November 2017

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95516.18 – Post #13

After an uneventful border crossing (a good thing) we entered Costa Rica on the Trans-American Highway No. 1 and immediately noticed the superior quality of the pavement and beautifully landscaped boulevards. Numerous crews were hard at work keeping the roadside manicured and clear of garbage, vegetation and debris, in striking contrast to the other central American countries we’d visited so far.

First stop was the Playa Naranjo and the Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, site of one of the oldest and largest Costa Rican Hacienda’s. Established in 1663, it is located near the present-day border, and was the site of significant battles between Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans over the centuries, as each country tried to secure respective boundaries.

The property has been turned into a war museum and it was here that we met a young German student named Mark who was volunteering during his gap year to help maintain Costa Rica’s national parks. Mark had been working by himself for a couple of weeks in this isolated park, and he was eager to speak with us to practice his English.

The trail to Naranjo Playa is closed, washed out, he told us, which was unfortunate, as it is the nicest beach in all of Costa Rica. But, he said, I️ have worked all over the Nicoya Peninsula, and can show you the location of the two next best ones.

On our map, Mark pointed out his two favourite Playas; Tamarindo, only a couple of hours away, and Santa Teresa, on the southern tip of the peninsula. Before we left, Mark invited us to spend an evening camping by his cabana, however, we had just arrived in the country and had neither food or water, so we declined his invitation and headed for Tamarindo.

Tamarindo is a quaint surfer town on the northwest coast of the Nicoya peninsula. Naturalists visit the region to see the leatherback turtles hatch on the Pacific Ocean beaches and crocodiles swimming in the rivers. 

Surfers come for the big waves, which break far from shore and provide long and exhilarating rides for the those brave enough. We spent 2 days in this little town, at a small casita managed by a French ex-pat named Alexia, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean, and washing our clothes and riding gear, which smelled like hockey equipment in August.

After crossing 5 borders in 7 days, and being on the move daily since our break in Huatulco, Mexico, Tamarindo was the perfect setting to recharge. Alexie was a great host, making breakfast every morning and pointing out the many different resident iguanas that live on the property. The orange ones are much larger and more colorful than the green ones, she said, but the green ones are far more aggressive and territorial and are quick to attack the orange ones. To be safe, we stayed clear of them both.

Leaving Tamarindo for Santa Teresa, a ride of a few hours, we were looking forward to another down day off the bikes upon reaching our destination. We decided to take the gravel back roads that wound up and down the coastal rainforest; though more direct, it was also a much longer route than the inland paved highway because of the many bays and inlets that dot the coast line.

In places, the road was wet with the recent rains and the slippery gravel and dirt track was washed out and severely potholed. On one steep section, we both dropped our bikes. Her, the road wasn’t particularly treacherous, we had been on much rougher terrain on the Baja, but the slick clay surface was covered with round cobbles and pebbles which caused us both to go down.

The Africa Twin emerged unscathed, but the V-Strom suffered a broken foot peg that sheared off at the mount – a bad outcome that necessitated an immediate change of plans.

Santa Teresa, and the much-anticipated day off would have to wait; we needed to get to San Jose, the largest city in Costa Rica, and hopefully find a Suzuki dealer that might stock the mounting bracket.

We headed for the ferry that took us to the mainland from the Nicoya Peninsula and disembarking at nightfall, spent the night in Puntarenas, a small beach town on a narrow spit of land that juts into the Pacific.

The next morning, we travelled the few hours to San Jose, and promptly encountered a typical Latin American big city traffic jam. While pondering the direction to the dealership in the long line-up of cars, trucks and buses, we experienced one of those unbelievable “miracles” that can occur in traveling life. 

