“We are sending everything home” Mike said to me on our arrival across the Mexican border in Tecate as we opted for a cheap hotel and passed out on the bed.
The 92 km ride form La Jolla, California to Tecate, Mexico wasn’t that big of a deal it was the hills that did us in that day. Having almost two weeks off due to bike issues the first day back on our bikes was a bit of a rude awakening. We were sore and tired, and with Mike carrying the extra weight on the trailer he still claims this to be the hardest day we have had yet. Neither of us could move very well the next day.
We opted to cross at Tecate vs. Tijuana to be a little bit more off the beaten path and we were hoping for a simpler crossing after hearing stories of trying to get fully loaded touring bikes through a turn style at the Tijuana crossing.
We arrived that night spent and in almost pitch black conditions due to our misjudgment on the hills that day and how long it would take … was uneventful. We laughed with each other as we approached the border.. we’ve already broken the first rule about traveling in Mexico on the first day, “never drive (ride) at night”. However we didn’t even realize that we had crossed the border until we saw a few armored guards and now all the street signs were in Spanish.
Arriving in Mexico, photo taken the next day as it was pitch black when we arrived.
¡VIVA LA MÉXICO!
Yes, Mexico is different. The language, the culture, the people. We are adjusting to this new way of life and REALLY trying to improve the little Spanish we know. We have been in Mexico for almost a month now and have been welcomed with a constant stream of smiles, waves and thumbs up as we navigate the roads. The kindness and warmth of the Mexican people has been a nice change from the urban sprawl of Southern California. People here are patient and gracious as we stumble through the language as help us as we are trying to learn.
Camping has been a little less desirable with the absence of pic-nic tables and sites set up for more for the snowbirds and RV culture. We still haven’t stealth camped yet and have managed to stay in a few organized campgrounds (read RV parks) and in cheap hotel rooms or at Rancho’s (farms).
RV’s parked along one of the many playas along Bahia de Concepcion
And yes we are still alive. All down the coast of the United States, we were warned of the ‘dangers’ in Mexico and of the narrow shoulders on the MEX 1. We may be speaking a little early, but at least in Baja we feel safer in many ways than we did traveling through the States. Unfortunately it seems that tourism has been way down due to the combination of the economic situation in the United States and also likely due to the fear mongering that Mexico is dangerous (see this great link for some stats on the overall safety of Mexico – thanks to Kai and Sheila for posting this).
As for the highway, we have taken back roads whenever possible and did not encounter MEX 1 until Chapala (avoiding almost 409 km’s of Highway 1 south of Ensenada) but after riding the 1 since then, although narrower, we find it no more dangerous than Highway 1 in California and in some ways safer as the drivers seem to be in less of a rush, less aggressive and actually put the breaks on for you if there is on-coming traffic. The Mexican truck drivers have been the best giving us lots of room when possible. As always you have to read the situation, when there are two big rigs approaching one another we just move off the road and give them the room they need. The worst would have to be the buses and taxis, but luckily we don’t encounter many in a day.
On the road from Bahia de Concepcion (photo credit: Jon Crane)
OUR ROUTE THROUGH BAJA …
… has taken us along some back roads that have been a mix of wash board, sand, gravel and rock. Although strenuous and hard on the bikes and our bodies these roads have taken us away from the main highways and to places we have enjoyed the most with spectacular scenery away from most civilization with only maybe an average of 5 cars passing us in a day. This is where we have enjoyed amazing desert vistas, gorgeous sunsets and some of the best people yet.
The last dirt highway in Baja… rough on the bodies BUT truly rewarding
90 km’s of wash board and sand traps
Shortcut across a dry laguna back to the Highway
From Ensenada, we headed back East over the Sierra de Juárez range via MEX 3 then connected to MEX 5 north of San Felipe from there we headed south along a road that is paved past the town of Puertecitos (a small little town that has an ex-pat to local population of about 50:50 where we enjoyed a soak in the natural hot springs) to about 30 km’s north of Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. From there the road turns into gravel, wash board and interspersed with sand traps. I think I fell about 7 times on the 90 km stretch back to HWY 1 at Chapala.
This is considered to be the last dirt highway in Baja and they are paving it another 5 km’s each year.
