The Mar de Cortés makes waves

ErikOne of my old stomping grounds is in the news, and not in a good way. I have been on the Sea of Cortez–or Vermilion Sea–when she decides to rock and roll, and it’s not a pleasant experience. When el torito struck the Erik, I’m sure there wasn’t much, if any, notice. Fortunately, it wasn’t far offshore, and some were able to make shore and walk for help.

The Erik runs out of San Felipe, Baja. It’s not a small craft, and was built by the Dutch to handle the often chaotic North Sea.

I can highly recommend the somewhat isolated and small fishing village of San Felipe as a quick weekend cross-border ride. I’ve always enjoyed my time spent in San Felipe. The Sol was good, the fish tacos were excellent, the water was drinkable, and the ambiance wasn’t bad either. As always, a smile and some ability to speak the local language wouldn’t hurt, but most everyone you’ll encounter can speak some English.

I’ve ridden the Baja from north to south and back again many times. In particular, I enjoyed being in La Paz the most, and wouldn’t hesitate to return in the slightest. La Paz is a city of around 250,000, but it maintains a vibe that is much smaller. It’s off the beaten path of the more popular Cabo destinations, and thus escapes much of the revelry and party atmosphere that Cabo visitors have come to expect. In other words, La Paz is a joy to experience, but as always, your mileage may vary.Baja, California

Mexico bullshit, the true grit way

Author’s note: I tagged this with the Baja, but it’s about travel on mainland Mexico. Same dif, just a more diverse part of the country. And yes, I’ve ridden the mainland too – in fact, those very same roads that this guy whines and snivels about.

While I recognize the need for some to embellish their tales of motorcycle derring-do, it disappoints me greatly the length to which some will go to provide false and misleading information. Over the years I have ridden to Mexico many times, and have never encountered one problem. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any.

For a most enjoyable read on wintering in Mexico, fast forward to this post.

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I’ve been reading about a bike trip some clown on a bagger took from Victoria, Canada to Mexico. It’s titled “Mexico Standoff”. Apparently this guy had been planning his ride to Ixtapa for years, but when he finally started his online research, everyone he contacted cautioned him against making the trip by motorcycle “with a lot of negative and scary reports”.

Oh mommy, don’t make me go.

By the third picture of his motorcycle, and the eighth paragraph of his sad tale, somewhere by Ely, Nevada, he’s complaining about strong wind threatening to throw him off of “his steed”, and rain showers. You pussy. Why not take the opportunity to vist one of the whorehouses in Ely – say, the Stardust – and relax with a beer while talking up the girls? You don’t have to sample the wares; you can just sit there and bullshit. But I digress.

By Nogales, he’s gotten himself checked into a sleazy motel right by the border. Yeah, shure. I’ve been through Nogales a time or two, and let me tell you, there are no sleazy motels right beside the border, chum. The border is completely denuded of anything for quite a distance. Those pesky coyotes and the illegals have seen to that.

While crossing into Mexico at a major port of entry can be a bit of an adventure, it usually entails riding on past the marker and watching the light. If it stays green, you keep right on going. Only when it turns red do you pull over for an inspection. Nogales is one of the more benign ports, believe me. It’s pretty much devoid of the traffic hassles that you can get riding into Mexicali or Tj. There’s not much chance you’ll get run over by an impatient truck or taxi at Nogales.

Naturally, once across the border, this guy’s paranoia factor is wound up to 10 because the poverty-stricken are watching him on his Harley-Davidson. Well shit, that’s a given. You get people staring at you in Bumfuck, America when you ride through town. Take a valium, dumbass, because almost everyone wants to look and listen when you ride by. It’s human nature for the great unwashed to want to fantasize about being out on the road and on their way to nowhere while riding a motorcycle loaded to the gills. Furthermore, in Mexico your fat ass is sitting on more dollars than most of those people will get their hands on in a lifetime.

Before I conclude my whining about this loser’s life, let me explain one more thing that he goes negative on, and that’s the military checkpoints. He makes a point of disparaging the young soldiers and their commanding officers that man these checkpoints by suggesting that they might want bribes. In my entire riding life down Mexico way, never — and I repeat, never! — have I ever been asked for money from anyone at these checkpoints. That is complete and utter bullshit, and to even suggest that it might occur is beyond the pale, in my opinion.

There’s much crying about bad roads, bad roadblocks, bad policia, bad military checkpoints ad nauseam. To top it all off, a day and a half from this guy’s destination, the dumbass turns tail and rides back home.

Oh mommy, I miss you.

Now that’s true grit.

All done

It’s all done but the driving.

My furniture has gone to a good home where I know people who will enjoy it as much as I have. What little remains will be loaded onto my truck after the bike is on board tomorrow morning.

I’ve had a great time here, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve met some fantastic people. I’ve ridden to some great scenery. I’ve experienced love one more time. I’ve had lots of laughs. Now I’m wondering if I can top the experience, although topping it isn’t what I’m looking to do.

The past eight months have been hard on me. Yes, I know I’m more fortunate than most, for I’ve waited out winter up north with a three thousand mile ride down and back up the Baja and across to the Mexican mainland. I’ve taken another three thousand mile ride to Tulsa to see friends and returned, and I’ve been back and forth to Phoenix countless times.

I’m looking forward to the trip, but I’m having a certain amount of trepidation at the event. I’ve been out of the country for almost six years, although with sporadic visits in between. I don’t know where I’m going to be living. I want to find a job to keep me from becoming bored again. I want to be a regular person again, with a regular job with regular hours and regular days off. Is that too regular? I think it’s starting to sound that way to me.

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to someone special who I’ve known for the entire time I’ve been here. I didn’t get to know her well until the last three years or so. She is a wonderful woman — all serious to my silly side — and has been fantastic company for me.

