Our 65 mile ride from Chiang Kham to the Riverside town of Chiang Khong was a straightforward blast up the main highway, sharing the wide shoulder with the odd moped. The traffic including freight trucks was fast but not too heavy; the noise got wearing after a while. However the bouganvillea plants flowering the length of the central reservation was pretty. The countryside is becoming evermore scenic as we head north, the hills of Thailand and Laos are covered in indigenous forests.
A temperature drop of about 10 degrees, together with a lot of cloud cover made the ride much more pleasurable and less tiring.
Chiang Khong is a sleepy border town directly across the Mekong River from Huay Xai; the Laos town from where we set off on our two day, slowboat, trip to Luang Prabang in 2014. We look right across to the little hotel we stayed in then from the balcony of our room in the best hotel we have stayed in. It has lovely staff, an infinity swimming pool and a comfortable bed!!
We are spending two nights here in Chiang Khong and have so far had a lovely day just mooching about on our bikes as far as the fourth ‘Friendship’ Bridge that link Thailand and Laos along their mutual Mekong border. The bridge was opened in late 2013 and has now replaced the ferry that operated from the heart of town. As the bridge is about 8km downstream, the town has suffered from reduced through traffic.
We are sharing supper tonight with Geoff, an Australian national living in Seattle, who we met whilst on our mooch about. He is traveling in the opposite direction to us, on his first solo cycle tour so there will be much to talk about.
Apparently ‘the rules’ allow cycle tourers to use public transport (or any other means) to return from a destination if they have already pedaled one way. So we did not cheat by taking a bus back from Todos Santos to San Jose Del Cabo!
Neither of us wanted to play chicken with the heavy traffic around the Cabos and the time saved allowed us to cycle east to the tiny village of Zacatitos, which has no mains services. Situated on the Sea of Cortez, the last couple of miles, along a very sandy dirt road, was quite hard going. Unfortunately, there was no bus service to Zacatitos so we had to pedal the hilly twelve miles back to San Jose Del Cabo.
Saturday morning saw our last cycle on the Baja – eight miles to the airport for our two and a half hour flight to Mexico City. All went well as we padded and packed the bikes outside the terminal but went down hill on joining an extremely long queue to check in. As so often happens, the family two slots ahead of us were having great difficulty with their documents, seriously eating into the time to our departure. To make matters even more stressful, the airline insisted that we have our already bagged bikes wrapped in cling film. The wrapping machine, think big silage bales, did not take too kindly to bikes so this was something of a performance, ate up more time and meant that we had to go to the back of the queue again!
Anyway, we did catch the flight and a necessarily aggressive taxi driver got us through the, bumper to bumper, eight lane highway to our hotel in the city centre. Mexico city sits in a vast natural basin some 7,980 feet above sea level. With a population of 26.5 million in the greater urban area, it is the most populous city in North America. Pollution is a real problem affecting both air quality and visibility.
Spanish conquistadors took the then city of Tenochtitlán from Montezuma’s Aztecs in 1519 destroying it’s buildings and temples to use the stones to rebuild in the Spanish style. The huge central square, the Zócalo, or Plaza de la Constitución was once the heart of Aztec Tenochtitlán and is today the third largest city Square in the world. Fittingly, the mighty Cathedral, built in the late 1500s, is the largest church in Latin America and occupies one side of the square.
Excavations in 1978 uncovered artefacts that led to the discover of the Aztec city’s major temple. Some forty years on, after more modern buildings were cleared away, it is fascinating to walk through the excavated remains. The original temple dates back to 1300s and was increased seven times, roughly every 50 years, with each new temple enclosing the one below. When the Conquistadors arrived the temple measured 45 metres high. Many of the artefacts are displayed in the adjoining museum, including those used for human sacrifice.
