Copper Canyon: Into The Maw of the Beast

Note: I don’t have many pictures of this time period, and all the video is contained below. Scroll down to watch it if you can’t or don’t read.

Up to this point we’ve been relying  heavily on my Nexus 5 phone and the Skobbler app.  I highly recommend it for your offline mapping needs.

Stefan has some handwritten notes with distances as well, which have worked out as well, to my surprise.  Despite my reliance on technology, there must be something to these tried and true old ways, and I stash that knowledge away to be used at some future date.

Either way, he asks me to accompany him back to the old man who sold us all the Coke’s and see if we can find a way around.  Walking across the road, onto a porch shading the house from the beating sun, the smell of fresh blood wafts through the air as we’re greeted by a freshly quartered and carved cow, pieces hanging from the rafter and dripping into the dirt beneath. The old man stands by the bright Coke machine and mentions that there is a mining road we can potentially take, but you need a permit. He and Stefan speak in Spanish (Stefan speaks pretty good Spanish, among other languages), and I attempt to find it on my maps, but it doesn’t look like anyone has gone that way yet. Or they never reported it back to the OSM project, which Skobbler relies on. We thank the man and head back to rejoin the others.

So, we have three choices:

  1. We can go see the missing bridge ourselves, and potentially investigate a side road that seems to go a bit farther I have found on the maps, and hope to find a way across.
  2. We rely on Coke mans intel and ride the mining road.  He’s told us it’s about 12 km north, and then we’ll see an iron arrow pointing towards the mine.
  3. We turn around and hopefully find another way through the Copper Canyon.

My location
Get Directions

The bridge.

Well, I can tell you that right away we knew the third option was right out, and how dare you even mention it as we’ll lose a few days figuring out and, more importantly, we’re god damn adventurers.

No, we decide to take the mining road. Worst case scenario, we can come back and see how the bridge looks, as well all have plenty of gas and there is sufficient daylight still.

Chris and Agnes finally show up, and, after a bit of an argument with Stefan about the groups riding speed, clarification of our current situation, and some Coke (so much Coke during this time, we would desperately wish for some later on), are on board as well.

A grader rounds the corner, Stefan asks him about the bridge (yes, it’s out) and the mining road (he’s not sure), and we mount up and ride on through the dusty road.

The terrain is much more difficult here, and the road climbs far higher than any other we’ve traversed to this point. Onwards and upwards we go, occasionally glancing at each other wondering how much longer this road continues on, until, finally, we reach a gate.

With armed guards.

The mining road certainly exists, and it leads straight to an active gold and silver mine. We unpack as Stefan and Chris (who also speaks a ton of Spanish, having done a similar trip like mine many years ago) ask about passing through the mine, explain that bridge is out, and, no señor, we’re very sorry but we don’t have enough gas to turn around and go back, we promise .

I notice another guard in a watch tower, high above the cliff face above us and the gate peering down at us.  It’s a great tactical position.

The guards radio down to El Jefe, and we wait.  I can only imagine what was going on through their minds, when four motorcycles and eight brightly dressed spacemen appeared at their gates, gibbering in foreign tongues.

We wait a while. I mention to Stefan (in German, apparently Mexicans love Alemania) that we’ll probably have to bribe these guys.

And then, they let us in the gate! We’re only allowed in the guard area, but, having paid nothing yet and no holes in our bodies, things are looking up.  We sit in the shade and wait a while, and even use the bathroom facilities. Sadly there is no water to drink, but I give a little of what I have left to the group, confident we can ask the mine owners for some when they let us proceed.

If they let us proceed, the paranoid part of my brain reminds my conscience.

Anyway, after what is probably about an hour, a truck with emergency lights comes up through the other gate, the guards come over and tell us we can proceed. I turn on the GoPro, and we drive through the mine, escorted by a truck in frond of and behind our group.

