28. Mexico

On April 13th I return to San Fran to commence the amazing Lincoln Highway..Looking forward to those big ol' U.S. sized meals!!! Fooooodd!!!!
To catch-up n my writings, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and the six Central America countries will be written about at a later date and so have jumped to Mexico.

Having cycled only one day in Mexico before hit by a nasty case of diarrhoea, too weak to cycle I coached 200 kilometres to Domingo Zanatepec where I’d [finally!] had a new pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres sent to a WarmShowers.org host’s house (i’d been after these for about 4 months!) En route in the coach a customs check revealed I’d only been given 7 days on my visa and with 5 now used I had to take yet another coach to Salina Cruz a port town that had an immigration office...there the officials said that to normally extend a visa one has to leave and re-enter the country!...but with lady-luck on my side they simply wrote a ‘1’ in front of the ‘07 dias’, now showing as ‘107 dias’..simples...I’d actually thought of doing that myself!


For a while I’d felt depleted, the tour’s forward momentum had simply turned into a monotonous rhythm without much desire. Although my fault the language barrier from the start had not helped and with Mexico feeling much similar to what I’d already experienced / seen, and along with it now being their rainy season with torrential rain for sometimes hours upon end I was not enjoying mainland Mexico at all and wanted to reach the Baja Peninsular as soon as possible. Deciding to coach 700 kilometres further north I reach Acapulco, then another 600 kilometres to Manzanilo. Deciding I should at least give the mainland a reasonable chance I planned to ride for 7 days from there to port town of Mazatalan. Upon reaching Manzanilo dark grey clouds loomed from around the mountain tops and 10 kilometres away from the coach station at 8:00 it chucked it down! The main road literally became a river and I was hemmed-in under a roadside business shelter! As you see, I really mean a river!!

After an hour it stopped and when the drains finally cleared the deluge I made an abrupt u-turn back to the coach station and patiently wait for the over-nighter 600 kilometre ride to Mazatalan...e running for the coach!

At the Mazatalan port I’m told the ferry is at ‘Mericoles’???..I ask how far that is, it turns out Miercoles means Wednesday - a fine example of the language barrier! So I gladly wait two days for the over-night ferry to La Paz, the southern-most city on the *Baja California peninsular, whereby my bicicleta adventure re-commences! (*note ‘Baja’ is pronounced as ‘Baha’).

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Baja California
Off the ferry the welcomed pedalling commences for the twenty kilometres to La Paz, a great openly-scenic route with just a few ferry vehicles passing me along the way. Reaching the city’s edge the coastal road opened out onto a beach-fronted wide paved walkway for walkers, joggers and cyclists typical of good beach resort.
  
Reaching the hostel I meet a German motorcyclist whom had come from the north so we swap route info and advice. Planning to stay just one night a closer inspection of my rear wheel revealed a crack around one of the spoke eyelets. Several spokes had broke whilst in Central America and the wheel had since become quite buckled but I partly expected it to self-resolve! With little between La Paz and the two northerly cities of the Baja ~ 1400 kilometres away I would be foolish to ride on. Luckily there were a few bicycle repair shops so the following morning I headed to see them.
As my rear hub contains 14 gears it makes it larger than normal, as a result the spoke length is shorter - knowing the shop would not stock the right ones I simply suggested to the mechanic that he used the old spokes, he says to return at 6 pm.

Back at the shop I was well surprised! He’d actually managed to lace the wheel with new spokes - albeit a ‘non standard’ way I was still amazed he’d done it! He explained he had to use two different spoke lengths in order to achieve it but I was happy-as-Larry he’d done it could now stop worrying about when the next spoke would ‘TWANG!’ New spokes, rim and labour for the amazing price of 650 pesos (£26)!!

Baja California encompasses a territory which exhibits diverse geography for a relatively small area. The Peninsular ranges of the California cordillera run down the geographic center of the state. The most notable ranges of these mountains are the Sierra de Juarez and the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. These ranges are the location of forests reminiscent of Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains. Picacho del Diablo is the highest peak in the whole peninsula. Valleys between the mountain ranges are located within a climate zone that are suitable for agriculture. Such valleys included the Valle de Guadalupe and the Valle de Ojos Negros, areas that produce citrus fruits and grapes. The mineral-rich mountain range extends southwards to the Gulf of California, where the western slope becomes wider, forming the Llanos del Berrendo in the border with Baja California Sur. The mountain ranges located in the center and southern part of the state include the Sierra de La Asamblea, Sierra de Calamajué, Sierra de San Luis and the Sierra de San Borja.

Temperate winds from the Pacific Ocean and the cold California Current make the climate along the northwestern coast pleasant year-round.[15] As a result of the state's location on the California current, rains from the north barely reach the peninsula, thus leaving southern areas drier. South of El Rosario River the state changes from a Mediterranean landscape to a desert one. This desert exhibits diversity in succulent flora species that flourish in part due to the coastal fog.

