Published: September 13th 2012September 12th 2012
Sunday 2/9/12 – We woke up, packed up and made a beeline for the Mexican border that crosses between San Diego and Tijuana. Just before crossing we stopped in to swap some dollars for pesos, and to purchase some Mexican motorcycle insurance. At the border I got stopped by the American border patrol and they opened my panniers looking for something (probably drugs or weapons). We then headed to Mexican immigration to get all our papers organised. We pinballed from office to office getting our passports stamped, tourist permits, and the bikes imported. One of the Mexican customs officers spoke English and loved motorbikes, so he was happy to help and told us what we needed and where to go. It only took about 5 minutes at the border for us to begin regretting not learning more Spanish. Knowing how to order food at a restaurant, or a nights accommodation at a hotel doesn’t really help in these stressful and important situations. Luckily Kenz has a large Spanish vocabulary and I have better communication skills so together we managed to work it out OK.
The roads around Tijuana are unruly, unkept, and almost entirely un-navigable. We somehow managed to get
on the right highway and headed south out of the city. Once we cleared the city limits we had time to get our bearings and take a moment to settle ourselves. We headed south onto the Mex 1D Highway and sat back taking in the city around us. As we approached the first road toll area I could see people standing on the road between the lanes. I figured it was just locals trying to sell you trinkets while you stopped at the toll booth. Once we got closer I saw the first guy was wearing a balaclava and holding up a bed sheet with Spanish writing painted all over it, the guy next to him was wearing a gas-mask and had a huge Mexican flag. There were about 100 people across the road all wearing masks or balaclavas chanting slogans and blowing whistles. We think it was toll road workers striking, however they seemed to be letting vehicles through; when we approached they shouted and blew whistles at us but let us pass through. About 10 kms down the road we passed two military trucks filled with soldiers heading back towards the protesters, perhaps it was good that we
passed through when we did!
We got off the toll road and decided to follow the small local road that weaved in and around the many coastal towns. Mexico seems to be similar to what we were expecting: smelly, dirty, chaotic, and so much more alive than the rest of North America. This sort of country grooves to a totally different beat than Australia/USA and it’s so refreshing to be a part of it. It really brings back memories of travelling through Africa.
Whilst passing through a number of smaller cities and suburbs of Tijuana, we were surprised by the number of Californian bikers on the road. There were plenty of dual-sport rides down for the weekend which made us feel less out of place. At one point we passed a ute on the side of the road where a woman was loading a rifle. I have no idea what she was going to shoot…
At one stage we were riding out in the country side and turned a corner to be greeted by machinegun wielding soldiers with a rope and chain across the road. We had been previously warned about these military check points set up
down the Baja peninsula so we weren’t too surprised or worried. They made Kenz get off her bike and searched her panniers; maybe they knew she was a (legal) drug dealer back home.
We arrived at our destination city of Ensenada. We rode up the main street and found some suitable accommodation with off street parking. We managed to book a room without too much confusion and then headed out to see the city. We stopped in a Brazilian bar and got a few drinks, I was happy with my first taste of Mexican Sangria and Kenz got some Margaritas. We then had a pizza for dinner and spent the evening walking the city. We were eating safe and drinking bottled water as we didn’t really want to tempt food/water poisoning until we were a little further from the USA border as we didn’t really want to spend 2 or 3 days in this area. I’m sure we will both get struck down by the food or water over here, I just hope it’s in a nice peaceful coastal town, which Ensenada isn’t!
Monday 3/9/12 – We fuelled up at the Pemex gas station in Ensenada
this morning. Mexico only has one chain of gas stations which are also owned by the government – therefore there is no real incentive for service or better pricing. However the gas station attendants are usually quite pleasant. We headed south and made pretty good time, despite having to ride through some bad mud and gravel in the sections of road construction. Australian roadworkers sometimes get the reputation of being a bit lazy, however today I saw a roadworks truck on the side of the road with 3 workers asleep under it!
