Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Tawawi!

By Sundance:

Okay it's been a while since we updated the blog, so we'd better get on with it or we'll be bogged down with months of stuff to remember and recount. Over the couple of days after we arrived in Ensenada we looked around and talked to various boaty people about the prospects of getting rides. Actually, a lot of this took place in the latter part of the day because we also registered on several online discussion groups and crewfinder lists, and checking email took up much of the morning. We did eventually visit all the marinas in town, including one a few kilometers north/west of town, attached to a hotel. On the Wednesday of that week Daniel's mother Jenny took us out to play tennis. Daniel's younger brother Eric (who I think looks like a very young Antonio Banderas) is learning and takes proper lessons, so Yana and I got to tag along. It was quite good fun - I haven't played in ages, and Yana hadn't ever played before. We also got quite a surprise when Jenny initiated a conversation about religious beliefs, and we found out that she, Daniel, and Eric are atheists. That really knocked out socks off because Latin America is a real stronghold of Catholicism. We don't really want to use this blog as a platform to advocate or trash one particular world-view or another, but Mexican atheists are rare and noteworthy critters indeed. Well, later that night we cooked up some green chicken curry and had a great chat with Daniel over dinner about not being religious.

On Thursday the Canadians (Tom and Kim and family) took us out for a shakedown cruise on their boat, the Tawawi. We can't fit on their boat, but it still seemed like a good idea to get some boating experience. We had quite a good time, felt a little iffy on some of the rolling waves but nothing serious, and got to throw our backs into it helping out with some of the lines and sails and hoisting the spinnaker and all that stuff. When we got back to the marina we were invited over to the Iron Barque, a boat owned by an Aussie couple, for dinner. More atheistic science-nerdy conversations ensued, and much roast chicken was had by all. As we rode home, we actually encountered Daniel who had been out looking for us. We felt a bit sheepish because we hadn't intended to be out so late and he'd gotten worried that something had happened to us.

Friday morning we decided to head back to the Baja Naval marina and talk to Jim and Ann again, about whether they were still saying "maybe" we could come to the Marquesas with them, or they had made a definite decision. They said yes, on the proviso that we ship our bikes back to Australia seperately, as their boat is a little too crowded for bikes as well. Well, that seemed like a fair compromise, although it means modifying our plan of hopping off a boat in Oz, reassembling the bikes, and riding from that very spot back to Adelaide. But still, we've got a boat to sail on!

By Yana:

Saturday, we got stuck into doing some of the things which need doing before we board the Cactus Wren. The morning got consumed by the usual inefficiency that afflicts us, but we spent the early afternoon talking to shipping companies about sending our bikes to Australia, which turned out to be a bit of a wild goose chase in broken Spanish, with little progress for that day. More productive was our quest to end our status as illegal immigrants. Yes, we have spent the better part of two weeks as illegal immigrants in Mexico, which just tickled us. The reason for this is that upon entering the country via the US, nobody even acknowledges your presence. You can just waltz in without a scrap of ID on your person, and nobody tells you what you need to know. We actually had to hunt down the information. The upshot of this was that we headed to the nearest immigration office, got our passports stamped, and paid for a six-month tourist visa. Luckily, us pointing out to the cranky immigration guy that it's not like anyone actually told us what we needed to do, and acting sufficiently benign about it, was enough to convince him not to fine us.

Saturday was also the day of an apparently rather famous bicycle race, wherein thousands of amateur cyclists of varying degrees of seriousness hop on their bikes in Rosarito, and ride the 80km to Ensenada, completely clogging the town's roads. Once we had finished our formalities for the day, we decided to merge in with the steady stream of cyclists, and rode across the finish line with them, which was fun. There were various fun costumes, including a medieval knight on a bike, and a guy with a Darth Vader helmet. We hung around the finish line for a bit, taking in the various stalls and noisy bastardised musical performances ("Achey Breaky Heart" in Spanish - it burns us, precious!), and then decided that we'd had enough for the day.

