Baja California: Mexicali – San Felipe – La Paz, 12-5-2004
On Nov., 18th 2004 – one day later than we were supposed to – we left the USA in Calexico, California and crossed the border Mexicali, Mexico.
Entering Mexico was not really a problem. They had even let us cross the border without stopping us at all, but we thought it would be better to be there „leagally“. So we went to get a stamp in our passport and with it the permission to stay in Mexico for 90 days. We also got a temporary permit for our motorcycles. All together it took a while until we got everything done. So it was already dark when we started looking for a Motel in the big, chaotic, stinking, dusty industrial and border town Mexicali. Luckily we found one really close to the Suzuki dealer we wanted to go to get the bad leaking cylinder gasket seal of my Suzuki replaced. And we saved about 250$ compared to the price we would have paid in the States. While they worked on the Suzuki we already saw our first police chase with loaded guns in Mexico.
It is amazing how things had changed already not even 10km away from the American border! There’s garbage everywhere, only the main roads are paved, everything is much cheaper, riding a motorcycle is rather a challenge than fun, starving dogs all over the place… Poor and/or disabled people try to sell fruits and kitsch at red traffic lights. But they left us alone so far; maybe because it is pretty obvious that we don’t have room for more stuff?! Every now and then they have Mexican military check points where about 15 year old heavily armed boys check you for „drogas y armas“. So far they always let us pass without checking, but it’s still a bit scary!
We had the most beautiful weather when we went south along the east coast of the Baja. A few kilometres south of San Felipe we found a very nice camp site right at the beach where we had planned to stay for one or two nights and just relax. Unfortunately the weather changed and we got a really cold wind from the north and even some rain. That was definitely not what we had expected in Mexico! But we stayed where we were and two days later the sun came out again and it got a bit warmer every day. In the meantime we had got friends with the other (American) people on the camp ground and they even invited us to stay and celebrate Thanksgiving with them. We sure enjoyed that!! Besides that we spent our time with relaxing and learned the first steps of kite surfing from our private teacher Andy.
After a couple of days a really nice German family (Hartmut, Brigitte, Silke, Simone), who lives in L.A. now came to the camp ground and we got to spend our nights with them at their camp fire.
Everyone and everything was really nice what made us stay for a whole week!
From there we went farther south along the east coast of the Baja. Everyone had warned us because of the bad and rough road we wanted to ride, but we still went. I tell you, the road was VERY rough! It was a mixture out of gravel, sand, big rocks, washboard for about 150km.
We did an average between 15 and 25km/h – in 1. gear most of the time. It took us almost 3 days. That was no fun! Especially with the really cold wind from the north that was blowing pretty hard. The nature along the road was very nice and interesting: desert with cactuses up to 5m high, the view of the ocean… besides that there were a lot of car wrecks and crosses along the road. We had spent both nights on the beach. The first night in the wind shade of a „house“ and the second night on a really nice camp site. But both nights we got almost blown away by the cold wind. Besides two little fall downs in the sand (Heiko and myself) we made it in one piece and I’m sure the motorbikes were as happy as we were when we got back to paved Hwy. 1.
So we kept going south through the interesting desert of Baja California with tons of giant cactuses.
The wind got so cold that we had to put our motorcycle gear layer in and turn our heated grips on! It could only get better… In Mulege we met Vance, a BMW rider from Oregon who invited us two stay with him in the Palapa he had rented.
It was beautiful: right on the beach, we watched pelicans catching fishes just 5m away from us! Awesome!!
Right now we are in La Paz, a very rich and – we find – really nice town, where we will spend 2 or 3 more days. We even found a camp ground with hot showers! From here we will go all the way south to Cabo San Lucas to see a friend of us. As long as we stay on the Baja everything will be very American. Sometimes you get the feeling there are more American than Mexican people living here. Most of the time the prices are still listed in Dollars and even the Coin Laundry takes American Quarter.
Well, Christmas is coming up soon what is hard to imagine with Palm Trees and the Ocean around us! But the Mexicans are pretty good at putting lots of cheesy Christmas stuff up. Like Santa Claus climbing up the house walls… Where we are going to celebrate Christmas, we don’t know yet. We’ll see.
So far everything works out like we had „planned“. The Suzuki crossed the 50,000km line and runs great after she got repaired. Since we had left the bad gravel road the starter of the BMW quit working and Henno is getting good at kick starting his bike…
I think you got enough to read for now! We wish all of you a very merry and stressless Christmas time!
