It begins - The Not So Long Way Down - CycleBlaze

November 12, 2018

It begins

Los Algodones to Ejido Monterrey

There is really nothing like Day One of a great bicycling adventure (even if in this case it was really Day 3118), and we arrived at the Mexican border filled with excitement and anticipation about what we were going to find in Latin America. Getting out of the USA was easy, too easy in fact, as there was not one single American official in sight on the southbound route. They seem to care quite a lot about who and what comes into their country, but very little about what goes out, hence a long stream of people walking unchecked across the border and straight into Mexico, and hence we had no one to return our I-94 forms too, which might give us a headache should we ever wish to return to the States. But that certainly was not our current priority. The Mexicans had made a little more effort, employing a total of one guy to take care of us. He spoke good English and was friendly and welcoming, having us fill in our immigration forms and asking us to pay $30 (US) each for the privilege. We did as requested, and soon enough we were cycling into Mexico.

Los Algodones is a small town, but a bustling, busy one, especially in the streets close to the border that felt cramped and chaotic compared to the U.S. There seem to be only two, most unusual, forms of employment in the town, either as a dentist or as a dental tout. Many men cried out to try and get us into their dental surgeries as we rode past, and there really were an unbelievable number of dental surgeries. If I had to guess at the place in the world with the greatest density of dental surgeries, I would undoubtedly now say Los Algodones. All of them exist to serve Americans coming across the border for cheap dental work and to be honest I was overdue for a check-up myself. But we were too excited about getting into the real Mexico to be sitting in any dental surgeries, and we hurried on.

We didn't get too far, however, as when I paused at the side of the street to take a photo of the extraordinary number of dental surgeries a man spoke to me. He was an older Mexican gentleman in a camouflage jacket, with a grey beard the primary feature of a face half hidden under a wide-brimmed hat. He addressed me in excellent English to ask where it was that we had come from and where we were going. "Well, why do you want to be doing that?" he asked when he heard my response about our journey. I smiled and shrugged and told him it gave us something to do, but the real answer was because it gave us the chance to meet people like him. Jose told us that he was homeless and he lived on the streets, but he had family in the United States and he was waiting for money from them, but he didn't seem to be feeling sorry for himself. He seemed friendly and kind and genuine. I asked him how it was that he spoke such good English.
"I went up on a mountain and I asked him up above to help me to speak," he said. 
"Wow, and then you could  speak English?" I asked.
"Well," Jose smiled, "it didn't happen overnight."

Two very friendly and kind homeless people
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Meeting Jose was fortuitous, as it gave us the chance to enquire  where we could find an ATM, and Jose directed us to the only one in town. It was back the way we had come, close to the border, and we retreated to withdraw some pesos. That job done, we cycled away from the busy border area and navigated the rest of Los Algodones on dusty backstreets that provided further culture shock. The rundown buildings and dogs that chased us from every corner felt a world away from the country we had left behind half an hour earlier.

Some of the dogs, as you can see here, were quite vicious
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We left town to the south on Highway 8, which was a narrow and bumpy tarmac road. Traffic volume was thankfully not excessively high, because it was certainly soon apparent that Mexicans like to get where they are going very rapidly. Luckily we didn't need to stay on this shoulderless road for very long, as we'd planned a route following dirt roads and after just a few kilometres we were able to switch onto these. We did so at a village in which the entire population seemed to be involved in the brick-making profession. We saw a great many kilns, there were piles of bricks everywhere, and one or two places where people were out working. The fellow below gave us a wave and a 'Hola' as we stopped to admire his handiwork:

Rows of freshly made bricks drying in the sun before being baked in the kilns
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It felt good to be away from the main road
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Our road was sandy but it was mostly compact and easy enough to cycle on. It ran parallel to a canal and was, like all of the landscape around us, completely flat. We rode past a wide variety of agriculture, including vast fields of cotton that were in full bloom. "I wonder if they have to pick it all by hand," Dea said. Later she got her answer when we saw a huge machine going through the cotton fields, churning everything up and spitting out the cotton. Other crops, however, did need to be worked by hand, and we often saw scores of workers out in the fields, making us count our blessings to not have to do such labour ourselves. 

That's a lot of T-shirts
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No, THAT'S a lot of T-shirts
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Back-breaking work, but the smell of spring onions was lovely. We counted our blessings to be able to enjoy it from a distance
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The canal that we rode alongside was surprisingly teeming with bird life. We saw herons and some sort of ducks and some sort of white birds that were like a cross between a heron and a duck. As you can tell, we are not ornithologists, but we were both excited to see roadrunners dart out from the reeds and, as their name dictates, run along the road. My only disappointment was that they did not shout out "Beep beep!" as they went. With all of the agriculture there were no other forms of wildlife, with the exception of a few stray dogs. We appreciated these stray dogs very much, however, for they were the only examples of their species that had no interest in barking at us or chasing us. Whenever we passed any sort of homestead we got the full treatment. If we were lucky the dogs would be behind a fence or chained up, but at least half the time they were free to give chase. Knowing that Dea was more afraid of these dogs than myself I tried to cycle behind her and give her some form of protection from their unwanted approaches, but on one occasion she was behind me when a particularly ferocious canine suddenly appeared and came after her from behind. Without any concern for my own personal safety I turned back and stopped, allowing Dea to escape past me and standing in the way of the snarling beast, before making good my own escape. 
"Wow Chris, thank you," Dea said after the event. "That was amazing, you were like a real man there."
After four years together, I think I should have preferred it if she hadn't been so surprised by this, and also, it would have been better if she'd left out the word 'like', but I take my compliments where I can get them.

