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New Year, New World

We_awoke_in_our tent to the gentle rocking of a cargo ferry with mainland Mexico and the port city of Mazatlan on the horizon.  Impossibly thick ropes soon flew from the ship to secure it to the numerous huge pylons anchored on shore.  Following dozens of big rigs and their sleepless drivers, many of whom had slept on the cold hallway floors of the ship the night before, we rode our bicycles off the ferry and into the gateway to mainland Mexico.  We stopped at an auto garage to ask for directions to the Malecon, the shorefront main street of many Mexican port cities where we were meeting a North Dakota connection.  After receiving directions and some words of caution, we were assured by the mechanic that Mazatlan was a “satanic jungle” and that he would pray for our safety as we traveled through.  Someone should put that on a billboard or something.

Mild confirmation bias is our saving grace.  It is certainly possible that Mazatlan was the most dangerous city we’ve seen yet in Mexico.  We’re not so sure.  Our hosts in the city did drive me by a restaurant that had been shot up by the local mob after it didn’t pay its protection money.  The traffic and people were far from menacing, though they may have been in more of a rush than those on the Baja.  We’ve received dire warnings from other Mexicans about Mazatlan, and when we got to Mazatlan we received dire warnings about the places we passed through to get there.  Were it not for a careful optimism on our parts, we would have never braved the border at Tijuana.  We continue to absorb as much information as we can, even if it does little to alter our route or our conscious optimism about the road ahead.  If Mom and Dad are reading this, don’t worry, we’ll totally consider hitch hiking or something if a Latin American civil war breaks out in 2012.

I miss home and our family a great deal, accustomed as I was to spending this season with them.  The New Year has us all reflecting on the past year, especially the way that countless families have taken us in and made us feel like one of their own.  The Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse, the Coopers of Coeur d’Alene, the Pfeiffers of Portland, the Samuels of Santa Monica, the Taylors of San Diego, and the Salazars of Guadalajara are just a few of these.  Thank you all for what you’ve done for us.

December has foreshadowed the rest of our journey in 2012.  We’ve climbed some tremendous mountains in Mexico’s western highlands, and we respect the toll that it takes on our bodies.  The Andes will only be bigger, more challenging, and more spectacular.  I’ve dealt with illness for the first time since leaving Anchorage.  A dreadful headache became a cold and ear infection; sadly, I’m still recovering and the illness has cost us some time and miles.  Rest and health can’t be compromised, and once I’m healthy we’ll be riding strong once again.

The human and geographical diversity of the mainland is incredible.  Megacities and rural farming villages and beautiful lakes and mountains rise up at every turn.  Most of North America, even the Baja, has been defined by the vast, empty natural landscapes between places.  This New World brims with life and a constant human presence.  Riding a few mornings ago beside Lake Chapala, we struggled up an impossibly steep cobblestone climb for seven kilometers.  Every turn had us greeting another farmer or laughing child or family with a breathless “Buenos Dias” and a smile through gritted teeth.  It’s almost as if we’ve been practicing piano in the family room since leaving Alaska, and finally we’ve reached our recital and constant audience in the new world of mainland Mexico.  Sometimes we’re self-conscious, but most of the time we’re smiling, inspired, and excited for our next opportunity to inspire a stranger’s day with our story.

Hemingway once recounted in a conversation with a friend, A.E. Hotchner, that “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”  If there ever was a moveable feast, it is this bicycle expedition.  The sights and smells and sensations will linger and move with me long after we reach Ushuaia in Argentine winter.  In the meantime, I hope that you all find richness and love and a moveable feast of your own in 2012.

95 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a wordpress blogger, I just stumbled upon your blog and whoa, am caught speechless by your adventure. I didn’t get to read over everything or see alll the amazing photos except that you’re brothers from ND living a dream and giving away in many worlds. Thanks for the infectious inspiration and keep on brothers.

    January 13, 2012
  2. Beautiful photo’s. Have a great new year & happy pedalling 🙂

    January 13, 2012
  3. Your fantastic photos and your thoughts leave me nostalgic for another time. I look forward to coming along, vicariously.

    January 13, 2012
  4. I like your style; optimistic and to the point.

    January 13, 2012
  5. Happy New Year!Great pictures

    January 13, 2012
  6. Argentina is so amazing! Great pics btw.

    January 13, 2012
  7. You’re living the good life, my friend! Beautiful opening shot, by the way.

    January 13, 2012
  8. This article looks like it belongs in the
    National Geographic. Great post, great
    writing, I wonder, do you do this

    January 13, 2012
    • Rastelly, thank you for the high compliment, but I assure you that we are just amateurs when it comes to writing and photography and adventure! Maybe we’ll be semi-pro by the time we reach Argentina.

