Friday, February 26, 2010

Biking in Mexico!

Well, we did it and survived!!!!!! What, you may ask, did you do??? We signed up for a very physical trip. We would drive to the hand drawn ferry in the US and take the ferry into Mexico and bike to the nearest town. 22 of us gathered at the rec. center for the trip. The morning had been overcast and chilly but the forecast for the day was for warm and sunny weather.

People and bikes were loaded into pickup trucks. Half of the group would be riding bikes, the other half would ride to the ferry and cross with us and take a cab to town. We were headed to Los Ebanos ferry, located at the obscure Texas border crossing of Los Ebanos, a tiny town in Texas on the Rio Grande river. It is also a historical site.
The pickups were parked at the ferry and the bikes were unloaded. Leaving the pickups in the parking lot, we walked down the ramp onto the ferry after paying our fee. Fifty cents for a person, fifty cents for a bike. One dollar each for Joe and I to ride a ferry. Just before we got to the ferry, the clouds disappeared giving way to a beautiful, summery day.

This is such a small, little traveled link to Mexico that there is only a tiny customs station. It is the smallest of eight official ports of entry into southeast Texas from Mexico. On the United States side of the river there is one lane for the three cars that come off the ferry each trip and, on the other side of the tiny kiosk, a window for the people who are on foot coming into the US. No commercialism, just this little station and some old buildings. On the Mexican side there is a building and customs station, also very small. One serious warning sign, If you bring a gun, you will go to prison!! There is no town at the landing in Mexico. The first town is over a mile from the border.

The ferry is tiny and the river is not wide, only about 90 feet, where it crosses. There is no motor on the boat, just a heavy rope stretched from shore to shore with a metal circle guide on each end of the ferry. Six men pull the heavy rope, drawing the ferry from one side to the other. A second rope was stretched about 10 feet up stream with two pulleys with ropes that were fastened to the boat and preventing it from sliding downstream while crossing. This method is hundreds of years old but amazingly efficient. There's been a ferry here since the 1700's. There is room for three vehicles. The sides are filled with riders and bikers. Before we knew it, the boat had left so smoothly, we never noticed it was moving until, glancing at the rope, we noticed it was moving! Joe grabbed it and started pulling too. I pulled too but I imagine it made no difference at all. In less than a minute, there was a bump. We were in Mexico.

On the Mexican side of the river there was a very steep ramp going up the hill. I was pushing the trike up the hill but it was a real chore as it's heavy. Joe left his bike halfway to the top and rushed back to roll the trike the rest of the way up. At the top, we bikers took off down the road to town and the rest of them got into cabs. We were off and pedaling to Diaz Ordaz.

I figured I might have trouble biking that far but six weeks of serious biking here in the park paid off big time. Believe it or not, I was not at the tail end, but in the middle of the pack all the way. True, I had to pedal constantly as I only have one speed, but it was, by and large, an easy ride. The road is paved and relatively flat. It went by so quickly that I was surprised when, all of a sudden, we were entering the outskirts of town. There was one big hill entering town where I had to get off and walk the trike up the top. After that, the town was as flat as the surrounding land and riding was easy.

All the bikers stopped at a tiny park just inside of town to take a short break. One of the bikers had been there before and led the way to a restaurant where the travelers from our park always eat. When we got there, the small parking lot was half full of bikes. We were not the only American's enjoying the fabulous weather and good food. I'd forgotten my newly purchased bike lock but parked next to the building and went inside encouraged by the fact that only a few of the bikes in the lot were locked.

The tables had bowls of fresh pico de guillo and fresh chips. The menu was simple. A single sheet of paper with a brief description of the food in English and a number. You order by number and pointing as the staff does not speak English. This town is NOT a tourist town. The citizens are friendly and helpful, the food was great.

