Sun Dowers

Peru seems to be a country of three stripes; the coastal desert which spans the length of the country from north to south. Go in land and you climb into rugged mountains and continue even further east and you pass into the Peruvian Amazon.

I leave the capital, Lima, and follow the Pan Americana highway. To my right as I head south is the Pacific but despite this vast expanse of water all I am surrounded by is sand. It is a proper deserty desert complete with towering sand dunes. But strangely enough the main thing I notice is a intermittent smell, not a nice one, it has a real ammonia tang to it. Then I notice the sheds, the business of choice here is batch chickens, not a pleasant sight or smell for that matter. Plus it puts you off your dinner a little seeing row after row of chickens crammed into small enclosures barely able to move some looking suspiciously motionless. My go to meal here is pollo frito, chicken and chips, that might have to change.

Peru boasts some spectacular sea food, ceviche being their national dish but turn inland through the desert and order at your own peril. I was dished up an ample serving of what looked like stomach at one luncheon spot. I didn’t ask and I didn’t eat it. Batched chicken it is.

The road takes me further inland and into the depths of the desert. It would have its charms if it weren’t for the rubbish. Peru is winning the prize for the most litter, heaps of it line the roads into and out of villages and towns; as I make my way across the sandy expanse I’m treated to a headwind with a difference. Plastic bags, bottles and other detritus fly through the air like grotesque autumn leaves in the wind. Bottles discarded by truck drivers little the gutter full of unmistakeable urine coloured liquid. These drivers need to drink more water, they are a dehydrated bunch. And of course there is the odd shoe lying on the road side.

The climbing starts but not before I pass the Nazca Lines. Now I’ve always thought that Stonehenge was a touch underwhelming for tourists. They travel all that way to see this prehistoric site, undoubtedly impressive and a wonder but like I said perhaps underwhelming to behold, you cant even touch them. Well the Nazca Lines were an anti-climax to say the least. Stood a top of the rickety viewing tower I gaze down on a tree, a lizard with its tail cut off by the road and a frog. I cant help but think that the broom down at the base of the tower has been used liberally to sketch these shapes amongst the rocks. I’ve seen more impressive snow angels. I met a Spanish couple in Nazca who did a flight over the area to take in the full scale of the lines and shapes. They said it was amazing but cynical Harry thinks it was the flight that was the fun part.

From Nazca I turn hill‐ward and towards deep dark central Peru or should I say lofty Peru. Its going to be a long few days. The road starts from near sea level to reach just shy of 4500m. I snake my way slowly, sea slugs have been known to move faster. The roads are narrow and full of blind corners; wonder into the racing line on one of the blind turns and risk becoming a pavement pizza for the lorries don’t hang around and they are road hoggers.

Its not overly arduous, just a game of patience. The mountains are bare at first but dotted amongst them are vast sand dunes the crests of which are well over 2500m, I’ve not seen anything like them. The drivers….arseholes. South America as a whole is the worst so far but Peruvians are taking the biscuit. I think I’ve become pretty numb to what in normal circumstances would be considered a near death experience, I have what would be considered on a morning commute as a near miss daily. But here in Peru I have been forced off the road and into the dirt to a wobbly halt countless times as head on over taking traffic dare me to a game of chicken or a bus leaves not but an inch spare on the road side. As I climb along this waving road a migration of lorries edges past, on the blind turns they sound their horns, long and drawn out the echo across this barren landscape. Drawn out they reverberate like the calls of great mechanical whales (my imagination wonders). They are not saying, “watch out I’m coming”, no they are warnings, “get off my road.”

I must admit I am in a cycling low, what happens between me and the bike is like any relationship, it has its up and downs, it tests your patients at times and perhaps you loose a little love for one another. But it can surprise you, and we are climbing into the mountains to reignite the spark which will drive the push to Patagonia. There is something truly satisfying about climbing mountains even just on the road.

The climbing is measured in days or half days here in Peru, it takes a full day on the bike to reach the top of the first rise at 4500m. Not the heighest I’ve been, no the Pamirs hold that title for now. the Pamir Highway really had a climb in and a climb out of the plateau with a high pass on either side. Here it is not the case, I reach the top, descend a few thousand and then it is slow and steady once more.

