Saturday, January 30, 2010

How green was my cactus

Total distance: 4906.0 km

By Sundance:

Okay, I know we're supposed to eat lamb on Australia Day, but instead we wound up baking bread and eating pizza. At least, I wound up baking bread. After the yummy sourdough rye we got in Austin, I've become a little obsessed with getting the hang of making bread, and on my third attempt I finally got a loaf that rose pretty well (and could be cut with a bread knife rather than requiring a bandsaw).

Anyway, Tuesday disappeared in a relative flurry of packing, and watching episodes from the first season of Heroes, which kinda sucked us in while we were in Del Rio. And that evening we went out for "all you care to eat" pizza with Niki, had a nice chat about home (Oz and Adelaide), and retired for an early start.

We tumbled out of bed the following morning to clear our stuff from the house so Niki could go to work and leave us to our own devices. After saying our farewells and making breakfast we got on our bikes for the pleasant experience of a downhill run with a tailwind, though it didn't last. Yana's bike was making a mysterious ticking noise which led us to pull into the local bike shop. As usual, these things never take a short time to fix, and after getting a new bottom bracket installed, and a seemingly interminable fiddle to readjust the gears, the whole day was shot. In fact, more gear fiddling was still required the next morning so Tim, the guy from the bike store, allowed us to stay at his place overnight (since getting back to Niki's and then back to the bike shop without Yana's bike would have been a bummer). Tim and his wife were fun people to chat with, and the following day - thursday - a little after lunchtime we finally got to leave Del Rio. The wind was fortunately with us again, and the weather was warm, We rode past the Amistad Reservoir which looked beautiful in the sunlight, and made it into the town of Comstock where the one and only restaurant/bar offered us a place to shelter from the impending thunderstorm. One of the nice folks there helped us locate a place to put up our tent inside a storage shed which kept the rain and hail off quite effectively.

The weather had cleared on Friday morning but the wind was awful. 16 - 32 km/h straight in our faces. It took us over five hours to get the 50 km from Comstock to Langtry, arriving a bit after dark. After some hunting around we found the actual town center and were directed to the community center to put up put tent, where the two cyclists we met in Bracketville (Dani and Greg) had also camped.

This morning we awoke to clear skies and gentle winds. After some tyre maintenance, we wandered up to the Judge Roy Bean museum. JRB was "the law west of the Pecos" and would dispense his own verdicts rather than consulting his (only) law book. Since he didn't have a jail, everything was punishable by a fine, and he also ran a bar and staged at least one boxing match. Quite a character. The museum also has a great cactus garden , which is extremely interesting and nicely laid-out. Well worth the visit. We've really entered cactus territory now, which makes an change from the deciduous forest that we travelled through all the way south from the start of our journey. The change of vegetation really makes us feel like we're getting somewhere. Now we shall hit the road and set out for Dryden, and possibly Sanderson if we can push on that far before nighttime.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nine pictures - nine thousand words?

By  Yana:

Well, time to post those photos I didn't get around to after that last epic entry.  These are basically a little sample of the last few days. 

 Sundance and me, having reached one of our little milestones: 4444.4km.

Delicious pancakes, courtesy of Jan.


One of the many gorgeous views that particular day threw at us.


Winter in Texas - just terrible!


Actually, the water was a little on the chilly side, but not completely outside semi-reasonable swimming temperature.


Sundance appreciating the pretty Rio Frio, where Mark took us.


Cactus landscape post scrub fire.


That beautiful sunrise, a little after the border patrol woke us up.


Dani and Greg, the champions.

Meep meep!

Total Distance: 4793.0 km

By Yana

Well, as Sundance has promised pics from Mexico in our last blog entry, I'll start off with just that, before launching into the story of what we have done since then. :-)

Wandering around a little abandoned church type thing which our awesome Mexican hosts, Jose and Lolis, took us to see.

Can't find Sundance?  Yep, he's probably climbing around on top of something. :-)
Obligatory "we were both here!" shot.
Sundance noms on a delicious potato spiral thingie... ah, the things those crafty Mexicans can do with the humble potato!
Oh, and they know how to make awesome sweet corn, too!
Paraplegics throttled here! :-D
The big fountain in the plaza of Piedras Negras.
One of the various monuments paying tribute to the greats of the past...

