Sunday, February 6, 2011

And Back Again

We have been back in Vancouver for almost four weeks.  But we keep running into people who have been following our blog and think we are stuck somewhere in Baja limbo because we have failed to describe our trip home.  So here it is.

After dancing on the beach on New Year's eve we left the next morning for a 24 hour bus ride north. 

In the past I have tended to be overly optimistic about bus rides thinking that I would be able to read several full length novels and complete hours of work on my laptop during the trip.  Usually I am disappointed and I find that I can only do small spurts of reading and typing as the bus sways back and forth on windy roads.  We were both dreading the long ride.   But it turned out not to be so bad.  We were able to get some sleep and even do some reading.

We stopped in Ensenada where we had time to try Mexican Chinese food and watch a Spanish subtitled version of the "Social Network."  After spending the night there we hopped another bus to the border at Tijuana. 

The bus dropped us at the end of long line to cross the border so we did not get to experience much of Tijuana.  The special bike lane that we had read about did not seem to be open anymore.  So we joined the pedestrian line.  And found that it was not well equipped to handle touring cyclists (note to others - stay in the left most line to avoid the turnstiles).  After that we boarded a San Diego tram line to head downtown. 

The next morning we boarded an Amtrak train to continue our trip north.  Our trip was meant to be an "experiment in low ghg travel" so we were using buses and trains to head north instead of flying.  Train travel creates about .21 kg of ghg emissions per passenger mile compared to .35 kg for SOV cars and .48 for airlines.   Train travel is also better for pollution from Oxides of Nitrogen, VOCs and Carbon Monoxide.

When we first boarded the train we both thought "this is civilized."  It definitely felt more comfortable than the bus.  We rode a double-decker train to LA where we had a brief layover before embarking on another train.  For the first several hours the train followed a similar route to the one we had cycled about two months before.  It was fun to see the roads we cycled and campgrounds we had stayed at again.

The next morning we watched the sun rise over a snowy landscape near Mount Shasta in Northern California.  A definite contrast to the beaches we had been on only a few days before. 

The train was quite comfortable.  There was plenty of legroom, outlets to plug the laptop computer into, a lounge car with big glass windows, a snack bar and a dining car.  There were also sleeper cars but we had opted for the cheaper seats.  Rather than spend two nights on the train we chose to spend a night in Eugene, Oregon.

From Eugene we took a combination of train and Amtrak buses back to Vancouver.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dangers and Warnings

We were robbed on our trip. Once by raccoons at a campground in Oregon
and possibly a second time in California. In the second case the
perpetrator claimed he thought the food we left in the animal-safe
storage box was abandoned so I am not sure if that counts as a robbery.
Karen bemoaned the lost country round loaf of bread, salmon cream cheese
and brie cheese. The northbound cycle tourist appeared to have been
subsisting on Mr. Noodles alone.

I did not feel unsafe at anytime in Mexico. Warnings collected from
home and along the coast no doubt ensured we stayed particularly alert
and safety conscious at this point in our trip. As it was, I felt more
uneasy in some of the rougher neighborhoods that we passed through in
San Francisco and San Diego. Karen had some fretful nights camping in
US state parks that, despite efforts to exclude the homeless, often mentally ill, represent a viable housing option to those that have tents.

Given the number of Americans we met who told us they would not and
would likely never travel in Mexico, especially right now, I was
surprised at how many Americans and Canadians were in Baja. Makes sense
though, many of the Americans that travel in Mexico in the winter, were
already there. Southern Baja is rife with tourist destinations and
gringo communities, places where even now BC, California and other
license plates equal or outnumber Mexican plates. Visits are down
though and reportedly have been the last couple of years. Most of the
places we visited, the restaurants and hotels geared towards tourists,
were mostly empty even during the busy Christmas period.

We were also constantly warned about cycling on the highways in Baja.
Our travel guide, Baja Moon Handbook, dissuades visitors from traveling
by bicycle. We've come to think this is mostly drivers projecting their
own fears on us as cycling seemed safer than driving on these roads.
Warnings about the highway usually came from gringos. In fact one
gringo, any inhibitions he may have had unraveled by a number of drinks
argued that bikes had no business being on the Baja highway (another
touring cyclist described a similar experience). Mexicans were
generally more supportive - shouting and honking encouragement, waving
and taking our picture. And there was a phrase we heard from the
uniformed men waving us through the military checkpoints, "pura
deporte". Karen says it translates literally as "pure sport." Maybe a
better translation would be "hardcore, dude!"

I did get hit by a car once. That was in Vancouver the day we were
leaving. Based on the legal advice I have received so far it appears
that ICBC is misrepresenting the law in an attempt to shift some of the
responsibility away from the driver. This would result in a reduced
payout to the injured on behalf of their clients (read more about the accident here). We thankfully did not experience any such breaches of the rule of law in Mexico, contrary to the common belief that police corruption and bribery is widespread.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

El Pescadero

distance = 14

The beaches of El Pescadero were our last and southernmost stop in Baja
California and of this entire three month voyage. How fitting that our
trip would end back on the Pacific Ocean having cycled the length of the
Pacific Coast from Canada and all through the US. And just south of the
Tropic of Cancer. Los Cerritos was the first beach we hit up after
setting up camp next to Miguel's restaurant. Back on the beach we
soaked up the sun and observed the surfers who we would soon come to
have new respect for.

