Letter from La Paz, January 30 2004 

An email I sent out to my email group January 30 2004:

hi all. long time no write. i've gotten several emails asking me where i am, whether i've left la paz for the mexican interior - el interior - and when i plan to continue my bike trip. the short answer: i don't know. to read the longer answer, carry on reading.


i'm writing this from an internet cafe in downtown la paz in view of the ocean. the sun is shining, there's a slight breeze, and the temperature is probably in the mid-60s. nice weather, but too cold to swim without a wetsuit. in my last mass email i said i was leaving friday the 16th. that didn't happen because i ordered some bike parts from the states and they only arrived last week.


since then we've had three days - two of them in a row - of heavy rain. to put it bluntly, the drainage system here sucks. after a day of rain some roads are impassible and when you cross certain streets unless you're wearing rubber boots it's impossible to keep your feet dry. in washington state this sometimes happens when sticks, leaves, and branches clog sewer drains. in la paz there are no sewer drains. so the water either stays in the streets forming small lakes (lagunas) or, along with large quantities of sediment, flows downhill in meter-or-more-wide streams to the malecon (the road the runs along the ocean) and into the ocean. getting around la paz on a rainy day is literally like fording a series of small rivers.


so far i've taken two "sets" of spanish courses, one set for two weeks and the second for the week that ended today. i got a certificate of completion at the end of the first set and a second one today. they're nice, but of course the greatest reward for me is something less tangible: the ability to communicate in another language, a relative rarity not only in the u.s., but in mexico as well. while i have the time to spend i'm determined to reach that goal. my spanish now is better than it was when i first arrived in la paz though i'm far from being fluent. sometimes i think i'm doing well - i can in fact carry on conversations although frequently my grammar is horrendous, i'm sure.

other times i feel as though i know nothing. i forget words and have to ask more than once what a word means. the good thing, however, is that i'll ask in spanish, the person to whom i'm speaking will explain in spanish, and usually i'll understand. it's the verbs that give me the most trouble. spanish has more tenses than english and verb conjugation is more complicated. of course, as a native english speaker i'm biased! any new language is difficult. for me at least.


anyway, while i'll no longer be taking spanish classes at the school, i did enroll in another intensive spanish class at a local university - the universidad autonomia de baja california sur (or "uabcs" for short). not only will i get a more "authentic" experience, i think, attending a mexican university surrounded by mexican students, but i'll also be paying far less money. a 2-month course costs $50, not including books, plus $3 for a student ID. whether i stay for that much longer remains to be seen. regardless of what i do, it's still cheaper than a week at the other school.


by now i've made several mexican friends, all of whom study at uabcs. lupe is a graduate student in marine biology, chava (short for salvador) is a lit student who's already written 3 novels and at least one screenplay, and christina has a history degree and wants to study at m.i.t. in cambridge, mass. with noam chomsky. along with my friends from the language school, we all have a good time doing the la paz dance club circuit into the wee hours of the morning. yet i also enjoy political discussions with my mexican friends as well. fortunately or not, kristina and chava both speak english. lupe understands english because it's necessary for her to read u.s. technical journals, although she prefers to speak spanish. because i spend lots of time with lupe it forces me to speak spanish with her, which is definitely a good thing.


i've done a fair job at mastering the intricacies of the bus system and know how to get around la paz pretty well. at night if i'm going out i'll generally take a bus to get where i need to go and share a taxi home with friends if i don't have a ride. during the day i ride my bike everywhere. the roads are bad by american standards but on a bike equipped with wide touring tires like mine (or on a mountain bike) getting around is no problem.


because la paz is relatively close to the u.s., cars here are cheaper than in other parts of mexico. that means la paz has lots of cars and the city is sometimes
choked with traffic. for me it means i can often get from one side of town to another on my bike faster than i could in a car. not only is this because of the high volume of traffic, but also because the poor quality of some of the roads forces cars to drive slower.


i'm still living with my mexican host family. in fact, because in mexico the main meal (called "comida")is in the middle of the afternoon, soon i'll have to exit the cafe and cycle home - maybe a 15-minute ride. yesterday my "host mother," marta, made chicken and chinese vegetables for comida. today i think chile rellenos are on the menu.


anyway, that´s about enough for now. it's time for me to sign off. i have a series of photos i want to share with you, and as soon as i figure out which website i
want to use i'll upload the photos and send them out. in the meantime, take care and god bless.


¡Feliz Año Nuevo! 

An email I sent out to my email group January 10, 2003:

Hi again everyone from La Paz. As some of you know, I decided to stay here for a couple weeks and take a total immersion Spanish course and combine it with a
homestay with a Mexican family. By "total immersion" I mean virtually no English is spoken either in class or with my host mother. My host mom, Marta, is
retired from the Mexican federal government. I leave La Paz this Friday on a boat bound for Mazatlan in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, la "tierra de dios" (God's
country), according to her.

