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!

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