In retrospect, it's interesting to note that we didn't actually take a whole lof of photos of the social things we got up to.  Bother!  I guess we were too busy being sociable.  Well, hopefully the above manage to convey some of the niftiness of Mexico.

So, back to the what we have been up to since our last post.  After a few days of hanging around, we finally got ourselves organised again, and bid Leslie, Alex, and family farewell.  It was afternoon by the time we got going, but the weather was lovely, and we were in pretty reasonably high spirits as we toodled along.  We were pointing ourselves towards Johnson City, thinking it might be nice to make it there on that day, though we weren't that fussed about it.  We just kind of pedalled along, lamenting how much of our fitness we had lost over our Christmas break, especially as we were definitely in the Hill Country now.  Pretty, yes, but hilly, as the name suggests.  Still, it's a good way to practice for what is to come, as we do have some pretty high passes to get through before we hit that west coast.

We had gone a reasonable distance when we stopped to check out our map.  While we were standing there, a bloke in a pick-up truck pulled up next to us, to see if we needed anything.  He also expressed his respect for what we were doing, as he had ridden around the US on a motorbike, and could only imagine how much harder it was on a bicycle!  We had a brief chat, and then continued on our seperate ways.  We figured by then that Johnson City was probably not going to happen tonight, though partway there, there was the Pedernales Falls State Park, which did have camping facilities.  It was an option worth considering, though neither of us felt inclined to break our clean streak of not having had to pay for accommodation since all the way back in Indiana.  Still, we decided to just play it by ear, and enjoy the scenery as we went.  After a while, we were faced with our steepest slope yet for the day, which I was too chicken to go down full speed, though Sundance of course gleefully hooned down it.  As it turned out, as the bottom of the slope was a river crossing, which was actually somewhat flooded due to the rains we had taken shelter from at Leslie's place.  We took off our shoes and wheeled our bikes into the stream, but it turned out to be slower, shallower and less slippery than it could have been, and we could easily have just ridden across. Still, quite a fun crossing:

Once we had finished the crossing, we found ourselves gaping at our beautiful surroundings, and came to the conclusion that it would be an absolutely gorgeous place to put up our tent:

As there was a house on the other side of the road, we decided to seek out the residents, figuring that this was their property.  It took a bit of looping around, but we found our way to the front door eventually, and knocked.  We were greeted by a fellow named Ed, who was indeed the owner of the place, and because we did the polite thing and asked, he was quite happy for us to put up our tent in that spot.  The timing could scarcely have been better, as it was turning dusky about then.  So we got ourselves set up, had some curry and buckwheat for dinner, got some unexpected entertainment from the various people crossing the river (one car actually turned back, which we cracked up laughing about), and turned in at an uncharacteristically early hour.

The next morning, we managed to get up at a reasonably decent hour, and got ourselves packed up without too much fuss.  We did spent a little bit of time mucking around in the pretty scenery, feeling all chuffed about the fact that we had finally reached cactus country on our bikes - the jaunt to Piedras Negras doesn't reeeaallly count, as that was with the help of a bus trip.  So we hopped on our bikes again just as a gaggle of people on motorbikes crossed over the flooded bridge, and laboured uphill for what was going to be a very hilly day indeed.
After a short while, we reached the entrance of the Pedernales Falls State Park.  As we rode in, we noted the $20 tent fee, and felt quite smug for having avoided that the previous night.  We still had to pay $5 each to get into the park, but hey, pretty things to be seen.  After some more hills, we eventually made it to the Pedernales River itself.  Honestly, it seemed a bit of an exaggeration to call what we saw the "Falls", but it was very pretty nonetheless.
We spent some quality time climbing around the surrounding rocks, taking photos, and all that.  Eventually though, we had to admit that the day was moving on, so we went back to our bikes, only to discover that Sundance had a flat rear tyre!  Curses!  So we spent some more time sitting around, changing tubes, and all that.  Afterwards, we decided to make one last detour to the Cypress Pool, on the way to which we bumped into a couple, Jeff and Noom.  We chatted for a little while, and they were suitably impressed with our journey, and they offered to take us to dinner.  We happily accepted, and exchanged phone numbers.  We did have a brief look at the river a little bit further down, then made our way out of the park and towards Johnson City, where we would meet Jeff and Noom for dinner.  On the way, we established that we had not had nearly enough carbohydrates lately, as we found our energy flagging over all those strenuous hills.  We did make a few stops in the encroaching darkness to stuff ourselves with jelly beans, in the name of some quick fuel.

