Monday, February 05, 2018

How Was Studying Spanish in Guanajuato, Mexico?

Guanajuato at Sunset

With visiting cousins

Yes, I've been deep into studying Spanish while living in Guanajuato, Mexico for the last 4 months. This has truly been an exceptional experience and, to be honest, I'm a little sad to be leaving. Guanajuato is a lovely town and very easy to live in. I've met so many people by now, I think I know more people here than in Portland. Every time I go walking I run into people I know. 

This is an area full of history and culture. Guanajuato is a UNESCO heritage city high in the mountains of central Mexico. It is well known for where the Mexican War of Independence started, for silver and gold mining, the birthplace of Diego Rivera and lots of music. At one point, silver from local mines accounted for two-thirds of the world's supply. Guanajuato has a population of over 100,000 people and is almost 7,000 ft in elevation. This a colonial city that has always had money because there has always been mining. El Centro de Guanajuato is in the bowl of the Altos de Guanajuato. El centro is the only area of the city that is flat and actually has roads for motor vehicles. From the narrow valley, callejones (alleys), go straight up into the hillsides. There are over 3,000 of these very narrow alleyways and the most famous is the Callejon de Beso, Alley of the Kiss, where two lovers conveniently lived across the alley from one another. Of course, their parents forbid the relationship but the balconies of the 2 bedrooms were only inches apart across the narrow callejon. They swore eternal love from the adjacent balconies and legend says couples who kiss from the 3rd step up on the callejon will also have eternal love. There is always a long line of couples waiting to kiss in the exact promised spot. Another really fun night tour is to follow the minstrel singers, Callejoneadas, as they serenade the crowd with songs and legends of Guanajuato.

Cristo Rey
Aside from the history and being a very beautiful place, the city has a lot to offer culturally. There is a very famous festival called Cervantino for 3 weeks every October and that's when I arrived. The festival was started in the 1970's by students at the University of Guanjuato with productions of plays by Miguel Cervantes who also wrote Don Quixote. The festival grew and the city is now called the Cervantino Capital of the Americas. The festival is world class. Each year, the culture from a state in Mexico and from another country in the world is highlighted. This year was France and Mexico City. The creme de la creme of culture from both places take part. Plays, art, technology, film, food and, of course, musical performances take place all over the city, all day and night. It was fascinating to experience the very best from all over France in this very small city.  There was always something interesting to see and I went to many performances. Some needed tickets but many were free.

San Miguel de Allende plaza

With teachers from Escuela Falcon

The real reason I was in Guanajuato was to study Spanish. I got signed up at Escuela Falcon for 4 months of classes. The teachers here are so sweet and make learning fun. Doing home stays, living with a family, is very popular but I chose to have more privacy and rented a room in a house the language school owns. For me, living with a family for 4 months would be too much. Usually, the family provides meals as well and I didn't want to be tied to an eating schedule. I probably would have learned more Spanish quicker staying with a family but the idea of living with other people for so long was more than I could handle.

For the 1st 8 weeks, I took 3 hours of classes 5 days a week. I asked for 1 private and 2 classes but every week I had 3 private classes. It was difficult to be the focus of attention for 3 hours everyday. I learned a ton but after 8 weeks I was exhausted and switched to 2 private classes per day.  This has felt more comfortable. The biggest issue with taking private classes is I haven't met as many students as I would have taking classes. The administrators said they couldn't find other students at my level. Apparently, I'm just above beginner but not really intermediate where most students fall. Probably by now, I'm at the intermediate level but I love my teachers and decided to stay with the private lessons for the remainder of my time here.

Plaza de la Paz and the University of Guanajuato

Ex-hacienda San Gabriel de Berera
Learning Spanish has been super fun but much more difficult than I expected. I came to this school at the beginning of last year for 2 months to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. While walking, I realized I actually learned more than I thought. I found this so encouraging I decided to return. Maybe because I am taking private lessons it's harder for me to gauge my progress but I feel like I'm as slow at learning Spanish as I am at riding my trike. Maybe I'm just a slow person, haha! For sure, I know much more than I did 4 months ago but where I'm struggling is with speaking. It still take me a long time to think of what to say and then translate it in my head with the correct word order, verb conjugation, gender and corresponding number. It is a lot to keep track of. I've also heard that speaking is the last part of learning a language to come together. I do feel like I have a really good foundation on which to build. I will continue studying, practicing and, poco a poco, I expect to get more comfortable and faster with the speaking part.