I’m in a bit of a pickle, my cash is running low and there isnt a bank for at least another two days, but the cycle gods as always step in. I had meant to plod on up for another few hours but in the small town of Puquio I stop in for lunch, I could have picked anyone of the numerous fine eateries but it just so happens that in the restaurant that I selected that I come across Joanna and Francois and their four children aged between six and twelve. They are cycling from Bogota to Buenos Aires on three tandems. Before you know it I am sat at the table about to join them for lunch when suddenly and without warning as though it is a completely normal thing they all hold hands and break into some sort of lyrical grace, I’m sat at the head of the table awkwardly looking on when I notice that a hand is held up on either side of me. I have to hold hands with complete strangers and endure this unexpected religious musical out burst. I would sell my sole for a free meal.

Sitting with the family is a Father who runs the Catholics in the area. He insists that I stay in the convent with the family for the night. I am not one to turn down a warm bed and a hot shower so I cut the day short. If they keep this up generosity I think I can eke out my supplies for a few days more. Unbelievably this crazy lot are cycling across the continent for a year, I find it hard enough looking after myself let alone feeding and watering four little dependant eating, crying and shitting machines.

What an experience to expose your children to; the papa, Francois, feelings are that nothing will happen to them, when people ask what about the dangers of the road he says that God will look after them. They are exposing their younglings to a whole new world where they live by relatively meagre means with no television, hot water nor all the others normalities that we take for granted. Living with the bare minimal is a thing he wants to show his children that and the world. We have all seen the swathes of Venezuelans along the roads, carrying all they could carry as they try to find a place to start a new life, at the Peruvian border there were masses of refugees and the NGOs to go with them. Francois’s theory is that he is showing his children just a slight taster of what some people are forced to endure. Albeit they know that they have a home to go back to in the south of France.

At dinner that evening we break bread once again, but not before they have broken into a second rendition. Religion is beyond me. Francois sings in a deep churchy voice which just seems unnatural to me. I sit in silence patiently looking on whist my soup goes cold. What are the chances that I so fortuitously chose that particular restaurant? Are the powers that be at work? (the cycle Gods I mean).

It seems that some people have children and that’s that. Life is put on hold until they have flown the nest; but when will that be? I’m in my thirties and next for me is moving back in with the parents. Other parents say, “ kids, so what, I guess they will just have to come along for the ride.” Their gift to their children, travel.

There is something about accents that is immensely satisfying, perhaps its the air or the commanding views. It is by fair my favourite part of this journey, reaching the lofty heights. I feel revitalised, satisfied. In place of the Himalayan yaks are llamas and their smaller less woolly cousins vicunas. In a series of lakes at around 3500m flamingos can be seen wadding in the shallows, filtering the waters with their long hose like necks bent over like Alice’s croquet mallet. My oldest brother used to call flamingos goollies, my uncle having taught him this misplaced slag for ones testicles.

Mountains can always be a bit fickle and throw a curve ball; as I’m happily going about my third day climbing bathed in patches of glorious sunshine I turn a corner and all hell breaks loose. That’s if hell is an icy whirl wind of sleet and hail. I suddenly get pelted with ball bearing like icy shards which sting the skin, the temperature plummets to below zero and once the hail turns to icy rain I’m soon soaked to the skin. The valley which I’m rolling down is probably one of the most picturesque I’ve had the misfortune of cycling. Head down, shivering uncontrollably I only have eyes for the road, my head lowering into my torso like a tortoise, I am well and try dishevelled. I know there is a village ahead so I grin and bare it begrudgingly. When I stumble into the less than warm restaurant I can’t feel my fingers and I am a right sorry state. God I wish my gloves weren’t at the bottom of the bag that I cant prise open with these useless fingers.

So after some hot soup and a coffee I head to the community centre where I intend to spend the night, its only bloody closed. Up goes the tent almost on the door step, it is the first time I have had to cut a day short and bunker down to ride out the weather. I wonder if I will ever feel my toes again as I lie there at just two in the afternoon wearing everything I own, curled up in a ball and cold to the core. It was a long cold fitful night. Dinner was a no go as there was not a chance I was huddling over a stove out in the elements.

In the morning after I’ve de-iced my bike and walked across the crunchy frost to do my business a kindly fellow comes to open up the community centre. He beckons me over and before you know it I am warming my icy chilblains in a kitchen cupping a mug of piping hot tea. Well I think it is tea, though it looks more like an old twig broken up into the teapot but its free and hot. He even offers me breakfast, what a treat, its not even half seven and I’ve eaten twice. After posing for a few pictures off I go. It was just what I needed after such a fricking cold night. There is an epic decent coming up as my reward.