It was completely dark by the time we reached Johnson City, and we were completely ravenous.  Luckily, we found Jeff and Noom easily enough, and headed for the nearest acceptable eatery.  We chatted over our delightfully high-calorie deep fried meal.  Eventually, Jeff and Noom had to head back home to Austin, so we said our farewells, and headed off to find somewhere to pitch our tent for the night.  After a little bit of a wild goose chase, we found ourselves in a little convenience store, and got offered a bit of backyard space by a local lady.  We gratefully followed her to her place as she drove back in her pick-up truck, and had a nice chat with her while we got our sleeping quarters organised.  It was a beautifully clear, starry night, though luckily it didn't get too cold.

The next morning, we woke up with a dew-covered tent,  so we headed off to the convenience store were we had met our host, and bought her breakfast there.  As it turned out, they offered some very cheap and generous servings of your basic variety of breakfast tacos and pancakes and things.  Highly satisfying, especially with the delicious tamarind icy pole Sundance and I shared for dessert.  We also discovered that our host was nick-named "Ju-ju" by her nephews, nieces, and the like, which Sundance found surprising as that was also the family nickname for his grandmother. Our host then drove us around to see the various attractions of Johnson city, which is named after LBJ, as this used to basically be his childhood stomping ground.  We had a look at the local LBJ museum, then headed back, packed up our now dry gear, and hopped on our bikes to get to Fredericksburg.  However, after having battled our way into a headwind for a few kilometres, we found our way blocked by some decent-sized carnage: there had been a huge crash, two deaths, and the road would remain closed for three or four hours. 

We spent some time pondering what to do, but eventually opted for heading back, and finding a different way.  Of course, it threw a decent-sized spanner in the works of our plans of getting to Fredericksburg, meaning it wasn't going to happen on that day any more now.  Aargh!  Well, at least we found ourselves a much more pleasant road to go down, with next to no traffic, and plenty of pretty scenery.  We actually went past various places which had a bunch of donkeys in the paddock - in the case of one of them, a whole bunch of adorably cute fuzzy dwarf donkeys!  We stopped for a few minutes to coo at them, and then continued on our way.

As it got dark, we kept an eye out for a decent place to turf surf.  There were various ranches around the place, and we eventually found one with an open gate, paddocks seperate from the backyard, and people home.  The fellow we asked, John, readily agreed to let us put up our tent, assuring us that yes, no cattle would come and trample it, as long as we stayed out of the actual paddock.  We made ourselves some dinner, and then briefly popped into the house to use the facilities to socialise with John, his wife Shannon, their two sons and their boisterous golden retriever.  We also decided to find somewhere to charge up our various gizmos, namely my camera.

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of the cars before dawn.  As it turns out, John and Shannon have a decent-length commute for work every day.  We slept in a little more, and after breakfast, discovered that I had foolishly left my plastic bag full of various electronic gizmos inside the house, and we were locked out, with no idea of when John and Shannon would return!  This resulted in a few hours wasted flagging down cars, finding neighbours who would contact our people, and eventually seeing Shannon return from her Johnson City doings.  It was early afternoon by then, but it could have been a whole lot worse.  We got the rest of our gear packed up, Shannon bestowed some munchies for the road on us, and then we finally headed off.