Best wishes, Alex and Henno
Baja California – Mexico Mainland: Guanajuato – Guadalajara – Oaxaca, 5.1.2005
It seems like we have left the Baja California months ago, but it’s only 3 weeks! The Baja was really relaxing: from La Paz we went down the east coast of the Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas in the south of it. We did not really like it there. Too many tourists and way too expensive! We only stayed there for a bit before we went up north. We stayed close to Todos Santos (where THE „Hotel California“ the Eagles sang about is) at „The Great Escape“ which is owned by a friend of Jen and Erick’s (where we have stayed in Astoria, Oregon). We finally got to enjoy our first beach days of our trip! We had fun body boarding in the great waves and just laying on the beach and relax for 5 days.
It was awesome! If you want to see where we had such a good time or have a trip planned down the Baja yourself – we can sure recommend this place: http://www.thegreatescapebaja.com.
Jordan, the owner, had just been in the States and has brought us a new camera so now we can take slides again (like you know we have „lost“ our camera in San Francisco)!
We went back to La Paz from where we took the ferry to Topolabampo on the Mexican mainland. From there on it started to be „real“ Mexican compared to the Baja California. Hardly anybody speaks English; the prices are not listed in US Dollars but in Pesos and it got a lot cheaper! But we also found that the hygienic standard is definitely not as high: many of the smaller restaurants don’t have running water, the dishes are washed in a bucket full of water and we do not want to know how often (or if?) they change the water. Meat that is transported to one of these restaurants lays on the open back of a Pickup-Truck, dusty and covered with flies. We saw that they only fixed the beds in Motels instead of changing the sheets after we left. For some reason we like cooking our own meals the best and sleeping in our own sleeping bag is most comfortable…
In Mazatlan we left the coast and went inland. We took a very nice and curvy road through the Sierra Madre Occidental with an amazing view to Durango. At an altitude of about 2800m it got pretty cold and instead of cacti and deserts there where pine forests and wooden houses. It seemed that the people in the smaller towns have never seen tourists before and kids looked at us like we were from the Mars. But it is always a great feeling when you finally get a smile from them! We also got the feeling again that people treat us differently when they find out that we are no „Gringos“. They also like the fact that we at least try to speak Spanish to them.
In Sombrerete, a cute little town which for some reason is nowhere mentioned, we got to know the priest of the church. He showed us the church and told us about the Mexican Christmas tradition, the „Posadas“ (it’s about Maria and Joseph who went through the streets to look for a place to sleep).
We spent our Christmas holidays in Guanajuato, a very nice town about 500km northwest of Mexico City. After we had some problems finding a safe and free parking place for our motorcycles we finally put them in the kitchen of the Hostel we stayed in.
We stayed in Guanajuato for 4 days and enjoyed the great weather (sun and 20°C), the friendly atmosphere and just walked through the city with beautiful Plazas, churches and cute little streets. The traffic is lead through a confusing tunnel system underneath the whole city and we were glad that we could leave our bikes in the kitchen and walk everywhere. On Christmas Eve (that’s when we celebrate Christmas in Germany) Henno, Heiko, Sarah (a girl from Australia who also stayed in the Hostel) and I had dinner together and went to church afterwards, which was unfortunately as boring as the catholic messes in Germany.
From Guanajuato we went to Guadalajara with about 4 Million inhabitants (estimated number) where some tires from Heidenau in Germany where already waiting for us in a hostel. After about 14.500km especially the back tire was pretty worn down. We’ve got the tires changed in a small tire shop („Llantera“) and it cost us 20 Pesos (2 Dollars!!) each tire. But we took the wheels off and put them back in ourselves.
After doing so much sightseeing in Guanajuato we were a bit tired of it and didn’t really see much of Guadalajara. We took a bus tour to Tequila instead and learned how Tequila is made out of the heart of the Agaves and got to taste different ones.
We had a fun time! Although the 4 hour drive there and back in the uncomfortable bus on Mexican roads was not as much fun and Henno and I decided that travelling by bus would never be an alternative for riding motorcycles.
The night after we left Guadalajara we got to spend in our tents for the first time after weeks. Since we were about 2500m high it was pretty chilly: down to -8°C (25°F) and around freezing point inside the tent! We went into some natural hot springs that night and hung our bathing suits on our bikes to let them „dry“ over night. They were frozen the next morning and it was no fun putting them back on that cold to go swimming again…
Our next stop was the butterfly sanctuary close to Morelia (about 300km west of Mexico C.), where Monarch butterflies from Canada and the USA fly to hibernate. It was really amazing: millions of black and orange coloured butterflies around us! It is hard to believe that these tiny animals can fly from Canada to Southern Mexico!
