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Old 11-26-2008, 10:57 PM   #1
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Southern Exposure: Seattle to Argentina

Greetings all. This is my first ride report here and almost my first post. I've been a lurker for a few years now, and have been dreaming of a ride to South America for the last 3 years. I had been planning on doing it solo, but along the way I met a great woman who thought this trip was a great idea. So here we are, on the road on two KLRs, heading south.

I'll be primarily updating my personal travel blog, Southern Exposure, but I will be cross posting here as I find the time. I want to contribute back to this site that has given me so much inspiration, especially the FlyingAvanti and Cavebiker threads, amongst many others. In the post I copy directly from my travel blog, the audience is friends and family, not the hardcore found here, so apologies in advance for descriptions of things you already know everything about. I've omitted reposting the ride from Seattle to the border. Further apologies for upcoming delays between posts - I'm trying to ride more than I post.

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Old 11-26-2008, 11:00 PM   #2
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Wednesday, November 19
We finally have begun the trip proper. We arose early today, and actually got on the road at a decent hour without incident. We got off at the last exit before the border and picked up insurance for Mexico.
After reading about all of the border experiences of other travelers, I think we both had a lot of anxiety built up about crossings. Neither had ever taken a vehicle through customs before, so we were expecting quite an ordeal and had only the modest goal of Ensenada for the day.
It’s strange to me that there is no exit process to leaving the US. It’s just all of the sudden you’re off the freeway and you’re in Tijuana. It was easy enough to follow the signs to temporary vehicle importation office. Tijuana is just as beautiful as you’ve heard, a true paradise.
Once at the customs office, I left Inna guarding the bikes and took our mountain of documents and photocopies inside. It was not clear at all where to start, but I was soon pointed to the immigration. I was moving in circles between immigration, the bank, and the aduana (customs). Only the customs officer spoke english, but I was really happy with how much spanish I had retained. I was able to get through the conversations without struggling too much.
The one obstacle I had worried about but had no answer to in advance was importing two vehicles in my name. The customs officer did not like that at all and wouldn’t permit entry. His solution was to sign the bike over to Inna on the spot. I really didn’t know what else to do at this point. It was either sign it over, or go back to the US and magic up a solution. I hovered over that title for a few minutes, but eventually just signed over the title. The customs officer was happy and the rest of the paperwork went through just fine then. I worry this decision will have repercussions at future borders, but only time will tell. The entire process took about an hour and half.
Once we were out of customs and on the road, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I know that’s probably going to be the easiest border of them all, but it was nice to have the experience behind us. It was a nice turning point from endless preparation to riding south along the Pacific Ocean.
We rode the toll road through two tolls, and then decided to get off the toll road because it seemed like a waste of money. The free road turned in from the coast at one point and rode through the hills in the desert, which I quite enjoyed. I’ve always liked desert riding. Riding a ribbon of asphalt through expansive vistas and the sense of open space really strikes a chord in me.
We rode through Ensenada and I don’t really have anything nice to say about it. There were two cruise ships docked there and it just seems like a tourist dump to me. We rode through town, headed south, and as it was about 3 pm, decided to double back to the beach area of La Bufadora. We expected there to be a beach town at the end of this road, but it just went from road into a tourist trap line of stalls before you got to some sort of sea spout in the rocks that we didn’t even bother to look at. We rode back towards the main road where we picked a surprisingly nice little hotel around 4:30. We unpacked the bikes, locked them together, and had an early dinner before retiring.
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:02 PM   #3
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El Rosario

Thursday, November 20

Today was the first full day of riding in Mexico. Last night we studied the map and the travel book to figure out our route in Baja. We’ve heard that Mulege, a small village on the site of an ancient mission in the southeastern part of Baja, is a nice place to spend a day or so soaking up the sun on the beaches of the Sea of Cortes. Judging by the speed of today it will take us about three days to get there.

