On Our Own and Far Away From It
Day 48-53 – Bahia de los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico to Mazatlan, Sinaloa – 10,586 km
It was sweltering under the afternoon sun as he hurried through the sorting and arranging of his gear and clothing. It was
packed in duffle bags, backpacks, and stuff sacks that were of various sizes, shapes, colors, and states of disrepair. These – of which there were probably a dozen separate packages – were tied down, piled upon, and hung from every possible location so that his raggedy, yellow Vespa scooter had swelled to maybe three times its original size. He took down one bag and then another, swapped some of the articles in each, then replaced one of the bags, took down two more, and then swapped the contents between the three. He continued this way for maybe 20 minutes, taking down bags, swapping the contents, putting bags back, taking down new ones, putting them back, and then taking old ones and new ones down again, until each of his dozen receptacles had been juggled into and out of the mix with its contents either being partially or entirely replaced.
We watched this frenzy of activity from under the shade of the control booth from which the dockworkers coordinated the loading and unloading of the ferry.
It’s like playing the carnival game where you try to follow the three cups to guess which one the ball is under, I thought to myself but I was too lazily comfortable in the warm afternoon shade to say it out loud to Jess.
‘What a circus,’ was the only part of the thought that I managed to say to her sitting just beside me.
She nodded and then we both fell silent again.
We had arrived at the Pichilingue port near La Paz more than two hours before and now we had another two hours to wait before we could load our bikes onto the ferry for the gulf crossing. There were no berths left for the 17-hour crossing to Mazatlan when we arrived at the ticket office for Baja Ferries, which operates the barges that ferry people and vehicles between the mainland and the peninsula. This was a real gut shot to Jess who had many experiences of being seasick and was counting on having a berth with a bathroom to get through the crossing with some degree of comfort and privacy. There was a crossing scheduled for that same evening to Topolobampo, which is a much shorter 7-hour trip because it crosses due east rather than southeast from La Paz, but we were both reluctant to take this crossing because the ferry would arrive well after dark, whereas that bound for Mazatlan would come in during the daylight of the next morning. The third option was to secure a berth on the next Mazatlan crossing but that would not be for two days and, after brief discussion, we had no desire to sit around in La Paz for that long.
Jess brooded quietly for a long time, which is her way of coming to grips with a thing that she doesn’t like, while I registered and purchased our fares for the Mazatlan crossing for that afternoon.
‘You’ll take your Dramamine and I’ll be there with you the whole time if you get sick,’ I said after the tickets were bought.
We rode into the port area and passed through customs. The agent was courteous and officious as she checked that we had the Temporary Vehicle Importation Permits, which had at first caused us so much grief back in Tijuana.
‘Toque el botón,’ she said when she finished reviewing my documents. ‘Press the button.’
I pressed it and a green light signaled me to pass ahead. Then, after her documents had been reviewed, it was Jess’s turn to press the button and, when she did, it flashed the word ‘Revisión’ in red.
‘You’ve been selected for an inspection,’ I translated to Jess after the customs agent explained the meaning of the signal.
Still brooding at the imminent seasickness that she would have to contend with during 17 hours in steerage surrounded by several dozen beer-swilling truckers; un-showered backpackers; and pooping, crying babies; Jess slumped at this further indignity before she pulled herself together and smiled at the customs agent while she went about opening her panniers and duffle bag.
After the inspection, we pulled up to the scale and paid the port fee, which was a flat rate of 72 pesos per vehicle (about USD 6), and then we rode around the dock until we found the Mazatlan-bound ferry. We pulled our bikes past the 18-wheelers and the line of private vehicles and parked beside the control booth. It was hot under the strong afternoon sun, so we stripped off our riding jackets and we slumped down on a bench under the shade.
‘He looks like such a ragamuffin,’ Jess said a few minutes after my circus comment as we watched in a sort of daze as the man continued the confusing, almost frantic process of sorting through his luggage.
‘Makes me thankful that we only have two panniers and a duffle,’ I said.
‘I don’t understand why he does it in such a hurry,’ she said. ‘There’s at least another hour until we can go on the ferry.’
‘He’s got a Canadian flag sticker on his windshield,’ I said because I knew this would prick at her.
‘I know, he’s probably one of mine,’ she said.
Five days earlier we had left Bahia de los Angeles after our long off road slog to reconnect with Carretera 1 from Puertecitos. We enjoyed warm weather and blue skies as we followed the 1 south across the state boarder and into Baja California Sur at Guerrero Negro. From there we began our fifth crossing of the Baja peninsula but made it only about halfway before we stopped for the night in a large town called El Marasal.
That evening, after eating tacos at a small, family restaurant, we sought out a laundromat because even our dirty clothes had become un-wearable. We sat on the steps of the lavandería as we waited for our clothes to wash. I wore only a t-shirt and bathing suit because everything else was in the machine. The locals who waited for their own clothes to wash took an interest in us and I conversed intermittently with an old man and his señora and then with a middle-aged man who was first a metal worker and now a glass-maker while he drank beer and smoked cigarettes.
