Cuba

October 4, 2011

Cuba

We boarded our Russian Thunderbus for Cuba, an A380 Airbus this wasn’t, cue the lights flickering, the crew running around, the cabin filling with smoke, and us smiling like a kid at Christmas.

Landing, overwhelmed by old cars, pollution, humidity, beautiful buildings, tourists, poverty and quite a wonderful setting for a city.

We decided to get our tourist on, and visit some of the sites

This fella’s mug was everywhere.

In the tourist areas, the city was beautiful.

Where the locals actually live, equally historic, but could do with a little more maintenance.

I like my cars big, American and old. I am not going to apologize for the flurry of photos of them.

We toughed it out for a few days in Havana

We filled our time in by going to the revolution museum, where we got an interesting and incredibly one sided account of the revolution in Cuba. Walked around the city during an evening where the locals told us that each street had to have a celebration to celebrate communism. Interesting choice of words I thought.

We hung out with some local kids who’s past time was running across 3 lanes of traffic on the Mercado (Havana’s largest and most famous street), hopping the curb, jumping a 2ft wall and then in the next step leaping 10ft out to a small area of ocean where there wasn’t rocks that would end the day in a light case of quadriplegia.

Purchased crazy orange soft drink that I think was just refined sugar

Checked out the locals “ration book”

Smoked (good) cigars

Punished ourselves by going to some terrible beaches

Havana was a place with a lot of character, I enjoyed the city but probably wouldn’t rush back.

We headed down to Trinidad, instantly I liked it.

An old slavery town which made its fortune on the burgeoning sugar trade back in the late 1500’s

We found a casa particular (essentially a family that has a spare room that they rent out to tourists) called “El Chef”. Lobster was on the menu, it was incredible, and it was $10US. Nice place, amazing food, well recommended.

We saw a hill overlooking the town. Lets climb it!

Sweating like pigs in a butchers shop, we made it to the top and woke the security guard up from a slumber. Expecting to get asked to leave in a not so polite manner… nope. He invited us to come round the back, climb this rickety homemade ladder to the top and explained the history of the place, pointing out which houses were built, where the slaves landed and all the farms that have grown sugar for over 400yrs. Cool stuff.

We checked out the beaches, and were reminded of the dichotomy of Cuba, there is 2 currencies, “CUC” and “National”, the former for tourists and the latter for locals. It isn’t the only point of separation between those who are citizens and those that are visitors.
Tourists

Locals

Other points included transport
Tourists

Locals:

We enjoyed ourselves much more with the locals.

Returning to Havana having thoroughly enjoyed Trinidad, our capstone was probably the most fun. A taxi ride to the airport.
In a 1948 Chrysler.


(note the sticker)

Which then broke down. Even better!
So I put my supervision skills to the test.

Smoke and flickering lights awaited us on our airplane. Cuba was enjoyable, didn’t have enough time to explore. The people are very nice, although most (at least in Havana) want something from the tourists, that something is usually money, it is much much poorer than I expected.
Now the last couple of days in Mexico as we head to Belize.

Zacatecas to Cancun

September 26, 2011

We arrived in Guanajuato, and the city was very cool, set in a picturesque valley, with an amazing road around the top, and tunnels beneath.

We stopped at a market for breakfast and had some great shrimp and seafood cocktails and some bread stuffed with… something. Was tasty but, and all for $4 per person.
I also noticed my pannier rack had cracked again at the weld that was done yesterday… On we soldiered to Santiago de Queretaro, another beautiful Colonial city. We saw lots of bikes as we headed towards the city, big bikes, not the 100-200cc ones, this was obviously gringo country. We arrived and the city was “beautiful”, all the buildings painted perfectly and kept exceptionally well. Range Rovers and BMW SUV’s abounded, not my kinda place. I like heritage, but I much prefer soul. We didn’t stop… until leaving the city and I spotted Mark and Maggie’s bike parked outside a hotel… we stopped for a quick chat, swapped some more travel suggestions, they had intentions of staying the night in the city, we didn’t.

We headed a little further, and got off the highway, we wanted to see the highlands of eastern Mexico, and our book said something about a road with 700 curves in the area (although it didn’t say where!).
We found out it was the one that we were on.