Marta speaks absolutely NO English - not a single word. I speak barely more Spanish, although I find there are certain times where it's easier to
communicate: i.e., when I've gotten at least 7 hours of sleep. Marta has 3 sons and a daughter who range from ages 28 to 36. All of them are university-educated. I seem to connect best with Marco Antonio, a 33-year old physical ed. teacher at a
local elementary school.

New Years' Eve - my first day at the school - was great: first my host mom and me drove together to another host family's house, where my buddy Remo and
some other students at the school are staying. I'd eaten before at Marta's place - chicken, vegetables, and rice - and at the second place I found myself
eating yet more. ¡Mucha comida! There was fish, fruit with yogurt, vegetables, mixed nuts - everything. Everyone was amazingly friendly, and I found myself actually able to communicate in Spanish, albeit in a pretty primitive way. As far as music
went, there was a live band that played traditional music from northern Mexico, which, we learned, is distinct from Mariachi music. Mariachi music has its origins in Guadalajara. Between sets we listened to some good Mexican electronic music - la musica electronica mexicana. For me it was a little bit easier to dance to, although our inability to dance to the traditional stuff didn't stop us. The fact I don't drink alchohol and therefore didn't have the "benefit" of booze to cover up potential embarassments didn't stop me either.

After the first party we went to a second one, this was at the home of one of my host mom's friends, "las amigas." Once again I found myself able to communicate relatively well in Spanish. My problem to this day, besides the fact I've only been an honorary Mexican for two weeks, is that my vocabulary sucks. Neither do I take much time to study, preferring stilted attempts at communication with my host mother and other Mexican friends - armed at all times with my dictionary, of course (except in dance clubs). My grammar, when I try to string together sentences comprised of any more than 5 words, is probably terrible, but most times I can get my point across.

School is great - 4 hours per day of pure Spanish conversation. Before I began the class I thought 4 hours per DAY, 5 days per week of Spanish would be terrible and that the time would just DRAG by. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 4 hours flies by - even the parts where we learn grammar and complete worksheets. The emphasis is totally on conversation, unlike classes in U.S. schools, so if on
a given day we don't fully complete a worksheet or two because we had a great conversation in Spanish, it's not a big deal.

Weekends we go clubbing and sometimes cycling - La Paz has some good ones, and on many nights we're the only gringos, which I like. Unlike Los Cabos, Cancun,
etc., La Paz isn't overrun with tourists. It's a nice, safe, clean town with good roads, little visible poverty, and amazingly friendly people. I suppose I have yet to experience any of the hostility and sense of being unsafe in Mexico so many Americans talk about. Where is it? On the other hand, Baja is one of the wealthier states in Mexico, so maybe once I get to the Mexican mainland things will change, though I doubt it.

Cycling continues to be a safe experience. I ride my bike every weekday morning to school, about 4 miles from my house. By now I know several different routes, and once again, I've never felt unsafe. While, like I said before, the roads in La Paz are
good, they're a little ragged by American standards, which keeps speeds lower and conditions safer for cyclists. Lots of Mexicans ride bikes, too. After all, La Paz is flat, the weather agreeable, and riding a bike is far cheaper than driving.

Last night, January 9, was the last night before a fellow student named Robin flew to Tijuana and from there took the bus to San Diego to pick up his car at a friend's and drive home to L.A. So we all, about 7 of us, went out to celebrate - first to dinner, then to two different clubs: the first called "La Paz Lapa," a play on the word "palapa," essentially a thatched beach shelter, and the second called "La Casa
de Villa." At La Paz Lapa the women danced on the chairs and tables and outnumbered the men by more than 3-to-1, where at La Casa de Villa there were fewer chairs and far less space: people were packed in like sardines but nobody seemed to care. Good fun was had by all, although since we didn't leave the second club til after 5 am I'm sure Robin'll have a hard time staying awake on his drive home since his plane left early this afternoon.

Incidentally, Robin did the two-week intensive language program here in La Paz as a vacation - not a bad way to spend your vacation time if you're interested learning Spanish and getting what I consider I pretty authentic picture of Mexico. OK,
it's a little more intense than your standard Mexican beach vacation, but there's still plenty of time for the touristy stuff.

Tonight there's a party with a bonfire on the beach with my fellow students and some of our Mexican friends. An opportunity to sneak in some English conversation, although we're all mindful of how important it is to practice, practice, practice speaking Spanish.

As I said before, this Friday January 16th I plan to leave for Mazatlan by boat. It's a 16-hour trip. After that I'll bus to Guadalajara. Outside Guadalajara the cycling starts again - over mountains bigger than anything in the Baja - when I head for the
cities of Guanajuato and Morelia and points south. Well, that's it for now. It's time for me to go lest I miss tonight's dinner of homemade chicken enchiladas. Take care and God bless.


