Saturday, September 19, 2009

Get ready For Architectural Overload.......

So First of all an apology.....apparently I am not updating the blog often enough. I realise that there are people all over the world hanging on my every word and waiting for the next installment, which is all very well but the realities are that from now on the availability of good Internet access will become more scarce the further South we travel unless we are in a highly populated area. I will try and update the blog weekly to ensure everyone knows we are well and how much you have to pay collectively in terms of a ransom to secure our realease. Before I update you all on the last week's activities I will give you an insight into how something small and insignificant can become an overwhelming headache. The other night we had checked into our hotel which was equipped with High Speed Internet, and I decide to update the events of the last seven days. I turned on the laptop to find half the keys on the keyboard weren't functioning, B ST RD! no letter , no letter , nd the sp ce b r w s pl ying get the picture. I took the keyboard to bits, gave it a clean, still no good, the next solution is to buy a normal USB keyboard and use that. Back home I'd call into the local computer store and pick one up for around £5. In Mexico I have to first of all find a town that has a computer shop, then locate the shop, then try and explain in 'Spanglish' what I want (and it can't just be any keyboard it has to be compact enough to fit into the bike pannier) and then pay an exhorbitant amount for a piece of Chinese plastic, just so I can tell you all what a great time were having! Shit I'm developing GOBS..Grumpy Old Bloke Syndrome, anyhow on with the Blog.......

From laptop to tabletop

The run down from Loreto to La Paz was fairly uneventful, the stretch leaving Loreto along the coast road has nice views over the Sea of Cortez but it all too soon turns to familiar desert terrain. As I said in the last post we were hoping to get onto the Mexican mainland before the Tropical depression out in the Pacific decided to head our way so we needed to catch the ferry to Mazatlan that evening. We finally found the ferry terminal but before we could buy tickets we needed to get the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP) for BOB, this is documentation to say that have brought a vehicle into the country and the permit must be cancelled when you leave or else you're in deep stuff. You get and pay for the TVIP at the Aduana which is the equivalant of Customs, we could have done the paperwork in Tijuana but the Aduana is not always at the border and in the case of Tijuana the office is in the city itself and we didn't want the hassle of riding through Tijuana at all, so we chose to get it in La Paz. The Aduana in La Paz is conveniently located in the ferry terminal buildings and after 45 minutes and a wobbly credit card moment we had the permit and booked ourselves onto that evening's sailing to the mainland. One note of warning, make sure before you leave the Aduana that all the details on the permit are correct. We have heard horror stories of incorrect vehicle identification numbers or wrongly typed names resulting in vehicles being impounded, fines (did I say bribes?) or worse still, having to return to the original Aduana to sort the problem out.

BOB's immigration papers

The ferry crossing takes approximately 12 hours but apparently it never leaves or arrives on time but 'hey' we were on board and the Sea of Cortez is as still as a millpond. Unfortunately the Pacific Ocean isn't, the voyage was fine until we sailed past the tip of the Baja peninsular and then came under the influence of the ocean swell. It didn't stop us sleeping, but I was concerned that BOB had not been strapped down by the cargo guys and was now rolling about on his side somewhere below decks. The doors to the vehicle decks are kept locked and no one is allowed access after the ferry sets sail, but at one o clock in the morning I found someone who could understand me and assure me that the bike was secure.

Sunrise on the La Paz ferry

We awoke early for breakfast and then went on deck to watch the sunrise and Sue caught a glimpse of her first wild dolphins.

The dolphins would head straight for the side of the ship and then disappear underneath only to surface on the other side.

We were one of the last off the ferry and had planned to stay in Mazatlan that evening before leaving for Durango the following day so we found a hotel with a pool and kicked back for the rest of that day. Mazatlan has quite a pleasant beach area but is frequented ocassionally by the cruise ship crowd, they descend on the town for the day like locusts and then at three o'clock in the afternoon they leave en mass for the next port. If you happen to be in the resort at the same time it's assumed that you are also from the boat and must run the gauntlet of local touts and traders.
When we got our injections before leaving the UK we didn't bother to get any malaria tablets, one reason was there was so much confusion over which type was best and the other reason was cost. I had read numerous reports on the side effects of the various brands of anti malarial tablets and each brand can have a detremental effect depending on the individual. Chloroquine appeared to be the most stable but also one of the mildest in terms of preventative properties. The cost in the UK would be somewhere around £60 each for enough to see us through the problem areas and quite a few people suggested buying them in Mexico or the States when we got there. We had no luck in the States as the cost of a consultation with a doctor was too expensive but when we were in Mazatlan we paid £1.13p to see a doctor and get a prescription and £3.97 for all our tablets!
The road to Durango took us through our first real jungle and up through the mountains towards the Central Highlands, the road is called the 'Devil's Backbone' although the actual Devil's Backbone is a series of cliffs about halfway to Durango.

