What a day ….

486 miles done we are now at Guerrero Negro, just south of the 28th Parallel which separates Baja California from Baja California Sur.

Another exhausting and hot 75 mile day on leaving Punta Prieta brought us out of the Cactus desert back to the Pacific coast. Severely gusting winds were a major problem early on, especially where the road switch-backed around the hills. Both of us were blown off the road into the scrub by a particularly vicious gust, prompting us to push for a short while. As the hills gave way to coastal lowland the wind died right down and changed direction just enough to check our speed and make the final 30 miles a bit of a grind. Osprey chicks calling from their nests on top of telegraph poles brought some light relief.

The town of Guerrero Negro was founded in 1957 to exploit the high natural salinity of the coastal lagoon, and is now the largest salt producer in the world, exporting some 7 million tonnes a year. The lagoon is one of three in Mexico to where Grey Whales migrate annually from their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, betwixt Alaska and Russia, to mate and give birth. Luckily for us the calving season is just beginning with an estimated 300 or so of the anticipated 2,000 having already arrived. The whole area has World Heritage status and is protected. A small number of family firms are licenced to take tourists into the lagoon to see the whales but are not permitted to go too close. ……. Nobody told the whales! Several of them swam right around and under our boat and stuck their heads out of the water to be stroked. It is an totally amazing experience to hold eye contact with such huge, magnificent creatures, and just to be in their presence. They grow to 15 metres (49 feet), weigh up to 36 tonnes and live for 55 to 70 years. Just for good measure there were also sea lions and dolphins leaping in and out of the sparkling blue sea.

Grey Whale having a look at us

As if this wasn’t enough natural history for a lifetime, let alone a day, we visited a bird reserve later where we witnessed an Osprey dive into the lagoon, grab a fish with its talons then fly off to its nest with its silvery victim wriggling and glistening in the sun. A couple of brown pelicans kept us entertained with their lumbering take off and flight, something akin to a fully laden B52 bomber, followed by spectacular ‘stealth bomber’ dives into the water to catch their prey.

Rubbing a Grey Whale on the nose

Happy days ….

So comfortable and restful was the hotel at Cataviña, we ended up staying three nights. It was good to spend time exploring this unique area, which has National Park status to protect the fauna and flora. The tall, spindly Cirios trees are found nowhere else in the world. Some of the Cardõne cacti are absolutely huge and are many hundreds of years old. Man has also been in this region for thousands of years, as evidenced by cave paintings we visited just a couple of miles out of the village.

Prehistoric cave paintings near Cetiviña

The Wing Commander (Gavin) got us back on task with chocks away at 6.20 am this morning. Another long, 74 mile, day in the saddle loomed with very strong and gusting winds forecast. The first 20 miles took us to an elevation of over 900 metres (Cataviña was at circa 500 m). There was virtually no traffic and the wind was mostly side-on except for the sections where the road twisted to the east, then it was full in our faces and made the going very hard.

After this the ride has to rank as world class, mostly a gentle decline, stunning scenery through the desert strewn with cacti and boulders in the foreground and mountains in the distance. For the final 20 miles the gods were smiling, as were we. The road veered south leaving the wind at our backs, we hit a long stretch of oh so smooth, newly laid tarmac and the gentle decline continued allowing us to ride the final 20 miles in an hour; including stopping to chat to a lone German cycle tourist slogging it out in the opposite direction. All the information we were able to elicit suggested there to be no accommodation at our destination, Puente Prieta, stating that Restaurant Melany allows cyclists to camp around the back. All set to get the tent out, Gavin spotted a small building which turned out to be two very newly built en-suite rental rooms, and one was available. Icing on the cake with a cherry on top!!

So much better than a night in the ⛺

Land of the giants ….

Leaving San Quintin on Highway 1, we passed more strawberry farms and other horticultural crops including cabbages and carrots; a few small sheep and goat enterprises and even a dairy farm with quite a number of very thin Friesian type cows. Heaven only knows what they eat.

