Different Parts of Everywhere

#84: Progress and set backs on Route 5, Baja California

MEXICO, 19th – 25th November 2018

”We’ve been invited for a beer” Chris exclaimed happily when he caught me up. It was 9am in the morning and we had only just hit the road. He explained that the invitation was from a European couple who had a beach house 30 kilometres further down the road. A beer at a beach house is not an offer we come by every day at 9am in the morning. A little later the same car returned coming back from San Felipe and the friendly couple, Roy and Jeanette, stopped again and invited us to not only drink a beer but to stay with them overnight at that beach house. Who could say no to that? Luckily we didn’t have to worry about that it would mean we only had made it 50 kilometres south of San Felipe in two days, because we had no tight time deadline hanging over our heads these days – and boy did we appreciate it!

When we arrived at Roy and Jeanette’s beautiful beachfront property I appreciated it even more. This was surely a once in a lifetime experience. It consisted of several shining white buildings around a tiled yard with palm trees growing here and there. One of the buildings was an octagonal house with huge window facades on each side so that you would have a view of the sea from almost every angle. It was a unique place like something out of a dream. Roy and Jeanette gave us a tour around and explained that they had been developing the property over the last 25 years from a bare nothing to  this paradise of  comfort and tranquility. They now rented out the octagonal house and a couple of beach front condos while living in another condo themselves. It was a place far above the standard of rentals Chris and I would ever dream of, but now we were generously invited to stay  “as long as we wanted” as Roy said.

We spent a good time on the beach once again bringing out our beloved inflatable tubes and as mere holiday makers sunbathed and played games on in the sand without a worry in the world. At 3pm we were sat at a lovely dinner table on the terrace with all the things we so rarely would have: a tablecloth, plates, food from different pots and bowls that together made a meal of delicious spaghetti bolognese and a fresh salad, beer or wine from real wine glasses and long, interesting conversations about our lives and the state of the world. “You never know what surprises life will bring you” Roy said again and again referring to the many different stories from his own life and career as a pilot, and I could easily associate that philosophy to our own situation. When we woke up in the tent in the desert that morning we had no idea we would be sitting at a neat dinner table with good company. The surprises are essential to traveling and this one was certainly one of the most pleasurable ones you could imagine. My attention drifted away from the conversations and onto the beautiful view of the ocean and the full moon growing brighter and brighter as the light gradually changed into night. 

“Should we stay another night?” Chris asked me the next morning, and of course we should do that. The day became somewhat a repetition of the previous with Chris and I hanging on the beach until another dinner was served. The only exception that day was when Roy showed us the solar power system that provided endless energy for the whole property. It was very impressive. There was one circle of solar panels, transformers and batteries for the house and one for the condos. But Roy was in the midst of adding a third system for the garage.

“Surely you don’t need that much energy for the garage?” Chris asked.
“Well,  I need a lot of energy to get my flight simulator running…”

I’d never heard of such a thing, but now Roy revealed to us the never-dying fascination about flying that pilots possess. In the garage was boxes with all the bits and pieces for his Boeing flight simulator, which is a replica of a real cockpit with all the instruments moving and blinking and a seat moving to simulate turbulence.  Once he’d got the whole thing set up with electricity and internet connection Roy could chose to fly between any destinations in the world in real time (for hours and hours) seeing the real airports and fluffy clouds outside the windows (which was actually just two big screens) and communicating with real airport staff over the radio. It was insane! He showed us videos of him flying the simulator and I could sense the thrill it was to make the airplane take off and soar through the sky even though it was just a simulation. It seemed so real that I could only imagine it would feel absolutely absurd to then afterwards step right out onto the beach in Mexico after having flown an airplane with 300 passengers from L.A. to London. And it would be 100% solar powered – maybe a solution for the future (how about we all just pretend to fly around the world?)! 

At low tide the beach outside Roy and Jeanette’s house got busy with the launcing of fishing boats like this. It gave us a glimpse into another kind of life by the sea than that lived by our hosts and ourselves

After two completely relaxed and comfortable days it was time to get back on the Mexican roads. After all we did have a booking of a cargo ship waiting somewhere out in the future some thousand kilometres away.  

After San Felipe the wide shoulder had disappeared, but fortunately the amount of traffic on the road was light, and we didn’t have any troubles but enjoyed to be back riding through the desert with beautiful views of the Sea of Cortez to our right. After a bumpy stretch of gravel where a new section of road was under construction we arrived in Puertecitos, a sleepy little village on the rocks of the coast. It was surprisingly undeveloped despite the unique hot springsthat  could be found here right where the ocean reached the rocks and attracted many foreign visitors. The whole coast area near the American border was under a process of development of infrastructure to facilitate mainly tourism I reckon and we had expected Puertecitos to be one of the pearls of this project, but that was far from the case. I was generally struck by the contrast between the wealth that had already arrived here with the expat beach houses and holiday makers that drove down the bumpy road of the Cortez coast with their huge caravans or towing trailers with ATVs and the poor conditions that the local people still lived under in old and simple concrete houses or the fishermen’s camps of wooden shacks and rusty caravans by the beaches. There was a feeling of glaring inequality and subtle tensions here and in Puertecitos where Western tourists strolled in the dusty and dead-still streets amongst the ramparts of concrete houses. This place had not yet transformed into the holiday haven it was supposed to be for the Thanksgiving celebraters who had already arrived, it was still a place of another world, of hard, simple life by the sea in a very remote, but beautiful place. The difference between rich and poor was stark and I felt very aware of which side I represented and was almost grateful to pay the entrance fee of 250 pesos that two women required outside their house that was conveniently located at the corner of the main street. We were not sure if the money went straight in their pockets or actually went to some sort of community building project, but I somehow thought it fair enough they made some money anyway, maybe so I could pay off my guilty conscience of the being white and privileged. 

