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, Ihate 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.

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