I woke early, slightly nervous about crossing the border.
For two reasons, the time limit issues I had when arriving in the USA. If they were repeated, would seriously disrupt my plans, and getting my bike through the turnstile gates into Mexico. Many blogs and conversations with other cyclists made it seem like a difficult process.
As it turns out both my fears were completely unfounded.
The Tijuana border crossing has been renovated and the process is swift and relatively easy.
Cyclists now follow the pedestrian path and pass through one of two huge turnstile gates. If I can get myself and a vertically balanced and fully loaded recumbent through, anyone with a normal touring bike is not going to have problems.
It was easy.
As you enter the buiding, a sign directs you to the right and into the immigration office.
Here, for $360 pesos, I was given a 6 month stay in Mexico by a friendly, courteous and chatty woman who welcomed me to Mexico.
In around 30 minutes, I crossed from the offensively and unecessarily opulent shopping mall on the US side to cracked pavement, open sewers, dog mess and very poor looking people on the streets of Tijuana.
It was a shock to say the least.
The tourist booth at the entrance to the town was manned by the incredibly enthusiastic Valentin who spoke english very well and so rapidly even I had trouble keeping up!
Navigating the streets the contrast to what I could still see through the 20 metre high fence to the USA side was stark.
One side, perfect green lawns, Mcdonald's restaurants. Massive SUV's parked in manicured streets and malls.
The other was dirty, bruised, old, outdated smelling of rot, stale and with all faces looking at me.
But with a smile the Americans rarely gave me.
"Where are you going?" More smiles and curious questions about my bike. "That looks like fun?!" from the Mexicans I passed. "How do you steer?" As opposed to "what are you doing here, why are you doing this"
Suspicion and snorting disbelief of how far I had come and wanted to go from the American side. "Can't you drive/fly there?.
What would be the point? I would often reply to bemused American faces.
I stayed with Gerardo and Liz. A young couple in a tiny two room apartment. They were both very enthusiastic and spent a lot of time making sure I knew everything I could about Mexico. Don't eat on the street, they warned. Never use your credit card! But make sure you eat here, here and here. Pointing on a map. It’s great food!
They were both a mine of information and as a newcomer to the country, it was comforting and reassuring to know that Mexico wasn’t as bad as the Americans had warned.
Sam was also staying with them. A young Canadian cyclist returning to Tijuana to sort out visa problems. So as a group we hung out together, shared meals and mutual travel stories.
I left Tijuana on the No. 1 road, towards Ensenada.
The city is huge. Much bigger than I expected.
The roads were as warned. VERY busy. And with drivers continually getting too close for comfort.
After about 10 miles the traffic calmed down a little as the city gave way to small towns and villages.
Wider now, the road had a shoulder that soon disappeared then reappeared.
My day was short. Cycling to Plaza del Mar and the Young Dude Surf hostel. Ian, an Englishman and the owner runs the hostel with his daughter Molly, but offers Warmshowers hosting to passing cyclists too.
There were three English lads on vacation here at the same time. They soon left for their first surf lesson and left me to organise myself. A while later they came back with one of them limping and looking pained.
“I was stung by a Manta ray!” He said limping up the stairs. Blood dripping from the rapidly swelling wound on his foot.
Oddly, I was about to take a walk on the beach, but reconsidered after this.
The sting is fortunately not fatal, but notoriously painful with the effects lasting up to 48 hours as the venom courses through the body.
A trip to the local Doctor and Pharmacy brought painkillers but no respite. Finally, he admitted defeat and went to try to rest in his room.
The traffic the following day, was swift as the main motorway was closed for repairs. Trucks and pickups screamed past on the narrow winding road.
Still no different to what I have experienced travelling through the USA so far.
I arrived in Ensenada. A short day, to the house of Tomas and Carmen. And another cyclist.
Hugo Salais, from El Paso, Texas is travelling to Panama so after discussion we decided to ride together for a while.
We had been told the section in the centre of Baja California is quite isolated desert so it's probably better to travel in a team for safety and security, as well as companionship.
