30 June, 2007

LA Fundamental. 27,847miles

Highway 1 curved down towards the south beautifully. It reminded me lots of the road down the coast of Ayrshire, there were even a few contenders for the title of Ailsa Craig. I stayed in a campsite along the way which somehow cost $45 for one tent, one human one night. By far the most expensive campsite I've ever stayed in. But the place was clean and tidy, the staff were very friendly and I spent a comfortable evening with the doors open. No beasties bothered me, and I slept soundly with the doors wide open on both sides of the tent.

Next day Highway 1 started getting called the Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH). It wasn't any closer to the sea here than it had been farther north, but that's what the southern Californians decided they wanted to call it, much to the amusement of their northern chums. There is some interesting rivalry between North and South California. Anyway, the PCH was the highly scenic route to Los Angeles, which itself, much like Mexico City, was easier than you might think to navigate. I had a tasty lunch of fish and chips from a place that sold HP sauce and even Irn Bru - the real thing! The Irn Bru had a warning label to remind me that "this beverage was not a main source of nutritious iron". Sometimes you have to go a long way to find the truth, but it's always worth it - 'girders' indeed! Still, more flavoursome than Coke or Inka Cola. Then I went to find my destination, the home of some friends of Ronnie and Trish back home, in Newport Beach just after lunchtime.

Mike and Laura live here in Greater LA but never lock their door. They prefer not to live in a constant worry about break-ins. Risky, but I have to agree it's better not to worry about such things - while having all the necessary insurance! (but would insurance cover you if the door was unlocked - if it wasn't locked, thieves would just break it!) They have both visited Scotland several times and developed a deep love for the place. In fact, I had met Mike briefly just last year, in Kinghorn. They hope eventually to retire to somewhere in Scotland.

A young lad in a kilt greeted me at their door. His kilt wasn't plaid but leathery, or maybe denim. He told me it was a working kilt, and right enough it was full of pockets. This get-up wasn't for my benefit at all, but just this lad's normal day wear. He found it comfortable and enjoyed the attention he got from it. He was co-incidentally there just for the day with his girlfriend visiting Mike and Laura's daughter, Opal.

I quickly said some hellos before negotiating with Opal the dumping of some stuff on her lawn. I then headed straight off to seek out a crate for the bike. This began a whirlwind of activity that led to a little stress, but ended well enough, with much luck and lots of adventure. After two willing but unable BMW dealerships, Carlos at the Yamaha dealer's said he'd have one in the morning. Could I come back at 10am? Now I just needed to beg, borrow or rent a truck.

Returning to Mike and Laura's, I found Mike was home from work. We re-introduced ourselves and I outlined my progress so far. Mike remembered that Laura's brother, Mark, had a pick-up. His house wasn't too far away. Mike made a quick phone call and we were soon slightly confused as Mike, Mick and Mark chatted about everything and had one or two refreshing beers from the keg and pump which Mark had installed next to his barbecue in the garden. Mike hasn't any taste for beer so we were safely able to swap vehicles and drive away. Mark even came back round with us to help lift the bike onto the truck! I would have to drive this massive thing tomorrow!If everything went according to plan I'd need to get on a flight that I'd found out about from LA to NZ which went on Monday. Sadly, I lack the skills needed to work the internet thing properly and so I e-mailed Julie Reid at Charlie Reid's Travel in Kirkcaldy to see if she could help. I wasn't sure you could book a flight from outside the country you were in but to my great surprise and relief, she was able to do everything. They really are brilliantly competent at that excellent, family-run place. Not knowing whether I could get the flight meant that I would have had to book it at the very last minute. This didn't flap Julie at all.

Laura very kindly took a day off her work to 'ride shotgun' (navigate!) and off we went to get the bike into the crate. For some strange reason, and to my further great surprise (but this time, disappointment), Carlos and the guys at the bike shop were unable, they said, to help us take the bike from the truck. Laura and I would have to hope we might get some help at the Shippers. She reckoned it was probably something to do with the possibility of them getting injured in the process of lifting and the subsequent insurance claims. For me, though, it was still a bit strange as I'd never come across less helpful bikey-types, although they had gone to the trouble of providing the crate? In my experience, bikeys almost always help each other out. When this had happened back in South Africa, the guys there had been all over the place, lifting the bike and building the crate back up. I had been allowed to help, but they did by far the bulk of the work since they knew what they were doing with the crate, and took no payment, happy to help. (I left them a hefty tip!) But, the US is the land of lawyers . . .

