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La Paz, B.C.S.


I left LA with my good buddies Mike and Sameer headed for Sameers’ parents’ house in Orange County. We had a delicious breakfast at a place in Santa Monica, and full of carbohydrates and fat, we headed down south.

The route took us variously through the streets of LA and along the beach, and each time we crossed into a new city (it’s hard to tell exactly when that happens in LA), we’d think of a new team name. I can’t say that we were particularly inventive with them: ‘Team Generally Southward Trending’ and ‘Team Trio’ were typical. But we had fun.

Sadly, in the friendly city of Lomita, Mike experienced a mechanical failure while trying to stop suddenly after we’d been cut off by a car, and pitched over his handle bars and landed on his elbow. We quickly cleared off the street, and waited to see if the pain in Mike’s arm would subside enough for him to ride. But when it became clear that it wouldn’t, we walked a few blocks to an emergency room. Sameer and I would later find out that the fall had broken his elbow.

But since Sameer and I had no other choice, once we were sure that Mike was well situated, we took off for points south. We arrived in time to get cleaned up and enjoy a delicious dinner courtesy of Sameer’s mom, and then we headed over to his friend Matthew’s place to celebrate Matthew’s birthday.

The next day, Matthew accompanied us for a few blocks as Sameer and I continued our way south. Along the way we visited Mission San Juan Capistrano, the “Jewel” of the missions, and took the tour. While adjusting my brakes outside the mission, one of them broke, and I had to fix that. But it was taken care of eventually, and we continued south. At the end of the day we stopped at Sameer’s cousin’s place in Vista to spend the night.

The next day, we made the final push to downtown San Diego to meet my friend Sean at his apartment. There Sameer and I said our goodbyes, and he headed back to LA by train. Sean and I did some errands, and generally caught up on old times (he is a friend from College). The next day I wasn’t quite ready to leave, so I finished my business and tried to eat as much ice cream as I could. I figured that I didn’t know when I might eat ice cream next (it would be in Santa Rosalia), and I needed to store some in my stomach for the long treacherous road ahead.

So there it was. Sean and I made for the border on our bicycles, and as I got closer and closer, I began to realize just how little Spanish I knew, how I didn’t have good maps of Tijuana or Ensenada, and that I knew nothing about the conditions of the road ahead, where I would sleep, where I would eat, how I would get water in the desert. I didn’t really know if the people would be friendly or mean, whether my things would be safe or stolen.

And I smiled. Finally an adventure! After the grizzlies made a poor showing in Alaska, I had no reason to really worry about my safety at all. The decadent shoulders on the Canadian and American roads gave me no sense of danger or excitement, and with the exception of one branch falling in front of my bicycle in Oregon, no real hazard.

So I crossed the border. After squaring away my visa situation, I started to ride on the toll road out of Tijuana. When I was told I couldn’t do that, I overlanded it for a while along the toll road, until it looked like I would be able to again, and in that way I eventually found myself in Rosarito. Along the way the sights and smells of Tijuana began to envelop my world. The extremely lax leash laws in Mexico meant that any dog which cared to was able to chase after my bike. There is something deeply engrained in the canine mind which recognizes as evil anyone on a bicycle. So it was with holy fury that every dog I saw would bark and chase after me. But if I got off my bike and walked next to it, they wouldn’t give me a second glance.

I slept on a beach south of Rosarito that first night, and woke up to see dolphins swimming in the ocean. “So this is what Baja will be like”, I thought to myself. Not bad at all. I eventually rode into Ensenada to find that the Baja 1000 was going to take place the next week, and consequently, the roads were full of support vechiles and people driving south to watch the race. For those who don’t know, the Baja 1000 is an off-road race from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas involving buggies, motorcycles, monster trucks, and others. In short, an action packed high octane spectacle that I wouldn’t want to miss.

Anyhow, I went to a restaurant in Ensenada, and when I explained my ride to the owner there, he asked me if I wanted to take his (17-20 year old) daughter along. He said he’d give me a tomato box to put her in, and cautioned me that she ate a lot. I told him that I also ate a large amount, so I didn’t think that would be a problem.

But that idea seemed to fall through, so I found myself riding solo again south from Ensenada, intent on reaching San Vicente by night. Along the way, I saw an advertisement for a youth hostel on the beach, 12 miles off the highway, and I figured that sounded like a pretty good idea, so I went there instead. It was there that I got my first experience with some truly horrible dirt roads (the ones in Alaska were a dream in comparison), and I found my tires to be barely adequate to the task of riding on them.

From the hostel, I continued on the dirt roads along the beach, figuring it would be quicker to head along them, then go back the twelve miles to the main highway and continue south from there (ha!). Six hours of rough riding later, including a stretch of road that was literally unrideable (it also happened to be a part of the baja 1000 course), I found myself back on the highway. I was bloody and covered in dust. I had gotten lost several times, and I had run out of water an hour previously. But something about reaching pavement gave me a renewed strength, and the thought that I might meet my death that day rapidly faded into the background.

