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--- News and reports ---
Nr.X: Central America
07.11.2009 (Mexico) - 22.03.2010 (Panama)
22.03.2010, cartagene (Colombia): Leaving Granada we are cycling a long day with heavy cross- and headwinds in order to reach Costa Rica and stay the night in La Cruz, a friendly hilltop village. The wind is picking up, the not very solid built hotel is shaking and the tin-roof rattling. In the morning we first think that it is impossible to cycle, since the wind almost seems to blow us over just standing in front of our hotel. But we ride anyway, facing extreme wind conditions (cross- and headwinds) for the next couple of days, which even make us change our route. We end up riding across the Nicoya-peninsula, which we can really recommend. Small roads, little traffic, lovely hilly landscape, fincas (farms) and country-towns. Crossing over back to the mainland with a dead-old rusty ferry – at least it is not a far crossing - and we were sure we could probably swim to shore, if the boat would sink. The wind is back to moderate and even turns back to its normal northwesterly direction. We take the coastal road on the Pacific side, which is a nice stretch through jungle-like vegetation, sugarcane and oil-palm plantations. It is a very rural area, where thousands of retired Americans and Europeans have their tropical retreat. "House / Lot / Property for Sale" -signs everywhere. It seems the Costa Ricans (short: Ticas) are selling their country as much as they can. Our guidebook described Costa Rica as "the tropical backyard of the Gringos". And it is true. At least for along the coast. Everything that makes money is Gringo owned. On every nice spot Gringo-Villas are erected. Supermarkets are selling what Gringos like, from Peanut butter to Pancake mix. Burgers, Hot-dogs, Coca Cola and apples are imported from the US. The coast has its special flair and beauty, no doubt, but there are far too many white faces around. Overall Costa Rica is much more developed than all the countries of Central America that we visited before (excluding Mexico). Houses are bigger and nicer. There are far more cars and they are newer, cleaner and larger. There is less poverty and it seems much safer. No more barbed-wire-fences and walls around houses and no more armed security at supermarket entrances. But roads seem to be neglected. They are small and almost no road we are on has a shoulder. That sucks! Humidity is extremely high, we sweat day and night and night and day without a break. Hills really become a killer and we start dreaming of living in a fridge. We stop in Jaco, surfer’s paradise, and for the first time after thousands of kilometers along the Pacific coast we really do it - we jump in the water! It is wet and salty. What an experience! The border-crossing to Panama needs some preparation. We knew already that the authorities will not let us in without a proof that we exit the country again. Without showing a plane-ticket they will make you buy a bus ticket for 25 U$ out of the country as a proof of exiting. There is an internet cafe just beside the checkpoint. We hop in, fake a plane ticket (e-tickets are a great invention :-), print out the Word-document and make it look a bit "traveled" by folding it a couple of times. Prepared like this we walk over to the customs. The guy really checks on the tickets (at least the names) and without any more questions our passports are stamped and we are in Panama! Like Costa Rica, Panama is a rich country and not much is changing. Supermarkets instead of farmers-markets, a secure and safe vibe in the cities and something strange: almost all small groceries along our way are run by extremely unfriendly Chinese families. We meet two other cyclists, Stefan and Gareth (see cyclists we met) and cycle with them for two days. Together we stay at a nice Couchsurfing place in Davis and at the Catholic Mission in Tolé, and experience our first rain since months. Gareth’s bicycle is making more and more trouble every day and needs some proper repair. We are riding ahead and after another three and a half days through Panama’s countryside we reach Panama City. After crossing slums and shabby areas we get into the new downtown area. Skyscrapers are stretching for the sun, Mercedes’ and BMWs are cruising the streets and with the boutiques and fast-food-restaurants it seems like an imitation of Miami or Singapore. We spend a day at the Miraflores Locks just out of the city, where we see small yachts and huge containerships with up to 5.000 containers on board, crossing the Panama Channel. Very impressive!
