Bienvenidos a Central America

 Utopia Hostel in Semuc, Champey.
Utopia Hostel in Semuc, Champey.

I’m sitting at a long, raw edge wood table. One designed for communal meals. Running along it’s center is a living garden. Plants grow out of it where centerpieces would be. Across the table, I can see Utopia Hostel’s bar. Wooden swings support coffee-drinkers and afternoon readers. Signs for yoga and chocolate tours adorn the walls. Looking up, I can see the balcony above that hosts an open air dormitory, and somewhere up there, is our bedroom nook. Behind me, and all around the open common area under Utopia’s roof, are mountains. Lush, green, tropical jungle. Oh, and Josh is here too. Quietly reading and soaking up the meditative and calming music that plays overhead. This is Guatemala.

The quiet here did not come without a price. The road from Raxuha to Semuc Champey (our current riverside destination) was only 83km, but the ride took us 4 hours. We were spoiled with asphalt for the first 45 minutes of our ride before the universe shook her fist. “Not so fast, Havekosts. Let’s see how badly you want to make it to Semuc.” The road quickly turned into a one-lane, gravel, boulder-and-rock-infested road, with nothing but dust and jungle for 60km.

These are the roads Josh often dreamed about before we left. They are the roads I couldn’t have imagined, and the roads I now dread. Since leaving the United States, we have been fortunate to have beautifully paved roads, few construction issues, and hardly any obstruction. This morning alone, we encountered relentless twists and turns, loose rocks so large we were forced to move at snail’s pace, and hills so steep I feared I’d tumble over Josh in front of me. With every turn of our wheels, we bounced and shook on the bike. Our heads rattled inside our helmets, and our heels pressed firmly against our foot pedals to stop us from tumbling forward. In the next instant, we’d be heading uphill, craning our torsos forward. As the sun crept higher, so did the temperature. At such a slow pace, we had no wind to relieve us from the heat, and our limbs quickly became sticky surfaces for our gear to suck on. 

Twice, we were stopped by men holding ropes across the road. They asked us for a fee to let the rope down, informing us they were paving the road. When Josh expressed concern that they were taking all our cash, and that we may encounter more “tolls” ahead, they promised us there were no more besides them for the next 60km. Spoiler alert, they lied.

 This is a picture of one of the BETTER rocky roads. I was too terrified to pull my phone out and take a picture of the really scary ones.
This is a picture of one of the BETTER rocky roads. I was too terrified to pull my phone out and take a picture of the really scary ones.

The final stretch to get to our hostel was brutal. We dug our wheels into the road and our heels into our foot pedals, doing everything in our power to slow the inevitable steep decline into the Semuc Champey valley. When the road ended and we had arrived, I felt my knees begging me to quit. My neck and head demanded time away from my helmet. My heart felt heavy, and I held back tears. I don’t know why, but I wanted to cry when I dismounted the bike. I felt defeated by the road. As if my body had taken a beating. I just need a shower and some food. That’s all. I’ll be okay.

Our room wasn’t ready, and there was no WiFi in the common area. It bothered me how helpless I felt without the internet. How reliant I was on instantly being able to check in with the world. How in moments when I feel physically and mentally worn down, all I want to do is reach for my phone and browse the worldwide web. I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to think at all. I just wanted to shower and lay down without a complaint, without showing Josh how difficult the road had been for me, without showing defeat. 

Once our room was ready, I planned to do a quick workout on the yoga deck. A little movement will help. I’ll stretch my hips and strengthen my muscles to protect my knees. This will be good. This will turn my day around! I felt bloated and dehydrated, but I did the workout. My toe, which has slowly turned into a severely concerning bunion over the last few years, was killing me. Nonetheless, I did my stretching. Nothing would prevent me from turning irritation and angst into good vibes only, bro!

When I was finished I went to find Josh, who was up in the only part of the property where the WiFi works. Signs are plastered around the single bench and foot stool: “Zombies Ahead,” and “Get off Facebook, go play!” He was downloading a movie for us to watch tonight when all the rest of Utopia went to sleep. He asked me how I was doing, and all I could say was, “I think I’m going to cry.” He sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “That’s ok buddy, it’s ok to cry.” For a few moments, I just cried. I didn’t know why. But somehow, it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to know why. I didn’t need to unpack it, and Josh didn’t try to fix it. We just sat there quietly while I cried. 

 Zombie Zone
Zombie Zone

Then, with an ease I don’t normally feel when I’m upset, I started to talk. I told him I felt beat up and exhausted. That my body can’t take multiple ride days in a row. That the scarcity I feel when I ‘m not sure we’ll have food to eat or a place to sleep reeks havoc on my mental state. That my toe was pissing me off and though I hated admitting it, I wished we had WiFi. That not being able to check my e-mail or look at Instagram made me feel disconnected from the world. As if something important would happen and I would miss it. That I was afraid of letting him ride alone when I go to New York for a few days in March. I said I needed to slow down. That the pressure of needing to get to Guatemala City, where my flight to NYC is booked from, is making us ride faster and more often than I can handle. So freely these words came out. And so did the tears. And I felt no shame or embarrassment for being upset. For the trivially minimal concerns or the really big and important ones.

Josh validated everything. He told me that my feelings were a sign. It was good to say them out loud. That maybe the universe was trying to tell me something; that we were moving too fast and my emotions were the signal to slow down. That maybe we should, and could, revisit our plans down the literal and figurative road. I was comforted by this, and realized he was right. The physical angst I feel at times, the need to turn my day around or change my feelings, these are cues from something in me that is trying to communicate something. It’s my gut, begging to be heard. It’s my intuition, whispering to listen up and pay attention, because something isn’t right. 

 Playing  The Gift of Enlightenment  at Utopia Eco Hotel.
Playing The Gift of Enlightenment at Utopia Eco Hotel.

The rest of the day we relaxed. Josh took the restorative yoga and meditation class on the yoga deck, and I wrote. We met a couple from Belgium and ate family dinner with them. The man told us he had bicycled in 23 countries, and wanted to pick our brains as he planned to ride from Alaska to South America in May. Josh offered his parents’ place as a resting spot along the way, and he happily took down Ken’s information. We split a special brownie and played a board game called The Gift of Enlightenment by candlelight, and laughed painfully over the “craftsmanship” of a Quaker Oats packaged cookie. We fell asleep with the rest of Utopia around 10:00pm, bellies full from our meal and sore from our laughter. 

 At the yellow bridge where we met our guides for the river float home from Semuc Champey.
At the yellow bridge where we met our guides for the river float home from Semuc Champey.

The next day we hiked 45 minutes to Semuc Champey National park and swam in the natural pools. We tubed an hour and a half back down the river—sometimes a gentle ride and others rapid enough that our guides shouted “butts up!” so we wouldn’t graze our behinds on the rocks below.

I am proud of how much both Josh and I have grown in the last few months. How we have strengthened our partnership and broadened our perspective on life. How we have learned to become more flexible and adaptable while still setting boundaries and getting our needs met. I feel like I am coming into myself. I feel like an adult. An adult, but one who remembers to play and have fun. One who believes that being an adult is not about being serious, but about taking life by the horns and directing it with intention, gratitude, and ease. 

I suppose I could have used this blog post to update you on where we’ve been since Bacalar. How we crossed into Belize and had to pay once again for the tourist cards we flew all the way to Tijuana to get stamped. How we were perplexed by Belize’s heterogeneous population and unclear about the culture. How we rode to the Guatemalan border in only a week and were met by the friendliest faces and gleeful smiles. That we magically were able to meet up with friends from home, because the timing of our trips happened to line up just so. That we spent a day in the largest park of Mayan pyramids we’ve ever witnessed, just an hour from the small island town of Flores in northern Guatemala. 

But for me, memories don’t work that way. They somehow fail to fall into a chronological timeline of events, recalling themselves one by one for me to remember them by. My memories are like vivid dreams. I remember the feelings. The heat or cold and the way my body felt. The sound of someone’s voice, or the color of the grass. Ask any of my friends: I am terrible at remembering the details or history of events. But a day that holds a story? That I remember. Today was one of those memories. I didn’t think today would be a day to remember, but most of these dreamlike memories aren’t. They’re days I never planned to keep track of, and then something happens, and suddenly, it’s a day I will never forget.   

Full Moon Ceremony

We are currently two of three guests at a vegan yoga retreat center just outside of Corozal, Belize. Last night, Niss, the Canadian owner of the retreat center, invited us to join her in a full moon ceremony. To prepare ourselves, she had instructed us to journal each morning and night. In the journals she provided, we were to write a gratitude list each morning and evening to help raise our vibrations. In addition, a list of things that no longer served us: our purge list.

By 6:30pm, the sun had retired her duties to the moon, trusting that in place, the moon’s fullness would light the tropical flatlands surrounding the resort. She was right. As Josh and I anxiously ascended the spiral staircase to the yoga deck, journals in hand and wonder at heart, it was as though the sky was shining a giant flashlight down on us.

 The stairs to the yoga deck at Serenity Retreats.
The stairs to the yoga deck at Serenity Retreats.

We sat in a circle, just four of us present. We drank cacao—brewed as the mayan gods had brewed and sipped as they had sipped. A heart opener, Niss informed us. The taste was bitter, but just sweet enough to cut the trace of cayenne sprinkled in.

We shared our purge lists, one by one burning the pages in the fire in the center. We watched what no longer served us engulf quickly in flames, then sink, lifeless, in the water bowl beside them.

Afterwards, Niss invited us to share what we hoped to manifest this year. Even though this was not tradition for a full moon ceremony, she said, she liked to offer it just for fun.