Riding off the next day the wheel was silent, no spoke noises I’d encountered on my previous wheel-build back in Salta and no rear-end wibble-wobble from a buckled wheel plus the rear brake was now operational once again. It felt great that I could now enjoy the ride without worrying!
The road out of La Paz was a dual carriageway + hard shoulder for about 20 kilometres but eventually tapered down to a narrow single carriage with no shoulder, nevertheless, as I’d read, if there were oncoming vehicles drivers would patiently wait behind to pass by, no close shaves even from the artic trucks! Since my diarrhea I’d shied away from cooked restaurant or street food and frequented the awesome Oxxo stores as they always sold pre-packed sandwiches- usually ham and cheese. The stores are like a 7-11 and complete with hot drink, milk-shake and ice cream vending machines. With there huge signs they can be spotted literally a mile away!

I’d half expected Baja to be flat but no! After 30 kilometres a few hills started and through the course of the day they continued, not big climbs but long ups and long downs and at the day’s end I’d totalled about 600 metres of ascent. Researching the first few days route I knew at kilometre marker 100 there would be a small ‘village’ with a church so planned to camp there. Upon reaching it I find the church even had water, albeit in a large plastic barrel it was clean enough to wash with and okay to filter for drinking. The church also had a large corrugated steel canopy that shielded me nicely from the day’s scorching sun - the temperature had peaked at 39’c...so much better than the rain!
Still being early I wanted to carry on but with so little out there it was best I stayed. While resting on a seat a few people came to the church for a what looked like a social chat, they smiled and cared-not the slightest that I was there.

The following day having only ridden 13 kilometres, rounding a corner what do I see….an Oxxo sign! Out here? In this desert-like land?? And there I was the previous afternoon wanting to ride a bit more!
Later in the morning I meet two Californian cyclists heading south, as ever, swapping route info mainly so far as watering points as there were no rivers around these parts.

The scenery soon proved a want-for-a-change but not a chance for a while, this is what I had, a lot of not-a-lot with just electricity pylons to count, but with such little traffic and zero road-side hawkers gawking at me as I ride past it felt great...and still silence from my rear wheel, contently purring along lapping up the distance on my new tyres.

I’d seen several signs like this...like, where else is there to go?...the road is straight...and very long, there are no turnings whatsoever except onto a few dusty dirt trails.

An occasional change of road-side scenery;

Cuidad Constitucion was quite a big city and luckily had a banco as I needed to top-up my cash. Deciding to stay the night I hunt around for an ‘hotel economico’. The first few wanted 400, 470, 600, 500 almost giving up hope but ‘search and ye shall find’ I locate one for 250 pesos (£11), the only downside I had to lug my bags up two flights of stairs but with the money I saved there I brought a few extra groceries from the supermercado.

The following morning was a treat! Mist! For many kilometres I rode through dense mist, water-droplets gathering on my eyelashes..at just 16’c it was cold so ended up wearing my coat, I hadn’t felt such low temperatures since the highlands of Bolivia and Peru.

Oh I’m so glad, a sign, I mean, I was on the verge of turning….. 

At Insurgents I intended to stock-up on a few pre-packed cheese and ham sandwiches from an Oxxo store for lunch but unfortunately there wasn't a store (or at the previous city I'd stayed at) that was strange as previously they're in abundance. Pressing on I now bear right to cross the Baja over to it's eastern coast. 

The scenery proved much the same although I did cross my first river I'd seen on the Baja, in the distance the mountain range I'd be crossing very slowly came into focus. After a steady few hours climb of forty kilometres the scenery takes a welcomed change into the low mountains along with much welcomed twists and turns of the road around craggy rocks and pretty roadside flowers and shrubs, it really was a most scenic route. Up ahead I stop to talk to a 60 year-old Californian cyclist whom was repairing his flat tyre - he was [as all I'd met] heading south.

Soon the The Gulf of California comes into view, although only having reached an altitude of about 350 metres it gave a great view. 
Rounding a few more twists and turns I start an eight kilometre descent I'd read about that sweeps down to sea level. Luckily at the bottom a shop came into view so I bought a few late-lunch snack goodies.
With my birthday the next day I intended to reach the town of Loreto whereby I could Skype my twin sister in the morning. Passing a beach restaurant I briefly stop to use the toilet, strangely it was closed with no one around to which I start to think it would be a perfect camping location. 
Three Californian surfer guys pull up to check things out, asking if I'd like beer I gladly accept, telling them it's my birthday the next day they also give me a special 'bonus' beer! With enough food for dinner, a huge tank of freshwater for cleaning and beer I was well and truly content!

Knowing I could at least rinse down after with fresh water, as dusk sets I take a refreshing cooling-off in the sea, it had really been a great day with a perfect ending.
A perfect location to start my 49th year!

