You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

April 30, 2011

1 Month Done: Planning and Musing

Short story shorter, the original crew of four is spending one more night (Saturday) here in Mazatlan and parting ways tomorrow morning at checkout.  It sounds as if we will all start out the same direction towards a city called Durango.  The road to Durango is 120 miles fully paved and is well known for its scenic views and terrain.  Now, Durango is known to be one of the more dangerous cities in the area so we will not be spending any time there.  At most we will stop on the main drag for a taco.  Another reason not to worry, there are 14,000 other bikes scattering like cockroaches tomorrow and I can only imagine we will have some company heading to Durango.

Al and I intend to continue on further towards Zacatecas or possibly some other little village off the grid.  Hopefully, we can pitch a somewhere and earn some Merit Badges for a night of camping.  Then, we will peel south towards Guadalajara or Puerta Vallarta.  Alex met a fellow rider in PV who has floor space for us should we make it down there. 

I can’t believe it, but I actually committed to a timeframe for once on this trip.  Several summers ago I studied in Cuernavaca, MX for six weeks for Spanish credits.  I made a lot of good friends there but lost touch with most of them.  Unfortunately my host family lives in Canada now so I won’t be seeing them.  Determined to return to my old stomping grounds, though, I was able to get ahold of my good friend Cintia in Cuernavaca.  I told her we would arrive in Cuernavaca Friday afternoon.  I hope to hang out with Cintia as much as possible as well as track down some of my other favorite people (Miguel, his excellency). 

Also on the agenda, Las Estacas or El Rollo.  I went to both of these parks last time and had an absolute blast.  Las Estacas is a water resort built up around a river; it is full of entertainment along the banks ranging from raft rentals, rope swings, and blue lagoons.  It is also where Jesse Plevel lost her big toe nail that summer.  To this day, one of the worst images I’ve seen.  El Rollo is an actual theme park like you would find win the Wisconsin Dells but without American regulations.  Everything is more extreme with far fewer safety precautions; I can’t wait.

After the Cuernavaca fun it will be time to keep making our way towards Guatemala.  Mexico is definitely one of the biggest countries we will travel through, but after an entire month here I am starting to get in a hurry.  Admittedly mainland is very different from Baja, but there is no better sign of progress in a trip than crossing borders.  I also want to get to cheaper areas. 

Finances have been occupying my thoughts.  I can still make it down to Argentina easily; but I am ready to change my spending habits to the absolute cheapest side.

Plus, I have my cash stockpile, my motorcycle, and some backpacking gear.  They first two are the only real assets to my name for the foreseeable future.  So as the cash continues to draw down, the bike’s liquidity will increase.  Just like when you are lost and starving in the woods with only your dog, you eventually will eat the dog.  It’s a given; even if he’s a really good dog.  I love my bike, but if it ever comes to that point and I’m not done running, I will have no qualms selling the bike and continuing on $3,000 heavier. 

Now that’s getting desperate.  A far better option would be to hold on to the bike and use it for transportation while I live in Buenos Aires as a windsurfing instructor for the summer.  I’m too American to live somewhere without wheels, so selling the bike at any point doesn’t sound too enticing.  I do foresee it as a backup plan for the plane ticket home whenever it comes to that point.  These bikes are so cheap at home you are better off taking the loss and buying a new one rather than shipping one with 30,000 miles on it from South America

 I talked to a guy in San Diego who’s buddies did this very trip two years ago.  They never made it.  Instead, they just stayed in Colombia and live there today.  At first I thought these guys had failed but now I get it.  The second you start this trip, you realize that it is so much more immersive than expected.  I didn’t foresee getting caught up in the culture of the city just by talking to the random people you run into.  I can imagine how a person could simply end their trip south and just stick around when opportunity really knocks. 

What will happen when it’s knocking on my door?  I’ll have to see, but Tierra del Fuego is not the biggest priority anymore.  I do intend to come home, but not until I’m ready.  That’s why I keep exploring all the possibilities I have.  When it’s over, I will have to go back to work so I better not regret any of my time out here.

Update: Everybody rode in the parade today.  It was a five mile stretch on the beach with people lined ten feet deep the entire way.  All the bikes were constantly trading spots riding about four across in two lanes (at 10mph max).  I took my side cases off beforehand and I’m glad.  With that close of riding you only need to know what is right in front of you and the rest works itself out with the other riders. 

To great surprise, I ran out of gas about two miles in.  I asked some people at the parade to help me get my bike on the sidewalk.  Up there, I laid it down and tipped it back to get all the gas on the left side of the tank (where the gas drains).  That worked for about a half mile but eventually I was flat empty.  I ended up walking it through the crowd to get off the main drag.  From there I walked the bike eight sizeable blocks to nearest Pemex.  I arrived drenched in sweat (95F outside) and feeling the effects of severe dehydration.  Al and I were the only two bikers in the entire parade wearing helmets; we were also the sweatiest.  I put a 100 pesos in, drank a Gatorade, and went straight back to the apartment. 

We ran into Jim from Ballard again and had a great time; I want to stay in touch.  Eddy and Lizzy left on a bus for Guadalajara tonight.  And the rest of us are splitting tomorrow.  It’s bittersweet but I’m confident it will take me in an equally awesome direction.


I should have done this a bit earlier, but here are a few of the best pictures from my camera so far.  Some of these stories might make a little more sense now.

Here is my steed fully loaded.  It looks the exact same now except my hand guards have turned yellow.  No spills yet, just a couple of drops.

I've got everything I need for a night in the yellow dry bag and black Pelican case.  The other two carry all the junk.

 Enjoying a little 'me' time at La Bufadora.  Just above the beer bottle is where the water shoots up when the waves crash.

 Somewhere in the cactus forest in Northern Baja.
 Did I mention they are big?
 This will be my backup plan when I run out of money.  We later saw them driving through La Paz with an unstrapped pallet of concrete.  Awesome.
 Hey Al!  Have fun at the hospital!
 Here is Alex's motorcycle after we transported it 150 miles north.Tato got it running for $1,000.  Unreal.
 Someone forgot to do their pre-trip inspection!
 GU love in Baja.  I'll take it.
 My morning kayak down the river in San Ignacio.
 Looking down on the San Ignacio oasis from the overlooking mountain top.  Notice the volcanoes in the background.
 Nothing too special about this shot... except for the incredible wind.  I'm surprised the palms didn't blow over.  This was all of Baja.
 Charlie and Sarah enjoying the festivities in Mulege.  This is the nigh we stayed up almost until dawn with Tim.
 The view from my tent after camping on the beach in Mulege.
 Showcasing the Devil's Tail.
 The final catch!  A job well done.
 More to come later.  My battery is dying.  Adios!

April 29, 2011

Fork in the Road

April 29, 2011 6:30pm Mazatlan, MX

Through a series of very fun events our crew of six woke up this morning very tired and dehydrated.  We spent last evening at Joe’s Oyster Bar and had a great time screaming over Mexican rap and arguing drink costs with bartenders.  In the midst of the festivities it was decided that our group of four will be splitting apart at the end of this weekend.  Eddy and Lizzy are heading to Guadalajara on a bus tomorrow and we hope to catch up with them down the road.  Charlie and Sarah are going to stick together for a couple more days and then part ways.  Alex and I will make our way south; probably Puerta Vallarta tomorrow and Guadalajara after that.

Planning the ride here on mainland is much more interesting because we have so many new options.  The entirety of Baja was 1,500 miles on the same road.  Now, departing from Mazatlan, we actually have to start thinking a few days ahead.  Tomorrow is the big motorcycle parade and after that I imagine Al and I will make our big move.  But no reason to dwell on something so far off in the distance.

Today Alex, Charlie, and I set out on our bikes to go find the motorcycle convention near the city center.  We had heard that entry was free if you ride a bike.  Upon arrival, Alex and I immediately balked when we learned that the ticket price was actually $40 (about a day’s budget for us).  We had been crunching numbers earlier today and it turns out we have spent close to double what we intended for our first month.  It’s not an emergency; we had to go through some very expensive places to get here and it only gets cheaper as we move south.  Even if we stayed at this spending rate we could remain on the run for another eight months.  Regardless, the motorcycle convention suddenly didn’t sound so appealing.

