Thursday, January 29, 2015

Escuinapa to San Blas, January 26-28

January 26
We woke up to a fabulous breakfast of fish tacos with rice and beans cooked by Josefina.  We will not forget her food, nor the hospitality of the whole family.  
Josefina, Pedro Jr., and Pedro Sr

After breakfast, we headed back over to the fire station accompanied by both Pedro Sr and Pedro Jr, where the boss, a somewhat corpulent, jolly man, told us he would be honored if we would sign the town's guestbook, which we happily did.  We felt like celebrities, an unusual status for us.  We just  ride our bikes, something the people of Escuinapa do quite a bit as well.  Everywhere we went were people on bikes; I even saw a guy in jeans and a polo shirt riding a Pinarello! (A very fancy bike.)
After the fire station, the Pedros led us over to a shop that sells TVs.  Pedro Jr knew my dynamo hub wasn't generating electricity as it should, and he figured this guy who fixes TVs could help.  The guy was super helpful and figured out that it was the fault of the hub, not the cables, but only the manufacturer can fix the hub.  Oh, well.
It was good that we went to this store, however, because on the way, Tam realized that a screw had somehow fallen out of her bottom bracket, the part that keeps the pedals attached and turning smoothly.  And right next to the TV store was a bike shop!  They didn't have the right size screw, but it was good that we went there because the owner knew of a store that sells screws.  This guy, who had just met us minutes ago, left his store in the hands of the TV guy next door, and rode with us to the screw store!  They didn't have the right one either, and he continued to ride with us from store to store until we found the right size.  The folks at the third store found a screw of the correct width, but it was too long and didn't have the correct size head.  Most other places at this point would say, "Sorry, we don't have it," and perhaps recommend a place that might.  But these guys cut the screw to the correct length, fired up the welder, welded on the correct size head, and refused to accept a dime.  How's that for service!

I didn't even mention all the exotic birds I saw in Escuinapa, but the people, as usual, were the highlight, topped off by Josefina and the Pedros.  After spending all morning running around town with us, they rode with us for a few miles out to the highway.  I coined a new term in Spanish to describe them: "loco simpatico." Crazy nice.  

With all the morning excitement, we didn't have much time to ride, so we followed the highway for only about 35 miles.  It was hot, and grey hawks soared above while two-foot long lizards basked in the sun on rocks next to the road.  As we turned off the main road heading towards Tecuala, a guy at the corner saw us looking lost, I guess, and came out to talk with us.  He introduced both himself and his son as Marco Antonio, and he invited us to pitch our tent in the yard of his mango packaging plant.  Though we refused food a number of times, because we really do need to eat the food we bought or it will go bad, his wife, Evella, gave us some guayabas (a guava-like fruit about the size of an apple) and some delicious homemade juice, and warmed up some tortillas and beans for us.  Loco simpatico!
"Welcome to the State of Nayarit"

January 27
Marco Antonio Jr. stopped by our tent in the morning to say goodbye before he headed off to school, then Evella made our breakfast infinitely better by heating up our bean, cheese, and veggie tacos to make quesadillas.  And she gave us more of that delicious guayaba juice!  Though we had been planning to leave early, it was at least 8:30 and already hot before we got on the road.  

A friend of ours, a cyclist we met in Canada, cycled through Syria a few years ago, and she told us that while she was there, she worried that she wouldn't get out of the country before her visa expired.  Why?  Every few kilometers, someone would see her riding down the road and ask her to drink tea with them!  Because of these frequent stops, she was only able to manage a fraction of the mileage she had planned.  I felt a bit like her this morning as we rolled out, the sun already high in the sky, and it's how I felt again later when we met another guy on the road and spent some time with him.  Jorge of Nayarit, or Jorge de la Selva (George of the Jungle), as he laughingly called himself, was on his weekly ride back to his ranch after bringing fish to his mom in the nearest town.  On the back of his bike he had a bucket full of jicama and a stereo.  We rode with him for awhile then stopped together in the shade; he wanted to share some of his jicama.  We brought out some limes as well and made it a tasty snack. 

Our plan for the day had been to make it to Santiago, where we would then find transportation to the migratory bird festival, coincidentally happening now in San Blas, which would be at least a day's ride out of the way.  Santiago was a bit out of the way as well, but we were determined to get there in spite of the terrible heat and humidity.  While stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom, we started talking with a gregarious and friendly guy who, as it turns out, was driving an empty bus to Santiago.  He, Wenceslau, provides transportation for students between a nearby town and the small university in Santiago.  He had read reports of Mexico from the U.S, was eager to prove that not all Mexicans are bad, and gladly took us along with him to Santiago.  He also gave us his phone number, you know, just in case.