Down at the shippers, Moses took some convincing to use his forklift to help lift the bike off the truck. We had to do it "off his lot" (out of the property of his business, again for insurance reasons!) and in the street, but we managed. Then Laura and I had to take the front wheel off the bike before getting it onto the metal crate. I had to use a metal crate because the Australians are afraid a wooden one might bring alien beasties in to their country. Having organised the bike as best we could, Debbie from the office came out with lots of clingfilm and wrapped it all up. Then she got Moses to put the bike back onto the truck. With all the paperwork organised, we drove down to US Customs, who I'd been told might take as much as a week to ten days to sign the appropriate documents. We paid for four hours' parking and hoped for the best.

On the 8th floor of a building in Downtown Long Beach, the process might have taken as much as ten minutes in total. And that included getting the lift up and down! The nice lady stamped and signed just as soon as we showed her the papers! Then we had to get to the shippers before it shut. We'd awkwardly put the bike onto the truck using some human as well as forklifting power. The forklift driver at the shippers had big sort of extending clown feet to put on the ends of his forks so it was no problem for them to remove the bike, a wee bit shaky, from the back of the truck. All we had to do was get the stamped, official paperwork back to Debbie before she went home. All done at 1640hrs!!

It had taken the whole day, and I could never have done it without Laura's invaluable guidance as well as her engineering skills. I wasn't sure what to do with myself, now. So I spent much of the time catching up with e-mails and reading. On the Sunday we went to a pretty wee market market where Laura had a stall selling the jewellery she expertly makes at home. As a part of this year's Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, you'll be able to find Laura exhibiting and selling her work outside Parliament Square on the Royal Mile. Amazingly intricate and very pretty jewellery. I think it's the second week of August that she'll be there!

There was a long pier off the beach there with a great view of the surfers. I tried but I couldn't really work out the whole point of this activity. It looked like great fun, but didn't seem to last long enough to have been worth all the waiting. It gives you something to do on what would maybe otherwise be another boring day of lying on the beach sunbathing, I suppose. Mike told me there was a great natural connection between the surfer and the wave. But you can get this from sailing and still manage to actually go somewhere. Each to their own. There's no real need for fun to be practicable - it just helps me to justify it if it is! There's a saying that also applies to biking which may be relevant here - "if you do it, then no explanation is necessary. If you don't, then no explanation is possible".

Later that evening Mike and Laura had a top barbecue at which some very funny and off-the-wall stories were told. Opal and Laura on their porch.

Next day, Laura very kindly took the time to drive me up to the airport. This is the one with the tunnel and the road goes under the airport's taxi-way. Huge!! All in all, I could hardly have hoped for a more hospitable, friendly and unbelievably helpful 'launchpad' for leaving the US. I have Mike, Mark and Laura to thank for my catching this boat and not having to wait a whole extra week until the next available ship.

Thanks so much guys - good job!! I'll hope to see you back in Scotland soon.

Aptos, California

In the morning I e-mailed my friend Richard and was invited down to his house. Richard and I had met in 1986 on a campsite at Fort William when he was cycling around Scotland and the rest of Europe. Later he came to stay at my house and somehow, we had managed to keep in touch over all these years.He had since married Alberta and had two very funny wee girls, Anwen and Tegan.

That evening we went out for dinner at the local Mexican restaurant - not a chilli or a lime in sight - where Richard's brother Russell told me he thought he had made everything foolproof, but then they just made bigger fools. He works running summer camps - much like Ardroy. He also thought he had left the rat race, but then they bred faster rats! I could sympathise with much of his sentiments.

Richard's is a keen cycling family and they have a cycle that can sit four people! Richard also makes excellent cycle maps as a sideline to his day job. He works four ten-hour days so that he can have a long weekend every week. Normally, Richard works on building improvements onto his tumble-up house, but this weekend the family were going camping with some of Anwen's friends as a birthday 'camp out'. Certainly beats filling your face with 'food' at Mcdonald's!

I took the bike to Michael's recommended BMWizard, Wayne, who ironed out all the problems I'd been living with and gave me back another new bike. He even managed to remove the rounded-off sump plug and replace the oil (first change since Nairobi 18,000miles ago!!!) and filter.

If you want to find some really fantastic roads, it might be wise to ask a local cyclist. If that cyclist happens also to be the local cycling cartographer, he can show you the way to motorcycle heaven! Richard told me to expect some fantastic scenery all along a route called 'The Summit', but I saw precious little of it as I concentrated heavily on the windy, twisty bit of thin tarmac in front of me. I had a great time on a wee roller-coaster of a road with hardly any other traffic. I was physically tired after wrestling the overladen bike through these massively tall redwood trees and around sharp bends towards the campsite. The bike was only upright momentarily as I went from left to right-hander, and I was scraping the toes of my boots on turn after turn, bend after bend. Bliss!

At one point I saw a sign. James, Will and I had mused on these previously. We were a bit confused, wondering who or what might have upset all that traffic. When we got there however, there was never any problem, and the traffic often seemed quite genial.

