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On the road . December 2008 . Mexico

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Hotel Morelos, San Blas , Mexico, 04-01-09
From the muddy depths of Lake Guerrero Negro to the Sea of Cortez

Guerrero Negro to Mulegé: (4 cycle days; 287km; 1681m)

Guerrero Negro to Vizcaíno (75 km; 150 m)
Vizcaíno to San Ignacio (71 km; 329 m)
San Ignacio to Santa Rosalía (80 km; 768 m)
Santa Rosalía to Mulegé (62 km; 434 m)

When Ali wakes up singing zippy-dee-doodah; plays eeney-meanie-miney-mo with his tortillas and then places the kitchen sink over his head like a shower cap, I know we could be in for a kooky sort of morning. I think he's just happy to be taking a couple of days off in this inconspicuous, water-logged town: known only for its enormous salt refinery and close proximity to the whale watching site at Scammon's Lagoon. For us though, it is the first half-civilised camping spot on the Baja to date.

The downpours we recently experienced hit here big time as well, turning vacant lots into lakes and side roads into wellington boot territory. There's no sign of rain now though as our complete summer wardrobe dries between the date palms and we shade from cloudless skies under giant bougainvillea trees. A wooden scaffold plank and a few bricks I scrounged from the back, create the table in our make-shift outdoor office. Again we are forced to camp on dirt, sit on dirt, cook on dirt, breathe in dirt and continually sweep the uncontrollable stuff out of our tent. It seems ludicrous to fork out $US12 for this, but we are learning fast that the Baja has been spoilt by good times and a few too many snow-birds with way too much money on their hands.

The hot shower is a bonus, however, I would expect something civilised for the money we are forking out and on the day of our departure, we both jump in for one last pleasurable wash, skeptical of what might be in store over the next few cycling days. With the wind in our backs we fly out along a straight flat road which shimmers silver-grey to somewhere way off in the distance. While the punctuated outline of electricity poles heads towards an infinite horizon, the faint silhouette of the Sierra de San Francisco is the only hint that we are not going to continue on forever and ever. And that's a blessing because the view we whizz past is not particularly inspiring: loads of rubbish; a vandalised entrance to the whale-watching park; and flat, listless, repetitious land.

We are in Vizcaíno (75km; 150m) before 2.30pm and while the actual site is merely a dust patch once again, there are plastic tables and chairs stacked up under the trees to take full advantage of. Tonight's accommodation among the orange grove costs us 200 pesos ($US15). I expect we are paying for the above average bathroom facilities. Sitting on the toilet for way longer than necessary, admiring the smokey-grey marble look-alike tiles; the ochre mediterranean washed walls with darkened frieze; the clean white shower curtain; the dusty pink cabinet hiding the plumbing; and the pressure rosette on the shower nozzle; I realise it's been a long time since I was in such an eye-pleasing environment. My only grumble would be that one of the jets rebels uniformity and continually hits me in the eye, but hey that's not really a budget traveller's complaint, now is it?

Cacti in the mist
It is impossible to see 100 metres in front of us this morning, which makes cycling out of Vizcaíno a little scary. On the other hand, the standard prickly protrusions appear quite surreal poking out of their misty blanket. Like me waking up in the morning, ever so gradually the fog lifts as we edge our way between Sierra de San Francisco and Sierra Santa Clara. The endless queues of cacti come into full view and a beautiful weather day emerges. It has been like this as soon as we arrived in Guerrero Negro: Cool evenings with winds and hot, hot sunny days.

Rice and Beans campsite was inked on our Baja map in the US and we've been joking about staying there ever since. I know it's not that hilarious, but I do find it strange calling accommodation after food. The Japanese had weird names for their lodgings as well: from the instance I saw Hotel Carrot, I have been baffled as to what instigated such a parallel. For the life of me, I can't work it out.