Josh and I stumbled to put words to our dreams. Tumbled over the language of what we wanted, unable to find specificity or concreteness in our abstractive futures. I said something vague like, “deep connection with others,” and to the same effect Josh threw in, “creativity” and “playfulness.” Niss asked us point-blank, “yeah, but what do you want?”

It hadn’t occurred to me—and maybe to Josh either—that manifesting is as simple as saying what you want out loud. The word “manifest” stirs up such mystical and abstract imagery for me. In turn, I feel like what I want to manifest must omit equally mysterious connotations. But when I think of the last thing I manifested, it wasn’t something enigmatic like “spiritual rejuvenation” or “love and harmony.” It was absolutely concrete: “Josh and I are going to ride our motorcycle to South America in 2019.”

There is nothing cryptic about that. Hell, there’s a date attached to it! Josh said to me on countless occasions over the years that he wanted to ride his motorcycle to South America. He didn’t know it then, but he was manifesting. He was putting his dream out there. Off paper, out of his head, and into the world. I absorbed it. I remembered.

In 2017 when Josh and I got married, I said in my vows that I would ride with him to South America. I said it out loud. In front of 150 people: my family, my friends, and to the man I love most in this world: everyone I knew that could hold me accountable. I didn’t realize it then, but I too, was manifesting.

The energy that catapulted us to truly manifest this idea—this thing we both had said out loud, that we had told friends and loved ones we would someday do—the energy that catapulted us was the belief that we had no other time to do it but now. I had just left my graduate school program, and with my goals and plans washed away, there was no better time to go than that moment. Josh was unhappy in his career, afraid he would never get out and discover his true passion: there was no other time to leave than that moment. We had a little bit of money saved up, but not enough to buy a house back home and be with our friends and family. In truth, we had nothing to lose.

It was then we attached a date to our dream. We started telling people that in January of 2019, we were riding our motorcycle to South America. Suddenly, there was a deadline to actually do this thing we had only ever fantasized about. We had to save money. We had to buy gear. We had to research countries and roads and border crossings. We had to soothe our parents’ worry and tell our friends repeatedly that “yes, yes we are really doing this.”

People had such mixed feelings about our trip. “You guys are crazy.” “I wish I had done that when I was your age!” “Omg, it’s so dangerous though! Don’t you watch the news?” “I wish I had the balls.” The funny thing is, we didn’t care what other people thought. The ball was already rolling, we had already decided, and we didn’t know it then, but the universe had picked up what we were putting down, and the manifestation had begun. We couldn’t have interrupted that flow of energy if we tried, and we would be damned if we let anyone else get in the way.

So when Niss asked us what I actually wanted, I froze. I don’t know, I thought. This is the first time in my life where my whole future is so uncertain. I don’t even know what city we’re riding to tomorrow. We just haven’t planned that far. I’ve always had something to look ahead to: a paper due in school, a vacation from work, a wedding, this trip. Something. But now, the most we plan ahead is what our next meal will be and what hotel we’re staying in tomorrow.

Immediately, Niss started throwing ideas our way. “You could travel and teach something as you go!” “What about van-life? Or an RV! That could be amazing.” “How about three months at a time in one place, then you go home?” I felt myself nodding and smiling, but not really loving anything she was saying. I didn’t want to live in an RV. I don’t really know what I would teach, and though I loved teaching years ago I’m not sure I feel it’s my time to do that again. What do I want?

I looked at Josh, something I often do when I’m hoping he has an answer for my uncertainty. He looked at me like he usually does, likely thinking, Rach I know just as much as you. I thought about our life. Our future. Our family. Our home. I miss it. I miss being able to see my parents on the weekends. I miss getting a beer with my brother and laughing so hard my head hurts. I miss girl’s night out and clean Pacific air and trips to Vancouver to see my cousins.

But god do I love to travel.

I love waking up with the sun. I love sleeping in because I have nowhere to be. I love eating when I’m hungry instead of at clocked lunch hour. I love falling asleep at 7:30pm because we rode in the heat all day and I’m exhausted. I love that I get to exercise my creative muscles, taking so many photographs that my arms hurt from holding the camera to my face all day. I love sharing our experiences with people back home. Transporting them here with stories, so that they too can feel the heat of the Belizean sun or taste the tangy ripeness of a starfruit plucked straight from the tree. And oh, how I love to write. I love putting words together to create an image of what I’m thinking. I love using those images to weave stories together, creating a tapestry—a map of all the experiences I’ve had that I hope never to forget.

So what do I want? If I love what we are doing, but my heart misses my home, how do I reconcile that? How do I have both?

I asked myself that question last night as Niss spun ideas. I lost myself in my own thoughts about what I wanted to manifest this year. Eventually, Niss’s voice grew louder and her face came back into focus, and I realized I had missed her last string of new ideas. Coming to, I let myself say out loud what I was thinking.

“I just had a thought. I do know what I want. I want a house in Seattle that is home base for me and Josh. We’re there often, but when we aren’t we rent it on Airbnb. The rest of the time, we travel, and I write. A lot. And take photos. I just have this belief that I can’t have both.” Niss looked at me, completely astounded. I instantly regretted sharing so much, wishing I could “unsend” the words that had so foolishly spilled from my mouth. Surely she was about to tell me that my dream was too lofty, too pretentious, too selfish. Instead, she leaned forward, as if she was about to share with me the secrets of the universe: some powerful full moon prophecy that I was about to be lucky enough to receive.

“Rachel. You can have anything you want.”

I laughed a little, not sure if she was serious at first, but also unnerved by how much I believed her. A habitual guilt rose up inside me, attempting to thrash the new information from solidifying as belief. That’s selfish, it whispered. You’re privileged, it reminded. How dare you believe you can have anything, when so many cannot.

Anslee, the fourth person in our circle last night, had been quietly observing our interaction. Gently, she lifted her chin and furrowed her brow, as if inquisitively pondering my situation. “I once had a client who had been trying to get pregnant for 2 years. In our first session together, I discovered that in her past life, she had died in childbirth. We had to work through the subconscious belief that childbirth would ultimately lead to her death. Three days after our third session, she called me. She was pregnant.”

Her story, one that at another time in my life I would have classified as “completely woo-woo,” hit me. The human body is absolutely amazing. Our entire physiological system is designed to keep us alive. We are built for survival. Our brain communicates to our body if we are unsafe, and our body responds: fight, flight, freeze. If our brain believes we are in danger, it will do anything in its power to protect us. If this woman’s brain believed pregnancy would lead to death, isn’t it feasible it would tell her body to do anything it could to avoid pregnancy?

I let this sink in. I’ve been in therapy. I went to graduate school to become a therapist. I did behavioral and cognitive therapy with clients for six months in community mental health. I know about how our beliefs get in the way of our happiness, of us being productive, of us behaving in a socially acceptable manner. But I had never let this concept sink so deeply as to see it at such a fundamental, human, biological level: When my brain believes something, it will create or stop energy to manifest that belief.

If I want to go after what I want, I have to let go of the beliefs that stand in my way. I have to let go of the belief that I can’t have whatever I want. I have to let go of the belief that it matters what other people think of my life. When Josh and I said we were riding our motorcycle to South America, we believed we could, and we didn’t give two shits if someone else thought it was outlandish or impossible. And look at where we are. We are in Belize, after three months of riding our motorcycle through Mexico. I can count on one hand how many times I had ridden on the back of the motorcycle before we left. We spoke ten words of Spanish, were vegans heading into meat and dairy territory, and hadn’t the slightest idea what cities we wanted to visit. But here we are.

The truth is, I do know what I want. Sitting here, writing this, I looked to my left where Josh is sitting neatly in a hammock reading his book. I wanted to say it out loud to him, to make it real before I put it on the page. “Josh. In 2020, we’re going to buy a house. In Seattle. And we’re going to keep traveling.” Gingerly, and without moving a muscle, he looked at me and said, “Rach. In 2020, we’re going to buy a house. In Seattle. And we’re going to keep traveling.

Thanks Mexico, We’ll Be Coming Bacalar

This blogpost comes with free investment advice likely to quadruple your money, but you have to read the entire thing and its long! 

I drove out of Spokane,WA exactly three months ago on a motorcycle with a freshly repaired engine case. That takes either a lot of trust in a mechanic or an extremely optimistic worldview. We now find ourselves more than 4000(check?) miles down the road in Bacalar, Mexico so I suppose sometimes the optimism helps.

 Lunch on the vista after deciding we needed to turn back to San Cristobal.
Lunch on the vista after deciding we needed to turn back to San Cristobal.

Backing up to where Rachel left off in San Cristobal. We had a false start out of town one day on our way to Villahermosa. We chose Villahermosa as a default destination because the highway between San Cristobal and Palenque (where we wanted to go) had been reported as a dangerous stretch of road with a lot of robberies. As we left SC to ride the scenic road to our default stop, the motorcycle was again running very hot and on the twisty mountain roads with slow speeds and steep inclines we were quickly overheating. Frustrated, I pulled the bike over and had a temper tantrum while Rachel watched on. We decided to try to push on anyway but in my frustration I missed a turn and we wound up a little over an hour off course. The day had been slated to be one of our longest of the trip, and after the heating issues and the misdirection we both decided to return to San Cristobal and regroup. On the way back, we stopped at a vista and had lunch and had to laugh at ourselves- clearly we were not supposed to ride that day. The ride did take us through some very scenic indigenous areas so we were both happy to have ventured out into the mountains even though we wound up back at the same exact Airbnb we had just left!

