Welcome to the very first “International” section of our Bicycle Touring for Beginning Ninja guide… wow, thats a long title… The reason I reckon it is one of the most important additions to the International Sections to come is due to a few factors.
A. This is the only country you can get into without showing an ID, until you try to come back of course thats a whole different story…
B. It is one of the most misrepresented countries in our U.S. culture, and therefore, it should be personally visited by us if we are to ever grow as humans.
C. It is rad and has some of the most amazing sites, tastes and feels of anywhere I have travelled in my life. Mega Chef Anthony Bourdaine says, “…Ensenada is the next Tuscanny…”, Sammy Hagar of Van Halen has made this his home, Al Capone hung out with many a former president and dignitary here, it has a richness and magic like no other place. The natural beauty is beyond imagining, the people are so friendly, warm and welcoming…. Do yourself a favor, come south of the border and see whats really going on.
D. It happened to be the next stop for me outside the U.S.=]
IMPORTANT NOTE! We are riding bikes that are not your 4×4 style, they are very strong bikes, yet they would not be the best for off-roading for extended periods. We have been following Route 1, this is the South of the Border section of the Pacific Coast Highway you may have been cruising in California. Some of the best attractions here in the Baja are off the beaten trail so to speak. You will not find them on Route one, nor close to it. Please do your homework, send us an email, do whatever it is you need to do to ensure you have the best trip possible based on what love in addition to bicycle touring… because it truly is all here!
There is a reason why this is first, it needs to be dispelled as it is the foremost thing people were warning me about….
Policia – Police
– Prior to my departure across the border, re-phrase, whenever I would tell people of my plan to travel the world, everyone was most concerned about what fate I might encounter upon arrival in Mexico. Full on war happening in other places, but, watch out for Mexico… HA!
Most people were very quick to assure me that my fate was sealed as a future drug mule, hostage victim, sex slave and most definitely I would have to watch for the police as they would take great pains to extract money from me and beat me every chance they got.
To date, a year of having been in Mexico, I have had the following encounters with police…
1. I have been offered a place to stay twice on police property so that I can have no worries.
2. Have been given a ride with my bike in the back of a police truck to a school to speak.
3. Given a ride to a restaurant in the back of a police truck.
4. As part of a critical mass ride, was blown away that 26 riders would get a truck and two motorcycle police whose job it was to leap frog and stop all cross traffic for us. Later I would find that this is common practice all over the country. Depending on the city, the request must be dropped off anywhere from 2 weeks to the very day of the event. How does that work exactly in the States?
What I am writing holds to the Baja Peninsula, I have yet to step foot on the mainland of Mexico, so I will not speak to it, until of course we travel through it and then I will speak a lot about it.
Whenever you are talking about police and dealing with them, it is always good to remember this one, very simply maxim… If you are doing “bad things”, be prepared for bad things to happen if the police find you – in any country. If you get caught speeding and the cop tells you that you can avoid the ticket if you give them 50 bucks, would you, A. Tell your friends how corrupt the local police are, or B. Tell your friends how stoked you are that you didn’t have to go to court and pay a 200 dollar fine… Thats one of the problems with stories and the people that tell them, most people would rather bitch than praise. They wont take a moment to reflect on the fact that speeding is speeding all over the world if there is a sign on the side of the road with a number on it that says this is the limit for the vehicle you are driving in. Further, most would rather blame the police for busting them, than accept that they were going fast?!?! Now you’ve got a bitchy gringo spinning yarns about corrupt police when really they should be stoked! Know your source for the travel you are asking questions about!
Restaurants and Food
They are a bit different here in the way you may be used to…
The classic restaurant will have a menu, fixed prices and usually A/C if the surrounding area warrants it. That being said, most of the places we ate at on the ride would be more open air, and the price you pay for your food depends on whos working and what they think of you, it is still cheaper than a restaurant, and I’ve found you can ask for seconds! It’s more of a temporary “Your Mom’s Kitchen” type deal if that makes sense.
The ice and water is safe contrary to gossip, it is made from purified water and you can drink water from a bottle or from a glass as the glass will be filled with purified water as NO ONE drinks anything but!
