18 June 2009: Election tricks, graffiti & handwork
We did a quick tour around the central Plaza in Tlachichuca for some Wi-Fi search and some posing for pictures. I noticed a huge truck unloading hundreds of boxes with a growing crowd gathering around.
The boxes contained live chickens and were handed out to the villagers. The magazine salesman that had just treated us to some tacos viewed the scene with a look of disgust.
“It is the PRI, buying votes. People sell their right to vote for the short term benefit of a chicken. Afterwards they will endure another 4 years of suppression by the rich folks that run the party.”
Welcome to the Mexican elections, where votes are bought with live chickens!
We had already seen signs of the election everywhere. Mexicans in general seem to have a morbid fear of white surfaces, as every wall, of every house, compound or fence always contains graffiti, without exception.
But in the last months before the general elections in July, the majority of all walls have been taken over by the election marketeers promoting their candidates with populist slogans:
We cycled through fields of corn, where old famers were working without any motorized means. All waved when we passed them, on our way to one of the biggest downhills of our entire journey…
After rounding the Ciudad Serdan and climbing some minor hills, we reached the main highway again. The tollbooth attendants did not even see us and so we found ourselves back on the ‘Quota’!
From the highlands to sea level: 400m up, 2500m down in 133km!
After a quick roadside lunch we started our descent. It was not as relaxed as imagined beforehand as the road was busy and the shoulder filled with rocks and debris of tires and other car parts. Worst of all, we headed into a chilly thick fog, limiting the view in front and behind us to about 40 meters, so we had to brake all the way, wearing our reflective jackets for safety and our rain jackets for warmth.
The drop-off is so steep that when the highway had to be expanded due to increasing traffic, they basically had to built a new highway as the existing one could not be broadened in most places. The only times when there was some extra room, long emergency gravel pits were built, to save truckers going down with faulty brakes.Fortunately when going down we followed the original one, which went just straight down instead of up, down, around and over like the new variation.
During the downhill Ivana had not managed to avoid al exploded tires and her tires were punctured with several thin but strong parts of steel wire that strengthen the truck tires. Fixing tires on the side of a busy highway is not my favourite thing to do, but there was no other option.
We had lost enough altitude to be in the warmer air of the tropics again. We also got treated to our first heavy tropical rain shower. Actually, when thinking about it, it was the first rain since Central California, USA!
The slope eased, but still we were going down. The view of mighty Pico de Orizaba must be wonderful from this side, but all we could see behind us was a big pile of tropical clouds. We ended our day after 133km, about 4 flat tires and 2500m of downhills in a wet garden next to the highway, with mangos falling from the trees and chickens scaring Ivana.
19/20th June: the long ride to Cancun: World On a Truck
The downhill had ended and we rollercoastered to the junction of the toll roads. Ahead was Veracruz, we turned right towards the east, as we had to get to Cancun with a few days, so we needed some good place for our hitchhiking.
It took about 50km, but we found a gas station where we could ask refuelling pickups for a ride. Then things went fast.
The first ride took us about 200km down the road. We cycled a few minutes to a toll booth and got another ride quickly, which took us 60km. When we left them we noticed a big truck we had seen before. The friendly driver, who had waived at us when he had passed us before, asked us where we were going.
We replied that we were trying to get rides to get North-East.
“I am going to Cancun, want to join?”.
Cancun! It still was about 1100km/700miles away. We introduced ourselves properly to Francisco, a gentle man who runs a moving company from the border with Texas. He has a fleet of about 20 trucks and regularly drives himself as well. His truck was already half empty, with 2 loads left to drop off: one in Merida and one in Cancun!
We put our bikes in the back and joined him in the cabin for a long ride to the Yucatan peninsula. After a roadside dinner he parked the truck at a truck-stop and while he slept in the cabin, we slept in the back of the truck, inside the tent against the mosquitoes, but the sweaty heat kept us awake.
As the toll roads are too expensive, Francisco took the ‘libres’, meaning extra kilometres and much extra traffic. We slowly passed through the states of Tabasco & Campeche and ended up in Merida. The city is known for it beautiful centre, but we had to unload the possessions of a family that had worked in the US for a while in a less scenic part of town, where the roads were littered with trash.
Francisco hired a few guys at the entrance of the city to help us unload in the heat. After getting paid, they bought 6 bottles of beer, which were emptied and thrown out of the window before we could take them back to where we had picked them up.
It was time to cross the Yucatan state. There is a huge and expensive new quota, so we took the dark and windy libre instead. The road passes through every little town and we had to stop hundreds of times to carefully cross the many ‘topes’, speed bumps.
We had been rushing the past weeks, but now we had made it to Cancun a week earlier than planned. It took a huge load off our shoulders as we now had some time to check out the city and prepare the visit of our mums.
Francisco came back to his truck in the morning, and his friend Daniel invited us to come over and stay in his house. We had friends in Cancun, but as we had arrived so quickly, we had not been able to contact them and gladly accepted Daniel’s offer.
He not only put us up for the night, but also gave us some tours, which helped a lot to understand the city. We visited the touristic places as Francisco had to buy some jewellery for his wife and drank some “raspados”, shaved ice with sweet fruit flavours.
Cancun proper: the beach!
The city were we were is actually not the Cancun that is so famous. The downtown area is where the people live and go for their Sunday dance, the tourists go to a 25km/16mi long peninsula, totally covered with big expensive hotels, clubs and restaurants.
Daniel had worked in the hotel business before and took us to see the “Zona Hotelera”. We visited a few of the smaller public beaches, with did have easy access, but we also checked out a large hotel. It was something we will never be able to afford, but it was fun to pretend
Kowalski! Status report!
