Here's the latest dispatch from Ann and Kent, sent on Friday 5 December 1997:
-- Phil Davidson PhilDavidson@compuserve.com http://www.idiom.com/~davidson/
Hello family and friends! We are now in Guadalajara, having bussed here to be present at the wedding of our friend Michele Anberg to Luis Espinosa. What a totally cool thing to be here! We will return to Mazatlan and bike towards Durango from there. Take care! We miss you! The following is the summation, in short - or long, depending on how you look at it, of our ride down CA and Baja.
Cat's Cradle. How often did I play the yarn games as a child? Often enough that it became ingrained in my subconscious so that when I desperately grasped for a way to communiate with the young Mexican children at the home we were staying, I remembered! And so we all giggled together as I showed them how to move their fingers through the loops of yarn. Their smiles and joy mirrored my own.
We were in a desolate part of Baja, CA (most parts of Baja are desolate) and had stopped for a Coke at the first restaurant we had seen in miles. As we wiped off our sweat and relaxed, we looked around at the many puzzles that covered the walls, evidence of a family's spare time entertainment. (According to the trucker eating there the puzzles were also an effective form of birth control in a part of the country without a lot of other diversions!) Then a small drawing of a bicycle caught our eyes. As we investigated further, more drawings became apparent and we realized that at least eight other bicycle tourists had stopped there and camped and had left the drawings and notes as gifts for the family. Not wanting to be left out and realizing it was a LONG way to the next possible stop and that we were tired and that these were friendly people who it would be fun to spend some time with, and, ... well, of course we asked if we could set up our tent behind their home/restaurant. The response was a simple yes and thus we spent an enjoyable afternoon and evening with the Eugenio Grosso Peralta family, playing yarn games, doing the shark puzzle that Kent's step-mom had given us and learning more about each other's cultures. In the morning we rode on; our addition to the wall was a lame stick figure drawing of the family and us on our bike, an obvious contrast to the quality sketches and watercolors that other bicyclists had left.
We left the Bay Area on October 15, relaxed, rested and ready to wind our way south. In some ways it was hard to leave; this time we knew it would be more than a year until we saw our family and friends again. But after more than two weeks of hanging out, taking care of bike maintenance and preparing, we were ready to get back on the road. Our decision to take "the road less traveled" through central California instead of taking the more common coastal route led us to places in our home state that we'd never seen - like beautiful downtown Coalinga, almond orchards in which we slept one night, oilfields and the dying town of Maricopa where the local Pentecostal Church welcomed us into its "transient" apartment. I guess they figured we qualified. We were amazed at the lack of people and traffic in our populous state. Leaving the valley we crossed over the mountains to Ventura and the more heavily populated coast. There we stayed at the home of Kent's brother's family for several days and met my parents for our final good-byes before leaving the country. After awhile, it gets hard to say good-bye!
One of the major roadblocks that people kept asking us about was the metropolitan Los Angeles area. "How are you going to get through there?" was a common question. It was our question too. But little did we know that the L.A. area was prepared for us! From north of Santa Monica to south of Rendondo Beach was a series of bike paths that wound along the ocean keeping us safely away from traffic. We happily stayed on those paths and what we had dreaded was accomplished with ease. Our only problem was the lack of camping spots. We were quite proud of never having stayed in a hotel (except the time Kent's dad and step-mom hosted us for a week in Washington state) and though we knew it couldn't continue, at least Kent had earned a "free hotel night" certificate which we planned on redeeming in Redondo Beach. However, he neglected the fact that his wife is an organization freak and over-organized to the extent that though she kept the address of our hotel, she threw away the actual certificate in a frenzy of cleaning. Which of course we didn't discover until two blocks away from our hotel. Begging the manager for mercy didn't help and we were forced to find the least expensive place nearby - what a disappointment! I must say that Kent was amazingly generous in his attitude - maybe it was my guilt-induced groveling.
As the following day was Halloween, we decided to ride back to Venice Beach and Hollywood. We couldn't pass up the chance to see how Southern California celebrated this holiday of weirdness. We took the bus and walked to a big street party in West Hollywood and enjoyed the early beginnings of the festival. What a terrific place to bring the kids to listen to the music, buy a polish sausage and watch the world go by! Our opinion soon changed, however, as the evening progressed and costumes became more sexually eplicit and risque. We hadn't realized that West Hollywood is the center of Hollywood's gay scene. Even though we're from the Bay Area, we were a little shocked at the pantless chaps, whips and chains, and transvestite dress. Probably NOT a great place to bring the kids.
