Sunday, 20 January 2013

Adios Baja California, hola Mazatlan

Some of my last views of rugged Baja California on the ferry to Mazatlan.

Enjoying a different form of transport to the bike.
I caught the ferry from Baja over to the Mazatlan on the mainland on the 6th of January. I had hoped to head a bit earlier but it was very heavily booked due to the time of year. Nick had decided to chance his luck on a yacht headed for Puerto Vallarta a few hundred km further south of Mazatlan. I wasn't the only touring cyclist on the ferry though as Andrew Flansaas, one of the Alaskan Pan American cyclists was also on board. Andrew was heading ahead of the rest of his gang in order to meet his parents for a week down in Puerto Vallarta.

I had become very relaxed travelling through Baja as it is very user friendly for a touring cyclist and the people were extremely friendly but traveling over to the mainland was another step into the unknown. I didn't know much about Mazatlan except that it was a popular tourist destination, had a pretty old town and that it was a city in the state of Sinaloa, the Sinaloa drug cartel being one of the biggest cartels in Mexico!

It did not take me long to try out the pool!
Andrew had told me that he had been kindly offered a place to stay in Mazatlan and said that I could come over to the house if I wanted to. Not being one to turn down a possible place to lay my head I followed Andrew from the port to the location he had been directed to. Even though it was less than an hour on the bike we had worked up a decent sweat with the warm day and the extremely steep up hill to get to the house which overlooked the old town. We were welcomed by the very friendly Gloria who showed Andrew and myself around the house. Wow. This was not any old place to lay my head but a incredible holiday home with beautiful views of  the sea and the city complete with a swimming pool! A short time later I got to speak with Bill Hurley who very generously told me that I was more than welcome to stay. He didn't have to offer me twice. I have had the privilege to stay in some lovely places and beautiful homes on this trip so far but Bill Hurley's pad in Mazatlan certainly takes the biscuit! Thank you sincerely Bill!

Brendan and Gwen on our way to Stone "Island",
a relaxed beach area of Mazatlan.
Gloria told me that she was friends with an Irish couple in Mazatlan. Keen to meet my first Irish in Mexico I was glad when Gwen O'Toole phoned to arrange a coffee in the old town. Gwen and her husband Brendan were headed to Guadalajara for a few days shortly after I met them so we bid our goodbyes as I thought I would be long gone by the time they got back. Suffice to say when you've spent five months mostly in a tent and you might have to go days at a time without a shower Bill's palace was a very difficult place to leave! So when I was still in Mazatlan almost a week after I had said my goodbyes to the O'Tooles they kindly treated me to a couple of more days out. (Drinks are on me next time you guys are back in the Poitin Stil!)

Olas Altas - part of the Malecon by the old town
Cathedral by night
Street in the old town.
As I had heard Mazatlan has a beautiful old town which was only a steep 5 minute walk down the hill from the house. I really enjoyed getting to know the old town as well taking trips further down the malecon to some of the more touristy areas. Mazatlan's malecon, which is a kind of beach walk way, is the longest in Mexico and stretches for miles.
The Malecon stretching right along the bay
One of many beautiful sunsets I witnessed while in Mazatlan. 
Nick, with whom I had cycled Baja turned up in Mazatlan after a few days. His boat to Puerta Vallarta had turned into something of a nightmare crossing with the engine going on the first day and the main mast breaking a day or two later so I think he was quite happy to step back onto dry land even it was Mazatlan and not Puerta Vallarta where he had originally planned to boat to.

It wasn't all lounging by the pool. Looking pretty red faced after a run up to the local lighthouse.
One of the many large statues along the Malecon

Mazatlan is famous throughout Mexico as being the best place for Carnival (/Mardi Gras). Before I left you could see the city starting to gear up for this massive street party with lots of giant statues dotted along the Malecon and in other parts of the city.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Chingonas and the final stretch of Baja to La Paz

More beautiful scenery as we make our way along the coast before turning inland again.
As myself and Nick were finally pulling out of Loreto we bumped into 3 Alaskan Pan American cyclists. I had heard about the guys from different people but this was the first time that I actually met these bearded folk. We exchanged details, had a quick comparing of notes and said that we would keep in touch.

