From Tijuana to Mazatlan by Bus

Crossing the Border on Foot

We were scared.

Our travels had gone well so far in the ol’ U.S. of A., but now we had entered Mexico.  The American newspapers were filled with stories of daily carnage in la Nortena.  Even our friends from Michoacan were afraid to return home.

We walked through the border crossing turnstile and joined the herd of people walking into Tijuana at the end of the work day.  Getting to San Diego from Washington State by Public transit, Craigslist, and Hitchhiking was a great adventure, but the entire time we were looking towards our next big step: Mexico. But once we had crossed the border, we felt, for the first time, like lost tourists.  We obviously stood out as backpackers and we were pulled aside by well armed Mexican Military men to be searched.

The sun hung low in the sky.  We fumbled around looking for the Bus Station.  We were nervous about who to trust, paranoid of how we stuck out like some sore thumbs.

We were not even sure where we were headed, we just wanted to make it South safely.  Mazatlan was a name that we had seen on advertisements in Portland.  We took a gamble and decided to get tickets there.  We were suspicious of the bus companies and their sales reps and we compared all of their prices.

By wonderful grace, some fellows outside the terminal had overheard Lale’s accent as we were debating buses and wanted to know where she was from.  As we spoke with them, the Chilean miners were being pulled out of the collapsed mine in the Atacama.  The world media was obsessed with “Los 33,” the rescued miners.  The old men warmed up to us and excitedly told us the most recent updates about the Chileans that they heard on the radio.  These men also took care of us and told us to save some money by heading to the Central Bus Terminal in Tijuana.

The problem was that the Central Terminal was across town and we could not walk there safely.  We nervously waved down a taxi.  Our fear came out as awkwardness.  Luckily Lale mentioned the Chilean Miners and like many times on our trip, they were our conversational saving grace. The driver launched into enthusiastically telling us his conspiracy theories of Los 33.

We boarded our bus to Mazatlan as the sun set.  Most of the seats were empty. Surrounding our seat were just three rough looking fellows, each wearing a ‘wife-beater’ tank top.  A taco vendor boarded the bus and rode East with us working up and down the aisle, selling his tamales and tacos.  We declined his offer, our doctor had told us to avoid street food to prevent travel sickness.

The vendor made his way back up the aisle and asked us in Spanish, “Chicken or Beef?”  We were confused and protested that we had not ordered any tacos.  He informed us that our sketchy looking neighbor had paid for us!  Oh man, that was sweet, but why?! Is he trying to fatten us up for the Narcos who are going to blockade the bus at night?  Our paranoid minds raced rapidly as we smiled and said “Muchas Gracias.”

The bus continued East along the border, with the impoverished Tijuana slums  facing a deep, steep, vacant canyon, patrolled by heavily armed and fortified U.S. Border Patrol.  This truly was a frontier. On the Mexican side, humanity crammed on every inch of soil, facing the empty, militarized expanse of Gringolandia. The evening became pitch black and fast food joints and neon bars lit up the night as we traveled away from the frontier.

We settled in for a 30 hour bus ride, prayed for safe travels, and settled into sleep.  We had promised our mothers that we would make it safely home.

Sonoran Sunset

We were awoken abruptly in the middle of the night by Mexican armed forces. They ordered us off the bus and we panicked.  All of the stories of night blockades and fake police checkpoints were racing in our mind.  We were the only foreigners on the bus.  They lined us up inside this concrete building, forcing us to drag our bags from the bus with us.  Heavily armed soldiers watched us sternly.  Confused, we proceeded in the line, which culminated with a push button and a head level stop light.  Folks would push the little button and either would get a green or a red light.  A red light meant you would get dragged aside to be searched and a green told you to get back on the bus.  By the luck of the draw, we both got the green go ahead and scrambled back onto the bus to the safety of our scattered slumber.

As we discovered throughout our travels, the long distance buses of Latin America are luxurious.  The bus had filled by morning with many families as we stopped in small Northern cities.  We all watched bootleg movies with spanish dubbing.

We would stop every few hours to stretch legs and buy snacks or a meal.  These stops were a great time for us to make eye contact and friends with all of our fellow passengers.  It turns out that our sketchy neighbors were absolute sweethearts!  We all climbed back on the bus and shared our snacks and traded stories.