The entire country [very slight exaggeration] drinks bottled water in two forms, with or without sugar, either way you will be paying Coke or Nestle. Mexico represents ten percent of Cokes’ earnings globally…. They sell in 190 countries, so that means, GOOD GOD!
If you like meat, you are set. If you are vegan, a little more care will have to be exercised, especially when it comes to the beans. At times they will be cooked with lard. Even if you ask for vegetarian, lard will not be factored in, many times fish will not be either. This is a heads up, don’t judge too harshly as how many wars has Mexico started in the last one hundred years, not to mention, this is what the cosmopolitan Europeans were buying and selling in relation to lard at one point and I would say its a far cry healthier than what is being pawned off on the general population these days! I digress…
Being Vegan, veggie, or some derivative thereof… If you are vegan or vegetarian and are very strict, this could be a difficult ride for you for many reasons if you do not plan well ahead. If vegan, you will be relegated to beans, rice and salad. Salad will be iceberg lettuce and will then have one or more of the following – olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and avocado. If you are very stict, you may not be able to eat the beans OR the rice depending on how they are prepared. I have decided to not ask how they are made. This is a choice each person must make. Should you not want to risk prepared food, it will be imperitive that you set aside room in your gear for cooking and carrying food.
Important Note regarding your beans! If you are cooking them from the dried state i.e., you got a bag of beans from the store [mercado], be sure to go through them on a flat surface to look for stones. You will find many. You’ve been warned=]
Ensenada will be one of the best places for food and spirits [wine/beer/margaritas] on the Penninsula. The Guadalupe Wine Valley is by far one of the best places, are you ready for this… In The World… for wine. It is also one of the hottest and fastest growing areas for international cuisine.
There is currently a rennaisance in artisenal beer [microbrews] happening. There are many artisan beer makers appearing and the results are FANTASTIC. The main 4 in town are Old Mission Brewery, this is for us, hands down the best. Not only does he, the Brewmaster is Paul from Boston, have a Smoked Maple Porter that for me is one of the best beers I ever tasted, but, the hops are then used to make bread and pizza crusts! Then we have Distrito Barro, Pelicanos and Wendtland. To give you an idea of Old Mission Breweries prowess, whenever the other artisan pubs don’t have their brew, they always have OMB!
Points of Interest/Things to do
hmmmmm, well, the ocean is a great place to start as is the food and wine ideas put forth above…
Cave Paintings – the really old rad kind that make you think about life beyond paying bills and what the neighbors are doing…
Old Churches and Missions – To this day I have no idea why these buildings have such a hold on me. In Santa Rosalia you can see the church by Mssr. Eiffel, the same guy that made the tower in Paris that always gets blown up in the movies by the aliens. Lots of very cool historic religious buildings which are rad even if you arent religious!
Whales, Dolphins, Whale Sharks, coral reefs, lagoons, endangered and soon to be extinct birds and animals, deserts, tropical forests etc. – This is a great place to see them before they are all gone!
Great Food – we already covered this a few times, but just so we are clear, great food here.
Baja 1000 – This is the yearly race, usually at the end of November so the participants dont die from heat exhaustion. Below is a video when My good friend jeff came to visit from the start in Ensenada.
Outdoor Sports – rock climbing, swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA diving [both from shore and charter], trail running, cycling.
Live music is abundant – from Punk Rock, Banda, Nortec, Strolling minstrels to string quartets.
CICESE, drawing students from around the world for some of the most in depth and rigorous scientific training to include an observatory. Very cool people, global mega intelligent community!
Local history abounds, the main hotel turned convention center in Ensenada was formerly owned by Al Capone. Numerous Presidents, Heads of State and other important figures from all fields, Political, Scientific, Industrial, Athletic etc., have made the Baja Peninsula a place to get away from it all.
If you’re looking for surf, You’ve found the spot! From the moment you get into the Baja you can start finding surf, as with anywhere, season and skill make the ride. There is a lot here, quite literally too much to mention, so I wont, there are spots upon spots upon spots to surf. San Miguel just outside of Ensenada, Todos Santos [50 foot waves!!], Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, many places to rock out on huge waves and plenty of nice small ones. Do your research and have a blast! Some waves will require you to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, actually, a lot of them will, so keep this in mind while doing your surf homework. If you plan on surfing just south of the border, San Miguel is a great spot, BUT, bring booties as I shredded my feet here, you’ll also need a wetsuit for a lot of the places until you get down south…
Sleeping – Camping, Hotels, Side of the Road….
