350 KM Pledge Riders :: THANK YOU!

We’re riding for change. Join Us!

Remember back in May when we dedicated a portion of our around the world ride toward the spirit of “connecting the dots” between climate change and our precarious future?  In the 350.org spirit (scientists warn that we have to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm in order to preserve our planet) we asked others around the world to match the 350 kilometers we were going to ride from Loreto to La Paz in Baja California Sur.

We’ve finished that portion of our trip and, to be honest, we were a little disappointed that only two people pledged to join us (where are you, fellow cyclists and daily activists?!).  BUT, as you know, we believe every little bit makes a difference  and the people who did cycle with us, in spirit, were hugely motivating for us.  To show our appreciation we’d like to highlight a few of those cyclists in this post.

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Inspiration From 350 KM Pledge Rider Linda Hayek

Linda’s ceremonial dip into the ocean, marking the beginning of her coast-to-coast trek through Chile and Argentina. 2009

Here’s a pledge note we received from Linda Hayek, of Nebraska, Omaha, USA, in May 2012:

“Hello Kai and Sheila, I plan to cycle 221 miles (350 km) in May with some women cyclists who have various interests in art and writing.  We find cycling to be a way to live better.  It turns up the volume on one’s senses so you can notice details.  221 miles is a good goal!  Thanks for the inspiration!  Linda “

We were so excited to get this message from Linda, a fellow cyclist we met back in Nebraska, who has given us loads of moral support from afar.  Having been a mathematics teacher for 34 years, she now volunteers her time to providing education to those who live in urban communities with limited educational options.  Beyond volunteering she cycles regularly, on her own & in groups, and has a goal of seeing the entire world from the seat of her bicycle!  She’s got a pretty good start on that goal having toured in Spain, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Thailand,  Vietnam, Cambodia, and the United States, but she’s honest too.  “When I do the math comparing the expected days remaining in my life with the number of countries yet to be traveled, I predict that I will run out of time, but I continue this quest because the pursuit is as enjoyable as attaining my goal.”  Spoken like a true mathematician (and touring cyclist)!

 

THANKS to Linda & The Women who Joined us in our 350 KM challenge:

Diana Weis, Jen Stasny, Linda Hayek riding the Wabash Trace

Linda Hayek cycles through the poppies along the riverfront trail in Council Bluffs

Kathy Ensz and Cindy Cronn take a break at the top of Monument Hill at Lewis and Clark Monument Park

Need more inspiration?

Read Linda Hayek’s personal story:

“To understand my interest in bicycle travel, one needs some details.  Allow me to begin with the school year 2006-07, the last of 34 in my career as a classroom teacher and the year after my husband, Dave, gave up his long battle against cancer.  I was 55 years old, and the world as I knew it seemed to fall apart.   I struggled to envision life without Dave, without students, and without school activities, but I felt lost, sluggish, and stuck to the recliner.  The inspiration for what happened that winter is still a mystery.   I decided to train for a bicycle tour in Europe to honor Dave, and in memory of our dream to do this together one day.   I settled on a 10 day tour riding from Prague to Budapest. A little nervous, I paid the deposit, got out of the recliner, and never looked back.  For several months I worked out, building strength and endurance and gaining confidence.  Then, three days after I locked my classroom door for the last time, I found myself flying across the Atlantic to travel by bicycle through four countries in Eastern Europe.  It was June, and the poppies were in full bloom in the Czech Republic.  Entire hillsides of huge blossoms, brilliant orange with the blackest black centers, appeared en masse, bombarding me with color and showing me that I had been seeing in black and white.   It was as if my world had come to life again, and I realized that biking was about me, too, and not entirely about honoring Dave.  I was hooked!”   ~FromLinda Hayek, Spotlight Writer” of Nebraska Writing Project

You can also read Linda’s online journal that covers her travels across Chile and Argentina here.

 

 

Sinaloa to Nayarit :: Coastal Heat, Climbing & The Dash

[Did you miss us?  After a month off from blogging, we’re picking up where we left off.   In case you’re wondering where we are right now, we’re currently hunkered down in a quiet little town in Jalisco, a little over 5,000 feet above sea level, hoping to finish writing our Tiny House eBook.  It’s an absolutely beautiful time to be here right now – the rainy season is coming to an end, mountains surround us and we have a short walk to the largest lake in Mexico.  It’s lush and green, every imaginable flower is blooming and the daily temperature ranges between 72-78 degrees (22-26 C) during the day and goes down to around 60 degrees (16 C) at night.  It’s heavenly!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  More on that later…….now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.]

July 22 – August 1, 2012 :: Where We Left Off

We leave Escuinapa early in the morning, intent upon getting to our next stop, the town of Acaponeta, before the mid-day heat can overtake us.

I love the meaning of the town Acaponeta’s name.  It means, “Place near the river where the bean tangled in the reed grows”; which is formed by joining the translation of the indigenous Tepehuano word Acaponeta (Caponeta) which means, “place near the river”; and the Nahuatl Acatl-pol-etl-tlan, which means, “place where the bean tangled in the reed grows”.  The area we are cycling through is heavy on agriculture, fishing and livestock.  They grow corn (maize), beans, sorghum, tobacco, chile, mangos, avocados, tomatoes, wheat, sorghum, potatoes, soybeans, sugarcane and squash, among other things (*cough*, like Cannabis and Opium).

Cycling through Sinaloa

Gorgeous Sinaloa!

 

Close Calls :: Things We Don’t Tell Our Mothers

We had a hair-raising experience riding the free (or ‘libre”) road the last seven miles in to Escuinapa the day before last.  Life tends to flash before your eyes when you’re in a narrow valley and see an oncoming tractor trailer nose its way over the hill ahead and then look in your rear view mirror to see double vision coming over the hill behind you – two tractor trailers neck to neck, one passing the other and doing so at break-neck speed.  When you hear the guys behind you laying on their horns you know you’re in trouble.  You look to your right to see there is no way to bail off the road without also tumbling in to a deep ravine.  You’re body and mind kicks in to pure adrenaline mode.  You have to make an instant and crazy-critical decision.  Bail off the road right there and possibly die.  Continue straddling the road and possibly die.  Try like crazy to get to that narrow strip of shoulder you see just ahead before either of the latter scenarios can occur.  In seconds, for good or bad, I decide the narrow strip of shoulder offers my best chance of survival.  Obviously, I survived.  But I will tell you that there is nothing so unnerving as feeling the momentum of multiple tractor trailers passing within a couple of feet of your body at full speed within seconds of you and your bicycle dropping off the pavement.  I steel myself and grip my handlebars, close my eyes and feel the hot wall of air hit me like a brick, threatening to push me over the edge of land I’m teetering on.  As you can imagine, it’s a game changer.

Up for riding the free road with no shoulder again tomorrow, honey?  No. Thank. You.

So we both agree to ride the toll (or “couta”) road for the next few days.  Supposedly, it’s illegal for cyclists to be on the toll roads but we’ve heard rumors of other cyclists riding it without harassment.  It’s not our favorite kind of road to cycle.  Double lanes bring loud and speeding traffic and it skips by a lot of the small towns that the free road goes through but it has wide shoulders, which will help keep us alive for at least a little while longer.

Once we’re out on the highway we realize we made the right decision.  Traffic is low and most drivers move into the far left lane when passing us, giving us a worry-free day of cycling.  It’s a nice departure from the stress-inducing activity of constantly calculating your chances of survival.  Without having to maintain a tight line while teetering on the edge of an often crumbling shoulder, we are flying!

Sheila in her orange fashion clothing, Nayarit

Smiling now that we have shoulders to cycle on.

Crossing into Nayarit

Yay! We pass over state lines in to Nayarit, our forth Mexican state.

 

Our Favorite Part : Meeting people in Towns

By early afternoon we’re rounding on to the exit to Acaponeta and when we meet the toll booth the staff stops us and tells us to cycle off the road and around the back of the toll buildings, where we’ll be out of range of the cameras, then wave us on with a smile.  Guess they’re getting used to cyclists coming through and are choosing to turn a blind eye to the “illegal” (or deadly) nature of sharing the free road!

A few miles outside of town a man furiously waves to us from a small roadside café attached to a hotel.  We stop to chat with him a bit before heading in to town for a meal.  As we’re standing there, two boys pull up on their own bicycles, huge crates of mangoes bungee-corded to their wide rear racks.  As they unload the mangoes in to a crate against the building they whisper between themselves while staring at our bicycles.

Teenage boys, Acapuneta, Nayarit

The boys we met outside of Acaponeta.

I smile and say hello and that’s all it takes.  They’re both immediately next to me, question after question falling from their fast moving mouths.  I laugh and utter one of my most used requests…..”Please, are you able to speak more slowly?” but even their speaking slowly leads to a mostly-miming conversation.  Heads bopping around my bicycle, they point to one thing after another, waiting for my bumbling explanations.

“Agua……Agua….. Agua.” I say as they point to each water bottle.  Nods and smiles.

“Gasolina,” I respond when they point to the canister hanging off the underside of my frame.

“Ahhhh!,” they say and smile and nod.  But then they look confused and ask why we need gasoline if we’re riding bicycles.  Oh boy.  Here’s where it starts to get fun.  Let the charades begin.

“Comer (to eat),” I start off with, combined with miming cooking over a stove.  They still look confused.  I form the stove with my hands, imitate lighting a fire and stirring in a pot.  I bring the imaginary spoon up to my lips and pretend I’m eating.  Eventually a face lights up, smiles, nods then quickly informs the other of what I mean.

When they realize we’re heading toward town they frantically wave their arms at us and start throwing the mangoes recklessly from their crates into empty crates lining the wall.  They want us to wait so they can ride with us.  We laugh and tell them not to hurry, we will gladly wait.

Kai riding with local teenage boy, Acapuneta, Nayarit

Riding the last mile in to Acaponeta.

We get to town, drop our bicycles and gear off in a hotel room and head to the nearest restaurant.  It’s only 2:30 in the afternoon but the heat is so intense that it  completely drains us of any motivation to explore the town.  After a leisurely afternoon meal under the fans of an open-air restaurant, we crash in our room for the rest of the day.

The next morning we leave at dawn, intent upon riding the almost 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the next town before the scorching mid-day heat can zap all the energy out of us.  The ride is fairly flat with some gentle rollers thrown in for good measure, but by the time we cycle through the tiny town of Tijuanita to get to the bustling railway town of Ruiz, we’re completely fried (literally).  We decide to take a rest day away from the heat and the sun and to mentally prepare ourselves for the long, hot climb in to Tepic.

Kai trying to cool down under an overpass, Toll road 15, Nayarit

We take frequent breaks under the overpasses, the only shade we can find on the toll road. The heat is intense!

Streets of Ruiz, Nayarit

A street in Ruiz. Between 1:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon shops shut down in Mexican towns, which is why you see many of them with their shop doors (the garage doors) pulled down and locked. During this time they go home to eat the largest meal of the day with their families.

Tejuino vendor, Ruiz, Nayarit

While Kai ran around checking out hotel options in town, I tried my first Tejuino, a beverage made from fermented corn (made from the same corn dough used for tortillas and tamales, the dough is mixed with water and brown sugar, boiled and then allowed to ferment very slightly) and served over ice with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of lime. They served it in a plastic bag tied around a straw, although I had them put mine in my insulated Klean Kanteen. It was interesting…….and not a drink I will try again.

Breakfast in the market, Ruiz, Nayarit

Breakfast in Ruiz, found in the winding indoor market.

Fruit Vendor in Market in Ruiz, Nayarit

More scenes from the market……

Market in Ruiz, Nayarit Meat vendor at market in Ruiz, Nayarit Maze of Markets in Ruiz, Nayarit

 

What Doesn’t Kill You….

…makes you stronger.  Or so the saying goes.  And that’s the mantra I repeat to myself as we climb, and climb, and climb(!) in to Tepic.  Even though it is only 48 short kilometers (30 miles) from Ruiz, the combination of the heat along with climbing from a little over sea level to 3500 feet makes for a long, hard day.  The occasional honks of encouragement from drivers passing by, the beautiful vistas and the sighting of waterfalls tumbling down from rocky cliffs into the dense green hills below  help to keep our legs moving but, even still, we have to take frequent breaks under shade trees.  We pedal in to Tepic well after darkness has fallen.  We hobble, after a little directional help from the local police, in to the first hotel we can find.  I can safely say this was the hardest day of cycling we’ve had to date.  The climbing just never ended and the heat combined with altitude gain really sucked the life out of us.

Sheila riding in lush, vibrant Nayarit, Mexico

Rainforests, mangroves and dense vegetation of Nayarit. Loving how lush and green it all is, so different from Baja!

Sheila, Hot and Tired, Nayarit, Mexico

Not dealing well with the heat and altitude gain.

Nayarit, Mexico

But with views like this it’s hard to complain much.

The next day we ease our way another 11 miles.  Passing through down town, we make a detour to check out the town center, to take in the hustle and bustle of the city and to grab a late lunch.  Eventually we make it to the other side of town where we settle in to the cheaper Hotel Tepic for an extended stay (more on why in the next section).

Streets of Tepic, Nayarit

Stuck in traffic in Tepic’s narrow city streets.

Kai cycling in the rain in Tepic

Kai & murals along the main road through Tepic. The rain is normal in the afternoons during rainy season (July – September) and we often watch the clouds build all day before they let loose.

Cobbled streets of Downtown Tepic

Historic Downtown Tepic

Outdoor Markets in Tepic

Walking through the markets in downtown Tepic.

 

Gold-Medal Winner for Quickest Dash to the Toilet

Why the extended stay in Tepic?  Well, I had been dealing with a manageable case of diarrhea for a couple of days prior to our reaching Tepic (I could make it off my bicycle to a fairly hidden location off the side of the road at least) but my body had decided to kick it up a notch over the last 24 hours.  Kai was starting to experience similar symptoms and with another day of heavy climbing ahead of us, neither one of us was interested in pushing our bodies to the limit when we could have the luxury of a porcelain throne within a few feet of us.  We’re not much for taking drugs, rather letting our body take its best shot at working things out on its own, so we settle in to our respective lounging positions in front of the tele, where we watch Mexico’s 24/7 coverage of the Olympics (by the way, who knew trampolining was an Olympic sport?!).  We take turns setting our own records, besting each other’s time dashing to and from the bathroom.

About a week later, when we finally had had enough, were tired of feeling weak and realized our bodies just weren’t going to take care of business in the way we needed them to, we both took an Imodium.  And, WOW, does just one pill work to take care of business!  In fact, it works a little too well, swinging you toward the other end of the digestive pendulum, which isn’t necessarily any better of a situation.  Note to self & others:  Start by taking only ½ a pill.

 

Summary Video July 22 – August 1, 2012

Scenes from Sinaloa & Nayarit, Mexico :: Cycling Around the World from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.

Music performed by a local band and recorded in Ixtlán del Río, Nayarit, Mexico,at the town plaza on a Sunday night.

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Next Stop : On to Guadalajara

 

Cycling Sinaloa :: Heat & Hospitality

Leaving Mazatlan

Weaving in and out of traffic, we finally reach the wide shoulders of Highway 15 leading out of Mazatlan.  It is hot, we’re thoroughly drenched in sweat and we are leaving later than we’d like, but we’re feeling energetic and hopeful.  We’ve been off the bicycles for over a month, waiting for the ferry in La Paz, waiting for visa extensions and waiting out illness.  It feels liberating to be moving forward again, both of us wondering what we might find over the horizon or who we might meet later in the day.

We stop in the lively town of Villa Union to grab an early lunch.  I’m feeling a little self-conscious, our clothes completely soaked with sweat, our faces flushed, while the locals look fresh and undeterred by the heat.  As I finish my quesadillas the lady who owns the tiny restaurant motions to the young waitress and when she comes to pick up our empty plates she replaces them with two small bowls of flan.  I look up, surprised and she laughs and points to the owner who gives us a huge smile and a wave.  My heart swells with gratitude and I slowly and deliberately eat the desert, each spoonful more delightful than the last.

