Reflection on Puerto Vallarta to Valle de Bravo: The Oak and the Willow and Being Flexible to Embrace Opportunities

The amazing joy from sharing experiences and celebrating the holidays with family and friends is really the theme of this portion from Puerto Vallarta to Valle de Bravo. For a cycling journey from Vancouver to Patagonia, this portion from Puerto Vallarta to Valle de Bravo had remarkable little biking. Cycling was not a lifestyle of this portion of our trip but rather a mode of transit. Though I felt a little lost busing, feeling like I was beamed through space like in an episode of Star Trek and completely disconnected from the landscape around me as we focused on Spanish films blared on the bus or slept in its comfortable chairs, it was great to be able to spend the time with friends. I think there has to be a balance – we want to do the most of the trip cycling but at the same point, we should not be so rigid in our plans that wonderful opportunities pass us by. It was hard for me to skip these portions by busing but the experiences with Alexa, her family and our family of cyclists for Christmas and our hilarious New Year celebrations with Erin, Santiago and their families were priceless and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.

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Christmas dinner in Guadalajara

I am reminded of oak and willow trees. Oak trees are strong but rigid without the ability to move, they can crack and break in a storm. Willow tree branches sway in the wind, being flexible to situations and after the storm, they are still there. In travelling, we all have our goals and plans but we can’t be too rigid to them or else we’ll break as the world seems to be constantly against us and our plans. The truth is, I think, the world doesn’t care. It moves to its own beat and the world is a synergy of many different parts, each doing their own thing but somehow weaving in together in a beautiful chaotic but yet somehow patterned dance. When we try too hard to hold on to our own ideas of how things should be and how things should act, we try to stop this dance and we can’t. If we jump right in and dance with the world in all of her glory, learn the challenges and work with them and embrace opportunities, it becomes an amazing whirlwind experience.


I feel like this expresses our incredible experiences over this past holiday, from jumping off a mountain and soaring like a bird while paragliding over Valle de Bravo, to hilariously wearing red or yellow underwear on New Years, to listening to Dave’s incredible sitar music on Christmas in a 300 year old colonial mansion in Guadalajara, feasting all night for Christmas with Alexa’s family and  hungry cyclists, to more mundane fun like playing games with Erin and Santiago’s families and trying to talk to turkeys on Santiago’s family ranch, to so much more.

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Our family in Guadalajara – 16 cyclists and Alexa’s amazing and welcoming family!

Allow flexiblity to embrace opportunities and I feel that magical things happen.  It turned out that we bused through one of the more dangerous areas of Mexico, Michoacan state. I had really wanted to go Moralia in the state of Michocan to see the monarch butterflies. As fate would have it, Valle de Bravo is the site of Mexico’s newest butterfly sanctuary! I often ask the people I meet what their definition of paradise is. One of my good friends, Jory, replied “To always be in the flow.” Jory, Ben, Bryan and I had been sailing in Baja California a couple years ago. As we were chatting on the sailboat in the middle of calm waters with manta rays doing flips in the sunset, I told them that sailing was pretty close to my idea of paradise. Jory pointed out that sailing was great but skiing in the winter was also paradise. It was more about being in the moment and enjoying what each moment has to offer. Going with the flow and getting that chance to spend the holidays with Alexa and her family and meeting up with all of our cyclist friends then coming to Valle de Bravo to spend New Years with two of my best friends, Erin and Santiago, and finally able to spend time with their wonderful families, has been absolutely amazing. Thank you so much to everyone for welcoming us and including us in your celebrations and more than that, in your families. It makes Bryan and I feel as if we are the luckiest people in the world.

Alejandro, Santiago, Erin and I sailing in Valle de Bravo

Alejandro, Santiago, Erin and I sailing in Valle de Bravo

 

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Celebrating the Holidays in our Journey from Puerto Vallarta to Valle de Bravo

This portion of our journey is focused more on the stops we made rather than the travel through places. We landed at La Cruz on Banderas Bay and then cycled to Puerto Vallarta. It was such a crazy change from peaceful horizon to horizon shimmering seas where we would be on watch for hours at night without seeing another boat to crazy eight lanes of busy traffic to get to Puerto Vallarta. It was a bit of a shock for me to say the least. We had two wonderful days in Puerto Vallarta, exploring the cobblestone streets of Old Town and eating tasty food at the numerous restaurants and cafes. We spent most of our days walking, exploring the beach, the happening malecon oceanside promanade and checking out the sights, including the beautiful tiara crowned old cathedral and walking through the little crafts market nestled in the lush jungle on the island in the middle of the river.

As a tourist center, we  sampled tequila at the numerous vendors, indulged in dollar margaritas on the beach and even went to a time share presentation. Bryan and I actually love time share presentations because they wine and dine us and then give us some sort of incentive for attending. Our salesperson told us honestly, “We’re here to make a profit but we want to do that by making you happy with these luxurious places.” In my mind, I thought, “These places are definitely nice but we’re really here for the free stuff you give us.” We ate like kings that night, treated to a dinner that was the same price as both nights of our stay in a hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

We left Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara on Dec 23, catching a luxurious deluxe class bus. I find that we actually have to ride the top of the line buses because they have the room to fit our bikes inside. Though we could probably cram them onto a 2nd class bus, which I really don’t mind riding, our bikes would have to lay down flat to fit and then there is the danger of bent wheel spokes if (and when!) stuff is put onto of them. On the 1st class buses, the storage compartment under the bus is big enough for us to put our bikes on upright. The 1st class buses are amazingly luxurious with foot rests, wifi internet sometimes, two bathrooms in the back and even individual touch screen TVs on the back of seats though I still gaze longingly out to the green landscape flying by outside, wishing I was biking.

In Guadalajara, we first stayed with Alexa’s grandparents house in the Centro, near the Sanituario de Guadelupe. Their house is a 300 year old mansion, with delicately decorated walls in an old technique using plaster and horse hair to make gorgeous French Noveau designs and loftly high ceilings, with many open spaces with rooms layed out around gorgeous courtyards. We met up with our bike gang there, a reunion as we had all gone different ways after the beach in Bahia Conception, and tents popped up like mushrooms after a rain on the courtyard roof. We spent three wonderful days exploring historic centro, checking out amazing and provacative murals by Orozco, the numerous markets with delicious tacos and fruit smoothies, visiting old cathedrals and walking down busy pedestrian promenades.

It was great to celebrate Christmas with our cyclist friends and with Alexa’s family.  Christmas dinner started long after dark and long after many rounds of tequila. Alexa’s family had set up a large white tent in the main courtyard and there was three rows of tables and chairs to seat all their guests, including Alexa’s numerous cousins, aunts and uncles and of course, 16 of us cyclists! Dinner was served at around 11:30pm and we feasted until 4am!

After Christmas, we didn’t have enough of Guadalajara yet and stayed with WarmShower’s host, Nic, for three more days. Justin, Bryan I went for a wet and wild tour of Guadalajara and its suburbs hopping on and off local buses in the rain in search for a little laptop as our Christmas present to ourselves. We also went on an epic taco tour in our new little neighbourhood just north of centro in Guadalajara. We ate tacos, tamales, churros, deep-fried hot dogs but I think the most exotic was tacos of cow brains! Kinda mushy and flavourless in my opinion.

After Guadalajara, we bused to Toluca on Dec 29 where we were picked up by Erin, Santiago and his dad after finding out the buses to Valle had stopped for the night. Thank you so much! We had to make it into Valle that night because the next day, we were going paragliding! The very next morning, Bryan and I are standing on a mountain above the quaint town of Valle de Bravo overlooking its beautiful lake with Erin, Santiago, Santiago’s sisters Carolina and Valeria, Valeria’s boyfriend Ben, Santiago’s mother Malena, Erin’s sister Hannah and Erin’s dad Tom. The 10 of us are wearing giant diaper-like harnesses that will become great recliner chairs once we’re up in the air. I had some butterflies in my stomach but I was so excited!

For both Bryan and I, this is our first times paragliding! For launching, my instructor, Juan, told me, “The most important thing is that you have to run.” Well I guess the no jumping part is correct! Juan also added another important point, “Are you happy?” Upon me replying yes, he said, “I will keep on asking you that through our trip today because that’s the most important part of the trip.” Prepared by my two instructions, run and have fun, Juan and I got ready to walk off the side of the mountain. We were soon the next ones to launch. Assistants help raise the parachute behind us up and it immediately catches air. Juan tells me to run and I take one step before I am lifted off the ground. We soared over the valley – graceful like a sea bird hanging in the air, floating like a leaf peacefully adrift in a light breeze. That afternoon, we experience another form of wind transport and go sailing on the lake with Santiago’s dad, Alejandro.

Our next day in Valle de Bravo was New Years Eve. We celebrated with some old Mexican traditions, including eating 12 grapes in 12 seconds before New Years, making wishes for the upcoming year, and had some fun original twists to old customs.

There is a practice of gifting coloured underwear for luck in the new year, red coloured ones to find love and yellow to find money.

Shopping for lucky New Years underwear!

Shopping for lucky New Years underwear!