It turns out that Rice and Beans is the first place of stay as we enter the luscious palm-green oasis of San Ignacio (71km; 329m). The verdant nature of this town, amid arid wilderness, owes its beauty to the most plentiful supply of fresh water found anywhere on Baja California Sur. We don't see any though. For 50 pesos each the basic facilities are in a pleasant enough atmosphere and we don't hesitate to set up camp for the night. Robert and his wife in the hotel room near us, have car trouble as they are zooming back home from their holiday house just south of La Paz. They assure us, from now on in, the scenery will get more and more spectacular as we head further down the peninsular.

Toilets in dreams are not real toilets
Now as embarrassing as it may be, I have to relay the evenings events. Everything goes as normal, apart from our exceptional dinner: We reneged on the rice and beans on offer in the restaurant as they were potentially cooked with lard. Instead I prepare a zesty waldorf salad, creamy courgette noodle soup and fried spicy wedges with lashings of mayonnaise. Ali woofs it down like ice cream. After recuperating from our gourmet enjoyment, dishes need washing, teeth brushing, and the beds set-up before we are once again settled for the evening. Sleep comes easy, though there is a constant din from engine brakes to the left of us and local traffic to the right.

Somewhere in slumberland, I'm having this dream that we are genuinely searching for the perfect hotel to stay in. The explorative component, however, is continually interrupted by my need to go to the toilet. I keep mentioning this to Ali and eventually I spy a toilet door. I guess you can all work out where that is leading to. A second later, from both a semi-comatosed and conscious perspective as far as I'm concerned, I'm undeniably sitting on a toilet. Needless to say, only that second passes before I awake in total shock. It is 3am and an embarrassment I haven't felt for decades kicks in when it dawns on me that what I began to do in my dream was actually true.

Gosh, this is something everyone dreads, isn't it? I mean, the last time this happened my age was years away from reaching double figures. My next thought is my goose down sleeping bag. How am I ever going to clean that? I storm out of the tent, waking Ali in the commotion, to finish off my dream in the authentic spot. Luckily, it turns out that I had woken up just in the nick of time, but nonetheless, I was still really bothered by the event and really pissed off. If you pardon the pun, then please pardon me too.

Volcanoes, canyons, broken-down towns and abandoned campsites
Today winds us up, down and past the green valleys surrounding the extinct Volcán las Tres Virgenes (1920m). Butterflies follow us for every moment of the day, flitting between our bikes and the roadside blossom. Wild lupines, prickly poppies, nightshade and fairy dusters compliment the flowering cacti. Green is featured more than ever in our morning trip, but it abruptly ends as we plummet the dangerous bends into Cuesta Del Infierno in the afternoon. The stunning yellow sand formations take second precedence when we see the tanker-wreck that didn't quite make one turn.

Thoughts of death are never far from mind as you travel the Baja highway. If the circling turkey vultures above bloated carcasses of odourous rot are not enough to disquiet your senses, the hundreds of crosses, plastic flowers and vehicle parts forming shrines to remember the fatalities will. It continually reminds me of our vulnerability and I have my fingers crossed that it keeps the traffic astute as well.

Seeing the ocean for the first time in just over a week is almost a relief after so many days of uneventful dessert. Santa Rosalía (80km; 768m), however has a disappointingly run-down entrance with one very out-of-place sushi-bar on the way out. A guidebook goes as far as beckoning you to: "Come here to see cool crumbling buildings in honorable disrepair". They are right about the crumbling bit, but what pray-tell, is so honorable about disrepair? It's a wonder they don't try to pull a crowd with: "Feast your eyes on the plastic-bag wrapped cacti closely resembling the visually impressive aesthetics of Christo and Jean-Claude's artwork."

The man, who turns up an hour after we arrive at the abandoned La Palmas Campsite, seems to think he owns an attraction as well. He prepares to extort $140 pesos for a sand-fly infested patch, with no electricity, no light, no security and only icy-cold showers. Ali gets him to drop his price to $100 pesos, which I think is still completely outrageous.