When I finally came to a market, I bought water and milk and chugged the milk. Then I bought soda and chugged that, then the water. Then I bought more water and continued to ride, looking for either a hotel where I could shower and forget about the day, or any place at all where I could just pass out. It turned out that spent the night in a cow pasture short of San Quintin, filthy and uncaring.

I woke up before dawn and watched the sun rise over the mountains, and felt renewed by the day. I rode the distance to El Rosario, and took a hotel to shower and wash my clothes. While riding that day, I had a mixed Spanish and English conversation with a store clerk named Raul. He told me about his coin collecting hobbies, and I learned the word for ‘far’: ‘lejas’.

The next day I rode to Cataviña. The flora there shifted from coastal sage to full desert, and I saw my first large cactus. Eventually the terrain changed too, and the dominant feature of the area was massive boulders everywhere.

While staying in Cataviña, it began to rain very hard. I became concerned that I might actually lose my life if I tried to ride that day after considering that it hadn’t rained there for over a year, and the roads would surely be slick; the road was barely wide enough for two trucks to pass each other, and it would be difficult for them to stop (or for me to bail off the road) in an emergency, and finally there was increased traffic due to all the support vehicules on the road for the Baja 1000. As I was debating whether to ride or to stay put, I was offered the chance to ride along in a Baja buggy until we got to a place where the rain hadn’t reached. Thinking to myself: “A BAJA BUGGY! That would be So AWESOME!!!”, I told them that I would accept their ride. And it was every bit as cool as I thought it would be. Thanks guys!!

I started riding again for Bahía de los Angeles, and as punishment for taking a ride, the entire distance was ridden into strong headwinds. When I got there, I went to the taco stand that was recommended to me: “third one as you come into town, the white one”. There I met Chris and Jerry, who invited me back to the place they were staying. It turned out to be owned by their friend Dan, and was right on the beach. How did I get so lucky? In addition to Dan, Chris and Jerry, another guy named Russ was also there. I had a wonderful time watching the baja 1000 come through town with them, and enjoyed their hospitality very much.

That next day the race was still going on strong, and in my weakened moral state, I rationalized that it would be better if I accepted the ride that Chris and Jerry offered me to the junction of highway 1 and the road to Bahía de los Angeles. But feeling guilty, I rode the entire distance to Guerrero Negro that day, and found a spot in an RV park just before dark.

So the next day I rode through fog so thick that my bike computer stopped measuring the distance. That finally cleared, and I made the long haul to San Ignacio, an oasis in the middle of the desert. The old plaza in San Ignacio was beautiful and the buildings were well maintained. It was wonderful to smell water on the ground after such a long ride in the desert.

In the town of Vizcaíno, I met a trio of kids who were curious about my bike, and the youngest of whom wore a shirt which read “I dig your boyfriend”. I didn’t have the heart or vocabulary to explain to him what his shirt said, but it made me smile.

The next day I rode past the volcano ‘Tres Virgenes’, and down into the port town of Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia was built by the French in the late 1800s, the architecture had a character completely different from anything I’d yet seen. It was there that I met my first other cyclists, and had my first ice cream of Baja as well.

The next day I intended to ride to Mulegé with them, but we got seperated somehow, and I wound up camping on playa Santispac, south of there. Santispac was so beautiful and my neighbors were so congenial, that I decided to take a rest day there. That day involved passing out in my tent due to the heat, drinking ice cold beer under an umbrella, and very little else. In short, it was about as good as I could have hoped for.

I finally made the push into Loreto the day after my break. It was on that day that I had my first real water scare, and I was forced to beg for water twice. I surprised myself with my Spanish then, and how well it was coming along that I could actually beg for water. But I made it into Loreto, and found a spot at an RV park with the most luxurious shower I’d taken in months. I took in the cultural wonders of the town, and armed with the word ‘ballena’, I got a liter of Pacifico from a liquor mart. I know that ‘ballena’ means ‘whale’, but it’s also what they call a liter of Pacifico. A liter of Tecate is a ‘caguama’.

The ride out of Loreto meant a climb over the Sierra de la Giganta, and due to a landscape anomaly, there was no corresponding downhilll on the other side. I spent that night and the following night in a cactus patch off the road, both times ending very boring days.

But finally I arrived in La Paz! I found myself riding down the streets of La Paz without any clue as to where to go, so when I saw an internet cafe, I decided I’d do some research on hostels in the area. At the ciber cafe, I met a girl named Luz, who gave me a very thorough tour of the city, and showed me the hostel where I am staying now. I can’t thank her enough for her enormous kindness, and I’m still baffled as to why she helped me so much.

I had intended on riding down to Los Cabos after a day or two in La Paz, but there was an opening in a language class for this coming week, so that final portion of Baja will have to wait a little while.

I’m having a wonderful time in Baja, and the people here have been much more kind and generous than I could ever have expected. My Spanish is improving quickly, and I’ve established a rhythm that gets me through the desert. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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