Baja California 10/23 -11/18/2010

Tijuana 10/23-10/28/2010   
Crossing the border from San Diego to Tijuana for us was not little of a culture shock: We were used to riding our bikes through a prospering and clean infrastructure with nice houses within fresh air. Now we were suddenly faced with a town showing the pure opposite: Garbage in the streets, shabby houses, kids begging for money and always a smell of the canalisation in the nose.
Furthermore passing the border was a real confusion, it took us more than an hour. Suddenly we found ourselves behind the border line but had not found the US checkpoint first to exit correctly.

To our surprise the local very friendly people helped us to find our way. This we can truly say about almost all the Mexican people: they are very lovely and kind. This is what we saw. We did not see picture the television is reporting about the drug war which gives many people unjustified fear and shows a totally unbalanced picture of Mexico.

Tijuana for us was a lovely stay with Mirella and Alejandro who offered us all we needed and introduced us in a funny way into Latin America’s culture.

Riding down the desert 10/28-11/18/2010
The Baja’s character is greatly different to US California. It is still a wild desert and the main road leads to a row of small and mostly cute villages. We enjoyed cactus groves in wild mountains, rock formations and volcanoes in coloured brush, a scenery of wide valleys, blue sky, silence but sometimes strong wind. At night when we camped we were in midst of the lovely sound of crickets under a sky plenty of stars with not few star shootings. We liked this and soaked up every day. Beside this we saw more stinking carcass and landfills along the road than on all the tour before and rode some distances of straight roads for days crossing flat boring land.

We were aware that we had to be cautious at night. Either you run out into the sticks off the highway so that nobody can see you or if not possible you look for a cheap hotel what we often did.
To one of these visits, in San Quintín, we can tell a story we experienced which was not that comfortable to be part of: We found a shabby hotel with an inner courtyard when it was still daytime, could even bargain down the price and were satisfied to have reached the day’s goal when suddenly we observed that there were women going in and out to other rooms several times with different men. Since we saw that the owner did not clean the room nor change the blankets after they were used we immediately felt disgustingly bad realizing where we had entered. The most awkward was yet to come in the evening: Reto and Matt stayed in front of our door when a man from an other room came to chat with them asking where they would stay over night. Well, when Matt answered that we stayed here he was a little surprised. What he supposed you can imagine.
That night we blocked the door with a chair as we had not got a key and slept in our sleeping bags.

Coming closer to La Paz we had the first of several battles with dogs on the road. Mostly a loud yelling was sufficient to frighten them. But this time we had to beat around strongly to defend ourselves. It’s a pity, but to deal hard with dogs is a necessity when you ride the Panamerican Highway.
The same day I got even hit by a can of beer somebody threw at me from a driving truck while riding my recumbent. Well, the day ended with sleeping under a bridge and stays in my memory as one of the uglies but would never break my desire to continue.

In La Paz Reto and Matt witnessed a typical story in Latin America: Manuel, a local  with who they could do the groceries, drove through the streets and did not pay attention to a pedestrian woman wanting to cross the street. She became angry and told this to a police cop who had not observed the situation himself. He immediately gave Manuel a ticket for not letting cross her. Matt and Reto were surprised how things worked here. Wondering why Manuel did not get angry he explained that he had a friend working at the police. :-)

The Mainland 11/19/2010 - 02/09/2011

Mazatlan to Guadalajara 11/19-12/09/2010
When we arrived at Mazatlan with a delay of four hours because the ferry’s engine had some trouble in the open sea at night we were totally fascinated to enter a green countryside after the weeks in the desert before. A tough climb led us first to tropical jungle than to pine forest in the higher areas. Although the uphill was hard we enjoyed it totally. The forests were wild and untouched and the valleys in the top resembled even a canyon.

Like always we chatted with locals along the road celebrating Friday by sharing a beer. When I was looking for a garbage can an older man advised me making a gesture with his arm I should throw it right over the slope into the hedges. Well, to answer this nonsense in a positive way I explained to him that I liked Mexico’s nature and could not do that.

Several times we were asked if we would like to get marihuana. The last time I asked the guy where they grew it since we know that the Sierra Madre Occidental is one of the main areas where it is planted. The man explained that they grow it all over the mountains, everywhere a little, so that it cannot be seen by an airplane and finished with joking: ”Mexico has got three treasures: Ora, plata y mota” what means “gold, silver and weed.” – No wonder we saw tons of militaries in that region; but we never saw a strike. - Although we sensed what was going on here, it was suspiciously calm.

Eastwards of the Sierra Madre Occidental the countryside is much dryer and the altitude stays on some 2000m which in the first days always made us a bit tired.
The pearls up here and the reason why we have chosen to ride this way are the Spanish colonial towns that were always built beside mines.
Especially Zacatecas and Guanajuato were picturesque with their impressive historic centers and history itself: In Guanajuato we visited the grainary, a testimony of the way of independence. Here, 1810, Hidalgo, a Spanish descendant, lit that building killing a lot of people. This was one of the initial revolts for independence 300 years after Spanish colonialism had begun. A year after he and his crew were caught they were sentenced with capital punishment and their heads were hung each at the building’s corners. Today the building is a museum for the country's history and the heels to hang up the head’s cages you can still see.