We all had a common purpose, getting home to Mom’s house.  Lale was headed to the South of Chile to see her mother and our three friends were also heading home to see their mothers for the first time in many years.  Each of our buddies had their bus ticket paid by U.S. Homeland Security and was being deported home after serving felony sentences in California.

When we had first encountered these guys, we were purely afraid of them and everything else in the North of Mexico.  By the time we neared their respective hometowns, we actually felt safer having these guys as our travelling companions.

The guy in the seat in front of us traded potato chips and sevillanas and shared his life in California.  He had been raised in L.A. and had not been to Mexico since he was a child.  He was so nervous to see his Mom, he did not know how she would react to him being sent home.  Lale reassured him that his Mother would delight in seeing her long lost child, that he would be her early Christmas gift!  Excitedly, he showed us the present he had brought for his Mother.  He asked “Do you think my Mama will like these photos?”  We looked them over and here was him and his guys posing in prison garb in front of the weight set in the prison yard throwing down their hand signs!  “Oh, your Mom will just be so happy to see you!” was our reassuring response.

View from the Bus

The North of Mexico transformed from the Sonoran desert to lusher regions as we made it South.  We felt more confident as we made it out of the land of the Nortenas.  We waved goodbye to our new friends as they climbed off the bus and were embraced by their waiting families.  As would happen many times on our trip South, our perceptions and stereotypes were challenged by friendliness and hospitality. And now, we were a little less scared.  Real people with real stories had replaced the fearmongering headlines.

Buen Viaje!

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Riding Trains to Tijuana

Part of the series: 45°N to 41°S Portland, OR to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit San Ysidro/Tijuana Trolley by Global Greenways
San Ysidro/Tijuana Trolley, a photo by Global Greenways on Flickr.

South of San Francisco, our trip was full of trains!

We rode the SF MUNI streetcar to our craigslist rideshare. She drove us all the way to Pasadena. CicLAvia, Los Angeles’ experiment in a car free Sunday event had occurred the day before and the front page of the Los Angeles Times bragged how, for once, it was easier to bike across town than drive!

Pasadena was not a great place to be on foot, with giant avenues, speeding cars, and endless parking lots. Down at the Pasadena Rose Bowl we found where all the pedestrians and bicyclists are hidden! They all drive down to the Rose Bowl to jog & bike around a really nice sidewalk and bike lane loop.

We had been confused about the lack of people in Southern California, especially with the perfect weather. But, everyone seemed to be half human/half car hybrids.

Escaping L.A. by transit was easier than we expected. We rode the L.A. Metro Gold Line to the downtown Union Station.

The light rail pulled right into the main train yard for Union Station and we began the hunt for how to flee Los Angeles for San Diego. Initially, the Amtak Pacific Surfliner seemed like the intuitive route. We did some research and discovered that it was much more inexpensive to take two commuter trains to San Diego than to ride one Amtrak. So, we hopped on the Metrolink to Oceanside and watched the graffiti and concrete waterways of L.A. disappear into cookie cutter suburbs.

The Metrolink dropped us off in Oceanside, next to the sandy beach where surfers bobbed offshore in the waves. We crossed the tracks and boarded the Coaster, which delivered us into downtown San Diego at sunset.

San Diego was a much more hopping city than i had remembered. People out and about enjoying the nightlife scene and overflowing restaurant patios crowded the sidewalks. We met some of the local pedicab drivers, who were mostly immigrants pedaling tourists for the summer.

The San Diego to San Ysidro trolley runs right through the center of San Diego. We hopped on it and rode through town. Masses of High School students boarded at one stop, flocks of factory workers from the shipyards at another, almost everyone headed to the border crossing.

At the end of the line, we stared at the Border. The mystery of Mexico lay beyond.

We had traveled from the Canadian Border to the Mexican border by transit and hitchhiking. Now we only had 6000+ miles left to make it to Christmas dinner in Puerto Varas, Chile.

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Please follow along our journeys and investigations as we share our stories and mobility lessons from Latin America.

