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miguelito 01-19-2010 12:49 PM

Mainland Mexico via Baja
My travel philosophy is pretty close to the saying attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”. There are times when I’m dropping back and punting due to some bit of information I failed to avail myself of, that I think I’m really just not very good at planning or arranging all of my so-called ducks in a row. And so Lao Tzu’s philosophy becomes my own through the attrition or default of my meager intellect rather than some over-arching synchronicity of “great” minds.
<o:p> </o:p>
I’ve been spending an extended vacation south of the US border for the last three years. My trip this year as in past years will be solo and will be mostly on paved roads. This year I’m beginning the trip in Baja, where I’ve never traveled other than a brief visit to Tijuana almost 20 years ago. In February I have to meet ADV rider Mundobravo over on the mainland as we explore an idea we’re working on for a television series filmed in Mexico, so even if I like Baja, I’ll be continuing down the peninsula to the ferry at La Paz, and then on to Alamos in Sonora. I had originally intended on traveling through the mainland and finding, (hopefully), less expensive lodging by staying up to a month at each place, but while searching Craigslist for rental units, I found a casita for rent in Mulege, BCS for $200 US per month. It didn’t look very fancy, (LOL), but it was cheap and the ambient temperature was at least 20 degrees warmer than here in New Mexico. With those conditions in mind, I decided to take a gamble, figuring that if I didn’t like the house or the town I could afford to walk away from it.
<o:p> </o:p>
Phase I of that “no fixed plans”: Events conspired to delay my departure, and so I’ll now be arriving almost two weeks into my month-long rental. I’m not complaining. It’s January, and I’m riding into Mexico. Woohoo!
<o:p> </o:p>
By the time I reach Tucson, I’m shedding the liner to my riding jacket, and by the time I reach Yuma, I’m shipping my pants liner and an extra piece of fleece I brought along back home.
<o:p> </o:p>
Some practical considerations. I treated myself to a topcase for mi moto this year, which is making organizing my gear much easier. I’ve decided to bring my own pillow this year, as that is one of the things that can make the difference between a good night’s sleep for me. I’ve also brought along a folding chair, as the pictures I had seen of the casita in Mulege hadn’t shown any outdoor seating. The bag the chair came in has served a useful purpose in providing an extra place for stuff like my jacket liner as the temperature has warmed up. My new ride apparel is an extension of blogging dress, in that I’ve decided to wear pajama bottoms under my riding pants. So far, I would say that was a good idea from the perspective of comfort while riding, as well as keeping your regular pants cleaner for evening wear once I’ve settled in for the night.
Dunes between Yuma and El Centro off I-8
Phase II of that “no fixed plans” paradigm: Well I prepared a zip-loc bag with my passport, registration, Xerox copies, etc. for the border crossing, but forgot to put the original registration back after making the copies. When the senorita at the border informs me that I can’t bring my moto into Mexico without the original, my head drops as I see my two days of riding the interstate to arrive at this juncture pass before me. In reverse. And then get to repeat the process of riding back here. I’m seriously bummed and speechless. The Senorita’s supervisor starts speaking to her in a lowered voice, and they soon inform me that perhaps something can be done to help me out. Her supervisor walks me over to the immigration office and explains the situation to them. He tells me to wait. Within 5 minutes, an immigration and customs officer is with me asking questions, inspecting the documents and my bike. Eventually he hand-writes a paragraph in teensy print on the copy of my registration and sends me back to get my travel and vehicle permits stamped and approved. The supervisor looks up from his work as I’m heading toward the door and calls out, “Have a great and safe trip Mr. Miguel!” I’m counting my blessings and feeling like I stepped in sh#t and came out smelling like a rose. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart, and I think this was one of those times. As I begin my ride into Mexico, I can’t help but ponder how difficult that process would probably have been had I been a Mexican national trying to cross into the US without proper documentation for my bike. Mexican’s do like their paperwork, but I’ll say one thing, and that is that they remain flexible in the face of a seemingly interminable bureaucracy. In the old days money might have crossed palms to facilitate this, but there was never even a hint of such this morning. Bless the Mexicanos, one and all!
The “Wall” that separates the US from Mexico.
I’m cruising down to San Felipe for the first night. There’s still some water left in the Colorado River after it crosses the Mexican border.
The highway is in good shape, and it’s beautiful.
Eventually construction shunts all traffic off onto a makeshift dirt frontage road. I get to ride off the slab after all. Something tells me it won’t be the last time.
I pull onto the malecon at San Felipe,
and spot some overweight white guys drinking and smoking cigars on the portal of El Mirador in the afternoon sun.
Looks like a good spot to me and as I’m also overweight and white, I join them. They’re businessmen who live here at least part time and I pick their brains about living the ex-pat life in Mexico. They steer me to the Hotel San Felipe, where a communication comedy ensues as the clerk informs me that rooms cost “fifty five dollars”. That seems unreasonable to me since I’ve been staying in rooms in the states that on the surface looked a lot nicer than this place. I ask her in Spanish if she can recommend a place with less expensive rooms, and she informs me that the cheapest room in town is “fifty five dollars” again in her English that’s as broken as my Spanish is. I look dumbfounded, and she asks me how much I had hoped to spend, and I told her in Spanish, “How about $45?” A light flicked on in her eyes, as she told me, this time in Spanish that their rooms cost “veinte y cinco dolares” or $25 dollars. She then asked me what the correct word for “veinte” was in English, and we both learned a useful lesson, which is don’t assume that the person speaking to you in a broken version of your own tongue knows what it is, they’re actually saying.
<o:p> </o:p>
I returned to the Mirador for another cerveza after a quick walk around town, and ended up joining one of the businessmen for a weekly steak dinner special at the Cortez Hotel/Restaurant. Tomorrow I leave for Ensenada and the trip down route 1. More later.


