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Stephan and 'Chenda Solon, UK

Around the World, in Mexico

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Even more salsa

Immigration at La Mesilla/Cuidad Cuauhtemoc was straightforward but we were only given 30 days. The immigration officer said he wasn't authorised to give us longer at that location but we could apply to have it extended in the state Capital, Tuxtla, or Mexico City. We had entered Mexico at Chiapas state where the Zapatista uprising had taken place some years before and was obviously still a very sensitive area. Customs procedures were straightforward although I did have to have one of my credit cards swiped as an assurance that I would export the bike again. That did worry me a bit...

The roads we found in Chiapas were excellent so I was well pleased. Mexico based on these first impressions seemed to be a fair bit richer than its Central American neighbours. First stop was San Cristobal Las Casas where we spent 3 days. It was a beautiful place which reminded me a bit of Antigua Guatemala although it was much bigger and buildings were generally higher.

It also had a bit more of buzz about it and there were a lot more newish cars driving around it. A couple in a smart VW Golf led us into town when we asked them for directions at a set of traffic lights. Like most of Mexico San Cristobal is located on a high plateau, about 2000m. It was winter of course which meant brilliant sunshine giving warm days but clear skies at night made it cold. Our hotel room which was in all other respects very nice turned out to be a chilly place.

Unfortunately on our first full day there 'Chendas stomach bug, Fuji, returned with a vengeance and by the afternoon she had to return to the hotel. She'd done well to walk around all morning but being sick discreetly in public places isn't that easy and is certainly not much fun. I had a pretty good time seeing the rest of the city on my own that afternoon and the next day and got to meet a very interesting Norwegian couple travelling with their kids. They had spent some time in Nicaragua and had a close relationship with a tenant farmer and his family there. They were hoping to help them buy their farm.

Fortunately during my walkabout I found a clinic so after meeting the Norwegians we both headed for it. One thorough examination of 'Chendas abdomen later the doctor prescribed some antibiotics and rehydration liquid.

That seemed to do the trick and by the next day she was up and about again although we decided to take it easy. We did get to see a really interesting place called Na Bolem. It's a mansion converted into a centre for Indian culture created by a Dane who had a serious alcohol problem and his seriously eccentric Swiss wife. Although they're both dead now their work of assisting the Indians of Chiapas and recording their culture continues. When the Zapatista uprising first took place and San Cristobal was taken over by the rebels they were told they had nothing to fear from the rebellion. The large military presence and numbers of heavily armed police are unfortunately one legacy of the uprising and the saga continues to this day although the shooting seems to have largely ceased.

 

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The following day we decided we were going to do the long ride to Oaxaca, by-passing Tuxtla, in one go. At least Mexican roads were good. Well, we thought so until we got to the state border where on leaving Chiapas the road surface deteriorated markedly. I guess there's been a lot of Government investment in that state which is one of, if not the poorest in Mexico. I saw that as a way of addressing the issue of poverty by making the state a more attractive place to invest in. A cynic I met, however, thought the roads were only improved so the army could move around faster. Hmmm. I guess I'm still a little naive.

The road surface never became too terrible. Mostly a little uneven with the occasional pothole. It did slow us up though and when we got to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec we were seriously slowed by a howling gale blowing unimpeded across the plain. At first we were restricted to 80kph and as we continued we were slowed to no more than 50kph. Frustrating but better than crashing.

A man on a Kawasaki KLR650 wobbled past us at least 80 when I didn't feel safe going above 60. At least it was sunny and warm. Eventually we came to a large roadside restaurant and decided it was time to rest and think about Plan B in case we wouldn't get as far as Oaxaca. We met a French cyclist there. He was having fun...

Rested and fed we wobbled into the gale again about an hour later but luckily the wind died down quite a bit after only 20 minutes on the road. We decided that we didn't need Plan B and pressed on into some very hilly country. That was to continue all the way to Oaxaca. It was very picturesque with lots of small pineapple fields squeezed onto convenient plots of land.

Hilly country also meant slow winding roads so nice as it was we realised we were going to arrive after dark. Not something I was happy about as riding on unlit potholed roads being blinded by other traffic was going to slow us down even more. I just was not prepared to risk damaging a wheel, not to mention crashing.