Once in Santiago, we realized that, although there is a direct road to San Blas that isn't on our map, it was still almost 30 miles away, too far to bike before sundown.  Instead of staying the night where we were, we found a taxi, crammed in our bikes, and went.    And it was worth it.  The ocean was delightfully chilly after such a warm day, and camping on the beach is definitely preferable to a hotel!

January 28
Caroline in Mazatlan had highly recommended San Blas to us for its estuary tour, so that was our first priority in the morning.  We biked out to the embarcadero, where we and a group of 12 from Canada packed into a boat and set off.  
Ornate Slider

The tour first took us through dense mangroves, where we saw a number of beautiful tropical herons, kingfishers, and flycatchers.  Then out in a wider area were the turtles, iguanas, and a coati, a small mammal resembling a raccoon.  And let's not forget the crocodiles; one must have been over ten feet long!  

The tour took us to a crocodile hatchery and zoo, where we got to know jaguars, an ocelot, and a lot of crocodiles, and later it brought us to La Tovara, a freshwater spring set in a large, protected natural area.  There we went swimming in the clear, warm water and enjoyed talking with our 12 new friends.  When we returned, we planned on having lunch with them but couldn't find them!  Oh well, we spent a great morning together.
La Tovara

Later in the day we played in the ocean waves and made a delicious dinner.  We're spending tonight again camping on the beach at Stoner's Surf Camp, a little establishment that rents cabanas and surfboards.  Falling asleep to the sound of the ocean is pretty nice.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

People Are Still Great

After eating another delicious breakfast in Mazatlan, it was time to say the sad goodbyes.  Dan drove us out of the city so we could avoid confusing streets and crazy traffic, and after assembling our things, we hit the road.  Though it was tough to leave behind Dan and Caroline and their wonderful hospitality, it was good to be back on the bike.  The road was surrounded by dense bushes and vines, a big change from the barren desert of the Baja.  This was the toll road, or cuota, and it had a fantastic shoulder the whole way.  When I envision a toll road in the States, I see an eight lane freeway with hundreds of cars whizzing by, but this one was different.  It had only two lanes and much less traffic than the free road because it's so expensive.
Giant shoulder, yaaaay

Around 3 pm we reached the town of Escuinapa.  We had contacted a warmshowers host here but, once we were actually there, could not get in touch with him, so we hung out at a bike shop for a bit watching soccer.  The guys there knew the host and also tried to find him, but to no avail.  No worries; there was plenty to see!  The central square had a beautiful church overlooking a wide, social plaza with a large gazebo, small shops, benches under pruned trees, and free Wi-Fi.  It had a very European feel.  
A monument to bikes in the plaza

After a bit we returned to the bike shop and met a friend of the warmshowers host, Pedro.  He seemed like a nice guy and took us to the fire station where he said we could camp.  Or... he paused and thought for a minute... we could go to his house and stay in a bed? Yes? Sure!
Pedro genuinely was a nice guy.  He's about to graduate from a university in Guadalajara, and he's spending his winter break here in Escuinapa with his family, whom we loved meeting as well.  His dad, also Pedro, also loves to mountain bike, and the two Pedros train together.  When I asked Pedro Jr if he is on a biking team, he pointed at his dad and said, "He's my team."  
Pedro Jr's mom, Josefina, doesn't bike anymore, but she sure can cook!  We enjoyed our dinner, chatting with the folks, and will enjoy as well, in just a few minutes, falling asleep in this comfy bed.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mazatlan, January 22-24

Caroline, Dan, and Chico the dog, our hosts in Mazatlan

Our time in Mazatlan was fantastic!  On Thursday we went to Stone Island with Dan and Caroline, where we enjoyed the beach and the local cuisine: coconuts. 
Dan also gave us a tour of a local garden, where we saw countless beautiful flowers and a large hummingbird with a bright red bill.  What was it?  I have no idea.  I guess this is the beginning of my Central America bird confusion; there are just too many species!
Zach and Zoe, our friends from the ferry, joined us at Stone Island, and together we swam a ways out to an island in the Sea of Cortez and explored for awhile.  Huge crabs were everywhere, along with small, electric-blue fish and dome-shaped, sea cucumber-like things that we dubbed "nipples."  They covered the intertidal zone.  We explored some caves too, seeing bats and more crabs, before heading back.
Our island, way out there

That night, we cooked up a feast!  Caroline and Dan went out to a movie, and when they came back we were just about done with stir-fried veggies, rice, salad, sweet potatoes, cookies, and chicken.  We all stayed up way too late enjoying the food and company.
Zoe cutting beets

The next day Tam and I ran some errands, and, after visiting two bike shops, finally gave up on finding a very specialized part for Tam's bike and fixed it more permanently ourselves.
Now the rear brake cable is in the middle.  Slightly better than string and duct tape.

