Tag Archives: baja

La Paz, A Ferry Ride, and Choix

I headed north towards La Paz (again). The road starts out as pure sand, then becomes paved with massive potholes, and shortly thereafter is pleasantly paved, the entire ride taking a mere 3 hours give or take that quickly went by as I gorged on RadioLab podcasts as I often do on long rides.

La Paz is the capital city of Baja Sur, and is a popular tourist spot for Mexicans and gringos as well.  It boasts an impressively long malecon along the sea of Cortez, with statues dotting the entire length on one side, and restaurants bars and shops on the other.  Most people come here for beach activities, and there is some impressive diving and snorkeling on Isla Espíritu Santo.

I planned to stay in La Paz for a day or two to catch up on writing some of these blog posts, which you all surely have already read. On the way in to my hotel I spotted a fellow traveler, though less mechanized.

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I don’t recall who recommended the hotel to me, but after some difficulty finding the place I arrived at Hotel Yeneka, oftentimes more museum than hotel.  Directly outside I spotted Rob, another adventure rider.

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He and his buddy where headed on the ferry to Mazatlán and then Durango in about an hour, so sadly we didn’t have a lot of time to chat.

Adios hombres.
Adios hombres.

I checked in and was given the Erotico room, watched over by Dr. Sexoloco.

Charming and hilarious, to say the least. I mentioned the Hotel Yeneka is more art museum than hotel, and there are collections of just…stuff…everywhere you walk around.  Lounging in the courtyard can prove difficult as your eye always catches something regardless of where you look. Everything here has been collected over the last 60 years.

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I met some other travelers as well; here is Alan and his son Peter.  Alan is pushing 90 years old, but still traveling strong!

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Anyway. I spent the next few days updating this blog, shipping some things back the U.S. and generally just hanging out. I hit up this gringo bar called “The Shack” a few times, as it was owned by the same guy who used to own Emo’s back in Austin.  Pretty wild!

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There also I met Cameo and Kristof, a lovely couple from Canada.  From what I gathered, in the summertime Kristof and Cameo are the harbor masters for an island up north there, and leave every winter to travel south in their steel-hulled boat the “Slade Green.” We shared some beers and stories for about two nights, though the funniest part I recall is when Kristoff said “You know you’re not going home with her, right Tex?”

Sir! I have morals!

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Great people, I hope to run into them again one day!

Eventually though, it was time to pack up and hit the mainland.

The main ferry company is Baja Ferries, however their ferry to Mazatlán was out of order, it was supposed to be back running the day I left but they pushed it to the end of March.  There was another service running to Topolobampo, as well as a commercial ferry to Mazatlán, but I didn’t have too many details about it.

Procuring a ticket was easy enough, and I opted for the cabin as well since it turned out it would leave at 2AM, with an 8 hour journey to Topolobampo. Total cost was $190.06. Not cheap, but not too bad either.

As instructed by the pretty cashier I took the road up to Pichilingue around 10 PM (the ferry supposed to leave around 2AM), and proceeded to soil myself (figuratively) as my headlight began to flicker off. Something was broken, and I prayed I wouldn’t hit some goat in the middle of the night on my way to the ferry. Luckily, leaving my highbeams on caused no problems and I had light the entire way.

Upon arrival I was promptly laughed at by the aduana guards, telling me that if I really wanted to wait around I could, but it’d be better to come back around 1:30AM to board the ferry.

So, back to town it was, where I met up again with Cameo and Kristoff at the Shack, before turning around a few hours later to go back to the ferry.

Once at the terminal, you proceed through the aduana (customs) entrance.  They instruct you to step off the motorcycle, walk over to a large button and press it.  A small light is above the giant red button; if it turns green you’re free to go, if it turns red, time to unpack all your stuff and expose it for a thorough search.  It was bizarre.

My light came up green so I off I went to wait at the terminal.

Pulling up, I spotted a group of BMW bikes.

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I parked, dismounted, made sure my gear was secure and headed in to wait for 30 minutes until the ferry arrived.

Silly me, I forgot we were on Mexican time! The wait would turn into 3 hours, with everyone finally boarding at 5AM in the morning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the terminal I started chatting with what turned out to be one of the BMW riders, a guy around my age named Andi.  He was German, as were most of his compatriots, and they were headed to the Copper Canyon. Immediately I was intrigued; this was a place I had wanted to ride, but definitely not alone, so I asked if I could ride with and he graciously acquiesced.

Eventually, the ferry arrived, we boarded our motorcycles, and proceeded to wait in a line while every truck went before us.

Waiting in line.
Waiting in line.
Just waiting.
Waiting selfie.

There was some interesting cargo.

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And some truckers clearly took pride in their vehicles as well.

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Still, we waited.

Gratuitous BMW shot.
Gratuitous BMW shot.

Finally, we were waved on board.

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When boarding, you ride up a ramp and are then directed to strap down your bike somewhere.  I had no straps alas, which the Germans thought was foolish and funny. Luckily I found a chain I could use, and, this being a newer ship with gyroscopic stabilizers I wasn’t too worried about the bike falling over.