We saw a lovely sunset, one of the best so far, and finally rolled into Oaxaca at about 8.30pm. We'd started 13 hours earlier. It was the third time we'd done such a long ride and we hoped to never have to again. Sore botty or what! I got lost in the centre of Oaxaca but a policewoman put us right and we found ourselves a reasonable hotel. By 9.30 we were tucking into a well earned meal in an excellent restaurant off the main square. Later I had a look through our Guide and read a warning about high winds across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Oaxaca is really geared up for tourism and we saw lots of large groups on tours. It is a really interesting place with some amazing churches. The fact we thought so is really saying something after having spent the previous four months in Latin America, which has churches galore. It is a bit expensive in the centre but it is still very easy to find good cheap places to spend several hours over lunch.

 

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Rather than head all the way to Mexico City after Oaxaca we decided to stop at Puebla, a city within a couple of hours of the capital. The idea of arriving at one of the worlds largest cities tired after a long day on the road did not appeal and it turned out we were rewarded not only by avoiding that hassle but also by having the opportunity to see one of the most attractive city centres anywhere. The fact the Christmas fairy lights were still up in the main square certainly helped give the place a magical quality after dark but what really swung it for me was the old craft market.

Not for what was on sale - mostly that sort of thing bores me - but the appearance of the buildings containing all the stalls which were very ornate. In the shadow of a large volcano, Puebla had been showered with dust from an eruption a few weeks earlier and was to be again about a week after we left.

We took the motorway to Puebla, which has what are probably the most expensive tolls anywhere. It cost us about US$1 for every 10km!!

Unfortunately Mexico hasn't seen fit to exempt motorcycles from tolls like most other countries. At least we could cover distance quickly which was important to us at the time. We also rode through some very interesting hilly country full of huge cactus. I remember passing one cactus, which must have been 5m high and spread over a large area. It was serving as a perch for a couple of buzzards and would have made a brilliant photograph. I regret not stopping. After Puebla on the way to Mexico City there was only one more toll to pay and then the road became genuinely entertaining. It twisted back and forth, climbing at first and then descended relatively steeply into the large valley that contains the City. Few sections of motorway are so much fun.

Entering Mexico City despite my trepidation couldn't have been easier.

Arriving early on a Sunday afternoon must have helped but we only had to confirm we were on the right route once and then just follow all the signs to the Zocolo, the heart of the city. It was amazing showing up there on the bike as it appeared so suddenly. Turn a corner and there we were. That famous huge square with a massive Mexican flag flying in the centre, the Cathedral on the opposite side all set under a perfect blue sky and complete with dancers dressed in massive plumes of feathers performing Aztec(?) dances was absolutely perfect. Real quality tourist stuff and we lapped it up.

Even more surprisingly we were able to use the maps in our guide to get us to the hostel we wanted to stay at in La Republica, about 2km from the Zocolo. This was La Casa de los Amigos and I'd recommend this place to anyone. Cheap, clean, quiet and with a secure place to park a bike. It's aimed at Quakers or anyone doing development work but although they may ask, they won't turn people away if there's space. If you tell them you're a Quaker/Friend they don't ask you any questions to check. Almost nobody staying there fell into any of those categories.

 

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We stayed there for 5 days visiting only some of the sights. It would easily be possible for us to spend several weeks there and still find it interesting. We spent lots of time seeing various pyramids - Aztec and especially pre Aztec at Teotihuacan (Not sure about the name anymore) on the outskirts of the city. Its hard work climbing up all those steps and some of the carvings are very strange. Lizards crossed with birds and all that sort of thing. Getting more up to date, I found some of the more modern art in various Government buildings and the Palis de Bellas Artes fascinating.

The only waste of time for me was an area of supposed floating gardens, again on the outskirts. Taking an overpriced boat trip around it revealed the place to be a rubbish strewn series of canals. Hardly the idyllic place I had imagined after seeing it in one of my Spanish language videos. We didn't eat anything from the floating food stalls or pay to be entertained by a floating Mariachi band. It was my idea to see it and overall I'm glad I did. I just suggest others don't take the trouble.

My main memories of Mexico City is the Zocolo and streets surrounding it which we returned to repeatedly and the large amount of hawker food stalls offering anything from snacks to meals all of which had to be eaten standing up at the stall.

It was equally easy for us to find our way out of Mexico City and we decided to continue to paying the price for the motorways rather than pass through the numerous small places with their umpteen speed humps situated around the city. We were by now tiring of Latin America and had our eye on reaching the USA and continuing to Australia.

