way.  We ended up meeting a family from Half Moon Bay, CA and after sparking up a conversation about our trip, Greg (the father), kindly invited us to join him and his family for dinner. There was no arm-twisting required for us to take that one up, and the night was spent in enjoying a delicious meal with great company.

Waking up the next morning you could almost taste salt in the air. We were on our way to the Sea of Cortez -- full speed ahead! The ride took us through some larger mountains and a huge dormant volcano. As we reached the crest of the last hill the sea came into site, and along with it a wave of humidity enough to make you choke. The sweat immediately  began to pour from every pore, barley able to grip the breaks with sweaty palms, we descended the steepest, most terrifying, and exhilarating hill of the trip thus far and into the town of Santa Rosalia. We stopped at the first air-conditiond building in sight and grabed a cold drink.  Supposedly the town was initially settled by the French, though we could not find any evidence of this.  The rest of the day was spent trying to keep cool anyway possible as we searched for a pool to sneak into.  We later found out that the high for the day was 110F, around 43C. Coming to the realization that we hadn't escaped the heat of the desert was tough.

With little sleep due to the heat we got up early and started peddling, on our way to Mulege, a destination that had been built up in our heads as a tropical paradise. As we approached the narrow valley that the village was nestled in, a burst of green amongst the grey mountains confirmed our arrival. The town was lush and alive. Mulege was also where we were to meet our contact Alonzo. A contact we had made weeks ago north of LA, where we ran into a man called Matt - AKA Tool Box.  Matt was the owner of a Palapa hut in Mulege and to find it he gave us the name of an old friend in town... Alonzo. With just a name  and a place we began our search, asking around town and being sent in every possible direction until we somehow got on the phone with him around 5pm. Alonzo then gave us the directions to the palapa, but not before warning us of the lack of there being a palapa due to a hurricane that had passed through a couple years ago. We arrived at the spot to asses the situation and ended up setting up camp right on the beach.

The next day was a short ride to the southern tip of the Bahia de Concepcion in an effort to shorten the next day's ride into Loreto.  After the 20kms to our campsite was complete, the rest of the day was spent eating and soaking up the salty water.  A friendly Mexican family on vacation from Tijuana befriended us and fed us with the most delicious ceviche tostadas and entertained us all afternoon.  The evenings entertainment consisted of socializing with 4 Norwegian guys and a couple from LA at an American-owned rancho-style restaurant just down the road from our campsite.  The Norwegians were somewhat distraught, unable to get the latest news on the attack in Oslow, but a very friendly bunch, good conversation, food, and beer.

Having lost both bike pumps a few days earlier, the mission for today was A: not to get a flat, that would necessitate a hitchhike; and B: find a bike shop in Loreto that would hopefully have a pump in stock, which we discovered, cannot be assumed in Mexico.  As the heat of the day approached, we took shelter in a palapa restaurant on the main drag of Loreto and gorged on the best fish tacos to date.  Feeling refreshed with a full tank, we began our hunt for a - 'bomba' - as we learned was Spanish for pump.  The task was more difficult than anticipated and every time we asked a local for directions, though very friendly, it seemed like it was 3 blocks up and to the left...... No matter where we were in town -- perhaps a better understanding of Spanish would have helped.  After a solid hour and a half of searching, we found the bike shop and our hearts sank as we noticed the closed sign in the window.  Turns out the owner was just about to drive off when he must have seen the pained look on our faces and kindly opened up shop for us to try out some 'bombas'.  The time spent finding the place paid off, and even after insisting on paying Manny - the bikeshop owner - something for the pump, he gave it to us as a gift. 

The Saturday night nightlife in Loreto was a happenin' time and ended up in a later-than-usual departure, which we paid for as we departed the town in the heat of the day.  Sipped on some fresh cocos at a roadside stand conveniently located at the top of a large climb, and descended to Puerto Esconidad where we camped on the first green grass we have touched since leaving the US.  Some live music coming from a yacht club just down the road got the better of our curiosity, and we ended up crashing in on a 40th birthday party.  The triple chocolate cake was outstanding and it's a good thing we were there to help out with that because it didn't look like some of the the American pleasure cruisers really needed anymore... We met some really nice folks though and ended up spending another day camping close to the yacht club as we were invited out to go catch scallops with a couple of younger friends, Nick and Triston.  As we donned our masks and flippers and jumped out of the boat the sea was alive with an abundance of life.  As we swam around distracted and dazzled by the diversity of marine life, Triston and Nick wasted no time getting to work harvesting scallops, which, if you've never done before, is  much more challenging than we thought.  First of all, they are incredibly well disguised, as rocks, making locating one enough of a challenge.  Secondly, thrusting the knife between the top and bottom shell in an attempt to extract the meat requires accuracy and speed beyond what we were capable of that morning.  The excitement of locating our first scallops was shattered as the shells locked shut deflecting the knife like an impenetrable shield.  I think between the two of us we managed to collect 3 scallops over 4 hours of diving, but the reward was worth it, and the sweet tasting treasures didn't even make it to shore before being devoured.