My mental health counselor suggested a day off from thinking about motorcycle engine heat, so we had a fun day in San Cristobal- my highlight was eating a fig they preserve in syrup. It was the sweetest thing I can remember tasting and so good! We set out again for Villahermosa a couple days later, this time not through the scenic mountain road but along the highway. Rachel woke up with another round of food poisoning symptoms but thought she could tough out the journey anyway. By hour three of the ride, she was in full fever mode and the temperature outside was over 90F. It was miserable to watch and no doubt orders of magnitude more miserable to endure, but there weren’t options for cutting the day short. We made it to Villahermosa and recuperated for two nights. Villahermosa (Beautiful Village in Spanish) is said by some locals to be “The City of Two Lies”. At 300,000 people, it’s not a village and it’s not beautiful! Can’t argue.

At this point in the journey we were gearing up to ride east toward Tulum. We intended to split this into two days, but both would be long. Rachel wasn’t 100%, and we were both feeling road weary and wondering just what the heck we are doing this for anyway. As we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for the temperature to drop in the afternoon I could tell we were both dragging our boots. Not only was our strategy of waiting till it cools off not working (again), neither of us was excited about our next couple stops. Rachel suggested instead we head up the West side of the Yucatan Peninsula and then cut over. This immediately felt so much better, so we quickly canceled our intended hotel, booked another and hit the road toward the coastal town of Ciudad del Carmen. There is something about being on the water that we are both drawn to. If we are traveling through a city that we view as a stop on the way to somewhere we want to be, being on water makes it so much better.

We continued to Campeche, a small colonial town further up the Yucatan coast. Its pastel buildings and still-standing city wall were gorgeous as we rode in just before sunset. Still feeling some road-weariness the week before we enjoyed two restful days here and booked a short trip to Merida to follow. On the way we stopped at a wonderful Mayan ruin site called Uxmal. It was only an hour out of our way and there were very few people there. It felt serene to walk around the large site without thousands of other tourists or hawkers selling their wares. I know they’re making their living, but it can cheapen the feeling of awe when someone is blowing in a jaguar noisemaker. I don’t totally understand the noisemaker thing, but in Mexico at a few ruins sites, they blow these terrifying noisemakers that sound like someone being tortured. Apparently they sound like Jaguars. I’ve never heard a jaguar nor someone being tortured in person, but I’d bet the noisemakers are closer to the latter.

We had heard mixed things about Merida from different people and we wanted to see if for ourselves. I think we both came out with mixed feelings of our own. There is a large expat retiree community in Merida, and I’m told a big art scene although we didn’t see that. It’s not on the water, but the water is about an hour away. One thing we have noticed about this trip is we can be jaded by our previous city when judging a new one. If a person only visited Merida after flying into Cancun a few hours away, it could be a wonderfully authentic Mexican town. If that person rode their motorcycle from San Cristobal, they might be less impressed. I have nothing bad to say about Merida, it is a great spot to see a lot of ruins nearby, but I don’t think it would be my first retirement location.

Tulum was our next target, and a place we had heard good things about before we left the US and continued hearing along the way. Tulum is often compared to Sayulita on the West side of the country and we could see the similarities in culture, but they are also very different. The town of Tulum is about 4 miles from the beach, and we wanted to be near the beach but accommodations down there were well out of our price range. We located a bungalow across the street from the beach. It came with free breakfast at the vegan restaurant at the hotel, so we took a risk on another “bungalow” and booked it. After booking we read a warning about noise all through the night from the adjacent bar and jungle bug in the bungalow, but we nervously held our optimism. We lucked out! The bungalow was perfect for us, a studio with a kitchenette and outdoor shower, and importantly, wifi. We settled into Tulum life on the beach, getting sunburned and partying with honeymooners. While gorgeous, and full of nice shops and great restaurants Tulum was priced similarly to prices in the US and we recognized how spoiled we’d become when our glasses of wine at a restaurant were $10. Each!!

For Valentine’s day we’d booked a hotel with free Hotels.com rewards an hour north in Playa Del Carmen. We did everything we could to cancel and stay in Tulum but it was non-refundable so we decided to make the most of it. On the way into town, at a stoplight I tried to weave between a coupe cars and hit someone with our left pannier. I pulled over, glanced at Rachel and went back to the car looking for damage. I had just clipped the mirror, and the driver waved me away saying it was no big deal. (I’m PRETTY sure that’s what she was saying..)

We had a great dinner at a vegan restaurant and enjoyed our hotel stay. In the morning I went up the street to move the bike around the corner so we could load it, and a police car turned on his siren as I turned the corner. He told me no helmet was a ticket and asked for my license. Which was in the hotel. I was just going around the block! He informed me that was a ticket as well. I apologized profusely, and he didn’t look like he was going to budge. I jumped off the bike, and told him I would walk it to the hotel about 20ft away. He reluctantly agreed and for the first time I was very happy to be pushing a massive motorcycle down the street.

We rode back to Tulum and down to the beach for another smoothie bowl, and Rachel got her hair touched up by her stylist. (Yes! Rachel has a stylist in Tulum! She has them all over the world, she is glamorous after all!) The appointment took a little longer than we expected, and we hopped on the bike toward Bacalar knowing it would likely get dark before we got there. The sun did what was expected to do, and predictably we rode the last 45 minutes in the dark. We really haven’t done that at all through Mexico and I don’t recommend it, but it was pretty cool to ride through the smaller towns at dusk while the locals were hanging out at their taco stands and drinking beers together.

 Bacalar, Mexico
Bacalar, Mexico

Since we got to Bacalar in the dark, we didn’t see the lake until this morning. It is a stunning combination of blues depending on the depth and our hotel was right on the water. We are going to spend a few days here getting our things in order and making sure we are ready to cross the border into Belize. This will be our final Mexican city, and let me tell you it is a spectacular way to wrap up a country. Bacalar is not yet developed massively like Sayulita and Tulum. It’s not on the coast, but the lake is better. After we left Sayulita and people kept saying “you should have seen it 15 years ago”, I’ve been on the lookout for the “next” hotspot. Bacalar fits the bill better than anything else I’ve seen, so invest now!

 View from our dock in Bacalar, Mexico
View from our dock in Bacalar, Mexico

Lessons Learned from Traveling for Two Months

 Casa Sanfransisco, the gorgeous Airbnb in San Cristobal. Link to airbnb page:  Casa Sanfransisco  (not an affiliate link, just thought it would be helpful!)
Casa Sanfransisco, the gorgeous Airbnb in San Cristobal. Link to airbnb page: Casa Sanfransisco (not an affiliate link, just thought it would be helpful!)

I’m writing this blog post from our cozy Airbnb in the heart of Barrio Guadalupe, a quiet neighborhood just ten minutes by foot from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. San Cristobal is, as everyone told us it would be, a special place. As we rode up into the mountains to get here, the temperature dropped from 86 degrees Fahrenheit to a chilly 60. Dropping down into the valley that cradles this colorfully calm city, I felt as though I had been plopped into a cultural and geographical blender: the surrounding greenery and mountains transported me to the Swiss alps, while the single-story pastel buildings reminded me of my actual whereabouts in Mexico. As we rode through the narrow cobblestone streets, we passed several small coffee shops and artisanal craft shops. I counted three vegan restaurants on a single street, and as we pulled up to the fourth for lunch, the excitement inside me bubbled.

We left Puerto Escondido on Sunday the 28th at 8:00am to beat the heat. By then, the sun was already baking the bike, and we were roasting under our gear. As Josh indicated in our previous post, we had been waiting on parts to arrive in P.E., hoping they would show up before our reservations at our hostel were up. On Thursday, we got a notification that the package was still in Mexico City. A friend at the hostel offered to forward the package to us when it finally arrived, as she was staying in P.E. for another week. Josh did extensive research and determined the bike was safe to ride out and that we could have our friend ship the parts via a faster Mexican postal service successfully. (Sorry gear-gang, this will not be a post about the bike’s condition, as I am not as well versed in the equipment-lingo as Josh. But for a quick debrief, the bike is well and running.)

 Sunset in Huatulco, Mexico.
Sunset in Huatulco, Mexico.

On Sunday, we arrived safely in Huatulco, a small town just off the coast in Oaxaca. Our next two stops were going to be just that: stops until we arrived at our next desired destination, San Cristobal de las Casas. Even so, we were charmed by Huatulco’s small and vibrant Zocalo (this is what the main square is called in Mexico) and charming markets. Maribel, the manager/receptionist/cleaner/cook/do-it-all-owner of our Hostel, recommended we ride out to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. Per her recommendation, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets to date.

We also witnessed the zoo-like flocking of onlookers who seemed more interested in eyeballing our motorcycle than watching the sunset. This has been one of the most curious phenomenons of our trip. In Mexico, motorcycles are extremely common and a typical staple for transportation (cue the man riding a motorbike with his entire family perched on the handlebars). Despite motorbikes being a commonplace vehicle, not one of the motorcycles native to this country are much larger than a vespa. Our motorcycle is large by American standards, so in the eyes of Mexican people, we are riding a blue whale in a sea of guppies. For this reason, we get a lot of long stares, questions about the bike, and the occasional “you guys are ridiculous” head-shake. For the most part we don’t mind—it’s currently our only claim to fame and we sometimes feel warm and fuzzy inside from all the attention. At other times, it can make us feel like zoo animals or circus freaks. It is difficult to blend in when we’re with the bike, and at times that can create social situations that we aren’t interested in being in or have the energy for.

Let me be clear—none of the above is intended to come off as a complaint. It’s merely an observation of an aspect of our trip that neither of us expected to experience. This itself is a huge theme in our travels: nothing is happening like we planned it to, and what is happening is nothing we could have imagined would happen. What we have learned covers the gamut of lessons from the practical and mundane to the existential and intimate.

