The Decision: Vancouver – San Diego
September was already rainy, October wasn’t much better. The famous “Mamas and the Papas” song “California Dreamin’ ” kept on going through my mind. The skies were indeed gray and the leaves were brown. As November was getting closer, “November Rain” by “Guns N’ Roses” was now stuck in my head. I had just submitted my thesis and the question “what to do now?” was looming from every direction. This time the band “Queen” had the answer, “I want to ride my bicycle”. Combining “California Dreaming”, “November Rain” and “Bicycle” resulted in a November cycle touring trip in Baja California, Mexico, which is even better than the American California.
We “planned” the trip in about 10 days because that’s all the time we had. The “plan”, however, was relatively simple. We’d fly into San Diego with our bikes, cross the border to Tijuana, ride south and three weeks later we’d fly home from Los Cabos which is at the Southern end of Baja California. In those 10 days we read some trip reports of people who made this journey and we tried to get into better shape. That included quite a few bike rides with loaded bikes, mostly in the rain…
We caught an early morning flight to San Diego. Once there, Gili spent about 3 hours putting the bikes back together. As we left the airport we noticed how hot it was, probably around 30°c. It felt great to ride out from the airport, something I’ve never done before. There was a bike route all the way to downtown which was only 6 km away.
We met up with Gili’s family and spent a pleasant evening with them. They were concerned about our trip, since Mexico and specifically Tijuana had been in the news lately in events related to drug violence. It was our third time in Mexico in the past two years, and before every visit there was some sort of travel warning. Every time we went and had a great time. It’s not that bad things can’t happen to tourists there, but it’s quite rare. Of all the places I have traveled to, Mexico is one of the few I felt really safe in. It’s always a good idea to be cautious, but I wouldn’t stay home either.
The next day we rode to the border on the convenient bike route that took us almost all the way to Tijuana. The ride was smooth, except for one flat tire. However, when we got closer to the border it became more confusing. Eventually with the help of a woman from the border patrol, we made our way to the “Border Village”. This is the busiest border crossing in the world, but for pedestrians (and cyclists) there were no line ups and we crossed easily to the other side. By the time we got to Tijuana we were both starving and thirsty. A few burritos and fresh pineapple juice (on the house) did the trick.
Cacti Paradise: El Rosario – Santa Rosalia
We decided to skip the first 370 km of the Trans Peninsula highway as we wanted to avoid heavy traffic and we had heard the south is much nicer. We caught two buses from Tijuana to the small village of El Rosario. There was no problem to put the bikes in the baggage compartment of the bus. The next morning it was time to start riding and it was HOT. Not only that, it was also hilly and windy. We made slow progress that day.
At around 2pm we started to get concerned, we hadn’t taken any food with us for lunch as we assumed we’d find something on the way and our water was starting to run out… We started fantasizing about a coke and that’s not good, since we really dislike coke. About an hour later, in the distance, we saw the sign – it was blue and had a picture of a knife and fork, then on the left hand side of the road there was a “loncheria”, which is a small eatery. I drank two fantas, which I don’t even like, but it was so good, and then we were ready to eat too. After our late lunch the road straightened out and there were even some downhill sections. We stopped for the night near an impressive cactus a few hundred meters off the road. The first day was tough, but satisfying.
Over the next few days our progress was much better. It was mostly desert scenery with impressive cacti on both sides of the road and in some sections there were also huge boulders. Now we also found food for lunch easily. It seemed like a place to eat always appeared just at the right time. On our fourth day we crossed from North Baja California to South Baja California and also passed through the not so impressive town of Guerrero Negro, the largest settlement we had passed so far. After 140 km we decided it was time to stop for the day. We spent that night in an abandoned village near the house of one of the only two families who still lived there. Everything around was broken and neglected and we weren’t quite sure what had happened there.
On the fifth day we arrived to San Ignacio, which is a small oasis in the middle of the desert. We first saw the lush green settlement from above and it was a sharp contrast to the brown desert. We were ready for a day off and it seemed that “sleepy” San Ignacio would be the perfect place. We camped near the oasis, swam, ate lots of tacos and worked on the bikes. Gili was also busy climbing the many palm trees and eating lots of dates.
The Coastline: Santa Rosalia – Ligui
We left San Ignacio and knew we’d reach the ocean that day, but we didn’t quite believe it till we saw it. When the Sea of Cortez was finally visible in the distance, we stopped to admire it. It was unbelievably blue, but still a good few hundred meters below us. By now we had finally installed the mirrors we brought on our bikes. They didn’t quite fit so we improvised something. It made a huge difference to the quality of the ride as we could now also see the big trucks that were coming from behind us.
