Archive for December, 2005

Loreto to La Paz – 4 days, 234 miles

Saturday, December 31st, 2005
The Road South of Loreto

   In Loreto, I discovered the firehouses. Firemen often have extra beds at their stations, and seem to be very friendly to gringos biking and talking about climate change. I stayed with the friendly bomberos (Spanish for firemen) in Loreto before heading south, following the road first along the shore and then southwest across Baja.
   Southwestern Baja is a large coastal plain, where a number of crops are grown by pumping water from deep underground. Fields of corn grow strangely next to fields of cacti.

This knive and this goat are about to meet.  This is where meat comes from.
Irrigated land from water deep underground.

   Stopping at a gas station, I met Rafael, who owned both the store and a small herd of goats. In exchange for a short English lesson, Rafael let me watch while he killed and gutted a young goat. I think Rafael got the better end of the deal.
   I stayed with the firemen in Ciudad de Constitución, where I watched a Jakie Chang movie dubbed in Spanish. I then rode two days back southeast across the peninsula to La Paz, the largest city in southern Baja.

The Bomberos of Constitucion
Cacti in the mist, between Constitucion and La Paz
La Paz Shoreline

   At the suggestion of a local, upon arriving to town, I went to the local news. In less than an hour, without a shower, I was live on television, answering questions about bicycling and climate change.

Chanel 10 Local News in La Paz
Los Bomberos de La Paz

   I am in La Paz now, where I will be for a few days trying to hitch a ride on one of the yachts sailing for the mainland. I am staying in the extra bunks with the generous and extremely friendly local firemen. The fireman sleep downstairs because, as they say, the upstairs is haunted by their former chief, who passed away 4 months ago. After saying words of appreciation for the generosity of firemen, I have slept comfortably upstairs, by myself.

Guerrero Negro to Loreto – 4 days, 268 miles

Monday, December 26th, 2005

   Leaving Guerrero Negro early on the 22nd, I biked two days across Baja to the town of Santa Rosalia, an old mining town, which, like the rest of Baja, is full of United Staters. The scenery has changed as I have ridden farther south, with the mountains becoming more abrupt (including some volcanoes), and the vegetation turning into tall cactus forests.

A Volcano north of Santa Rosalia
Santa Rosalia, a former French mining town
Lots of bike touris in Santa Rosalia

   Baja California is one of the places in the world where bicycle tourists congregate. I have seen cyclists from Holland, England, the United States, and Mexico biking the peninsula and carrying camping gear. Cylists are still few enough, though, that it is exciting to talk to every one I meet.
   The next two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas, I rode with two Mexican cyclists, Áaron and Rick, who are professors of electronics at the University ITESM in Cerétaro. We celebrated Christmas Eve and morning on a beach looking across Concepcion Bay, where we cooked dinner, shared biking stories, and then proceeded to teach me Mexican slang.

Rick and Aaron
Baia de Concepcion, we camped just down there
Merry Christmas Eve

   I am now in the town of Loreto, where I met with the director of the Loreto campus of the University Autónima de Baja California Sur. This campus specializes in eco-tourism, and students are to learn about the natural areas surrounding Loreto. As it is vacation time, I did not get to meet with any students. I did, though, talk with the director, Sam Salinas, about the problem of obtaining water in Baja California. I will revisit this topic, and how it relates to climate change, in my next entry.

Concepcion Bay
The Cacti are big here
Merry Christmas

Ensenada to Guerrero Negro – 8 days, 432 miles

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

   The past week has been a long ride through northern Baja, camping on roadsides in sparsely populated places.

Departing Ensenada
Jesus, Mary, and roadside trash

   Leaving Ensenada seven days ago, I charted a course east across the peninsula to avoid traffic on the main highway. As I biked across Baja’s mountains, I was struck by two items ubiquitous on the roadside: crosses marking where a driver has lost his or her life, and trash. A strange, common site is a cross with trash littered at its base. The trash is disgusting, but the crosses make me uneasy, and I watch every car that passes me in the rear view mirror.

Future San Felipe Development
View of San Felipe

   After two and a half days, I arrived in San Felipe, a small town on the Gulf of California that is a strange mix of a Mexican fishing village and an American beach-front real estate market. Signs proclaim, in English, new lots for sale or under construction while most people in town speak no English. The people I talked to said they liked the influx of Americans, as they said it provided work. I cooked my dinner on a vacant lot overlooking the sea, and, when the near-full moon rose, took off south again on my bike.