Here is a list of the absolutely practical and logistical lessons we’ve learned about traveling:

1.     Have your accommodations booked at minimum one day before arriving at your destination. There is nothing more uncomfortable looking for a hotel after riding into town sweaty and tired.

2.     Two hours of riding is a piece of cake. Three hours is a long day. Four hours is an endurance challenge. Plan accordingly.

3.     Pemex gas stations make a great riding stop as they have bathrooms and often a store with water and snacks.

4.     We can ride for one hour and twenty minutes straight, but it’s far more comfortable to stop every 45 minutes.

5.     Charge your helmet!

6.     In hotter climates, always check accommodations for A/C.

 What happens when we don’t find a restaurant to eat at in time. Don’t judge.
What happens when we don’t find a restaurant to eat at in time. Don’t judge.

7.     When in doubt about rainfall, cover the bike.

8.     Vigilance is good, hyper-vigilance is unnecessary.

9.     Start looking for meals one hour before you get hungry.

10.  Pack ready-to-eat foods!

11.  Check in with your travel partner at the beginning, middle, and end of every day.

12.  When in doubt, put on sunscreen.

13.  When in doubt, put on bug spray.

14.  Listen and take advice from other travelers, but don’t take it as gospel.

These lessons are specific to us, and while other travels may find this list useful, we subscribe to the belief that travel is unique to the adventurer. Just like a relationship between two people, no individual will have the same desires, needs, or experiences in any specific place. (Our buddy David recently wrote about this belief, and we wholeheartedly agree.)

 Mind Mapping: one of the many ways we try to connect with ourselves, eachother, and our creativity while we travel.
Mind Mapping: one of the many ways we try to connect with ourselves, eachother, and our creativity while we travel.

As for the bigger lessons learned, we have found that they grow and evolve as we go, so many of these ideas have just been born and are still being nurtured and watered. They are seeds of bigger life lessons, and may grow into something more than just a lesson learned:

1.     Meditation improves our sleep, creativity, and digestion.

2.     Not everything in life needs to be analyzed. There is something to be said for simple acceptance and the act of letting something go.

3.     The money we have saved and put into this trip is not just a fund from which we drain and empty to an end point. It is an investment in something greater: an investment in time to explore, to learn, and eventually to create.

4.     In order to experience joy, it is so important for us to be learning, contributing, and creating. If we can find ways to accomplish those three things, we feel consistently happy and satisfied.

5.     There is more than one way to be successful.

The amount we feel we have learned and grown in the past ten weeks is overwhelming. And yet, it is so ambiguously abstract that it is difficult to put into words the ways in which we have changed. I do know, though, that neither of us are the same as when we got on our bike in November.

I believe it is impossible to travel and stay the same. Travel ignites an inescapable sense of curiosity and fear all at once. The combination of which causes any person who finds herself in a foreign place to be hyperaware of her senses and everything around her. To travel is to force yourself to look inside in order to deal with the unfamiliar outside. To question everything you thought you knew about the world because it looks and acts so differently than it does at home.

Traveling for this long, and knowing we will be for so much longer, gives me a sense of hope and freedom in what’s to come. I am so excited to see who we become, what we create, and what manifests out of this beautiful seed we have planted.

We’re Having Oaxaca of a Good Time

Our latest post covered up until New Year’s day, but only until the morning so I’ll pick up right where we left off! Three weeks is a lot to cover so bear with me! 

We left the Pyramid of the Sun on January 1st and drove an hour and a half South to Tepoztlan. We had heard that it was a popular day trip from Mexico City and attracted a “new age” vibe. That was about all we knew, but it sounded good enough to visit. Oh, and we almost went to a “lotus-awakening” festival/ party on New Year’s Eve there. Alas, our lotuses remain asleep.

We pulled in amidst heavy traffic and were diverted from our GPS tracks by a police officer. There was a market in the street that Google was asking us to ride through. We made our way over the rough cobblestone streets and found our hotel. We gratefully took a room on the ground level, and went out to see the market. We would later learn that the market wasn’t a weekly occurrence, but a daily one. In fact, most of the entire town was a market with vendors selling crafts, clothes, honey, (vegan) bread, and gigantic micheladas. Depending on where you are in Mexico, ordering a “michelada” might get you very different things—but the basis is beer and tomato juice and that’s already too much for Rachel and me.

We stumbled upon a concert of sorts at a very “new-age” shop. A musician was visiting from Argentina and we listened to him play musical instruments he had made himself out of clay. The method was originally Nigerian, and his project was about spreading the message that anyone can create new instruments. He was very talented and we liked most of his music and some of it we can put in the “experimental” category.

The next couple days were spent enjoying the smaller feel of Tepoztlan and browsing their markets. We ate pre-Columbian food that was indigenous to the area, which was basically patties of different vegetables which were then smothered in mole. We haven’t seen that dish since, and it’s too bad because it was a perfect opportunity for us to enjoy local food and still not eat meat and cheese. Sometimes we have to miss out on the “you gotta get the _____ in _____” game because of our veganism, but at the same time we’ve gotten to meet and talk with a lot of vegans and vegetarians so that makes up for it. Well, maybe not for the lack of cheese in Rachel’s opinion… 

 Atop the pyramid in Tepoztlan.
Atop the pyramid in Tepoztlan.

The main road of Tepoztlan turns into a footpath and charges steeply up a hill for about 1000ft of elevation gain over a short distance. There is a pyramid and a sweeping view to the town at the top. Legend says Tepoztlan is the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, so imagine it’s like the Aztec version of Mt. Olympus. We had just seen the Pyramid of the Sun (third largest pyramid in the world) so we were more impressed by the grandma-aged women we saw making the climb than we were by the pyramid itself. We couldn’t tell if it was normal for people of her age to be making the trek, or perhaps a yearly pilgrimage they made in January. It was a bit of a perspective shift as back home we rarely see a grandma in her grandma clothes and grandma shoes trekking up a steep mountain.

For more pictures from our time in Tepoztlan, click here.

From Tepoztlan we rode to Puebla City, the capital of the state of Puebla. Again, very little information was gathered prior to the ride in. After several hours of riding through farmland a city of 2.5 million people popped out of nowhere. We had been circumnavigating Popocatépetl, which is Mexico’s most active volcano. Luckily for us, it wasn’t active while we rode past. I kept glancing to the left anyway, half-wishing it would just explode so I could tell a great story.

Puebla was relatively uneventful aside from our best night of karaoke so far this trip. Rachel did her thing and wowed the locals with her golden pipes (3 times) and I sang what I believe to be the first-ever rendition of “Chicken Fried” ever sung in Puebla. On our visit to the Pyramid of the Sun we learned it was the world’s third largest pyramid. If that doesn’t make you wonder about the top two, you might be a communist. The second biggest is the Great Pyramid of Giza and the first is in Cholula, twenty minutes outside of Puebla City. We went to see it and found it covered in vegetation with a church perched on top. The Spanish hadn’t recognized it for what it was and built a church on top of what they thought was a hill. We trusted that there was indeed a pyramid making up the hill we saw, but we’ll probably want check out Giza at some point too.  

For pictures from our brief time in Puebla, click here.

We rode on from there towards Oaxaca City. On our way, we experienced our first nerve-wracking motorcycle issue. After stopping at a roadside vista in a large remote canyon, the bike computer read “Fuel Pump Failure” when we went to get back on. Nobody panicked, but some of us were thinking very choice words in our head. After I pushed the bike under a tree for some shade, Rachel told me to try again because she was feeling optimistic. The bike fired up and we gave each other a look and quickly climbed aboard and took off down the road.

Oaxaca City has an up and coming reputation as a great place to visit. I think we would agree it was nice, but maybe we were jaded by the cities before because we didn’t feel it was necessarily a place we would tell people they NEEDED to go if they were just flying into one city. That opinion might be tempered by the fact that Rachel came down with food poisoning that was bad enough to send us to the hospital one morning. We kept booking additional nights at our hostel after allotting one day to look into the motorcycle issues, and one day just trying to help Rachel feel better. We never got around to doing the day trips we planned from Oaxaca City, so it’s possible we just missed out on what people love about Oaxaca. Our last night we moved to their deluxe room which was much bigger and furnished nicely. Even better, we stayed for free after Rachel exchanged some photography services for the room, illness and all. Very impressive!

 Outside our free room, private balcony!
Outside our free room, private balcony!

For more pictures from our time in Oaxaca, or more accurately, our hostel in Oaxaca, click here.

On Jan 11th, we loaded the gear (and Rachel) onto the bike and cut a path back toward the coast. We had set our sights on Mazunte after hearing countless descriptions of “Magical Mazunte.” There was a mountain range in between Oaxaca and Mazunte, and we climbed to over 8k ft of elevation on a twisty road. Almost at the top, the landscape completely changed to an alpine setting. The temperature dropped and the road became lined with pine trees. I have to say, it felt a lot like the northwest, and for a moment I was homesick. The small village we stopped in is called San Jose Del Pacifico. We stay on a large property that featured adobe cabins dotting a large terraced garden. The vegan restaurant at reception used mostly food from the garden and served meals in a common room with a shared table each morning and night. The temperature continued dropping and it rained as hard as we’ve seen since back in La Paz in Baja. After spending a wonderful dinner talking with two other guests, we ran back through the rain to our adobe cabin and enjoyed a smoke-filled night’s rest. (Yes, the fireplace was romantic and provided much needed warmth, but I want to remember the experience honestly and my eyes stung as I fell asleep.)

 Building a fire in our adobe cabin!
Building a fire in our adobe cabin!

For more pictures from San Jose del Pacifico, click here.