Today’s ride was a steady change between chaotic and dusty little towns and military checkpoints. We haven’t encountered any problems with the military yet, there are usually signs up warning of their presence ahead so when you turn the corner and see soldiers with machine guns blocking the road you don’t freak out. They often just wave us by, or want to talk about the bikes.
We came to a small town called San Qinton which seemed like a nice place to spend the night. We saw a sign for a camping area that was out near a beach so we turned off onto the gravel
road to find it. It wasn’t long before the road had changed from gravel to dirt to sand until we were basically riding across a sandy dune. Exhausted from the concentration required to stay upright we were happy to arrive and set up the tent. We strolled along the beach and piers before hitting the local bar to relax. We bought dinner and 7 drinks for about $15.
Tuesday 04/09/12 – Realising that we had no food for breakfast we had to back track into town to visit the local market. I brought a 2L bottle of the most beautiful looking but horrible tasting orange juice I have ever had. Kenz was smart and bought some yogurt but I was too stubborn to go back and get some for myself, the juice would have to do. We headed off into the desert for a big day of riding. There was a 320 km stretch of road with no fuel services, we had to flick our bikes over to the reserve tank at about 310 kms. We fuelled up again and rode on until my stomach (and Kenz’s) was growling at me for a lunch stop. We pulled
over under a cactus for shade and feasted on hard bread and hot orange juice that tasted like powdered rotten apricots.
We took off again before my stomach could declare war on the rest of my body, only to be stopped a few kms down the road by a river that had overflowed and was flooding the road. We stopped and watched a few trucks and utes navigate across the river to try and work out the best route. It seemed as though there was a fair bit of road damage as the trucks would often drop a wheel into a pothole sending yellow water up into their engine where it would turn to huge jets of steam. After establishing a mental route through the river I managed to cross it on my bike without dropping it which was a relief. The bottom was sand and boulders and really bumpy, it was well over knee deep and came over halfway up the engine. Kenz decided that it would be better if I rode her bike across as well. Of course once I wanted a lift back across the river, no cars turned so I just had to walk back
across. I got Kenz’s bike across with two boots full of water but no other dramas. We headed down the road to the city of Guerrero Negro which was unfortunately crazy hot. We found a hotel and got a room with a fan – it was like a fan forced oven.
Wednesday 05/09/12 – We woke up on Kenz’s 30th
birthday with everything wet. I thought one of us had wet the bed in the night but I think it was just sweat. We rode through some beautiful parts of Baja California Sur today. Apparently it has been really wet lately which means that the desert has bloomed into thousands of beautiful flowers and small cacti. We also rode through areas of large cacti forest which is so strange – it’s like a Dr Seuss book come to life! One stretch of road was full of hundreds of thousands of beautiful yellow, orange and white butterflies. Unfortunately about a thousand met their timely demise on my bike, including around 50 exclusively meeting their maker via my helmet visor!
We were keen to check out a large town built on the oasis of San Ignacio however the
whole area was flooding and there was huge a section of road that was under water. Heading south out of the town, we encountered another large portion of road that was underwater; unfortunately we had no choice but to go through it as there was no other way to reach the southern Baja peninsula. After watching a few locals navigate the muddy water I picked the most common path and rode across it without incident. I jumped in the back of a local’s ute to catch a ride back across the river so I could ride Kenz’s bike across. Whilst riding her bike across, I must have hit a decent size rock underwater as I felt the bike move sideways in the deepest part of the river. When the bike started to tip over I gave the throttle a twist which kept it upright all the way across.
We continued on and reached the east coast of Baja California Sur. It is definitely the wet season over this side, the humidity is astonishing! Apparently they have just had the biggest rains in many years which would explain all the flooded roads and butterflies. We came across the city of
Mulege and rode around until we found a hotel with air conditioning. We had a lovely dinner at a local Mexican restaurant to celebrate Kenz’s birthday and she managed to Skype her mum at home as well.