Another confusion emerged in the form of 'four-way stop signs'. These are a bit like what we do with roundabouts, but there are no roundabouts. Four vehicles appear at a crossing at which none have an obvious right of way. It's all to do with who has been there the longest, but sometimes it's to do with who might be to the right. All very odd. And there often isn't any particular 'need' to stop. Whereas stop signs in Europe are for some (usually obvious) reason, there are even more stop signs here, not the 4-way ones, which some police will insist you physically stop at. But this seems low on logic to me, since I can see, often, that there is no other traffic. So why stop? Nothing's there! It seems that stopping prevents you from getting a 'ticket'. So people stop for no other reason than to keep policemen at bay. The idea of 'give way' at junctions doesn't exist. I'm told it wouldn't work in America - people wouldn't do it! How do Americans manage to drive around Europe then? Sometimes here they have a 'Yield' sign when filtering onto a motorway, and that's the closest there is to 'give way'. Alberta quite reasonably insisted that her visits to the UK were always disappointed by signs announcing 'zebra crossing' when there were never any zebra crossing anything. It was just that someone had painted some stripes across the road! But the most interesting sign they ever saw in Britain was "Beware of Sheep." They didn't know sheep posed any danger. Each to their own, indeed.

Deep in the redwood forest covering the hills north of Santa Cruz, Anwen and her pals were camped up and playing happily in the creek (burn). One, Carly, immediately began telling me that her dad had only recently sold his motorbike since he had so little time these days. "That's fatherhood for you," I grinned at her. Happily, she got the joke and laughed before going on to tell me all about how bees find and make honey. Quite an education! Coincidentally, some bees came out and stung one or two of the girls, as well as Richard! There was a distinct lack of greeting and bawling of the sort you might expect of 10year olds. None were put off by such a minor inconvenience and, after some recovery time, we all went happily off into the woods. The surrounding redwood trees were hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old and as many feet tall. Some were wide open in the middle and you could get inside them and be quite comfortable there and sheltered from the rain, if ever it rained.

After tea (dinner), Richard had organised an ancient hand-operated machine with which he could make home-made ice-cream. He put in the mix, some ice and salt around the outside, and we each took turns at churning. It was hard going on such an elderly machine but the results were well worth the effort. I'd never tasted such delicious ice-cream! So that's what it's supposed to taste like! When it got dark, the girls made patterns with some flourescent necklaces Alberta hadbought them. Top idea, night light in the tent, they could be spotted at a distance and find their way to the loo.

US campsites are quite different from European ones as they have no lights or showers. Campers are not encouraged to stay too long. But they all have good, safe fireplaces with cooking griddles, and you can usually organise a shower somewhere nearby if you smell so bad that it becomes really necessary. The campsites here all seem to be in woods too. European trees all drop sap in the night which makes tents (and motorbikes) sticky in the morning if you camp beneath them.

The day after returning from Anwen's camp, Richard's pal Carl took me out for a run. He has an R1150G/S and knew some top routes to the south of Aptos along Highway 1. We visited some interesting sites, including a restaurant by a river where the clientelle were encouraged to sit on wooden chairs in the river, soaking their feet in the cooling waters. We took part and it really was very refreshing in that day's heat. He also showed me Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and we went along a 17mile long road normally closed to non-residents. Very twisty and pretty. It was refreshing that whenever we stopped, we could just leave our crash-helmets on the bikes and not worry about them getting pinched.

In the City of Carmel, Carl told me that the actor Clint Eastwood had been extremely popular during his time as mayor. He could sometimes be seen shopping in the town. My day was not made since I didn't bump into him. We had a great day which I really enjoyed, and I didn't get back to Aptos until after dark. Riding up Highway 1 with the sun dropping into the Pacific on my left was a rare treat however. It's usually foggy, I hear.

Alberta 'home-schools' both her daughters so they don't go to day school but stay at home for their education. This might sound great to most children until you remember that your parent is also your teacher, is there all the time, and rarely misses a chance for teaching something. The result is NO HOLIDAYS!! Well, none that don't include some sort of educational element. The home-schooling scheme is popular in this part of California and is monitored by visiting teachers who can offer advice to parents, but who also check on progress from time to time. Anwen and Tegan are developing perfectly well.

I was happily camped in the garden of their house for a whole relaxing week before I found out that I had to be in Los Angeles in just two days. This if I was to have any chance of getting the bike onto the next boat to Melbourne. I packed up, said my goodbyes to the family and their most welcoming friends as best I could in such a hurry, and headed south. I hope to see them in Scotland before very long. Should be interesting frightening the lives out of Anwen and Tegan with a day's visit to the wild fun and organised chaos that is an average Scottish Primary school! Not Denend though. That runs like a clockwork version of peace and tranquility!

