“Should we check the place?” I say. The sign for the rancho is snapped in half, the painted letters flaking like they haven’t been retouched in a decade.
“I don’t know, it really looks like there’s not anything there.”
Cervaza fria! We’re 80 miles by rough dirt road from the closest town.”I think we better check.”
Two giant bowls of fish soup and half a bottle of Patron later, I’m really glad we checked. The sun’s down, and we’re sitting in a courtyard surrounded by pink and red flowers. Oscar, who runs the place with his wife and five kids, walks out of the house with a fish almost as big as he is.
“Yellow tail! Is good!” he says, and flops it onto the grill.
After Oscar forces (he doesn’t have to try too hard) more fish and tequila on us, I feel pretty good and fuzzy. The ranch hands are telling some jokes that are way too nuanced for my terrible Spanish, but I laugh anyway. A blue enameled coffee pot burbles on the grill.
Oscar sits on a bench wedged in between his wife, son, and one of his daughters. He turns to me.
“You watch TV? They say Mexicanos are scary. Ooh, Mexico is dangerous, full of Mexicanos. Right?”
“Yeah, you guys are terrifying.”
“Uno mas tequila! To scary Mexicanos!”
After coffee (with tequila, por que no!), I crawl into bed next to Colleen.
“That soup was good, but I just couldn’t finish it thinking about what it was,” Colleen says.
“Fish? It was cow intestine.”
“Thought it was a little chewy for fish.” Then I pass out. Mexicanos. So aggressively jovial.
You can’t judge by first looks in Baja. Mean, stoney faced soldiers bust into an excited smile if you wave and say hola, businesses with abierto! (open) permanently painted on the door are always closed, and sometimes a busted up sign in the desert leads to citrus trees, rows of cilantro, and two peacocks (which wouldn’t sit still for a picture).
The next day we ride to San Francisquito, and are treated to our first Gringo discount. Which goes something like this:
“La cuenta por favor?” (check please).
The nice lady with red lipstick goes back to the kitchen, there’s some furious clicking and clacking of calculator keys. She brings out the calculator and thumps it on the table. 480 pesos- more than three times the normal cost of two plates of tacos.
Colleen and I look at each other. “480? Uh…es correcto?” we ask feebly.
The nice lady, who had previously been nice enough to speak slow, well enunciated Spanish so that we could understand, fires off a stream of her fastestest most heavily accented language, then thumps the calculator down again. All I pick up is something about 24 dollars.
Unable to argue, I hand her our last 500 peso note.
Later, I think I’ve figured out how the gringo discount works- price things in dollars, and make them as expensive as possible. 24 dollars for some tacos would be about right in Aspen. Then make up a more favorable exchange rate- in this case, devalue the peso from 17 per dollar to 20 per dollar. Do the currency conversion, thump the calculator to prove your point, and sell some 480 peso tacos.
Next time, we’ll ask how much the tacos cost before we eat them.
30 yards of pavement in 160 miles:
Guerrero Negro is a bright, gritty town that produces sea salt (the place is surrounded by huge evaporating pools), and takes people on whale tours. Grey whales swim from the Northern Pacific to Guerrero Negro for calving. After riding ten miles out of town along the huge white salt evaporating ponds toward the lagoon, we’re stopped at a gate.
“No, necesito un papel, es propiedad federal,” the guard says.
“Ok, and when we have the papel, we can ride straight through here towards Bahia Tortuga?” I ask, filling in every word that I don’t know with English. Which is every word except papel.
The guard looks at me. Then looks at Colleen. Everybody looks confused.
“Uh, vamos a Bahia Tortuga,” I try again.
“No, papel,” the guard says. “Necesito papel.”
“Yeah, I understand that. Or uh, si, comprende necesito papel. Uh…”
Then Colleen finally decides to save me, and figures out that yes, the paper will get us the whole way through the federal land. We turn around and head for the permit office.
“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” I ask Colleen on the salty ride back to town.
“You just rode right up and started talking loud English at the guy, I didn’t know what you wanted to say.”
“Well. I thought that was better than just saying ‘uh…’ or ‘quisiera tres tacos,'” I say. “Man, I’m trying.” But as a guy who almost failed high school Spanish, I’ve got a way to go. It’s a good thing I married the valedictorian.
At the permit office, they tell us that you can’t get a permit unless you’re a commercial whale tour operator. So we go back to see the whales at the coffee shop instead.
The Vizcaino Desert is enormous, and unfriendly if you’re a living thing.
Absolutely no water out there, unless a pipeline is broken. But in Mexico, if there’s a pipeline it’s probably broken.
Abandoned cinder block houses next to a salt pan 50 miles south of Guerrero Negro, looked like old company housing. No roof, but they did block the wind.
Finally on the edge of the desert, for a few days of sweet coast riding.
An excellent campsite- until two in the morning, when the wind picked up, flattened the tent, and filled our sleeping bags with sand. Beach camping looks very romantic on the internet. Bocana Adventures in La Bocana- they had a sign in English, which typically means that the place is going to be expensive. But this time it turned out to be priced fairly, and they had a solid restaurant that was full of locals.
Back into the desert:
A whole lot of vehicle- we’ve been seeing the orange one since Guerrero Negro, and the green one passed us in Ajo, Arizona a month ago.
I was excited to tell the Canadians driving it that we’d been on the same route for so long, but they didn’t seem too enthusiastic.
Maybe it was because I smelled bad. However, if a sweaty bike tourist ever rides out of the desert and stops at the door of the Shark, may I be immediately smote by lightning bolts if I don’t offer the dirtbag a beer.
The yelling car- a feature of every bigger town. Santa Rosalia, a mining town built by the French in the 1800s. The steel church to the left was designed by Gustave Eiffel for the World’s Fair in Paris, then disassembled and shipped all the way over here.
After almost a month down here, we’ve started making some rules (there are always exceptions) for ourselves:
- Skip a restaurant or hotel if it has: signs in English, a prominent location, pricing in dollars, or windows covered in stickers (motorcycle dorks get stickers made to commemorate their trips- “Baja Conquest 2011!” “Tecate to Cabo Domination 2012!” “Mucho Bill was here!”and so on).
- Mexico isn’t famous for salads. Don’t order one.
- The Lonely Planet Guide is most useful as tinder for a campfire.
- Just go to the taco stand- it’s the best, and the cheapest. The salsa sits in the sun all day, but doesn’t usually affect the guts any worse than drinking too much coffee.
My King bottom bracket was pretty blown up by the time we left Bahia Los Angeles. After doing some checking, it sounded like La Paz was the only good place to have parts shipped, but it would take weeks, be over a hundred dollars, and maybe not make it. And we were a long way from La Paz anyway. I started to resign myself to the clunking, but on the way out of Santa Rosalia, I saw a little bike shop tucked away in a corner. And the guys had Shimano Hollowtech bottom brackets in stock. Those dudes made my day.
Next time, I’ll leave home with a spare bb packed. On a single speed, it seems like I go through the things faster than tires.
We do have some other parts on their way out though, so if anybody has had experience shipping stuff to Mexico I’d love to hear it.