Reaching Loreto I soon find a cafe with wifi so get to open my sister's birthday message along with send her an email. On riding out of town the wind had picked up and remained so all day, the scenery had also reverted back to 'plain' setting so was music on, head down and pedal away. My plan was to reach Playa Buenaventura ninety three kilometres away, in the afternoon at the first roadside restaurant I'd seen all day, thirty kilometres short of my goal, beaten by the head-wind I decide to camp there. Sitting inside sipping on a coffee an American walks in to buy a coffee and having seen my bike says;
 "Hi, we've a beach camp /  restaurant 20 miles down the road if you're interested". 
Saying the wind had zapped my energy and now too far / late to reach that I intended to camp here he says;
 "Oh okay,...but if you like we can give you a ride, just put your bike in the pick-up"
Re-sult!
The place was a gem! Inside was typical U.S. advertising signs and plaques, it resembled similar to what I'd seen on Route 66. There was also two parrots, three dogs and a cat - I was lovin' it! I was given a free-shot for my birthday. Two other Americans were also staying the night, one being a photographer who supplied National Geographic with some of their photos. A good birthday dinner serving of chicken, vegetables and chips washed down with three beers, another night falling asleep to the sound of lapping waves..the Baja was definitely rejuvenating the previous few months negativity I'd been feeling. 

The following day now hugging a coastal route the scenery picked up again, passing by a few beach-resort towns on the 'upy' and 'downy' roller-coaster road, by afternoon the sun was beating down around 38-40'c - certainly preferable than the mainland rain!
By late afternoon I reach Santa Rosalia, founded by a French copper mining company in 1884 with still with much of the original mining infrastructure in place - a large rusting frame building in the town centre and many of the original quaint colonial buildings and church still in tact.
An email from my sister informed me I was a tad early on birthday celebrations as it was not the day before but on this day!...when travelling extensively days and dates start to become irrelevant as I clearly found out!
Out of Santa Rosalia the following day I head back up into the mountains, no major climbs although I did walk a couple of them.  Again the wind was back hampering my average pace and with mains towns being ~ 75 - 80 kilometres apart decided to lessen my daily distance to that of each of the towns spacing. 
Looks fun eh?...unfortunately I was going up!
More up! Notice the solar farm?..there I stocked up on extra water.
San Ignacio was a great little place, a real oasis in the desert. A large spring-fed pond and small river on the outskirts of town feeds into the central plaza and village next to the eighteenth-century Jesuit mission. San Ignacio serves as the gateway to San Ignacio Lagoon, the winter time sanctuary of the Pacific Gray Whale. The tree-shaded central plaza felt quite welcoming, a cool retreat from the blazing sun.
Over the following the road led over large open expanses with an occasional 'dust village' showing up here n there. 


Just as I reach the outskirts of Guerrero Negro two other cyclists were entering from the north. Nancy + Dave were are heading to Ushuaia from Alaska, and again, with these headwinds it does make more sense that way! Later we meet up at a restaurant along with two other southbound cyclist they had met along the way.
The four cyclists said to avoid eating in the restaurant at Chapala as they all were ill the next morning! - Note taken! 
The next day I reach the dusty village of Rosarito and book in at the Cactus Hotel. Now back into the barren desert terrain the winds had started becoming much stronger in the afternoon so to minimize riding into it, the following morning I start even earlier, leaving just before Sun-rise with just about enough light to see the road, but of all mornings I decide to start early so does this wind!! It was there from the first turn of the cranks!! And quite a strong wind at, was I being punished or what!?? Twenty kilometres further I was not enjoying it so with an occasional vehicle passing most of them being pick-up's I stick my thumb out at the first...passing by they pull over. What turned out to be a family of six going on holiday they gladly let me jump up into the back amidst their suitcases and bags. An hour or so later we stop at a roadside restaurant, this was Chapala, a single building junction 'village', my eyes open wide in aw of this 'place' having a name and being shown on a map! The family gladly let me stay and continue my effort-free journey. By 11:30 we reach a busy town - El Rosario, clearly back along a coastal route again it was time to disembark, total hitch distance; 260 kilometres - 3.5 days of headwind riding! 


A strange flowering desert plant regularly seen growing amongst Cactus.

I'd seen several large skeletons through the Baja, this certainly makes an interesting place to mount one! 

  
Presently at a WarmShowers.org family house in San Quintin I'm now well past the 'core' of what Baja California has to offer and two big cities await me; Enseneda (two days away) and then the border city Tijuana where I cross into the U.S.A.. I've always considered the North America part of this tour as a separate tour to the Latin American section. It would be good to ride Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia again but more-so take the off-road routes, likewise with Chile and Argentina, oh and also head south with the wind!..and definitely learn Spanish next time and have a ride partner!

Life in the U.S.A. will be a doddle, albeit somewhat dearer!
I have WarmShower hosts awaiting me in San Diego -  cycling 
across the U.S. on the Lincoln Highway during November / December 
I'll be using WarmShowers much more! My first port-of-call in San Diego 
will be to visit the national REI outdoor store to replace a few of my worn-out parts.
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