We ended up having a “Secret-Panty-Santa” where we each put our name into a basket and drew out a name then headed to town to buy a pair of underwear of the giver’s choice. Red or yellow? Love or money? Simple or hilariously scandalous? Since we were all there together, we would try to sneak off on smaller groups or sneakily make quick purchases when others weren’t looking to hide our purchases from the people whose name we drew. We wrapped our scandalous articles of clothing in white napkins, a cheap and available source of gift wrapping but the resulting little white packages looked hilariously like drugs, then stuffed them into the colourful starburst shaped piñata along with candy. We took turns wacking at the piñata, which has a clay pot inside, until Santiago’s little sister, Valeria stuck it with such ferocity that candy and panties came spraying down.  For the luck of the colourful underwear to work, you have to be wearing them on the moment of New Years so we each put on the underwear overtop of our own clothes, superman style. It is hilariously ridiculous as people get all different types from more normal styles to the more lacy or exotic in toucan or butterfly patterns.  We had a delicious family dinner with all of us wearing our new underwear over our pants, ate grapes on the countdown then cheered and drank champagne for the new year. Afterwards, we went out clubbing and danced until 6am!

The next day, Erin, Santiago and their families left to go back to Mexico City to meet extended family and go wedding dress shopping for Erin. We will continue cycling south from Valle de Bravo but decided to stay an extra day to check out the nearby monarch butterfly sanctuary. Each year, the monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to these specific locations in Central Mexico and California. We hiked up the steep trail up the mountain to the butterfly grove where monarchs coated the branches in large clumps, turning the green trees orange on appearance. There were millions of butterflies there. The air was alive with fluttering wings and there were so many flying around that there was a buzzing drone of their flight. It was such a magical experience.

Visiting the butterflies turned out to be an all day affair and most of the day walking. We decided to spend another day in Valle resting and finishing up with errands we ment to do yesterday, including restocking our food panniers, some internetting and going to the post office. Also, Santiago’s family ranch in Valle de Bravo is so amazingly gorgeous with peacocks, hilarious turkeys and a friendly pack of dogs that we couldn’t pull ourselves away just yet. One more day… A heartfelt thanks to Alexa and her family for hosting us in Guadalajara and giving us the opportunity to celebrate a Mexican Christmas with all night feasting. Thank you also to Nic, who hosted us in his apartment in Guadalajara and baked us a delicious cheesecake. To Santiago and his family, it has been so amazing to celebrate New Years at your beautiful family ranch in Valle de Bravo meeting both your and Erin’s families. Having fun with New Year customs was hilarious from stuffing grapes in our mouth as we discover that it takes more than one second to chew a grape than the second we’re allotted making wishes on the countdown to our incredible panty piñata.  It has been so nice to spend the holidays with family and friends and I cannot express enough the gratitude Bryan and I feel for being welcomed in your celebrations.

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Reflection on Sailing across the Sea of Cortez: The Art of Slow Travel

My first thought about sailing in the Sea of Cortez is that it has been an incredible journey and we are so lucky to have been able to meet Jerry and Yeri and sail with them. They said we helped out a lot with the crossing but really, I can’t express how much gratitude and inspriation we have gotten from the journey.

Hanging out with Jerry and listening to his trips in the past and also being a part of the sailing trip this time has really made me think more about the art of slow travel. Jerry has a comfortable boat. As I said in the summary, it is bigger than our old one bedroom apartment in Vancouver.  M/S SOMF has two spacious sleeping berths, a full kitchen (ahem, galley), two bathrooms with showers, a large living room sitting area inside and a table sitting area on the back deck. The ceilings are high and you can easily walk around inside. The boat is very liveable but the downside is that it needs the perfect conditions to sail – the right wind in the right direction. Subsequently, the sailboat is motored quite often. However, Jerry comments that ‘95% of the time, you’re anchored.’ They are going to be anchored at that very spot in La Cruz in Banderas Bay for the next two months before making a four day sailing back up north the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos where the boat is stored.
Sometimes, when you’re cycling, it becomes about the distance covered and ticking away the kilometres accomplished that week. In the past, Jerry spent about 4 years sailing from San Francisco to Costa Rica. Cycling, we aim to do that same trip in under 6 months. It was kind of mindblowing. Sailing has really reminded me that travel…really life itself… is not actually about a checklist of distances but rather about enjoying the experiences themselves. Savoring the experiences like a good meal where each flavor is a note in a magnificent symphony. It was amazing to sit out on the bow of the ship for hours gazing at the sea and the periodic turtles drift by.

I’ve also realized that afternoon naps are beautiful. We often took staggered afternoon naps as we were each up at strange times of the night on watch. Afternoon naps are a chance to slow down in the afternoon, spend some time with yourself  and sometimes with your closest partners and take this time for yourself to reflect, think and recharge. They also break you out of the normalized mold of a day of working non-stop during the day and then regimented to at least 8 hours of sleep at night or else you’re not considered  healthy.  In our busy, hectic world where we are trying to accomplish more and more without really realizing why we’re doing it except an elusive promise of happiness after winning the rat race, maybe taking more afternoon naps will be good for us…and perhaps even good for the world and the environment too.  Happiness is not just an elusive promise always just beyond grasp but already infused into every fibre and moment of everyday if only you slow down and take that moment to realize it.

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Sailing Across the Sea of Cortez

