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Day 281-285, 18-22 April09: Trucks, dust, wind, heat: Baja California Norte, Part2

April 30, 2009 by , 5,226 views  
Filed under Baja California, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

18-21 April 2009, past San Quintin –Rosarito, via El Rosario, Sonora & the desert..

The roads were dry and empty but the fresh sea wind kept us cool. That is, until we headed inland and up a very steep hill. After some pushing we ended up at another military checkpoint on top of a mesa, before the road dropped quickly into the dusty town of El Rosario.

We bought some yoghurt and even though we had only cycled 50km, we decided to stay the afternoon and work in the Internet cafe. The previous owner was the current pharmacist and he send us to a place on the far side of town to pitch our tent: Baja’s Best.

It is a nice restaurant and B&B, run by ‘Eduardo’, American Edward Lusk, recognizable by the large ‘Starbucks’ sign on the side of the yellow building. Not sure if the coffee is from SB, but according to Ivana (who, unlike me, likes the beanjuice) the freshly made stuff was great.

When we go in for the evening, 3 drunk Mexicans are singing loudly. The youngest one starts messing with the friendly rottweiler Bruno, to the point that Bruno is about to attack. His two friends try to persuade him to stop, even lock him in his car, but somehow he manages to escape and stumble back in again. They are living proof that it is not wise to drive or ride after sunset on the Highway 1…

We camped on a nice patch of grass, a luxury in Baja and when we packed the next morning, Ed’s friend and neighbour Duffy came by. He was intrigued by our trip and bought us a breakfast in the restaurant.

We had been warned about the next section of the road, dangerous for all vehicles and cyclists in particular. Not only was it about 500m up, but the road was narrow, curvy and for some weird reason some curves were grading outwards creating danger for trucks.

As we would spend the next day pushing up most hills we decided to take a ride and got one a minute later, with Angel, a nice guy from La Paz. He mentioned that there had been some car-jacking on this section and that not everybody might stop for hitchhikers.

We quickly passed steep hills and very narrow corners and felt the centrifugal forces resulting from the road-designers’ engineering mistakes from the back of the pick-up.

Ivana in the Catavina desert (4)After about 60km we got out and started cycling and immediately regretted not having stayed on another minute as the road climbed up steeply out of a small valley. But even worse, once we got to the top, we almost got blown off the road.

A gale-force wind was coming from the East and as we were headed SouthEast, it was almost impossible to cycle. The dry dusty storm pushed us all over the place and every truck passing created dangerous vacuums. It took us over an hour on relatively flat ground to cover 10km and we were happy to get some shade and a soda in a small ‘llantera’ one of the many car workshops (‘Body & Pain_’ as I saw once in San Diego ;-)) along the road.

Cactus forest in Catavina, MexicoWe headed up as well now and the speed dropped even lower and we quickly ran out of water as we were basically fighting a life-size blowdryer at full force. In a small restaurant we bought a gallon of water. We had to buy our first plastic container on the trip as there was simply no water to filter around, we were in the middle of the desert.

Another hour later we stopped at a place that was called ‘Sonora’ on the map, which turned out to be exactly one house on the side of the road. We decided to call it a day as we had only done 30km in over 3 hours and were completely exhausted. Santiago, the owner of the ranch and his son Alonso, let us camp outside and we watched the milky way, while the wind stopped exactly at sunset…

Ivana in the Catavina desert (3)The next morning we left early to avoid the wind, but it had gotten up early with us. Still it was not as bad and we made it to Catavina relatively quickly. Catavina, the touristy little town in the middle of the desert of the same name was a depressing place.

At 10 o’ clock in the morning we entered the local abarrotes, the name for the small minimarkets that were to be found in every dusty place in Mexico, selling basic un-necessities and some useful items like water.

Sunset in Baja California, MexicoI saw a large electric waterfilter (‘Reverse OSmosis + UV!’) as asked the woman if we could refill our bottles.

She said the filter was working and the water was safe, but when I checked the back of the machine the electrical cord and plug were tied in a not, covered with years of dust and spiderwebs, so unfortunately we had to purchase another plastic container…

The other clients all bought either beer, or coke and liquor, while the sun was still rising. We bought some refried beans burritos and some quesadillas and watched a half-drunk family get back in their battered old van, 6 people on 3 seats, the rest was on a mattress in the back, sipping litre-bottles of beer.

It was getting hot, so we headed back up the hills. Sometimes the wind was pushing in the back, then either it or we turned a bit and got mummified from the front. Ivana’s thermometer said it was 45 degrees Celsius (113F) and even though I drank more than one litre per hour, I could not pee a drop in a course of 2 days, the water just evaporated from our bodies.

