Adapting to Trip Life: Tel Aviv to Chico to San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico / Yaniv Singer

A couple of weeks. That’s how long it usually takes me to adapt to trip-life. Erika says I have a long aaption period to any change, like getting up in the morning, going to sleep at night, going between Israel and the US, everything. She’s right. I don’t accept change very easily. This is somewhat ironic considering I am always trying to change my life around. I guess this conflict is a potential source of angst in my life.

Yaniv asleep with Charlie
We had a lucky break concerning our adaption to trip life. It was gradual. In the beginning of June Erika quit her job and we left our wonderful home in Moshav Givaat Nili, surrounded by vineyards and orchards. The space our stuff was taking collapsed from a two bedroom apartment to my old room in my mom’s flat. That was a tough period for me. We left our life behind so we could lead a different one that would not start yet. It’s like putting down a good book for what you think is a better one, but having to read Oprah magazines instead. This interim period continued when we left Israel on June 20th on a one way ticket to California. Still the better book remained hidden. After working in a summer camp, we finally bought two bikes (3 really. More about that here), and now we were able to see the book on the shelf. Once we had finished buying all the gear for the trip we could only see the front cover of the book. Even once we left Erika’s hometown, Chico, it was only reading the back cover of the book. We were perhaps getting a hint of what this trip would be like. But you know how unreliable back covers can be. After all, we were still in the States, having the comfort of sipping red wine out of tall glasses and sleeping in fluffy beds, whether it be in Santa Rosa, Berkeley, Los Angeles, or San Diego. We had the comfort of being hosted by people we knew and liked. Aside from good food and readily available washing machines, we also had the comfort of a built in schedule. This is how it is living closely with people you care about. You have coffee with these people, go buy some things with these, have dinner with those, see a movie with the others, etc. people want to do stuff, and stuff is what you do. We would find that some of these characteristics of life will change once we start our trip-life.

With our friend Heidi at her bridal shower. Rancho Palos Verdes, LA, California

On September 1st we crossed into Mexico in Tijuana. We finally opened the book and started reading the first chapter. The border crossing was uneventful. Doing 70 on interstate 5 I suddenly saw the sign “end of highway.” Man, here is this enormous incredible web of interstates connecting with unbelievable efficiency the 4 corners of the united states. You could drive from Miami to Seattle to San Diego to Boston and back again without a single red light, stop sign, or even a traffic circle. What an incredible project! And here we are being spit out of it at Tijuana into heavy traffic of un-obedient drivers at a red light on asphalt filled with potholes. It made me realize that a whole lot of comfort I’ve been taking for granted is about to be jerked from under my feet.

By nightfall it was. We took the toll road from Tijuna to Ensenada. It was filled with uncompleted apartment hotels with signs in English that try to entice rich Americans to buy a suite or property. Many would stay uncompleted. Construction must have started before the big crash of 2008, and now Americans are not so rich anymore. And even if they were, the vast majority of them are so terrified by the “recent” drug wars that they won’t even come near the borders. Talking about this to Mexicans, they all think that American media chose for some reason to exaggerate this issue, because these drug wars have been going on for decades now. It’s hard to know who to believe. We have seen no drug wars with our own eyes, and yet, it is a matter of fact that the mayor of some town got executed a few weeks ago, or that the cartel attended a funeral of a federal cop, then followed his family members home, and executed them. It’s hard for me to imagine what the cartel leaders are thinking. If they have political agendas, they cannot be intact. They employ lots of people and have driven the army out of some towns, wanting to be the social leaders of these towns. Apparently this is beginning to work, and when faced with daily criminals some Mexicans in some areas prefer to go to the cartel families and not to the police to sort things out. But philosophically the cartels are damned. Since all of their money comes from drugs they must think that drugs are valid, at least in some ways. So far so good, many people believe drugs are okay. Not a big deal. But if they are okay shouldn’t they be legalized? And if they are legalized in the US, wouldn’t there be no more need for illegal trafficking of drugs? And if there is no need for trafficking wouldn’t the cartels go broke? It seems to me the cartels are facing quite a dilemma. I wonder if it bothers them as much as it bothers me. The only rational explanation is that the cartels think that drugs are bad, but also think that it’s okay to sell them to Americans. Honestly I don’t know how they face themselves in the mirrors, killing the kids of a soldier just because he’s a soldier. Though I don’t think Mexico is dangerous for tourists, I think it’s in a mess. Whenever a military car stops to fuel up soldiers come out with m16s to secure the gas station. Who exactly are they afraid of? Nobody around but Mexicans, for hundreds of miles in each direction. When a national army needs to protect itself from its own people there is room for discussion whether Mexico is a failed state or not.

