Our five week journey through Baja California has been magical dance through desert and beach. It has been challenging with extreme conditions including desert crossings with no water source for at least two days of riding and grinding ascents to new highs in elevation reached on the bike trip thus far. However, the scenery has been stunning and the people we have met have been so amazing. We crossed from the United States at the infamous Tijuana. We actually saw only a little bit of the remarkbly clean and orderly downtown area before heading out to Rosarito on the toll highway. From the warnings we have receievd about Tijuana, half of me was expecting something closer to a war zone but this wasn’t the case in our short time there. After Rosarito, we had an amazing lobster platter at Puerto Nuevo then made our way to the friendly, party town of Ensenada. We ended up spending a week in and around Ensenada, couchsurfing at Matt’s mansion on the hill in a complex ironically called Puerto Escondito, the hidden port. There we were adopted by Matt’s neighbour, Grandma D and also got check out hotsprings on a nearby beach where you dig into the sand at low tide to make steaming pools. From Ensenada, we make some long, dusty days to El Rosario, the gateway to the Central Desert and where the paved road used to end until remarkably recently. The 122km from El Rosario to Catavina is without services including a source of water and this stretch also involves considerable asecent. About 35km after El Rosario, we meet up with Dave and Uschi, two cyclists from Calgary (and Germany originally for Uschi), who we will continued to cycle with on and off for the full length of the Baja! Our first wild camp in the desert became the beginning of the bike gang as we scooped cyclists to join us in the camp. That first night together with the nine of us camped out in the surreal desert and making a campfire with cactus wood will be forever memorable. The vast Valley de los Cirios of the Central Desert is named after its most characteristic Dr. Sueuss like boojum tree, called los cirios by early missionaries because it looked like a wax tapered candle. The landscape of the Central Desert is stunning, from the surreal boojum trees and gigantic cordon cactuses, the series of flat table top mesas, the boulder desert around Catavina lit up in soft glowing pinks and purples of sunset, and the windswept, barren, moon-like stretch after Catavina above 1000m elevation. We didn’t have any substantial rain for over a month in our cycling journey through California and northern Baja California until we reach the arid Central Desert. There it rains on us for two days. However, the whole desert became green and all of the boojum trees flowered in yellow sprays. We make it to Guerro Negro, the next major town, for Bryan’s birthday and recharge with some laundry, groceries, showers and eating out at restaurants and taco stands before heading back out into the super flat Vizcaino Desert. Our trip through the Baja tended to follow a pattern of wild stretches through the desert intersperced by refueling (food and water being fuel for cyclists) at towns every few days. In the Vizcaino desert, we try pitaya fruit off of the galloping cactus for the very first time and tasting like a cross between a blackberry and a kiwi, it is a delicious treat! We get to San Ignacio and desend into a lush date palm oasis. We almost have to rub our eyes to make sure it is not some mirage formulated by our sun-baked brains. The moist air sweetened by thousands of date palms growing around the river formed by the springs seemed like paradise and almost unreal. One of the cyclists that became a core group of us riding together, Justin, also from Vancouver, climbed up one of the tall date palms and cut down a couple of branches heavy with the delicious fruit. We spent the afternoon gorging on dates. There was a strong headwind from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia. The stretch also included the steepest portion of Mex Hwy 1 on Baja California as it dropped over 300m in one descent. While other hills had held the warning of “curva peligrosa”, dangerous hill, this hill was labeled “curva inferno”, the inferno hell hill. At Santa Rosalia, an old French mining town where the copper mine has recently been reopened by a Canadian company, a friendly lady led us to a windy beach where we could camp. The beach was so windy and filled with trash that we wondered about the wisdom of following her. She said that bikers liked coming here because of the stunning sunrise. We had our doubts but in the morning, the sunrise was indeed amazing and worth it. From Santa Rosalia, we went to Mulege, the second oasis on our trip. Mulege and surrounding area is popular with expats and we quickly realized why. The nearby Bahia Concepcion had some amazingly beautiful beaches with calm, lake-like waters. Playa Santispac on Bahia Concepcion was paradise found for Bryan and I. We spent almost a week there camping free on a beautiful beach, spearfishing for dinner in the morning and then relaxing at the hotsprings nestled in the mangroves in the afternoon. After a while, we did leave and cycled to Loreto to resupply. After Loreto, we crossed the Sierra de Giganta, which involved crazy switchbacking of the road that carved into a hill like whirls on a spinning top. We crossed to the agricultural centres of Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constituion near the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja before making the challenging headwind filled crossing back to the Sea of Cortez side and our end point of La Paz. Just before reaching La Paz, I was run off the road by a SUV but with only some stratches and bruises on my elbow and knees, I was fine. 36 days after crossing from California to Mexico at Tijuana, we make it to La Paz on December 15, 2013.