Panama City is also a point of decision for us. There is no road connecting Panama and Colombia. The so called Darien Gap is a swampy jungle area between the two countries. Due to guerilla activities and lots of drug smuggling it is an extremely unsafe and dangerous area and highly not recommended to travel in. And if one does not get kidnapped, raped or killed by smugglers, a "bicycle journey" looks more like the one of Ian Hibell who was dragging his bicycle across in the 1970es - see video. Yes, some people have really managed to cross this stretch by cutting their way through the jungle and being dead-lucky. We think we are adventurous, but not stupid. It is not an option for us to try to cross over land. Another possibility is to hop on a small open cargo ship operating along the coast. We heard that people have managed doing that, but it might take a long time waiting in a small harbor for a captain, who might take you, and - on the other hand – finding a captain you trust is difficult too. Those vessels are often smuggling goods both ways (refrigerators, TVs and other electronics to Colombia and Cocaine on their way back to Panama). We read a few reports of people crossing like that and nobody was happy about being part of illegal affairs. Not our preferred way of making it to Colombia either. But there are two relatively safe and easy ways to cross over: Flying or taking a private yacht, who takes passengers. Those boats are all owned by Americans or Europeans who are hanging around in the Caribbean and want to increase their budget by offering backpacker trips from Panama to Colombia (or the other way). We already had reserved on a large sailing vessel with very good reputation, but did not catch it in time. We got recommendations for two other boats, but both of them were crossing over too late for us. Those trips cost some serious money and there are lots of stories of unsatisfied customers: ships being too cramped and people have to sleep on deck, food being crap, captains being drunk in the storm and captains just being after the money and not trying to deliver a nice product. And about two small boats with passengers sink every year. For those reasons we wanted to be on a ship with good reputations. We spent almost a day in the Internet searching for possibilities, but did not find anything promising. We always thought of crossing to Colombia by boat, but the more we researched the more we also figured out that those trips are probably not too much our thing anyway. It is an organized tour, where you stop on the San Blass Islands, to take pictures in Indian villages of poor children begging for sweets and topless woman breastfeeding, white-sand-and-palm-trees beaches to sunbath, and its advertised (like many backpacker activities and tours) as being real FUN! Well... maybe it was good we did not find a boat, who knows. It should be quite windy at this time of the year too, and it is very likely that seasickness takes replaces all the FUN anyway. So we check for flights and compared to the prices of the boat they are super cheap! We fly and save cash and time. Besides that we stay the individual travelers that we are. After only an hour our prop airliner lands in Cartagena, Colombia. Customs are easy and we are on a new continent :-) Cartagena is an extremely pretty town and we stroll the narrow streets with their beautiful colonial buildings and get ready to cycle again...
04.03.2010, Granada (Nicaragua): After fairly relaxing days with Robert in Guatemala City it is time to start cycling again. We ride out of town up on to a big hill. The road cuts into the mountain, the air is sticky and black from the exhaust of trucks and buses. Because it is Sunday, lots of locals train on their road bikes going up that hill. They cheer us up while passing us. Later, further away from the city, where the air is much better and we stop at a road stall to eat some pineapple, we see a big group of cyclists passing by – now we applaud J. A quiet road leads us through small villages across several hills from the highland down to the coastal plains of Guatemala. Suddenly we are in the tropics, it is hot and sticky. The vegetation is lush and mainly sugar cane is grown here in huge fields. Palm and mango trees grow beside the road and we cycle through a lot of shady but sticky alleys. Here people do not only wear cowboy hats and boots, no, they go for the wildwest-image seriously and decorate with revolvers on their belts or even pump guns, while going for a walk with their kids! This is hard to get used to and we wish we had dared to ask one of the weapon-brothers, if they go out to shoot something for dinner or they expect a