Un Borracho en Baja
By early April the drizzly and cold Oregon winter finally got to me, and rather than opening up a vein, I pointed the bike south and headed for the heat and dust of Baja. My goal was simply to have a good time, soak up some sun, and drink the proper measure of adult beverages.
Yes, it's yet another Baja ride report. But I spent most of my time on pavement. And because I was riding alone, I didn't try to hang anything precious too far over the ragged edge. So those of you looking for a testosterone-fueled adventure might want to look elsewhere. This one's going to be pretty tame in comparison. You've been warned!
But if you've never been to Baja, and are thinking about maybe dipping your toes into the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez, then maybe this report might have something to offer you.
I've been down there four times before. But always by car or airplane. So this would be a first for me.
And so I packed up the bike and set out at O dark thirty on a cold, wet Saturday morning and rode up over Siskiyou Pass on I-5. The temperature quickly dropped down below freezing as I ascended the pass, and a light snow fell. I had to keep my visor open to keep it from fogging up, and the sharp, icy snowflakes stung my face.
I couldn't get out of Oregon fast enough.
By the time I hit Dunsmuir, south of Mt. Shasta, the snow had stopped falling. But the temperature didn't rise out the 30s until I rolled through Redding at the north end of California's central valley.
And then after breakfasting in Williams, I came out to discover this:
WTF? This was definitely not good. It seemed to be radiator fluid, but trying to discover where it had come from proved impossible because it was coating the entire front surface of the engine. There was none around the water pump, and no obvious leaks at the bottom of the radiator, so I took those pictures with my iPhone and sent them to my dealer in Medford, hoping he might have some clue what had happened.
His first guess: blown head gasket. Not what I wanted to hear. My trip was done.
But there was a BMW dealer (A&S) about 60 miles away in Roseville, CA. So I figured that I'd top off the radiator and limp on over there to let their mechanics have a look. And with my eyes alternately scanning the road and the temperature gauge, I made it there and turned the bike over to them.
Fortunately for me, my older brother lives about 15 miles away. So I had a place to stay for the night if the bike wasn't going to get me any farther. But for the next four hours I got to cool my heels in A&S's waiting area while they tried to diagnose my bike's problem.
They checked the computer codes, ran the engine up to where the fans kicked on twice, and then rode the bike around the neighborhood, trying to make it recreate the problem. But nothing seemed wrong at all. Their only guess was that the radiator cap was faulty, and proposed replacing it and seeing whether that solved the problem.
I hate mechanical mysteries. But I had two choices: Head back home and forget the trip, or ride on down to the border the next day and see if any more fluid spilled. If it did, I'd pack it in and head home. But if it didn't, I'd cross the border and take my chances. So I chose to push my luck.
But first my brother, kind soul that he is, took me out for a fine dinner of sushi and sake, followed by generous amounts of Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic before turning in.
The next morning my head hurt. Go figure.
But I set out south again with high hopes.
Loving the title...
So I droned on down I-5 all the way to La Mesa, and the bike didn't wet itself again. Things were looking up.
The next morning I rolled up twisty Highway 94 to Tecate, and crossed over into Mexico.
The plan was to head east and then south to San Felipe, then ride along the Sea of Cortez past Puertecitos and Bahía San Luis Gonzaga, and then cut inland to Coco's Corner and then back out to Laguna Chapala. After that, Bahía de los Angeles, El Arco, and down to Mulegé and Bahía Concepcion before turning north again.
Sort of like this:
If you're wondering where the best place to cross the border might be, look no farther than Tecate. It's a sleepy little crossing, with none of the hordes of Tijuana or Mexicali, and the entire process took me 20 minutes from start to finish.
For those of you who don't know, if you intend to head farther south than the "tourist zone" (south of Ensenada), then you need to fill out, and pay for, a tourist card, or FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple). The process is fairly straight forward, but you have to fill out the form in one office, then take it over to another office to pay for it, get a receipt, then than take it back to the first office to get it stamped.
The reason for the two-step process is apparently to avoid corruption, but depending on where you cross, it can be a time consuming event. In Tecate, where the two offices are adjacent to each other in the same building, it's a cake walk.
I crossed through the border gate and rolled downhill to the first right-hand turn and continued around the block on the one-way streets, ending up back at the immigration office, where I parked the bike. There are plenty of border guards milling about, so security is not an issue.
Entering the door, the first desk is right in front of you. The clerk checks your passport, fills in a few details, and hands you the papers to take to the 2nd clerk at the bank (Banjercito), which is just outside the door to the left. You pay your $21, get a receipt, head back to the first clerk, get a few stamps, and you're on your way. Like I said, 20 minutes tops, and I was dawdling.
Heading out of Tecate, I decided to stay off the toll (Cuota) road heading east, and enjoyed the countryside along the free (Libre) Highway 2.
One of the inmates here suggested that I take a dirt long cut down to Highway 3 from El Hongo to Ojos Negros, but there had been some torrential rains during the previous few days. So I elected to stay on pavement, especially after I saw the many pools of standing water along the sides of the highway, hoping to maybe catch it on the way home.