BAJA CALIFORNIA STATS
Distance from San Diego to La Paz – 1628.4km
Crossed into Mexico – Nov 10, 2013
Arrived in La Paz – Dec 15, 2013 (departed La Paz – Dec 17, 2013)
Length of Baja California journey – 36 days (to arrival in La Paz)
Number of riding days – 24 days
Number of rest days – 12 days
Average distance – 67.8km (per riding day) Accommodation – couch surfing 7 nights, warm showers 1 night, hotel 7 nights, paid campground 3 nights and 18 nights of wild camping including 3 nights sleeping in a ranch’s yard, 7 nights on the beach and 8 nights wild camping in the desert
The blog is copied below. However, for regular updates and the tracking map where our SPOT satellite updates our daily location to so you can see where we’ve been for a week, check out our blog for this epic adventure at http://theworldcan.org/biketrip.html.
December 16, 2013 – Our Suprisingly Short Time in La Paz
We go over one last mountain range, which was over before I knew it. Climbing seems to fly by when interestingly, the hill in front of you blocks some of the headwind! Uphills also don’t seem much slower when the downhills are still a struggle and a workout. We look down to the hazy view of La Paz bay. The drivers in Baja California have been amazing, very courteous and giving us lots of room. Unfortunately, that changed around La Paz. Maybe, it was the strong winds and the haze that went with it as it blew sand in the air. Maybe, it was because La Paz is a bigger city and just had more traffic. Maybe, it was that after a long drive in the desert to get to La Paz, drivers are just as tired and excited to see the city. Anyways, as I was rounding a corner on the highway just past the first Pemex station in the expat area of La Paz, this black SUV merges on the highway from a dirt road on the opposite side. Cycling on the Baja through the narrow roads, I have learned a little about trusting the world. You have to trust a bit that those semi-trucks and cars passing you will see you and give you room. I ad a moment of disbelief that the SUV was coming so close and then a moment of shock in realizing, “%$^! They’re going to hit me!” as my eyes locked with the eyes of the woman in the passenger seat through her window. I was so close to the vehicle and just in the nick of time, I dove off the side of the shoulder less road where the jagged edge of the asphalt turned into loose hot sand. I am a little shaken but with only little scrapes on my left elbow and knee, I am fine and very lucky. My bike was flipped over and red panniers were everywhere. People stopped to help me, including a local cyclist, but I was fine and started riding on. As I stopped to talk to Bryan a little further up the road, this big white truck pulled up and a glamorous lady with dangling earrings, dark wavy hair and tall heels jumped out and said, “Maggie?” It turned out that it was Glenda, our Warm Showers (a hosting forum for touring cyclists) host in La Paz. Glenda is so amazingly nice and was actually hosting two other cyclists, the honeymooners Sarah and Pedro from Portugal, and had recently hosted the rest of our old bike gang who were a few days ahead of us! It’s amazing the generosity of opening up their homes, that they share with their families as with Glenda, to basically strangers and sharing in friendship and excitement in our stories from the road. Dec 15th was Pedro and Sarah’s one year anniversary of their wedding and Pedro, a brilliant chef, cooked up a delicious Portuguese feast. There was a stew of pork, potatoes, clams and tomatoes served with French bread and salad then mouthwatering desert of rice pudding custard and a cookie cake layered with sweet butter and cream. The next day, Dave, Uschi, Bryan and I went to the La Paz Marina. La Paz is a major hub for cruisers and we were looking for a ride across to the mainland. At 8am, there is a weather and community broadcast on the VHF radio and then it opens up to ask if anyone has anything to add. Bryan called out from the VHF radio in the harbor, “We are four cyclists, two groups of two, looking for a ride across to the mainland.” Almost immediately, we get a reply. Jerry from M/S SOMF calls back saying he would like to meet us for a crossing to Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. He will be in plaid shorts at coffee time at the Marina clubhouse. We meet up with him and that night we are sleeping on the beautiful 46 foot sailboat in preparation to leave the next day. It has been the most amazing luck because people have been waiting to cross but haven’t been able to because of the strong El Norte winds. There is a break in the winds for the next 4 days and a whole fleet of boats is making the crossing.