We did some more bike maintenance in the afternoon then met up with Agustin, the wonderfully friendly guy we had met on the ferry.  Coincidentally, he and his wife live just a few blocks from Dan and Caroline's place.  It was a pleasure to meet his wife, Gloria, and to tag along to their favorite taco place.  Great food and a great evening!  Thanks, Agustin and Gloria!
Zoe, Zach, Gloria, Agustin, and Tam

Unfortunately Tam had started feeling sick before dinner, and it got worse later.  So, even though we were planning to leave today, we stayed one more day for her to recover.  The rest will do us both good, I'm sure.  Tomorrow, back on the road!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mainland Mexico!

A note of thanks to everyone I met in La Paz. I had a wonderful experience at Se Habla thanks to Julie, Andrea, and my amazing teachers: Adriana, Jassiel, and Alfonso. If you're looking to learn or improve your spanish, I would definitely reccomend this school.
A big thanks to my American friends, also learning Spanish, for many wonderful dinner parties and lots of laughs. 
Perfect frittata created by Kaitlin and friends

And of course, I couldn't have asked for a better host family. Two weeks of good conversation and delicious food at their welcoming house was an unforgettable experience.
Alicia and Vicente- my mexican grandparents!

It was hard to say goodbye to my friends in the beautiful city of La Paz, but also exciting to embark on the next leg of our journey. We arrived a little early at the ferry terminal and hung out in the shade of a palapa at a nearby beach while waiting. Some clear blue water, soft sand and Bob Marley made for a pristine waiting experience. 
Ugly waiting area next to ferry

When it was time to load the ferry there was some confusion because there are no signs at the terminal. Luckily various people helped us out and soon our tickets were being checked as a giant 18 wheeler backed up less than a foot away from us. With our bikes securely tied up below deck, we made our way to the 'salon,' a room filled with airplane style seats and a giant TV which movies played on for the majority of the ride. Up a flight of steep stairs was a deck where we could watch the sun set and where everyone else on the boat was purchasing cocktails. Overall, the ride was great. We were served beans and rice with tortillas for dinner and more tortillas and beans for breakfast. In addition, we met some interesting people including Zach and Zoe, a couple from Pensylvania, and an interesting guy from Mazatlan, Agustin, who told us about many places to go.
Zoe and Zach, new friends 

View from the deck

Cruising towards land, we saw some giant whales leaping and playing in the waves. It was exciting to see the outline of Mazatlan approach on the horizon and it hardly seemed important that we had arrived two hours late at port (typical Mexico).

Once in port we happily met up with our friend Dan, whom we met in Pincher Creek, Canada. He and his wife Caroline have a winter house down here in Mazatlan and have generously offered to let us stay for as long as we like. This afternoon we enjoyed some wonderful meals with them and Dan gave us an incredible tour of the old city, which feels very European. 
Vibrant sunset over the ocean 

After reviewing the road maps with our friends this evening, we are happy and excited for all the adventures to come on the mainland!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sandboarding and Whale Sharks, January 18-19

This past Sunday we met up with our friends Robert, Sabrina, Philip, and Nici, fellow Trans-America cyclists whom we had met a few weeks ago.  They invited us to go sandboarding with them and their friend Frida, and we gladly went along and enjoyed a day sliding down dunes and swimming in the ocean.
Sabrina looking like a pro

Robert going down sideways 

Tam and Sabrina

Today, Monday, the weather was perfect, and we took a tour out in the bay to see and swim with some whale sharks!  It was absolutely incredible being so close to these enormous and gentle creatures; in fact, until you're so close, it's tough to comprehend just how gigantic they are: 4-8 meters (13-26 feet) long.  And these are juveniles.

Better photos to come on the Flickr page

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stories From the Ranch, January 5-16

As you already know, I spent the last two weeks helping out on a ranch just outside of Laz Paz.  I found it through WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an international organization that connects prospective farm volunteers with prospective hosts.  Generally volunteers work in exchange for room and board; specifics of work hours, equipment, and accommodations are all up to the specific farms to work out with their volunteers. 

