I’m writing this two months to the day that I first left from Alaska, crossing the sea of Cortez on my way to mainland Mexico.
I left ten days ago from San Diago, fuelled on breakfast the American way (a huge stack of iHop pancakes and cream) that I was treated to from my awesome host in San Diego, Kyle Suarez. From there I attempted (and failed) to not get too lost in San Diego, as I headed to the gateway south at the Mexican border. I’d wanted to get there early as I’d been told Tijuana was a place only good for peddling through as quickly as possible. Being a little apprehensive about rolling into the city, Day 1 could not have gone worse initially, as I rolled in late and was given wrong information from the cities tourist board. I ended up being directed onto a 3 lane highway, with no shoulder and cars screaming past. I instantly took myself off and attempted to push my bike up over the hill to the side and back onto the road I came from. A homeless man living under a bridge sprinted across the highway and beckoned me over to bring my bike, lift it over the barriers, then dodge the traffic to the other side. Faced with a choice of becoming Mexican road kill or being able to carry on with my journey, I chose the latter and politely ignored his waving. From there I was forced to take another less sketchy but uncomfortably dangerous road, over the mountains towards Playas de Tijuana. What the tourist office misinformed me on was that from there I would have no route south as cyclists weren’t allowed on the Rapido 1 (the new highway), the only road south. Faced with having to go back over the mountains I just climbed and with time running out to head south out of the city, I was enormously fortunate to be stopped by a local called Luis and his family, who explained to me they helped out cyclists in this position almost every couple of months. They drove 5 miles out of their way with me following behind, to show me a place they could help sneak me onto the highway (which had a gloriously huge shoulder to ride in). After helping me lift my bike up the hill and over the rails, I then had 65 more miles to smash through, as the time had passed 1pm and cycling at night time wasn’t advised. The route cut back inland as I changed onto the old highway (didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the Mexican police on the first day) and climbed up over two mountains before I came across the biggest descent so far on this journey. The road dropped 20 kms into the town of San Miguel, through winding roads and with the backdrop of a stunning sunset.
I made it to the longest city in the world (apparently) Ensanada, where I stopped with Jorge (pronounced Hor-hey, not George as I called him) and his mother, who showed me true Mexican hospitality (the papaya covered in chilli powder and lime was a complete game changer!). From there it was 8 days of riding through the desert, as I stocked up on food and water after a days riding and climbed into cactus country. The first day started with half a day of climbing, as the desert began taking shape and the novelty of seeing legit looking cactus slowly wearing off the more and more I saw. I took myself off the road and found a place to camp out in the mountains, under a sea of clouds and one of the brightest moons I’ve ever seen. The landscape became even more dramatic the next day, with bizarre looking long, thin, Christmas tree style cactus and huge piles of boulders dotted around the sand. The riding was tough and I was glad to pull into a tiny town for the evening and be greeted by more Mexican hospitality, as a family invited me to camp in their back garden and gorge on more unreal Mexican food. I should point out that by now I’d been trying desperately to use any Spanish I could, with varying degrees of success. Seeing the word ‘puente’ before every town, I’d taken that to mean town as it always came before the towns name. What I hadn’t realised is that there is a bridge before almost every town. When I eventually realised its true meaning after crossing a bridge (puente) in the middle of the desert with no town around, I finally realised why I was getting such strange looks every time I’d been trying to ask a question about whether there was anywhere I could camp in the bridge (town).
The next day was an entirely new and oddly frustrating experience, of riding over 100 miles of extremely flat, lifeless desert, which with headwinds at times, felt more like I was going up hill. After the town of Guerro Negro, I set myself a target of averaging 95 miles a day to reach La Paz and cover Baja in just 10 days. After 2 days I’d reached the Sea of Cortez and the most stunning section of road on the whole journey, as roads clung onto the cliff sides to resemble Mexico’s equivalent of ‘Big Sur’. I camped out on the beach that night after smashing down $1 fish tacos, which didn’t do justice to the price tag and lived up to their amazing reputation. I smashed through the next day with the knowledge that at the end of the day I’d have to climb ‘La Cuesta de Ligui.‘. Any hill with a name is one which is going to prove a challenge and although this wasn’t as bad as I thought, it still lived up to it’s name.
Half the next day was spent cycling through more flat, lifeless desert, which can be compared on the same scale of ecstasy as the morning after eating a slightly suspect plate of fish tacos. I’d put in over 100 miles for 4 consecutive days as I cycled into the last town before La Paz. I asked some of the locals where I could stay and they all pointed me towards the church and ‘El Padre’. The apparently nameless El Padre was an incredibly warm hearted person. I expected just somewhere to set up my tent but he showed me to a room within the church quarters, which had a bed and even a warm shower (it had been a few days of sweating in the desert and even El Padre was keeping a safe arms length away from me to avoid the smell). The last day was supposed to be a short 70 miles to my finish point in La Paz, however the wind and landscape would see to it that it turned out to be the hardest day of the journey through Baja. I pushed on over the hills and 30 kms from the end, saw La Paz on the horizon and a chance to rest up before taking the ferry over to the mainland. My phone broke on the way to finding my place for the night but somehow I managed to remember enough of the address to find it to Alan’s house, who was the brother of Miguel, one of the people who showed me such an amazing time up in Santa Cruz. Just like his brother, Alan went out of his way to show me a good time, even going so far as to arrange a trip to swim with the whale sharks. The weather however had its say again, as the wind closed the harbour for the one and a half days I was there and I had to catch the only avaliable boat, leaving the next night, to Mazatlan and the mainland. The journey across was delayed by 3 hours due to the winds, but fortunately enough I was in good company, meeting a handful of awesome travellers who have made the 18 hour crossing a breeze (no shame for including that pun).
The roads were a little dangerous at times, being only a car lane wide and winding through the mountains, with no shoulder to offer the slightest protection from the constant flow of trucks thundering past, arse clenchingly close. I’ve also acquired a new found respect for the postman, having wild dogs chase me on a regular basis. Learnt the terrifying way to stop a dog chasing you is to slow right down and show no fear at all…quite the challenge when a pitball or something equally barbaric is snapping at the heels.
Baja was as true to form as all the positive write ups had suggested. The landscapes were breath-taking at times and the people just a complete joy to be around. Before I crossed the border, I have to admit to a little apprehension about heading into Mexico, although it’s proved so far unfounded, as the people have just been so warm and welcoming and the food as incredible as I had imagined. The army road blocks every 100 miles or so and the truck loads of heavily armed troops rolling past would suggest it’s not all singing around campfires and community yoga. However, I just hope I keep on meeting the 99% of friendly, constantly waving and smiling locals who have left such an awesome impression on me already.
As I write, we are pulling into port and getting ready to head onto the mainland. The apprehension from before has returned again, however I hope I continue to run into the vast majority of lovely people this country should be known for. I’ve got a good idea of the route I’m going to take and I’m excited for the potential Mexico has to offer. Setting my sights south towards Mexico City for my birthday and then towards Yucatan for what might be a lonely Christmas. The miles are rolling on and so is the fundraising. The total has reached over £10,000 ($16,000) and my family and friends have been continuing with their amazing efforts to help this goal to be met. Please keep spreading the word and supporting this cause and if you haven’t and feel inspired to do so, sponsor a mile today.