15 June, 2007

Texas to California

At the US border they spoke a sort of a form of English but seemed to lack any 'spark'. All pretty much automated responses, with some curious interjections from time to time. I was sent over at one point by the border guards at the 'in' section, to the 'out' section for leaving the US, just to see if I could get some change for my green card visa thing. I was swiftly intercepted by a border guard who demanded to know what I was doing in that area.

"I'm looking for change for the guys over there . . ." I said.
But was cut off; "you can't be in this area, sir!" left hand in a 'stop' sign, right hand on his gun, legs apart, ready to 'draw'! Nuts!
I had stopped very still, and may even have raised my hands instinctively (too many movies in all of us!) out to my sides. Everything seemed to have gone very quiet. "Well . . . ehm . . . I was sent over by your colleagues back there," I motioned behind me.
"You just can't be here, sir."
"Ehhm . . . o . . . kay . . . but . . . ehhhm . . . why not?"
"It's just policy, sir." He relaxed a bit and stood up. He must have decided I was just a daftie and no immediate threat to US border security.
"So can you tell me why this policy exists? It's just I'm quite interested in strange laws and the reasons for them."
"No, sir, I can't tell you that sir, it's just policy."
"It'll be that daft George Bush," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes, it will sir, thank you for that advice, sir."

And that was the curious bit - he thanked me 'for that advice'. I wondered if anyone further up in the US government might do the same as I wandered back to scrounge some change from some nervous-looking Mexicans. I gave them all the Mexican coins I had, while I was at it. I was through the border control quite quickly, although without any of the 'banter' you usually get with border guards. No humour, none, whatsoever. It was like when you take your driving test. Examiners have to stick rigidly to a script so as to avoid any accusation of bias. That was how they spoke, sticking to a script. No importation of the bike, no stamp in my passport. A green card with my details on, a retinal scan and my two fore-fingers photographed for posterity, and in case I ever decide to take up terrorism, I suppose. I asked how long I could stay. "You have a few days. You stay any longer and you'll lose your privileges. You might never get back into the US again!" Concerned, I looked at the card. It was stamped 12th September 2007. So now he's joking, now I'm in. What a hoot!! Not! A bit presumptious that anyone might consider it a privilege to get into his country but . . .

And no importation of the bike. Customs just wanted to know whether I had any drugs, explosives or guns and then they let both me and the bike go.

A roadsign said I 'must' take the Toll Road. This cost $2, the same as a car. I mentioned to the man collecting the money that this was only the second country I'd been in where they charged the same for a bike as a car. In a thick Mexican accent he said "Well, eef you don't laike eet, you can go back to your own countree, anee time you waaant" and added a big dramatic wink. I laughed out loud, "I'll bear that in mind, but my country's too far away just now." Welcome to the United States (sir!).

I'd seen another sign at the beginning of the road 'Laredo 20'. A quick calculation told me that Laredo would therefore be only 12.5 miles away. 12.5 miles later I was still looking at the darkening brushwood in the closing heat of the desert. Ha, of course, the only other country on earth that uses miles, apart from the UK, is the US! This could take some getting used to. I bought a map when I reached Laredo and immediately discovered that there were about three bridges across the river between the two towns. Also, the Toll road (if you pay it's a 'turnpike') had taken me along two sides of an equilateral triangle, the third side of which would have taken me straight into town in half the time!

But it was a very good map, well detailed and the next day I could settle into making good progress along smooth surfaced roads - for free! Most of the roadsigns were written, rather than pictorial as in Europe. "State Correctional Facility - Do NOT pick up hitchhikers" made some sense. Trucks ploughed along at over 80mph! I had foolishly thought the US was still plodding around in their huge cars at 55mph! I need to pay more attention. Most speed limits were around 65-75 but I saw one at 80mph, on the Freeway, and most traffic was exceeding this by at least 10mph. I stuck to between 65 & 70 and kept an eye on the mirror for trucks approaching at speed. The 'bow-waves' of air from the front of them would unsettle the bike if I wasn't prepared for them. Very strange to be overtaken so often by such huge trucks.

I'd have to say that 80% of all motorbikes were gleaming Harley-Davidsons. All doing 80mph as well. Getting overtaken by a Harley was also a new experience! This never happens at home. Although you don't have to wear a crash helmet here, only a very few are daft enough not to. But how do they keep their bikes so shiny?

As I was just thinking which westerns I might like to add to my dvd collection at home, the approaching town of Langtry reminded me of Judge Roy Bean (THE Law west of the Pecos!) and the top film with Paul Newman doing a great job hamming up the title role. I hadn't even known he was a real person! There was his courthouse, and the home he'd decided was also an opera house, in case Miss Lillie Langtry might ever come to the town he'd named in her honour! Click on the photie to make it bigger, mind.