Our last night in the U.S. was with a family that welcomed us to camp outside their home in the town of Jamul. They regaled us with stories of "illegals" that passed through the area after crossing the border. The Jamulians described to us how many times they had stood at the kitchen window and watched Mexicans dash from bush to bush in the arroyo below their house. Sometimes they were awakened in the middle of the night by familiies asking for blankets or water. Once a neighbor's dog was found dead, stabbed in the heart, by Mexicans, they presumed, that did not want their presence made known. We wondered about the safety of our tent and gear which was in the arroyo. Would it disappear before we got there to sleep? Not to worry - everything was there!
The next day as we rode, we saw evidence of "stashes" along the road. Piles of empty plastic gallon water jugs and old blankets that had been used by people crossing the rugged terrain that makes up the border area dotted the landscape. Most of the cars we saw on the road were Border Patrol agents. It would be hard to patrol this border; the thousands of acres of empty desolate land seemed to make it difficult.
Finally, we reached the border. We had decided to cross at Tecate in order to avoid the craziness of Tijuana, about forty miles to the west. We were waved through without incident into Mexico.
Baja is a strange and unique place. The North is dry, dusty and chaparral-covered, but where there is underground water available, the dust becomes fertile agricultural land growing crops such as chilis, tomatoes, green peppers and even corn. As we rode further south rugged desert took over. Riding through the boulder-strewn, cactus-filled landscape was an eerie experience; we sometimes felt as if we were on another planet. The strange ciria trees stretched to the sky, their water-filled wide bases tapering to flower-topped stalks which sometimes twisted over and continued growing. The cardon or saguaro cacti were in silhouette; like the backdrop of a wild-west movie. The towns in the North were, to us, dry dusty highway towns, restaurants and little stores separated from the road by wide dirt strips. Rarely did they have the gracious plaza or main square that characterizes most Mexican towns. And whatever trees had been planted struggled feebly to overcome the lack of water.
The first town we arrived in that was more than this appeared suddenly around a bend in the highway; lush green date palms completely filled an arroyo through wich a broad river flowed. But we had to survive a ninety mile event-filled day to reach this beautiful restful town of San Ignacio.
The line on the map was fairly straight which meant the terrain that day would be fairly flat. So we left from Guerrero Negro and headed towards San Ignacio early in the morning. After riding about forty miles we saw in our rear view mirrors a pickup truck pulling a boat bearing down on us blasting his horn. Another car was coming from the opposite direction and there was nowhere for us to go - no shoulder and a drop-off. The pickup showned no signs of slowing down and as I cringed in anticipation of the inevitable crash, it screamed past us and we narrowly avoided being knocked off the the road. As we checked the plates (Oregon snowbirds rushing to put their boat in the Sea of Cortez so they could relax) and waved our fists in frustration, an RV passed, a woman's face gaping out the passenger window. "Must be together," we muttered.
Now, we understand that we are taking a certain amount of risk riding down Baja, for the road is narrow and dips up and down. However, our bright flourescent clothing and the addition of a child's orange flag waving high and bright in the back combine to make us highly visible in a world of dusty browns and greens. Furthermore, this was the first close experience we had had; the trucks we had been warned about gave us a wide berth or waited to pass safely; Mexican drivers did the same.
A short time later who should we see pulled over for lunch but our Oregon snowbird friends. Ahh, finally a chance to try to make this driver understand the danger of his actions. We knocked on the screen door of the RV and an older gentleman opened the door with a withering glare. Before we even opened our mouths, he said, "You know, you guys are a real hazard on the road." Excuse me, WHO is the hazard?! As my blood pressure leapt, Kent went ballistic.
"No!, whoever was driving that first vehicle is the hazard! We are a vehicle on the road. You could have slowed down. What did you want us to do?"
"Stop and get off the road!"
"There was nowhere for us to go. How did you want us to accomplish this?"
As the heated exchange continued, a lady appeared in the background waving a knife. Her shrill voice cut in: "You'd better get out of here right now!" This was becoming surreal.
