Forks were really choppy, especially on the dirt, so I changed the fork oil. I used ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) because it’s cheap and plentiful. It’s important to get the levels right so I set them to roughly 146mm, which I think is correct for the later Tiger. TOP TIP: you can use your motor oil dipstick to get the level right.
I replaced a bit of the Scottoiler before we came away, and now another bit has gone. The (final) drive chain has gnawed through the oil delivery tube. I got some generic tubing from a… erm… generic shop and replaced the damaged bit. New tubing was slightly bigger in diameter so old to new joined really easily. I routed the new tubing exactly as the old one had been.
Because I routed the new tubing exactly as the old had been, the (final) drive chain gnawed through it straight away. Who’d have thought?
Fixed it again.
We have spent 4 wonderful days in the lovely, small town of Loreto on the coast north of La Paz. This has been one of our favourite places of the last 3 months.
It feels very Mexican here. It is green and hot. The garden of the beautiful Damiana Hotel is full of fruit trees and butterflies and a hummingbird.
Everything is colourful and the people are lovely. We have lain in hammocks and chilled out and I have done a lot of work on my thesis. It is very easy to think here.
The hotel is really a special place. We have a gorgeous casita in the garden which the owners have given us for a reduced price. We were even welcomed with a free bottle of cold beer each when we arrived hot and tired.
It is quiet as it is the low season and we almost have the place to ourselves.
We can cook in the wonderful outdoor kitchen on the 1953 vintage stove.
Shopping for food is not as easy as we hoped. It is actually hard to get good quality vegetables and the sourcing tinned beans is very difficult, unless they are refried in lard. I guess most Mexicans cook their beans from dried. Avocados are also sold unripe for you to ripen at home. The town is really cute with a few craft shops and plenty of restaurants and an old mission from 1679.
And some odd shops. Notice no apostrophe.
It will be very hard to leave but we are heading for La Paz tomorrow, after I do a Skype interview with a school in Brazil in the morning!
We have had three wonderful days crossing the desert from El Rosario to Loreto. We crossed another time zone and travelled through some awesome landscapes.
Baja is much better than people tell you. The skies are the biggest I have seen. And the emptiness is impressive.
Also after 48 hours of feeling disoriented in a less developed country, I now feel like I have always been here and remember all of the reasons that we have chosen to travel almost exclusively in the less developed world for the last 20 years.
The highlights of the last 3 days have definitely been the landscapes. Baja is much more mountainous than I ever imagined.
It is also much greener than you think.
The weird cacti are a major highlight.
They just go on for ever. We have been riding through landscapes like this for over 500 miles. I have not got tired of them yet.
Last night we stayed in the oasis of San Ignacio. This was just like oases I remember from travelling in Egypt, full of date palms. We saw vermillion flycatchers on the way to breakfast this morning.
Doing yoga out by the pool at 6am was wonderful. The air was so cool.
The town came to recognition in the 1700s due to the mission built here by the Jesuits who used the town as a base to spread Christianity across Baja.
We have also seen a fair few volcanoes today which were unexpected.
We have seen both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez which is effectively a massive, almost lagoon separating the east coast of Baja from the mainland of Mexico. We will be spending more time on this coast over the next few days.
One of the highlights for Dave has been the off road riding where there are roadworks.
He loves the sand a lot more than I do.
After the hassle with fitting the shock and worries about crossing the border in time, everything went really smoothly. Postal Annexe packaged up a huge amount of camping equipment for us on Tuesday morning and shipped it to Heather’s Mom in LA for a mere $36 including packaging. We have since heard that it arrived the next day. We then set off, much lighter and less encumbered, for the quiet border crossing at Tecate. There was no queue at the border and after a quick look at the vehicle documents and frame number on the bike and a cursory glance inside the panniers we were cleared to enter. We picked up our tourist cards easily and were offered a 6 month stay without having to ask by the immigration officer. Everyone was friendly and spoke English and the whole thing took about half an hour.
The ride to Ensenada on the Pacific coast took us through the Ruta de Vino-an area of mountains and vineyards. It was quite beautiful in places.
