September 17th, San Diego, CA ,Stop: September
27th, La Paz, BC, Mexico
Distance: 1848 km
(1149 miles), Total Distance: 20872 km [Map]
Burritos, tacos, lonely beaches and never ending
roads, poor people, tons of litter along the road, people waving
along desert roads, pleasant and friendly faces everywhere, deserts
with uncountable cacti. We were in Mexico, at last, on Rocinante,
and on our way south for the first time in five weeks. Viva Mehjico.
Mark's doing the last checks on Rocinante before we left
San Diego and Rocket Motorcycles. I'm not sure whether the
hammer was meant for me or Rocinante, but Rocinante at least
was as new when we left.
Back to El Sauzal
Rocinante hummed with a comforting sound as we crossed the border
at Tijuana, skipping the custom check in the worlds busiest border
crossing, and heading straight south towards Hostel Sauzal for
the night. It was Tuesday, September 18th. Five weeks had passed
since we arrived in San Diego with the purpose of spending two
nights there while Rocinante was serviced, and then head for Mexico.
We both felt good. The bike was new, literally spoken. Rocket
MC had done a great job preparing the bike for the undertaking
we had just started. We sang along and shouted "Yiihaa, VIVA
MEXICO", almost forgetting we were in a country where most
Americans had told us they drove like crazy. I had expected this
to be only half true, and after a couple of hours riding we relaxed
and snorted at the prejudice on the other side of the border.
When we honked the horn outside the gate of Hostal El Sauzal,
Maria came running and embraced us like old friends. She quickly
offered us the second night free if we would like to stay one
more night, an offer we politely declined because we were just
too eager to get some mileage done. Patricia was also back at
the hostel after a short trip back home to Santa Barbara. We caught
up with the last two weeks and then asked Maria to call Gonzalo,
in order for us to meet him again and take him for a short ride
on the bike, as we had promised before we left. Gonzalo came over
with his sister and a relative from the States. He was just as
happy to see us as we were to see him, and he almost drowned in
the skateboard T-shirt we had bought for him in San Diego. That's
the fashion, though, we told him, and he seemed pleased. Bente's
helmet fit him perfectly and when I hooked up the intercom and
we drove off, he was ecstatic.
Gonzalo misses the ball big time, while his friends keeps
a respectful distance.
It was almost impossible to understand what he said while we
rode, because the intercom system requires some getting used to,
but I answered his thousand questions as best I could. When we
parted later in the night, after yet more juggling and beach tennis,
it was with hugs and promises to keep in touch with him. And the
next day, when we left Maria and Patricia, more hugs were exchanged
and more promises given. We'd met some of the most special people
in our life in this place, and it was with sorrow we drove southwards
Our planned route should take us to a observatory that day, but
as always, we changed our schedule again. The need for mileage,
that is, the need to get further south and feel we were on the
road for real again, were too strong to add in detours from the
main road that day. We skipped our initial plans and took the
main highway south for the whole day. We ended up in Cataviña,
a small place in the central desert of Baja, in a little ranch
and guest house off the main road. They charged way too much for
the overnight stay and meals, and our suspicions were confirmed
when two Mexicans came and paid a lot less for the same room.
The people were nice though, an elderly couple who had run the
place for decades. Oscar and Mathilda where their names, and he
remembered the times when he had to ride three days on mule through
the desert to stock up on supplies. That was before the mid seventies
when they built the main north-south highway.
The central desert of Baja is scarcely populated. We had
to take our chances with this make shift gas station to
reach our next stop.
Devils in paradise
The desert was incredibly beautiful with numerous different cacti
and rock formations. We stopped for photos every few miles and
couldn't believe the size of some of the plants. When we came
down to the Sea of Cortez, the heat got fairly bad, so we escaped
the little town were we had stopped and found a little beach with
small open air cabins, called palapas. For twelve dollars a night
we could sleep in hammocks or crude beds under shelters made from
dried palm leaves. Two girls from Cornwall, UK, whom we had met
several times already - in San Diego and in El Sauzal, were about
to leave and let us have their cabin.
