by Dan Arnold
It is April 8 and my seven week journey of 7000 miles is coming to a close. I am in Oregon on 395, about 55 miles South of Pendleton. Since it is 85 degrees and there is plenty of time before sunset, at Ukiah I decide to turn West on the Blue Mt. Scenic road to Heppner.
Ten miles along it is still bright sun and now 72 degrees, six varieties of evergreens line the twisty road. I am thinking how great this is, just being here when I notice snow on the road. No problem; it is just on the left side, barely off the shoulder and the road does not seem to be gaining elevation. As I continue, I notice the snow gradually encroach.
I am beginning to think I should have stopped and carefully read the sign at the junction that said, now that I think of it and consult my mind’s eye, “… snow… roadway… …passable.”
I reflect on the irony that back on February 24 I left almost literally between snowflakes. By the time I was packed and ready to actually hit the starter the soft Kennewick rain had turned to snow and quickly became big wet flakes, with a couple of inches of it on the ground. Recognizing my inexperience (I have been riding since July and only taken one trip over 50 miles, a two day visit to Montana) I angrily stomped back to my apartment, convinced I will be snowed in for at least a week.
By 3 pm the snow has stopped, the gray sky blue and what little snow is still on the road is very wet. I decide this may be the only chance I get. A hurried repacking (forgetting my Spanish dictionary and the box of cigars to share along the way) and off I race.
The big difference now, seven weeks later, is that this snow only looks like snow. It is more like ice and it is four to eight inches thick. Now it covers the entire roadway, but for two wavering ruts. I know I should turn back, but I didn’t get this far giving up easily and on I go, slowly, my feet extended as potential training skis, like amas on a trimaran.
The rut I chose is getting deep enough to cause occasional sizzling when it touches the jugs of my faithful classic black 1994 R100R. Gawd, I love this bike! It is now an old friend and hasn’t let me down once. I feel protective and start to worry about the effect of 32 degree ice on hot jugs resulting in something more drastic than efficient engine cooling.
Up ahead the ruts are half full of water. I decide to stop and take stock. The rut is too deep to put down either the center stand or side stand. My struggle ends up in the 10th slow and harmless roll over of the trip. The furious hiss encourages quick righting and I am finally able to carve room for the side stand.
Up ahead there is ice under the water, so there is no question of continuing. The rut is too deep and slippery to climb out of and turn around. I briefly consider building up the rut with wood, when I finally realize all I have to do is push the bike backwards a hundred yards to a place where I can turn it around. This proves easier said than done, what with the slippery ice. Just then, a van pulls up and stops at the turn around. Two men looking distinctly like criminals step out. One is powerfully built, with the sleeves torn off his black T-shirt. They walk slowly toward me. I realize I am at least 12 miles from anyone who can help as I think, “They’re going to steal the bike!”
They are Mexicans and I realize I have come full circle as, for the 100th time this trip I have a delightful conversation in “Spanish” (“Mi Espanol is muy poquito e muy mal.”) and English as they balance and pull the bike out as I steer. Having had nothing but good will and help from their countryman for over a month of solo traveling, camping sometimes along the road and always in the open, I wonder when the many kindnesses I receive will cause a permanent change in my character and the fears/prejudices I still carry will disappear.
We exchange addresses and I offer free legal help to the big one who has described an international custody problem. It seems only moments later I am 35 miles from home looking at the sign on the freeway that makes me wonder once again why I live here:
WARNING BLOWING DUST NEXT 40 MILES
Saturday, Feb. 24:
After my late start, I only had about 2 or 3 hours of daylight. The first stretch along State highway 14 offers no services for about 60 miles and no gas for 100. You veterans will find it hard to believe but I did not have an electric vest. I found myself wrapping a towel around my waist, over my down vest and under a leather jacket. The only part of me that was warm enough was my legs, thanks to the heavy E. German army surplus wool pants and leather chaps.
Part of my ‘plan’ was to wait until I reached the SF area where friends could advise further purchases after looking at how this rookie had outfitted himself. I shouldn’t have waited on the vest. Only 60 miles from starting out, I was huddled in “The Shanty” at Roosevelt, Wa., clasping hot coffee and petting the tavern dog to warm my hands. That night in Stevenson, hot soup never tasted so good as I sat in the blast of the forced air heat and did not have to think about whether to camp or get a motel.
Sunday, Feb. 25
Out early on the road on a bright sunny day with just a few cold dry flakes of snow to greet me. Crossing the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks over to Oregon was interesting due to frost and the iron grating. Had to wait an hour for Lloyd Center to open so I could get my glasses repaired. Sitting on them at the Stevenson motel had helped neither their geometry nor their structural integrity.
I wasted a couple of hours around Sheridan, Or. getting lost on gravel roads off highway 18 looking for old friends. I lost another hour warming myself with a pint of Terminator Stout at the Lighthouse brewpub in Lincoln city. When I finally showed up in Newport I was too late to catch my brother John’s matinee performance in “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest,”which, BTW was where my missing friends had been. I was in time for the cast party, however.
That night I had the greatest challenge yet in my short career as a motorcyclist, negotiating a 100 yard stretch of my brother’s flooded ‘driveway’. I was certain I was going down three separate times, but the bike handled it well despite my clumsy efforts.
Monday, Feb. 26
The day before, I was treated to the stretch of Oregon coast road that passes Depoe Bay. I must have passed this way two dozen times before, but its beauty never ceases to amaze me. The bay itself is like a miniature SF Bay, with a very narrow “Golden Gate” that fishing boats somehow negotiate, rocky cliffs looming on both sides.
The next day I completed what must be one of the most beautiful long stretches of coastal highway in the world. 101 parallels the shoreline from Lincoln City to Florence and again from Bandon to Brookings, keeping the Pacific in sight most of the way. I suppose the most fitting tribute to this road is that it always seems a shame to reach your destination and leave it.
It was dark when I pulled into Eureka and was treated to the warm hospitality of President Ken Marrow and his family. Ken fixed me, Mr. Preparation, with a throttle screw, water bottle, garbage bags, earplugs and a warm bed. It is nothing but an outrageous LIE to say I needed the earplugs because of Ken’s snoring. He claimed they were for riding, but that made no sense to me. [Sorry, but I had to see if anyone was paying attention.]
Tuesday, Feb. 26-28
The twisty asphalt thru the redwoods’ Avenue of the Giants looked suspiciously icy despite the 40F my thermometer claimed. For the first time in my life I saw snow at the sides of the 101 on several passes from Leggett to Ukiah. Finally, I arrived at Berkeley and Roozbeh’s for a couple of days. Very little rest there due mainly to the irrefutable fact it is hard to sleep when you are laughing.
I took a side trip to Mountain View where Kari and CalBMW were indispensable. Due to my exquisite planning I finally got the electric vest, now that I’d hit warm weather. Probably the best purchase of the trip and it allowed me to send unnecessary clothes home. There were several cold mornings and evenings left in S. Cal and even Mexico where I was very happy to have it, to say nothing of the return trip. I then went on a buying spree that only ended when Kari himself wouldn’t let me buy anymore. He must have seen my credit rating somewhere. I actually did get out of there with an extra $175 in loot I hadn’t paid for, until Kari and the nice guy [name escapes me] who installed a new rear tire compared notes.
Roozbeh drove [gasp!] us to a great lunch at the Wharf in SF with Jodi Lee and Mark Ketchum where da Roozter told a true story about a baby elephant’s trunk snatching dinner rolls. Jodi and Mark laughed hysterically, thinking it was just a joke, but I happen to know this really happened. I just can’t remember if R. Chubak was the patient or the doctor.
Feb. 29 Finally got out of Berkeley, the City of Beautiful Women. I HAD to leave. As Jodi Lee put it at the time:
“Rooz’s neighbors now have For Sale signs on their lawns. Seems they caused a bit of a ruckus in Berkeley. Dan’s taken his shinanagins to Sacratomato. Hope Joe’s got a better relationship with HIS neighbors.”
