Batman v Superman

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We’ve had such a good run of going to see good movies, lately: The Martian, The Revenant, Deadpool, The Force Awakens… then, unfortunately, this rubbish. At least we got to use a tiny, small town cinema. It was a bit embarrassing when the owner (pictured, changing the sign) asked us how we liked the movie, though.

California-Los Angeles and Back to Camping-21st-26th March 2016

Our main goal on leaving Arizona and arriving back in California was to retrieve the tent and other equipment and get back to camping as soon as possible. We spent our first night in California in Indio, near Palm Springs in the California desert. It was a pretty uneventful stay in an Airbnb, marked by more gorgeous weather and a visit to Trader Joe’s grocery store to shop for some long awaited home cooked food. On leaving the next morning for a short drive up Interstate Highway 10 we were shocked to be caught in the middle of a dust storm.

SAMSUNG CSCThis is not the worst dust storm we have encountered. Back in 1997, in Iran, we could not see more than 10 metres ahead but we were the only vehicle on the road and it was much more scary this time, being blown across the path of trucks in a three lane highway. Later on we were reintroduced to the terrible traffic in LA. Fortunately, we were going the other way. It was interesting to note that the electric train/tram goes down the central reservation, allowing train passengers to feel extra smug as they look out at the car drivers stuck in a traffic jam.

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We left our camping gear with the parents of a colleague and friend from Berlin, Heather, who live in Pasadena (which is part of the LA conurbation, East of the city, near the mountains). We booked into a Airbnb nearby in Eagle Rock and enjoyed a lovely couple of days there. We have not experienced many walkable neighbourhoods in the US so far. “Shops nearby” usually means 10-15 minutes drive but Eagle Rock really was walkable and within 7 minutes our room we had a supermarket, cafes and restaurants and…a motorcycle shop that sold tyres to fit the Triumph. We invested in two more new tyres for the bike,  a decent hair cut for me-the first for more than 5 months- and a pair of new bike gloves for Dave, as his old ones wore out.

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New Gloves

Our Airbnb was in one of those typical Spanish-style LA homes, like you see in the films.

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We had a lovely visit with Sandy, Heather’s mom, to collect our things. It was great to chat for a couple of hours and see where Heather grew up. This is a stunning neighbourhood and somewhere I would love to live.

SAMSUNG CSCThe tent zips had failed on us before we left for Mexico, back in October and we knew we needed to repair them. We were quite chuffed that having unpicked the zips, removed the zip sliders and replaced them with new ones, the zips were like new. This meant we were able to head out straight for our favourite USA campsite in Idyllwild, the last campsite we stayed at in October before we left.

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The campsite is a 6,200 feet and so we had to be sure we could stay warm. We invested in a pair of fleece trouser each (sexy, not) and hoped that with the thermal underwear, down jackets and sleeping bags this would be enough to stop us from freezing and keep us camping. You can see us modelling our new trousers below.

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The ride up to Idyllwild was the best riding we have done for months and months. Winding, smooth roads, beautiful temperature and great scenery. It felt so good to be back.

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After I had finished stitching up the tent.

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SAMSUNG CSCAnd we celebrated with a couple of beers (European beers). As you can see we are the only people mad enough to camp in a tent in March and the campsite was empty (bliss).

camping beerI love this campsite because you have great facilities like a lodge with Wifi and a laundry but it still feels like a wilderness, right on top of the mountain.

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I have never see pine cones this big anywhere in Europe. The squirrels are even bigger but there are no bears here, only rattlesnakes and tarantulas (apparently).

SAMSUNG CSCSo we have spent a couple of days, trying to stay warm (mostly successfully), pottering on the campsite and in the village, doing some work on the thesis and on the bike. The bike has some new brake pads but we are still grappling with how to get all of the camping gear on (how did we manage it before?)

SAMSUNG CSCWe are both extremely relaxed and happy with a lot to look forward to. We have decided not to go to Vegas as it is too expensive. We are heading to Palm Springs to see Elvis’s honeymoon house and other modernist architecture. We then have a lodge booked in the Grand Canyon National Park for 30th March. After this we head to Utah for Monument Valley, Canyonlands and Arches National Park.

Back in the USA 17-21 March 2016

The goal was to be back in the USA in time to celebrate Dave’s birthday and we made it. We set off super early to the border, having checked the waiting times, online, at each bridge going from Juarez to El Paso. We had a bit of a shock when, after passing through immigration to exit Mexico, we were informed that the correct office to cancel our bike permit was 30km away on the road to Chihuahua! We should have done it on our way to Juarez. So few overlanders come in this direction that it was impossible to find out the correct procedures, even after hours of research on the internet. So we lost our deposit and may risk not being able to ever bring a vehicle into Mexico again (well not in Dave’s name anyway). We decided to forget about it and focus on getting into the USA.

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The internet said the wait was 15 minutes at the Zaragoza crossing and it was pretty accurate. There were hundreds of cars, but with 6 lanes open, we were soon at the front of the line. Almost everyone who crosses here is either a US or Mexican citizen so the immigration and customs officers were a little bemused to see us. They were very friendly and welcoming and walked us through the whole process. At the immigration centre, where we were taken to complete the paperwork, we jumped the queue, much to our embarrassment as about 20 Mexican people in front of us waited patiently. The whole thing took about 90 minutes.