Where to sleep is always a question to be sure. There are hotels but these will more often than not get you a pricey accomodation with not a lot of amenities as you may be used to. You can also follow our path, camp at the restaurant you ate at! What ever path you follow, when it comes to the quiet hours, always try to be somewhere close to others, there is a safety factor that is wise to try to follow, but dont let yourself get worked up, the USA has equally high, if not higher crime rates, and if you aren’t involved in the illegal transport of narcotics, you really don’t have much to worry about. Again, if you do bad things, you get in trouble, not rocket science!
Water to carry… lots of water. In fact we have a rule, if we ask one another one bottle or two, we get three. As you get to the very southern portion of your ride, the frequency of places to get water will increase and you wont have to haul as much. Change out your bike waterholders to simple Cage style [pic] if you dont already have them. These will more easily fit the long
water bottles, the 1.5 liter kind that work out a whole lot better as, A. No cleaning as with your typical bike bottle. It wont be so easy to find places and situations to clean your bottles unless you get a hotel every time, even then, there are many times where there will be no hotel. B. You need such epic amounts of water that the typical bike bottle is not enough.
When to Ride
To ride or not to ride, that is the question, well, not really, of course you’re going to ride, its just a matter of when. We decided to ride at the height of Summer – July/August, I do not recommend this to anyone unless you are ninja training and are prepared for extreme heat conditions 24 hours a day.
The heat is often times beyond belief and very dangerous if you are not aware of your body, the signs it sends you and how well you work in hard core weather. There were times where when breathing in, it felt like I was breathing in fire. A breeze would be nothing more than hot water mixing with hotter water…
We ended up with a fairly serious case of heat exhaustion which had us bedridden for three days. Heat exhaustion as with nuclear radiation, affects you at the cellular level and in studies done with professional athletes signs of damage were detected from liver biopsies over four months after the initial instance! If you get it, you will want to be careful for at least a year following the incident as you will be predisposed to it!
Heat Sickness Symptoms to watch for –
Profuse sweating, rapid and yet light pulse, confusion/disorientation [very bad while riding obviously], general weakness, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, low grade fever.
Signs that things are getting very serious would be – NO sweating, extreme confusion/lack of orientation, seizure, high fever [very bad], inability to move much… these are obvious signs, yet, given the amount of people who die per year from heat related illness, we must state them to you. As you are riding and being strong, you may want to overlook things as a weakness and decide to power through, that works for math problems and relationship issues, not this, not ever. Always stop, you are made of water, if that balance is far out of whack, bad news is quick to arrive to YOUR doorstep.
If you have one or more of these symptoms pull off the road and seek shelter, if you are in the middle of no where, set up your tent BESIDE the road so that you can flag down assistance if you do not begin to get better. Know that the tent will be hot, but hey, you need to get out of direct sun, do not set up under large Cacti.
This is serious and kills people every year, don’t be fooled or take it lightly. You need to replenish your fluids immediately, and keep in mind, this damages the kidneys, so you may find it takes a day or three of drinking A LOT of WATER before you really start to keep the water in your system! You will also want to mechanically cool your body during this time either through cold water and ice bath, air conditioning, whatever you can do with where you are at, and if it gets bad, if you dont see improvement and feel scared, see a doctor. It took me three days of cold water bathing, A/C, Emergen-C packets, True Blood episodes [when conscious] and so much water it was insane! I almost went to the hospital which for me is huge. Dont play with your life. You are riding a bike, not saving the world!
Temperature Extremes! – Can wreak havoc on you! be ready for them, you are riding in a desert, so while it may be super hot by day, it will be just as cold at night. Once you have it figured out, you move 400 miles and now its just hot all the time. So be ready and really take time to rest. You may have hard nights sleeping, so have easy days riding. Lack of sleep is the beginning of bad times. Everything is affected by it from immune function to concentration. Do not underestimate sleep. I emphasize as I had no major problems prior to this portion of the trip. Take some melotonin with you but use it sparingly as it is strong and can be habit forming!