Many cyclists opt to cycle down Baja California instead of making the same distance on the mainland. Maybe it is the remote desert stretches, gorgeous beaches and the promise of plentiful, tasty fish tacos that draw us  or maybe it is the simplicty of the one main road that leads you through the pennisula or maybe we’re a little like lemmings and tend to plan our own journeys from reading blogs of previous trips. Anyways, we get to southern Baja California and we are left with a challenge – the broad espanse of water between us and the mainland.  There are a variety of different options across avaliable, from taking a remarkably cheap flight and flying across (one of our friends found a flight that was cheaper than taking the ferry), taking either the passenger or freight ferries, or going to the marina to see if you can crew on a boat crossing. Timing is what marks the difference in these different options. First, the flight is much shorter than the ferries and the ferries also take considerably less time than catching a boat across. Secondly, timing is important because around the holidays when we were trying to cross, the passenger ferry was completely booked. Bryan and I decided to try out the marina and had amazing luck. The strong, cold El Norte winds was letting up for a break of three to four days and many boats were making a break for it. We called out on the VHF radio to the daily MarineNet broadcast and got a reply immediately. We met up with our captain in the next hour after and we were sleeping on the boat that night in preparation for departing the next morning.
We made the 72 hour crossing from La Paz to Puerto Vallarta in an amazing 4 day non-stop journey on the beautiful 46 foot sailboat, M/S SOMF with Captain Jerry, Sailor Yeri and her little seadog, Bubu, named after a candy here and just as sweet. The boat is the most luxurious sailboat I’ve ever been on and bigger than our old apartment in Vancouver! It had a huge aft cabin and a spacious v-berth by the bow of the ship. It has two full queen size beds, a full galley with a full sized fridge, a deep freeze, a large flat-screen TV that we watched movies at night sometimes, a water filter that desalinates ocean water to fresh water, an industrial sized ice maker and a washing machine. We had hot showers…hot showers!
Cold beer, hot showers and great company; we are living the dream!
We left La Paz harbour around noon on Tuesday Dec 17. Just before Lorenzo channel, I saw a manta ray jump and do a flip right off the starboard bow. We had seen some mantas jump in the distance when we had sailed here with Ben and Jory last year but I had thought they were baby mantas. Seeing them so close on this trip made me realize how diifcult it is to tell size over water without any visual references. Seeing this manta in comparison to the boat made me realize how big it was. It probably had a 6 feet wide wingspan!
The seas were a bit rough the first day, especially as we cut through Lorenzo channel between Isla Espiritu Santo and the mainland. The wind and waves were going one direction and we wanted to go another direction. Our disagreement left us rocking in the waters. However, by midnight, things had settled down and the ocean was as flat as glass for the rest of our crossing.
On a 72 hour crossing, someone needs to be awake and up on deck on watch all the time to keep an eye out for other boats and to keep us on route. Though Bryan and I feel like we are truly blessed to have such a remarkable opportunity and reaping the lions share of the benefits of crossing with Captain Jerry on the beautiful M/S SOMF, picking up some extra crew before a crossing helps share watch duties, as well as helps out with cooking, cleaning and etc. It works out much better to have three hour shifts through the night rather than just trying to stay up the whole night, which adds up on a multi-day crossing. Bryan and I are on watch from 11-2am, Jerry is on from 2-5am and Yeri is on from 5-8am when people start waking up again. On our first watch, I remember thinking, “Wow. Yesterday, I was in La Paz looking for a boat and here I am tonight keep watch and basically driving a 46 foot sailboat through the Sea of Cortez!” We worked south along the coast of the Baja that night bathed in the bright light of the almost full moon above.
When I woke up the next day, Cabo San Lucas and the southern tip of the Baja was fading off into the distance as we headed out into the open waters in the vast Sea of Cortez. As land faded away, it was just horizon to horizon shimmering blue seas. The wind had died and the ocean was a bit wavy sill but had really settled down from the day before. We dropped fishing lines off the back and eagerly watched for fish. One beautiful dorado, also called mahi-mahi or dolphin fish, finned around and nipped the lure twice. They are beautiful fish, changing to a brillant blue when they are on the hunt. However, they are also a really smart fish and quickly realized our lure was not edible and left us dreaming of sushi. The next morning, Bryan and I woke up to lines whirling on the fishing reel. It took us a couple moments to realize what it was and when we quickly realized, Bryan jumped out of bed and ran onto the deck. It was a slow morning in the middle of the ocean with no boats around so Yeri decided to start fishing. We had two of them finning around the back of the boat but it was just a tease. Still no fish for us.
Bryan and I spent much of our third day sitting together on the bow platform with our feet dangling off, watching the oceanscape flow past and looking for fish and other forms of life. There are so many turtles just floating in the water. The first one we saw, we thought it was a floating piece of garbage. We were going to sail right by it so Bryan went to get a hook to scoop the “garbage” out of the water. As we were right by it, we realized it was a turtle! I must have seen almost 40 turtles that day. They become temporary islands for resting sea birds and many of the turtles’ backs were spattered white. We also saw basking sea lions, flipping their fins in the air as they floated past us and a huge marlin jump three times, splashing in the distance. Flying fish, jumping out of the water and soaring for incredible distances on their wings leap to escape predators such as marlin and dorados. Sometimes, I think that flying fish might fly for the curiosity of it, a passion for exploring something completely foreign to their natural habitat, much like sailors who also leave their familar land behind for this vast watery domain.
The water was completely flat on our third day and the sea resembled a giant lake. We stopped the boat and jumped off to go swimming about 150 miles off shore! The water was such an incredible shade of blue and 30 degrees celcius, temperature taken 2 feet below the surface.
All of a sudden a little later, a pair of marlins hit our fishing hooks. They are fierce fish who dominate these seas. Bryan, on one fishing line, said that unlike the fight of other fish who try to run and then rest and then try to run and break the line, the marlin just seemed to stand up on his tail and shake his head to break the line. With each shake of the marlin’s head, Bryan was being tossed around a bit on the boat. It was an estimated 150lb fish, a fish that is bigger than me and almost weighed as much as Bryan. Both marlins worked themselves loose after a brief fight.
Then, we were blessed with a huge pod of dolphins who accompanied our boat into the sunset. One dozen was all around us and another dozen was bow surfing. They swim by the bow of the boat, perhaps the wake pushes them along for a ride or maybe it’s just for fun. They are doing jumps and flips and Yeri’s little dog, Bubu is barking at them from the deck.The water is so warm here, the ocean glows with bioluminence whenever the water is disturbed at night. Before the bright moon rose, the boat cut a shimmery, glowing path in the black waters. After the moon rose, it was so bright you could only see a few sparkles here and there. On our watch that night, we realized that some of the sparkles in infront of the boat was a pair of dolphins! As our eyes adjusted, we watched the glowing dolphins swim with the boat in the Sea of Cortez night.
On Dec 20, I woke up and could see land again. It would still take us all morning to go into the huge Bandaras Bay, which straddles two states and numerous communities. Bandaras Bay is also a hot spot for whales and our ride in was basically a whale watching tour, seeing the majestic grey whales swim with their sinuous dark bodies and breach with giant splashes. The flat bay was like a volcanic field with the geysers of the whales breath shooting into the air like numerous volcanic vents. We anchor at La Cuz, about 20km from Puerto Vallarto on the road and spend one last night on the boat. That night, the winds pick up and even the anchorage is rocking. We got here at the perfect time!
It has been such an amazing time sailing and I can’t wait until the next time we set   foot on a boat. A huge thanks to Captain Jerry and Yeri for giving us such a   wonderful opportunity and their lovely company!

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The Life of Cycling in Baja California

This is about the experience of the landscape of Baja California and aspects of life cycling through it.

1) Everything is prickly
There are spines of all different types and forms from big to small, from hard and brittle to soft and flexible . Some plants look armoured like a medieval knight while others have small, hairlike spines that are nearly invisible and hard to get out. Even grasses have detachable parts that manage to work their way into our clothing to prickle you!

2) Prickly means less things are poisionous
I love exploring what edible wild plants I can find and bought the thick textbook like “Baja Plant Field Guide” with me. Reading through the book, I found that very few plants were poisonous. This did not mean that everything was edible or tasty but rather that it would not kill you to try it. Perhaps it is because most things are prickly so the plants did not need to protect itself with poison. We tried prickly pear cactus fruit through we were never able to avoid all of its small hair-like spines. We fell in love with amazing pitayas of the galloping cactus, which had large, visible spikes and tasted like a kiwiberry. We tried the peppery flowers of on an agave stalk.

3) The ocean breaks all of these rules
Pufferfish, for example, break al of these rules. They are pickly AND poisonous. However, breaking rules means we can also break rules too and pufferfish can be prepared in a way that is edible. Apparently, I am an “experienced cook” since I prepared and cooked one variety of smooth skinned pufferfish we unknowningly speared fished in Bahia Concepcion without harming us! Either that or beginner’s luck…

4) Goodbye racoons! Hello bugs!
Racoons plagued us on the Pacific Coast route through Washington, Oregon and California. However, in the dry and harsh deserts of the Baja without state parks that concentrated campers for an all-you-can-eat buffet for scavengers like racoons, medium to larger animals were farther in between. It was just harder to find food and water to survive. It was only in one spot on our entire Baja journey that we heard racoons existed and was a problem. Racoons apparently live in the mangroves behind a popular RV campground in Playa Santispac in Bahia Concepcion.  When we were wild camping in the desert, we sometimes heard coyotes but never saw one. Apparently, they are quite shy and rarely approach people. Without bears and racoons, our food practices changed. At first, we had wondered how to hang out food in the desert without trees but we ended up just hanging our food panniers on our bikes at night and they were fine. Our threats were mainly mice and ants. Instead of worrying about racoons, we instead worried about scorpions, spiders and ants so we became really careful about picking up our panniers after a night or two sitting on the ground. Bryan actually found a small scorpion under one of his panniers after a night in the desert! We stored our riding shoes inside our panniers at night to avoid creepy crawlies and made sure our tent was always zipped up. Not worrying about racoons and bears also meant that we could eat in our tent. We resisted for a long time, eventhough we met a lot of the other cyclists who ate in their tent, until we were rained in one morning. Then, it was amazing to eat our trailmix breakfast in bed. What a wild experience!

5) Who let the dogs out? Woof woof!
Though we didn’t worry have to worry about racoons sneaking out at night to steal our food, we did have another animal on our mind. Dogs loved to chase us on our bikes.  Sometimes, they would even hear us from behind their house and come out running and barking away. Everyone seemed to have a dog or two at their house or ranch to guard their property. Even the smallest dog, a little fluffy lapdog or a yappy chichuhua, would take their job very serious. Actually, it was especially these little dogs that would come out in a fury of fur and teeth, barking away as they chased us. However, with these little dogs, they barely came up to the height of our pedals and we quickly outrode them.  Us cyclists had many different theories about the dogs. Someone suggested that our chains make an especially annoying noise that only dogs can hear. Another suggested that they’re herding dogs and we’re a strange creature getting away. Sometimes, I feel that they just like to run after and chase things for fun. Of course, there are often guard dogs as well, though they don’t seem to chase the cars that drive by (but they do chase motorbikes!). Cyclists have different strategies to deal with dogs including carrying a stick and the opposite of the spectrum, carrying dog treats, some pedal faster while others slow down, some tell them “No! Go home” and the stern voice carries meaning beyond the language itself and someone even spoke German to dogs. I often pedalled faster if I saw a dog chasing me  because I knew my bike easily outpaced the dogs and they don’t usually run farther than their house. However, if I was about to pass a dog, I would pedal slowly and often, they wouldn’t even move to look up from where they are lounging in the sun.  The dogs sound ferocious but if you stop to pet them, most of them are actually bundles of love. They jump and lick and just want a bit of your attention and love.

6) The wild camping bonanza south of Ensenada
Different cyclists had different strategies for finding a place to stay the night while travelling through Baja California. Hotels, couchsurfing and warmshowers hosts, staying with firefighters, asking to camp on people’s properties and wild camping are all options. Except for staying with firefighters, which we only heard from other cyclists later in the trip, we used all of the above options. The most common option for us and really my favorite is wild camping in the desert and on an isolated beach.  After Ensenada, the population drops and a lot of the landscape is open desert – perfect for finding a random camp among the cactuses to spend the night!

7) Same same but different names 
Names repeat. We stopped at Rosarito the first day in Mexico. El Rosario marked our entrance to the Central Desert. We then passed a turnoff to Santa Rosalilita on our way to another town named Rosarito after the Central Desert. This Rosarito is just under 300km to Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez. Figures in Mexican history are repeated as city names and street names in almost every city, such as Vicente Guerro and Lazaro Cardenas.