A man wearing a Suzuki shirt, and on a bike identical to the V-Strom, pulled up alongside us.  Seeing such a large motorcycle was unusual in Central America, seeing one that was identical, even in color, was against all odds. The man, named Alfredo, reached over to shake our hands and we motioned him to pull over to chat.  Showing Alfredo the broken foot peg mount, we asked him if he knew of a dealership that might be able to order the required part for us. No problem, Alfred said, I am a partner in the largest Suzuki dealership in the city and will call my shop to see if it is available. Ten minutes, and a phone call later, Alfred had secured the part, and lined up his shop mechanic to make the repairs. Alfredo texted us a map with the route to his shop that we imported into our GPS units, and 10 minutes after that, we arrived at his shop and the repairs were completed within the hour. The miracle continued; the Africa Twin needed an oil change and some minor servicing, and lo and behold, there was a Honda dealer just down the block. One of the chief Africa Twin mechanics, Ronald, cleared his appointments for the rest of the day to work the bike into his busy schedule. Ronald and Alfredo were our saviours that day and we are extremely grateful for the kindness of these two Costa Rican gentlemen to get two Canadian bikers back on the road.

After work was completed on both bikes, we immediately headed for Manual Antonio National Park back on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. This park, although one of the smallest in the country, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world.  

In the small village next to the park, aptly named Manual Antonio, we were looking forward to staying at a small hostel owned by a work colleague and fellow Canadian, Dave.

 

Lush green rainforests of Parque Nacional Santa Rosa

 

Meeting Mark, a German student volunteer, maintaining Costa Rica’s National Parks

 

Tranquil Casa Blanca casita in Tamarindo

 

The sun rising and setting over Tamarindo Playa

 

Green and orange iguanas at Casa Blanca

 

Fast moving green iguana

 

Cool looking tree at Casa Blanca

 

Leaving Tamarindo – Alexia was a great host, and made awesome breakfasts

 

Traveling the back roads to Santa Teresa               

 

Beautiful beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula, south of Tamarindo

 

Broken foot-peg bracket – not a good situation

 

Taking the ferry to Puntarenas on the way to San Jose for repairs

 

Meeting Alfredo, a savior and V-Strom rider, in a San Jose traffic jam. Alfredo’s bike is the clean one on the left

 

Ronald did an awesome job servicing the Africa Twin on short notice

95492.75 – Post #12

We left beautiful Guatemala, but not before spending an afternoon exploring (lost) trying to find a back road, shown by both of our GPS units, to connect two paved highways on either flank of a large mountain.

The satellites guided us progressively up steeper and steeper cobblestone roads that finally led into a small, sleepy village. After passing through the small town and attracting stares from local residents, the road became gravel and suddenly ended or so we thought.

At the edge of the clearing, where our GPS units were telling us to go, there was only a narrow, heavily gullied, dirt path covered almost completely over with thick vegetation; thanks NASA.

This was the end of the line, at least for us, and we turned around. On the way out of the village, we stopped and asked an elderly lady walking up the street, if she knew the way to the town we were trying to reach. She quickly pointed back up the road, from where we had just turned around, and said “directivo”.

No doubt she had made the trip up that dirt track to our destination many times, but, despite her advanced age, she appeared far hardier than us, so we wisely admitted defeat and continued backtracking for several hours down the slope to the main highway, and the long way around. 

Leaving Guatemala the next day, we passed through El Salvador, Honduras and into Nicaragua over the course of the next 4 days. The country-side was beautiful, the highways were good and the people we met along the way were very friendly.

It was unfortunate that we didn’t take more time to explore El Salvador and Honduras, and meet more of the locals; we knew we were missing out on a fabulous opportunity to see these countries, but time was beginning to be a factor for the sailing date out of Panama, and we wanted to maximize our time in Costa Rica, yet ahead.

In Salvador, coincidentally, staying with us in a small hotel in San Vicente, was a large contingent of Canadians, including several Albertans (and Flames fans) who were doing work for the non-profit group SHELTER Canada.

It was great to catch up on the NHL and learn about the good work this group is doing in Central America. These dedicated folks have built thousands of homes in Honduras and El Salvador for families in need and they described how dozens of people from the local community’s pitch in with the construction effort.