Selective camping
The ride today is an easy one, though a bit of climbing is necessary to get out of Santa Rosalía and then again reaching Mulegé (62km; 434m). Roads are quieter and the Sea of Cortez to our left tempts us teasingly in the warm morning sun. A cool forest of palm trees emerges as we tumble past cheap hotels, cheap booze and latino music blasting the bottom-end out of cheap speakers.

Take away the rubble, rubbish and abandonment and you are left with a pleasantly welcoming little oasis on the Rio Mulegé. It is more than we can say for the accommodation. The first two spots to the east of town, clearly don't want cyclists using their facilities. We are sure that the feeble excuse from the American manager at Cuesta Real, about no amenities for people like us, covers up some other underlying reason. Next door, Villa Maria Isabel does accept us in exchange for 160 pesos. It's a rather drab and dusty spot to say the least and there is some strange soap-opera-like drama going down between the son and the mother. Neither of them knows what the other is doing and one thing is for sure, cleaning the bathrooms is not on either of their lists. To be honest, you are better off stocking up with supplies in Mulegé and then heading down the coast a bit to Bahia Concepción.

But do beware, shopping on the Baja is a bit hit and miss. Consumables are not particulary fresh and it pays to check the used-by dates on tinned and packaged goods. Product pricing is also extremely dubious. Shelf prices hardly ever correspond with goods above or even below for that matter, and it is also a very good idea to check your docket before paying. The 245 peso bag of carrots and the 70 peso block of cheese that was clearly marked as 25 pesos are just two of numerous inaccuracies we encountered.

Stuck in a time-warp
Mulegé to La Paz: (5 cycle days; 2 rest days; 510km; 3395m)

Mulegé to Playa Buenaventura (39 km; 436 m)
Playa Buenaventura to Loreto (97 km; 865 m)
Loreto to near Ciudad Insurgentes (130 km; 924 m)
Ciudad Insurgentes to near Las Pocitas (123 km; 305 m)
Las Pocitas to La Paz (122 km; 865 m)

Bahia Concepción is a really nice spot if you like relaxing on beaches, which I do. Ali, on the other hand gets bored after an hour so, one day is enough at Playa Buenaventura (39km 436m). Pink Floyd's Gravy Train is among the time-warped repertoire on the restaurants play list and the cosy establishment is patronized by many a beer, burger and yesteryear music fanatic. Keeping up with the times though, it does have a good wifi connection. Fifty peso's per person is all it will cost to camp on the beachfront with very basic bathroom conveniences and the inescapable, but devoted company of the owners' dogs.

Following the winding road cutting tight along the coastline is a great ride out. We climb and fall substantially before plateauing for a tailwind dash along Sierra de la Giganta. Scenery is the best it has been in a long time, though the last 20 kilometres prove a bit of a chore. The outskirts of Loreto (97km 865m) are akin to a rubbish dump but as you close in on the town-centre, slums become semi-decent housing, which in turn are unpredictably replaced by a culturally and historically sculptured spot for foreigners to hang out in.

Loreto Shores RV Park has the best amenities to date: owing to their common room, good wifi connection and hot, clean shower facilities. It is just a pity that the wind picks up to gusty strengths for our entire stay and keeps a permanent layer of dirt over us and all our belongings. It seems this is the place to be if you want to meet other travellers. Iran and his mate, who we chatted with at Playa Buenaventura venture in, Dave, Lindy and Ozzie are already there. A couple of solo-cyclists pull in as well. Hiro from Japan, ends up joining us the next day for our three day onslaught to La Paz.

Bad Company
From the moment you spy the sun, it is hot. The wind doesn't start until around 11am but continues to increase its bluster well into the late afternoon. Today, it initially blows us in the right direction and up over the Sierra de la Giganta, which unlike its name suggests, takes us to a relatively easy 429m. The wind also keeps us within 30 minutes of three American cyclists on lightly packed racers. They are heading in the same direction, but after stopping a couple times in the same spot as them, we get the distinct impression our company is not appreciated.