Some spectacular scenery (and roads). We camped as it began to rain, a theme that would continue to follow us for the next few days.
I awoke early in the evening to the sound of Tim’s voice and red and blue flashing lights on my tent “cops”. We had camped in a pull off away from the road, and we were just visible to passers by, Tim suspected that they saw his headlight as he was reading. Unawares of the laws on camping in Mexico, I expected to be hauled out into the rain in my underpants, get accosted in Spanish, and get summarily told to “GTFO”. Nope, they had a quick look and turned their car around, I happily went back to sleep.
We rode into town, enjoying the last bit of the road in the morning light and I noticed an exhaust shop, I stopped and explained the dilemma with my panniers to the kid who looked no older than 19, he knew his way around a welder though… I articulated through arm waving, breaking noises and poor Spanish some further modifications I wanted done to reduce the stress on them, thinking that by the time we leave Central America, I might have a bike that can actually hold up over a rough road! I am pleased to report that no chairs were harmed in the modifications of the panniers, and that I am happy with the finished job. Fingers crossed.
A really pleasant guy who spoke perfect English saw the bikes with California plates, he lived in Texas for a number of years, and had returned to Mexico in search of work, while his family stayed behind in Texas, we gave him a sticker and had a good chat; he gave us a recommendation of a place for breakfast. Times like this I particularly like travelling by Motorcycle, in places like this you stick out like a sore thumb, everyone wants to chat to you, and everyone thinks you are crazy, which is good as it removes the possibility of a false first impression.

We had an amazing breakfast, and then got our bikes washed for $2.50 each, they were filthy. We had a good chat to the guys, they liked our style and we liked theirs.

We continued on down through the Mexican state of Hidalgo, or as I have formally requested it to be renamed to “Land of the bleeding topes” (Tope = speed bump). Like Salsa, Tortilla’s, Cowboy hats and mustache’s, Mexican’s have a fetish for these things, I am yet to understand why, but Hidalgo by far is the worst, they vary in shapes, sizes and in many other ways except frequency. They are there before a corner, after a corner, during a corner, to protect the children, protect the dogs, the cows, the adults, the trees, they put them in the sun, in the shade, behind buildings and in front of them. I lost count of how many times I hit one unexpectedly (and as a result, too fast), my panniers and top box were going to love me.
The scenery and people did kind of make up for it though.

It is obviously on the poorer end of the provinces, and it is not uncommon to come around a corner and be encountered by a little hole in the road

We found a decent camping spot and called it a day.

We had conveniently parked near a lake, in the morning we woke up to this:

And we had the best meal we had in Mexico, fish for breakfast:

Continuing on we saw picturesque waterfalls, towns and the like

Riding down through Puebla, we hit Oaxaca, and noticed a change. This was obviously the poorest province, potholes were now filled in with a crushable gravel, meaning roads looked more like this:

And trucks that would randomly share their load with the rest of the world

That’s alright, out route soon turned to the sky

And the sky met us with a present too

The road went away, and back to us.

It was obvious we were entering more tropical provinces, the maize fields were still evident, but now they had to share their surrounds with sugar cane, banana trees and other more tropical flora. We stopped in a cool town

Dinner was particularly epic.

We stayed in a hotel (rare), mostly because it wasn’t just cats and dogs coming down, cows and horses decided to come down from the ceiling as well.
In the morning, the scenery and the road simply unfolded in front of us.

Usually I prefer my throttle locked in one position, wide open, for the first time in this trip (and possibly ever), I went slow. I was soaking it up.
A little 125 went past sporting more luggage than us, instead of getting the red mist and wondering how I could out brake him in the next corner, I thought about yelling at him “hey mate, you might have been born here, have you checked out the scenery here lately, how bought slow down and check it out!”

It was all happening, horses carrying Sugar Cane,

horses crushing Sugar Cane

horses not crushing giant spiders

Epic scenery

Empty pools

And traffic 😦

With neat rigs

Lunch was impressive

Served by some wonderful senorita’s (note the sticker at the top 😉 )

We stopped at Sumidero Canyon for a little boat ride, which is well recommended.

Stunningly beautiful scenery surrounded us
with a little bit of trash.

Back on the bikes, and it was a little wet.

