Sonntag, 29. Januar 2012

English Summary No. 11

Because the end of the Baja California closes sort of a logical chapter, here comes the next story in English. We bought our ferry tickets two days in advace and everything was ready for an enjoyable over-night trip to La Paz on the Baja California. We arrived early at the terminal and passed the afternoon waiting, watching truck after truck disappearing in the huge vessel. Finally, after walking passangers and everybody else, we two got clearance to board as well. After organizing the mess in the luggage room there was space enough for the bikes. The ferry people couldn't provide any ropes to safely secure our beloved bicis, so we used the straps usually used to pack some of our stuff on the bikes. With that finished we went to check out our seats only to find out that we didn't have any seat numbers. The lady at the reception was utterly uninterested in our problem and figured that there had probably been no seats left when we bought the tickets, we should sit down in the cafeteria. Well, thank you very much for your help, then. To our surprise, there was even dinner included in the price of almost 1'000 pesos. So much so good. That night on unconfortable chairs wasn't exactly what we had anticipated and, chatting to another Swiss traveller in the morning, we found out that there had been seats available at the time when we bought the tickets, the stupid Chica at the counter had just forgotten to asign us any. But all right, after some 16 hours on that ship we were happy to be able to disembark at about half past nine. We had 18 km of hilly road to La Paz left which we took easy, enjoying the views of beautiful beaches and the bright blue sea. In the city we chose the one hotel that had been recommended to us by several other cyclists, mainly because we wished to meet others comming down South. This strategy worked out and we got useful information about what to expect.

La Paz to Santa Rosalía

The first day on the Baja was not particularly interesting. After some 30 km flat desert with nothing but bushes to see, we climbed some hills which was slightly more exciting. Because the land was fenced in, we had to "tame camp" and found our spot in the huge back yard of the Lonchería El 91, 91 km North of La Paz. Day two was not much more entertaining. The road was straight, the land flat. We had headwind which mad things rather annoying in the afternoon. But we managed to find a pretty wild camp spot a bit off the road, surroundet by all kinds of big and small cacti and hat a gorgeous, colorful sunset. Day three was even more boring, mostly due to the fact that we approached the cities Constitución and Insurgentes. For hours around these towns there's not even bushes growing, it's just barren fields, some of them green, but mostly brown. We did some shopping and kept going. After Ciudad Insurgentes we left the MEX 1 and followed the MEX 53 until we found a semi-wild camp spot behind the ruin of a house.

In the morning we stocked up on water in the local store, rode another 4 km on the highway and then chose a sandy earth road going to the old mission of San Javier. In the beginning it was totally flat but so sandy we had to push the bikes sometimes, when it got hillier the ground became firmer. We must have been climbing but the grades were so easy we hardly noticed it. We loved the landscape and found another cactus-camp which we had to clean thoroughly of thorns before pitching the tent. I loved these remote campings with no artificial lights dimming the stars and no noise disturbing the quitness of the night. We made it to San Javier until noon the next day, stayed for lunch and decided to head on to Loreto. We shouldn't have. The landscape was so beautiful we were sorry we had to keep going, and instead of a simple descent to the coast we had do climb several absurdly steep hills before reaching MEX 1 again and finding the town of Loreto. As we planned to stay there for Christmas, we ended up staying four days in Loreto which turned out to be a rather boring place. We wanted to update our blogs but the only shop with decent computers was mostly closed and there was not much else going on. At least, our hotel was good (Posada San Martín, recommended!) and the family even invited us for dinner on Christmas, very nice people!

On December 25 we set out again, another day against strong headwind from morning until evening. The land was flat and full of thorny bushes and cacti, typical Baja land. Looking for some shelter from the wind, we asked at a small rancho for asylum and could camp right in front of a house, no wind there. We spent a entertaining evening with two hungry cats and a sky with millions of stars. The next day began similar. Bit less wind in the morning and a hill for a change. From the hilltop (now with lots of wind) we could see the Bahía Conception, a bright blue bay with beautiful beaches. As long stretches of the coast there were mountainous, there was a lot of up and down and finding a secret campspot for the night was not easy. There were many more bays but we didn't feel like paying for an "organized" campground that couldn't even offer water or shelter from the wind. We finally sneaked in the bushes behind Playa Burro and camped besides the trash dump.

Not much happened the next day. We had a second breakfast/early lunch in Mulegé and it got a little hilly in the afternoon which I liked because there was not much wind then. When looking for a camp spot, we had reached another flat plain and were lucky to find a halfway sheltered place with at least sort of firm ground. Of course that one was between cacti as well, so next morning I had to fix a flat tire before setting out for the day. The first one on the Baja, not so bad considered the places where we camped. We cycled fast as long as we didn't have any headwind which was a couple of hours. We reached Santa Rosalía early in the day and found out that its hotels were even more expensive as La Paz or Loreto.

Santa Rosalía to San Felipe

After two nights in Santa Rosalía we set out for San Ignacio. That stretch began with a steep climb, then several flat kilometers and another climb, always with a nice view of the volcano Tres Virgenes. Once that hill climbed, it was downhill until San Ignacio where we planned to stay a day or two to do whale watching and visit some cave paintings. There, we found out that not many whales had arrived yet, so we only did the cave painting trip. The paintings were nice but more spectacular was the bus ride on a long and winding, rather bad "gravel" road through rugged landscape up into the mountains. Thank God we didn't have the stupid idea to climb up there by bike.