We only stayed one night as we were excited to get to the beach. Looking back, we both now feel like we could have stayed longer. That’s been one of the challenges of this trip, we might love the place we’re currently in but simultaneously have a pressing curiosity about what might come next.

We dropped down all 8k ft of elevation over 3 hours of riding on the windiest road I can remember. I don’t think there was a straight stretch longer than 100ft all day. We made frequent stops so Rachel (still recovering from food poisoning and already prone to car sickness) wouldn’t throw up, and I would remember I needed to concentrate on keeping the bike on the road. The road wound through the mountains and through small villages perched on the knife-edges of ridges. The temperature increased as quickly as the elevation dropped, and two hours into the ride we had gone from a brisk 50F to 82F with a new humidity to boot. We stopped for bananas on the side of the road and found some of the best bananas we’ve ever had. They were small, but not the miniature ones that are more common. The flesh had an orange color and they were sweeter than your standard Cavendish banana. If I didn’t have more to write about, this could quickly become my banana thesis, so I’ll move on.

We pulled into Mazunte and parked at a café to find a place to stay the night. We were both hot by this time and there weren’t a ton of options. I found a room on Booking.com and immediately reserved it. As we pulled up, I got an email from the owner that the website was wrong and there was no space available. The town felt crowded and the heat wasn’t helping our clear thinking, and we were starting to panic. Rachel took the reins and found a place nearby for $20/night. This is the second time we’ve booked a $20/night room and it is astonishing what you get when you spend an extra $10 and book the $30 option. The room had a full-sized bed with mosquito net, but there wasn’t any room for our belongings and the bathroom was outside past a pool either under construction or abandoned and half-full of brown water. We try not to be travel snobs, but it was bad! We listened to the local rodeo blast their PA system until 3am that night, and in the morning we both knew it was about the last of the Mazunte Magic we could handle.  

At breakfast we decided we deserved a splurge night, and found Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo one mile down the road. I emailed them to ask if we could use the pool before check in, and after they confirmed that yes, we could, we promptly arrived 5 hours before check-in time. The hotel was double the price of our normal hotel budget, but we were both overwhelmed with the view and the pool and the fact that it wasn’t where we had stayed the night before. A Dutch couple on their way out told us that the rooms we had booked were down below the pool level, and that it was worth it to spend the difference on the rooms above the pool. We asked about the above-pool rooms, but they were booked. The penthouse, however, was available and I think Rachel’s words were “it wouldn’t hurt to look.” The penthouse and its massive balcony took up the top floor of the small hotel and the king bed overlooked the ocean below. We went downstairs and looked at what we had originally booked, and it had no view and two twin beds. There was no question: since we had decided we deserved to treat ourselves, we opted for the penthouse. So, we ended up tripling the daily accommodation budget, but it was so worth it.

 The open air lobby of Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo.
The open air lobby of Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo.

For more pics from our time in San Augustinillo, click here.

 Classes de Español!
Classes de Español!

The next day we lounged at the pool again for as long as we could without feeling too bad about it and left at 3pm. We rode an hour to Puerto Escondido in the hottest part of the day and found the language school. On this trip, we’ve found that booking things two cities in advance is usually a bad idea as it limits our flexibility. We’ve also found (recall Mazunte) that my romantic notion of riding into a town without any plans hardly ever (ok, never) winds up with us staying somewhere we really like. Therefore, our best bet is to look at accommodations where we think we’ll go next and book our choice the night before we ride there. This is not what we did in Puerto Escondido. For some reason, before the trip even started I decided Puerto would be a good place for Spanish lessons. That was then reinforced when a friend of my brother said they had a great experience. So we booked two weeks of staying on-site at a Spanish school in a town we had never seen and knew nothing about. The director emailed me to say that the bungalows were full, but we could stay in the “discount bungalow” for just $25/night. “Sounds great!” I responded, not fully understanding how “discount” it was nor what “bungalow” means here. After our night in Casa Cometa, it was just too big of a fall from grace to accept, and the thought of staying for two weeks there was daunting. We questioned everything from “should we just get back on the bike and ride to Guatemala now?” to “maybe we just spend a few months back at Casa Cometa and call this thing a wrap?”  In the end, we found new accommodations, and chose to stick around and at least give the language lessons a chance.  

 One of many gorgeous sunsets in Puerto Escondido.
One of many gorgeous sunsets in Puerto Escondido.

We are so happy we did that. We have studied the last eight days straight, three hours each day, and feel like our Spanish has improved far more than we expected. Our teacher were fantastic and it was a great way to actually spend some time with locals and learn about them and their lives. Both of our teachers and the director said we were very fast learners, much to our glee. It was fun to learn together and we both helped each other out when the other needed it. We also developed a routine here which is something we haven’t had over the last few months.

Now, we have wrapped up Spanish lessons and we’re just hanging out in Puerto Escondido waiting for a package of motorcycle parts that were shipped to the post office here. While we’d really like to have the parts, it’s hard to complain about where we are waiting. I’m writing this while looking out over the pacific. It’s warm today but there’s a nice breeze, and if I look down a level to the right I can see Rachel taking a Muay Thai class in the hostel’s outdoor workout palapa. Our room is tiny, but the property is massive and we have A/C at night. The package can take its time.

For more pictures from Puerto Escondido, click here.

Happy New Year!

We’ve fallen way behind writing, so we’re splitting this up into two parts. Part One: Sayulita to Mexico City by Josh and Part Two: Mexico City and Beyond by Rachel.

PART ONE

I think I was chosen for this part either because of my astute mid-term memory or because a majority of it was colored by my bout with Dengue Fever. Either way, I am honored!

 The view from our hostel in Guanajuato.
The view from our hostel in Guanajuato.

As we loaded the bike up with all our gear to leave Sayulita, I started to feel tired and my body was aching. Even as we strapped the last bag on, we searched a couple nearby Airbnb options to look into staying another night. I sat down for a minute and decided I could make the four hour ride to Guadalajara.

We stopped an hour into the ride to buy some bananas on the side of the highway. While Rach went to use the bathroom, I lay down on the ground to rest and the banana-stand man looked at me like I was crazy before offering me a chair. We struck up a limited conversation–limited as much by my zombie-state of existence as by our very severe language barrier. When Rachel came back we learned our new friend José Reyes had worked in Florida doing stucco for several years. He wanted to say hi to his old boss but didn’t speak enough English, so he asked for our help. We agreed, so José got his phone and his boss’s business card. I got an answering machine and left this message: “Uh Hi this is Josh and Rachel from Seattle, we are riding our motorcycle through Mexico and just ran into José Reyes on the side of the highway selling bananas and he wanted to say ‘hi’ to you. So, ‘hi’ from Jose, he misses you and thanks for treating him well!”

My health deteriorated from there, but we still rode another hour to a town I can’t remember the name of right now. I immediately lay down in the down square while Rachel found us some street food from a flamboyant boy who told her to go see the nearby volcano.

The rest of the day went similarly: ride, stop, lay down. By the time we got to the sprawling city of Guadalajara, I had a full on fever. Fortunately our hotel was far and away our nicest of the trip thus far (and for $30/night!) so it wasn’t a bad place to wait for the fever to break. That being said, the fact that I was in bed the whole time did keep us from seeing too much of Guadalajara.

 Rachel playing guitar at our hostel in Guanajuato.
Rachel playing guitar at our hostel in Guanajuato.

After two nights we rode to Guanajuato. I was still tired and achy but the fever had subsided. We were tired of being cooped up in luxury, so we booked a backpackers hostel. Guanajuato colorful and gorgeous, reminding us both of the Italian coast without the water–we are way inland at this point. The hostel was almost directly in the middle of a 350 foot staircase. Hiking the gear down sounded better than up. With the sickness and the new altitude (6,800ft), even going down the stairs with our gear was a challenge.

We holed up in a private room on the roof of the hostel and stayed six nights. Rachel was very patient and caring while I tried to make day trips into town. Usually that would result in me realizing I’d gotten in over my head and suddenly needing to lay down again in a very public place. The diagnosis wavered between a flu and Dengue Fever, but eventually I got a rash that matched the internet’s Dengue photos exactly and the debate ended.

For more pictures from Guanajuato, click here.

 Christmas Eve in San Miguel de Allende!
Christmas Eve in San Miguel de Allende!

By Christmas Eve I was feeling better and we rode East to San Miguel de Allende, winner of Travel and Leisure Magazine’s “Best City in the World” 2016 AND 2017! I don’t know how they decide that, or why they would do it twice to a city–all but guaranteeing that whatever made it special gets spoiled. In spite of the crowds who’d likely read the same article we did, we really enjoyed our stay. Rachel likes crowds more than I do, so maybe it wasn’t “in spite” on her side. We were worried shops and restaurants might be dead on Christmas, but that was not the case at all. Many restaurants were open and the main square was packed with people. We had a low-key Christmas, as one of us was recovering from an extra celebratory Xmas Eve.

For more pictures from San Miguel, click here.

After a couple days in San Miguel, we set our sights on the grandpappy of them all: Mexico City (CDMX for short) and for that story let’s turn it over to Rachel. Rachel?

Thanks Josh, what a stunning recap you’ve delivered thus far! How could I cap it? Tales of foreign ailments, holidays spent in award-winning cities, and international phone calls breaking cultural boundaries? I don’t think I could possibly top the sensation that was Part One. But the Monica Gellar in me says, “OK I’LL DO IT!”

PART TWO

Just as Josh hypothesized why it should be he who wrote Part One, I too must wonder why the universe would select me, the longer-winded writer of the two of us, to “wrap up” this blog post. Nonetheless, I will hold nothing back, for Mexico City’s stories are as big and surprising as the city itself. Brace yourselves, readers! Hold on to your sombreros! And bienvenidos a Ciudad de Mexico.