New day. Palenque, we paid our $7, although I suggest asking for a discount, looks like they hadn’t finishing building whatever we were supposed to be looking at

Trying our best to get our monies worth, we looked past that


Seeing the age and condition of the buildings, Tim dryly added “should have gotten these Mayan dudes to build the roads, they would be a bit better off”.

We headed off to Cancun, found our worst campsite so far (in a maize field)

And settled in to enjoy the humidity for the evening.
Arriving in Cancun, we decided to head to Cuba. Tomorrow we are off.
Our hostel’s cleaning staff were that efficient that they thought throwing out our motorcycle boots might be a good idea (perhaps that says something about their smell?). I could do nothing but laugh. We attempted to find replacements for them, trying to find boots that fit my (not so large) feet that offer any form of safety protection in Mexico was like finding a swim suit for an elephant. We sort of succeeded and will not be riding in our sandals.

Copper Canyon surrounds

September 25, 2011

Chiox to Creel – video

September 25, 2011


(Language warning)

From Creel to Zacatecas

September 25, 2011

The next day had a lot to live up to.
We embarked off to Copper Canyon at dawn, and sat in awe at its size and beauty. It rivals the Grand Canyon on the scale of ruddy big holes in the ground.

South of Creel we paid $4 to visit a lake, then realized that 500m further south we could have accessed it for free. Our inner frugal souls were hurt. After a quick dip and a poke around we ventured further south, with the intentions to make it to colonial city of Zacatecas for Mexican Independence day. The road began to wind in and out of canyons with spectacular scenery and sealed surface, burnt rocks with a symphony of scraped foot pegs echoing off them.

The road headed further south, but we spotted a side road that was out of our way that the guide book “recommended”. I recommend it as well. It commenced as a repeat of the spectacular roads earlier, but with a poorer sealed surface, then as you see the infamous “pavement termino”, a second gear gravel road continues for a few kilometers, then you reach the top of the canyon, with its depth and breadth simply astounding. This was what the book was talking about. Then you realize the road meanders its way in a switchback fashion to the bottom. If you have ever wanted to be able to ride a motorbike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, well in Mexico you can.


We continued down, enjoying the ride and the views, with the regular (and often impressive) monuments of lives lost on the road a friendly reminder that an incorrect throttle, brake or steering application would not be a soft landing in a field of buttercups. We stopped for a paddle at the bottom, and I mentioned to Seager “if only we were lost, this would be better than yesterday”, we both agreed the scenery and roads today were without peer.
Stopped in Batopilas, which would be worth the ride down even if the views and roads were poor and had dinner and a chat to the locals, charming riverside village.

Seager had devised some route so that we didn’t have to backtrack, and with both the bikes and riders tanks recharged we set off in near dark for a campsite. A couple of kilometers out of Batopilas is a beautiful colonial church which we stopped for photos and continued on.

A lesson on how to break the “unbreakable” Pelican cases. Give them to me for around a week. A few kilometers further I run up behind a truck doing around 15mph, we were doing around 20mph, we come up to a small spot where he can turn out, but it looks like he is going to stop in the road, and let us ride around. I was wrong he is going to turn out, and I am on the wrong side of the road to do it. I am coming up on him fast as I have built my speed up to pass him and need to cross the centerline (for those of you that don’t ride motorcycles off-road, the centerline on a single lane dirt road is one of the most treacherous parts of riding as the cars/trucks compact two wheel lines, the center part of the road builds up with rocks the size of marbles, and provide a similar level of traction. It is best to hit it standing up, full throttle, leaning back and with as much angle as you get.) I punched it across, but failed to take into account the mild left turn ahead and couldn’t pull the bike around in time and we both went straight into the ditch, a rider with more talent or confidence probably would have kept the throttle nailed. I didn’t. The bikes rear end flipped around and left me (and it) facing the truck we had just passed on our side. Pelican case and windscreen broken, but nothing apart from my pride was hurt.
We found a great campsite, and called it a day.

The sun rose to a new day, and revealed the beauty of the area. Today consisted of riding further south, then east on more dirt and rocks. The riding early in the day was amazing, as we climbed out of our valley up to the most idyllic village of Mineral Polanco set at the foot of two amazing cliffs and then further up to Morelos.