Unfortunately as I’m cruising past lorries on the down hill my bike gives a serious shudder and I’m almost shaken off. The back wheel has broken, the bearings of the rear up have been on the way out for a while, what a disaster; it has had a good run though, some 17,000 miles but there is no more riding until I get it fixed in Cusco so it looks like I will be doing some hitch hiking again. I’m a bloody part timer.

Patrick and Celine are one year in to a two year road trip across the Americas when they find me by the road side. To fit me in one of their two children is confined to quarters, the bike fills the free space in there camper van so their ten year old daughter has to go to bed! They are very French, smoking like chimneys, drinking coffee and much of the discussion is about food. They nor I have been overly impressed with the food across this continent, so food back home is a hot topic. Aside from the sea food on the coast which was exquisite the rest is pretty dismal. They are yet another example of these bold families who give up everything at home to be on the road and explore the world. They have a ten year old daughter and a fifteen year old son. Patrick tells me that his gift to his children will be no a penny of inheritance but the gift of travel.

They are a great bunch and kindly offer to give me a ride all the way to Cusco with a few stops on the way to see the odd llama and occasional ruin. We camp over night half way to the city and I find myself in the camper, it smells like a home, dinner is cooking and the place smells like heaven to me, a real home cooked kitchen smell (I know that doesn’t make sense but you get what I mean). Then it’s sundowners on the mountain side, eating slithers of saucisson smuggled all the way from France and sipping none other than a Bombay Sapphire and tonic. A G&T what more could an Englishman ask for?

Advertisements

Bicycles in the Sky

Dated: 12 Oct 18

As I made my way towards Quito in my stomach clutching bus ride I ascended the steep out rim of the Amazon rainforest. Ever morsel of land flat, steep or vertical was covered in a dense blanket of vegetation. Occasionally this vast forest was broken by a sheer face of exposed grey rock down which waterfalls plummeted before being lost in the green depths of the valley floor below.

But cross the Amazons watershed into the valley in which the urban sprawl of concrete, exhausts and people that is the equatorial city of Quito and things have miraculously changed. Gone are the thin wisps of cloud hanging limply above the canopy, in there place a lung choking smog draped over the city. As I leave the urban sprawl behind I feel like I’ve smoked a pack of fifty which doesn’t help as the air is thin up here.

I find myself in a series of wide open valleys the sides of which extend up into vast mountains and it is my first taste of the Andes and they don’t mess around. Up and down it goes, it is slow progress. And all the while the mountains seem to be growing around me. I amazed it is possible to cultivate crops this high, some of the peaks seem to have an earthy patch work of tilled soil extending almost to their peaks. I have never given Ecuador to much thought, rainforest, cocoa beans and the launch pad for the Galapagos so I’m slightly surprised at how bloody cold it is in the mornings, the fact that I cant feel my toes, how high it is and just how many snow capped volcanoes there are.

The day before I reach Peru two things happen.
Dogs are for ever chasing me, it seems that there is no greater joy in life than chasing bicycles. Like postmen we are fair game to canines across the world. They harry my progress multiple times a day and to be frank , it can be bloody annoying. Although they are all bark and no teeth now and again they make me feel uncomfortable but more often than not I am concerned for their safety as they chase me along the busy roads.

Well today it finally happened, a bark followed by a dull thud, I look back over my shoulder and a lab based stray is doing cart wheels down the road, he’s chasing bicycles in the sky now. My only solace is that it was quick and that I didn’t have to go and finish the job with my pillow; better that than a prolonged agonising affair, there are no vets here. His partner in crime still makes for the chase either not noticing his friend doing gymnastics down the street or not bothered. I’m surprised this is the first time this has happened and I thought that I might think “tough shit, you deserved it” cause it is a constant nuisance, but as a dog lover who has on multiple occasions considered adopting one of these street dogs, I can’t help but show some remorse. At least he died doing what he loved.

I’m on a push to make up some ground and reach Cusco asap, but that is a fair way south and over the border in Peru. To get there I decide to break out of the mountains of central Ecuador and hug the coast. Perhaps easier said than done. The air is crisp and clear now that I’m out of the humidity of Colombia. The snow capped peak of Chimborazo shadows me as I crest my first pass of the day at 3500m. At 6263m it is the heighest mountain in the country. I descend a fair bit and resent every metre down for I know what’s coming. Several hours later Ive made my second 1000m plus climb of the day and made it to just shy of 4000m. That’s not to far off the highest pass in he Pamir Highway yet when I reach the likes of Bolivia I know there is more where that came from. The Andes aren’t messing around.