2nd Biggest Hot Air Balloon Show in the World, Leon

One of the benefits of studying at a language school while traveling is they usually offer excursions. Escuela Falcon has activities many times a week and sometimes offer trips to neighboring pueblos. I went to San Miguel de Allende a few times, the Corralejo tequila factory, La Gruta hot springs, El Santuario de Atoltonilco, a hot air balloon show in Leon, Delores Hidalgo, Cristo Rey, Santa Rosa and Valenciana. Every Sunday there are also chamber music concerts in the small town of Marfil at an ex-hacienda that are just lovely. I've also enjoyed the symphony concerts in Guanajuato almost every Friday night. I feel like I am busier here in Guanajuato than anywhere else I've ever been. 

Afternoon of Chamber Music in Marfil, Mexico

Day trip to San Miguel de Allende

My 1st drone practice park

And, of course, I've been taking a ton of photos and adding videos to my new YouTube channel Travels By Trike. I brought a new DJI Spark drone with me to Guanajuato and have really enjoyed learning how to use it as well. This town is so photogenic it is a perfect place for photography buffs. Figuring out how to tell a story through video was something else I wanted to get comfortable with while I was here in Guanajuato. Taking video is the easy part. Processing, editing and then picking out the music are the tricky parts. My idea is to make very short videos that give a taste of my experiences and I feel like I have a good idea of what and how I want to do that now. I think making videos is going to be fun for my next tours through Latin America.

Music and flowers

Graffiti in a callejon

Narrow Callejon

On my next few tours, I'll have lots of opportunity to practice speaking and learn more Spanish. My main reason for studying Spanish is that I want to spend the next few years traveling and triking through Mexico, Central and South America. Knowing Spanish will make for a much richer and safer experience. I've traveled through many, many countries where I didn't know the language and it certainly can be done. But, unless you are in the cultural centers of a country, it is also a very lonely way to travel. More and more, English is becoming the world's language but being able to converse with locals in the local language will mean meeting more people and experiencing the local culture in a more meaningful way. Spanish is a language I've talked about learning for many, many years and I think this 6 month investment in studying will pay off big time while I'm traveling through Latin America.

Guanajuato, crazy fun town!

Plaza de la Paz

My neighborhood, I'm in the picture on my terraza.

Drone practice

I have a ticket for my flight with Myrtle the Turtle for March 5th to start my next trike tour. I had a few ideas bouncing around for where I wanted to go and have decided to make this a tour of Mayan ruins. It will begin and end in Cancun, Mexico. I'll ride for about 3 months covering something like 2,000 miles. It will be a clockwise circle 1st going to Tulum and then Belize before crossing into Guatemala to visit Tikal. Then I'll cross the border back into Mexico to visit Palenque, Chitzen itza and smaller ruins outside Campeche and Merida. 

Route idea for my tour of the Mayan Ruins

Between my walking tours on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and then studying Spanish in Mexico for many months, I'm excited to get back on my trike and start pedaling. Let the adventure begin!! (Once I actually start touring, I'll be updating the blog regularly with photos, videos and Garmin GPS route maps, like usual.)

Friday, October 27, 2017

End of my Summer in Portland and Beginning a New Adventure in Mexico

In this blog post, I discuss all my plans taking shape including some very complicated winter travels coming up! 

Video about my winter plans

My summer in Portland finished with 2 of my most favorite cycling events of the year; the Kirke Johnson Memorial Ride on the Banks/Vernonia rail trail and my 12th year riding to the Recumbent Retreat on the Oregon Coast. Kirke Johnson was a wonderful man and this was a ride he lead every Labor Day weekend. He was hit and killed by a delivery truck a few years ago while riding his beloved Fold Rush Easy Racer in Portland. I miss him very much and love that we all get to continue his ride to remember our friend. 