Then, like a boss, Charlie pulled out an extra 1,000 pesos and paid our entry.  When Charlie wants to spend money there is no point in arguing so in we went.  Along with the ticket, we all got a hat, a shirt, and some other memorabilia.  We went inside and found all the bike dealers set up under tents around the edges with total chaos happening in the middle of the parking lot.  You can park your bike anywhere, but when you get off, be sure to look both ways for someone doing a wheelie in your direction.  Everywhere I looked there were tire burnouts, engines hitting their rev-limiters, and guys showing off their acceleration.  The organization would never have passed in the U.S., but here in Mexico it was quite mundane. 

We walked around talking to bikers and vendors for about an hour.  Charlie noticed a BMW touring bike with Washington plates.  Jim, the owner, is from Ballard and he is riding north from Panama back home right now.  Good luck Jim.  Then Charlie went over to the Yamaha tent and started talking bikes with some Mexican technicians.  He brought his Tenere 660 over the tent (not sold in this hemisphere) and it was a big hit with everybody.  Well done Charlie.  Eventually I felt heat exhaustion coming on and rode back to the apartment.

On the way back I was really struck by how far my riding has come in the last 3,500 miles.  Surrounded by other bikes, huge busses, and crazy taxis, I weaved up and down the street with ease.  I use my turn signals less and your ears more.  I rev higher than before to get where I need to be.  And I am constantly switching lanes, using the shoulder, or riding the center line.  This isn’t out of ignorance or hubris; it is necessity here.  The other motorists expect you to control the situation as a motorcycle.  They are very aware and so am I.  For a situation with zero rules, everything flows very well.  I haven’t had any close calls since San Diego so there’s something to be said about the system here.

Tonight we are going to hit the town one last time and then part ways tomorrow.  I am sad to see everyone go, but also excited to change up the atmosphere and intensity of the adventure.  Al and I plan to recoup some of our losses in the next few weeks by doing a lot of camping and eating a lot of tuna with avocado.  Also, this is not the last time I’ll see Charlie or Sarah; or Eddy or Lizzy for that matter.  The adventure circuit is very peculiar in that we will be crossing paths again whether we plan to or not.  When we do, I’m sure there will be plenty of celebration.

I put two posts up today so if you haven’t seen it yet, check out ‘Somos 14.004’ to get the scoop on the trip from La Paz to Mazatlan.  Nothing too incredible, but it is Mexico and it got a little hectic.

Somos 14.004

Okay, the last two days went by in a flash so I will try to get it all downright now before the Mazatlan madness begins.  As mentioned before, we came back from La Ventana, spent one more night in Pension California (La Paz), and then hopped on a ferry to Topolobampo.  In the meantime, we met two awesome Australians in La Paz named Eddy and Lizzy.  The two are backpacking all around the world this year and we have banded together for the last few days.

Eddy and Lizzy are also in their mid-twenties.  We kept running into them all throughout La Paz on Monday after initially meeting them at the hotel.  After researching the Baja ferry system, they decided to take the Topolobampo boat to mainland the same day as we.  Instantly, Charlie and Alex offered their bikes up as free taxi services to the ferry docks and another Baja friendship was born.  On Wednesday, the boys took our new amigos to the ferry docks, came back, loaded their own luggage, and we all set off for the six hour voyage.  

I’m used to the posh Puget Sound ferry fleet, so boarding the ‘California Star’ ferry on a motorcycle was quite an experience.  Amidst a very confusing Mexican check-in process, we entered the boat and immediately rode down into the belly of six-story, three hundred foot behemoth.  The deckhands waved us down to the second level of parking; down a bunch of metal ramps and under some very low steel crossbeams dodging semi-trucks the entire way.  A classic Mexican boarding process.  We parked the bikes, lashed them to the floor mounts, and went upstairs with our valuables in tow. 

We got to know Eddy and Lizzy very well over the next six hours and enjoyed a nice meal courtesy of Baja Ferries.  I met a lovely girl named Dulce at the bar and we ended up talking in English and Spanish together for a couple hours as the sun set.  Dulce is from Culiacan, MX, drives a red VW Goal (Mexican Golf I think), and is an experienced bank teller.  For a 26 year-old girl, she showed a lot of honesty and openness in talking to the tall gringo stranger (me); it’s something I appreciate about the Mexican people.  She offered me and Al a spot to sleep on the floor at her parents’ house but unfortunately it didn’t work out due to a very confusing Mexican off-loading process… didn’t see that coming.  Oh well, I guess we can still be facebook friends. 

The ferry arrived around 10:00pm Tuesday night and Eddy and Lizzy stayed with our group of motorcycle bandits at the closest hotel we could find in Topolobampo.  We cheap bastards love to pile on the vagabonds because it spreads the hotel prices even thinner.  In the morning, Charlie and I took the two of them for a quick ride around the city on our bikes and ran a couple errands.  Afterward we packed up made some goodbyes and headed out.  Eddy and Lizzy were going to take the bus to Mazatlan and we hoped to see them there in a few days.

Meanwhile, Charlie, Sarah, Alex, and I were heading to Culiacan (two hours north of Mazatlan).  We set off on the only southbound highway early afternoon.  To my delight it was a four-lane divided freeway surrounded by farm fields the entire way.  After 2000 miles of Baja desert, the rich smells of manure, corn husk, and tractor fuel were sensational.  So was riding at 75mph… I was wondering what that fifth gear was for.

Somewhere along the way we lost Sarah when the road split.  When we got to Culiacan, we had no clue where to find her and did not see any Wi-Fi hotspots.  In a hasty decision, we thought it best to continue on to Mazatlan and hopefully meet up with Sarah the next day (remember, she is an independent rider who is fit to take care of herself).  I was hoping to find Dulce somewhere in town, but the timing was wrong and our plans were awry.  Again, oh well, we sped off to Mazatlan.

Two hours later, just inside the Mazatlan city limits, Charlie’s tire went flat while waiting at a stoplight.  Approaching complete darkness, Charlie masterfully changed out his tube in a convenience store parking lot off the main drag.  Now I don’t care if you don’t believe in God, but there are some things in this world beyond luck (and they seem to be quite prevalent on this trip).  Today’s example: while Charlie was working on his tube, Alex and I walked over to the road to admire a VW Beetle/motorcycle combo that had pulled up to the nearby stoplight.  We sat there for thirty seconds discussing the machine before Al noticed Sarah’s yellow jacket and Yamaha 225 idling amongst the other cars at the intersection just twenty feet from us.

Somehow, due to Charlie’s flat tire, the stars aligned and Sarah pulled up on the same random street in the middle of Mazatlan just as Al and I were scoping the intersection.  You can’t even plan a meeting that effortless!   Alex got her attention and Sarah pulled over; she had arrived at Culiacan, couldn’t find us, and made the same decision to push forth to Mazatlan.  The group again was reunited!

Okay, now it was Wednesday night in Mazatlan and very dark.  With Charlie’s tire fixed, we all rode into town together, found an apartment to rent for $20/night each, and ate celebrated with everyone’s favorite staple: tacos.

I only intended to be here in Mazatlan for one or two nights, but in almost immediately I changed my mind.  To start, our apartment here is incredible.  It has two bedrooms, a living area with a dining table, a kitchen, and a bathroom.  Fully air conditioned with TV and internet access for $73/night.  What we pay extra in rent we are already saving in food; Al and I went out and bought $20 in groceries today (Thursday) and feasted on chorizo, onions, beans, and potatoes this afternoon.  To boot, we rounded up Eddy and LIzzy this morning and moved them in with us again.  This place just got way cheaper and way more fun.

Furthermore, it turns out that Mazatlan hosts one of Mexico’s biggest motorcycle rallies this weekend.  There will be 14,000 bikes here on Saturday and I will be damned if I’m not riding down the strip with them during the parade.  This rally will be a great opportunity to restock on some of the spares we need: spark plugs, clutch cable, tire tubes, etc.

On top of all that, Mazatlan just happens to be a huge Mexican party city.  I swear there is a Senor Frogs every three blocks.  And the word on the street is that the city goes off harder this weekend than any other in the year.  Needless to say, I may have to reawaken some of my dormant college genes for a few sleepless days.