By 3pm we are clear of the climbing component, but find ourselves pushing against a north westerly as we head west-south-west toward Ciudad Insurgentes. Entering the outskirts of town at 5.10pm, we grab water and food at a local mini-super and scoot as far out as possible. The double lane highway with shoulder is a total surprise and the cactus field on our right, just as it is getting dark, a stroke of good fortune. We camp wild near Ciudad Insurgentes (130km; 924m) and though Ali remarks that today was "a piece of piss", Hiro and I do not agree.

We're on a road to nowhere
After 25 kilometres of perfectly flat asphalt without a bend in sight, the digital sign promoting Tecate beer reads 9.15am and 18°C. Even though the road remains straight, it's a pleasure to be distracted by the bustle of life in Cuidad Constitución. I need a new tyre desperately and we manage to find a small bike shop after several laps of the township. However, it is not so easy to find a supermarket for food. ¿Donde esta mercado? gets us as far as the general goods and clothing market in the town centre. We keep asking, but everyone points to this same spot and we soon realise that "mercado" doesn't distinguish between food and other items. We settle for a mini-super with limited and extremely poor quality produce, only to ride past a massive Ley Supermarket heading out of town. Oh well, at least we supported a couple of locals and not a chain enterprise.

We ride for 79 kilometres today past a load of oblivion before we face our first turn in the road at Santa Rita. If this psuedo-void was pure-void, it might hold a special beauty about it. Like the unadulterated nothingness of Sahara sand-dunes or the never-ending Salar-de-Uyuni salt flats. But Baja is anything but pure: if the stretches of barbed fence wire inhibiting the shopping bags from flying any further don't remind you man has left a stampede of footprints in the peninsula's nature, then the accumulated plastic bottles, babies nappies, broken glass and urine odour at every turnout and bus stop will.

We now contend with a strong side wind and irritating undulations. My watch pips three in the afternoon and it appears every Tomas, Jose and Alberto has a place to go, making the narrow roads dangerously busy. The sun has already set below a miniature cloud filled sky as we pull off the side of the road a few 100 metres from Las Pocitas (123km; 305m). It takes a couple of attempts before there is the relief of somewhere suitable to pitch the tent. Nothing can keep anyone of us awake this evening, not even the moon shining oh so bright.

Same old story
Pretty much the same old story as yesterday, except we go up a whole lot more today and all in the first ninety kilometres. There's still thirty-two more to go as we peer over the bay from the top of the hill. Wind and the compelling desire to make an end to this three day offensive see us in the city of La Paz (122km; 865m) before 4pm. A stop at a supermarket and the Baja Ferries office wastes quite a lot of time and dusk is upon us as we erect the tent in Casa Blanca Trailer Park. It costs 198 pesos for yet another dirt-pit with no proper seating available. The wifi connection is poor and the constant barking from the owners' German shepards really annoying. The showers are okay though and there's a laundry. The best bit is: we get to meet plenty of very, very friendly folk: Dennis, who loves the Baja and its amazing flora; Susan and Marcus, who are simply down-to-earth sweet people; Jim and Dallas who offer to get goods from the shopping centre for us; and Iran and his mate, who pull up yet again proving that cycle touring can sometimes be a quicker mode of transport.

Should have quit while we were ahead
Mulegé to La Paz: (4 cycle days; 3 rest days; 392km; 3480m)

La Paz Playa San Pedrito (96 km; 516 m)
Playa San Pedrito Cabo San Lucas (75 km; 874 m)
Cabo San Lucas Los Barriles (109 km; 984 m)
Los Barriles La Paz (113 km; 1106 m)

Everyone we have spoken to, has in their own way convinced us that the loop trip around the Cabos is worth doing. We are definitely happy to go anywhere that might improve our assessment of this point-shoe peninsular. Unfortunately, the 400 odd kilometre trip only confirms for us that Baja has a major identity crisis. It doesn't know if it is Mexican or American. Sub standard conditions, facilities and lack of infrastructure reflect its third world status, yet when it comes to handing money over, it's up there among first world pricing.