gasandasphalt 01-19-2010 01:21 PM

Come on man,, you started me out on a trip and then you STOP in San Felipe... not fair!!! :bash

miguelito 01-19-2010 01:37 PM


Originally Posted by gasandasphalt
Come on man,, you started me out on a trip and then you STOP in San Felipe... not fair!!! :bash

Fair enough GandA. coming up!

miguelito 01-19-2010 01:45 PM

Day two in Mexico
The next morning I set out for Ensenada on the West coast. The winds are strong

and the potholes in the road are numerous, so as is my norm, I ride conservatively, although mostly above the posted speed limit of 80 kph.

Where tequila comes from. I think this is a blue agave farm.<o:p> </o:p>

I rode through Ensenada, but didn’t have the will to find Hussong’s Restaurante, which had been recommended to me, ended up riding out to Bufadora, figuring a place on the coast like that would have a hotel.

It’s a speco ride along the cliffs but you should know that there’s no hotel at the end of the road. Your best bet is the vibrantly yellow Hotel Bufadora, back about 5 miles, where I negotiated a rate of 350 pesos from Dave, the owner. Not a fancy hotel, but comfortable enough for me, and Dave’s a nice guy. If you want a nicer place there are some casitas for rent almost across the road from the hotel for $65 US per night.
<o:p> </o:p>
If you make it to Bufadora, definitely stop in and see Tico at his little bar at the far end of the road on the left hand side. Very friendly group of locals and ex-pats and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous or masochistic, you can sample his “Snakebite Tequila”. Notice the rattler marinating.

One tourist actually had a shot while I was there and asked me if I had tried it. I laughed and said I like tequila, but I’m not into dead snakes marinating in it. One of the locals confided to me after the tourist and his wife left, that he, at least, never drank the snakebite. I’ll head south tomorrow. Not sure how far I’ll get.

GB 01-19-2010 02:51 PM

Really like those Mexico rides.. thanks for the report and pics.. :thumb


Kodanja 01-19-2010 03:37 PM

I'm the mexico bug!

FatherX 01-19-2010 04:22 PM

show us how it's done Miguel :clap

miguelito 01-20-2010 11:02 AM

Day 3 in Mexico
The next morning I’m off and running down the peninsula. It’s redolent of California’s grape/wine country with dry hills surrounding valley vineyards with some nice twisting turns. Eventually the terrain opens up into full on agricultural area and traffic gets a bit more congested.
<o:p> </o:p>
I fill my gas tank in El Rosalia, and have a couple of fish tacos and a coke at a roadside stand. Lunch costs about $2.50 US. I do love the food here.
<o:p> </o:p>
Now the traffic disappears almost completely, the road gets to twisting and turning, and the scenery is becoming seriously breath-takingly beautiful, as I’m torn between focusing on the riding v.s. the scenery. The landscape changes from tortured mud hills to granite boulders reminiscent of the high Sierra Nevadas, only sans snow, and then there are the Dr. Seuss like boojum trees everywhere.