The place was a paradise with the deep blue water only meters
away and no other people around. Since there was no shops or restaurants
around either, I went off to the neighbor beach on Rocinante to
buy us dinner and a few beers. Stupidly enough I left with the
backpack in stead of the top box, and ended up carrying two plates
of nicely prepared fish on top of each other on my back. I rode
like a maniac back to the palapa since I could feel how
the plates turned over and the food moved around in the plastic
bag. When I got back I was warm all over my back. The food was
excellent though and for the next few hours we drank beer and
enjoyed the sunset and the oncoming of the stars.
I'm standing with one foot in the water while taking this
picture. Pretty close to paradise if you ask me. Don't tell
the mosquitos though.
When did the term "paradise" start to sound ironic?
Maybe it started when we entered the water and our feet would
sink into mud and never go deeper than fifty centimeters, no matter
how far out we walked. Or maybe it was when we ate the dinner
and had to fight like crazy to keep the flies off the plates and
ourselves. Or maybe it was when Bente went for a trip to the ecological
toilet, but turned with unfinished business because of the loud
noise of insects from below. But most likely, it was when we went
Bente insisted we move the beds outside and slept under the clear
blue sky. It was nice lying there counting the shooting starts,
which we saw a handful of thanks to the lack of lights around
us. We had no mosquito net or sleeping bags though, but used towels
and riding jackets as covers. Both fell asleep for an hour or
so, but was abruptly awake again with numerous stings by the small,
mean creatures that had started a feast on our blood. The night
had just started and now we prayed for it to end. Our jackets
were tucked around our heads, and we breathed through air vents
in the arm pits, to try to reduce the armadas of mosquitos. Our
repellent simply didn't work, and for the rest of the night we
struggled and got bitten. Many days later Bente counted more than
twenty small red marks on my lower back and right arm.
Morning came at last, but during the breakfast - consisting of
biscuits and water - and while packing the bike, the small devils
continued to harass us. I snorted and swore, did my best to kill
as many as possible, and startled a German girl who were out for
a walk as I shouted in dismay. When we left the place, we were
dreaming about a clean hotel with showers and a nice bed. We had
slept only a few hours, had had no real breakfast and felt sticky
and plain dirty. Finally we laughed. Nature lovers, survivors,
you name it. We're none of them.
The road to La Purisma was in such a bad shape that Bente
had to get off and walk some of the worst stretches.
A dirt road challenge
Even though we suffered from lack of sleep and a city slickers
need for a shower, we decided, after I had negotiated for some
time, to take a detour into to the mountains on a dirt road. We
left the main highway a little south of Bahia Concepcion and turned
west towards La Purisma, a village 65 dirt road kilometers into
the sierra that connected onwards to Ciudad Insurgentes via a
long straight paved road. It started out leveled but littered
with golf ball size stones, and heavy laden Rocinante took quite
We got closer to the mountains and when we started the climb,
all of a sudden the recent heavy rains were all too visible. Where
there had been dirt, now there were nothing, which meant that
only the stones and rocks were left in the road, heavily disputing
the term road. I rode with caution, sometimes going very slowly
over big rocks, with a worried expression on my face each time
the engine protection hit an obstacle, sometimes opening up the
throttle to gas out of a problem. We made slow progress, and after
about fifteen kilometers Bente said stop. Ahead of us was a stretch
of used-to-be road, now consisting of a collection of rocks, nothing
more. Bente started to walk across, while I again opened up the
throttle and almost flew over, landing hard on the other side.
Coming to the end of the mountain road, we entered an oasis
of palm trees just before hitting pavement again in La Purisma.
The road, which now was more like a path, never gave us any rest.
Every time we came over a top and it leveled out, the rocks were
replaced by a washboard surface. I tried to fly over it as well,
going 60-80 km/h, but gave up and slowed down to 20-30. The hours
passed by and every time we believed we were through the worst,
a new challenge would face us. Bente screamed out loud at one
point. We were going downhill on what's best described as a pile
of rocks, and she started imagining how a fall would break legs,
knock a hole in the tank and destroy the laptop. Her thoughts
wandered off and she imagined how I had to start writing the articles
on paper, and she had to punch them in on Internet cafes along
the road. It is strange how the chain of thoughts can take the
most surreal turns when you're afraid.