Finally, we made our way to Guadalajara. Reto and I first planned to ride directly to Mexico City, but as we were now a team with Matt who wanted to meet friends here, we decided to finish Reto’s tour here and move to Mexico City by bus which proved to be better.

Guadalajara 12/15/2010-01/02/2011
Since Matt went home over Christmas and my new companions from Switzerland arrived only New Year’s Eve I wanted to wait here for two weeks, not unhappy after half a year of travelling.
I am looking back to the time I was able to spend here full of thanks: First I could stay in the Casa Ciclista and afterwards was invited to spend Christmas with the family Villaseñor I love a lot. I came in touch with so many lovely folks of their relatives, at Christmas we even participated in three parties the same evening. I liked the Mexican way of partying, it is a lot more animated than what I was used to from Switzerland. I will never forget when I was asked to beat the traditional piñata in which candies are hidden. Well, a girl played a joke on me: When I smashed it there were not only sweets inside but also flour that covered me from top to bottom so that I looked like a snowman.
Finally, I could join Ernesto and Donna for a short vacation on the Pacific Ocean before the time to break up again came.

Southern Mexico 01/02 – 02/09/2011
After Matt had returned from his Christmas holidays back home and my friends from Switzerland had arrived all of us were looking forward very much to breaking up for Southern Mexico.

Moving from Jalisco to Michoagan was a weird experience: The last night before we left Jalisco we asked a family if we could camp in their backyard and felt totally safe. The ambience in the village Ocotlan was nice.
The very opposite we noticed in Michoagan. Although the countryside was greener here, the people in the small towns were very reserved towards foreigners. We first didn’t understand what was the matter but just saw fear in their faces.
We remember a certain night where we hardly found any hospitality because of fear. When we finally found a place to sleep inside of a locked property and got into a conversation I asked about the local drug cartel’s activity. The husband did not want to talk about the matter but the wife openly talked about protection money extortion and ways of public intimidation like shaving a woman’s head or stitching up a young man’s mouth because of criticising publicly. That night an eerie ambience lay all over that village. Although there was no moonshine dogs were continuously barking, roosters were crying all night and constantly there was noise by humans. All of us could hardly close an eye that night. The morning after everything seemed to be ok, no signs of what we just witnessed.

After entering Mexico it was necessary first to learn to evaluate the state of security. We then decided to stay rather with local people instead of going in cheap hotels.
Having become more open for this kind of lodging we experienced multiple nice encounters with generous Mexican people who opened their doors, offered a bed, served food, gave opportunity for showering, for internet and so on. We will never forget the words: “Esta es su casa.” or “Mi casa es tu casa” which means “this, my house, is your house.” I can say that a seed remained in my heart to do the same back home too.

Since Isa and Martin got both sick at different times we did not spend the whole six weeks together but now and then met up again.

The story about the helicopter rescue 02/01 - 02/05/2011
We knew that the distance between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque would require a lot of attention. Here cyclists had been robbed in the last years which was confirmed to us by locals. The area is territory of the Zapatista movement, an indigenous movement to improve their rights.
This area I will never forget as it is the beginning of the jungle which is impressive for somebody who is not used to it: On every tree there are multiple other plants, especially orchids, furthermore all the flowers with their colours, the banana groves, the coffee and cacao beans laying on the ground along the road for drying outside of simple indigenous huts with kids playing and often yelling “gringo” in a friendly way while passing them. Only the 300 speed bumps to pass was no fun as you have to break down always or you will jump like an airplane which happened to me twice.

When we finally reached the junction to Agua Azul we came across two entrance fee stations: The zapatista’s and the government’s which is weird but everything seemed to be quiet. We even had a conversation with the Zapatista representatives.

The next day, while we were enjoying the little paradise, we were told by locals that there had been a zivil dispute taking place between the Zapatistas and the great land owner of the area about the right to take an entrance fee. Nobody could leave nor enter the village as trees had been cut and were blocking the road. In addition the electricity was turned off.

Being warned we moved with precaution and could even observe the inhabitants armed with sticks with nails and machetes. The situation turned worse. Tension was in the air although the locals always assured “No passa nada”, which means ‘nothing will happen’.

The morning after, we heard a helicopter and a little later were called by locals that we should come to be flown out of the area by the government, because the dispute had escalated. Somebody had been killed and several injured. My emotions were not really good at that moment although we had not witnessed anything ourselves but knew that it had happened not further away than about one kilometre.

What an opportunity to fly a part of the Panamerican Highway by helicopter. Trusting a police officer we had to leave our bikes back with all the many people around which I didn’t really like. They were to be flown out with a second chopper.

I enjoyed the flight very much as we could see the blue rivers, the jungle, the cloudy hills and the little villages in the bush with a perfect view from above.

Palenque was our goal where we were received by the first journalists. Then we were asked to visit the government in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we were brought by a government’s luxury jet.
Again a lot of journalists were waiting and the government provided for everything we needed. After we had given the police report about what we had seen and not seen ;-) we were accommodated in a five star hotel from where we visited the nearby canyon the next day.
The day after an old plane brought us back to Palenque.
We got messed up a lot by this unplanned detour and were so happy to be finally back on the road again.