So by sheer dumb luck, we lost Sarah, spotted her from a parking lot, rented an awesome apartment, and are here in Mazatlan for motorcycle mania.  Not a bad turn of events.

April 26, 2011


After four days of lying around in the La Ventana sun we are all mobilized again and ready to get moving.  Today I awoke with an immediate urge to get the hell out of Baja.  I don’t feel that we are behind, but I have seen enough money slip away that I want some miles under my tires to show for it.  We won’t be making it all the way down to Los Cabos and thereby completing the Baja Circuit, but I could care less at this point.  This trip isn’t about where you stood; it’s about who you met and what you ate as far as I’m concerned.

Speaking of eating, Easter in La Ventana was a great success.  We got off to a slow start in the morning and watched the Mexican exodus from the beach as they all hauled off to make Mass.  Sarah and Erik talked to our hosts at the kite center/restaurant and they ended up renting two snorkels and a ‘Devil’s Tail’.  Throw in a gallon jug buoy and a mesh bag and you are ready to go scalloping.  After at least an hour the pair returned with one huge scallop that Erik had caught just before coming in. 

Staring at the 12” long by 7” wide mollusk in Erik’s hand I decided it was my turn.  Alex and I grabbed the gear and decided to try a different part of the beach for our hunt.  Scallops bury all but one inch of themselves deep in the sand and therefore are very difficult to pull out.  The inch protruding from is the mouth which feeds off the ocean floor as the currents pass by it.  To catch them, you need the Devil’s Tail.

The Devil’s Tail is a ‘T’ shaped tool with a flat metal barb at the long end.  Al and I jumped in the water just beyond of where all the campers had been all weekend.  We could see a sand bar about 200 yards out so we swam out there expecting to find a catch.  After about a half hour of snorkeling around we realized that the sand bar was too deep for us to touch… good thing we’re both great swimmers.  We were in about 12’ deep water diving down to the floor looking for these scallops which turned out to be very hard to find.  Normally you might fret, but this was 78F degree Baja water flourishing with sea life.  It was like a field trip.

Finally, right when we were starting to doubt ourselves, Alex found the first scallop.  We both dove down to check it out, and then he put the Devil’s Tail to use.  As I said, the mouth of the clam (very narrow) is open as it filters the ocean water all day long.  If you touch it, the scallop will clamp down his mouth and suck further into the sand.  Solution?

Take a big breath, dive down, shove the flat barb deep into the scallop’s mouth, and turn Devil’s Tail 90 degrees.  When the scallop clamps down, the 90 degree turn of the barb allows you to pull him up without the tool slipping right back out between the shells.  Stabbing the scallop is only step one.  Next you have to flip yourself underwater, plant both your feet on the seafloor, and squat him out of the sand.  With a steady pull, the Devil’s Tail will slip a bit and finally catch near the edge of the mouth; then the scallop slowly heaves out of the sand and the circle of life goes on.  Alex executed perfectly on his first try and we had a scallop in our buoy bag. 

The smiles on our faces after catching our first scallop were priceless.  Now we knew what we were looking for and our determination doubled.  Five minutes later I found one and took my turn to catch the prey.  I as well performed the savagery with precision.  From then we spent the next hour and a half free diving for scallops until we had enough for a solid dinner.  Once we figured out where they like to dig in (right on the edge of rocky areas) it turned into a complete slaughter.  In total, we came back with our bag full of fifteen scallops.

While we were gone the others had bought a bunch of different meats and found a grill down the street that we could use.  A kid named Delaney let us use his house for a massive feast and we all ate like kings with good company.  The meats included carne asada, chorizo sausage, hot dogs, and of course, a load of scallops.  With plenty to go around, I ate myself into a food coma and went to bed a satisfied carnivore.

A very special thanks to Dan, Jessica, Vivian, and Sam for letting us stay in their extra room at the kite shop this weekend.  Also to Chaz for taking us under his wing for a day and giving a lot of sound motorcycle advice.    La Ventana has a serious Gorge connection so I’m happy to have some solid contacts down here for my eventual return. 

And that was Semana Santa here in Baja; not your typical Easter, but not your typical April either.

April 23, 2011

Vacation from Vacation

Day 3 in La Ventana and the group has finally crashed.  First we stayed up with Chaz all night enjoying his margaritas and Playstation.  Then we were out in the sun Friday and not hydrating all that often.  Now, tonight at 10:00pm, Charlie and I are the last travelers standing.  It’s been exactly what I’ve needed.

I mentioned Chaz before and I am happy to report that the adventure did not stop after that first night.  Chaz found Alex and me the next afternoon with nothing to do so we rode out to a five-star resort thirty miles out that he knew about.  We got there, had the chauffer take his 2011 Tundra away, and got in a golf cart to be taken down to the beach bar. 

I wasn’t too into it at first because I had just been dealt a crushing blow.  I went and talked to Lucy at the board shop and she informed me that the shop was done for the season and therefore I couldn’t rent anything.  In the end, it was probably better that way; the wind was weak at best by mid-afternoon and as a windsurfer you have a sick tendency to wait around for it out of blind hope.  At least now I was free of its trance.

Lucy was about to leave all weekend to where the wind was: the Pacific coast on some beach where there is no windsurfing.  And I can’t kite.  So no wind sports for me in Baja.  Have fun Lucy and the kiters!  Sometimes, you can’t win any of them.

Back to the resort: we started ordering lunch on the grass by the pool and admiring a $1 million train set put together by the owner.  We were on the bartender’s good side; apparently Chaz was going to sell him a nice quad for dirt cheap.  Chaz just wants to get rid of it and it would make any Baja bartender’s day land such a good deal.  Therefore, free margaritas started pouring just as soon as lunch finished. 

From there on, Alex and I hung out in multiple infinity pools, swam in the waves in Bajia de Suenos, and relaxed in the sun.  At one point Chaz organized a golf cart tour of the entire grounds.  This place had a golf course, equestrian center, chapel, and tennis courts among everything else.  The treatment was so incredible we managed to lie around until 10:00pm and get dinner before heading home.

I met an awesome family there.  Bruce, from South Africa, was about 45 and is currently a F1 Kites dealer.  He also had a motorcycle background and was very interested in our trip.  Both Bruce and Chaz repeatedly told us to keep the speed low on these roads.  They are driving the point home.  I didn’t catch Bruce’s wife’s name but she was French and awesome to talk to on the beach.  They live in San Francisco but winter a few months a year down here in their vacation house.  They were smart people and I hope we run into them again.

Chaz dropped us off last night and we were ready for a break.  He is an amazing host, and very intense in his kindness and honesty.  After two nights of it, we were ready for what transpired all today: nothing.  We did a beach walk today and that was it.  I also ate a cheeseburger with fries and three tacos in one sitting.  For $7! 

This trip is definitely expanding my views of what your future can entail having seen and heard so many different journeys from all these different people.  Basically, the idea of borders between countries has become dramatically less relevant in my mind.  If GU International Business was right that Globalization is the future of business, then I may be able to score big while I’m out here.  Or at least get my foot in the door where I want to be. 

Back to wind: it is slowly coming to my attention that kiteboarding seems to be everywhere and windsurfing can only take root in the most perfect of environments.  Although I want to continue my windsurfing more than this trip itself right now, I foresee kiting in the future as I ride through Central America.  We’ll see, I hope this isn’t the last time I’m in La Ventana.

April 22, 2011

La Ventana, BC

It has recently come to our attention that the entire grand plan of this trip was completely deranged when we set off.  Al and I intended to ride down to Tierra del Fuego and then back up to Seattle in nine months.  Yeah right, I don’t even want to ride back through California let alone the entire Western Hemisphere.  Plus, at our rate, we won’t be getting to the Argentina until their spring; my budget doesn’t account for much beyond that.

So, that gives me a lot of options once I get down there (assuming I don’t get distracted along the way).  I don’t have many life barriers in my current state, here are a couple ideas I am tossing around.  I could get a job in Buenos Aires as a windsurfing instructor through my friend from the Gorge, Martin.  I could sell the bike in Brazil and island hop the Caribbean back to Florida.  I could move to Australia to work five months a year in the mining industry starting at $85,000/year.  Or I could go home, save another load of cash, and come back La Ventana  when the wind turns on in October (that won’t happen, but I can easily imagine bagging the Argentina thing altogether). 

