Trip Report: Baja Mexico Motorcycle Camping
Trip Report: Baja Mexico Motorcycle Camping
This first of many to come blog updates is written on a unique day, it’s the Spring Equinox!
Equinox the word, comes to us from the Latin language and literally means “equal night”. Much of the northern hemisphere will experience semi-equal amounts of light and darkness, with sunrise and sunset occurring at due east and west for a period. This 2015 equinox packs a punch, bringing with it a super moon and a solar eclipse! The likes of this won’t happen again for another 353 years!
This Equinox serves as a mark in my southbound journey! I’ve traveled down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and now sit at the starting point of my mainland trip.
Crossing the border into Mexico was an indelible moment. The freight train of contrast, fear, excitement and adrenaline reminded me that I was really doing this thing. I was immediately pulled over into secondary inspection by Mexican customs officials. They wanted to be sure the bike was mine and that it wasn’t a “chocolate”, or stolen U.S. import, soon to be for sale on T.J.’s unique vehicular blackmarket.
This was my first opportunity to whip out my neatly organized packet containing the Motorcycle title, my passport, temporary import permit for the bike and Mexican insurance. Things went smoothly. The officials and I got to share a little conversation as to what I was up to, and the brief test of my remedial Spanish skills felt good! I set off winding through the concrete barriers that squeeze you onto the busy streets of Tijuana.
Note: It really pays to have your shit together in these moments, at any checkpoint and of course all future border crossings. It demonstrates that you have a clue. Always be respectful, polite and accommodating. Getting frustrated, irritable or loud will likely prolong and further complicate your interaction. I suppose this goes for everything! Also, include several copies of all your paperwork in there as well.
It’s a rugged scene along the border. The harsh contrast of haves and have not’s is like a punch to the solar plexus. The giant steel wall is offensive from either side. The olfactory experience is immediately changed in every detail. The dusty air, the pungent unregulated vehicle exhaust smell, sautéed onions wafting from taco stands and so much more. It’s a rich experience to take it all in while navigating and keeping my mind in motorcycle mode. It’s hard to explain just how I felt. I can say that infrastructure changes greatly from country to country and I was again reminded that travel and having the resources to do so, whether it be a back pack, bicycle, motorcycle, moving truck or leer jet is in itself, a luxury and privilege. This is why I feel that as travelers, budget or resort, we should go about it respectfully.
I chose to change my money into Mexican Pesos once in the country for a better rate. I deviated from the main road south to find a “casa de cambio” and managed to get a little turned around in this process. In Tijuana, despite a good sense of direction, the occasional road may just end in a pile of broken concrete and bent rebar.
After a few zigs and zags, stares and challenging conversations we got back to the 1, Baja’s main North/South route and headed south along the coast to Ensenada. I had packed a lunch and after missing several spots to turn off with a view, I spotted what I thought was the perfect one. A short, dry and rutted off-road hill climb to a perch on a cliff. “Uh huh…” Damn Capricorn! Yep, we laid our overloaded rig down somewhat gently trying to throttle up something I should have avoided. So we’ve got that out of the way and was blatantly reminded that I need to pick it up! All in all, I think it made the lunch and view a little bit better!
Having arrived into Ensenada a bit too late to head East and cross the Peninsula for San Felipe, I found some internet and searched for a place to post up for the night. With ample camping opportunities that I wasn’t quite ready for, chose to get an economical lil’ room. Morning again brought an awareness that I was finally on the trip!!! Packed it up and made for the 3, the road that winds through Baja’s promising wine country and leads over to the Sea of Cortez. A beautiful and fun ride winding through mountain ranges, a long valley and dropping into the desert. Seeing the Sea of Cortez for the first time on the trip was magical and validated my choice to cross over this far north. Saw coyote, hawks, some other raptor species and many vulture, the bird to me that does big work cleaning up carrion from the roadside, daunting looking on the ground but absolutely breathtaking in flight.
San Felipe was a bit smaller than I expected and was hosting many off-road enthusiast into the party vibe. I was very ready to camp on the beach and headed to a place called “Pete’s Camp” just north of town. A group at a little restaurant waved me down on the way just in time for a moment in the shade and a cold afternoon beer. They were an awesome and unique group of ex-pats enjoying an alternative lifestyle, they generously quenched my thirst, made for some good company and actually bought my campsite for the night! Thanks guys! Blown away!
The following day had me southbound with a planned destination of Guerrero Negro. Plans are subject to change… I can’t say I have much experience off-roading the bike. I was nervous but ready for my first off-road section of Baja and headed out of San Felipe south on a mostly paved road known as the 5 that reconnects with the 1 just north of the turn off to Bahia De Los Angeles. The final 15-18 miles are rough and unpaved. I had no Idea how much fun that was to be. I was taken back to my days ripping single track on my mountain bike, only on heavy steroids. The focus, choosing of a line, feeling alone and venerable, reading a corner, it was all a complete meditation. Now, I respect my body and it’s been injured many times in this hard knock life, so with grey hair forming a coup on my face I tend to error in favor of caution. I was shocked to feel the illusion of comfort at an occasional 50+ MPH on loose terrain!!! I know, consequences… It was a true opportunity to feel the humble and overloaded KLR’s suspension do its job. We had a few bottom outs thinking I could unweight the thing coming out of a hole, one of which, unbeknownst to me, ripped off my license plate…
There is this amazing and odd outpost known as “Coco’s Corner”, Coco meaning something like boogieman in Spanish. Coco at 72 and missing both legs below the knee has the one spot for a respite from the sun and a cold beverage. The unusual structure is decorated with everything imaginable including 100’s of ladies panties from the G-kind to the tent like in size. The place is a riot and hosts other desert dwellers, travelers and off-roaders with a Baja 1000 kind of vibe. After a snack, a chat and my first coca-cola in several years I made way for HWY 1. There was a group of dirt bikers having a rest and we got to chatting, my adrenaline was assisting in the running of my mouth! One of them commented that it was brave of me to be traveling through Mexico without a license plate. What! Sure enough… It was gone and I had to think about explaining that at every border crossing between Mexico and South America. Clearly I needed to go hunt for it, hoping it was yellow side up and still on the road. I had a photo of the bike with plate attached at Coco’s, so I knew it was somewhere in-between. Gas can be an obvious concern when traveling remotely and I hadn’t planned for this additional 30mi.