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Travel engineering at its finest.

 

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Unchain my heart.

 

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Everything locked down!

The bikes secured, we headed upstairs.  If you don’t get a cabin, you get to sleep in a chair.

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I found my cabin, and lo and behold, I had four bunk beds.  Not seeing much of the point to use this whole room to myself, I invited my new friends to use some of the beds, and they eagerly accepted. So we all crammed in a room and got a few hours of sleep.  Breakfast was served at 8AM, simple fare of eggs and ham with a side of beans (a Mexican standard), and a few beers for some truckers from what I could see. A bit early eh boys?

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Upstairs, rolling into port.

Packing up, we unloaded our bikes, headed to the parking lot and geared up for a short trip to Choix.

The landscape and the people change immediately; the first thing I noticed was the vast amount of animals on the side of the road compared to Baja.  Some were tied up, some were not, a stark reminder that hey, maybe it’s not a great idea to ride at night if you can help it.  Poverty seems to be a bit more present as well.

We rode east, passing through huge trees, the mountains looming as we got closer to Choix. I think we arrived around 4PM, I can’t remember anymore, but I do recall it taking us a while to find the hotel that Stefan, one of the other German riders, had booked for everyone. Mostly because it was unlabeled, oops.

We did manage to find it though, and while the upstairs was under a remodel it was pleasantly comfortable and very secure.

The hotel.
The hotel.
Bikes resting in the courtyard.
Bikes resting in the courtyard.

That evening we all piled into the back of the owners pickup truck and headed to a local chicken place, the only thing open on a Sunday night.

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We came back and found a nice table set up, and proceeded to enjoy a great meal.

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Chicken, salad, and some noodles.
Chicken, salad, and some noodles.

The owner even came out and gave us some tequila from his local stash.  Muy delicioso.

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Needing some much needed rest, we all crashed pretty early, eager to tackle the Copper Canyon and reach Batopilas in the morning.

 

 

 

 

Baja Paradise: Los Frailes

I’m not sure where or when I first heard about Los Frailes, most probably some random travel blog while researching this trip, reducing whatever information I gleaned to some red marker on my Google map. Regardless, my beach quotient at this time was precariously low. I know, you’re thinking, “but Phil, haven’t you been at the beach this entire time?” Absolutely not sir, I’d respond, merely visiting a beach is not the same as enjoying oneself at the edge of an ocean. If it were, the thousands of images of pristine coastlines and beaches on Flickr would be enough for any would-be traveler.

There are two ways to get to Los Frailes (or Cabo Pulmo, the tiny town 4 miles away) from Cabo San Lucas; one involves around two hours of deep sand riding up and around the East Cape, while the other is riding the MEX1 highway north and looping around back south.

I’m pretty sure you can all guess which route I took.P2120001

The road inches its away along the coastline for a good while, with multiple sandy switchbacks greeting you at every turn, and of course there are no guard rails.  A few shrines greet you at the tops of some of the hills, and peering down as you ride by, it’s difficult not to imagine the last moments of whichever poor soul it was that miscalculated and drove off the cliff. For the most part, my ride was fairly uneventful.  At one point the wind picked up and I lost my brilliant AAA map of Baja.  I turned around and searched for a while, eventually giving up; I was near the end of the Baja portion of this journey as it was, and who needs maps anyway?

Another time, I spotted my first burro, pacing up the road.  He stopped for a quick picture before bounding away through the dunes.

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About an hour later, I was in Los Frailes. It’s pretty remote, save for the large contingent of snowbirds and their RVs, all from Canada of course. I picked a spot near the end of the beach and set up camp under a palapa, watching the sun set and a few yachts pull in to dock for the night.

Oh you know, just a pretty standard view.
Oh you know, just a pretty standard view.

Then I met my neighbor, Bernie.

The man himself, Mr. Bernie.
The man himself, Mr. Bernie.

Bernie is originally from Köln, but has lived in Canada for the last 31 years and, as he explains it, “I spent 1 winter in Canada and the last 30 here in Los Frailes.” This guy is a straight character, and an establishment himself in Los Frailes; everyone knows him and he regularly has visitors. He chuckled as he told me some young couple a few years ago had asked if he was “the Uncle Bernie we read about” on the internet. In the summers he hauls and sells organic fruits and vegetables in a 10-ton truck for a few months, saving up some money. Then he travels south every year to Los Frailes for 6 months, in his custom Mercedes MB100D camper van, though (as he latertold me), he’ll be selling it soon for a VW since everyone gets hung up on the Benz logo.

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Here’s a video of the interior as well; hot water, shower and toilet, what more can you ask for?

After talking for a while, I had to ask the man (in a very Office Space-esque manner):

What exactly is it that you do all day here?

He thought this was hilarious.

What do I do? What do you mean what do I do? I wake up, I catch some fish, I cook and eat the fish. Maybe I go kayaking or snorkeling later.  I have some lunch, maybe do some reading or more kayaking in the afternoon, and ja, before you know it the sun is setting. And we have some beers like we are doing now and then time for bed.

