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February 2004

Approaching the desert we arrive in the small town of Cataviña with the realization that water availability will be short over the next few days. We load up on everything we need and head out of town to camp. The landscape reminds us of Hollywood images of Mexico. Enormous boulders litter the ground and big spiny cactuses take up the rest of the free space. We push our bikes down a track away from the road where the rocks are covered with graffiti and set up the tent in front of a spectacular deep red sunset that turns the rocky countryside into a vast conglomeration of bulky silhouettes pierced by the regular vertical lines of standing cacti.

Over the next couple of days we do our best to adapt to the heat and the lack of any proximity to civilization. When dehydration begins to affect us we put small amounts of salt in our water keeping alert for the symptoms of headaches and nausea. We do well over the first two days, making good time and trading our lunchtime restaurant stops for whatever shade we can find on the side of the road to cook our own. The desert is filled with life much to my surprise. The varieties of cactus, bird, and plant are much more than I had expected, thinking that we’d be biking through a sea of sand. Of particular note are the endemic “elephant trees”, big furry green trunks that stick out of the rocky landscape in abundance.

We meet up with a group of Americans who live in San Felipe and are traveling by off-road buggy and jeep and camping in this “gnarly” peninsula. We join them at their camp spot and enjoy some evening company in this isolated place.

After traversing the flattest, most boring terrain on a strait road for most of the day, we arrive in Guerrero Negro. We are dehydrated because the last day on the road was windier and we felt less need to drink water because we couldn’t feel the heat. Our dehydration is helped along by ample doses of diarrhea and we are forced to stay five days in order to recuperate. We get better while becoming hooked on Mexican soap operas as well as fish tacos, which send us on our way with a full stomach.

We leave Guerrero Negro in the early afternoon and meet our American friends on the road again. We talk for a bit, graciously accept some oranges and hear that we shall soon meet another cyclo-tourist. As they said we meet with Steve not long after. We spend some time chatting on the side of the road happy to share anecdotes with a fellow traveler. Then just after lunch, we meet Rogelio, a guy from Tijuana who has made his way down and up the Baja and is hoping to catch up with Steve. He has some very inspiring things to say about this way of traveling although he seems to be much more concerned than us with going faster and farther. We all seem to agree that we have a wicked way to get around.

We pass the town of Viscaino and meet up with a couple of kids who ride with us until the sun is setting. We pull off the road onto a track that cuts through heaps of garbage leaving Juan and Sergio to continue on home. Once we have put a bit of distance between the trash and ourselves we make our camp.

We arrive in the oasis town of San Ignacio. A vibrant green forest of date palms rises up out of the drab desert. We camp in the trees and go for a walk in the morning. It’s nice to see a tree again. Around eleven we head out of town fighting an enormous headwind. A little ways out of town I realize I’ve left my pants at the camp spot and we need to head back. An hour and one roadside sandwich later we head out of town again. The headwind has us going at the snails pace of 7km/h. This slowness continues until 30 kilometers later after we’ve crossed a long plateau and passed a big volcano. Until then we need to pedal hard to get down steep hills at 10km/h. We pass the big reddish volcano, happy to be out of the wind and emerge above a vast open plane. The three virgins, three massive mountains, tower over the plane on our left and we coast down a long hill in view of this awe-inspiring landscape. We make good time over the plane and arrive at a sign proclaiming that we are now going to descend the “hill of hell” cuesta del infierno. Very steep, very long, and very beautiful between cream coloured cliffs and other jutting mountainous forms, this hell hill was definitely named by those who were on their way up. We coast into town in the dark, gorge ourselves on a BBQ chicken and crash in a hotel room for the night in the Mar de Cortez town of Santa Rosalia.

Santa Rosalia
We spend a full day in town relaxing, getting some much-needed supplies, and cooking on our doorstep with the camp stove. Santa Rosalia was built by the a French mining company and has a distinctive look, all the houses are made of wood in a style that echoes that of a colonial Quebec town.

We head out of town still tired and looking for a good beach where we can relax for a few days. We find one just after a small town called Santo Tomas. To get to the water we need to ride down a long washed out road, but our peaceful spot under some palm trees is well worth it. Our subsequent naked sunbathing earns us some serious sunburns. That evening after coming back from a shopping trip to town we realize that Johanne can barely walk and I’m not much better off. She spends three days on her stomach while I do my best to move my achy ass around and take care of her. Once recuperated we extend our stay to a week, finishing off the transcription of some taped interviews from Tijuana, swimming, and spending a little time with some nice locals who like to feed us. Every morning we are woken up bright and early by the marching band of an army base that is just a kilometer or two down the beach.

We head off into the bright blue yonder along the stunning coastline of Baia de Concepcion. We pass a beautiful little town called San Bruno where children call out to us from the schoolyard when we stop to replenish our dwindling supply of cheese. The road is flat and we head towards Mulege, hoping that a shower might be in store.

