The Desert

Aside

The Desert

We left Ensenada with a bit more Spanish under our belts and maybe a few too many pesos spent on tortas and tacos. The road turned from a four lane main street back into a smaller two lane highway, something we were a bit more used to and comfortable with. What was slightly more uncomfortable was the fact that the shoulders went away the same time as the other lane. It took a little getting used to, but once we realized that for the most part the drivers give just as much room (if not more) as they did in the States we started to loosen up a little bit.

Truck traffic has been decently heavy throughout Baja, but they have been very good about giving us plenty of space.

As we moved south, the fauna became more and more sparse, and what was around was either covered in thorns, small shrubs, or a combination of the two. This made it quite difficult to find things to lean the bikes against. Trying to find the least dangerous thing around became the name of the game.

Cactus is the most common place to lean bikes now…

…But also the most dangerous!

Based on our maps, it looked like we were really about to enter no-man’s land; this was the fabled Baja desert. So we stocked up on food and water, almost acting like we weren’t going to see humanity or any sign of civilization for days. In the end, although the area was one of the most rural ones on the bike trip, our rationing proved rather unnecessary, because there was definitely enough out there for us to have made it between places without having put all the extra weight on the bikes.

Andrew and Colin leave Rosario thinking it was the last of humanity for many days.

The desert is a fascinating place; a place where it rarely rains and the sun can be unbearable, yet animals and fauna still find ways to survive in such a harsh environment. These conditions have created some of the strangest and most beautiful plants in the world. Some of the plants were so odd looking, it made us feel like we were in a Dr. Seuss book.

Even the most unassuming plants had thorns on them.

We stopped at a little restaurant between El Rosario and Catavina, where a nice gentleman by the name of Abraham gave us the lowdown on what was in store for us up to Guerrero Negro. He also informed us that not every cactus in the desert was good for extracting water from, but there was one that he used rather often.

Cutting up the cactus for water – the hard part is getting it open, then you get to enjoy the delicious cardboard taste and styrafoam texture that holds the water.

We decided to hang around the area just north of Catavina, which was a land filled with giant boulders, giant cacti, and cave paintings. We took a nice little hike, exploring the cave paintings and rocky hills. We even spotted a roadrunner while checking out the massive cactus!

Kanaan and Colin try to decipher the meaning on the ceiling.

Andrew finds an interesting rock.

One of the other tidbits of info that our friends Abraham told us was that there hasn’t really been any rain in this area in the past two years. The day we rode to Catavina had been mostly cloudy, pretty windy, and there was even a few droplets in the morning, but we didn’t really think that much of it. As night began to set in, the rain and wind did as well, turning into a full on storm. So much for the “no rain in two years” thing. The rain kept up for two and a half days and put a bit of a damper on our desert exploration and riding. The plus sides were nice, though; no heat and a completely different way to see the desert.

As the towns began to grow further apart, so did the chances for cars to get gas. A simple solution? Fill up your containers in the bigger towns and sell it in the middle of the desert.

The Catavina gas station

We made it to Guerrero Negro, where we made some new friends who we had been hearing about for quite a while. Nick and Sebastian, two Argentineans heading from Alaska back home (sound familiar?). They have been staying in churches their entire time in Mexico and graciously offered to include us in their group for the night.

The next day was an emotional one for a trip south, being Colin’s last day with the crew. He caught a bus (south, of course) to Cabo to meet up with his family for the holidays and from there head out to Costa Rica with his girlfriend. After six months together, he was hard to let go, but we hope he has a great time and we get to see eachother soon!

Max and Evan share some tears with Colin on his last day.

After shedding some tears with Colin and making a ton of pancakes, we made a late start to Vizcaino with our new Argentinean friends. Luckily, we had a really strong tailwind that sent us along in record time. The next day we were prepped for more flat, straight roads and a minimal amount of wind. We took another late-ish start and took a nice long lunch about 20 miles from San Ignacio. As soon as we took off after lunch the wind began to really blow, this time directly into our faces. This was definitely one of the hardest bits of riding we’ve had yet, making it into San Ignacio as the sun began to dip below the horizon. After riding through the desert for many days, San Ignacio was quite a surprise; as you drop off the highway you enter an oasis, complete with fresh water and palm trees galore.

We stayed at an amazing Mission that was at least 400 years old, sharing dinner with the Padre and exploring the town.

Being in Mexico, we had to play some soccer, so we asked a local shop if we could borrow one and hit the field. In a couple close matches, the Argentineans/Wyoming Boy took the wins from Team Alaska.

Nick enjoys Evan’s game winning goal

After the match we were invited to eat at a local Canadian owned restaurant called Tootsies by our new Aunt Suzie, who was also kind enough to invite us to a wonderful breakfast which fuelled us all the way to Santa Rosalia.

Thanks for everything Aunty Suzie!

The road to Santa Rosalia was amazing, holding two of the most fun and scenic downhills of the trip so far. The second hill was very steep and very long, called Cuesta del Infierno, or Hill of the Inferno.

