Where I Rode: Viscaino —> San Ignacio —> Santa Rosalia —> Mulege —> Playa Escondida
It had been a long night. Between the sounds of my fellow cyclist’s snoring in the tent next to me, the shop owner’s dogs barking at any sound throughout the night and of course the odd mariachi/ranchero music blaring from passing cars, it wasn’t the same mellifluence that nature’s symphony had shared in days past. Luckily Dominic had woken up a bit earlier and brought me a cup of coffee. Much appreciated. After grabbing a cheap breakfast in town, Dominic decided to push on for the next town. I chose to stay behind as the shop owner had informed me of a local mountain biking trail network nearby. Any chance to enjoy some rough terrain with an unloaded bike is a great thing.
The 7km trail was short but sweet. A quick 5 minute ride from Razo’s shop brought me to the edge of town, where most people seem to dump most of their glass and aluminum. I rode on the access road for about 500 meters of huge glass and metal piles, carefully avoiding slashing my tires. But soon thereafter a small single track trail shot off from the roadside. Lots of fun swooping banked turns and loose rock to maneuver. Evidently there are often races held here and in a few other small trails in the area. For me it’s so great to see a small mountain biking community developing in a little town where I’d least expect it. Such a great way to tap into the local culture as well.
Unfortunately, my tires disagreed. I explored a different route back the shop and seemed to have ridden through some goat’s heads. Lots of them, over 100 per tire. Gratefully, Stan No-Tubes sealant did it’s job fantastically, and I didn’t even need to pump up the tire after pulling out all those thorns. I did however worry about running low on sealant in the tire.
As luck would have it, I was able to refill the tires with fresh sealant from the local bike shop in town. Run by Eugenio, this shop had actual mountain bike parts for sale. Definitely a sign of the affluence around town. Placed way back on a sandy side road, I’d never have found this place on my own. Yelp and Google are not particularly functional down here, ya know. It was a tiny little space but they just so happened to carry Stan’s sealant!
Razo with his daughter.
Hitting the road again, I had a quick 75km haul on pavement to arrive at the next town, San Ignacio. Many travelers had suggested I stop in this old colonial town, as it was placed just next to a natural fresh water lagoon, and was a true oasis in the desert. On the way, I stopped for a soda along the road and met two Canadian cyclists from Ontario. They had ridden down from San Francisco, heading to Cabo San Lucas. We decided to ride the final 15 miles of road together into San Ignacio, but had to hurry to get off of the highway before dark. Both strong riders, we pace lined the whole way, arriving with just enough light to spare. Pausing at the mouth of the lagoon just at sunset, we took in the novelty of fresh water and palm trees which surrounded us.
Up the lagoon a bit we found our way to a beautiful campground right at the water’s edge. There we found Dominic, who’d arrived a few hours earlier. We quickly learned to watch the ground around us, and we seemed to have infiltrated a colony of daddy long legs spiders. There were hundreds of them all over the sandy ground. Harmless and gentle insects, but creepy nonetheless. I slept soundly to a new aural instrumentation: bullfrogs, ducks, and crickets. The bullfrogs’ continuous ribbets eventually got overwhelming, but as always, contrast is amazing and amusing. Morning light brought in yet another sound: the occasional sudden splash of a pelican swooping in and dive-bombing a fish for a fresh catch.
I spent the day catching up on the interwebs and exploring the small center of San Ignacio. The old mission was stunning.
Yet another sweet stray trying to adopt me while writing at a cafe.
Back on the Mex-1 highway, riding past huge volcanoes. This one is known as the Volcan Tres Virgenes. A towering 6000’ peak looming over the nearby landscape.
Pretty amazing descent out of the pass!
Attempting to take a back road alternate to the highway, it started off like a smooth dirt road over the first aroyo. Down through the second one, the road god rough, with big sections of loose stones, rocky dips and steep grades.
Turning a corner, I saw the rapidly fading road would be dropping into a huge canyon. The rocks got bigger and bigger, eventually rendering the road unrideable. I still pushed on, hoping it would improve around the next bend. Alas, not so. The big rocks only got slightly obscured by deep overgrowth of a plant I’d not yet run into.
From a distance it just looked like a dense growth of some wildflower variety. Later research uncovered it as some non-stinging form of nettle. Attempting to walk through it, every part of the plant acted like velcro on all my clothes. Within moments I was completely covered in flowers, stems and leaves. Although I’d always loved the part of Pan, this was not how I envisioned it developing the costume. Without any sign of trail improvement and no knowledge of what lay ahead, I decided to turn back and head out to the pavement. I got some interesting looks riding down that stretch of road, every bit of clothing still covered in nettle.
My decision to ride pavement here was rewarded with a SCREAMING 1000’ descent to the bottom of the canyon through a winding steep paved road. Soooooooo fun!