shoot-out in the bar after a few beers? We cross the border to El Salvador without problems. A land where criminality is extremely high, for example 10 murderers happen each day. Organised criminal gangs rule the streets and the police are only a farce. People seem more sceptical towards us compared to the countries before and we see a lot of poverty, especially in the countryside. Huts made from plastic, cardboard, wood and tin line the roads, where many families spend their whole lives. There is not much traffic and only bad but expensive hotel rooms await us. Weapons wherever you look: Armed security guards in front of every single small shop, at parking areas and street crossings. A typical situation of El Salvador: we see a mini-bus, which delivers toilet paper rolls – guarded by an armed security guy. Would he shoot a toilet-paper-thief? Bars in front of every window, walls around every house, topped with razor-blade wire. All this seems threatening, although we never run into problems or feel unsafe. Still, El Salvador does not become one of our favourite countries. We reach the Pacific Coast and dip our feet into the ocean! Apart from that there are no tourist highlights for us in this country and we are leaving for Honduras. There we only spend one night and two half days of cycling. One village comes after the other and we hear "Gringo! Gringo!" being shout from every corner. Kids run towards the road when they see us, men whistle at us (at Philipp?) and non-understandable words are shout after us – all this makes us waving, smiling and greeting less. The term "gringo" actually comes from "green go home", which the Mexicans shout after the American troops in the mexican-american war (1846-1848). Today "gringo" basically means "American", but who knows where we are from exactly, well, and being white, just a little green behind the ears, that is suspicious. On this stretch we meet several other cyclists: the Crazy, the Bike-Mechanic and our second female solo Cyclist (see cyclists we met). It feels good being across another border – in Nicaragua. This country is poor as all the others in this corner of the world, but it seems to be much safer. We see less walls, razor-blade fences, security guards and weapons. People are not hysteric as we roll through villages; they are friendly, wave at us or just leave us alone unbothered. We stop in León, where we "dive into" the masses of tourists. Along a line of volcanoes we reach our next destination, Managua, (apparently) one of the most dangerous cities of the world, where we have a wonderful experience with locals. Our Mexican friends from León (Mexico) "connect" us with Arnaldo, a Jesuit priest in Managua, who organises a host family for us. In a neighbourhood, where we – as being white-nosed – would not have dared to go. Narrow streets, partly unpaved, one barred entry door to a house next to another. Far from luxury, but also no slum, it rather is a middle-classed neighbourhood. Our host family of eight lives on a small property in a house with a couple of rooms and a tin roof. "Bathroom" and toilet are in one corner of the yard, the kitchen and the open living room are in the middle, towards the road are two rows of iron bars. The TV seems to be important, as it is running all the time. Besides that there are not any luxury items in the house. With hands and feet and our very poor Spanish we chat the evening away, feel secure and welcomed. This "barrio" (= neighbourhood) of Managua is called "Villa Austria". Not because of any similar alpine architectural style, but because Austria has helped with building the infrastructure (sewage, water, electricity,...). There is also a school in the area, called "Ottakring" (a part of Vienna is called like that)! In 1972 an earthquake has almost completely destroyed the old city, which has not been rebuilt yet, as the probability of another earthquake is too high. Empty spaces, seeming-lost governmental buildings, extensive slums and empty streets – this is the center of Managua. Shocking but fascinating (because so different) at the same time. From Managua it is only half a day against the wind (which seems to blow from southeast at the coast of Centralamerica – headwinds for us) towards Granada. There we reach another "gringo-paradise". Granada has a well restored old centre with colonial buildings close to the Lago de Nicaragua. Unfortunately locals can hardly afford the prices to live in the centre of town. Europeans and Americans run Italian Trattorias, Irish Pubs, where you can pay with US-Dollars European prices. Spanish schools everywhere, Wi-Fi-Internet is available in the cafes – what a "blessing", we can update our website...