Sunday morning, Daniel headed off for LA to enjoy a well-earned holiday. We said our goodbyes, as we probably won't see him before we set off on the next leg of our trip. We then headed down to the Cactus Wren, where we did what we could to help out a little. Sundance helped out with getting the GPS wired up to the radio, which was turning out to be a rather convoluted task involving him wriggling into lots of confined spaces and attaching wires to other wires, and I ended up heading back to the apartment to make myself useful in more domestic ways. In the evening, we found out that sending our bikes with a shipping company would incur all sorts of crazy charges for the various customs processes they'd go through. Shell-shocked, we decided to figure out what to do the next day.

On Monday, upon establishing that the customs charges are specific to shipped items, rather than something sent in the mail, we decided to have a chat to the various relevant companies, only to find ourselves hit with quotes of well over $1000 per bike. Apparently, they don't do surface freight, so it's expensive express air freight or nothing. We spent the next several hours in alternating levels of shock, angst, and indecision. The bikes are worth only a fraction of how much it would cost to send them, so the logical thing is to leave them behind and just get new ones, of course. However, we have both grown incredibly attached to our steeds, as they have faithfully stood by us on one heck of an adventure. I'll admit to welling up at one point, imagining leaving my bike behind. We decided there had to be another way, and got stuck into all sorts of research, partially with the help of the awesome people at the Tourist Information Centre. Another inconvenience was the power button on our laptop breaking, so we were without internet access for a day while the thing was getting repaired.

We also went on a journey to various cheap grocery places with Jim and Ann, where we got the bulk of our provisions for the boat trip. It's kind of spooky to find that Costco in Ensenada has the exact same layout as Costco on Maui.

Tuesday, we spent some more time with Jim and Ann, who have started referring to us as "the kids". We also found some other possibilities for shipping the bikes. The tourist info people had found a local company who over the phone quoted us $280-something per bike, which was an insane improvement. Once we had picked up the laptop from the repairs, we headed to their office, to verify this quote. Unfortunately, they hadn't calculated in the volume of our bikes, which jacked up the price to $800 per bike. Still not as bad as the other companies, but we figured we'd still aim for a better price elsewhere. In the evening, after many phonecalls, we established that there are various cheaper options in LA. As the first little leg of the trip on the Cactus Wren will take us up to San Diego, this might turn out to be doable, as Jim and Ann have conceded that for that little while, we should be able to stash the bikes on the boat, although they would be in the way in the long term. It will involve some hoop-jumping, but hey, it'll save several hundred dollars to do it this way.

We've spent most of Wednesday packing, getting all fired up for the boat trip. We still have plenty to do before our departure, but things are slowly coming together. We still have to do some very thorough cleaning of our bikes though to get the mud off them, which would involve disassembling the things and cleaning each part individually. Fun. Still, Australian quarantine regulations are anal retentive for a reason, and I can live with that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oooh, I'm looking for cruise...

Total distance: 7198.7 km

By Sundance:

The search for a boat to take us back to Australia continues. Last Thursday, after we bid farewell to Lucana who was setting out for the US-Mexico border, Molly drove us down to Ensenada for a few hours while she was running errands, and we started looking around and locating the harbours where we could seek boats to crew on.
 The highway down to Ensenada is a toll road that bikes aren't allowed on, so this was our chance to see the coast, including many scenic views across cliffs, beaches, and Tuna fisheries. In Ensenada we spotted someone who looked like they spoke English, who turned out to be named Jurgen. He was a very enthusiastic fellow with a can-do attitude who directed us to find a Canadian called Tom at the harbour where the cruise ships came in. We bluffed our way past the guard at the front gate, and after a bit of asking around found Tom's boat, and his wife and kids although the man himself was in San Diego for the day. Tom's wife Kim was amazed that we'd managed to get through the security at the front gate, and that they'd even shown us "the all-hallowed list" of which boats were docked where.