With all that I devote to food in time and money, and the proven importance of good nutrition, I know so little about where my food comes from and how it's grown or made.  From this ignorance came the impetus for WWOOFing: to lessen the gap between me and my food.  The ranch at which I worked for these past weeks did not grow food, but I learned a whole lot about caring for goats, cows, and chickens, not to mention about the processes of cheese making and generally running a ranch.  My daily duties involved milking the cow and goats and taking them out to pasture, as well as helping out in whatever capacity I could.  Sometimes I cooked, other times I constructed, and other times I organized.
Helping the goats reach some yummy branches

Since none of the above is terribly interesting, I'd like to share just a simple story about one day's foray into the mountains.  Background: I or another volunteer hiked every day into the hills with the female goats, 33 of them in total.

From my journal:
1/13? Tuesday
Hiking with Tomas and the goats.  Instead of going up an arroyo (a dry streambed with many trees and plants), we followed a ridge.  The vegetation was sparser for the goats, but there was always something leafy to eat.  It was a narrow and steep pasture, tough going for us two-legged creatures.  Finally we topped out on the main ridge.  The hills opened up to sky in all directions; I could see for miles, and it was now apparent that the main ridge, which we were now on, continued far up into the high cliffs, a buttress for the crumbling pink bands.  Tomas said he was fine alone with the goats, so I set off solo, just for a bit, with only the little dog, Chiguil, coming along. I walked all the way up until I could go no farther, surrounded by desert and wind and streaking sky and thinking that ridge-walking is my favorite kind of walking.  When I finally reached the wide band of pink conglomerate that turned vertical to mark my point of no return, I stopped and sat for a bit.  In front of me, the shore just a few miles away, was the Sea of Cortez, a shimmering jewel, blue under the pale sky, with rugged, untamed islands poking up out of the surface in the distance.  From my vantage point, perched way up there, it seemed as if the bay were a shallow tongue of the larger expanse, extended temporarily and kept there by the thin line of white along the edges, the caulk holding the pure sea desperately to its blotched, undeserving brother, the land.  If I should watch for long enough, maybe, with a great, churning roar, it would slide back into its greater self again.  
But my eyes had other things to see.  The cliffs, the cliffs!  The pink band near the top, so interesting looking as to draw me in from afar, was cut and eroded with huecos and fins, large and small, poking out here and intruding there into the seemingly solid mass, everything curving and fluid, solid and smooth, arching and flat, everywhere, all at once.  It colored the mesa for miles, a life-sized ribbon to my right and left.  Below were a series of ledges replete with boundless gems to equal or surpass the brilliant ocean beyond: lupines and asters, yarrows and others, a lively contrast to the xericity of the stark, vertiginous walls and the surrounding desert.  And, as if all this weren't enough, the sibilant notes of the canyon wren filled what little space was left around me, the perfectly tuned whistles cascading and dashing off the walls and into my ears.  After a minute I saw the curious bird bouncing and flitting around from place to place, room to room, in its majestic home.  Then down I went to find Tomas and the goats, enriched in mind forever by experience.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Adventures With Goats!

Danny and I both had great, but extremely different weeks.
My family in La Paz is simply wonderful. All week they cooked me delicious traditional mexican food and helped me practice spanish. Mostly I talked with Alicia and Vicente, young grandparents.
Vicente is an amazing artist and spent a whole afternoon showing me his artwork and different techniques.
Se Habla La Paz has been a good experience so far. This first week I had two young and energetic teachers- Adriana and Jassiel- who were both awesome. The other students in my class were extremely fun to work and learn with. Kaitlin, Memo, and Jason thanks for all the laughs!
Outside of school I've been trying to explore the city a bit and on Friday I went to a nearby beach. I didn't think it was possible, but this beach was more beautiful than La Bahia de Concepcion.
Sunset at the beach

While I've been living the city life, Danny has been out at the ranch. Duties each day include milking the cow and putting her and the young bull out to pasture, hiking with the goats so that they can graze on the tasty desert plants, and feeding and milking the goats. In between all of this Danny built a chicken coop so that they can start collecting eggs from the chickens.