This morning we had a fun encounter with two adventure riders from Seattle. In a comical circumstance, these were the guys we “blew off” yesterday when we were passing through Ensenada. We could not figure out why there were all these dirt bikes and dune buggies on the streets, and as we moved slowly through the traffic, two guys on the sidewalk were running after us, yelling, making signs with their hands, and taking our pictures. Unfortunately, neither of us could hear anything because of the ear plugs and the music. We waved, and kept on going. This morning, as we ate our mini mart breakfast outside of the motel, we saw two riders on the road, waved at them, and to our surprise they turned around and drove up to us. It turned out that these were the guys from yesterday, all geared up on their V-Stroms. We found out that they rode from Seattle to watch the Baja 1000 off road race, which was starting tomorrow. They tried to get our attention yesterday, because they saw our ADV (Adventure Rider) stickers and Washington State license plates. We talked for a short while, got invited to join them to see the race but we had to keep on going South and they had to get back to Ensenada.

We only had about 200 miles to go today to El Rosario, which is a small town before a long stretch of desert nothingness. It took us much longer than we expected, mainly because the traffic kept on getting stuck behind large trucks and it took effort to get in front of the line, only to get stuck behind another trail of cars 20 miles down the road. One time we tried to get around a line of stopped traffic by riding on the shoulder which got us into a sandy dirt road. Matt’s tire got in pretty deep at one point, and I was sweating it as it was my first time riding in the sand. We decided not to get too adventurous. (There were a bunch of cars stuck in the sand ahead of us, and guys with shovels trying to dig around the tires).

Another time the paved road suddenly ended and we had to ride on the gravel road while the workers were paving the road two feet next to us. I am happy that Matt and I took the dirt riding class before we left on this trip. Now I just have to practice my skills as there will be many more dirt roads ahead.

We stopped by for a quick lunch in a small one road town. Apparently, today is Mexico’s Independence Day, so there were all these festivities going on in the town park. After lunch (where I was stung by a bee), we kept on going through the desert mountainous scenery, sometimes enhanced by the view of the ocean, and finally made it to El Rosario.

The hotel we stopped at seemed extremely cush for this area, we’ve got a king size bed, satellite TV, coffee maker, beautiful shower and a large size adobe room decorated with dark wood beams and artisan furniture. All for only 30 dollars. Better not get used to luxury like this. Tonight we had dinner at Mama Espinoza’s, one of the oldest restaurants in Baja. It has been a Baja 1000 checkpoint for 40 years and the walls are covered in race

Tomorrow we will get up early and head to Guerro Negro. It should be a long ride through the desert. We’ll get an earlier start tomorrow and hopefully traffic will be lighter.
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:06 PM   #4
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Desert Revelations

Friday, November 21

Today was one of those days I dreamed about before we started this trip. It was a day of near perfect motorcycling, riding through the central deserts of Baja, surrounded by an infinite expanse of cactus.

We knew we were planning on putting in some miles today, so we got up extra early. We had breakfast at Mama Espinoza’s and managed to be on the road by 8:30. Somehow we just can’t get our morning preparations to take less than two hours.

It was a beautiful sunny day and Hwy 1 outside of El Rosario quickly turned into a winding rollercoaster through the desert mountains. It was the kind of road a motorcyclist lives for. Wide open terrain, sweeping turns, and rolling hills. The sky was that perfect shade of blue to complement the brown and arid terrain. Riding through this terrain is a great way to start a day.

I’ve ridden or driven through many of the deserts of the United States before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a density of cactus before. There were three or four different types: the “classic”, thick branching cactus, tall, skinny xmas tree like cactus, squat and thick with red needles on top, and gnarly twisting branching cactus.

We didn’t make too much progress in the early miles - we kept stopping to take pictures. I think we made 25 miles in the first hour of riding. The landscape seemed to become more beautiful around every corner.

We came to one section of road a little before Cataviña. The landscape was littered with boulders. They were scattered everywhere with some built into large piles. I don’t really understand how something like this forms and would like to learn about the geology of this area. It was stunning to see, ruined only by the insistence of every passerby to write their name in spray paint on the boulders alongside the road.