The following day we rode out from La Mision through the hills along the free road to Ensenada. It would have made much more sense if bikes were allowed on the toll road, since it was flatter, had no blind corners, and actually had a shoulder to ride on, but alas common sense and bureaucracy are immiscible. Still, the countryside along the free road was quite pretty - reminiscent of parts of Gippsland in Australia. When we got to Ensenada we headed out to Tom and Kim's boat again, but Tom was once again not around, so we sat and chatted with his family instead. We started to joke that Tom doesn't really exist. Then we headed off to meet with Daniel, our couchsurfing host in Ensenada, and headed back to his apartment and met his mother and brother, Eric. The next day we finally found that Tom really did exist, so we chatted with him a bit. He suggested another couple we could talk to who we went and tracked down. Jim and Ann are an older couple whom we had a really nice time chatting with. They're heading to the Marquesas, although they were intending to do the trip just by themselves. They suggested a get-together at a local bar we could come along to to meet some more local sailors, which we did. Yesterday we again wandered down to the harbour and started randomly talking to anyone who had a big boat. We're basically just going to persist in meeting people, introducing ourselves and making sure people know we're out there looking until we find someone who's willing to take us, or we exhaust our options. Although we did take a bit of time to chill out with Daniel and Eric last night, by going to the cinema. Given the small choice of options that were screening in English at a convenient time, we wound up seeing Date Night, which was entertaining enough, and the first movie we'd seen in a cinema in about eight months.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baja hahaha!

Total Distance: 7147.4km 

By Yana:

Well, the Pacific coast of North America has been fun so far.  We've been doing various fun things, hanging around San Diego and the surrounding area.  On our second day in the bustling metropolis, our host, Chrystina, spirited us off to a very pretty beach indeed, where we spent a bit of quality time frolicking, although the water was still a bit too cold for a swim.  Later that day, we found ourselves at a mansion full of stimulating New Age types who twirled poi and staffs and other similar performance implements, and met all sorts of great people.  Some nice conversations were had.  

The next day we sought out a bike shop in the vicinity and rode out to it, as we had some repairs to take care of.  Sundance's wheel was still warped from that spoke malfunction we'd had just before the 7000km mark, and I had a buckled disc brake which was rubbing and making a nuisance of itself.  It took a little bit of time, but we got everything fixed at a very reasonable price.  Sundance's bike was still making odd noises, but we were reassured that those would go away once the water in the works from when the mechanic had so thoughtfully washed the Arizona mud off the wheel dried out.

The following day, we took our first stab at trying to find a boat which might take us across the big blue.  As we found out, asking at the front office of boat clubs is not the best way of doing it, as they just tell you you're not allowed near the boats without a membership, thus we couldn't stroll up and ask people.  We spent most of the daylight hours that day trying to find crew network type things to sign up with, which all didn't seem terribly promising.  By the time 6pm rolled around, we decided to call it a day and went back to hang out at the mansion for some yoga.

On our second boat-hunting day, we decided to take a different approach, instead just riding our bikes along the harbour, and striking up conversations with pretty much every person on a boat we could find.  To start with, the effectiveness of that method seemed doubtful as well, as the first few people we found weren't actually locals and had little knowledge of the area.  However, we eventually bumped into a fellow who is heading for Hawaii soon, and is keeping an eye out for potential inexperienced crew just in case his current people flake on him.  A start, at least.  After that, it seemed like we weren't going to find much more, and we decided to call it a day again.  It was at that point that a random person on the marina saw our bikes, noticed the panier racks, and asked us about our journey.  Obviously, the racks don't even need the bags on them.  We got into an animated conversation, and it turned out he has a friend heading for NZ.  During this conversation, we were joined by another lady, who happened to have an Aussie friend who apparently goes back and forth a reasonable amount.  We exchanged phone numbers with both of them, and rode away feeling much more optimistic.

The next day, we hitched a ride with Chrystina and took a jaunt up to LA, to spend some time with Sundance's cousin Jamie.  Getting to LA turned out to be a reasonably involved process, and it was starting to get a little bit late by the time we got there.   We met Jamie and his other half, Kim, at a cafe close to where they live, and had a very tasty dinner.  I leapt at the option of a grass-fed burger, as we've been very careful with beef here, what with the feed regulations not being as reassuringly anal retentive as they are in Oz.  We all had a very nice chat over dinner, and then headed back to Jamie and Kim's place, where we were shown to our sleeping quarters and collapsed pretty quickly.