Thursday 06/09/12 – I thought my shorts had been stolen from my bike this morning as I washed them last night and hung them off my handlebars to dry overnight. After looking around the immediate area I found them covered in dirt and dog hair. I can only assume that one of the myriad of stray dogs stole them for a blanket last night. There are heaps of stray dogs over here, it’s hard to remember they are stray and shouldn’t be patted.
The butterflies today were amazing. There are just millions of them everywhere, even the locals can hardly believe it – they are all saying it’s because of the rains. From translation I think the caterpillars can make their cocoons, develop and then suspend their final development till the big rains come (which haven’t come for 4 years apparently). After 400 kms through coastal desert lands that were alive in flowers, butterflies and many different types of
cacti, our bikes were transformed from blue and black to a yellowy/whitish smeared pattern of smeared butterflies. In the late afternoon we rode in to the capital city of Baja California Sur called La Paz. The city has grown from a small fishing town into a bustling city filled with fisherman, markets, government officials, and people who are drawn to the world-class beaches in the area. We entered La Paz and headed down to the waterfront to look for a suitable hotel. Unfortunately due to either my bad conveying of directions or Kenz’s bad listening ability we managed to get split up with no idea where the other person was and no reception on our phones! Luckily we have worked out how each other think and Kenz managed to find me about half an hour later down near the waterfront. With a complete mental and emotional breakdown narrowly avoided we found a great hotel a block from the beach that was really cheap, also they let us park our bikes in the hotel foyer which was really cool. We scurried out in the evening to find some fantastic local Mexican food. The food over here is great, and totally different
to what passes as ‘mexican food’ back home.
Friday 07/09/12 – We headed down to the beach and organised for a tour around the Isla Espiritu Santo (Island of the saint of spirits) on a small local boat. Whilst the captain was waiting for a family who had already booked their places on the boat, he took us around the marina and the city waterfront. There were plenty of interesting things to view including a few sunken ships in the harbour. On the way to the island we passed many beautiful long beaches with crystal clear blue water that were deserted. I am glad that we are in the area in the off season (it’s too hot for tourists this time of year). The south end of the island was mostly sheer cliffs, sea caves and spectacular spires of stone rising out of the ocean – it reminded me of the coast around Tasman Island and some of South Bruny Island. Some of the caves were large enough for the boat to drive into which was heaps of fun. The English speaking guide on the boat had plenty of far-fetched stories about the caves such as pirates
hiding out or storing treasure in them. Further up the island there was a small group of shanties which is a seasonal local fishing village that would be the most beautiful place for a house I have ever seen. They are only allowed to live here as it has been there traditional fishing village for about 100 years, otherwise there is no development allowed as the whole island is a National Park.
The north end of the island is home to a colony of about 300 sea lions which was the main reason that we decide to tour the island. The water here is so warm and beautiful that we both jumped at the chance to snorkel with the sea lions when the tour guide tied the boat up and jumped in. We swam over to the large rocky island that is the sea lions home and swam through a giant naturally formed arch. There was a small coral reef which was home to many tropical fish which seemed pretty interested in us. Kenz and I spotted three baby sea lions playing in a small cove area of the island so we swam over to say hello. One of
them was really playful and kept swimming under us, whereas another was really docile and swam up and rubbed its face up against kenz’s hand a few times which was a totally new and amazing experience for her. After about 5 minutes alone with the sea lion pups, the rest of the group realised that the sea lions were there and the expected chaos ensued. After a few minutes of being chased, screamed at, and generally hassled, the sea lions swam off.
After the snorkel, we had lunch on a small beach which we had to ourselves. Apparently the meal was fantastic (ceviche and marinated marlin on tostadas), the captain’s wife had made it for us, but after my experience with an unknown seafood allergy last New Year’s eve I wasn’t game to try it. We stopped again for another snorkel on a different coral reef where I spotted at least 5 different sea urchin species.
We returned back to La Paz after our 7 hour tour totally exhausted and (totally unbeknown to us) totally sunburnt. After a quick meal and trip to la farmacia for some Aloe Vera gel (which was on the shelf with the Viagra
and Prozac), we headed home for a well earned rest.