We topped up our tanks in the next town, and then according to our map we had to take a left turn a few miles south of town. We found a turn a few miles south, both ways signposted with towns that didn’t appear on our maps. Why not go left then? We did. The road deteriorated as rapidly as it climbed. For 3 hours our bikes didn’t leave first gear as we climbed 1 mile in elevation even though we had only travelled 12. It was hard going, and the bikes were dropped regularly, and when we weren’t climbing, we were traversing our largest rivers yet that were close to 2 feet in depth. The views were good however.

The fact that the only other person travelling this road was riding a horse was no huge surprise. Then, the road ended. We asked the few farmers up there where the town was that we wanted to take and he said this was the end of the road. I wanted to continue to talk to him, understand a little as to how the live up here in such remoteness, how they could afford a new truck when all we could see was a couple of patches of maize (and how did they get it up here too? Heli-drop?), but the fact that he was 10 beers in, made us think better of it, back we went. Uphill was difficult. Downhill was difficult and scary. You could see the sheer drops that you could fall off at the end of each hairpin, and when you arrive at them with both the front and rear wheels locked as you try to stop, it’s better than any caffeine for getting you going. Then my rear brakes went out (overheated) even though I hadn’t left first gear. After another 2hrs, we returned to town, filled our bikes back up with gas. My bike got 28mpg (a record?), Tim’s 33.

We went further south, found a nice spot and camped, with intentions on seeing some sealed road tomorrow, and had discovered that my back box had broken again.

The next 2 days were long transit days, we realized we had made a mistake with our navigation and a road we thought existed, didn’t. We had some distance to cover if we were to make Zacatecas by Independence day. We started out in first (and occasionally second) gear gravel, and the road gradually improved to third gear, although it still contained enough corrugations to perform a tooth removal, then we hit sealed surface. From here it was a straight shot. After around 13hrs in the saddle we called it a day, the only thing of note being the excellent lunch we had, and that I noticed my pannier mounts had cracked in a new location. Durango (the region) which we were now travelling through did not impress us, the scenery was poor and the towns and roads filled with litter and generally providing the appearance of being poorly kept.

We arrived in Zacatecas very early afternoon, and was instantly charmed by its Colonial architecture and heritage. The city was alive with festivities for their Independence Day. We observed a very heavy military and police presence while in Zacatecas, something you experience all through Mexico, but here it was heightened. Rows of trucks carrying masked Military Police, sporting bullet proof vests, helmets and sub machine guns were patrolling the streets and roofs of 16th century churches had young army boys with rifles at the ready. We also happened to stumble across Mark and Maggie (the previous Australian couple we had met) who were enjoying one of the cities parks.
The city was beautiful though.

We cleaned ourselves up and prepared ourselves for the festivities. Walking around the city it was an interesting dichotomy, half of events seemed joyous in nature, celebrating the countries birth, the other half were very somber in nature, mourning those that were lost during the nations creation and in its defense since. The somber part can account for some tightening of the bowels as 60 rifles were fired off amongst complete silence and by right ear as I was walking past.
We then got to the fireworks at 11pm, impressive is the word for them. It is amazing what can be done when the words “health and safety” are of no concern. The city had set them to launch off old Churches, the hill overlooking the city (which summarily caught fire), the cable car wire, peoples balconies, roof tops. The spectacle went on for 30mins, and we were all covered in smoke, ash and a sense of elation.
Our hostel in celebration had all you can drink tequila shots and margherita’s until 3am, for $2.
We partook. A scenic tour of the areas bars was to follow on, an act which I abstained from.

Awaking early (well, me anyway), I set off exploring the city, enjoying the cities parade for Independence, more military, armored trucks, school kids and marching bands. Then a coffee and some pastries for breakfast, and feeling rather more dignified than a few days earlier when I was sweating (and occasionally swearing) trying to drag a motorcycle over rocks.
Tim arose around 11am, and apparently feeling a little worse for wear. Me being my typically sympathetic self felt that he need some sustenance, and shepherded him to a local restaurant for some hangover cure. “A round of tripe soup for both of us please”

I can report that the experience watching the locals bustling through the place was enjoyable, as was watching Tim eat it. The food however was not.