December 15, 2013 – Gone With (and then against) the Wind on our way to La Paz
From Playa Santispac, we stopped for another day about 20km further south along the bay at Playa Requesion. Playa Requesion is on a beautiful sandpit that reaches out to a mangrove covered island. However, when we were there, the cold El Norte winds started blowing. Inside our tent, it sounded like a crazy howling storm outside pounding our tent walls with rain. However, there was no rain; it was just the sand. The next day, these strong winds blew us up and over the ridge south of Bahia Conception and onto the vast desert valleys north of Loreto. The valleys were flat…actually better than flat, they were a gradual decent and with the amazing tailwind, we were making an average of around 30km an hour. Though it was over 95km from Playa Requesion to Loreto, the next town, and we were not sure if we were going to reach Loreto in one day when we were planning the night before, with our quick pace, we said, “Hey, we can probably make it there for lunch!” We did 100km before 1pm that day, getting to Loreto super hungry and then feasting on pizza at the town. After lunch, we wandered around searching for a cheap hotel and finally settle on San Martin just a block from the town square. We start talking and then Dave and Uschi appear from the next room saying “I thought I recognized your voice!” The next day, the four of us start our journey to La Paz together, zigzagging over to the Pacific coast before heading back to the Sea of Cortez. The rugged jagged peaks of the Sierra de Gigantas look like the menacing fangs, fading in shades of blue and violet in the distance. About 40km after Loreto, we head into the maw of the beast, riding inland to climb over the Sierra de Gigantas. When it is named the giant mountains, you tend to go into it expecting a bit of a climb. It did have a fun ascent, climbing over 325m elevation in about 5km. Like most of our experience in Baja California, the grade was gradual and very manageable. However, there was some crazy switchbacking. After the first couple km of climbing, I look up and see the road on the next mountain high up above me. The switchbacks circled up this one mountain like the whirls on a spinning top. The Sierra de Gigantas are very scenic, with ragged peaks of weathered down sandstone that looked like it had hundreds of faces carved into it. It was a very rugged landscape with deep canyons and soaring ridges covered with desert. After going through a long valley in the mountains then up another long gradual ascent over a ridge, it was then mostly downhill to Ciudad Insurgentes. The two cities of Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitution are bustling places surrounded by huge farms and ranches. The tailwind was with us the whole way until the turn in the highway at Santa Maria, then that amazing tailwind turned into crazy headwinds and crosswinds as we crossed the peninsula to La Paz. The winds were so strong that one afternoon, we made only 30km in 3 hours after lunch. It was also so hot, 41 degrees celcius, but it didn’t feel that hot with the whipping wind. Our sweat seemed to dry instantly as we fought against the hot wind though my lips were getting quite chapped. We were getting quite salty and I had salt crystals encrusted on my eyelashes. As we finally got some speed going down a hill, the crosswind would try to blow us off the road, sometimes succeeding. The scariest part was this one semi-truck that passed us, blocking the strong crosswind for a moment while creating a draft of its own. The wind became like a vortex that tried to suck us under the truck towards its back tires. However, we were fine and soon we were almost in La Paz and looking forward to a shower!
December 8, 2013 – A Culinary Adventure on Bahia Conception
Playa Santispac was the first place that we were truly able to use our speargun and it was amazing fun. We would take turns laying on the beach while the other snorkeled and hunted. We only have masks and snorkel and the speargun, no wetsuit or flippers. We would get so into the hunt and not feel the cold until we come out shivering with the fish we caught. That person would then lay in the sun while the other went out to fish. We would really only catch one or two a day for our own dinner and we had some amazing meals. We had a bit of a seafood feast at the beach, starting with clams and scallops on the first day, stingray on the second day (the wings are amazing with crab like meat), these two reef fish on the third day, a good sized mackerel on the fourth day, then octopus, triggerfish and Mexican hogfish on the fifth day. Funny thing is that these reef fish had a big head and buck teeth like a rabbit. The coloring was a bit like a grouper fish and it had smooth skin. I wasn’t completely sure what it was but I thought, maybe a type of grouper or variety of parrotfish, which also has big chomping teeth to chew coral? I was in the process of filleting it and Marco’s friend, Marco came over to see what was up. He basically showed me to do a simple gutting of the fish. Since it was a soft meat and would be really hard to fully fillet, it was easier to just take the head off and gut the fish. I then skinned the fish. We communicated in broken English and Spanish but I asked him if the fish was good. He replied yes, it was delicious. He got back into his truck and drove away. The fish was indeed delicious, a smooth white fish that we poached and served over rice. We actually had a little left over and made into a wicked pasta sauce the next day. It wasn’t until much later when we were sailing and looking at one of Captain Jerry’s fish identification books that we find out it is a type of pufferfish! Now we saw little colorful box fish and huge porcupine pufferfish which seemed to be the biggest fish in these shallow waters and moved sedately knowing that nothing with come after them. We avoided these fish. Though poisonous, the fish identification book noted that this variety of pufferfish, the bullseye pufferfish, is sold in local fish markets but the book still said that it is only palatable after preparation by an “experienced cook” and listed the fish as “non-edible” due to its toxicity. Maybe I can find a job in Japan as a sushi chef now! It was also quite satisfying to get a triggerfish. Bryan and I learned to scuba dive in Thailand at Koh Tao. There, they have a troubled relationship with the huge titan triggerfish. The titan triggerfish were very territorial, aggressive and had huge fangs. There are cases where a titan triggerfish would bite a diver’s mask and some people had scars from this. It doesn’t help that now the divermasters there carry a little slingshot stick that doesn’t hurt the fish but does show it whose boss to protect the divers though probably further antagonizes the fish. Consequently, we have always had a bit of wariness diving with triggers. Here, we found out that they are also amazingly tasty! Bryan was very excited about the octopus he caught and prepared into a tasty soup. He went into the water that day hoping to get an octopus and just as he dove, there was a squirt of black ink in the water from under a rock. Bryan would have never found the octopus if it did not have squirted the telling ink. The suction cups of the octopus’s tentacles are so strange feeling and continue to have sucking power even after death. It’s great to be able to finally use the speargun after carrying it across the desert!