Obviously, I have some thinking to do over the next eight months.  The problem is, every time I like the sound of something, I meet the next coolest guy in the world who expands my parameters even further.  Take Dan, for instance, the 55 year-old American kiter who resides here in La Ventana with his children while running a board shop and renting a room to us.  Dan spent his early years working in the Australian oil industry and then buying properties all around the world while he traveled.  Eventually he came across La Ventana and decided to settle down.  Dan bought an abandoned shrimp warehouse and now he operates a kite shack/restaurant/hostel out of it.

Or there is Chaz.  Let me make it clear that I do not want to be Chaz when I grow up, but he is a lot of fun to hang out with here in La Ventana.  I don’t know where Chaz got his money, but he obviously has a good sum and he knows how to have a good time.  The favorite Chaz quote from last night (completely out of the blue): “I’m sorry if you guys don’t like drugs… but I do a lot of them.” 

Charlie met Chaz in at a restaurant across the street yesterday and the mid-forties kiter turned out to be the most hospitable person we’ve met on this trip.  After hanging out with us and imparting a lot of random knowledge, Chaz said we should come over to his lot in the evening for margaritas and Gran Turismo 5 on a 100” HD projection screen… well I guess if you twist my arm.

We showed up to find that Chaz lives in a well-outfitted RV toy hauler on a buddy’s property.  Over the winter he set up a professional margarita bar and a theater quality entertainment system.  Surrounding the entire place were giant Saguaro cactuses illuminated by lights woven into the sand often fifty yards off into the darkness.  Overhead the stars were non-polluted bright as could be and the moon a yellow tint. 

We played GT5 using steel tables with the pedals, shifter, and resistant steering wheel mounted on them.  Not a bad way to play the most realistic driving game ever built.  The whole time Chaz simply played music, told off-the-wall stories, and showed us kiteboarding clips.  Turns out he’s also an avid adventure rider and has journeyed all over South America on different bikes.  For a guy who is seems a little fried with no intentions of ever going back, Chaz was an awesome host for a group of young motorcyclists exploring the world.

This morning we are all enjoying our four-day vacation here in La Ventana… we really needed it.  I’m typing away here in bed waiting for the afternoon wind to show up.  Apparently I can expect weak Easterlies with sporadic powerful gusts.  I talked to a French-Quebecer girl named Lucy at a local surf shack down the beach and I get access to all of their sails and boards all day for $40.  Beautiful.  Now wait to see some whitecaps and I can take this vacation another step in the right direction.

April 21, 2011

Semana Santa

Easter weekend is known as Semana Santa (week of the Saints I think) here in Mexico and apparently the holiday is bigger than Jesus himself.  We have been in La Paz three nights now licking our travel wounds incurred over the last 3000 miles and it is time to get moving.  After changing our oil this afternoon, the team will finally head south to La Ventana for the weekend.

Yesterday Charlie, Alex, and I started the day by going to the ferry terminal to import our bikes before we head to mainland.  It was a relatively easy process that cost only $35 and I was pretty excited that my Spanish got me through the entire ordeal.  On the way there we passed a semi tractor and trailer that had come into a turn too hard and tipped off the road right next to a beautiful lagoon.  As a former truck driver myself, it was quite an intense sight.  His cargo was scattered everywhere down into the ditch and the cops were just arriving on the scene.  Another thing to look out for down here: Mexican semis; they crowd the lanes and take the right of way.

After importing our bikes we headed south to La Ventana to check out if the rumors are true.  I obviously wanted to go windsurfing and Charlie wanted to go find his friend Fernando (motorcycling kiteboarder in Mulege) who had given us his address in town; Al was along for the ride.  We got lost a couple times on the way down, but we eventually found the route and cruised down to La Ventana on the worst roads I have seen yet.  There were plenty potholes the size of manholes and they were often three or four inches deep.  I hit one at a good clip and had a scary moment as my bike wobbled back into its natural gyro at 60mph. 

La Ventana was bittersweet.  Fernando won’t be home for four days and the wind is nowhere to be found.  We ate pizza and talked with the owners of a kiteboard shop for a long time trying to make a plan for Semana Santa.  Charlie quickly found us a room for $30 a night on the corner of this kite shop’s warehouse.  It has a king bed, a twin, and a couch; luxury by our standards.  The building is right on the predominant sandy windsurfing beach which will apparently fill with Mexican campers this weekend for the big holiday.  We made the call without Sarah and paid for four nights because the accommodation was too good to be true, especially on Mexico’s biggest weekend.

So, even though there is not much wind predicted in the future, I will be there for the next four days should it ever come up.  If not, there is a wealth of wind info in La Ventana and I will be chatting with every tan, built, American I see down there.  Already I cannot believe the city’s connection with the Gorge.  All three people I talked to yesterday made some reference to Hood River (which makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about when I say I worked there). 

Anyway, we rode home in the evening, told Sarah the plan (she loved it), chatted with more internationals, and went to bed.  This morning Charlie and Sarah cooked a delicious breakfast and we are finally going to do that oil change here in the Pension California.  I shaved my mustache too.  It was a sad moment but it turns out most of the women of the western world cannot get past such an awesome symbol of machismo.  Plus I was tired of dropping dead every time I looked in a mirror.

Also, Alex and I were riding around town running errands yesterday when we decided to bust a completely illegal U-turn on a red light in front of a Mexican police cruiser.  Oops!  I knew this day would come but I was not excited to see four Mexican cops bearing down on me.  I freak out when an American cop pulls me over so when the Mexican blueberry and cherry are flashing in my mirrors I get a little unnerved.  Al and I pulled over and two cops stepped out of the cruiser and walked over; two more were watching from the back seat.

They explained to us what we had done wrong and then showed us a traffic infraction table that said we owed $110 dollars each.  Throughout the ordeal Alex was making jokes, denying the entire incident, and basically being a big pain in their ass.  They took it well; they kept joking back and were actually enjoying Alex’s brash attitude.  The banter went on for about ten minutes before the officer mentioned something about taking us to the station.  Uh-oh!  We asked him what could be done right here right now and of course there was an easy solution: bribery! 

Once we started talking bribes the ballpark of $50 was thrown around and the cops sounded pretty satisfied with that.  Alex wanted to keep arguing it down, but I was ready to cave; I didn’t want these guys to get sick of being pushed around by the gringos and then actually take us in… for the rest of our lives.  We covertly put the 500 pesos in the officer’s notebook and the deal was done.  We all shook hands, said have a great day, and continued on our journeys. 

In the end we paid less than a quarter of what they originally wanted and I was satisfied.  It definitely put us over budget for the day, but so do a lot of things… like the WAY too expensive Carrera sunglasses I bought the same day (I am so cool now).  We later talked to a local who said we could have gotten away with a measly $20 total for getting pulled over.  I’ll remember that in the future: waste the cop’s time enough and he will cave.  He doesn’t actually want to take us down to the station… that’s a lot of work.

Overall, La Paz has been great.  We finally encountered people our own age and it has been a lot of fun hearing their stories while Alex talks over them.  I just found out too that our new friend Eric is coming to La Ventana with us.  Eric is 31 from San Diego and riding his bicycle to Argentina.  We have been one upped.  Hopefully I run into some Wi-Fi down there.  If not, I’ll be back in La Paz in a few days to take the ferry to mainland.  Until then, pray for wind!

April 19, 2011

Eagle Scootin'

Aside from one major mishap, the last two days have been nothing but classic Mexican adventure.  Sunday night my guts were back to about 80% so we went out to the tourist strip to get some food.  What we found was one of the most interesting mating dances you will find in human culture.  The tourist strip in Loreto is a boulevard along the coastline (two one-way streets with a row of vegetation in between).  Every weekend at dusk, all of the town folk hop in their jalopies and head for the strip for a couple looks around the boulevard.  Basically, you grab your buddies, your girl, and/or your kids, squeeze them into a tiny vehicle, and then start the most complacent race ever. 