Saturday 08/09/12 – After a night endured with the cursed affliction of sunburn, we headed about 12 block downtown walking like robots. We went to the Baja Ferries office to organise the ferry trip for us and the bikes from La Paz to Mazatlan on the mainland of Mexico. We were a little worried to hear that the ferry hasn’t been running for the past week due to striking port workers and ferry crews, however we were assured it would be sorted out soon. After booking our tickets for Tuesday (Kenz did a great job as the lady didn’t know any English) we walked a few blocks down to the Museum of Native Anthropology. Despite it all being in Spanish it was still quite interesting. They had examples of how the natives used to bury their dead which had been explained to us by the tour guide yesterday. When a family member died they were buried during a funeral ceremony, and then dug up one year later. Any remaining flesh or skin was removed from the bones, and all the bones were painted red and then placed
in the hollow of the ribcage. The ribcage with the remaining bones were then bound up in reeds and buried again, the reasons for this unusual ritual are still unknown.
Walking back to the hotel I got a haircut from a local lady, which was much appreciated and well overdue. We went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner called La Fonda where the owner prepared me traditional sangria which was made using red wine, sugar, lemons and vodka. He also prepared Kenz the local favourite of Hyacinth water. Both were amazing!
Sunday 09/09/12 – In an effort to leave La Paz this morning we managed to get lost twice and do two almost identical loops through the city. Mexican cities are renowned for having no road signs, and many of the towns are a maze of twisting streets. To add to the confusion, many places don’t even have street numbers which mean if you want to find a particular hotel for example, you have to ride the whole street to find it, and as they have no names, you don’t even know if you’re on the right street! On the third time that we (properly)
left the city we stopped at the fuel station where Kenz was so sweaty and flustered that she got confused and thought the attendant had nicked off with an extra 500 pesos (around $40). The poor guy had no idea what was going on and all he wanted was a few extra pesos in coins so he could give us a 200 peso note as change for our convenience.
After around 100kms the landscape changed again into really lush forests of small trees and cacti as we climbed up into the mountains on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. Huge storm clouds rolled in from offshore which was a welcome relief from the heat of the last few weeks. Every day on the peninsula has been over 35 degrees which doesn’t sound bad until you put on full motorbike gear and ride in the sun for 6 hours.
This afternoon we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and stopped for some photos. Kenz did her best job at trying to knock the roadside sign down with her motorbike panniers but luckily the poles were concreted in to the ground. We rode onto the city of San Jose del
Cabo which is a huge tourist city. The city is split into two areas - the sparkling clean hotel section on the beach, and then real city where the locals live. I stopped at the cheapest looking hotel in the ‘nice’ section of town and almost spontaneously combusted when their cheapest room was $170 a night! After heading into the ‘real’ part of the city we found a clean and comfortable place for less than a third of the other price. The hotel backed onto the city central plaza which contained the town hall, catholic church and a huge open area with a stage.
We poked our heads into the church for the evening service. The service was in Spanish and seemed much more genuine than any English-speaking service I have been to – I think it stems from religion being a real part of their everyday lives over here, they don’t just go in every Sunday to ‘top-up’ their account… It turns out that today was also their patron saints holy day which meant there was a festival this evening with performances, dancing and singing.
The best performance of the night was one of the most beautiful
and uncomfortable public displays I have ever seen. There were three young boys and girls (probably about 16) who did a performance. The boys were dressed as farmers with red ribbons and scarfs with images of saints on them, while the girls had beautiful traditional red white and green ankle-length dresses. In the middle of the dance the girls squatted down on the stage for about two minutes and ruffled their dresses in an unusual way while the boys danced around them in ‘courtship’ type behaviour. All of a sudden the girls jumped up and fled the stage each leaving a chicken egg on the stage where they had been sitting. Each boy then scooped up the egg, held it up in the air above their mouths, cracked the egg and let the contents fall down into their mouths and down their bare chests. They then ran off after the girls. I think it was meant to be funny as the crowd was hooting with cheers and laughter; however I was sitting their spellbound having a strange internal crisis trying to compute the whole performance. Other stand out performances were the band who were playing typical Mexican music which is
hard not to dance to (4 trumpets, 1 saxophone, 1 clarinet, 1 guitar, 2 drummers and 1 sort of washboard instrument), and a dancing performance by a group of four boys who were wearing elaborate headgear and masks that you might expect to find from a pacific islander performance. Despite understanding almost nothing about what was going on, the festival was fantastic!