This weekend I went out to the ranch and had a fantastic time. Danny works with two other WOOFers- Thomas and Clement- both from France. They were great to spend time with. On Saturday I helped Miguel (the owner of the ranch) paint a sign to advertise his goat cheeses. 
The new sign (I only had black and white paint)

Today Danny and I went hiking with the goats for 5 hours. They are gentle and agile creatures.
Danny helping the goats reach some delicious leaves
Part of the herd 
One of the goats named Duna always waited for me if I got stuck behind.
Spectacular vistas with the goats 
So cute 
Dogs all chilling in the shade after a long morning hiking with the goats

Both Danny and I are both looking forward to one more week at our respective homes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Farm

These last few days I've been a goatherder and milker, bread baker, and general ranch-hand.  I don't have much access to internet, but know that it's going well and I'll update more when I can!
- Danny

Monday, January 5, 2015

La Paz

I'll be in school and Danny will be at the farm for the next couple weeks so we won't be doing daily updates. Look for a post about our adventures in La Paz on the weekend.
Sending warm winds and sunshine from Baja to all our readers up north!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year! Jan 1st-4th

Our New Year's Eve is pretty quiet, but we meet two fabulous travelers: John and Claudia. These two have been traveling in a Land Rover, driving off road as much as possible and going on  exciting side trips (biking, hiking, packrafting, etc.) They say that they're headed to Argentina as well but that they'll probably take 6 years. 

Jan 1st 2015
After sleeping in we spend the morning with John who has graciously offered to help us with some bike maintenance. After re-greasing my bottom bracket, removing Danny's cassette with our handy tool, and doing various other small tune-ups, our bikes are ready to enter the new year in style! 
Thank you John for spending so much time helping and teaching us about bikes.
John and Claudia with thier awesome Adventuremobile. It was great meeting you two!

After a few errands in town it's almost 2:00pm by the time we leave. However, thanks to a flat road and tailwind, by 4:30 we've already completed 40 miles and decide to stop early. The sun set is beautiful over the desert mountains and the moon is so bright we don't need flashlights.

So many good moments in the past year to treasure, and so many more good ones to come. :-) 

Jan 2nd 
Neither of us is excited to ride through more desert today. Luckily, 20 miles in our day is made by the appearance of a small town with a Tortilleria. Here we buy huge amounts of fresh, homemade tortillas and locally made cheese. La se├▒ora who sells us these items also gives us 6 liters of water for free- a rare find in the desert. 
All afternoon the biking is tough. The road is hilly, the traffic is terrible because we are approaching La Paz, and we have a headwind. Even though there is still light to bike, we pull over in the desert to camp. I decide that today is the day we will eat the Snickers bar I have carried from Tok, Alaska. I was saving it for a special day, but really everyday on our trip is special. Plus, I just really feel like a Snickers.

Jan 3rd 
Early in the morning we already have a strong cross/headwind. Thankfully the traffic has died down a bit, perhaps because it is Saturday. About 25 miles into our ride we hit construction.
Awful road- people still driving like crazy.

 The whole road has been torn apart and we are left with several long stretches of sandy, dusty and wash boarded gravel. After gritting our teeth through some nasty riding, we find that part of the new road has been finished and is still closed to cars. Those little barriers can't stop bikes! Now we're riding on wide, long stretches of fresh pavement with no cars or dust. Hooray!
Our bike lane.
Instead of biking into La Paz, we turn left on a different road and head to the ranch where Danny will be working for the next two weeks. The scenery is spectacular; giant cacti and sparkling ocean on the right, colorful striated mountains on the left. At the ranch we are greeted by a wonderful crew of people: Miguel, the owner, Clement, a WWOOFer from France, and Lorenzo, a WWOOFer from Mexico. The ranch was hit hard by the recent hurricane, but is still beautiful and completely sustainable. All of the animals appear happy and well fed, and the many varieties of cow and goat cheese look delicious.  We spend a lovely evening learning a bit about the ranch and baking bread in a wood fired oven.
A couple low light pictures of the ranch.

Danny will of course have more stories to post after his stay. 

Jan 4th
We wake up early to a cacophony of roosters, long before sunrise. Such is life in rural Mexico. 
Sunrise from our tent.

Miguel and crew are driving into La Paz today so they give me a lift. Outside of Walmart we part ways and I bike off to find my homestay. It's not long before I'm meeting Alicia and Vicente at their beautiful home in La Paz. They have a whole separate studio apartment for me to stay in complete with bed, bathroom, and kitchen! After traveling by bike and camping, such luxury is rather overwhelming. I hang up my two shirts in the closet. 
In the afternoon we go shopping for some food and school supplies. Alicia patiently listens to me struggle to tell her about myself in Spanish and makes some delicious food. What a wonderful place I have found!
The view from my new apartment.

It's crazy to think that I'm going to school tomorrow. What a change from the usual.