The Pacific Coast in Mexico To Baja California.
The news on Mexican TV revolves around the war on drugs and the Government’s attempts to break the powerful drug cartels. Violence has escalated to the extent that some cities have the highest murder rate in the World but as always these headlines only show one side of the country. I have felt in no more danger here than any other country I’ve had to ride through. Admittedly there is a very high police and military presence in the towns and on the highways but Tourism plays a very important part in the economy and this presence is to protect tourists. I’ve been told that most of the violence occurs around the border area in the north and only involves drug gangs who are at war with each other. So far as in many other supposed violent countries I have only met friendliness and kindness from local people.
Mexico is another big country to ride through and I’ve decided to take an easy route north following the Pacific coast, no high mountain passes or dirt roads. I was hoping for an easy ride, staying in towns close to the ocean that will for the most part be empty of tourists at this time of the year as the season doesn’t start until the middle of October when the weather is slightly cooler.
Acapulco one of Mexico’s oldest and most famous beach resorts where Volkswagen bugs are the taxis of choice was the main city on this coastal route and I stayed in a hotel that was once owned by John Wayne. This city was the place in which to be seen back in the 50s when movie stars came here but that’s no longer the case and it now looks like any other beach resort with almost no access to the beach because of the huge resort hotels that have been built on the ocean front.
I’ve noticed a big difference between Mexican drivers and those in Central America. The truck drivers whenever possible will go onto the other side of the road as they pass and car drivers are happy to wait behind me until it’s safe for them to pass me. No squeezing past or pushing me into ditches so it’s been a very relaxing ride.
I arrived at the port of Mazatlan early on a Friday morning in time for what I thought would be a Saturday afternoon crossing. Before checking into a hotel I decided to ride straight to the ferry terminal so that I could buy my ticket and then check into a hotel close to the port. I asked what time the ferry left the next day and was told it left that afternoon at 4pm, I don’t know why I was so pleased as it really made little difference to me what time it left but it meant I only had to while away the morning in town. I took Mike to a car wash and after a bit of haggling over the price managed to get the guys who worked there to give him a good clean and polish. They even used that black paint that they use on car tyres which was a bit over the top but I let them get on with it.
As we were being loaded onto the ferry a large truck with a sign on the side that said Bimbo just in front of me. Bimbo make the most amazing cakes full of E numbers, colouring, flavouring, lots of sugar and they are probably slightly radioactive, the perfect food for a cyclist. Food goes to waste in this heat very quickly, cheese becomes fondue, bananas become mush and I won’t tell you what happens to chocolate but the only food that survives this heat are Bimbo cakes. They get hot but keep their shape texture and taste and after about half an hour after eating them the E numbers kick in and I’m asking Mike how fast he thinks he can get up the next hill. I know what he’s thinking, ‘’the Bimbo has been at the Bimbos.
I met four Australian travellers on the ferry who are making their way overland from Argentina to Alaska and we have managed to stay together through a large part of the Baja desert, staying at the same camp sites so I’ve enjoyed some fantastic home cooked food made by Viv who has written a couple of cookery books aimed at travellers. I even managed to catch a lift from them close to the border with Mexico so I could miss out a very narrow and fast piece of highway.
There is a lost link between stunning desert scenery and absolute mind numbing monotony and it’s Baja California. Endless hours of long straight road with nothing on either side of me other than a fence stretching into the distance and a ditch which is now used to grow plastic bags, water bottles and truck tyres although I have to say that parts of Baja are stunningly beautiful.
I discovered that there were a couple of trails off the main highway and I asked a policeman about a trail that led from the main city of la Paz in the south to the town of Loreta about 300kms to the north. He told me there was an old trail but it was very sandy and I would be on my own if anything should happen to me out there as even 4x4s don’t use these old trails. I worked out that with the amount of water and food I would have to carry it would be almost impossible to ride the bike through the sand especially with panniers. If I had a trailer it would have been much easier to ride along an off road trail, letting a little air out of the bike tyres and all the weight would be on the trailer. With panniers at times I would have to push the bike walking at about 5kms an hour and in those conditions I would if I was lucky manage about 25kms a day and it would be impossible to carry enough food and water for such a long trip. I told the guy that I had pushed the bike through sand in Bolivia and that I had passed the test so I didn’t feel the need to try it again. He went on to explain that there was a lot of road works taking place on the main highway and I would be riding in sand and gravel anyway.
I had hoped the weather in Baja would have cooled down a bit and that the riding days would be easy but it’s like a furnace every day. Fortunately every 100Kms or so there is usually a small village with a shop selling water and Bimbos. I’ve been using the tent quite a bit as there are some long distances between towns and I usually find myself running out of light in the middle of the desert and have to camp. Southern Baja was a very unusual desert, it’s not at all remote as there is a fair amount of traffic on the road unlike riding along Australia’s Stuart highway or the Kavir desert in Iran where I would go for several hours before I saw another vehicle.
Each day I meet a number of young guys walking along the edge of the highway heading to California. When I stop and talk to them they all have the same story to tell ‘’there is nothing for us in Mexico and the only option is to leave. They can’t afford a passport and even if they had one they would never get a visa. Some have walked from Central America and I saw desperation on their faces. All I could give them was money as I was afraid to part with my water or food because I didn’t know how long it would be into the day before I could get more. I gave away a good part of my meds kit to a guy who had a very badly infected foot and I know that he was not going to make it out of the desert if he kept walking as his foot was in such a state. Not one of them would let me take photographs of them because they didn’t know who I was and if I worked for the authorities.
Just as in India the situation these young guys were in brought home to me how easy it is to do what I’m doing and how lucky I am. Even if I have to put in a really long 150kms day I know that at the end of it there will be an air conditioned hotel room a cold shower waiting for me and after that an even colder beer with my meal. These guys are sleeping out in the desert every night and they have no tent to keep them comfortable. I’m on top of the world and I’ve looked over the edge but I can only see despair, sadness and desperation. Many of the roads in Baja are being upgraded because in 2012 the G20 meeting will be held here, its remote enough so that the people who voted these so called World leaders in cant get to them. We really shouldn’t be voting for these people, they don’t care about us and they have no idea that the people I’ve seen as I’ve looked over the edge exist.