Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back to La Paz

distance = 53

We dined with Ian and Mo one last evening, endured Mexican party music blasting from the South end of the campground at 4am, and set out for to La Paz by 8am the next morning.  This time we were riding up the steep side of the hill about an hour and a half of strict climbing.  Rob stopped to take a photo of the turkey vultures doing what he called "their morning yoga".  Something like the warrior position their wings extended to either side while perched atop a cardon cacti fingers up to the sky.

Our final destination would eventually be Todos Santos on the Pacific Coast of the peninsula. We were advised to go straight from La Ventana through some smaller communities, but it would have made for an over 100km day in the hot hot sun.  We arrived in La Paz in time for lunch, a visit to the Ferreteria (hardware store) where the woman attendant helped fixed my front basket carrier.  Rob did some grocery shopping in what felt like a Walmart disguised as a latino supermercado (supermarket) and we ate a rich milk chocolate and almond covered icecream bar not available in most tiendas.

We had also come back to La Paz to consider doing another kayak trip but decided against it.  We've entered the phase of our voyage where the end of the trip is nigh, as well as the outer limits of our budget.  An enthusiasm for kayaking (and maybe kiteboarding?!) is one souvenir I'll be taking home with me to be taken up with gusto in waters closer to home.  We booked into a hotel on the outskirts of town and staged for our last desert ride out to the small town and gringo haven of Todos Santos. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

La Ventana

distance = 53

After a good dose of city life we left La Paz to visit the wind people.  La Ventana, 'the window', is a mere 53 km away from La Paz with a 2000 ft hill in between.  Not so fun going up but lots of fun going down.

Some of the finest people Rob and I met as we traveled south have made a habit of wintering in La Ventana.  They come for the 'el Norte' wind that blows consistently from North to South noon until 5pm every day.  In the morning the wind people walk, jog, kayak, fish, snorkel, stand up paddle (or sup) and cycle and in the afternoon windsurf or kiteboard.  The window is set up such that the wind blows them into the safety of an L shaped bay.  That way, as said by one Ventanian, they don't get blown down to Panama.

Upon arrival we promptly rewarded ourselves with some beachfront drinks, a mojito and cerveza, sitting down at a table with two Vancouverites.  Many of the wind people hail from Canada and the States, usually from places where they sport the wind in the summer, spring and fall.  They make a tour of it from the Columbia river gorge, to the Texas coast to La Ventana, Baja California Sur.  They all know these spots and others.  My Dad, who windsurfed as I grew up, remembered word of La Ventana from back in the day.

Refreshed we set out to find Ian and Mo who we'd met while camped near the Mexican border.  Back in Potreiro we'd had a lovely dinner together in their RV, them anticipating their windy winter in Baja and us the warmer climes and desert riding.  We quickly located their camp where they have a nice hillside perch with ocean view.  After hellos and a tour of the property Mo invited us to join them and others for dinner.  Just a few days prior they'd connected with Rick, the fine fellow who took us in for Ben & Jerry's and tea at Playa Requeson.  A few days later, on a bike ride with Ian, we'd have an impromptu reunion with Rick on the intermittent La Ventana sidewalk.

Unfortunately the wind was down in La Ventana, the afternoons of windsports off for the time being.  Rob and I did what we've been doing here in Mexico.  We set up a beach camp but on the most occupied beach we've seen thus far.  We enjoyed a mix of dining out and camp food, cooking up jurel, a fish like tuna, bought from the local pescaderia (fish is called pescado in Spanish).

Our last day in La Ventana the el Norte kicked up and the wind people were out like spout.  Rob and I watched a Kite Boarding competition and saw some serious Mexican and Gringo talent. Boarders slicing water with jumps and spins while suspended from a kite in flight 50 ft above.  Apparently kiting is easier than wind surfing, requires less wind and has less cumbersome gear.  These chicos and chicas made it look really easy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

La Paz


After one last night in Loreto and a visit to the Sunday morning farmer's market we jumped on a bus for La Paz.  What was going to be two nights turned into four.  This town is the biggest in Baja California del Sur and we enjoyed the restaurants, museums and theatre that go along with that.  We also stayed at Baja B&B with a courtyard pool and hot tub, bougainvilla and hummingbirds, our own kitchen and al fresco dining table, not to mention some delicious breakfasts with our host Cecilia.  There was another couple from Vancouver, Lori and Paul, renting an apartment from Cecilia for the winter.