We made it to Land’s End, 1,295 miles pedaled since leaving San Diego. Truth be told, the first half of the fifty five mile ride from Santiago was great, riding across the Tropic of Cancer, through and down from the Sierra de Laguna mountains. The mountain and cactus scenery was enhanced by the clanking of bells around the necks of cows and goats as they grazed the roadsides.
Entering the outskirts of San Jose Del Cabo, after a quick pitstop at the airport to checkout our flight to Mexico City, things changed very rapidly. The sheer volume of traffic, exhaust fumes, noise and lack of a shoulder made the twenty odd miles to Cabo San Lucas, at the very end of the Peninsula, particularly unpleasant.
To cap it all, within sight of Los Arcos, the rocks at Land’s End, I sustained a huge snakebite puncture from some stones in the road. My rear tyre went from 60 (psi) to 0 in less than a nano second. The one and only puncture of the trip despite the cactus thorns, copious volumes of broken glass and litter and other debris.
After some R&R (rest and relaxation) we cycled into the resort town of Cabo San Lucas with the intention of getting right out to Land’s End. Two enormous US cruise ships were anchored off shore and the marina was choc-a-bloc with very expensive looking boats and yachts. Holiday makers, day trippers from the cruise ships and very many ex-pat and second home owning American and Canadians make this one of the most popular destinations in Mexico. Our mission to get right out to Land’s End was thwarted as access was along a beach reserved for the residents of a very swanky hotel.
Despite having reached the end of the Baja, we pedaled another fifty miles, north, along the Pacific coast to another former Mission town, Todos Santos, which grew up in the 1700s around a natural oasis. The first ten miles did little for our lungs or ears as we shared the road with constant traffic; a series of big climbs then a battle against a persistent headwind ensured we were very tired on arrival. The coast to our left and mountains to the right were very beautiful though.
Todos Santos is a delight, although a tourist destination, it retains an authentic charm with wide streets and leafy plazas. It is set in a bay with the most stunning white sandy beach; the best view of which is obtained from The Mirador Restaurant. This has one of the best locations in the world. It is accessed via a very steep and twisty dirt road, which proved a test of our riding skills. Ever the gentleman, Gavin offered to take a photograph for three American ladies en-route to celebrate a birthday. We got talking and before you could say ‘bob’ they had insisted we join them for lunch. What a delightful interlude; Leslea, Ginger and Karen (whose birthday it was) were so interesting and engaging. The three friends from Santa Fe, New Mexico, were on a ‘girls’ day out from Cabo San Lucas.
The food was delicious and our so generous hosts insisted that we had the seats facing the ocean view. Thank you ladies you made our day it was such a pleasure to meet you.
The word ‘contrasts’ springs to mind. On Saturday, we cycled out of the hip kite surfing town of Los Barriles, with its high North American expat population and the incessant throb of quad bikes racing around town. Just forty miles along the coast of the East Cape, the last seven on a very rutted and sandy dirt road, we arrived at the tiny coastal village of Cabo Pulmo, which is not even on the grid. All power is sourced from solar panels or generators. Consequently, the night sky is truly amazing.
Despite letting a good amount of air out of our tyres to cope with the rough going on the dirt road, there were some very sandy sections where the only option was to get off and push. Cabo Pulmo is right on the Tropic of Cancer, bringing warm and very humid conditions. The combination of sweaty bodies, sticky sunblock lotion and dust stirred up by the very occasional passing traffic had us looking (and feeling) like modern day terracotta warriors.
We found a recently built, comfortable, ‘bungalow’ to rent for two nights, just metres back from a fantastic sandy beach strewn with shells and pieces of coral. This stretch of the Sea of Cortez is home to the most northerly coral reef, which is believed to be over 20,000 years old.
The coral is home to an amazing array of tropical fish, which we were able to view with rented wetsuits and snorkeling gear. It was like swimming in an enormous aquarium, with stunning tiny electric blue fish, angel fish with their yellow tails and spotty grey faces and many others feeding on the coral. The whole area is designated a eco park and is really special, very tranquil and well off the beaten track.