First stop was Guanajuato, a picturesque city set in a valley with a labyrinthine road system made more confusing by having most of it in a series of one way tunnels. Unless you know the network you are bound to get lost as there are no reference points and signing is poor. Not bad for a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. It is a serious tourist trap which, once you're out of the tunnels and walking around is quite nice. We stayed in a grotty hotel where we parked the bike in the lobby. Riding a fully loaded street bike up several steps can't be good for it but it survived the experience (not the first time and probably not the last). Unfortunately all the hotels with parking we found were very expensive and after an hour of the tunnels and one way system I didn't want to look any further. The noise of the disco over 200m away which kept me up till 3.00am made me wish I had.

The next place was Zacatecas, which was far more enjoyable for us. We continued to stick to the expensive toll roads as far as Aguas Calientes.

How many places in Latin America share that name? Zacatecas has an interesting city centre which seems to be not quite on the main tourist trail and best of all after the previous night, we were able to find a good place to stay although at US$35 it was a fair bit more expensive than we would have liked.

 

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The landscape had been becoming drier and more hilly as we moved further north. Zacatecas is virtually set in a rocky desert and like many towns north of Mexico City owes its existence to silver mining. Something else keeps them alive now I guess but I have no idea what. Maybe I should have stuck around to find out but after Mexico City we were really only thinking of Baja California and the USA as a stepping stone to Australia.

North of Zacatecas we passed through scenery which was right out of a Western movie to our eyes. We stopped for lunch outside a small town called Sombrerete and on consulting our guide found that John Wayne had shot several Westerns about 50km north of where we were.

Stephan, Baja California, Mexico.

Stephan, Baja California, Mexico

The next town was Durango, which has a fairly pleasant centre but otherwise is just a typical large Mexican town. It was Sunday and everyone seemed to have put on their smartest casual clothes to parade around the main plaza.

Several men on Japanese custom motorcycles would ride slowly around the square, stop and chat for about 15 minutes before riding off and then returning to repeat the ritual half an hour later. Generally everyone was having a fun laid back time showing off. We relaxed on a bench to absorb the sunshine and atmosphere while reading a little for a few hours.

Steve and Mardi who we met in Nicaragua had told us about the incredibly twisty main road from Durango to Mazatlan where we intended to catch the over night ferry to La Paz in Baja California and they were absolutely right. It didn't start out that way but first climbed out of the desert scenery to forest and through a few small logging towns. The brilliant sunshine continued but it got cold. We noticed ice by the side of the road where the shadow of the trees shielded it from the suns rays. Luckily there was no ice in the shadows cast across the road.

After a few hours the road started to descend from the central highland area which seems to make up most of Mexico and the twists and turns began. I don't think I've ever ridden on a road that continued like that for as long as that one did. In 3 hours I don't think we found one bit of straight road. I was glad there was so little traffic on it as it wasn't always smooth and it took a while to get past the few lorries we caught up with. Usually they would try to let us by if they could. The occasional bus was never a problem as it invariably stopped at some point to let off passengers. By the time the road had descended to a point where it could straightened out I was really feeling tired from constantly turning, leaning and braking. The total weight of the bike, luggage and the two of us must be about 400kg which has a rather different feel to riding solo on an unladen small trail bike which would have been ideal for that road.

As we approached sea level the temperature soon climbed and it wasn't long before we had strapped our jackets to the tops of our panniers. Mazatlan was a little strange after Durango and Zacatecas. We were back on the tourist trail again and the town had a faster pace to match the rise in temperature by the coast. Prices went up and hotel rooms became scarcer too but we were able to settle ourselves in after about an hour of hunting around and going down to the ferry terminal to check departure times.

 

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We were up at sunrise the next morning to make sure we were towards the front of the queue to get tickets for that afternoons sailing. Lots of others, mostly foot passengers, were there before us but as we were getting a cabin rather than just a seat we were in a different and very short queue.

At the price we had to pay I'm not surprised. I'd hate to think how much a first class cabin cost but for the same money we could have sailed from Portsmouth to Bilbao in peak season, a longer journey in western Europe, one of the most expensive places in the world. The shipping company obviously had a monopoly on that route.

Later that afternoon when we returned to board the ferry we found 8 US "recreational vehicles" or "RV's" also waiting to board. Some of you may have encountered this species of vehicle before but we hadn't and so we were amazed. These things are purpose built motor homes the size of large busses, many of which are frequently found towing a large four wheel drive of some sort. CB, ordinary TV and satellite TV aerials can be found projecting from them and sometimes a boat is placed on top for good measure although none of these 8 had a boat. We were stunned. I couldn't believe what my eyes were telling me. I'd heard of RV's but never actually seen one before and here were 8 of them!