We decided to take a short detour down a sandy road to immerse ourselves in the boulder field. We probably went 1/4 mile down the road and parked the bikes so we could walk around. I scrambled amongst the boulders, seeking higher ground and snapping pictures. It’s a shame about the timing of this encounter. It would have been a magical place to have a picnic.

The sandy road was quite the washboard in the wheel tracks. I decided to try my luck riding in the center only to quickly have the front wheel push in the sand. The bike started to tip over and I did a walk off dismount of the bike and it settled on its left side. Luck tried, luck failed. The blue bike is now evenly balanced with a fall on the right and left sides. The bike wasn’t damaged; the soft sand that was the problem in the first place nicely cushioned the bike’s fall. My ego is doubly bruised. I think the crash bars will need a minor adjustment but this kind of thing is what I had in mind when I built the bike up.

We got back on the main road and passed through Cataviña. It was a small town if I use the word town generously. There was one or two restaurants and two hotels. In retrospect we should have just called it a day right there and stayed the night. The desert surrounding it was enchanting, and opportunities to enjoy a landscape like this won’t come often in life.

We officially entered the Valle de los Cirios, Valley of the Cactus, shortly thereafter and it was a strange beginning. That particular valley seemed to have less cactus than any of the ones preceding it. It’s a large nature preserve, and after 10 miles the cactus returned in full strength. As we crossed over another set of hills, we entered a rain shadow. The landscape was drier and there were large open spaces of just dirt or sand. We saw a few mirages beckoning us into the landscape.

After nearly 100 miles of riding through hills, it flattened out and the road became straighter. It reminded more of West Texas. The riding wasn’t as exciting, but it was still a beautiful day. The temperature fluctuated between 80 and 90, but I was comfortable in my riding gear. Low humidity was a real plus.

After 200 miles, and very close to Guerrero Negro, our goal for the day, we made it to the first gas station since El Rosario. It’s fortunate the KLRs have such big gas tanks as we could have gone another 50 miles or so. We soon went through our first of three military checkpoints of the day, and at the first one they made us stop to show our visas. The other two later in the day just waved us through.

We crossed the 28th parallel, the border between Baja California and Baja California Sur. It’s a good milestone for us. We made it to Guerrero Negro at 2pm, hours ahead of schedule. We rode through town and it wasn’t particularly inviting. Just a few long roads flanked with small shops. It was only a few miles from the ocean and it seemed strange they didn’t put the town near the water. It would have made it far more inviting.

We were early and not excited to spend the rest of the day there, so we made a snap decision and decided to move on to San Ignacio, which was about 60 miles further. There is a naming convention to Mexican towns I don’t understand. This would be the 2nd town where we found two towns close to each other being distinct but having the same or nearly the same name on the map. The guidebook did not make the situation clearer.

We rode east, as this stretch of one went clear from the west coast of Baja to the east. San Ignacio was in the middle. When we finally reached it, it was 3:30 and it was only 60 more miles to Santa Rosalia on the east coast. We made our second snap decision of the day and decided to push through to the east coast, which would give us a nearly open weekend. Our goal for tomorrow had been Mulegé, 60 kms south of Santa Rosalia. Spending in the night in Santa Rosalia would be a short ride on Saturday and we would be taking the day off on Sunday.

The sun was now casting golden light on the landscape, which made the mostly straight road more beautiful. For many miles a volcano called Vulcan Tres Virgines loomed before us. Judging from the peaks it never erupted. Once past, the road descended quickly to the coast. It was the kind of road they would never build in the US and the kind you never catch at the right time. It was a steep but not too steep grade wrapping around the hills until reaching the bottom and the extremely welcome Sea of Cortez.

Another few miles down the coast and we were in Santa Rosalia, a busy little town that was founded by the French to mine and smelt copper. We road through town and priced a few hotels before settling on one at the edge of town with good parking for the bikes.

