Week ending November 15th 2009
These giants followed us the entire route down southern Baja
Sunday came along, and Don and Brenda took us to the Loreto farmers market, then around town for a short tour. In the evening we all went to the sailing club at Escondido for a ‘potluck’, a traditionally American gathering in which people bring along a food dish and some drinks - which appealed to us. A great mix of Mexican and US food accompanied the beers and wines on offer (and the orange juice that we obviously drank).
Leaving the next day we thanked Don and Brenda for their hospitality and for the 4 days we had to acclimatise. Mexico is so hot (84c on sunday) so humid and so mosquitoey; and as I am their favourite food, it’s been a trying time. People say that it’s due to the amount of sugar I eat, but I can’t find it in myself to drink tea sin azucker. aaarghghg.
We left at 7.30 in the a.m as the temperature was already increasing. We wobbled off up the road on our newly rebuilt bikes, waving as we went. The Sierra de Gigantes mountains that we encountered within a couple of hours of cycling were stunningly beautiful, rugged and thankfully quite empty of traffic. Their ochre and greenish hues epitomised the colours of the first few days that we had spent in Mexico, and after 2 hours climb we crested the (eventual) top and then began a huge, very gentle downhill, that saw us whiz along at 15-20mph. Squashed tarantulas and squashed scorpions (some more than 3 inches long) littered the edge of the road, but (un)fortunately we didn’t see any alive.
The wind blew us along quite nicely, but when we arrived at our intended stop for the night, El Insurgentes, we were rather disappointed to discover no hotels, no decent cafes to eat in and actually, on reflection, little of anything. We pedalled off down the boulevade with the wind still at our backs, and managed to ride into Constitucion just before dusk. 81 miles covered on our first day back on the bikes.
We found an RV park that had a couple of tired rooms available. Marvellous. The air conditioning rattled but worked, the shower was hot and the door even locked. And we managed to get boiling water for a cuppa.
The next day was always going to be difficult. There was nothing - literally - between Constitucion and El Centenario, on the edge of La Paz, except for a couple of dreadful little villages offering barking dogs, dirty trucks and grinding poverty.
- When I was younger, experiencing this level of poverty in India and Pakistan was an experience that readily washed over me - after all, what could I do to help..? I was young, uninformed and naive. Nowadays, whilst still young(…), seeing and meeting really poor people is a much more painful experience. I can still do nothing to help, short of buying more drinks from these people than I really need, but what is so upsetting is that Mexico is a land wealthy in resource and intellect. Is this irrelevant? Perhaps I just remain as naive and uninformed as I ever was -
We had read previously that asking at restaurants for a place to stay could result in the offer of a site to pitch a tent. We duly found a roadside cafe - which had 2 plastic tables, 4 chairs, no menu, no hot drinks - and no food as it turned out - where we asked, in appalling Spanish, whether the owners knew of anywhere to camp. Maria and Jose did not, but they did offer their grounds to pitch on. We bought some drinks from them and then, as the generator konked out at 6pm and we were all left in an awkward silence, we retired.
The restaurant where we slept the night
The land on which we were to camp featured a fantastic array of historic, rusting and thoroughly useless agricultural machinery, plus a tarmac road roller. On the conveyorbelt tonight were the remains of two combine harvesters, four tractors, several unidentifiable hulks of steel, and at least 7 or 8 cars, plus an enclosure with goats and chickens, some free range - and quite impressive looking - turkeys and one junkyard dog.
Apparently, the agricultural remains strewn about the various towns and villages relate to a time when the federal government handed out such equipment to the farmers of co-operatives to help them work the land - but as has been pointed out on more than one occasion, (jokingly, but in a tired sort of way) there are no Spanish words for ‘preventive maintenance’ because a lack of ready cash disallows it.
Anyway, being adventurous, I suggested to Joy we just hang our new mosquito nets from a line that we could erect between combine harvester no.1 and the tarmac roller, so that we could gaze up at the stars as we drifted off to sleep. She agreed, so we settled into our nets, fidgeted for an hour or two, and slowly fell asleep.
At 10pm, we were cold, so had to get out our sleeping bags. More fidgeting.
At 12pm in the dead of night, a large truck pulled up within a few yards of us, and the driver proceeded to get out, walk around the truck, spit noisily several times, then get back in. The cricketing crickets stopped cricketing. And we were frozen with fear. Did he see us? (Yes of course, we were huge, brilliant white traingular forms against the dark as night background, remincent of monster coccoons in a horror movie). Was he going to cut us up and dispose of our bodies in a shallow grave? (No, of course not, but that didn’t occur to us at the time….)
The truck reminded me of the vehicle used in the film ‘Jeeper Creepers’, and his silhouette was similarly reminscent of the baddy in the same film.
‘Joy, don’t move, I don’t think he’s seen us…’
‘What’s he doing..?’
‘I don’t know, but he’s right here.’
Eventually the chap fell asleep in his truck, in the back yard of the couple who’d let us stay the night. Questions were flying around in our minds, but in time we also drifted off.
At the crack of dawn, the chap in the huge hat woke up, said good morning to us and then drove off down the previously unseen track at the back of Maria and Jose’s place. He was a farmer and, no doubt aware of just how much further he had to drive that night, just decided to stop at their place to sleep before finishing his trip. Obvious, really….