No camping past this stone wall, so we found out!

Our first night camping outside of Loreto didn't go particularly smoothly. We had decided to camp in dunes by a lovely beach that had a large luxury hotel at one end. As it turned out we were too close to the hotel for the security guards liking and just after dark he came to move us. After a bit of toing and froing with the guy which involved 3 visits to our camp between asking his supervisor and then the supervisor asking his boss we were told to move. Even though this was quite the pain in the neck having to pack up our tent after dark the guy couldn't have been nicer about it. "Bill, malas noticias" were the words I didn't want to hear on his third visit to our camp - Bill, bad news! We only had to walk our bikes less than 200 metres past a certain wall where it was then okay to camp. The friendly guy had also explained to me about the local wild life in the dunes. He had arrived with a stick in hand which he reassured me was for "Los serpientes" When I inquired with my pigeon Spanish that these serpientes (snakes) weren't dangerous were they, he responded in no uncertain terms... "Si, muy, muy perlgroso" - Yes very, very, dangerous! So bears were not the only wild life with which I need to concern myself on the trip.

Some decent climbing to make our way away from the coast.

Beautiful mountain landscape

The next few days brought us away from coast and into the desert centre of the Baja peninsula again with some more beautiful landscape and some incredible sunsets.

Cooking up a storm before the sun goes down.

New Years Eve in the exotic Ciudad Constitucion was an interesting one. Being on a tight budget and still a few days cycle from La Paz (one of the few big towns in Baja), myself and Nick had discussed the merits of bringing the New Year in at some random wild camping spot in the middle of the desert or to stop at whatever nearest town we got to on the day. So Ciudad Constitucion had the privilege of being the location to bring in the New Year for 2013 and one of my more unusual New Years Eves too. We hit the town at about 10pm ready for a rare night out but slightly concerned by the lack of revellers to be seen out and about. Having quizzed various passers by who all told us that things wouldn't start until much later we were still surprised to hear that some places would not even be opening until midnight or after?! We spent over an hour in a bar that was fully decorated with balloons, with most of the tables reserved but where myself and Nick were literally the only people in the place apart form the bar man. Having spent too long staring at the door hoping and praying for people to walk in we decided to call it quits as we needed to cycle the next day. We brought the New Year in on the deserted streets on our way back to our not so fancy hotel with our tail between our legs!
On our way back a car drove by with some blaring music which is the norm in these parts. It pulled up and some girls shouted out the window at us! I shouted shouted back "Feliz Año Nuevo" and a minute later the girls DEMANDED that we get into the car with them so being polite gentlemen we obliged. My mammy had told me not to get into cars with strangers but despite being pretty excitable the girls did not seem overly threatening. As we had learnt to our peril in Loreto on Christmas Eve, when trying to locate the source of blaring music in the hope that it would be a busy bar, it is not uncommon for people to drive around towns with blaring music and essentially have the party in their car. Myself and Nick had finally made it to the big time as we cruised the streets of Ciudad Constitucion in a party car ....Aaaaoooouu!! Among other things the girls gave us a crash course in Mexican slang. The catch phrase for the night was "Chingonas" which roughly translates to Bad Asses! After cruising the streets in the party car and learning the essentials of Mexican slang we eventually went to a night club which quickly filled up, when I say quickly, it was probably about 2am by this stage. Anyway despite the very quiet start we had a great New Years Eve, Constitucion-style with some Mexican bad asses!

Almost the end of the road for me in Baja. 
Nick fixing one of many punctures.

A few days later we made it into La Paz, our last stop in the spectacular first chapter of Mexico coming down Baja California. On our day into La Paz poor Nick suffered the full wrath of the Baja cacti getting about 5 punctures.

Kanaan, one of the Alaskan cyclists testing out an alternative to the bike.

La Paz seemed to be quite the magnet for travelers and among others we ran into the Korean and Alaskan cyclists again, numerous motor bikers and a US/Brazilian couple who were driving from Chicago to Brazil.

Shark on the Malecon made out of old plastic bottle to raise awareness about pollution in the sea