We did a bit of a detour to check out the LBJ ranch and the particularly extreme longhorns that hang out there.  It killed another couple of hours, but we did manage to get to Fredericksburg that night.  After stuffing ourselves at a Chinese buffet there which had been recommended by Jeff and Noom, we went in search of somewhere to sleep.  There were plenty of RV parks, but we ended up getting permission from the local police to put up our tent on the fairgrounds instead.  It was starting to rain very lightly just in time for us to crawl in, and we went to sleep pretty promptly, as it had turned out to be a late night.

We got up fairly early, as the local cops had warned us they might have to shoo us off if anyone called to complain.  We stopped at the nearest petrol station to make breakfast, and then went in search of somewhere to have a shower, as we were starting to get a bit smelly.  After a bit of running around, which also involved getting some groceries, we popped into one of the RV parks on the way out of town, who were happy to let us use their shower free of charge.  With their permission, we also stuck up our damp tent to let it dry, did what needed to be done, and then set off for Kerrville.  We got there around dusk, and pondered our accommodation options.  We did actually meet a fellow, Mark, who lived in Leakey.  Too far for us to still go that night, but he offered us a warm place to stay and a good Texan feed when we did pass through, which we figured would be the next day.  We exchanged contact details, Mark wandered off to get himself a beer, and we went off to find ourselves a turf surf.

We actually ended up riding on to the next town, Ingram, which wasn't too far off.  On the outskirts on the other side of Ingram, we started knocking on doors.  Our first attempt was in a newly developed suburban-looking area, where the elderly lady at the door informed us no tents were allowed.  So we left that little neck of the woods, and kept an eye out for something more friendly-looking. 

We found it soon enough, and upon knocking on the door of the first-best abode, were greeted by a gregarious 70-something couple who immediately invited us in, let us use their stove, and pointed us to the less prickly places in their yard to put up our tent.  Apparently they, Jan and Jerry, quite frequently put up cyclists, as their house is right on the southern tier route, which they however had not realised until we explained to them just why so many cyclicsts seemed to knock on their door.  Apparently putting up weary travellers is one of their hobbies though, keeps them entertained now that their numerous progeny has left the nest.  We had a very nice chat, and found out that the German girl travelling alone whom we had heard of twice before had stopped past their place, too.  It's sort of making me wonder if we would be able to get in contact with her, as we quite frequently seem to ride in her tyre tracks.  We also found out from Jan and Jerry that in this area, a lot of people have game ranches, where they keep all sorts of exotic deer and other quadrupeds - antelopes, axis deer, zebras, and various others.  Huh.

We turned in eventually, and got to see a bunch of deer gallop (rather than prance) through the backyard just before we did so.

In the morning, Jan treated us to an enormous serving of pancakes and syrup and pecans, which was pretty much just what we needed right then.  We got ourselves all packed up, in between bits of conversation and travel anecdotes.  What we had not realised when we knocked on their door in the dark the previous night was that they were right on a particularly beautiful section of the river - probably great for kayaking, especially in summer!

We said our goodbyes and headed off on our bikes, with great plans of avoiding the big roads for as long as possible.  We had lunch under a cute ranch sign sporting a metal T-rex skeleton, and then decided to go the shorter, probably slightly less scenic way.  We found it very hard to get phone reception, but we eventually reached the main road and managed to leave a voice mail for Mark and his wife Toy, the people from Leakey.  Luckily, the road was mostly in our favour.  Lots of gentle downhill stretches, very little traffic, lots of space (due to several lanes being closed for roadwork).  That being said, after dark, we found ourselves on a rough stretch with lots of bits of gravelly junk, though we still got there okay, a little before 8pm.  As Toy had not felt like cooking, we found ourselves taken out for a very nice dinner in town instead of Mark's initial plans of a Texas barbecue at home.  That suited us just fine too, and we had ourselves a veritable feast before sticking our gear in the back of Mark's pick-up truck and being taken the last three or so kilometres to their place.  We found ourselves with a comfortable room, which was a bit of a nice change after a few tent nights.