Kowalski in the desert Ivana in the Catavina desert (2)Valle de los Sirios, Baja, Mexico

Still it was a great place, giant cacti between graffiti-covered boulders lined the quiet road and we felt in a different world. The odd cirius trees were growing everywhere as well, simply a single almost-straight trunk, sometimes ending up divided near the top, but generally without any branches.

We had already climbed a lot during the day and as some places on the map were were out of business or simply did not exists, we had not rested during the hottest period. After another steep uphill where I had to again help overheated Ivana push her bike up, we were passed by a pick-up who offered us to take us to the next place. It was only 16km and most of it would be down-hill as we were on the highest point, but Ivana wanted to get out of the sun. The cold beer the guys gave us eased a bit of the pain of 10 minutes of driving down a nice steep slope.

We entered the small ‘Loncheria’ (where you can buy, yes you guessed it, ‘Lonch’) and had a short conversation with the sturdy woman behind the counter.

‘Buenos tardes (Good afternoon)!’ we greeted.

‘?Que queria?’ (What did you want?), was the reply.

We tried again with a greeting but got the same reply. We bought some water and asked if we could pitch our tent somewhere around the place.

‘There is a hotel somewhere.’, she pointed out towards the desert.

‘Where and how far?’ we asked out of politeness, adding that we were on bicycles.

‘There!’ she pointed again into the dust.

After this depressing person and similar place added enough tension between us to cause a short fight about taking rides, we decided to make some extra miles to make up for it and to enjoy the cooler afternoon air.

Desert camping in MexicoWe had seen a small place called ‘El Crucero’ on the map, 29 km away. Even though it was late, we had some great down hills and the wind was suddenly pushing, so we made it just before dark. The only downside was that there was no place to be found anywhere.

As we had to get off the road before dark, we followed a sideroad until we were out of sight and pushed our bikes into the desert. We were warned about the many spikes and cacti that had punctured so many a biketraveller’s tire and camping gear, so we carefully tried to remove the spikes from our path.

Stupid gringo as I am I tried to kick away a small fallen part of a cactus, but it punched right into my hard sole and managed to warp around, into my foot at the same time. I had to ask Ivana to pull it out, which took a lot more effort than getting it in…

We did not need to put the tent-fly, so if we hadn’t been so tired from this hot and hilly day (103km, excluding the 16km ride!) we could have watched the gazillion stars from our matresses…

Joshua Trees in MexicoCactus, Baja, Mexico

We woke up to another hot day. We were sweating at 7 in the morning trying to get our bikes out the minefield of spiky things. Somehow I like the desert, but when all animals, plants and animate objects are apparently only put there to make life harder or even end it prematurely (in the case of some plants and many insects, snakes and spiders), it was good to be on the hot dark road again…

Abarrotes Lupita, Villa Jesus Maria, MexicoWe learned from our mistake and stopped before 11 o’ clock, lounging and lunching on some car seats on the patio of a small Loncheria until it was a bit bearable again. We had gotten a book from our host Gary, back in Oregon, and due to lack of power and Internet (though my solar panel was charging the batteries) I finally had time to start this great travelogue: Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend

We spent 4.5 hours in Punta Prieta, waiting for the sun to ease its angle on the Mexican part of the earth’s surface, while fat girls cared for babies with American toys. I managed to make the world a slightly better place by killing about 10 flies in the meantime. Guess that Buddhism, the last religion that had any hopes for me, also has given up by now…

Sharing the road in Baja California Lunch and shade in the heatwave Sunset and cyclistPunta Prieta, Baja California, Mexico

It was still 40km to go to our next destination, Nuevo Rosarito and we rushed through the hills, over smaller and then bigger rollercoasters.

I waited for Ivana besides the road on one of the rare flat parts where you could see half a mile. Ivana was almost next to me, when an oversized SUV with Californian license plates, loaded with beach-stuff and two fat guys approached her with about 70 mile per hour (112km/h), swerving wildly to the left just before hitting her, then wildly back just in front.

All this on a clear road with no other traffic, perfect sight and a maximum speed of 30mph (60km/h). While passing they gestured maniacally with their hands indicating that we were crazy, to which I kindly attended them to the longest of my fingers.

Almost all large Mexican trucks always give plenty of space and wait when it is even a little bit unsafe to pass and then waive or honk friendly when they do, but somehow it is always the typical obese beach-yankee in their useless oversized SUV’s that think that they own the country, that are the biggest danger on the road…

Sunset arrival in RosaritoI was still pissed off when we zoomed down towards Nuevo Rosarito and stopped at the first restaurant we saw.

To celebrate the survival of our first real dessert we ordered some fried fish and camped our tent in the nice backyard, where we even discovered a hot shower!

But the night turned out less pleasant than expected. Not only were big trucks stopping all night long, their stinking diesel engines running stationary for hours before pulling out of the restaurant, but we both woke up feeling sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up my dinner, while Ivana passed it through the natural way, but at an unnatural speed and viscosity.