We arrive in Mulege in the afternoon and after stocking up on some necessaries we look up some friends of the American off-roaders from San Felipe. Roger and Helen overcome their stress over a quite traumatic week just enough to succumb to our insistence and invite us to spend the night. We feel bad, but we need a shower like cookies need milk. We are almost out of cash and food as we head on because contrary to our expectations Mulege was bankless. A couple days later we arrive in Loreto. We had to ask for some charity at a small truck stop because the town of Rosarito (amongst 50 similarly named places on the Baja) turns out to be a deserted ranch with no available food. We arrive in Loreto pretty broke but the bank machine sooths our aching pockets. We spend a couple nights in a little hotel writing an article. We meet up with a Quebecois couple staying one room over and spend a couple hours talking in our doorways. When I communicate with my uncle from Mexico City he tells me that he’s leaving the next day for the Baja California and we make tentative plans to be in the same place at the same time.

We leave Loreto and climb through some serious switchbacks, doing a long day of riding in an effort to make the rendezvous point with “tio Lalo”. We camp on top of a plateau after night has fallen, the only available spot being the entrance road for a microwave tower.

The next day we wake up in front of a long slow descent. On the right and off in front of us we can see extremely far as we book it downwards towards the city of Insurgentes. The lower spots in the rolling plains and mountains that stretch out below us are cloaked in early morning fog. After a roadside lunch in this empty wilderness I notice that my rear panniers seem to be unbalanced. The whole back of my bike shakes with a regular back and forth swing as I ride. A cursory analyses says that everything is fine, but when I stand up on my pedals to relieve my aching behind my rear rack gives way and stops me by rubbing on the wheel. We examine the situation and realize that the screw holding the rack on has sheared off in the hole. The only thing we can do is attach the rack with a tie-wrap. We put some extra weight on Johanne’s bike, making her load look unusually huge and I switch my rear bags for my light front ones. We teeter on down the road in no good equilibrium until we get to a farm. Some guys who have a drill that attaches to the car battery do more harm than good in fixing the problem and finally stick a screw in an alternate hole as an intermediate solution for lack of a better equipped repairperson.

We succeed in making contact with my cousin Samanta, uncle Eduardo, and Tia Mari-Elena. They are just a short distance away and come to see us in the town of Insurgentes where we have been having lunch. It’s a joyful reunion, we’re all hugs and kisses. We go and have coffee at a nearby restaurant. While Johanne makes better aquaintance of my family, I translate the menu for a few gringos who are sitting a couple of tables over. We spend some time catching up and then Samanta makes the fatale suggestion.

Insurgentes-La Paz
We make the wrong decision and accept a ride to La Paz. Fortunately we hereby miss some seriously boring countryside. But more importantly we go against our own principles to do the distance ourselves unless there are extenuating circumstances. Nonetheless we enjoy the company of family as well as some succulent shrimp cocktails once we arrive in La Paz.

La Paz
We spend five days in a hotel, writing articles and relaxing. We go frequently to the market to eat in the food court, which consists of eight restaurants that serve pretty much the same thing with some variety in price and quality. We meet a man who works on the maintenance of the hotel, he introduces himself as Jesus, and invites us to his home for dinner.
In the meantime we meet a guy from Wales who rode the last 200 and some kilometers in one day. He’s not carrying as much weight as us on his bike but he is way more insane than we are and can barely walk. We decide to have a beer shortly after he arrives, and he chugs four beers to our two while continually accusing us of being alcoholics.

We accompany Jesus to his house were we hang out and have dinner with his family. His wife and kids are very sweet, and we are touched to be accepted into their humble home. The residence consists of several small buildings made of recuperated wood and tin roofs. A few years ago Jesus planted a large variety of fruit trees around the different rooms and many of them are already producing mangos, limes, oranges, mandarins, and guava. He tells us the story of his life with an emphasis on the emotions he was feeling in all the stages of his existence that many people are not able to express. At one point he fell from a construction site and broke his back. He still wears a brace around his lower back and tells us about how he spent four years without being able to walk.
Jesus has a son about our age who just recently came back from his service in the Marines where he chased drug runners. He shows us his pictures, which are primarily of him and his friends in the Marines in full uniform with their guns. The cream of the crop of course: four marines looking tough with their big guns on either side of a young American girl in a bikini. We try not to laugh.

La Pas Mazatlan
We are given half price by the ferry company as encouragement for IPACS and make the fifteen-kilometer ride from La Paz to the docks. There we meet Nathaniel who has done a bike and bus tour from Sacramento to here. We spend the ferry ride with him, it seems that we are on the same wavelength. Early on in the crossing I become sick to my stomach and spend most of the night either vomiting or wanting to. Nathaniel has insomnia and disappears to the upper deck.

We arrive in Mazatlan early in the morning. We can feel and see the difference in humidity compared to the Baja as we role into town in a hot foggy morning. I am out of it, and spend the entire day sleeping. In the afternoon we go out to eat, my digestion must be better because I down an enormous meal before falling asleep with my head on the table. We get along well with Nathaniel, but he has some serious issues on his mind and is struck with insomnia again in the hotel.