With the border crossing into Mexico, my tour started anew for me. A completely new culture was waiting for me and also the nature has changed a lot.
On the morning of November 10, we made our way to the Mexican border, a little nervous and very anxious to see what awaited us on the other side of the infamous “wall”.
The border itself looks as menacing as you would expect – fences, walls, barbed wire and cameras everywhere. It turned out that the hardest part of crossing the border was getting through the turnstiles on our bikes! Otherwise, everyone was very friendly and helpful, and we got through without a hitch.
Tijuana is considered one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, so we were very anxious to get through the city as quickly as possible. After the Pacific Coast Highway, the afternoon drive from Tijuana to the coast, along a busy expressway with no shoulder, is definitely one of the most dangerous moments of my tour. The cars were passing us at over 120 km/h, sometimes only a few centimeters. The adrenaline was high and so we were very relieved to make it out of town unscathed.
On our first night in Mexico, we stayed in Rosarito in the garden of our first Warm Showers hostess. The next morning Ix Chel took us into town for our first real Mexican breakfast. Among other things, we had nopales, stewed cactus with eggs, which reminded me a bit of sour beans. In general, people in Mexico eat warm and very rich for breakfast.
Jo, Ix Chel, Me eating our first mexican breakfast.After the first day in Mexico was already a bit stressful, this day was now followed by one drama after another. Shortly after the lunch break we were riding past a construction site when I managed to ride with the rear wheel directly over a large lump of hot asphalt. This stuck to the tire, melted and destroyed the end of the fender and was a huge mess!
For the road crew, this was clearly the highlight of their day. As soon as we stopped, they all rushed to help and removed the asphalt from the tire, cut off the melted piece of fender, cleaned up the tire, and used a piece of wire they had cut out of a nearby fence to attach the remaining fender. The Mexican way to fix something!
Just before our destination in Ensanada, which we now reached just before dark due to the delay, I drove over a large nail to make matters worse. After changing the tube, the sun went down and we had a hair-raising ride in the dark to our next Warm Showers hosts, where we were warmly welcomed.
From Ensanada we headed east, away from the coast, into the mountains. The first few miles uphill we passed countless garbage, dead dogs and donkeys that had probably been hit by a car or truck on the side of the road.
The desert of Baja California is beautiful and varied. From north to south we passed through new microclimates every day and had from steppe bushes to cactus forests, volcanic landscapes, boojum trees, with flower spiked desert sand, oases, as well as wonderful coastal landscapes along the bright blue sea.
Almost every day we camped off the road in the middle of nowhere. This was a pure nature experience. Shortly after sunset and at dawn the coyotes howled in the desert. Hundreds of turkey vultures hovered overhead as if they were just waiting for us not to reach the next watering hole.
The BOOJUM trees that grow only in the central area of Baja worldwide are strange looking plants that grow in all sorts of variations with different numbers of branches in all directions and have purple flowers that sprout from the top.
Jo was so excited that she took a photo of what felt like every boojum tree on the Baja.
Another favorite was, the desert spot covered in purple flowers where we spent a night. A fairy tale world à la Alice in Wonderland.
However, camping in the desert also had a few downsides. In some places, we could hardly move without being spiked by spikes. Often we spent way too much time in the morning cleaning our socks, shoes, tires, etc. of those pesky spikes. And then there’s the sand that got everywhere we couldn’t use it.
We had also chosen a bad campsite near the town of Guerrero Negro on the west side of the peninsula. We had been warned beforehand not to camp near ports, and the vendor we bought fish tacos from in town told us that this was not the safest area to camp… I wish we had listened to the locals!
Anyway, we were too tired and too lazy to look for another place and camped on a beach already visible from afar, at the edge of open salt marshes. Here we hid behind an abandoned fishing boat to find some shelter from the wind. Just as we were falling asleep, Jo heard a motorcycle heading our way and called out to me, “OH NO!, DARIUS WAKE UP! SOMEBODY IS HERE!”