Mexico was immediately completely different to the USA-much poorer and more chaotic. I can see how it might freak out Americans who have not travelled outside of the developed world before. Fortunately, we have a lot of experience to draw upon so were less freaked but a bit disorientated for the first 24 hours while we got used to being back in a less developed place. It occurred to me that I had only left Europe once in 3 years to travel to New York and had become a bit soft.
Ensenada was a busy town with a very tacky tourist street mostly serving the cruise ships that dock here and the biggest flag I have ever seen, reminding people that it is actually Mexico and not part of the USA.
We spent a day setting up our mobile phones with Mexican SIM cards and planning the next few days where Wifi may not be available for planning purposes. We reorganised the luggage now we have offloaded such a huge amount of stuff. All well worthwhile. Before setting off properly, we filled up with petrol at an interesting pump. Safety is very different concept here to the USA. More on that later.
There was some road widening going on. Unlike in the USA, where they would close the whole carriageway and have vehicles guided through by a pilot car, causing huge delays, here you just get on with it, riding on the gravel into oncoming traffic. The other thing I noticed was that in the US, there are at least 20 people working on any section, although it is unclear what they all do. Here in Mexico you see 2 or three guys doing all the work.
We stopped at a nice cafe. Had some home made limonada, met our first Mexican dog and used our first outside toilets of the trip. All good road trip stuff. Bringing back memories of journeys past.
I am pleased to say that I have already had several opportunities to speak Spanish-even on the phone. I have been learning this language at a basic level on and off for about 15 years. Well it is all coming in useful and I am doing OK with it and enjoying it (unlike German which I really hated learning and speaking). I was a bit phased when the hotel lady asked me for “un hombre” (a man) on the phone. After some confusion, I realised she had said “un nombre” (a name). It reminded me of The Two Ronnies Fork Handles sketch.
Back to the journey. We passed through a lot of towns, all pretty poor looking with annoying groups of speed bumps called topes to slow us down and jolt us around.
We the reached the coast again and the landscape changed quite dramatically becoming much drier, with huge and dunes even miles from the coast and a few cacti started to appear. It started to look like nothing I had seen before (which is what I came to see). Hopefully tomorrow it will get even more interesting. We head to the Sea of Cortez for a brief one night stay before heading back inland.
So tomorrow we cross into Mexico. It has been a little stressful recently as there has been a degree of uncertainty about whether we will be able to leave the USA before our visas expire. The shock absorber we had been waiting for arrived at the suppliers only today (two days before visa expiry). It has taken Dave all day to get it on but it is now done and the bike is ready for the next leg of the trip.
We were also surprised by a public holiday today-Columbus Day. This could have been a problem as we need to post our camping equipment to a friend in California who will look after it, as we are not taking it to Mexico. We will now go to the post office in the morning before we set off to the border. So we are nearly ready to go.
This is the map of our full route around the USA over the last 89 days.
It has been a spectacular success. We have ridden over 9,000 miles. 22 states. Many campsites, quite a few motels and a few Airbnbs. Through lots of mountains, plains, spectacular coasts and a few cities. The places that stand out for me are still Graceland (!), camping at 10,000 feet in Colorado, crossing the empty plains of Wyoming, riding along the central Californian coast around Big Sur and our two fun days in Hollywood. I guess the things I have chosen as my highlights are those that surpassed my expectations.
Worthy of honourable mentions are also Tulsa for its great Art Deco buildings which was totally unexpected and the magnificent setting of Seattle.
If I could only come back to one state it would definitely be California with Colorado in second place but then I expected that before I left.
By far the best thing about the trip as a whole has been the camping. The sites here in the US surpass anything we have experienced before in their number, locations, quality and cost.
The wildlife has also been a highlight for me. We have seen many different kinds of deer including pronghorn, big horned sheep, humpback whales, elephant seals, foxes, buffalo, many different kinds of squirrel, chipmunks, groundhogs (as well as dead armadillos, skunk and racoon. I have heard coyote howling at night and we have had three almost bear encounters, although we have not seen bears.