8) The one road to rule them all
There is basically one main road in Baja California that is paved, the MEX 1. It zigzags back and forth from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez, successfully connecting many of the larger towns and cities of the pennisula on one road. This means that especially in the large center portion of the Baja crossing vast deserts, all of the traffic is on a narrow, two laned highway.  At night, large trucks lit up in lights earning our nickname for them, “Christmas tree trucks”, race down the roads. However, the one main route also funnels cyclists and we ended up forming a bike gang with regularly 8 to 15 cyclists! It was a great little community of touring cyclists that developed.

9) Long haul cyclists carry the craziest stuff
Cycling the popular Pacific Coast route through Washington, Oregon and Californa, you see some people touring with very little gear. With a grocery store reliably every day and water avaliable almost everywhere, people don’t have to pack as much. Also, you get some credit card cyclists who stay at hotels and eat out at restaurants. We met people who didn’t travel with a stove, or even a tent. One person we met cycling in Oregon didn’t have any panniers. He only had a handlebar bag and one small bag on his back rack. He didn’t have a tent but rather slept under a lightweight tarp. They tended to look at us in amazement. Why are we carrying so much stuff? In the Baja California, the cyclists here carry more because we have stretches in the desert between towns. We tend to have a pattern of resupplying in town to last 3 or 4 days in the desert and water becomes a larger concern. For one overnight in desert including two days of riding, we survive on one 10L dromadary of water. For two to three overnights in the desert, we need at least 20L of water. Also, cyclists in Baja California tend to carry more tools to be prepared incase anything breaks in the many remote stretches. For long haul cyclists, cycling also becomes a lifestyle to be lived for many months to years and that also impacts packing styles. Bryan and I have a speargun and carry memory foam pillows. One cyclist named Paul started carrying a street cone as a joke. Another cyclist found a big curving goat (or sheep…) horn and thought he might use it as a drinking horn. Rigel and Erin started carrying a large tartantula spider they found in the desert in an old peanut butter jar as a pet. Other cyclists Dave and Uschi have four panniers plus pulling a trailer to carry a palace of a six person tent that I could do jumping jacks in, a sitar and a mandolin. They figured that if they’re living in the tent for two years, they might as well be comfortable and plus it needed to fit the sitar. We had some wonderful nights all our little bike gang chilling out in their giant tent playing a boardgame they brought and some amazing times stargazing in the middle of the desert listening to Dave play the sitar!

10) Pannier after opening
Because we do stretches in the desert between towns, cyclists often have to carry at least a couple days of food with them. We are testing the boundaries of keeping food. We find that cheese keeps remarkably long – even the softer white cheeses that are popular here in Mexico.  Even sliced ham, chorizo sausages and other meat will be ok if it is used in the first day or two. You can often extend food life even further by cooking it, then reheating it before eating. “Refridgerate after opening” becomes translated into the cyclist idiom, “Pannier after opening.” In my panniers, I have a collection of old peanut butter jars that I store cut up veggies that make assembling burritos for lunch easy or leftover meals. In towns, we basically survived on delicious fish tacos. Fish tacos with a huge piece of deep fried fish in a flour tortilla is characteristic of Baja California.

11) The perpetual fear of the south
Many people warned us about cycling in Mexico, often of Baja California and Tijuana especially. We would tell people when we were cycling through the USA that we’re cycling from Vancouver to Patagonia and people would say, “Oh through Mexico…?”  There seems to be this perpetual fear of the south. In Canada, people warned us about the States. “Everyone has guns you know?” In the States, Mexico was talked about in hush tones. Drug and weapon trafficking was said to dominate everything and the landscape was described almost like a war zone where you could trust no body. What a surprise it was for us then when we crossed in Tijuana and someone on the Playas de Tijuana said, “Here, it is safe…but you have to watch out in Chiapas!” Chiapas is a state in southern Mexico. I wonder if when we get to Chiapas, we will get people warning us of Guatemala and so on?

12) Travel Mexico!
I feel the challenges of cycling in Baja California were mostly environmental – the baking sun and limited access to water at times, strong cross winds that adds another element to balance, spines everywhere threatening our tires, and the risky combination of narrow, shoulderless roads and big trucks. However, people often expressed to us dangers of a more social nature focusing on people, violent thefts, kidnapping and the overarching spectre of the drug trade. While bad situations can occur, as they can anywhere in the world, I found them to be extremely overexaggerated for Mexico. The people I have met while cycling through Baja California have been some of the nicest, most friendly, welcoming and generous people I have ever met. People welcomed us into their homes and invited us, complete strangers, to camp out on their properties. We would wild camp in the desert and drivers would just wave if they saw us when they passed by. Cars and trucks would try to give us as much room as possible on the road. People waved and honked excitedly to cheer us on. Someone even slowed down to hand us each a cold pop as they passed. We felt like rockstars sometimes as people were genuinely so excited to meet us. If I had one recommendation to people after cycling Baja California, it would be travel to Mexico and especially the Baja. It is such an amazing place with friendly people, amazing food, dramatic landscapes and stunning scenery.

Reflection on the Baja: Lessons from the Road

The black ribbon of HWY 1 stitching together the pennisula, weaving back and forth from the brilliant blue Pacific to the sapphire jewel Sea of Cortez, has taught me three things:

1) First, the most fun is often found on a path that is not necessarily straight but rather zigzags back and forth. Life is in the journey and we do not listen to a magnificent orchestral symphony for the last note but rather for the music of getting there. The roads of travel are rarely straight but curves in fantastical and unpredictable ways. This is where the adventure lies; in the random opportunities and challenges of life which becomes more vividly clear and concentrated when we’re out of our comfort zone in travel. Going off the main road to random side dirt paths, an interesting adventure as sand loved to slip under my tires carrying a fully loaded touring bike, found us the most stunning and isolated desert camps where we were surrounded by cactuses and millions of stars in the clear desert nights.

2) Secondly, the Baja roads have retaught me to have some element of trust in the world. The roads are narrow and a large semitruck often touched both the yellow middle line and the white outer line as they drove. Watching two semitrucks pass each other is a breathtaking display of skill and guts. Being involved in the dance as a cyclist on the side of the shoulderless road with a vehicle behind you and another one approching in the oncoming lane is a practice of skill…and faith for the cyclist. While ready and alert if the vehicle doesn’t give room, on some level, you have to trust that the car behind you sees you and will give you room.  Sounds incredible but except for one bad experience when a vehicle merged into me and I basically dove off the road to avoid being hit, the drivers were amazingly nice and courteous. This was especially true for the big semi-truck drivers who would often go fully into the opposite lane or slow right down to chug up the hill behind you until it had a safe opportunity to pass. Also, there is an element of trust in the roads to get you there in one of the best ways possible. Though winding, I found that Baja roads were wonderfully graded with very manageable slopes and tried to find canyon passes to follow as much as possible.

3) The last but not least lesson Baja roads taught me is connection. Baja California, while inhabited by people for millenas revealed by rock art and historic old missions, the pennisula is largely remote desert. There are incredible distances between towns with services, that is a town that is more than just a name on a map, and the landscape seems largely populated by the silent sentials of cactuses standing in the baking sun. Whereas in the USA, it seemed like a town was defined by having a post office, also another embodiement of connection and nation building, the towns in Baja California seemed to be defined by having a Pemex gas station. Hwy 1 is the lifeblood of the pennisula, connecting various communities in Baja California. The one main artery of transport also served to connect cyclists as well by funneling our routes together. Organic groups of seperate touring cyclists joined together without commitment, seperating and moving on when plans differed and rejoining when fate crossed our paths again. We had a group of up to 15 people and a core group of 9 cyclists. It was great to share stories and jokes with others that understood what you were going through and sometimes even expertise in bike repair and maintenance with each other.

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Cycling through Baja California