All is well. We will park our bikes soon as our mums will arrive and we will be semi-proper tourists for a while. But still there are plenty of things to show, so stay tuned…
We are busy in the Inn at the Spanish Garden Hotel. We fill the tub, relax on the huge bed, ask room service for a movie and some popcorn, skip the swimming pool today and enjoy the good life. BikeTravelling is not so bad after all…
Oh, I am sorry, I did not notice you reading this! Of course I meant to say: we battled against the wind, pitched our tent on a muddy slope and cooked up some salty pasta! But that would have been a lie:
So what happened with our budget? Well actually we did not pay a dime for these rooms. Last year I was approached my Matt from the Broughton Hospitality Magazine, a glossy magazine used in a small hotel company.
He had seen my photos on ExposedPlanet.com and wanted to use one in the magazine for the ‘1000 Words’ section, highlighting photojournalism (you can see the issue here, check page 10-11). My images can be used freely for educational and non-commercial purposes (Creative Commons license) but as this is a commercial magazine, a license/payment is required.
So I proposed to trade it for 2 nights in one of their hotels
And as matt was impressed with my other images, we agreed that after the USA part of the trip, I would write another article with images in exchange for a few more nights. I had kept it a bit secret for Ivana, and thought it would be a nice valentine surprise!
12 Feb 2009: Buellton – Santa Barbara, 73km
Santa Barbara is a great place to spend a few days and the arrangements with the hotel worked out perfectly. Our first night would be in the most luxurious hotel, The Inn at the Spanish Garden, which turned out to be a beautiful small boutique hotel with very friendly staff and a great included breakfast
To maximize the time in the hotel, we had left early and made it into Santa Barbara just after 13.00, 73km, not bad! We were helped by one hill with a giant descent, good wind in the back, busy roads and the thought of our big bed…
13 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara: from the Inn at the Spanish Garden – The Inn at East Beach, 3km
It was a tough day, riding 2 miles from one hotel to the other. Actually we got stuck in a giant downpour and arrived soaking wet! The next hotel was a lot more basic, but the friendly general Manager Frank made up for it (upon arrival he already brought us the remaining muffins from the breakfast) and the room was nice.
In the afternoon it cleared up and we went to explore the town on our bikes. SB is very touristy, but has a really nice old historic centre and the beach is lined with nice palm. It definitely is a nice place to visit for a few days.
14/15 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara – Santa Monica via a field past Oxnard.. 73+68km
We enjoyed another nice breakfast and then headed out through the nice outskirts of Santa Barbara. The route 101 was very busy, and there were huge traffic jams, but of course, on a bike you just cruise along. We passed Ventura, where we talked with a nice cyclist and continued along the coast. The wind was still friendly, which helped my knees a lot and they did not hurt much.
There are many military zones here and it would be difficult to find a place to pitch our tent. We found a place in a field close to the highway and so after 2 nights in a hotel, we were back on our comfortable mats!
The next morning the wind had turned on us and we had to pound the pedals hard; it only took us about 5 hours to get to the next hotel, in Santa Monica!
On our way we passed some of the rich areas like Malibu. It is actually quite ugly and the oversized houses are all built on places where they will slide of sooner or later, we could not quite see the point. It seemed more like a place to show off than actually enjoy, which was enforced by the 5 Ferraris that were parked near the beach.
Some guy saw me taking these photos and asked if I would want to trade Kowalski for one of these race monsters. I said no.
15-18 Feb 2009: Chillin’ in Santa Monica
We stayed 3 nights in the restored Georgian Hotel. We rode our bikes up to our room as it was the easies way to carry 6 panniers/bags per person, but then just left them there as we could see the place on foot.
We had a view of the beach and could see the sunset from our room on the 7th floor. It was a perfect place to check out the famous pier, the Boulevard and the pedestrian zone with musicians and street artists and doing some work on Lenny in the room.
We found an all you can eat Sushi buffet which -unlike the online reviews would make you believe- was actually pretty good
18-22 February: Into the heart of Los Angeles.
We had been invited by another Argentinean to stay with his family for a few days. Diego picked us up in the front of the hotel and took us over a concrete maze to his ‘hood. We were definitely in a poorer part of LA, but as Ivana remarked, it looked better and richer than many ‘good’ parts in Argentina.
We spent several days in LA and I even went to see Dr Man Tran, a Chinese Chiropractor/Acupuncturist; but like every other doctor so far, the treament he gave me felt good, but the inflammation in my knee never goes away.
Diego and his wife Claudia took great care of us. They refused to let us sleep on the ground and made us sleep in their bedroom. We had some great meals together and enjoyed the work he was doing for the local soccer teams. Small kids like these were putting their hearts and soul into becoming great at their sports, something what might give them enough self-esteem to keep them out of the gang-scene..
22 Feb 2009: Oscar night in Hollywood!
We did not care much for the expensive theme parks, but as an avid movie lover I was excited to find out we would be in town for the Academy Awards, better knows as Oscars. We went to take a look with the Sarraseca family and though we could not see any ‘star’ up close, we enjoyed the atmosphere and just the feeling of ‘being there’ as well as the giant pizza that Diego treated us to…
Next steps: back in a car to do some ‘parking’
We decided that it would be a shame to miss out on the South Western USA treasures and as time was limited, we decided to rent a car for a week to see the national parks… More photo’s and stories about horse racing and Horseshoe- and other canyons, snow and old friends, stay tuned, as we slowly catch up with reality
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