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We were so relieved to be allowed back in and to be able to relax after several days (or weeks depending on your perspective) in less safe places. Northern Mexico seems pretty developed compared to Central America but it does not prepare you for the level of development in the USA. There are just so many cars and shopping malls and restaurants and everything everywhere. It can feel a little overwhelming.

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We were once again in the middle of a classic US road trip, riding through miles of emptiness.

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Staying in old school, mom and pop motels.

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And enjoying the crazy place names so now you know where to find him).

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We spent 2 nights in Tucson, Arizona at an Airbnb. We celebrated Dave’s birthday with a cinema trip to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, followed by a visit to the Pima Air and Space Museum. There were literally hundreds of planes. They all looked the same after a couple of hours (at least to me they did). Dave loved it though. He had his picture taken with a WW2 bomber.

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And the Top Gun plane.

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And a helicopter used in the Vietnam War, similar to that featured in Apocalypse Now.

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The guide was ex military and there were a few ex military personnel on the tour with us. Although they spoke quite neutrally about the “kills” achieved by some planes and “successful missions”, I felt uncomfortable and I know Dave did too. US society seems so much more militarised than we are used to. I guess because they have been at war pretty much constantly since WW2 and they have troops risking their lives on a constant basis. We both felt it was appropriate to keep our mouths shut and only voice disquiet to each other.

There were also some motorbikes at the museum on special display courtesy of Vietnam Vets who I guess must have shipped them home. Urals made in Russia are still quite commonly seen in Vietnam and available for rental. That would be a crazy trip and easily doable from Hong Kong. I am not sure I fancy sitting in the sidecar though.

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Arizona is a crazy desert place and we enjoyed Tucson. We will return here in a couple of weeks with the camping gear.

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So we are now en route to Pasadena, L.A., to collect our camping stuff from Heather’s parents, who have been looking after it for us. We have spent a lot of time on Interstate Highway 10 in the last few days. It is not bad as far as motorways go. It is free (not like in Mexico) and the views across the desert really don’t seem to get boring.

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We have seen many “snowbirds” in their RVs on the highway and have also had a few strike up conversation with us. I have every admiration for these retired folk who spend the winter in the warmer climes of the southern USA in their huge camper vans, some the size of coaches. Some are even permanently mobile, spending the year in different parts of the country. What a great way of life. It is quite common to see them towing a car, so they can use it to get around to the shops and sites, but we saw one today towing both a car and carrying a Harley. I can see this in our future (not with a Harley though, obviously. It would be a Triumph).

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The weather at this time of the year is amazing. Just the right temperature for motorcycling and endless, clear blue skies. In the next couple of weeks we will spend some time camping in California and then head to the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas. We will probably go up to Monument Valley in Utah but it is a bit cold up there so we have to keep an eye on the weather as we do not want to be caught in snow. It is really great to be back in the USA. To have access to great food and supermarkets. To be able to communicate freely with people in English and to have so many great places to visit.

 

 

 

 

 

Last Day in Mexico-16th March 2016

So we have finally arrived at the Mexico-US border. We first arrived in Mexico in October and spent 2 months here, later returning for another 10 days. It is not enough time to scratch the surface of this stunning country. I will do an overview later but first some pics of our last day riding through the desert.

SAMSUNG CSCWe were thrilled to have another stunning morning, with deep, blue skies and an open road. It has been pretty remote the last two days, even by Mexico standards. Not the kind of place that you want to break down.

SAMSUNG CSCWe diverted to Ciudad Juarez, rather than ride the extra two hours to Agua Prieta. Although Juarez had a very bad reputation between 2008-12, with over 3,000 murders a year (!) things have improved here , due to the presence of the military in such vast numbers.

SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCThere is a much better infrastructure than the smaller border towns. Most of the hotels and malls here service Mexicans applying for visas to the USA. Getting our own paperwork in order has made for a stressful day. We have been waiting for the vehicle insurance to arrive for the bike and digging out other documents that we have not seen in months. We also have to have copies of onward flights tickets from the USA.  It is always nerve wracking entering the US, as immigration officials have total discretion as to whether they let you in. So fingers crossed for tomorrow.

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So back to Mexico. This is country I have long wanted to visit. I have not been disappointed. It is sad that the country is so marred by drug related crime and violence and the “war on drugs”, meaning that we were not able to go to all of the places we might have enjoyed most. Getting deep into the mountains, controlled by the cartels, where marijuana and opium is grown, can be risky, especially if you are caught out after dark and tourists have been murdered recently when driving at night in remote areas. Although we have a policy never to ride at night, this has meant we have had to be careful about where we go, which is a real shame. Having said that, there is more than enough to keep you busy for months, if not years here. It is certainly somewhere I would live, if the security situation improved.

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So the highlights have been …well Baja California is still high on the list of the best things I have ever done.

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The colonial cities have been another highlight. If I had to choose just one, it would be Guanajuato, second would be Oaxaca, third Zacatecas and fourth San Miguel Allende. There are many others. The Spanish knew how to build cities. They are all so different and so spectacular and really do match  those that I love so much in Spain like Salamanca, Segovia and Granada.

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We loved the Pacific coastal town of Zipolite, with its easy vibe and beach bars.

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And we have loved the northern deserts.

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I hope we come back to Mexico.  The country is vast with an enormous amount to offer.The time has gone too quickly.