Monday, June 29, 2015

USA at Last

   The entry into the US at Douglas was a little to hasty as it turned our - we had to go back into Mexico to exit Mexico if that makes sense. We were all keen to do that because if nothing else we would get our $400 deposit back from the Mexican Government. They paid up too. So, other than being confused as to where to go we also had trouble handing in to the US authorities the vehicle import documents that we went to such lengths to procure. We found the appropriate office and even an official who owned up to be of that office and he didn't want the documents. He rang his boss and he didn't want them either so as of now we have no temporary import documents for our bikes. Now this is not new for us - we didn't have them for Panama either and damned near got locked up for it.
   Other than dumping our left over Mexican money our first port of call in the US was Bisbee. Bisbee is an old copper mining town that has been tarted up for the tourists. So now it sports high street fashion shops and eateries plus a coffee roasting company dispensing its own product. It was great to have a decent cup of coffee. Up the road is Tombstone, another mining town whose industry has long since gone. Today it trades on the history of the Gunfight at OK Corral so there are re-enactments of street shoot-outs and a stage coach takes tours of the town. I thought it was quite nice. I have been here before and nothing much seems to have changed over the years. We stopped for the next two nights in Tuscon, AZ. It feels good to be back in the US (13 years in a row now). Burger and beer for dinner and 40 degrees outside. Welcome to the inferno that is Arizona in the summer.
   Pima Air and Space Museum is in Tuscon and a few years back Gavin Quin and I did the tour. At the time there was a dismantled B36 bomber over the fence with a number of other similarly disassembled aircraft. Well, the bomber is now on display along with a Mig 29, a Mig 23 and a Hind gunship plus, and, how they got it there I don't know, one of the new Boeing Dream Liners. I spent half the day at the museum. There were a number of aircraft from the Vietnam war and they too were on display as relics of the past. Wonder where that leaves me since I remember them so well?
   Next day we trundled up to Phoenix and a BMW shop. Colin had the engine management system of his bike looked at in order to identify an intermittent fault which was not found plus he had a front tyre fitted. I managed to get a rear tyre, which they would not fit because my bike was not a BMW. The tyre I got was a Heidenau K60 and it was to replace a similar one fitted in Osorno, Chile, 25,000 km previously. The buggers last well but they are hideous in the wet. The heat in Phoenix was well above 40 degrees so we stopped early for the day.
   Next stop Sherm Acords place in Kingman where we all changed our oil. I got 4 ltrs of Mobil 1 synthetic for $24 - it's $105 in NZ. We spent 2 nights in Kingman so that we could do a few of the highlights of Route 66. So the next day we got to visit Cool Springs and Oatman, the Route 66 museum in Kingman and witnessed the old cars transit through on the Great Race.
   The following day it was more Route 66 as we headed East to Williams. So this time it was Hackberry General Store, Peach Springs (for breakfast) and finally Seligman before picking up I40 to Williams. We finished off the day with a trip out to the South rim of the Grand Canyon and watched the sun go down. Up at 4am the next day for the sunrise over the Canyon and eventually on to Mexican Hat via Monument Valley.
   Today we are in Moab via the Valley of the Gods and the Mokee Dugway, both places I did last year on my DR when on the Trans America Trail. The others went out to Arches National Park late this afternoon. I've been twice before so stayed home and out of the heat. It's still very hot despite the altitude. It's also very expensive in Moab.
   Tomorrow we head north to Salt Lake City and if we can we will visit the Mormon Temple. This will be the end of the sight seeing for a while because we need to hightail it to Alaska and be in Fairbanks in the next 2-3 weeks. We will pick up sight-seeing again on the return trip.
Bisbee mine - abandoned



Boeing Dream Liner


Mig 29

Hind D

Mothballed C130's


Public toilet humor

One the old cars of the Great Race

Local Indian tribe entertained

Hackberry General Store. The Corvette is missing.


The pink Edsel is missing. Seligman.

Six engine train.

The Grand Canyon

Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Parting shot of Monument Valley.