I had expected most things to be a lot easier here. After all, they speak the same language, don't they? I was prepared not to like it, I was even fully prepared to be surprised and love it, I'd heard so much about the welcoming nature of 'ordinary' people (whatever they are). I wasn't anywhere near ready to be so utterly confused. Very little in the shops made any sense. I expected things to be familiar and laid out more or less the same as at home in Europe. Very little was in any way familiar and there were not even Heinz beans which I thought must be available in every corner of the planet like Coke.

Oscar Wilde said the US and UK were "two nations separated by a common language". I have to agree. Later, I heard the difference between Brits and Americans is that while we think 200 miles is quite far to go, Americans think 200 years is quite a long time. I passed through the 'city' of Klinger, population 217. Can this be classed as a city? That'll make Kinghorn a real metropolis then!

There were some very BIG people. Bob, a road worker who invited me to use his barbecue outside our rooms at a New Mexican motel, had heard on the wireless that the next generation would be the first in US history not to achieve a longer life expectancy than their parents. All because of obesity.

In three days I was across Texas, through New Mexico and camped on a Navajo campsite (free) near Canyon de Chelly in North Eastern Arizona. In the photo you can see land farmed in the traditional Navajo way, in the bottom of the canyon.This was the largest Indian reservation on my map, and took up about an entire quarter of Arizona. 'Indians', by the way, is what they seem to call themselves - collectively, but probably Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Ute, etc. among themselves. This just makes sense to me since 'Native' American by definition counts for anyone born anywhere from Northern Canada to Tierra del Fuego. So that makes Brad Pitt and Hugo Chaves as much Native Americans as any Navajo, and each other.

Next morning I was off to see the Grand Canyon and very grand it was too.
I was still riding alongside it late into the next day along one of the few remaining parts of historic Route 66. I got very little in the way of kicks since it mainly passed through more very hot desert and was completely straight. I stopped off to ask what was historic about it, thinking it was just mentioned in a not-very-brilliant song from the sixties (?). It seems, in fact, that it was used as an escape route during the 'dustbowl dry days' of the thirties Great Depression, and then again during the sixties, for people trying to reach the milk and honey land of California. Now it's mostly underneath the Interstate Highway.Route 66 led me to a road towards the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. The town of Kingman thought it was just fine to wait until I was 6miles out of town before telling me the next 'gas' was 75miles away. I made the 12mile return detour as I had only about 65miles left in the tank. The heat at the Dam was incredible. Glen had told me he'd just kept going through the night to avoid both the heat and the crippling accommodation costs. This seemed like a reasonable idea since there was little in the way of large wild animals wandering about, as far as I could see. So I decided I might give it a go.

I cruised through Las Vegas at dusk and began to climb up into the Nevada Desert, heading towards Yosemite. I planned to find a campsite there in the morning and dose through the next day in the coolness of the altitude, and in the shade of some redwood trees. About 10pm, however, I changed my mind as my eyes began to droop. I'd been on the road for 13 hours and a better idea about now would be to find a motel. I skipped passed one or two that seemed too brightly lit for my tastes. In Beatty, Nevada, I noticed two motorbikes in a motel car park - not Harleys. They even had yellow number plates, but lots of US states have those. As I got closer in the darkness, they were big trail bikes . . . then I could see that both were F650 BMWs, and the number plates were . . . British right enough . . . in fact . . . it cannae be . . . Will and James' bikes!! But . . ? Wow! How on earth . . ? My bike shoogled happily (old boxers can do this at low revs!) up to its old pals and quite obviously wasn't going to go any further.After checking in, I found the lads propping up the bar across the street in the 'Sourdough Saloon' (honest - the cliches just roll off!). Even having found their bikes it was still something of a shock to see themselves. "There you are!" I said in concert with Will's casual "there he is!" James was drop-jawed as he turned, then, being roughly as daft as each other, we were all smiles and handshakes as we excitedly exchanged stories of derring-do since we'd parted, seven weeks ago in Bogota, Colombia. It turned out we'd been on almost the same route all day, they'd only been an hour or two ahead of me. This was providence doing some funny things. They had also planned to head up to Yosemite the next day.The run along through the last bit of Nevada desert in company again with these two youthful madmen was great fun. They had been seeking new and diverse ways of waving at opposing motorcyclists, and my 'cruise control' and the straight roads, allowed me more imaginative waves and greetings than normal, which amused Will (showing some leg). After a while the desert began slowly to give way to rolling hills and then we rose further up into more scenic and green mountains. For the first time since Colombia I forgot all about navigating and just followed James into Yosemite National Park where he'd already selected an excellent campsite. The Park Ranger who registered us was impressed with our trip. The air was cool and we put the tents up ready for a good night's sleep. There was no sign of Sam anywhere.