It didn’t sound like too much to me at the time.

We were then joined by Bernie’s friend Kai, who also lives in Canada, but in the Yukon.  According to him, it’s a very German place, reminding a lot of them of the great outdoors and the Black Forest and what not.  Dude has a seaplane he uses to get to his home and to town when in Canada. I didn’t catch what Kai did for a living, but one evening I showed him my Olympus, and we talked cameras a bit; it was clear he used to be a photographer, and had a bit of hostility for the digital age and the ensuing era of would-be professional shutterbugs.

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Kai had originally planned to travel around all of the Baja, but once having found Los Frailes, had remained there for the better part of two months, and had already severely delayed his return home. He’d fallen into a very regular routine of fishing, kayaking, and enjoying the beach life.

And pretty soon I did as well.

My first day I was lost and unsure of what to do with myself, spending the morning eating a breakfast of tuna fish from a can and peanut butter and then looking through my belonging, feeling a bit off in these surroundings.  I went swimming, borrowed Bernie’s ancient and leaky snorkeling gear (but it worked just fine) to explore a cove, and finished up a book on my Kindle.

Later in the day I hopped on the bike and headed to the town of Cabo Pulmo to grab some supplies and possibly arrange some scuba diving. Cabo Pulmo is four miles north of Los Frailes, and has three dive shops and three or four restaurants, I could never be quite sure, as I only ever ate at one, La Palapa.

They have the greatest fish tacos I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’m deliciously serious.

I booked a dive for the next morning, at $100 for two tanks and rental equipment included, which is a pretty good deal, grabbed some food and a few beers and headed back to the beach.

 

And so bright and early , I woke up, headed out to Cabo Pulmo and dove throughout the day.  Cabo Pulmo is a national marine park, and the oldest of only three coral reefs on the west coast of North America. So you’ll believe me when I tell you that the diving is spectacular.  The diversity is unbelievable, the sites are extremely easy and short to reach by panga, and the visibility is great, though according to my friend David, better in November.

This is David and his girlfriend Maryse.

David and Maryse
David and Maryse

I met David on my first day of diving. He showed up wearing a drysuit, a Hogarthian rig, and a Shearwater Petrel dive computer. He’s a serious diver, and runs a diving travel agency called Dazzle Dive. Yep, a diving travel agency, pretty perfect job if you ask me. We shared some beers after the dive, and decided to dive again the next day, but at the Cabo Pulmo Watersports dive shop this time.

So, yeah, this is how my paradise started, a near perfect Groundhog’s Day. I’d wake up, go swimming, eat some breakfast, ride up to Cabo Pulmo and go diving for a few hours, head back to camp in the afternoon and putz around for a bit, and then join Bernie and Kai for some conversation and beers in the evening. This went on for days, perfect days of sun and sea, early evenings and sleeping while listening to the whales breach the water, sounding like cannons going off as the plummeted back into the ocean.

It was perfect. It is perfect.

I’ll be back for sure.

A few random things did happen that I should mention.

I lost my camera in the ocean and found it again.

Here’s a compilation of all my dive videos as well.

Here are many of the sunsets I was able to capture.

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So you’ll believe me when I tell you it was difficult to leave.

But I had to.

Whatever this trip is about, and I’m not sure yet what that is, there’s more to see and do outside of Baja.

My last night, the moon rose blood red from the ocean, an incredible image that will be etched in my mind for ever. Sadly, it proved near impossible to capture correctly with my camera gear.

The bloodmoon god rises again from the ocean, thirsting for souls. Or something less ominous. The reds were incredible!
Yeah, that’s the moon guys. I couldn’t effectively catch the reds.

I shared some whiskey with Bernie and Kai, and we talked at length about travel, life choices, and women.

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The next morning I left at sunrise.  Bernie had already gone fishing before the sun rose.

It was off to La Paz to catch a ferry. The mainland awaited.

 

Cabo San Lucas

Look.

Cabo San Lucas is a party town. Fín. Done. No más. It exists solely to ply dollar bills from tourists by getting them drunk and perhaps taking them sport fishing if they can fit it in.

To give you some indication of the kind of city I’m talking about, it’s often known as the “Fort Lauderdale of Mexico.”

Yeah.

That’s not to say there’s not much to like about the city, it has great restaurants, cheap drinks, and I’m told being there during Spring Break is a thing of, shall we way, glorious youthful exuberance. The disparity of wealth between the tourists (mostly Canadian from what I could tell) and the locals is pretty glaring though.

I wasn’t too excited to be there if you can tell, as I’ve found it’s pretty hard for a solo traveler to mix into the stew of group travelers which are ever so common in touristic cities like Cabo.

I had to go though, I mean, you always hear about Cabo on those horrible private school teenage drama shows that my old roommate used to love.

