A healthy dose of anxiety, excitement and anticipation accompanied us across the border between the US and Mexico. With an ongoing violent drug war between the government and the cartels, so many people felt compelled to tell how dangerous Mexico was. However, we refused to write the whole place off based on the unlikely event of us two cyclists being caught up in the drugs furore, and gringo paranoia about one particularly dangerous border town (Tijuana).
That said, we took advice from a Baja cycling guru (thanks Bob!); someone who had been here recently, ridden the roads and could tell us what to expect. With Bob’s advice, we changed our border crossing plans at the last minute from Tijuana to Tecate, paid for our tourist cards with some trepidation and wondered what Mexico might hold for us. In the first three weeks, it’s been a dizzying mixture of sights, sounds and experiences, but so far so good. In fact, so far, so fantastic!
Delighted that our change of border crossing meant an amazing journey into Baja California through mountains and wine country, we had the best introduction to a land steeped in history, culture, beauty and hospitality. Now we’re here, we’re playing it safe and being careful about our camping spots and our riding, but overall my first impressions of Mexicans and Mexico are of a vibrant, warm and stimulating place…I am hungry for more.
We were spoilt, coming through the border at Tecate and onto quiet roads and then dirt track. Joining busy and narrow Highway 1 after more than a week of wilderness riding was a bit of an unpleasant shock but we’re gradually adjusting.
Time for a map change as we leave the US and venture into Mexico. The cycle mirror – geeky as it looks – has been really useful on Highway 1 where we have to pull off the road into the ditch whenever two big vehicles are crossing as there’s literally no room for us on the road itself….
Stopping by the side of the road to fix a puncture has quickly become part of the routine. Broken glass, cacti thorns and tyre debris all cause problems, even for our sturdy tyres. I seem to have had all the bad luck so far: current score is Bedders 5, Jams 0!
As we headed east for Gonzaga Bay, the pavement ended and 60km of dirt began. Sand, gravel, rocks and awesome scenery made for an exciting detour to a beautiful bay….and the bikes survived!
On the dirt track, we often had the whole place to ourselves….
The desert really delivers when it comes to cacti; they’re everywhere. All shapes and sizes and all covered in long spiky thorns just waiting to jab you in the bum, or puncture a tyre.
…and ones that a whole lot taller than we ever expected!
For two people so preoccupied with finding the next meal, we’ve been notably lax in finding the famous “best fish taco in the world” that Baja boasts. We’re hoping to find great seafood when we rejoin the Sea of Cortez as we head further south. In the meantime, we’ve found plenty of other tasty treats.
We weren’t expecting a lunchtime stop at a tiny shop shack to provide such a tasty dessert but this was amazing. Fresh fruit, local soft cheese, local honey and nuts and seeds for the top…sooo good!
After 4 months on cheese and tomato sandwiches, we have been delighted to change our routine, to cheese and tomato tortillas. Same ingredients, different wrapping. But with local avocados and by the side of the road after a long morning’s ride, boy do they taste good.
The usual porridge and jam sandwich is replaced by a sumptuous slice of delicious chocolate and caramel cheesecake. Thanks to Cristina at Punta Prieta, we enjoyed a decadent breakfast treat!
Before leaving the US, James had attempted to mentally prepare me for the likelihood of little access to bread and cakes. Having been to Mexico before, he remembered only a world of tortillas and rice. Thankfully he couldn’t have been more wrong, with most small towns having at least one Panaderia churning out hundreds of delicious sweet treats and soft bread rolls…naturally, it’s only polite to indulge.
As with the US, we’ve been bowled over by hospitality, warmth, generosity and good humour almost as soon as we arrived. James’ fluent Spanish has come in very handy, helping us to meet with local Mexicans and secure friendly places to camp. We’ve also met some US ex pats living down here who have been only too eager to help out some fellow gringos…even if they do think we’re crazy for cycling!
We met with Bob before leaving San Diego and spent a couple of invaluable hours poring over maps of Baja while he dispensed plenty of great advice. Thanks Bob, you’re our Baja Guru!
A day’s ride out of Tecate and looking for somewhere to camp, we stop when Luis waves at us from his ranch. James goes down to say hello and Luis offers us a soft grassy place to pitch the tent and sits out under amazing stars to talk to us about Mexico. His friend Roberto joins us in the morning for coffee and more chat.
Passing us twice on the road during the day, Rene stopped her car and asked us to join her at her house is San Felipe. Cue an amazing barbeque feast and lots of talk about the dirt road ahead to Gonzaga Bay…she said we’d never make it….
…but we did and here we are outside Barney’s! Barney was so generous; when we wearily cycled past looking for a place to camp, he invited us to use his neighbour’s beach house overlooking the beautiful bay. He showed us the collection of dirt buggies that he restores and we shared a beer whilst he dispensed very useful advice about the rest of our journey through Baja.
This man is a legend. 40km from Gonzaga Bay and 20km from the next road, Coco lives on his own surrounded by lots of beer, an impressive ladies’ underwear collection and lots of desert. We turned up expecting to camp and he insisted we drink his beer, sign the guest book, eat his food and sleep in his “guest trailer”. An amazing experience…Google “Coco’s Corner, Baja Mexico” to see more!
Coco sent us on a mission, with a hand drawn map and a package to deliver to Cristina at Punta Prieta. Somehow we managed to find her and she asked us to be the first official guests at her beautiful ranch. With her nephew Fermin and her daughter Ana Cristina, they gave us a wonderfully warm Mexican welcome.
Some friendly, some ferocious, Baja is teeming with dogs. Almost everywhere we’ve stayed has had at least three resident dogs many of whom became firm friends by the end of our stay. Not so welcome are the dogs protecting properties by the side of the road; they hear a bike coming and sprint out of their gate barking and snapping at our panniers, making for a 10-20 second episode of pure fear as we pedal like crazy to escape.
Our first experience with a Mexican canine welcome committee. This is Palomo at Rancho el Chaco…one of four resident pooches, he invited himself right into the tent which at this point, James is enjoying…when he tried to get back in at 1am, it wasn’t so funny.
Another night spent at a local’s ranch and we were on the road early the next day. Surprisingly, one of the dogs wanted to come along too. She ran behind us for 5 miles! No amount of berating or turning back could dissuade her, she just stopped running when her little legs got too tired…hopefully they had enough stamina left to get her back home…
It’s hard to resist giving in to the local dogs when they look at you like this!
Why do people come to Baja? For the beaches. On an 800 mile long peninsular, we’re sandwiched between fantastic beaches on the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east. We’ve already seen many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and whiled away plenty of time watching pelicans, osprey, dolphins and hundreds of other seabirds off the coasts.
One of the gorgeous bays at San Felipe where we camped on the beach…until the wind rose to serious gusts and we had to move the tent at 2am to avoid being blown away!
3km down a sand track to a hidden beach at Percebu. We had to push the bikes through heavy sand some of the way but it was worth it.
There are hot springs at the beach at Puerticitos. It’s a very peculiar sensation to lie in roasting hot water bubbling up through volcanic rock, and feel it mingling with chilly salt water coming in from the sea….but highly recommended.
A beautiful view from the terrace of the beach house where Barney invited us to crash in at Gonzaga Bay. An inspiring, gorgeous bay, we can completely understand why Barney’s been here for 35 years.
So now we’re headed further south and to La Paz for Christmas. You can now track our progress with a map we’ve added. Just click on the word “Route” at the top of this page.