THE PEOPLE WE HAVE MET …
On that little back road we reached a junction called Coco’s corner. You can’t miss it. It’s the only place out there in the middle of the desert and just in case you thought you’d cruise by, it’s pretty much impossible as there are big ropes strewn across the road to force you to slow down and the eclectic decor is an eye catcher. Coco’s reputation preceded itself as we had heard from other cyclists ahead of us that he is a gracious man with a kind soul and always offers a camper for the night to touring cyclists. We were welcomed, shown our camper for the night and offered beer within minutes of arriving.
You can’t miss Coco’s corner
Mike and Coco 1/2 with his book of travelers that have stopped by.
Coco refers to himself as Coco y 1/2 after loosing both his legs below the knee due to circulation problems, but that doesn’t seem to slow him down or dampen his spirits. We were woken up the next morning night and early at 6 am to fresh brewed coffee and cookies and encouraged to sign his guest book that he gets everyone to contribute to that stops there before we pedaled off for another day. Before leaving, Coco gave us directions to a friends three towns away that he said we could stay there for the next night at the Casa de Christina.
That next day, right before sunset, we were still on the road looking for the Casa de Christina, not fully understanding the directions when a white truck had pulled over on the side of the road and was flagging us down. You always read don’t stop for people on the highway in Mexico as banditos have been known to flag down people pretending they need help. Mike was riding behind me and told me to just keep cycling as we passed. I put the pedal to the medal and kept going yelling in poor Spanish “Lo siento, estas noche”. When I finally looked back I realized that Mike wasn’t behind me any more …
He had stopped.
Oh great, now what am I going to do. All the scenarios were running through my mind of what I could possibly do next. There were at least three people in the vehicle and just Mike. What if something happened, it was right before sunset in the middle of the desert. A few minutes passed and I finally saw Mike start to pedal towards me again … he didn’t look injured or anything.
When he finally caught up all he said was “that was Christina!”
Feeling stupid and idiotic that I had let unrealistic fears get the best of me we pedaled towards the location of Christina’s house where we were greeted by her 14 year old nephew Fermin who took us in and showed us where we could pitch our tent for the night. At 14 he was the perfect host, he had dinner already prepared, made the best coffee I have ever tasted and speaking as much English as I speak Spanish he had the patience and interest to fumble through conversations about each others life utilizing the Lonely Planet Spanish Translation Offline App. that I had downloaded. It was one of our best evenings yet and we were only the second cyclists that had stayed with them!
Karen and Fermin, our wonderful host at our first Rancho stay!
A small token of our appreciation, Fermin and his new Buff!
Our journey since has followed Highway 1 for the most part with the only other detour being south of Guerrero Negro (the entry to Baja California Sur) to Bahia de Ojo Liebre. This is one of the better known places in baja where the grey whales congregate to calve and we were arriving just st the very beginning of the season. Out off by the mass tourism of whale watching tours from Guerrero Negro we decide to head right for the source to Lajunga de Ojo Liebre where at the end of a 24 km dirt road was the Centro de Visitantes de la Casa Mexicana de Ballena Gris at Ejido Benito Juárez and pangas for hire that is the only operation allowed to operate right within the laguna itself. Complete with low-impact camping facilities including palapas, pit toilets and low water volume toilets and a small restaurant with amazing food and affordable costs we figured this was ore our style where we could just sit and watch the whales spouting and spying from shore.
The perfect view of the Lajuna de Ojo Liebre where we could watch the whales from shore.
Mike’s huge smile after spending the morning with las ballenas gris!
The amazing staff at the visitor centre!
Since the laguna, we’ve been focusing on heading south to arrive in San José del Cabo by the end of the month to meet up with Mike’s parents. However we have bee taking opportunities to enjoy a few rest days along the way when needed …
treated ourselves to a yurt for 2 nights at the San Ignacio Springs B&B run by a Canadian couple, Terry and Gary. Should I mention it came complete with a super comfy king bed and wicked pillows!
Relax day along the San Ignacio river to a little swimming hole.
Warm enough for a swim and a beer in the river!
Beach camping at Playa Santicpac along the Bahia de Concepcion.