Monday, April 28, 2014

Days 9 & 10: A Taste of the Baja 1000!

Our stay in Bahia de los Angeles was nice and lazy. We did indeed swim in the Sea of Cortez, much to the shock and amusement of locals who deemed the temperature too cold to really even go out fishing. We’re from the Pacific Northwest, though, where the ocean’s currently in the mid 40s. Comparatively, a temperature near 70 is practically a Jacuzzi! At least, that’s what we thought until we stuck a toe in. By then, though, we’d committed, so in we went! We had originally thought we’d have time to take care of some business and blogging here, but after it took 45 minutes to attach one photo to an email, we realized today was just meant for rest and relaxation.

That evening, Motodiscovery treated us to yet another feast and bonfire on the beach. A lovely evening indeed.

Today, we woke up to a choice: Juan and Skip would drive the support truck up the western coast along a scenic highway to Ensenada; Chicon would ride off road to Coco’s Corner, then up along the eastern side of the peninsula and over the mountains to Ensenada. It’s a long day either way. Most people appreciate the prospect of pavement and aren’t too excited about riding through sand on big bikes, so they opt for the western route. We’ve watched the Baja 1000 from afar too many times and can’t pass up the chance to meet Coco himself. So, when the fork came in the road, a small group of us took off in Alfonso’s dust to see what adventure awaited us.

The trip out to Coco’s Corner was mostly dirt with some silt and embedded rocks, not too different from our ride through Copper Canyon. Coco’s Corner was eclectic and dirty, everything we expected and hoped for. We each sipped the obligatory can of Coke while we wandered around looking at the memorabilia (mostly consisting of underwear left behind by folks passing through), signed Coco’s logbook, and listened to his words of advice in mixed Spanish-English. He warned us about hazards at specific mile posts along our way out, all of which proved to be spot on. Thanks, Coco!

If you’ve never heard of the Baja 1000 or Coco, we’d highly recommend watching the movie Dust to Glory. The Baja 1000 is a desert race through Baja from Ensenada, sometimes ending in La Paz and sometimes creating a giant loop back to Ensenada. All manner of classes race, from dirt bikes to trucks. The specific route varies from year to year, but it always go through or near Coco’s Corner. Coco and his Corner “shop” have become a bit of a hallmark of the event for the racers and spectators alike.

After hydrating and taking a photo op with Coco, we continued west and quickly noticed the terrain turn to mostly sand and silt with embedded, jagged rocks. The riding became considerably more challenging and slower for us. We all made it through without incident, though, and soon enough we were back out on pavement about 25 miles later.

Handily, we popped out next to the Rancho Grande airstrip. One of our group members has spent a lot of time riding around this area and knew a great little place on the water’s edge called Alphonsina's to grab lunch. So, we ate our last fish tacos of the trip then saddled up to pound out the rest of the mileage to Ensenada. Unfortunately, our progress was held up about 5 miles in when Brayde pulled off with a flat, courtesy of a big framing nail embedding itself squarely in the middle of the rear tire. The irony of riding through rough terrain unscathed, only to emerge onto nicely paved road and get a flat was not lost on us. Matt has LOTS of practice changing tires, though, and being a good Eagle Scout, he was prepared with all the necessary equipment. That was an especially handy trait in this instance because we had taken the route without the support truck and all of its tools and spares. Within minutes, we had the tire changed; the largest portion of time taken for the flat fix was spent waiting for the new tube to inflate using our Stop ‘n’ Go tire inflator. Not too bad!

The rest of the way to Ensenada, we enjoyed twisty roads along the coast and through the mountains. While the riding at or after sunset is never particularly advisable, this evening’s ride through the hills was absolutely breathtaking. It was like we were riding into an oil painting the colors were so vivid and the light and shadows were so contrasting. Sadly, we didn’t really have time to stop for a photo, and we thought our Virb was taking video and stills the whole time only to discover later that we had run out of memory on the data card. Bummer. In reality, though, pictures probably wouldn’t have done it justice anyway.

Because of the time fixing the flat and just the slower rate of travel riding off-road, we pulled into Ensenada late enough that it made sense to meet up with the rest of our group for dinner directly and go to the hotel afterward. We must’ve been a sight coming in all dusty and dirty to the upscale French restaurant that MotoDiscovery had graciously reserved for our dinner finale. If anyone noticed, though, they didn’t say a word. Instead, we all shared yet another gourmet meal together and regaled the day’s rides.

Tomorrow, we cross back into the US and must ease ourselves back into reality. Tonight, though, we got to enjoy good company and good wine one last time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Day 8: Baja, Coast to Coast

This morning, we woke up early to go whale watching. The Laguna Ojo de Liebre is renowned for being a grey whale destination, where hundreds of the giant mammals go to mate and give birth. We've been told that some whales are so comfortable and curious with human contact—“friendlies,” as they’re called—that they swim so close, people can actually pet them from the boat. Fingers crossed for such luck today!

Our local tour guide for the day tells us that the area is as attractive to whales as it is ospreys. Guerrero Negro used to have a serious problem with power outages because ospreys would try to build nests on the power lines all over town. Finally, someone had the bright idea to build platforms along the lines, which solved the blackout problem and sent the seahawk population up 20% over 15 years. Win-win for everyone!

To get to the lagoon, we had to drive through the biggest salt works in the world, run jointly by the Mexican government and Mitsubishi. The establishment includes a large community of company housing that provides high living conditions for workers, a bragging point for the town as a whole. The entire facility was impressive.

Finally, we arrived at the boat launch… and lo and behold as we buckled up our life jackets, here comes Marco and his crew to board the next boat. Such a small world! After a few hours putting around the lagoon, we had several close encounters, but no luck with friendlies. The babies were just born a few weeks earlier, so we saw many mothers with little ones swimming and swirling around them. We certainly didn’t leave disappointed!

Before heading out to Bahia de los Angeles on the other sides of the Baja peninsula, we discover that Juan and Alfonso had made special arrangements for lunch at yesterday’s elusive fish taco van. MotoDiscovery never lets our appetites down! And hooray, Matt finally got his Baja fish tacos! It’s pretty hot today, so we hide in the shade and scarf a bunch down before saddling up.

Shortly after leaving town to head east, who do we run into yet again but Marco and company. Great minds think alike! We say goodbye for the third time and head off to ride through the desert again for a few hours. By mid-afternoon, we pull into the sleepy town of Bahia de los Angeles, where we will call home for two nights and one day of rest. It’ll be nice to catch up on laundry and other sundry tasks as well as just enjoy some downtime in this genuine little fishing village. Who knows, maybe we’ll even take a little dip in the Sea of Cortez!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Day 7: Crossing Baja from Santa Rosalia to Guerrero Negro

Upon disembarking from the ferry, we once again had our panniers and gas tanks searched and travel documents reviewed. Apparently drug trafficking is worse on the peninsula, so they have to be extra careful. And then we’re off to grab breakfast in Santa Rosalía proper. Today’s an easy day. We make our way from the east coast of the peninsula over to the west coast. Given that our ferry left a day earlier than anticipated, time is on our side.

This church in Santa Rosalia was actually built in France, disassembled, shipped to Mexico, then assembled in place
We head out along the coast through a mining area, then off through the desert for a long stretch. After about an hour, we pull into the little town of San Ignacio for a break. The town is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert, all palm trees and water. Crazy! A family-run convenience store rushed in all of their helado when they saw us, so we grabbed some cones and relaxed in the shade.  You can tell we're now in Baja by all the motorcycle and truck racing stickers plastering every window and wall of the businesses.

We make it to our destination of Guerrero Negro by mid-afternoon and are left to our own devices until dinner later in the evening. So, we take the opportunity to do a little laundry in our hotel room sink and then go out in search of fish tacos. Matt’s been looking forward to them all trip, and we are now in the perfect region to find them. As we head out, Juan and Alfonso tell us about a fish taco truck they visited earlier that’s amazing. Unfortunately, by the time our group gets there, they’ve already folded up shop. Food vendors sell the catch they get for the day and then close down, which typically happens by about 2:00 or 3:00. So, we “settle” for some yummy al pastor tacos instead.

As we’re looking around the town after lunch, we run into four more BMW GS riders. Wouldn’t you know, Matt knows them through work, and we all end up sharing cervezas and talking about riding plans. Such a small world, and riding is always a universal language.

Matt & Brayde with Marco and his crew. Small world!
Tonight we're joined by Skip, the founder of MotoDiscovery.  He has taken a very long bus ride all the way down Baja to meet up with us and join us for the rest of the tour.  We're treated to a great dinner of fresh caught fish, abalone, and ceviche made with only the freshest seafood at a local restaurant.

Tomorrow, we go whale watching and then head back to the east side of the peninsula for a day of rest. Hard to believe we’ve passed the halfway point of our trip; it’s been a great ride so far.

- Matt & Brayde

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Day 6: Last Day On the Mainland

Today started off with an historic tour of El Fuerte with Ivan. As the name seems to reflect, this town was once a stronghold for the Spanish as they expanded their hold on the territory. 

El Fuerte has earned the status of a “magical city,” which is a distinction the Mexican government bestows upon cities with rich history and enchanting appearances. This distinction also comes with some dinero to support the city in beautification and restoration projects. As such, due to popular demand, El Fuerte recently built a replica of the fort that once stood atop a hill overlooking the city, jungle, and river. It now serves as a museum to tell the town’s story.

After we return and eat breakfast, we learn that Ivan will be leaving us today. Originally, the plan was to spend the day going out to another magical city on our way to the ferry over to Baja. But, as we learn, the ferry system runs on its own schedule, flexing with weather patterns. Some sort of storm is moving in, and our ferry has been bumped up to tonight, so we instead set a course for Guaymas. Tonight, we sail across the Sea of Cortez, and tomorrow morning we wake up in Santa Rosalia, Baja.

On the way to the ferry, though, Alfonso has a surprise for us! We follow him through Ciudad Obregón, buzzing at lunchtime, and we're continually impressed with how flexible the drivers here are. Picture it: a clunky herd of 13 Americans on big motorcycles maneuvering together through intersections and stoplights, occasionally stopping in awkward places to clump up again so we don’t lose anyone. Instead of taking their rightful turn at a stop sign, the other drivers patiently wait and wave us all through so that they don’t break our group up. They give us wide berth so that we can make the inevitable last-minute lane change when we realize we’re about to miss a turn, and nobody gets edgy when we filter around them on all sides at stop lights to stay with our leader (which is actually normal here anyway).

So, we follow Alfonso through a maze of city streets and then a series of dirt roads… all to arrive at his family’s own restaurant! It’s a beautiful establishment, and everyone comes out to greet us. The chef personally welcomes us and proceeds to cook an assortment of dishes for everyone to share.

When lunch is finished, we race to the ferry terminal to make our 6:00pm check-in time. While the process is slow as the port marines check all of our papers and panniers, everything goes smoothly. About 3 hours later, we’re aboard the ferry.

They pack them in tight on this ferry!

MotoDiscovery has reserved all the bunks on the boat, but that’s only 10. The rest of us will sleep on the ferry deck. It’s a nice night, though, and some in the group prefer the open sea air to the diesel fumes of the lower bunks anyway. The two of us waited a bit too long to figure out where to sleep and ended up taking different places; Brayde found an empty bunk and Matt took the deck. Tomorrow’s bed will be a welcome sight!

- Matt & Brayde

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Day 5: Leaving Copper Canyon

Yesterday's riding was a nice combination of road and relatively easy dirt. I really hit my stride going along the creeks and down the switchbacks, making the day fun and fast. Today’s route back out of the canyon proved a bit more challenging for many. The terrain was a little more technical, and maybe we were a little tired from yesterday, or maybe the hours of riding in the hot sun got to us. There were significant rocky sections on twisty hills and some silt patches, and a couple bikes went down. No one incurred any serious injuries, though, and everyone had smiles on their faces at the end of the day.

Somewhere along the line, the group's signals got crossed, and we accidentally passed up our lunch stop for the day. This was a bit of a bummer because Matt and I had been looking forward to taking a cooling dip in the river as much as eating burritos. But oh well, sometimes these things happen--it’s all just part of the experience.

Each of these trips we take, I find myself mastering another aspect of riding that I find challenging. In Europe two years ago, it was tight turns at slow speeds. In the Southwest last year, it was loose gravel. This year, it must be water crossings. Yesterday, I asked Matt to ride my bike through the longer creek section. Today, though, we came upon so many water obstacles that it would have taken us all day to get anywhere at that pace. And besides, where’s the fun in that? So, with a little coaching and luck, I made it through them all… and had a good time doing it! Today's mantra: keep the momentum up; when in doubt, power out.

Once we finally made it back to pavement, it was a pretty quick ride out to tonight’s stay in the town of El Fuerte. MotoDiscovery has gone beyond expectation again, setting us up in a luxurious hacienda style hotel off the city’s main plaza. We all clean up and rest a bit, then stuff ourselves silly on tortas and tacos from street vendors. The variety of food has definitely been as much of a highlight on this trip as the riding has been.

- Brayde