I got back to Coco’s after a much slower ride (no plate) and was overjoyed by the generosity of the guys from “Threat Racing” when they gifted me the tipping of a red can into my tank. I knew I had one more chance to see it on the way back to the 1. Would you look at that… About a mile from the highway it rested in the dent of a former puddle. YES! Now with the unexpected treasure hunt, I amended the plan to head for Guerrero Negro and headed to Bahia De Los Angeles (back over on the Sea of Cortez) instead. There, arriving tired and a bit later than desirable, I had dinner with a lovely group of traveling Jeep adventurers and chose to stay in the small hotel where they had posted up.
Moving along, a few days into the trip and about halfway down the Baja Peninsula. I had a stopped planned in San Ignacio for a night in the tent, at the always hospitable “Rice and Beans Trailer Park”. Got in early enough to visit with the local artisanos in the Zocolo (town square) where I met a group of Mormons from Utah also riding motorcycles and a spectacular family on bicycles riding from Canada with their three children!!!
The following day was a leisurely ride day, with a stop for fish tacos and a beer in Mulege! Had a quick swim in the pristine blue waters of “El Bahia de Conception” and pushed on the next few hours to Loreto. So Happy to have made it to Loreto as I’ve learned that at one point in time my maternal Grandmother lived there. I was clued in to a hostal there and found it very charming. It was owned by a beautiful man named Abel with an interesting story. Abel unlike many of the immigrants to the United States, came upon a successful life. He immigrated at 12 years old by himself without an education. He began working in Texas and made his way to Los Angeles where he found work at Hertz and Budget rental cars. He saw several promotions and salary increases that eventually allowed him to buy a house in Inglewood. That home led to two more where he and his stay at home wife raised their family. Abel has now invested in and owns two hostels in Mexico where he employs local workers and spends part of his time. Personally being in a position where I can’t imagine buying a home at today’s prices, I’m touched by Abel’s story and wish for such opportunity for us all.
La Paz… The end of the Baja Peninsula, and home to the ferry port to mainland Mexico! Entering La Paz, a bigger city and cruise ship destination can be a bit overwhelming on the bike. My eye spotted a bustling ceviche restaurant with a live mariachi band and I had to get at it! It was the perfect high protein snack. I made my way to el centro (the city center) and was a bit shocked at the police presence and rapid activity. Apparently there had been a narco-related double murder the night before, in addition a few hand-made grenades found not far from where I was looking to stay. What does one do in this moment? Feed the fear, or move on… Fortunately I’m not trying to do business with the narcos! Turns out my time in La Paz was delightful and felt safe. There was a local film festival that had me out comfortably walking at night.
A lovely friend of mine from an art show in Northern California maybe 6 years ago made for a delightful and serendipitous side bar down to visit Todos Santos. Todos had some expensive lodging options and as I pondered where to camp, I met this cool cat named “King Corduroy”. King ended up setting me up with the “sweet green house” where I rested my head for two nights sharing space with a chiropractor, musician and yoga instructor! Walking distance to an amazing studio and coffee shop, it couldn’t have been better! Todos is entering a boom time and should be visited now! It’s a sweet and thriving place with many likeminded conscious people, artists and healers working to develop a really neat community.
Baja Ferries to Mazatlan… I’m on a boat! The ferry crossing was an adventure in itself. After getting my ticket for a Sunday departure I took ill. El venino de la calle! Poison of the streets, from some tacos I should have known better than to eat. After vomiting and losing all my strength, I opted to pay a small fee to leave on Tuesday. Arriving the suggested two hours early pre-departure allowed me the time to talk with some truck drivers and watch the orchestration of cargo off-loading in order to make room for the growing cue. It’s a fun sensation to ride your motorcycle up three ramps to the top deck of a cargo ship and strap it down for a sea voyage. A crew of cool Mexican guys rolled up on their BMW’s and accompanied the KLR for strap down. There are cabins available to purchase. I figured the money would better serve me paying for school so I opted to grab my Thermarest and sleeping bag. A good plan in theory. (always get a cabin) Loud movies play in the lounge, air conditioning nearly frosted the glass in the kitchen and on the deck where I wanted to sleep, was the beer kiosk. Party time, music included! The 18+ hour trip allowed for a few naps, time to meet some fellow travelers and the most epic of sunrises.
Here we are in Mazatlan at the “Funky Monkey Hostel” all recovered from El Venino and in good company. Tomorrow we launch into our southbound route to go find school! Guanajuato and Oaxaca top the lists of places to study. Will be visiting Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Veracruz along the way!
Sending you all much love.
Lawrence Newman (Lorenzo)