First night was pizza and red wine at a picnic table outside the Italian restaurant El Forno.  The next day was grocery shopping where we found a bakery with beautiful baked bread, the best we've had in Mexico which made for a delicious lunch back at the B&B.  That night we went to the year end recital of a dance school.  Latina chicitas belly dancing was definitely the highlight.  The next day we shared a mole dish for lunch before visiting a spanish school where we learned about Christmas in Mexico, las Posadas and pinatas.  Then to museums with photography and Baja natural history and onto an evening theatre performance by local university students.  Unlike the afternoon lecture we didn't understand a thing, but it was an hour well spent nonetheless, topped off by crepes and beers on a street front terrace.  Our last night in La Paz we joined a crowd outside the state government buildings for a Christmas performance by the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, a famous touring company from the mainland. 


distance = 92

We woke up early, eating breakfast as the sky went from dark to light with all the colours in between.  The cycle along the rest of Bahia Concepcion and over to Loreto was nice and flat, with some downhill stretches along which we flew.  The 92 km to Loreto was behind us with plenty of the afternoon left for exploring the town.   Loreto was the first capital of the Californias and seems a bit more upscale than the other towns we visited so far.  We stayed at an RV park that was also nicer than the other campgrounds we had been to with a swimming pool and warm showers.

Our first night there we ate at a restaurant on the central plaza across from the original mission in town.  One of the waiters, Joel, saw our bikes parked and came to talk to us about our trip.  He runs a bike and kayak touring company.  After talking with him about the kayaking trips we decided to book a three day trip to the nearby islands.

The trip to Isla Camen and Isla Danzante turned out to be one the highlights of our journey so far.  We camped on beaches we had all to ourselves far from any lights.  We went to bed and awoke watching the stars.  Orion, Taurus, Pleides and Jupiter paraded across the sky.

As we kayaked along the shore of the islands we saw a wide variety of birds - bluefooted boobies, frigate birds, terns, osprey, oyster catchers, pelicans, cormorants, pelicans, gulls, heron, snow egrets and turkey vultures. And there were the fish we saw both from the kayaks and snorkeling - cortez angelfish, crabs (hermit and dungeoness), porcupine fish, balloon fish, trumpet fish, Sargent major fish, yellow tail and dolphins (from a distance).  One of the most spectacular sites were eagle rays jumping several feet out of the water. 

We also did a short hike on Isla Danzante.  There we saw some of the same flora we had observed camping in the deserts but we began to learn some of the names - the nicely scented Tarote Colorado, the bonsai-like Elephant tree, pilaya dulce catcus, prickly pear cactus and tall cardón.

Joel also demonstrated how Mexican food might be prepared when camping.  Our first lunch was ceviche - fresh fish cooked by the acidity of lime.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Playa El Requeson

distance = 26

We decided to shorten our cycling trip to Loreto by spending the last night on Bahia Concepcion at a beach further south.  The campground at Playa El Requeson was on scenic spit of sand that stretched from the shore to a small island.

The campground was filled with RVs many with BC (not Baja California, the other BC) license plates.  The person who camped beside us was from Hood River, Oregon.  Rick was on his way to La Ventana for some wind sports and invited us over to ice cream, cookies and beer.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Playa Santispac

distance = 20

Bahia Concepcion is a string of white sandy beaches along the Sea of Cortez.  The eastern shoreline is protected from the strong ocean winds and waves by a peninsula that juts out South to North, parallel to the beaches where we camped out the next few days.

Excitement over some long awaited Mexican beach days mounted as the road wended its way through some canyons to and from the shore with peeks of the shallow coves and turquoise waters that awaited us.  Coming around one last bend Playa Santispac lay spread out before us.  It was a nice view no doubt, but one I wished we were seeing from a more remote dirt road.  The sound of truck engine brakes would be in the background the next few days.  Oh well, not quite paradise but easily accessed by bicycle!
Three days later, my early disappointment had faded away.  Our tent was staked a mere 30 metres from the water under the palm leaf shelter of a palapa.  We ate delicious fish tacos at Ana's, the beachfront restaurant.  The white fish battered and deep fried was served inside folded tortilla shells with fresh salsa, Pacifico beers on the side.