On to Sacramento for a visit with my kids. While there I spent a pleasant evening with Joe Denton and family, smoking cigars, drinking homebrewed stout and eating a delicious meal prepared by Joe.
Raced off early to meet Kari, Rooz and others at Coalinga [one of the famous Kari Sunday rides]. I found out how very little I know about riding a motorcycle as about doz. of them passed me at high speed around the curves of 198. Once again I had to wonder at what I thought I was doing riding all the way to Baja when I could barely lean the bike.
When the group headed North on 25, I went South on an unnamed road that looked like a long driveway and ended up in San Miguel at 101, then through Solvang to Santa Barbara where I stayed with an old friend and her new husband from Chile [very interesting folks, but that’s another story].
Got to use the rainsuit I bought from Kari when it started raining in Ventura and along Highway 1 thru Malibu and all day in L.A., where I met Jim Brown in Manhattan Beach for lunch. I had planned to go to San Diego then, but HAD to stay with Jim that night so I could have dinner with Errol Veith and Rick Landi. From Jim’s I sent the following message to the Village Idiots:
“CORRECTION: Jim informs me I have gotten his nickname wrong. It is NOT J.F. “Buttfloss” Brown as I informed you yesterday. This is a serious error on my part, one which I deeply regret. I guess I must have been confused by the …er…decorations he has ‘nailed’ to the walls and hanging from his rearview mirrors. His real name is “Baywatch” Brown. Anyway “Baywatch” organized an im promptu Presidents Meeting at Tico’s Tacos. Attendees included Rick “I can get to Culver City via Mulholland Drive” Landi and Errol “The Thunder (Is that a name for a BOOF or what?) from Downunder” Veith. Jim committed only one MAJOR social error of which I am permitted to speak. Winning the “Sorry Ole, we ain’t got no lutefisk” award, Jim took Aussie Errol to a resaurant that served no beer. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, NO BEER. This faux pas was mitigated by the fact that we ate burritos in true BOOF style, but still (I swear I am NOT making this up, NO BEER. Unbelievable!”
Meeting Jim and Rick and Errol was typical of this trip. I cannot describe it better than Errol did in a letter he wrote me upon his return to Australia. About his own visit he said, “When I think about that trip, the memories that stick with me are not those of the ‘official’ reasons for the trip, but the people I met there who trated me lik a long-lost relative.”
On to San Diego to meet Butch Hays whom I’d imagined to be about 26 and where I figured I’d be sleeping in the garage with the bikes. Wrong as usual. Butch is much younger in spirit, but about as old as I am with a lovely home and a private room and bath just for me. We had a great time at a local pub that night and I got to meet Mick and Lani Collins, Susan and Fulton Reed. Butch tells it better than I in a post to the Idiots:
“PLZ forgive my failure to post Brother Dan’s latest adventures, we’ve been having such a time with him that I’ve gotten pretty much behind on everything, EVEN THOUGH I KNOW news broadcasts to this list are required in these situations.Where to start? Lemme say tks to Mick & Lani Collins and Doc #14 who made Dan’s first evening here a blast. Nothing like a couple of K-whiners zooming around in the dead of night under a full moon trying to get a certain R100R rider lost. Managed to get home for a small party that lasted well into the wee hours. Dan’s not gonna get ANY rest until he finally checks out of the US. Then yesterday morning Mick was gracious enough to give both Dan and myself some riding tips out past wildcat canyon road. Seems that we were slow learners, however, and the lesson extended well past Borrego Springs almost to Ocotillo Wells. 240 miles, a nice breakfast and about 6 hours later (had to read all those historical markers … and take some pictures (w/BOOF content or course)), we were back in SD at Bratton Motors. Temps ranged from 42 in the mountains to 70 in the desert. Kind of humiliating trying to catch Mick on that red, bronze, coppery-sort of R1100RT, but did experience some all time highs on the tach in fourth and fifth. Amazing how much smoother it runs up there. (Sorry for all the BMW content).
Had a shack pack meeting last night when Susan Reed and Fulton came over for dinner. Did major aerodynamic surgery on “The Black Insurrectionist” after our trip to Bratton Motors. Chris tried to explain that it would be easier to buy the Red GS off the floor …. but after Dan rode the R850R and looked at the price tag on the GS he came away with a short shield instead. Doc and Dan did most of the work, cutting, wrenching, grinding, smoothing while I greased the skids w/constant supply of cold lagers and ales. Today is the test … he either rides to Mexico, or back over to Bratton for the GS …. what will it be … stay tuned!”
“Part One of the Neverending Ride to Baja.Am sneaking on to Butch’s keyboard. He was very gracious to include himself, but the truth is I was chasing both Mick and Butch and scared them with my apparent inability to avoid swinging across the center line in my efforts to keep up.
You must DEMAND that he post the photos, especially the one where Butch captured a triple BOOF salute performed a’ naturale. This involved 3 TOTAL STRANGERS we allowed near our bikes. You may think they bare some resemblance to us. Purely coincidental, I assure you.
Anyway the graciousness of the Hays Family is beyond my powers of description. Butch’s wife, Esther, gets special credit for putting up with all the motorcycle talk, Butch not going to work, the Arnold Disorganization Syndrome and the general BOOFishness of all. She is a very good sport, maintains a beautiful home and is a great chef, all done while maintaining a good sense of humor. In fact the only strain was her frequent counting of the silverware. What is that all about?”
Well of course what it was about was this delightful piece of mischief from Roozbeh which I pretended I hadn’t seen:
“Dear Butch:I know you’re having a gathering of some Idiots at your place tonight, and I also know that Dan Arnold is going to be there. And that’s why I must send you this post to alert you of a problem.
Dan seems like a nice sort of fellow, very amusing and all that, but the poor man sufferes from a certain neurosis: kleptomania. 🙁
As you know he spent a couple of wonderful days with me here in Berkeley, but after he left, much to my disappointment, I discovered a valuable item missing. The missing item, while quite valuable, is not quite as valuable as my friendship with Dan. It was a Ming Vase that my grandfather “picked up” while doing his share to control the Boxer Rebellion so many years ago in the Middle Kingdom.
Anyway, if I were you I would keep an eye on Dan the entire time he is there at your place. If you have any silver or other valuables, LOCK THEM UP! I cannot be any more emphatic than that.
Also, as a personal favor to me, if you get the opportunity, will you please go through his stuff to see if you can recover the Ming vase? I don’t think he’s fenced it: His sort generally hang on to their booties so they can look at them over and over.”
Sorry if I seem to be ignoring any of you, if you have posted me. I just haven’t had access to a computer. Anyway while riding down the highway I got this idea. I will collect various antiques and interesting artifacts and googaws on my travels, in order to pursue a new vocation ( I really AM ashamed to be a lawyer you know). I thought I had a good start to my collection when I “found” what appeared to be a very expensive jug or urn of some type – oriental looking. You know one of those Chinese dynasty ceramic things. Anyway, I thought it was very valuable and I got a ‘real good deal’ on it. I was a few miles down the road when I stopped to admire it and discovered a “Woolworth” sticker on the bottom. I was so disappointed, I threw it away.
