Thursday, November 20, 2008

Suspending trip for a couple of months

After finding myself without a camera for several days, I found that I was missing a large part of what my trip had become. So, after a couple of wrong turns and detours, I found myself headed north towar home to get my camera repaired and sort out a few little kinks and glitches for my follow on journey back down south toward Ushuaia, Argentina and the rest of South America...
Until later...B

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Los Mochis to Copper Canyon (banditos optional)

Today was to be the day I went into Copper Canyon. I left early in the morning and made it to Choix (about 90 miles from Los Mochis - where I stayed last night. From Choix it is a dirt road for about 120 miles to Creel. The dirt roads are fine, if a bit rugged. I just have to ride a bit slower. As I was leaving Choix after getting gas and water and food for a few days, I was stopped by the Federales who told me about a couple from Switzerland that were robbed and killed there earlier this week. They were also on bikes and for the past 6 months there were robberies and banditos that were holding people up along the next 25-50 miles of this dirt road. Well, since I was born with rocks in my head, I proceeded on past them.

You know, it is one thing if you ignore one person telling you some stories about "banditos", it is another if you are told by the guy at your hotel AND the police. I must've ridden for 15 miles up this dirt road before a pickup truck, with several dudes standing in the back of the bed with shotguns, passed me while kicking dust up enough to blind me. Well, it spooked me that these kids had guns and all sorts of things went through my mind, so I just turned around and sped back to Choix and beyond. As I entered Choix, I waved at the Federales and they just shook their heads. It is funny that it took the power of suggestion and no actual threat to spook me. Those kids in the pickup truck weren't threatening, they weren't even looking at me. They weren't even holding the guns (the ones that were standing), there were two guys sitting in the bed with shotguns on their knees... not really a threat, but it is better safe than sorry.

Well, that is why I started to think about heading north to Denver. Nothing like having your plans dashed by fears. Granted, they were fears that were founded on some intangible and tangible facts, but fears none-the-less.

There are other ways to get there. One is toward Mazatlan and then east to Durango, then north to Chihuahua. I'll head to Mazatlan first and get my head on straight before I make a decision.

Friday, November 7, 2008

La Paz

After the short ride from Cabo, with a stop in Todos Santos (great little town) for a nice lunch, I found my way back to La Paz waiting for a ferry to take me to Los Mochis.

There isn't a whole lot to do here other than dive, eat, drink, sleep or whatever else people do on vacation. There is more to La Paz than the beach and water... unless you explore in the town. Not a great little town, but a lot better than Cabo's town - better on the beach...

Even better when you can watch the sunset with an umbrella drink in hand... whoa! That is one big assed drink!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The (very) Expensive Side of Baja

One of the pleasant parts about traveling through Baja is how a little bit of money goes a very long way. That is, until I reached Cabo San Lucas. I went through San Juan los Cabos, which is a cheaper little brother of Cabo San Lucas. It was also less, well, touchy-feely than what I was assuming Cabo to be. 

This shot is actually on the way out of Cabo (up the west coast of Baja). It used to be that people would put cars on cinder blocks. This is entirely too much effort for a busted up old Mustang!
Instead of staying in San Lucas, I went to Cabo because I wanted to take photos of the Arch that is at the tip of Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. For some reason that thought took over all reasonable thoughts of exploring this little burg. C'est la vie.

As I neared Cabo I started feeling regret. There was just too much traffic. There were just too many large scale resorts. There was just too much, too much... too much of what I consider "ick-factor". Over exploitation of an area for greed irks me, but it didn't stop me from staying at one of those fine upscale resorts living off room service and swimming pool beers. 

There is just something about chilling out, doing nothing, ordering room service, sitting on a balcony overlooking a beach and watching waves curl and crash on the shoreline. Unfortunately, along this stretch of coastline, you cannot do so without forking over a shitload of cash. In fact, one place wouldn't even let me in their gates until I pulled my helmet off, asked for the manager and sat outside waiting. When the guy got there, we talked, he let me through and I got to reception and was told that the lowest priced room was $735 per night. There wasn't gold plating on the toilets in the lobby, so I can't figure out why it was so much in the off-season. The rooms, from the outside, appeared common.