December 8, 2013 – Paradise found at Playa Santispac on Bahia Conception
We were a bike gang of 11 cyclists strung out along the road leaving Mulege. It was a wonderful little group ride following the canyon out of the town then up across a coastal flat before a little climbing to Bahia Conception. Bahia Conception is a huge bay framed by rocky hills and often, it was flat like glass looking more like a big lake as we gazed across the narrow opening to the other shore. We camped out at Playa Santispac, basically the first beach on the bay, on a little beach just around the corner from the main beach. Marco, a man from Veracruz, was setting up a campground there and when we went, it was just a few palapas on the beach. Since the campground was still in process, he actually didn’t charge us to stay there. Our time there has been some of my favorite in the whole trip. The 11 of us chilled and hung out on the beach, playing frisbee in the water and having campfires. Paul, an architect, made a fantastic campfire area using wooden planks for seats and decorating the fire ring with hundreds of shells. I loved out lazy mornings here, watching the sun rise out of my open vestibule and the shadows of the fluttering palm leaves of the roof of the palapa on the tent. You feel so remote here, sleeping under a thatched palm leaf roof with no bathroom, walls, running water, electricity and other items of civilization around, with the amazing experience of friends and gorgeous sunrises/sunsets to keep you company. Then, a pastry vendor drives up. Perodically but unpredictably, we are visited by vendors who drive up in their vehicles and open up their trucks to reveal mobile markets. Someone would pull up to sell fresh bread (still warm!) and tasty cinnamon buns then tell us, “Tomorrow, I’ll be back with brownies!” The next day, everyone is excited like children at a candy shop. A car drives onto the beach and everyone jumps up and runs over to see if it is brownies. Cars with vegetables, eggs, and all sorts of things come to visit us too. There was this one very enthusiastic blanket vendor that drove up in a van and then opened the sliding door and started draping his colorful wares over the doors to display them. He was a pretty hardworking saleman but unfortunately, we were the wrong crowd. We just disappointedly asked, “No comida?” No food? While it is probably true for everyone that a way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, it seems especially true for cyclists. While the others left after 3 nights, Bryan and I ended up staying 5. It was just paradise and we weren’t in any rush to leave. I would do yoga on the beach in front of our palapa in the morning just after sunrise, then we would have breakfast and read a little bit then as it got hotter, Bryan and I would walk down the beach to go spearfishing, then lunch and more chilling and then around 3pm when it was less hot, we would wander down to the hot springs nestled in the mangroves.
December 4, 2013 – Friendly Mulege
We ended up staying a couple days in Mulege at the fantastic Hotel Hacienda with comfortable rooms set around a beautiful gardened courtyard with a swimming pool. Since we were so many – 8 of us cyclists on the first day and met up with Justin on the next day – we got a pretty wicked deal for taking up 5 rooms! They had a grapefruit tree heavy with the delicious yellow fruit so we would sit around the pool in the wooden rocking chairs feasting. We walked to the old mission in Mulege, which was founded in 1705. Everything was made of stone and it had an old bell in its tower. It had beautiful views of the surrounding lush oasis, with palm trees and the slow river flowing through it. It’s kind of funny because BCS, Baja California Sur, could also mean British Columbia South! There are a lot of expats who live in and around this sleepy oasis town and a considerable number of vehicles that pass us have British Columbian license plates. When we were looking for a hotel, we started talking to a Canadian couple who were shopping in town before heading back to their version of paradise on Coco Beach. It turned out that they were from Chilliwack too and lived just a few blocks away from where I grew up! He knew about my grandpa and bought potatoes from Woo Farms! Small world. Talking about the sleepy town, Mulege (pronounced Moo-la-he; the ‘g’ is an ‘h’ sound) is very serious about its afternoon siesta. Around 1-2pm, shops and restaurants start closing. What’s hilarious is that probably half don’t open back up again! These include many of the cheap taco shops selling amazing cerviche (seafood cooked by lime juice) and tacos de pescado, fish tacos, which have been a main staple in towns. Within Mexican food culture, lunch is the big meal and dinner is a small, “snackish” meal. The group of us walked all around Mulege at night looking for a good cheap place. We finally settled on a place and guess what we had? Fish tacos!! Yum! But this time, we got a platter with rice and beans! Fancy.