Since we really don’t like big stinky cities with a lot of traffic and noise we circled Mexico City instead of going there. But we were still able to see the big cloud of smog that always lays over the city. We sure didn’t want more of that. We took some nice windy roads through the mountains pretty tiny villages and beautiful landscape to the smaller and colourful town Oaxaca instead. We will stay here for the next 2 or 3 nights to see the city and get to know some of the typical food and culture from around this area. So far we can say that we don’t really like fried grasshoppers…
We will write down some of our experiences and impressions we’ve got so far in this country, so you can follow our trip a bit better:
The people we have met so far were all really friendly and helpful! Maybe it helps that we have an „ALEMANIA“-sticker (means Germany in Spanish) on the windshields of our motorcycles!? Many people flash their headlights and wave at us when they see us what was a bit irritating at first. It is too bad that we can’t really communicate with the Mexican people, because of our (especially my) bad Spanish! We will go and learn some more Spanish in Guatemala for sure!
The Mexicans are really religious: every time the walk or drive by a church they do the cross sign and the cool kids lift their baseball hat.
Riding a motorcycle is definitely different than in North America or at home and we sure have to pay more attention to everything! Out in the country and in the smaller towns we often have to stop or slow down for cattle, horses, sheep, donkeys and especially for dogs.
With the dogs you can never be sure if they are going to attack you or if they are going to take off because they are scared. Luckily we didn’t get bitten so far. And we hope it will stay like that!
In the bigger towns riding the bikes is no fun at all. We have to ride pretty aggressively to get through at all. Most of the Mexican’s cars have no break or blinking lights so we have to pay even more attention. They pass on the left and the right side no matter if there is still the road or even some space. Traffic lights and stop signs are often hidden behind trees or decoration so we just watch if the person in front of us stops or not and follow him. But a red light doesn’t even mean stop?! We also have to watch the road for potholes and gravel. For the Mexicans the most favourite part of the car is the horn, long before the breaks. Pretty scary! All together it is just very exhausting, that’s why we try to avoid the big towns.
So far we have seen many wealthy Mexican cities (Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Morelia) which were always clean, but smoggy. Some people even wear breathing masks because of the pollution. While the richer people sit in the Cafes the poor kids walk around and beg with their big brown eyes for money and food.
The poorer cities mostly are pretty dusty, dirty and it stinks because they burn the garbage everywhere. Also outside of these towns is so much garbage along the road where all the homeless dogs look for food. That’s why (and also because the Mexicans don’t like using their brakes) we see a lot of dead dogs along the road. Also many dead cats some cows and even horses and donkeys. Not a nice view at all!! Depending on where we are there is a dead animal every 3 or 4 km. So we see quite a few when driving about 200km a day!
The markets which are in all the smaller and bigger towns are quite interesting. You can buy everything there: food, toys, clothes, furniture and a lot of cheap and cheesy stuff. We went to one market where they have just butchered a cow. The head was still laying on the ground and a dog was enjoying the skin of the cow. Also hole chickens and pigs without skin or feathers are for sale on these markets. Pretty hard for me as a vegetarian…
It’s hard to write all these impressions down, but we hope you are able to share a bit of it!? From Oaxaca we will go down to the Pacific coast for 1 or 2 days to relax on the beach… from there we will head east. Our next major stops will be San Cristobal de las Casas, the Maya ruins and along the Caribbean Cost to Belize and Guatemala where we are planning to stay for 4 weeks or so to learn Spanish. If things won’t change again…
Our motorbikes are still running well! The starter of Henno’s BMW doesn’t work since we where on the Baja and he gets better kick starting his bike! It just takes quite a while in the height with cold temperatures.
We are doing great as well! Although we eat at little street stands we have not been sick yet (knock on wood!!). But we try to be careful with some things: we only drink water that we bought in the markets and we disinfect our fruits and vegetables before we eat them. You never know…
We wish all of you a happy new year and send lots of greetings from Oaxaca!
Alex und Henno
Oaxaca – Chiapas – Yucatan – Belize – Guatemala, 2-24-2005:
Since the motherboard of our notebook broke down on one of the rough dirt roads, it took us a while to write this newest entry. We don’t know yet, how and where we will write the next entries, save the pictures and convert them for the website. The Internet cafes usually don’t have the software that we need and it is not as much fun writing there! That’s why we don’t have has many pictures this time. Sorry!!! But now we’ll tell you the latest news about our trip:
We have spent some more nice days in the quite big, but very relaxed town of Oaxaca: Henno almost got his starter repaired there, so we stayed a couple of days more than we had „planned“, but only „almost“ so he still has to kick start his bike. From Oaxaca we took a road over about 2000m high mountain passes through thick clouds to get to the pacific cost. After we went over the last pass we were in the middle of the rainforest! It was awesome: the trees and plants were green, the flowers were red, purple, and yellow and also the birds were multi coloured and all the colours were so intense!! Since the road was very windy and narrow we could not really enjoy the view. Unfortunately there were no signs like in North America who tell you Kilometres in advance that there will be a nice lookout or something! Way too fast we were out of the rainforest again and ran into really hot and humid climate for the first time on this trip. Along small banana and café plantations we went to a beach close to Puerto Angel, where we stayed for 2 days just to enjoy the sun and the beach and to relax.