You don't understand, it's a jungle out there!

Isn't she pretty......still.

More mountain views.

The variety of wildlife increases with lizards in the road and butterflies like folded sheets of A4 paper but the jungle encroaches right up to and in some cases over the road leaving no room for error on the hairpins or when passing oncoming vehicles.

Double whammy, Truck on the left, goats on the right. HIT THE GOATS!

And sometimes the big boys come unstuck!

Along the way we crossed the Tropic of Cancer.

The start of the Devil's backbone.

The view from El Espinazo del Diablo (Devil's spine)

We stopped at Salto for fuel and a coffee, I managed to secretly film this military patrol as they took a lunch break. Everybody was busy eating except the guy at the back of the truck who had his eye on me.

Go on Sue hold this bug to show how big it's dead, honest.

Durango is a bustling colonial city with a network of one way streets that the GPS failed to get to grips with, we managed to navigate by riding parallel to our destination route and hoped as some point it we would get us back on track. Dan in San Diego had recommended a number of hotels in Mexico most are close to the main square or city centre which is great for sightseeing but not so great on our riding stress levels!, we ate dinner that night overlooking the plaza and cathederal seated on the balcony of a first floor restaurant which was very romantic but unfortunately the food failed to live up to the occasion.

Isn't she pretty, what a guy!

Overlooking the square.

Note to self..must get an iron.

Durango Cathedral.

It started to rain at some point after we went to sleep, but I was awoken not by the rain but by somebody (in the context of this story somebody is actually pronounced somebastard!) belting the living daylights out of a drum kit. I am not musically gifted enough to determine whether or not what I heard was actually skilled playing or just someone out to piss people off....he suceeded with me!
The next day was an easy run to Zacatecas, a town founded by the Spanish over 400 years ago after discovering rich veins of gold and silver in the surrounding hills.

The Teleferico (cable car) to El Cerro de la Bufa.

The view from above Zacatecas.

The convent on top of La Cerra de la Bufa (formally an asylum).

We also took a tour of the El Eden mine, one of the first and most productive mines in the area which was declared a world heritage site in 1993. To read about the mine go here:

"No of course you don't look silly in that hat"

One of the original vaults is now a subterranean nightclub.

I had to get a shot of this! it's what the well dressed men of Zacatecas are wearing..or, how I looked in 1974.

Zacatecas Cathedral

More Colonial Architecture.

Yes, I know the fountain is coming out of the top of my head.

A safe way to practice your Spanish.

The Entance to the Aranzazu Chapel.

Inside the chapel,

Aranzazu Chapel

Just another driving hazard in the city.

Loreto Chapel.

Another church

And another

From San Luis Potosi we headed for Xilitla to see 'Las Pozas' the gardens created by Edward James an eccentric Englishman who became attracted to the area as the place to nurture his obsession with growing orchids, one year a severe frost killed his whole collection and from that moment he set about creating a surrealist garden out of concrete. The man was obviously as mad as a box of frogs but there is no denying that his work over almost 50 years has left a legacy that is only now been recognised as an architectural marvel.

Before arriving in Xilitla we stopped to view the falls at Tamasopo and had lunch in one of the local cafes, the great thing about eating in places like this is if you can't explain what you want then you simply go into the kitchen and have a look in the pot.

I'll have some of that and one of them......

Downtown Tamasopo.

Tamasopo Falls.

You get the idea.