Several members of the group, who have been coming to this area for over a decade, also described how they have observed the proliferation of drugs and gang activity over the last few years and warned us of the dangers of travel in the region.

We saw evidence of the heightened security along the ribbon of asphalt we followed; gas stations typically had armed guards at the entrances and exits and hotels where we overnighted always had several armed men patrolling the grounds.

Even in Guatemala a few days earlier, we passed a Burger King, and in a moment of nostalgia, stopped for a burger and were directed to a parking stall by a guard armed with a piston grip shot gun who watched over our bikes while we had a Whopper and fries. 

On our last night in Nicaragua, we stopped by a lake side restaurant in San Jorge, a small community on the shores of beautiful Lake Nicaragua. The owner, an Italian ex-pat named Dario, cooked fantastic Italian dishes and told us his story how he had fallen in love with Nicaragua 15 years ago, after travelling through 25 countries in North and South America, including Canada and the US.

He had written a book about his travels, he said, and produced a bound volume, complete with maps, from behind the counter. Unfortunately, it was published in Italian and we were unable to read it, but he said it was very, very good. Even though he had traveled extensively in the western hemisphere, it was here, he said, in the shadows of Ometepe Island, with its two majestic volcano’s Concepcion and Maderas, that he had found paradise.  He described the last eruption from Concepcion in 2005 and the ash that rained down on his restaurant, only a few kilometers away. We were not worried, he said, it happens frequently.

The next day, it was on to the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border crossing. We had crossed four borders in the last 6 days and were getting much better in dealing with the tramedores and the associated paperwork hurdles with government officials.

However, each crossing took several hours to complete, and we were looking forward to Costa Rica and spending time off the bikes in the lush rain forests of Guanacaste Province and the Nicoya Peninsula.

 

Last view of the volcanoes near Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

 

Tuk Tuk taxis are everywhere in Guatemala, this one is particularly decked out

 

This is the “before” picture

 

Back roads in beautiful Guatemala

 

El Salvador border crossing, border lineups and checking VIN serial numbers

 

Getting the bikes fumigated, for some reason, El Salvador

 

Jake, a Canadian, with the group Shelter Canada, a non-profit group building homes for the needy in El Salvador

 

Lining up for immigration paperwork, Honduras

 

Making friends with tramedores, Honduras

 

Hotel guards, Honduras          

 

Traffic Hazards, Nicaragua

 

Majestic Ometepe Island’s Volcano Concepcion on Lago de Nicaragua, last erupted in 2005

 

Italian ex-pat Dario showing us the book he wrote on his travels 15 years earlier

 

Gorgeous Nicaragua scenery

 

95480.4 – Post #11

After passing thorough the Mexican sates of Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, it was time to enter Guatemala. 

Crossing the border was a chaotic undertaking, at times entertaining, at time times frustrating, but always interesting. As we approached the border area, there was a long line of commercial transport trucks lined up along the narrow highway and off to the ditches on either side.

Pulling up behind the trucks and even before coming to a complete stop, we were immediately besieged (swarmed) by men in red shirts, with laminated, numbered cards hanging around their necks. These men are called “tramedores” and they assist (prey upon) tourists to complete paperwork required to obtain vehicle import/export permits and tourist entry and departure permit from one country to the next.

Although fiercely competitive with each other, they also cleverly collaborate and share the spoils gained from uninitiated visitors. Not having a firm grip on Spanish and not yet having a Central America border crossing experience, we were ripe for the picking and they knew it.

About a dozen men aggressively thrust their laminated cards into our faces, motioning us to bypass the traffic line-ups and directed us into a side lot where we parked the bikes to be inspected by Mexican officials who verified our vehicle registrations, drivers license, passports and driver’s licenses.

It was then that the money exchangers moved in, waving big fat wads of Guatemalan, Mexican and US currency at us. Shooing the money exchangers away, for the time being, we landed on a price with one of the tramedores, who spoke the best english, to assist us.