With traffic much lighter it was possible to take our eyes off the road and enjoy the vista of sand dunes and huge volcanic cinder cones on the foreshore of brilliant blue Pacific ocean. Following a night at the delightfully rustic Baja Cactus Hotel in the small town of El Rosario, we turned east and climbed up into the central desert. Here the landscape is dominated by various species of magnificent cacti, some of which only grow in this region. Increasingly there are now long stretches where it is just us, the road and eagles circling overhead; soaring on thermals, screeching as they fly. with night-time temperatures of around 4 degrees c, the prospect of camping on the hard desert floor cannot be underestimated as motivation to keep going. However it did result in a couple of very weary souls with four aching knees that arrived at the Cataviña Mission Hotel in the tiny oasis of Cataviña. The day’s ride totalled 78 miles with 1,500 metres of climbing and a net gain of 600 metres in elevation. All of which was made harder by sections of very bumpy and potholed road and a constant, considerable, headwind. With time for a welcome shower and chicken in chocolate and chilli sauce (delicious) for supper, were tucked up and fast asleep in a large comfy bed by 8pm. It is so tranquil here and the hotel very comfortable that we are taking a couple of days to rest and catch up on the laundry etc. A walk out amongst the cacti this morning was awe inspiring and very special, but paid for by the hour it took us to pull spiky thorns out of our shoes! The next update will be as and when due to WiFi access being very sparse in this remote region.

Ragamuffins & Strawberries …

Shaken, if not stirred would sum up our arrival in San Quintin after a relatively short (40 mile) ride from Colonet this morning. Thank heavens for Ortlieb’s fantastic pannier attachments which kept our luggage firmly on the bikes despite the shocking road surface and the frequent need to scoot off onto the adjacent dirt track. This section of Highway 1 is fairly narrow, with one lane in each direction and is virtually devoid of a shoulder. When two trucks or buses are passing each other the only safe thing to do is bailout and bump along the dirt. The road runs dead straight for as far as one can see, which rather adds to the speed the traffic goes and is oddly soul destroying to cycle.

Vineyard between Santo Thomas & Colonet

Sadly the scourge of modern living in the form of plastic bottles, bags and broken glass festoon the sides of the roads and the towns; there is litter everywhere. Trying not to cycle on the glass shards is almost impossible.

The people are very friendly though and go out of their way to be helpful. After a hilly but less heavily trafficked ride on better roads, mostly with a shoulder, we arrived at last night’s delightful little hotel (Hotel Paraiso), a couple of miles out of Colonet. To our dismay it was the chef’s night off and the restaurant was closed. The manager, Manuel (no sign of Basil, Sybil or Polly) not only drove us into town and back, but also negotiated the purchase of a rotisserie chicken, rice, salad and salsa from a family on a roadside stall, and introduced us to the delights of authentic Mexican street Tacos – we shared a beef one as a starter. Very good it all was too.

Strawberry Pickers in action Colonet – San Quintin

Our ride today passed miles and miles of strawberry farms with lines of pickers brought in by bus. Stopping nearby to take off some layers and don the suncream, a young picker came over to ask us where we were from and give us each a couple of the most delicious, juicy fruits just bursting with flavour.

It has been quite cold at night and first thing, then warmer and sunny as the day wears on. However things should improve as we head ever south, both in terms of temperature and the volume of traffic which we are assured gets less further on.

The combination of a generous slathering of suncream, top-dressed with roadside dust results in us looking like a right pair of ragamuffins and very grateful for hot showers at the end of each day.

Cocktails and Camping (not) …

As you can see from the picture below, the 123 miles we have cycled so far has hardly made a dent; but every journey starts with one step, or in our case the first press on a pedal!

Until today, the route has followed the main highway south through the sprawling suburbs of Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada, mainly run down areas where nothing seems to be finished with a lot of litter lying around. This has been interspersed with attempts at developing the more spectacular Pacific coastal locations, with some success, for tourism. Due to the population density in this north west corner of the peninsula, the roads have been very busy including a great many big trucks. Not great for cycling, especially sections where there is little or no shoulder. On the advice of some locals and other cyclists’ blogs we took the tolled dual carriageway between Rosarito and Ensenada as it had less traffic, a wider shoulder and flatter profile than the road we should have taken. Technically off limits to cyclists, we did see others and the police, who were attending a broken down lorry, paid no heed. So no harm done.

Coastal Development near Rosarito

Ensenada, the third largest city on the Baja, home to circa 300,000 people, had a splendid setting in a natural harbour, which brings in many cruise ships. There is also a thriving fishing industry. A walk through the market revealed some monsters of the deep, fish of all shapes, colours, beauty and ugliness and numerous varieties of crustaceans.