After a lengthy boarding procedure - it takes a while to reverse 8 RV's into a ferry - we settled into our cabin after securely tying the bike down. We spent the evening talking to the owners of the RV's who were a friendly group of retired people from all over the USA. They were travelling in a group of 23 but the ferry company had asked them to cross in small groups in order to cause minimum disruption to other traffic. They had driven all the way to Mexico City where the police had given an escort for the same reason and to ensure the group would stay together. It was really interesting talking to them. The closest we'd come to meeting Americans in their own country yet and we found them good fun and incredibly polite. I'm sure they found us incredibly strange.

Sunset was good and we even were fortunate to see a couple of jumping whales in the distance. Whales were one of the things we were looking forward to seeing in Baja. The crossing was very calm but I didn't get much sleep and was up to see a fairly spectacular sunrise from the rear deck of the ship.

All the passengers who had only bought seats on the ferry were there too and it was fun to meet the group of people we had spoken with the previous day at the ferry terminal before the ticket office opened. We were sailing through a series of very barren looking islands at the time and being closely followed by several large seagulls flying very close to the water.

 

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Disembarking at the ferry terminal was quick and efficient and I was struck by haw barren Baja appeared. We road the few kilometres into La Paz and made the mistake of checking into a really grotty hotel. My motivation was to save a bit of cash after the expensive ferry crossing but the fact of the matter was spending a few pesos extra would have made no difference. I blame the fact I was tired and not thinking straight but, really, the perforated coke can used as a shower head should have turned me away even if the dirty state of the room didn't. Nothing terrible happened, the beds were clean if nothing else was and we did sleep well that night. What we needed at that point though wasn't just a place to lay our heads but a place where we could enjoy being. Hopefully I've learned my lesson.

Although tired, we kept away from our hotel as much as possible that day and treated ourselves to a huge lunch. La Paz, other than having some good restaurants, is really a pretty dull place so we spent most of our time reading by the beach.

Well rested and glad to be out of our cheap hotel we headed north on the one main road which crosses the length of Baja bright and early the following morning. The road was excellent with, other than one boring bit, just the right mix of curves and straights passing through some interesting desert scenery. We made it as far as the Bahia Concepcion area on the Sea of Cortes where we set up camp under a palapa at a small place the owner had decided to label Playa Perla. It was on a beautiful beach after all.

For those of you not familiar with palapas they are variations on a two sided wind break with a pitched roof constructed entirely of grass around a timber frame. It was really windy and luckily the palapa we preferred was facing the right direction to provide some much needed shelter. There were a fair amount of dead bushes and large rocks around so we built ourselves a good fire just in time for sunset. It was great fun cooking and relaxing by the fire later and amazingly we didn't manage to burn the palapa down. We certainly needed that fire as despite it getting hot during the day it must have got down to below 10C at night.

A beautiful day greeted us the next morning. It was completely still and the sea was beautifully flat and clear with wild rocky islands to provide something interesting to look at about 1km off shore. The rock in this area is a rusty red colour, which goes nicely pink an purple at sunrise and sunset. Rear of the campsite there were many tall cactus and on one group of about 30 each one had a motionless vulture perched on top with its wings spread and its back to the sun. With no wind and it being too early for traffic on the nearby main road there was a great silence. I at last managed to get my photo of vultures on giant cactus!

 

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After that we just had to go for a swim and besides, there were no showers there. Experience of holidays in Devon and swimming in the Bristol Channel was good preparation for this. It was freezing! But, still really beautiful and we spent a good quarter of an hour splashing about. This seemed to tempt our few neighbours, a Canadian and American couple in.

They'd been there several days but hadn't had a dip yet.

We wanted to stay but we also wanted to get on to Guerro Negro where we could go whale watching. Sometimes we have such hard choices to make. The whales won so off to the Pacific coast we went.

Guerro Negro isn't the greatest place but no one goes there for the town.

For us tourists it's all about whales so we checked into a nice hotel with a good restaurant on the edge of town and arranged a whale watching trip for the following morning. We were taken out in fibreglass boats with very powerful outboard motors, each holding about 10 people. It was fun to an extent and we did see quite a few whales although only from a distance.

Unfortunately a storm blew up and it got cold, rough and wet. Now, I have a weaker stomach than most so after about an hour of this I was looking like death on a white horse and finding it quite hard to appreciate the whales.

Not long after I got my wish and the boat headed back to shore. Hmmm.

Perhaps we should have stayed at Playa Perla.