22 April 2009: with empty stomachs from Rosarito towards the 28th Parallel, 76km

Brave plants in Mexican desertWe felt weak but luckily the road flattened out after some minor climbs and even the road surface that for 10km had resembled something out of a horror movie rather than asphalt returned to Mexican normal.

It was still hot and though close to the sea, the vegetation was mostly limited to thorny things and surprising amounts of a close cousin of the Joshua Tree, but I also discovered some tiny brave berries on the desert floor.

Lunch in Villa Jesus MariaHalfway was a place called Villa Jesus Maria, not much more than a truckstop, where a nice family cut up a delicious fresh fruit mix on the spot. Ivana’s stomach was till upset and she due to her cramps she stuck with safer foods.

Many Vados, zero riversThe next 40 km were almost straight and as the wind changed from coming from the side to slightly from behind, we raced along the empty desert, passing many ‘vado’ signs.

It is hard to believe that these dips in the road have ever seen water, as we had not seen a drop of fresh water since leaving San Diego…

From miles away I could see a shape in the sky, that turned out to be a giant flag, rivalling the one in Ensenada for size, beating it in location: in the middle of nowhere.

The position was not as random as it might have appeared as we were approaching the 28th parallel. Not only a nice circle around the planet, but also the border between two Mexican states: Baja California Norte & Baja California Sur, the latter even being in a different time zone.

Little boy, Villa Jesus Maria, MexicoIt was time to get my Internet fix and as Ivana was still feeling sick we checked in the first motel we saw with ‘Internet’ on the side.

We got half price and awarded ourselves with an easy rest day before turning our clocks one hour ahead to Southern Baja Time. We survived the Northern part of Baja California. Not unscathed though and it is interesting to see what the even larger Southern part will bring…

1000 Americans: Mother and kids selling fruit, Villa Jesus Maria, Mexico

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Mother and kids, Villa Jesus Maria, Mexico

In the middle of a long dusty stretch of road, this family parks their van, fixes a tarp and carves and sells fresh fruit, a small oasis in the desert. The kids just hang out in the car while the parents are working…

1000 Americans: Don Santiago & Alonso Romero, Sonora, Mexico

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Don Santiago and Alonso Romero, Sonora, Mexico

Don Santiago is in his sixties and lives with his mother in a small lone ranch in the desert of Baja California. They sell animals carved out of marble and onyx.

His son Alonso (one of 9 kids) lives South in Guerrero Negro and visits him when possible.

Day 274-280, 11-17April09: Trucks, dust, wind, heat: Baja California Norte, Part1

April 28, 2009 by , 3,168 views  
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We stayed a few days in Ensenada. Gerardo, who lives in the US, came down for a day, to resupply the local bikeshop (‘TNT’) with new bikes and parts and took us out for breakfast in the centre of Ensenada, where we visited a nice coffeeshop with Wifi. The town was virtually deserted, no tourist in sight.

Ivana’s knee was still hurting a bit, but we enjoyed the little house that Gerardo has opened up for cyclists passing South. We visited his friends Delia & Jose Antonio often and enjoyed just walking around the neighbourhood.

Downtown Ensenada Delia and Jose Antonio

15th April, Ensenada – Santo Thomas, 35 km

Yonke RomeroIt was time to hit the road again and we made our way across busy streets. We noticed a lot of ‘Yonke’ signs and realized that it one more Mexicanisation of an English word, ‘junk’!

After I took a photo of the Romero Yonke, for my friend Romke Jonker :), I turned to take a photo of Ivana approaching and almost shot her being run over by a truck that passed way too close for comfort.

It was going slow, but we were warned…

Ivana and the truck Ivana and the truck (2)Ivana and the truck (3)

On top of a hill we saw our first of several military checkpoints. They check for weapons going South from the USA to Mexico and beyond and drugs going the opposite way, but never once did we have to stop, nor were our passports or bags checked.

Doctor Viridiana, Santo Thomas, Mexico (2)We did more climbing than expected and as Ivana started feeling some pain, we decided to call it a day in a small town of Santa Thomas. The local campsite wanted more cash than the hiker-biker sites in the USA, so we continued down the road to ask for a suitable place to pitch a tent.

We found a small local hospital where a nice doctor was teaching the local and rural population about birth control, AIDS, nutrition and more.

She did not only share a nice ‘sopa de mariscos’ (seafood soup), but offered us the office to put our mattresses, so we did not even have to pitch a tent.

16th April, Santo Thomas – Colonet, 76km

We got our first taste of Baja climbing today, slowly climbing over a 450m high slope. The road was not too busy, but once we hit the steepest part, the road curved and we realized that although we could hear them coming from a kilometre away, the big trucks could not see us, so mostly we waited on the side of the road to let them pass.