Our five week journey through Baja California has been  magical dance through desert and beach. It has been challenging with extreme conditions including desert crossings with no water source for at least two days of riding and grinding ascents to new highs in elevation reached on the bike trip thus far. However, the scenery has been stunning and the people we have met have been so amazing. We crossed from the United States at the infamous Tijuana.  We actually saw only a little bit of the remarkbly clean and orderly downtown area before heading out to Rosarito on the toll highway. From the warnings we have receievd about Tijuana, half of me was expecting something closer to a war zone but this wasn’t the case in our short time there. After Rosarito, we had an amazing lobster platter at Puerto Nuevo then made our way to the friendly, party town of Ensenada. We ended up spending a week in and around Ensenada, couchsurfing at Matt’s mansion on the hill in a complex ironically called Puerto Escondito, the hidden port. There we were adopted by Matt’s neighbour, Grandma D and also got check out hotsprings on a nearby beach where you dig into the sand at low tide to make steaming pools. From Ensenada, we make some long, dusty days to El Rosario, the gateway to the Central Desert and where the paved road used to end until remarkably recently. The 122km from El Rosario to Catavina is without services including a source of water and this stretch also involves considerable asecent. About 35km after El Rosario, we meet up with Dave and Uschi, two cyclists from Calgary (and Germany originally for Uschi), who we will continued to cycle with on and off for the full length of the Baja! Our first wild camp in the desert became the beginning of the bike gang as we scooped cyclists to join us in the camp. That first night together with the nine of us camped out in the surreal desert and making a campfire with cactus wood will be forever memorable. The vast Valley de los Cirios of the Central Desert is named after its most characteristic Dr. Sueuss like boojum tree, called los cirios by early missionaries because it looked like a wax tapered candle. The landscape of the Central Desert is stunning, from the surreal boojum trees and gigantic cordon cactuses, the series of flat table top mesas, the boulder desert around Catavina lit up in soft glowing pinks and purples of sunset, and the windswept, barren, moon-like stretch after Catavina above 1000m elevation. We didn’t have any substantial rain for over a month in our cycling journey through California and northern Baja California until we reach the arid Central Desert. There it rains on us for two days. However, the whole desert became green and all of the boojum trees flowered in yellow sprays.  We make it to Guerro Negro, the next major town, for Bryan’s birthday and recharge with some laundry, groceries, showers and eating out at restaurants and taco stands before heading back out into the super flat Vizcaino Desert.  Our trip through the Baja tended to follow a pattern of wild stretches through the desert intersperced by refueling (food and water  being fuel for cyclists) at towns every few days. In the Vizcaino desert, we try pitaya fruit off of the galloping cactus for the very first time and tasting like a cross between a blackberry and a kiwi, it is a delicious treat! We get to San Ignacio and desend into a lush date palm oasis. We almost have to rub our eyes to make sure it is not some mirage formulated by our sun-baked brains. The moist air sweetened by thousands of date palms growing around the river formed by the springs seemed like paradise and almost unreal. One of the cyclists that became a core group of us riding together, Justin, also from Vancouver, climbed up one of the tall date palms and cut down a couple of branches heavy with the delicious fruit. We spent the afternoon gorging on dates. There was a strong headwind from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia. The stretch also included the steepest portion of Mex Hwy 1 on Baja California as it dropped over 300m in one descent. While other hills had held the warning of “curva peligrosa”, dangerous hill, this hill was labeled “curva inferno”, the inferno hell hill. At Santa Rosalia, an old French mining town where the copper mine has recently been reopened by a Canadian company, a friendly lady led us to a windy beach where we could camp. The beach was so windy and filled with trash that we wondered about the wisdom of following her. She said that bikers liked coming here because of the stunning sunrise. We had our doubts but in the morning, the sunrise was indeed amazing and worth it. From Santa Rosalia, we went to Mulege, the second oasis on our trip. Mulege and surrounding area is popular with expats and we quickly realized why. The nearby Bahia Concepcion had some amazingly beautiful beaches with calm, lake-like waters. Playa Santispac on Bahia Concepcion was paradise found for Bryan and I. We spent almost a week there camping free on a beautiful beach, spearfishing for dinner in the morning and then relaxing at the hotsprings nestled in the mangroves in the afternoon. After a while, we did leave and cycled to Loreto to resupply. After Loreto, we crossed the Sierra de Giganta, which involved crazy switchbacking of the road that carved into a hill like whirls on a spinning top.  We crossed to the agricultural centres of Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constituion near the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja before making the challenging headwind filled crossing back to the Sea of Cortez side and our end point of La Paz. Just before reaching La Paz, I was run off the road by a SUV but with only some stratches and bruises on my elbow and knees, I was fine.  36 days after crossing from California to Mexico at Tijuana, we make it to La Paz on  December 15, 2013.

BAJA CALIFORNIA STATS

Distance from San Diego to La Paz – 1628.4km
Crossed into Mexico – Nov 10, 2013
Arrived in La Paz – Dec 15, 2013 (departed La Paz – Dec 17, 2013)
Length of Baja California journey – 36 days (to arrival in La Paz)
Number of riding days – 24 days
Number of rest days – 12 days
Average distance – 67.8km (per riding day) Accommodation – couch surfing 7 nights, warm showers 1 night, hotel 7 nights, paid campground 3 nights and 18 nights of wild camping including 3 nights sleeping in a ranch’s yard, 7 nights on the beach and 8 nights wild camping in the desert

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The blog is copied below. However, for regular updates and the tracking map where our SPOT satellite updates our daily location to so you can see where we’ve been for a week, check out our blog for this epic adventure at  http://theworldcan.org/biketrip.html.

December 16, 2013 – Our Suprisingly Short Time in La Paz

We go over one last mountain range, which was over before I knew it. Climbing seems to fly by when interestingly, the hill in front of you blocks some of the headwind! Uphills also don’t seem much slower when the downhills are still a struggle and a workout. We look down to the hazy view of La Paz bay.  The drivers in Baja California have been amazing, very courteous and giving us lots of room. Unfortunately, that changed around La Paz. Maybe, it was the strong winds and the haze that went with it as it blew sand in the air. Maybe, it was because La Paz is a bigger city and just had more traffic. Maybe, it was that after a long drive in the desert to get to La Paz, drivers are just as tired and excited to see the city. Anyways, as I was rounding a corner on the highway just past the first Pemex station in the expat area of La Paz, this black SUV merges on the highway from a dirt road on the opposite side. Cycling on the Baja through the narrow roads, I have learned a little about trusting the world. You have to trust a bit that those semi-trucks and cars passing you will see you and give you room. I ad a moment of disbelief that the SUV was coming so close and then a moment of shock in realizing, “%$^! They’re going to hit me!” as my eyes locked with the eyes of the woman in the passenger seat through her window. I was so close to the vehicle and just in the nick of time, I dove off the side of the shoulder less road where the jagged edge of the asphalt turned into loose hot sand. I am a little shaken but with only little scrapes on my left elbow and knee, I am fine and very lucky. My bike was flipped over and red panniers were everywhere. People stopped to help me, including a local cyclist, but I was fine and started riding on. As I stopped to talk to Bryan a little further up the road, this big white truck pulled up and a glamorous lady with dangling earrings, dark wavy hair and tall heels jumped out and said, “Maggie?” It turned out that it was Glenda, our Warm Showers (a hosting forum for touring cyclists) host in La Paz. Glenda is so amazingly nice and was actually hosting two other cyclists, the honeymooners Sarah and Pedro from Portugal, and had recently hosted the rest of our old bike gang who were a few days ahead of us! It’s amazing the generosity of opening up their homes, that they share with their families as with Glenda, to basically strangers and sharing in friendship and excitement in our stories from the road. Dec 15th was Pedro and Sarah’s one year anniversary of their wedding and Pedro, a brilliant chef, cooked up a delicious Portuguese feast. There was a stew of pork, potatoes, clams and tomatoes served with French bread and salad then mouthwatering desert of rice pudding custard and a cookie cake layered with sweet butter and cream. The next day, Dave, Uschi, Bryan and I went to the La Paz Marina. La Paz is a major hub for cruisers and we were looking for a ride across to the mainland. At 8am, there is a weather and community broadcast on the VHF radio and then it opens up to ask if anyone has anything to add. Bryan called out from the VHF radio in the harbor, “We are four cyclists, two groups of two, looking for a ride across to the mainland.” Almost immediately, we get a reply. Jerry from M/S SOMF calls back saying he would like to meet us for a crossing to Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. He will be in plaid shorts at coffee time at the Marina clubhouse. We meet up with him and that night we are sleeping on the beautiful 46 foot sailboat in preparation to leave the next day. It has been the most amazing luck because people have been waiting to cross but haven’t been able to because of the strong El Norte winds. There is a break in the winds for the next 4 days and a whole fleet of boats is making the crossing.