Hugo is a business studies post graduate who is taking time out before finding his real direction in life.
A bit like me, but I am doing it much later in life.
The following day, we cycled to San Vincente. It was a long day made more difficult by the traffic, hills, heat and a headwind.
We arrived in the centre of the town and asked about somewhere to shower and sleep we planned on camping somewhere. But I got a bad vibe immediately.
“Oh the cyclists camp in the park in front of the Police station.” A local lady told us.
Hugo was keen but I was not. Today was 20th November. Revolution day in Mexico. A national holiday and an excuse for a party.
I had visions of drunk trouble makers messing with our things in the middle of the night and the police not caring too much.
It may or may not have happened, but we were directed to a local motel for a cheap shower, and after a short thought, I paid for a room. It was less than ￡10 and I felt more secure.
Again something I can’t afford to do every night but better tonight. I gave Hugo the option to sleep on the floor. He hadn’t thought about he party atmosphere and took the offer.
We ate a fantastic roast chicken dinner, then slept early.
Our arrival the next afternoon in San Quintin was met with a frantic beeping of a car horn as Lupita, our hosts wife, flagged us down.
In the passenger seat was Jess from Bristol. They were on the way to the local bike shop to get his gears fixed.
I offered to have a look instead and we turned back to home.
The gear cable had been twisted and badly routed by the bikeshop he bought it from so 30 minutes being a mechanic again and an overly grateful Jess was delighted with the result.
“ I can’t believe how things are working out?!” he enthused.
“I had a puncture right in front of a tyre repair place the other day and they fixed it there and then!”
He was riding a Cargo bike, he bought in San Francisco and was also riding to Panama.
But he was carrying a huge load of gear. With his favourite guitar on top.
I cooked dinner for everyone after a trip to the supermarket and we all discussed the next day.
Jess would also ride with us the short 50 kilometres to El Rosario so we started late at around 0930.
Though I wasn’t too happy about starting so late, I relaxed realising I am not in any rush like I was in the USA.
We were a slow moving team now, with Jess and his unwieldy load, Hugo and his sore legs and me just relaxing after two months of stress through the USA.
It was an easy day despite several steep climbs and a changeable wind direction.
Arriving in El Rosario, we met Erick.
A local cyclist who offered to host us.
Hugo had been struggling with sore legs and I didn't really mind a rest day, but Jess decided to carry on.
I’m not sure it was a wise decision but it’s his choice.
After an even better chicken dinner, he left and we went to meet Erick’s family.
My heart dropped when I understood they were having a big fiesta. I thought of late nights, tired cyclists and the potential security nightmare of lots of unknown people.
But it turns out they were very good people and had previously hosted cyclists.
We ate very well that evening as well on lots of fresh sea food and decided the following day was a rest day.
Jess definitely missed out on this one.
I went to bed around 11 pm and Hugo stayed to party on.
The heat of the next day made us realise we needed to start early as we continued our journey.
Our journey continued climbing now up to 800 metres from sea level more or less. Add to this a powerful east wind kept knocking us off balance and trying to throw us off the road.
Trucks and pickups trying to do the same.
The road conditions change constantly.
The wind slowed us more and later in the morning, Scott and Sue from Anchorage caught us up.
They started the day before me in Anchorage, and took the bus to Deadhorse. So they must have been numbers 3 and 4 to ride the Dalton highway this year?
A few moments after meeting them, I crossed the 16,000 kilometre mark.
I can’t say its 100% accurate, but it’s still a significant marker.
We chatted to Sue and Scott for a while, but they were keen to move ahead to Cataviña and soon left us behind.
I had hoped to also reach Cataviña but, Hugo was struggling with the hills and wind.
After 40 km’s or so we came across a sign for an old mission. Curious, we followed the sign thinking we might spend the night in an old monastery or church.
After 2 km’s through the desert we arrived at a derelict old monument.
There was nothing left but a 2 metre high restored corner.