The day off in Esconidad was a refreshing break from riding, and even though we were offered to stay as long as we desired, motivation on making it to La Paz within the next few days drove us down the road to Ciudad Constitucion.  Today we are in El Cien, and tomorrow the 100km ride to La Paz will without a doubt be a momentous one! 

Check back in a few to hear about the Pearls of La Paz...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Hot Hot Heat

After such a positive experience with Warm Showers, we decided to set up an account on Couch Surfing, which is the original reciprocal hospitality site, and, as we found out, has many more members.  We got in touch with a fellow living  just outside of Vincente Guerrero, BC and was courteous enough to accommodate us with his family who work as missionaries down here in Mexico.  Jake, our couch surfing host, gave us the grand tour of the small community, Los Molinas, and for our 3rd dip in The Pacific since leaving Vancouver.  A wonderful home-cooked dinner was prepared by Jake's mom, we watched a little tv, and hit the hay.  

Farm fresh eggs and potatoes fueled us to our next destination of El Rosario with the sun still high in the sky.  We just had to stay at Mama Espinoza's, a small motel and restaurant made famous as a stop on the Baja 500, and of course, home of the original lobster burrito.  Mama Espinoza, who from all accounts is pushing 105 years old, was in fact home, but we unfortunately did not get a chance to meet her.  

The alarm was set for a ridiculously early 4am wakeup in an effort to pound off as many kms as possible before the hot desert sun began to fry us.  We made it to a small ranch about 30kms from our campsite for some refueling and a siesta.  The final stretch of the day was a hot one, but some cold Tecates were waiting for us at the small family-owned grocery store in Catavina, BC.  After rehydrating, the fancy-looking hotel across the road provided a nice end to the day with a plunge into the cold water of the pool.  Feeling only a little guilty after seeing the 'for guests only' sign, we had one more beer before heading a km. down the road to a dusty old ranch where we set up camp for the night.

Knowing that tomorrow we would again encounter the same heat, we once again got up at 4am to try and beat it. We were on the road before 6, biking hard and fast in an attempt to get as far as we could while it was still cool. Our plans of ending our day early soon became crushed as we came upon 10 kms of gravel with some sections forcing us out of the saddle for an unpleasant push.  The afternoon hit with us still on our bikes with miles of road still to ride. Eventually we found some shade and took a long siesta to let the daytime heat past us by, and as the sun hit the horizon we got back on the road to finish the day.

Day 3 in the desert started once again at 4am, but with clouds in the sky, it looked as though we might just catch a break.  The road south would soon bring us back to the coast where we longed for that cool ocean breeze. The ride itself was noneventful but for one military check point (our fourth of the trip) where the solider was very thorough in his search of our smelly gear. With no weapons or drugs found, we packed up our bags, had a quick photo op with a passing trucker, and caught a tailwind across the state border to our end destination of Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, a happenin' town known for its sea salt production and whale watching tours.  After some unsuccessful bargaining for a cheap hotel room, we paid the price for a much needed wash after 3 days of primitive desert camping.  A local taco vendor stuffed us with cheapest and best tacos of the trip before we retired for the evening.

Our stay on the coast would be a short one with the road heading back into the hot Vizcaino Desert. We treated ourselves to a nice 6am wake up knowing we had a shorter day ahead. The wind was to our backs and strong. With the road as flat as a pancake and straight as an arrow we flew through the approximately 80k or so in about 2hrs and 15minutes. I know fast eh! Sure felt fast. Now with the rest of our day to kill we are hanging in the shade with a few beers listening to some tunes.