Our next highlight was San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chiapas which might be known because of the civil war about 15 years ago. San Cristobal is very touristy, but also very pretty and colourful! And we already thought all the other towns were colourful!?
All the houses are painted in different colours, the indigenous people wear their traditional colourful clothes, and market stands with all the fruits, vegetables, manufactured clothing and paintings make everything even more colourful. On the other hand there are many very poor people. Children sit on the side of the streets and play an instrument until they literally fall asleep and every few minutes kids and adults tried to beg money from us or offer us to take a picture of them for 10 Pesos. First you feel very sorry for them, but after a while you are just annoyed by them – maybe because you don’t know how to deal with the poverty?! But that is the other side of tourism.
After we left the town of San Cristobal we went to see the beautiful waterfalls „Agua Azul“ und „Mizol Ha“ on the way to Palenque, where we saw our first Maya ruins. The ruins are very interesting and breathtaking because of their setting in the middle of the rainforest.
Palenque is by the way the region with the highest amount of annual rainfall in Mexico (or the world, depending on the literature). We had our first rain there since the middle of November! We had camped on a camp site really close to the jungle. In the middle of the night we woke up because of some really loud and scary roaring. It sounded like you would imagine huge dinosaurs would sound like! Well, in our guide we read that they were just howler monkeys. Have you ever heard them howl?? In the meantime we have also seen them and it is amazing how loud these small animals can be!
Right after we saw the ruins in Palenque we went to see the ruins in Uxmal and Chichen Itza which are much better to explore because they are not covered by trees and plants of the jungle any more, but we still did not like them as much as we did Palenque. Maybe we also just don’t appreciate them as much as we should?! Well, we just decided we had seen enough culture for that time. We went to the Caribbean cost about 200 km south of Cancun, close to Tulum, and enjoyed the white sand, palm trees, turquoise crystal clear water and fresh picked coconuts. Awesome!!!
We also went diving at the outer riff and it was beautiful to see the underwater world!
Some cold and windy weather made us leave the beach one day earlier than we wanted to after we had the fine white sand everywhere!
After a little bit more than two months we left Mexico an the 29th of January 2005 and entered Belize. Our experiences in Mexico were – without any exception – only positive! The people were always nice and very helpful which could also be a disadvantage: sometimes we asked five different people for the right way and got five different answers. It would have been rather rude for them not being able to give an answer at all than the wrong answer.
After we kind of got used to the Spanish language, in Belize we had to switch back to English again. But their English has a strong influence of the Creole and Garifuna (which e.g. is also spoken in Jamaica) so it was very hard for us to understand. The US Dollar is with the Belizean Dollar the official currency in Belize. At the Immigration office we were welcomed with a friendly „yo, what’s up, mon?“ and the border crossing was – as usual – no problem at all.
In Orange Walk, a not very pretty town in the north of Belize, we took a break for 2 days and switched from the motorbikes to a small boat. We went on a 2 hour tour on the New River through the thick jungle to get to the Maya ruins in Lamanai. We have to admit that we found the wildlife way more interesting than the ruins! We saw crocodiles, turtles, THE howler monkeys (they are actually quite cute!) and many different kinds of birds. It is interesting to see these animals in their natural habit without a cage around them!
On sometimes pretty rough red dirt roads (in Belize exist actually only 3 paved roads) we went to Placencia on a Peninsula in the Caribbean. That’s where our notebook gave up…
We stayed in Plancencia for one week and (again) enjoyed the nice climate, the very relaxed life style and „killed“ some coconuts.
The majority of the people there is coloured (which was very strange for us), you hear Reggae music everywhere, shoes are totally unnecessary and everybody knows everybody in this small town. After we drove through the town to find a nice hotel we were also known by everyone as „THE“ motorcyclists.
I also got my diving licence there and we saw 2m sharks, moraines, lobsters and many little colourful fishes. In between the dives we had lunch on a paradise island: 50 x 150m „big“, white sand, palm trees…. that was paradise!!!
We also got interviewed by the local newspaper and there should soon be an article about us in the „Placencia-Breeze“ (www.placenciabreeze.com).
further in Central America