The first leg of our trip is quite a treat: wide shoulder and double lane highway all the way out of La Paz and at the turnoff onto Highway 19, the shoulder stays with us until Todos Santos. Road workers keep us entertained as the landscape has nothing on offer but the honeyed scent of wattle trees. Mind you, that sure beats dead cow any day. Todos Santos is one of those arty types of towns boasting local cottage industries in anything that might be of interest to the tourist palate. A blend of paint, beads, mexican rugs and hippy, surfy gear line the predominant streets. It has a relaxed feel, but we decide to venture to one of the beaches tonight.

The road out narrows to its former self and we are left counting on a bit of road-respect to stay alive. Luckily, nearly every driver is courteous. Playa San Pedrito (96km; 516m) is off the main drag and the 3kms of sandy track winding us past sweet-basil farms takes a full half an hour. It's worth the hard work as this renowned surf spot is quite spectacular. Pelicans glide overhead as the mountains behind us merge into darkness. The once operating San Pedrito RV Park was destroyed by Hurricane Ignacio in August 2003 and only ransacked remnants now remain. Nevertheless, the beach is still busy with all walks of life, though apart from us everyone has one aspiration: to catch the perfect wave. Apparently, that is quite possible here.

Not the rosiest of days
We wake to the rosy hue of sunrise and the comforting ebb and flow of waves, but that is where the enjoyment stops. Pushing along the sand, back out to the highway was anticipated, but the sudden change in driving attitude, not. Up until today, I have defended the road habits of truckers, Baja residents and holiday-makers alike. Here, on The Cabo however, all civility ceases and aggression begins.

After an initial 30 kilometres of relatively simple pedalling, the roller coaster ride from hell starts. Not only is the surface bad and the shoulder non-existent, but the drop off too far down to hit at normal cycling pace. It all gets a little too scary and thoughts of India come flooding back, especially when oncoming traffic overtakes on our side of the road resulting in us unfairly falling wayside. And then there is the guy who reverses in his utility to spit in my face, twice mind you, when I express my aversion to his pushing-me-off-the-road stunt, when there was absolutely no need to drive so close whatsoever.

This, coupled with the expectation of sashaying along the coast: blue waters to our right, only eventuates in a sadly disappointing journey. While palm studded land embellished with ochre washed villas overlooking private white beachfronts is attractive to the eye, the feel is of abandonment. Every single property is for sale. As we curl our way into Cabo San Lucas (75km; 874m), I've had enough of Baja California Sur and its pretence.

Baby, you're no good
The Club Cabo Inn, with the only spot in town for a tent, charges a whopping $US20 for two persons per night to camp in sand-fly dirt. That's about the same amount as our hotel room in Las Vegas, with all the trimmings. But before I continue further with how unpleasant our stay was here, I am going to have to bite my tongue. The original text from here has been removed. The owner was not happy about what I originally wrote and set out to get revenge. If you want to know more about Club Cabo Inn, then just take a look on Trip Advisor. Look at the owner's responses to bad reports of the place and this will speak for itself. Ask yourself, how can the same establishment get such incredibly bad reviews and such amazing ones at the same time? And why is it that the bad reports all mention the same details: money, vibe and personality?

Thank goodness the Beach Resort in Los Barriles (109km; 984m) has an entirely opposite feel to Cabo Club Inn. Cynthia, who I meet in the ladies bathroom on our first night, pretty well sums up the ambience in this relaxed campsite. She has exited the toilet and hitching her underpants up under a flowing tie-dyed cheesecloth skirt as I come out of the shower:

"Hello I'm Cynthia. Where did you come from today?" she says
"Cabo San Lucas" I reply
"Oh, when I got there, I told my husband to get me out straight away. It's way too busy" Cynthia's hands are now independently circling her body in expressive movements reminiscent of a hippy twirling dance.
"If I want all that crazy fuss, then I would go to a big city. I only want peace and a place to relax." Now her body is synchronised to the beat of her words as well.

