Part XVI: The Salt Flats, Strong Wind, and Riding Through Ejidos
Leaving Piedra Blanca
Alejandro is a slight man. He has been living on a ranch for more than 40 years. Most of his teeth are gone which makes him look older than he probably is. The language spoken by the local mountain people is difficult to understand. They eat half of their words therefore much of the conversation depends on picking up on body language, intuition, and lots of nodding and pretending with a blank expression on your face, that you know what they are saying. He fills my bottles with sweet water that comes from a well dug 600 feet deep. The ranch also has solar and wind power. I’d like to chat more with Alejandro, spend a day with him, explore the area. Everything is immaculate and clean and raked. It is a most pleasant place, surrounded by massive granite boulders and Giant Cardon cacti. The cabins are simple and clean and to shower in the desert is such a luxury.
The ride to El Arco is beautiful and, apart from losing a water bottle somewhere along the way, uneventful. In El Arco, I decide to ride southwest toward Mex 1 to avoid a ten-mile sandy stretch of the road I’ve been warned about. The road goes and goes, straight on for more than 25 miles without any vegetation to seek shade. The one and only car that comes toward me stops, and the kind people who live at one of the ranches fill my empty water bottle.
When I finally reach Mex 1, there is no place to resupply the water or food. After 43 miles I’ve already ridden, I have thirty miles to go to reach Vizcaíno on the road without any shoulder. I ride as close to the edge of the road, but I am extremely nervous and uncomfortable. My heavy bike sways every time a truck passes me by. This sucks! I shouldn’t have listened to advice to avoid the sandy road. I might have pushed the bike, but it would have been much safer. A bright red pickup truck stops and Roberto, who owns a pizza place in Guerrero Negro and Vizcaíno, offers me a ride. He says it’s too dangerous to ride on the road. He stops smack in the middle of the freeway, so ongoing trucks have to pass by crossing onto the oncoming lane. I have to make a decision very quickly. I accept the offer as it is getting late enough in the day and I don’t want to get caught in the dark on the busy main road. Roberto chats the whole way. It’s hard to understand his very rapid Spanish., but I learn that he is the youngest of 11 kids in the family and an avid dirt bike rider. Roberto is familiar with all the back roads around the area. He treats me to a pizza when we arrive at his place: Roberto’s Pizza! I buy him, and his cousins who work at the pizza restaurant a six-pack of beer.
A motel for $15 was as cheap as it gets, but what you pay is what you get. A real shower, however, after a whole day’s worth of riding on dusty roads in the heat, is heaven. It doesn’t matter how fancy a faucet it comes out of. My body is grateful. I watch “The Perfect Storm” in Spanish and a dose of George Clooney in delivered in whatever language also doesn’t matter. The mind is grateful, and I even pick up a new word or two.
I have fallen victim to anticipation. Any trip is one of the state of mind. When I anticipate that a day will not be long or difficult, it then stretches into an impossibly long and difficult day. Traveling by bike is mentally and of course, physically, a million times slower than by car. You feel every little hill that is unnoticeable when you drive. Today was one of those days. For some reason, my Garmin froze, and I ended up riding Mex 1 for a good part of the way to San Ignacio. I’ve put it into my head that this will save me many miles, will shorten my trip and make it for an easy day. It did shorten the trip by about 10 miles, but it played a dirty trick on my mind. I couldn’t wait for the ride to be over with. Just shy of San Ignacio I go through a standard military inspection. The soldiers ask regular questions; where I am from and where I am going. They point to a camper behind me and ask me if I am with them.
“No, viaje sola.” I am traveling alone, I answer.
“Sola!?” All three soldiers chuckle, as if: “Que mujera loca!”
I am not the crazy one though. I ride to Casa de Ciclista in the oasis of San Ignacio which, of course, caters to cyclists. I’ve been hearing along the way about this older French couple riding down Mex 1. We finally cross paths. They are farmers from France, and they are traveling from Alaska via The Great Divide through the states, all the way down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina where they anticipate to arrive by next Christmas. They plan to stay on some farm cooperatives in Mexico and then Cuba, Bolivia, Columbia…It makes my trip look like nothing! We all agree, however, that Mexico is safe, safer than any city in the US and the people we meet along the way are genuine and kind.
San Ignacio is a charming, date palm oasis town with a grand 18th-century mission. I have dinner of fish and rice in the square plaza, kids are running in the park, and pleasant Mexican music wafts from the restaurant. The first sliver of the moon is traveling right over the mission. The only thing is, it’s getting lonely eating by myself. It would be nice to share a pleasant evening with someone other than mosquitoes. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I hate mosquitoes. I know hate is a strong word, but in this case, I can use it. I HATE mosquitoes! I have to buy some mosquito repellent. I have to find space for it on the bike.
I am awakened early by roosters and chickens and at 6:30 am the day is confirmed by church bells and I feel I’ve been transported back home where I used to wake up to church bells every morning.
A quiet Sunday morning breakfast at the plaza in the company of Esnicker, a very sweet pit bull (I know, I never thought I’d say that), complete my stay at San Ignacio. I feel reasonably rested, and I plan to ride about 30, what I hope are easy miles to Laguna San Ignacio. I know, no expectations, but I am trying to plan shorter days when possible. Maybe a whale or two will greet me in the Laguna. Those magnificent, giant creatures that were on the brink of murderous extinction. It is nice to see, for a change, that we humans are trying to reverse the horrible things we do to other creatures and Mother Earth.