December 15, 2013 – Gone With (and then against) the Wind on our way to La Paz

From Playa Santispac, we stopped for another day about 20km further south along the bay at Playa Requesion. Playa Requesion is on a beautiful sandpit that reaches out to a mangrove covered island. However, when we were there, the cold El Norte winds started blowing. Inside our tent, it sounded like a crazy howling storm outside pounding our tent walls with rain. However, there was no rain; it was just the sand. The next day, these strong winds blew us up and over the ridge south of Bahia Conception and onto the vast desert valleys north of Loreto. The valleys were flat…actually better than flat, they were a gradual decent and with the amazing tailwind, we were making an average of around 30km an hour. Though it was over 95km from Playa Requesion to Loreto, the next town, and we were not sure if we were going to reach Loreto in one day when we were planning the night before, with our quick pace, we said, “Hey, we can probably make it there for lunch!” We did 100km before 1pm that day, getting to Loreto super hungry and then feasting on pizza at the town. After lunch, we wandered around searching for a cheap hotel and finally settle on San Martin just a block from the town square. We start talking and then Dave and Uschi appear from the next room saying “I thought I recognized your voice!” The next day, the four of us start our journey to La Paz together, zigzagging over to the Pacific coast before heading back to the Sea of Cortez. The rugged jagged peaks of the Sierra de Gigantas look like the menacing fangs, fading in shades of blue and violet in the distance. About 40km after Loreto, we head into the maw of the beast, riding inland to climb over the Sierra de Gigantas. When it is named the giant mountains, you tend to go into it expecting a bit of a climb. It did have a fun ascent, climbing over 325m elevation in about 5km. Like most of our experience in Baja California, the grade was gradual and very manageable. However, there was some crazy switchbacking. After the first couple km of climbing, I look up and see the road on the next mountain high up above me. The switchbacks circled up this one mountain like the whirls on a spinning top. The Sierra de Gigantas are very scenic, with ragged peaks of weathered down sandstone that looked like it had hundreds of faces carved into it. It was a very rugged landscape with deep canyons and soaring ridges covered with desert. After going through a long valley in the mountains then up another long gradual ascent over a ridge, it was then mostly downhill to Ciudad Insurgentes. The two cities of Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitution are bustling places surrounded by huge farms and ranches. The tailwind was with us the whole way until the turn in the highway at Santa Maria, then that amazing tailwind turned into crazy headwinds and crosswinds as we crossed the peninsula to La Paz. The winds were so strong that one afternoon, we made only 30km in 3 hours after lunch. It was also so hot, 41 degrees celcius, but it didn’t feel that hot with the whipping wind. Our sweat seemed to dry instantly as we fought against the hot wind though my lips were getting quite chapped. We were getting quite salty and I had salt crystals encrusted on my eyelashes. As we finally got some speed going down a hill, the crosswind would try to blow us off the road, sometimes succeeding. The scariest part was this one semi-truck that passed us, blocking the strong crosswind for a moment while creating a draft of its own. The wind became like a vortex that tried to suck us under the truck towards its back tires. However, we were fine and soon we were almost in La Paz and looking forward to a shower!

December 8, 2013 – A Culinary Adventure on Bahia Conception 

Playa Santispac was the first place that we were truly able to use our speargun and it was amazing fun. We would take turns laying on the beach while the other snorkeled and hunted. We only have masks and snorkel and the speargun, no wetsuit or flippers. We would get so into the hunt and not feel the cold until we come out shivering with the fish we caught. That person would then lay in the sun while the other went out to fish. We would really only catch one or two a day for our own dinner and we had some amazing meals. We had a bit of a seafood feast at the beach, starting with clams and scallops on the first day, stingray on the second day (the wings are amazing with crab like meat), these two reef fish on the third day, a good sized mackerel on the fourth day, then octopus, triggerfish and Mexican hogfish on the fifth day. Funny thing is that these reef fish had a big head and buck teeth like a rabbit. The coloring was a bit like a grouper fish and it had smooth skin. I wasn’t completely sure what it was but I thought, maybe a type of grouper or variety of parrotfish, which also has big chomping teeth to chew coral? I was in the process of filleting it and Marco’s friend, Marco came over to see what was up. He basically showed me to do a simple gutting of the fish. Since it was a soft meat and would be really hard to fully fillet, it was easier to just take the head off and gut the fish. I then skinned the fish. We communicated in broken English and Spanish but I asked him if the fish was good. He replied yes, it was delicious. He got back into his truck and drove away. The fish was indeed delicious, a smooth white fish that we poached and served over rice. We actually had a little left over and made into a wicked pasta sauce the next day. It wasn’t until much later when we were sailing and looking at one of Captain Jerry’s fish identification books that we find out it is a type of pufferfish! Now we saw little colorful box fish and huge porcupine pufferfish which seemed to be the biggest fish in these shallow waters and moved sedately knowing that nothing with come after them. We avoided these fish. Though poisonous, the fish identification book noted that this variety of pufferfish, the bullseye pufferfish, is sold in local fish markets but the book still said that it is only palatable after preparation by an “experienced cook” and listed the fish as “non-edible” due to its toxicity. Maybe I can find a job in Japan as a sushi chef now! It was also quite satisfying to get a triggerfish. Bryan and I learned to scuba dive in Thailand at Koh Tao. There, they have a troubled relationship with the huge titan triggerfish. The titan triggerfish were very territorial, aggressive and had huge fangs. There are cases where a titan triggerfish would bite a diver’s mask and some people had scars from this. It doesn’t help that now the divermasters there carry a little slingshot stick that doesn’t hurt the fish but does show it whose boss to protect the divers though probably further antagonizes the fish. Consequently, we have always had a bit of wariness diving with triggers. Here, we found out that they are also amazingly tasty! Bryan was very excited about the octopus he caught and prepared into a tasty soup. He went into the water that day hoping to get an octopus and just as he dove, there was a squirt of black ink in the water from under a rock. Bryan would have never found the octopus if it did not have squirted the telling ink. The suction cups of the octopus’s tentacles are so strange feeling and continue to have sucking power even after death. It’s great to be able to finally use the speargun after carrying it across the desert!

December 8, 2013 – Paradise found at Playa Santispac on Bahia Conception

We were a bike gang of 11 cyclists strung out along the road leaving Mulege. It was a wonderful little group ride following the canyon out of the town then up across a coastal flat before a little climbing to Bahia Conception. Bahia Conception is a huge bay framed by rocky hills and often, it was flat like glass looking more like a big lake as we gazed across the narrow opening to the other shore. We camped out at Playa Santispac, basically the first beach on the bay, on a little beach just around the corner from the main beach. Marco, a man from Veracruz, was setting up a campground there and when we went, it was just a few palapas on the beach. Since the campground was still in process, he actually didn’t charge us to stay there. Our time there has been some of my favorite in the whole trip. The 11 of us chilled and hung out on the beach, playing frisbee in the water and having campfires. Paul, an architect, made a fantastic campfire area using wooden planks for seats and decorating the fire ring with hundreds of shells. I loved out lazy mornings here, watching the sun rise out of my open vestibule and the shadows of the fluttering palm leaves of the roof of the palapa on the tent. You feel so remote here, sleeping under a thatched palm leaf roof with no bathroom, walls, running water, electricity and other items of civilization around, with the amazing experience of friends and gorgeous sunrises/sunsets to keep you company. Then, a pastry vendor drives up. Perodically but unpredictably, we are visited by vendors who drive up in their vehicles and open up their trucks to reveal mobile markets. Someone would pull up to sell fresh bread (still warm!) and tasty cinnamon buns then tell us, “Tomorrow, I’ll be back with brownies!” The next day, everyone is excited like children at a candy shop. A car drives onto the beach and everyone jumps up and runs over to see if it is brownies. Cars with vegetables, eggs, and all sorts of things come to visit us too. There was this one very enthusiastic blanket vendor that drove up in a van and then opened the sliding door and started draping his colorful wares over the doors to display them. He was a pretty hardworking saleman but unfortunately, we were the wrong crowd. We just disappointedly asked, “No comida?” No food? While it is probably true for everyone that a way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, it seems especially true for cyclists. While the others left after 3 nights, Bryan and I ended up staying 5. It was just paradise and we weren’t in any rush to leave. I would do yoga on the beach in front of our palapa in the morning just after sunrise, then we would have breakfast and read a little bit then as it got hotter, Bryan and I would walk down the beach to go spearfishing, then lunch and more chilling and then around 3pm when it was less hot, we would wander down to the hot springs nestled in the mangroves.

December 4, 2013 – Friendly Mulege

We ended up staying a couple days in Mulege at the fantastic Hotel Hacienda with comfortable rooms set around a beautiful gardened courtyard with a swimming pool. Since we were so many – 8 of us cyclists on the first day and met up with Justin on the next day – we got a pretty wicked deal for taking up 5 rooms! They had a grapefruit tree heavy with the delicious yellow fruit so we would sit around the pool in the wooden rocking chairs feasting. We walked to the old mission in Mulege, which was founded in 1705. Everything was made of stone and it had an old bell in its tower. It had beautiful views of the surrounding lush oasis, with palm trees and the slow river flowing through it. It’s kind of funny because BCS, Baja California Sur, could also mean British Columbia South! There are a lot of expats who live in and around this sleepy oasis town and a considerable number of vehicles that pass us have British Columbian license plates. When we were looking for a hotel, we started talking to a Canadian couple who were shopping in town before heading back to their version of paradise on Coco Beach. It turned out that they were from Chilliwack too and lived just a few blocks away from where I grew up! He knew about my grandpa and bought potatoes from Woo Farms! Small world. Talking about the sleepy town, Mulege (pronounced Moo-la-he; the ‘g’ is an ‘h’ sound) is very serious about its afternoon siesta. Around 1-2pm, shops and restaurants start closing. What’s hilarious is that probably half don’t open back up again! These include many of the cheap taco shops selling amazing cerviche (seafood cooked by lime juice) and tacos de pescado, fish tacos, which have been a main staple in towns. Within Mexican food culture, lunch is the big meal and dinner is a small, “snackish” meal. The group of us walked all around Mulege at night looking for a good cheap place. We finally settled on a place and guess what we had? Fish tacos!! Yum! But this time, we got a platter with rice and beans! Fancy.