Scenes from Villa Union, Sinaloa, Mexico from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.

As we leave town we take a right onto Highway 6, a detour that heads toward the coast.  It doesn’t have shoulders and it adds a few miles on to our route, but it has little traffic and provides the rural and relaxed riding experience we both love.

Beautiful & quiet back road Hwy 6 south of Villa Union in Sinaloa.

Highway 6 is quiet, smooth & gorgeous! We pass by lagoons and wetlands throughout the day.

Lagoons, Hwy 6 south of Mazatlan

Around mile 40, and before we begin to head away from the ocean, we start thinking about a camp site for the night.  A man on a scooter pulls up beside us and we stop to chat.  He lives down the road in the next town and when we ask about camping along the shore he tells us to just pick a spot, that we can camp anywhere without issue.

Cycling through Sinaloa :: Highway 6, south of Mazatlan from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.

A few miles later, as we near the tiny town of La Palmita we pull off toward the ocean and a mere hundred feet in front of us is a nearly deserted, beautiful beach.  We quickly agree our day is done and trade our clothes for swimsuits.

Wild camp at La Palmita beach, south of Mazatlan

“Camp anywhere!”

The water is warm, like bathwater, but it washes the sweat of the day away.  We spend the rest of the afternoon playing, doing flips in to oncoming waves and body-surfing our way back to the shore.  Later I stretch and walk out the day’s ride along the beach.  There’s nothing like it, really.  The sound of the waves calms my mind and an underlying uneasiness settles down in to a gentle acceptance of what is.  Each long “shwoooooooooosh” of the water hitting the shoreline becomes a testament to the fact that everything is moving, ebbing and flowing in its own consistent and rightful way.

It’s Friday night and before long the beach is dotted with families, coming out to get in a quick swim before sunset and to chat with neighbors.  As we eat dinner, we notice a man come out of a small shack in the field behind us, taking a hoe to the garden.  The barely audible sound of metal turning earth echoes the waves mantra, “Here, here, now.”.

Sunset at La Palmita beach, south of Mazatlan

We watch people slowly gather their things and walk toward town, the setting sun signaling the time to leave.  I quickly set up our tent in the fading light and we grimace when the swift breeze dwindles to a stifling stillness.  As lightning splashes across the sky and thunder threatens, we lie in our tent, spread out naked as jaybirds, trying not to move and taking heavy, hot breathes.  Beads of sweat sparkle in the moonlight and sleep rides in and out on the waves of heat.  The rain never comes.

We wake early, feeling limp and drained from the sweltering heat.  Just before the sun rises we race toward the water, jump in for a brief reprieve, then run back to cover ourselves before we shock the few local folks we see meandering our way from town.  Five minutes later we’re fully clothed and just as sweaty as we were upon waking.  Men carrying baskets over their shoulders scan the beach for clams and pairs of women in exercise clothing speed walk the road parallel to the beach.

As we start moving about, putting away our tent and gear, we’re attacked by tiny, annoying, flying bugs that try to make their way into our ears, nose, mouth and eyes.  We first encountered these little buggers in Baja and were told they were only around for certain parts of the season, their sole purpose to consume the amniotic fluid of hatched eggs along the shore.  Unfortunately, they also seem to be naturally attracted to sunscreen, ear wax and any other orifice that secretes any kind of fluid.  We dance about, trying not to go mad with their insistent nature, and dash toward the road. We decide to skip breakfast and hunker down to ride till we get further from shore, the breeze we create by riding the only thing preventing them from overwhelming us.

Beach gnats, Sinaloa, Mexico from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.

The heat falls upon us like a thick blanket, causing us to feel heavy and slow.  As we ride alongside fields of symmetrically planted palms we hear the distant “clonking” sound of coconuts hitting the ground.  We catch glimpses of men balancing long white poles in the sky and realize they’re carefully coaxing the the fresh, green nuts from their nests.  We meet men on scooters or bicycles heading toward the town we just left.  When they see us they take on a look of both shock and delight, raising their hands in greeting.

Horses roam freely among coconut trees.

As we speed past a group of men harvesting coconuts near the road we hear their whoops of joy and their calls for us to stop.  We quickly make a u-turn to head back.  Despite that we’ll be covered in the flying gnats we’re trying to outrun we want to meet and say hello to the men who are walking toward us with glowing, smiling faces.  As we shake their hands and wish them a good morning they quickly grab two coconuts and chop off the ends, handing us each one and motioning for us to drink.  The milk is clear and not what I expected.  It has a hint of sweetness about it but is more bitter than I had anticipated.  Once we finish drinking they take their machetes to the nut again, cutting it in half then cutting small pieces of coconut shell off for us to use as scoops.  We dish out the white meat.  It’s very filling.  What a great and generous gift these men have offered two passing and hungry strangers on bicycles!

Given a fresh, green coconut as a gift from a man harvesting.

Drinking the coconut juice.

Eating the meat of the coconut.

Kai scooping the meat out.