Our neighbours were four ladies who had heard us checking in. They were leaving in the morning and invited us to dinner in order to finish off as much of their food as possible. In exchange, we were to entertain them with stories of the trips. Melody, Doreen, April and Dorrine had some excellent food, from salmon to steak as well as top cheeses. Two had gone shopping, each without telling the other so that they had far more than they could reasonably handle. We did our best with tales of daftness and adventure as we 'sang for our supper'. The weirdest thing had been our meeting the previous night. The ladies were interested and quick to laugh and we all got along well, which made it all the more fun for us. In return we also heard some adventures from them, as well as some amazing stuff in Europe.This helped dispel another myth - that only a tiny percentage of US citizens even own passports. Everyone I've met so far has travelled pretty well. At the end of the evening we'd hardly made much of a dent in the food, so what was left got wrapped up for us to enjoy the following evening. These welcoming strangers fed us well for two nights in a row!

Meanwhile James, Will and I chilled out and did a little walking and talking some more highly entertaining nonsense. "If you could only have three bikes in the whole world . . . " began James. Hmmm, a hard one! Then we packed up and rode off down the scenic green valley. At a certain point I had to head west towards San Francisco, while they would turn north for Lake Tahoe, Canada and Alaska. A friendly petrol station attendant took the posed photo and we all decided this was a far better parting than waving at or from a wee, yellow, Colombian taxi at 5am! On our bikes, with our boots on . . . A few miles further down an amazingly smooth and twisty road, in a flurry of beeping horns and waves, I turned west and the boys headed north. We'll catch back up in the UK, I'm sure.

The lonely run through the hills and down into the stifling heat of the desert was interesting and highly scenic. The road had a near perfect surface. This heat was at least dry, which meant that perspiration could do its natural job of cooling me down. After the spectacular hills, I slogged further west through much flatness until I stopped for coffee at Gilroy, the 'Garlic City' True enough, a fair pong filled the air.

From here it was only a short run through some more hills to the coast. Getting into these was very cool and I had to stop and replace summer gloves with winter ones. To my amazement, as I came through these hills and saw the Pacific again, the coolness didn't warm up. It was chilly on the Californian Coastline. It was too late to bother my chums in Aptos, so I booked into the Bayview (couldn't resist) Hotel.

I was directed into the bar and was soon joined by Michael, who had seen my bike sitting outside with its funny number plate and decided to investigate. He had an old BMW K75 and gave me good tips on where to go and get my bike looked at. He also invited me to stay at his farm, should I be unable to secure further accommodation less expensive than this hotel. Very kind!

The lady at the hotel had originally said the room cost $130. I apologised that this was a little out of my expected price range, and so she immediately lowered it to $90, but without breakfast. When I went into my wallet and she realised I was going to pay in cash, the price dropped a little further and breakfast was back on the menu! Funny place, and with the thickest mattress I ever saw!

06 June, 2007

Viva Mexico 23,832miles

We had been warned by John, via e-mail, about Tropical Storm Barbara making landfall near the Guatamala/Mexico Pacific border, but she came and went in the night. The place was still a bit soggy, but we hadn't heard anything overnight so it couldn't have been all that bad. It cost a bit of money to get out of Guatamala, which was a little odd, but entering Mexico was easy. Except we had only entered ourselves, now we had to get the bikes in. Customs was miles away, and not that easy to find. The book said it was on the only road out of town and impossible to miss. That's if you could find the road out of town! Glen makes a splash!

We found it eventually. They wanted to take $400US off of my credit card, in case I sold the bike in Mexico. This way they already had the money they'd need for any taxes. It was assumed I'd be selling the bike. They managed to look a wee bit sheepish when I asked them about the reasons for this law. I pointed out that no other country did this, and that it must be a wee bit awkward for tourism. The worst bit was that Glen didn't have a credit card. They had to take $400US in cash from him, promising to return it at the US border, when he appeared with the bike. Unfortunately he didn't have $400US dollars in cash, although he did have it in Mexican Pesos. They couldn't accept those. What a funny sort of an insult to their own currency! Luckily for us the only place that would change Pesos into Dollars was closed for the evening. Top nonsense, beating even the so-called World Bureaucratic Champions Egypt. It didn't say anything about this in the book!

Muttering softly, we skulked off into the evening to find a hostel. Glen was riding a KTM 640 'Duke'. This is a road-going bike not designed for dirt. It was the first road bike I'd seen apart from mine. He had tried to buy an XT600 in Panama, but this was all he could get. His original plan had been to go around the world by public transport. But his first journey from Panama to Costa Rica had changed his mind. He must have the same luck as me on public transport. His 'luggage' reflected his unplanned change of transport. He wore a huge backpack, and strapped a smaller one to his tank.