I arrived in Cabo San Lucas late afternoon and sat in traffic, before finding a most excellent hotel, the Cabo Inn Hotel.  It was pretty cheap at $38, they let you pull in your motorcycle into the courtyard which consists of a common table and massive jungle plants everywhere, and it’s smack dab downtown, close to everything, unlike the $800 a night resorts that my Hotels.com app was recommending me.Cabo_Inn_Exterior

I performed the hotel ritual that has become part of my life now, and then headed out into the city to grab a beer.

Just some random graffiti along the way.
Just some random graffiti along the way.

First stop was Cabo Wabo, famous for being owned by Sammy Hagar.  As has been common with most of my time in the Baja, I was 20 or 30 years junior to the other patrons, but you just roll with the punches.  They had a 2 for 1 beer special going on for 50 pesos, which isn’t really a deal anywhere else in the Baja, but what can you do.

This surfer-esque guy in a straw hat asked me if I was alone, and when I mentioned I was invited me over to his table.  I was pretty sure he was going to hit on me but I wanted some company so, why not. Turns out though Mr. Hobie Higgins was just waiting for his wife and buddies, and pretty soon we had a party, with me playing the seventh wheel role.

Hobie and his gang
Counter clockwise, Hobie, Marc’s wife, Marc, Mel, and I forget. At Cabo Wabo. That’s my water. And yes I was drinking beer as well.

These guys all work for a mortgage company in Oklahoma (if I’m remembering correctly), and were down here with their wives as they were the top salesman for the year.  I was pretty surprised mortgage companies were still shelling out money for these types of things, which they considered to be pretty funny in a post-recession world.

Hobie turned out to be a real wild card, always amped up and excited about life, in a madly infectious way. His official role at the mortgage company was something like “Director of Fun.” Further enquiry led me to discover that his responsibilities consisted of things like planning trips to Cabo.  I’m stunned these jobs exist, but it’s more of a “right time, right place” type of thing to get such a job, and most likely you have to create it yourself.

We got kicked out of Cabo Wabo because Hobie wanted to wear a luchador mask while drinking his beer, which the bouncers were not too keen on, so we headed to the The Giggling Marlin for some food and more drinks.

I still regret not buying a bunch of these!
I still regret not buying a bunch of these!
I'm of the mind there should be less giggling and more consideration for your plight from overfishing Mr. Marlin.
I’m of the mind there should be less giggling and more consideration for your plight from overfishing Mr. Marlin.

A mariachi band appeared and many Mexican versions of Elvis songs were sang.

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The food was…well I don’t remember, so probably fairly bland. We paid out and headed to Happy Endings, which turned out to be my favorite place.  Thousands of dollar bills are stapled all around the interior, signed with names of traveler or simple messages like “Roll Tide.”

Massage parlors are one block up, get your mind out of the gutter.
Massage parlors are one block up, get your mind out of the gutter.

I paid for the round of specials, which consists of two beers and two shots of tequila.

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I should mention that, after having told my story (quit the job, lost the girl, time to ride the old motorcycle south because life is too short amigos) back at Cabo Wabo, Hobie was insistent that I would pay for nothing that night, reminding me that I would need that money sometime down the line.  Fair enough mate, you won’t hear me complaining. Still, I always my debts.

We quickly found out there were beer pong tables, and after much trash talking from Mr. Higgins it was off for a match, where myself and Marc (a fellow Texan) promptly represented and destroyed Hobie and his buddy.

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Then it was time for one last hangout, at a popular place called Squid Roe.

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They take many forms of payment.

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Squid Roe has banked on the “audience participation” model for entertainment, which almost certainly involves a lot of bare skin and body shots during Spring Break, but sadly it’s February, so we had to contend with the chicken dance.

At one point a “shot girl” came around offering jello shots.  We bought a few, but they were hard as rocked so we proceeded to attempt to make them stick to the ceiling, but only achieved in inventing Jell-O rain.

It turned 10PM, Hobie and crew had been out since noon and were drunk and/or tired so they called it an evening.

I had a blast meeting these folks and hanging out with them, but I was also feeling fairly run down from all the partying of the last few days.  It was time to head up the East Cape, towards Los Frailles.

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Thanks for taking a lonely traveler in amigos, until next time!

Blasting Through Baja Sur

I left Mulegé and headed south, passing by Bahía de Concepción.  It’s gorgeous; sheltered bays, beautiful beaches and a deep blue water everywhere.

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I didn’t stop though, except to take these few pictures.

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Why? Well, I wanted to save a little bit of the Baja for my next trip out here; I don’t knew when it’ll happen but by now I was convinced that I would return one day. And as much hype as Bahía de Concepción gets, and I was lead to believe, I was kind of tired of hanging out with older gringos. So, it was time to push south west, towards Cabo San Lucas.

Sadly, I had a bit of a mishap on the way; my Geigerrig backpack wasn’t strapped down correctly and somehow fell off the motorcycle, held on by only one bungee cord, and therefore dragging along for about a mile until someone pointed it out to me.  The bag, a camera lens, and an external battery pack were destroyed, but luckily I still had my TVIP papers which were inside. Could have been worse!