Further down the road, I found another place for $635 and yet another for $500. WTF-O!? What is it about trying to find a room with a view of the ocean? Is that asking for too much? I did find a place that didn't make me vomit when I was told the cost, and oddly enough, it was at the Sheraton. Trust me, it wasn't cheap, but it wasn't "take out a mortgage" expensive.
Sure, hotels are expensive in Cabo. We expect that, but we didn't expect to pay 350 pesos for a cerveza. That is almost as expensive as New York City. Food, which has been cheap everywhere else in Baja is as expensive as it is in California, Seattle or NYC. Once again, I have to ask, "why"? The food here is the worst on the peninsula and everywhere I went, except when I ate in neighborhoods of locals, it was as if they all took Chili's recipes. I didn't eat at the Cabo Wabo's or Shrimp Bucket type places. I ate at what appeared to be local and the prices were still inflated. 
Pretty sad that on top of a $3.50 beer, they make you tote this guitar sized key to use the urinal... Makes you wonder how many people have peed on the key when they were drunk... (even sober people do stupid things).
The one redeeming feature of Cabo was the sunset cruise around the Arch and past Lover's Beach. What a great night!
I can't tell you my favorite place on my trip so far, but I can now isolate my least favorite...

The NOT SO Easy Side of Baja

From La Buffadora I intended to head over to the east coast of Baja to ride along the Sea of Cortez (also known as Gulf of California) and an area that is less traveled and purported to be a more scenic area to ride. 

Since I didn't want to back track to Ensenada, I decided to cross the desert on one of the several roads that I saw on the map. All of these roads are dirt roads and, on the maps, appear to continue across to Hwy 3 from Hwy 1. From what I can tell immediately upon starting on the first road was that it hadn't been graded in a long time, but was still passable.

After an hour of riding down this road, I started to have concerns, but, according to my compass, GPS and my dead reckoning, I was still on course. There was one minor issue that was developing... I started feeling my stomach gurgle. Yes, I was touched with a bit of "tourista" and without the relief and comfort of a restroom. Here I am, in the middle of the desert and needing to stop every 15-20 minutes in the heat of the day with only the shade of a bush or saguaro to keep the sun from my bum.
Before I continue, let me describe the terrain and road conditions. I am riding through a desert of cholla, saquaro, and prickly pear cactus that is used for nopales. The roads are rough, wash board filled and have no continuity. One mile will be hard packed and easy riding, followed by soft washout and then I'd find pockets of talcum powder like sand that seemed determined to grab my bike and pitch me off. I determined that low gear, with steady and moderate velocity was the best method for dealing with the soft talcum powder-like sand. If I went slow, I would fish-tail. If I went fast, the bike would dive (I found this out after leaving a very nice hard section of the road) causing a balance shift that was not easy to manage. After some experimenting I sorted out what was best for each condition and road accordingly and watchfull of the constant shifting.

Okay, now that I painted a grim picture of the conditions, let me just say that I have seen all these conditions before and I am prudent and experienced enough that this is a pretty basic road (except for the beach sand). 
So, I am about 3 hours into this road and haven't seen a road sign since I left the highway. I have had to stop half a dozen times because I am sick and have now run out of TP. I'm down to my last liter of water and it appears like I am only half way across to Highway 3 and I am not feeling any better. Like many deserts, there is not a whole lot of shade except for the occasional sequaro. I have made very little progress (mileage anyway) and then I come to the end of the road. It just ended. For several minutes I thought I missed a turn, but I didn't. I am sure that I could have continued across the open spaces, it wouldn't be like the terrain or riding would be any different... just a little less civilized. Since I was sick, becoming dehydrated and almost out of water, I turned around to be on the safe side.