Anyway this bit of foolishness continued the whole trip with some folks, I heard, actually believing I WAS stealing artifacts. Can’t blame them. Here’s Butch’s rendition of me finally getting to the border on March 7:
“Dan managed to get packed today for his trip south. Took him most of the morning, as his bags seems to have grown considerably. Amazing how much more room clean clothes take than the dirty ones he had stuffed everywhere. Also interesting how much heavier the bike seemed. Had to put in a couple of extra pounds of air to get the rims off the pavement.”I offered to lead our adventurer to Tecate since he has this gift for getting lost. Last night he missed the turn to Bratton Motors and ended up at the beach. Almost like the fellow in the news several months ago. Was going to Phoenix from West Texas and ended up at Sunset Cliffs. ANYWAY, on the way to Tecate we filled up the bikes and stopped by MacDonalds for a couple of #2 Value Meals (Cheeseburgers of course). Believe it or not, I suggested the stop just to feed him before his trip. I didn’t think about the significance until we’re inside looking up at the menu. “Cheeseburgers for a couple of Cheeseburgers, please.” Ate outside in spectacular So Cal weather and hoisted a couple of cheeseburgers to all the Idiots we hold so dear. Finished and as we walked back to the bikes parked illegally in the shade of a tall Eucalyptus we noticed a policeman standing near by. Thinking we were getting tickets, we walked over a bit faster ready to protest. False alarm, seems a security guard taking a break was just getting a closer look at the two bikes. Dan sparked a conversation and we spent another 30 minutes or so talking motorcycles with this fellow.
“The 35 miles to Tecate passed quickly even though Rt 94 threw us its share of big rigs, pickups and twisty roads. At the border we pulled the bikes over to the curb for a Kodak moment. I got two pictures before a US Border Patrol Agent walked across the dusty road to us. Agent Bruce Johnson introduced himself and inquired as to the Washington plates on Dan’s heavily laden boxer. I’m thinking Rooz must have put out an APB for the Missing Ming Vase, but it turned out Bruce had bicycled down from Fife, Washington a couple of months earlier. Took him two weeks. We shot the breeze for 5 to 10 and then this DEA officer strolls over with a K-9. Since I’ve got the camera, I back off and get a picture of this escalating situation, the dog sniffing Dan’s pants leg. Then the DEA fellow notices me with the camera and says “Hey, how ’bout one more!” They pose arm-in-arm, Dan in the middle, dog at his feet, and I shoot the picture.
“Then ANOTHER Border Patrol agent walks over from the US checkpoint. (and I thought we were short of these guys down there). Only thing is this one’s more cautious and stands off a bit, sizing up the situation. He approaches Officer Johnson at the ready, until he gets a nod and an OK from him. Then when we introduce ourselves, he relaxes, and admits that he came over to cover his buddy. Dan laughs, throws his hands up in the air and says “Frisk me, we’ll get a picture!” Bruce said “Nah, better not do that. You really don’t want to draw that kind of attention to you, the Federalies over there might get the wrong idea.” We looked down to the Mexican side and noticed a couple of green uniformed men staring intently at the circle of activity surrounding Dan and me. We posed for one more group shot and the US agents walked back across the street to their post.
“Dan mounted up, waved and headed for the Tecate entry point into Mexico. Last I saw of him, he was talking to one of the Mexican agents, his helmet in his lap. I sure hope his Spanish is good. Those of you that have read this far, and have religious convictions, please say a short prayer for Daniel. I’m hoping he won’t need it, but you never can tell.”
Actually I got thru the border with no problems and was finally on my own and in Mexico and just a little nervous.
Butch closed out his observations with the only _absolutely true_ thing anyone said about me:
“Thanks again to this list, I’m a better person for having met another IBMWR president. Dan’s a gentleman and a scholar; a patient, intelligent sort with an uncanny sense of humor and sparkling wit. Mexico’s a bit brighter tonight, as one of our own journeys south to Baja.”
Thank you, Butch. I appreciate your careful reading of my press materials. Actually these kind words better fit those I met all along the way.
Baja Report, volume 4
I think I sent this last spring, but am not sure. Regardless, rereading it got me back in the mood. For those of you who are new here or don’t recall, this is the 4th installment of a newbie’s (when I left Kennewick, WA last February I had accumulated less than 2000 miles on a motorcycle, had been riding only six months and had only one trip of more than 50 miles to my credit) account of his motorcycle camping trip to Cabo San Lucas.
March 7, 1996
Finally, across the border and down the narrow dusty streets of Tecate. I exchange quick glances with Mexican motorcycle cops, their bikes parked.
Tecate is a small town and I am quickly through it and on the empty road heading south toward Ensenada. The wind pushes me around as I realize I really am alone now.
I am finally where I set out to be, after two weeks down the Pacific coast of the U.S., but there is a hint of feeling exposed, vulnerable. The first thing I notice about the roads in Mexico is the absence of shoulders. The highway is narrow and there is literally no margin for error. I have to put these feelings aside, telling myself this place, this moment is why I am on this trip. I think back to the snow in Kennewick and I am suddenly convinced and I relax. Funny how quickly obstacles melt once you determine they should. There are no cars. The twisty road welcomes me South.
Attitude refreshed, I notice how green the countryside is. Last time I was here it was summer of ’88. Seemed so dry and barren then. Now I notice the green. I pass two wineries, their vineyards lining the road, but the afternoon is stretching out and I want to find a place to camp before sunset. Suddenly I realize how happy I am. The joy of riding is so palpable as I drink in the beauty and the knowledge I am really here that there is an almost sexual feel to it. Maybe it’s just the vibration, the lean into the turn, but it is real.
Ensenada cannot be avoided and I need gas anyway. But on this hot day, stalled at the city’s red lights, I am eager to get moving down the highway again. The heat from the R100R that has been such a comfort in the North just adds to city heat. After gassing up at the last modern Pemex I will see until I pass this way again in a month, I am relieved to find my way out of the city.
South to San Vincente and Colonet, the speed cools me again. It is late afternoon and this stretch South of Ensenada offers no beach for camping. I realize I am going to have to camp at the very place I wanted to avoid, Antonio del Mar. Sounds like a real place, but it is only a barren beach 10 miles down a dirt road, 10 miles from beer, food or water. In Colonet I pick up two beers, banannas and bread and try to find the road to the beach. Even though I was here eight years ago, I can’t find it. After a couple of passes I decide it has to be up this private driveway that looks like it goes nowhere. Faith is rewarded as the driveway soon becomes a definite dirt road. I pass a car slowly heading down the road.
As the sun sets I get to the beach, manage to get out of the sand by lifting my butt off the seat and giving gentle throttle toward firmer ground. Absolutely no one here, though there are several small houses near by and more in the background. Ten minutes later the old Mercury I passed pulls up.
When I told people what I planned, the invariable response is, “You’re going to Mexico; alone?” I respond that I always meet interesting people. A man in his late 40’s climbs out of the car. I am a little surprised at his appearance because the car has what appear to be Mexican license plates. Closer inspection reveals Oregon plates, the same color as a Baja license.
Steve looks around. He has thinning blond hair and looks a little ill at ease. I greet him and offer advice on where it is safe to park. We decide to camp near each other. He has a large jug of cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches. After setting up out tents, we sit and have ‘dinner’ together. He was in the Peace Corps, lived in an ashram in Kulu, Nepal and is interested in “spiritual reality.” As we talk I realize he is exceptionally intelligent as he relaxes and speaks of the last 15 years of his life which he has spent hiking and camping. We talk and laugh and argue late into the night, pointing out Orion and Ursa major and minor and the few constellations we know. The phosphorescent plankton glow in the breaking surf.
As sleep approaches I feel as safe on this lonely beach as I do in my own bed at home as I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Baja Report, vol. 6
Catavina to Bahia de Los Angeles
March 8, 1996
Catavin~a, BC Norte
I am on a long barren stretch with little of note along the road, which has long sections straight enough to fly through, steering by using your hands as twin rudders in the air stream. As I ride along doing this it is almost tempting to close my eyes and complete the image of a buddhist deep in meditation.