We’re ecstatic! We made it! Through a damn gold and silver mine! How many other people have driven this road before? Has anyone? Boastful Me doesn’t think so, and I’m grinning ear to ear as I wait at the exit for Chris and Agnes, to make sure they get through before the guards close the gate, until they wave me off.

I ride about a kilometer later and see the rest of the group.

And the river.

Copper Canyon: Baby Steps

I should take some time to introduce the other members of our group that I met on the ferry, before telling you of the adventures we had in Copper Canyon.

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First up is Stefan Knopf and his wife Ira, both from Heidelberg.  Stefan used to lead motorcycle tours in Mexico for many years, and is pretty much known worldwide as the guy to contact when shipping a motorcycle from/to anywhere to/from Europe, through his company Knopf tours. He was leading the group and had the route planned, hotels booked, etc. Ira rode passenger, and is extremely pleasant.  She suffers from some type of asthma, so one of Stefan’s panniers is full of a specialized machine to cure attacks, making our long ride (and their many other long rides) all the more impressive.

Andi & Noah
Andi & Noah

Andi, the guy I met the night before on the ferry, is a plumber in Heidelberg and a motorcycle aficionado as well. Actually, he’s Stefan’s plumber, and Stefan invited him out on this trip, as payment for some work back in Germany (I’m assuming.) That’s pretty awesome of Stefan if you ask me.  Andi would ride the whole way with a young kid named Noah.  Noah was a straight badass, because, well he’s so young but he hung with all of us through some really hard days. I initially thought he was Andi’s son, however I later learned they just have some kind of good father-son relationship from a previous relationship? Not that it’s important to this story.

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Next up is Peter, a plumber from Heidelberg.  Yep, same deal as Andi.  Peter and I would get to know each other very well as the day proceeded, as you’ll soon find out.

Chris & Agnes
Chris & Agnes

Rounding out the group were Chris and his partner Agnes.  Chris is from San Diego and has been long time friends with Stefan, and he rode a pretty new and very nicely kitted out 1200GS, the biggest of all the bikes in the group. I believe he does some kind of online training of teachers.

And of course, me.

So the next morning, we wake up to find our hotel has provided breakfast for everyone.  Stefan picks up my tab, payment for use of the hotel room the previous night, and while delicious, it does delay us a bit.  The Mexican way is one of bringing out multiple dishes at different times, something none of us is really used to yet, so we don’t leave Choix until a bit later.  All packed up with my 2L of water and we’re on the road, jiving to conquer the Copper Canyon by 9:30AM.

We head out, and immediately get lost.  Stefan is leading however we’ve missed the turn onto the dirt road, and it’s another 20 km until he pulls over and asks someone, and I consult my GPS. Yep, we passed it. So, we turn around, find the entrance, and hit pay dirt: no more asphalt!

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Weaving through small puebla’s (and dodging donkeys) the motorcycles climb higher through the mountains, with road conditions remaining generally the same: dirty.

It quickly becomes clear that I’m riding the superior machine for these conditions; the BMWs are fairly heavy and apt to get caught in smaller ruts, while the much lighter weight of my DR650 lets me rip open the throttle to charge up the hills and stay nimble in the sand.  The big 1200GS particularly has some problems, laden down with two humans and all the gear, and Chris and Agnes have to continually stop so Agnes can walk a bit as Chris maneuvers the motorcycle through deep sand. After about an hour we stop for a break and some photos.

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Break time!
"Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what's next?"
“Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what’s next?”

It’s a little after 11AM, and my phone says we still have about 7 hours of riding left. But we’re making good time, so we hop back on our bikes and continue on, and I encounter my first stream! Excitedly I gun it across the water after watching Stefan’s line and then turn around and do it again so he can get a photo of me, as we wait for Chris and Agnes to catch up and cross the stream.

TEMPORARY INSERT UNTIL STEFAN SENDS ME THE PHOTO. FOR RIGHT NOW, JUST IMAGINE HOW DASHING AND AMAZING I LOOK.

