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01 New York
02 New England
03 Maine to Midland
04 Midland to Sturgis
05 Indians'n Cowboys
06 British Columbia
07 San Francisco
08 SF to San Diego
09 Baja to Canyons
10 Baja California
11 Northern Mexico
12 Mex. to Guatemala
13 Gua. to Costa Rica
14 CR to S. America
15 Ecuador
16 Peru and Bolivia
17 Chile
18 Patagonia
19 Argentina/Brasil
20 The road home
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Chapter 10 Baja California, Mexico

Start: September 17th, San Diego, CA , Stop: September 27th, La Paz, BC, Mexico
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 at Rocket MC

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 and friends

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 into Baja.

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.

Gas station

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 to bed.

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.

Rock climbing

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 some beating.

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.

Entering La Purisma

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 of Baja.

Gonzalo's ready for a ride at Hostel Sauzal.

Cacti forest
Desert landscape in central Baja.

La Paz sunset
Sunset in La Paz.

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