There are towns marked on the map; San Luiso, Jaraguay, Chapala, el Crucero, but that is all they are, marks on a map. The cardon and cirio are behind us, no landmarks, no inviting restaurants. I am hungry. Finally we come to a fork in the road where we have the choice of continuing South on the transpeninsular to Guerrero Negro (Black Warrior) or 68k East to Bahia de los Angeles. The Pemex station nearby is abandoned and I’ve heard the same about the one at L A bay. By the time I get there it will be 168k since last fill up in Catavin~a, plus 68k for the return = 236 + another 70-80k to the Pemex in Jesus Maria. That’s around 190 miles and cutting it a bit close for the R100R.
But L A bay is supposed to be beautiful and have plenty of good, free camping. I am not thrilled by the prospect of not being able to ride around town, or back and forth from campsite to town for supplies, but something will turn up. I can always (shudder) walk. Steve and I stop at the junction. There is a small tienda where we buy a can of tuna, bag of chips and a coke. We eat lunch standing in the shade of a trellis outside. It is very hot, just bearable.
I had read that the paved road to Bahia de los Angeles was bad, but this is ridiculous. For a mile it is just a bad road in need of repair, then there is a mile that has so many large deep potholes they are impossible to avoid at any speed over 5 mph. It alternates like this, from bad to much worse for all of the 68k. It is obvious the road has been built or repaired in clearly delineated sections; must have something to do with with the typical idiocy of government.
Later I learn from the townsfolk that the mayor (or whatever it was they called him) elected not to repair the road. This (and the closed Pemex there) has hurt the local economy. The people I talked to had no explanation for his decision. They just seemed to accept it as part of the natural order of things.
The saving feature of this road, for a motorcyclist, is the narrow strip of decent pavement along the centerline. This affords even a rookie like myself the opportunity to sail along at 60 mph while the few trucks and motorhomes crawl at 5 to 20. This technique is not without hazard of course. The 12 inch strip narrows to 8, then 4, then 2. I tell myself gyroscopic power will see me through this as 2 becomes 0. And of course there is the well known phenomenon of going fast enough to fly over rather than down and back up the holes. At any rate this is exciting stuff for me, constantly evaluating; looking far ahead, then shifting my gaze to the immediate road detail. You must bear in mind I am an absolute rookie at this sort of thing.
Somehow I have gotten myself 1500 or so miles from home on a vehicle that has only two wheels. I mean, this thing will fall down if you just stop. It is inherently unstable. It does not take a genius to figure out there is something basically unsafe about straddling an internal combustion engine, no steel walls surrounding you while 10 ton trucks whiz by in the opposite direction and all this time you are balanced like a tightrope walker on just two (2!) @#*%ing wheels! No wonder it took me nearly 47 years to get dumb enough to do this.
I have left Steve far behind and have the road to myself. Cirio are again visible and a few cardon. To the North and East the wall of the Sierra de San Borjas looms, making me wonder how I will get through it to the Sea of Cortez. Riding in the clear mid day light the joy of just being returns. Here I am! Doing exactly what I’d planned and loving it.
Suddenly I dart through a cut in the mountains and there it is, still miles away, the gorgeous blue of the Sea of Cortez. There is something special about that first glimpse of watery blue after riding in the solitude of the desert. Winding down the road the vista of the Sea looms larger and bluer. I forsake dirt roads to the beach and head South into town.
As predicted, the Pemex where Steve and I plan to meet is closed. I learn there is a guy at the far South end of town who sells gasoline he trucks in by the barrel. He is fat and wears no shirt. We laugh and have a beer together in the shade behind his house. He is not bothered in the least by my poor Spanish and we switch back and forth between our two languages. Neither of us are in any hurry. Eventually I pay him for two gallons, a bargain at twice the Pemex rate.
I buy a sixpack of cold beer, tequila and limes and ride North along the beach looking for a place to camp. Along the beach walking slowly toward me is a thin Christlike figure. His name is Roderigo. He is from Mexico city. He tells me of a place up the beach where I can share a campsite and palapa with him and his friend Melissa, an American. I find his newer, blue Volkswagen van and the lovely Melissa. The cold beer is welcome. Roderigo has dried dates from San Ignacio and the good grace not to like beer.
Steve drives up and we all have a good time comparing stories, jokes and advice from our various travels. Steve heads off looking for his own campsite while I prepare margaritas, Melissa dinner. Life seems perfect as the three of us sit on a blanket on the sand, 40 feet from the gentle waves of this great inland Sea while the sun sets behind us. Melissa’s beautiful voice enchants us with a song. Roderigo goes to bed early and Melissa and I lie chastely close together on the soft sand. I marvel at how each day starts out as a complete mystery, then somehow perfects itself at closing. I search my memory but cannot find such a full day Stateside.
Baja Report, volume 7
1996 Bahia de los Angeles, BC Sur, Mexico.
March 9-11, 1996
After a few days on the road I was is the mood to just sit and read, swim and soak up the sun for a while. I met Terry, about 50, part of a group of kayakers. We paddle around the bay in his dual seat kayak and sit in his folding chairs looking out across the water at Islas la Ventana and Cabeza de Caballo with the giant Angel de la Guarda in the background. Terry and his group of much younger kayakers have suffered some kind of estrangement. Terry is apparently much more expert and experienced with kayaks, but is not the official leader. This has led to predictable role conflicts, with each contingent complaining privately to me. I nod sagely, agreeing with everyone. After all, it’s not like I’m going to arbitrate, let alone get paid for it. Besides, if I tried they’d all probably agree on only one thing; I should stay out of it. In this we are in full agreement.
The camp I am at is run by a sea turtle conservation project for research station. I think it was $4 a day with enclosed pit toilets and showers. One day about 20 of us climb on a pick up and ride a short distance to the tanks to feed the turtles. There were two different species in the tanks, but I have forgotten the names. A college biology group is camping at the beach and I attend impromptu lectures on the shore.
One evening I join Terry for a delicious dinner at the small restaurant at the North end of town, next to the liquor store. Two young American couples sit at tables nearby and a Mexican, about 35, sits alone. The discussion among the three American tables drifts to the topic of Mexicans and the fees charged for camping. The conversation seems oblivious of the presence of Mexicans. Terry, who apparently knows every bit as much about Mexican real estate law as he does about kayaking, announces that he found a crudely lettered sign on an isolated beach that asked for a small camping fee, in dollars. Terry threw the sign in the water since it violated some point of Mexican law that he is familiar with.
The lone Mexican attempts to explain something in halting, but adequate English; something about his uncle’s property. He is not so much interrupted as he is ignored. The other American couples don’t seem able to see or hear him either, though they look at him briefly as if he has farted and they are determined to politely say nothing. I can think of nothing better to do than to wish the Mexican a good evening and leave without speaking to the others. I am such a cowardly master of subtlety that I am reasonably certain my act has no significance to anyone but me.
The next day college students Matt, Charlie and Tara set up camp nearby and we swim together and play cards that night. I was surprised how easily they invited me into their group. We talk of literature and life, but when ‘shooting the moon’ to win at hearts becomes the high point of the evening I know it is time to continue the journey.
Baja Report, volume 8
Bahia de los Angeles to Guerrero Negro
March 12, 1997
When I had arrived in Bahia de los Angeles I noticed the left passenger peg was very loose, probably from the vibration of the many potholes I couldn’t avoid. I tightened it and the left and considered my self lucky to have found it in time.
I left about noon, riding back on that terrible road, this time the sea to my back. My only satisfaction on the ride was the relative freedom and speed I felt on two wheels averaging 40 to 50 while the four wheeled folk had to limp along at 5 to 20 mph. When I reached the junction with 1 I headed South to Guerrero Negro. Somewhere along here I notice the squeaking I’ve heard from time to time is worse and something else just does not feel right. I stop at next wide spot and am shocked to discover the right passenger peg is gone. This would be no problem as I have no passenger, but the bolt also holds the bag support to the frame. Without it there is contact with the swing arm; in fact a neat shiny gouge has been carved in the aluminum.