We slept in comparatively late the next morning.  It would have almost been tempting to stick around, as the place was beautiful, but Mark and Toy had other guests coming, so we cleared the deck.  Mark did take us down to the river though, which was absolutely beautiful, and we got to see a couple of Axis deer hanging out amongst some of the trees.  It was well into the afternoon by the time Mark had dropped us off out the front of the restaurant, but we still had a decent amount of time.  Our next stretch of road would be a tough one, as going into the next town, Camp Wood, involved going uphill for 5km straight!  Hooray for switchbacks!  We hadn't had anything that intense since southern Indiana!  Still, up we went, and it actually wasn't so bad, despite heavy panniers.  We actually had a pair of cyclists on unladed road bikes catch up with us and ride along with us for a while, having a bit of a chat.  It was actually pretty nice, and was a good reminder that civility between different breeds of cyclist is a fine thing indeed.

Just as we made it to the crest of our epic hill, I caught sight of a little feathered thing dashing across the road: a road runner!  Our first one sighted for the trip, which seemed like a very apt reward for the uphill slog we had just done.  Possibly even better, we also had a blissfull downhill stretch, and basically went most of the rest of the way to Camp Wood on momentum!  Aaaaah, Heaven!

Once in Camp Wood, we got ourselves a few canned dinner ingredients, and rode onwards into the dusk.  There would be no proper towns until Bracketville, which we had basically no hope of reaching that night, but we did decide to head on to the 10,000 acre property owned by some friends of Mark and Toy's, another 30km or so away from Camp Wood.  It was a nice flat stretch with little traffic, and we reached the spot without too much interest.  After some pondering and wandering back and forth, we decided to climb the barbed wire fence into the paddock - the owners of the property were out of town, and we had no idea how far off the gate was, as the property stretched on for eight miles - and get ourselves set up.  While Sundance made an improvised, but delicious sort of Nacho stew, I got the tent set up, which involved a very thorough hunt for prickles, which the ground was absolutely covered with!

We had our dinner, and got to bed around midnight.  We were pretty much out like lights, despite the occasional car that would zoom by.  However, at one point, we found ourselves roused by some headlights pointed straight at us.  It was still dark, but a glance at the watch told us it was a little after 6am.  The headlights belonged to a border patrol vehicle, who considered a tent in a paddock so close to the border to be a bit suspicious.  We tumbled into our clothes and out of the tent, grabbed our passports, and explained what we were on about.  The border patrol guys were actually really nice and courteous, which is a incredibly refreshing after the types we have experienced in various airports!

After they had established that we were not illegally in the country, they drove off and we crawled back into our tent, watching our surroundings get lighter.  Due to our early rousing, we were treated to an absolutely beautiful sunrise, and we figured it was just as well that we had been woken so early, as we had a big day ahead of us: around 90km to Del Rio!

As we were getting ourselves packed up, another border patrol vehicle showed up, and we had an amicable chat.  When we asked if they were going to check if we weren't illegally imported Mexicans too, one of them comfortably drawled, "Nah, we were just bored, thought we'd come talk to you."  It was a good chuckle for the morning.  They eventually wandered off, and as we continued to pack up, yet another border patrol car showed up.  At this point, we had to laugh.  These guys didn't even look at our passports.  We just had a bit of a chat, and they eventually wandered off, too.  We climbed back over the fence, had our breakfast, and were greeted by one of our previous border patrol friends, telling us that there was a pair of Alaskan cyclists about 15 minutes away from us, coming our way.  This was pretty cool, we thought, but we decided to get ready to go instead of waiting, as we figured they'd catch up to us when we stopped for lunch.  We rode on into the beautiful scenery, over gently rolling hills, and in absolutely lovely balmy weather.  However, there was no sign of the Alaskans. 

We stopped for lunch in Brackettville, got some lunch ingredients, and sat ourselves at the nearest picnic table.  Just as we started to make our lunch, a pair of cyclists came to our spot, laden down in a similar fashion to ours.  However, when we greeted them with "you must be the Alaskans," they informed us that they were in fact from Montana, riding in from Portland, Oregon!  They sat down with us, and we spent a very nice couple of hours exchanging notes and war stories.  It was kind of funny how many of the little things we had in common, although they were on slightly beefed up road bikes, rather than the mountain bikes we're on.  We very quickly established that they, Dani and Greg, are a pair of champions, and the whole thing put us in very high spirits.  Of course, we exchanged blog addresses.  You should check out their adventures, they're on .