The Mexicans love music, it blares out from shops, bars and even speakers along the main promenades. Men cross the road and walk along the streets playing guitars and other instruments. Wandering bands meander in and out of restaurants willing to play to anyone who will listen, (and send a few pesetas their way). We embraced the cultural experience with a Margarita at Hussong’s Cantina, Ensenada, established in 1892 (and not much changed). The bar was featured in Rick Stein’s recent travel/food documentary for the BBC, as it claims to have invented the now world famous, Tequila based, cocktail.

Heading into the hills towards Santo Tomas

Heading ever south, the road has finally become a bit less heavily trafficked, hillier and more scenic as we head away from the coast. The hills are dry and covered in scrub, with oases of green in the valley floors where various horticultural crops are grown with the aid of irrigation. The area is also home to 90% of Mexico’s wine production. Bus loads of workers were busy pruning the vines as we passed by.

Vineyard at Santo Tomas

And to end on a high, today has been quite chilly, with a few spots of rain and the thought of having to camp was not at all inviting. Luckily there was an unexpected motel directly opposite the campsite ….

So far so good …

The, non eventful, but completely full flight from London to San Diego took ten and half hours, arriving at 5 pm local time, but 3 am GMT! It was a very tired pair who got their bikes roadworthy and cycled the 3 miles to a downtown Hotel for some very welcome sleep.

A half hour ferry across the harbour, followed by a 20 mile, flat, ride along a very well signed bike path the following morning got us to Mexico. What appears to be a new pedestrian/cyclist facility at the border point between San Ysidro and Tijuana allowed us to buy our visas and go through customs very easily, with English speaking guides laid on to help.

No going back …

Tijuana was a bit of a shock after the sophistication of San Diego, a clear gulf in the respective wealth of these neighbouring cities. A planned quick trip into the centre to buy a local sim card was anything but given the traffic and number of people. Cycling away from the city back to the coast was a bit hairy with the speed and shear volume of traffic, however we made it unscathed. 

What’s wrong with the Fence Mr Trump?

People seem very friendly here, especially so at the very nice hostel we spent the night at Playa Tijuana; a few hundred metres from the rusty, but high fence that Donald wants to replace with a wall.

Gavin is going soft! Only 23 miles on our first full day in Mexico. This did make for a fairly relaxed amble down the Pacific coast, stopping on the long sandy beach at Rosarito to eat our bocadillos (sandwiches), then only another 8 miles to our billet for tonight. And very pleasant it is too, a large well provisioned room with a balcony overlooking the sea. The waves are crashing over the shore and the sun is just about to set, perfect.

News alert! The real Gavin is back, just been informed it will be a hard day tomorrow to get to Ensenada, well it was good while it lasted.

A hazy day, not so good for photos

Hold on to your Sombrero …

It only takes so much cold and wet English winter weather to dream of warm sunny days and new places to explore.  So here we are in San Diego, California, preparing to cycle the Baja Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Baja2
Baja Peninsula on Mexico’s Pacific Coast

The Baja Peninsula is in Northwestern Mexico, directly below the US state of California. It separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. As the crow flies, the peninsula extends 775 miles from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. It ranges from 25 miles at its narrowest to 200 miles at its widest point, has approximately 1,900 miles of coastline and around 65 islands. The total area of the Baja California Peninsula is 55,360 sq miles. (England = 50,337 sq. miles). Mexico in total has a population of 112 million people spread across its 1,964,375 square miles.

The Baja California Peninsula was once a part of the North American Plate,  the tectonic plate of which mainland Mexico remains a part. About 12 to 15 million years ago the East Pacific Rise initiated the separation of the peninsula from mainland Mexico. The Baja  Peninsula is now part of the Pacific Plate and is moving with it, in a north northwestward direction.

The peninsula is separated from mainland Mexico by the Gulf of California and the Colorado River.  There are four main desert areas on the peninsula: the San Felipe Desert, the Central Coast Desert, the Vizcanino Desert and the Magdalena Plain Desert.

We plan to leave San Diego for the Mexican border at Tijuana later today (Wednesday); having somewhat recovered from the very straightforward journey up to Heathrow, endless waiting around and the ten hour flight to California’s southern most city. As always, getting the bikes out of their packaging and roadworthy, once at San Diego airport, caused many curious looks and some friendly banter.