The second day we rented kayaks and visited some of the other beaches further down the shore.  Schools of fish jumped up around us as a bigger fish hunted them from below.  We caught our first glimpses of rays and what Rob called a zebra fish, striped a vertical black.  The water was just warm enough for a swim during the afternoon heat.  I read reclined in the tent and watched as pelicans and what we would later learn were boobies diving in the water.

There is something very humorous about Pelicans, their sideways eyes peering out atop their long noses and what would at first appear to be an elegant dive but ending with a rather abrupt plop.  I had a nice laugh over them with a traveler named Jenny while sitting down to our last dinner enjoyed at Ana's.  We did actually cook for ourselves on the beach, our staples nicely accompanied by fruit, pastries and fresh fish bought from Mexican vendors visiting the beach.  There was something extremely satisfying about buying fresh fish, frying it up on the camp stove set in the sand in front of our tent.  We fashioned a concoction of garlic, oil and vinegar from our camping pantry stores (my green backpack) and it made for a delicious lunch and dinner (and part of dinner).     

Saturday night at Ana's was quite a party with resident gringos coming from Mulege and the other beaches for a set menu of ribs and chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers).  The traveling crowd in Baja is like none other I've experienced.  We're first hand witnesses to the winter migration of snowbirds from Canada and America flocking in their motor homes to the warm climes of Baja California.  They were at this party in majority.  While sipping a stiff margarita the people watching was exceptional, topped by a man who must have been in his 80's dancing with his cane.  Some fellow youngsters staying at the palapa next to ours brought along their hula hoops which were popular with the crowd.  Rob and I flaunted our salsa and other dancing styles before the bar shut down at 9pm.  Baja midnight, depending on who you're asking.  A short walk along the beach under the stars and we were back in our tent for the night.


distance = 62

Oof!  Santa Rosalia and some rather unpleasant sulfur burps and bathroom visits behind us, we got back on our bikes and rode to Mulege.  Our recovery was complete, in part thanks to a visit to 'el doctor'.  The Mexican health system saw us in a matter of minutes with no fuss over paperwork, for better or for worse, and not a mention of payment.  Having paid for some prescription medication we took our meds more out of diligence than necessity.  We were already on the mend (again) but wanted to be sure the nasty was stamped out for good.

We eased our way back into cycling with the ride from Santa Rosalia to Mulege.  Dogs are ever present.  One at the beginning of this day's journey was scrounging for food on the side of the highway evidently having just given birth to pups but herself only just skin and bones.  Most of the time we're warding them off as they bark and charge.  Rob's fool proof method is to stop with the bike between himself and them, and to call them off until they back down.

We made it to Mulege by lunchtime and quickly found ourselves a garden patio table at the restaurant and soon to be night's abode of Las Casitas, with mid-day margaritas in hand.  It soon became evident that we had reached a tourist destination in it's own right, rather than a stopping point along the way.  A first hint was the book exchange at the laundromat and at the American run El Candil restaurant.  Good thing!  I was coming to the end of Cervantes' Don Quixote and would need some more reading for our upcoming days a la playa (at the beach).

We did a grocery shop to stock up for living at the beach.  Our staples so far in Mexico: cereal, powdered milk, quick rice, lentils, frijoles (beans), pasta and sauce.  Scared off of fresh veggies for the time being we opted for the canned variety packed with the obligatory jalapeno or two.

After a lovely night's rest in a pretty pink room with brightly coloured bed spread we headed for Bahia Concepcion.  The travel guide describes the bay as the best of what Baja has to offer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Following Steinbeck

I have been thinking about John Steinbeck on this trip.

We visited Salinas valley where he grew up, Pacific Grove where he lived and Monterrey the setting for some of his writings.  Now we are on the Sea of Cortez which he also visited and wrote three books about.

There was also the couple we met in the California Redwoods who like Steinbeck's Joad family in Grapes of Wrath had traveled from Oklahoma to California.  Like us they were journeying by bike but in a much different manner.  They described themselves as bike touring "hillbillies."  They lacked proper panniers using an assortment of plastic bags instead.  The husband pulled a child's bike trailer which held their dog and various other possessions.  It seemed very much a self-propelled version of the Joad family's vehicle.

We met them in a state park but it seemed they often camped where ever they found themselves at night. 