We woke up fairly late, and after a laid back sort of breakfast, Jamie and Kim took us to Venice Beach.  It was okay, as far as beaches go, though I think the conversations we had as we walked were much more worthwhile than the beach itself.  It was also kind of fun walking back along the stretch with the shops - it vaguely reminded me of Malaysia, actually, for a reason I can't quite put my finger on.  We stopped for a bite to eat, took a few photos, stopped to take in the more interesting sights (like a fellow spinning a bola in fun and interesting ways), and other such fun things.  At one point, Sundance and I got trapped by a young rapper whom Jamie and Kim had managed to evade: the fellow pulled us in with two sets of headphones connected to an iPhone, and a handful of CDs to sell.  He actually had a pretty good sales pitch going, but we broke his routine by telling him we were somewhat impoverished, and explaining our bike journey to him.  The rapper was impressed, and let us go with apparently no hard feelings.

As we had jointly decided on fish tacos for dinner, Jamie and Kim took us to Trader Joe's to get some groceries, which was an experience in itself.  I think I still prefer the huge halls of food, like WholeFoods and Central Market, but at the same time, I appreciate the way smaller places truck on despite the presence of those huge chain monsters.  We got back and consumed our tasty tacos, after which Sundance and I introduced Jamie and Kim to The Middleman.  Interestingly, despite their relevant professions, they had never heard of the series, which says just how obscure it is. 

We got up a little earlier the next morning, and Sundance made the final contact with some people we had found on craigslist to car pool with in a bid to get back to San Diego.  That done, we all took a trip to the La Brea tar pits.  We spent some time looking at an oily lake which would occasionally boil in some places as bubbles of gas released the sweet aroma of tar.  Perhaps not the top thing on my list of favourite smells, but it was still pretty interesting, especially considering all the prehistoric critters which have gotten stuck there over time.  When we checked out the museum on the grounds, aside from all sorts of oversized extinct mammals, we also got to see a wall sporting no less than 404 skulls of dire wolves.  Yow!  Yep, quite a rich source of well-preserved fossils.

After wandering past various pieces of modern art and tar-slicked earth, we headed back to the house.  Our ride showed up not long afterwards, and we said our goodbyes.  I'm really glad we at least made it to LA - both Jamie and Kim were very interesting to talk to, and LA reinforces my feeling that I really could happily live on the USA's Pacific coast, theoretically. Sundance found it to be much less crowded a high-paced than he'd expected.

Back in San Diego, we got stuck into getting all our gear packed.  We had one day left to chill out before our visa waivers expired.  We spent most of that day packing, pausing for lunch on the balcony.  The reason this detail is worth mentioning is because while we were eating, the doors started to rattle.  After a moment, it became clear that the building was shivering and swaying.  It took us a few moments to realise that we were having an earthquake.  It only lasted for maybe a minute or two, and it stayed pretty gentle, but it was enough to be an experience.

After some more packing, we decided to call our friends from the harbour.  Gayani, the lady who had joined the conversation after we had already been accosted that day, actually invited us onto her boat for dinner, which we gladly accepted.  We got a lift to the marina from Brian, one of Chrystina's housemates, and got to meet the rest of Gayani's family, consisting of her hubby, Rob, and their kids, Mike and Eddie.  We weren't the only guests, and it was a merry little dinner party, crammed into a fairly small space with all sorts of delicious food.  It was a very nice way to spend our last evening in San Diego.  It's always nice to randomly make friends with people, and come away thinking that yeah, they were really cool, and really our kind of folk.

We fell into bed, mostly packed.  It took a little doing to get going in the morning, as Sundance still ended up spending some time plotting our way to La Mision, as there were plenty of wiggly roads and city mazes to navigate through.  We ended up leaving around noon or so.

Just before we crossed the border into Mexico, the skies opened on us, and it actually rained heavily enough that we had to dig out our wet weather gear.   After a bit of uncertainty, we managed to get our bikes through the revolving doors which the pedestrians are supposed to take, and entered Tijuana.  Once again, our border crossing into Mexico went unacknowledged, and it actually took a reasonable detour to find some US border officials we could hand our green immigration cards in to, as we found out last time that the onus is on us to do that.  They don't exactly make that clear, or make it easy to do, but there you have it.  We broke a few rules getting where we needed to get to and back, but it worked out all right.