One of the fishermen’s camps outside of Puertecitos

Despite all this, the hot springs themselves were a great experience and we had been lucky to time our arrival perfectly. The hot water mixes with the cold ocean water gradually as it rises and falls with the tide and we got there just as the water was retreating so that we could move from one rock pool  to the next as they gradually warmed up as the level of ocean water dropped. It was really nice sitting there between the colouful rocks in naturally warm water and watch the ocean where a perfect line of pelicans from time to time soared close over the surface.

We camped high up on the rocks overlooking the sea that evening. It was a spectacular place, such a place you don’t get to camp every night. It would have been even more spectacular if we had been able to see the full moon rise out of the sea, but unfortunately it was overcast. What instead made our night memorable was the sketchy activites that began on the shore right below our camp. We could hear a boat going at high speed across the sea but it had its lights off so we couldn’t see it. Roy and Jeanette had told us how the ‘drug runs’ take place exactly like that, so we immediately thought it better to turn off our head lamps and sit still in the dark as the boat landed right below our camp site. A car, also without its lights on, was parked down there, we could tell because from time to time either vehicle would turn their lights on for a few seconds as if for the people there to be able to orientate themselves. There were no sounds, no cheerful calls like from the fishermen on the beach at Roy and Jeanette’s place.  ‘Nothing’ was happening, nothing that we wanted to know of anyway. Roy had made it clear that it was best to stay far, far away from those activities. Best to not know anything. But suddenly and completely unintentionally we were now very, very close to something perhaps happening and due to all the warnings about drugs, crime and guns in Mexico that we had received over the last six months in North America I got very nervous that we had brought ourselves into an unfortunate situation. If the people down there realized that we knew they were there, that we had seen what they were doing (even though we hadn’t seen anything in the dark), I feared it could escalate into a dramatic and dangerous situation. They were on the edge. Did they have weapons? The best thing we could do was to not be seen ourselves. We had already turned our lights off and now we retreated to the tent, covering the noise we made by the noise of a second boat arriving in the dark, and once inside we hid deep in our sleeping bags and… fell asleep.

I was surprised how well I had slept and the next morning there were no signs of that which we hadn’t seen. There was only the most beautiful sunrise over the ocean and a great day of cycling ahead of us. Relieved we got back on the road. It had been improved to a smooth one with a good shoulder and following the now rugged coast it made for some perfect cycling. It was a road to be proud of and an important piece of the big project of developing the infrastructure on the coast. So it was then really sad to see the severe damage that a recent hurricane had done to this road. Flash floods, that is huge and sudden amounts of rainwater coming down from the mountains, had simply washed the road and its foundation away in many places. We could easily bypass it on parallel gravel roads that had been developed, but it was surely a huge set back for the project that it would take a long time to recover.

Perfect cycling
Sadly disrupted by the damages of the hurricane

The following day we reached the end of the improved road and suddenly found ourselves on a rough gravel road where the new road was still under construction. It coincided with the road leaving the coast behind and turning west into the desert of the inland peninsular. It was hot and dry, the water suddenly seemed so far away, and riding on the gravel was demanding. But actually the challenge of the environment and the road just felt great, like a real adventure. The road passed Coco’s Corner, which is a place that most Baja road travelers are familiar with. Coco is a man who lives all alone by this remote road and here he invites every passing traveler in for a cold drink, a chat and to ask them to leave their entrance in his latest guestbook. Apparently he has nine (or more) of these guestbooks, full of the data and greetings of travelers over the last 30 years. We were pleased to get the same welcoming treatment from Coco even though we must have been the 849,000 visitor or so. We were also delighted to find our good friend Matt’s entry in the book from a couple of years ago. It was exciting to imagine he had been here as another one of the thousands of travelers of the road. We had not seen any other cyclists for more than a month, but it was good to know we were part of something anyway, that we shared these experiences with so many other people.