After a great ride down!

We’re now in Santa Rosalia for the night, happy to have finally reached the Sea of Cortez! Not only that, but we were met by a surprise guest biking through the middle of town! Mike “Spike” Riederer has joined up for a few days while we continue south down Baja!

Mike brings the count back up to six!

- Evan

And Evan has taken a sabbatical from the trip to enjoy a winter of snowboarding in Jackson, but is planning to rejoin the group once they hit Costa Rica!!

Bienvenidos a Mexico!!!

It has been wonderful that Kanaan’s family is conveniently spread throughout California and that they have been gracious enough to house us along the way. Our last stop in America, San Diego, was no different. A huge thank you goes to Kristi and James (another aunt and uncle of Kanaan’s) for letting us wreck their house for a week and still taking us surfing almost every day.

Six months to the day from our Sandy Beach send-off and three months after landing in Ladysmith, British Columbia, we were at the border of Mexico and the USA about to start the next leg of the journey. James and Caroline escorted us through San Diego including a ferry ride across San Diego Harbor for a pleasant ride down “The Strand”.

James, Caroline and Kanaan enjoying the Ferry

With signs plastered in Spanish and few English conversations being heard, it felt like we were in Mexico before even crossing the border. Right before crossing we met a follower biker, Jose, commuting between countries, who offered up advice on getting to Rosarito Beach (our destination for the evening). Going into Mexico is quite an unusual experience for those accustomed to border crossing and we simply walked through a turnstile without even showing our passports.

 

It was a surreal experience hauling all our stuff and bikes into this new world.  Eventually we got ourselves through the throngs of people and in a position where we were less in the way of traffic. Jose showed us where we needed to get our tourist visas and pointed us south before saying adios. After taking turns going into “Inmigracion” we started our pedal away from the English-speaking world.

Dodging hockers and restauranteurs offering bike parking and cervezas, we made it to the streets of Tijuana and began pedaling south.  The route out of TJ was simple and we managed to stay together and not get lost. Without much difficulty we reached the edge of the city quickly. The Mexican roads were a surprise and we were happy to find a mix of new roads and roads with wide shoulders mixed in with the pot-holed crumbling asphalt we had heard horror-story of. The Mexican drivers were also a surprise pulling into the far lane as they passed waving their hands and honking their horns in support.

We had connected with a Warm Showers host south of Rosarito Beach who offered to house us for our first night in Mexico. Passing a hotel at kilometer-marker 38 we were greeted by Robert’s (our warm shower host) father at a blue taco stand, just as Robert had said.  He showed us where we could camp and then headed back to cooking tacos; leaving us on top of the bluff mesmerized by the sun setting over a perfect break. Some friends of Robert who down from San Diego to surf took over introducing us to where we were and gave us the welcoming Tecate. Our next stop was Robert’s taco stand for some amazing chipotle and spicy shrimp tacos.

Andrew likes tacos

We sat at the taco stand eating with Robert and his friends Nick and Martin and heard about their upcoming bike/surfing trip to Central and South America. Nick invited us to stay in his house and after over a week in Sand Diego we were so accustomed to sleeping indoors that we couldn’t say no. The next morning Kanaan, Colin, and Max headed south to Ensenada to start their week at the Baja Language School while Chris, Evan, and Andrew remained behind to surf with Martin. We said thanks to Nick and Robert telling them we would see them later on down the road.

Andrew and Evan with new friend Martin

Taking the “Libre” road to Ensenada we wound in from the coast and had a quiet, enjoyable ride with minimal traffic. After seeing small pueblos in semi-desert it was a shock to roll into the large city of Carne Ensenada. We headed downtown, stopping for ceviche and seafood “cocteles” and met with our teacher Yollanda, our fellow students John and Jim, and our homestay host Claudia. Immediately we were led back to the casa for our large midday meal where Claudia jokingly told us that whoever speaks English will not be given meals. The next morning we awoke to breakfast, a short walk to class, and a routine we quickly subscribed to.

Mexican Flag waves above Ensenada

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in school and at home feeling that we learned a lot and were able to get a feel for both Ensenada and Mexico. We were surprised on the second day when a third teacher was added (for us five students) to better provide education by our ability level. The five of us students were matched with our three teachers Edith, Dey, and Lupita making for unbelievable student-teacher interaction. Each morning of grammar education and exercises was followed by an afternoon activity. Between wine tasting in nearby wine country, fish tacos at the local Mercado de Mariscos y Pescado, sightseeing at the Bufadora (Ensenada’s prized and the world’s largest blowhole), and ceviche and salsa cooking lessons, our Spanish class felt slightly different from those we took in the classrooms of JDHS. Each of us have a better handle on the language and had a great introduction to Mexico. We would highly recommend this program for anyone looking to learn Spanish at any level.

We reunited with our other amigos and are biking south again, now into the desert of Baja. We have heard a variety of stories about this next section and are not sure of what will come but expect we will have some adventure (and it will be really, really dry!)

Evan and Kanaan Coasting in the Desert