December 3, 2013 – Vultures, Dogs and Canyons on our Ride to Mulege

We crossed 4000km riden today on our beautiful ride from Santa Rosalia to Mulege. After the amazing sunrise, we rose up over a ridge then out onto a vast coastal plain. There was tornados of turkey vultures circling, rising on the early sunshine heat thermals. At one point, I was riding down the road and there was a row of cordon cactuses, each with a vulture on it with its wings outspread towards the sun. Less magical was the number of dogs that chased us today. Most of the time, it is the little ones that give us the most chase. You know, the little dogs that are bascially only 10 inches off the ground that run up to us with their short little legs and high pitched barks. They’ve got passion but really, it is quite easy for us to get away from them on our bikes. We had some of them today but we also had some bigger dogs too! Just before San Lucas, as we were rolling by a house, this brown dog that seemed to be a rotwieller/ pitt bull cross, started furiously barking and running straight towards the fence around the house. Bryan says to me, “Um, pedal faster…PEDAL FASTER!” I thought it had it had stayed within the fence but apparently it knew exactly how to get out and didn’t even slow down as it squeezed under a part of the fence. We got away just in time. Talking to other cyclists, there are a lot of theories about the dogs. Dave suggests that their excitment comes from not actually understanding what we are. Their barks are really “What are you? What are you?” Also, as many dogs herd, he suggests that the dogs are actually trying to herd us. Bryan suggests that it’s because we’re moving. If you run beside a dog, the dog starts running too thinking its a game. It’s true that most of the time, I actually slow down and the dog stops. Alexa and Paul just say “NO!” sternly at the dogs and that usually stops them. Uschi speaks German to the dogs, which also seems to stop them. Many stop after we have passed the house they’re protecting or won’t go onto the road. It’s interesting because some of the places that we have stayed at on this trip had some ferocious sounding dogs when we first approached but as they got to know us, they just wanted love and they were so cuddly and attention seeking. Just before Mulege, we wind along a scenic canyon pass throuh some hills. We drop down into Mulege, another little oasis with a river running through it out to the ocean. We’re staying in town for two nights, feasting on delicious fish tacos, seafood cocktails and cerviche, before moving onto the beach.

December 2, 2013 – The Windy Ride to the Santa Rosalia and the Sea of Cortez

We rose out of the oasis paradise of San Ignacio and back into the desert. The first ride we crosed was so windy, I wasn’t sure if we would make it the 73km to Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez. The incredibly strong headwind made me work pedalling with effort even on the downhill, when I otherwise would have flown down effortlessly at 45km/hr. Uphill was a fight for every stroke. After that first climb, it opened to a large plateau with the Vulcan Tres Virgins dominating the horizon. The descent crossing the ridge by the old volcano was stunning – a vast desert plateau covered with tall cactuses that looked like small vertical toothpicks from the height at the beginning of the descent and the whole desert plain was surrounded by rocky mountans chizzled from the earth. However, that wasn’t the largest descent of the day. The final descent by the coast is the steepest on Hwy 1 in Baja California. It was a 15% grade that dropped around 300 metres in a very short distance. A sign before the descent says “Cesta del infierno”, a hill of inferno! The downhill itself is fun as traffic is usally very understanding of cyclists and thankfully give us a lot of room as we move more into the middle of the road. However, what I find really tricky is if there is a crosswind, which there was today and is like someone giving you a shove while we are riding fast dwn the hills. We have all be excitedly anticiping the Sea of Cortez, the blue jewel that we saw from the high mountain plateau. The road descends and drops us off in an apocolyptic wasteland. The area of beach before Santa Rosalia is very industrial and we are welcomed to the coast by huge black plumes of burning plastic and garbage at the dump. There is a huge Canadian mining operation and roadsides are littered with garages and broken cars. Garbage is everywhere. Santa Rosalia itself was an interesting place. The city has French roots – a church there was designed by Eiffle and there is an old wood and steel station, an old wooden clocktower and wooden rectanguar homes with wide verandas. It was kind of like a Mexican New Orleans. We were looking for a hotel, but as we were a group of eight, many of the hotels were full or had only one room left and were very expensive. As we were riding arond the historic town, a woman in a white SUV marked with the mining corporation’s logo pulled up to talk to us. She first invited us to camp out at her home at the mine as she said there was tons of room. However, with our reluctance to back track, she first thought of bring us to a local church then suggested a beach owned by her friend and a lawyer for the mining company. We were like little ducklings following our white SUV mother as she slowly led our bike gang to the beach just south of town. She had her 4 way hazard lights flashing and it is amazing how patient people are on the road as we basically took over the lane and collected cars behind us. The chain of cars behind us including a cop car and a couple huge semi-trailers, who struggled up the hill keeping behind us. The beach at Santa Rosalia was a windswept place strewn with garbage and local people coming out to do drunken donuts in their vehicles. Our friend said that she had talked to cyclists and said that they usually like staying here because of the amazing sunrise. As we staked down our tents in the raging wind and cooked with a makeshift windbreak of my panniers and also behind the tent in an attempt to keep most of the beach from becoming dinner, Bryan and I had our doubts to be honest. Is saving a couple bucks at a hotel in town really worth this windy hell? We were tired from fighting the wind all day and went to chill in our tent early that night and our little Hubba Hubba MSR tent was amazing. Inside, it was a cozy cave and we were quickly lulled to sleep by the waves and wind outside. It was so warm that night, over 20 degrees celcius all night, and I think we all slept without our sleeping bags. The next morning, we watched the stunning sunrise and it was all worth it. The dark sky broke with a sliver of fiery orange on the horizon, which grew to light up the whole sky in magentas, pinks and purples. Pelicans flew as black silloettes against the lightening sky as a group of us sat on the beach in the early morning, saying hello to the day ahead.

November 30, 2013 – A Magical Oasis in the Desert – San Ignacio

From Guerro Negro, we headed off in the flat Viscaino desert. It is miles after miles of flat, straight road with rows of electrical poles running endlessly into the horizon. Windswept inland dunes were covered with green spiky yuccas. Everything was covered with spikes. It was a very stark and unforgiving landscape but also very beautiful with hidden gems. Out of the hot sand of the desert, a small yellow flower which reminded me a lot of a little crocus, was growing green and bright. We found pitayas, a violent looking fruit with spikes all over looking like a deadly mine, growing from the equally spiky galloping cactus plant. They were delicious and so juicy, with pulpy bright magenta flesh and little black seeds and tasted like a combination of kiwi and blackberry. Bryan and I made pitaya margaritas with the fruit, sugar, water, lime and mescalito. Yum! Closer to San Ignacio, we entered some rolling hills including some thrilling/exciting/kind of terrifying steep drops on curving roads without guardrails overlooking cliffs. The roads reminded me a little of being on a waterslide or a rollercoaster…but with traffic. Dropping down the ridgeline to the palm tee oasis of San Ignacio was magical. After a couple weeks in the desert, it was stunning to all of a sudden be surrounded by lush date palms swaying in the breeze over the calm, wide river fed by the spring. We had been calling the puddles we’ve seen in the desert from the rain we had “lakes” and now here was a real body of water. The very air is moist and fragrant with the sweet aroma of dates. We went into the town square, a calm elegant place with a tree filled courtyard facing an old mission from the 18th century. I think cactuses are really amazing plants but it was nice to chill out under the tall trees eating ice cream after the hot day of riding through the desert without shade. We camped out by the river with our little biking community, which seems to be growing. We stayed an extra day because once you find paradise, why leave it so quickly? The next day, we had 13 cyclists camping there. Justin, a rockclimbed and a professional scaffolder, climbed up one of the tall date palms and cut off probably 10 lbs of delicious dates. Four of us stood below holding a tarp outstretched to catch the falling dates and thankfully no falling Justins. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, chatting about life and cycling and gorging on dates. We had a great musical jam in the evening with Dave on the mandolin, Mathieu on the guitar, Torey and Peter playing an empty water drum with amazing results, Uschi on the melodica, an keyboard recorder, and me banging on Torey’s dirty dinner pots. Magical!