We went off to the Fiesta, kind of like a state fair. Tim, sporting a Mustache (to blend in with the locals) tried on some hats.

We caught up again with Mark and Maggie and went to a bull fight which was sold out – Tim was able to score some tickets off a hawker for a good deal, and we were in. Set in a beautiful old stadium the show went underway.

(From left to right, Tim, Adrian, Maggie, Mark)

While happy to have experienced such an event, I can’t say it is something I have any intentions of returning to, or got a great deal from.

It was Monday, which I might proposition to get renamed to “Motorcycle Maintenance day”. The oil and air filters needed changing and cleaning, my bikes top box and panniers were broken. We headed to a Yamaha dealership on a recommendation of a local, and had a wonderful experience, very helpful and accommodating, the let us change the oil and clean our air filters in their car park. Both needed doing badly, air filter:

(It should be red!)
The fixed my top box and panniers, and while I was a little disappointed with the quality of the welds, I could live with it, we weren’t planning on going down a road like the one that broke it any time soon. I also re-arranged my luggage on the bike to take further weight off both the one pannier and the top box.

We left and found a campsite on the way to Guanajuato, another colonial city that was apparently worth checking out.

First Day, Mainland Mexico

September 17, 2011

Mainland Mexico

September the 11th, 2011 deserves its own post. It was the most enjoyable day I have had on a motorcycle ever, and one of the most enjoyable days I have had, period. I hope that as long as I live that I can recall this day.

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start, awoken from our slumber on the ferry by loud Spanish screaming orders, we got up, but had to wait almost 2 hrs before we could disembark with our bikes – which we filled in watching the memorial service for the 9/11 tragedy.

The air was thick with Carbon Monoxide and humidity, but we were back on our bikes. We decided we might ride up to Copper Canyon, as we had heard reports from other travelers that it was a worthy detour. Heading out from the ferry terminal at Topolobampo it was as if we were in a different country. It was green, there were police checking speed, there were less waves and more stares from the locals.

Los Mochis was a large town, apparently, but one that I do not recall outside of its smelly buses. The ride out of town was strange, the road was good – very good, the scenery consisted of small towns and farmers planting fields with brand new John Deere Tractors, people seemed focused on their job, take away the stray dogs and donkeys on the side of the road and this could be any western country. It was not the Mexico I expected, or if I am honest, the one that I wanted – to uncover some of its soul, we would need to dig deeper.

Neither of us were hungry, but we smelt some chicken cooking, and it smelt great. It was great. My favorite meal of the trip so far, seasoned and cooked beautifully.

We headed off and the road began to narrow and its condition deteriorated, beautiful fields of lucerne were replaced with scrub and the occasional corn field. I started to smile. Our GPS maps ended at Choix, but according to our map there was a road that would get us to Creel and Copper Canyon country. I winged it through Choix, getting us on what I felt was the right road, a check with a local walking on the side of the road confirmed that it was correct, assuming he understood us. 10 miles out of town we hit road works and had to deviate from our path onto a gravel side road. The alternate path continued near the construction, we then came to a dead end with a gate that was closed up a hill. Magically a gentleman appeared and opened it for us – this must be the way!!!

The track was a little rough, and we shared it with goats, horses, pedestrians and cattle.

We lost site of the main road, and we didn’t care. The villages we were travelling through seemed filled with subsistence farmers, the road degraded rapidly and before long it was not much more than a goat track. A goat track with great mountain scenery. We spotted a lake over to left, hmm… according to the map, that shouldn’t be there, oh well, a swim would be nice. It wasn’t long before our road ended at the lake, we weren’t disappointed at all that we had taken an hour and a half detour through amazing scenery and decided to jump in for a wee paddle.

After about 20mins of messing around in the water, a ferry just shows up.

We take it. No idea where it goes, but to hell with it, we are having a blast.

We get off the ferry and the road is worse, we perform our first lot of water crossings, I drop my bike twice getting over the rocks.

We climb up and down mountains, the skittish nature of the animals we share the track with indicate that not only is it rare for gringos to come this way, it’s rare for anyone too. The mountains, the valleys and the riding are epic in equal measures. We don’t have maps, GPS or even people to ask for directions. We don’t care. Words can’t describe how much fun this is, so I will try with some pictures.