PS - Once again, please let me know if you want me to
remove your name from my email group, send messages to
another address, or add additional addresses.

December 28, 2003: Our arrival in La Paz, Baja California Sur 

Whoohoo! Buenos noches. Remo and I are finally in La Paz, Mexico, capitol of Baja California Sur. The last 3 days have been difficult. . .the type of days where I ask myself why the hell I'm doing what I'm doing.

After I wrote last I believe I was in Santa Rosalia - and like I said in my previous email, we didn't linger there. After arriving late in the afternoon we checked into a cheap motel for a badly-needed shower then proceeded to look for the essentials: food and a laundromat. The former was easier to find than the latter, and after finally finding the laundry we discovered it was closed. Then onto what we thought was a pizzeria that was. . .out of pizza. Imagine that, but it is Mexico, so hay no problema. Anyway, we did finally get to a laundry and located nourishment at a tiny place on a side street where I had a very stilted conversation in Spanish with a soldier named Gustavo. The next day we started late (laundry duty) and rode for Mulege. At Mulege we camped at a nice RV park called "the Orchards" for about $2.50 per night each.

The next two days after leaving Mulege we spent camped out on the beach at beautiful Bahia Concepcion (Conception Bay). I highly recommend it! Other than its sheer beauty, the main reason we rode for the Bahia was because of tentative plans we had to meet a couple of RVers we'd met a week or so earlier. Don't remember if I mentioned it earlier, but this was the RV couple - a Canadian man, Barry, and South African woman, Tony - who'd fed us a couple kilos of fresh crab when we last camped with them. They had some great stories but I don't have space to recount them here. Anyway, unfortunately, somehow after Mulege Remo and me forgot to stock up on food and water (¡ay, stupido!) but we did get lots of water and oranges from a bored-looking hotel manager on the way to the bay. We were grateful, though it was but a temporary fix.

Luckily Tony and Barry arranged for a ride back to Mulege so we could spend an extra day on the bay. The beauty of the place made the lack of running water and fragrant pit toilet worth the visit. Hehe.

After saying a heartfelt goodbye to Barry and Tony we pedalled on to Loreto, a nice, clean town and the most touristy place we'd seen yet. In Loreto Remo and I finally met the British couple I'd been playing email tag with since I left the Mojave desert. They were cycling west towards San Diego and I east toward Phoenix (that day they looked exhausted from cycling into a horrendous headwind while I was fresh and quick from a great tailwind - the next day was payback when I got hit with a headwind and hills). We also met another American cycling with the Brits who Remo and I had met the same day we met Tony and Barry in northern Baja.

Christmas day was spent in Loreto, generally resting up from hard days of cycling, re-provisioning, and washing clothes at the local lavenderia.

All 5 of us left Loreto on the 26th and made for the small agricultural town of Ciudad Insurgentes (think a miniature Bakersfield or Springfield, CA). The Brits, Beth and Jeremy, brought up the rear while Remo, myself and the American, Louie, arrived in Ciudad Insurgentes after a tough, 70-mile day of cycling over the Sierra de la Giganta ("Gigantic Mountains").

First on the agenda was finding a place to stay. I asked the owner of the mini-market we were stopped at if there was a hotel nearby. He replied there was - only a quick 200 meters down the road. It turns out there were two rooms for rent in the motel, both infested with crickets and the owner wanted far too much for them anyway. That night we ended up camping out in back of the restaurant where we ate dinner. Not a bad deal, really, since the caming was free, although the barking dog at 3am and the crowing roosters shortly thereafter made a good night's sleep little more than a sweet dream, so to speak.

But we didn't let the lack of sleep slow us down, because it was up early the next day to make 100 miles. Well, that was Beth, Jeremy's, and Louie's goal, and though the ride down the Baja wasn't a race, and Remo and I didn't like to start our cycling day too early, the others' goal turned into ours as well. But we came up 10 miles short. So, although Beth, Jeremy, and Louie started at 7am and Remo and I started 2 hours later, we caught Beth and Jeremy shortly after noon. Where was Louie? Up ahead, we were told, although not long after we caught Beth and Jeremy while stopped at a store refilling our water bottles along pedalled Louie complaning of severe gastrointestinal problems. After trying to cycle along with us for a couple kilometers, Louie finally said he couldn't go any further and decided to hitch a ride to La Paz (in our experience, hitching in Mexico is quite safe). We offered to stay with him til he got a ride but he said he'd be OK alone - as he rode swiftly for the nearest tree. Before that, however, we made sure he had plenty of food, water, and sunscreen.

Remo and I continued on, spotting Beth and Jeremy barely a mile up the road. Beth had broken a spoke on her back wheel. We told them about Louie and they rode back to meet him (I assume by this time Beth's wheel was fixed) after we agreed to leave a pile of stones next to any road we might turn off to camp so Beth and Jeremy might meet us. Shortly Remo and I began again, we heard a truck behind us and a light tap on the horn. . .Louie waved at us out the passenger side window and we knew he'd found a ride. Both of us were relieved. We hope to see him again in La Paz.

Last night, the night of the 27th, we camped out in the desert, still about 90 kilometers )55 miles) from La Paz. Finding firewood, once again, was no problem. Dead cactus branches burn quite well! New favorite camp dinner: can of refried beans heated in the fire, can of tuna with jalapeños, some red salsa ranchero sauce, all wrapped up in tortilla heated on stone by the fire. Incidentally, Beth and Jeremy never met us - we assumed they made the entire 100 miles.

This morning we started early - about 9am - after waking up at 7, striking tents, cooking, eating, changing into cycling clothes, organizing, and packing. Some long-distance cyclists are faster, but I don't know how, unless they don't cook, which could save up to 30 minutes. It mystifies me, but the more bicycle trekkers I meet the more I realize that everyone has a different style.

Anyway, after only about an hour after we started this morning a terrible wind came up. Side winds gusting up to maybe 40-50 mph almost blew us off the road several times. Add multiple long hills along with blowing, stinging sand, and well, it wasn't the best cycling day.

About 25 miles outside La Paz we caught Beth and Jeremy at a roadside cafe. They'd made the 100 miles the day before. Amazing. They were behind us plus they'd cycled 10 miles further than we had, which means they must have ridden in the dark. Not something I'd want to do in Mexico without a powerful front light, reflective clothing, and a rear flasher.

From the cafe, at the top of the hills west of La Paz, we could make out the ocean, plains, and surrounding hills to the east - along with a thick, brown haze. Dust. And dust was exactly what characterized our approach to the city: dust in my eyes and throat, dust on my skin, and dust between my teeth. But hey, we arrived, after 3 long days in the saddle from Loreto. And here I am, in a coffee shop/Internet cafe a stone's throw from the beach. My legs are tired and my tiredness kept at bay by a large cup of coffee but by tomorrow, after a good night's sleep, I'll be fine.

From what little I've seen so far I like La Paz, the jumping-off point for the Mexican mainland and points south. Will I stay in La Paz to take a two-week total-immersion Spanish course? Or will I cycle down to Cabo San Lucas and bus back to La Paz to catch the ferry? Or both? I'm not sure yet but I'm looking forward to checking it all out. I'll keep you up to date, but now it's time to sign off. Take care everyone. I'll write again soon.



P.S.: PLEASE let me know if you'd rather not receive my updates OR if you want me to send them to you at an alternate email address. Thanks.

December 20, 2003: Happy Holidays from Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur! 

An email I sent out to my email group in December 2003:

Hola from Mexico where the sun is hot and the deserts are dusty. Since I've written last my buddy Remo, a Swiss guy I met up w/ in Monterrey Bay, have ridden a couple hundred kilometers and crossed the border from Baja California Norte (BCN) to Baja California Sur (BCS). I'm doing my best to think in kilometers now rather than miles, since all distances in Mexico (probably just about everywhere except the U.S.) are measured that way.

Most of the time in the Baja we camp out in the middle of the desert - it's easy to do, since there are many dirt roads leading off the main road and most of the Baja is very sparsely populated. The challenge is making sure we have enough water, since after drinking what we need during the day, sometimes a gallon, we have to think about having sufficient water for cooking. The desert at night is cool, but not cold, dry, and the stars are clear and numerous. It's no wonder Mexico located its national observatory in the Baja.

The last two days have been difficult - headwinds and hills, and lots of kilometers - approximately 110 per day. Arriving in Santa Rosalia was excellent, though. The town is large by Baja standards, complete with boardwalk and great ocean views. We won't linger here, though, preferring to get to beautiful Bahia Concepcion - about 130 km south - before taking a day or two off. Today we got a very late start due to laundry duties, so our destination will be the seaside town of Mulege, about 40 miles (61 K) to the south.

That's it for now. I'll write again soon, and respond to your messages as soon as I can. Hope your holidays are fantastic. Take care and God bless.


November 17, 2003: Second "sick" day at Lake Isabella 

today i still felt sick. i packed up my tent and gear and rode a short distance to a local diner. the morning was cold and still quite windy. at the diner i ordered a large breakfast. i ate less than half of it and that i could barely get down, and i still felt exhausted. i had some good conversation with a few locals, including an old guy in a cowboy hat who, when i told him i'd cycled there from seattle, said, "that's a fur (far) piece." guess he meant it was a long way.

after breakfast i rode a few hundred yards back down the road to a motel, checked in, changed clothes, turned on the TV, and stayed in bed all day.

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