At the start of the Kirke Johnson Memorial Ride
Barbara climbing at Stubb Stewart State Park
Kathi on the trail
Video from the Kirke Johnson Memorial Ride with lots of recumbent buddies

The Recumbent Retreat is actually an annual tour for me, and whoever wants to come along. This year a new trike rider, Brandon, joined me. From my house, to ride west towards the coast requires a tough 1000 ft climb and more than an hour's ride. Luckily, my friend Kathi offered to give me a ride over the hill. She has done this for many years now and 'the lift over the hill' makes the 1st day of this coastal tour very manageable. We also picked up Brandon who lives on the way but still far from Banks and the start of the Banks/Vernonia rail trail. This is where I typically start this ride. The ride to the retreat is only a few days after the Kirke Memorial ride and so I get to ride the fabulous Banks/Vernonia rail trail twice in a week's time. The Banks/Vernonia trail is 20 miles long and makes for a delightful start for the ride to the Recumbent Retreat. 

Just a small obstacle in our path
Passing deer

This was Brandon's 1st tour and we had a blast riding together. As usual, we camped at Big Eddy State Park after a very nice 35 mile ride stopping in Vernonia for lunch and picking up anything we needed for dinner and the next day. There are some logging trucks on this route but it seems every year there are less and less. After camping at Big Eddy, there aren't any businesses until we reach the coast so we needed to be prepared with snacks and whatever food we wanted for lunch the next day. The 2nd day's ride is incredibly beautiful but is 73 miles and much more demanding than the 1st day. There are a few places to stop for water and bathroom breaks but there are no stores or restaurants along the way. My 1st stop is always the firehouse in Mist to use their bathroom. Even though I only stop in once a year they remember me and are always very nice. From there it's another 20 miles to the Jewell Elk Preserve. There are tons of elk in this area but the only time I've seen them is when the weather is bad. Today's weather was very nice which meant no elk were to be seen. The Jewell Elk Preserve is a sweet place to stop. It has everything a touring cyclist needs. There are picnic tables to make and eat lunch as well as bathrooms to get cleaned up and wash our dirty dishes after making lunch. It's in a perfect place for a break because just a few miles further starts the climb over the coastal range. I'm a really slow climber and this isn't too bad. I think it's about 6 miles and 700 ft to the summit. From there we had a fabulous twisting turning downhill on a freshly paved road through lush forest. Cycle touring doesn't get much better than this. Almost at the bottom of the hill is an active fish hatchery with another perfectly placed bathroom stop. I've never taken the tour but hear it is worth the time. (Unfortunately, I need the whole day to complete the 73 miles to the Recumbent Retreat.) Leaving the fish hatchery begins the hardest part of the ride for me. From here, the next 20 miles have lots of short and steep hills along the Young's Bay River that really slow me down. The views are amazing though. Once we got passed the Warrenton airport it is a simple ride to Ft. Stevens State Park where we met up with everyone already camped. I found my site (many thanks to Greg and Lori for letting me camp) and got set up just as rains started to fall. I had a good time riding with Brandon and expect we will be riding together again next year to the retreat.

Camping at Big Eddy Country park

Just before the Lewis and Clark Bridge into Warrenton

Sasquatch lives at Ft. Stevens!!
The 4 day Recumbent Retreat weekend is put on by OHPV (Oregon Human Powered Vehicle) and they do a fabulous job. The weekend is filled with lots of riding, good food, hanging out and looking for stamps for the treasure hunt. The busiest day of the retreat is Saturday and it is jam packed with activities. The day starts with the photoshoot where over 90 recumbents gathered. This is far from the record but, I think, being the 19th year, lots of riders are over it. Then we all break out for many riding options. Some rides are on the bike paths in Ft. Stevens State Park and other longer rides are out of the park. There was the lunch ride that had over 40 trikers and the sunset ride, both led by Lonnie, out to the Peter Iredale shipwreck. Super fun! The day was colder and there was some rain in the afternoon but it all passed in time for the pot luck. People really put effort into the dishes they serve and we, again, had fabulous food. Then, we all light up our bikes and trikes in preparation of the lighted bikes parade where we ride through all the loops of the campground.  Ft Stevens State Park is huge and there are many, many loops. The parade probably lasts about an hour and it is a hoot.  Some of the lighted designs are super clever. The lighted bikes parade is legendary and one of my very favorite events of the entire year.  It is simply good clean honest fun and this year was no exception. Next year will be the 20th annual Recumbent Retreat and I expect it to be an extra special event. If you are interested in attending, click this link for more info

Video of the wonderful Recumbent Retreat weekend.