Now we know what to watch for if we ride in the summer. Please do be very careful and aware if you ride at this time! Now, in the Fall, late August through October, you can, not always, C A N, get very high winds. That these winds cause cars to pull to the side of the road, you can imagine what it does for you, especially considering how people drive in Mexico, if it stops them, it is serious indeed!
October through May is a potluck of goodness. Generally we are led to understand the late October through December is the time to ride. There can be rain during these times, you’re lucky if you find it, know that the main season for rain is January, February and March. This is a general rule which is being disproved as I write this due to changes globally in weather patterns. I am not trying to be coy or lazy in research, it simply is a fact. Blame it on who or what you will, it makes no difference and isnt really a huge deal. In some countries when the rainy season hits, it never seems to end, not so here, so no worries.
Recapping, the best time to ride is early winter and spring, summer is simply mind numbngly hot and autumn you may get the sciroccos [desert winds].
One of the first things beyond the seemingly confused and hectic way of driving, lots of quick speeding to red lights with hard braking, is the lack of shoulders on the roads.
I was told that in a money saving mission, the primary road, Route 1, was made with the minimum possible extra paving on the shoulders to save x millions of dollars. What that means for you is that you will have some ninja times ahead of you. There will be many places where you can visibly see how the road was literally scraped from the land to the right and left. You are now being an Extreme Athlete, anyone that tells you otherwise has never ridden here. When your choice going down hill at 30mph is the speeding truck beside you, the 2 inch white line below or the sheer 400 ft drop to the right or left of you, at this point you are now born again ninja, or dead. Yes, it is like that, so be aware and do be ready to dismount and walk. No fool has ever told a story of high adventure and wonder…
Many times when on a basic roadway section, the road has been scraped from the laft and the right o a 3 foot height above the surrounding area. The shoulder is inches wide, if you go off the side it will be large, sharp rocks and cactus.
Many times you will need to make the decision of taking the lane of getting off the road all together. Do not be scared to take the lane until you feel safe. No one here will try to kill you purposefully, this only seems to happen in Europe and the United States, so take the lane and then get off the road when you can. You may get beeped at, no big deal, half the beeps we get that we think are upset people turn out to be the ones that wave and smile the most. So focus on keeping you safe, its really all that matters.
If you find that you have to get off the road quick, get up in your saddle to help absorb shocks and get ready for a ride!
There are a lot of blind corners, hills etc. If you learn to factor in other vehicles and truckers, giving them hand signals to pass you etc., you will get some good street credibility, truckers have CB radios and everyone seems to know each other on the peninsula, so don’t be an ass at the very least. if you can actually help out other vehicles, it will pay off.
Foot Gear and Pedal Setup:
Many people do this ride in all sorts of set ups, so DO NOT take my word for anything. My feeling about this section is simply to go with the basic pedal set up as you may want to get off the road AND your bike quickly. For us nothing to lock us into the pedals at all.
I carry the same as with the kit described in the First Aid section of this guide. I looked into rattlesnake and other anti venoms but they require refrigeration making them pointless to carry.
Part of your first aid kit will turn out to be toilet paper. Always carry a roll as many places will not have paper.
Dinero – Cash
Expect to spend near what you would in the states, you get the gringo menu, even if you speak fluent spanish and are from another part of mexico, you get a different price then the locals, it works this way the world wide… Dont be upset, be happy you have the opportunity you do have!
You can expect to pay the following as of 2012. 1-2 dollars for a beer, plate of beans/rice/ensenalada – 3 – 8 dollars. Water is from 1 to 5 depending on the size.
Power, in the literal sense…
Electricity is not a guarantee here, charge ’em whenever you have access and be sure to ask before you plug in. Money is tight for some people, electricity is not free. Be an ambassador, not a leech.
Places that we feel you would do well to know of…
Ideas on – Places where you can stay depending on how you roll and a little about each place that was for us memorable, and some stuff to look out for… These are suggestions based on our trip. Use them as guides only and feel free to send us any suggestions you have so that we can make this as nice a guide as possible for people!
1. Tijuana – Be prepared to ride like a ninja. You will be getting your first taste of road driving and it can be intense. More than likely you will want to check out the town, you do this by crossing the main road towards the Bus Station, going through the mall at the plaza and then over the walking bridge to the Tijuana Arch. TJ is a big city, so we recommend you check in with the TJ Couchsurfing crew or warmshowers.org hosts to get your bearings.
