Sunday 13th August.
Just outside Puebla, Mexico.
Some dramas, but mainly progress.
After the minor trauma of our brief stay in Bahia de Los Angeles we felt we had earned a day of RnR in Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez in Baja. This is such a gorgeous coastline, and the sea is one of the best places in the world for its large marine life so it would have been criminal not to have stopped to enjoy it. It is a breeding ground (sea?) for all kinds of large whales, as well as other sea mammals. Swimming with whale sharks is apparently de-rigeur here. However, unfortunately for us this is not the season for whales – we need to come back some time around February to March. We did however have a very light-weight tourist trip: Tom and I and Aoife and Georgina enjoyed a boat ride out to an offshore island where we snorkelled and relaxed; the main event was a pod of dolphins on the way out and a different one on the way back; this second pod were much more curious and friendly, swimming right up to and in front of the boat giving us a splendid view over 10 minutes or more. Tom and I jumped in to join them, but sadly they rejected our overtures and disappeared the moment we entered the water. My action camera with its waterproof case will have to wait to prove its worth.
Loreto itself is a lovely little town – a place I’d love to come back to one day. When the whales are visiting as well, of course.
From there we progressed to La Paz from where a ferry took us overnight to the mainland of Mexico. Detail for anyone considering making a similar trip: Baja California enjoys a special status within Mexico, and there are no special requirements for bringing a vehicle in. However, the same is not true for mainland Mexico; a temporary vehicle import permit is required, which must be annulled on exit from the country or you stand to lose the US $400 deposit you are required to pay. The details of this were lost on us on our way into Mexico at Tecate, the officials were not interested in our questions on the subject and insisted that all was in order and there was nothing more we needed. This resulted in a bit of anxiety when we read about our proposed ferry crossing and understood the need for the temporary import permit, which we should have obtained 1000 km ago. In the event, all was well as we found we could obtain the permit (and pay the US $400) at the port in La Paz.
The ferry itself was fine, and to some of the group strangely familiar. It turns out that the boat in question in an earlier life plied the seas between Holyhead and Dublin, and had carried at least two of the group previously.
While the peninsular of Baja California had been unremittingly hot and dry, mostly desert with great plains of giant cacti, the mainland east of the port of Mazatlan proved very different. Lush and green, it is also humid. The towns are of course bigger and busier; this feels like a country that is going places. There is of course also a huge expanse of open country; rolling and steep hills heavily wooded in parts, also a lot of agriculture including agave farms. Our first day’s ride took us to Guadalajara – an hour or more in heavy traffic to the centre where we had a hotel booked was enough to persuade us that large towns are to be avoided at all costs.
Many people have shown concern at our plan to ride across Mexico. Although we have received nothing but courtesy and friendship in this country, it appears that there is an undercurrent of lawlessness that hangs like a cloud over much of the country. Whether this is real or imagined (and we have had no experience of it) enough people have warned of the possibilities of robbery, theft of our bikes, or even kidnap (short-term or “express” kidnapping is said to be more usual, whereby the victim is taken at knife- or gun-point to an ATM and only released when his bank account has been duly harvested), that we have become a little bit paranoid about where we go, and by what roads we travel. The UK government website advice suggests we take “extra care” almost everywhere. It leaves us a little bit unsure of what extra care we should be taking – suffice to say we have no intentions of travelling by night, and ensure that the bikes are locked securely whenever left unattended. However these concerns have resulted in us riding mainly on large toll roads; this also is allowing us to cover a lot of ground quite quickly which we need to do to meet our time schedule.
While that may sound a bit tedious, it has not prevented us from enjoying some vibrant Mexican culture. Yesterday we stopped in San Miguel de Allende, a lovely old town fully deserving of its status as a Unesco World Heritage site. Noisy and colourful, there appeared to be a parade in full swing as we arrived at our hostel. On asking what was going on, the hostel owner shrugged and said Oh, there is always something happening, I’ve no idea what it is today…
And so it goes on. We have ridden over 9000 miles in total so far since arriving in Anchorage. Tomorrow we will be close to the Caribbean coast although I don’t expect we will get to see it yet. There may only be another 3 or 4 nights in Mexico, but nothing is set in stone. Who knows what is around the corner?