We finally crossed the border into Mexico on a Monday lunchtime. Getting through the border was a breeze, the most difficult thing being getting our enormous bikes through the turnstiles, we paid $21 for a six month visa and were then catapulted into a different world. Everyone says how immediately different it is as soon as you cross the border and I could not agree more. You go from the pretty organised clean streets of San Diego straight into the mayhem of downtown Tijuana, the only place I can think to compare it to is Beirut. Absolute madness. We found ourselves on Mexico route 1 pretty easily thanks to herbs amazing directions, and it is this road we will be sticking to for the next few weeks as it snakes it’s way to La Paz.
Leaving Tijuana was a big big climb, so here we are hauling uphill along with trucks, busses, crazy drivers and of course there is none of the hard shoulder we had been enjoying for the past 10 weeks. Luckily we (ok, Loz) is now much better at handling her 45kg beast that we manage to stay pretty much glued to the white line and out of the way of everybody else. An oasis (petrol station) appears and we pull in for some much needed dutch courage in the form a cold can of diet coke. We get chatting (I use the word chatting very loosely here as our Spanish is still below par) to a guy outside the petrol station who claims to be a long distance mountain biker, we have our doubts as he is about 185kg however go along with his story as we are in no position to argue. He tells us Rosarito, our evening destination is only about 7miles away, so we hop back on the bikes with hopes of making it there while the sun is still shining. Quickly after leaving the petrol station the road turns into a motorway and while Loz has no trouble crossing the busy exit lane Herbie got stuck waiting for a gap in traffic. The next account of events comes from Herb, as by this point Loz was way in the distance wondering where on earth he had gotten to.
’So there I am trying to cross a busy exit junction on the motorway, Loz managed to find a gap and has torn off down the road without a second thought to my safety. Suddenly a white saloon screeches across two busy lanes of traffic and comes to a halt blocking the slip road. The driver waves me to cross the exit he has blocked therefore clearing my path, as I peek a look across to see the face of my saviour, it is non other then our long distance mountain biker friend. I wave a thanks, blow a kiss. Maybe the kiss was too much as he then proceeds to drive behind us, hazards flashing the remaining 7 miles to Rosarito.’*
We make it safely to Rosarito thanks to Herbie’s new friend and set about trying to find somewhere to stay for the night, the first place we tried was $60 for the night and way out of our budget range. The second hotel we tried was much cheaper at only $20, until we realised that this was only for 4 hours. I’m not sure how Mexicans can manage on only 4hour sleep per night, however we had done a big day of cycling and definitely needed longer than four hours… We eventually managed to find a cheap hotel where we could stay the whole night and promptly headed out for street Tacos. Hello Mexico no beers or margaritas though much to Herbies disappointment!
The next day we opted to take the toll road to Ensenada as there is a hard shoulder and it is much quieter than the old road. The only slight inconvenience is that bicycles are not allowed, we had however read on lots of blogs that cycles can ‘unofficially’ take this road, then just skirt round the toll booths. Depending on what mood the guards are in depends on whether you can get through or not, for us it was a good day and we skirted round no issue. Only that the guards told us not to cycle over any of the censors, as I assume this is where their boss can tell if cyclists have been sneaky or not.
A cheap stay in a hostel for the night gave us wifi and a chance to set up our tracking device. As neither of our phones now work we thought it a little bit sensible to buy one as a ‘just in case’. All we have it for is if there is a life threatening emergency we can call an SOS and if we are in the middle of nowhere and have been for days we can send a ‘we are ok, these are our coordinates’ message to family back home too. Of course, before things started going too smoothly we managed to poison the whole hostel before we left. We had been warned that you could not drink the tap water in any of Central or South America. In our pea size brains we figured that as long as you boil the water before using it then all is ok. Apparently that’s not ok, and we made everybody coffee. Oops. The good news is that we have both been absolutely fine.
A couple of long days riding on everything from beautifully new tarmac roads to horrendous bone shattering boulder ‘how can you even call this a road’ type surfaces and we arrive in San Quentin. The scenery had been absolutely stunning and nothing like we have become accustomed to in Europe or North America, unfortunately the traffic had been particularly busy too especially with a large amount of dune buggies. We soon found out we were in the middle of Baja 1000. A yearly off road race not dissimilar to Paris Dakar with categories of everything from dirt bikes to trophy trucks, and we were taking a similar route. The race had a few ‘on road’ sections where the organisers boast ‘the roads are kept open during the race so spectators can interact with racers’ Now I’m not sure if it was just us not embracing Baja 1000 but we did not particularly want to be ‘interacting’ with anything on a road, especially if it were racing. The day of the race we got up super early and peddled as fast as we could the 40 miles to the next town where we were assured we’d find a cheap hotel for the night. We nearly made it in time, only to be overtaken by the first two motorbikes just as we reached the outskirts. Thankfully they kept fully out our way and before we knew it we were in front of the Baja cycle tourist famous ‘amazing cheap hotel of El Rosario’. Herb went in to check the availability and Loz started chatting up a race team from California who were preparing to leave. They were racing a motorbike and the team was made up of four riders plus support crew. The riders each did 200ish mile sections but the bike had to make it the entire way round the course. Herb came back looking moody as the hotel was completely fully booked for the next two nights however luckily our new favourite Baja 1000 team came to the rescue. Their room had been booked out for the whole week but they were checking out two days early, before we knew it they had cleared it with the hotel, everything had already been paid for and we were given the keys to their room. Our streak of good luck is pretty amazing!
After the madness of trophy truck racing everything was pretty much back to normal as we were about to head into the desert, the next ‘town’ was about 80 miles away and a lot of hills stood in our way. It was quite exciting heading into the unknown as it was also going to be the first time we were to properly camp in the absolute middle of nowhere. We loaded ourselves with 16kg of water and headed into the mountains. A car driver had told us it was only 5 miles of uphill then flat once you got to the plain, google told us it was 30 miles and 1100m until the top and in actual fact it was 55miles, 1600m and near death before we reached the desert plains. A driver we’d met earlier on during the day had said that after a military check point (of which there are a lot) there was a ranch where we could probably pitch out tent for the night. We’re still not sure where that ranch was however we did eventually find a sort of house / shop (that didn’t really sell anything) where a lone man called Mario was happy for us to camp behind the shed away from the road. We’re not quite sure how he got there, as he didn’t seem to have a car or wifi or anything in the so called shop, he wouldn’t accept anything for use of the bathroom or for letting us camp but he was really sweet, everything was super clean and he had three of the cutest dogs ever. If you ever find yourself cycling down the 1 in Mexico, about 30km north of Cataviña please call in to see Mario.
We woke up from our first ‘wild’ camp (behind Mario’s shed) to the most spectacular rainbow ever, the only downside being that one of the main ingredients of a rainbow is rain. Who’d have thought we cycled all the way to a desert, only to feel like we were in Galway, I blame Herbie. It rained and rained and rained and rained……
*Loz might have written this and not Herbie as he was busy preparing a gourmet dinner of Mexican pot noodle.