The trek north begins one last time.

I’d go again in a New York minute!

This trip, as with the 2001 ride, proved relatively uneventful for the most part. I knew a little more Spanish so that helped quite a bit.

I can’t recommend riding the Baja roads at night, unless you’re in a city or town. Traffic is just too unpredictable, and headlights and signal lights appear to be an option that not many choose out in the boondocks.

The fuel was all good, and although not always available from a gas station, it caused me no problems. For the most part here is no high-octane fuel, except in the larger centers.

As always, the food was pretty good, although I tend to get a little tired of the Mexican fare from time to time. That’s easily remedied in the larger centers.

The road blocks are a bit of a pain but they are mostly paved turnoffs. The troops are polite and even though there is no English spoken they make known what they want to look at and into, so it’s only a matter of opening bags and letting them look. I had no problems.

Border crossings both ways were relatively uneventful except for the northern crossing at Nogales. I was truly surprised by the truck jam here and the fact that you had to ride around them to the car crossing. I had no problem re-entering the United States.

And yes, I’ll do it again one day!

Rough seas

February 11-13, 2006

After another overnight in Loreto I made a last minute decision to proceed to Santa Rosalia and take the overnight ferry across to Guaymas and then head north to Nogales and the border. I needed a vehicle permit to do that, but it was Sunday. After trying my Spanish out at the ferry office, the attendant called the local Banjercito girl to come in and write up a permit for me. She required photocopies of my passport, driver’s licence and insurance card, which I was able to provide. She also wanted a copy of my tourist visa, but since I had no copies of that, she consented to make one for me.

I was on my way.

The Santa Rosalia ferry as of this writing (February 2006) is scheduled for Tuesday, Friday and Sunday night departures at 8 p.m., but after talking to a biker who had gotten off the late-arriving ferry I learned that the seas were very rough during his daylight crossing. This would delay the departure.

Motorcycles are loaded first, then the rest of the vehicles. After strapping down the bike, I headed up to my cabin hoping that I’d get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case. The scow listed badly from side to side in the rough sea crossing, and I was kept awake most of the night as we cruised across the Sea of Cortez. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to see the breakwater of Guaymas approaching at nine in the morning.

After a quick topoff in Guaymas, I rode north on the four-lane highway all the way to Nogales. I was very surprised by the trucks waiting to enter the U.S. They were lined up for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet, blocking all of the approach lanes to the border. I finally crossed over into the oncoming lanes to get past the trucks and into the car lanes. Apparently this is now standard procedure to get over the line.

While idling away in the lane, I witnessed a Border Patrol agent wrestle a pedestrian to the ground and escort him back to the Mexican side.

Welcome to America!

Hotel California

I finally tired of the tourist nonsense and packed up to ride north. There’s fuel on the way out if you choose, or you can ride approximately 30 miles to Todos Santos and fuel there. The M19 runs north along the Pacific coast and it can be a little cool first thing in the morning. After my early departure I decided to stop for breakfast at Todos.

The "other" Hotel California, across the street

The Hotel California is decidedly a bad place to do that. The service was horrible and the meal only so-so. When I finally got my “toast” it wasn’t even brown, but it was nice and hard. I wondered if it was yesterday’s bread leftovers.

There’s a legend floating around that the Hotel California is one and the same as sung about in the song. This isn’t true in the slightest and has in fact been denied by the band.

Across the street from ‘that’ Hotel California, the former owner of the original Hotel California has a very nice place to eat, with a streetside patio. I wish I had gone in there, but I had to sample the ambiance of the old Hotel. A mistake, to be sure, for one can still wander around the old hotel and not eat. Take my advice, and if you must, eat across the street.

I checked out a small market just up the street, but found nothing remarkable. Just more of the same. Todos Santos is just another tourist town albeit on a much smaller scale than Cabo.

Back in the saddle again and I was headed for Loreto one more time. At the west end of La Paz there’s plenty of fuel all the way to the airport cutoff, so don’t be worried about turning off the highway and going into La Paz.

The ride north was uneventful.

Cabo Wabo

February 6-10, 2006

Hotel Santa Fe, Cabo

Hotel Santa Fe, Cabo

Today was a short haul south to Cabo San Lucas on the M1. Highway 19 is about an hour shorter, and I’ll take that north from Cabo on my way home. There are plenty of small towns to pull off and enjoy the sights on the M1. One of the nicest is Los Barriles, which is fast turning into another Cabo, although on a much smaller scale.

I rode through San José del Cabo on the way to Cabo San Lucas. To me they both appear overdeveloped. Traffic is a mess. Yet again every shop sells the same version of different trinkets, shirts and caps. The resort hotels have the beaches tied up. And so I retired to the quiet elegance of the Hotel Santa Fe, a five minute walk down Zaragoza to the main drag, Lazaro Cardenas.

At the Santa Fe rooms came with a fridge, a toaster oven, dishes and cutlery. There’s a small store, but prices are very high for gringos. My recommendation is to pick up what you need at the grocery store at the end of the street when you walk back to the Santa Fe.

Poolside

Poolside

I was pleased to learn that it had on-site laundry – washed, dried and folded for 40 pesos. There’s also a taqueria where mamma fed me breakfast with a smile every morning and the price was only 40 pesos. Years ago I learned that even the simplest attempts to speak a foreign language was welcomed by the locals, and that’s true here too.

I got more than my fill of Cabo over the next several days. After all, there’s only so much to see and do in a tourist town. The malls are the same everywhere. The stores, the hawkers, the gawkers and the talkers populate every nook and cranny. Boats in the harbour are impressive, expensive and empty, their occupants having gone off to some hotel or another to enjoy the finer things they didn’t bring with them.