Juan, Eloy, and Brando on their first tour
Campsite the next morning

   Amazingly, I soon ran into Brando, Eloy, and Juan, three teenagers from San Felipe on their ‘first ever’ bike tour. With backpacks they had purchased two days ago and bikes they borrowed from one of their fathers, they were out to camp for the night. I tried to convince them to ride to Argentina with me, but they decided to stop only a few miles down the road, where we camped, built a fire, and taught me Mexican slang.
   The next three days, south of San Felipe, were slow hard days on a poorly maintained, little used road along the rocky shore. The second of these three days, five cars passed me, and I camped with a hitchhiker from Ohio who failed to get a ride and had walked all day. The third day, only one car passed me as the road climbed into the mountains. On the second and third day, I averaged 5mph.

The road south of Puertocitos
Sunrise from camp
Bumpy road in rear view mirror

   Rejoining the main highway, I have coasted two easy days south, enjoying pavement and a tailwind. I am now in Guerrero Negro, in the state of southern Baja California (‘Baja California Sur’), where I have just washed my clothes and enjoyed a shower.

Roadside crosses, north of Guerro Negro
Accident last night, everyone was ok, north of Guerrero Negro

Centro Patria Educativo and my message in Mexico

Monday, December 12th, 2005

   Today I visted my first school in Mexico, a private school near Ensenada where most students spoke English about as well (ok ok, better) than I speak Spanish. I gave one presentation in English and one (!) in Spanish. I encourage you to click on the movie on the left.

Centro Educativo Patria - Stop Global Warming
Centro Educativo Patria

   Right now, I am embarrassed to be from the United States. This past week Montreal held international talks about what to do after the Kyoto treaty expires. The representative for the United States, at the critical end of the talks, stood up and walked away. This is disgraceful, as the United States uses one quarter of the world’s fossil fuels.
   Stopping global warming requires the countries of the world to work together – both rich and poor. Here is why: consider a situation where the United States continues using fossil fuels but Canada imposes limits on fossil fuels. Businesses, finding fossil fuels cheaper than alternatives, will move to the United States. This would both hurt Canada’s economy and cause the United States to emite more carbon dioxide, partially offsetting Canada’s efforts.
   Here in Mexico, my message is that we must all work together, as a world, to solve this problem. I also share that there are many people in the United States who are doing something about global warming even if our president is not. I am proud that my governer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is trying to pass legislation that would help California reduce its emissions. There are mayors across the United States that have made pledges. I also share stories of student initiatives such as urally.
    I am sensitive that I cannot tell people in Mexico what to do, and that there are many problems perhaps more pressing than climate change here in Mexico. Nonetheless, even if the United States has to act before Mexico, eventually, especially in the lifetimes of the students I am visiting, we will have to work together with Mexico to reduce emissions.
   This is my message. (Of course, the students are often a bit more interested in passing around my home-made camping stove or helping me out with my Spanish.)

San Diego to Ensenada – 3 days, 130 miles

Monday, December 12th, 2005

   After a week of preparation, I left San Diego at noon on Saturday, riding east through hilly suburbs. I took inland roads to avoid the busy highway along the coast near Tiajuana. As night came, I camped off the side of the road so that I could cross the border the next morning.

The Border
Dry Hills south of Tecate
Family I stayed with first night

   Bicycles, it seems, are not stopped when traveling into Mexico (see movie on the left), and I felt just a little silly for waiting for a week to get my passport. Biking through Tecate, I noticed immediately that Mexicans use far less gas per person than Americans – every car that passed me had at least 3 or more people sitting inside.
   Biking the dry hills south of Tecate, I passed through many small and fairly uninhabited valleys before reaching a valley of vineyards near the coast. As dark approached, I asked local residents if there was a place I could pitch my tent. Julio quickly invited me to stay at his house, which he shares with his wife, daughter, and parents, and which they built themselves 20 years ago. They spoke no English. My Spanish is rapidly improving.

Famil I stayed with the second night

   The next day was a short ride to Ensenada, where I checked the internet to see which school I was going to visit (from email), and then biked to Centro Educativo Patria. Afterwards, the prinicipal as well as the partial owner of the school (they are married) generously invited me to stay at their ranch. At the ranch, although they only recently purchased a refrigerator and use electricity sparingly, the family lives well. They make their own wine and olive oil, laugh often, and managed to feed a hungry bicyclist extremely well.
   I am fearful of the number of postcards/thank you cards I will have to send down the road….