That done, we got stuck into getting out of Tijuana before dark.   The place seemed perfectly pleasant, and Sundance noted that his sketchiness radar wasn't pinging at all, but we weren't about to test that.  We did have people strike up conversations with us though, which reminded us of just how friendly your average Mexican seems to be. I found myself wondering if perhaps many Americans treat that friendliness with suspicion, or interpret it as some sort of creepiness.  Don't know.

There was one cute moment in all of this though.  As we were making our way up some ramps to take us up to a foot bridge, we found a little boy of maybe five years goggling at us from a higher level.  Sundance greeted the kid, and we headed further up, where another random fellow struck up a conversation with us.  While I was paying attention to the conversation, I was startled by someone touching my hand.  I looked down to find the same little boy looking up at me.  Now that he had my attention, he walked to the back of my bike, and rested his hand on the Barbie I had strapped to it.  I'm not sure we mentioned this when it happened, but during our stay in Piedras Negras, one of the gifts we received was that Barbie, and I had strapped her to the paniers as a sort of travel mascot, figuring I'd give her to a random little girl along the way.  I was mildly surprised that the boy was interested in her, but I detached the Barbie from my pack, and offered her to the kid.  He almost snatched it, maybe a little worried I might change my mind, and ran out of sight, which I had to chuckle at.  Through a gap in the various stalls, I could see him standing with his mother, pointing at me.  I waved to both of them, and got back to the conversation, reflecting that it was fitting that Barbie would return to Mexico.

When we finished our chat and wheeled our way past the proud new Barbie owner, we found the mother holding out a tray of chewing gum to us, apparently offering us a freebie.  We declined, and went on our way.  We briefly stopped to get some lunch at a taco joint, which was extremely tasty, and then laboured our way up one of the hills we needed to get past to leave Tijuana.  It was well into the afternoon by then.  Luckily, after a few treacherous bits, we got to some nice broad flat bits, going vaguely downhill, so we finally were making some decent progress.  Quite a few people cheered, waved, or just grinned at the sight of us.  I also received no less than three wolf whistles, which was kind of funny, especially as they were of a decidedly good natured sort.  We could also see the sea to our right, which was nice.  Eventually though, the sun went down, and we had to keep going through the dark.  Irritatingly, we were having trouble with the public phones, which made it all the more difficult to contact our couch surfing host, Arthur.  Eventually though, we made it to the La Fonda Hotel, which was close to where we wanted to be, and they let us use the phone.  We got in contact with Arthur, and from then on, it was all pretty easy.  We arrived shortly afterwards, were shown into the casita, where we would sleep, and were presented with some Ezekiel pizza for dinner.  We actually spent quite a bit of time chatting to Arthur before bed.

The last couple of days have mostly consisted of chilling out.  We had some delicious pancakes for breakfast with Arthur, his wife Molly, another couchsurfer, Lucana, and a fellow who was doing some work around the place and whose name escapes me.  Arthur told us about a film he is making about one Garry Davis, who was the first World Citizen, having given up his USA citizenship after World War II.  The idea behind it is to encourage the world to unify more.  We might write about this in more detail in a later post.

Arthur took us for a walk along the beach, and we headed towards the La Fonda Hotel again, where it was Taco night.  As the tide was quite high, we had to clamber over a lot of rocks, and Arthur actually had to go back, as one of the dogs was having trouble with the terrain.  Sundance and I continued on our way though, and made it to the hotel, where we partook in some very tasty tacos, and I accepted the offer of a margarita.  Powerful stuff, ļ¼©hate to think what effect it might have had on an empty stomach.  We did get to have a nice chat with all sorts of folk who were at the same table, friends of Arthur and Molly.  I am mostly glad to have gotten to talk more with Lucana, who is a very talented photographer.

We headed back to the house after a small grocery run consisting mostly of avocados, as we have grand plans of making some key lime ice cream at some point.  Yum!  Today we met up with the local couchsurfing ambassador, Rob, who led us on a taxi ride out to a local waterfall which was nestled in some very pretty countryside a way back from the coast. In the next few days, we plan to head for Ensenada, to see about finding a boat there.