December 3, 2013 – Vultures, Dogs and Canyons on our Ride to Mulege
We crossed 4000km riden today on our beautiful ride from Santa Rosalia to Mulege. After the amazing sunrise, we rose up over a ridge then out onto a vast coastal plain. There was tornados of turkey vultures circling, rising on the early sunshine heat thermals. At one point, I was riding down the road and there was a row of cordon cactuses, each with a vulture on it with its wings outspread towards the sun. Less magical was the number of dogs that chased us today. Most of the time, it is the little ones that give us the most chase. You know, the little dogs that are bascially only 10 inches off the ground that run up to us with their short little legs and high pitched barks. They’ve got passion but really, it is quite easy for us to get away from them on our bikes. We had some of them today but we also had some bigger dogs too! Just before San Lucas, as we were rolling by a house, this brown dog that seemed to be a rotwieller/ pitt bull cross, started furiously barking and running straight towards the fence around the house. Bryan says to me, “Um, pedal faster…PEDAL FASTER!” I thought it had it had stayed within the fence but apparently it knew exactly how to get out and didn’t even slow down as it squeezed under a part of the fence. We got away just in time. Talking to other cyclists, there are a lot of theories about the dogs. Dave suggests that their excitment comes from not actually understanding what we are. Their barks are really “What are you? What are you?” Also, as many dogs herd, he suggests that the dogs are actually trying to herd us. Bryan suggests that it’s because we’re moving. If you run beside a dog, the dog starts running too thinking its a game. It’s true that most of the time, I actually slow down and the dog stops. Alexa and Paul just say “NO!” sternly at the dogs and that usually stops them. Uschi speaks German to the dogs, which also seems to stop them. Many stop after we have passed the house they’re protecting or won’t go onto the road. It’s interesting because some of the places that we have stayed at on this trip had some ferocious sounding dogs when we first approached but as they got to know us, they just wanted love and they were so cuddly and attention seeking. Just before Mulege, we wind along a scenic canyon pass throuh some hills. We drop down into Mulege, another little oasis with a river running through it out to the ocean. We’re staying in town for two nights, feasting on delicious fish tacos, seafood cocktails and cerviche, before moving onto the beach.
December 2, 2013 – The Windy Ride to the Santa Rosalia and the Sea of Cortez
We rose out of the oasis paradise of San Ignacio and back into the desert. The first ride we crosed was so windy, I wasn’t sure if we would make it the 73km to Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez. The incredibly strong headwind made me work pedalling with effort even on the downhill, when I otherwise would have flown down effortlessly at 45km/hr. Uphill was a fight for every stroke. After that first climb, it opened to a large plateau with the Vulcan Tres Virgins dominating the horizon. The descent crossing the ridge by the old volcano was stunning – a vast desert plateau covered with tall cactuses that looked like small vertical toothpicks from the height at the beginning of the descent and the whole desert plain was surrounded by rocky mountans chizzled from the earth. However, that wasn’t the largest descent of the day. The final descent by the coast is the steepest on Hwy 1 in Baja California. It was a 15% grade that dropped around 300 metres in a very short distance. A sign before the descent says “Cesta del infierno”, a hill of inferno! The downhill itself is fun as traffic is usally very understanding of cyclists and thankfully give us a lot of room as we move more into the middle of the road. However, what I find really tricky is if there is a crosswind, which there was today and is like someone giving you a shove while we are riding fast dwn the hills. We have all be excitedly anticiping the Sea of Cortez, the blue jewel that we saw from the high mountain plateau. The road descends and drops us off in an apocolyptic wasteland. The area of beach before Santa Rosalia is very industrial and we are welcomed to the coast by huge black plumes of burning plastic and garbage at the dump. There is a huge Canadian mining operation and roadsides are littered with garages and broken cars. Garbage is everywhere. Santa Rosalia itself was an interesting place. The city has French roots – a church there was designed by Eiffle and there is an old wood and steel station, an old wooden clocktower and wooden rectanguar homes with wide verandas. It was kind of like a Mexican New Orleans. We were looking for a hotel, but as we were a group of eight, many of the hotels were full or had only one room left and were very expensive. As we were riding arond the historic town, a woman in a white SUV marked with the mining corporation’s logo pulled up to talk to us. She first invited us to camp out at her home at the mine as she said there was tons of room. However, with our reluctance to back track, she first thought of bring us to a local church then suggested a beach owned by her friend and a lawyer for the mining company. We were like little ducklings following our white SUV mother as she slowly led our bike gang to the beach just south of town. She had her 4 way hazard lights flashing and it is amazing how patient people are on the road as we basically took over the lane and collected cars behind us. The chain of cars behind us including a cop car and a couple huge semi-trailers, who struggled up the hill keeping behind us. The beach at Santa Rosalia was a windswept place strewn with garbage and local people coming out to do drunken donuts in their vehicles. Our friend said that she had talked to cyclists and said that they usually like staying here because of the amazing sunrise. As we staked down our tents in the raging wind and cooked with a makeshift windbreak of my panniers and also behind the tent in an attempt to keep most of the beach from becoming dinner, Bryan and I had our doubts to be honest. Is saving a couple bucks at a hotel in town really worth this windy hell? We were tired from fighting the wind all day and went to chill in our tent early that night and our little Hubba Hubba MSR tent was amazing. Inside, it was a cozy cave and we were quickly lulled to sleep by the waves and wind outside. It was so warm that night, over 20 degrees celcius all night, and I think we all slept without our sleeping bags. The next morning, we watched the stunning sunrise and it was all worth it. The dark sky broke with a sliver of fiery orange on the horizon, which grew to light up the whole sky in magentas, pinks and purples. Pelicans flew as black silloettes against the lightening sky as a group of us sat on the beach in the early morning, saying hello to the day ahead.