My reward the decent of all descents down to sea level where I have a dull flat few days to Peru. It does come at a price though. A very wet one, you see all that fresh clear air in central Ecuador is owing to the fact that the clouds dump their load on the seaward slopes and lowlands of coast. Wet wet wet.

The second incident. The rain continued as if to reflect the sombre mood after the dead doggy, the surface is slick with oily water from all the traffic headed for the border. I swerve to avoid a rut and before I know it I sit heavily on my bottom on the rather hard tarmac as the bike clatters to one side. I’m lucky that I’m not riding bicycles in the sky, fortunately the bus driver behind was quick to brake. I have a few stand offs with over taking traffic which is nothing out of the ordinary. Later I see the aftermath of yet another crash, for no apparent reason from what I can see from craning my rubber neck as I roll on by. Between that and when leaving a roundabout later that day to the sound of screeching behind me as some numpty who wasn’t looking had to slam on the brakes with a cloud of smoke to avoid taking me out I cant help but think how vulnerable cyclists are on the road. Ah well not to much longer left now!

Chaffage

This one comes with a prefix: On occasion a friend or two have expressed exasperated jealousy at my adventures. Here is a post that if they read before they turn the bed side lamp off and nestle down into the depths of their own cosy bed, it will see them sleeping soundly with a slight smug smile across their face.

I find myself in Bogota, Colombia a month before originally planned. I have decided that rather than rush through Central America and potentially not be able to reach Panama anyway – owing to the fact that the Nicaraguans are having a bit of a party involving civil upheaval, militia and what not, that I would skip ahead to South America and make the push from Colombia to Patagonia in just a few short months. Central America would have mainly been a country to ticking off tour rather than really seeing it, so some other time perhaps.

A plan is afoot though, if I stick to the coast I can easily reach Patagonia before my time is up and I return to Europe, but first I’ve some exploring to do in the Andes. Although I have had the luxury of visiting this part of the world before, I still want to explore more of Paddington’s home country and get stuck into the depths of the Bolivian Andes before I really head south. If needs be I will pop on a bus, skip a few k’s down to Santiago and spend the Christmas period in Patagonia. It’s a good plan, I think.

But meanwhile I am in Colombia. Now it’s at this point that if you do not wish to hear about the hardship of cycling and my genitalia you may wish to stop…

I think it’s safe to say that up to this point I have not whinged about the discomfort of cycling too much. That is about to change.

Rain, what absolute bliss. I’ve not seen a single drop since Mongolia, and now in the outer edge of the Amazon rainforest I am getting well and truly reacquainted with it. But it is having an unexpected side affect, a discomfort in the shorts department. Like Mary I seem to have immaculately conceived, no not a child, for unlike Mary I seem to have contracted an immaculate STI. This is strange, owing to my lack of even conversation with the opposite sex, it is a mystery to me.

Ladies often make the joke that they are jealous of men’s ability to urinate standing up, life is easier with a penis. Well what you ladies are over looking is the possibility that when one is cycling in the possession of a scrotum you can be subject to extreme chaffage. It’s that or I have testicular gout. I hear gout is agony.

I suppose a recipe of salty sweat and soggy shorty shorts has been the route cause. When “showering” in the petrol station toilet I had to clutch the sink’s rim, white knuckled and watery eyed, to stop me letting out a yelp. Water makes it worse. But what to treat such an aliment? Ah sun cream, it prevents burns and sooths skin surely it will easy the discomfort…..I let out a yelp this time. Lying down is uncomfortable, sitting is tender, standing legs wide apart is the best option but for the purpose of sleeping I adopt the starfish position.

I’ve already mentioned how bad my Spanish is; I tried ordering a “Coca Cola” the other day and the lady didn’t understand me. Well going to the pharmacy to by Sudocrem or Vaseline was never going to be easy. I corner a lady, and the charades begin. I request Vaseline by pretending to apply it to my chapped lips and the penny drops. I felt like a bit of a creep when I thought about the real point of application.

Colombians can put a touch of colour into the mundane, Concrete carparks normally a necessary eye saw are converted into a stripy masterpiece. Bogota, in between its stylish bars and art galleries was a wash with graffiti, the arty kind not just pointless tags. As I leave the city making my way west I pass through unheard of villages and towns they are all the same, colourful; from the painted buildings to the vast murals adorning the walls of the play grounds. This provides some brief moments of distraction from the tender groin.