All was quickly sorted next morning and we were off. Petrol stations which had at first been frequent, suddenly ran out. There just weren't any petrol stations as the road wound up onto hills. This was quickly followed by my own petrol supply running out, 40miles earlier than it should have. Glen left his pack with me and went off ahead to find fuel. Under the baking sun, this was quite a long wait. I read my book in the shade, and tried to catch the sweat droplets before they dropped from my nose onto the pages. Two hours in this oven and I was nearly done, just needed turned one more time. As was about to expire, Glen appeared around the corner. "It's a great run from now on!" he said enthusiastically. He had brought back two large water containers of fuel. No ceremonies to stand on around here about 'suitable containers' for fuel. I was pretty glad for him, I really would have felt bad if he'd had to ride back and forward up a boring motorway just to help me out.

The road really was brilliant with lots of twists, turns and an excellent surface. Scenery was also of the breathtaking variety. At one point I looked down and saw some fuel pouring out of the pipe. That's why I'd run out so soon! We stopped and I managed to cut a little off a longer pipe to replace that which had perished. No knowing how far I'd make it now. In the end I ran out about 12 miles from the petrol station, but a downhill series of twisties meant I was able to keep a-freewheelin', and only came to an absolute halt about 200m from the actual fuelling point. Glen buzzed ahead and came back with a wee bottle to save the super-heated push.

At the cafe that night we ran in to Maija, a Finnish girl exploring Mexico alone before returning to her acting career in Finland. We had a good laugh exchanging ideas about Europe and I was able to try out my theory about Finland winning the Second World War (even though they mistakenly ended up on the wrong side), by putting up such a good fight against the Red Army in the Winter War and convincing Hitler that he should leave the UK alone for a bit, and go and invade the Soviet Union. Maija hadn't heard this one before (neither had I, out loud!), but she liked it and went on to tell us about her grandad and what a warrior he had been during all the fighting. In this town, and strangely only this town, they had some odd methods of transport none of us had seen before. Grannies would stand in the back of these things like Bouddicea in her chariot, trundling around the town.

Maija had been in the north of Mexico and so was also able to give us good tips on where to stay on our run up to Mexico City. The biggest city in the world and with expected traffic to match. Both of her recommended stops turned out to be good ones and we were grateful. Oaxaca is a particularly pretty town, with lots to look at and plenty of authentic Mexican culture to savour in a very small area.

At each stop for food, we were given a fantastic delight of tasty treats! It didn't seem to matter where we went, the food was excellent, different, original and extremely tasty! Never too much or too little, and always with chilli and limes.

The straighter roads along the way were covered with 'sleeping policemen' or speedbumps. A friend has told me that these things save lives, but surely it is the slowing down that saves the lives, not the speedbumps! Just get people to drive more slowly by educating them instead of ruining their suspension. They are especially problematic for motorbikes because our wheels are so close together. If you don't see them, they bash the front suspension (and your wrists) before sending the back wheel into the air. All quite entertaining if you're ready for them, but a real threat to stability if you're not. Then they aren't predictable. Some are painted, others not. They appear at the daftest places with no warning. Sometimes they just paint the road where there is no speedbump! Some have wee signs at the side which you only notice at the last minute and then 'smack, whoa, bump, shoogle, ooyah!' If only they organised a wee space in between for unfortunate motorbikes to aim for. One or two only, did this. I'd have cheerfully smothered these policemen in their sleep if I could have found a suitable pillow. Glen (he must have been really bored on the straight sections!) counted 198 of them in 200miles! Surely more than strictly necessary. At one stage, coming out of a police checkpoint, Glen managed to run into the rear section of an entire cow, wandering happily on the dual carriageway. He took its back legs away from it, but he managed to stay upright and the startled moo-moo got back up and wandered off to chew more cud. Two days later we approached MC with some caution.

This time it was Glen's turn to break down with a suspected flat front tyre. Luckily it was only a slow puncture, and after I applied the pump Oscar had given me in Honduras, we were able to make it to a tyre garage to have it properly inflated. Then it stayed inflated, although it clearly needed replaced.

Again, Mexico City's traffic wasn't nearly as scary as we'd been led to expect. They have an excellent system of motorways linking all the main areas so that you get from one area to another fairly quickly. We stopped near the airport and tried to phone Karyme, a friend from a few years ago when she had been sent up to Scotland by my other pals, Carrie and Iain (just had a wee boy, Isaac!), for a weekend visit. The phones weren't working (or I couldn't work them!) so Karyme sent directions by email.

I was just following these when up popped Miguel on his BMW K75. He was very excited to see me and we shook hands in the middle of the carriageway like GP riders at the end of a race. He offered to show us the way to where we were going. Very helpful. When he let us go, we were grateful and confident of finding our destination. But then, when we stopped to check the map, he re-appeared, shouting at Glen. I didn't even bother to look up from the map at first, being by now quite used to people shouting all over the place (not normally at me). When I did look up, he was very angry. We had come the wrong way - didn't we listen to his directions - there was no point in looking at the map - it was out of date - they had moved the streets years ago. "What!?" I held my hands up and begged for just ten seconds' peace while I tried to think.