 On the CDMX Turibus being total tourists.
On the CDMX Turibus being total tourists.

Upon arrival in Mexico City (known as Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX) locally), we were immediately lost. Not simply because our Google Maps thinks its funny to play direction pranks on us, but because the city itself is a set of arterial main roads that diagonally intersect a grid street plan that periodically wraps itself in concentric circles around plazas and parks. Every time we left our Airbnb we felt like we were in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as though the streets that branched away from the nearby park were rotating every hour just to mess with us. Walking anywhere became a giant WTF, but we managed to stumble upon our favorite restaurants time after time, again, with no help from Google. (Clearly blowing all opportunities to ever get sponsored by Google with this post).

Our Airbnb was situated directly between the neighborhoods of Roma and La Condesa, the “Greenwich Village” and “Brooklyns” of CDMX. The variety and range of what CDMX offered was somewhat perplexing. Only days before arriving, we were in a small colorful town where few people spoke english and spotting another traveler was a rarity. It was as though we had left Mexico entirely and were plopped down in a Parisian metropolis. The streets were clean and abundant with large tropical trees. Lined with modern restaurants and cafés, the city had an upscale euro-flavor with pockets of Mexican culture stuffed between the streets. We found Vegan taco vendors selling $3 tacos, live Jazz music in a swanky velvet-encrusted speakeasy, and Belgian beers we had only ever seen in Belgium.

We took full advantage of the comforts of home: for my 30th birthday (God I’m young!) we went to Le Pain Quotidien, my favorite restaurant (a Belgian-made upscale sandwich chain), had champagne on the Terazza of a cute-cute-cute bar with indoor greenery galore, and ate vegan dishes in a hotel restaurant that made us feel we like transplants of NYC’s most secret places to wine and dine. Though the prices in CDMX have far outweighed those of any other city we’ve been too, we still paid half the price of what we might have spent for a similarly indulgent week back home.

 NYE at La Xampa, a champagne bar in CDMX.
NYE at La Xampa, a champagne bar in CDMX.

We took our week in CDMX to eat, drink, walk, take the sightseeing tourbus, try and fail daily to get lunch before 3pm, enjoy the public parks, see The Return of Mary Poppins in theaters, and ring in the new year. We learned that for NYE, it’s a mexican tradition to have a bowl of grapes in front of you before midnight (you’re supposed to wait to eat the free grapes until midnight, but I didn’t know that). At midnight, you eat one grape for each strike of the clock. Let’s just say we had to share one bowl of grapes at midnight since I didn’t get the memo in time.

On New Years Day, we woke up at 5:30am. We had packed all our bags the night before, because on New Years Day, we had a plan. We were scheduled to check out of our Airbnb and head to our next destination: Tepotzlán. However, our plan was to first ride one hour north–the opposite direction of our next destination–to witness the hot air balloons rising over the pyramids in the ancient city of Teotehuacan. The balloons take off daily at sunrise, which meant we needed to get there by 6:45am to see them lift off.

When we left CDMX, it was dark, and a few people were still stumbling home from NYE celebrations. At 55 degrees Farenheit, we were already chilly, despite wearing all of our gear plus extra layers. I had Josh’s heated vest on under my jacket, as it is always colder once we start riding than when we are standing around next to the bike in our gear. We rode out of the city, carefully, knowing it was still a celebratory hour for some party-goers (not us, we are so responsible! I am 30 after all!). Luckily there were cops all over CDMX patrolling the streets, and there were few drivers besides the occasional pink and white local taxi.

As we rode further north, the temperature started to drop. The sky–smoky, I imagine from fireworks–created a hazy scene as I watched CDMX fade behind me. Quickly we left the glamorous skyscrapers behind, and the hills to our left transformed into crooked and colorful houses decorated with christmas lights and glowing stars. Behind the smoke to my right, I could see some mountains framed by the dark sky. Still, the temperature dropped, and as I peered over Josh’s shoulder I could see the numbers “42” on his dashboard.

An hour later, the sky had pinked up, and the morning mist made the already crisp morning feel sharper. Having now lost all feeling in my fingers, I struggled to lift my helmet up to stop the heat of my breath from fogging up my visor. Now that we had slowed down, I could tell the cold I was feeling was no longer from the windchill from freeway speeds, but from the actual temperature in Teotehuacan.

We rolled up to the front entrance, marked “Puerto 1,” but noticed it didn’t appear to be open. Looking up, we could see that the sky was bright now, and the hot air balloons had started their flight. Panicked, we had to revise our original plan to enter the pyramid city and watch the balloons and find a new viewpoint to see them lift off. We rode over the cobblestone road around the perimeter of the pyramid city, anxiously looking for another entrance. “Puerto 2,” closed. Another 500 meters on the cobblestone road. “Puerto 3 y 4,” closed. Shit. You’re telling me I woke up at 5:30 am on New Years Day, rode in the dark, lost my crooked fingers to frostbite, and didn’t even see a frickin hot air balloon?”

About to claim defeat, we parked the bike on the side of the road. It was 33 degrees, and we were freezing. We dismounted and gazed over the barbed wire fence to our right, the only thing that separated us from the the third largest pyramid in the world. Suddenly, to our left, I heard a whooshing sound that resembled a gas stove finally catching light…but it sounded close up, as though it was right next to me, and it sounded large, almost as if–it was a giant hot air balloon. As a large shadow cascaded over us, I looked up and saw the balloon drifting over us, graceful and colossal, it felt like witnessing the underbelly of a whale floating right above me. Quickly, Josh and I struggled to get our camera on the tripod, and wondering if I’d lose a finger in the process, we set up the timer and snapped a picture.

 Giant hot air balloons in Teotehuacan!
Giant hot air balloons in Teotehuacan!

Giddily, we watched dozens more balloons fly over our parked bike and carry on their journey over the grasslands beside us. As they ascended, they became colorful floating confetti, gently celebrating the new year across Teotehuacan’s blue morning sky. Below them, the pyramids glowed in the sun’s first rise of the year, and the quiet scene hovered before us.

 On top of the Pyramid del Sol, with the Pyramid de la Luna behind me.
On top of the Pyramid del Sol, with the Pyramid de la Luna behind me.

Not too shortly after, we realized we needed to warm up with a hot drink. We found some cheap coffee at a gas station and let our hands return to a healthy pink. By 9:00am, we were warm and ready to actually enter the ancient city of Teotehuacan and witness the pyramids up close.

In the sun, the memory of 33 degrees was long gone. We sweat bullets as we climbed the steep manmade staircase on the Pyramid del Sol–the pyramid we beheld from afar only hours ago in the cold. At the top, we could see the ancient city’s remains below, and could imagine the vast metropolis as it was during its epoch. At the center of the city, Pyramid del Sol overlooked Teotehuacan’s main thoroughfare, Avenue of the Dead. The immense road ran perpendicular to the pyramid, and to our right we could see it lead straight to the Pyramid de la Luna.

After basking in, and eventually bearing the mid-day heat, we decided it was time to get back on the bike and ride south to our next destination: Tepotzlan. This city deserves an entire post of its own, and since you are probably dead or asleep by now, I’ll end this post here.

Until next time monkeys!

– THE HAVEKOSTS

For more pictures from CDMX, click here

For more pictures from Teotehuacan, click here

Mainly Mainland

Mainland Mexico is a whole different world than Baja!

Once back in La Paz, we went straight to the ferry office to book our overnight passage to Mazatlan the next day. Everything we’d read about the ferry said it was wonderful, as long as you got a cabin. If you didn’t it was a nightmare. They were sold out of cabins.

The next day we ran errands, got lunch at a new vegan restaurant and hung out until it was time to leave for the docks. Our ride out of La Paz coincided with another one of it’s fantastic sunsets and the 20 minute ride was mostly along the coast. It was a great way to say goodbye to a city that had surprised us in a good way.

 The bike strapped down on the ferry.
The bike strapped down on the ferry.

We got to the port and I was anxious about doing all the steps properly after our Tijuana debacle. The first person checked our VIN against our paperwork and spoke perfect English so it ended up being very easy. We got weighed with the bike and all-in-all we are over one thousand pounds! Bike is running and handling well though, so I guess that’s just fine.

We boarded easily and found the bar and settled in, mentally preparing ourselves for a night on the couch. Rachel put our name in at reception in case there were any cabin cancellations, but we were trying not to bank on it. They had a buffet dinner where we were able to get: rice, beans and tortillas! They had some goofy entertainment which Rachel absolutely loves. There was even some crowd participation and the fact that it was all in Spanish did not stop her from getting involved. It was great to see Mexicans having fun and laughing together. So much of our interactions with locals come when they’re doing their jobs and we’re customers. It’s my goal to get more experiences where that’s not the case. Not easy though.

A couple cocktails into the evening, our name was called and we had scored a cabin. We went to check it out and put all our gear down, and we realized just how much better our lives had become. We slept decently (and far better than we would have in the bar) and disembarked in the AM. I had to wait an extra 45 minutes before going below to the bike and spent that time chatting with a group of motorcyclists from Mexico City. At first we talked riding but eventually we got to Trump and economic theory. Luckily their English was better than my Spanish for that conversation. Wonderfully hospitable people, and they offered anything we could want in Mexico City. I mentioned we were looking for gloves for Rachel and one started digging in his bag to give me his gloves. I was able to talk him out of it, but that’s the attitude here.

 Outside our hostel in Mazatlan, Funky Monkey Hostel.
Outside our hostel in Mazatlan, Funky Monkey Hostel.