"Well, you've come to the right place" I add
"Oh yes, I know. Isn't it just wonderful here?" her touching-on fifty wrinkles melting as she smiles at me.
This woman might be old, but she has the vibrancy of a 20 year. I imagine Cynthia owns a mystic shop somewhere in the US where she reads taro-cards and sells crystals that twinkle just like her eyes.
"What's your name?" she questions.

"Sonya" I say
"Sonya, it is very nice to meet you"
"You too, Cynthia" I answer
And with that she floats towards the exits spins around on one foot with the aid of arabesque-arms and adds, "We are going to make some music. Come and join us if you like." I smile and thank her for the offer. I just knew there had to be music in there somewhere.

The wind and kite surfing devotees are a far cry from the crayfish tans drifting in and out of luxoury hotels and condo's on the cape. Though many will disagree, as far as I'm concerned, San Jose Del Cabo is in the same lobster pot as Cabo San Lucas. Don't get me wrong, there are beautiful expanses of soft white sand and opal blue waters in both these places to entice you and technically, 20 metres back from high tide to the ocean is government land and for public use. But unless you are staying in accommodation. manicured with patchworks of bougainvillea-colour or downing the overpriced margaritas in a restaurant on the beach you'll be hard pressed to get past security to sink your toes in the powdery grains or cool-off in the inviting ocean.

It is not really worth the hassle though unless you are into partying every night. Watching the wind-sport enthusiasts dart across the waters at Los Barriles is much more fun. A stylish blonde bob dons enough gear to suggest true marine combat: wetsuit, helmet, knee pads, kidney belt and padded gloves, while her husband, zooms past me at record speed before executing a couple of Fred Astaire's famous foot moves to turn his single butterfly-wing around and surf back out as fast as he came in. The only thing that surprises me here is that the average age is pretty high. Similar to Cynthia's aura, these 50 plusers have leg muscles toned like 20 year olds.

Needless to say, we are happy to rest an extra day at this laid-back beach after seven saddle hours of facing day-long headwinds, uphill gradients, perilously close traffic and a waft of decay that even overpowers the pungency of endless fields of wild sage.

The long and winding climb
The trip back to La Paz (113km; 1106m) is not an easy one either. Even though we must edge our way over three passes in total, the gradient never exceeds 8% and we get no higher than 575m. Still, after 56 kilometres we have climbed one whole kilometre into the air. Our bikes know their way into the city easy enough and to the Baja Ferries Office where we purchase the unbelievably expensive tickets. It costs 1190 pesos each, (about $US100), and 200 pesos per bike. If you want to take your motor home across the gulf, you'll be forking out nearly $US1000 for the privilege and on top of that, you will still have to pay for each person on board as well.

Ferry cross the Cortez
La Paz to Mazatlán: (2 days of mostly hanging on the ferry plus 33 kms and 198m of cycling)

The next morning we pack up slowly and depart around lunch-time for Pichilingue ferry terminal (27km; 173m). The ride along the Malecon lined with the usual gringo-haunts is nothing that we haven't seen in any other tourist town before. The same applies to the marinas and resorts creeping closer and closer to the outskirts of town. Past refineries and a stagnant sea-water stench the road narrows considerably. Hence, the ride becomes pretty scary due to the large number of trucks vying for space as well. We get as far as the first beach and stop. The ferry doesn't leave until 11pm tonight, so there are a number of hours to kill, but the dive-bombing pelicans, colourful sunset and cold beers under the restaurant palapa keep us entertained for much of the time.

We make our way to customs at 8pm, where, without doing or saying anything, we are handed a duplicate piece of paper clearing us and our bikes for the trip. Riding past the German shepard sniffer-dog, he goes ballistic and I sure am glad he is in a cage. The ride in pitch blackness, along a dubious road is about 2 kilometres in total and at the end, Ali has to hand in one of the customs papers. Only twenty five metres on he is asked for the other one. We are now left with no evidence of passing through customs, but hey at least we keep a couple of ship-attendants in a job.

We tie the bikes up to a pole under the car ramp and venture upstairs to the lounge. Somehow, we miss the aeroplane seating area altogether and just settle in the comfy seats near the video screen. It is here that we sit put for the entire 15 hour journey. I can't tell you how happy I am to get back onto dry land.