I inserted a spare bolt Kari Prager gave me (with assorted others he suggested I carry). It is not quite thick enough, but is much better than nothing. I continue on at a slightly slower pace to Guerrero Negro where I buy a thicker replacement bolt.
As I headed East, back out of town I decided to stop at a restaurant, Mirrasomething that had been recommended by some Gringos at the market. The only other patrons are an American couple. They insisted I join them. They were delighted to learn about my trip. In fact nearly everyone I met shared this enthusiasm and appreciation for the notion that someone would be traveling this far alone by motorcycle.
John (48) and Patti (62) are newlyweds and very much in love. She is an artist from Aptos, John is from Pacific Palisades. The spend winters in Cabo San Lucas. They suggest I get a motel room next to theirs and relax with them that evening instead of pushing on. At $7 (50 N$) for a clean, spartan room with a shower it is easy to see the wisdom of this. We end up playing scrabble and drinking tequila for several hours, having one of those great conversations that surprises you with its intimacy.
Guerrero Negro to Santa Rosalia
In the morning I am eager to get underway early. I decide not to try to see the whales at Scammon’s Lagoon. I have had enough of the dry dusty flatness of G.N. and its wind. From what I see from the road this is the most unappealing part of Baja. Riding SE through the Vizcaino Desert I see nothing to disabuse me of this opinion. Suddenly to the South I see a lush oasis of palms. It is San Ignacio. I wind around a large pond and continue along a palm lined road to the town itself. The square is completely shaded by Indian Laurels at least 100 feet tall. The church sits in the sun at one end and shops form the other three sides. The central square has plenty of benches that tempt you to spend the rest of your trip reading, joining the sleepy rhythms of the village.
I decide to settle for lunch and find a delightful restaurant just past the East end of the square. Back at the bike I chat with a couple on a Harley, the only other bike I’ve seen since the border area and one of only two Harleys I will see in Baja. She is a former BMW owner. They are headed for a motel in Mulege.
I have read about Santa Rosalia and am eager to see it. I am not disappointed. It is a former French mining town and still bears a French stamp upon its streets. Eiffel designed a steel church for the town and it stands there today in perfect condition. The houses and buildings were built by the French of imported timber rather than the familiar Mexican masonry. Many have broad verandas. The Hotel Frances is an excellent example.
I ride into town on one of two main oneway streets that lead up away from the Sea of Cortez. I stop at the French bakery (Bolero?) and buy 5 croissants. I walk across the street to the juice bar and order a large orange and grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed – delicious! I shared one of the croissants with the shop girl and indulged a fantasy or two as she smiled at my attempts at Spanish. She wears a lot of makeup and silver and….
Santa Rosalia is a great town to walk around in. Because of the small wooden buildings and narrow streets it has a completely different feel to it than any other town in Mexico. I’d like to stay here longer; maybe on the way back. There is a beach nearby, suitable for camping, but it doesn’t feel right; too open.
I head South along 1, up hill with a beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez to my left. Next time I will check out the beach near San Lucas where I have since learned there are good campsites shaded by palm trees. It is 63 km to Mulege, the road drifting away from the Shoreline. Mulege is a small town built along the Rio Santa Rosalia. The streets are narrow, cramped by the steep hill to the NW and the river to the SE. The river opens to an estuary lined by palm trees. I ride along a narrow, bumpy, but firm dirt road that parallels the estuary for about three miles until it joins the sea. I stop at the restaurant on the beach. Though part of the floor is straw covered dirt, the place looks fancy enough that I would check the menu for prices before ordering. I am still full from the croissants and just stopped to enjoy the view. I order a beer and watch the table next to me, a large crowd of Americans and apparently well to do Mexicans enjoying themselves in English and Spanish.
22 km South near the North end of Bahia Concepcion is a wide, open beach called Santispac. Near dusk, I ride in to check it out. It is not my kind of place, a pay to camp beach lined for 200 yards with closely packed RVs all facing the sea. As I ride along the beach looking for a more secluded area, a figure in black leather rides toward me on an R 80 GS.
Baja Report, volume 9
Santispac, Baja California Sur, Mexico
March 13, 1996
Rick Pellegrino (see Rick’s article, “Zimmering Through Europe on the Cheap” BMW ON 9/96) rode toward me on his R 80 GS and insisted I follow him to his camp, literally inches from the water of Bahia Coyote (a bay within Conception Bay).
He and his friends Joe Barker (Ducati Elefant), Dale Mundt (R11GS) and Flint (R100PD) were camped on a narrow strip of sand, under trees right next to the water. There was barely room for one more sleeping bag and I joined the group, not bothering to set up my tent. They were from Salt Lake City (I think they said they’d had the bikes trailered to San Diego) and had come down dirt roads at a fast pace via San Felipe.
They welcomed me as if I had been travelling with them all the way. We had dinner together at the restaurant on the beach where we met Bill Fischer, originally from Moses Lake, Washington and now a Baja veteran, living here most of the time, in his van. Bill is 77 and hilarious (The next morning he told me he’d lost his wife less than two months ago. The humor was his way of coping). We traded jokes across the table until we all had sore ribs. The Salt Lake City boys regaled me with tales of their dirt road adventures that included Dale kicking up a stray piece of metal as he flew along the dirt at 60 mph. Whatever it was pierced his boot and caused a fairly serious injury, but did not slow them down.
March 14, 1996
I woke early (4:30) fixed coffee and sat by the water reading JUPITER’S TRAVELS, then took a long walk around Punta Piedrito. After breakfast and goodbyes with the Salt Lake contingent and a conversation with Bill, I packed up and took one last tour of the beach.
Met Sara, blonde with a light sprinkling of freckles, busty with slim legs and her young daughter Ellen. Packed with all their belongings and headed for Todos Santos to open a restaurant. They are both beautiful and I admire Sara’s sense of freedom and adventure as we hold the jumprope for Ellen.
They are staying another night and I am tempted to join them, but….
Off to Loreto, a particularly beautiful ride along cliffs close to the water. Loreto has a long boulevard by the sea and a great restaurant at the North end of the city, perched on rocks above the water. I feel the palpable luxury of a fine meal while enjoying the view of the sea framed by the arch of an open window.
Near Juncalito, 28 km South of Loreto I decide to stop and look for a place to camp near the beach. It is exceptionally beautiful here, steep, sharp mountains behind the bay strewn with islands. Next trip I hope to take the dirt roads behind those peaks and explore the small towns mentioned in Higgenbotham’s BACKROAD BAJA. For tonight though, I simply stop at a fisherman’s house and ask if I can sleep out in the open in front of his house, overlooking the beach. The family comes out and makes the usual to do over me, asking about the bike, where I’m from. Then they go about their business.
I do not set up the tent, merely lay a tarp on smooth rocks and sit and read. Two small neighborhood dogs adopt me and I share a bit of tuna and tortilla. I go to sleep not too long after sunset, the dogs lying near by. Once or twice during the night they bark out a warning if anyone approaches within a 100 yards of me or the bike. After my usual six hours, I wake at 3:15. My guardians are still at the foot of my bed.
Baja Report, volume 10
Juncalito to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
March 15, 1996
3:15 in the morning and the Roosters are crowing. At 4:00 I see the faint light from a thin crescent of waning moon. The sky is so dark and clear I can see the Big Dipper and even Polaris without my glasses. Packing goes clumsily and I still need to wait for a little more light before I’m comfortable finding my way back to the highway on the soft dirt road.
It is 6 am and I have a beautiful solitary ride down the coast past Puerto Escondido until the road turns West and winds upward through the Sierra Santa Gertrudis to Villa Insurgentes. From there the ride is straight and boring as it takes me through a wide agricultural plain, then through more desert down to La Paz, about 380 km from where I woke.