There were about 100 cars, all of them blasting their stereos, driving in circles for hours up and down the city’s main street.  Some drive slow, some drive fast; once in a while they holler at their friends in the going the other direction.  They never seem to stop, or do anything in particular other than continue the dizzying flock pattern that goes on well past 1:00am.  We asked our waiter about the phenomenon while eating at a nice restaurant and he really didn’t know either.  Apparently, it is just group mentality in its finest.  Don’t separate from the herd.

The next morning we got up and finally hit the road for La Paz around noon.  Thirty miles into the trip we were climbing winding mountain roads moving further into the hot desert.  Coming into a sharp uphill turn, I downshifted into fourth gear and immediately felt all the tension in my clutch lever release.  I took my hand off the lever and it stayed right up against the handlebars; I could no longer shift.  After a brief moment of confusion it hit me that my clutch cable had broken.  I came to a grinding fourth gear stop in a particularly exposed spot to examine my situation.  After confirming my suspicion, I took off my helmet and cussed out my bike Grandpa-style for a good minute.  I did not need to deal with this under the 95F degree noonday sun. 

Luckily, Alex and Sarah were behind me.  As they came into the turn I solemnly pointed at Al and waved him in for a pit stop.  A broken clutch cable really, really sucks, but we are Eagle Scouts from Troop 43 and we were prepared for this day.  Sarah decided to push ahead and let Charlie know the situation whenever she caught up to him.  Meanwhile, Alex pulled out our spare all-purpose cable and screw-on cable ends.  At home we had researched what we needed to bring for a broken clutch but never actually learned how to use the materials that we had brought.

Therefore, we spent about a half hour trying to ‘patch’ the original cable with our spare.  Our plan was to feed both the new and old cables into a screw clamp (a small cylinder with two holes at 90 degree angles from each other; one hole for the cables, one for the screw to lock them in place) since the break was right at the clutch lever and very accessible.  We made that work, but it was rubbing metal in all the wrong spots and did not look sturdy.  Scratch that idea.

Next, we pulled ourselves away from the situation, thought out what tools we had to work with, and came up with a way better plan.  We removed the entire clutch cable and its sheath from the bike and pulled the snapped line all the way out.  Then we took our spare cable (larger gauge, smaller diameter) and worked it through the original protective rubber tubing.  This was quite a feat considering that the cable end kept fraying and would not have gone through without a lot of WD-40. 

With the cable essentially replace, we faced a new problem.  The original cables come with stock-specific cable ends that fall into a slot on each end.  Without these ends, we could not lock the new cable in place where it had originally been.  Solution: Alex wrapped the bottom end several times around the clutch actuator, tied a knot, and finished it with a screw clamp to keep the knot from slipping.  We then routed the housing back through the bike and up to the clutch lever where we finished the job with the same wrap and knot process around the lever itself.  All this was done with zero shade over a very hot engine; grease, sweat, and blood abound.

The plan was actually very ingenious.  We had a strong cable running from the engine to the clutch lever.  Due to the wraps at the end, the tension was spread across multiple loops and therefore less likely to pop the screw clamp off.  It was difficult to get the right tension on the line, but after some fine-tuning we had it dialed.  And it held.  I drove 210 more miles south on my Scouted-out clutch and it got me there no problem.  By the end it had loosened a bit.  When I pulled the clutch in at stops the bike still wanted to push forward… so I may have some burnt clutch payback somewhere in the next 20,000 miles.  Regardless, it got me to La Paz last night and today I am getting it replaced at a local shop.

Arriving in La Paz, we quickly found a place that Sarah had researched called Pension California.  $36 for a four bed room with a bathroom in the center of La Paz is hard to beat.  They even let us bring our bikes off the street into their courtyard.  The first thing I noticed at Pension California is that it caters to people our age; there were twenty-somethings milling around in every corner.  Finally we had gotten away from the expatriate retirees.

As the sun went down last night, Alex and I went out to find food.  We had an eclectic mix of tamales and Burger King.  My tongue did a backflip after tasting a pickle for the first time in weeks.  Fueled up, we came back with beers and found and started drinking in the common area.  Within an hour the area was filled with a wide array of young internationals.  Countries represented: U.S., Australia, France, Finland, Belgium, Mexico, and Argentina. 

Between all of us, the two common languages were Spanish and English.  We spent the next several hours telling stories and sharing drinks using whichever language best suited our vocabulary.  At some points, our sentences were half Spanish, half English.  Whatever it took, we got our points across and had a great time.  Some of us more than others; two of our new friends took it way too far and ended up spewing their guts all over the floor.  Oops!  Oh well, I remember being twenty-one… mostly.

I swore I would get an early start today but it’s already 11:30 and I haven’t left the hotel.  First I need to get a clutch cable and then, finally, I am going to do a day trip to La Ventana and figure out my windsurfing plans.  Hopefully that means tomorrow I can wake up and immediately head out to the beach to get lit.  Wish me luck!

P.S.: This afternoon I did get my clutch cable replaced.  It’s just a glorified version of what Alex and I had rigged, but it won’t loosen (assuming it holds).  Somehow I need to order a stock replacement and have it shipped here.  Until then, the Mexican version will have to work.  Next Al and I went to a clinic to get some fluid drained out of his hip that has been bothering him.  The Doc wouldn’t suck it out, but he wrote a prescription to help the situation and Alex was $17 bucks lighter.  We also went to Wal-Mart and bought oil for our upcoming change.  Charlie and Sarah did some research on our ferry ride; we will probably be setting sail Monday or Tuesday.  Until then, as I always promise: windsurfing!

April 17, 2011


I am happy to announce that we are one happy family again!  For our second night in Mulege, Charlie, Sarah, and I stayed in a cheap hotel after deciding that another night with Tim at the tiki bar would not be in our best interests.   On top of our brutal hangovers, I forgot to mention that Charlie’s helmet was stolen the night we all got ‘full of piss’ (as Charlie would say).  His bucket had been sitting on the Yamaha all night while we yucked it up but in the morning it was nowhere to be found. 

We’re fairly certain that two teenagers who stopped in around 1:00am boosted the $800 Shoei Hornet as they left the bar.   The pair came in looking for cigarettes, hit on Sarah for a while, saw that the gringos were all stumbling drunk, and then took off about 45 minutes later.  Right at the exit of the bar: a brand new dual-sport helmet adorned with Australian flag stickers and a Scala Q2 comm system.  We reckon they sold it for a bag of weed somewhere down the road.  Best trade ever.  Now Charlie is wearing a skate helmet from the thrift store until he can find a worthy replacement.

The morning we left Mulege we first had to obtain a police report so Charlie could claim the loss under his insurance policy.  As it turns out, the Mexican police don’t work on Saturday; at least they don’t occupy the station or have any inkling to help gringos.  Therefore,  Charlie had to convince one of the guys at tourist information to write a ‘police report’ on some college ruled paper and hit it with a random stamp that looked official enough to pass for the insurance company.  It took a $20 bribe and some convincing, but around 1:00pm we finally had a viable report and we hit Hwy 1 South.

Just fifteen miles south of Mulege we discovered that the Bahia de Concepcion (Bay of Conception) is peppered with tiny, pristine, paradise beaches around every corner.  Imagine a beach of white sand about 600 yards long with little bungalows set up every thirty feet or so.  The grade of the ocean floor was so gradual that the water stayed an enchanting light blue at least a hundred feet out from the water’s edge.  With the cool ocean breeze blowing in you could lay there in the sun for hours and never overheat… or you could get lit on your windsurfer.

After stopping and dipping our big toes for ten minutes, Charlie and I decided to keep riding towards Loreto (over an hour south) at a good clip.  Sarah said she wanted to ride slower and take in the sights so we agreed to meet her in Loreto and said adios.

Over an hour later Charlie and I pulled into Loreto and stopped at the first taco stand we saw on the side of the main drag.  We ordered six tacos and two Cokes and thoroughly enjoyed our meals while a Mexican pimp tried to sell us his prostitutes.  We kindly declined.  About twenty minutes after finishing my last taco I received the call of dooty.  I grabbed the team toilet paper roll and promptly desecrated the toilet out back. 