This photo was taken just before a set of four or five big dogs came out of the house on the left and went after Dea, I was disappointed not to capture it on camera
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Steve Miller/GrampiesGotta love the bike lane sign.
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4 months ago
White birdy things
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Steve Miller/GrampiesEgrets. You will be seeing them all over Mexico in watery areas.
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4 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltMight be white herons.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/how-to-identify-white-herons-excerpt-from-better-birding-book/
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Bill ShaneyfeltThanks for the link! We took a look but are none much the wiser, except now we know that herons and egrets look very similar.
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4 months ago
* This photo has been manipulated with advanced CGI to recreate actual events
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One disappointing aspect of being south of the border was the return of mounds of rotting trash, but we were surprised by how clean the canal was
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Occasional patches of thicker sand slowed our progress, but we pushed on
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We reached our goal of the town of Ejido Monterrey just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, and easily found the hotel that we'd been planning to end the day at, the Hotel Celeste. The owner was another friendly man, and for 550 pesos ($27) we got a room which he was especially keen to tell us came with a TV. We burst out laughing when we saw the room, for the TV was the smallest, fattest television set I've ever seen, but the room itself was very nice and comfortable. It was the perfect place to end a really great first day in Mexico. 

I wonder if they have cable?
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Steve Miller/GrampiesHey don,t knock it. This is about the size of the first TV we had when we were first married (51 years ago).
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Steve Miller/GrampiesDid it also only show programs in Spanish?
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4 months ago
Marian RosenbergI'm reminded of the hotel I got near Yangshuo in 2008 that had a black and white TV set.
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3 months ago

Starving, we went out to eat at the restaurant next door, where a jolly English-speaking man grilled us some quesadillas which we loaded with beans and guacamole for a delicious dinner. Both being very excited about the Mexican food, this lived up to our expectations, and we wandered back to our hotel room both bubbling with happiness about being in Mexico and about all of the adventures ahead.

Dinner being prepared
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Here I am, a photo of me, happy about so many things right here
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As we lay in our hotel room drifting off to sleep I suddenly remembered that we hadn't learnt any Spanish all day. Everyone that we'd met had been able to speak very good English, which rather hampered our ambitions to try and advance our Spanish, but we'd agreed that we were going to learn one Spanish phrase every day, and failing on the first day was a bit disappointing.
"Dea, are you still awake?" I asked, loud enough to wake her up. "We didn't learn any Spanish today."
"Oh yeah. Erm. What should we learn?"
"I don't know, what do you think?" I asked, reaching for my phone and searching for a translation site.
"How about 'stop barking!' That would be useful for all the dogs."
"True, but it's not very practical. It also looks a bit complicated."
"Okay, what about 'shut up!'"
I chose to believe Dea was still referring to something we could use against the dogs, and not getting frustrated about losing sleep.

Spanish phrase of the day: Cállate (Shut up)

Today's ride: 43 km (27 miles)
Total: 43 km (27 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 14
Comment on this entry Comment 12
Bruce LellmanI'm so glad you are now on CycleBlaze. Welcome! I'm looking forward to reading your next adventure.
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4 months ago
Gregory GarceauHello there Chris and Dea,

I'm so excited to, once again, join in on your fun.

Greg
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4 months ago
Rob WhiteHey Chris, glad to see now there's two lots of blogs to follow, with your new one being so regular it will be just like in the good old days of The Long Way Round! :)
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4 months ago
jim katzinDitto on the other comments. Nice to have you here. I've just about finished your first book, and it never gets boring. No surprise.
Jim
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Bruce LellmanThanks Bruce!
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Gregory GarceauThanks Greg, good to have you along!
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Rob WhiteThanks Rob but hang on a minute there, I think you mean The Really Long Way Round. Are you trying to make Ewan mad?
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo jim katzinThanks Jim, and thanks for buying the book, I'm happy to hear you've enjoyed it!
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4 months ago
Suzanne GibsonGlad to see you here on Cycleblaze now! Great to hear what you two are up to on a regular basis - I worried when the breaks were too long in between blog posts. But I'll miss hearing Dea's voice as well. I always enjoyed the different perspectives on the same journey.
Buen Viaje!
Suzanne
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4 months ago
Randy KleinGlad to find you here. Actually the reason I am here is due to the link on your site differentpartsofeverywhere. I enjoy your travels. Too much in fact because it tends to interfere with work and also causes depression and jealousy.

I bought and read your first book and have been meaning to but the second. I know, hurry up and do it already. Will be a Christmas present to myself.

Hope you are well and safe travels. Will continue to follow along.
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Suzanne GibsonThanks Suzanne, and Dea also says thanks for the compliment. We are planning to keep Different Parts of Everywhere going in much the same way as before. If anything, Dea will probably be taking on slightly more of the writing over there now I'm doing this, so don't worry, you'll still get to read her perspective.
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4 months ago
Chris PountneyTo Randy KleinHi Randy. Thanks for the message and thanks for the compliments. Hope we don't really make you too depressed/jealous though!
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4 months ago