We finally start to make our way inland again, passing through the tiny town of Aqua Verde, where Kai determines we should try to take a shortcut that appears to exist on his map.  It will keep us off the busy Highway 15 and should cut off 10 miles of our day’s route so I’m up for it.  After we mime and grunt our way through several conversations with people we meet on the streets we make our way toward what we think is the road we should be on.  It’s a dirt road but it appears to be well-travelled and several other locals on bicycles are going in the same direction so we keep at it.  Soon we come upon a section of the road that is covered in thigh-high water but a dump truck driver that we asked for directions from earlier is patiently waiting for us.  He jumps out of his cab when he sees us approach and points us toward the adjacent farmer’s field.  There’s a well-worn path through the field, just alongside the fence, that is obviously used by local pedestrians and cyclists to bypass the flooded road.  We’re, once again, overcome by the kindness of this man, and others we continue to meet, that take time out of their day to wait for us, to make sure we’re on the right path and to offer their assistance.

Streets of Aqua Verde, Sinaloa

Leaving Aqua Verde

Using a farmer's field to bypass a flooded road.  Aqua Verde to Chametla

Riding through a farmer’s field to avoid a flooded road.

We rattle our way over the field and continue on till we come upon another surprise – a swift, deep and wide river.  But we discover a man with a boat near the shore who offers rides across the river and so we load all our gear, our bicycles and ourselves into the narrow cavity of a slightly leaky boat.  A few minutes later we’re on the other side and I’m almost knee-deep in muddy water, unloading our bags and passing them over to Kai, who then carries them up the steep shoreline to flatter land.  After we load the bicycles up again we quickly clean our muddy legs off with the river water then head down the still-dirt road toward the next town on the map.

Our shortcut meets a river!  Aqua Verde to Chametla

Meeting the river.

River crossing, Aqua Verde to Chametla, Sinaloa

Sheila at the front of the narrow boat with all the gear.

River crossing, Aqua Verde to Chametla, Sinaloa

Kai in the middle holding on to his bicycle.

Road leading to Chametla, Sinaloa

The road on the other side of the river.

We continue through Chamelta toward the town of Pozole, the road occasionally morphing from dirt to pavement.  Making a quick pass through Pozole we opt to go back to the only restaurant in town that serves something other than shrimp.  As we pull in to the driveway a man grilling holds some nice looking fillets of fish in the air, asking if we’d like some.  I smile and say, yes, the smell of frying fish reminding me of my own father, who would spend weekends grilling the fish he had caught earlier in the week for our family’s dinner.  The rest of the family, a grandmother, a mother and several young girls surround us, motioning for us to pull our bicycles in to the shade and to sit at the picnic tables.  A woman younger than me, and mother of the three girls, goes to a small drink cooler, lifts the lid and asks if I’d like a glass.  I look in and see blocks of ice floating in a milky-looking liquid and I ask her what it is.  “Aqua de Horchata,” which turns out to be a concoction of boiled rice juice, milk, sugar and cinnamon.  As you can imagine, it’s absolutely delicious!

A family heading to Aqua Verde, from Chametla, Sinaloa

Met this family from Chamelta heading toward Aqua Verde to sell puppies.

Met this guy and his puppies on the road to Chametla.

Short break in Chametla, Sinaloa

Taking a water break in Chamelta.

Vegetable truck, Chametla, Sinaloa

A vegetable truck stopping at the market we were sitting in front of in Chamelta.

Lunch Break in Pozole?, Sinaloa

The restaurant we stopped at in Pozole.

Soon, additional family members, uncles and cousins, come out to say hello and to ask us questions about our trip, our bicycles and our plans.  Eventually David, a young, charismatic teenager, is summoned.  He can speak English fluently and he spends the next hour fielding questions from the family, asking us the question in English then translating our answer to the group sitting around us.  We show them our gear, pictures of our family and our tiny home back in Vermont.  They explain who was who in their family, offer us use of their shower and gently coax us in to hand-made rocking chairs under the shade of a mango tree in their backyard.  We spend a wonderful afternoon exchanging stories and taking turns answering and asking questions.  We learn that the kids were on school break for a month, that one family had lived in the States for a couple of years, that many people in the area make their income this time of year by selling coconuts and mangoes.  David, who spent a couple of years living in California, talks to us about racism and misconceptions he noticed that U.S. citizens held about Mexicans.  We talk about how Mexico is much more advanced and economically better off than many Americans assume, but David also laments things that he feels holds Mexico back from progressing, things like girls and young women marrying or becoming pregnant at too young of an age.  We spend hours talking to the family, about a myriad of subjects, and feel incredibly lucky to have been invited in and welcomed in to their home.

Young men met in Pozole?, Sinaloa

Teenage boys, family we met in Pozole (David on the far right).

Wonderful Family we met in Pozole?, Sinaloa

The generous and wonderful family we met in Pozole.

Even though the afternoon heat hasn’t abated much, we decide to continue on toward our final destination, a hotel in Escuinapa that will offer a cooler environment in which we can catch up on the sleep we lost the night before.  The rest of the afternoon is tough and long.  The heat is so intense that we have to take frequent breaks under the shade of roadside trees.  We finally make it to the busy town late in the day and, exhausted, cycle our way around town to check out the five hotels on offer.  We end up deciding to pay a little extra for the hotel that has an elevator so that we won’t have to lug our gear and bikes up flights of stairs.  The next day we move to a cheaper hotel and take a rest day.  We catch up on sleep and spend the evening taking in the events on the town square and people watching.

Just a few days in to cycling through mainland Mexico and we’ve already been blown away by the generosity and friendliness of people who live here.  Despite travel warnings put out by the U.S. government and despite the narco-related violence that threatens some areas of Mexico (including the states we’re travelling through), we haven’t once felt threatened or unsafe.  In fact, our humbling experiences have only proven that our global community isn’t as dangerous as one might think.