We got to Mazatlan and stayed at the Funky Monkey Hostel. Since it was morning and we felt good, we decided to rent a kayak and paddle over to an island for a beer. That evening we realized we were a lot more tired than we thought, so we just did laundry and crashed early.

 The island we kayaked to in Mazatlan.
The island we kayaked to in Mazatlan.

The next stop was San Blas, and we rolled in just before sunset. It had the feeling of our first truly Mexican town. Baja is so different somehow, and all the people there (there aren’t many) are used to motorcycle travelers coming down. We weren’t necessarily unique there, but in San Blas we had a few people come check out the bike as soon as we pulled into the gas station.

We tried to game the weather and leave in the afternoon the next day as we of had a couple hours to ride and it had been clouding over the last couple afternoons. It did not, and we left when it was about 90° with not a cloud in the sky. We rode through the jungle to Sayulita, by far our best ride day of the trip (in my opinion). We had heard from several people Sayulita was overrun with tourists and not even worth going to. I agree with the only the first part. The climate and vegetation reminded me of Lahaina, HI and I looked up the latitude and Sayulita is almost exactly the same so I guess that makes sense.

 Lunch in El Rosario, our stop halfway from Mazatlan to San Blas.
Lunch in El Rosario, our stop halfway from Mazatlan to San Blas.

The town itself is “cute cute cute” and reminds me of a couple towns in Thailand that have become backpacker havens. I get why people say it’s touristy, it certainly is, but there needs to be a different word to isolate this experience from a resort town. Here, there a dozens of really unique shops, a hippie vibe, and fire dancers with live music in the streets at night. It’s not the same as a resort city where there might be dozens of stands selling the same inexpensive merchandise and swim-up bars. Hard to describe, but I think it’s certainly worth a visit. We talked to an Irishman at our hostel who had a great perspective: sure, it’s not an isolated “authentic” Mexican village, but that’s why there’s so many great restaurants and great live music. I appreciated the permission to like the town.

We have just been hanging out here, getting massages on the beach, taking surf lessons, eating fantastic vegan fare and drinking margaritas like they’re going to be discontinued any day. Hard to leave, but I think for every week we stay, we’d have to cut an country off the end off the trip for budgetary reasons.

Next we plan to head inland and to the cold so we can feel like it’s really Christmas time. Guanajuato is our next target for a few days stay, but we’ll get back to the beach after dropping South through Mexico City.

Until then, Seeyulata!

Playa, La Paz, Rewind

 Josh, Santa, and my shadow at the La Paz airport.
Josh, Santa, and my shadow at the La Paz airport.

This morning, we flew from Tijuana to La Paz. “But Tijuana is north of La Paz—at the USA border, isn’t it??” Yes, dear reader, yes it is. “But aren’t you riding south? And aren’t you on a motorcycle?” Yes, yes we are. “So why the heck did you fly to Tijuana?”

Rewind.

Two and a half weeks ago when we crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana, the border patrol did little more than wave us through. Eager to get to Ensenada and start our Baja trip, Josh and I rode straight on, assuming the crossing was normal. As the weeks went on, Josh and I wondered if there would be consequences for not having our travel papers or passports stamped. Surely this may cause problems down the line? Surely.

Josh had done extensive research on these kinds of logistics before our trip: what kind of paperwork was required? Would we need special licenses? Insurance? Visas? What should we expect at the borders? After a full run down of Mexico’s policies, we felt fully prepared for our crossing into and out of Mexico. We bought an international drivers license, paid for tourist cards, knew the procedure for registering the bike in Mexico, and had multiple copies of our licenses, passports, and motorcycle registration and title. We knew that after stopping at the border, we needed to find a small blue building to get our tourist cards stamped. Typically, crossers will buy these cards on site at baby blue, but they are available for purchase online. Since we pre-purchased our cards, and no one stopped us at the border, we kind-of-sort-of assumed we didn’t need to pay a visit to dear old baby blue. 

“Oh, yeah, I had a buddy who didn’t get his card stamped at the border and he had to fly back to Tijuana!” Say what?! After the off-handed comment from an American man we met in Mulegé (thanks Greg from San Fransisco for royally freaking us out), Josh began trolling his motorcycle forum for answers. Was the man living outside a hotel in his trailer right? Would we have to fly back to Tijuana to get our cards stamped? 

Numerous travelers assured us we’d be ok: “I knew a guy who just got it stamped at the boat dock to La Paz!” guaranteed a forum friend. “Just go to the airport and wait until an international flight comes through-they’ll stamp your shit!” wizened the elderly gentleman having breakfast next to us in Loreto. “The immigration office will do it—just smile and act like a dumb Gringo and apologize ruthlessly!” suggested the Californian staying at our hostel, who sailed to La Paz on his 28-foot sailboat. Mixed forum responses and stressful nights later, we decided our best bet was to try the immigration office in La Paz, the beautiful warm beach town on the southeastern coast of Baja where we plan to take the boat to mainland.

The next day, we braved the Instituto Nacional de Migración in downtown La Paz. Hopeful, yet realistically expecting the worst, Josh and I approached the pursed-lipped woman, who I named Susan, in the empty immigration office. “You didn’t get it stamped? And why didn’t you know to do that?” Snapped Susan. “They waved us through, we thought—” “You didn’t do your research?” But it wasn’t a question. “We did, but—” “It’s in the fine print. You didn’t read it.” We weren’t her first. Gruffly, Susan snatched our forms from us and flipped them over, revealing the small, fine print she was referring to. Susan rushed her pointer finger to the page, ready to scold us with her best I told you so upon showing us our ignorance. “Right—” Susan paused, looking at us, then looking at the paper, then started to ferociously read the print to herself. She was obviously struggling to find the fine print she had previously suggested was so blatantly clear. I chuckled inside. Silly Susan. She’ll give in here. She’ll stamp us now. Stamps from Susan. Susan-stamps—“Here!” She proclaimed, and as her eyes thinned and her grin widened, my heart sank. Susan underlined one sentence. Satisfied with herself, she turned the paper towards us. “It’s right here. You have to get it stamped at the border.”

It was in that moment I knew we had lost the battle. We tried every card in our hand, begging for forgiveness, batting our eyes, even wondering out loud about the airport or the boat terminal to see if she’d confirm our leads. “That is completely illegal!” Susan was not about to give in now, and her stern head shake told us all we needed to know about how our stupidity amused her. “You must go back to the nearest USA border.” Tijuana.

 La Paz beach day.
La Paz beach day.

We spent the next two days at the beach. We had booked our tickets to Tijuana for Saturday, returning Sunday. We tried not to think about the possibility that we wouldn’t get our stamps there, even after all we had learned. Susan had to be right. She wouldn’t play us like that, sending two innocent Americans off to Tijuana on a wild goose chase just for kicks.

Or would she.

At 17:00pm (that’s 5:00pm American) last night, we landed in Tijuana. Immediately after deplaning, Josh took a leak. (I have to build the suspense somehow). We had no choice but to head for baggage claim. I started to worry. Would this really work? I mean, we are leaving the arrivals area and I don’t see signs for immigration anywhere? God damnit Susan! We saw an officer with the immigration symbol on his uniform, and in his best Spanish, Josh asked him where we could find an office to get our cards stamped. With a small chuckle, the guard pointed down the hallway and said something about left and right in Spanish. Yes. Hope! Susan was earning points quickly back in La Paz.

Once we found the immigration office—or, podium I should say—we gathered all our paperwork and identification and approached the braces-toothed girl behind the window. We barely finished explaining our plight before she rolled her eyes and laughed. Gently, she took our tourist cards, walked away from us to the second window, and stamped them.

Trying not to break the glass and hug the pubescent immigration girl, Josh and I buried our earsplitting smiles and outbursts of joy under a calm demeanor. We had our stamps.

 Deluxe vegan dinner outside the Calimax in Tijuana.
Deluxe vegan dinner outside the Calimax in Tijuana.

The rest of the night proceeded like any other night in Tijuana would: 1) An Uber to the Banjercito where we managed to get our Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP), which we previously were unable to obtain until our tourist cards were stamped; 2) A trip to our “private room in an apartment” booked through Airbnb, where our college-going host had his seemingly stoned buddy, “Alfonzo in a red car” drive by to give us the keys to the apartment and inform us that, “no one else is here, you can have any room,” and C) A successfully executed vegan dinner of lettuce, dried fruit, Mexican pastries, and a box of the Mexican equivalent to French Toast Crunch, which we ate outside the Dreyer’s Ice cream shop situated in the grocery store.

Now, bellies grumbling (likely out of anger or confusion rather than hunger) and minds at ease, we are flying back to La Paz with stamped papers, a TVIP, and a little less cash in our pockets. Now if only the guy sitting behind me would stop farting.

Baja Norte

I just looked at Rachel and asked “so.. you left off in Ensenada, right?” That seems like a month ago, but I think it’s only been a few days. I’ll catch you up chronologically, and if I haven’t typed ten thousand words, I’ll get into the details and my feelings and flowery language!

 Our Airbnb in Valle de Guadalupe.
Our Airbnb in Valle de Guadalupe.

We stayed three nights in Ensenada just to get our bearings a little bit. I think it was a good idea for that reason, but not for the fact that Ensenada has tons to offer. We headed Northeast on Highway 3 for about 40 minutes to Valle de Guadaloupe, where most of Mexico’s wine is produced.  I’d read VdG can be likened to Napa Valley in the 1960’s, and while I can’t really verify that, it definitely felt like how I would imagine Napa being back then. There are dozens of very cool wineries and vineyards but it has an authentic vibe, like it’s waiting to be discovered by tour buses from San Diego. We were also there on a Monday, so maybe we just missed the buses. We booked a place on AirBnb that ended up being really fantastic, albeit a bit out of our daily budget. The daily budget was made up arbitrarily and is unilaterally and unrelentingly enforced by me… More on that later if word count allows.