They invited us for tea in the morning and he launched into a long somewhat delusional, somewhat profound discourse on his philosophy of life.  It was a strange mix of conspiracy theories, universalism, christian dispensationism and rastafari.  He is ex-military and did time in Iraq. 

Perhaps this family had been displaced not by dust bowls and economic depression but the psychological effects of imperial military adventures and neo-con policies.

In our travels we have also encountered signs of economic migrants.  But instead of moving from east to west they are moving south to north. 

Unfortunately they are not always being shown the compassion that Steinbeck evoked for the migrants in Grapes of Wrath or the Indígena in The Pearl.  This is evident in the fear-mongering towards Mexicans we encounter in the U.S. media and personal conversations as well as the infrastructure we saw along the border.  There was an almost endless stream of border patrol paddy wagons on the rural highways of San Diego county.  And military-like check points well north of the border.

In Baja we have encountered many gringos who have moved here for all or part of the year.  Immigration in the other direction is much more complicated.

I have also been reflecting on the importance Steinbeck placed on science.  Both through the character "Doc" in Cannery Row  and his real life experience exploring the Sea of Cortez.

This connection with science is celebrated in many plaques, banners and other text around Cannery Row and the Aquarium in Monterrey.

We were reading this information only a few days after the US had elected what is probably the most anti-science congress in its history.

Steinbeck's writings might be more relevant than ever.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sick in Santa Rosalita

Did the UV water treatments not work?  Should we have not washed our dishes in untreated water?  Was it the ice in a drink?

We aren't sure how it happened, but we both got sick on our second day in San Ignacio.  After camping for two nights we decided we needed something more comfortable and moved to a yurt in a riverside B&B run by a Canadian couple from Northern BC.  That also gave us access to kayaks which we paddled up the river to its source - a hot spring (really more of a "warm" spring).

It was the day after American thanksgiving so they were serving up turkey dinner leftovers for dinner.  It was great to have some non-Mexican comfort food.

The next day we seemed to be feeling better and cycled the 72 km to Santa Rosalita.  The traffic was light and the steep twisty descent to the Sea of Cortez was a great way to end the ride.  We'd received warnings about this section but after our ride I can only assume it's harder to drive by car than by bicycle.  Wherever cars and trucks are forced to go slower it is all the better for us! 

Santa Rosalia was originally built by a French mining company.  The architecture has a different feel than the typical Spanish style.  Many of the buildings are made of wood.  The main church in town is made of metal, rumored to be styled by none other than Eiffel (of the tower fame).  We stopped at the famous bakery in the morning to pick up some pastries.


That morning we had intended to cycle to Mulege.  But Karen was enticed by the nice hotel just past the edge of town with a pool and ocean view.  This turned out to be our home for the next four days as Karen nosedived the next day and we continued our recovery.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to get the Mexican military to visit your campsite.

After setting up camp in San Ignacio we went to explore the town
centre. While looking for the post office we ran into two other touring
cyclists. They were part of a group of six who had been traveling
together. They had spotted us earlier and had been looking for us. We
were invited back to their camp for drinks.

We stopped at the zócalo (town square) to do some shopping. A member of
the municipal police approached us and let us know that the other
cyclists had been looking for us. He spoke excellent English and we had
a short conversation about camping, Alberta, hunting for big horn sheep
and crime in Baja. It wasn't the last time we would see him that day.

After some shopping we stopped at the camp of the other cycling group.
Most of them had cycled all the way from Alaska. One of them had come
from the east coast of the US. Two of them were cycling all the way to
Argentina to raise awareness about water issues. Rather than setting
up in a formal campground like we had, they had just pitched tents under
some date palms in an empty lot near the edge of town.

We arrived as a fire was being built. Piles of dry palm leaves and
large logs were being piled on the fire. As darkness fell, a convoy of
vehicles approached the camp.

Suddenly the guys that built the fire were having a pleasant
conversation with the municipal police officer that we had met earlier.
And standing around us were troops from the military in desert
camouflage holding automatic weapons.

Apparently someone had seen the bonfire and reported it. The police
explained that starting a large fire in a desert oasis on a very windy
day surrounded by trees that showed signs of a recent fire was probably
not the best idea. The military soon realized that they were not needed
and left. The fire builders were not fined but they did have to pay the
costs of having a water truck come to douse the fire.