Our time in the US was really incredible, the natural beauty of the West stunned us on every turn but the most incredible experience was the American people. We were simply blown away at the generosity of spirit of complete strangers… again and again and again. Stopping to ask for directions, information or help we often encountered people unable to help, but automatically picking up the phone to get an answer or going to their computer to google a solution. These were people running businesses, who would stop whatever they were doing to help us. The first time it happened, we thought it was the unique generosity of an individual in a small town, but it happened over and over, so we realised it’s simply “the American way”. People often greeted us with the question: “So how have we been treating you?” – it seems Americans were intent on showing us a good time. For that gift we are most thankful.
The one aspect we really struggled with though was the traffic. Endless, chaotic, insane, scary, frustrating and simply everywhere! At times up to 16 lanes (8 lanes either way) cars and trucks passing us at great speed even though we were riding at the speed limit in the slow lane. What amazed us was that American drivers were incredibly courteous (except for Vegas!) and we never encountered a single road rage incident, despite crazy insane traffic jams. People seemed resigned to the reality of traffic and simply went about their day regardless. We will never again complain of “traffic”, because as Australians we simply do not understand what that really means…
It’s crazy how anxious we get each time we move on to the next country, and Mexico was no exception. With the added complication of limited Spanish, we were pretty wary of how we would cope. We had read so many blogs with advice about the best places to cross into Mexico so were planning on reaching the border at Tecate as most other motorcyclists had done. However, as we passed through San Diego, the traffic chaos simply overcame us and Paul suggested we cross at Tijuana, as it was much closer. I was hesitant, pointing out that most blogs suggested avoiding that route and reasoned there had to be an explanation for that. Long story short, after much debating we chose to risk it and cross at Tijuana. Thankfully it was a breeze, after about a 5 minute ride we were through without a fuss, with only a stop for a photo and negotiating many ‘topes’ (crazy speed bumps which can put you down on a bike if you catch the front wheel at an angle)
Despite anticipating this heightened anxiety, it has really caught us off guard and has forced us to slow down, talk honestly about how we’re feeling and take many deep breaths. Mexico is such a glorious mix of passion, colour, music, noise and people with the most beautiful faces. Ensenada is very touristy and there’s quite a strong American influence with some Mexican people speaking English, so we decided to stay a day longer, just to get our bearings and come to grips with some basic Spanish phrases before we head further South.
The language barrier can be frustrating, yet amusing at times. Paul and I speak a few other languages (German, Afrikaans, Zulu) and found ourselves remembering German or Zulu phrases, as that’s been our prior experience with a foreign language in a foreign country. Sounds silly, but that’s how our brains work, I suppose…grabbing at familiar experiences to make sense of something new and foreign.
Paul is incredibly quick to pick up new languages and Spanish is no exception. I have resorted to telling him he’s “just showing off”, but I’m secretly grateful that at least one of us learns fast! I’m armed with ‘Google Translate’ which is incredible as it works off line and has helped me with a few basic phrases. Paul has mastered more complex phrases like asking for the bill or wifi password. My grasp is way more basic. I eventually got to grips with saying “good morning”, so was very disappointed when I proudly said “Buenas Dias!” to a lady only to have her giggle at me and reply that it’s “Buenos Tardes” as it was by then late in the afternoon! I then practiced saying “tardes” after realising the difference and also started anticipating having to say “Buenos Noches” at night. I got really confident but unfortunately that’s when I came unstuck again. I greeted a man with “Buenos Nachos” which had Paul doubled up in stitches…crying with laughter he explained that I was saying “good chips” (Nachos) instead of good evening (Noches) A small difference in pronunciation, but a significant mistake nevertheless.
But it works both ways. Last night at a drinks stall I greeted a Mexican man (correctly) and quickly asked in my limited Spanish if he spoke any English – he said he did. I asked him to explain the ingredients in a drink called Micheladas, which I saw advertised. He said: “It is a mixture of Clamato juice (tomato juice), ice, lime, chilli, salt, paprika, some sausages and beer.” Paul and I had just had dinner, so Paul said he couldn’t eat any more (sausages), but invited me to go ahead and order a Micheladas. I figured it sounded gross, but was curious as it had been recommended as a great cure for hangovers. I ordered one and asked Fernando if I may film him preparing the drink. Imagine my confusion when one by one he added the ingredients: tomato juice, paprika, chilli, lime, salt, ice, Maggi sauce, worcester sauce and beer. As he handed it over, I had a moment of confusion, thinking that he had forgotten to add the “sausages”…but then it suddenly dawned on me that he had added the “sauces” after all!
I woke in the middle of the night, giggling at the day’s events and my chuckling woke Paul. When he asked me what was so funny I cracked up again, shouting “buenos nachos!” and “sausages!” Paul then told me he was so grateful that I had woken him, saying he had been having a terrible nightmare about tomatoes. “Tomatoes?” I asked. “Paul said: “Yes, tomatoes. I dreamt they had taken over the world and were really evil.” I asked him: “Why didn’t you just eat the tomatoes?” Paul replied: “No, they knew what I was thinking…they were really clever like that. They lived in hives and were taking over the world…” It’s obvious all the rich spicy food has messed with our heads…oh what wonderful first few days in Mexico!