As a result of this meeting, our one hour lunch break turned into three and a half hours, but we weren't a bit sorry, even though it meant that we were not going to make it to Del Rio before dark now.  We took a bunch of photos, and eventually parted ways, delayed but delighted.  Unfortunately for us, as soon as we turned onto our road towards Del Rio, we got smacked in the face by a headwind that was quite reminiscent of the monster which got us on Christmas eve.  We found ourselves struggling along at 12km per hour, with the only consolation being that this meant Dani and Greg had a sweet tailwind, which they probably really needed at that point.

After several hours and jelly bean stops, we pulled into Del Rio, absolutely exhausted.  Luckily, our couch surfing host, Niki, lived right on the outskirts of town, which cut several kms off our trip, and she and her boyfriend William had dinner ready for us.  Let's just say that we were extremely grateful.  I actually crashed out pretty quickly after dinner, though Sundance managed to stay up for a little longer.  We eventually headed to our spare room with the air mattress, and slept like fossilised logs.

Yesterday we enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in, got driven into town by Niki to do some shopping, and Sundance experimented with baking a couple of loaves of bread. It didn't rise very much but still tasted yummy, and after pigging out on the delightful sourdough rye we got in Austin he's determined to maser the art of making one's own bread sometime this year. 

So now here we are, in Del Rio, chilling out for a little while, eating good food, watching too much TV.  But there are things that need doing now, and even though I have some more photos to post, I think I shall do so later.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where's the Kaboom?

Total distance: 4321.2 km

By Sundance:

Last time, we had dropped in on Dan and Sarah and spent the night. We left their place after a delicious breakfast, and rode out westward to reconverge on the main road at Dripping Springs. At their recommendation we stopped into a wonderful cafe called Thyme & Dough for lunch, where the locals and staff enthusiastically quizzed us about our travels, fed us delicious sandwiches, and at closing time gave us free loaves of bread, apple turnovers, and other baked goodies. We then headed over to the local supermarket to restock a few necessary items like breakfast cereal. As tends to happen at times like this, while one person is in the store some friendly folks started chatting with the other person who's waiting and keeping an eye on the bikes and bags. A delightful lady named Leslie mentioned that the weather was going to be awful for a couple of days and offered to let us stay in a studio apartment her family owns. After a bit of thought we decided we'd prefer to be sociable than to push ourselves cross-country at a furious rate, and accepted.

On the way out to her place Yana actually saw a peacock fly across the road in front of us. I didn't see it in flight, but we did see a few of them hanging around in a paddock. Presumably someone in the area breeds the things.

Anyway, after a little winding along small roads and up hills we found Leslie's place, met her husband and settled into our new accommodations. The weather forecast claimed there would be thunderstorms Thursday and Friday, and while the weather was indeed misty and rainy, the promised Earth-shattering kabooms did not eventuate. Instead we have spent a couple of lazy days enjoying the hospitality of Leslie and her family, learning to use a hula-hoop, cooking yet more yummy food, and meeting their chooks, dogs and cats. So it seems like a good occasion to post some photos of our recent travels;

Loading our bikes for the trip back to where the grumpy cop told us we weren't allowed to ride through the rain.

Taking a break to stretch the spine, by a swampy Louisiana roadside.

The middle of a lake seems like an odd place for an electrical transformer station...

We're definitely in The South. Or possibly on the Riverworld.

A sugar cane processing factory that looks like it stepped right out of a film by Miyazaki.

All Hail hypnochook!

Yana and a teeny-weeny pony

Next time we'll try to post some pictures from our side-trip to Mexico, and further across Texas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On the road again...

Total distance:4286.4 km

By Sundance:

We have finally made our exit from Austin. It's a nice place, but we were getting antsy and eager to head out on the road again and see new sights, meet new people, and visit new places.

