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Baja California Sur...gray whales, sea of cortez and the endless desert

MEXICO | Sunday, 8 February 2009 | Views [7517] | Comments [9]

'Ballenas Gris', gray whale with a 'tail lob' pretty close to our 'Panga'

'Ballenas Gris', gray whale with a 'tail lob' pretty close to our 'Panga'

21/1/09 - 4/2/09 Guerrero Negro to La Paz  840 km

Sometimes things happen exactly at the right moment. For us this was meeting Vincent and Michel, two Swiss cyclists, who also started their expedition in Alaska in May, and were on their way to Argentina. Michel has CF, a serious illness that is affecting his lungs. During their trip he has been admitted to hospitals several times. Now, in Guerrero Negro, his lung capacity has deteriorated so much, that they have to end their journey and dream.

Vincent and Michel are bronzed, strong looking young men, each with a sparkle in their eyes. But almost palpable are their feelings of frustration. They want to go on, but they can’t. In the week before this encounter both Ali and I had a little emotional dip. The change from the ‘easy comfortable USA’ to Mexico, where we don’t speak nor understand the language, and where roads are often narrow and busy. We complained: ‘little this here, little that there’. But upon meeting these boys in one instant these feelings disappear. They re-ignite our fire, the Fuego project is back on track. We have to pinch ourselves, “we’re doing it, living our dream”, two years of freedom, of seeing the world. Our riding mojo is back. We wish that there will be some way that Michel and Vincent will still be able to continue and fulfill their dream.

Vincent and Michel whom we met at the 'Hotel Ballenas', who also started their journey on the Dalton highway in Alaska

Guerrero Negro is famous for the gray whales, which migrate from Alaska to the nearby lagoon ‘Laguna Ojo de Liebre’ every year to give birth and mate. After a sandy 27 km of riding then pushing then riding again, we set up camp on a small sand dune, right next to the lagoon.

Ali wakes up to the sound of whales breathing, and wakes me to get up and have a look. It is still early in the morning and we gaze over the lagoon. The water is like glass, and it is completely quiet.


“Did you hear that?”

“Yeah, was that a whale?.”


“I think so, but I can’t see them”.

“But they sound really close.”

And then finally we see a tiny hump, far away in the distance. The sound travels for miles, and it sounds like they are very close, but they are still in the distance. Later that morning, on board a ‘panga’, a little motor boat, we see maybe fifty whales, mothers and calves. Some swim underneath the boat, we can see their eyes and the barnacles that grow on their skin and we can smell the air they breathe. Others cruise by effortlessly with their calves in tow and some breach, ‘spy hop’ and lob their tails in the air. It is a truly magical experience shared together on the calm waters of this world heritage sanctuary.

Just cruising...

A tail lob...

Back on the bikes we climb over the mountain range that separates the Pacific from the Sea of Cortez. This sea is sheltered, and therefore calmer and warmer. We meet Gary, an American in his sixties, who has spent his winters at one of the beaches for years. He used to be a fanatical road cyclist, and rode the Baja six times. Now he enjoys offering touring cyclist a little piece of paradise close to his camper. Hence he invites us and Finn, an English cyclist to spend some time at Playa El Coyote. Gary is also known as the ‘Raven man’, and has built a little museum and laboratory on the beach. He shows us his broad collection of shells and fossils.

Gary 'Raven Man' of Raven Research West

Our happiness is complete when he takes us for a trip in three kayaks. It is Finn’s 20th birthday, no better way to celebrate. Above the water pelicans fly in groups and dive in bizarre formations to catch fish. Frigate birds and boobies soar through the sky. We paddle along some pretty beaches, and Gary enthusiastically points out everything that flies or swims.

Finn assesses 'life at 20' on a birthday paddle around the islands at Bahia Concepcion

Brown Pelican synchronised fishing display off the beachfront camp

Hilleberg on the beach, Playa El Coyote

Again in the saddle, up over the huge mountain range of the Sierra Giganta, crossing back over to the flatter coastal plains of the Pacific. We would like to see the whales once more, and this is possible at another lagoon at Puerto Lopez Mateos.

“Wouldn’t we be disappointed, after Laguna Ojo de Liebre?”

“We will have to view them as two separate experiences”.

And a different experience it is. Our visit to Puerto Lopez Mateos coincides with the ‘Festival Ballenas Gris’, and about 3000 Mexicans have gathered for a weekend of celebration. On the beach they’ve set up roller coasters, little shop stands and food stands, as well as continuous loud music. We still manage to camp, just behind all the fanfare, beside a few horse trailers. We watch a horse show, caballeros throw lassos and girls ride in beautiful traditional Mexican clothing.