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A local gringo who goes by JamaicanPrincess on ADVRider and apparently lives in the Bay came down and offered some help, but really, what can you do in this situation but bundle everything up and hope that insurance will pay out?

Of course USAA didn’t (they only cover fires and meteor storms, not stupid mistakes), but all was not lost: Geigerrig, those magnificient bastards warrantied my bag and sent me a brand new one! Their exact words were, “to lessen the blow of the accident.” First class fellas, first class!

Anyway, my plan was to get to Loreto, spend a night there, and then head south to Cabo San Lucas. So, like I was saying I left pretty late and headed out towards Loreto, about an hour and a half drive or so.

Loreto is a very touristy beach town, with a high gringo population, much higher than I had seen elsewhere.  I found a hotel on the malecon, and paid my 400 pesos, though later I found out I had no hot water yet the owner had already left for the weekend. Oh well!

This hotel was right near a little bar called Augie’s, so I stopped in for a beer and some food after doing some writing and laundry. Did I mention the food was free? It’s a thing they do.

They have free food during Happy Hour! Score!
They have free food during Happy Hour! Score!

This is where my story takes a turn towards amnesia, as the one night in Loreto turned in to two. You see, many beers were had over the course of the evening, and even some Jameson shots; a surprise to me to find Irish whiskey so far south.

This guy is named Mike. We got pretty drunk.  He arm wrestled a lady later on that night.
This guy is named Mike. We got pretty drunk. He arm wrestled a lady later on that night.

That’s the last picture I have, as at that point my phone had died. Suffice to say, I’ve pieced together the following from various Mexicans I saw the next day, stopping me on the street and slapping my back, chuckling at what an excellent night we had the previous evening, and did I take home any of those girls? And would I be shooting pool again that night? Oh no José, oh dear god no.

Here’s the timeline of that night:

  • Many cervezas and Jameson shots consumed at Augie’s
  • In my elastic state, I’m convinced by some of the regulars to go with them to a local club, so we hop on some four wheelers and end up somewhere.  It looks like someones house, like a bar in Austin so I’m all in.
  • There is much dancing and merriment at the aforementioned club
  • On second thought it was probably a brothel
  • I meet some local guys and we’re cracking jokes, and they invite me out to another bar
  • We go to this bar, clearly built out of mud and stone for Mexican cowboys, and play some pool.  I’m definitely the only white guy in the place. Had an excellent time!
  • We eventually get back to the city, where myself, Mexican #1 and Mexican #2 (I feel guilty I don’t remember their names, but, c’est la vie) drink some beers and shoot the shit in our respective Spanglish dialects until 6AM, and we all go home
  • I wake up the next day at 3PM, with the mother of all hangovers and watch movies all day, falling asleep again at 10PM.

So yes I was severely hungover.  And to be honest, the only way I was able to piece together much of this was, as I was looking for sustenance on the Mother of All Hangover Days, a nice chap ran out of his restaurant laughing and talking to me about the previous night, before inviting me in for a meal.  He recommended the fresh “Vampire” juice (it had beets in it, surprisingly tasty, but what isn’t during these periods), and I was only too happy to attempt to right the previous night’s wrongs through fruits and vegetables.

So, I burned a day. These things happen.

I probably owe Loreto a better run through some other time, they do have one of the larger marine parks in the Sea of Cortez, and probably great diving as well. I did catch the sunset though, somehow figuring out how to operate my camera phone in my hungover state.

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Oh no sorry, that picture is from La Paz.  I guess I didn’t see the sunset.

Anyway, the next day, I was (seriously) up bright and early cracked on.  My mission was to make it to La Paz, spend a night there, and keep going to Cabo San Lucas before slowing down and enjoying the East Cape. I knew I would be spending a few days in La Paz before hitting the mainland, so one night was more than enough.

The general route.
The general route.

There’s not much in between Loreto and La Paz, as MEX1 cuts west and you ride through heavy agricultural country.  There’s one large city, Ciudad Insurgentes, followed by another, Ciudad Constitución, where you can stop to grab a bite to eat and gas up, but the ride is flat, flat, flat, with a little straight, straight, straight thrown in. I mean seriously, look at those Wikipedia pages; nothing on em.

For hours.

Luckily, I had some RadioLab podcasts to keep me company.  Did you know that they can (sometimes) cure rabies by inducing a coma? It’s called the Milwaukee Protocol, something I learned about while riding around.

I digress!

I found a decent hotel in La Paz, ate some great food at a place called Tail Hunters, caught the sunset (for real this time), and went to bed pretty early.

Sunset, La Paz B.C.S.
Sunset, La Paz B.C.S.

The next day, I blasted south to Todos Santos, a very popular surf and artistic town.

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I know it’s popular because there’s a lot of wealthy Canadians and Americans living there, and I couldn’t find a hotel for less than $100 a night.  So, I grabbed some lunch (tamales, my god they were good), and rode along the coast.  I probably could have stopped, camped out for a bit and learned to surf, but I was still feeling a bit guilty about my whole Loreto experience. I’m still not sure why, but there you have it.