Monday 10/09/12 – On the way out of the city we passed through the hotel strip of town. The difference between the festival in the town square last night and the hotel strip this morning was incredible. The tourist strip is sparkling clean, everything plastic and new, even the few tourists walking around looked utterly fake and depressed – the total opposite to what occurred last night. I am pretty sure that Kenz and I were the only non-Mexican people at the festival and I feel privileged to have been a (small) part of the celebration. In a word this part of the town is dead; I don’t know why tourists travel to different places of the world and stay in the tourist area. You could almost put this part of town in any USA
or Australian city and it wouldn’t be out of place. It has all the typical ‘american-overflow’ establishments such as Starbuck’s, McDonalds and Burger King. And yes the people are just the same, all walking around like they are on Soma and looking at any Mexican wearing a dirty or ripped shirt with utter disdain. It reminds me of a conversation I had with some Americans where I said I would like to visit Cuba before they eventually let Americans in to ruin it. They didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at. (Please don’t think I am anti-American, but I do get frustrated seeing globalisation drag developing countries through really tough times where their sense of community and culture gets thrown under the bus due to the ruthless greed of corporations. I have seen it in Africa and am seeing it here and it’s really depressing. /end rant)
Riding along the coastline was spectacular today. One of the more strange things we saw was a dead horse on the road that must have been hit by a car in the last 24 hours – it’s an image I won’t forget in a hurry no matter how hard I
try. We headed into the city of Cabo San Lucas which is an even bigger tourist town. We had intended to visit a local glass blowing factory but couldn’t find it amongst all the bars, clubs, surf shops and fast-food joints. The city has been built around the US tourist dollar which was depressing, you even have to pay for parking here which is almost inconceivable in any other Mexican town we have been to (except San Jose of course). We couldn’t wait to leave the city and get back to the ‘real’ Mexico. We headed to the small village of Todos Santos and found some accommodation.
Tuesday 11/09/12 – After Kenz’s bike refused to start this morning, we realised that her battery had run completely dry, oops. Once the battery was filled with some Mexican tap water, the bike roared to life and we decided to go on a tour around the dirt and sand back roads of town with the goal of reaching the local beach. Our ultimate goal was never realised as we spent most of the time trying to navigate down endless dirt roads. After stumbling back across the highway, we decided to
head to the ferry terminal in La Paz which we reached by lunch time. At the terminal we were sucked into the chaos of the Mexican port trying to organise our tickets, port fees and temporary vehicle import paperwork. Eventually we got through and spent the next 3 hours waiting in a giant parking lot for the ferry to begin loading. We did manage to find some slim shade however there was a hot wind blowing which zapped us of our strength and will to live.
Finally the bikes were the last vehicles loaded onto the ferry and we collected our sleeping gear and headed for the cheap recliner lounge. It was stuffed full of Mexicans and Mexican babies all roaring with laughter at the movie showing which was The Hangover (Que paso ayer? – Translation: What happened yesterday? – Maybe Mexicans don’t get hangovers?). The lounge was air-conditioned so it seemed like paradise. The recliner chairs were quite spacious and pretty comfortable so all was going well until I needed to use the bathroom. In Mexico they don’t flush toilet paper, instead after using it they put it in a small bin next to the toilet – can
you imagine what the single male toilet (with a ratio of 1 toilet : about 40-50 men) was like? I walked in, turned straight around, walked out, and had to hold it for 14 hours. It was an episode of mental strength and determination…
There are more photos below