Today’s ride out, back along the dirt road, was not too bad as we left early to avoid the heat. There was plenty of company along the way; groups of cows and calves, a flock of sheep, goats with tinkling bells, free range horses, a small spotty pig and a poor hare with a ripped and bleeding ear.
Tonight we are in Santiago, another oasis town with palm trees and a fresh water lake. A former holiday destination of John Wayne and Bing Crosbie according to our host, Sergio.
Tomorrow’s circa 50 mile ride should get us to Finisterra (Land’s End) just beyond the major resort town of Cabo San Lucas. Here the Sea of Cortez meets the wild blue Pacific ocean and we will have achieved our goal to cycle the length of the Baja peninsula.
A three night stay in La Paz, located just a stone’s throw from the main promenade and next to the Cathedral, gave us plenty of opportunity to look around this large, bustling city.
We joined our new Dutch cycling friends, Frank and Jacinta, on a rather chaotic boat trip to snorkel with, plankton eating, whale sharks. Eventually the guide, who led the snorkeling, spotted one of the massive fish, so in we jumped. Unfortunately, my mask was not quite water-tight and quickly filled up; this added to the very poor visibility due to the presence of millions of microscopic plankton meant we only got an hazy impression of its size and shape.
Beach beyond La Paz
That evening was the final night of the week long carnival with revelling continuing into the wee small hours, fortunately not too intrusive for us old fogies who had long since retired to bed.
With low tolerance for city life, the next day we headed along the bay for fifteen miles to some quiet and spectacular, fine white, sandy beaches. Pedaling back we were able to wish Jacinta and Frank safe travels; bumping into them as they headed for the ferry terminal to continue their epic adventure across mainland Mexico and onwards to Argentina.
Our final evening in La Paz was filled with laughter as we shared supper with Erik and Cindy from Colorado, such great company.
Heading out of La Paz, venturing ever south, was no fun at all. The roads were horrendously busy, with no shoulder, heaven only knows what all those fumes have done to our life expectancy.
Things improved in leaps and bounds once we left the city, the traffic became much lighter the road had a shoulder and we climbed ever so gently for almost thirty miles back into the mountains, to the old mining town of El Triunfo. Almost deserted when the gold and silver miners left in the 1920’s it has seen a remarkable regeneration at the hands of some philanthropic, wealthy Americans. The old smelting chimneys and the graveyard for European miners who never made it home were quite spooky.
Today, Friday 16th, was one of the prettiest ride so far. Another 15 miles climbing up then swooping down through mountains clothed in a palette of all shades of green. We are very near to the Tropic of Cancer (should cross it tomorrow) so spring has awoken the deciduous trees and shrubs from their winter slumbers. It is decidedly hotter and more humid now. The final 18 miles was virtually a glorious freewheel, back to the Sea of Cortez at the small resort of Los Barriles.
Having arrived by 11 am we had plenty of time to admire the skill of the many kite surfers taking advantage of this windy stretch of coast. It appears to be a Mecca for American and Canadians who chase around the town and beach on quad bikes.
Loreto was such a lovely town, we ended up staying four nights, giving three full days to explore in more depth, recharge the batteries, do bike maintenance and laundry. A ride towards San Javier, inland into the mountains, was very peaceful giving fantastic views.
Riding toward San Javier from Loreto
Back on route the ‘holiday’ feel continued with a short, 20 mile, easy ride. The road hugged the coast of the, sparkling blue, Sea of Cortez to the pristine, but little used, marina development at Puerto Escondido. A strategic move so that we were well placed to tackle a long climb up into the Sierra Los Gigantes mountains in the relative early morning cool the next day.
