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Baja California Norte

MEXICO | Wednesday, 21 January 2009 | Views [6425] | Comments [5]

Big cactus (is dat dezelfde richard?)

Big cactus (is dat dezelfde richard?)

10/1/09 - 19/1/09 San Diego to Guerrero Negro 724km

It is a fine and sunny day in San Diego, the chickens are scratching in the yard, ‘the Casita’ (our home for the past week) is cleaned and bikes are loaded into the back of Merle’s pick-up truck. After much nervous anticipation..... it is time, let’s go to Mexico! Merle drives us the 15 miles to the huge wall that separates the United States from Mexico and the border crossing of San Ysidro and Tijuana. He helps us negotiate our loaded bikes through the pedestrian turnstiles, only just enough room to edge around. They ‘clunk’ ‘clunk’ as people fling them fast on their way through, and we feel like cattle being herded through gates. We look back through the bars, to say our final goodbyes to Merle and the United States. We both feel a lump in our throats, Merle has been a generous father figure to us both over the past month working on tools and bikes in his workshop, giving us space to spread out and to get things organised in San Diego. It’s the warmth, trust and welcoming of people like him that have made this journey truly inspiring.


Another turnstile to squeeze through and we are in Tijuana, ‘Mehico’ without even showing our passports and travel cards. The smell of meat cooking from a street vendor, piano accordian music from a car, ‘farmacia’s’ selling cheap viagra, our senses are filled with different smells, sounds and language. But it’s also fairly quiet, like a city waking up with a hangover from a heavy night on tequila and cervezas, Tijuana is sleepy and slow at 9:00am. All the bars are closed, shop owners are just opening up their stores (and their eyes), people are washing down the pavement, men yell at us ‘hello, fish taco sir...’ and pharmacists wait for their first customers. Everybody looks at us as we walk our bikes through a pedestrian mall to get our bearings, we are definitely an attraction. It’s strange to be here, we have heard nothing but warnings from americans about how dangerous it is in Tijuana with the drug cartels feuding, and murders, and we should avoid it at all costs. We are sure it can be dangerous at certain times, especially hanging around at night, but we actually feel safe. However, once we are on the Mex 1 highway to Rosarito, well that’s a different story!

Within two days we’re in the comfort of Diane and Juan’s place in Ensenada. Our first taste of Mexican hospitality staying with some like-minded people and we are in need of a rest anyway. It’s hot, really hot in the concrete lined streets, with the Santa Ana winds blowing, and this is winter. We have dust in our throats as we ride out of the busy roads south of Ensenada and into the hills.

After El Rosario we decide that it’s safe to wild camp in the desert. The sun is setting, we are high on a ridge, so with no other options we pull just off the side of the road down a hill, but out of sight of the Transpeninsular highway and the trucks blasting up and down the hills. At 6:30pm we are inside our tent. At 7:00pm we hear a truck moving slowly then a loud ‘bang’, followed by ‘thud, thud thud’. We are both wide awake, “someone just came off the road!”, “what should we do?”. Then comes the sound of a door opening. As we are trying to stealth camp (not all that well mind you), we figure that the next car or truck will stop to help, and what are two cyclists with little Spanish going to be able to do. Soon there are several large semi-trailers lined up, lights flashing right next to our campsite. Within an hour there are maybe 15 or so trucks lined up, drivers chatting away in Spanish, and the road is blocked. 

The moon has just risen so our tent is now illuminated like a light bulb in the open desert. Our hearts race for an hour or so with paranoid thoughts, “can they see us?”, “what might they do?”. We have heard so many negative stories about Mexico, wild camping and people being robbed, it’s hard not to be a little concerned. The next thing i remember is waking up again, the trucks are gone, so are the lights, and the night is still again, except for the wailing of the coyotes in the distance. We sleep a little easier. In the morning we ride back a few hundred metres; there lies a truck trailer on it’s side in the ditch off the narrow winding road. A lesson on not riding at night, and staying clear of the trucks.

The road has finally become quieter but it is extremely narrow with no shoulder in most places, which after the white line plunges off into a gravelly abyss of a foot or more, doesn’t look appealing to us and our two wheels. There are sometimes guard rails on the windy sections of the Mex. 1, but they are usually crushed or bent or ominously just missing from previous accidents. Occasionally beyond the white line there are drains with no grill cover that drop over a metre into the ground, that we call ‘bike traps’, or bridges over dry river beds (‘arroyos’) with no warning and no rail, just a long drop.

All along the Mex 1 we see the remains of wrecked trucks and damaged guard rails every few kilometres. Little memorials litter the roadside with crosses, wooden structures with plastic figures of Jesus inside, flowers and names and dates of loved ones who have lost their lives on this road. Like the one to Hector in the shape of a semi trailer cab, or the one with two cans of ‘Tecate’ beer next to his cross (can’t help but think that the ‘Tecate’s may have contributed to the accident...). There are perhaps hundreds that we see in all shapes and forms, such a waste of life, yet the roads are still in the same bad condition, truck drivers still have a can of ‘Tecate’ with their breakfast, people still speed and overtake on blind corners, and trucks still roll over exploding their load of smashed timber, glass, and bucket seats on the roadside.

