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