After lunch we spent about two hours biking around town collecting adventures and memories pedaling down the street to city center where the group broke up into couples or individuals wishing to find something or take photos. It is a nice Mexican town. There were statues and obelisks in the median strips honoring people. The benches in the park were inscribed too.

Cars, trucks and buses were everywhere. There seemed to be a sort of unplanned chaos that worked to keep traffic and Americans on bikes and trike flowing with no injury to anyone in spite of the fact that the traffic was CRAZY!! Cars would roar around us, but always missing us. Children hung out of car windows smiling and waving to us. Everyone was helpful and kind. Men in big trucks would slow down and wave me across the road when I would be waiting to cross. Maybe the sight of an old fat gal, the color of mayonnaise, on a big trike was just too good to pass up. Joe and I made sure to stop at every stop sign and obeyed all traffic directions so as not to end up in the hoosegow.

As I had not bought enough bottles of cooking Vanilla for friends and family, Joe and I went on a hunt for Vanilla. While Joe waited at the curb, I went into a number of stores, putting on a big smile and asking for "Vanilla Por favor". One non english speaking sales person after another looked distressed and did not understand but smiled back. Finally I took to showing my spanish to english book to them to which they all said no, no Vanillia. Because I took their time and they were always so nice, I bought a little something in each store like a Pepsi or cleaning supplies.

Back out on the main street we were looking again when a young man asked in broken English if they could help. I showed him the book and pointed to the word Vanilla. Ah.. YES! Vaneeila and both of them began talk to each other then began to point down the street in the direction we were headed. We started down the street but it was obvious we did not know for what we were looking. Finally they signaled to follow them and we all went down the street for three or four blocks. Finally they gestured and pointed to a small store across the street. It was an ice cream store. With vanilla ice cream. In order to avoid being an ugly American we thanked them profusely with many smiles. I went inside and bought a vanilla ice cream cone.

We biked a bit more and headed back to the road to the park in time to meet the rest of the bikers. When we got to the corner to turn, the two young men who walked us to the ice cream store were just rounding the corner, walking up the same road we would be going! They had walked BLOCKS out of the way to help some American lady on a trike buy a vanilla ice cream cone. What nice guys!!!!!

Arriving at the park early, we loafed few minutes, then three of us took off again, looking for the elusive vanilla. Two grocery stores later, still no vanilla but a good bar of laundry soap and some scrubbing pads.

On one street corner we met an elderly gentleman who wanted to speak English with us. He grinned and shook our hands over and over telling us all "I like you!" in nearly perfect English. I'm sure he used all of his English with us and both of us walked away smiling at his enthusiasm for Americans and the English language. What a great city with many kind citizens.

The ride back to the ferry was harder. After nearly two hours of biking around town meeting the citizens and searching for vanilla we headed back down the highway to the ferry. However, it was slightly up hill the whole way. Tired and thirsty, I stopped once for a big drink of water then back on the trike and took off down the highway to the border. "I think I can", "I think I can", "I think I can", "I think I can", "I think I can", ran through my mind like the Little Engine that Could. I just HAD to succeed under my own steam. Once again I was surprised when the customs building was there before I expected it.

Note to self: next time, rest at the park a bit before start pedaling back to the ferry.

The ferry ride back was as much fun as the first time only this time someone saw Joe pulling the rope and then everyone was pulling the rope and one guy started singing the song "Michel Row the Boat Ashore". What fun.

Joe wrestled the trike up the ramp on the US side while I pushed his bike. We stood in line at the entry and presented our passports to the man in the kiosk. He ran them through the scanner, asked if we had any liquor (no) and gave them back and welcomed us to America.

All in all, this trip was one of the most memorable in my life. When we got back to the rig we both took a much needed two hour nap.

We had a great time and are more fit than we knew.

Check out my big grin at the end of the ride.

Can't wait to go back again.


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Juliette Crane said...

wow! congratulations! what an adventure. you are such an inspiration. thank you for sharing this story. stop by my blog and say hello sometime :)
best wishes!