2. Rosarito – I didn’t stay here so have no recommendations of where to stay, BUT, they do have a nice little bike shop=]
3. Ensenada – This is the promised land for great food, wine, surfing, hiking, and very cool people. If you are new to the area, chat with the Ensenada Couchsurfing crew as they are active and ready to help, there is also a warmshowers.org house specifically for bikers!
4. Roadside camping coming out of Ensenada, 1st night, felt sketchy…. new rule, try to always find some place that has other people to camp at…
5. Mi Ranchito restaurant – Camped in the back of the restaurant and had a great time.
6. Camalu – We stayed in a police impound lot. Also had first Bike Shop we found on since leaving Ensenada!
7. San Quintin – Hotel Uruapan, 200 pesos for travelig cyclists, A MUST, well, it was a lifesaver for us=]
8. El Rosario – Mama Espinoza, best salsa so far and if you are nice, they will let you camp in the back.
9. El Sacificio – is the name of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, if you find yourself wondering where everything is and then you come upon a restaurant, you’ve found it! 24 hours open, camp in back or to side, we were in front, bad move, lots of light, drunken people talking to us through the tent and being, in general, asses… There will be two more places f
10. Cataviña – police warehouse, crazy night, I ended up looking for ghosts naked with a bottle of water as my weapon… very cool people in the town, very helpful.
From here we were stranded in Chapala, you SHOULD be able to stay at the restaurant if you speak to Youghyes, not sure if that is how it is spelled, but it sounds like YOU YES, if not, I dont know what to tell you but ride on, we got lucky and got a ride to Bahia de Los Angeles, where we stayed at Garretts, which is a oceanside camp spot and then got a ride with the same rad Germans in their Renault Prössl (pfhgrooosssille) to….
11. Guerrero Negro, here we stayed at Malarrimo Hotel in their Red Cross Station [we’ll try to get the owner, Antonio, to make it an official room for Bicycle tourists!]
12. Vizcaino was cool especially when we found the pizza place at end of town, and they let us camp in the back. Ride all the way through town and it will be on your left hand side, it was orange when we ate there.
13. San Ignacio, this is the oasis, and you will be so happy to have found it! We stayed at and recommend – Patates, campground on the lagoon, showers, free canoe/paddle boat, rad owner… Using it as your base, you can cruise up to Rice and Beans Restaurant for a big old plate of the name sake and use the wifi if you’re so inclined… Your things will most likely be safe at the campground un-attended. When making fires here, be very aware and diligent as every so often all the palm trees catch at the same time!
14. Santa Rosalia is RAD, stayed with a freind of a friend, kick ass town…lots of places to stay, bigger town, used to be a copper mining/smelting community owned by a French outfit called something or other, anyway, you can pretend you snuck in to the old facility and see what ghost you can scare up, there is actually no fence, hence pretending to sneak in, which is surprising as it is a serious abandoned factory with many places for things to go awry… Compangie du Boleo was the mining firm…
15. Mulege, what a super sweet spot! The restaurant you want to find yourself at is Casa de Pancho Villa, best rice and beans, from there, let the magic take its course…. If you are lucky you can hang out with ex CIA agents at the former presidential retreat, guys who race trucks and mysterious French men from Belgium who speak Spanish=]
– Playa Row [beach row] starts with Santispac a.k.a. Concepcion and goes south with many many beaches to Punta Tasajera, take your pick, Santispac has a restaurant, closed on wednesday (of course subject to change with zero notice from us:)
16. Playa Burro – Restaurant open daily, rad people…
17. Playa Buenaventura – decent place to recharge you stuff and get food, just watch out for the Greedy Gringo!…
From here we kept at it and ended up with a sweet case of Heat exhaustion in Loreto… Cool little town, very hot when the Baja is in hot mode…
Ciudad Constitucion – restaurant from hell and the first time we saw a Pepsi advertisment, until then it was 100 percent Coke… they own Mexico.
Aqua, not beer or coffee, I say this as I contemplate getting another cup of coffee….. STAY HYDRATED!
We are now back in Ensenada making some dinero to move forward, our bikes are in San Jose del Cabo and will finish out this section upon our return, in the interim, email with any questions should you be coming this way!