From then on, it was a dizzying sequence of filling out forms, getting passports stamped, moving the bikes through line-ups of people, cars and trucks to various government offices, and making trips to a side stall off the main strip, where a woman made photocopies of each and every document in a small, dark back room.  Once we finished with the Mexican exit procedures, the process was repeated for entry on the Guatemalan side. 

During the mayhem, we witnessed a young boy, maybe 10 years old, carrying a large old CRT TV on his back, making a mad dash to the Guatemalan side of the border. He was bent over double from his heavy load and paid no attention to the shrill whistles from the border guards. The guards seemed to lose interest in him, as we arrived and it appeared the lads determined effort was successful.

The final step was having the bikes fumigated with some kind of foul smelling mist, applied by a young man waving a wand attached to a portable tank strapped to his back.  Finally, after settling with the tramedores, for twice the agreed-upon price, we were free to proceed.

Our first destination in Guatemala was the small town of San Pedro La Laguna, located on famed Lake Atitlan. Measuring about 15 km by 5 km, the lake is situated within an enormous volcanic caldera, resulting from magma eruptions within the last 100,000 years. With its deep blue waters and towering volcanic cones as a background, it is considered by many as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

In the small towns and villages scattered around the lake, Mayan culture is evident everywhere, and local inhabitants still wear traditional clothing. On our descent down into the caldera, we paused at the edge to admire the view. That was when Hans, a Swiss national, pulled up on his European Africa Twin motorcycle, its battered panniers covered in stickers from the places he had been.

We are lucky to be doing this he said and explained that he had been travelling through Central and South America for the last 10 years and had only seen a fraction of the things to see. He peeled back his glove to show us a wound sustained in a crash earlier that day. His bloodied jacket and pants attested to the fact it must have hurt. 

I am sixty-six years old now he said and my mind is still sharp and my vision is still good, but it is getting harder. We exchanged stories for a while, then he jumped back on his bike, paused to remind us once again how lucky we are and rode off toward Belize. From there we descended the steep, washed out road, where Hans had his accident, into the quaint town of San Pedro.

Mexico/Guatemala Border Crossing

 

Tramedores guide us through congested traffic

 

Squeezing through to the border offices

 

Stunning Lake Atitlan

 

Meeting Hans was an inspiration

 

Hotel in San Pedro

 

Sunrise over Lake Atitlan

 

A beautiful woman, in traditional Mayan dress, selling small loaves of awesome banana bread in San Pedro

 

Lake Atitlan locals along the roadside

 

Passing through one of the small towns on Lake Atitlan

 

Meeting friendly Guatemalan police after our own (minor) mishap on the rough roads               

And the award for great camera work goes to……………

95473.93 – Post #10 

The Hualtuco region, in the state of Oaxaca, is comprised of several towns and villages that total approximately 50,000 inhabitants. It is a popular destination for Mexicans in the spring, summer and fall months and Canadians in the winter. It is situated at the base of the Sierra Madre mountains and is famed for its beautiful bays, beaches (playas) and warm aquamarine waters which attract snorkelers, divers and surfers. Several of the most pristine beaches are situated with the Parque National Huatulco, a designated park that restricts development and are only accessible by boat.

We spent two full days in the wonderful little town of Crucecita. As it was the first day off the bikes since California, it was spent resting, relaxing and catching up on personal affairs. The second day was spent in a rented tonga boat with Captain Primo as our guide, visiting some of the boat-access only beaches within the national park.

We snorkeled the reefs at Bahia Organo and being the shoulder season for tourists, had the beautiful beach and offshore reefs to ourselves. Unfortunately, despite our sun and windburned faces, we severely underestimated the strength of the tropical sun on our otherwise pasty white skin and finished the day with bright red backs, arms and legs.