In stead of whales breathing, this night we listen to the beat of the music until the early hours. The next morning, we wake to the sound of the horses breathing next to our tent. The water is busy with boats buzzing around heading out to the whales. It seems like a bit of a circus which we decide not to be a part of. Well, too bad, no more whales, but a truly Mexican fiesta instead.

On the final stretch we meet Nobu and Hiro, two Japanese cyclists we previously saw in Fairbanks in June, as well as Max, an Austrian cyclist. With the five of us, we ride through the endless desert to La Paz. It’s great to share stories about our trips, about other cyclists we have all met, but in different places , and a collective sense of connection is there.

Nobu and Hiro from Japan

and Max leading the attack on the hills to La Paz..

Now we are staying in a ‘Pension California’ with a few other cyclists in La Paz. For us the brakes are on for a while. At the end of this month we will fly to Australia. Until that time we’ll be working on our Spanish, next monday our first class starts.

All in all Baja California was a gripping experience. The cycling was challenging: desert landscape with sometimes little variation, up and down through riverbed after riverbed, busy roads, little water, scorching afternoon sun. We found that the beauty was mostly there when we got away from the road. Again, the encounters with amazing people, Michel, Vincent, Finn, Gary, Nobu, Hiro and Max, are what made it special for us.

If you are interested in reading more about Michel and Vincent’s adventures (and have no problems with French), here’s the link to their website: www.muco-velo.ch

Love Anna and Alister

Tags: baja california, beaches, biking, birds, cactus, cyclists, desert, mexico, whales, wildlife




Well I am here in Delaware into my third month on the indoor trainer (so much salt on the roads I would be riding a rusty hulk in no time if I was to ride outdoors) and you two are heading into dusty and challenging riding in a third world country. I am not sure which is harder? Anyway, it sounds as though you almost got caught in the Southern California lifestyle which tends to make bike touring or any activity other than a BBQ on the beach a bit hard to mentally reconcile. I got stuck (and had a great time) in Southern Cal for 10 years so I understand. Whatever you decide going forward always remember to also look back at what you accomplished not what you didn't. Finally, the song I use on the trainer sometimes to keep riding is "Rise Up (Easy Rider)" by Brewer & Shipley. You might be able to hear it here.


Take Care,

Your Friend,


  Ken Elsman Feb 23, 2009 3:21 AM


Great selection of pictures from Baja. I'd like to have been there when you met up with all the other folks from Fairbanks. Looking forward to the next instalment from mainland Mexico.

  Graham Haigh Mar 2, 2009 7:08 AM


I'm jealous!! When we rode Baja a few years ago, we were just a couple weeks too early to see the whales. We toyed with hanging around - but John's mom was coming to Mazatlan to see us, so we had to push on.

Sounds like you are doing well and enjoying life. that's wht it's all about!

We are now almost to Belize - only 400 km left of Mexico!!


  Family on Bikes Mar 4, 2009 11:53 AM


Lieve Anna!

Allereerst: gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag vandaag! Ben erg benieuwd waar je nu bent, en of je er een feestje van kunt maken. Het was alweer een tijdje geleden, maar heb me net heerlijk jullie avonturen van de afgelopen tijd bijgelezen. Begrijp ik goed dat jullie nu even in Australie zijn? En dat je vanaf nu echt een Aussie bent? Wauw!

Nou geniet dan maar dubbel en dwars van al het moois wat het komende jaar gaat brengen! Hele dikke zoen voor jullie beiden!
Liefs, Marrit

  Marrit Mar 13, 2009 9:30 PM


hee lekker wijf!!!
Met terugwerkende kracht gefeliciteerd!!!
Waar slapen jullie nu? heb je een mobiel nummer?
HOe lang blijven jullie in Australie?
Ik lees het graag.
veel liefs van een dikke Eva

  Eva Mar 15, 2009 4:45 AM


Last weekend, the Arizona Bicycle Club hosted an evening with Tim and Cindy Travis. They are cycling nomads who have been on the road since 2002 and don't have any plans to stop. To my pleasure and surprise a picture of Anna and Ali made it into their slide show. As we saw by crossing paths several times during our time in the Canadian Rockies, the world of touring cyclists is really kind of small, but it keeps on turning. Best to you both from the Arizona desert. Keep chasing the end of the road. I hope you never find it.

  Neill Mar 24, 2009 10:32 AM


Hello....hoping you enjoying life. I wish you the best on your trip and hop you remember me.. We met at Ensenada Mx. in a cooffe place call la taza. any way now I am in Vancouver B.C.waiting for the good weather. I wish you the best...bay

  Rogelio Almazan Mar 26, 2009 7:44 AM


Don't give up, there's so much to see and live...

  Ushuaia-Info Mar 27, 2009 11:34 PM


hi A&A, must have been a lovely experience with the whales!! :) and good the mojo is back! xx coen

  coen Apr 12, 2009 9:58 PM

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