20181006201126_img_37971239645940.jpg

Big day, into the hills and the edge of the Amazon rainforest I plunge when I pump into an Italian and call him a Frenchman, a poor start. He asked me what its like over the crest of the hill but I couldn’t tell him for I was in a putrid world of my own with little eye for the scenery. I’ve got the Colombia colon to boot. It’s getting relentless, what started a week ago as a bit of an iffy tummy has gotten a hole lot worse. Instead of admiring the birds and the bees and the occasional troop of monkeys I’m scoping out good secluded bushy spots with running water (natures bidet).

Maybe its the water, I’m still on a if the locals drink it its good enough for me policy. Or maybe I’ve just got a bad case of the shits to partner up with my gout like testicles. It doesn’t make for ideal cycling and at one premature stop over I glance over a wall, all looks fine just a load of stones and pebbles; so I vault the two foot wall like an Olympiad only to land knee deep in rotting potatoes, so much for pebbles. It looks like I have shat myself and covered my poor shoes which I was on the cusp of doing if I didn’t extradite myself form the mash with post haste. Talk about adding insult to injury.

I decide to take a night in a hotel and get over the afflictions but after a second day held up in the cell of a room I decide to make use of public transport and b‐line it for Quito, Ecuador, for there is no way I can sit on my plank of a bike seat in this condition. If I’m to make it to Patagonia I literally don’t have time to sit around, every day is accounted for so I decide to sit legs splayed and clutching my tummy as it gurgles away and prompting the bus driver to make regular stops, much to the annoyance of all other passengers on board. So I will be starting afresh in Ecuador with my sights firmly set on Ushuaia, Patagonia.

Fantasy

Dated 01 SEP 18

I have a fantasy, it was been keeping me going, I long for it, and it is so close to fruition. It involves a cool tiles room, flowing water spraying freely soothing my aching back and darkened skin; followed by a bed with fresh sheets and if I`m lucky no room mates. I speak of the shower and bed awaiting me in La Paz, southern Baja. But in the evenings before hand I instead make do with warm water sprayed sparingly from an old plastic bottle followed by a sweat inducing evening in the desert. In all fairness two evenings I am lucky enough to be camping on the shores of the Sea of Cortez which affords me the chance to bath on private beaches known to just a few luck soles. There are countless bays with clam shallow waters which under normal circumstances would be invitingly warm but I could do with a frosty dip in Cornwall instead.

With a constant sheen of sweat sand sticks like glitter to glue and I just can’t rid myself of the itchy particles. It took eight days to complete this stretch and along with being some of the worst days or I should say toughest and I think I also smell the worst. There has been know where with running water to wash my clothes and the sea just doesn’t do the job. Mexican dust sticks to every surface including me, my hair is a matted birds nest and I have a sour tinge. So much so that I can notice it, so it must be repugnant.

The days are long, I rise two hours before sun up to give me the extra hour or so with relative coolness of the morning. Its still in the twenties but won’t have doubled until the afternoon. I miss the cold greyness of morning of the US or even Australia. Though I know that once it returns I will begrudge it. The landscape is undeniably beautiful in a tough bastard sort of way. The sheer expanse, with cactus standing to attention like soldiers on parade in defiance of the heat, has been truly magnificent.

At night the clear skies give a vista that you just can’t comprehend. As I lie back in my tent I’m exposed to the nocturnal heavens, with the billions of stars populating the sky as it turns from a deepening blue to the black of night and smeared across it is the milky way. At one sunset as I lay awake, my eyes widen as I hear a horse galloping, it tears round the corner from behind the building with a barrage of dust and hooves; revealing for just a second or two the horse with its rider atop holding his stetson firmly to his head as they were silhouetted against a back drop of crimson reds and oranges as day was giving in to night. A real life cow boy complete with spurs, dare I say it, maybe one of the coolest sights of the trip. If only he had reared u against the orb of the setting sun, but he was a moment to late.

Two days to go and things are very stop start, riding incontinence s back, just for the day. Damn those fish tacos! I’m held up in the town called god knows what, when I get talking to a family. It is Sunday and Steve is taking his three boys out for their weekend ritual, flavoured waters. Wild! He generously offers to include me in this ritual so the boys take me off to the shop where you have a choice of about fifteen buckets. You can have anything fro strawberry to water melon and weirdly banana water which just sounds strange to me. Now I don’t speak a word of Spanish, well nothing conversationally useful and Steve is not an English speaker. Juan his twelve year old acts as translator. He has been going to English school for just two years and is fluent to a T.