Monday, 11 July 2011


As we approched Mexico you could definitely feel a slight nervousness in the air. Leaving the comforts of America and heading into the great unknown was exciting. Our last night in the USA consisted of some bantering back and forth on whether we should bike the short route through the crazziness of Tijuana(TJ), or take the long hot route east through Tecate. By the end of the night, we somehow talked ourselves into heading through TJ. Feeling a bit anxious, sleep was hard to come by, and the morning came too soon. Our host for the night, Dom, sent us off with some food in our bellys and we hit the road. Leaving San Diego was a  breeze.  We took the ferry across Sand Diego Bay into Coronada, and from there, biked south toward the border.  Not far in the distance was a large Mexican flag that no doubt marked the border.  As we approached the busiest boarder in the world, we spotted a fellow cyclist heading across.  In no time we caught up to him it just so happened that he was from TJ.  With our new best friend, Artudo, we crossed into Mexico.  Artudo gave us much-needed directions on how to get out of TJ and on to Rosarito, our destination for the night.  With our directions memorized, we entered the bustling streets of Tijuana.  There was alot going on and we were immediately overwhelmed by offerings of cheap beer, among many other things.  With the sounds of a mariachi band in the background, we were definitely out of America. The road out of TJ was a bit of a rough ride, with a lot of tracffic, no shoulder, and many obstacles on the roadside. Looking back, it was fairly manageable, but DAMN, we were glad to get out of there. 

As we rode into Rosarito, the beach and ocean were back in site. We found our camp for the night and went to get some cervezas and some mexican food. Our first night in Mexico would turn out to be a memorable one. We met a man named Carlos who was on vacation aswell. He introduced us to traditional Baja food, beer, and of course, the night was not complete without a sample of tequila.

As we woke up the next morning we were surprised to see no sun. This would be our first cloudy day since San Fransisco, and was welcomed with open arms. Over the course of the day, the clouds did burn off, but a cool breeze keept us sane. When we arived in Ensenada , a quick stop at the info center was made to get directions to La Casa Del Cyclista - a house just outside of the city that is dedicated to provide shelter for bikers.Nobody lives there, but the directions lead you to Senora Delia´s to pick up the key.  Rogelio, the owner of the house, can be contacted on WarmShowers and allows cyclists to stay for as long as they wish.  A day off today in Ensenada is needed to acclimatize to our new surroundings, figure out the itinerary, and enjoy some traditional mexican food and drink.  We plan to set off again tomorrow where the population dwindles as we enter the desert.

Adios Amigos!

Friday, 8 July 2011


Hello Everyone

Sorry for the lack of updates in the last week and a bit, we've put in some long days and have put some pavement miles behind us.

When we left you last we had arived in Halfmoon Bay - known for its famous surfing wave called Maverics.That night we were fortunate enough to meet a man called Jim Lucas, an old local that we ran into on our way out of the grocery store. After a brief conversation we invited him to join us later for some beers.  Jim turnd out to be quite the caracter...  Being a biker by heart, Jim befriends all the cyclists he sees passing through the small town and offers what he can.  For us, he provided firewood and entertainment for the evening.  After pouring his third tall boy of Steel Reserve (8% alc) into an old McDonald's cup, the story of his life began to be told with grand gestures and an exuberance that no doubt kept our nearby neighbours from sleeping.  At the end of the night, with the fire dead and the bottels empty, Jim collected all the recycling to buy his coffe in the morning.


The next few days are beginning to blend together at this point in time, however, were marked with spectacular views of the Central California Coast, as Hwy 1 winds it's way south.  At the next Hiker/Biker site, we met some other bike tourists who have also been riding the Pacific Coast, and in an effort to ditch some weight, gave us a Pacific Coast Guidebook - complete with route information from Vancouver to the California/Mexico border.  Biking through Washington, Oregon, and California thus far had been a relatively easy process simply by following the state maps, however, as we found out as we biked through Santa Cruz - Southern California cities are concrete jungles of urban sprawl.  We were kicked off of Hwy 1 as it becomes a freeway in numerous sections, resorting to backroads that took us through the heart of California agriculture where you can buy 5 avacados for $1.00, 10 oranges for $3.00, and the artichokes are a dime a dozen.  The ripest and sweetest strawberries can be found here at little roadside stands, or you can simply pull off the road and grab a couple handfuls from the massive Dole-owned strawberry fields.  


From the fresh scent of strawberry fields to the smell of sardine fisheries that filled the air as we approached Monterey, CA - Cannery Row was a tourist mecca... one can imagine that is slightly different from how it was portrayed in Steinbeck's novel. 


CANADA DAY was celebrated in a jam packed hiker/biker site in a stunning state park in Big Sur.  The evening consisted of dinner with the the musical stylings of Neil Young and the Tragically Hip to show our heritage - no Canadian beer was anywhere to be found. 