Night was falling fast and wind was very strong, so we backtracked to a small farm we saw and asked the farmer to camp.
I was happy to put up my tent, but the speed of conversation, strong accents and the missing teeth of the Farmers old assistant, meant we were directed away from the Farmers cabin (and potentially a shower, toilet, electricity and the Farmers wife cooking food) to the a dusty run down caravan in a nearby field.
The old assistant had agreed to share his home with us and began clearing out the double mattress for us to share.
It was now I understood what had been arranged.
I wasn’t happy sharing . First thinking it was just me and Hugo then realising it was all three. I was certain the old guy would not shut up all night. And while I don't mind talking for a while as a courtesy, I suspected a late night.
I began setting up my tent in the strong wind, much to the old guy’s dismay, who began sweeping the filthy floor of his caravan saying I’d be better there than out in the wind and dust.
As much as I tried to, I simply didn't have the words to explain. So I politely ignored him and continued.
I cooked us a meal on his cooker and we talked for a while before I left them and went to bed.
The wind was howling and blowing dust everywhere, but I was actually very comfortable in my little tent. And slept very well.
Hugo didn't get a good night sleep.
Talking, as I suspected in addition a banging window all night in the wind.
We had some breakfast and packed up.
It took an age to get back on to the road and continue. Hugo is a slow starter, which is fine, but it was obvious the old guy was waiting for us to leave so he could also go to work.
I could do nothing except wait.
The wind pushed, shooked and slowed us as we rolled slowly into Cataviña and we managed to find a space to camp by asking the Police. I was tempted by the motel there, but the price was too high.
“ Oh, yes, you can use the community hall. Cyclists sometimes stay here. “ The officer in charge told us.
The hall was filthy. But it was for free.
(The other option was a clearing on the edge of town next to a scrapyard of old cars and parts. )
The remains of a recent party stained the floor and broken windows blew dusty plates and cup everywhere.
Tortillas, dried in the heat, crunched underfoot and then the wind picked up and began banging a loose roof panel.
It was free, but noisy. We hoped the wind would settle.
It didn't, and after a meal we tried to sleep.
The next day we tried to set off early to make the 100+km’s to Punta Prieta.
The wind died a little, but picked up in the afternoon.
For me it was a good day, especially the last 20 km’s with a strong tailwind but Hugo was exhausted and unhappy.
Another night in a Police building, but this time the quiet roof was replaced barking local dogs!
I managed to heat some water and had my first wash in several days
But we didn’t eat much apart from a small sandwich.
Packing up the following morning, We fixed two punctures, had a leisurely breakfast and a very late start.
Hugo was exhausted, not used to long days and making it clear we travel at different speeds. At least the wind had mostly gone.
I hoped to get to Rosarito or beyond but the junction to Santa Rosalillita tempted us with a sign for a campground and a restaurant.
Neither of which appeared after arriving in the derelict little fishing village.
The two shopkeepers there both tried to direct us to the “American camp” 15 km’s up the road but Hugo was having non of it.
“ I need to rest in the shade, then maybe go back to Rosarito”
He looked disheartened as he was expecting a slightly more touristy village, as was I..
We sat for a while, in the shade and breeze I knew we would not make it the next day to Guerrero Negro.
Dave an American, wound down his window as he pulled up.
He invited us to a Thanksgiving day meal a few miles up the coast at a surfers camp.
“Dude, its all mellow, yellow. You’re welcome to come and I will drive you up there in my van”
While the offer was tempting, hanging out with several aging American surfers and their stereotype metaphors, was not that appealing to me.
I wanted to push on.
But Hugo decided it was a good opportunity to rest and loaded his bike into the van.
We said our goodbyes and I returned to the road, the wind and a motel and great meal in Rosarito.
It was good riding with Hugo.
He is a fantastic guy and companion, but its evident, we are both on different agendas and ride at different speeds.
Riding with him has been a great introduction to Mexico and Baja, but I now need to up my pace again and get out of the desert.
I hope I meet up with Hugo again though.
to be continued.....