November 27, 2013 – A Dance through the Desert – Crossing the Central Desert of Baja California

After leaving Punta Banda, we have had a whirlwind week with some big days, long treks of solitude in the mysterius high deserts of the Baja and meeting an amazing community of cyclists. After El Rosario, we left the Pacific coastline and turned inland to cross the Central Desert heavily laden with water. I started carrying a full 10 litres on my bike. The 20 litres between Bryan and I lasts only two to three days for us riding in the desert. From El Rosario, it is 124km until Catavina, where the next services can be found…including water. We left the Mediterrean climate region of Baja California, which has a climate drier but similar to that of San Diego and southern California and is characterized by sage scrubland. The Central Desert, is a surreal place with long grinding climbs to plateaus before dipping down in a canyon then rising again on the other side. Tall flat, table-top like mesas command the horizon with colours like a rainbow transitining from redish orange scrub by the road to various shades of blue and violet of the mountains in the distance. In some ways, I feel like I have stepped into a Dr. Seuss book with huge cordon cactuses like a many limbed green giant reaching for the sky. They are over 20 metres tall and many of the large ones are over 200 years old! Also keeping the cordons company is the boojum tree, which is a tall, pole like tree with a pale, waxy bark. The trees look straight out of the Dr. Seuss story with the branches curling and twisting into loops and twirls with a spray of yellow flowers at the tip. Th landscape is so alien, so unique in ther whole world that no wonder there are so many stories of aliens and UFOs here. The landscape is out of this world. The boojum trees are unlike any other tree I have seen before, as if it was a giant grass plant and I was tiny and looking out at the world from an ant’s perspective. As we enter the desert, guess what happens? IT RAINS! It was the first substantial rain since we left Oregon and it happens when we reach the famously arid Baja Desert. The cloud cover however was a blessing as it provided valuable shade in an otherwise hot and shadeless desert and the rain meant that the desert was amazingly green with all of the boojum trees flowering. We made the crossing to Catavina in two days and around Catavina is a stunning boulder desert, lit up in glorious hues of pink and purple in the sunset. After Catavina, we climbed up to over 1000metres in elevation, where the cold wind whipped as us and the landscape was barren even of the hardy cactuses. We felt that we were riding a ridge on top of the world. The vegetation slowly returned as we descended. The landscape seemed as isolated and remote as before. Sometimes, it feels so remote out in the Central Desert, with small cowboy villages that seem almost like ghost towns and surreal plants to keep us company in our long rides. However, this route is old as evident in the historic missions from the 18th century and even older in terms of the rock art that decorate some of the rocks. Also, coincidently, the remoteness and the single road has brought cyclists together. There is about 13 of us cyclists, some solo travellers and other couples, that are in the same area at the same time. We have formed a loose group – some ride ahead, but then we meet up as they take a rest day. Bryan and I did the whole desert crossing with Justin, a solo cyclist who also started in Vancouver, and Uschi and Dave, who started their long road south in Alaska and are carrying a palace of a giant tent and his sitar. There is something truly magical to stargazing in the desert, where there are so many stars that individual constellations are indisguishable, listening to beautiful and haunting sitar. We made it to Guerro Negro yesterday, just in time for Bryan’s birthday, and we’re spending an extra day here before heading back out to cross the Vizcano Desert. It is amazing to consider that we have just finished crossing a desert about the same mileage as our time in Washington! At 3751km from home, we are now half way down Baja California!

November 17, 2013 – The Enchanted Life in Punta Banda

We are living an enchanted life. We made it to Ensenada, well actually a little south of Ensenada at Punta Banda about 130km south of the the border. We met an awesome couchsurfing host, Matt, a professional online poker player… or professional odds player as he calls himself. Watching him play about 14 games at once is amazing and rises the game up to an art. Bryan calls him a professional multitasker. Matt also helps makes social documentaries in Brazil in his spare time. He lives in a beautiful house on top of a ridge overlooking the brilliant blue ocean on both north and south sides of the pennisula and the twinkling lights of the city across the bay. It was hard to get to – a steep mile long dirt road to the gated expat community of Puerto Escondito – “Hidden Port” ironically named because it is onto top of a huge hill from the ocean! We stayed here for five nights as the busy Baja 1000, an offroading race that spans the whole of Baja California whips its roads into a frenzy. It is a bit of a yoga retreat for me as I can do yoga on the big wooden patios overlooking both the sunrise and sunset on the ocean horizon. Matt’s even got a keyboard piano and music books with all the classics and I’m working through all my old favorites again. So anyways, we’re took long afternoon naps, cooked in an actual kitchen, explored beaches and was mesmerized by beautiful sunsets this week. Also, we’ve been adopted by Grandma D, Matt’s wonderful hippy neighbour. We meandered down from the ridge to La Bufadora, an hour walk away but we made it over two because we were exploring the desert plants. La Bufadora is the world’s second largest marine gyser (though we were never able to find out which was the first) and as a wave smashes into a pocket of air in the sea cave, a rocket of water shoots up; it goes “BUF!” thus the name. The ground thundered under us with each wave. We also enjoyed the market surrounding La Bufadora where every second booth seemed to be a pina colada stand where the tasty drinks were served in a hollowed out pineapple. The next day, D showed us the local Sunday buffet at Baja Mamas, which was like finding heaven for hungry bikers! Then afterwards, we went down to the beach at La Joya where hot spring vents up though the sand. In low tide, we dug a hole in the sand, making a delightful hot tub. We had to carefully choose our hole and dug a few betore settling on one. Some were just too hot. The impermenance of human activity on these springs was really interesting. After the next tide, all the holes are wiped clean for the next set of excited visitors.

November 15, 2013 – Rosarito to Ensenada

Riding on the roads in northern Baja California, I almost feel like a rockstar. People wave, they honk their horns excitedly, they cheer and they whoop. On our ride from La Mission to Ensenada, a police waved at us and when we waved back, he flared his sirens for a brief moment in cheer, which terrified the oncoming car to a sudden stop. When we are standing on the street or eating at a little sidewalk cafe, people come up to us and noting the Canadian flag on Bryan’s bike, ask us if we really came all the way from Canada and then heartfully congratuate us with cheer. We have met some of the most friendliness people in the world in our first week in Mexico, both locals and expats. It has been amazing. Also amazing has been the food! On our day riding from Rosarito, we didn’t get far as we were lured in by Puerto Nuevo, a little oasisof about 30 restaurants specializing in lobster. Bryan and I split a meal of four (four!) lobsters about the length of a dinner plate each, a pot of melted butter and endless tortillas, beans, rice and pico de gallo with a pina colada each for $15 total. We also found a little pulqueria on the side of the road. It was a little wooden stand with improvised benches made from a plank of wood and a very friendly owner who served us samples after samples of chilled pulque as we communicated again in a mixture of beginner Spnaish (from our side) and a bit of English (from his side) and a lot of laughing (on both sides). Pulque is the fermented nectar of the maguay cactus, a cousin of the famous agave. The cactus is cored and the juice from it starts fermenting with ferocity soon after. You have to “burp” the container or else it explodes. We had tried to ferment our own pulque in an earlier trip to Baja Mexico (basically waiting and perodically burping the container) to disgusiting results. We tried the professionally made pulque this time and it was amazing, especially chilled ice cold and mixed with fruit juices. As another note, we ran into two brothers down in Baja California for a wedding who were heading back up north and they sold us their speargun! Bryan and I had our first time spearfishing yesterday in a little bay south of Ensenada. No fish yet but it was wicked fun. It brings a whole new level to snorkeling! Ensenada is a super friendly town and with four universities in the city, it is a bit of party central in downtown with four blocks in the downtown devoted to the local favorite Papas and Beer franchise. We ended up meeting their operations manager, Rocky, while asking for directions in Rosarito, and had an awesome afernoon chatting with him in Ensenada. This weekend is also the Baja 1000, a 1000 mile offroad rally that starts in Ensenada and draws people from all over the world. We found an awesome couchsurfer, Matt who works on inspiring documentaries in his spare time, and we’re staying at his house on a beautiful pennisula south of Ensenada through the weekend until the roads hopefully become a little less hectic.

November 11, 2013 – Crossing into Mexico

The San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is the busiest border in North America. Going north, there was a virtual parkinglot with over 20 lanes of cars waiting to cross into the United States. Luckily, walking our bikes through the crossing, we counted as pedestrians so we crossed with ease. In fact, we actually had to ask for a visa as visitors are allowed three free days in Tijuana and the border guard was just waving people through without looking at our passports. InTijuana, we were definitely in a different country.There were open markets, tacos stands, a different language, a remarkable number of pharmacies and people everywhere. we went onto the toll highway to bypass most of Tijuana and it was an exciting and somewhat terrifying shoulderless ride in a concrete confined space at first. Cars and trucks, full of all sort of things like a bunch of poles sticking out horizontal out ofthe passager side window, would come so close to us…but they never hit. One of our first pasts was this craz hill. As I struggled up the climb, I thought to myself, “Man, am I really so out of shape from one week off from riding?” I guzzled water at the top and sat down because I was feeling a bit faint after giving everything I had to get to the top without stopping under the baking hot sun. As subsequent, more graduale hills felt almost effortless, I thought, “Nope, that was just a really steep hill.” We made it to Playas de Tijuana before the police kicked us off the toll freeway. However, it was kind of hilarious because he emphatically said “I CAN’T allow you on the freeway,” then told us directions on how to get past the police and toll checkpoints. He told us to bcktrack a 100 metres, go down to the town along a path by the bus stop until we reached the bouvelard, head south for about a mile on that road then rejoin the freeway agan. Rejoining was an adventure. The road we were directed to didn’t actually rejoin the freeway but rather was an unfinished ramp up to an unfinished tunnel that local teenagers were bombing down on longboards. Our path back on was rather a dirt path littered with glittering broken glass and garbage that eventually jumped the curb and found a break in the railing to get back on the freeway. There were amazing views of the ocean with sweeping beaches and local children playing in the waves. We made it to Rosarito that night, about 30km south of the border. We stayed with a couchsurfing host, Lanny and her mother, who were so amazing and cheerful. Mama Rita didn’t speak much English…and we hardly speak much Spnaish yet (but we’re learning!) but we communicated in laughter. Lanny made us awesome margaritas from tequila, ice, lime juice and a bit of sugar blended all together. So many little limes went into making our drinks. It has been an awesome first day in Mexico.