You might notice that most of these twists and turns don’t have a shoulder to speak of or the ubiquitous guardrails so common back in the US, and it’s interesting to see how that affects one’s riding style down here. It feels like someone took your security blanket away, and I find myself not pushing the turns quite as hard as I might were the outsides not a launching pad into outer space.

I stop in Catavina where my map shows a Pemex station, only to find that the pumps are out of order and are being repaired. It’s getting late in the afternoon and I look into the kinda fancy looking hotel. Rooms here are $90 US per night, and it doesn’t look all that fancy, so I check the map, and figure I have enough gas to reach the junction of route 1 with the turn off for Bahia de los Angeles where my map shows the next Pemex station. The deserts of the world are littered with failed enterprises. It’s tough to make a go of it under harsh conditions in remote locations.

<o:p> </o:p>
So even if there’s not much off-road adventure herein, at least there is the anxiety of possibly running out of gas in the fading daylight and increasing cold of the high interior of Baja without a sleeping bag. I’m torn between riding conservatively to reduce my fuel consumption and riding balls out in order to get to the next gas station before they close in these remote locations. I opt for the latter, and wind it out. Spending the night curled up next to a gas pump holds little appeal to me, especially as the temperature drops as the sun sinks lower in the sky.<o:p> </o:p>
Eventually I see the familiar green and white of the Pemex station loom into view, but I’m crestfallen as I approach it close enough to see that it’s been abandoned.

I’m thinking I’m now properly f@#ked, when I spy my salvation. Enterprising locals have started a cottage industry here to assume a role that the nationally owned Pemex gas company has been unable or unwilling to fulfill. God bless them. The local gasoline vendors that is. I pay a higher price than normal for my gas, and am thrilled to be able to do so.

The sun’s getting low, but if I haul ass, I figure I’ll make Guerrero Negro at about dark. I make it just as the last light of the day is disappearing below the western horizon. I check into the Hotel de San Ignacio, where they allow me to bring my bike into the back courtyard, and I head back out across the street to Don Gus for dinner. This is the first town I’ve stopped in in Baja where I haven’t been surrounded by English speaking ex-pats or native Mexicanos who speak better English than most of my friends. It’s been a long day, and I’ve ridden hard. I sleep the sleep of the dead.

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Today’s ride begins flat, straight, and in a word: boring. Roadside trash is an all too common occurrence on Mexican byways. It’s a given, that if you charge people to go to the dump, some of the poor will out of necessity dump their trash where there aren’t any fee collectors.

As I approach San Ignacio the terrain becomes more interesting, and the road does too. Now the geology is showing signs of volcanism, as the rocks are similar to a lot of the basalt seen in the American southwest, although there’s a slightly redder hue to these boulders than I’ve noticed before.

<o:p> </o:p>
As I drop into the palm tree oasis of San Ignacio, the contrast to the surrounding desert seems surreal. The ground here is lava, so the source of this water could be underground streams coming from far away through lava tubes left from the escaping gases as the lava cooled. Whatever the source, this is a seriously beautiful little corner of the world.

I stop to listen to a presentation in the town plaza, and have a late breakfast before heading out for the east coast and the Sea of Cortez.

I begin to wend my way down off the interior plateau to sea level.

Santa Rosalia is a cool looking town on the Sea of Cortez. They had industry and a port here, and so the historical buildings are made of frame with clapboard siding, all of which had to be imported to this landscape that is devoid of any commercial grade lumber. It’s a charming town with a vibrant downtown area, by the beautiful blue sea.

I’m almost to my new digs in Mulege, and the road is a nice combination of sweeping turns and tight twists, with a few straightaways. I catch a speco view of the palm trees in the valley below and ahead as I approach the town, but as usual, I’m tooling along too fast to brake in time to catch the small turnout where I might take a photo. The town itself is smaller than I had imagined, but it seems nice.