The road south of Big Sur provided the most excellent views we have seen of the coast yet and the last excellent views we can recall seeing as we began the transition into Southern California, a unique area with a traffic problem.  As we traveled inland through San Luis Obispo we realized that we had been taking the cool oceanside breezes and climate for granted as we out enough water to fill a small swimming pool.  Realizing it was really only about 95F and we will likely see triple digits in the Baja, it was good training. 


INDEPENDENCE DAY was spent just north of Santa Barbara where we were looking forward to seeing some July 4th festivities being celebrated American Style.  The palm tree lined state beech we booked into did not, unfortunately, put on a display of pyrotechnics.  As we biked through Santa Barbara the next day we found out there was a large firework show put on for the crowds on the beach. 


Coming into our campground just north of Malibu the next day, we ran into a guy just leaving the park who owns property on the southern end of the Baja and invited us to stay there when we get there... he also provided us with our first essential Spanish lesson of the trip.  The evening was spent preparing a route through LA and the multiple suburbs of LA as well as hydrating for the big day that would take us 95miles to Dana Point, just south of Laguna Beach and the biggest day of the trip so far.  Out of the campsite by 7am, we struck Malibu just in time to join the daily commute into LA.  The bike route took us along sandy beach after sandy beach where surfers and sunbathers enjoyed the hot California Sun and clear skies.  No muscle builders were to be seen around Venice Beach, but there were some familiar scenes from some classic Hollywood flicks.  The day ended at Doheny State Beach earlier than expected, given the mileage, where there was still time for a beer and a feast.


Waking up to stiff legs, it was a short 40mile ride to the next site in a small town on the beach... Cardiff by the Sea.  The day was entirely uneventful until we decided it would be well worth our time to try and get some laundry done before entering Mexico.  As we pulled into our campsite, a laundromat was spotted just across the highway.  We ditched our gear at the site, filled the pannier with dirty clothes, and cruised over right away in hopes of getting the task done fast.  Much to our dismay, when we got there, the place was all borded up and had clearly gone out of buisness. --- Our next move was one that resulted in a full night of cavorting around Cardiff with an old guy named Pauly --- So not knowing where to go, we asked a local-looking guy in the parking lot where we could find the nearest laundromat that wasn't out of buisness.  He gave us some directions to another place and then hesitated as he saw that we were on bikes... "OK, this is what we're gonna do" he says.  Not even knowing the guy's name at this point, he gave us directions to his house where he gave us free range over the washer/dryer, and invited us to a dinner party at his buddies house.  The most unexpected night of the trip ensued as we ate, drank, and did laundry.  Pauly toured us down to the local bars for some post-laundry beer and sent us on our way with clean clothes and a headache.  


We have now made it to San Diego where the population of cyclists has exploded and the bike routes through the city are in better condition than the roads.  We are staying with a host from Warm Showers (a hospitality exchange for touring cyclists) and leaving early for Tecate, Mexico tomorrow morning.  


As Ron Burgundy would say, "You stay classy, San Diego!"

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

One more day it was

Traveling without a strict itinerary is great. As we woke up to pouring rain on Monday, hitting the road again couldn't have been less enticing. Fortunately Sheila had offered us her couch for another night which allowed us to have a lazy day in the city walking around Fisherman's Wharf with all the other drenched tourists... Not before stopping in for an Irish Coffe, however, at the famed Buena Vista Cafe
, just to get us going for the day. The most delicious dinner was served to us by our San Fran hostess with the news that the paddling club that she belongs to was going out on the bay early the next morning in their 55ft. long Hawaiian Outrigger.

After a few of the essential information, such has what to do if we capsize, we were pushing the boat down the beach and into the water for a paddle out into the bay which gave us a beautiful view of the Golden Gate and a close-up of Alcatraz. Paddling in an outrigger is a bit different from the leisurely paddling of a canoe, which we were both more accustomed to. Much more coordination was required when switching sides on the count of Hut, Hike, Ho -Hawaiian for something - so as not to loose momentum. For fear of being called out for being out of sync by the 'outrigger' - the person steering in the stern - we had to watch the two pace-setters up front diligently. It was a great work out for the arms which seem to be dwindling away to nothing.

After the paddle, Sheila sent us off with full stomachs after preparing for us a substantial breafast and loading a 12pack of beer into our panniers, claiming that we would need the carbs to tackle the upcoming Californian coastline.

Feeling a bit soft after 4 days out of the saddle, we have arrived for the night in Half Moon Bay where we are camping at a State Beach.

Back on the road for real tomorrow!