17.02.2010, Guatemala City (Guatemala): In San Cristóbal de las Casas we meet Paul, another Pan America cyclist, who we met months ago in Oregon (USA) for the first time (see cyclists we met). With him and Niki we make a trip to the neighbouring village Chamula, which is famous for its church. In general catholic, but the natural religion of the Maya is mixing with Christianity. The interior is mystic. No benches, but the floor is covered with needles of conifers. Hundreds of candles are burning in groups on the floor. The air is thick from smoke. People are sitting, mumbling in prayer in front of the candles. They brought oblations – Cola and other soft drinks. From the side walls, saint sculptures are watching. Luckily photography is prohibited and therefore the big crowds of tourists visiting this place do not disturb the atmosphere too much. After some relaxing days in San Cristóbal Niki is leaving us after a month of cycling together – we are already excited about where and when she will join next time? Paul is riding towards Yucatan and we start wheeling towards Guatemala. It is a nice country road with little traffic, which is winding its way for two days down towards the border. For a short time we again are in tropic climate and are sweating in the humid heat. It is market day at the border village and the road cramped with many stalls, sellers and people. No wonder that motorized traffic is almost zero. The formalities at the border are easy and the road in Guatemala is immediately starting to climb again into the mountains. Coffee orchards forest and small villages seem to be "glued on" to the steep hillsides. The people of Guatemala are more open than the Mexicans, who were always friendly but still reserved. Here people are waving, saying "hello" and wishing a "safe journey" when we are passing by. People we meet in villages are very friendly and we get the feeling to be in a safe country. Hard to imagine that we are in a country, where anarchy, robbery, murder, kidnapping and vigilante justice are part of every days life. Back in the highlands and well above 2000 meters, we are visiting Caroline, a colleague and friend of ours from University-time in Graz who married into a Maya family. She and her husband Julio are living in Austria, but every year they are back for two months in the village where his large family (15 people) lives. Housing conditions are poor. Clay houses, tin roofs, no running water, pit latrine and almost no furnishing. When we are riding towards the houses, the children are waving self-made Austria flags. We are warmly welcomed by the family and it is exciting to see how Mayas are living today. After the intention to destroy their culture in the Civil War (1960-1996), they are trying to find back to their roots and their traditional religious believe. Especially for us the family makes a fire ceremony. Resins, spices, sugar, special wood and candles are piled up in a clay bowl and lit. We are all kneeling around the fire and prayers are mumbled and holy places called and answers are found in the fire. The ceremony is in Quiche, one of more than 20 old Maya languages which the villagers still use as their first language. It is mystical and an interesting experience. Although the situation for the Maya has improved since the war, they are still seen as second class inhabitangs, who experience little education and therefore have hardly any possibility to climb a step higher in society. Since years Caroline and Julio are helping the village to improve their standard of living. Two years ago a drive track was built from donations, this year hundred families got a school-begin-package (books, pencils,...), the creek (polluted and almost dry) will be revitalised and garbage bins put up. You find more about the projects of Caroline and Julio and how you can support them on our page "help for...". After some nice days with the family we have to say goodbye and continue rolling through the hills (again we cross the 3000 meter line) towards Lake Atitlán, which is beautifully situated between high volcanoes. Our next stop is Antigua, a cosy little colonial town. Lake Atitlan and Antigua are a striking contrast to the time we spent with the Maya family. Pure tourist places. Expensive hotels and cheaper hospedajes, restaurants, bars and cafes line the roads. Hundreds of tourists in the streets, beggars in the corners and Maya woman and children are running after white faces trying to sell bracelets and colourful fabrics. However, both places have their special flair and we meet Caroline and Julio again, who are taking vacation from the lots of work they do in the village. After a short day on the road we reach Guatemala City. Robert – from the same area as Valeska in Styria and they have been riding the same school bus for a couple of years – works at the Austrian School (Instituto Austriaco) and has invited us to his home. He is living in a beautiful green area in a big house and we enjoy the space, quietness and especially the good and funny company Robert is. He shows us around town, we walk through colourful markets and give a presentation about our voyage in the Austrian school. Caroline and Julio are also coming to the capital and together with them and Robert we are celebrating Valeska’s birthday with an Austrian speciality: a typical chocolate cake called "Sachertorte" from an Austrian bakery and the birthday excursion leads us to the volcano Pacaya where we hike beside liquid lava J