We spent our last few days in Austin buying gear, changing old chains and gear clusters and brakes for new ones and trying to get our bikes tuned and ready to run. We stocked up on healthy food supplies, including some great sourdough rye bread (difficult to come by in most small towns and roadside food stops), also met some more of Peter and Crystal's friends and cooked up a storm of wholemeal pizza, and trout, and watched Little Miss Sunshine and The Cat Returns, both of which were very enjoyable films. We stayed in Austin longer than expected, but Peter and Crystal were gracious hosts, and we're extremely grateful to them for their hospitality. The weekend weather was sunny and clear and would have been perfect for travelling, but we were still a bit busy getting our bike parts changed and our bags repacked, so we didn't set out until Monday. Almost immediately it became clear that my chain was not behaving, so we pointed ourselves (in some frustration) at the nearest bike shop, and grabbed lunch while they fiddled with it. After many tweaks (shortening the chain, taking a test ride, adjusting the gear cables, taking a test ride, etc...) and finally fitting a new rear derailleur we rode out of town, annoyed that so much of the day had been blown on bike-fixing, but determined to leave Austin behind us. A little after sunset we decided to grab dinner at a Chinese buffet, which turned out to be delicious, and got talking with two different couples about our trip. Both couples offered us accommodation for the night, so we got their addresses and headed to the closer couple (Ken and Rebecca) whose home was only a few kilometers away. They'd warned us that we had to pay for our bed by entertaining them with tales of what Australia is like, so we stayed up chatting for some time before turning in for the night.

The next morning we arose, had brekky in the sunshine in the back yard, and rode out to the home of the second couple (Dan and Sarah) for lunch, stopping briefly en route to look at a Hindu temple by the road. Dan and Sarah have a property near Buda and are working on making their place completely self-sufficient and "off the grid". We were very impressed by their nice open-plan place and the surroundings, which reminded us a bit of the semi-arid parts of South Australia, took some time to fidget with Yana's bike's gears, and eventually wound up staying for the night, giving me a chance to cook up a pasta dish I'd been trying to reinvent for a while, using freshly made coriander pesto (coriander = cilantro, for any north americans reading) instead of the more usual tomato or cream sauces that people put on pasta dishes. We had a nice long conversation about health foods, organic farming techniques, and whatnot. Today we'll be setting off into a more sparsely-populated area, so the tent will probably be coming in handy, and we'll be getting out into more open country. We're both looking forward to the change of scenery and the open spaces.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In Old Mexico

Total distance: 4230.3 km

By Sundance:

Happy New Year, everyone! As promised, we're back for more blogging, and presumably more cycling adventures in 2010. When we all have to get used to writing 201 on autopilot, instead of 200 when we write down the year. At least we have ten years to get used to it.

Anyway, what's been happening since last time? Well, after a bit of fiddle-faddling trying to figure out how best to get into Mexico before out 90-day visa-waiver period expired (rent a car and throw the bikes in the back, catch a bus, try to arrange a ride via craigslist...) we boxed up our bicycles and climbed onto a bus on New Year's Eve, heading from Austin via San Antonio to Eagle Pass, arriving in the evening. When we got to Eagle Pass we were actually so preoccupied with unloading our bikes carefully and reassembling them that we left our backpacks on the bus as it pulled off! Gah! After declaring that we were idiots, we rode our bikes to the bridge across the Rio Grande, paid our nominal fee to head across the bridge as pedestrians, and decided that the wind was so strong and cold that we were going to walk rather than ride across to the adjacent town of Piedras Negras. Much to our surprise nobody from the USA cared that we'd left, and nobody in Mexico cared that we'd entered Mexico or stamped our passports or anything. Once in Mexico we tried to find a working payphone, and eventually had to borrow a mobile phone from someone to call our host Jose. He arrived soon after wards with a truck to pick up our bikes and ourselves, and take us to his home where we met his wife, son, aunts, uncles, parents, sister, and entire extended family who greeted us warmly and merrily provided us with food, set off fireworks, bashed pinatas, and generally showed us how Mexican families see in the new year. Being part of a family celebration was a nice change from the two previous times I'd seen in the new year Central America (2006/2007 in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, and 2007/2008 in Merida in the Yucatan region of Mexico) which were much more solitary experiences. After much banging and popping and the risk of singed hair, we got back into Jose's truck and he drove us out to his family's other house where we would be staying.