Lunch stop
Official photoshoot photo
Lots of different kinds of recumbents
Peter Iredale shipwreck at sunset
Pic from the trikes ride with 40 trikes!!

Super Duper Fun Lighted Bikes Parade

Fun shot of the lighted bikes

Beautiful Portland
Every year, when I get home from the retreat, it is time to buckle down and get serious about planning my next trike tour. This year I've put together winter plans that are super complicated. Without a doubt, this will be my most complicated winter travels to date. I've already decided I'm going to spend the next few years riding through Central and South America. With this in mind, I've also decided having stronger Spanish language skills will not only be very helpful but actually necessary. So, my plans, at the moment, are to fly with my trike from Portland to Los Angeles. I'll be leaving my trike at my aunt's house while I spend 4 months in Guanajuato, Mexico studying Spanish. Learning Spanish is something I've talked about doing for many, many years. I'm getting to an age where 'if not now, when?'. Throughout the many years I've spent touring, I've been to many countries where I don't speak the language and it, certainly, can be done. Somehow, I always manage to get what I need - no matter what it is. I even found an amazing bike mechanic in Agadir, Morocco! But, that said, not being able to speak to locals is a lonely way to travel.  Over the years, I've met a lot of cyclists who say they pick up languages as they go but that doesn't seem to happen with me, at all. I spent 6 months traveling through Mexico on my 1st tour and I wasn't able to speak much more Spanish at the end of the trip than I did at the beginning. I'm not expecting to be fluent, after studying for 4 months, but I think being able to speak somewhat comfortably will make for a much richer experience on my future tours.  I also think being able to speak another language will make my life richer. 

Another view of Portland
Escuela Falcon in Guanajuato
I'll be returning to the same school, Escuela Falcon, that I went to last January. I had a good time and learned a lot. Even though I'm still very shy to speak and feel like a deer in the headlights whenever I want to say anything, I noticed while walking the Camino de Santiago that the 2 months I spend studying really helped. I was able to have small conversations (very slowly) with other pilgrims and also talk to shopkeepers. It was fun to see the improvement. The teachers at Escuela Falcon are very sweet and incredibly patient with me. And Guanajuato is a fabulous city. The school offers many options for housing and I'll be renting a room in a house they own across the street. The last time I was here, my language skills were next to none.  I wasn't able to understand much of what people said to me and, if I did understand, I had no clue how to respond. Speaking Spanish was nerve-wracking enough that I really didn't feel comfortable taking part in a lot of the school excursions. This time I want to be more social to, hopefully, break out of my shyness.  I've signed up for 2 group classes and 1 private lesson every day, 5 days a week. Since I've been to this town before I know where everything is. One thing I really liked about my last stay in Guanajuato is I ate really well. There are fantastic, inexpensive restaurants and the house where I'm renting a room has a full kitchen so I can cook and eat how I want. All the time taken to study Spanish this winter means my trike tour will be shorter this year  but, over time, I think this investment in learning more Spanish will pay off big dividends and I'm excited to start my classes. 


Another thing recently occurred to me. I have been touring on a trike all over the world for 10 years now and feel like I have a lot of knowledge I could be sharing. With that in mind, I decided to start a new Travels By Trike YouTube channel where I want to make short videos about trike stuff, updates while I'm touring, reviews of gear I use and any other information I think could be of interest. Matt Galat, of the Jayoe Nation, made me a new logo and intro for my videos. The logo is super cute and I love the snappy intro! This was a very thoughtful gift and the new intro is making my videos look much more polished. Aside from learning Spanish, another goal I've set for myself while I'm in Guanajuato is to get more comfortable shooting and editing video. I'll be making short videos about the town, culture and my experiences.   I've upgraded to Final Cut Pro for editing and making videos will help me learn that software as well. My idea is to make videos that are less than 5 minutes long giving a taste of my experiences. 

Another thing I have been thinking about for a long time is buying a drone to take on my tours.  After reading a ton of articles and reviews as well as watching countless hours of YouTube videos, I decided to buy a small DJI Spark to bring with me to Mexico. By buying the drone months before my tour, I can take my time learning how to use it and, hopefully, I'll be comfortable using the drone for my trip through Central America. Guanajuato is delightfully colorful with lots of very beautiful buildings. I think it will be a great town to learn drone video and photography in. Excursions with the language school to visit ruins and historic sights should be very interesting to see from a drone perspective as well. I'm excited!