I stopped the bike and for a while we sat in the shadow, letting
our pulse come down again. I actually found the ride entertaining,
even though it was very strenuous. It was very challenging to
navigate the, including us, 480 kg monster on this kind of surface,
but also very rewarding to feel I was on top of it. A professional
might call the ride a piece of cake, but for us it was the most
difficult stretch of road we had ever ridden, including my solo
trips into the woods back home. After a little pep talk, Bente
collected her wits and changed her attitude for the rest of the
trip, which slowly got easier and more relaxed as we closed in
on civilization. When we entered La Purisma and the pavement,
both exclaimed joy and satisfaction for getting through. I couldn't
help worrying about the newly overhauled Rocinante though. What
the heck was I doing, putting the stock rear shock absorber through
these kinds of trials? Time will show, I guess.
Bente was completely exhausted after almost three hours of tension
on the rocky ride, so we stopped in Ciudad Constitution for the
night, abandoning our plans to reach La Paz. After a night in
a very nice hotel with good showers, air condition and Olympic
television in the room, we headed for La Paz. We felt resituated,
mentally and physically from "paradise beach" and rock
road hell. It was an easy and boring ride, and the 210 kilometers
were done in no time.
Mexico is definetily different from the States. Gone is the organized
western society we know from home as well, gone is the predictability,
gone is the shopping malls and gone is the feeling of blending
in. Here we are a little spectacle when we arrive in villages,
just like we had thought and more so because we travel through
Baja out of season. Sometimes kids come running from far away
just to wave at us as we pass them. Their parents wave too. The
Mexican kitchen is another total difference from the States. We
haven't yet seen any McDonalds, although we know they're here.
Every corner has a little taco stand where the cook makes soft
tacos in a marvellous speed. The restaurants and breakfast places
serves beans and tortillas with most meals, and we have learned
to differ between the tortilla de mais and the tortilla
de harina. I didn't use to like the frijoles, the bean
stew, but have gotten used to it and started to enjoy it in the
two weeks we've been in Mexico.
Mexico is a lot dirtier than it's neighbour in the north. Sometimes
it is difficult to understand how garbage and dead animals can
float around in such quantities along the main highways, or whatever
road for that matter. The smell often warnes us that we are getting
close to a make shift garbage dump, and we have seen dead cows
lying next to the road several times. According to Maria in El
Sauzal, Mexicans have allways been like that, throwing garbage
around everywhere. The only difference in resent decades is the
introduction of non-recycling plastic, which increases the problem
many times over, since a little plastic bag thrown out of a car
window will blow around until it finds itself a cactus to hang
on, and there it will stay forever, surrounded by more plastic
as the years pass by.
One aspect of Mexico contra the States has struck us many times,
since people in the US who never have ventured south of the border,
called Mexico a hell hole full of bandits waiting to rob you.
If that's true, why is money guarded much heavier in the States
than down here. I'm not talking about banks and other big bucks
institutions, but at every day fast food joints and buses. On
local buses in Ensenada there was a open box of money on the dashboard,
easily reachable for anyone who cared to steal, while in a western
country the money would slide right into a safe place. You payed
when you entered the bus, when you left the bus or somewhere in
between. It is up to you, which definately leaves room for cheating
if you want to.
On food stalls in Mexican streets, you order your meal and finish
it before paying, even though the place is crawling with people
and there's no way the owner can keep track of what he's selling.
Before you leave you tell him how many tacos you had and then
pay. In the States - or in Norway for that matter, you would have
to pay in advance, so that the owner could feel safe we wouldn't
take the food and sneak off. To us, the impression of the average
Mexican, is that of a honest hard working, fairly poor farmer,
not the armed, filthy bandido waiting for white skin tourists
to come along.
Now we're on our forth day in La Paz, where we have done our
laundry, caught up on our e-mails, visited Ian who we met in San
Diego, hopelessly fought a war against the mosquitoes, and lost
gallons of sweat from the warm and humid weather. Today, Wednesday
September 27th, we will catch the ferry to Topolobampo on the
main land and continue northeast towards Copper Canyon.
Sometimes we marveled at
the size of some of the cacti we saw in the central desert