November 30, 2013 – A Magical Oasis in the Desert – San Ignacio
From Guerro Negro, we headed off in the flat Viscaino desert. It is miles after miles of flat, straight road with rows of electrical poles running endlessly into the horizon. Windswept inland dunes were covered with green spiky yuccas. Everything was covered with spikes. It was a very stark and unforgiving landscape but also very beautiful with hidden gems. Out of the hot sand of the desert, a small yellow flower which reminded me a lot of a little crocus, was growing green and bright. We found pitayas, a violent looking fruit with spikes all over looking like a deadly mine, growing from the equally spiky galloping cactus plant. They were delicious and so juicy, with pulpy bright magenta flesh and little black seeds and tasted like a combination of kiwi and blackberry. Bryan and I made pitaya margaritas with the fruit, sugar, water, lime and mescalito. Yum! Closer to San Ignacio, we entered some rolling hills including some thrilling/exciting/kind of terrifying steep drops on curving roads without guardrails overlooking cliffs. The roads reminded me a little of being on a waterslide or a rollercoaster…but with traffic. Dropping down the ridgeline to the palm tee oasis of San Ignacio was magical. After a couple weeks in the desert, it was stunning to all of a sudden be surrounded by lush date palms swaying in the breeze over the calm, wide river fed by the spring. We had been calling the puddles we’ve seen in the desert from the rain we had “lakes” and now here was a real body of water. The very air is moist and fragrant with the sweet aroma of dates. We went into the town square, a calm elegant place with a tree filled courtyard facing an old mission from the 18th century. I think cactuses are really amazing plants but it was nice to chill out under the tall trees eating ice cream after the hot day of riding through the desert without shade. We camped out by the river with our little biking community, which seems to be growing. We stayed an extra day because once you find paradise, why leave it so quickly? The next day, we had 13 cyclists camping there. Justin, a rockclimbed and a professional scaffolder, climbed up one of the tall date palms and cut off probably 10 lbs of delicious dates. Four of us stood below holding a tarp outstretched to catch the falling dates and thankfully no falling Justins. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, chatting about life and cycling and gorging on dates. We had a great musical jam in the evening with Dave on the mandolin, Mathieu on the guitar, Torey and Peter playing an empty water drum with amazing results, Uschi on the melodica, an keyboard recorder, and me banging on Torey’s dirty dinner pots. Magical!
November 27, 2013 – A Dance through the Desert – Crossing the Central Desert of Baja California
After leaving Punta Banda, we have had a whirlwind week with some big days, long treks of solitude in the mysterius high deserts of the Baja and meeting an amazing community of cyclists. After El Rosario, we left the Pacific coastline and turned inland to cross the Central Desert heavily laden with water. I started carrying a full 10 litres on my bike. The 20 litres between Bryan and I lasts only two to three days for us riding in the desert. From El Rosario, it is 124km until Catavina, where the next services can be found…including water. We left the Mediterrean climate region of Baja California, which has a climate drier but similar to that of San Diego and southern California and is characterized by sage scrubland. The Central Desert, is a surreal place with long grinding climbs to plateaus before dipping down in a canyon then rising again on the other side. Tall flat, table-top like mesas command the horizon with colours like a rainbow transitining from redish orange scrub by the road to various shades of blue and violet of the mountains in the distance. In some ways, I feel like I have stepped into a Dr. Seuss book with huge cordon cactuses like a many limbed green giant reaching for the sky. They are over 20 metres tall and many of the large ones are over 200 years old! Also keeping the cordons company is the boojum tree, which is a tall, pole like tree with a pale, waxy bark. The trees look straight out of the Dr. Seuss story with the branches curling and twisting into loops and twirls with a spray of yellow flowers at the tip. Th landscape is so alien, so unique in ther whole world that no wonder there are so many stories of aliens and UFOs here. The landscape is out of this world. The boojum trees are unlike any other tree I have seen before, as if it was a giant grass plant and I was tiny and looking out at the world from an ant’s perspective. As we enter the desert, guess what happens? IT RAINS! It was the first substantial rain since we left Oregon and it happens when we reach the famously arid Baja Desert. The cloud cover however was a blessing as it provided valuable shade in an otherwise hot and shadeless desert and the rain meant that the desert was amazingly green with all of the boojum trees flowering. We made the crossing to Catavina in two days and around Catavina is a stunning boulder desert, lit up in glorious hues of pink and purple in the sunset. After Catavina, we climbed up to over 1000metres in elevation, where the cold wind whipped as us and the landscape was barren even of the hardy cactuses. We felt that we were riding a ridge on top of the world. The vegetation slowly returned as we descended. The landscape seemed as isolated and remote as before. Sometimes, it feels so remote out in the Central Desert, with small cowboy villages that seem almost like ghost towns and surreal plants to keep us company in our long rides. However, this route is old as evident in the historic missions from the 18th century and even older in terms of the rock art that decorate some of the rocks. Also, coincidently, the remoteness and the single road has brought cyclists together. There is about 13 of us cyclists, some solo travellers and other couples, that are in the same area at the same time. We have formed a loose group – some ride ahead, but then we meet up as they take a rest day. Bryan and I did the whole desert crossing with Justin, a solo cyclist who also started in Vancouver, and Uschi and Dave, who started their long road south in Alaska and are carrying a palace of a giant tent and his sitar. There is something truly magical to stargazing in the desert, where there are so many stars that individual constellations are indisguishable, listening to beautiful and haunting sitar. We made it to Guerro Negro yesterday, just in time for Bryan’s birthday, and we’re spending an extra day here before heading back out to cross the Vizcano Desert. It is amazing to consider that we have just finished crossing a desert about the same mileage as our time in Washington! At 3751km from home, we are now half way down Baja California!
November 17, 2013 – The Enchanted Life in Punta Banda
We are living an enchanted life. We made it to Ensenada, well actually a little south of Ensenada at Punta Banda about 130km south of the the border. We met an awesome couchsurfing host, Matt, a professional online poker player… or professional odds player as he calls himself. Watching him play about 14 games at once is amazing and rises the game up to an art. Bryan calls him a professional multitasker. Matt also helps makes social documentaries in Brazil in his spare time. He lives in a beautiful house on top of a ridge overlooking the brilliant blue ocean on both north and south sides of the pennisula and the twinkling lights of the city across the bay. It was hard to get to – a steep mile long dirt road to the gated expat community of Puerto Escondito – “Hidden Port” ironically named because it is onto top of a huge hill from the ocean! We stayed here for five nights as the busy Baja 1000, an offroading race that spans the whole of Baja California whips its roads into a frenzy. It is a bit of a yoga retreat for me as I can do yoga on the big wooden patios overlooking both the sunrise and sunset on the ocean horizon. Matt’s even got a keyboard piano and music books with all the classics and I’m working through all my old favorites again. So anyways, we’re took long afternoon naps, cooked in an actual kitchen, explored beaches and was mesmerized by beautiful sunsets this week. Also, we’ve been adopted by Grandma D, Matt’s wonderful hippy neighbour. We meandered down from the ridge to La Bufadora, an hour walk away but we made it over two because we were exploring the desert plants. La Bufadora is the world’s second largest marine gyser (though we were never able to find out which was the first) and as a wave smashes into a pocket of air in the sea cave, a rocket of water shoots up; it goes “BUF!” thus the name. The ground thundered under us with each wave. We also enjoyed the market surrounding La Bufadora where every second booth seemed to be a pina colada stand where the tasty drinks were served in a hollowed out pineapple. The next day, D showed us the local Sunday buffet at Baja Mamas, which was like finding heaven for hungry bikers! Then afterwards, we went down to the beach at La Joya where hot spring vents up though the sand. In low tide, we dug a hole in the sand, making a delightful hot tub. We had to carefully choose our hole and dug a few betore settling on one. Some were just too hot. The impermenance of human activity on these springs was really interesting. After the next tide, all the holes are wiped clean for the next set of excited visitors.