Valley of the Gods

Colin on the Mokee Dugway

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mexico is Great

We crossed into Mexico 6 Jun and headed up the Caribbean coast to Cancun. Cancun is a resort town par excellence with sun, sea and a cooling breeze, but for me it was the gateway to Cuba. After Cuba we did the 465 km to Campeche on the coast in good time and on excellent roads - which really means there were none of those damned speed bumps that are wreaking the underside of my bike. Campeche was a lovely seaside town with a historic centre and we scored a nice hotel that had been beautifully restored. We followed the coast road along the Golf of Mexico to Villamosa for a night then Veracruz. We are on our way to Mexico City with the aim of seeing more ruins; this time so called Aztec ones.It turned out that the Aztec's simply took over a "city" that had long been abandoned and was pretty much overgrown.
Using the excellent Mexican motorways and somewhat expensive tolls we made Mexico City by Sunday 14th. The following day we took a taxi out to Teotihuacan, the most visited of all the ruins in Mexico. We got there quite early, accepted the services of a guide who proved to be excellent and managed to tour the ruins without the inevitable crowds. The ruins date from the time of the others we have visited so the Aztecs were very much late comers to the city. The ruins have been rebuilt in modern times with the aid of the government in an effort to give the Mexican people a sense of
there history. I foolishly said I would climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon observing that it was shorter than the one of the Sun. Little did I know the steps had a huge step-up and like a few other climbers needed to haul myself up with the rope provided. The others climbed the pyramid of the Sun with its more modest sized steps. All in all it was an excellent tour. Just before we left the area`our guide took us to a place that harvested cactus juice and made tequila. After sampling each we passed on buying any of the product. The cactus juice was awful.
Our next port of call was to be Creel and the Copper Canyon so we hit the auto pista and after 600km and NZ$25 in tolls arrived in Zacatecas. Much to our surprise the old part of town has UNESCO status and as luck would have it we found a reasonably priced hotel right in the heart of it. We spent the rest of the day walking the old town and had a most delightful meal in a Greek restaurant. Next day saw me off to the dentist to have a crown seen to. One hundred and twenty pesos later I'm done. That's about $12 NZ. And it wasn't a shonky dental practice either.
We are done with the tropics. The palm trees are gone, so have the roadside fruit stalls that we so much loved stopping at. Instead its crops and livestock and is much drier. That's not to say we didn't get wet a few times. One such place was Agua Calentes which was flooded so badly that the underpasses were impassable so we had to make our way round the edge of the city. Another 600km day to Jimenez and another $25 in tolls. My documents for entry to the US have now all arrived so I am good to go.
Creel is the stepping off point for trips into the canyon lands close by. We took a private tour of a couple of the canyons (there are many) and made it to Rio Urique, the river at the bottom of Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon). The tour included a lunch break on the banks of  Rio Urique and visits to various Indian settlements. One family was living in a cave (they were happy for us to visit) and at the time we visited it had just stopped raining. The cave had its own water fall and the inhabitants were a pretty glum looking lot. The whole place was horrid and the squalor was overwhelming.
The area is really quite striking with the smell of the pine and the cool nights due to elevation. We all loved the place. Next day on the way out we went to an overlook and adventure park suggested by our guide. This too was excellent and we even braved the cable car ride across the valley.
Out last night in Mexico was in Nuevo Casa Grandes where we had a dip in the swimming pool and toasted the end on Mexico with a round of Margaritas.
I loved Mexico and at no time did I feel threatened or unsafe.

Monday, June 15, 2015

And so To Cuba

Havana in Cuba is only a 50 minute flight away from where we are here in Cancun, Mexico. The others did not want to go but I was determined to make the effort so I hoofed it a couple of blocks down the road to the Cuba Airline office and by 1.30 that day I was off to Cuba. The woman at the airline desk in Cancun assured me that I did not need a 'package' tour; an airline ticket would be just fine. Well, you can imagine what happened; I get to Havana and there is no accommodation to be had because there is a big convention in town. Eventually I luck in at 110 cop a night - gulp!. The COP is the Cuban convertible currency for tourists and roughly equal to one US dollar, the locals use the Cuban Peso.
Next day I took the bus into the 'old' town. Havana is made up of the old historical town (the tourist trap) and the new town for everyone else. I had intended to do a tour of the city in one of the many old american cars that tout for trade but they would have been difficult to see much from and in the absence of any convertibles being available I opted for a horse and trap. This proved to be a good choice because it was slow and stopped often. The guide told me Havana is about to celebrate 500 years of existence and while all the buildings are old, none are that age. Most look like early 20th century stuff and sadly many are in a bad way. They are either abandoned or frankly should be and as a result some areas are quite run down. That said these are archetypal of scenes of Havana - old cars, narrow streets and un-cared-for buildings. What is encouraging however is the amount of refurbishment being undertaken on some the these buildings. The ones that have been done are excellent - the Cubans have done a nice job of keeping the character of the old town alive.
Everyone in the old town is on the make and you cannot walk 5 paces without someone calling "my friend let me help you" or "where are you from". This aspect of Havana is no worse than a number of Central American cities we have been to on this trip. It's the rainy season and true to character it rained quite hard once during the afternoons tour. It was warm and no one worried too much about getting a little wet. During one episode of rain I ducked into a restaurant and had a bite to eat and 2 cups of the most wonderful coffee.
The revolution was in 1959 I was told and that is evidenced by the cars on the road. The iconic American cars are all of a common era. Some are pieces of junk whilst others have been nicely restored; all appear to be for hire by both tourists and locals alike. The original engines are long gone; replaced by diesel ones. I never did get to ride in one of the old Yank Tanks. There are old trucks still in service as well. There are tons of old Russian Ladas also but mostly the cars are new European or Asian ones we are familiar with. Of the two taxis I used, one was a Hyundai and the other a VW.
I was quite surprised by Havana. I got to see the old cars and buildings as I expected but what I did not expect was all the modern stuff, motorways, flash hotels, excellent food and American TV such as CNN and English language music videos. There is no doubt the general population is poor and highly qualified professionals, I was told, are poorly paid. But the population dress well and appear to be healthy. Their housing is crappy and I don't know how much social discontent there is.
And before I knew it I was back in Mexico - wonderful Mexico. This is another country full of surprises.
My flash $110 a night hotel

One of the nicely restored late 1950's American cars

Apartment block

Fruit seller - I didn't see many of these street stalls 

Typical car line-up at the traffic lights

Oldest church in Havana - 200 years I think he said

The inside of the church above

Once the residence of the richest person in Cuba. The revolution fixed that.

Cuban envy - the White house and American cars.

The home of the oldest and most prestigious cigar manufacture in all Cuba

This is Havana (Habana) as I expected.



Abandoned buildings are common

What did you expect for street art - graffiti?.

Motorcycle and sidecar are common. This is a Russian Ural.