Sea of Cortez
The only accommodation was at the very comfortable Tripui Hotel near the marina. After a shady lounge around the swimming pool, complete with a picture of a whale and her calf painted on its bottom, we pedaled a couple of miles up an extremely bumpy dirt road to the foot of a dry river canyon. This turned into a boulder hopping exercise as we scrambled our way, on foot, upstream until we eventually found a series of small fresh water pools, a rarity in the Baja. Fortunately we made it back with no twisted ankles and a whole set of different muscles to remind us of their presence!
The ‘big climb’ at the start of a 70 mile ride to Cuidad Constitucion was a scenic 400 metre ascent, switch-backing up into the mountains. As is usually the case, although a bit steep at the start, it was much less onerous than feared. After coming down off the ridge, the dead-straight road to Cuidad Insurgentes was a grind into a prevailing wind which did little relieve some rather boring miles back through cactus desert.
Following the road south to the larger town of Cuidad Constitucion, we were back in ‘farming’ territory, with several small lots of beef cattle and a number of different vegetable crops including a large area of brussel sprouts. The importance of agriculture here is very apparent as one enters the town. A row of gleaming green, brand new, John Deere tractors, in a dealership on one side of the road is rivalled by an equal number of, shinny blue, New Holland’s on the other. Childhood memories flooded back at the row of new, New Holland balers, the sort that made ‘little’ bales that could be tossed with a pitchfork.
As if in penance for the days off in Loreto, another two long days in the saddle followed. The first half of the 63 miles to Las Pocitas from Cuidad Constitucion was arrow straight, dead level and, again, quite boring to ride. Pockets of, irrigated, farmed land interspersed yet more sandy, arid, cactus desert.
Las Pocitas was a welcome site; where a brand new Oxxo store (Mexican equivalent of Spar) facilitated a reviving cold drink and ice-cream. Even better, our rubbish Spanish managed to elicit from the checkout lady that there were some rooms to rent just along the road; we had been expecting to have to camp behind a small restaurant.
Not only did we get a room, the cold shower a small price to pay for not having to camp, but two more cycling couples, of similar age to us, rolled up also. Jacinta and Frank from Holland, who are en-route from Canada to Argentina and who we last met in Cataviña, and Cindy and Erik from Colorado, who we met at the Hostal in Loreto. We had a very enjoyable evening comparing notes and swapping stories over a meal of tacos, rice and beans cooked for us by Isabelle in the tiny family ‘Cantina’ next door.
Monday 13th was yet another 70 mile ride; across the region’s central spine through more interesting terrain. The first half of the ride was hilly with little or no shoulder and quite a lot of traffic to contend with. The road then undulated along a ridge for several miles, before ended with a long and glorious descent to La Paz, on the east Coast’s Sea of Cortez. The provincial capital, La Paz is a thriving cosmopolitan city of circa 250,000 people.
Just as we were setting out to explore, Jacinta and Frank rolled up and checked into the same hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed another evening with this delightful and inspiring couple at the annual Carnival, which coincides with our stay. Huge numbers of people were present, with decorated floats, street dancers in colourful costumes and an array of tradespeople selling all manner of foods, toys, balloons and textiles. A memorable extravaganza.
Still on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, we are on the second of what will probably be three days in the delightful little town of Loreto. The first of the Spanish Missions was built here in the early 1700s and for many years Loreto was the capital of all the Californias.
A scenic and relatively easy ride 49 mile ride out of Santa Rosalia got us to Mulegé the next town south. Arriving just after 12 we had plenty of time to soak up the ambiance of the the town, cycle up to the mission and down to a lovely undeveloped beach. Gavin even found time to ‘hang around’.
We were glad of another early start for the 28 mile ride out of Mulegé, giving some respite on what was probably the hottest day so far. Although short, it was a challenging ride with a series of steep hills, initially following the coast, then inland across a headland eventually hitting the coast again at the stunning Bahia de Conception. As it was too far and too hot to make Loreto in one day, and there are no settlements along the way, it was a case of finally having to get the tent out and camp on the beach at Playa Buenaventura. Fortunately, there was a small restaurant that had hot showers and a toilet, so civilised camping at least.