 Wine tasting bikes
Wine tasting bikes

Due to the non-touristy nature of the Valley there are no cabs, and Uber doesn’t go that far out of Ensenada so we realized we’d need to hire a car for the day to do wine tasting. When we got to the AirBnb, I saw two bicycles and mustered up my best Spanish to ask if we could use them. It turns out that’s what they were there for, and we had a great day riding around drinking wine. We didn’t want to leave after just one day, but we did, and rode a pretty long day down to El Soccorito.

The central section of Baja is pretty barren! We booked another AirBnb, and weren’t super happy with it the night when we arrived. We had just been spoiled in un-spoiled Napa, so this felt like a big downgrade, even if it met the budget. We decided we’d only stay one night instead of the two we had booked, but in the morning our backs decided otherwise and we both were happy to learn the other person was on board with a rest day. It ended up being a great day, and we found restaurant with an awesome garden full of citrus trees and cacti. As we checked it out, I grazed my shoulder on something and looked down to see my skin was chock full of cacti thorns since I was wearing a tank top… Not fun, but Rachel helped me out!

 Salt flats of Guerro Negro
Salt flats of Guerro Negro

Our next stop was Guerrero Negro, 400km to the South. That would be our longest day on record, so we left early in the cold and mist. I knew there wasn’t a gas station between the two stops, and it was beyond the range of our gas tank. I’d read about a truck that was supposedly along the route that would have gas for sale. I didn’t let Rach know that was my plan as I knew she’d make me buy a jerry can. There was a gas truck where I expected, so I got to sleep inside the hotel when we arrived. Guerrero Negro is home to two things: salt and grey whales. The grey whales are there because of the salt, so maybe that’s just one thing… They calf their young in the bay because the buoyancy helps the calves in the beginning when they’re figuring out how to be whales. Years ago the Mitsubishi Corp of Japan and the Mexican govt. began harvesting the salt, and it’s now the largest saltworks in the world, producing 34% of the world’s salt. The more you know! We met a nice, interesting lady at a vegetarian restaurant and talked all throughout dinner. She recommended we find the salt pools and fill a water bottle to use the liquid for its healing properties. On the way out, we rode down several roads until we found a parking lot and what looked like a beach beyond a row of palm trees. We scooted the bike over a barrier and between some trees and were suddenly riding out on the sand levy separating the salt pools. It was quite a scene, and Rachel got some healing water for her ailments.

Next we rode to San Ignacio, about an hour and 45 minutes down the highway. San Ignacio is an oasis due to a spring in the middle of the desert. The word “oasis” is perfect to describe this place. We are staying at yurt village that is owned by a couple from Alberta, Canada. They came to stay for one night and wound up buying the property from the previous owners earlier this year. There are nine yurts and two cabins amidst hundreds of palms adjacent to the water way created by the spring. This morning Rachel and I used their paddleboards to paddle up to the source of the spring where we found warm water, several herons and a stork.

 Our yurt home in San Ignacio
Our yurt home in San Ignacio

We’re at present day and not even at one thousand words! I’d just add, so far we are learning a lot about how long we are comfortable riding (if Google says it’s a 2-3hr day, that’s enough) and how long we can stretch it if we need or want to (if Google says 4hr 45min, that’s going to require a rest day). We are learning about how to ask for vegan food, and we have a pretty good idea what tortilla chips, refried beans and rice taste like! We know the beans often have lard, which we are willingly ignoring for survival. Personally, I’m learning a lot about the rules I create for myself about budgeting and “adventure authenticity”. I often equate a true adventure to the least possible amount of comfort and spending. It’s been nice to stretch my comfort zone in that regard, which is not something I was expecting at all. The couple times we’ve blown the budget have been my favorite days/stays by far, and the budget wasn’t really even blown, just nudged a little.

Rachel is doing great on the bike, and we are both really appreciating the freedom that comes from traveling by motorcycle. We leave when we want to, stop when we want to, and have no shackles to a train, plane or bus schedule. We have no choice but to see the landscape change dramatically as we ride south, and also no choice but to smell the outskirts of towns and their struggles with sewage and trash. The aforementioned freedoms and complete disassociation from the passage of time far outweigh any nasty smells and unbudgeted expenses. So far, it’s totally worth it.

 Rachel and one of her many new friends
Rachel and one of her many new friends

Ense-Nada to Do but Chill

As I sat down to write this blog post, I asked myself, “what is the purpose of this blog? Is it to update friends and family of our whereabouts? Provide tips and tricks for future travelers? Share insights into the cities and towns we visit? What should I really be writing about here?” As I tried to answer this, I remembered that it really doesn’t matter why, because in the end, the purpose of writing for me has always been to reflect on my experiences, both while writing and in the future when I read back on past memories. So, at the risk of being cliché or unthoughtful, I’m simply going to do just that: reflect on the last few days and see where the words take me.

 Outside of Irene + Yves’ apartment in San Fransisco, our first morning riding together!
Outside of Irene + Yves’ apartment in San Fransisco, our first morning riding together!

On Monday November 19th, Josh and I straddled the KTM and headed south from San Francisco. As we vacated the city, I looked all around me and saw hundreds of homes and buildings, hillsides and trees, and the open road ahead. For weeks, people had been asking me how I felt about the trip. I never knew how to answer. I suspected I would know how I felt once I got on the motorcycle, and anxiously, I awaited that moment to really understand how I truly felt. I was right.

Wind whipping all around me, nothing but endless sky above, and every one of my senses inhaling the scenery, I started to well up. “I’m not going to miss a single thing,” I thought. The further out of the city we got, the wider grew my grin under my helmet. “I’m not going to miss a thing.”

As we made our way further south, we hugged the northern California coastline on Pacific Highway 1, a single-lane highway with trees in lieu of post-lights and seagulls as our passengers. We crescendoed over hillsides, twisting past salt-water smells and the cliffsides below.

 Outside our “Chicken Coop” trailer in Arroyo Grande, CA
Outside our “Chicken Coop” trailer in Arroyo Grande, CA

With every passing hour, the landscape changed: from prairie-like flatlands to dry desert scenes, the California coast morphed before my eyes. I never realized how diverse one state could be, and how quickly the geography could change. As the smell of salt-water faded into manure, we traversed into central California, which appeared to be an agricultural hub. As the days rolled on, we had collected several hundred miles and stayed in a new place every night: Monterrey, Arroyo Grande, Los Angeles, and finally, San Diego.

By the time we reached San Diego, we felt victorious: this was the most riding we would likely be doing the entire trip, as we planned to only ride once every few days, and at most 120 miles at a time. Each of the past four days consisted of 100 miles at least, and we rode every single day. I had no idea how exhausting it was riding, and we needed to stop every 30 minutes or so to stretch our legs and relieve our backs. 100 miles of riding takes us approximately 3 hours, and by the end of each day we were beat.

On the morning of November 23rd, we left San Diego for the Mexican border. We planned to cross into Tijuana and make our way down to Ensenada that day. We had everything ready: passports, ids, motorcycle registration, international driver’s licenses, and Mexican immigration forms.  As we approached the border, we anxiously awaited the moment when the patrol would stop us and ask for our papers. We drove through one green light, then another, and suddenly in front of us were signs in Spanish with the kilometers to the next Mexican city. Josh tilted his head back towards me, bike still in motion, and muttered, “was that it?” We never stopped. I shrugged my shoulders, and 30km later, we realized we had crossed the border without so much as a “where are you from.”

 Our hostel in Ensenada, aptly named after a city that is 1,000 miles south of here.
Our hostel in Ensenada, aptly named after a city that is 1,000 miles south of here.

Upon arrival in Ensenada, it was clear I had set my expectations outside the parameter of what this city is. I pictured white sandy beaches, swimming in the ocean, beers at the hostel bar, and travelers abound. Au contraire, (my French is better than my Spanish, I’ve slipped a few times already), the center of this city is blocks inland from the water’s edge and boasts tourist bars and dozens of Farmacias (Xanax, Painkillers, Cialas anyone?).  The coastline is somewhat barren, save a few horse riders and a handful of mariachi bands. The city’s history, I’ve learned, revolves around the seaside being a port, rather than a surf or swim destination. Our hostel is a 30-minute walk (or three-dollar Uber, yes, they have Uber) from El Centro, and it has no bar or social scene to speak of.

I was disappointed at first: “This is not what I expected. Where are the other travelers? Why is it so cold and windy? What is there to do here? What the hell are we doing?” And now, with the words on the page (ok, screen), I’m realizing that, no, this is not what I expected. This is not what I planned for. And yet, does that make it any less of an adventure? Does that make it any less of a learning opportunity? Will I not only be disappointed, but also pleasantly surprised? Absolutely. Already we have met locals who are hospitable and kind, helping us find vegan food options and suggestions for cities to visit. We desperately needed a few days of down time, and in a city with few recreational activities and sights, we have the opportunity to use the hostel’s accommodations and internet to catch up on rest and research.

 The roof of our Ensenada hostel.
The roof of our Ensenada hostel.

Now, sitting on the rooftop of our hostel, reflecting on the last week and looking ahead to what’s to come, I feel again the empowerment and freedom that I did on that first day we rode. Nothing about what we are doing will be perfect. Nothing will ever be what we expect, and at times that may be frustrating or exhilarating. And there’s no way to skip over any of it—the inter and extra-personal feelings, the geographical and social landscapes, the losses and gains. Each of those parts make up the holistic endeavor we’re embarking upon.  

I’m not going to miss a thing.

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