Twitter: @GlobalGreenways
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globalgreenways/
Facebook: Globe Greenways
Email: infogreenways@gmail.com

45°N to 41°S Portland, Oregon to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit

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Exploring San Francisco by Cycle

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San Francisco Cycles, a set on Flickr.

Part of the series: “45°N to 41°S Portland, OR to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit”

We rolled into San Francisco as the sun set on the Pacific, outlining cyclists’ shadows on the Golden Gate Bridge.

A quick hitchhike had brought us into the city by the bay with a lady who had never picked up hitchhikers, but she said we “looked like good folks!”

We had managed to ride public buses and hitchhike all the way to the Redwoods from Seattle. There were big gaps in the rural areas around the Bay Area for transit service. We would rely on Craigslist rideshare to later make it to Los Angeles.

Our old friend and amazing artist, Mick Larusso offered us a place to rest and some bikes to explore the city.

We had a beautiful day of pedaling all over San Francisco! It was one of the last days of Summer, and Fleet Week for the Bay Area. Crowds of people flocked to the shore with necks craned skyward searching for sight of the Blue Angels before their sonic booms arrived.

There were many people biking along the waterfront trail and throughout downtown.  With all the festivities, driving must have been a real mess.  I have not spent much time in California and was real surprised how motorcyclists would aggressively use the bike lanes with arrogance.  San Francisco seemed to be lacking safe bike infrastructure and these yahoos with something to prove on their motorcycles did not make you feel safer in the bike lane.

Though, the City of San Francisco is working hard to create more safe spaces for cyclists.  Within our first moments of being in town, we came across a cycle track style bike lane with green painted pavement and plastic pylons for safety.

Lale and i pedaled around the San Francisco Peninsula enjoying the nice breeze and taking in the sights. Pedicab drivers from many companies were super busy along the Embarcadero with Fleet Week guests. Ice Cream vendors with push carts also worked the weekend crowd. This was some of the first street based commerce we had seen since Portland.

Along the waterfront, there were bike rental kiosks parked along bike trails. These were just small trailers with a fleet of bikes for rent displayed alongside.

In Golden Gate Park, we stumbled across their weekly (?) car free day in the Park. Joggers, cyclists, tourists, and kids all walked, rolled, and played on the main road through the park. Within minutes, the gates must have reopened for cars, and our care free pedaling became stressful and defensive.

Overall, it was great to explore San Fransisco by cycle and to experience the city firsthand!

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Utility Cycling on the Oregon Coast

Part of the series: “45°N to 41°S Portland, OR to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit”

This fellow was the only cargo cyclist we saw on the Pacific Coast until San Francisco.

He was working on his vehicle and had pedaled to the gas station for a quick fill.

Always a bit of a surprise to leave the Portland bubble and realize the rest of the country is still driving and paying their incomes to oil companies!

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Please follow along our journeys and investigations as we share our stories and mobility lessons from Latin America.

Twitter: @GlobalGreenways
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globalgreenways/
Facebook: Globe Greenways
Email: infogreenways@gmail.com

45°N to 41°S Portland, Oregon to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit

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Cascadia Public Transit

Making the Transfer in Pacific County

Little known to daily commuting bus riders in the Pacific Northwest, a web of interconnected bus transfers one to ride the public bus from Lund, British Columbia to Eureka, California with little interruption!
We started our travels in Sammamish, WA and rode King County Metro to Sound Transit.  Our goal was to make it to the Washington coast by sundown and eventually to Chile by public transit!  But first, we had to escape suburbia by bus!  This was one of the most expensive segments on our trip because the transfer policies of Metro and Sound Transit forced us to keep buying a ticket for every bus ride, no matter how short.  After paying 6 different fares to Sound Transit and Metro to travel from Sammamish to Lakewood, we realized a taxi might have been cheaper.  We were joking that it is easier and more economical to drive in Seattle, until we realized that it was not a joke.
The buses, scenery, and passengers became increasingly rural as we rode through Olympia, and Montesano, headed to the coast.  We spent the night with Cousin Zach and Mary, who hosted us for a great evening!

Hitching a Ride on Link Light Rail

The transfers between agencies are great, but not very well thought out.  The state of Washington and Oregon would be wise to invest in these existing transfers and encouraging neighboring transit agencies to coordinate their schedules.  Right now, the state of Washington funds a Greyhound style service that duplicates these rural bus transfer routes. Several times one long distance bus would arrive minutes after the continuing bus had left,  stranding folks to call friends and family.  We would try to leapfrog some of the transfer gaps by hitchhiking at the bus stops and get ahead of the next bus.  These rural bus networks are such a valuable resource, depended on by many people.  The ability to ride buses from Vancouver, BC to California should be celebrated and promoted. Unfortunately, this great network is stymied by lack of schedule coordination between agencies.

We rode 101 South, watching the coast from our bus seats.  Some of the rural bus drivers like to play classic rock on their routes and we would not rock out with them in our seats!   We rode each bus to the county line and would transfer to the next county’s bus service. After 4 days of leisurely travel on buses and hitchchiking, we had made it to Crescent City just in time for their biggest party of the year.  It was the Crecent City Motor Truck Rally Weekend!  The entire town was filled with big trucks speeding around downtown, squealing tires and burning rubber!

Welcome to California, eh!?

Riding in the Back of a Pickup Truck!

Please follow along our journeys and investigations as we share our stories and mobility lessons from Latin America.

Twitter: @GlobalGreenways

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globalgreenways/

Facebook: Globe Greenways

Email: infogreenways@gmail.com

45°N to 41°S Portland, Oregon to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit

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Portland, Oregon to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit

Part of the series: “45°N to 41°S Portland, OR to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit”

Last year, we ventured from Portland, Oregon to Puerto Montt by Public Transit! We had to make it to the South of Chile for Mom’s Christmas Barbecue! All throughout Latin America, we stopped at weekly Sunday Parkways and talked with bike businesses as we rode various transit South.  We found some great mobility ideas and innovations in unexpected places!

Global Greenways shares our stories of cycling culture, bike fun, Sunday Parkways, Bicitaxi/Pedicab drivers, Roller Derby, transit, and of bike businesses in the Americas.  The route of our 2010 investigations took us down the Pacific Coast to the South of Chile.

Lale at Mexico City Sunday Parkways

As we ventured from 45°N to 41°S we rode public buses, commuter trains, in the back of pickup trucks, boats, tuktuks, cars, pedicabs, chicken buses with plasma screen TVs, tricycles, golf carts called ‘pneumonias’, taxis, collectivos, micros, “euro buses,” bicycles, semitrucks, trolleys, diesel one car trains, bus rapid transit, metrocable cars, subways, elevated light rail, & electric trains! But mostly, we walked a lot and rode buses for 7000 miles.

We will blog the experiences and lessons we learned from Latin American cycling and active transport activists. They showed us that Latin American social movements for urban mobility and public spaces have as many lessons for urban design as traditional beacons of sustainability such as Copenhagen or Portland!

In many of the Latin American countries visited, very innovative practices were being implemented.  We saw experimental Cycletracks on downtown Mexico City streets, Bus Rapid Transit systems in Quito, Huge Sunday Parkways in Guadalajara, and Aerial Trams as mass transit in Medellin.  These were some of the unique mobility ideas that we experienced en route.

Our travels this year will begin in Colombia with Sunday Parkways and Roller Derby.

Please follow along our journeys and investigations as we share our stories and mobility lessons from Latin America.

Twitter: @GlobalGreenways

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globalgreenways/

Facebook: Globe Greenways

Email: infogreenways@gmail.com

45°N to 41°S Portland, Oregon to Puerto Varas, Chile by Public Transit

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Getting Ready!

We are getting everything wrapped up in Portland and ready to head South again.  This year, we are starting in Colombia and hope to visit the birthplace of Sunday Parkways.  Just like last year, when we traveled from Portland to Puerto Montt, Chile by public transit, we will share news and ideas from the bike lanes of Latin America!

Our plans are a bit ambiguous, but tentatively, we would like to head down to Chile via the Atlantic coast and research biking and transit in Brazil and Argentina. 

We are starting in Colombia because it is a country with such an innovative approach to transit and cycling networks.  We can’t wait to learn more!

Please follow along as we post stories from this trip and lessons from the past investigations.

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