During the boat trip, Primo had set up a fishing line and when asked what he was fishing for he replied – lunch.  Afterward, not having success fishing, we invited Primo to have a bite and eat with us in one of the playa restaurants, but he replied that he preferred to receive a tip instead. 

Leaving beautiful Huatulco after two days was difficult, but it was good to get back on the bikes and mobile again, rested and replenished, albeit a little (a lot) sore from the sunburn resulting from the previous day’s activities.

Here the Pacific Highway actually swings north for a short stretch and it felt odd to have the sun at our backs, after weeks of travelling in a south direction with our shadows behind us instead of in front. 

Leading into the town of Tonali we passed through an enormous wind farm that extended for miles in all directions. Then we experienced why this wind farm was here, as the super heated, hot dry winds blast off the Sierra Madre range, across the coastal plains and out to sea. The winds were as strong as the ones encountered in Montana but were twenty degrees hotter and extremely dry – great for the sunburns.

After a night in Tonala, the next day we headed toward Guatemala and our first Central American border crossing. We knew from our research and discussions with other travelers that the crossings require tourist exit visas and vehicle permit cancellations for the departing country and entry visas and vehicle import permits for the entering country. We also knew this can be a very complicated undertaking, as each country has a different process; coupled with our limited ability to communicate meaningfully in Spanish, it was going to be a challenge.

 

Lovely large trees in a Crucecita park

 

Captain Primo setting a fishing line

 

Pristine Organo Beach

 

Boating between beaches in the Huatulco region

 

Can you see the face?

 

Weathered granodiorite cut by felsic dykes of various orientations; oh yes – and some kind of bird

 

Strange fruit on a palm tree near the beach

 

A snake trying to meet Tom’s bike

 

Wind farm near Salina Cruz

 

95463.97  Post #9

Heading south from Mazatlan, we encountered an explosion of green, in all shades imaginable. At times, the roadside was completely draped with vegetation, with thick grasses and shrubs towering 3 and 4 meters above our heads, forming a veritable tunnel through which we passed.  Other times, large elephant trees, on each side of the road, formed a complete canopy overhead, providing a wonderful shade break from the hot sun. Beyond the roadside vegetation, the countryside consisted of large well-kept orchards, nut farms and plantations of bananas, papaya and pineapple. Occasionally, around a bend in the road, we were treated to wonderful views of sandy beaches against the rolling Pacific Ocean.

The road from Mazatlán to Puerto Vallarta was extremely busy, crowded with transport trucks, agricultural trucks, cars, SUV’s, ATV’s and small cylinder motorcycles.  Highway activity is concentrated proximal to the larger centres (Manzanillo, Lazaro Cardenas, Zihuantanejo, Acapulco).  Occasionally, the narrow track is interrupted by toll highways which, because of the superior highway quality (there is a shoulder) results in vehicles increasing their speed exponentially, all making a mad dash to the front of the pack. The toll highways usually end within a few dozen kilometres and it is back to the twisty, narrow, no-shoulder track littered with potholes and washouts – exhilarating on a motorcycle.

These roads are a lifeline in Mexico, linking communities, small and large, and facilitating the transport of agricultural goods to big city markets. They are heavily used, by both motorized vehicles and pedestrians alike. It is common to see farm trucks, ATV’s, and small cylinder motorcycles loaded with as many people can fit in them, and on them. It is also common to encounter people pushing wheelbarrows, and, on their backs, carrying stacks of wood, vegetables, and fruit.

Unfortunately, also common, are highway fatalities; crosses and memorials, some simple, some elaborate, mark the location of lost loved ones. It is impossible to travel more than a kilometer, sometimes only meters, without encountering one, or more. We noted there appeared to be multiple crosses at the top of hills, where visibility is limited, and at the base of hills, where brakes may fail.

Everywhere, the twisty country roads are lined with small shops, stores and taco, fruit and vegetable stands of all descriptions. The vendors are densely packed around the many topes (more on topes later), where vehicles are forced to decrease speed, often to a crawl. To take a break from the intense concentration required to navigate these roads, we frequently meandered down sand and gravel side tracks to the playas (beaches) where small hotel restaurants serve excellent seafood lunches and provide a tranquil break from the busy highway.