The Spark drone is so small it fits in my handlebar bag using the case, 3 batteries, an extra set of propellors and the protected RC controller. Nice!

Tentative Trike Tour through Central America

After studying Spanish, I'll return to Los Angeles in February. Then I'll be taking a quick trip to Las Vegas for a college reunion before returning, again, to Los Angeles after a long weekend. From there, I'll fly with Myrtle the Turtle to Cancun Mexico to, finally, start my trike tour of Central America. I don't have an exact route yet but I want to ride from Cancun through Belize, across the southernmost part of Guatemala to El Salvador to ride along the Pacific Coast. From there, I'll ride through a corner of Honduras into Nicaragua and then through Costa Rica before ending in Panama City, Panama.  Because I'm spending so much time in Guanajuato this winter studying Spanish, this will be my shortest tour so far. It will cover 2,000 miles in 3 months. If anyone has any 'must see' spots along the way to recommend I'd love to hear from you.

A fun photo I found on Facebook

Aside from regular video updates on my
Travels By Trike YouTube channel, I probably won't be updating the blog often until I'm ready to start my tour. As always, thanks for following along the continuing adventures of Myrtle the Turtle! Hasta Luego!!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Plan is Forming For My Next Trike Tour

Over last winter, I did something different than the usual trike tour. I went walking. A number of years ago, I did a trike tour in Spain and cycled many of the Caminos de Santiago. The Caminos de Santiago are pilgrimage walking paths from various points in Europe. They all end at a church in Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St. James are interred. Meeting so many interesting people who were walking hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands of miles, gave me the inspiration to do the same. I am very happy to have walked both the Camino del Norte and Camino Frances. I highly recommend walking these Caminos for anyone thinking about it. The Camino del Norte is very challenging and stunningly beautiful every day while the Camino Frances offers a different kind of beauty along with the quintessential pilgrim experience.  The Camino Frances offers more places to stay, eat and services for pilgrims, like carrying your bag to wherever you want to end the day. 

I was amazed at how little material things I required. It was thrilling to walk with only 10.4 lbs of gear and never need anything more. On both walking tours I knew I would always have a place to stay at night and food was readily available everyday. There wasn't any reason to carry camping or cooking gear and this made packing simple. Both Caminos are fabulous and, I have to say, after walking 1300 miles, I got the walking but out of my system. I discovered that walking is far more difficult than cycling. With the trike, I now realize how much more freedom of movement I have to go further if I want and I can carry more creature comforts. Trying to keep my packweight down, I only used my Samsung phone for photos, which took surprisingly good pictures, but I learned that I like having a real camera. After these many months of walking, I am really looking forward to my next trike tour.

Camino scene

Once again, I've returned to Portland for the summer. Every summer for the last 8 years I've stayed in a friend's house while she spends the summer in France. This arrangement has worked out as well for my friend as it has for me. She has someone to make sure everything is taken care of and I have a very comfortable place to relax, recover and regroup after many months of touring. This time, I came back to Portland with very sore achilles tendons and lots of ankle inflammation. I've been limping around especially in the morning until my ankle muscles warm up. Apparently, my ankles have a lot to say about all the walking I did on the Camino. I had the injury looked at by a doctor and, luckily, this appears to be something only time can take care of. Soaking in epsom salt baths feels good and seems to be helping with the inflammation. I'm still walking and triking but not as far as I'm used to. It's now been a couple of months and my physical ailments are slowly healing.  I've still got a few months before my next tour and expect to be 100% by then.

Iconic Portland sign

Earlier in the summer I visited friends in Missoula for a week. They took me fly fishing on Rock Creek which was super fun. Adventure Cycling Association is also in Missoula and I stopped in to say hello. They gave me a tour and showed me a very professional operation with 40 full-time employees. I also reconnected with Ethel McDonald, another tourer, who I hadn't seen since we first met in Florida at a WarmShower's hosts farm over a year ago.