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Witnessing Citizen Activism in Mexico

“Pena did not win. IFE (Electoral Fraud Institute) helped him.”

One of the most exciting things we’ve had the opportunity to witness recently is citizen activism in Mexico.  On July 1st, Mexicans came out in record numbers to vote in the presidential election – it was the largest voter turnout in their history!   Soon after, thousands of people took to the streets throughout Mexico and the world, protesting the election results as fraudulent.  I randomly came upon protesters gathering in the streets in Mazatlan on July 7th.  Luckily I had my camera and, since I was on my bicycle, was able to zip in between traffic and down side streets to get some great footage of the “MegaMarcha” (see video below).

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Election media coverage

Voters thumbs are marked with acid to prevent voter fraud.

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The Fascinating Story behind “YoSoy132”

To fill you in on the history, if you don’t know it already, for weeks building up to the election, a non-violent student-led movement against widespread and blatant electoral fraud had been challenging the status quo, the election process and the candidates ties to media bias and big business. The group, named #YoSoy132 (I am 132), formed fiercely and quickly in reaction to an event in which Peña Nieto attended.  Carefully selecting a Catholic university to make a scripted pre-electoral appearance, he and his team were surprised to be met with student protesters, who were unhappy about his party’s (PRI) previous corrupt and oppressive tactics. When questioned and approached by the students, it’s reported that Nieto was swept away and hid in the bathroom until he could escape. Televisa (the media monopoly in Mexico alleged to be biased toward the PRI party) and Nieto responded by reporting the protesters were not students but were AMLO (the opposing party) people brought in to disrupt the process. Furious over the attempted cover-up of their protests, students, in response, made a YouTube video to counter the media’s inaccurate reporting. In the video, each student that was at the protest held their student I.D. up to their face and said “Yo soy numero xxxx” (“I am number xxxx), reading off their student number to prove they were students. 131 students came forward for the video.  As a result of their public outcry, thousands of youth, community activists and ordinary citizens stepped forward to join and support the students with the slogan, “Yo Soy 132” or “I am #132”.  A citizen movement was born.

election fraud protests

In the weeks and days leading up to the elections, students and citizens began recording scenes of voter fraud and reporting incidents to the election fraud tribunal. They sat in front of electoral stations throughout election day to witness the process and report fraudulent activity. Video footage and witnesses reported PRI offering gift cards, 500 pesos and Tupperware, among other items, in exchange for people’s votes. When election results started rolling in and indicated that Nieto had won the election, protesters took to the streets, claiming that the election was a fraud and that the PRI party had illegally bought the election.

Protest Against Election Fraud in Mazatlan, Mexico :: July 7, 2012 from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.

Current Status of Electoral Process/Protests

Since the protest I witnessed on July 7th, additional “Megamarcha” or “MegaMarches” have taken place throughout Mexico. Protesters, just a few days ago, held a blockade and 24-hour siege against media giant Televisa.   At last count, leftist candidate Lopez Obrador got 31.59% of the votes while PRI candidate Nieto received 38.21%. There are plans to file a formal legal challenge against the validity of the vote, with AMLO claiming that PRI tilted the results by illegally buying millions of votes. In the past, the Federal Electoral Tribunal, who must certify a final vote by September, has declined to overturn previously contested elections.

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Arriving in Mazatlan :: A New World!

Ferry Photos, La Paz to Mazatlan

Following the trucks to the ferry entrance.

On June 26th at around 6 p.m. we boarded the ferry that would take us from La Paz to the city of Mazatlan. The ride took over 17 hours and I spent most of that time roaming the decks and practicing my Spanish with truck drivers and children (who are usually eager to practice their English and also are VERY patient with me).

It was a restless night. Although we had fairly comfortable seats (they were more like theatre seats than airline seats), we were in coach class, in a room filled with about 100 other passengers and to keep us all occupied there was a constant stream of movies being shown on two large flat screen televisions mounted to the walls. As with all things audio in Mexico, the volume was set at an eardrum-bursting level, which meant we were unlikely to catch a decent nap, even with ear plugs in. Around midnight the movies ended and for a brief 6 hours we caught bits and pieces of sleep in between the sounds of humanity – children crying, coughing, snoring, chattering and various genres of music coming from phones or mp3 players.

Truck Drivers on the Ferry, La Paz to Mazatlan

Chatting with the truck drivers.

Ferry Photos, La Paz to Mazatlan

Sunset as seen from the ferry.

Ferry Photos, La Paz to Mazatlan

Morning on the ferry. Clouds!!! Something we didn’t seen much of in Baja.

IMG_6Scenes from the ferry, entering Mazatlan611

Bringing us in to port.

We rolled off the ferry and in to our third Mexican state.  Heading in to Centro Mazatlan, toward our hosts’ house, we were enamored. Lush, flowering trees lined cobbled streets that meandered by tightly knit and colorful homes. The streets were alive with pedestrians, vendors, bicycles, buses, motorcycles, and pulmonia taxis (think golf-carts). It was obvious that the historic center of town was in the midst of a revival of sorts, crumbling edifices mixed amongst beautifully restored homes, worn-down business fronts mixed with modern and marketed fronts. Art galleries and museums, theatres and street musicians peppered the corners.

Scenes from Mazatlan Centro

A square in Mazatlan Centro.