La Paz is the first city (population 140,000) I’ve seen since Ensenada and much more interesting and picturesque. It is built on hills at the South East end of a large shallow bay of green water. As you enter from the west you move past RV parks strung out along the inner bay.
I stop at the CCC, a large modern supermarket. The sun is blazing and I’m sure I make an interesting sight in black leather with three days of beard. I spend an hour or two cruising around town and settle on the Hotel Veneka. It is in the heart of the downtown area, just a block or two from the cathedral and central plaza. The room is a little seedy, but clean, with a shower and looks out on the street. I am in the mood for a downtown hotel where I can leave the bike and explore on foot. The manager and part owner, Miguel, assures me the bike will be safe and at night we will bring it into the courtyard.
After a short walk around town I decide to try my hotel’s fare. It is only 1 pm, thanks to my early start. The meal is excellent and much more than I can eat. 18 pesos for Pescado Veracruzano, homemade tortillas, toast and ice cream. Later I play chess with Miguel and Alvaron Acosto. Alvaron is at least 65, maybe 15 years older. He is tall and thin, with skin the color of an old copper penny. He has European features and a bony aquiline nose. He reminds me of drawings of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
He and Miguel have taught themselves the game from the English insert in a dime store plastic set. They have misinterpreted the rules and think they have the option of moving two pawns one square each for their first move. They have no knowledge of openings and though I haven’t played in years they will be easy pickings. Nonetheless Alvaron appears very confident. When I work a little combination to win a pawn he looks up at me as if he is surprised and pleased to finally have some competition. He concentrates fiercely and is able to defend what I thought were fairly sophisticated combinations. I realize that despite the way he has learned the game, he is talented and I will have to work very hard for any win. I do not work hard enough, but it is a good game, the kind where you feel you and your opponent share something. Miguel is a different story and during his play Alvaron leans over, nods toward Miguel and in a soft conspiratorial voice says, “malo.” Miguel ignores this insult which Alvaron impishly repeats, sagely shaking his head as if this is a well known and inescapable fact. Somehow his intelligent humor breaks through our language barrier. He and Miguel laugh, delighted when I call Alvaron “el Zorro,” the Fox.
Baja Report, volume 11
La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, Saturday
March 16, 1996
Walked down toward the waterfront this morning and stopped at a very French bakery for croissants and coffee brewed just the way I like it, dark and almost strong enough to pass for espresso. The simple pleasure of good coffee and bread, seated at a table, reading. I don’t know why these things give so much more pleasure here. Maybe it is nothing more than the romance of being on the road in a foreign country, of being far from home. Perhaps it has something to do with the sun on this stone courtyard, the sea just a block or two away. The area has a European feel to it, though how I think this is a mystery to me since I’ve never been there. Mornings are wonderful.
I walked around town, just enjoying its newness to me. Lay on the beach, played more chess, checked out a couple bars where they promise to show the Tyson-Bruno fight. In the States I imagine it is a $30 pay per view; here I can watch for the price of two beers. That afternoon I meet John, another solitary traveler. He and ‘Macho,’ a former professional boxer, want to go to the fight too, but I get tired of waiting for them and go alone.
I pick the working class bar showing the match, pay for my two beers and grab a ‘ringside’ folding chair. I am joined by Mexicans on either side as the bar fills. We are soon buying each other beers and discussing boxing in a combination of English and Spanish that would probably make anyone truly bilingual wince. After the fight we discuss, I think, whether to stay or go to another place (I hear ‘lugar’). We decide to stay. The atmosphere suddenly changes as the music starts and girls appear. They are not patrons. They are not waitresses. Dancing starts. I am starting to feel a bit awkward. There is something odd about the dancing. The men are all smiling, laughing. The few women who do not have flat expressions are wearing forced smiles.
I see one of my new friends smiling gleefully as he slips someone a 10 peso coin. He is buying me a dance. I do not want to dance, but do not know how to get out of this gracefully. I dance. My partner does not appear to be enjoying herself. None of the girls do. This is in marked contrast to the men’s reaction. They are laughing wildly whether they are dancing or not. My buddies use obvious gestures to encourage me to hold my partner more intimately, more aggressively. As I look around it appears this is indeed the custom, but it is equally apparent these attentions are either unwanted or at best merely tolerated. They are putting up with this to make a living. This does not help me feel less awkward and I am relieved when the music signals the dance is over. I thank my two friends, buy them beer and walk to the Hotel Veneka alone.
Sunday, March 17
St. Patrick’s Day
Off to Todos Santos. The road runs due South until it hits the coast of the Pacific at this town of 3500 that Jack Williams, in THE MAGNIFICENT PENINSULA, calls “one of Baja’s most entrancing.” Shortly after entering town you see the Hotel California on the right. Its thick white masonry walls and balcony shape a hotel that could provide the basis of a movie set for a western set in old Mexico. Much of the town is shaded by large trees, the church and civic plaza sit an a hill overlooking palms and farm land to the west. It reminds me of a small town is an Italian movie.
Just a mile or two South I find the San Pedrito RV park, another mile West on a soft dirt road to the beach. Campsite, flush toilets, hot showers and a clean swimming pool for $3 a night. I think I’ll stay a while. I ride back to Todos Santos and buy a six pack of Modelo, giving one to Roderigo, a young municipal cop. He assures me there is no crime here because everyone knows everyone else. The town’s water is from an artesian well and is drinkable.
Back at camp I enjoy the beer and the sunset before going to sleep.
Baja Report, volume 12
Todos Santos & Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
March 18, 1996
Into town early for supplies: dried dates, coffee and Sauza Hornitos (green label, reposado). For those of you who think Cuervo Gold is Tequila, you are in for a treat. This stuff can be enjoyed neat, but the price has gone from $4 to $10/liter in two years ($20 for 750ml in Washington).
I want to call home and finally find a good phone, behind a bookstore, just up the street from the Hotel California. Between the two is a grocery store and across from that, on a side street, is a cart selling “Tortas Pierna.” Victor grills lean pork and lays it on a hollowed out roll along with lettuce, tomatoes, etc. and sauce. The price is 10 new pesos (at the time about $1.30, I think). I have never eaten a better sandwich; would expect to pay $6 to $8 in the States and would pay a lot more if I could have one right now.
Back at the beach I have a short visit with Sara, who must have arrived the night before. Then swimming at the pool and reading Truman Capote’s biography I just picked up at the bookstore in town.
Matt and Cindy are sansei dentists from L.A. and Beaverton, OR, respectively, maybe late 20’s. They flew into Cabo and drove up here for the surfing. We enjoy a nice long talk, solving several of the world’s problems.
I ride into town, looking around for a good place for supper. It is close to sunset and Victor’s cart has reminded me that the best food in Mexico is usually at the least pretentious places. The main road (highway 19, though labeled 1 on some maps) enters town from the North, then goes roughly West before turning 90 degrees to the South. Just past the Pemex is Tacos Delia, a very modest looking, open air restaurant. I usually avoid places with tourists, but the warm light from a bare bulb is inviting. Dick and Marge, Don and JoAnne are Baja veterans in their late 50’s who have lived here 10 years. They insist I join them, pronouncing the fish tacos (tacos pescado) the best food in Todos Santos. They act delighted to see me, as if I am an old friend. They are fascinated by the idea of me being here on a bike and have many questions. The tacos are only 4.5 pesos and three are plenty. You build them yourself from a tray of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, peppers, sauces and condiments. Delicious! And your choice of fresh fish, oysters, shrimp.
March 19, 1996
I am quite content to stay right where I am, but am only 45 miles North of Cabo San Lucas and land’s end, so I head South fairly early for a day trip. Cabo is like entering a space/time warp. Suddenly there are crowds of people, seems like more than half are American tourists. The hotels and streets are noisy, crowded and fancy. I stop at Mrs. Fields for a short visit with about 8 bikers parked there, all BMW’s except for one Harley and one Kawawsaki. There is one R11GS (I WILL trade in my R100R for one some day).