      January 14, 2012
  9. Hope your family is OK with all the snow that dumped up there! Amazing journey you guys are on, thanks for sharing! Congrats on FP 🙂

    January 13, 2012
  10. goss41 #

    Sounds amazing … I want to do something like that, Absolutely love the photos as well …Good luck !!

    January 13, 2012
  11. There’s an old Irish blessing that has been bestowed upon me whenever wanderlust reaches my soul and it only seems appropriate to pass this along to you now…

    May the road rise up to meet you.
    May the wind always be at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    and rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

    Safe travels my friends…

    January 13, 2012
  12. What an incredible journey man….my right leg got chillbumps while reading instead of my arm…Happy New Year to you and God bless!

    January 13, 2012
  13. Stunning

    January 13, 2012
  14. amazing pictures! so colorful. looks like a fabulous place to be. i’m jealous.

    January 13, 2012
  15. Rob #

    This is a really inspiring post and story. Especially love the Hemingway quote. You guys stand out like a pink brick in this background.

    January 13, 2012
  16. Great pictures! This reminds me of home, I miss my family!G

    January 13, 2012
  17. I admire your courage and determination. Mexico is a fabulous place and the people are wonderful. If you go through Zihuatanejo, be sure to eat at Restaurante de la Ocha on Playa Larga. I wish you safety and adventure!

    January 13, 2012
  18. Hey guys this is the first time I’m reading your blog and I guess till now I have been missing something, something which defines an incredible journey.and that too on bicycle. Great work!!! Great clicks and great stories. Looking forward for more stories from you guys. Take care

    January 14, 2012
  19. nearlynormalized #

    Remember, when in Mexico….You are in “Gods Hands.”

    January 14, 2012
  20. Mexican style and would like to live there! Must be very comfortable

    January 14, 2012
  21. These photos are so beautiful and moving… I just started reading A Moveable Feast! Good luck in your journey.

    January 14, 2012
  22. while I would be extremely wary of traveling by foot through Mexico (went to Cancun about 3 yrs ago and was not impressed) I must say, your adventure is truly bucket-list-worthy! I shall be following your blog 🙂

    January 14, 2012
    • Will #

      I agree, Cancun is a bit of a disappointment. Too expensive, unsafe ocean currents, situated in the hurricane zone. Too much traffic too.

      January 15, 2012
  23. This is incredibly interesting! You guys have great writing style!

    January 14, 2012
  24. Will #

    Dear Isiah,

    A long-time sojourner in, and lover of Mexico here.

    I spent my “in-between” year – 1974/75 – between high school and university – thumbing and bumming my way all over North and Meso-America, most intensively in Meso America. My lifelong love affair with Mexico began that year. I was a 20-year-old hippie [now you can guess my age. dammit!], carrying all of my worldly possessions in an old dusty backpack, travelling alone and on-the-cheap.

    Mazatlan was one of my stops along my way.If think Mazatlan is ummm…”unusual” now, you should’ve seen it in 1975! It was admittedly slightly off-putting, but in a different way than your experience. Safety was a non-issue. Mazatlan then had raw sewage draining across the beach into the ocean; and rats were EVERYWHERE! But beyond that, I had a totally enchanting time there. The people were beautiful, gentle, kind and helpful to the max! That is how I found the Mexican people to be everywhere in that country – and I managed to hit every city and town on the map.

    It perturbs me to hear people travelling in Mexico today reporting fear for their safety.
    Since 1975, I’ve returned to Mexico every winter for an extended holiday [and I intend to retire there soon], and in all of those 37 years not once did I experience a questionable “safety” moment!

    I can’t help but think that freaked-out frightened tourists in Mexico are not approaching Mexico and its unique society in the right way.

    So please allow me to put out to you and your readers a few tips about how to navigate Mexico free from fear:

    (1) Speak Spanish. Get that computer program, Rosetta Stone, and learn at least the basics of the language before you go. When you speak to Mexican people in their own language you automatically score big-time happy points. On the face of it, speaking their language is just a basic courtesy, but there is a whole huge history just under the surface of the issue that has ingrained a certain distrust of “foreign speakers” in Mexican culture. Tourism as it is practised in the developed world didn’t get going in Mexico until the 1980’s – it’s a new game for the Mexican people. Don’t crowd them. Be extra nice.

    (2)Do not flash your cash money or expensive bling, cameras, iPads, etc. etc. around. Most Mexicans are working poor. It’s inconsiderate to flash around your foreigner’s wealth.

    (3)When you need help, find an old person to ask. You will be received warmly and generously by old folks. Avoid gangs of young men. Unemployment is high amongst that demographic, and they’re hungry. Don’t tempt them. Leave them alone.

    (4) SMILE! Avoid judgemental approaches toward foods you don’t like, or scenes of poverty that disturb you. Don’t stare at anybody, anytime, anywhere. It’s considered extremely rude.