The road toward Laguna is paved and quiet. I stop at in San Zacarias to get some water and some food. Since it’s Sunday morning, people are dressed up in their finery and are lined up in front of the store. It’s a local election day. So yes, we touch a bit on the crazy politics of their northern neighbor country. None have favorable sentiments for the current president up north. I sign my name into the Baja Divide book and am so concentrated on a conversation with the man at the counter that I forget to study the names and dates of people who signed in just before me. There is a couple I’ve been following and was hoping I’d catch up with them. I write in my Slovenian nationality, and the guy knows precisely that Slovenia is next to Croatia and Italy and he knows the history of Yugoslavia, and it’s leader Tito. This was not the first time on my trip. And here we could have a long discussion about education. I am in a tiny community in the middle of Baja, and they have better knowledge of geography and history than most people in the States!
The road continues, and it is lonely. Every creature is a welcome sight, so I delight in the company of a citrus-colored butterfly that accompanies me for a fleeting moment. I hope the road will change direction soon. Thermal winds blowing from the cool Pacific into the desert, which is quickly warming up, are not doing me much of favor right now. Every so often, when I crest over the hump of the road, the Laguna is just a bit closer. The straight road disappears on the horizon in the shimmering heat of midday.
I reach the Laguna just past noon. It is really hot, and there is no shade anywhere. At one of the fishing shacks, the local man informs me that there are no whales yet. Therefore the place is pretty deserted. I see a few plywood shacks and a tiny store that sells mainly pop sodas and beer. No place to stay here, so I continue. I ride through another ejido (community), a rather large one with a school, lots of very basic houses and a store, which is actually closed as it is Sunday. I get off the bike, and the lady opens the store up for me, and I buy a beer, a small chunk of cheese, and a lime. They are a very nice family who just returned from church service and a young boy named Alejandro admires the bike. They all want to know how much the bike like that costs and as usual, I dodge the question.
The salt flats are a pretty hostile environment. I am riding 50 feet below sea level. It is devoid of much vegetation, and even birds don’t hang around. As it is getting later and later, the light is changing as the sun travels lower on the horizon toward the edge of the ocean, promising a beautiful sunset. I am on the lookout for a place to set up camp. I’ve developed a strategy that the right spot will speak to me. I walk through some soft sand away from the road and set up my tent behind a small solitary banyan tree. Not exactly hidden, but I am, to what I think far away from the road. It’s too windy to start a fire, and I don’t want to really attract attention. I feel a bit like a sitting duck out in the open. Some cars are passing by on the tracks on firm sand of the salt flats. Probably fisherman traveling back home to one of the ejidos. The sunset is beautiful, and I crawl into the tent and eat cold dinner of tortillas, fresh cheese, and avocado with lime. I’ve traveled with the beer I bought back a few hours ago, so it’s not exactly cold, but it tastes great nonetheless. I manage to spill it inside of the tent, so all my stuff is swimming in beer. Great! I wipe it with a towel as best I can, but am too tired to worry about that too much. The flysheet flaps loudly in the wind, but I soon fall asleep.
I am visited by a nightmare for the first time on my trip. In my dream, my daughter Jana somehow ends up in my small tent with me, and in a panic, she wakes me up saying someone is walking around outside the tent. I startle myself awake. My mind starts racing. I know I am awake as I am alone again. I have a knife next to me, but the pepper spray is on the bike outside. What good is any of that going to do me anyway! All is quiet out except for the tent flapping in the wind. I go to the bathroom, and the bright stars calm me down. The moon has passed over already, and the sky is littered with bright stars and constellations. I sit outside for a while and just breath, taking in the quiet surroundings. The silence is deafening. I am deeply aware that I am all alone. The surroundings are as flat as a pancake as far as the eye can see. It's eery and beautiful at the same time. I see a couple of shooting stars, and as I calm down, I crawl back into the tent.
Somehow manage to get back to sleep. In the morning, after cold coffee, a couple of cookies, and an apple for breakfast, I am back on the salt flats riding by 8 am. 20 more miles gets me to ejido El Datil, a fishing community of houses built of plywood and any other materials people who live here can find. It is poor by our standards, but it has its rhythm of families living and working together. Kids are riding around on their rusty bikes, two young boys are sitting on the boats cleaning fishing nets. I find a place which has a tiny store that mainly sells cookies, chips and other junk, but Rosa, the lady of the house, makes me a brunch of three eggs and beans that I polish with three tortillas. Her husband is sitting on the bench playing guitar, their son and two grandsons are getting ready to go fishing. But first, they drive off to find me some gasoline for my stove. I sit and chat with Rosa, trying to chase away the flies that are incredibly persistent and annoying, but that all fits into the ambiance. I’d like to stay longer with these good people and rest, but have a long way to get to San Juanico. Rosa takes a video of me. Yes, she has a pink Samsung smartphone, and I snap a photo of the whole family with my bike.
I again avoid an inquiry on how much my bike costs. My bike costs probably more then the family makes in a year. I tell them I am not sure, that it was a gift. Envy is a strange bird. It can breathe animosity. After 52 miles, I finally reach San Juanico and Scorpion Bay. I am exhausted and famished. I set up my tent on the bluff alongside the surfers. After a cold shower, a margarita and excellent dinner, I am revived again. I am in my tent by 8 pm. My phone is dead, so I can’t write, and I am soon lulled to sleep by waves. Suddenly, I am awakened by winds so strong, that I think my tent is going to get blown right off the bluff. I am blasted by the sand blown through the mesh sidewall. I am praying I staked the tent down well enough, so it’s fly doesn’t blow away. Seriously? Where did this wind storm come from? And then, just as quickly as it came up, it suddenly stops. I wake up to a clear, calm morning. Today will be my rest day. I need it badly.