And then as I rode through another big sweeping curve (and there are a lot of them on some Baja paved roads), I saw my ultimate destination:

Cabo San Lucas.

Mulegé

Guerrero Negro was fun, but I was ready to check out what Baja Sur has to offer. For those that are unaware, Baja is divided into two states (and contrary to the gentleman on the jet ski in Bahia de Los Angeles, both are Mexican states). Baja Norte is generally a bit more mountainous and colder (and wetter, as far as the peninsula goes), whereas Baja Sur is the beach party that most AARP members and spring breakers go to visit.

I jumped back on the MEX1 and headed southeast, eventually ending up in San Ignacio.  It’s an oasis in the middle of the Baja desert, surrounded by palm trees that the Jesuit missionaries planted many moons ago.  People mostly come to visit the mission and watch the whales, but during race season there is one place they stop: Rice & Beans.

You can't miss it.
You can’t miss it.

Had I wanted to stay longer I probably would have rented a room, as the owner, another Ricardo runs a tight ship, and you could seriously do a lot worse from what I’ve heard. There’s a ton  of Baja race schwag around the place as well.

Anyhoozle, I wolfed down some fish tacos, my staple meal so far, chatted for a while and then continued on.

Fish tacos in the morning, fish tacos in the evening, fish tacos in the summer time.
Fish tacos in the morning, fish tacos in the evening, fish tacos in the summer time.

You’ll have to excuse me as I’m writing this a week or two after it happened, and have forgotten much of what happened in the interim. I do recall the ride from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia was pretty enjoyable, with eleveation changes and some switchback turns around, but alas I have but one picture.  It was from a gas up I made outside of Santa Rosalia where I ran into a British couple driving this MAN monstrosity.  These things are so cool, the Mad Max versions of RV campers world wide!

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We chatted for a few, they were in search of an ATM and I mentioned I was on my way to Mulegé and there was certainly one there.  Then, off I blasted, eventually finding my way into the town, and, after a few minutes driving around booked a room at the La Hacienda hotel for 250 pesos a night. That’s $18 kids.

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The best part? They let you pull the bike into the courtyard, so it’s pretty secure, not that there is any crime in Mulegé, or most of Baja as I have found so far.

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All in all, I spent 3 days in Mulegé? Maybe 2, I don’t recall. Most of the time was spent updating this blog and walking the streets, as Mulegé is a beautiful town of about 4,000 in the Baja, and only 10 miles from the beautiful Bahía de Concepción. This explains the large elderly gringo population as well, both snowbirds and residents.

I made a few friends while there.

I called him Pancho while we walked to the lighthouse and back. Dogs just follow me around.
I called him Pancho while we walked to the lighthouse and back. Dogs just follow me around.

Though at times, those friends didn’t get along so well with others.

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Saw some nice views while jogging around (gotta keep in shape!)

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And even managed to eat some ribs at El Cantil, a bar owned by an Oregonian named Scotty who has been in Mulegé since 1995. Sometimes, you’re just kind of done with fish tacos.

Dem ribs.
Dem ribs.

At El Cantil, I managed to meet the lovely Bell couple, who live in Mexico and travel around in their VW Westfalia (as many seem to do here).  Originally from Canada, Bill and Dorothy run a website dedicated driving around Mexico, updating members of road conditions, potential issues, and any number of other snafus one might encounter south of the border. We shared a beer together and I absorbed all their recommendations of places to visit once I hit the mainland. Great folk those two.

Bill and Dorothy Bell
Bill and Dorothy Bell

Sorry this is so short, but all in all it was a much needed relaxing time to keep the blog up to date, and I don’t really recall too much else during this time.

 

 

Guerrero Negro

So, I arrive in Guerrero Negro on Sunday, February 2nd.  For those of you keeping track, that is (or was) Superbowl Sunday.  The game hadn’t started yet so I was keen to find a decent hotel and clean up before finding some poor bartender and badgering him to change the channel; luckily things worked out.  Initially I tried to book a room at the Malarrimo Motel, but they were full up; so I went across the street to Hotel Los Caracoles, which I believe means Hotel of the Snail People. Either way, score, because they accepted credit cards.

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Anytime I can save some pesos and not have to go hit an ATM I jump at the chance.  Mostly because my Chase Sapphire card is the bees knees when it comes for travel rewards, things like hotels, restaurants, etcs.

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The digs. $37.58USD

Before unpacking it was time to do a bit of maintenance.  Most don’t tell you about this boring part of the adventure but it’s key to keep your gear in tip top shape, and it’s much easier to sort out problems in larger cities like Guerrero Negro than it is in the middle of the Baja desert.  The bike was fine, but in my haste I broke off a key in one of the pannier locks.  I freaked out for a minute but managed but managed to fish it out with some needle nose pliers on my Leatherman.

Master lock but not master key.
Master lock but not master key.

