Have now arrived in Colombia by sea from Panama and have decided to spend a week in Cartagena to rest and prepare for the coming road south. This city gets a post in its own right not only because it is a pit stop prior to taking on the rest of South America but it is also highly recommended for any to come here and sample the picture postcard streets of this beautiful city.
Am not whiling away the days merely taking photos of leafy balconies (along with the army of other clicking tourists here), but have signed up for some Spanish language and salsa classes (thankfully not simultaneously). After just two lessons I appear to have become the King of Salsa and can also freely converse in upward of 17 Spanish words. Much to my chagrin, due to the similarity in pronunciation of the Spanish word for ‘years’, phonetically ‘anyos’ and the English ‘anus’, I have come to the belated and embarrassing realisation that I have been proudly announcing to all and sundry along the cycling route that should I make it to the south of Chile that it will take me “one and a half bottom holes”.
The Meeting of the Americas has been in town bringing with it convoys of heads of state, road blocks and a clearing out of garbage bins and street carts. One bonus, however, has been the form of the security provided by Colombia that has included undoubtedly the most sexy instruments of state oppression of the unruly masses imaginable, personified by the unrelentingly cute Karinita and her riot police squady friends.
My little hotel in the old city has a coffee shop across the square and a pastry shop downstairs. Its going to be very difficult to drag myself away from this city but drag I must as all points south of this continent await.
Ensenada caters for cruise ships that pull into port with all manner of cheap souvenirs and strip clubs a plenty. It marks the end of my first day’s riding in Mexico and despite the road shoulder disappearing in places and the traffic being more unpredictable and careless than in the USA, it was not the nightmare scenario that I had anticipated. Your correspondent kept up a healthy clip along the coastal road and was in by tea time.
The ‘Hotel Rio’ here in Ensanada makes no claims to grandeur and indeed deserves none. It and Rio de Janeiro have much in common. They both have doors. They both have ‘Rio’ in their names and they both share a planet. That, regrettably, is where any similarity ends. I saw this place marked on the guidebook map yet neglected to note the comment that, “this is the cheapest place in town”. True, it certainly is cheap at 10 Yankie dollars so can’t complain too bitterly on that front. It wears its cheapness like a badge of honour. Disconcertingly it would appear that someone had attempted to slaughter a pig in my room (I hope a pig) and forgotten to hang the ‘please tidy’ sign on the door. The victim must have put up quite a struggle as there are what look to be aged blood splatters still adorning each of the walls. Oh well, What the hell. At least there are crappy food outlets and dodgy strip bars conveniently located in the same street. There is also a profusion of chaps wondering about willing to provide prostitutes, pot, cocaine and pretty well anything else one could possibly desire.
My Spanish language skills continue to come on a pace. Spurred on by the lyrics of Bob Dylan (as is, it would appear, a lot of what I do – I once visited Mozambique solely on the basis that, “the sunny sky is aqua-blue and all the couples dancing cheek to cheek and maybe fall in love just me and you”), am making headway through the phrase book and am well beyond ordering two beers (which I can now do blindfolded).
“Spanish is the loving tongue
Soft as music, light as spring
Was a girl I learned it from
Living down Sonora way,… (Dylan)
It may be that I could well be in Argentina by the time that any of my Spanish phrases are anything softer than the current industrial diamond or lighter than mercury yet I shall persevere.
21st December (Ensenada – San Vicente) (88km)
The photo is of the best little taco shop in San Vicente. It’s just about the only little taco shop in San Vicente. The town lies and the junction of Highway 1 and nothing at all and does not have a lot to recommend it other than the palatial Palm Hotel (see photo) which has as it’s prime selling point that it is not the Hotel Rio in Ensenada.
I have had a rough day on the bike as am still suffering the ill effects of a cold. The energy drains away quickly during the day and this compounds with a nasty little climb in the afternoon and my not having been on the bike in recent weeks to make the going rather tough. Regardless, I achieved the 88km required to get body, soul and bike to San Vicente and what looks like being the next in a long procession of cheap crappy hotels.
A belated study of the map is now revealing the full scale of the Baja Peninsula and indeed of Mexico itself in all of their awful glory. I may have underestimated the size of this task. The Baja could be up to 15 days ride and there would appear to be at least two more Baja’s worth of biking on the main land of Mexico. This is therefore going to be an epic part of the trip south and could take a month and a half, possibly longer, to complete. The countries of Central America look to be mere piddlers in comparison.
Looking further southwards it might be prudent to have a more detailed look at the timing of the travel through South America. This is important as it would not do to be enduring the rigors of the southern tip of Argentina in mid-winter (June/July0. Therefore arriving there around late Spring or if there are delays, summer, would appear to be the best course of action. That means 9-10 months of 2012 (Jan – October) for the trip from Mexico to the end point at Tierra Del Fuego.
22nd December (San Vicente – San Quintin) (103km)
Quite a blast along the straight flat road today and just the thing for a cyclist getting his legs back after a break and still suffering the ill effects of the cold. Have included photos of my new friends, Mr Truck and Mr Bus. You will no doubt be pleased to learn that your correspondent is on the mend and now looking forward to getting down the Baja to Guerrero Negro (about 420km south of here) to do a spot of whale watching.