You won't look so tough in a burger

Xilitla is a small hilltop town in the middle of the jungle we arrived in the afternoon and had been given the name of a hotel by Dan in San Diego, unfortunately it was Sunday and all the streets around the square are blocked by market stalls. As you can guess the hotel we were looking for overlooks the square and hard as we tried we couldn''t get near it, in the end we gave up and found the nearest one with a room. Xilitla is not on the list of must see tourist locations and as such the quality of the hotels leaves something to be desired.

Overlooking the town.

Main Street Xilitla.

At least BOB was comfortable.

Concrete beds and mine had a plastic matress cover, did they think i was going to pee myself?

We settled in for the night and planned to have an early start to Las Pozas in the morning..........

Monday, September 14, 2009

Viva Mexico!

First of all let me have my soapbox moment.........
Anyone who has traveled to the States recently will be aware of the increased vigilance and homeland security issues, before we left we applied through the visa waiver programme for a standard 90 day visa because we didn't want the hassle of traveling to London for an interview to get an extended tourist visa or the added expense. On arrival into the States you are given the third degree and interrogated to the fine end of a fart which considering our mutual national alliance can be real pain in the arse (that's Butt) So, and here's my point, if the Immigration Department place so much emphasis on getting the entry proceedure correct why don't they apply the same criteria to people leaving the States?
When we got to the Border with Mexico there was nowhere to hand in our tourist visa and have it cancelled to show we have left the country, as a consequence I now have the feeling that should we want to return in the future the records will show us as never having left. I think that excludes us from travelling to the States for 10 years. Thanks for that!
Having said that we love the US and it's people or certainly those we've had the pleasure of meeting and would come back tomorrow........errr, well we would if the bureaucracy would get it's head out of it's arse and look after folks like us.
I will probably get shot down in flames by someone who will point out what we should have done, but I just felt like a bit of a rant and rave!
Right I'm down off my soapbox and on with the tale....
We arrived at the border early and figured as it was Sunday things should be quiet, we weren't wrong and got to the immigration office with nobody else in sight. Sue stayed with BOB whilst I went to sort out the paperwork and test out my limited Spanish....I failed miserably, but at least I didn't resort to the old British colonial method which is speak LOUDER and slooooower and expect everyone to understand you!
I realised my hybrid language which we'll call 'Spanglish' for now, was only good for ordering food and directions to the nearest gas station. As it turned out the border procedure at Tijuana is fairly straightforward, 1) fill out the form with your details, 2) go to another window to pay for the visa 3) come back and get your visa. Ask for 180 days otherwise they tend to give you a month
We also need a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit for BOB but we will get that in La Paz before we catch the ferry to the mainland.

Driving out of Tijuana with the security fence on the right.

This fence will eventually run the length of the land border between the US and Mexico to keep out the 'undesirables', hang on a minute I've seen something like this before...Great wall of China, Berlin Wall, Hadrian's Wall. Yes Sir, but this one's made of tin and we all know Mexicans are afraid of tin!

Jesus! look at the size of that statue of David Beckham.

We came across this recent accident, the cop car was being used to push the wrecked car off the road!

Our first Military checkpoint, It's amazing how easily people with guns can convince you not to take their photo! The checkpoint procedure appears to be Where are you from? Where are you going? and occasionally they may decide to check over the bike.

All of the warnings and advice we had been given about the troubles in Northern Mexico were given our full attention. The drug wars make daily news here and in the States and the Military presence is everywhere, back home we have got used to armed Police at airports and official buildings etc.but you get the feeling here that these armed personnel are an active rather than visual deterrent. Once we were through the Border we were told to basically drive for a couple of hundred miles or until we saw people eating outside restaurants so we made sure we stayed on the toll roads and didn't stop until we got to the Old Mill in San Quentin, a spot that Dan in San Diego had recommended.

The road to The Old Mill, some parts were really soft sand so the 5 miles took us about thirty minutes. We don't want a repeat of Alaska, do we? "Yes go on" cry the audience!

The Old Mill, San Quentin.

San Quentin Bay.

The Bay is an absolute haven for bird life, I'm no ornithologist but I did recognize some.

These are birds.

And these are smaller ones.... Damn I'm good!

Sue relaxing with a good book.

A marvelous bird is the pelican, it's beak can hold more than it's belly can.(sorry about that!)