A sad, and unfortunate fact of the Mexican highway system is the carnage inflicted on the canine population. Dogs run loose everywhere in Mexico, and in Central America. Carcasses, in various states of decomposition, are frequently sprawled out on the roadways. We met a Mexican man in a hotel parking lot, while looking at the stars one evening, who spoke very good English. I told him that dogs in Canada lead a very good life, many get groomed on a regular basis and some even attend doggy day care, while their owners go to work. He shrugged his shoulders and replied simply that dogs in Mexico are man’s friend, but they are not his best friend.

After several days of hard riding, we are looking forward to spending a couple of down days, off the bikes, in the tourist town of Huatulco, famed for its isolated sand beaches, snorkeling and national parks.

Lush greenery in the countryside

 

Dense canopy of vegetation

 

Papaya plantation (Larry would be in heaven)

 

Banana Plantations

 

Left turn? Overgrown vegetation covering a road sign

 

Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and beaches

 

Lunch break at a restaurant on the playa

 

Typical agricultural vehicle on the highway

 

No idea what this is

 

Roadside memorials of lost ones

 

We met a young Mexican biker on a 1970 HD Sportster with a dead (muarte) battery getting assistance from the Green Angels (Mexican version of AMA)

 

Happiness is having your bike up and running again

 

The bikes always attract a crowd; these school boys were just let out of school and loved the “grande motos”

 

Tom, using his finger to measure the calibre of the bullet holes (45 calibre) on a road side sign

 

95456.95 – Post #8

Arriving in La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur, in the late afternoon, we were fortunate to get tickets for a ferry crossing the following day to the large tourist city of Mazatlán, across the Sea of Cortez on the mainland Pacific coast. After a night spent in La Paz, the bikes were weighed and loaded onto the ship the next afternoon for the 18 hour trip. We opted to pay a little extra for a Cabina and were pleasantly surprised with the luxury of the accommodation, far nicer than some of the Baja hotels we stayed in.

Aboard the ship were several other motorcycle travellers, including a couple from Brazil, riding two up on a BMW 800 GS and a biker from Vancouver, riding solo on a Suzuki 650 DR. The couple was returning to from Chicago, where they spent the last several months as a skydiving instructors.  Before starting down the Baja, the Vancouver biker had experienced a delay due to a blown piston on his bike and was anxious to catch up with his riding partners who were a few days riding ahead of him.

We discovered that all of us are booked for the same sailing aboard the Stahlratte, the vessel that will take us from Panama to Columbia in a few weeks time. The crossing was peaceful and uneventful; however, disembarking was anything but. The ships hold, where the bikes were secured, was extremely hot and humid, and filled with acrid exhaust from dozens of diesel trucks readying for departure.  When the ship docked, we raced like moths to a bright light, for the exit, and fresh air.

After a night in Mazatlán, preparing for the next leg of the journey, we started down the Mexico 200 Pacific Highway that would eventually take us all the way to Guatemala.  From our pre-trip research, and from discussions with other travelers, we knew the next few days will be hard travel. 

Although the road is paved the entire distance, it is a very busy highway and frequently turns inland to pass through countless cities, towns and villages. There are frequent washouts, potholes, long stretches of road construction, topes (more on that later) and people and vehicles of all makes and descriptions.  All of this, together with the extreme heat and humidity, will test our skill and nerve in the days to come.  