I ride down Lazaro Cardenas to Boulevard Marina, around the Ferry terminal and up a steep, narrow winding road to the Hotel Solmar. I must satisfy my tradition of stealing a swim at the most luxurious hotel I can find and at $154 to $250 a night (more than I spend in two weeks) this appears to be the place. I am clean-shaven in preparation for the ritual. I find a corner of the parking lot next to a wall of rock and change into my best tourist swim trunks and sandals, and walk through the lobby and out to the pool. I enjoy my swim in the perfect pool and the stunning view. The Solmar is at the absolute South of the peninsula. There is nothing between the pool and Easter Island except 200 yards of golden sand and thousands of miles of deep blue water.
I walk to the beach. There are no rocks, just that fine golden sand that drops away suddenly to the deep blue that screams “Undertow!” I walk West toward cliffs and El Arco, then back to the Solmar after a little barefoot rock climbing. The people around the pool are beautiful and boring (I tell myself). We ignore each other. I am back in America. Was it Hemingway who, replying to Fitzgerald, said “Yes, the rich are different. They have more money.”
I am lost in a daydream of being asked to spend the night with one of the poolside lovelies, when I notice a sign neatly lettered in perfect English. It advises that the pool is reserved for guests and trespassers like me will be turned over to the local authorities for prosecution. I think this is damned unfriendly and am not sure I want to stay at a place like this. I have never before been treated so rudely at any of the hotels I have borrowed. After another hour of swimming and sunbathing I decide I can tolerate this no longer and leave without ordering a drink. They can’t shove ME around!
Baja Report, volume 13
Cabo & Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
March 19, 1996
At the Pemex just outside of Cabo I see three sleepy young men selling valencia oranges. They are hiding from the sun in the shade of their truck, parked in the dry dirt. I buy a large sack and they help me completely fill the BMW bags with the best juice oranges you will ever taste. Their eyes are now sparkling as they smile with delight at this two wheeled, orange filled novelty.
Back at camp it only takes three oranges to make a glass of delicious juice; I spilled some Sauza tequila, but most of it landed in the juice. Back to Tacos Delia where Anastasio gives me a papaya to take home after my two fish tacos. He is paid little as a teacher and in his spare time helps his wife Barbara at the taco shop. He is a quiet, modest and intelligent man and we have a heartfelt talk about Mexico and education before I ride back to camp in the dark.
Wednesday, March 20, 1996
Foggy at the beach this morning. The odometer of the R100R reads 6734; it was at 3634 when I left Kennewick February 24. It has been 4000 miles since I checked the valves and I thought they sounded a little loose yesterday so I check them before riding. They are fine, though I tighten one a fraction by just tightening a locknut.
I give the Papaya to Ann and Wayne who parked beside me the night before in their RV. Ann returns half of it, cleaned, with lime juice, on a plate with a knife and fork. It seems like such a luxury.
Back to town for a restaurant meal: half a grilled chicken and a macaroni salad for $3, then to the mercado for bread, beer and another luxury, ice. A swim in the pool, sunbathing and reading round out the afternoon. Liz and Mary Anne drive in with Casey, a surfer with long blond hair and movie star looks. They camp next to Wayne and Ann. I sit in a camp chair accompanied by a book, a tequila sunrise and another beautiful Pacific sunset. At 8 pm I sleep as if I had spent the day working.
March 21 – 24, 1996
Todos Santos (All Saints)
The days are taking on a pattern. I rise as early as 4 am for coffee and reading, urging the sun to rise so I can put my flashlight down. Then in to Victor’s ‘Piernas Tortas,’ the world’s greatest sandwich and a coke at his umbrella shaded table under the trees (Even the coke tastes better here. I think it is made from cane sugar instead of corn syrup, I don’t know, but it reminds me of the cokes I drank as a child). Then I walk around town or explore the dirt and cobblestone side streets and farms by bike. Maybe get some fresh supplies and back for a gruelling afternoon reading by the pool. Then back to town in the early evening for dinner, usually fish tacos at Anastasio’s and Barbara’s.
Matt and Cindy are back to surf, then we have dinner together. That night I visit with Liz, Casey and Mary Anne around their campfire before they go into town for a late night.
In the morning Casey tells me he and the girls came by my tent later but I was “gone, man” which I assume means I was snoring.
I am a regular at Victor’s. He speaks no English, but somehow I learn he had been a professional diver. He was injured when he suffered the bends and that is why he now earns his living running the sandwich stand. One day at his stand, at the very moment I am writing a postcard to Roozbeh, a guy in a van slowly, carefully backs into my bike, knocking it over. I am horrified, furious, but do nothing other than waive off the perpetrator’s embarrassed attempt to help. I refuse to look at him or talk to him (I am a pretty tough customer). There is no damage except for a tiny smudge like scrape on a rocker cover.
Baja Report, volume 14
Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
March 25, 1996
A quick goodbye to Victor, then I stop by to see Barbara and Anastasio for a last lunch and goodbye. He gives me a big hug and I am once again amazed at how a small effort results in a friendship here.
I head North on 19 (marked ‘1’ on my ‘Pronto Atlas’) toward La Paz. 27 km short of La Paz I turn East to El Triunfo and San Antonio where I stop at the Pemex. As Gabriel helps me pump gas, I try and answer his (and friend Joquin’s) questions about the BMW. The are smiling, in awe, as we have a quick chat about motorcycles and Mexico. They assure me the road North to San Juan de los Planes is good. The cop at the beginning of the road tells me the same thing. I soon have reason to believe their idea of ‘good’ is very different from mine.
[today I read in THE MAGNIFICENT PENINSULA that it is easy to miss the turn to remain on the oiled road. “Failure to make these turns will place you on the old lower standard road….”]
The hard dirt road is steep as it winds down to a plain where it becomes loose sand. I have a bad feeling about this, but am committed. The sand gets deeper and looser. The 22km I must ride on it seems much longer. Halfway along I start to wobble and the oscillations increase until down I go in the soft stuff, at least eight inches deep. It is about 2:30 pm and every thing is yellow and hot. I smell gas, but can’t right the bike until I partially unload it, sweating in my leathers. One of the bags is loose, but no damage.
Finally I push through to the paved highway 286, then a good road takes me North to the little fishing villages of La Ventanna and El Sargento. I ride along the Sea of Cortez. Several new, American style homes have been built along the bluff. I stop at an RV camp on the beach and chat with a Canadian there, but decide to keep riding up the coast. I spot a rough hard dirt, rutted road that cuts down along the shore and leads to a grove of palms and palo blanco.
As I stand by the bike deciding where to camp a man in his early 20’s comes by in a small pickup. He speaks English well and we share tequila as we sit in the cab. After Joaquin leaves I make camp on the beach beneath huge palm trees. It is another movie set, the water deep blue, the shallows marked in turquoise and green. Unattended fishing boats are pulled up on the sand.
My journal says, “God, I love this country! I just realized this is the tropical isle I dreamed of as a kid. Perfect. So much of it and so untapped. Still free. Not developed and claimed like America.”
I ride back up into town after sunset, looking for a restaurant. I find what must be the only place in town, though it looks closed now at 8 pm. Like many of these small places it is a family home and I am in the front room. I have tacos pescado and papas fritas (french fries). Then back to the beach to sleep tentless under the palms.
Baja Report, volume 15
El Sargento to Santa Rosalia
Tuesday, March 26, 1996
Up at 5 am, coffeed and packed by 6:30 as the Pescadores arrive, readying their boats for the day’s fishing. 286 NW to La Paz has a long straight section that stretches up, cresting at a pass in the Sierra la Gata. La Paz lies sheltered below. I make a quick stop at Hotel Veneka, but it is early yet and neither Miguel nor Alvaron are there so I am quickly on my way.