I do wonder what a different experience it would have if my Spanish was as up to scratch as Juan’s English. I’m missing out on a significant portion by not knowing the language, who knows what doors it would open and insights into peoples lives. In the likes of the stans I didn’t feel like I was to blame or even able to bridge this void but here in Latin America there is just one language. Apparently an easy to learn language without a singular Cyrillic in sight.

With my disturbed stomach once again I am on the cusp of taking the afternoon for myself. But apart from sit down what the hell would I do all day? My kindle has gone the same way as my phone and is out of action. This is devastating, it is not as though I can go to the local library for a hard back, they are all out of my linguistic comprehension anyway. Unfortunately my nest egg that I have been nurturing to fund this expedition is more of a small clutch rather than a golden goose egg so I have no means of replacing it. I will have to wait for a good hostel book exchange. but for this afternoon I I opt to cycle from bush to bush getting ever closer to the end of Baja.

On my final morning before reaching the holy grail of a cold shower and a soft mattress I come across Tony and Lise. A French couple cycling from Vancouver to Guatemala. We team up for the final afternoon and they provide great distraction from the heat, miles and wobbly tummy. That night we celebrate with a shower, a few beers and a early night in La Paz.

Baja Peninsular

Dated: 27 SEPT 18

Why do I keep finding myself in the middle of bloody deserts? They are hot, often barren, full of plants that want to prick you or puncture a tyre and the wildlife tends to be on the many eyed and hairy legged side or of the thin, long and slithery variety. Perhaps in the planning phase of my next adventure of which there better be one rather than drawing a random squiggly line around the world I might take just a moment or two to look at the finer details. Or maybe not, surprises keep it fresh.

What a day. I’m not sure if I have had one just so gruelling to date or I have conveniently forgotten just how shitty this can be.

This eyeball drying heat. What percentage of the land based global is even desert anyways? Roughly 33% so really why am I in yet another? Namibia, northern Kenya, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajik, the Gobi and Baja makes at least seven full bloody skin searing, lip cracking, sand down your crack deserts.

I’m usually content with a few sips of water through the morning and another in the afternoon, just getting through a small bottle of water per day, not including tea, I’m not a savage. I acknowledge that this is a minimalistic volume of water but crossing the Baja has been thirsty work. Four gallons of water plus a bit more in a day is a course record. I don’t know where it is all going, I’m certainly not passing it. It simply vanishes into thin air, thin dry air.

So today I find myself half way down the Baja peninsular and things aren’t looking good. Someone please remind me why I’m doing this again? What’s is driving these unnecessarily days? I could have added a few days rest, no a week on a beach with endless pina colada or something more manly. But nay, not if I want to reach the south to La Paz by the end of the week or the circumference of the earth in the end. But why then? What’s the rush? Why even do it? No one is making me. Is the sore arse worth it? I’m sure most people get a sore arse from time to time sat at their desk all day and perhaps sore lips from kissing their boss’s derriere to get noticed (some literally perhaps). So yes its worth every wince.

But maybe not this afternoon. I’m toying with the idea of hitch hiking into the next village, just twenty kilometres, it’s not even elevenses but this heat is just energy sapping, for the first time I’m well and truly spent. In a terrible combination the tarmac sends waves of heat from beneath, the sun keels me over from above. My hand resists the urge to pose the universal signal of please give me a ride, the thumbs up. So I say no to the temptation and have a moments reprieve by lying down on my back in the dirt and shimmying myself full bodily sideways beneath a low lying prickly shrub into its meagre shade.

Thirty minutes off the bike and I’m right as rain again, thirty minutes on the bike and I wish it was raining. I can feel my head bowing to the sun, shoulders slacking, I sit lower and lower on my bike, slouching forward. I swear at one point my chin is below my handle bar as I nearly roll forward over the bike.

Exercise in the heat for hours at a time can’t be contusive to good health. I’m drinking my way through the aforementioned vast volumes of water, I can feel the liquid sloshing around in my stomach so hydration isnt the issue. Stops seem to be about lowering my core temperature, I can cycle in this for one hour stints before I suddenly find every pedal a monumental slog. Like an engine do muscles stop working properly when they are over heated? Something to do with enzymes perhaps? What are the signs of heat stroke? I’m close to vomiting at one point, this has never happened before so why now? Well once but I was really hungover and felt great for it.