On New Year's Day Jose came by to drive us across the bridge back to Eagle Pass to collect our backpacks from the bus terminal. Fortunately they'd been tagged, so the bus company knew which town they were supposed to be delivered to. After collecting the backpacks we were taken for a drive out to a run-down old cathedral in Guerrero which we took many photos of, wandered through, and climbed over. The we headed back to Jose's family home again for dinner, where the courses just kept coming. We've gotten used to being the pet Australians, and it was fun to brush some of the rust off my Spanish, even though it was pretty rusty.

The next day we headed into town ourselves on our bikes, to hand in the visa waiver cards that had expired, headed across the bridge back to Eagle Pass, and after much waiting got to talk to a Customs and boprder protection officer who was very good-natured but told us that we should have handed them in when we left the USA (To whom? There was nobody there to hand them in to! Answer: There's another bridge that we were supposed to head to. Helpful), and that if we wanted to avoid this causing us bureaucratic problems when we tried to re-enter the US, we should do so within a couple of days. Then we headed back to Piedras Negras and lookeda round the markets in town, ate some sweetcorn and spirally-fried potatoes from street stalls, and eventually headed to Jose's place again. We had decided that we wanted to make some food for his family, and show them some of the food we liked to eat in the interests of cultural exchange, so the next day we headed to a supermarket and bought supplies, then attempted to prepare Pavlova, as well as some wholemeal pizza and Pindi Chana. Unfortunately the Pavlova didn't heat fast enough and just kind of collapsed instead of setting with a nice crisp crust, but the pizza and the chickpea curry worked pretty well and were gobbled up eagerly by the whole family. Yana and I had basically decided to head back to the US and cross over to California, and do a real full-on trip through Central America some other time, so on Monday we got on our bikes and headed out for a ride out of town, north of Piedras Negras, which took us through some flat arid countryside that was vaguely reminiscent of outback South Australia. That evening we made some Pad Thai for Jose and his family, and said our farewells, and thanked them for their wonderful hospitality. Jose drove out to the house and we handed the keys back to him, and we turned in for the night.

The following morning we awoke, cleaned the house, and packed our belongings into our backpacks and paniers , and rode out to the US border to see if they'd let us back in. We had no trouble at all, despite having only been out of the country for a handful of days, and after a bit of waiting got our next 90-day visa-waiver period started. We headed to the bus terminal, found the cardboard boxes we'd used to bring our bikes down from Austin still sitting behind the bus terminal (what luck!), repacked the bikes, and got ourselves on a bus back to Austin. We had about an hour-long stopover in San Antonio, during which we wandered around town looking for somewhere to eat - and much to our dismay found that everything was closed at 6pm on a Tuesday! So we eventually gave up and settled for non-nutritious, unappetising stuff at the bus station cafeteria. At least it kept us from getting painfully hungry.

We arrived back in Austin around 10pm, reassembled the bikes, and rode back to Peter and Crystal's place. This means we can pick up the next leg of the journey from the same spot we left off, making one unbroken ride from Ontario to California (albeit with a bit of a hiatus in the middle). The last couple of days have consisted of getting replacements for some parts for our bikes, buying more cold-weather outdoors gear (riding through New Mexico will probably be very chilly) and waiting for a sudden cold spell that has descended to clear. Last night we went out to a cinema where there was a regular event called the Dionysium, which consisted of brief seminars about science and technology, a modified Dionysian wedding ceremony, and debate about whether science and religion are natural adversaries. To be honest, the debate wasn't that great - I've seen better ones done by undergrad clubs at university. But it was an entertaining evening none-the-less. And either tomorrow or the next day we should hit the road again.

Incidentally it's also 400 years to the day since Galileo Galilei pointed a telescope at Jupiter and made the observations which showed that the Earth is not the only body in the Universe to be orbited by a moon or moons, and it's my father's birthday. Happy birthday and much love, Dad!