We reached Santa Rosalia by midmorning the next day and then we stopped in the small town of Mugelé where we ate gorditas, which are like tacos only the meat, vegetables, and salsa are stuffed inside the tortilla as if it were a pita, instead of wrapped or rolled into it as in a taco. That afternoon we rode from Mugelé to Loreto and it was about 130 km of the finest riding and most beautiful scenery we had experienced in the whole Baja California peninsula. The highway meandered through costal mountains that were covered in bushes, shrubs, and cactus so intensely green that I was sure it could not be considered a desert. Then, intermittently the highway emerged from a sharp, high-speed curve and suddenly we were leaning out over a beautiful, turquoise coastline speckled with rocky coves, islets, and a few anchored yachts. It was as if this stretch of highway had been expressly designed for motorcycling, combining the perfect blend of speed, lean, and scenery so that I was completely lost in it. At intervals I would emerge from the trance of hard, smooth riding to realize that I had left Jess far behind.
We spent that night in Loreto, which is a pleasant seaside town that faces out towards the Isla de Carmen a couple dozen kilometers into the Gulf of California. The town has a nice boardwalk that runs along a kilometer or so stretch of the seafront and this made the fine course of several laps for my morning run. We set off midmorning after my run and breakfast and some time spent fiddling with Moxie’s oil level until we were satisfied.
From Loreto, the highway continues to weave through the beautiful coastal mountains along the Gulf side of the peninsula, providing us with another 40 km or so of beautiful scenery and exquisite motorcycling. Then Carretera 1 swept us eastward to cross once again to the west side of the peninsula. Only this time the highway stops about two-thirds of the way and we followed it on its southeasterly curve inland through the sister cities of Ciudad Insurgents and Ciudad Constitución. Eventually its course began to take a more easterly bent and we completed another crisscrossing of the peninsula by returning to the Gulf side at La Paz where the peninsula narrows just before bulging again and then sweeps down and around to the Cape.
We covered this stretch quickly and with less excitement than we had that morning because the highway had left the lush, green coastal mountains and became dry, washed out, and generally unremarkable. In the late morning we stopped for fuel and then a snack break under the shade of some trees outside Ciudad Insurgentes and then again for fuel at La Paz. From the principle city of La Paz we continued south on the 1 and then left it to continue south on the 19 when the 1 suddenly swung sharply eastward to follow the Gulf coast down to San José del Cabo. At the end of 80 km we reached Todos Santos, which had caught my interest for being designated a Pueblo Mágico.
The Pueblos Magicos is a moniker granted to certain small and midsize towns across Mexico for their particular beauty and historical significance. In point of fact, during my first motorcycle trip through Mexico I had visited a fair many of the 83 Magical Villages. I had decided that, while I passed through plenty of towns of equal or greater beauty than the Pueblos Mágicos, I was usually not disappointed when I visited one. There are three Pueblos Mágicos on the Baja California peninsula. We had missed Tecate because we crossed at Tijuana and we had enjoyed Loreto where we had spent the previous night, so I was quite sure we would like what we saw when we arrived in Todos Santos just past sunset as the twilight was quickly fading into night.
We stayed the night at a hotel beside a laundramat, which was a convenience that we would have appreciated a couple nights before in El Marasal but was now mostly just a bother because it was noisy and crowded. In the evening we strolled through the town. We stopped for dinner at a taco stand and then bought sweets from a pastry shop but we decided we were generally unimpressed with Todos Santos as we walked back to the hotel.
In the morning we rode the 80 remaining km of Carretera 19 to Cabo San Lucas at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. I called ahead the evening before to reserve a room in one of the less expensive resorts because the thought of a comfortable bed, strong water pressure, and a full spa treatment as a belated birthday present had been essential to getting Jess through the off road slog several days before. It was good tarmac all the way to Cabo but the ride was not particularly exciting or scenic despite good views of the coastline.
We arrived in Cabo before our room was ready so we fished our swimsuits from our panniers and stripped off our riding clothes to spend the rest of the morning and all through the afternoon relaxing by the pool. In the afternoon when we were checking into our room a group of Canadian bikers of various ages arrived at the resort. They had shipped their bikes from Vancouver to San Diego where they began their ride down the peninsula. Arriving at Cabo was the climax of their trip and you could feel their energy as the dozen sundry motorcycles riding in loose formation pulled into the carport at the entrance of the hotel.
‘Look how big the guys with the 1200s are!’ Jess said. ‘Love, you look quite small when you stand beside them.’
As a reply I gave her my ugliest frown and after I had a short chat with a few of the bikers, the concierge completed our check-in and we went up to our room to clean up before dinner. That night we ate fish tacos and then had beers at a restaurant on the sand. Back in the hotel room after a few drinks, we sunk quickly and comfortably to sleep. The next day I went running by the restaurants and shops along the marina and then we went back there for breakfast. After breakfast it was back to the hotel room for the first of Jess’s naps while I went through our photos and worked up a story for the blog. Later she awoke and flipped through the TV channels and then she grew drowsy again and fell asleep for another blissful nap. In the evening we went for dinner along the marina and shared a surf-n-turf special and then indulged in an ice cream at the Häagen-Dazs.
