Baja California

Back to the wilderness – a land of strong winds and tall cacti!

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on April 15, 2016

As we left the ranch at Descanso, the owner bid us all the best for the road, “suerte con el viento!” (good luck with the wind!) This sounded ominous and we had read that the changeable winds in Baja California can be really testing. Unfortunately our luck was out and we had a really difficult morning, cycling into a very strong head wind. The morning was slow, arduous going. After about 4 hours of gruelling riding, the road began to turn south-eastwards and the wind began to subside. As we did so, we entered the most incredible valley of towering cacti and huge rock formations. There were giant cacti lining the roadside as far as the eye could see. We had some fun, rock climbing, photo taking and simply marvelling at what was certainly our most unique landscape to date. While we’d spent the morning asking ourselves why we were putting ourselves through this mental and physical torture, this incredible landscape served as a timely reminder.

The cactus valley led us to the village of Catavina where we had a pit stop and enjoyed some fresh coconut milk and then the Mexican speciality of chopped coconut with spices, lime juice and hot sauce – an interesting combination – but delicious and just what we needed after a day of intense desert heat! We carried on for another 15km uphill towards a ranch where the kind owner allowed us to pitch our tent for the night. We cooked dinner during an amazing sunset and beautiful starry sky and crashed out for the night.

Howard from Hamilton

We still had two days of desert riding before reaching the town of Guerrero Negro. These two days proved largely uneventful, notable only for a crazy, indefatigable dog which ran alongside us, in the desert heat, for fully 10km and a lunch stop at the ‘dry lake’ at Chapala (looked like a lake on the map yet was one of the driest landscapes we’d passed through!) As we neared Guerrero Negro we bumped into a fellow cyclist, Howard, from Hamilton, Ontario. Howard was doing things his way – much preferring to enjoy a few beers of a night, have lie in till 11am then content himself with 35km riding per day. After sharing some stories and laughs, we left Howard to hunt down some tacos while we made up some great ground to reach Guerrero Negro and the end of the desert region. We crossed the 28th parallel which signified our arrival into Southern Baja California and a change of time-zone. As we indulged in some delicious tacos of our own, along came Howard. We decided to share a hotel room together and enjoyed a good laugh, over a couple of beers, while cooking a delicious chilli con carne dinner with our combined ingredients.

Breaking the 100 mile barrier!

After sneaking out at first light and leaving Howard to his long lie, we got off to a flying start on the flat with a slight breeze behind us. We still had quite a way to go to reach La Paz in time for our flight on 25th January and so we had to make the most of the favourable wind. An epic day’s riding saw us break the 100 mile milestone for the first time - despite the heat and two flat tyres! The road began to get a bit hillier towards San Ignacio but we were flying. We both felt great and there have certainly been 50 mile days that have been more taxing. We were intending keeping going until sunset, however, at about 3:30pm we began passing signs advertising a ‘Casa de Ciclistas’ offering a place to camp with WiFi, laundry and a shower. Could this be real or was it a desert mirage playing with our minds? We couldn’t pass up on such luxury and spent a very relaxed night, camped out in the garden of the very welcoming Otun & family. Otun’s home is an oasis in the harsh Baja desert and he has provided his warm hospitality to countless cyclists who pass through this remote part of Baja California.

The following day from San Ignacio to San Bruno was deceptively long. The route didn’t look far on the map but, leaving San Ignacio, we had a steady uphill for around 20 miles until we reached the Sea of Cortez, which separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland. As we came over the mountain pass and the glistening Sea of Cortez revealed itself, it made the whole climb worthwhile. We then had a fun downhill towards the town of Santa Rosalita, a town memorable only for the awful state of its roads, which could easily have put paid to a spoke or two! We lunched in Santa Rosalita and then endured some more tough uphills in the searing heat. We decided to call it a day when we reached the village of San Bruno where we camped out in the garden of a friendly hotel owner, Arturo.

The amazing Tuly in La Paz

We awoke to a fantastic sunrise on San Bruno beach and enjoyed a nice easy ride, including a spectacular descent into the pretty little town of Mulege. We enjoyed a nice breakfast and set about organising a bus for the final stretch to La Paz. With our flights to Toronto departing the next night, time was getting away from us and despite clocking up almost 1000km in 7 days, we still had some ground to make up and so opted to bus the last stretch to La Paz.

La Paz is a bit of a bottle-neck for cycle tourists. Given its location at the southern tip of the peninsula, it’s a place where cyclists will spend a few days waiting to catch a ferry or a sailboat to the Mexican mainland. Thankfully, La Paz is also home to a wonderful Warm Showers host, Tuly. She had very kindly allowed us to leave our bikes at her home, for a month, while we went to our Toronto training and subsequent work (Meg in Peru and me in Guatemala – see upcoming blog on Operation Groundswell) with Operation Groundswell. Tuly’s home is such a hospitable place and she thrives on the Warm Showers community. When we first arrived, she was already housing four other guests: Adam the Kiwi who was a seasoned cycle tourist - he’d cycled back to New Zealand after a stint working in London and on his current journey had travelled on a cargo ship from NZ, through Panama canal to Philadelphia from where he then cycled across the states, up to Alaska and was now heading on the same route as us; a lovely French couple, who had lived in Whitehorse, Yukon and were riding with their delightful 6-year old daughter in tow! They were a lovely family, full of adventure and we were struck by how sociable the daughter was – she was already learning Spanish after only a few weeks in Mexico! It was great to be among such friendly people and great hospitality after an intense week of riding. Despite the fact we would now be off the bikes for a month, we were re-invigorated by our stay with Tuly and this fine example of the cycling community that is Warm Showers!