We rode 365 miles today, the longest day Inna and I have ever ridden together. Except for the last 50 miles, the distance flew by and we were surprised at how many miles we had done without it seeming like a grind.
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:11 PM   #5
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Saturday and Sunday, November 22 and 23

by Inna

From Santa Rosalia we only had about 40 miles to go to Mulegé which was our weekend destination where we planned to spend a day enjoying the beaches of the Sea of Cortez. We had a leisurely morning around town, spent a few hours at the Internet cafe and came back to the hotel to pack, only to discover that we had missed the check out time by an hour. I made a deal with the hotel guy by giving him $2 dollars, which he gladly accepted and we were almost on our way. Right before we got on our bikes, he came up to us with a cute, mid-size short brown-haired dog on a leash. He told us that the dog somehow fell out of an American RV and was left behind by the owners. The dog had a collar with a number to call in case it was lost, so we spent the next half an hour trying to make the the 1-800 call to US, with no luck. We finally called Matt’s parents, gave them all the information and the location of the dog, hoping that it will be reunited with it’s owner, but knowing that the the chances were pretty slim. We later found out (from the parents’ communications) that the dog’s name was Lucy and her owner was a veterinarian who was traveling in Mexico performing veterinary services pro bono. We very much hope that Lucy finds her family soon.

Mulegé is a small village-town with about 5000 residents, with some of the best beaches on the Sea of Cortes within a 10 mile distance. We settled in the charming Hotel Hacienda, ran by a very genial and hospitable señor Alfonso. He has owned the hotel for 44 years (and married to his señorita for 54!). He has five sons and one daughter, all highly educated professionals. We were probably one of only three residents at the hotel. (The tourist season is just starting and the business has been down because of the deteriorating US economy). We were able to park the bikes right in the courtyard of the hotel, which is always a big plus.

In the evening, we rode to the beach where we had a very romantic candlelight dinner on the beach - our table was located literally five feet from the water. The restaurant was owned by (you guessed it!) an American couple, and we found out there was a sizable community of American retirees and American RV travelers in the area.

The next morning we rode along the coast for about 15 minutes to a remote sandy beach, and spent the whole afternoon frolicking in the the sun. I love days like this, nothing to do or worry about, just enjoy the calming sound of the rolling surf and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:13 PM   #6
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La Paz

Monday and Tuesday, November 24 and 25

The next day we got up early, had señor Alfonso’s tasty coffee (which he prepared for us every morning by saving it in a termos) and were on our way to La Paz. The ride of about 300 miles was quite boring and exhausting. The scenery could be compared to dry flat deserts of Arizona with short mountain chains blocking the horizon on both sides.

Most of the time you could see the straight road for miles ahead and that would just amplify your desire to be done riding and off the road and the bike. It is on these straight endless roads when you feel the nagging pain in your back, shoulders and neck.

Half way to La Paz in Insurgentes we ran into two adventure riders from San Diego whose bikes we noticed in Santa Rosalia and had a short conversation with them. They have already been down to Cabo and were on the way back north. We were jealous of their cool bikes - a KTM and a BMW - they are definitely much faster than ours. Matt and I disagree on their names, so we won’t post it here. Keep in touch, guys!
The road seemed to last forever, but we finally reached La Paz at about 4:30 pm.

It took us about 40 minutes to find a suitable hotel. Matt and I are still trying to figure out the best strategy for getting around an unknown town and finding a hotel that would fit our budget. The one disadvantage of our Rough Guide travel books is that they don’t rate the hotels by price. We try to go by the book descriptions, but it usually takes a few trials to find a good value hotel that is not completely “ghetto.” Trying to maneuver the bikes around unknown narrow city streets, looking for street name signs (which are very rare), having one person get off the bike to check the hotel rates, makes things a bit difficult and we become impatient with each other fast as we try to figure out the best plan of action. We finally found the right place. Matt parked his bike on the street and went to deal with the receptionist who wanted the pay upfront. The bike seemed to sit pretty steady, but a minute later fell down on it’s right side against the curb, bending heavily the right pannier. (I dropped my bike on the right side earlier that day too when we stopped for gas at the station, though no severe damage for me). Matt was visibly frustrated as we were unloading, but I was pretty sure we would be able to fix it the next day at some welding shop.