Once relieved, I came back to the front to find Charlie and Alex sitting together smiling.  Somehow Alex had caught up to us over the last two days and here he was with a big grin on his face and a fully functioning motorcycle.  Overjoyed, we all started telling stories as Al got some tacos and another Coke.  At this point, we had been at the taco stand for about an hour and there had been no sign of Sarah.  We decided to wait until Al finished eating and then figure it out.

Al had stormed into town and hadn’t seen Sarah during his ride.  Charlie and I had been watching the main drag the entire time and never saw her drive by.  Therefore, we figured she may have broken down and pulled off the road or maybe even stopped off at one of the beaches for a soak.  Either way, we were confident that she had not arrived in Loreto so we mounted up and sped back north to find her.

After about twenty minutes we came to a military checkpoint.  We asked all of the soldiers if they had seen the gringa on a motorcycle wearing a yellow jacket and none of them recognized the description.  That meant she must be further north.  We drove another twenty minutes and asked a construction worker if he had seen her: nope.  North another twenty minutes and we stopped by a roadside bar; the bartender had seen her ride by but that was at least three hours ago.

Where the hell was Sarah?  We deliberated for about ten minutes outside the bar and eventually decided to go back to the original planned destination: Loreto.  There we would check our facebooks and see if Sarah had contacted us.  Although no one said anything, it was obvious that there was concern among us.  Each of us was more irritable and riding faster than we usually do.  As an optimist I tried to convince myself of the best outcomes during the ride back; even so, there are some terrifying lingering doubts when you’ve lost a pretty white girl alone in the middle of the Mexican desert and no one has seen her for hours.

The first thing we did when we got back to Loreto was pull up on the tourism strip and find some Wi-Fi.  To much relief we discovered that Sarah was safe and waiting for us in a hotel just off the main drag.  We rode over and found her just as concerned as we had been.  We still don’t know how we lost each other but Sarah bought us some beer as a token of gratitude for our chivalry.  We drank the beers while talking with another Australian, ate a couple burritos, got tired, and went to bed.  The team was reunited.

I can usually sleep like a rock on a rock but that was not the case last night.  Across the street from our hotel was a Mexican wedding reception with a PA system that put even the hottest high school car stereo to shame.  Earplugs in, I eventually fell asleep in the trance of the Mexican bass line.  4:00am I awoke with severe cramping and hopped on the toilet.  I sat there at least twenty minutes wincing while Montezuma had his revenge.  The entire time I sat there all I could think of was Jack Black singing Tenacious D’s ‘Explosivo’ song.  Imagine all the fury of that entire song crammed into one set of large intestines.  Ouch.  Eventually I was done and went back to bed trembling.

At 7:00am we were all awoken by a worthless Nissan Frontier with megaphones lashed on top blaring advertisements outside our hotel.  It turns out that every Sunday morning there is a farmer’s market across the street from the hotel and their main source marketing is rigging up the most ghetto truck possible with the loudest speakers possible to drive circles around our hotel room.  Basically, sleep turned into an afterthought. 

After half an hour of a Mexican salesman blaring onion and rice prices into my head through paper thin hotel walls, I started cramping again.  For this toilet experience I was singing Dr. Dre to myself: “Explosive!  West Coast shit!”  Since then I have drank a lot of purified water, taken one Mexican Imodium, eaten a Clif Bar, and written this dribble while my storm blows over. 

In better news, I have a good feel for the windsurfing scene down here in southern Baja and the kiteboarding motorcyclists from Mulege offered us a place to stay in La Ventana (where I can rent a rig).  I have heard that there is also a camping field right on the beach in La Ventana that is absolutely full of windsurfers and kiteboarders all winter long.  Sounds like a Dave Matthews weekend with a lot more wind.

I have also been thinking about pushing ahead of everyone else a couple hundred miles and get to the surf beaches early.  The other three are much more into taking it easy and enjoying the beaches whereas I need my adrenaline fix NOW.  Basically, they are holding up my windsurfing now and my windsurfing will be holding them up when we get to La Ventana.  I could solve the problem entirely by meeting them there after a couple days of beach bumming with my wind-worshiping brethren.  Something to sleep on.

Also, I have fixed the link to Alex’s journal on the right side of this website; now it will actually direct you to his ADVrider posts.  We have been causing some heated discussion regarding his crash lately so it is worth checking out.  I added Charlie’s photobucket account as a link as well.  Check out the trip through his lens if you have the time. 

I think I’m ready to get out of bed now.  It’s getting harder to write in English since my thoughts keep intermittently translating to Spanish on their own.  I guess Luis’ tireless pestering during college is finally paying off (Thanks Luis!).  Wish me luck as I waddle around town searching for gringas and fiber.

April 15, 2011

Miles Away from Ordinary

Last night was incredible.  We pulled into Murege, Baja mid-afternoon and drove straight out the road to the beach.  The road ended abruptly right on the beach of the Sea of Cortez.  To our left was a tiki bar and to our right a haystack shaped hill with a lighthouse on top.  Charlie and I decided to ride our bikes along the rocky beach towards the lighthouse and see how far we could get.  To my dismay I did not get far before dropping my bike in deep sand.  I picked it up and got it moving again but Charlie had taken another path and turned around.  I dropped the bike again about 30 yards later and this time managed to flood my carburetor. 

While I sat there in the sand working to drain my carb I was greeted by a shirtless sixty year-old man wearing jorts.  The man’s name was Francisco and he’s from Taos, New Mexico.  Apparently he spends his winters here in Mugere living on the beach for free (his tan was definite evidence).  He had his truck and camper tucked away by the hill and he told me that we could camp anywhere on the beach for free as long as we wanted.

I was onboard immediately because the last week has been very expensive wasting time in the desert dealing with Alex.  I rode back over to Charlie and Sarah to tell them what I learned and they were already at the tiki bar drinking Negro Modelos.  Naturally, I joined them.  We sat there watching the waves roll in drinking beers with lime for at least an hour deciding on a game plan.  I’m telling you it WAS a Corona advertisement and I wasn’t complaining.

Before we came up with a concrete plan a Pathfinder pulled up to the beach with Washington plates.  I flew out of my seat beer in hand and ran over to talk to my fellow PNWers.  Gary and Rick turned out to be from Index, WA, just sixty miles from my hometown.  Gary used to work in Alaska before coming down here to Mugere with his girlfriend ten years ago.  He has been building a house and loving life ever since.  Rick, his son, still lives in Index and is a DOT worker for Washington State.  We had some good laughs about I-5, Stevens Pass, and anything else Washington related. 

After chatting on the beach for about fifteen minutes together we all decided to head into the tiki bar for some more beers.  Gary had a very detailed map of Baja and a lot of unique knowledge about the area as we head south.  We sat together drinking for at least two hours listening to Gary (who looks just like Sam Elliot) and his son tell stories of Baja with their deep-woods Washington accents.

As the sun started to set Gary and Rick decided to head home.  By this point, Charlie, Sarah, and I were all feeling our drinks so it was decided that we would definitely be camping on the beach.  Naturally, we got a couple more rounds of drinks.  As the night wore on, the tiki bar began filling up with retired American snowbirds.  It turns out Mugere is full of American and Canadian retirees who come down here to relax for the winters and drink each other under the table. 

Eventually, we came across the bar manager, Tim.  Tim has a Santa Clause look to him and he hails from northern Minnesota.  He has been in Murege for eight years now and couldn’t be happier.  The more Tim talked to us the more he liked us and the feeling was mutual.  As all the mid-sixties partiers began to shuffle out, we three kids moved up to the bar for what would be hours more of drinking and storytelling.  After midnight rolled around, we stopped ordering beers but Tim kept pulling them out of the fridge, opening them, and handing them to us on the house.  This went on until 3:30am.

Long story short, we talked about everything last night.  We spent a lot of time on the state of the U.S., politics, religion, morality, the 1960’s, and the Australian army (Charlie regaled us with one Aussie war victory after another).  Tim stayed at the bar the whole time drinking rum and Coke and passing around Coronas to replace the empties.  We must have had twelve free beers by the night’s end.  Finally, at some awful point I pitched my tent on the beach for me and Charlie.  Tim told Sarah to string her hammock between two palm trees in the tiki bar’s outside seating area.  He told us we could use the bar’s bathrooms and showers until the next day and wished us a good night before passing out.  Then I stumbled to my tent and fell asleep listening to the waves roll in on the Baja Peninsula. 

