Traveling Light: An Epic Adventure with two Mexican Chefs
After two months of riding our native Mexico, the time had come. Today we would venture north of the border. It was a warm morning in San Felipe, Baja California Norte, and there were 200 kilometers between us and Arizona. We would ride the last bit of Highway 5 along the Sea of Cortez and through Sonora before crossing into Yuma. Our expectations for Arizona were low, but we hoped for the best.
We had been living along the turquoise waters of the Caribbean on the Mayan Riviera for five years. Then one day we left the key to our seaside apartment on the kitchen counter and closed the door behind us, leaving successful careers as professional chefs to jump on a motorcycle and ride the world. It was time to explore, meet new people, find new places, and live new experiences. Motorcycle travel would bring us closer to people and to nature; we’d be subject to rain, heat and cold, and often dependent on the kindness of others.
We left Puerto Aventuras in early 2015, riding two-up on our 2007 BMW F650GS Dakar throughout Mexico, from Quintana Roo to Sinaloa, over the Sea of Cortez on a ferry to Baja California Sur, then to Baja California Norte. We learned that Mexico is underrated by Mexicans, and is much bigger than we thought.
We were heading for Alaska, expecting to return to Mexico in six months, and Arizona was not in our plans. The name itself conjured up the image of a flat, hot desert. It was the middle of May, and the region was beginning to heat up, especially in the southern desert. But then we heard about Overland Expo West (OverlandExpo.com) in Flagstaff and it sounded too interesting to miss.
Phoenix, our first stop in the U.S., did little to change our ideas about the state. Even to natives of the low plain of the Yucatan peninsula, the landscape appeared flat. Then, we looked around at the dark brown skyline of mountains surrounding this valley of the sun, now a huge metropolis. Phoenicians who have never left must wonder what’s beyond those mountains; the ones who know must surely take advantage of their time off to get lost among the spectacular peaks.
But terrain isn’t everything. While in Phoenix we enjoyed the hospitality of Aussie bikers Bevan and Clare Roebig-Walsh, a couple who convert ambulances into rugged mobile homes. We connected with them through the brotherhood of motorcyclists facilitated by the internet and they made us welcome with good food, a comfortable futon, and a base from which to regroup and gear up for camping.
Sharing stories and good food with others around a table or a campfire has defined our journey. As we travel, we share our culinary skills, cooking for the kind people willing to host us (although Clare insisted on cooking for us during our visit). To us food means sharing; it nurtures not only the body, but also the soul and spirit. And, we’re able to find small cooking jobs everywhere we go, helping us to stay on the road. Fortunately, people need to eat anywhere you go.
Cooking for ourselves is also the best way to stay healthy on the road; too often a travel diet consists of highly processed “junk” food. But our culinary experience allows us to get healthy food and cook it the right way. It’s easy and delicious.
Riding north out of Phoenix through those jagged mountains, the scenery turns spectacular. We stopped in beautiful Sedona to enjoy the rugged red rock mountains, tight twisties, and drastic changes in elevation and temperature. And then to Flagstaff, where each year adventure travelers from all over the world gather to share stories, advice, and understanding for other cultures. And, there are sales reps from the vendors who help you prepare your vehicle for long-distance travel. It was an extraordinary event with an added distinction: Snow and rain turned the weekend into a total adventure and the 2015 expo has been dubbed “Snowverland Expo.” But the weather didn’t stop us from having a great time. Actually, if it snows on your first night of camping, how much worse can it get?
One piece of advice we picked up at Overland Expo was something we took to heart immediately. Although a visit to the Grand Canyon was not in our plans, we were told not to miss it, and were glad we listened. The Grand Canyon honors its name with its size and beauty, reminding us how small we are compared to nature. We camped there for a couple of nights, riding slowly along the canyon rim, savoring its greatness.
Farther north is the canyon which was actually on our itinerary, Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon was formed by erosion of the Navajo sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding. There, Navajo guides take you to a red underworld, sand-packed walls smoothed by the water rushing between them. Our native escorts knew all the secrets to be known about the area.
These two canyons, so close in distance, are completely different. The Grand Canyon is an enormous gash in the land, going for miles and miles until you lose sight of it completely. You could spend hours walking into the canyon and years exploring what’s down there. But Antelope Canyon is smaller, and feels intimate. Going from top to bottom takes no more than 20 steps and, once inside, it becomes a narrow path where two people can barely walk side by side. In a few hours you could explore the whole canyon from beginning to end.
Arizona surprised us with its beauty, and we enjoyed it all the more by camping most nights. There is something very special about being out in the wild, close to nature. The ritual of searching for wood to start a fire and get something cooking has been done by mankind for thousands of years and never goes out of date. We met new, interesting people from all over while camping, and shared delicious food with them sitting around a fire under Arizona’s vast open sky.
Our expectations of being on the road for six months have evaporated into more than 15 months, and we’ve realized the best plan is not to have one. Everything changes all the time. We’ve seen much of the U.S. and Canada and learned that every single person sees the world through a completely different set of eyes. We’ve grown as individuals and as a couple and now we know we don’t need all the stuff we are told all the time that we need to be happy.
There is much more to learn and to see and we are still living on the road. We’re not rich. We’re no braver, or more heroic, or stronger, than anyone else; we’re just a couple of stubborn chefs following our dream.
Daniel Fuentes and Pamela Ponce de Leon intend to stay on the road for a while, eventually winding up at Tierra del Fuego, on a schedule that doesn’t exist. Find them on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and Flickr at 2chefs1moto.
Camping Chili Ingredients:
- Minced beef
- Green bell pepper
- Canned beans
- Salt, pepper
Chop onion, garlic, bacon and bell pepper. Heat oil in a camping saucepan. Fry chopped bacon until crispy. Set aside. Fry the rest of the chopped ingredients. Add the minced beef and break it up in the pan. Return the bacon back to the pan. Once the meat is browned, add the beans. Stir constantly until the meat is fully cooked and then turn off the stove. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese at the end and wait for it to melt. Enjoy!
Camp Grill Ingredients:
- Vegetables (zucchini, bell pepper, corn on the cob, Portobello mushrooms, etc.)
- Salt, pepper
Cut the vegetables into large chunks. Remove the corn from the husk, keeping the leaves as whole as possible. Roll the bacon around the corn and season with salt and pepper. Re-wrap the corn with its husk. Place on the grill over a hot wood fire.
In a bowl, mix all the cut vegetables with the oil, salt, pepper and spices. Rub the steak with oil and then with the spices, salt and pepper.
Cook everything next to the corn over the wood fire (indirect fire). Cook the steak about 2 minutes per side depending on desired doneness. Enjoy!