Whilst we were at the Old Mill we met up with Bill and Laurie a couple from the US who had relocated to Loreto further down the Baja on the Sea of Cortez, they had been back to the US for a few days when the hurricane struck and were heading home to assess the damage. They told us that the reports of the damage suggested a couple of bad spots on the road South but their town had missed the worst, they graciously invited us to stay with them and would let us know what the conditions were like as they were travelling back the next day.

We decided to leave the Old Mill a day earlier than planned and headed for Bahia de Los Angeles, we reckon we could stay there a couple of days and see what happens with the hurricane and wait for Bill and Laurie's report. Tony and Andy had stopped there and suggested a nice hotel on the beach so we fired up BOB and hit the road.

The first stop of the day was to make sure we had plenty of fuel, here in the Baja there are long stretches without fuel and with the hurricane we had no idea if there were shortages further down the road. The other thing we had been warned about was the improvised petrol stations, usually some guy selling gas from a 45 gallon drum on the back of a pickup apart from the inflated price you have to worry about condensed water in the mix.

The second stop was breakfast at Mama Espinosa's restaurant at El Rosaria, it's a popular spot for travelers and it was also the first ever checkpoint of the Baja 1000 off road race back in the 60's. It has photos all over the walls of riders like Dave Ekins and Bruce Meyer........sorry am I boring you?

The Baja desert is stunning if only for it's hostile beauty, the cacti here can grow as tall as a house and dwarf even me.

Sue and prickly monster.

Prickly monster and cactus.

Arty shot...... cactus in focus, cactus out of focus.

The road South runs most of the way through desert populated with the usual species of cacti and then all of a sudden the landscape changed and it was as if someone had dumped hundreds of thousands of boulders out here in the wilderness. All sizes from marbles to boulders, in fact the boulders were shaped by the wind, blowing like airborn sandpaper for thousands of years.

The Catavina boulder fields.

Balls! some of them look like balls.

As I mentioned earlier the advice we had been given was, never miss the chance to fuel up even if it's not your regular Pemex gas station. There is only one petrol company in Mexico (Pemex) but somehow I don't think these guys pose a threat to the monopoly.

I hate to think what this stuff is going to cost.

You'd get stung less if you juggled scorpions!

I take Sue to all the best restaurants.

Solar panel and Sky dish.......Isn't technology marvelous?

This girl can drink!

Our first view of the Sea of Cortez.

We arrived at the hotel to find the place empty, literally, we were the only ones there. It appeared the Hurricane had scared the usual tourists off so we had the place to ourselves and choice of accommodation, we went for one of the beach front apartments. We also had two chefs at our beck and call.

Straight out of our room into the ocean.

The guy running the hotel convinced us we should do a half day tour of the bay and islands so we set our alarm for early o' clock and turned in for the night.

Sunrise on the Bahia.

Sue, Pancho the pangero and the hotel in the background.

I won two prizes this day....The loudest shorts, and the Prat in the Hat prize!

Isn't she pretty, look at them sea legs!

The sea was calm when we set off and as it is a sheltered body of water rarely gets choppy except in high winds. The Sea of Cortez is home to a vast array of sea life, whales, dolphins, rays, and every species of game fish plus sea lions and enough small fish to sustain a host of sea birds. The local pangeros must have a favourite route round the islands and know where to go to see certain sea life, we did a run round the pelican roosts and watched them dive bombing fish for breakfast and then headed over to the islands.
As we neared one of the islands the water appeared to be boiling and as we got closer you could make out the fins of what appeared to be stingrays. Within a minute we were surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of mobula rays, a smaller version of the giant manta ray, they would thrash about on the surface and every now and then one would leap out of the water, clearing the surface by 3 or 4 feet. As they land back on the water it sounds like someone slapping the surface with a paddle and in the still air of the morning it echoed across the bay.

No one knows why they fly like this but they're certainly good at it.

I must have taken 50 shots to try and get one in flight.

These things are so cool.

We followed this Blue Whale for a while as it swam just below the surface, at the top of the picture you can see the whale's head taking in air through the blow hole and the dorsal fin in the bottom left corner. We never managed to get the whole whale in one shot. At one point you could have reached into the water and touched it but I got the feeling he was suffering our presence rather than enjoying our company!

Another pelican.