But I digress. I was about to describe how I was about to put the new book back on the shelf after reading its first sentence. We arrived in Ensenada in the dark. That’s right. The number one safety rule in Mexico is “don’t travel at night,” and we did just that in our first few hours in the country. We were supposed to stay with somebody from couch surfing that night. But she was in Tijuana, and all we had was the number of her neighbor, who told us ‘ask people where the Red Cross is and call me from there.” You would think by the nature of these instructions that Ensenada is a tiny town. It’s a huge city. We found ourselves in a 7-11 type store, trying to call the neighbor again, with a bunch of young Mexican men dressed gangsta like all staring at our bikes. ‘what are we doing?’ started to think I.

We received more directions. We started driving up a hill, looking for a particular house. The road was getting steeper and steeper. Erika was riding ahead of me. She arrived at a stop sign passed which the asphalt gave way to dirt. She stopped and grabbed the front brake. It did nothing and she nearly fell off the bike. The dirt has slipped down to the pavement, and while the brake held the wheel, and while the wheel held the tire, the tire could not grip the asphalt. She froze up. At this point we were surrounded by 8 or so Chihuahuas, the most annoying dogs invented by men. I tried to park somewhere while Erika slowly rolled back to the curb. Chihuahuas were biting on our pants. The road was so steep, and the bike was so heavy. It took an awful lot of concentration by me to park the bike and get off it without dropping it. We had the right street. The address of the house was four hundred and thirty something. I walked by 396, 404, 420 and I was feeling rather good with myself till I noticed the next house was 817, then 826, and so on. I walked back to Erika and told her I couldn’t find it. The Chihuahuas seemed to be pleased with themselves cause they were extra loud. She went to ask some neighbors while I sat on the curb and noticed people looking at me through windows blasting Mexican hip-hop on the unpaved part of the intersection.

A Chihuahua after eating up a car tire

A ramp going nowhere. I thought for a second that the Mexican gods are talking to me in metaphores

Our First Local street in Mexico

Everybody has ideas. Sometimes they are good ideas but often they are bad ones. For the majority of our lives, there is usually a person to tell you if your idea is bad and stop you from turning your plan into action. This is true from when you dress up as superman for the first time and your mom will assure you that you cannot really fly, and please don’t try it sweetheart, all the way to when you’re sitting in an office and you’re about to storm it and yell at your boss, and your co-worker tells you that you better not do it if you still want a job tomorrow morning buddy. And when people are not around to stop you from doing something stupid financial realities do the trick—executing big ideas often cost a lot of money and require you to take time off from your job.

So, what if this whole Latin America on a motorcycle thing is really a horrible idea, and nobody is telling us? What if it’s a really dumb move but we happen to exist in a financial and familial context where we can crystalize our idea by a mere decision? Did people warn us and we just ignored them? It’s our first night in Mexico, we’re lost, we’re surrounded by devilish Chihuahuas that are just waiting for us to take our protective gear off and Mexican gangstas that are just waiting to stroll down the dirt road and ride our bikes away. Here we are on our first day of a dirt-oriented trip, and the first sign of dirt nearly disables us. Good ol’ San Digeo is only 2 hours away. Why not just admit we had made a terrible mistake, check into the most expensive hotel we can find, and drive back home, where the streets are paved, the addresses stay even on one side and odd on the others, the language is English, and the dogs are chained up?

Erika finally came out of the house with a man. They proceeded to walk up and down the street till they found the house hiding behind a trash can. The man allowed us to lock our bikes in his driveway. Our Mexican host was very gracious and friendly. He was the roommate of the girl who invited us, and he didn’t even know that we were coming (the neighbor was out at the movies). Still, he took us in and offered us a mattress. He made us rice while I went to buy some beer. Within an hour I was calm again, sipping dos equis, enjoying the company, thinking maybe I’ll give the new book one more shot.

With the parking host of our bikes

This is what I mean when I say I take time to adjust to new situations. Over the next two weeks or so, I would alternate up to a few times a day between ‘what the hell are we doing? Let’s go back home now! What’s the point of this?’ and ‘I can’t believe how lucky we are to have the time, money, capability and imagination to go through with this life changing trip.’

The girl who brings me up when I’m down. Really, what choice do I have with that look?

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