01.02.2010, San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico): We are "privileged" to be in Mexico City while there is the coldest period (for that time of the year) since 20 years. It is raining and raining and we run (wearing all the clothes we have) between coffee shops, museums and churches. We get company on our journey: Niki (from Pemberton, Canada) has already cycled with us from Vancouver to Seattle some month ago and has decided to join us for another leg for about a month. Coming from the winter in Canada she was looking forward to getting some warmth and sunshine, but no, it stays cool and rainy. The three of us start from Toluca towards the east. Uphill and downhill we travel on small roads with little traffic through beautiful forests. We climb up to 3000 meters and down back into a valley on the other side. Via Malinalco, Cuernavaca and Cuautla we reach Puebla, where we arrive – well, what did you expect? – in rain, of course! Puebla is a beautiful colonial town with a huge Plaza, which is crowded with people. Everywhere nicely renovated houses and inviting streets. In the market place we find – besides the usual piles of tomatoes and pigs in halves - freshly roasted crickets and other small insects, which are eaten in bread rolls – alive! Yes, it is true, we have seen it! Well, Niki also had a bite... In Puebla we meet the German cyclist-couple Doro and Sven. They are travelling from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska and we had been exchanging a few emails before. The long evening is full of laughter, beer and exchange of tips and experiences. Check out cyclists we met. It takes us three days cycling across numerous hills to Oaxaca, but for a change this time in beautiful sunny warm weather. Oaxaca is another highlight on our trip through Mexico. A beautiful historic center, losts of huge churches and colourful markets. We visit the impressive ruins of the pyramids of Monte Alban close to the city up on a hill, from where we have a nice view. After that we have a couple of intense cycling days. Niki "fits" to us perfectly. She also wants to see, experience, despite moving forward and keep going. We all have about the same speed and so we climb up countless hills (often for hours), enjoy going downhill, only to go up the next one... The countryside is suddenly pretty dry again, cactus and trees without leaves are the main vegetation. We pass through small towns, where we are the highlight of the day, when we roll across the main plaza and ask for a place to stay. The quality of rooms deteriorates as there is hardly ever a lid or seat on the toilet, beds are well worn and chewing gum can be found in the corners. The states become poorer and a lot of garbage lies beside the roads (especially in Oaxaca). Houses turn more into huts and the poverty is obvious in many ways. For a short time we leave the highland and speed down to sea level to the Gulf of Tehuantepec. At once we are in the Tropics. Everything is green, palm trees grow towards the sun, there is a lot of agriculture and it is unpleasently sticky and hot. Here we reached the narrowest part of Mexico between the Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic) in the North and the Gulf of Tehuantepec (Pacific) in the South. It is (apparently) one of the windiest areas on earth! We believe that as we experience unbelieveable strong cross winds which blow us off the road. For half a day these strong winds drive us almost crazy. Luckily the road turns out of the wind and by the afternoon we fly with tailwind. Another climb into the highlands awaits us. On the way we do a boat trip into the Canyon del Sumidero (National Park). The steep rock walls rise up to 900 meters on both sides of the river. We are lucky and see a few alligators, monkeys and lots of birds. After that Niki’s last cycling day comes up. Only 54 kilometers, but 1800 meters of altitude have to be climbed. It becomes one of the five days with our worst daily average speed within our last three years of cycling – see our superlatives. In the morning we start in the Tropics and by the afternoon we have reached a damp, foggy and cold highland climate. Pushed by heavy rainfalls and therefore soaking wet and cold we head into San Cristobal de las Casas. Once more it is unusually cold and rainy for this time of the year, therefore we use some days off in this beautiful "big village" in order to prepare for our leg through Central America...
