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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Weeks five and six: Southern Baja

MEXICO | Sunday, 24 April 2011 | Views [1463] | Comments [7]

Out-of-sequence borrowed-from-Charlie picture: the bike gang, in Rosario (pre-crash, hence the smiles).

Out-of-sequence borrowed-from-Charlie picture: the bike gang, in Rosario (pre-crash, hence the smiles).

In terms of events, the past two weeks have been unremarkable. Life on the road has been [pleasantly] tame and peaceful. Charlie got a flat in Loreto, Tom had to repair a broken clutch cable on the road, and Charlie had to buy a new helmet after losing his to theft in Mulege. Alex rejoined us in Loreto, after balling it south for only a couple of days. So here we are, the whole group of four, happily sipping beers in La Ventana, Baja California Sur.

(San Ignacio)

We came here via the windy, desolate, bleak desert interior of Baja. After the surprising date palm oasis of San Ignacio, it was disheartening continuing the ride through hundreds more miles through some of the ugliest and most inhospitable land I’ve yet traveled through. Fortunately, when we were at the end of our ropes, unable to comprehend why people clamor about going to Baja, we hit the Sea of Cortez and things began to marginally improve.

Mulege was our first stop. We drove straight out to the lighthouse at the tip of the estuary, found a bar for some beers, and ended up not leaving until the following afternoon. Similar to San Felipe, Mulege was inhabited by friendly expat gringos eager to socialize with fresh blood. I found Mulege to be a much better town, though, much more livable than San Felipe.

The next destination was Loreto, just a stone’s throw south. Loreto was similarly pleasant, and we rested there for a while, grateful to be out of the desert wind for a few days. But it wasn’t until arriving in La Paz a few days ago that I actually began to see the appeal of Baja.

(Bahia da la Concepcion)

La Paz is a legitimate city. Cities come with culture and cuisine, and it was nice to indulge in both of those things for a few nights. The city’s market was directly across the street from our hostel, so I was able to feast my senses on a daily basis, enjoying what I consider to be one of the highlights of Mexican travel. The main doors of the market are yellow metal, double wide, and constantly experiencing a flow of pedestrian traffic: shabbily dressed families and well-heeled housewives entering empty-armed, and exiting twenty minutes later with a rainbow of laden plastic bags swinging from their hands, a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice held to their lips. Once inside the market, you can turn left into the alleys of plastic-wrapped clothing, shelves of hand-tooled cowboy boots, and tables stacked with mass-produced sandals, or right into the heart of the food. I always go right.

First in line are the fruit and vegetable stands, overflowing with harvest-gold bananas, purply-green avocados, day-glo oranges, dusty potatoes, ruby-red strawberries, apples in every shade, and limes so green they belong in a Corona ad. Next come the dairy stalls, with fresh white eggs sitting unrefrigerated on the counter, unpasteurized wheels of white cheeses next to them, and cartons of room-temperature milk that never seems to expire. After the dairy comes the meat, where entire pigs heads, snouts raised indignantly from beds of ice, rest in bins staring at you. Links of fresh sausages swing from shower rods, and bags of chorizo, so heavily spiced that your stomach protests just by looking at them, are stacked neatly on a shelf. Last, but certainly not least, are the fish stalls: piles of ground marlin for ceviche, buckets of pale gray shrimp, and filets of fish ranging in color from pasty white through grape-fruit red, all in beds of ice and watched over by aproned men and women wielding knives and ladles.

Those are the colors; to describe the smell may not be possible. The fruit stands smell vaguely of the sweet, foresty odor of bananas, intermingling with the musk of decay and soil; the dairy stalls smell crisp and clean with refrigeration, but tinged lightly with the salt from the cheeses; the meat stands are overpowering with the raw, ancient scent of blood, not even a scent so much as an awareness, a tingling deep in the cavities of your nose, which makes you uncomfortable, and raises the hairs on the back of your neck; the equally overpowering reek of raw fish and spilled guts surrounds the fish stalls like a wall you walk into. And as isolated as they seem to be at times, you can always smell every corner of the market at the same time, all the various odors and musks and even airborne flavors of it all entering your system with every sniff.