November 15, 2013 – Rosarito to Ensenada
Riding on the roads in northern Baja California, I almost feel like a rockstar. People wave, they honk their horns excitedly, they cheer and they whoop. On our ride from La Mission to Ensenada, a police waved at us and when we waved back, he flared his sirens for a brief moment in cheer, which terrified the oncoming car to a sudden stop. When we are standing on the street or eating at a little sidewalk cafe, people come up to us and noting the Canadian flag on Bryan’s bike, ask us if we really came all the way from Canada and then heartfully congratuate us with cheer. We have met some of the most friendliness people in the world in our first week in Mexico, both locals and expats. It has been amazing. Also amazing has been the food! On our day riding from Rosarito, we didn’t get far as we were lured in by Puerto Nuevo, a little oasisof about 30 restaurants specializing in lobster. Bryan and I split a meal of four (four!) lobsters about the length of a dinner plate each, a pot of melted butter and endless tortillas, beans, rice and pico de gallo with a pina colada each for $15 total. We also found a little pulqueria on the side of the road. It was a little wooden stand with improvised benches made from a plank of wood and a very friendly owner who served us samples after samples of chilled pulque as we communicated again in a mixture of beginner Spnaish (from our side) and a bit of English (from his side) and a lot of laughing (on both sides). Pulque is the fermented nectar of the maguay cactus, a cousin of the famous agave. The cactus is cored and the juice from it starts fermenting with ferocity soon after. You have to “burp” the container or else it explodes. We had tried to ferment our own pulque in an earlier trip to Baja Mexico (basically waiting and perodically burping the container) to disgusiting results. We tried the professionally made pulque this time and it was amazing, especially chilled ice cold and mixed with fruit juices. As another note, we ran into two brothers down in Baja California for a wedding who were heading back up north and they sold us their speargun! Bryan and I had our first time spearfishing yesterday in a little bay south of Ensenada. No fish yet but it was wicked fun. It brings a whole new level to snorkeling! Ensenada is a super friendly town and with four universities in the city, it is a bit of party central in downtown with four blocks in the downtown devoted to the local favorite Papas and Beer franchise. We ended up meeting their operations manager, Rocky, while asking for directions in Rosarito, and had an awesome afernoon chatting with him in Ensenada. This weekend is also the Baja 1000, a 1000 mile offroad rally that starts in Ensenada and draws people from all over the world. We found an awesome couchsurfer, Matt who works on inspiring documentaries in his spare time, and we’re staying at his house on a beautiful pennisula south of Ensenada through the weekend until the roads hopefully become a little less hectic.
November 11, 2013 – Crossing into Mexico
The San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is the busiest border in North America. Going north, there was a virtual parkinglot with over 20 lanes of cars waiting to cross into the United States. Luckily, walking our bikes through the crossing, we counted as pedestrians so we crossed with ease. In fact, we actually had to ask for a visa as visitors are allowed three free days in Tijuana and the border guard was just waving people through without looking at our passports. InTijuana, we were definitely in a different country.There were open markets, tacos stands, a different language, a remarkable number of pharmacies and people everywhere. we went onto the toll highway to bypass most of Tijuana and it was an exciting and somewhat terrifying shoulderless ride in a concrete confined space at first. Cars and trucks, full of all sort of things like a bunch of poles sticking out horizontal out ofthe passager side window, would come so close to us…but they never hit. One of our first pasts was this craz hill. As I struggled up the climb, I thought to myself, “Man, am I really so out of shape from one week off from riding?” I guzzled water at the top and sat down because I was feeling a bit faint after giving everything I had to get to the top without stopping under the baking hot sun. As subsequent, more graduale hills felt almost effortless, I thought, “Nope, that was just a really steep hill.” We made it to Playas de Tijuana before the police kicked us off the toll freeway. However, it was kind of hilarious because he emphatically said “I CAN’T allow you on the freeway,” then told us directions on how to get past the police and toll checkpoints. He told us to bcktrack a 100 metres, go down to the town along a path by the bus stop until we reached the bouvelard, head south for about a mile on that road then rejoin the freeway agan. Rejoining was an adventure. The road we were directed to didn’t actually rejoin the freeway but rather was an unfinished ramp up to an unfinished tunnel that local teenagers were bombing down on longboards. Our path back on was rather a dirt path littered with glittering broken glass and garbage that eventually jumped the curb and found a break in the railing to get back on the freeway. There were amazing views of the ocean with sweeping beaches and local children playing in the waves. We made it to Rosarito that night, about 30km south of the border. We stayed with a couchsurfing host, Lanny and her mother, who were so amazing and cheerful. Mama Rita didn’t speak much English…and we hardly speak much Spnaish yet (but we’re learning!) but we communicated in laughter. Lanny made us awesome margaritas from tequila, ice, lime juice and a bit of sugar blended all together. So many little limes went into making our drinks. It has been an awesome first day in Mexico.