I had heard the warning tone in so many voices telling me about the route 1 which is the main road down the Baja peninsular. An old road that in most places is so narrow that two trucks only barely and very carefully can pass each other, and at the same time the only road that all traffic, and thus many big trucks and all cyclists (except the hardcore Baja Divide riders), must use. I was prepared but still facing this road the next day filled me with fear. It was only safe to ride here if the drivers were catious and considerate, and from what I had seen the Mexican drivers loved speed. Moreover, my experiences with roads like this were those of Central Asia and especially China, where consideration for cyclists and general sensibility was something I had learned not to expect. As my wheels rolled the first few kilometers that old feeling from China of not wanting to be on that road, of wanting to escape to any other place, the meaninglessness of exposing myself to such obvious danger, everything in me objected to what I was doing. To what I was going to be doing for the next 900 kilometres till the end of Baja California. At the same time there was only one way out and it was to continue. Anxiously I checked my mirror again and again waiting for the first truck to arrive behind me and as it did I immediately pulled off onto the sandy slope of a non-existing shoulder. I could hardly force myself back onto the road, but did it and some cars approached and overtook me at high speed but with enough room that I felt safe, that I felt they cared. Then a big truck came up behind me as I was going over a little hill and due to not being able to see ahead the truck driver, to my great surprise, waited patiently behind me till we could both see the road on the other side before he overtook me safely. I had not expected such sensible and considerate behavior, and it filled me with such relief and gratefulness. I gained faith in the Mexican drivers, and although some uncomfortable situations could not be totally avoided I all in all now felt safe and happy being a part of the route 1 traffic.

We did some fast progress south cycling on the route 1, as if the speed of the other traffic paced us – and the tailwind and mild descent certainly also played a little role. In deserts there is often not much to stop for and the riding is driven by the promise of the next break, the next shop with a refreshing ice cream, the next restaurant, the next anything to give you a break from the ride. I like the simplicity of it, that it makes sense to move and to keep moving, not hang around too much, while at the same time savour the necessary breaks to refuel and rest. My experience is also that deserts are not boring, quite a lot can happen in the variation of the landscape, the animals and the vegetation and even if nothing happens around you, that can be a moment to notice what is happening inside you instead. Deserts are good places to cycle, especially if you can time it right and go when it is not extremely hot. Like we had done, riding comfortably in 25 degrees and having cool nights. On this stretch of desert there were distant mountain ranges to all sides to rest your eyes upon and in some areas the most unbelievable kinds of desert plants grew like forests. I didn’t know how they did it in such a dry climate. It wasn’t just the tall iconic cactus, but also long curly trunks with leaves growing on them, big balls of pointy, thick leaves, little bushes of cactus and even short grey trees with thick trunks and a twisted crown of branches. There was plenty to wonder upon here and it made for some spectacular campsites where we easily could pull off the road, push a few hundred metres into this wonderful wilderness and pitch the tent surrounded and protected by thousands of thorns.

 Chris and I were thoroughly enjoying cycling in Baja California here at the very start of our southern American adventure. It was all great and exciting again. We sometimes talked about the other cyclists we had met earlier on our trip, Liz, Alex, Jack and Barbara, Vassily, Leo, Thomas and we wondered who was going to be our next companions and whose progress we would be following going south. Baja California is a popular cycling route and we expected to meet some now we had joined the route 1 which most people use. Who were they? And where?

Once stopped in a little shack of a restaurant we got our first clue from an American man, Eric, who was road tripping with his son down to their house in southern Baja. He told us he’d seen five groups of cyclists within the last few hours, some soloist, some in couples. “They are all on your tail” he informed us and we felt excited to be in front for once (oblivious to whoever was in front of us as we all were), but we knew they would soon catch us up, as everyone always did. And we wanted that. Whenever we stopped for a break we would stare back down the road hoping to see a cyclists appear. Who were they? What kind of stories would they bring?

San Felipe – Puertecitos – Coco’sCorner – Route 1

Distance cycled: 308 kilometres

8 thoughts on “#84: Progress and set backs on Route 5, Baja California

  1. jim katzin

    Dea,

    I love your writing! It is interesting to compare your experiences with Chris’s (whose writing I also like) when you are seeing the same things through different eyes. Keep it going!

    jim

    1. Dea & Chris Post author

      Oh Jim, that is so encouraging to hear! I wasn’t sure if these posts have much relevance now Chris does the daily blog, but it is really good to know that they do. I’ll keep writing!

  2. Kitty

    Yes please keep writing Dea! I love your turn of phrase and way of expressing things. You highlight different points and savor different moments to Chris and they are certainly complementary. Thank you for sharing your trip so beautifully with us!! My favourite part so far is the cool desert plants and the landscape in general.

    Kitty

    1. Dea & Chris Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind words Kitty, it is truly encouraging! I’ll make sure to add some more photos of cool desert plants in the next posts too 🙂

  3. Eva Walters

    Hi Dea,

    Yes, please do keep writing. Your perspective is very interesting, and your command of English (as your second language) is most impressive.

    Eva

  4. Kitty

    Oh I noticed on your pictures on Chris’s new blog that youse are carrying your spare tyres tied down on the luggage. Don’t tie them to tight in case you damage the bead – I remember a tyre of Chris got damaged after months of carrying it squashed down tightly!

    1. Dea & Chris Post author

      That’s right Kitty, I’m amazed you remember that! We are both being more careful with it now 🙂

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