We realise the 80km speed limit is only a suggestion, and if the road is clear most drivers will give us the room, but otherwise they can really blast us. So with one eye on the mirror to see what’s coming from behind and the other on the cars and trucks approaching, as well as on the thin strip of road which varies from smooth to potholed and sandy, it doesn’t leave too much time to be enjoying the surroundings. We employ the tactic of getting out of a bad situation before it happens. I yell out “car back”, or “truck back” or “three cars overtaking a bus and truck!” (which is really bad news) then we both signal and bail off the road into the loose gravel shoulder. It breaks our rythym, but always happy to be alive. This happens time and time again while riding the Mex. 1, but there is no other option of a road that is practical to ride. At times south of Ensenada, we even ride on a dirt track that parallels the highway just to give ourselves a break.

Catavina is a blessing and a desert wonderland, a high plateau of granite boulder fields, giant cardon cacti, and surreal cirios, a species endemic to this part of the world, with twisting and tapering white wooden trunks and a long tip sometimes bending right over to form an arch. After a tough 90km of riding uphill and into a strong headwind over open desert plain, we roll effortlessly downhill through this awesome landscape, dwarfed by 20 metre high cactus, and granite marbles most of which are painted in mexican ‘graffiti’ of people professing their love for one another. We stay for a day near Catavina at Rancho San Ynes to relax in the shade of a mesquite tree, and explore on foot the cacti and cirio forests in the surrounding boulder fields. An earlier botanist Joseph Wood Krutch had described the cirios as ‘almost hallucinatory - rather like some surrealist dream’. 

From Catavina it is heads down, few services and some straight roads and we cover 240km in two days riding to Guerrero Negro in Baja California Sur. We wild camp in the desert again, this time away from the road at the base of three giant cacti. It’s a ‘dangerous’ activity camping in cactus country, and I manage to bend over and catch a cholla spine in my rear, which Anna needs to remove with surgical precision. We also remove spines from shoes, the footprint of the tent (to prevent punctures in our air mattresses) and bike tyres and the prickly chollas make the ritual night time ‘call of nature’ a little more challenging.

Some of the not-so-happy impressions of Baja California have been the number of stray dogs roaming the roads. Some just watch us pass with disinterest, while others want to have a go at us running at our bikes, so with a shot of adrenalin in the blood, Anna prepares the pepper spray and we both yell in our deepest tones to ‘stop...geett baaack!’ which usually does the trick. Although always a constant worry of ours on the trip, and it will continue to be the further we go. There are also numerous dead dogs on the side of the road. It is one thing to see dead deer like in the states but to see dogs and puppies with familiar faces and markings that no one cared for, rotting away ungracefully by the side of the road is a hard thing to swallow and ride past. 

The other thing is rubbish. Beautiful desert landscape with plastic bags wrapped around cactus, broken glass, plastic bottles, nappies the whole lot strewn all over the place. The closer to a town, the more rubbish on the roadsides. We joke about ‘baja recycling’, but the sad truth is, where does our rubbish that we produce here go?

We are now in Guerrero Negro, bikes inside our cheap hotel ‘las ballenas’ room and coming to terms with the fact we are heading back to Australia in early March. Anna has finally been granted permanent residency in Australia, which is one of the reasons for the trip home. It is also eight months on the road and we have been experiencing a little ‘dip’ emotionally that many travelers and bike tourers experience when the initial excitement of starting a trip turns into a journey, then it turns into your ‘life on the road’... (thanks Dick, for the long chat today). So both of these situations coinciding together have posed other questions:  do we carry on from here after March? are we still going to ride the length of two continents? and how long should we be away from home for?... Questions still unanswered. For now we are going to ride on but slow down and enjoy Baja California Sur with the sheltered lagunas and gray whale sanctuaries of the pacific coast to the beaches of the Sea of Cortez.

Hasta luego

Ali and Anna

Tags: cactus, cycling, dangers, desert, great people, mexico, traffic



Hallo Anna en Ali,
Proficiat met je "aanstelling" in Australie.
Hoe gaat het met de Rohloff naven en banden? Alles kunnen reviseren?
Wij ontmoetten jullie in Borrego Springs. Op weg naar El Paso.

Misschien ter ondersteuning indien jullie niet door fietsen naar het zuiden; wij doen elk jaar een fietsvakantie van soms 4 weken-3 maanden. Dan blijf je weer verlangen en gaat het niet "gewoon" worden. Maar dit ligt er natuurlijk ook aan hoeveel vakantie je kunt opnemen.
Geniet nog van alles en......wie weet.


  Ine en Reginald deJong-Cauberg Valkenburg Jan 28, 2009 2:51 AM



lovin reading your stories

be safe my friends,

don't rush back, but looking forward to seeing you anyway



  Nick the bowmaniac bowman Feb 6, 2009 12:03 PM


Alister & Ann...I met you in WEST FORK CABIN CAMP on the MADISON RIVER MONTANA...Me & my friend passed you & I took a picture of yunz on your bike's & then at the Cabin Camp ...You made some great time!! The date then was SEPT. 30th 2008

I have some picture's of you but don't see a contact or email addy...If you like email me so I can send pic's.

Your Friend,

Randy G.

  RANDY GAJEWSKI Feb 14, 2009 3:01 PM


We've been wondering how the trip is going and finally found a minute to take a look. Glad to hear you are making your way and doing well. We have two new grandsons since we saw you! Paul's mom just got back from a wonderful trip to NZ and Australia...loved it all.

Best of luck on your continued journey!

The Lillywhites :o)

  The Lillywhites Feb 20, 2009 10:33 AM


Hey lieve vrienden...

Ik heb er even een lineaal bij gepakt...en wat denk je??? jullie boom is groter!

Leafs fan Richard

  Richard Feb 23, 2009 9:46 PM

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