Needless to say I feel like shit today.  It’s 3:00pm and so far all I have done is eaten two tacos, searched for a hotel, and finally stopped by a café for some Wi-Fi.  I did run into a pair of guys riding BMW touring bikes and carrying a full load out of kiteboarding gear.  I explained to them that they are gods in my book and they told me that I’ll be able to rent a windsurfer finally just a couple hundred miles south of here in La Ventana (I’ll be spending a couple nights there!).  The plan seems to be looking like the beach again tonight.  I’m going to avoid alcohol after last night.  That won’t be easy once Tim gets ahold of my attention.

With last night out of the way, I’ll cover the day before and give a brief statement of affairs.  The night before last we stopped in San Ignacio, a tiny green oasis in the middle of the Baja desert.  We stayed in a very nice yurt right next to a river surrounded by palm trees and lush vegetation.  I went swimming in the river the day we arrived and kayaking alone the next morning.  The yurt price came with a full breakfast and an amazing host who pampered us the whole time.  The yurt was $30 each, but well worth it.  The next day we went to Mugere and drank forever.

Alex is still in San Quintin but he thinks he will be on the move soon.  The mechanic, Tato, found some old wheels he can use and fixed his frame.  I’m not sure what else is going on up there but it sounds like they are moving fast.  I told Al to catch up fast, but in one piece.

Aside from Alex’s cliff jumping snafoo, everything has gone really well on the trip now two weeks in.  My bike has been running sensationally and is almost due for an oil change.  My tires are showing some wear which is to be expected now that we are 3000 miles in.  My riding gear is performing admirably.  It can be a little hot sometimes but let’s face it: Central America is a hot place no matter what you wear. 

I haven’t shampooed my hair since we left Lake Stevens.  I have been using bar soap for every square inch of my body and as a laundry detergent to boot; seems to be working well.  I saw my first parrot today.  He is across the café from me right now and keeps screaming ‘Hola!’.  I’m going to go find Charlie and Sarah on the beach soon.  My plan is to take a dip in the ocean and then climb up to the lighthouse for a photo shoot.  I’d also like to go see Francisco again.  He was very helpful yesterday while I worked to get my bike running.  I hope to move south tomorrow.  This wind is driving me insane without a rig.

Happy tax day Mom!

April 12, 2011

The Livestock Ambulance

I pulled up to the scene of the accident with Alex sitting on a rock with Sarah right next to him.  His bike was upright on its kickstand; tires like pretzels, forks bent, and his side case ripped off into oblivion.  Charlie was right behind me.  Minutes ago we had been ten miles ahead pulled over on the side of the road looking for a piece of his mirror that had flown off on a straightaway.  We were scouring the shoulder when an American in a 4Runner pulled up with big news.

“You the guys with the other two riders?... Your buddy crashed a ways back on that big curve outside of town.  He’s up and talking but his bike looks done.”

Twice in two days?  How could that be?  I thanked the guy and his wife and they sped south to continue their journey.  His warning wasn’t very alarming so I calmly walked over to Charlie, reiterated the conversation, and we both saddled up and took off back north toward Alex and Sarah.  As a team of four now, we have been breaking off into pairs lately.  The faster pair will push ahead and wait up about fifty miles down the road while the slower pair catches up.  Luckily for Alex and Sarah, Charlie’s mirror fell off just eight miles since our last gas stop so we weren’t very far ahead of wherever Alex had gone down.

I remember thinking on that eight mile stretch that another half-hour delay due to Alex stacking it was the last thing we needed.  This was the 300 mile stretch without gas that I had been fretting about for the last 24 hours.  After asking a dozen locals we had determined that although there were no Pemex stations (Mexico’s government run gas station), there would be vendors along the way selling gas out of cans for people in our situation.  Sure enough, ninety miles into the venture we stopped at Catanina, BC and found a mechanic who topped us all off with fuel enough to get us all the way to the next town with a Pemex, Guerrero Negro.  All gassed up, the eerie sense of petro urgency was gone and we were ready to knock out the next 220 miles with no problem.  We would be well into the Baja at that point and finally distanced from the American tourism.

That was until the 4Runner flagged me down.  Charlie and I pulled up expecting to see Alex ramped up on adrenaline telling the story of his epic crash over and over again just like the previous day.  Today was different though.  Alex was mellow, dazed.  He was confused, asking Sarah what day it was, how the two of them had met, and where we were; he couldn’t remember any of the last week.  He was sitting on the rock with his riding gear all off and cuts and bruises developing all over his skin.  His helmet was discarded off to the side and it was pelted with paint chips and scratches.  He was alive and conscious, but he wasn’t the over-confident Alex that we are all used to.

The gravity of the situation didn’t set in until Sarah pulled Charlie and me aside and said that we needed a doctor and a truck to move the bike immediately.  When I saw the concern in her eyes I realized the trauma she had been through since we had departed the gas station.  Charlie figured that due to his lack of Spanish skills he would be more useful in helping Sarah deal with Alex’s containment.  That left it to me to fly back in to Catanina and find help.

There are a lot of times where I could probably have ridden harder with more focus but the next eight miles were not one of them.  My shifts were absolutely fluid, my throttle was wide open the entire time, and my mind was racing even faster.  My wingman had just been in a major motorcycle accident.  He was awake and moving, but obviously had a concussion and had taken some brutal hits to the abdomen. 

As I tore away from the accident I made the mental note to study the spot for when I brought help back.  From the direction Alex had been riding it was a slightly banked downhill left-hand curve.  On the inside of the curve was a high dirt hill and to the outside was a rock garden followed by a patch of sand followed by a field of cacti.  Judging by the curve and the hole in the dirt where Alex hit, he had come in too hot, didn’t make the turn, and shot off the right side into the wall of boulders.  At this point, it is now commonly believed that he stayed with the bike as he bounced off the initial few boulders (I’m talking about rocks the size of VW Beetles) and then tumbled into the dirt alongside his bike.   

The impact is the scariest part.  I would probably ride that curve at about 50mph and feel very secure; that means Al must have been doing at least 75mph in order to lose such control.  Even worse, from the road to the sand was an 8-10 foot drop with boulders crowding the airspace.  Pulling away I didn’t know how he survived; I still don’t. 

On the way back to town was a military checkpoint.  In Mexico there are army outposts every sixty miles or so where they make you stop, explain your business, and they may search you.  Who better to save the day than the Mexican army?  Apparently anyone.  The guard listened to my story in garbled Spanish and eventually ordered me through the checkpoint.  His advice: go to the town hotel and let them radio for the nearest ambulance.  Thanks for nothing amigo.  I ripped off the next two miles into town as fast as I could and came to a skidding stop in dirt at the first person I could find.  I didn’t even know where the hotel was so the lady sitting at a local café was my first responder.

I struggled to explain our situation but I made it clear that there had been an accident and that we needed a doctor.  She immediately closed up shop and told me to go find the police at the station down the road; she was going to rally her own troops in the meantime.  I hauled off to the police station to find that there was absolutely no one there.  Picture me wandering around in an unlocked, unmanned police station screaming ‘Alguien? Ayuda?  Hola?’.  Not what I had in mind when I woke up that day.  When I determined the police station bust I tore back to town to find the lady ready to go with her friend in an ancient Chevy Lumina.  I parked the bike, left all my valuables there for the taking, hopped in, and we sped off towards Alex.

Ten minutes later we arrived to find Charlie and Sarah tending to Alex who was laying under a tree in the shade.  He was making more sense now but also showing more signs of the accident.  At least he knew we were in Mexico now.  As it turned out, the lady and her friend were the volunteer medics for the town and they knew exactly what to do.  Stethoscope in hand, she first checked his vitals, then whipped out a neck brace and immobilized Alex.  Three educated Westerners in tow and the first Mexican I saw was best prepared to save the day.

While she was putting him together a livestock pickup pulled off the road to offer assistance.  Within minutes it seemed the entire city had come to the rescue; there were five vehicles there at one point all of them willing to do whatever was necessary.  I couldn’t believe the response of hospitality exhibited by a tiny town in Baja that didn’t even have a gas station.  The town folk were running the rescue now while the white people stared and took pictures.  Humbled much?