 

Stowing and securing the bikes aboard the ferry

 

Luxurious, by our standards, accommodation aboard the ferry

 

Interesting emergency evacuation instructions

 

The Cabina cost us a couple of extra  “nenshi’s

 

After crossing the Sea of Cortez, the sun rises on the Pacific Coast

 

Ferry entering the harbour in Mazatlan

 

Readying the bikes to exit the ship’s hold

 

Leaving Mazatlán heading south on the Pacific Coast Highway

 

95454.57 – Post #7

Given the delay to fix the tire, we rolled late into the small fishing village of Santa Rosalita, on the Pacific Coast. After a rather uncomfortable insect-filled night at the makeshift hotel, it was back to the main Highway 3, through Rosarito, and across the Peninsula to Santa Rosalia, on the Sea of Cortez side (no wonder we keep getting lost).  We passed through a large natural reserve, the Reserva de la Biosfera El Vizcaino. As the name suggests, the reserve is the site of several volcanoes, including the active Azufre volcano, which makes an incredible backdrop to the cactus filled desert. 

The first rest stop along the way was the little town of San Ignacio, an oasis of dense vegetation situated in the middle of the desert. The town owes its beauty to the plentiful groundwater that discharges into the valley floor, and creates a unique environment for lush vegetation to grow, including palm trees, bamboo and immense elephant trees. San Ignacio has a quaint town square, the centre of community activity, which is surrounded by small restaurants and shops – a great place to gain respite from the sun and heat of the surrounding desert. We peaked the curiosity of a couple small children who wanted their pictures taken with the bikes.

Just past San Ignacio is Santa Rosalita, an old mining town, that hosts large ore deposits of copper and zinc which have been mined intermittently since 1884.  Old mine structures, equipment and workings are scattered everywhere throughout the townsite; to some it is an attractive place. Currently a Korean company is operating an underground mine and, because the pay is relatively high, attracts Mexicans from across Baja looking for work. One restaurant owner lamented to us that it was difficult to keep new cooks employed at his establishment, as staff quickly leave for higher pay at the mine once they gained experience at his expense.

The coastline south from Santa Rosalita to Loreto is, by most accounts, the jewel of the Sea of Cortez. The views from the highway are breathtaking, with many islands, small and large, situated just offshore. Loreto is one of the nicest towns on the Baja, and the site of one of the oldest Jesuit missions in the area, having been founded in 1697 with the large church constructed in 1744. We spent the night in a small hotel, operated by a man named Martin, whose descendants had settled the area in 1815 and, he proudly pointed out, has a street named after his family. We left early the next morning for La Paz to arrange the ferry crossing over to the Mexican mainland.

On the way to La Paz we received the sad news that a friend, and former colleague, had passed away due to cancer.  Andy was a great mentor (and a reality check) to many geologists and engineers over the years, including both Tom and myself. Earlier in the trip, Tom had received unfortunate news that a classmate had also passed from cancer recently. Both Tom and I had lost our fathers prematurely to the same disease and we knew what their families were going through. The radios were quiet that day as we rolled through a long, desolate straight stretch of desert blacktop, each alone with our own thoughts, stopping frequently to re-hydrate and recover from the 35°C heat.

 

The cactus filled desert floor has a stunning backdrop of volcanoes in la Biosfera El Vizcaino Reserve

 

Cooling shade under an elephant tree in San Ignacio; a boy inspects the bikes under mom’s watchful eye

 

The boy’s sister was also intrigued but too frightened to get any closer

 

More volcanic landscape

 

A stop at an old abandoned building to take a break from the intense sun

 

Sunrise in Santa Rosalita

 

Martin’s charming hotel in Loreto

 

Loreto Jesuit Mission, one of the oldest in Baja, constructed in 1744 (Jackie would like to attend mass here)

 

Breathtaking views of the Sea of Cortez near Loreto              

 

95437.98 – Post #6

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the ranch, it was back down the sand and gravel track and on pavement to San Felipe, a small tourist and fishing town on the Sea of Cortez.  San Felipe, only a few hours south of the border, is a popular destination for American tourists; the ocean front is lined with beautiful seaside vacation homes with fantastic sea views.  After a night in the sleepy town, it was off to Alfonsina’s, a small community further south along the coast, near the end of the paved road.  After a fantastic lunch of the most delicious shrimp tacos ever created by man, on one of the nicest beaches in the country, it was back onto a gravel track that led westward across some mountain ranges to the Trans-Peninsular Highway 3 near the Pacific coast.