Recovering in a shady spot back at the hotel sipping good coffee we met Klaus, Connie and Gido, a German couple and their Italian friend. They'd spent the last few days going whale watching about twice a day 50kms away at Scammonds Lagoon and were hooked on the experience as if it were an incredibly addictive drug. I knew it was a dirt road to get there but they assured us our bike would have no problem on it. They raved about the number of whales there and how close they would come to the boats. Most importantly they assured me the lagoon is like a mill pond and I needn't worry about getting seasick again. 'Chenda was well up for it and by the time the others had finished with their descriptions I was also convinced going there was a good idea.

Sure enough, the road was fine. We just had to go slow and be very careful in the odd sandy patch. The bike went onto reserve on the way and by the time we arrived I was a little concerned about whether we'd have enough fuel to get back to Guerro Negro. Klaus and the others were hanging around when we arrived as there was a busload of people ahead of us to get on to the few boats available. We decided to share a boat and hoped we would actually get a chance to go out as it was about 3.00pm at the time.

 

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While 'Chenda and the others waited I went on a search for fuel. With all those outboard motors around there had to be someone who had some and was willing to sell a bit. I didn't have to go far. Within 100m I'd found a Finnish oceanography student carrying out research into whales with students from a Mexican university. She found one of the Mexicans who was happy to see if he could help. Five minutes later he came back with about 9 litres of petrol and insisted I take all of it. I offered to pay but he wouldn't hear of it. I think they were fairly impressed with our trip and more importantly, quite liked us so were more than happy to assist a pair of world travellers who didn't have the sense to ensure they had enough fuel before starting a journey.

Having got fuel it was soon time for us to wade out to a waiting boat and hunt whales for our cameras. The water was perfect for my stomach and we all settled into scanning the waves for huge monsters. Soon enough we were regularly finding the creatures and following them as well as we could.

They were incredibly close and the water was clear enough to see them a while before and after they surfaced. We had been following a mother and her calf for about 10 minutes when she surfaced and gently pressed her head to the front of the boat and held it there. We couldn't believe it. Klaus, Connie and Gido were at the front and all took turns to stroke the whale. I carefully made my way to the front to do the same but I was too slow and missed stroking her by a couple of seconds. Oh well, that's the way it goes sometimes but - what an amazing experience! Nothing could top that and even though we saw plenty more whales that was going to be the lasting memory of that day. We returned to shore at sunset, all feeling incredibly fortunate and very happy.

The ride back in the dark took a while but we didn't mind. We met up with the others in the hotel restaurant and had a good evening swapping travel and whale stories.

Steve and Mardi had told us about a place called Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortes which they enjoyed on their way through Baja and as it was within a comfortable days ride of Guerro Negro this became our next destination. We had been warned several times that there was no proper petrol station between Guerro Negro and El Rosario which was close to the limit of the bikes range before it would go on to reserve but Steve and Mardi had said fuel was available at Bahia de Los Angeles. Our guidebook stated that it sometimes was also available at the junction of the main highway and the road to Bahia de Los Angeles.

It turned out that fuel was indeed available at the junction from a couple of men pumping it out of barrels on the back of pickup trucks for twice the normal pump price. We filled up there to be on the safe side and continued on what was a brand new road to our destination. After about 10km the brand new road turned into a very old badly potholed bit of tarmac that continued, worse in some places than others, for a further 60kms before reaching Bahia de Los Angeles. It seemed to be a village made up of empty rundown RV parks, a couple of hotels and overpriced shops selling a poor selection of goodies to tourists. We set up camp at clean site a few kms north of the town, pitching the tent under a palapa. The scenery was wild but the place didn't seem anywhere near as attractive as our campsite at Playa Perla. It didn't help that it had become overcast and cold. I always find it fascinating that two people can go to the same place and have such completely different feelings about it.

 

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We by chance had camped next to a British couple, Brian and Lesley, who had bought a van in the USA and decided to travel there, Mexico and time permitting, in Guatemala over a year. Their pace of travel was exactly the opposite of ours. That is - relaxed. They were the first British people we had met in our entire journey who were travelling with their own vehicle.

We gave them information on Guatemala and they told us about the Catavina Boulder Field about 100kms south of El Rosario where they had camped wild several weeks before.

As we weren't intending to stay the Catavina Boulder Field became our destination for the following day. We stocked up with food, water and petrol and were on our way up the poor road to the main highway fairly early. It was a clear sunny day and that did improve the appearance of Bahia de Los Angeles but not enough to hold us there. We filled up again at the main highway and had a good ride to the boulder field. That was very interesting although it was a shame that many of the rocks near the road had been grafittied. This reminded us we were still in Latin America and with the amount of American registered vehicles of almost all types on the road we could be forgiven for thinking we had already reached the USA.

