San Felipe to Gonzaga Bay

Eager to see the ‘real’ Baja, I awoke at a blisteringly early 10AM, shoveled some huevos rancheros into my mouth and hopped onto the MEX5 south towards Puertocitos.

MEX5 is littered with good ideas shot dead by the recession.  Worn billboards line the roads, their sun-faded lettering extolling the latest and greatest parcels of land for sale, or a new hotel opening up last spring.

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The road, as well, quickly becomes a bit rougher, ever present sand dunes continuing their steady march more and more inland. It’s still completely drivable of course (and easily), I mention it merely because some Americans more used to the highways of our country might be in for a bit of surprise.

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The ride is mostly uneventful, though I have my first experience with vados, the Mexican solution to road floods. While Baja is extremely arid, it does rain at times, and the area is known to flood during high rainfall (as was the case in 2012 with Hurricane Paulie Cicero).  So what the Mexicans have done, is create dips in the road that allow the water to flow towards lower elevations.

These can be properly terrifying when they are not marked, and they are often not (though more times they are on major thoroughfares), and will work your suspension over like a fat man on a pogo stick. Luckily, local gringos will often take matters into their own hands to warn fellow travelers of upcoming vados.

A Mexican vado.
This was one was proceeded by a 10 foot “OH” sign as well.

I continued on, through the desert scrub that makes up this land. The mind can play tricks on you at times, as the road is very straight and the surrounding area begins to look a bit alien to a traveller, but a quick glance towards the coastline and, sanity regained, you’ll see many homes that have been built by locals and gringos.

Houses in the distance, though I explored some and found many abandoned.
Houses in the distance, though I explored some and found many abandoned.

Eventually I made it to Puertocitos, well, at least the outskirts, and came across this sign, and, while taking pictures, was stopped by a gringo curious about my motorcycle.

Every gringo who lives in the area, I assumed.
Every gringo who lives in the area, I assume.

“You long distance riders are crazy man, where are you going?” I told him my short story so far, and he mentioned I should stop at a place called Cowpatty’s for a “beer and hotdog.” Only in Baja. Feeling peckish, I decided, what the hell. A mile later, I’m at the cow shit bar.

His logo is a Mexican with a massive sombrero and accompanying mustache.
His logo is a Mexican with a massive sombrero and accompanying mustache.

There’s a lot to look at it, and judging by the race team stickers appears to be a pretty popular place on the Baja 1000 circuit.

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I find the owner (Richard), tending bar, order a beer and a dog and we start conversating. He tells me that there’s not much to see in Puertocitos, and I should keep riding as it’s only 1PM and I can easily make it to Gonzaga Bay, a much prettier place with a store (a store!). He also tells me a bit about the place, how he’s planning on having a Super Bowl party here and that I should definitely not stay here because everyone is an old gringo.  As if on cue, they start filtering in from their surrounding beach homes for a mid-day beer and some conversation.

One thing I have noticed is that these transplants are a tight knit group and not keen on carrying on conversations with travellers, unlike the locals.  I’m not sure if it’s due to a generational divide or the climate, or perhaps something else, but it reminds me of the Portland Freeze. Anyway, I pay Richard, leave him a tip, and head out towards Gonzaga Bay, passing through Puertocitos for some gas.  He was right, there really is not much there (apparently some hot springs but those are everywhere), but it’d be nice for a day trip I’m sure.

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The road to Gonzaga Bay is much more interesting.

While paved, it begins to snake through the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir Peninsular Range, a feature I was not expecting when I first rode into Baja.   Along the way volcanic rocks jut through the Sea of Cortez, defiant through the ages as always.

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Excitingly, my friend Mr. High Brown Pants Moment Crosswinds has decided to join me as well, so I don’t have too many pictures of the ride towards the Bay. The sun was setting as well, and I was not relishing the possibility of riding at night in high wind traffic. No sir.

As luck would have it, the road ends, due to construction. It turns out, the MEX5 is still under construction, and past Gonzaga Bay it’s all offroad until you rejoin with the MEX1 further central to Baja. It’s also here that there exists a military checkpoint. Because why wouldn’t there be a checkpoint on a dirt road?

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I eventually get to Gonzaga Bay, which is nothing more than a crescent of sand, a Pemex gas station, and a store/restaurant. Numerous fishing vessels sit offshore, as Gonzaga is a small fishing village, though these are clearly commercial and I’m not sure where they dock.

Gonzaga Bay and fishing vessels.
Gonzaga Bay and fishing vessels.

On the beach I camp under a palapa, which has the exorbitant price of 250 pesos for wind protection, or 120 without.  I opt for with, and damn, I sure am glad I do.

A palapa.
A palapa.

It’s been a long day, so I eat some tacos at the store, head back to the beach with few cervezas, and am treated to a nice sunset over the bay.

And then the wind picks up to about 50mph.

I huddle in my tent as the sand begins to pile up inside the palapa and around the tent, finishing off my cervezas and listening to some tunes.  I’m pretty thankful I went for the wind barrier, I can’t imagine what my night would have been like in that weather without it.

  • Dirk & Uli

    Hi, Philip! I just checked out your latest posts (within working hours, haha …and using governmential cpu potentials). Seems to be an interesting and funny trip, specially the videos of your first offroad experience and first fall (luckily, no serious damage, I suppose). Referring to your report before crossing the Mexican border: we know about that one, application to apply for an application form … just like in Germany. We will keep in touch with your HP and are looking forward for the next dispatches. Greetings from Uli

  • Frank

    Nice write up. I was there about a month after you. We went down for some sport fishing but only got out of the bay one morning before getting caught in one of those nasty wind storms. 8ft seas in a 19ft center console was pretty scary. My tent was on the beach that night and it collapsed so many times I gave up and slept in it that way. The few hours of fishing we got in were very productive and I can’t wait to get back there. FYI I’m told the paved highway will soon be completed all the way to LA Bay.

    Safe travels
    Frank