Sadly, my Geigerrig bag melded with the exhaust tank at some point during the ride to Guerrero Negro (I thought I smelled burning plastic but figured my wreck had merely caused a small stroke). Still worked though!

Mmm chunky melted plastic.
Mmm chunky melted plastic.

I digress.

Cleaning up, I headed over to the Malarrimo to catch the game.

Victory beverage! Go Redskins!
Victory beverage! Go Redskins!

There, I practiced my Spanish with Ricardo, because someone needs to help this poor gringo translate “how surreal is it to watch NFL in Spanish” or “what a beatdown!”

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They have excellent ceviche by the way.

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So fresh.

Those poor Broncos never had a chance against that Seahawk defense. Anyway, a few beers later, I went back to the hotel and fell asleep.  I had a big day planned the next morning; whale watching!

The tour was set up by the hotel, and it seems most do this sort of thing in Guerrero Negro; price was around $650 pesos ($48USD at the time of this post) for those of you who are curious.

A van showed up, myself and three Mexicans hopped in and off we headed out to the bay to check out some whales.

To get there you have to drive through a massive saltworks operation, which was dutifully explained by the guide.

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It’s generated by the tears of the locals. Or the ocean, I’m not sure most of it was explained to me in Spanish.

Fifteen minutes of this and we eventually arrive at the docks, and board a panga. While the van guide was able to speak some English, I was on my own on the water, but no big deal as we were just watching the whales.

Turns out there were about 1500 whales in the bay, mostly mothers and their calves but also some adult whales.  And man, they were everywhere. You could look in any direction and see at least two or three at any time. Mostly they just surfaced to breathe, but at times they would slap their tales and sometimes even fully breach the water. You can read more about whale surface behavior here.

Sadly, it turns out that the grey whale is a bit of jerk when posing for photographs. Of the 200 photos I took, most look like this:

Yep, it's big and black, probably a whale.
Yep, it’s big and black, probably a whale.

I didn manage to capture this little guy right by our panga though! Too far to touch him though, but others have pet whales. Not, as pets, mind you, but physically pet them. I suppose you could have an actual pet whale, you’d need a big aquarium though.

Aww look at the little guy, H.R. Giger would be proud.
Aww look at the little guy, H.R. Giger would be proud.

And some, decent video of a mother and her calf grabbing some fresh air.

After four hours though, you get it: they’re whales, and baby whales. We headed back and stopped by a sea lion colony for a few moments as well.  A word of caution: sea lions reek. Go stand at a fish market in the blazing sun for a few hours and multiply this stench by 1037.4, and you’ll get the general idea of what my olfactory senses went through.

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Back on land, we docked, boarded the van and headed back to the hotel. I ate some excellent shrimp.

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Did some shopping.

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And kept in contact with some friends back at home before calling it a night.

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The following day was going to be a lot of highway riding.

 

 

 

San Borja

Eager to move on from Bahia de Concepcion, I woke up fairly early-ish, ate a quick bite of something I can’t remember and went to gas up. I was wanting to do a bit more off road riding and noticed a nice long dirt road that would take me through the mountains along the coast, eventually swinging west towards Guerrero Negro, my ultimate endpoint for the day.

You can see the route I wanted to take south of Bahia de Los Angeles on the right hand side there, and the actual route to MEX1 through San Borja near the top.
You can see the route I wanted to take south of Bahia de Los Angeles on the right hand side there, and the actual route to MEX1 through San Borja near the top.

I should mention that this lovely AAA map was donated by a grand couple who stayed in the camp site next to me at Daggett’s.  They had an extra one, and though it was 10 years old were very happy to give it to me.  Sadly I don’t remember their names, but I do remember being quite stunned by how happy this elderly couple seemed to be after all these years.  Then off they went to go kayak across the bay.  Those crazy Boomers.

Pulling into the Pemex station, I saw this technological marvel.

I bet it's fun as all heck to drive.
I bet it’s fun as all heck to drive.

Anyway, after fueling up I talked to this guy, Donnie Williamson, and asked him about the route.

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As you can see, Donnie is also from Austin, TX and a huge Longhorns fan. He even provided my bike with some much needed Austin bling.

Hook 'em! And it's mad reflective!
Hook ’em! And it’s mad reflective!

Donnie mentioned that the road was pretty torn up after the previous days Baja 200 race, and it would take me most of the day to get through heavy deep sand, the kind of stuff that makes professional Baja riders cry. I should mention that Donnie was hoppin’ around madly, as I found out he was late to return back to Austin by a few days.  So we parted ways and I started back whence I came towards MEX1.  About 20 minutes in I noticed a sign to some mission called San Borja, flipped around on the road and stopped at the sign.

San Borja.

Well damn it, I have this amazing map, let me actually look at it and see if I can cut across the desert, and what do you know I surely could.  It would be a few miles but it would be fun as all hell, I knew that much. So off I charged down a road made of rocks and Baja dirt.  I don’t have many pictures of this time, but I did meet some Gaucho’s headed towards the highway. At this time I stopped and turned on the GoPro, to record an epic ride.