The traffic was mostly light, but the big trucks were scary, especially if there was one in each direction… I was especially grateful for the mirrors as we were riding “the downhill from hell” in order to reach the coast, which involved many curves and blind corners. We got closer to the ocean and then finally to the village of Santa Rosalia. In the morning we ate fresh fish tacos for breakfast with the road workers, and checked out the bakery “El Boleo” for delicious fresh baked goods.
We had a hint from a trip report to check out Playa Escondida (the hidden beach). It was indeed hidden from the road and when we finally reached the place we were amazed. It was such a beautiful beach that we immediately decided to stay an extra day there to laze on the beach. Along the way we stopped at a few other beaches for refreshing swims. On one beach we noticed that almost every car had a British Columbia license plate, and so we named this beach “The Canadian Beach”. The last refreshing swim was at the village of Ligui. We noticed that at the end of the beach a big hotel was being built. Just like the guidebook said “the clock is ticking for Baja California, come to enjoy it now while it lasts…”
From Desert to Modernization: Ligui – La-Paz
After the last refreshing swim, we left the ocean for a few days as the road climbed into the mountains. We had heard about this big uphill for days and now it was time to ride it. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it sure was strenuous. In the next few days the road flattened and the scenery was a bit less interesting. We passed through two graceless towns but in one of them we found an excellent bakery where we spent an hour buying every fresh item as it came out of the oven.
We spent one night camping in the back yard of a family. Their dog barked the whole night and no one seemed to mind. In the morning we discovered that the barking devil was actually a cute little doggie. We spent a few more nights camping in the desert. On some mornings we woke up to discover that our tires were flat. We finally realized that we shouldn’t be surprised if we ride the bikes so close to thorny cacti, so from that point on we decided to carry the bikes to our camp spot.
One day we had lunch in the small village of El Cien, 100 km from La Paz (Cien is 100 in Spanish). The people there warned us that there was nothing for the next 100 km and they were pretty much right. The next day we finally reached the big city of La Paz. It was such a contrast to ride into town after hundreds of kilometers of solid desert. La Paz is a modern city with big malls, many supermarkets, people from all over and lots of good food. We ate excellent fish tacos and jumped into the ocean. Then we found the “La Fuente” ice cream shop. We were thinking about this ice cream for days, since it was a while since we had one. It was made from real fruit and the cone was made of cookies, we were in heaven…
We decided to try “couch surfing” in La Paz. Unfortunately it wasn’t so successful. As we were going to walk into the house of our couch surfing dude, he asked us if we like animals. I thought that if he has a cat or a dog it would be nice, however his animals were snakes, tarantulas and other creatures, and he mentioned that one snake escaped a few months ago and was never found. Yet, that wasn’t the biggest problem, as his house was so dirty one could barely see the floor. The next morning we thanked him and said we prefer to be closer to the centre, which was somewhat true…
We spent another day in La Paz, took a snorkeling tour and swam with cute baby sea lions. It was so much fun to relax in the sun and let someone else do the ride for once. In La Paz it was also time to look for bike boxes, which we found easily, and sent them by bus to San Jose del Cabo, our final destination.
The Home Stretch: La Paz – San Jose del Cabo
We were left with two days of riding and once again it suddenly got really hot. It took us a while to get out of La Paz and the road signs with the number of kilometers didn’t match our map, which didn’t match the distance table we had, which didn’t match what people said about the distance. It was all very confusing.
At dusk we reached the village of San Bartolo. A local guy said we could camp down by the river, pretty much in the middle of the village. The next morning we bought some dried fruit candy, which is the village specialty and continued riding, hoping that we’d make it to San Jose del Cabo that day. We stopped for another refreshing swim in Los Barriles, which unfortunately has been taken over by Americans. Their big villas were very close to the beach and it reminded me of Malibu.
The sun was baking us, shade was rare and also we couldn’t find a lunch stop at the time we wanted it. We crossed the “Tropic of Cancer” which had a monument of a big white concrete ball. We were still not sure how far we were from San Jose. But then sometime in the late afternoon we saw an airplane and that was a good sign, we were getting closer to the airport, apparently. Then we finally reached the outskirts of San Jose and we knew we would probably make it. We entered the San Jose plaza close to dusk. I’m sure no one really noticed us, but for us it was a big moment – the finish line, the end of the journey, the goal we had set ourselves was completed. As I rode towards the Mexican flag, and completed the last few meters of our 1,500 km journey, I felt happy – we made it!
We relaxed the next day. All of a sudden, riding seemed hard. It was surprising because we hadn’t really felt muscle pain until then. We collected our bike boxes, took another dip in the ocean, ate fish and ice cream and packed. The bikes were now inside the cardboard boxes ready to go back to Canada. But were we ready? I wasn’t sure, but there wasn’t much choice anyway. I knew I could have continued cycle touring for a long time. As we boarded the plane we enjoyed a last few minutes of sunshine. The next time we went outside was in Vancouver, and it was -9°c with snow on the ground.
A video clip from three trips to Mexico: