Saturday, January 12, 2008

San Quintin to Santa Rosalia

January 11

Got a patchy night of sleep between the car stereo duel outside my door at 1am and the delivery truck convoy that settled into the hotel about 11pm and got revved up at 6am. Now, I’m not complaining – I was warned any hotel on the Transpeninsular (Mex 1) would be noisy, but this was over the top. So I got myself out of bed and looking out the window discovered that San Quintin was socked in with fog. There was moisture dripping off anything with a surface area and the temp was resting at 45 degrees. This was not my vision of Baja – you know, the sitting on a beach sipping margaritas and smelling pot waft from upwind. But I shook off that vision, got packed up, narrowly averted a personal hygiene catastrophe (Dr. Bronner’s soap gums up in your hair in cold water), and headed south.

My waterproof gear got road tested this morning and everything performed perfectly. My Aerostitch suit is amazing and proving to be the most important gear I own after my bike. It stays warm in the cold, cool in the heat, clearly keeps me dry, and is easy to get on and off. And the level of protection is fabulous. The thick, cold fog lasted about 40 miles, for as long as the highway followed the Pacific, and broke up to crystal clear skies after heading inland. I quickly dried up as I left El Rosario and headed southeast towards Catavina.

Inland Baja – that area of the peninsula between the coasts – is an incredible desert landscape. The Trans (what I will start calling the Transpeninsular Highway/Mex 1) winds through mountains awash with cactus and shoots straight for miles through huge fields of cirio trees. It is an extraordinary sight to behold, this desert moonscape. It goes in every direction as far as you can see and the horizon brings ever-new variations on the same theme.

And while there is a lot of straight sections on the inland Trans, there’s also plenty of curves to be had and I learned that the road sign “curvo peligroso a 500m” means, in motorcycle, “there’s a lot of fun coming in 500 yards.” I’ve also learned that you can pass at anytime, anywhere and that when a trucker puts on his left blinker it means you’re good to pass. I also learned that some bugs are big enough to sound like a firecracker when they hit your helmet at 85 mph.

I swung into Rosarito for some tacos and struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler by the name of Ian. We exchanged stories of where we’re coming from (for him, Salem OR) and where we’re going (he’s heading to South America), and our mode of transport (yes Dwight, he’s more hardcore than me – he’s on his bicycle). It was a good human connection and a shared appreciation for the wideness of the world, the spirit of adventure and the trials of the road. So after taking this picture and exchanging best wishes we parted. I was just going 8 times faster than he was. I really appreciate the inner life of cycling and can imagine in a small way the process of journeying that way. So Ian if you read this, vaya con dios brother. I’ll be following him in his journey south, and so can you, at

The route through Guerrero Negro took me through a military base, the 38th Parallel, and the line between Pacific and Mountain time zones. It’s the first time I’ve changed time zones by going due south but hey, why not? After Guerrero Negro the Trans bends southeast again and back to the desolate, lonely, but magical, desert. Which makes getting into San Ignatio so stark. I dropped in over a hill to find myself in a valley filled with palm trees. There is a mission there that I plan to make a day trip excursion to, and some good hiking from what I hear. I filled up my tank and made the last 45 km push for Santa Rosalia.

The weather, warm, sunny and tropical, was what I was yearning for and as I crested the last hill and saw the Sea of Cortez, I broke out with a big smile. Here was the goal of all the hard pushing I had been doing these last couple of days. Today’s ride was 8 hours, and the same the day before, and I was going to make Santa Rosalia my base for a few days of rest, recuperation, and exploration. I rode through town and found the little family run hotel “Hotel San Victor.” I met Senor Victor and for 600 pesos (about 60 dollars) got three nights and a base of operations. It’s a simple, spacious room and a place to lock up my gear while I take my bike and go explore the area. I am realizing that this is one reason why I may not camp much – the places I’d want to camp in are also places I want to explore and having an “empty” bike makes life a lot easier. So if I can keep the hotel costs to $20-30 a night, it’s a no-brainer. But I do want to camp some – I need to justify lugging that big duffel bag of gear all this way!

After off-loading the bike and cleaning up a bit, I went down to the center of town and explored this fascinating place. Santa Rosalia began as a French mining town and much of the architecture bears out this French influence. The town, with it’s one way streets, vibrant night life and fusion of Mexican and French culture, is a very unique experience. The main church in town, Iglesia Santa Barbara, was designed by Alexandre Eiffel and before being disassembled and shipped to Santa Rosalia was exhibited at the Paris World Exhibition in 1889. The center of town has a plaza that feels very French except for the little Mexican children rollerblading around the gazebo and adolescents flirting on the benches by the edge. The main artery, Av. Obregon, is lined with taco stands and small markets set inside European structures built of wood cut from Oregon. Like I said, it’s an intriguing place. I hit a taco stand alongside a family out for a walk and enjoyed the flow of young people cruising their cars along the Avenida.

The rush to the Sea of Cortez is over. Now I will spend the next week or so exploring the coastline and settling into Mexico time, with the help of tacos, cervesas, bahias and sol.

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