07.01.2010, Mexico City (Mexico): We spend the days until Christmas with our host family. León is the leather capital of Mexico and we have the opportunity to visit tanneries, shoe and boot factories (Thank you Herbert and Sissi!). It is interesting to see how many steps it takes to turn a piece of animal skin into a shoe. We could not resist buying a pair of boots. But unfortunately the boots are made for riding real horses, not for riding "steel-horses". Besides that they are too heavy to carry, so they will be taken by plane to Europe (Thanks Monika!). The 24th of December we celebrate with our "new multicultural big host family". In the morning we celebrate Philipp’s birthday with "rico" cake made by Omi. For Christmas Eve all the family members come together and we are welcomed to take part in their celebrations as well. It is a very nice evening where we get to know some Mexican Christmas traditions and enjoy the lights of the Christmas tree, the crèche and the singing... It is difficult and sad to say good-bye to all our new friends in Leon on the 26th, when we pack our bags and push our bikes on to the road again. First we can use a cycle path for 13 kilometres (!) going southwards. We spend two days cycling through not too exciting flat dry landscape until shortly before Morelia we encounter hills and pass by big lakes. Valeska cought a cold, so we stay in Morelia longer than planned. The city is beautiful with its colonial center, huge churches and lively plazas. But on the other hand it is loud and stinky from all the traffic going straight through it. We stay for New Year’s Eve and Valeska finally feels better. We want to cycle on the next day, so we “sleep over” New Year on purpose. We put ear-plugs in and don’t wake up before six o’clock in the morning of the first of January 2010. An hour later we are on the road, cycling out of the sleepy town into the mountains. Hours of uphill, nice downhills and hardly any traffic on this winding road, which carries the suitable name "mil cumbers" – meaning a thousand bends. The surroundings are very green, dense forests, lush grass, birds are singing... what a nice contrast to the days before. From the town Zitacuaro we do a trip to the famous Monarch Butterflies. They spend the winter here – in the mountains on 3000 meters southwest of Mexico City - every year, after migrating from Canada to Mexico. They are said to be the insects which undertake the longest seasonal migration. We visit the El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary. Masses of butterflies sit or hang in big lumps on the tall conifers. Unfortunately it is cloudy, so the animals all sit and don’t fly, nonetheless it is beautiful. Something else is impressive: the crowds of people who are visiting the sanctuary. It is still holiday time in Mexico and in addition to that we happen to be here on a weekend! We guess another 2000 people admire the insects besides us and fill the walking tracks between hundreds of souvenir stalls. What an experience! Our next stop is the town Valle de Bravo, which we reach after climbing a lot and finally descending. It is touristy but has a nice calm atmosphere. There is two ways to reach the next biggest town Toluca from here. As we cannot find out which is the better route for us (due to our lacking knowledge of Spanish and due to us not trusting into information given from people driving cars and judging the route for cyclists…), we choose the one which should be more scenic. We will regret it later, because we think the other route could not have been with more uphill, more traffic and a smaller road? From 80 kilometres we have to go 50 steep uphill and gain 1700 metres of altitude. Unfortunately the road is narrow, full of bends and the traffic expects our full concentration. An exhausting and dangerous stretch of road. Finally we roll downhill into the city centre of Toluca, where Magalie expects us. We leave our bikes with her for the next days and take the bus into Mexico City. We did not want to miss the capital of Mexico, but cycling in was not really an option with all that traffic. About 22 million people live in the metropolitan city and its surroundings. An impressive number, which is reflected by the large area the city "swallows". South of the center we are guests of Father Ralf in the German speaking Catholic Church San Thomas Morus. We explore the city for three days, stroll through different areas, admire huge colonial buildings, relax in green parks, visit churches, markets, museums, archaeological sites and take participate in Father Ralfs services :-).
20.12.2009, Leon (Mexico): There are lots of private Yachts at the Marina of La Paz and for a couple of days we try to get a lift across the Gulf of California to Mazatlan on the Mexican-mainland. In the mornings we are on the radio and announce our request. Afterwards we are small-talking with the sailors at coffee-hour. We get offers, but none of the boats is crossing over in the next days. Finally we take the overpriced ferry and reach Mazatlan the next morning. We decide to ride up into the highlands to Durango and soon after Mazatlan the road starts climbing. First day: flat, flat, uphill, uphill, uphill - until we reach a lovely little village in the middle of the mountains: Copala, where we are the only guests in the only hotel. Second day: uphill, uphill, uphill, uphill, uphill until we reach the village of El Palmito after more than 6 hours riding time and only 52 kilometres. It is one of the days with the worst averages we had in the last three years – see superlatives. Third day: uphill, gentle uphill, uphill, uphill, finally relatively flat and even a bit downhill, uphill, uphill, downhill – and after a long ride we reach El Salto at 2.600 meters above sea level, where we can warm up at the open fireplace (!) in our hotel room. Fourth day: uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill and pushed by roaring tailwind we reach Durango. It was only 320 kilometres from Mazatlan to Durango, but we had to gain 5.500 meters of altitude. It is a slow and exhausting stretch of road, but on the other hand an extremely beautiful one and we are glad that we took the exertion. The road is winding its way across hills, is cutting into slopes and squeezes on to rock walls. Besides this the views are stunning! And the further we get into the mountains, the more green and lush they become. High in the mountains it is distinctly cooler, in the mornings the land is frosted and we are freezing on our bicycles until the sun gets stronger in the late forenoon. For the first time since more than two months it is raining and fog is magically rising from the valleys. When we finally reach the highlands it stays hilly but it gets dryer again. The pine forests are replaced by cacti, Joshua Trees and dry grassland, where cattle are grazing. We become friends with a very nice young couple from Durango, who we meet via "couchsurfing" (www.couchsurfing,org) and are fascinated by the great city. Huge baroque churches, a marvellous historic centre and lots of street life: fancied up girls, city-ladies in high heels and stylish purses, cool boys with gelled hair, businessman carrying briefcases and cowboys wearing a hat, tight jeans and pointed boots. We are taken by the atmosphere and especially by the Christmas-illumination and the acoustic-Christmas-irradiation. Across countless hills, through dry landscapes and passing by small villages with huge cathedrals, we reach Zacatecas. Colourful houses are covering the slopes, the concentration of churches is enormous and the colonial centre is gorgeously refurbished. It is the 12th of December, the day of the "Virgin Guadalupe", who is one of the major saints of Mexico. In the whole country people pilgrimage to churches dedicated to her. There are corteges and celebrations. We don’t want to miss out on that and head over to the neighbouring city, named Guadalupe to the cathedral of the Guadalupe. Carnival atmosphere around the church awaits us. There are souvenir- and junk-stands, balloon sellers and lots of "healthy" food (potato chips, popcorn, deep fried pork skin and mounts of meat on white rolls – of course everything is served with chilli-sauce) is sold. Dancers in red dresses are spinning around to the “boom boom” of a drum in front of the cathedral. One church service follows the other. Some pilgrims flatter on their knees to the house of "Virgin Guadalupe". Besides that a caravan of decorated trucks, busses and cars is slowly moving towards the church. Monks besprinkle the vehicles with holy water and a priest is blessing them. Now all drivers are sure that nothing can happen when driving too narrow curves with too high speed. We are glad to be travelling by bicycle and not by bus, and wheel further southwards. In Aguascalientes we stay at the Lukas Hostel and make friends with the likeable owner, who is putting us on his website as special visitors (www.lukashostel.com) :-). After another long day we reach the geographical central point of Mexico, León, where Monika, Javier and their mexican-german-austrian extended family are warmly welcoming us. Their home is a green oasis, where we can lean back and relax. We stroll around town and shake hands with the mayor, who is showing us his bureaus. Monika takes Mika – from Berlin (she is here to learn Spanish) – and us on a trip to the fascinating historic town of Guanajuato, which is close by. The whole city is criss-crossed by tunnels underneath (old sewage-canales) where most of the traffic is rolling. Colourful houses are covering the hillsides, beautiful churches, narrow alleys, theatres and shady Plazas with classy restaurants. In León we experience unique hospitality, eat the first Christmas-cookies since four years (!!) and are invited to celebrate Christmas together with the large family J.
30.11.2009, El Centenario / La Paz (Mexico): After some relaxing days in Ensenada we pack our panniers and again hit the road southwards. There is way too much traffic on the small road, which hardly accommodates two trucks passing each other and ends with a sharp edge towards the ditch. It is a less physical but more a psychological demanding ride in the northern part of the Baja California. We have to be permanently alert of what is happening around us and the landscape isn’t much appealing either – mainly flat, dry, grey and bleak. Places are dusty, street-villages with truck-stop-character, but the wind is with us (tailwind) and pushes us along. As we finally reach San Rosario and turn into the mountains everything changes. The road winds its way through beautiful hills and boulder fields, countless cacti are stretching towards the sun – the diversity is fascinating and the plentifulness indescribable. The traffic is almost dying completely and there are almost no villages for the next couple of hundred kilometres (and the few existing ones are much nicer than the ones before), water becomes a scarce good and the tailwind becomes a strong side- and headwind, which almost keeps us from enjoying the great landscape for some days. Finally the track changes direction and we are again riding with the wind. Now the Baja