Visiting Ethel in Missoula

Then I went on a fun trip with tennis buddies to explore Smith Rock in central Oregon. What a beautiful area. We hiked Lava Lands, the demanding Misery Ridge Trail and enjoyed a day in Bend. We rented a very nice house with an impressive view of Smith Rock State Park. This was my first time to the area and can highly recommend visiting.

View from the top of the Misery Ridge hike

A short video I put together of the trip.

A big item on my list of things to accomplish over the summer is upgrading from iMovie to Final Cut Pro video editing software. On my next tour, I want to incorporate more video with the intention of making my blog a richer experience. iMovie has felt limiting and I figured the summer would give me a good start on learning the more complicated Final Cut Pro. I also set up a new YouTube channel called Travels By Trike where I've started doing short videos of trike rides, travel tips and gear reviews. I plan to continue putting together more videos throughout my tours. Be sure to subscribe in order to follow the continuing adventures of Myrtle the Turtle. I've also upgraded my cameras. I bought a Panasonic LX10 p&s and a new Sony FDR-X3000 action camera. I've been messing with video cameras for many years and feel like this action camera is finally giving me results I've been wanting. There are 2 important improvements these cameras achieve. One, image stabilization and two, wind reduction. Shaking and noisy video is difficult to watch and I think these cameras will be much better than ones I've used in the past.  I've also purchased a hand held gimbal to create smooth videos while I'm walking or hiking. 

Testing my new Sony Action Cam

I'm also making a big effort to continue studying Spanish. I've been attending classes twice a week, 2 hours a day at Portlandia Language School and also doing a conversational Meetup at a local cafe to practice speaking. As I walk around town, I often listen to an app called News in Slow Spanish. The app offers a new podcast every week with a transcript I can read to follow along. The stories are mostly current news headlines related to Latin America. Much of what I hear is above my level but I still think it helps to try and understand. Even though learning is slow going, I'm determined to have a better understanding of this language.


I had such a good time studying Spanish in Guanajuato, Mexico last winter, I've already got a plane ticket to return in October to study at the same school, Escuela Falcon. This time I'll stay for 4 months and expect to be much more conversant and have a better understanding of the language by the time I leave. After 4 months of study I want to be able hold simple conversations with less hesitation. I don't need to be fluent in Spanish but think being able to speak easier will make my travels richer, safer and more enjoyable. For me, it's always about the people I meet and being able to talk to locals should make that more fun too.

After studying Spanish for 4 months it will be time to take my language and video skills on the road. I've come up with a tentative route riding from CancĂșn, Mexico though Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and ending in Panama. This trip will be for 3 months and cover about 2,000 miles. Central America is so hot and humid, I'm considering not taking a tent or cooking gear. The idea of camping solo in this type of heat sounds awful. I have a feeling the weather will be similar to SE Asia and I didn't take a tent or cooking gear on that tour either. I'll know better after doing more research.

Tentative route for my next trike tour

View from the house in Portland. Not too shabby.
Otherwise, so far, I've had a splendid summer spent mostly recovering, visiting with friends and riding my trike. As the summer comes to a close, I've got 2 more group trike rides planned. The first is an annual memorial ride on the wonderful Banks/Vernonia trail with lots of recumbent buddies. Then I'll be riding to the Oregon Coast to attend the Recumbent Retreat. This will be my 12th year attending and I have always ridden there. It looks like I'll be joined by 2 other trikers this year, Anni and Brandon. The ride to the coast takes 2 days. We will camp, as usual, at Big Eddy County park before tackling the ride over the coastal range and 63 miles the next day. I love the recumbent retreat. Please be sure to check out the links for more information. OHPV (Oregon Human Power Vehicle Association) has been putting on this event for 19 years. They book 2 loops at Ft. Stevens State Park for everyone to camp in over 4 days. I always arrive on Thursday and stay until Monday typically getting a ride back to Portland with a friend. Ft. Stevens is a gorgeous park in Warrenton, OR with lots of fabulous bike trails. There are many bike rides every day for everyone to participate in. The lighted bike parade is legendary with everyone lighting up their bikes and trikes and riding through all the loops in the campground to the delight of campers young and old. The Recumbent Retreat is truly the highlight of my summer.

Well, that's about all I've got for today. As another fantastic summer in Portland comes to an end, my attention will turn to my upcoming studies in Mexico and my next trike tour through Central America. Thanks for following along!