I had been wanting to ride down the Rumorosa grade for years, and I finally got the chance. It didn't disappoint. An E-ticket ride, for those of you old enough to know what that means.
By the time I got down to sea level, it was lunch time. So soon after veering south on Highway 5 toward San Felipe, I pulled over at a roadside seafood stand, where the proprietor served me a plate of delicious ceviche the size of my head.
Damn, that was good!
His English was about as good as my Spanish, so we had a fairly fractured conversation about how few Gringos are coming down to Mexico these days, and how everyone's hurting. I told him that I have more fear walking down the streets in your average American city than I do of traveling alone in Mexico. But try telling that to most Americans and they think you're nuts. Big sigh.
But once I had finished my ceviche and Coke, I thanked him and saddled up to head south again. The temperature heated up to 80°F as I passed Laguna Salada, and I suddenly felt warmer than I had since probably last September. Ahhhhh.
By 3 in the afternoon I was rolling into San Felipe, where I found a room at the Jesus Motel.
After checking in, the first order of business was to start drinking. And I wasted no time getting down to the malecón to get down to work.
Dinner found me at Rice and Beans, where I practically had the whole place to myself.
But once my belly was full, and my brain properly lubricated, there was nothing better to do at the end of the day than to stroll along the rocky beach at low tide, and then make my way back to the motel along the malecón.
I was thinking: This is a pretty good start.
Was that dried up de-icer crap that they put all over the roads? I'm getting crazy stuff like that all over my bike since it has been raining heavy and washing it all away.
But since that day? Nothing.
We saw you roll by us when we were at Rice and Beans in San Felipe, then we met at Coco's.
Glad to see you had as good a time as we did.
Thanks for the detailed report.. Enjoying your commentary and sunny pics :thumb Hoping the bike behaved..
I had an 800ST and on a very few occasions it too had that white stuff, not so much of it, drip from the radiator, or the cap, or somewhere.
It has been reported by a number of 800 owners. I don't know if anyone ever found the cause and the cure. If they did it may have been reported on bmwf800ridersforum.
I just got back from my own ride down to Cabo on the 12th.
It's easy to cross into Mexico at Tijuana. Nobody gets the visa or pass, so I walked in and got it in 5 minutes. But coming back at Tijuana would not be a good idea. That's where Tecate comes in nice.
Or, Mexicali, where motorcycles are allowed to cut to the front of the line, thru' the Sentri lane.
Good so far, more please. :lurk
This sounds more fun than work. I'll be tagging along. :wave
Buen Viaje! :freaky
My original plan was to get a leisurely start and only ride as far as Bahía San Luis Gonzaga, but the lost day spent dealing with my incontinent motorcycle meant I was going to have to combine days 2 & 3. So I got up at dawn and set out to make it as far as Alphonsina's for a late breakfast.
Once I got well south of San Felipe, and the miles and miles of speculative real estate ventures apparently gone bust, I hit the newly paved section near Puertecitos.
Since I had the whole road all to myself, the hooligan in me came out.
And then boom, end of pavement.
But the next section wasn't difficult. I kept it up in 4th or 5th gear almost all the way into Bahía San Luis Gonzaga.
The sandy parking area at Alphonsina's made it hard to keep the bike upright on the side stand. So I parked it out at the end of the runway. If somebody had landed long, or had to go around, they would have had a rude surprise.
Gassing up at the Pemex, the local dogs eyed me with some justifiable suspicion.
Then I headed south to Coco's
The ocotillo cactus was in bloom.
There were a few rocky sections on the way up to Coco's Corner, but nothing too taxing.
Coco was busy cutting up a sheet of plywood with a circular saw, with his generator roaring in the background. So we didn't get much chance to converse.
But he did pause long enough to get me to sign his guest book.
After which I toured the art gallery...
And checked out the lobby...
Visited the facilities...
And the opulent accommodations...
And took a stroll through the garden.
One of a kind.
Just before I left, fudgypup and Mark from this ride report rode up, and Coco enlisted our help screwing in a couple of studs. I, um, "supervised."
Then it was off to sprint out to Highway 1 near Laguna Chapala.
By mid-afternoon I was approaching Bahía de los Angeles.
Where I checked into the very comfortable Costa del Sol.
I met "Escooby" and "Lascaba." Poor old Lascaba is now old and blind.
Once I settled in, I got down to the serious business of drinking.
And while I was hard at work, a couple of fisherman buddies from southern California drove up and settled down at the table with me. Ed and Harold keep a boat down there, and get down as often as they can.
We sat out under the umbrellas, drinking, with them regaling me with Bay of LA stories from the old days. After a while, Ed excused himself and came back a couple of minutes later with a big cup of Bombay Sapphire and tonic, with a lime from his own garden.
Now, how did he know that was my favorite social lubricant?
You meet the nicest people in Baja!
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