A short car queue is followed by a couple Federales feigning interest by pawing at our panniers. Two minutes later we’re in Mexico and the trip has become international. Unlike crossing into Canada, the setting becomes foreign immediately. Our initial momentum is stifled just as quickly. There’s paperwork to be done, permits secured, and stickers to be affixed. All easily surmountable challenges and a few hours later we’re blasting down Mexican Highway 5; destination: San Felipe.
San Felipe has quieted since rules were made to temper the American Spring Break crush. Panda, a local bouncer, tells tales of incognito celebrities and party seeking co-eds who used to crowd the streets and overwhelm the local establishments. The lack of a line at a nearby taco cart shows us that this is no longer the case and also enables our many return visits. Rick is the first to put in a double digit taco day.
San Felipe is a nice ease into Latin America. It has a laid back atmosphere and friendly folk. A jovial bartender named Tomas tells us that there is a road south along the coast past a little town called Puertecitos. The road is good for awhile, he says, and then it becomes very rough but our bikes can handle it. He even draws us a map.
Our arrival into Puertecitos is similar to three banditos arriving at the edge of a small desert town. The map showed an unfilled dot, the San Felipe talk made it out to be a small seaside community, but our view shows a deserted collection of dilapidated buildings with a lone dog wandering in the distance.
We split up to search for campsites. I later find Rick and Sean on the beach near a big Dodge truck blaring Willie Nelson. They’re passing a 40 ounce Pacifico around while being chatted up by a group of retirees on lawn chairs. The Baja Dinos, as they’ve labeled themselves, are orally providing their perspective on the current situation. After the bait beer is gone we step out to the local restaurant for dinner and are able to confront a pair of tails we’ve had since California. Darryl and Nancy have apparently similar travel interests so we’ve seen them a few times before, starting in Slab City. We return later to set up camp on the beach and join the Baja Dinos around the campfire, trading stories and receiving a lifetime’s worth of Baja trip advice.
We try to make an early start the next morning, but are delayed by a search of the beach. Rick’s sandal turns up missing and the likely culprit is a coyote which was seen slinking around. He was spotted from the tents as we quieted down because the rain flies weren’t installed. The result is a panorama of stars seen through clear dry air and a lack of polluting light all complimented by the sound of crashing waves and cool desert nights.
The road south out of Puertecitos begins as an immaculately paved seaside ribbon perfect for a lazy Sunday cruise. This ends abruptly. The road becomes just a jumble of sand and rocks perfect for torturing off-road vehicles. Bodhi finds a patch of soft sand and tosses Rick, but they’re both up so quickly no photos can be taken. The road, which is part of the Baja 1000 race, is both physically and mentally exhausting.
We find relief from the sun and road at a small shack about 20 miles in. It’s decorated with aluminum cans and glass bottles glinting in the desert sun, so it’s hard to miss. Additionally there are two massive mooring lines laid across the road as speed bumps. The contradiction between my visual of the marine vessel which would carry these behemoths and the scorched arid landscape makes me even more thirsty. This is Coco’s Corner and here lives the namesake local legend. He sits in his shack and answers the same questions from everyone passing through. How’s the road? Which way should I go? How far is the next gas station?
He smiles a lot and makes jokes in Spanish and tells everyone to go in the cooler and take whatever you want. His only rule is that everyone must sign his guestbook. The heat is oppressive, the terrain unforgiving, but Coco and his attitude has been a constant ever since anyone can remember.
We lunch in Guerrero Negro, which is about halfway down the Baja on the Pacific side. We can hardly get our helmets off before we’re pummeled by wave after wave of tourists unloading from coach buses. Of course they’re interested in our trip, but they also tell us about their time watching whales. We’re informed that this is the perfect time to see them and that we must try it. Their fervor convinces us.
We spend the next day out at an old whaling camp. A fifteen minute boat ride gets us face to face with one of the largest animals alive. Grey whales come to the Baja to mate and then back the next year to give birth. We hit it at just the right time because all the single whales have left for Alaska leaving only the mothers and calves. With the new found peace in the sea the mothers allow their curious young a little more freedom. All we have to do is stop the boat near a pair and the 25 foot calf turns and comes right up to us. The calf toys with the boat and relishes the contact with our hands. It blows bubbles, twirls around, and brings its head up out of the water to look at us. It even comes in for a kiss.
The Baja Dinos had good things to say about a beach on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja south of Mulege so we decide to cross the Baja again and try one. We set up camp as some of the ‘locals’ come over to say hello. All are snowbirds that have been set up on the beach for months and are irresistibly drawn by the commotion. They report that there are 6 or 7 whale sharks on the beach. We see our first fin a few minutes later.
The world’s largest fish makes a visible pass along the beach every few hours. They’re easy to spot; two slow moving objects 75 yards off the beach show the tips of the dorsal and tail fins. From there we walk down the beach in front of them to allow time for the swim out to meet them.
We discover at night that the beach has a rare bioluminescent plankton bloom happening which means the ocean glows and sparkles when it gets disturbed. Late at night we take a swim and the result is incredible. Every stroke and kick makes a plume of glitter in the sea. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen.
We stay on the beach for a few days and don’t feel bad about it. A little shop nearby makes amazing fish tacos and being able to sit on the beach, see a whale shark swim by, and be able to say “naw, I think I’ll catch him on the next pass” is too much to give up. We’re not the only victims; a few palapas over there are three Cal Poly engineering students on spring break who planned on making it farther south on their week off. We decide there are worse places to hang out.
Before leaving we receive some more travel advice from the expats. Our map is unfolded and circles begin appearing around towns throughout mainland Mexico. So far we’ve paid more attention to the recommendations of fellow travelers more than the speed limit “recommendations” along the Mexican highways.
Apollo is making unpleasant sounds so we overnight in Loreto where there is a motorcycle mechanic. A riderless tip-over into a ditch while waiting for some omnipresent Mexican road construction doesn't help the situation. I drive away from the transaction with a worse chain than when I arrived and a couple tools lighter. It is our first theft.
Our commitment to camp as much as possible results in us setting up tents in an urban RV parking lot. There is a fence and guard for security but the rain flies need to be put on for the street lights. It’s a long way from the beaches we’ve grown accustomed to, but it’s worth it to save money. There we meet Reggie who also appreciates motorcycles. He even put on a sidecar for his dog.
We spend a few nights in the mainland ferry city of La Paz to get back into society. We meet travelers from all over going all different directions. Hostels are great for that.
One night we get robbed again. A couple of half-finished Ballinas “whale sized beers” are put in the hostel fridge while we search out more fish tacos. Upon returning, the beers are discovered to be missing. Manuel, the hostel’s overnight security guard, can’t contain his chuckles. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” he pleads. “No more, Manuel!” with a smile is the only response that can be given.
The hostel’s collection of motorcycles grows to four when Adam arrives. It would have been seven, but two of his buddies had to turn back because of injury. A group of three became one after just a few days. Nobody in our group acknowledges the obvious.
A Swedish couple asks for travel advice and presents a tough question: If you only had two months to experience the US, how would you do it?
We board the 18 hour ferry to the mainland on April Fool’s Day.