The next morning we pulled out just ahead of the group of Canadian bikers who were packing up and getting ready to begin their return ride to San Diego.
‘It must be hard to get out the door in the morning with such a large group,’ I said as we zipped on our riding jackets and mounted our bikes.
‘I’m ready to be out of Baja,’ Jess said. ‘There are too many foreigners doing motorcycle trips here. I want to be on our own and far away from it.’
I smiled thinking about what she said as we pulled away and I gave a quick wave to the few Canadians who were standing by their bikes waiting for their compañeros to finish their checkout. She is the same way here as she was in Africa and everywhere else she goes, I thought. She wants to be as far out there as she can and associated with as few other foreigners as possible. It’s her adventure and she’s very picky about who shares it with her. It’s like certain Harley riders you meet who don’t want to share the road with someone riding any other make of motorcycle, I thought. In South Sudan she was the only white face in the town where she lived and I’m sure she secretly took a whole lot of pleasure in knowing it. When I first met her all her friends were Africans and I think it was to her mind that she was making a great exception or maybe finally conceding her illusions to get involved with me. I thought about this for the first ten minutes or so of the two-hour ride north to the Pichilingue port up the coast from La Paz and then I turned my audiobook on and settled into the morning ride.
Eventually the man finished the unpacking and repacking and he settled down in the shade beside his scooter. He introduced himself to us and we discovered that he was German, not Canadian. He had shipped his scooter to Vancouver and from there he went up the coast towards Alaska and then back down through the United States and Baja California to reach 20,000 km later where we were meeting him now. His plan, he explained, was to reach the bottom of South America but he was in no hurry to do it.
‘I figure it will take me a year or more,’ he said with much excitement. ‘I make furnitures for yachts so I will stop in Columbia to work if I can. You know, I ride very slow on the Vespa so it will take me a long time. Also, I met the Vespa club in Vancouver and they gave me names and address for the other clubs so I will stop to meet them on the way.’
‘See! He’s not one of mine,’ Jess said when the man’s attention was grabbed by several Mexicans and gringos who showed interest in his scooter and its enormous payload.
It was more than an hour later after all the cars and most of the 18-wheelers had loaded that the dockworkers signaled us that it was our turn to load our motorbikes onto the ferry. We gunned our engines and I lead Jess on her Beamer and the German on his Vespa onto the ferry and then down the center ramp into the very bowels of the ship. After parking our bikes as tightly and securely as the space permitted, we pulled out some clothing, a few toiletries, and other sundries and then headed up to steerage to claim our seats.
‘It’s like sitting on a bus,’ she said when we reached our seats several decks up.
‘Yeah, but at least these are comfortable, reclining seats,’ I said. ‘And it couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as an overnight bus ride I took to Mombasa.’
‘Aren’t the waves going to be rocky?’ she said.
‘No, I don’t think they will,’ I said. ‘The Gulf should be calm but take your Dramamine just in case.’
We reclined in our seats for a short time but eventually our ears needed an escape from the volume of the sound that accompanied the movie playing on several large flat screens, so we went outside onto the deck. The sun was close to setting when the ferry finally pulled out from the port and began the slow arc around the nub-like protrusion of land before it could swing south towards Mazatlan across the Gulf. It was warm on the water so that the breeze felt good against the bare skin of our arms but eventually it got cool as twilight came and Jess found herself growing drowsy from the medication. I stayed on deck for a while longer and then I came in and we went to the mess for dinner.
All through the evening they played loud movies in steerage so that we wore earplugs as we slept or just rested. Late in the evening the ferry began to rock from the larger waves of the open Gulf but it was not enough to upset Jess’s stomach or to overturn our motorbikes, which we had not anchored to the deck. She slept or rested through the night, while my sleep was more intermittent so that for a time around midnight I went on deck and joined several truckers in splaying myself out on the benches until the hard wood became uncomfortable and I could appreciate my recliner in steerage again.
The ferry pulled into the harbor at Mazatlan around 10 in the morning and it was another hour or more before those with vehicles parked on deck one were permitted to descend and disembark. We were filthy from passing the night with the stale sweat of the previous day but our bikes were gassed and loaded and we were well enough rested that we decided to ride out of Mazatlan and push as far inland as we could before the late afternoon. From the harbor we passed through the city and then onto Carretera 40 eastward toward the large colonial city of Durango. Once outside of the city we were quickly ascending into the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Here the highway folded into beautiful switchbacks and hard twisties.
We are on the mainland and alone in our adventure just as Jess wants it, I thought.
I flashed a thumbs up to Jess who rode a few meters behind me and just as I did a group of gringo bikers on two BMWs GS’s, a Kawasaki KLR, and a Suzuki V-Strom whipped past us out of a hard turn.
We’ll be on our own soon enough, Sweetheart, I thought as Jess flashed me with her high beams in an ‘All’s well’ response to my thumbs up.