"We just want you to understand..."
"Get out or we'll talk to the police. They don't like bicyclists around here."
As the jousting continued, I told Kent it wasn't worth it. They were so arrogantly assured of their own righteousness we would never convince them otherwise. Kent's final parting comment, "I can't believe my own countrymen would have your attitude." At the next town Kent talked to the police. He explained what happened, asking the officer to explain to the Oregonians that bicyclists need to be treated as vehicles because they certainly wouldn't hear it from us. The policeman agreed with us and radioed the Federales, who, in our sweetest dreams gave the Oregonians a proper dressing down.
As Kent explained to the police what happened, I was looking around and my eyes lighted on, of all things, a loaded tandem bike! My brain still registering the shock, a voice called out, "Hey, we heard about you! Share some lemonade?" I wheeled the bike over to the little restaurant and met Georgina and Fergus, a couple from England biking from Ecuador to San Diego. Just the thing to take our minds off the Oregonians. We all spent the next hour plucking information out of each other's brains - hotels, roads, towns, experiences flowed back and forth. Who could imagine? The first bicycle tourists we see in weeks and they're riding a tandem too! We parted company each to follow the other's trail, promising to write and (as most bicycle tourists do) check out each other's web sites.
Continuing south, after the visit with the British, a tailwind pushed us along. But it became hotter and hotter and soon we were sweating merrily away, drinking as much water as we could. We pulled over to take a breather and a car piled high with kayaks and camping gear pulled over behind us. A long-haired guy stepped out, introduced himself as Mike and offered us a cold beer. He cut some limes, squeezed them into the long-necked, frosty bottles and passed them over. Beer never tasted so good! Mike and his friend Cathy invited us to meet them at a beach further south and as they pulled away we marveled at how two totally great experiences almost cancelled out the one bad experience of the day. We finally arrived in San Ignacio and camped in a cool, grassy, date palm grove. What a day.
More towns like San Ignacio were sprinkled along the road through Southern Baja: Santa Rosalia, Mulege, Loreto, and La Paz. Much more inviting than their Northern counterparts, these towns seemed to call to us to stay for awhile and enjoy their shady, refreshing oases and postpone riding through the parched desert in between. Riding down the eastern Baja coast the clear aquamarine waters and clean sandy beaches of the Sea of Cortez beckoned to us. South of Mulege, we camped at El Coyote Beach under the palm lined roof of a "palapa." When we rode up, Mike and Cathy were there to greet us with another set of beers. We spent a few days there snorkeling, reading, and playing volleyball, but one experience left us in a state of wonder.
Our last night at Coyote Beach, we took out Mike and Cathy's sea kayaks into the bay. The water and sky and surrounding land were in total darkness except for the myriad of stars and the campfire that burned on the beach. We paddled out in silence, gliding through the still warm water at peace with ourselves and the world around us. Whenever we disturbed the water with our paddle strokes, bursts of green-blue phosphorescence glowed like neon sparkles. Fish jumped around us and we could follow them by the glowing trails they left behind. Magical.
But I wanted to be in La Paz for Thanksgiving which was quickly drawing near and so we left the next day, the quiet spell of the Sea of Cortez having found a special place in our memories. The next days were hard, climbing into the Sierra de la Giganta and down onto flat agricultural plains before the final 100 km of drops into and climbs out of steep canyons. We camped our final night out of La Paz behind the restaurant/home of Armida Ibarra in the gasoline-stop town of El Cien. It was Tuesday night and I kept thinking of Thanksgiving at a nice restaurant in La Paz. What would we eat? Nothing quite measured up to dreams of turkey and stuffing though!
We watched two vans of gringos pull up from opposite directions and pass a cooler between them. We waved and they sat down nearby. Later, after we had set up our tent on the dirt and they had finished their snacks, the four men walked over and asked us what we were doing. It came out in the ensuing conversation that they were North American missionaries and that the cooler passed from one van to the other contained a 25 pound turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner their families were going to share in La Paz. Steve, who was the host, invited us to join them. It didn't take much thought to jump at the chance! Yes, of course, we would love to join you for Thanksgiving dinner!
And so our final days in Baja were spent in La Paz, sharing a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, salads, mashed potatoes and gravy, and to top it all off, pumpkin pie. We had much to be thankful for.