Ten seconds later; "So what you're saying is that this map I bought just this morning is now out of date because they moved the streets some years ago?"
"Yes," said Miguel.
"That isn't very useful, or handy for those who rely on maps - visitors, is it?"
"No!" said Miguel.
"It's also very unusual for a major international city to do such a thing, since it would confuse everyone and certainly not good for any businesses along these streets."
"Welcome to Mexico!" said Miguel.

But I didn't believe him, and he made no further protests as we rode off again on the very street he'd raged about us being on. When we came to the turning, we followed his instructions. But he was completely wrong. The streets were in the same places the map suggested they were. We turned around and were soon relieved to be at the gates of Karyme's house.

Karyme's family (in their jammies!!) were extremely welcoming and would not hear of Glen finding accommodation of his own. Her mum and dad, Carmen and Arturo, and her brother Mauricio, all lived very happily together in a spotless house in the south of the city. Carmen apologised that they hadn't got the guest room finished and that the work was still ongoing. She was worried about the 'mess'. I had to look closely to notice that any work was going on at all since the place was so tidy. But sure enough they were having an extension put on and had the biggest telly I'd ever seen ready to go into their new guest room/cinema.

Next day Glen and I organised his repairs and took a bus tour of the city. By that evening he had organised a place to stay through the "Couch Surfing" website. You get a free place to sleep on a stranger's couch, in exchange for letting strangers sleep on yours whenever you get home. Must look more into this. Karyme and Mauricio, meanwhile, gave me a top and tasty flavour of their social lives.

I was impressed by Mexico City. It is, of course, enormous, but I got to find my way around and I think I could learn the place fairly quickly. Of course, even Mauricio, a native, gets lost sometimes, but the major routes around the city are so well organised and signposted that you get a basic idea pretty fast. At one point I saw a biker in the bus lane. Great! Some places are enlightened enough to allow this - Glasgow, Bristol - but not Edinburgh) and I scooted off after him, avoiding all the traffic. Two junctions later I was stopped by some policemen. 1400Peso fine, they take the bike, I pay another 2400Pesos to get it back in two days' time, blah, blah, blah . . . I'd had enough. There was just no way they were taking my bike! I fully realise that I am handicapped by my ethnocentric Scottish background that would have to term this 'stealing'. "You'll have to phone the British Embassy!" I demanded angrily. Then a wee book was produced, and I was invited to 'make a donation'. I don't know what to. But, to save lots of hassle, I made it. 100Pesos, or about $11US, or 5.50pounds. All were happy.
No Dugal - it really is a VERY BIG flag!I found my way to Teotihuacan, an amazing pre-Aztec city with huge pyramids as big as those (bigger?) in Egypt. Unbelievable that these ancient cultures were building such things while most of Europe
was living in caves and mud huts. Then, just because we invented fire-arms, Europeans turn up and pinch the lot! Well, actually those who built this somehow disappeared inexplicably before even the Aztecs became organised. But we pinched it all from the Aztecs with our guns and 'superior technology'.

That night, Friday Club (Mexico City) was very enjoyable with lots of Karyme and Mauricio's pals and some curious things to imbibe. The food was excellent, again, and it seems the Mexicans could hardly survive any meal without very hot pickled chillies and fresh limes. Dancing in the middle of the bar was unusual, they said, but Mexico had just beaten Cuba in a football game,so there was some cause for celebration. Another cause was that Karyme has recently become engaged to Eduardo ('Lalo' for short!) and she was keen to show off the new rocks!

Mexico - highly recommended, and I very much hope to return, without the bike, and with much more time.

Glen and I had arranged to meet outside the city on the road heading north. We missed each other but got back into contact via e-mail. We were both heading for San Francisco, so we should meet up along the way, or at the end. I was suffering a little bit (couldn't be too many chillies - I enjoy those at home!) and couldn't cover the same ground as him. He got well ahead of me, but we were still confident of meeting up in California.

The Mexican motorways were great, had no speedbumps but cost the same for motorbikes as for cars. In just two days however, I was at the US border. My map showed no bridges from Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, to Laredo in Texas, so I followed the signs around to the Columbian International Bridge, some 20 miles upstream on the Rio Grande. I signed the bike out of Mexico (I hope they return the $400!) and went to immigration for my own passport stamp. It was getting late and I was keen to find a bed in the US. I had very few Pesos left and was getting pretty tired when I found the office (open 24 hours) hadn't anyone in it. The man supposed to be in charge had gone to the store and no-one knew when he might be back. A young student explained all this to me, and didn't seem to panic overly when I reached around the desk, went into the man's top drawer and found the 'Salida' (exit) stamp. It was at the right date, so I quickly stamped myself out. Not exactly recommended behaviour, but I was far too tired to argue with myself!