The United States of… Mexico
Sun, sea, sand, and probably a load of other S’s if I was feeling more creative right now – a phonetic spelling of cycling perhaps but probably clutching at straws there.
Somehow over a month has rolled past since I crossed the border at Tecate into Mexico. And what an incredible few weeks. Warming up, brushing up on mi Español, and back rolling on the bike after some downtime before leaving the USA. The two day spin from San Diego to Tecate certainly shouldn’t have taken 2 days but why not. I have to be honest that the legs seemed a little out of practice and after a leisurely start saying goodbyes to Odie and Suzanne, followed by a trip to San Diego Old Town, I wasn’t too shy to taking a break before the border. A chance encounter with a photographer at Mission Bay led to a memorable evening spent in El Cajon – a suburb of San Diego and almost shamefully close to where I’d started that day. But totally worth it.
Crossing the border into Mexico I took the time to research the Baja Divide a little more than what I’d had time to do in San Diego previously. The Divide is a recently published mountain bike route down the length of the Peninsula and with instant popularity as a winter option for some bike-packing, and the majority off-road, it is seeing a lot of traffic. Though published as needing a fat bike, or at least a plus size tyres, I was never the less keen to see what was possible on a normal mountain bike. And with some sterling advice from other bikers I was keen to give the northern, and a few other less sandy sections a go.
With a little research in mind but with no real certainty about how the route was going to be I set off from Tecate with the intention of riding the dirt roads south to Ojos Negros and on beyond. The first part of the Baja Divide proved to be a brilliant outing. I’d spun south from Tecate to the trailhead in the coincidentally named village of San Francisco which was to be the final water stop until the town to the south which could very realistically be up to 4 days riding if the trails were particularly soft. So in San Francisco my bike got a lot heavier, weighed down with nearly 10L of water I left the tarmac behind and set out on the dirt roads across Northern Baja.
The start of the Divide proved to be a lot of fun. Some brilliant backroads with minimal traffic and only a minimal amount of pushing through some softer sections of sand. These were confined to the lower sections of the trail but never more than 100m or so in length. Sure fatter tyres would have made things easier but for the most part this initial section was a fine trail even on just 2in tyres with a 60kg+ bike! Though having said that I am respectful that I was riding the divide after a period of fairly damp weather which would likely have made the going somewhat easier. There was a lot, for the desert, of standing water along the way in puddles that had yet to dry out; and interestingly there were several creeks running fast with water that would have eased the burden of having to carry so much along with me but I couldn’t have counted on these.
The dirt roads were a great warm up and with that I got used to carrying the extra weight of water that would stand me in good stead for the other desert section.
The first rule of dining in Mexico has to be, if it looks like it has chilies in it then, 1. It has; and, 2. It’s probably going to blow your head off. Simple. And I quickly learnt to go easy on adding sauces and spice to my food though with Tacos a plenty my diet seemed to be changing somewhat with the departure of the US Dollar and arrival of the Peso. Mexican food is incredible; and seemingly better since I crossed the border into the country itself. Id perhaps mentioned before how in every country I’d previously visited I had somehow ended up eating Italian food with Albania and Canada being prime examples where the first meal I ended up eating was Italian! I’ve been desperate to make it through a country without any Pizza or Pasta; and hopefully Mexico will be this country!
I learnt on arriving that Mexico is actually a United States and to kick things off I’d be travelling down the Baja Peninsula, comprising of the States of Baja California and Baja California Sur, and once crossing to the mainland I’d be in the third, Sinaloa.
Considering how touristy I’d been led to believe the Baja was, so far I’d managed to avoid more that about half a dozen encounters with any English speakers. So brushing up on the lingo wasn’t too tricky to begin with – that was until I hit Baja South or rather B.C.S. – Baja California Sur as the state is officially known. I was later to learn that B.C.S entertainingly abbreviates the jovial name of British Colombia South – which somewhat summarises the number of Canadians who trek south to here for the winter! At the border to Baja South the lack of English speaking influences ceased. I was finding it almost impossible to make conversation in Spanish, broken or otherwise. But I met some more great people during the week here as I rolled south towards the port and awaiting ferry at La Paz.
Stepping off the ferry into Mazatlán it was 9 in the morning, the sun was out – unsurprisingly – but more noticeable than in La Paz, was the change in humidity. As well as crossing the Sea of Cortez, during the night, the route, though mostly to the east, also took us south just enough to finally cross the Tropic of Cancer meaning I’d now entered the Tropics. The next major geographical tick will be the Equator which is will be well into South America with several international borders and the Darien Gap in the way first!