Day one after San Ignacio was another not quite boring but eventless day. It was a bit hilly in the morning and flater in the afternoon with not much else but cacti and thorny bushes along the road. Obviously, this was where we had to camp. It took us a while to clear our chosen spot from nasty thorns but it seemed like we had done a good job as both our matrasses were still full of aire in the morning. Luckily the night wasn't very windy as the ground was not very firm and the tent wouldn't have resisted much blowing. Interestingly, the tent and our bikes were soaking wet in the morning. No surprise considering the dense fog that had moved in from the sea. Apparently, this is common for this time of the year but is was not very handy on a road with hardly any shoulder. And it made cycling even more boring in a place where we felt like our brains were going to die off from boredom. Soon, the remaining bit of vegetation had disappeard and all that was left  to admire was gray gras. Very impressive, indeed!

To make it even worse, a strong headwind came up during the morning and I really asked myself why anyone would cycle through the most barren desert I'd seen so far, combined with evil wind and annoying traffic. We made it eventually to Guerrero Negro, found a inexpensive hotel with awesome hot shower. We also booked a whale watching tour for the next day and soon figured out that there was not much else to do in this city. The whale watching the next day was pretty impressive, although we didn't see much more than many large backs. We were told that within the next week or so some 2'000 whales should arrive, many of them to give birth right there in the Laguna Ojos de Liebre. Isn't that cool? The fact that we missed this massive congregation of whales didn't bother us much, we were happy to know that there were still so many whales out there.

The morning we left Guerrero Negro we were thrilled to find we had slight tailwind. The landscape was no more interessting than the day before Guerrero but cycling was so much more fun now. It stayed flat for quite a while and the minute we arrived in some hills the wind turned and started to fight us, now obviously much stronger than in the morning. Thank you very much. Later it got flat again and we stopped in the small village of Rosarito to have a cold drink. There was a restaurant that offered camping but we didn't feel like paying so we kept going for another few kilometers and camped again, as it had become our custom, amongst a bunch of cacti. The morning was relatively interessting in terms of views. We had to climb some hills and got us soon warm inspite of the cold temepratures. It was also surprisingly green up there which was a nice change from all the grey and brown in the past days. We did a little shopping in Punta Prieta and  later had trouble finding a good camp spot because the ground was basically lose sand. We finally opted for a clearing in the cacti wood, a beautiful place with a great diversity and all kinds of big, small, thick and thin thorns to admire, and with colors from white and yellow to black and even pink.

Some 28 km later we figured we needed a second breakfast before leaving MEX 1 and turning into a gravel road that should take us to San Felipe. We didn't go very much further that day, only 22 km more through some amazingly beautiful, even magic hills called Sierra La Asamblea to Coco's Corner. Coco, the guy who lives there, is a very special person. He's 74 years old and has been living out there in the desert for about 22 years. He has to get his drinking water from Guerrero Negro and lets cyclists stay for free in little trailers. And he doesn't have any legs anymore. Because of an illness they had to amputate them beneath his knees but he still walks around on some sort of protection and he has one of these things that look like a small motorbike with four wheels. He's a bit weird but definitly a cool person.

We took off a little later than usual that morning and didn't advance very fast on that stony, sandy washbord called road. The tailwind of the day before had once again turned into strong headwind, creating a truly unenjoyable combination. We reached a place called Gonzaga Bay around noon, did some shopping where you wouldn't expect a shop and wondered where we could stay that night. We were going to try the Pemex gas station when a group of motorcyclists, who had crossed us earlier that day, offered us a spare bed in their hotel room. It was windy, the night was going to be cold, so why should we refuse such a generous offer? Thank you very much guys, you spared us an unconfortable night in a cold tent!

We had another 25 km of washbord until we reached the pavement and could speed things up a little. To our surprise the morning's strong headwind actually slowed down a little in the afternoon. This night we camped in a wide, dry riverbed and enjoyed watching first the stars and a little later the big, yellow moon rising over the hills. The morning came cold as ever but the moon was still there. We assumed it was going to take us another two days to San Felipe and had planned to buy some more stuff in the village of Puertecitos. Arriving there, we found out that there wasn't even a decent shop, no place where we could get pasta, for example. They had nice-looking vegetables, though, so we decided to have veggie-burritos for dinner. But first we had to find a place to camp in that vast, flat desert with nothing but deep, lose sand. Coming back after checking out a side track we saw a black pick-up stopping besides our bikes. Annoyed, we wondered who that might be. We don't like being overseen when pulling off the road and trying to hide someplace behind the bushes. The guy got out of the car and introduced himself as Mark, his license plate identified him as Texan. He asked whether we needed any help and offered to let us sleep in his place in San Felipe. In our book, hitching without a very good reason would have been cheating so we said we were going to camp one more night but would not refuse the offer for the next day.