The real McCoy
Mazatlán to Santiago Ixcuintla (3 cycle days; 2 rest days; 255km; 1042m)
Mazatlan to Escuinapa (93 km; 461 m)
Escuinapa to Acaponeta (67 km; 188 m)
Acaponeta to Santiago Ixcuintla (95 km; 393 m)

Mazatlán (6km; 25m) is a vibrant and colourful town and so different from Baja that I'm immediately impressed. This is the real McCoy and reminds us immediately of Thailand. Hotel Lerma is also great. Cleaner than anything we've come across so far in Mexico, the brightly painted walls and clap-board windows along with the airy atmosphere are a steel for 180 pesos per night. It is Christmas Eve and the market and town centre, just down the road, are a bustle of energy. We purchase food and a couple of celebratory beers from wonderfully charming retailers before consuming it all back in our hotel room. We retire early to our beds for a decent nights sleep. Christmas day passes pleasantly, so we stay for one more night before moving on down the coast.

The ride to Esquinapa (93km; 461m) starts off okay, with a wide shoulder that disappears at Villa Union. The journey from then on in is hair-raising and its easy enough to deduce that cyclists are not very high on the freeway pecking order. Hotel Gratos has one of the most talkative hotel clerks we have ever encountered. Unfortunately, we don't understand half of what she is babbling about. Our room is 150 pesos with a fan, television and private shower. It is comfortable enough for Ali to rest-up in for a couple of days while he recovers from the flu.

I really like the town of Escuinapa and wander around its colourfully disordered side-streets. As far as I can tell at this early stage of our trip, it's very Mexican. People are incredibly friendly and patient and I get the feeling we are really going to like Mexico.

The straightforward journey past mango and corn fields, palm trees and tropically green pastures is so different from what we have recently endured. Acaponeta (67km; 188m) is a couple of kilometres off the main road and again another traditionally Mexican spot to spend the night. Hotel Casa Blanca is a little more expensive at 187 pesos, but it is also cleaner and more modern. We have the added bonus of a balcony overlooking the plaza filled with sweet-stalls and families relaxing during their afternoon siesta. Though I don't remember the surprise scorpion on the floor next to our bed the next morning, being mentioned on the hotel's list of features.

We stop outside the town near a field of beans for breakfast today. Within minutes of us setting up the stove to make coffee, a farmer comes by to watch his crop being sprayed by a duster-aeroplane. As soon as we start licking poison off our lips, we figure it is time to get back on the road. Once again there is no shoulder and it means most of the riding-time is spent concentrating on the white line in front of me. Next time you are out on your bike, try it for yourself. Just keep yourself as close to the white line as possible for one kilometre. Then multiply that by 90, add some very close and life-threatening vehicles and you'll have an idea of what my day was like.

Not a firework in sight
Santiago Ixcuintla (95km; 393m) is quite large in comparison to what we have seen in the last couple of days, but the accommodation quite expensive and few and far between in the centre of town. Luckily, we had stopped earlier on the outskirts to pick up a new tyre for Aaldrik and the owner of the really well equipped bike shop also has a hotel down the road for half the price. We end up in his box-like facility celebrating yet another without incident New Year.

At 12 midnight a few crackers go off, but they can't compete with the pumped up speaker box from a few houses down. There's nothing to keep us outside and so we retreat to our room to finish watching Freddy Mercury give one of his magnificent performances in the Queen Rock Montreal concert in the early eighties. Seeing him play Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano live is far more entertaining and in retrospect more so than bearing sub-zero temperatures in our tent in an abandoned campsite in Olympia two New Years ago, or in our hotel room in a non-eventful Mahendrangar in Nepal last year. With all the exotic implications that world travel seems to represent, we have never had such boring New Years Eve's before in our lives. Of course it's not a problem, but just not what you would have imagined. It goes without saying though that we hope you all had an unforgettably splendid time of your lives. Happy 2009!

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