We rode off into the boulder field mid afternoon and found a small RV parked at the first place we thought would be a good camp site. Ten minutes later we had found an alternative place and settled into what was almost becoming a routine of setting up camp and collecting firewood. It was a good place to stop but if we'd had a trail bike it would have been good to ride much further away from the road, not that there was much traffic to disturb us at night. The boulders were sandstone and seemed to vary in size from merely big to about the size of a typical two storey house with occasional vegetation growing out of them and in the sand around them. They were slightly reddish and if you let your imagination go being amongst them could seem very eerie especially at sunset and sunrise. We were about as far from the sea as you can get in Baja and at higher altitude so it got really cold that night - perhaps down as low as 0C just before sunrise. We were really glad of our fire and lit it again when we got up.

We continued on our way north heading for Ensenada where we wanted to stay just south of the town near a blowhole called La Bufadora on the Pacific coast. We took a while to get going that day and didn't reach La Bufadora until sunset where we didn't find anywhere we wanted to stay. A good campsite/RV park was available but after freezing the night before 'Chenda vetoed that. It was going to be our last couple of nights in Mexico so we decided to go up market and stay at a very posh - for us -place called the Estero Beach Resort. It was mostly empty and we managed to get a large apartment complete with kitchen. We were looking forward to cooking with an oven but that would have to wait till the next night. It was now 7:00pm and we were hungry so we rounded the day off in the very nice resort restaurant.

 

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Before we could leave Mexico we had to pay a tourist tax of some sort at a bank so we rode into Ensenada the next morning. This was the biggest town we'd seen since La Paz. We didn't have to go into the centre to do what we needed so our impression of the town was a dual carriageway broken up by a series of traffic light controlled junctions and flanked by modern warehouse type buildings covered in garish signage. Not a pretty place but functional and aimed at serving people in cars. Business taken care of we went to see La Bufadora.

It was a beautiful day. Bright sunshine and a very calm sea. That wasn't going to make for a very spectacular blowhole but we had a pleasant time there and met a few strange people. The strangest was a Korean who had emigrated to Mexico who told me he believed the human race existed millions of years ago on earth, reached a higher level of technological advancement than the world has today but were then wiped out in some kind of disaster which meant there was now no evidence of their existence. Why is it that some people are so ready to believe the most outlandish things especially when there is no evidence for them? More normal was a slightly drunk American couple and their 10 year old son who were with a party of people from a cruise ship. Unfortunately their son knocked his dad's bottle of beer over my jacket but that was cleaned up easily enough. They were very apologetic about it.

We had a relaxing evening back at the resort, which set us up perfectly for crossing to the USA the next day. Instead of using the main crossing at Tijuana which we had been told was chaotic, we decided to cross the border at Tecate further to the east. A slightly bumpy road got us there by early afternoon where we found a reasonably pleasant town built right up to the border. This was marked by a 2.5m high corrugated panel security fence covered in various adverts. The crossing point itself was very low key with largely US cars driving freely back and forth across the border. We had to seek out immigration and customs officers on both sides of the border and I was surprised to find procedures involved fewer people and were quicker on the Mexican side. Officers on both sides were extremely friendly but US formalities seemed a little drawn out due to the relevant immigration officer being preoccupied by a report he needed to get finished and customs officers being intrigued by my carnet. I was later told they shouldn't have stamped because they have their own separate system of keeping track of foreign vehicles. I wouldn't mind but I did ask if they had their own system and if they'd rather use it but was ignored.

 

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Riding on US roads was a revelation. The two lane Highway 94 was perfectly tarmaced and white lined. It would get slightly wider at the bends and there were signs that would tell you there was a bend and what was the most appropriate speed to take it. Most amazing for me was a sign announcing a slight dip in the road ahead. Oh yes, US roads are very good indeed. We passed through an immigration checkpoint after 15 minutes and when I explained this to the officer who stopped us he responded with a look that seemed to say "Why is this so fascinating?". Our four and a half months in Latin America had come to an end and we were now in a country where for most people English was their first language. For us it was very strange to not have to think of what we wanted to say in Spanish before we spoke to anyone.

We had just crossed a border, a line on the ground, and everything was suddenly different. Even the desert seemed better kept with no litter to be seen. The feeling of passing from one culture to another was unlike anything we had experienced at previous border crossings.

Previous Story - Central America

 

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