Last to show up was the police truck.  While the villagers were all tending to the injured rider, the Mexican policeman casually parked, stepped out, surveyed the scene, and went straight to the bike to take down information for his report.  I’m not the cop but I’m convinced he could have given a shit about Alex’s condition.  Nevertheless, the solid platoon of local volunteers orchestrated an amazing operation.  Within half an hour of arriving they had Alex on a stretcher and loaded into the livestock truck that was to be the makeshift ambulance back to Rosario.  Some days you haul pigs, some days you haul gringos; no difference really.

The entire time since I had returned Alex was jabbering in Spanish about everything from here to there.  He seemed much more coherent but obviously he still needed medical attention.  With him secured in the pig pen, the truck pulled out being driven by the most ancient Mexican I have ever seen.  The old man was dressed like a cowboy and his skin was more leathery than his boots.  In the cab with him were his daughter-in-law and grandson and his son in the livestock bed keeping an eye on Alex.  I hitched a ride in another truck that had pulled over until we made it back to Catanina. 

Back in town we stopped and I paid the gas man to fill up the makeshift ambulance’s tank ($40).  I quickly thanked all the locals who had helped and then hopped on my bike to follow the injured pig back to Rosario where there was a doctor. 

As old as grandpa was, though, he drove his pig truck like a champ through some tortuous mountain roads.  Forget lane splitting, he used whatever lane he wanted through the winding high desert.  It took about an hour and a half to get there; partly because old man Mexico had to pull over for a piss three different times during the ninety mile drive.

Around 6:00pm we arrived in Rosario.  The last twenty miles I had been fighting gale force desert winds coming across the sandy plains; the muscles on the right-hand side of my back were aching unbearably having fought to keep the bike upright for so long.  We finally pulled into a hole in the wall clinic on the outskirts of town.  They opened up the steel cattle doors on the truck and two Mexicans hauled Al inside the clinic for the doctor to examine him. 

After a thorough once-over the doctor determined that Alex was in no immediate danger but he decided to call an ambulance to have Al sent to the next city, San Quintin (another hour north) for x-rays.  Alex, now a cog in the Mexican medical system, had to pay $200 cash up front to the ambulance EMT for the ride.  I went through his luggage grabbing all of his documentation and necessities as they moved him onto a real stretcher and tossed him in the ambulance.  I got his email password and his phone so I could call our insurance company and report the claim (we had applied just forty hours earlier).  I told him I’d see him that night or the next day depending on how my next couple hours went dealing with all of his luggage and finding Charlie and Sarah.

Charlie and Sarah meanwhile had stayed behind to clean up ground zero and deal with Alex’s bike.  As far as we know, they managed to grab all of his belongings; an incredible feat considering that his shit was fanned out in every direction from where he left the road.  The policeman actually decided to lend a hand and had Alex’s bike loaded into the bed of his truck to be taken back to town.  Once back in Catinina, Charlie found a local with a truck who said he would transport the bike back to the hotel in Rosario for $100.  Done deal (it was Alex’s money anyway).

With the ambulance pulling away I asked the old man driving the original ride if he could take Alex’s luggage back to Turista Motel, the place we had stayed at the night before.  He agreed and we set off towards the other end of Rosario to unload nine months -worth of adventure gear into the same hotel room.  On the way to the motel saw Charlie and Sarah pulled off to the shoulder just arriving in town; I screamed something about the hotel and knew they would get the point.  At the hotel we unloaded everything, paid the family another $50 for gas and thanked them endlessly.  Eventually they pulled away and carried on with their day; these people just happened to drive by our accident and ended up spending the next six hours hauling a gringo to the nearest doctor… lazy Mexicans.

Within moments Charlie and Sarah arrived at the hotel and all three of us ghosts had the same idea: beer and food.  Alex was finally under professional medical supervision and we had gotten all of his gear back to Rosario.  Wow.  After about an hour of gathering ourselves we eventually strolled to the local market, bought a LOT of beer, and then hit the next door restaurant to bury ourselves in tacos. 

That was all yesterday.

Today was less intense but just as much mental expenditure.  We woke up at 7:00am and loaded Alex’s busted up bike into the bed of our hotel owner’s pickup.  Last night she had offered to haul it in to San Quintin for us since she was already making the trip.  We graciously agreed and then worked around her schedule.  With his bike and all of his gear in the bed the truck took off for San Quintin around 8:30am and we followed on our motorcycles. 

An hour later we arrived in town and immediately stopped at the local motorcycle mechanic to let him pick through the damage.  Mind you that we are in the Baja so these guys are very good at their jobs.  We were worried that the bike was totaled after looking at it in the morning because on top of everything else the frame was obviously bent.  After we unloaded the bike the shop owner took one glance at it and confidently assured us that he could get it mobile again. 

While Charlie and Sarah kept talking to him, the hotel owner and took the caravan further down the road to Alex’s hospital.  We pulled up and Dona Betty (hotel owner) walked me inside and asked the reception where we could find Alex’s room for me.  It wouldn’t have been that hard for me to figure out since the hotel was barely bigger than my house in America but I was glad to have her do the talking. 

Dona Betty got the directions and walked me down the hallway to Alex’s room.  Inside we found him awake, alert, and very chipper.  He was connected to an IV and laying in his hospital bed.  We were relieved to find that had no serious injuries and apparently not even a concussion.  He was bruised and swollen all over his right side but other than that doing well.  I went outside and grabbed Alex’s gear out of Betty’s truck so she could run her errands in San Quintin. 

The next few hours were pretty boring getting Alex cleared to check out.  I did have a good time smoking a cigarette with the head doctor as I rode with him to the bank to withdraw money from Al’s account.  All told, Alex paid about $250 for a night in the hospital, 3 IVs, a couple meals, and constant medical attention.  But our American healthcare system should be left the way it is.

While I helped with the checkout process Charlie and Sarah finished dealing with the mechanic and drove around town to find a hotel for Alex.  The plan leading up to this trip had always been that if one rider goes down, the others will continue on once he is stable and cared for.  Today we executed that plan perfectly.  It seems like a cold way of doing things but it is absolutely necessary if we are to accomplish our goals.  Everyone understood that going into that and Alex was prepared for it today as we arranged to leave him behind.

After Alex paid the hospital and checked out, Dona Betty returned with her truck to give him and his gear a ride to his hotel.  We caravanned over there, dropped him and his gear off, and said goodbye to Dona Betty (not a long one since we would be seeing her back at the hotel in Rosario again in a few hours).  Next we finally got some breakfast around 2:00pm.  Alex manned up and bought us bought the entire meal as a token of gratitude for arranging him, his gear, and his broken motorcycle to be delivered safely two and a half hours north of his accident.

After eating we all rode over to the bike shop (Alex on the back of my bike) to assess his bike’s condition.  Surprisingly, the mechanic swears up and down that he can have Alex’s DR fully functional again within two weeks for around $1000.  The God-King apparently still has the power of luck.  With few other legitimate options, the rest was easy. 

We left Alex in San Quentin alone while he waits for his bike to be repaired.  In good spirits, he was already scheming about camping in the mechanic’s backyard and helping out around the shop.  Now Charlie, Sarah, and I are back at Turista Motel in Rosario preparing to head south again tomorrow.  We are short one man but knowing Alex he will be hot on our trail and back with the team in the blink of an eye.

 I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am for Charlie’s and Sarah’s support the last two days.  The two of them never thought twice about indefinitely holding their trips in order to assure that Alex was taken care of in the fastest manner possible.  Even though the guy who convinced me to come on this trip is recovering an hour north in a lonely hotel room for the next couple weeks, I am eager to push forward knowing that I have these two looking out for me.  I also offer 1000 thank you’s to the people of Catinina and Dona Betty.  Without them I don’t know what we would have done.

This post was way too long and I know that.  This one was more for me than for anyone else but I hope it was worth reading until the end.  Without Alex the parameters of this trip have changed entirely.  I cannot wait until he rejoins us but until then I will be immersing myself in the unbelievable unpredictability that is my current life and soaking in the amazing companionship of my new friends and the Mexican people.