The people at the market are equally amazing. You never see any of the boredom of a grocery store in a street market. The vendors yell across the aisles, swapping jokes and crude innuendoes and gossip. The patrons smile and chat with everyone they run into, and leave with happy hearts, not the soulless worn out look people have when leaving a supermarket, not leaving filled with a desperate desire to be released from the  zombie warehouse of a Safeway or a Walmart. They leave with visions of meals in their minds, with plans involving people and flavor, not microwaves and a TV.

Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox. Suffice it to say, I prefer the market to the grocery store, and to have traveled over 2,500 miles before finding one…I was happy to see it.

(our porch in La Ventana)

After a few days of enjoying the relaxing and social atmosphere of the Pension California in La Paz (where we actually met other travelers our own age!), we headed south a mere 47 kilometers with our new friend Erik (riding to Argentina on his bicycle) in tow, and found ourselves in this lovely paradise. La Ventana is usually a windsurfing and kite boarding mecca, but the winds dropped off a few days ago, and the crowds of chilled out water sportsman were replaced with droves of Mexican vacationers seeking family beach time for Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week preceding Easter. Despite the mad crowds on the beach, La Ventana is a peaceful place, with Caribbean blue water, fresh fish, sunny skies, plenty of beach to share, and cool locals wanting to show us a good time [again]. We’ve spent most of our time here horizontal in relaxation, punctuated with the odd multi-mile walk along the beach, swim in the warm water, or search for scallops in the shallows.

(Baja puppy)

We’re heading out of La Ventana tomorrow to complete the “Cabo Loop” and head back to La Paz. We’ll catch the ferry to the mainland on Tuesday(ish) and begin the rest of the journey. I’m currently 2,443 miles into the trip, and I haven’t even left Baja! Charlie and I spent some time yesterday looking up some of the mainland attractions, and it’s astounding thinking about all that’s out there. In fact, while sitting in front of our beachfront apartment this morning, staring at the white-capped azure depths of the bay, I thought aloud to the guys, “I can’t believe that this is just the beginning.”

Which brings up an interesting side note: having been rejected from all three of the graduate schools I applied to with the hopes of returning to school this fall, I am now a free bird. So free, in fact, that I may not be returning home for a very, very long time. Think years. So this truly is just the beginning. And that thought alone makes me giddy beyond description.

Until next time,

Sarah

Comments

1

i think i too would prefer the market, one day i'll find out. now that your trip has become indefinite in length is is quite possible we might cross paths (though it will be a little longer for me)!!! happy travels :)

  esus Apr 25, 2011 1:25 PM

2

Love how you touch on the seeming soullessness of the modern (norte) American food shopping experience. But I would submit that what we grew up with was a broken promise, a bill of goods that wasn't delivered. Namely, that having a hygienically safe food supply required that we must also accept a similarly sanitized community experience, and an increased social separation between food provider, deliverer and consumer. I just have to think that in the US we'd be happy to have more of what you touch on when it comes to not being so "zombified"....but unfortunately we come from a land where paranoia rules the day. We always insist on that big buffer of personal space, a concept that is rare or nonexistent south of the border.

  Eric Apr 25, 2011 2:04 PM

3

Hey sarah

I happend to read your blog via finding a link on ADV.

nice to read your storries, also pretty good choise of bike ;) I read in last post that you did not get a positve reply from the schools you applied on, bummer but what the hell just ride on like you said !!! and take the time to do so. I'm really jealous at the moment because I will leave for my round the world in November. can't wait to go when reading your blog :)

well I have to go to work to get the finance part fixed.

have fun maybe we will meet somewhere on the way !

Emile

  Emile Apr 26, 2011 7:01 PM

4

My imagery with your encounter of the market is complete. Wonderful writing!

  Louise Apr 30, 2011 12:49 AM

5

You better come back, lady. At least to get me :) Miss you so much!

  Bobbie Apr 30, 2011 5:50 AM

6

Hey Sarah it was really cool meeting you at Modelo Bar in Durango. You and Charlie are quite an act. Keep that adventurous spirit going. I´ll vicariously follow your trip through your blog.

Cheers!
Bryan





  Bryan Barbosa May 3, 2011 10:00 AM

7

keep on ridin' on & writing schmeermuffs. i'm loving the journey, you do a lovely job of conveying it, thanks.

  hal May 6, 2011 8:12 AM

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