Pitching the tent wasn't easy but as always, we somehow managed. The night was cold, the morning cool, so we were pretty amazed when, after about an hour of cycling, Mark showed up, bringing us warm burritos for breakfast. Has anyone ever seen a cyclist refuse food? We haven't and Mark wasn't going to get to know any:-) He had met another cyclist in the meantime who was going to stay with him as well. He said we should meet him at the Pemex in San Felipe and zoomed off again. Getting there took us a little longer than anticipated (headwind) so the coffee we found there was well deserved. Mark showed up soon after our arrival and introduced us to Zack, a young guy from guam on his way to Colombia. We followed him to his place and were greeted tentatively by two shy dogs living there.

San Felipe

Mark rents some sort of one bedroom-flat with a big balcony and we were already wondering how we were going to put up our (not free-standing) tent there when his landlady allowed us to use the flat on the groundfloor where we had two bedrooms and a kitchen. For free! Mark seemed to be rather impressed by our trip and he figured we should meet the mayor to let everybody know what kind of crazy people wander around in San Felipe. Somehow he actually made that happen and we passed the afternoon like VIPs meeting people, taking pictures and even getting a free lunch. Mark himself was an interesting person. As a democrat from Texas and a big Obama-Fan, he had all kind of cool stories to tell about US politics.

We didn't really do very much while in San Felipe, except for the usual clothes washing, bike cleaning and blogging. We once did a nice beach walk with Zack and Mark, enjoyed Mark's famous brownies and ate a lot anyway (as always). After some time, even the dogs weren't afraid of us anymore and started to demand our attention every time we passed. When Zack left, we planned to do the same thing the next day, but Mark's chicken fried steak prevented this successfully. So we hung around another day, then got our discipline back, loaded our bikes and set off. Mark joined us for 15 km, then turned around to go back to work.

SF to Tijuana

We made good use of the slight tailwind and sort of flew the 51 km to the turn-off to Ensenada. We were superficially searched at one of the many military check-points, then left the busy MEX 5 and and turned into MEX 3. And, what a surprise, our wind-rule was right again. After tailwind, there will always be stronger headwind. That became particularly true after the lunch break. We were climbing a hill but with only light inclination, the landscape gray, sandy desert and nothing exciting happening. The only "entertainment" was Mark who showed up in his pick-up, brought us water and went ahead scouting the terrain. Seemed to us like he didn't really have any work here. But ok, he found us a camp spot in a little ditch with relatively firm ground which was good because there was not much of that around. A while after sunset even the wind went to sleep, something we hadn't dared to hope for anymore.

The night brought clear skies and cold air. Have you ever tried to get out of a sleeping bag when you've already been freezing our ass off for hours? It sucks. But obviously, after some time we succeeded and even made it back to the road. It got soon hillier and therefore warmer. Mark had mentioned rather steep climbs for the stretch to San Matías but we never found them. With no wind constantly blowing in our faces, we advanced as fast as the day before. Once we had reached the "high plateau", everything got greener and flatter. 20 km later we reached Valle de la Trinidad and decided to stay there in a hotel. If we had the choice, we weren't going to camp again in this cold.

The next day began with more climbs which was good again to get us warm. And it was even greener higher up. My map showed a 1'000 m high hill so we kept expecting a large climb, again which never really came. Our lunch-break-hill had been it (1'000 masl?) and we enjoyed a long descent into a very flat vally near Negros Ojos. There, we camped at a Pemex gas station hoping for a bit less cold temperatures. Didn't work out, of couse, but I had found some more things to put on, so I was a bit less cold then two nights before. Two more hills stood between us and Ensenada where we were going to stay in our last Casa de Ciclista. We made it there until noon, found the place and its friendly "keeper of keys", Señora Delia.

We relaxed a few days from that superhard crossing of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, then headed out for Tijuana. As almost expected, we weren't allowed on the Cuota (toll road) and had to take the Libre. So far so good. The really bad news was that this other road didn't follow the coast but wound its way up and through the hills. Grey clouds threatened but we made it through the day without rain. We had planned to go until El Rosarito but the trip into the hills had slowed us down, so when we found a hotel along the highway, we figured we might as well sleep there. The remaining 40 km to Tijuana were dominated by heavy traffic and rain. After chaos between El Rosarito and Tijuana, we were surprised at the discipline and consideration of Tijuana's car drivers (in the city).


As expected, Tijuana wasn't as dangerous as the media sometimes try to make people believe. Our hotel's neighbour, the owner of a hairdresser's shop and his employees welcomed us inviting us to a cup of coffee and even lunch. There are a whole lot of tourist shops doing everything to make people enter and buy something, it's even worse than Cusco. During weekdays, there are not many people around, to us it looked actually quite deserted. If you leave the touristy area, however, the city is as lively as you would expect a big Mexican city to be. We also found a marked, a real latin American market, something we hadn't seen for a while. On the weekend, the bars and restaurant in the tourist areas fill up with Gringos. The city has a nice Centro Cultural with a history museum of the Baja California and a cool IMAX theatre. We haven't met any narcos or other bad people and as we are leaving soon, I don't thing we'll ever see them.

Goodby Mexico, goodby Latin America, we'll miss you!

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