Mexican DinnigIvana riding the transpeninsular

We had seen many signs depicting ‘campsite’ along the way, but they never had any direction, explanation, name or distance attached to them, so we never actually saw one.

The town of Colonet seemed to be nothing more than just a few dusty convenience stores along the highway, but when we went in one of the side roads we found a nice central Plaza, where we could ask the Police for a place to camp.

We entered to see about 5 guys lounging lazily in comfortable chairs, watching some soap opera on TV. One managed to get up and showed us a place in the backyard, where we could sleep. When we headed to a nearby mini-market to buy our totopos (nacho chips!) and salsa and to refill our water bottles (cheaper and more ecological than buying bottles), we got a lot of positive comments from kids and elders.

One family that apparently already had seen us on the road got so excited that they invited us to their house for dinner. As they could not explain much more than ‘up and behind that steep hill’, we decided to put our bikes in their van and -after letting the police know that we wouldn’t be staying- off we went.

Gerardo and his family lived outside of town in a small place, erected by a church group. Around it a few dogs were keeping the cows away from the food for the pigs and the chickens. They also had a campervan, which was normally reserved for his 3 girls to study, but now they insisted that we use the bed inside after we shared our totopos and some quesedillas, sharing mutual stories, 7 people around the light of 2 candles…

Areli, Colonet, Mexico (2)Our home in Colonet, Mexico

17th April 2009: Colonet – past san Quintin

Gerardo, his wife and 2 daughters left at 6 in the morning to catch the bus that would take them to work on the fields, paying about $10 per person per day. We spent some time with the 3rd daughter, Areli and then headed out on the bumpy road, back to Highway 1.

Mexico Highway 1 is just a two lane-road, exactly 2 trucks wide, divided in half by a mostly uninterrupted non-passing line. As with all traffic signals (stop signs, speed limits and even distances to the next town), this is merely a polite suggestion, and rarely appreciated.,There is no room for a bicycle if two vehicles are passing each other, so we had to be watchful all the time and our little rear-view mirrors were lifesavers.

Fortunately a large part of todays trip, a small part beside the road was paved, creating a narrow shoulder as wide as 1-2 feet, just enough to make cycling a bit more relaxed.

We passed some busy parts, the area called San Quintin was full of large and small trucks, but right after, traffic was much rarer and the wind was finally in our back for a while. We noticed some regular patterns around the road: trash every meter, ripped car tires every 10 meters and a memorial sign looking like a grave amidst car debris every kilometre or so…

This area was home to many tomato & strawberry growers and we ended up camping at a rest area between big farms, while big trucks were roaming around non-stop.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of Baja California Norte!

Middle of nowhere minimarketYet another ghost-river Desert boy, Mexico Yet another fatal car crash

1000 Americans: Ed & Duffy, El Rosario, Mexico

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Edward and Duffy, El Rosario

Ed ‘Eduardo’ Lusk is married with a Mexican woman and they run the well-known Baja’s Best restaurant together.

His neighbour and friend Duffy also originates from Ventura, California, but both like the climate and atmosphere in Northern Baja California much better.

1000 Americans: Areli, Rosa, Yaneth, Gerardo & Michelle, Colonet, Mexico

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Areli, Rosa, Yaneth, Gerardo and Michelle

Gerardo thanks his Lord every minute for his life and the challenges in it. Having been a fisherman and now a small farmer and land worker, he trust completely in his faith and his family to make ends meet.

Shot by candlelight in his small house outside Colonet, built and donated by a church group.

1000 Americans: Dr Viridiana, Santo Thomas, Mexico

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Doctor Viridiana, Santo Thomas, Mexico

Viridiana is a young doctor, teaching the rural population about sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and prevention of it, birth control and nutrition. Her small clinic helps many poor people from the area.

1000 Americans: Carina, Ensenada, Mexico

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Waitress Carina, Ensenada

Carina works in a nice small coffee shop in the centre of Ensenada, a city where many young people from the US come to ‘party’ as the age restrictions on drinking and drugs are more flexible than in the US.

Meanwhile Carina creates her coffees and pours a wonderful chai to more relaxed guests.

1000 Americans: Gerardo Medina, Ensenada, Mexico

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Gerardo Medina

Actually, Gerardo lives in Riverside, California. But he has a small place in Ensenada that he does not real use himself, but he allows biketravellers to use it as a WarmShowers place.

Even though he is a doctor, he could not revalidate his certification in the US and is making signs now. Every now and then he comes down to Ensenada, Mexico to stock the biggest bicycle store with great bikes and parts that in the US are often simply discarded.

1000 Americans: Delia & Jose Antonio, Ensenada, Mexico

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Delia and Jose Antonio with Canica

Delia and Don Jose Antonio are in their seventies and have been married over 50 years and live in a small house, South of Ensenada, with their dog Canica.

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