To make things even more difficult, when I asked the receptionist about the ferry schedule to Mazatlan, which we were supposed to take the next day, he told us the ferries have been broken for a few months now and they anticipate to renew the service only about two months from now. That meant we would have to take the 3-4 day ride back to Ensenada on the same road we came down. We almost lost it! Thinking about riding that road back was more than either of us could handle at that time.

We unloaded the luggage and ran to the ferry office which was mentioned in our book as fast as we could. The building looked like it has not been open for a few months. What he said must be true we thought, though deep down we refused to believe it. We found an Internet cafe and checked out the ferry website. It mentioned nothing about the ferries being out of service. Frustrated, we came back to the hotel and asked the receptionist to call the ferry office. He did so (for $5 pesos), and we found out that ferries in fact are in service and there is one leaving the next day at 8 pm. It was a great relief tinged with irritation that the receptionist had caused us such a panic. Though its worth mentioning that the next day a motorcyclist from Vancouver BC who was staying at our hotel told us that the ferries were indeed out of service as recently as four days prior, and was very surprised to hear that they were back in service as he had to rethink his route due to the ferry unavailability earlier.

The next morning we went to the ferry office (different than the one mentioned in the book) and without any problems got our ferry tickets. It turned out the be much more expensive than we anticipated for two people and two bikes - $485. (The prices went up November 20). We also decided to upgrade to a private cabin vs a seat in a main salon in order to get a good night sleep and have a productive day of riding the next day as neither of us wanted to stay in the overly touristic Mazatlan.

Matt was able to fix his pannier for free at a bike shop in the morning. In the afternoon we wondered around the city, which is quite large by Baja standards, with a happening downtown, and a pleasant and not so touristy waterfront. We arrived at the ferry terminal 3 hours in advance, boarded the ferry without any problems, and were quite amazed at how nice, clean and upscale our room was, bigger than some hotel rooms we were staying at (and it even had a shower!). And the sheer size of the ferry, which has a few restaurants, two bars with dj booths and a dancing floor, a swimming pool (albeit not functioning), a game room, a kids play room, and a few shops, is quite inpressive. It’s like a small cruise ship, though the only people on it were truck drivers and a few random travelers, including us.

As the ferry took off, we said final good-byes to Baja and went to our cabin to have a picnic type dinner and celebrate our first milestone adventure over a bottle of wine.
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:15 PM   #7
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Mexican Coast

We ended up deciding to ride down the coast rather than do the interior. Our glowing white Seattlite skin cannot resist the draw of sunshine and surf. We're currently in Acaponeta and heading further down the coast tomorrow.
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Old 11-27-2008, 12:37 AM   #8
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Great start and lovely desert photos!
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Old 11-27-2008, 06:53 AM   #9
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Outstanding!! Thanks for the detailed report and great pics.. what a great adventure
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Old 11-27-2008, 07:20 AM   #10
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Great report. I'm amazed at the level of detail you give... good luck with everything.

I think you probably will have problems with those titles. Not to worry though, they'll let you in, just may cost you a little more in the corrupt places, don't be in a hurry, and don't accept their first offer , everything should be negotiable.

South America: Until our Luck or Money Runs Out
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Old 11-27-2008, 08:45 AM   #11
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Old 11-27-2008, 09:12 AM   #12
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I see you're a bit north of Puerto Vallarta. Say HI to my 07 KLR if you pass by--although it's in storage waiting for me to continue a trip I started early October from Portland...
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Old 11-27-2008, 12:10 PM   #13
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Subscribed, looks like it's gonna be a good one.

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Old 11-27-2008, 10:31 PM   #14
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I am enjoying your report and look forward to future posts. Enjoy the adventure!
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Old 11-28-2008, 09:37 AM   #15
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I enjoyed your narrative quite a bit. I am a bit nonplussed that you found Tijuana a 'paradise' and Ensenada not so nice. I've heard Tijuana called many things, and found it many things myself, but a paradise?

Well, it's been years. Maybe the place has come up quite a bit.
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