After visiting the environs we decided to take the plunge and give
surfing a go. We rented a board and wetsuits from Costa Azul surf
shop. The humongo beginner's board was hoisted on Rob's head as we made
our way to a less populated break point. We reviewed how to start
surfing with Matt back at Miguel's restaurant, who upon meeting us
admitted the "campsite" we were staying in was an unfinished hotel. I'd
taken lessons with Sally in Tofino last summer and was confident that I
knew what we needed to do. But Matt had some helpful hints. Upon his
recommendations we focused on just popping up on the board to standing
as it caught the tail end of the wave, way post-break. Rob and I took
turns at surfing the whitewash into the beach.

And there was surfing but there was mostly rumble and tumble, saltwater
nasal cleansing and Rob's jammed finger knuckle (oh, mi pobrecito). To
hurl oneself into the waves and attempt to harness that burst of energy
as the wave breaks. The waves that come and come and never stop. To
start understanding them, reading in them the moon and the land. Well
it was a fine way to wrap up this trip that has had us rising and
falling with the sun, studying the stars and chasing the summer as it
peeled away in the North from October until now.


New Year's Eve we packed up and cycled the sandy backroads to San
Pedrito, an unassuming task but one that warmed us up for a 9 AM
restorative yoga class at Rancho Pescadero. We set up tent on the beach
and watched as lights, beer and pallets for a bonfire were installed 100
meters away. How convenient. One more yoga class, bbq chicken and
tequila in town, a ride back to the beach with folks from Victoria, BC
and dancing in the sand, so much so that the next day felt like we'd
ridden 80km the day prior. Well, happy new year!


The Tale of the Guide from the Chilcoutin wherein is revealed the name of the homeless gringo in Catavina

(in explanation of the seemingly long-winded blog post title: we have been reading The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Quixote a constant traveling companion on our respective voyages)

Somehow we ended up at a wine tasting.  Karen had just wanted to check out the selection at the small wine shop in Todos Santos that specialized in Baja wines.  But there was a wine tasting event happening and the quick talking gringo owner had convinced us to stay and spend too much to sample some wines.

Between glasses we hovered around the food table and that was were we met Sam.

When he found out we were from BC he said that he was also from BC but from a place we had never heard of.  I was preparing for him to say something like Vanderhoof or Kispiox to which I would respond with a detailed account of my family's connection to those remote corners of BC. 

But he was from somewhere I had never heard of.  A small community south of highway 20, half way between Bella Coola and Williams Lake.  Sam has been wintering in Baja for many years and owns two pieces of property here.  He seems to have a varied background - he has worked on ranches, built log homes and guided skiers.  His experiences in Baja were also diversified.  He has spent time with the Mexican cowboys on Rancheros, built homes from ship wrecks and negotiated complicated real estate purchases with several families in Todos Santos.  He also possesses some knowledge of astronomy and as we were to learn later - an interest in writing.

He offered us some philosophical insights on Baja ("this isn't really Mexico you know") and Todos Santos ("if you are not careful you might get enlightened just walking down the street").  Somehow the conversation turned to small towns along highway one and he learned that we had spent time in Catavinia.

"Did you meet Peso?" he asked.

Although we had not heard that name before we both instantly knew who he meant - the homeless gringo that we had been surprised to encounter living in the middle of the desert.

Sam gave us some background on the character gleaned from his trips over the years.  Peso's real name was not known but this was overcome by the assignment of a sobrenombre (nickname) given to him by the local Mexicans  "Mexicans are great with nicknames," Sam said.  This nickname is particularly apt because Peso always asks for "just one peso."  Strangely he had not asked us for any money.  Perhaps cyclists fall into a special category that doesn't require alms-giving.

Sam had not been able to determine when Peso arrived in Catavina but says Peso has been there for at least six years.  Peso had told Sam many of the same tall tales he had told us as well as a few different ones.  Being that we were all from Canada we had all been told the story of how Peso started the Royal Bank.

The next day Sam emailed us an essay he had written about Peso and we were able to discuss it when we visited his house for drinks a few days later.  Hopefully Peso's story will be published one day, it's an enjoyable read.  And in the event that Peso's trust fund comes through maybe his published story would help Peso's trust fund managers track him down.

That night we watched the lunar eclipse outside our hotel room and thought about the interesting connections and coincidences, the lining up of elements for rare events, that occur when traveling.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Todos Santos

distance = 85
Eric and Jami had told us that Todos Santos had a "Salt Spring vibe " to it.  I would agree and add a little Tofino feeling as well.  But still very Mexican.  It was more touristy than I expected - several boutique hotels, upscale restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. 

We spent one day exploring the beach and sprawling residential areas to the north, including a stop at Earthship Mexico (no one was home) and an organic lunch.  Another day was spent exploring the many art galleries in town.  Karen also got to spend some time at the spa as a result of a birthday gift.
We ate a couple of times at the Hotel California.  The recently renovated hotel features a decent restaurant and a shop where you can buy tee shirts with the hotel's name and their tag line "Legendary." Although not explicitly stated you get the feeling that they are referring to the Eagle's song that bears the same name as the hotel.  The feeling is reinforced by the fact that the background music play list for the hotel lobby and restaurant seems to rotate frequently to Eagle's songs especially the one about the hotel.

All this is in spite of the fact that the song's composer has stated that he has never visited the hotel and that the song is not about the hotel.  In fact, he has said that the song is not about a specific building but rather a metaphor for the excesses that exist in California and by extension all of America.

As we ate there I wondered if that song's criticism of excessive consumption occurred to any of the guests who visited the restaurant from their multi-million dollar ocean front homes in the surrounding areas.  Many of those homes were financed by second mortgages taken out using the equity from their other homes during the height of the US housing bubble.  As a result of the financial crisis one of the most commons signs we saw in the Todos Santos area was "se vende" ("For Sale") on houses and lots.

Perhaps when you have relied on debt to finance a lifestyle of excess you do get the feeling that you can "check out any time you want but you can never leave."