A couple of hours later the sun was setting and I had still not found the road. I pulled over, parked the bike, set up camp and drained the last of my water and ate a couple of fig bars and almonds for dinner. The next morning as I packed up, I noticed a flat on my rear tire (my third this trip if you are counting). I plugged the hole in record time - I am now a pro at it! After the repairs, I hit the road only to find that I was about 20 minutes from the main road. It wouldn't have made much of a difference if I pushed on last night, I was still a long way from anywhere with a room and who knows how long I could have made it with the tire going flat. It was much better to fix it on the deserted dirt road than on the side of a busy narrow road.
I was still determined to get to the coast, so after I mapped out another route, I continued on for about 60 miles until I found the right turnoff. It is appearing that the 2 Imodium AD I took in the morning are keeping me from the difficulties of the day before (thank god!), so I turn into the road and seem to be making better time than yesterday. I make it about 50-60 miles before the road ends at some rocks that I couldn't find my way around, so it is back the way I came... again. I am frustrated and my "tourista" is coming back. After a few hours on a road that went to nowhere, I find myself back on Highway 1 headed south once again without success.

I can't figure out why a road would just end. I know it looked like it had ended several times before, but I was able to pick it up a short distance after a dry wash I had to cross. You would think it would have terminated at a town or a junction in the road, but at rocks... It was a very popular spot by the bottles, fire pits and trash strewn about, so perhaps it is just a place for the locals to go to shoot some smack, coyotes or just plain old cans.
The 6 hour round trip wasn't a waste, I did see some amazing land that not many see. I also had a bit of adventure and some adrenaline rushes when my bike went out from under me in some thick sand. It is easy to set a bike upright on pavement, but in sand... I had to pull my side backs and brace the tires from sliding away from me and then... well, let's just say that it was not an easy task and I got very frustrated. In the end, and in retrospect, it was a great time. Some might be saying that I never reached my destination of the coast, but as I always say, "It's the journey..."

I was back out on the tarmac and headed south and to a hotel with restroom... I found Mama Espinozas in El Rosario has been a stopping point for the Baja 1000 since the beginning of the race and it doesn't appear that there haven't been any upgrades since, but it was a place that I could rehydrate, eat and find shelter, I stopped. There is something that makes everything right when you can find a good beer, a nice "safe" meal and a nice shaded area to park the bike. Even the nice, hard (bedbug laden) bed was welcome.
The next day I was determined to make it to the Sea of Cortez, so I looked at the map and found a road that looked as if it went across and decided that I will just continue on the pavement until I am sure that I am over my stomach issues. After a long day of riding I found myself at Santa Rosalia. I have finally made it to the Sea of Cortez! Santa Rosalia is the largest town I have seen since Ensenada, with the possible exception of Guerrero Negro, but it is the first resupply since Ensenada for me, so it is a welcome sight. I rode in at dusk and the roads (road) was gridlocked, but by the time I checked into a hotel, cleaned up and went to look for food, it was dark and the roads were empty. No cars, no people, and very few places open. I decided this would not be a place to relax - too much industry here and not enough, well, stuff to see and do.

Instead of exploring Santa Rosalia I decided to head to La Paz. It would be a good long ride, but if I stayed on main roads I should make it with time to look around in between. Not even 60 kms from Rosalia I found myself checking out Mulege (a coastal town) and found that it was nice, but felt like it was a place trying to grow while some people were trying to keep its charm - very disjointed with two modern looking strip malls as you enter the town followed by an adventure outfitter and an old style restaurant and then some gringo restaurants and bungalow style small resorts. 

Further down the road and around the corner was a gem of a place - Bahia Conception is a great, and let me emphasize GREAT, place. As of now, it is untouched yet full of beauty with a handful of gringos living in RVs on the beach or in palapa style houses doting the hills. Another 60 kms brought me to the best place on all of Baja (that I have seen - to include Cabo and La Paz). That was Loreto. 

Loreto is all that Mazatlan, Acapulco and Cabo were in the late 70's - early 80's, but without the pomp. There is a great boardwalk. There are palm tree lined streets and smart unpretentious shops selling REAL local crafts. Sure, there are shops that cater to the cruise ship tourist, but overall it is just a sleepy little town about half the size of Cabo and twice the beauty.  Don't get me wrong, Cabo is set in a pretty setting, but has grown past its means. That is what makes this place different. The planners actually seem to have a plan.

I only lunched at Loreto so I don't have the benefit of more than two hours, but it is well worth the trip (if you are looking for sleepy little towns with good beaches and views.