Scenes from Mazatlan Centro

Street vendors in Mazatlan.

Selling on the Steps of the Church, Mazatlan Centro

Vendors on the steps of the church selling religious articles.

Mazatlan's Centro Market

We visited the historic center’s food market.

Mazatlan's Centro Market

Lots of good food in the market!

Door, Mazatlan

Gorgeous carved door.

Streets of Mazatlan

Residential street in Mazatlan.

Games, Mazatlan

Games could be found outside some small mercados lining the streets.

Street Scenes, Mazatlan

Took a break in this park one day…..

Street Scenes, Mazatlan

…in front of the Art Museum. And if you look closely, you’ll see….

Street Scenes, Mazatlan

…the museum’s cat taking her afternoon nap in the windowsill.

Our hosts, Cris and Fred, welcomed us in to their gorgeous and fantastically located home (only a couple of blocks from the malecon and historic downtown) and after we chatted a bit they surprised us by sharing a delicious lunch with us.  They were so generous during our stay, we literally felt spoiled!  After spending only a couple of short days getting to know them we knew we had made new life-long friends.

Cris & Fred

Cris & Fred

We found another gem of a person (and place) in Mazatlan at the Suitel 522 Ecological Hostel. Kai and I ended up spending an additional three weeks in town, due to a combination of having to extend our visas (a week’s wait for the paperwork to be processed), our website being hacked (twice in a week!) and Kai coming down with a nasty cold that lasted a full week. Sichem, the young and ecologically-minded owner, bent over backwards to accommodate our unexpected delays and to make us feel like his place was our home.  He was fantastic and we quickly became friends, talking about politics, gardening, daily activism, and sustainability.

Suitel 522 Ecological Hostel, Mazatlan

Sheila & Kai in front of the Suitel 522, Ecological Hostel.

Just like us, Sichem believes that small, everyday actions can greatly affect the health of the planet.  He helps to raise guest consciousness about nature and conservation through his on-site environmental programs.   Guests are informed about food waste, conservation of resources, recycling  and more, and invited to participate, voluntarily, in any of the programs during their stay.  The goal is to give people the ability to take simple steps toward action, which will then, hopefully, spread beyond their stay to their personal homes, then on to others.  Things we especially appreciated about his program: composting of food waste in an on-site worm compost bin, recycling (rare so far in Mexico), use of non-disposable/washable dishes and utensils (instead of plastic/throwaway), providing guests with biodegradable soaps, rainwater collection, lending guests reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping, and, of course, rental of bicycles!  We were so impressed with Sichem’s ambition and determination to make a difference.

If you’re ever in Mazatlan and looking for a place to stay, check out the Suitel 522 Ecological Hostel.  The private and affordable rooms at Suitel 522 come complete with a kitchenette, wi-fi, a lush garden just outside your door, an exercise room, access to washer/dryer, and a complimentary breakfast of fruits, jams and toast.  Here’s a slideshow of some photos we took during our stay:

In between illness and work, we did find time to walk along the beaches, watch cliff-divers, ride along the malecon, visit local bakeries and bicycle shops, and to spend more time with our new friends, Cris and Fred.

Mazatlan beaches Cliff-diving platforms in Mazatlan

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Although most days were uncomfortably hot and humid, afternoon thunderclouds would roll in late in the day to create dramatic sunsets. It was refreshing to see clouds, to smell rain again and to be surrounded by lush vegetation. After spending so much time in the dry deserts of Baja, it was like we entered an alternate universe.

Molika Bakery

Molika Bakery : Great Bread. Kai with owner & avid cyclist, Hector.

Murals/Graffiti in Mazatlan

Lots of cool murals in Mazatlan.

Murals/Graffiti in Mazatlan

Sheila in Mazatlan

Sheila exploring Mazatlan.

Lunch

Yummy!

Beach in Mazatlan

Fishing boats in Mazatlan.

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A man and his bike, Mazatlan.

Catching the beach scene off the malecon.

Jellyfish on shore of beach.

Eventually we had to say goodbye to beautiful Mazatlan and it’s lively streets.  We were feeling really out of shape, were ready to ride again and were looking forward to climbing into a cooler part of Mexico.  We waved goodbye to our friend Sichem and made a plan to meet Cris and Fred in Patzcuaro in August then rode out of town late in the morning.  It felt good to be moving again and we were excited to discover more about Mexico.

Leaving Mazatlan

Leaving Mazatlan. That little guy was strong, held on to his grandpa’s shirt and held his feet straight out for a long way!

Highway 15 out of Mazatlan

Looking back at Mazatlan. We have shoulders!!

 

 

La Paz :: The Peace

Sheila Hwy 1 going south to La Paz

A Day Older. Not feeling wiser though!

Rising with the sun, we pack and make the multiple trips back to the highway, first holding our panniers high to avoid catching on the dense, thorny growth around us, then the bicycles.  We check our tires quickly for any thorns that might have hitched a ride before we finish out the climb from the day before.

We thought we were going to gently coast the rest of the way into La Paz but, instead, we spend the entire morning climbing up then down, up, then down.  Over and over again, one after another, my least favorite riding – short and steep rollers.

Kai is way ahead of me, looking for a place to pick up some water (what he worries about most) and probably also to avoid hearing me swear each time I top a hill to see another dip ahead of me.  Some days we need to ride separately, to give each other some personal space, and today is one of those days.