One of a few signs pointing the way.

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Here’s video of the ride, including me crashing after I hit some rocks. Which was actually pretty fun, and I imagine it always is whenever you don’t get hurt (thanks Alpinestars!).

Eventually I got to the mission.

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Of course it was closed for renovations.

I’ll spare you all the rest of the details but needless to say I enjoyed a very boring and straight ride before ending up in Guerrero Negro.

Coco’s Corner & Bahia de Los Angeles

Coco’s Corner sits in the middle of nowhere, Baja, but at the center of every road. It’s a cartographic oddity that such a place would be so famous when it’s so far off the beaten track, but perhaps that’s why it is so famous.

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Rocks are spray painted with black lettering and a simple arrow on your way towards Coco’s along the gravel and sand road at random intervals. When you arrive you’re greeted by a fenced camp, decorated with thousands of beer cans that clink softly in the desert wind.

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Other decorations abound as well, some junk, some handpicked mementos of other travelers.

Want to watch some TV and drink beer on toilet seats?
Want to watch some TV and drink beer on toilet seats?

If you’d like to stay a while, some abandoned campers are also available to spend the night in; while there I spoke with a guy who was pedaling a three-wheeled bicycle around Baja with his two cats and three dogs.  He had been there three days, as, you can imagine, it’s not very easy to tricycle your way through sand and gravel.

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The many prosthetics of Coco, and an old dirt bike. From what I can tell he doesn’t use any of them, not even when riding his quad.

The man himself, Coco, is actually named Jorge Enrique Corral Sandez, however in Mexico it’s common for people named Enrique (Henry) to go by Coco. Coco is a man of bawdy language and no legs, and will gladly invite you into his home for a beer or two.  He’s been a staple of Baja for many years, having first opened up this place in 1990.  It’s now a required (well, pretty much) stop for all Baja racers doing their pre-running, and all travelers as well.

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When you arrive, he asks you what kind of beer you want, whips out his signature book and starts filling in the details; your name, where you’re from, a message, and a hand-drawn picture of the vehicle you arrived in.  There must be thousands of signatures in the book by now.

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While chatting with Coco, a Mexican family showed up and joined me.  You see, the inside of the restaurant/lounge area is decorated as well.

Panties, panties everywhere.  Among the myriad of dirt bike stickers, photos of racers and Coco are the underwear of many a female traveler and racer, all signed and dated of course.

I bring up the family because we all started enjoying our cervezas while Coco bantered back in forth in Spanish, and I grinned and laughed along like a silly gringo.  I understood a bit, and while Coco kept it up the matriarch and I got to talking, and pretty soon I realized she was trying to pawn her daughter off on me, the great white motorcycle adventurer.  “She loves motos,” she said.  This was to be my first (but not last) marriage offering.

Anyway, Coco eventually convinced the daughter to staple up a pair of her underwear to the ceiling of the room, much to our amusement.

La familia.
La familia.

Coco grabbed his trusty Panty Ladder and had one of the other guys help him stand it up, while the daughter proceeded to climb to the top and do the deed.

Coco supervising.
Coco supervising.
Houston we have new panties.
Houston we have new panties.

I checked my watch and decided I needed to head out, so I said goodbye to my new friends and my potential new wife (her mother told me they’d be staying at a hotel behind the market in Guerrero Negro, so of course come find them when I arrived), and headed towards Bahia de Los Angeles.

A job well done desert rider.
A job well done desert rider.

Coco let me know I would have problems finding lodging, as the Baja 200 was underway, but I was fairly certain I could find a spot.  Sadly I wouldn’t arrive until too late so I was unable to view the race.

The ride was fairly straight most of the way, though as you approached the bay and dipped through the mountains the ride got much more twisty and exciting.  There’s even a salt flat as you approach the town, but sadly I was having way too much fun riding and didn’t take too many photos.

Look Mom, more cacti.
Look Mom, more cacti.

Bahia de Los Angeles is laid out like any other beach town, with hotels and restaurants lining the street and facing the ocean, and the locals living a bit further off. I rode a bit further out and found a campground about 1 km from the town, an easy walk and easier ride if needed.

My digs.
My digs.

I pulled into a small campground, lined with palapas and a few RVs, with a house on the other end.

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There I met who I can only assume was Daggett, a larger Mexican man fast asleep on a kitchen table and his pleasant wife who took my 130 pesos and gave me a place to set up my tent.

Home sweet palapa?
Home sweet palapa?

Then I headed into town to grab a bite to eat.

Hammocka's Fish I think it was called.  Pretty tasty.
Hammocka’s Fish I think it was called. Pretty tasty.

Eventually I made it back, stared at the vast expanse that is the visible galaxy (and it truly is visible compared to most places in the U.S.) and fell asleep.

Not before attempting to use the bathroom, and high-tailing it out of there once I met the current occupant.

Oh, a black widow.  Lovely.
Oh, a black widow. Lovely.

 

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.