Santa Rosalia. Though I’d heard good things about the town, it didn’t really speak to me. Perhaps it was the endless piles of trash increasing in size as I neared the town’s edge. Hardest to bear were the no-so-rare sightings of dead dogs on the roadside along with the trash. So sad to see them cast away with the trash, but also quite interesting to note the difference in seeing a dead animal that I typically consider as a pet vs. other animals that I’ve just seen as ‘roadkill’.
I explored for a couple of hours though, peaking into the Mahatma Gandi Library and the local church that for some reason was built by Eiffel. Interesting. But all in all, without a reason to be there or a plan to stay, I often find myself feeling a bit aimless when entering a new town like this. I didn’t need to buy anything, didn’t need food, so I had no particular goal for interacting with the place. I rolled on.
Another 25 km past Santa Rosalia, the sun was setting. I decided to take a side road off of the highway to the coastline hoping to find a quiet camp site by the beach. A little quick asking of the locals where a good spot might be and I found myself yet again with a private beach for a night. Lovely.
A short stint of pavement for the morning brought me into the lively town of Mulege.
First stop was breakfast, second: laundry. It had been almost 2 weeks since my last real fresh water shower, and I couldn’t actually remember the last time I’d done laundry. Clearly past due. The local laundromat was my first sign that Mulege was a gringo-dominated town. 15 new-looking coin-operated laundry machines in a very clean room. The owner even lent me some abandoned clothes to wear from his collection so that I could wash everything I had. While chatting with him, a woman walked into the shop, there to reclaim her stuff from the a dryer. We started chatting in Spanish, and I quickly realized from the lisp that she was from Spain. In Baja with two childhood friends, she was touring down toward La Paz by car.
Mulege River flowing out to the Sea of Cortez.
As we chatted, her two friends walked into the laundromat. They all planned to head out to one of the beaches South of town, and invited me to join them. Luckily the laundromat owner was willing to stow my bike for a few hours, perhaps understanding the rarity of my current opportunity! We drove out of Mulege into Bahia Concepcion. Among the most beautiful places on Earth.
After passing various beaches littered with enormous RV’s I remembered to look for a beach suggested to me by Steve Garro (my amazing Baja cycling info source, and veteran bike builder). Due to a rough access road over a steep hill, the beach excluded access by large RVs. Only about 6-7 small campers were parked next to tiny palapas. Much more our speed. We swam and talked and snacked until the sun began to set.
Dusk carried with it quite a nip, and unfortunately none of us had expected to stay long enough to need warm clothes. We built a fire near a palapa and joined a group of Americans who’d been staying on the beach for a few weeks. While there, we found my local contact Ramon, who offered to take us out on the Bay in his fishing boat the following day. We wholeheartedly accepted. As the temperature continued to drop, we headed back to Mulege to find warmth and sleep.
With Ramon leading the tour, so simple and easy. Just hop on his fishing boat. No reservations. No tickets. No hassle. About $8 per person got us out for a few hours.
Vacita (Little Cow). Ramon’s mascot always comes on the boat.
Unfortunately, 20 minutes into our ride, the motor’s battery went dead. I could tell Ramon felt horrible as he not so silently swore to himself while setting up the oars to row us back to shore. It was quite a distance, so I jumped on with him to ease the challenge. Very strange to have a long upper body workout after mostly using my legs for so long. Tired faster than expected!
A short 30 minute wait on the beach for Ramon’s replacement battery left a perfect time to swim a bit.
Livia, Maria and Mireia. Las Reinas.
Once up and running again, we saw beautiful and amazing birds, fish and plants on the islands within Bahia Concepcion.
Ramon landed the boat on one small island with the claim that we might find some bones along its shore. We did. An entire preserved dolphin skeleton.
Of course we collected all the bones we could and reassembled it on our beach.
Perhaps out of guilt for the battery failure earlier that day, Ramon offered to take us out again for a short nighttime boat ride. This time it was to see the bioluminescent plankton that was floating around the Bay this time of year. Every splash and every movement would light up the water. The wake from the engine left fireworks tailing behind us. We could lay out on the boat’s bow and watch the trails of various fish spread out to make way for the boat. Even walking on the sand at water’s edge lit up our footsteps. Truly amazing.
We spent that night under the stars at Playa Escondida, luckily Ramon had extra sleeping bags for the ladies. We awoke to the warm rays of morning sun, greeted with coffee by a man camped nearby.
How often do you get to stage a Charlie’s Angels shot with 3 beautiful Spanish women and a gangster of an RV traveler named Mike?
Pelicans perched atop Ramon’s fishing boat (panga). He’d been cleaning some fresh caught fish an hour before, so they were patiently awaiting the scraps. I just noticed how oddly similar this shot is to the previous one. Ramon’s Angel I suppose.
Las Reinas headed on South that morning, leaving me at Playa Escondida for another day on my own. While it was lovely connecting with two great retired guys on the beach, I missed the light and playful energy of being around people my own age. I had a quiet and reflective day on my own, enjoying the silence of Conception Bay, sharing a fresh-caught trigger fish taco with my new friend Juan that evening. That night, huddled in my tent from the strong winds, I plotted my next off-pavement adventure: crossing over to the Pacific Ocean…