After about 7hrs of off-road we come to a town. We ask them where El Fuerte is – it’s the next town up. We are back with directions!

Down the road we find a nice campsite on top of a ridge and call it a day. What a day.

Agua Verde Fish Camp Road

September 17, 2011

Bahia Concepcion

September 17, 2011

Baja, Numero Dos.

September 10, 2011

We noticed before we left that one of the welds on my panniers had cracked at the top and the bottom mount, so I threw a strap around it to support the weight. My map has a number of different “grades” of tracks, the one we had planned on riding out was the lowest grade. We inquired with some friendly locals as to the track head, and we encountered a mixed surface, 2ft deep fine river bed rock that acted like sand, and 2ft deep sand.

We made it about 5 miles before Seager was the first to drop one of the bikes at a standstill, then about a mile further, the same. I was getting exhausted fast, this was hard 1st gear, and very occasionally 2nd gear going, there was no breeze as we followed a river bed in a canyon, and the sun was baking hot. In one of the faster sections I had my first drop as the front end washed out at 25mph. Apart from a few bruises on my leg, I was ok, and optimistic that around the next corner, I would find a group of industrialist Mexican’s putting the finishing touches on a nice sealed road.

No such luck. Tim suggested we turn around. Good idea that. I was spent.

I had gone through 2L of water in the past hour and needed a break.

We rode back out, again I had another higher speed washout at the front end, and didn’t have enough energy to keep it upright, down again. On we continued, and I continued to get weaker, the heat was just sapping me, the weight and terrain not helping. Once back near the coast I suggest another swim break to Tim, it would mean we wouldn’t be able be able to make it as far as we had planned tonight though. Thankfully he agreed, we stopped, Tim rode on to a little ranch I had noticed on the way in to ask about some water, we had about 1.5l left between both of us, enough to get us out, just.
Tim returned with water and news that dinner would be served at the farmhouse at 7:30. The hospitality of the Mexican people continues to astound me. We setup camp, with plans to ride out in the morning, full of energy and water.

I also noticed that the crack in the weld decided to finish the job.

All of my luggage units had failed in one way or another. This was day 3!!!!
Not that I could complain, some of the locals have had it a lot tougher, poor little bugger.

We had dinner with the family, amazing pescado machaca, discussing weather, gringos, the word for sand in Espanol (“arena” in case you are wondering), they told us that we were the first gringos down this road in the last 5 months. Somehow I wasn’t surprised.

The ride out in the morning was almost as enjoyable as the ride in. Energy up, a good clip could be kept, and once out of the switch backs a good 45-60mph on the gravel was easy.

According to our guidebook, Ciudad Insurgentes, the next town, was Baja’s major farming area, they would have a welder for sure! We asked around, and eventually found our way down a back alley in search of an individual that the local mechanics we asked had called “Rey” (King).
We came across an older gentleman working in a pit, welding up an early 90’s F150 exhaust for a couple of local farmers. We let him finish the job and then in the few words of Spanish, lots of noises and arm movements explained the repairs I wanted him to do, and the modifications I wanted, which involved welding a chair to my bike.
He welded up the next cars exhaust (he did 4 exhausts while we were there), and then set to work on my pile.

Then got to the chair

Whalla!

We continued south, and had eyes for a road that went out to the Pacific, hopefully its cooler waters would be refreshing in this heat. We went down a wider gravel road that I could not recommend, lots of deep corrugations, I decided I may as well test the integrity of my bikes modifications and kept a good 50mph pace up. We made it to a small fishing village and found the beach not to be accessible, deciding to take a road further south that followed the beach, we checked if it contained “muy arena”, assured “poco arena”, we went. The surface alternated between hard crust with a mud base if you broke through it, and hard soil with a 2” dusting of sand. Nice. I was the first to test my front end when it broke through the hard crust

Then, not a mile further, I did it in much more spectacular fashion (no photos sorry), the mud was that slippery we barely were able to stand, and made my bike look much more “adventuristic” with a heavy coating of mud all across its right side.
Further down the sand got deeper and deeper, we found a road back to the highway and took it.