stays landscape-wise, except for a small stretch around Guerrero Negro, gorgeous! Mountains and elevated plains. We sleep out in the desert by cacti and starlit nights, find accommodation in small motels in tiny villages and put up camp beside roadside restaurants (inns for truck drivers). "Inventive" are the place names in this part of the world and we pass through villages called Rosarito, El Rosario, Rosario de Abajo, Rosarito (again), Santa Rosalia and El Rosarito. However, our favourite place name on the Baja is Villa Jesus Maria (here we find shelter J)! We stop in the small oasis San Ignacio for a day and enjoy the shade of the date palm trees, the sleepy cosiness of the village and experience the festivities of the "Mexican Revolution Day". On the piazza (town square) scholars enact dances, short plays on the revolution, cowboys are marching with their horses, the hymn is sung and in a militant style sworn to the flag. Very interesting, but distressingly patriotic. At San Rosalia (yes, again) we get to the Golf of California (the east side of the Baja) for the first time. Beautiful bays and sandy beaches are taking turns with rocky cliff lines. Retired Americans, sun seekers, and the ones, for whom the USA is too expensive, meet up to spend the winter in caravans, motor homes and small houses down here. We find fantastic camping spots on the beaches and stop in the small village of El Juncalito, where we enjoy relaxing days as guests of Roberta in her small cosy house and get the possibility to live a little bit of her idyll, before we start the next mountainous stretch towards La Paz. We are climbing steep through the hills and enjoy a long steady downhill on the west side of the Baja. On the last few hundred kilometres before La Paz the traffic is increasing. Also the "oncoming traffic" – for the first time in Mexico we are running into two cyclists (only a short distance between them) who are coming from Argentina (see also cyclists we met). Before La Paz we get into rolling hills for the last time and we are camping once again - surrounded by cacti. At night coyotes are howling, cows are visiting our site and "muh" to the moon. The stars in the sky are so bright – terrific! Well, the next morning starts with fixing a flat tire – the cacti have won! With great tailwinds we are flying on the final stretch to La Paz and stop at Michael and Niurkas place, a German-Columbian couple, where we are guests for a few days in their great house...
10.11.2009, Ensenada (Mexico): We make a trip with Marlies and Setso to Joshua Tree National Park (per car), where we also meet our cycling friends Uwe and Simone (see cyclists we met), who just rent a car for two weeks before flying to New Zealand and Australia for more cycling. The National Park is fantastic: impressive granite boulders, countless Joshua Trees, a lot of different cacti. We hear and see coyotes, squirrels run from one shady place to the next and by night the full moon is high above us and dips everything in a spooky white light. During daytime we hike through alternating landscapes and in the evening, when it gets cold, we enjoy sitting by the fireplace.
After a few more days in Los Angeles, it is time for us to pedal on southwards and say good bye to Setso and Marlies. The next stretch of road is not through lonesome nature, but very urbanized until San Diego, where we look across the border to Mexico for the first time. It’s hard to say good-bye to the USA, especially because we have just made friends with great people again within the last few days (Thanks to Steve, Linda, Dave, Paul - see also the creative page). We pick the border crossing at Tijuana, because it is close, not because it is famous for its drug wars between different drug dealing groups. We have no problems at all – it seems to us like a border such as many others. Although it is the most frequented border crossing in the world we pass through pretty fast and ARRIVE IN MEXICO! If we had not looked for a stamp and the visa office, we would have just walked past the office, nobody stopped us. The difference between the US and Mexico is quite big: Mexico is lots poorer and that is so obvious immediately. Streets have big holes, sand piles lie around, rocks on the driveways, garbage everywhere. Everything seems hand-made and a little tilted – but colourful! Music comes from car repair places and shops. Pedestrians smile and wave to us, car drivers honk their horns and show thumbs up to us. It is exciting to be in a new culture again, a new country for us. We leave dusty Tijuana and cycle back to the coast. We ride on the toll road (freeway), as it has a shoulder and is therefore less dangerous than the small roads. It is forbidden to cycle on the toll road, but neither we nor the police could care less about that. On the way south we pass a lot of small towns, where rich Americans build huge fenced- off houses, plenty of food stalls beside the roads, bakeries, lots of apartments in high risers for sun-hungry tourists, and we are followed by "herds" of barking wild dogs. After two days cycling in Mexico we reach Ensenada, a medium-sized town. Via the "warmshowers-website" (www.warmshowers.org) we find a place to stay – we even get "our own" flat – and take in the first impressions of Mexico...