An interesting evening was had in the restaurant, which televised the American Football Superbowl final where the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the final couple of minutes. A number of North American ex-pats and motor-homers turned up for what turned into a very noisy night; still have no idea what the rules are though!
A night with two in a very small tent sure makes one appreciate a comfortable bed. One consolation was the brilliance of the night sky, with no light pollution it makes you realise how few of the stars we are able to see from home.
Packing up a tent in the dark is an interesting experience but again proved its worth allowing us to start the 60 miles in to Loreto at first light. Another hilly day but beautiful mountain scenery which is more verdant in this region.
We were both exhausted when we got into town, only to find our hotel of choice fully booked and the next two we looked at way out of our price range (many wealthy Americans holiday here). Eventually we stumbled on Hostel Casa Loreto which is a delightfully rustic arrangement of eight rooms clustered around a central covered courtyard, almost in the town centre. Our neighbours are a bunch of very interesting people, including a lovely young couple, their three year old daughter and seven month old son who live in the wilds of the Yukon, five hours from their nearest town and where there is only 3 hours of sunlight a day at this time of year – oh and it gets down to -40. Another couple of similar age to us have cycled here from their home in Colorado – much common ground to share.
We have just returned from a morning boat trip with the young Canadian family to one of the many uninhabited off shore islands, we were blessed to have a huge pod of bottle-nosed dolphins swimming all around us, see colonies of Pelicans and groups of sealions sunbathing on the rocks and, to cap it all, on the way back a humpback whale was rolling over, diving and jumping out of the water just a few metres from the boat.
A few days off to recharge the batteries and allow some salve to work it’s wonders on my saddle weary rump should be just what the Doctor ordered for the final 500 or so miles to the tip of the Peninsula.
Since leaving Gruerro Negro we have completed another three circa 50 mile rides which were all very different.
We have taken to setting off at first light, just after 7 am, so we get a good few miles in before it gets too hot and the wind comes up. The first of these three rides took us from Gruerro Negro across the flat and arid Viscaiño desert to the very sandy town of Viscaiño. What should have been any easy ride all the way was a real game of two halves, flying along at 16-18 miles an hour with no wind in the relative early morning cool to slogging out the last 20 odd miles against a strong headwind in 30 degree full sunshine. We were more than grateful to check into a very nice air conditioned hotel room and chill for the afternoon.
No two days are the same here, and the following day’s ride to the town of San Ignacio, although hillier, was much more enjoyable. The scenery was more interesting as we returned to swathes of cacti, a fair amount of cloud kept the temperature at a pleasant level and there was virtually no wind. San Ignacio is a delightful town nestling in a natural oasis where an early 18th Century, Catholic mission, built by Spanish invaders, dominates a leafy, cool, central square. We spent two night here so we could take a boat trip out to another of the grey whale lagoons. There were lots of them about, we saw a Mum and baby which was very special, but this lot were not quite so inquisitive as those at Gruerro Negro. The were a great many bottle-nosed dolphins playing in the water, such a delight. The day was very cloudy and we even had some rain, which apparently only happens about twice a year here.
Today’s ride has brought us across the Peninsula to the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California, which separates the Baja from mainland Mexico. We are in the cobalt, copper and zinc mining town of Santa Rosalia, where production recommenced in 2015 after having been shut down in the 1990s. Originally owned by French companies, the town has a colonial air and many wooden houses from the 1920s. The prosperity the mines bring is evident in this thriving and bustling little town.
The ride from San Ignacio took us back into the hills with some spectacular views across the cacti to Las Tres Vergentes, three towering volcanos. The wind once again made the going harder than it should have been. In the periods with no traffic, the solitude, just the noise of our tyres on the tarmac, bird song and the soaring of the many vultures (sinister birds) circling in the sky above us is quite something.
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.
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.
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.
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!!