The road out was deep sand mixed with the occasional silt bed. Tim was riding it very well, his sand riding skills have outpaced mine. The silt had made Tim’s chain begin to make funny noises, and looked a little too tight. I was getting exhausted again, but we managed to push the 20odd miles to the highway.
We stopped at the first Tienda with shade to pump up the tires and reduce the tension on Tim’s chain, I think some silt just got past the o-rings and said that I would clean/oil it tonight. We pushed south to La Paz with intentions on doing another decent off-road segment and then camp north of the city on the coast.
The off-road segment was my favorite so far of the trip, we crossed a cattle grid with spacing that was lucky not to swallow our tires, and rolled onto the throttle for a good undulating gravel road amongst green trees that at our pace gave the appearance of orange groves and then moved more into desert country with a good 4-6inch sand covering over a hard base. Tim was looking even more confident in the sand. We hit the tar for a 10 min ride north for a campsite search, and found a beauty.

The next day we spent organizing the ferry (and missing it by 2mins!), and ran into Mark and Maggie again, whom we joined for drinks in the evening and had an enjoyable time. Sensibly we decided that we would find accommodation, and just managed to fit our bikes down the hall

Today we catch the ferry that we missed yesterday.

Baja, Numero Uno

September 10, 2011

I didn’t sleep that well, wasn’t sure whether it was nerves or because I slept on the floor. Needless to say, I was up at 5am, which meant after a quick final pack up, we had our wheels rolling by 7. The first part of the trip was through the familiar L.A. freeway system, but either through recognizable landmarks or the fact that my mind was elsewhere – that tingling feeling of mild concern, have I prepared everything? Will we have an accident? What is ahead of us in the coming 7 months? I don’t recollect any of it.
It didn’t last too long, as my mind moved to one of its favorite places… I was riding a motorcycle!
I do recall Seager mentioning that I should double check my Panniers (Saddle bags for my motorcycle) as he had done them up. They still seemed to be attached, so I didn’t worry. As we crossed the mountains behind San Diego, the temperature and the quality of the scenery went up dramatically – a theme that would continue for a while – it would have been around 110F (~45C), and no matter how much airflow you got over you on the bikes. The Border crossing was easy; we just rode through Mexicali, only stopping for red lights, and pedestrians running across the road in front of us. We went straight for San Felipe, only stopping for a quick rest…

After stopping at the first military checkpoints that dot Northern Mexico, I took off, noting both the unremarkable scenery and the warm weather. On arriving in San Felipe, I looked around to see where Tim was, and as I did, I noted that my bike had decided to go on a diet and relieve itself of its left Pannier with all our tools and spares in it. I turned the bike around in pursuit of both Tim and my missing box of goodies. Perhaps I should have listed to Tim when he said to tighten it up! Anyway, not a mile back down the road, both turned up, Tim recognized the box, and picked it up, there was surprisingly little damage to it given it would have hit the deck at around 80mph (130kph).

We stopped in San Felipe with our hearts set on a celebratory Margareta, our bartender recognized me from a previous visit (not sure that’s a good thing!), and I inquired about a room… $50 per person! We are gringo’s, but we are not going to pay gringo prices. We pointed the handlebars south, enjoying the beaches to our left and the mountains that had begun growing on the horizon to our right. We stopped in Puertocitos to check what accommodations were and fill up on gas, we were quickly relived of $20 for a campsite – an commodity that goes against both of our sensibilities to pay for, but it had been a productive day, around 450miles (600km)
At least this was the result:

As dawn cracked, so did our throttles, and we were off on our way down the road, the first part was an amazing windy sealed road cut into the side of cliff’s, overlooking beaches with those Baja Mountains off in the distance. The road soon turns to dirt, although it looks like based on the construction around that the Mexican government has plans to change that, and sooner rather than later. After about 10 miles or so over deep corrugations, Tim came over the headset “Your Pannier, STOP!”. My bikes weight shedding abilities seemed to have no boundary, and the bolt holding the top section of my pannier removed itself, and the panniers weight completely twisted the frame. We bent it back to shape(ish) re-attached it, and were on our way again.

At the next military checkpoint, I noticed the rear box and frame on my bike looked bad, the weight and corrugations had sheared both front bolts holding the rear frame, and the only thing holding it on was the plastic top plate. Unperturbed we continued the next couple of miles slowly as Alfonsina’s at Gonzaga bay was only a few miles ahead. The weather was really heating up, but the scenery was stunning.