Picturesque rock with a hole in it.

Male Frigate bird

The locals can't park to save their lives!

Or their boats for that matter.

The only catch of the day.....a fish!

That night we watched the World Cup qualifier between Mexico and Honduras with the local military as company. We of course cheered on the Mexican team which we will continue to do until we arrive in the next country, when our allegiance will obviously change.

Sunrise on the Bahia de Los Angeles, and time to leave.

Leaving Bahia de Los Angeles

We had originally planned to stop at San Ignacio at the Springs B&B but when we were in San Quentin the reports coming back from the area were not good. We decided to call anyway as Bill and Laurie wanted to know if everyone was OK, when we got there the place was devastated the flood water had ripped through the site and anything that had not been washed away was left covered in mud and silt.

What is left of the freshwater springs at San Ignacio.

If we had left the States less than two weeks earlier, we could have been caught up in this!

The kitchen at the San Ignacio Springs B&B (Terry on the left and helper pointing to the high water mark during the floods)

Fortunately the main square and the Mission in San Ignacio missed most of the damage.

Inside the San Ignacio Mission.

Damaged wooden power line pole (it's hard to imagine the raw natural power needed to do this kind of damage)

Most of the low lying stretches of road were covered in 2 to3 feet of rubble washed down by the floods that accompanied Hurricane Jimena

The two coastal towns of Santa Rosalia and Mulege took the full force of the Hurricane and the subsequent flooding but it was amazing to see how people were working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. The lack of sufficient and adequate resources mean it will be some considerable time before everything is as it was before the storm.

It was hard not to feel as though we were being intrusive taking shots of the damage whilst everyone around was busy trying to rebuild their lives.

More devastation.

There appeared to be no relief effort or outside assistance, you would occassionally see earth moving machinery but it's as though once the major services were restored people were left to their own devices. (Bill mentioned later that there is quite an active relief effort going on at present.)

The bridge leaving Santa Rosalia, at the height of the floods the water was flowing over the bridge.

The new unopened bridge on the road from Santa Rosalia to Mulege survived the flooding, the existing old road below didn't!

The bridge over the river in Mulege.

Looking back up the valley from the bridge.

What remains of Mulege, the town lies a short distance off the main highway and we decided it would not be an appropriate time to visit.

The road from Mulege to Loreto, overlooking the Sierra La Gigante mountains.

It is hard to imagine any good coming from something which creates such destruction but the area has received much needed rain and turned the countryside from a brown arid desert to a lush green expanse of vegetation.

From this............

To this.

From brown spiny thing.......

To green spiny thing.

Everything in the desert takes advantage of the water.

We arrived at Bill and Laurie's tired and hot but as with all our hosts on the trip, we were immediately made to feel at home. Bill and Laurie run a property development company in Loreto and along with their two dogs, Max and Bandit, have an idylic spot a few hundred yards from the ocean.

Bill and Laurie looked after us for the next few days during which we chilled out, ate out and generally had a great time. Sue and I took the opportunity to look round Loreto while Bill and Laurie were at work, but on the weekend they took us out on the boat for a spot of fishing, diving, and sunbathing.

The Jesuit Mission in Loreto, founded in 1697 and the first Mission in Baja California.

The alter inside the Mission decked out for Saints day.

This according to Bill is how most of the locals get their daily news and other important announcements.

Another early start to get out on the water before sunrise

Sunrise over Isla Carmen, Loreto.

Run aground on Isla Coronados.

Hand feeding pelicans, easy life or what?

Bill and I failed to catch anything but the highlight of the day for me was snorkeling with the sea lions off the Isla Coronados, sadly we don't have any photos but to be swimming along looking down at reef fish and have a adult sea lion swim underneath you looking up is kind of neat (with a capital 'N')
As with all our visits with friends this one came to an end too soon and it was time to head south again. There was a tropical storm developing out in the Pacific and it was forecast to be moving towards Baja, we had originally planned to do the Cabo St Lucas loop at the bottom of the peninsular but we decided to head straight to La Paz and catch the ferry to the mainland just in case the storm delayed the service later in the week.
So once again our schedule is being determined by the weather, we said our goodbyes to Bill and Laurie and made our way back onto Highway 1 and La Paz...........