A pleasant, swift ride and I am back in Loreto for lunch. Like La Paz, Loreto has a clean, modern feel to it. Instead of going North along the malecon (my small dictionary says “dike,” but this is the term invariably used for the road that goes along the sea in cities and I assume gets it’s name from the sea wall), this time I head South. I find a restaurant with a decent view, but the food is disappointing, probably from the supermercado. Some of the restaurants seem set up to appeal to Americans, more signs in English than Spanish. I should know by now to avoid these places. The food is almost always better in the smaller, cheaper family run places.
I bid the Sea of Cortez good bye and travel inland again for 65 km until ‘1’ hugs the West side of Bahia Concepcion. This is a beautiful road as most of it affords a view of the sea from 50 to 100 feet directly above the water. At Mulege I stop in town at a small tienda that helps define the narrow cobblestone plaza. I am tired and thirsty and even Pepsi tastes good in Mexico. I haven’t showered for a day or two and have been wearing a helmet (plus I always cut my own hair). The combination probably makes me look a bit scruffy (at best) and I think I notice the clerk looking at my hair. I explain that I haven’t had a bath for two days, but judging from the look I get, I must have said, “I haven’t been to the toilet for two days.” Whatever I said, it appeared to be more information than she wanted and I drank the Pepsi outside.
Parenthetically let me add that I carried no Spanish Dictionary with me. I get by with gestures and asking people, “Como … en Espanol?” That is probably wrong too, but it seems to work. My opening salvo is usually, “Lo siento. Mi Espanol es muy poco y muy malo.” This is my way of saying, “I am sorry. I speak very little and what I do speak is wrong.” This is usually good for a laugh and we are off on the right foot. The only other trick I practice is to guess by taking a Latin derived English word and giving it a Spanish pronunciation. This usually works very well.
I head on to Santa Rosalia, stopping on a high cliff just South of town. The El Morro is a beautiful hotel, white masonry and tile roof, that caters to foreigners and wealthier Mexicans. Not my kind of place, but I am in the mood. I am considering sampling the night life and a nice hotel and shower fits the plan. The desk clerk is very helpful and rents me a room with a patio and palm framed view of the Sea of Cortez for 175 N$ (about $25) instead of the regular 250 N$.
Freshly showered and shaved, with clean clothes I head down into town for a croissant at the Boleo, walking across to the juice bar. The same clerk is there with two girl friends. They invite me to a dance to be held that night at 9. They tell me approximately where it is; I can’t miss it because there will be “luces” to follow. I figure this means searchlights. Didn’t look too hard, but found no dance later.
I settled for a liter of beer from a deposito. Next door are four men in their 60’s watching boxing on TV, from chairs set outside. We visit a while before I head to the hotel to watch “Rasputin” on HBO.
March 27, 1996
I return the bottle the next day and the men are right where I left them. One wears glasses and has a milky eye. Another has a head full of greasy, curly black hair. He is very animated and enthusiastic, Speaking quickly they ask about my evening and comment on the beer. I tell them I drank it with peanuts. They (twice) explain in word and graphic gestures with sound effects that this is a very effective combination for producing farts.
I say, “Muchas gracias por la informacion.” This produces howls of laughter as I head of for another tour of Santa Rosalia. In the North end of town, up the hill from the Eiffel designed church, just past the hospital sits the Hotel Frances. It is a large wooden, two storied building, recently refurbished. The lobby and restaurant are paneled and floored with dark wood, reminding me of a saloon from the old west. I enjoyed a great breakfast here, still reading Capote’s biography by Gerald Clarke.
Baja Report, volume 16
Santa Rosalia to somewhere just South of Cabo San Quintin
Wednesday, March 27, 1996
Got a late start out of Santa Rosalia (hated to leave, this is really one of my favorite towns in all of Mexico), so got no farther than Guerrero Negro by dusk.
I stay at the $7/night hotel again (just past the supermercado on the North side of the main street), dinner at a taco stand. Guerrero Negro is one of the least interesting places in Baja, though it is the jumping off place for whale watching. The season can last from December to April, but is pretty much over by the time I return. Perhaps next time, armed with a better guide book (THE MAGNIFICENT PENINSULA) I will venture out to a campsite on Scammon’s Lagoon.
Out early again, past desert and the boulder field at Catavina, winding through mountain roads. Baja roads may be narrow with no shoulder and you do have to watch for the occasional pothole and gravel, but they frequently have curves that an American road engineer would have straightened.
While enjoying these curves in the Bahia Concepcion area the only frustration was the rude American RV and sport utility vehicle drivers who not only slowed me down on curves, but would straddle the centerline because of their incompetence. Pull over or at least drive within your ability! Once while racing around a blind curve I was treated to the sudden vision of one of these American assholes coming right at me, half his RV in my lane. I almost felt his presence before I saw him and had no difficulty avoiding a head on. I did not avoid my own anger. For a moment the idea of stopping, picking up a large rock, turning around and chasing him, throwing it through the RV’s rear windshield did more than just flash through my mind.
Coming down again from the mountains ‘1’ follows the Pacific Coast North. I know the camping spots are more limited the closer I get to Ensenada so when I see a likely spot between Punta Baja and Cabo San Quintin I leave the highway and head West for 100 yards to a bluff above the beach. I think this is just South of El Socarro and La Lobera. It looks like land set aside for a development, then abandoned. White rock or brick pillars of an entrance gate mark the entrance from the highway. I set up camp between an abandoned open boat and a 30 foot dune that guards the beach. Below, four guys struggle with a jeep stuck in the sand.
After a fruitless trip up ‘1’ for ten miles, looking for a restaurant, I return, settling for whatever tequila, tuna, dates and peanuts remain in the bags. I have effortlessly lost almost two inches from my waist the last month, and there is no reason not to try to maintain my new found weight loss.
I sit by the tent reading in the sunlight until sunset imposes its natural curfew and I am soon asleep.
Baja Report, volume 17
the last (for now)
March 29, 1996
I head North along the Pacific coast, from San Ouintin. 20 km South of Ensenada I decide I have time for a side trip to La Bufadora at Cabo Banda (Punta Banda on some maps). The road follows the bay, past fishing villages, tourist cottages and RV’s, then snakes uphill to the cape area. Dramatic coastal vistas open until I arrive at the commercialized tourist area above the rugged shoreline. La Bufadora is a natural “blow hole,” the ocean swell and a sea cave conspiring to rhythmically shoot a plume of spray straight up like a geyser.
More interesting to me is the gauntlet of market stalls one must pass for two blocks to get to the attraction. Any souvenir you avoided earlier has one last chance to find its way to its eventual dusty closet corner. I have no room for geegaws, but it is fun to shop and people watch. The shopkeepers’ aggressive behavior shouts a strident contrast to the village ethos I have enjoyed the past month.
I ride back down the little mountain to the highway, then North to Ensenada where I purchase that last bottle of Tequila to carry across the border. I also buy a liter of 192 proof ethanol for little more than a dollar. No alcohol taxes here. I buy a candy bar from a girl in her twenties who hovers near the store entrance. She speaks perfect English. She is raising money for the alcohol treatment program she is in. I wish her well, feeling more a sense of irony than guilt about the booze I just bought. [A year later half the bottle of 96% alcohol remains. It is clouded with honey from one of my ‘experiments.’]
I take highway 3 to Tecate. Two wineries line the way. I stop at one for the short tour and the free wine tasting. I pick up a bottle for Butch and Esther Hays, then back on the road, which climbs one last low range of mountains, then down to Tecate and the Border. There is both sadness and relief at entering the United States. As I write now, I only feel the sadness. I miss Mexico. I can think of no finer place for a motorcycle camper to hide from the last month of winter.