I stop by my new landlord’s business, and introduce myself. He seems cool, and steers me to El Cadil around the corner where I have a couple of cervezas and catch part of the NFL playoffs. I’ll return later to catch the end of the game and sample one of the most awesome pescado al ajos, (fish with garlic), I’ve ever tasted. The Mulege River at dusk.

<o:p> </o:p>
The casita seems about what I expected it to be and I settle in. I’ll post some more observations as I make them about Mulege and its’ environs, and will resume a narration of my travels when I leave for my rendezvous on the mainland. Cheers! And thanks for reading if you managed to get through this far.

miguelito 01-21-2010 01:44 PM

What $200/month rents in Mulege
For anyone who's interested, Here's a video I made of the little casita in the barrio I'm renting for $200/month. In the video I say that price is with a yearly rental, although my land lord has rented it to me for Jan/Feb only for that price. They normally ask $300/month for monthly rentals. You can see daylight through some nail holes in the galvanized roof, so, I'm hoping we don't get a big rain while I'm here. :1drink

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miguelito 01-21-2010 02:21 PM

Mulege and its environs.
Itís a beautiful area.
<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
Iím struck by the differences between travelling here on the Baja Peninsula and on the mainland. My first and most obvious observation is that baja is a land of Gringos. Just about every stop Iíve made has led me to a bar or restaurante that was filled with English speaking natives and ex-pats. So while that makes carrying on more complex conversations much easier, it also seems to reduce oneís contact with the local Mexicanos. Iíve found in my travels on the mainland, especially in the non-touristy areas that Iím attracted to, that the locals are generally really pleased that youíve learned enough of their language to communicate with them in however limited a manner. Here on the peninsula, I think they also appreciate it, but they are also eager to demonstrate their own command of our language. I suppose the biggest effect of that will be that my Spanish speaking skills will not be honed as much here as they might be over on the mainland.
<o:p> </o:p>
Mulege has a river flowing through it. Itís barely the trickle of a small creek right now, but last fall they were all but wiped out by flooding by a hurricane which swept cars and trucks from the streets of the town out to sea, never to be seen again. I happened to stop into Jungla Jimís, another ex-pat bar by the banks of the Mulege River, and the locals pointed to the high water mark, which was just below ceiling level of this one story building. Iíve heard plenty of other stories about the flooding and itsí effects. One ex-pat has been building a house upstream along the river, and has been set back by the four floods this area has suffered in the last 6 years. My advice: donít build on the flood plain.
<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
They happened to be having a weekly rib dinner the evening I stopped at Jungla Jimís, and the local ex-pats told me it was ďa good feedĒ, the same words used to describe the weekly steak dinner Iíd attended in San Felipe. It was interesting to watch the restaurante fill up with Americans in what I assume is a weekly ritual amongst the ex-pats. While both dinners were good, I find myself vaguely wishing afterwards that Iíd had some more local fare.
<o:p> </o:p>

Remains of some homes that got wiped out in September's flood.

Here's the trickle of water flowing through this river now.

During September's flood the water was almost to the underside of the bridge.

<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p>The Mission at Mulege.</o:p>

View west from the mission.

Rode down the coast along Bahia de Concepcion. Itís beautiful here.
<o:p> </o:p>

<o:p> </o:p>
Iíll post more as it occurs to me, and for sure when I leave for points south and the mainland next week.

mundobravo 01-22-2010 05:49 AM

great ride and photos, see you next week !!

danceswithcages 01-22-2010 07:54 AM

:clap :clap :lurk :lurk

Excellent RR!!

My wife and I are planning this same trip this coming December, and I'm following your journey with great interest.

Thank you! Ride safe.

ThereisnoSpoon 01-22-2010 08:18 AM

Nice, I wish I was there! Is that the Pemex station around Catavina? :ear

miguelito 01-22-2010 06:53 PM


Originally Posted by ThereisnoSpoon
Nice, I wish I was there! Is that the Pemex station around Catavina? :ear

Hey TINS, that Pemex was at the junction of Highway 1 and the road to Bahia de los Angeles, (Rte. 12?). Just south of Catavina by about 80 km I think. And yes, it's fantastic here. Sitting outside on the neighbor's portal typing at 8 PM in shirtsleeves in January is always a good thing! Cheers to all! - Miguel :D

Thorne 01-23-2010 04:29 AM

Awesome pictures......

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