Once I have established that I have enough surplus water to reach the next stop it is one sip for me and one dousing for my head, chest and legs. This repeated every fifteen minutes or five kilometres, which ever comes first, keeps me going for the next two hours. I know I said I should only aim for an hours riding in these iffy conditions but its a desert and shade is not in abundance.

I reach the town of Loreto on the edge of the Sea of Cortez. Off the bike and the super market seems to be swaying so I lean against the wall and do my best to stop it from falling. After these apparent tremors have passed I grab an ice cream from a little stall, the little bugger charged me the tourist price and then I got brain freeze to boot but god it was worth every extra peso. I think it is safe to say that I have tested myself to my limits but I think I have more in the reserves. I heard it said, know doubt in some random adventure magazine that I read at some point or another, that when we think we have reached exhaustion we actually have a good third left in the tank. Well I want to truly empty my tank at some point and find my limit, over the next few months so I better pick a battle ground.

That took me just up until lunch time the afternoon and the worst heat of the day a head of me.

Branston Pickle

In san Francisco we were informed by our host that the best burrito in the entire country could be found in La Taqueria on Mission Street. But the chap in the bike shop told us, “no not there, you want La Taqueria Cancun just two blocks down, they have the indisputable best burrito”. This highly sort after accolade is up for debate across the breadth of the state with each town, no village, claiming to have The Burrito. In San Diego they do the Californian, in the place of rice you get French fries wrapped up in the depths of the parcel amongst the beans and the meaty goodness.

Now in Mexico I’m getting a taste for the authentic. On the Baja peninsula it seems that tacos are king. On my first afternoon I have a trio of street tacos, add a dollop of guacamole, a sprinkling of onions and a good scoop of tomatoes and you are in business. So day three and I think I better branch out and see how American burritos square up to the real deal; well Yankee burritos are certainly bigger for one thing. It seems that the real deal is not what I’m used to; they seem to be pre wrapped tacos with none of the trimmings save the cursory chilli sauce. Small for my big stomach. From what I taste they have beef filling, though its not juicy steak but more like slightly dry, stringy braising steak. But not unpleasant by any means, though along way from what I was expecting. Begrudgingly I lean in favour of the Americanised style burritos.

So what is the difference between a taco and a burrito, a quesadilla or a fajita? I’ve not even seen fajitas on the menu so I’m not sure if they are even a thing. I’ve already established that a burrito is a disappointing taco. A quesadilla is a burrito without meat or any trimmings but just cheese; essentially it is the Mexican cheese on toast and yet I’ve not been offered a good dollop of Branston Pickle once.

A fajita where its at is either a make it your self burrito or essentially a taco but bigger. In restaurants all are served up with a wedge of lime, refried beans and rice; on the street just get tacos- fish, chicken, beef or pulled pork go down the hatch nicely. And adding just sprinkling cheese on top of burritos does not make an entirely different dish, enchiladas.

All of the above come with what I assume is a home made chilli sauce or two. They are damn good but watch yourself, it might seem a good idea at the time but don’t over do it on the chilli especially if you have to sit on a small bike seat the next day.

I ponder these meanings of life as I go.

Now whilst you are enjoying some fine Mexican cuisine you might think to listen to some authentic music. I’ve taken to listening to local radio in each country I’m in. Its great to get to know what people are listening to. Now we have all seen a mariachi band at least on the tele. Its a very Mexican genre. The radio isn’t much different, its an onslaught of maracas, vihuela, guitar, trumpets and of course vocals. The album covers which can be spotted at the cashiers desk in most shops sporting men with fine moustaches and cow boys hats. It’s not to everyone’s taste.

The war on plastic hasn’t reached here, at any food stall to save on washing up the done thing is to have your plastic plate in a thin plastic bag like the ones you buys fruit in. When you are done the bag is simply whipped off and a new one used, a voila, no washing up. Wasteful genius.

Mexico the Notorious

North western Mexico is perhaps what California would be like if they didn’t suck the life out of the Colorado. Dry as a bone. Ive certainly had more exciting stretches, Baja the Beautiful I was told, maybe thirty years ago but things are a touch rustic up north. The people are friendly as ever though, forever smiling, giving the odd wave or even a free coffee, and they like to laugh at my pigeon Spanish with the odd sprinkling of French to really send the point home.

Now on my own and over he border I need to get back into the swing of it. Although the busiest border crossing in the world wasn’t like something out of a Hollywood production with DEA agents taking down gang members with tattoos up to their chins and maybe a few tear drops for good measure, it was ordinary but it’s still exciting to be crossing a new frontier.