A few hellish hills later I see Kai has stopped at the only roadside stand we’ve seen for miles.  As he works with a sweet man and woman to fill the water bottles, I fall into white plastic lawn chair in the shade and moan.  Whine. Whine. Whine.  That’s what I’m doing, silently, in my head.  I’m really not digging the heat.  I’m done with the desert landscape and it doesn’t help that I’m still feeling groggy from lack of sleep.  Nonetheless, I’m motivated to get to La Paz today so that we can witness the People’s Summit activities, so I buck up and try to readjustment my attitude.  The couple’s cute dog helps to cheer me up, doing little dances around my legs and licking my toes as I pet him.

Friendly Dog at Mini-Mart

Lovable Little Thang

Siesta/Afternoon Break, Hwy 1 toward La Paz

Stopping at a Roadside Stand for water.

Selling Bread from a Van, Hwy 1 toward La Paz

Bought some muffins from this bakery on wheels.

Finally we hit the high note and we begin cruising down and around the bends in the road.  For miles we effortlessly coast toward La Paz and I am thankful for the break in climbing but as gravity pulls us toward the Sea the heat intensifies.  It’s one of the hottest days we’ve had in Baja and when we check the temperature it’s 37C (99F) but feels like 40C (105F).  Because we’re starting to look like lobsters (our latest tube of sunscreen is not working very well) we pull off to take our afternoon break 10 miles outside of La Paz.

Bean Tacos, Just outside La Paz

Break Time. Yummy!!

Bean Taco break, outside of La Paz

Is his face red from the heat of the sun or the food?! Answer = Both.

Photo found in Restaurant, 10 miles north of La Paz

Photo found hanging in restaurant.

Before we start off again we check our list of hotel possibilities.  We have three in our price range that might work so we review the most efficient route in to the city and to the first hotel.  When we get there we’re not overly impressed and it doesn’t matter anyway because they don’t have rooms on the ground floor and we’re too lazy to carry our stuff up to another level.  On to the second hotel en route and we find it pretty glum looking and it’s smack in the middle of one of the loudest areas in the city, PA systems being utilized just outside the gates.  Our third hotel en route is harder to find and we meander up and down streets becoming more confused until I stop to ask a taxi driver for help.  Once on the road we think we’re supposed to be on we become even more frustrated.  With no hotel in sight and after having a totally humorous but unhelpful conversation with a family of five (they couldn’t understand us and we couldn’t understand them!) we start heading toward the Sea and the malecon where we know there will be hotels.  Unfortunately, they’re the expensive tourist hotels so on the way we ask anyone we see if they know where the Baja Paradise hotel is and finally we get a break.  A man points us to the road we should be on and after meandering a bit we find the “Pension Baja Paradise“.

The Pension Baja Paradise is just that, a little slice of (affordable) peacefulness in the city.  Only two blocks from the Malecon its close enough to the beaches and downtown scene to be convenient and far enough away to be quiet.  With a small fridge in our room and access to an outdoor kitchen and dining area we can cook our own meals while waiting the 10 days till we can get on the ferry to Mazatlan.   The owners and other staff that work here are very friendly and welcoming and even their cat, Allambre, has adopted us, meowing outside our door each night until we come out to give her a good amount of loving.

Pension Baja Paradise

Entry of Pension Baja Paradise

Our Room at Pension Baja Paradise

Our Room.

Allembra, the pension cat

Allambre, the pension cat with a heart for a nose.

Flowering Cactus

Flowering cactus in the Pension garden

Cactus, La Paz

I’m obsessed with how beautiful cacti are.

Close up of Flowering Cactus

Close up of cactus.

Close up of Flowering Cactus

Close up of cactus flowering.

Cactus in the Garden

We spend a couple of evenings taking in the scene at the malecon and then a couple of days wandering the downtown area and the rest of the city.  One night we see activists in motion at the People’s Summit concert right off the malecon, a very inspiring event.  During the heat of the day we hunker down in doors or in a shady spot outside to catch up on writing, email and route planning.  The past two days Kai has been doing some basic bike maintenance, like switching out chains, cleaning the drive-trains and sanding down brake pads.  We’ve had a productive week.

Bike Maintenance in La Paz

Kai cleaning up our bicycles.

Gecko hanging off the ceiling.

We spotted this guy (a gecko?) hanging off the ceiling one evening.

Sheila's Birthday Dinner, La Paz

My Birthday Dinner in La Paz. Yes, that WAS a casserole dish full tof greens!

Scenes from the Streets of La Paz

Streets of La Paz.

Scenes on the malecon, La Paz

The malecon, La Paz.

La Paz

One of many beautiful sunsets in La Paz.

Scenes on the malecon, La Paz

Recycling bins on the malecon.

Ice Cream Shop, La Paz

The ice cream shop.

The People's Summit, La Paz

Scene from the People’s Summit

The People's Summit, La Paz

Scene from the People’s Summit

The People's Summit, La Paz

The People’s Summit

Pan D'Les Bakery, La Paz

Pan D’Les Bakery

Mural in La Paz

Mural on Revolution Street, La Paz

Home in La Paz

Home in La Paz

Dead to the World

Afternoon Snooze.

Universal Political Photo Op

Political advertisements line the street fences.

Scenes from the Streets of La Paz

La Paz street.

Ferry Ticket Office

Waiting in line to buy our ferry tickets.

Reaching La Paz is a milestone for us.  Our time in Baja has come to an end.  Tomorrow we catch the ferry to Mazatlan!

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