As I came to, I heard the rattle of a motorcycle a few feet from the tent, slowly coming to a stop and shining its headlight directly on our tents for minutes. We both sat in our tents, startled, until the motorcycle turned and headed up the trail. I stuck my head out of the tent to watch where the motorcycle was going. The vehicle slowly moved away and after a few hundred meters the lights and engine went out. Suddenly it was quiet as a mouse and pitch dark. … Jo and I panicked! We both crouched in the entrances of our tents and watched where the motorcycle might have gone. Jo had her bear spray and her satellite phone with the SOS button in both hands.
After several minutes, we saw the light of the motorcycle shimmering a bit away at the end of the beach. There were two men on the motorcycle, and after it stopped, one of them dismounted, turned on his headlamp, and began darting through the marshes at quite a pace. He came toward us, then away, then toward us again, etc. At one point he ran directly toward our tents and stopped about 20 yards from us, close enough that we could see him and his face. Both Jo and I almost decided to announce our presence and stand up. However, we both remained calm and in no time at all the man moved away again and returned to his motorcycle. Then followed the same episode, but this time with the motorcycle rattling across the marshes around us until it finally veered off and headed away from us toward town. A huge relief, we thought at least, when at the same moment at the far end of the road a pickup truck came closer and closer and stopped about 400 meters away at the end of the road with its engine running and its headlights on fire. For about 45 minutes, nothing changed in the situation. In the meantime, I set out in the darkness to investigate the fishing boat behind the tents. It could be that there were drugs hidden in the abandoned boat and the people on the motorcycle or the car wanted to get them. Fortunately, none were to be found and at some point the car drove away again in the direction of the city.
A coyote walks by the same beach in Guerrero Negro the next morning.Who knows what they were doing or looking for in the swamps in the middle of the night??? In any case, it was pretty exciting. I probably don’t need to mention that I hardly slept a wink the rest of the night and was on alert at the slightest noise.
When I first seriously thought about doing the Panamericana by bike, I still thought I was one of very few people to do this tour by bike. After the first research I realized that this route is a dream of many people.
Nonetheless, I have been quite surprised at how many bike travelers I have encountered so far. Especially here on the Baja California. One day we met a whole group of other cyclists with whom we camped together on a rocky volcanic beach and had a cool party the next morning.
On our way we met Chase from Whistler in Canada, who came out from behind a bush by the road as we passed. We hit it off and so he joined us. We became a group of three for the last week of the Baja.
In Ciudad Insurgentes a small town on the second longest straight stretch of road in the world (168 km) we met Chris from Canada, and Henk and Antonita, a wonderful couple from the Netherlands.
I completely lost faith when I met 19-year-old Leo from Lake Constance, who lives only 40 km from my hometown. The world is just a village!
After 3 weeks and about 1600 km through the desert, we arrived in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur.
There we headed straight to the famous Warm Showers host Tuly, where we settled in her garage with nine other cyclists. It was pretty crowded, but a lot of fun. We organized trips, game nights or went to the movies together.
I had wonderful encounters from which friendships developed. Although Jo and I initially only wanted to ride the first few days of the Baja together, we ended up cycling the entire 1600 km together to La Paz. This is where the “Baja Buddies” parted ways, as Jo went to the interior of Mexico to celebrate Christmas with other cyclists. I am sure that we will see each other again sooner or later on the tour and perhaps share a few kilometers of the route.
The last week before my friend Susanne came to visit me for Christmas and New Year’s, I lived with Marc, Amelie and their boys Zeph and Rocco. Marc is a good friend, of the family I lived with in San Francisco. The four of them live with two cats on their sailboat in the La Paz Marina. My overnight stay on the boat was a cool experience but definitely not a solution for a 2 meter man like me. The last few days I stayed in the family’s office, which was right on the Malecón (waterfront), so I could take a quick refreshing dip in the ocean every morning.