The birds have also been amazing-hummingbird, pelicans too many kinds of hawk and falcons to list, turkey vulture, woodpeckers of different kinds, kingfishers, Stellars Jay, cardinals and more.
Things have gone amazingly well. It has been incredibly easy to travel here. We are within budget. We have met some very friendly people. We are very happy, healthy (we have both lost weight and sleep for hours and hours) and relaxed. Mission accomplished.
We are very excited to move onto the next stage of the trip but also sad to be leaving the USA behind. Although the autumn rain is just about to start here in California so our timing is good. We are looking forward to some real adventure, speaking Spanish (badly), eating hot chillies and staying in one place for more than a couple of days. Oh and hopefully doing less work on the bike now that we have replaced virtually everything that can wear out.
We spent Friday night at a wonderful town in Central California called San Luis Obispo which was declared by Oprah to be the happiest city in the USA. We stayed with a wonderful host in a beautiful house looking out over the mountains and town. We bought a back tyre for the bike and ate some authentic Thai food. Everyone we met was exceptionally friendly. I guess that is what being happy does for you.
I speak to you from the future. Turns out the fuel level sender unit had failed so I’m not such a twat, after all. Well, not for this reason, anyway.
We left quite late on Saturday for the Santa Barbara mountains and…ran out of petrol. This has not happened to us since about 1996. We drained what was left in the camp stove but the bike still wouldn’t start so we waved our arms at passing bikers, all of whom waved back but didn’t stop. We then proceed to push the bike (well I pushed and Dave sat on the bike and paddled) up a hill. Still noone stopped to help. Fortunately, at the top of the hill was a grocery store with a cafe from where we called a taxi (at great expense) and Dave went to fetch petrol.
Dave dances like a twat after running out of petrol like a twat
The whole thing left us $60 lighter. We should have used the roadside assistance that we have but we thought it would take ages for them to come out. It would have been a lot cheaper.
The Santa Barbara mountains surpassed expectations.
Pumpkin fields are everywhere at the moment.
The mountains are really beautiful and only 15 miles from the centre of Santa Barbara. This would be a good place to live. There is a lot of space, good weather, good roads and stunning scenery. The campsites were also empty on a Saturday night which is quite unique in our experience.
It rained a lot in the night. So much that a fellow biker with a tiny tent, camped near us, left and went home before daylight. We took refuge in a Starbucks before returning to the campsite to pack up.
We got wet, for only the second time in 3 months, on the way to LA . Not what you expect in Southern California. By the time we arrived at our Airbnb in the Hollywood Hills, it had dried up.
We spent the next day along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. We watched The Martian at the Arc Lights Dome, a dome shaped cinema built in 1963, which opened with the premier of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (is that too many mads?). It was a brilliant film and a great location. Something really memorable.
We also visited Graumann’s Chinese Theatre and found the hand and foot prints of some of our old Hollywood heroes, including the cast of The Apartment.
And Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The cast of Giant is interesting, as James Dean had died before the film was premiered and so his prints do not appear alongside the rest of the cast.
As you will know if you have been reading the blog regularly, we love Art Deco architecture so we spent an hour or so wandering around Hollywood Boulevard, spotting original buildings from the 1920s, when the area was at its most glamorous (it is pretty seedy today).
We also saw a few fantastic wig and costume shops.
The next morning, our wonderful host Sabine, who rides a BMW 650 took us up to the Hollywood sign, about 10 minutes from the house. This street is open to only locals so we were really lucky.
There were great views over the city. For those who have lived in Bangkok, the pollution really did not seem bad at all.
Dave really loves this sign, partly because of the System of a Down album sleeve (you will need to look that up if you haven’t seen it). The house on the right used to be lived in by Keanu Reeves.
It was great fun going up there and one of the biggest highlights of the trip so far.
We loved Hollywood. We decided to stay in one area of LA as our time was short. The decision to stay in the hills was one of the best decisions we have made on the trip. Although the area around the Boulevards is really very ordinary these days, if you read up about the buildings and the history from the early 20th century it goes beyond a tacky tourist experience. It is one we will remember really fondly. Yes I am growing my hair a bit.