I suppose that with notorious Mexico and Central America, or at least that is how everyone north of the border thinks, there wont be danger until there is; large lorries on thin roads for one. But sat on a delightful beach after dinner and a dip I cant help but think that as always people over egg everything apart from how friendly everyone is here. I’m lucky that the family who have just arrived at my private beach to catch a sunset picnic and a spot of fishing didn’t turn up ten minutes ago. They may have caught more than they were looking for I was waded baring all through the very long stretch of chilly shallows back to the beach. I’m sure they brought their own worms. Its possibly my favourite beach camping to date, secluded, save the fortunate family, sand but backed by pebbles to perch on. I’m more of a pebbles fan but there is sand for those who like natures worst material, for camping that is. It just gets bloody everywhere.

Morning pit stop the following day, perhaps the cafe ladies won’t be so nice to future cyclist after me. Coffee leads to one thing so before I get back on the bike I pop to the banos. The flush was a mere trickle, I panicked and must confess I got out of there sharpish. I had no desire to meekly return to the kitchen in order to play a game of guess who blocked the loo in the medium of charades.

After the rustic rubble of the coast I’ve headed in land, up hill and into the heat. In the early morning grey atop the hills stand boojum trees or cirio, they are like branchless trees, all trunk no foliage; like sentinels they peer ominously down upon me, silhouetted against the thing band of dawn light. Running through the shrubs are trip wires of silk, the spiders have been busy over night. And after a few hours I once again I find myself in a another bloody desert but this is the real deal, a real Mexican desert complete with cacti the size of trees.

What an incredible place, hilly, but amazing. It is literally like something out of the wild west. In the mornings the east facing slops and sheer cliffs glow golden red before the sun reveals a mass expanse of boulders and forests of cacti. In Singapore airport there is a cactus gardReneen, well now I can say I’ve seen the real deal. What strikes me the most is that despite the severe heat and not but a drop of water, is just how much green there actually is here. If they were trees it would be a great forest obscuring your view with their leaf clad branches. But seeing as they are cacti and have spikes instead of leaves despite their number you can still see a vast horizon of rocky mountains.

On two occasions as I’ve been navigating the cactus fields minding my own business only to find myself swerving into the middle of the road to avoid an ominous noise, the tell tale rattle of a snake. Its rattle snakes or a local Mexican hiding in the shrubbery with some maracas looking to scare the one gringo on a bike for god knows how long. On one such miss timed rattle evasion an on coming lorry did nearly rattle me to death. I didn’t see the offending snakes but I did pass a wee baby basking on the road side so they are definitely out there amongst the rocks and shade.

Day three and I’m settled in for a long hard afternoon, head down and headphones in when I’m waved down by Rene a retired construction worker turned painter from the USA, he is in his forties so well done him. He thrusts a chilled bottle of water and a fist full of nutty bars into my hands before either one of us has said “hola.” As always its the unnecessarily acts of generosity which perk up a tough afternoon. You be surprised at how often it happens but this one is not worthy for he solved the conundrum of why the hell anyone would farm cactus, aside for an occasional potted plant. I did chortle in a coffee stop when a lady was given a potted cactus as a present. The tuna fruit or prickly pear, straight out of the cool box it was possibly the most delicious and refreshing fruit I have ever had; I maybe bias on account of being a touch dehydrated. Somewhere in between aloe vera and melon, with pomegranate like seeds. Mystery solved.

Sporadically I’ve been passing oasis` and not just generous folk with a bottle of water but real bonafide oasis complete with palm tree. Many of them have been very expensive looking homes or farms. As I pass them I can imagine my spokes wobbling like a set of dowsing rods at the vast quantities of water that must be being pumped from aquafers beneath my wheels. They are a bit of a strange sight considering most settlements through which I’ve past have been dry wastelands, how average joe scratches a living out here god only knows.

It is always sad to see the shear volume of victims of the traffic but what is very cool is seeing thirty or so vultures vying for dinner. Circling over head they jostle in the air calling dibs on the next place at the table once the bigger vultures have had their turn. I approached one such feast causing thirty or so large black birds to scarper; what a sight. Sticking with the theme of vultures, and it seems strikingly obvious with hindsight, if you find your self in a desert try to avoid searching for a camp spot in the bushes amongst the cactus when there are half a dozen or so of these big unfortunately ugly birds perched atop the tallest cacti. I thought it looked pretty cool, the blotted balloon of a dog just about ready to pop wasn’t so appealing.