We ate at Alfonsina’s and stopped at the tire repair shop there to try to repair our bike, the owner was super helpful offering assistance, tools and anything else we needed. The bolts unfortunately had sheared off inside the nuts, so without a screw extractor we were SOL. Didn’t matter, we were having a hoot.

I bodged something up that would hopefully hold till the next town, asked the guy how much for his help and tools – nothing he said. These Mexican people are the real deal. We left him $5 and a couple of our stickers.

I purchased and set my bike up to carry the heavier items on this trip, as Tim, my riding buddy had no experience prior, so all the heavy and valuable stuff was put in the luggage system that was on my bike when I bought it (Pelican’s), plus a Givi top box that I mounted from my BMW – and had served well in its duties previously. All the tools, laptop, DSLR/Lenses, spares etc. were on mine, Tim’s bike had a set of Andy’s soft Panniers and a large bag on top to carry sleeping bags/mats etc.

We continued on, the weather heating up even more, and the track getting rougher. With no airflow in full motorcycle gear, and going slow off-road and keeping a heavy bike up-right was starting to do me in. I was exhausted.

I asked to stop, and noticed that our top box bodge job had already broken. I wanted some rest in the shade first before tackling it. Seager was a wonderful travelling buddy and did another temp fix to get us to where we needed to be while I re-cuperated.

My goal of getting fitter and loosing the weight I had gained in America on this trip was not only going to happen, it HAD to happen. My pre-trip regime of coffee in the morning, look at a computer screen all day, then possibly a couple of beers at night wasn’t serving me well. The heat, the gear, the weight of the bike and the terrain was stretching me.
The scenery was great though.

Once back on the bike, I felt quite a bit better, the road improved and I could hold a higher speed, getting some airflow over me. We made it to the sealed road, pumped up the tires and decided to head to Guerro Negro for repairs to my bike abandoning my hopes of a trip to Punta San Francisquito.

A blast down the highway, we pulled into Guerro Negro, booked the first hotel we saw, and pulled in, there was a 1150GS with an Australian flag on it. We met Mark and Maggie, an Australian couple that have spent the last two and a half years circumnavigating the world by Motorcycle. Wonderful people. We swapped war stories, and listed in about their travels through India, Pakistan and Iran amongst other places, and shared our thoughts on some must see spots in Mexico.

In the morning we asked around and found the local mechanics, the fact that they had an ATV and a trophy truck in there held my hopes up.


We had an absolute hoot with the guys, they gave us nicknames Tim was “Harry Potter” and I was “Burro”, neither endearing, but they were calling each other Pendejo’s and Cabrone’s. We taught them some English equivalents too. After lots of laughs, removing the screws, a thorough look over their pre-runner they had built from a Porsche 928 body/engine and a Ford Explorer Chassis, we got down and I explained what I wanted to do to fix the issue from happening again (move the top box closer to me, and mount it more securely). We found some heavy construction bolts for mounting RSJ’s and started drilling. All done, and they wanted to relieve me of $18. They had to settle for $30.

The ride from Guerro Negro down to Santa Rosalia was pleasant, with the views getting better as we got closer to the sea.

Adhering to all travel recommendations, we thought we would get some uncooked fish from a street van.

I liked Santa Rosalia, had a nice feel to it, the architecture was quaint.We stopped in Mulege to check out the church designed by the dude that architected the Eiffel Tower:

The drive down Bahia Concepcion was nothing short of epic. We found our best camping spot so far:

Equipped with a Banos and all:

We went for a swim in the morning across to an island to watch the sunrise

Heading down past Loreto where we filled our stomachs and our gas tanks, we wanted to do one of the roads recommended by Seager’s buddy, Stephen. It was incredible. Started off with an enjoyable fast gravel section, then a tight twisty gravel road cut into the mountain side that gave way to the ocean, with a nice few hundred feet drop to keep the asshole puckered, and ensure mistakes got their maximum penalty.

I requested a breather stop at Agua Verde fish camp, where date palms and some under-nourished cows surrounded us.

We had a great time going for a swim, then jumped back on the bikes. We had plans to ride out a little “track” labeled on my map… to be continued

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