We stop again about an hour later.  I’m itching to go a bit faster though, so I pull Stefan aside and ask if he minds if I ride ahead, still a bit unsure of the groups dynamics since I did only just meet these people the day before. He’s totally fine with it so I mention that I’ll stop again in about an hour or so and wait for everyone to catch up.

Damn fine roads son.
Damn fine roads son.

I snap another picture, rip open the throttle and barrel down the two track road, a massive grin on my face.  The DR is incredible responsive, and I quickly grow more confident with the tail end sliding around curves as we tear down mountains, through valleys, and back up other mountains.  No guard rails, at times sheer cliff faces, and just pure enjoyment.

Beats working!
Beats working!
Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn't rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I'm still carrying that dust around on my bike.
Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn’t rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I’m still carrying that dust around on my bike.

I stop a few times throughout the ride to take photos and find Peter, the oldest rider of the group never too far behind me.  At one point, I lose my phone in the dust and sand, and Peter comes up behind me. I motion for him to stop, fearing he’ll run it over, and sentencing the rest of my journey to be music-less.  A few minutes search and I find it lying in the middle of the road, well hidden. Close call, that’s for sure. We head out again, and pretty soon we find a decent pace riding together, only stopping later when Peter feels a bit guilty for our quickness as we spot some river, whose name escapes me. We pull over and wait for the others, who soon arrive, with the big 1200GS many minutes later.

As we feel the day go by, we’re all a bit keen to pick up the pace, wanting to arrive before dark, so Stefan, as German as he can, tells us all not to stop again until we hit the bridge, after a town called La Mision. Peter has been wanting to stop at the next Coca-Cola sign (and mentions he lost his water bottle somewhere), and with the group getting thirsty, we press on.  I glance down as I ride and am glad I filled a two liter bottle of water before I left. Just in case of course.

I'm guessing it's called La Mision because of this mission.  Just a hunch though.
I’m guessing it’s called La Mision because of this mission. Just a hunch though.
Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.
Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.

Off we go then, here’s the video.

VIDEO OF RIDING TO THE BRIDGE. USE YOUR IMAGINATION BANDWIDTH IS LIMITED DOWN HERE.

What might not be clear is that, as I arrived at the bridge, with Peter well in front of me, three gun shots rang out somewhere down the valley.  The deal was to stop at the bridge, so I get off and wait, and Andi and Noah appear soon after.  They too heard the shots.

Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.
Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.

We wait a while and eventually Stefan and Ira show up, and they tell us they were stopped by the military.

“Yeah they just came running out of the woods yelling at us, asking us where we were going and how many of us there were.”

Peter shows back up, having seen zero Coca-Cola signs across the bridge, and with everyone thirsty  we decide to regroup in the town and search for drinks. Soon after I arrive I spot “the Army.” It looks to me like one guy in uniform with a gun and two locals in plain clothes, though perhaps the others have gone back to their posts? The uniformed man starts to get a bit agitated and begins yelling at and waving us off, so we make a quick decision to GTFO and look for some drinks after the bridge in the next Puebla.

View from the bridge. Yep, it's water.
View from the bridge. Yep, it’s water.

We cross over, and stop on the other side, and wait for Chris and Agnes, who still haven’t shown up yet at this point.

And wait.

Stefan spots a refrigerator and goes to speak to a local about the route to Batopilas, and hopefully grab some beverages. He comes back dejectedly with cans of Coke, and no water; apparently the entire fridge is full of Coke products. Impressive.

Worse, the remaining bridge between us and Batopilas had been washed away, and there is no way to get there; the water is too deep and swift to ford. We certainly won’t reach the town by nightfall.

I take a sip of Coke, look back, past  the bridge to where we spotted the military (or bandits). It’s the only way back.

I give a little bit of my water to Ira, as she needs to stay hydrated.

We’re stuck.

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.

kai

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!”

ricardo

 

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.