    (5)Always tip servers generously, but very discretely (the “no flashing cash” rule again).

    (6)Learn the currency. Again, it’s just a common courtesy. It’s THEIR country, not yours. You make an ass of yourself if you’re constantly asking the people to translate the peso into dollars. Do it yourself!

    (7)Be a Canadian. Or – if you’re not so fortunate – sew Canadian flags all over your stuff. I’m sorry, I know it sounds smug, but it’s history again. Remember the Alamo? Well so do the Mexicans. “Gringo” is usually not a compliment. On the other hand, that red maple leaf flag will open doors everywhere for you!

    (8)Do NOT buy or use illegal drugs. Involvement with illegal drugs will get you in deep, deep crap. STAY AWAY from the US/Mexico border towns. The drug trade and organized crime have occupied those towns. If you must pass through a border town, go right on by without stopping. Just common sense.

    (9)Tourists often rent cars to travel around in Mexico. Do not rent a luxury car, or a high-powered or even just a “big” automobile. Rent a small, cheap car. Most Mexicans can’t afford to own a vehicle for themselves, so for them to watch tourists ramming around in nice automobiles does not inspire their good will.

    (10)NEVER be rude, not even slightly or in jest. You’re moving around in a very Catholic society. Personal courtesy and impeccable manners matter to the Mexican people, Big Time!

    Well, that’s it. I’ve practise all of the above when I’ve spent time in Mexico, and I’ve had only the happiest, most rewarding experiences. There’s no need for fear.

    January 14, 2012
    • Will, thank you. This is a tremendous amount of very good advice.

      January 14, 2012
      • Will #

        “De nada! Viajes felices!”

        Hey, don’t miss the pyramids at Teotihuacan, about 35 miles northwest of Mexico City. (catch tour buses from hotels in Mexico City to the pyramids. They run all day) Teotihuacan will blow your mind. An entire vast ceremonial city of huge stone pyramids. Built ca 01, by the Olmec people (ancestors to the Aztecs).
        For that matter, dont miss Mexico City itself! Another mind-blowing experience.
        It being the auspicious year 2012 now, you’d better see the actual ancient Aztec stone calendar that predicts The End this year, at the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) in the centre of the city.

        January 15, 2012
  25. seashoremary #

    I Like your sense of adventure and boldness, especially going through Mexico. I’ll pray for your trip and your successful return home to your family.

    I hope to read more entries to follow your journey “to other worlds.” I’ll believe that “there ain’t no place like home,” when you finish your trip.



    January 14, 2012
  26. I second to Will, and especially about the part of being nice. Having lived in Mexico for almost five years now, I have learned that niceness and courtesy defines majority of Mexicans (of course, I have been spoiled by my husband’s family who is always nice to each other).
    Also, Mexicans are VERY proud of who they are. Any condenscending look or a patronizing hand gesture and you lose them forever.
    About food. Eat where the locals eat and before trying any street food, scout the place for 15 minutes or more. If there are lots of people eating there, it’s pretty much safe. The spiciness of salsa varies from state to state, town to town, one restaurant to another. Pepto-bismol and other medications are readily available in the drug stores. If you do get ill, turn to the nearest IMSS emergency hospital, or find a practicing doctor – there are signs on the houses advertising their businesses. UNAM certificate on the ad will probably give you some certainty.
    Huh, I sound like a clucking mother hen 😛
    I hope to read more of your travels and cannot wait to see the photos from Argentina.
    Best luck to you,

    January 14, 2012
  27. Cassie #

    Oh my gosh, that sunset. And I love the little girl holding on to her mom on the bike. It’s wonderful.

    January 15, 2012
  28. I discovered your blog just now on Freshly Pressed, and look forward to reading it more fully. You guys are doing something that so many of us can only dream of. Thank you.

    January 16, 2012
  29. Great post and pictures of a great journey.
    An inspiring story.

    January 16, 2012
  30. perfect pictures and great narration. good luck in your journey.


    January 17, 2012
  31. Loved this post! The photos are incredible, but so are the adventures. Good luck! 🙂

    January 17, 2012
  32. theophilusbob #

    New Year…New Spirit…New Life…

    January 19, 2012
  33. lottoresultsblog786 #

    WoW! Some very brilliant pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    January 19, 2012
  34. Remarkable journey you’re on! . . . And wonderful photos! Continue to revel in your adventure!

    January 19, 2012
  35. looks like a great experience. I agree I loved being home and spending time with family also. I was not ready to come back to school.

    January 19, 2012
  36. Perfect post and beautiful photos!

    January 22, 2012
  37. What a fabulous idea of a journey for you band of brothers – I have often had notions of doing a similar thing with my brother.

    January 23, 2012

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