Was it just a bad dream...?
By morning we also realised that our sleeping bags were saturated. The fog, common in these parts, had rolled in and soaked everything. Our nets were dripping water, so that as we lay there in our wet bags in the early morning we were awoken by a regular drip, drip, drip rather than the morning sun and the singing birds… we packed up and said our farewells. ‘Adios Senor and Senora, muchas gracias.’
The next day was to be another long one. We pedalled and pedalled through the cactus desert. Finding a small scrubland tree for shelter we stopped for a drink of water and as I put my kickstand down the bike fell over as the stand cracked, breaking my mirror in the process. All quite unnecessary. And it didn’t help that it was boiling out there.
That evening we made it to El Centenario, hot and flustered, on the western edge of La Paz and a rather plush hotel with pool and smart restaurant. We had left the ridiculous and arrived in the sublime. We felt we had deserved it. The change in climate, the change in landscape and the desperate situation of some of the people that we met along the way were taking their toll on us. It might only be day 6 in Mexico, but we were feeling it. We allowed the quality of the nice hotel to absorb us. Leaving next morning wasn’t the easiest decision that we had ever made.
We rode the 6 miles into La paz where we literally bumped into an American chap crossing the road who stopped us and asked us what we were doing, etc. ‘Are you nuts..?‘ We discussed our trip and our intended ferry ride to Mazatlan and, as an off the cuff remark, Joy mentioned that we might like to crew on a sailing boat if possible, instead of take the ferry to the mainland. The chap said ‘come with me’ and we walked our bikes to the marina where we met various boaty types sitting around in the morning sun drinking coffee and chatting. The man at the back of the group, Ron said that he was indeed looking for crew and that we should come and have a look at the boat with him, before meeting his crew, to see what they thought of the prospective additions. We were immediately welcomed onto the boat. We used the marina facilities to shower, then on our return Ron announced that the vote was 3 to 1 (and the 1 was thrown overboard on the basis of his decision). So we were accepted. We would take off on saturday morning for Puerto Vallarta, which was in fact our initial intended destination until we discovered that the ferry to that particular city no longer sailed. Ron and the crew had planned to go to Mazatlan but had immediately decided to alter their route to accommodate our plans. What a decent bunch of chaps.
We left the marina glowing. What luck! As we pedalled along the malecon (the promenade) we decided to stop for a bit of lunch before arriving at Brian’s place, where we intended to stay the night. Alarm bells should have rung, given that there were no customers at our chosen restaurant, but they didn’t. We were tired but happy. We just wanted to eat some lunch.
We arrived at Brian’s later that afternoon, where we stayed the night. His apartment, one of a dozen in a condo overlooking the marina at the other end of the town, was a delight. It’s large balcony on two sides allowed one to sit and watch the sun arc around the sky and set over the ocean. Brian cooked us a lovely dinner and as we chatted I began heating up. We went to bed, slightly uncomfortably, and by daybreak I had visited the ‘restroom’ 6 times - none of which was particularly restive. Food poisoning had meant a rather horrible night, after which Joy joined me in the number of visits to the restroom.
The following day we lay in bed and sipped water timidly. Thankfully Ron and the crew were happy to wait for us. And Brian was happy to accommodate us.
Day 2 and we were feeling better - but not mended. I didn’t eat for 48 hours, and was even off my usual cup of tea. Joy recovered more speedily to begin with, but then deteriorated in the afternoon. Still, as we noted to Brian, we were in a marvellous place to be sick: a comfy apartment, sun shining over the marina, and a fan on all day to soothe our fevered brows. Thank you very much Brian. And apologies for not being the best of company.
Hoorah. We now feel better. Today Brian offered us a ride in his Robinson helicopter - how could we refuse..? Except I’m scared of heights - but was thankfully persuaded to go. We wandered through the marina to find his helicopter waiting for us, its large eyes blinkered to protect it from the heat. I noticed only two rotors. Had one fallen off? Or even two? Then we both noticed the size of the bird. Brian assured us it was a real machine but I was convinced it was a 1:5 scale model only to be flown by remote control.
Me, nervous...? Don't be ridiculous.
Brian checked the oil level in the back rotor by pulling on the tail thingy, which caused the entire front to lift off the ground. I wasn’t at all worried. It was at about the same time I noticed that the wind direction was gauged by a piece of red wool, 6″ long, pinched in its centre, by the central window frame. This was going to be fun.
it'll be fine Joff, just enjoy the views
We plugged into the headphones, the rotors whirred and, quite unnaturally, we lifted vertically off the ground, and at quite a rate of knots. We were buffeted by the wind that blew across us as we made our way along the bay, aqua blue and golden where the sand bars rose and fell, over the deep ocean and then back across the seashore to La Paz. It was exhilarating and utterly fun. Given that the motor was working to carry only the three of us, I actually had very little concern for our safety - except for when Brian pointed out that if the rotors stopped, he had 1.5 seconds in which to react, before we all crashed and drowned…
We buzzed across various flight paths at the international airport in La Paz, and landed safely on a helipad. Another average day in this amazing, potentially harsh but thoroughly absorbing country.
The beautiful sea off La Paz