The unpaved road passes through Coco’s Corner, perhaps one of the weirdest places in the country. Some have described Coco’s ranch as a cross between Mad Max and Easy Rider, others point to the bar scene in Star Wars. By whatever comparison, it is a very strange place indeed.  We pulled off the sand and gravel track into the yard and entered a small cement building decorated with a variety of items women’s underwear, and a vast assortment of failed disc brake rotors and sprockets.

We entered the small, well kept structure that served as Coco’s bedroom, kitchen, living room and reception area. He was sitting in his wheelchair at his large round table, made from a re-purposed wooden cable spool, and, after severely admonishing us for improperly using the greeting “Buenos Dias” (Spanish – good morning!)  in the afternoon, he warmed to us and invited us, in a mix of Spanish, English and grunts, to sit with him and enjoy a cold Pacifico cervaza. Coco regaled us with several stories; some were funny, some were sad, like the one about a young California lad who recently came stumbling onto his ranch after getting his truck stuck in one of the large arroyo’s (a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region) and had to leave his girlfriend, without water, in the blazing sun to seek help. Unfortunately, the young lady died before a rescue effort could be mounted. When we asked how long he had been there, Coco instantly listed the years, days hours and minutes, like he was counting each second that ticked by in that desert inferno. He lamented that a paved highway is currently being constructed within 2 kilometers of his home, and the noise will surely keep him up at night. Coco pulled out a thick, bound notebook, and asked us to list our names, country of origin and method of travel used to reach his home.  Over 180,000 people have stopped by to sign his book, even some celebrities, he said proudly, and there were seven other volumes already full. He used to have eight, he said, but some fu%@ing gringo’s stole one as a souvenir. He invited us to camp in his treeless yard, for free, in one of the metal-shelled truck campers resting in the sand in the corner of his property.  However, in the 110°F heat and with no shade, it held little appeal, so we thanked him for his hospitality and decided to move on. Before leaving, one of us bent down to try to pick up several Mexican peso coins on the floor of cement shack but discovered they were glued in place.  Coco brayed with delight, and admitted he particularly liked it when female visitors try it, so he can enjoy the view. 

Some hours later, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, we encountered our first mechanical challenge. A long nail had penetrated the brand new rear Heidenau tire on Tom’s bike, and the tire had gone completely flat. We rolled the bike off the gravel road into the desert scrub and weighed options.  Over 75 km from the nearest Llantera (tire shop) and discovering we were without a valve stem remover, Tom executed an expert field repair, removed the tire and replaced the rear tube with a new one, using the nail itself, along with a couple of small Allen wrenches, to replace the stem.  A couple of hours later, we were again mobile and quickly regained the pavement and headed to Santa Rosalita, on the Pacific coast, as the sun set.

After a long but interesting day, we found a room in the only (makeshift) hotel in town, and had lots of new tiny visitors that night (see last picture) that can be seen packing off the carcass of a biting fly that took a piece out of Toms leg (and paid the ultimate price for its insolence).  As there was not restaurant in town, only a small store, meal options were limited to nacho chips, and a Clif bar, beef jerky and nuts, hiding in the bottom of one of the panniers. Mmmmm-mmmmm.  Marty has since gained an affinity for the fuego chips even though they light your mouth on fire (hence the fuego -fire!).

 

 Sun Rising over the Sea of Cortez in San Felipe

 

Alfonsina’s beautiful beaches

 

The gravel road to Cocos’s Corner

 

Construction of a new highway

 

Coco’s Corner Rancho

 

Inside Coco’s home

 

Meeting Coco

 

Long shadows, flat tire, weighing options

 

Field repair in progress

 

Dinner after a long day’s ride             

 

Lots of new little friends