A Run For the Border!

Day 5-Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I woke up around 6:30 to the sound of sea lions barking in the harbor. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful, sunny day.

I decided to simply have breakfast downstairs at the hotel instead of hunting something up out on the street. The restaurant was pretty much empty so I took a seat in the sun by the front windows (hint: It's mostly tourists who do this. I noticed as time went by and the place slowly filled that the locals all sought out the darker corners and shadows...out of the sun and heat). I ordered the chorizo and eggs (with beans, flour tortillas and some sort of potato pancake kinda thing). Delicious, if a bit greasy.

Suddenly it's "SCREEEEECH...BANG!" A woman had plowed into the back of a delivery van parked about 10 feet away from me out on the street! A guy sitting at the back of the restaurant slowly got up, wiped his mouth, dusted the crumbs from his front and sauntered outside. It's his van. No one is hurt, no one gets excited...it's all very laid back. The insurance people are the first to arrive (in about 15 minutes), the representative from the company that owns the van are next (after about 30 minutes) and the police NEVER showed up. Very laid back.

The rep's car from the van's company...the name made me snicker.

I have fewer than 200 miles to go today so I strolled the town and played sightseer for a couple of hours.

It was early and not much was happening yet...this is the famous Hussong's Cantina. It was founded in 1892 and lays claim to being where the Margarita was born back in 1941.

A lovely, green little park with a HUGE Mexican flag and some large golden heads (Benito Juarez being one, Miguel Hidalgo being another)

It's time to hit the road. Back to the hotel and wheel the bike out of the lobby (I resisted the temptation to fire it up inside).

This is me filling up at a Pemex in Ensenada...my first experience. The attendants DO NOT let you handle the nozzle. I begrudgingly let them fill the tank while I made all sorts of overly dramatic wincing motions like they were going to spill on my precious paint. That usually made them laugh and I never had anyone spill. Most would offer to let me look in the tank after they had filled it to their satisfaction to see if I agreed that it was filled sufficiently.

Fuel in Mexico is a sold by the state. Pemex stations are easy to find in urban areas and pretty evenly scattered in rural ones. The gasoline seems to be of consistent quality and I never had any problems with it. The prices are in litres and the costs are similar to those in the U.S. I did run across stations out in the desert that didn't offer premium...but the Guzzi which normally runs on premium gas did fine with it.

Out into the desert hills on Hwy 3 east of Ensenada. Baja twisties! Unfortunately most roads in Baja are limited to 60 km (45 mph) with some incredibly long straight stretches that allow you to go 80 km (60 mph). Being law abiding (and still thinking about those Mexican jails) I obeyed the law...for awhile.

Soon I fell in behind a local driver who was moving at a much smarter clip. We pretty much did the "60" and the "80" but did it in miles-per-hour. Hey, for the most part it is straight, flat road where you can see for miles. It was about here that I started worrying that the Mexican roads were going to shake my poor bike apart however (they are quite rough in areas). I was starting to see a seepage of some sort of oil covering my lower triple tree and the shocks were making a "squish-squish" noise on low speed bumps


Large dust devils are common...I even heard stories of dust storms where the visibility can get down to zero.

Suddenly the car I had been following started rapidly slowing down for no apparent reason. A simple sign saying "topes." Learn this word, it's important. "Topes" are HUGE, FREAKING SPEEDBUMPS that will totally launch you far into the air if you don't slow down. I took the first one slowly, took the second a little faster and then slowed WAY down again for the third...lesson learned.

A couple of more notes about the roads. There are shrines placed periodically along the roadside. I am not a religious person but still looked for them and was delighted when I spotted one. Some are simple, others can be quite outrageous. They spice up what is sometimes quite dull desert-scapes. I would have taken pictures but there are almost no shoulders to the roads and pulling off to the side can be hazardous. The other thing I should mention is the military checkpoints. It's sandbagged bunkers filled with guys in military uniforms carrying fully automatic assault rifles. They are a serious bunch. The routine is to stop and then you will then be either motioned through or pulled over to the side. Motorcycles do not get a free pass. I was let through generally and stopped and searched once. The guys there are doing a tough job. They're looking for drugs and weapons. Long, thankless days standing in the blistering sun. Be nice.

In discussing this trip with various people one of the guys on ST.N (desert_rider) mentioned he liked to stay at the Hotel Cortez in San Felipe. Sounded right so I went for it. I rode directly to it (my GPS didn't have Mexico maps so I was on my own) due to my extensive online research before I left. $85 (cash...the credit card computer was down) a night and right on the beach of the Gulf of California.

The rooms were small but adequate. The hotel is on the south end and about a 10 minute walk into town. It only has 4 TV channels and one in English but I really wasn't there to watch television anyway.

I got back into my "warm weather gear" and headed off for town. While I strolled along the roadway a local, working guy was headed the same direction and we fall into step. Me: "Buenos tardes." Him: "Buenos tardes." He asked if I was staying at the Cortez. "Si" I responded. He asked where I was from, I told him. I asked him if he lived here in San Felipe. "Si" (his English was quite good). We talked about my motorcycle trip and his job. "No vacations here" he told me. "We work 7 days a week." "Bummer" I said. He told me he had to go down this side road we were passing so we said goodbye. He shook my hand and told me his name, you guessed it, Jesus, and said that if there was anything I needed later on to let him know, he'd be around. I said I was pretty well fixed and he said "well, if you want a young girl or something like that." Very friendly and matter of fact. I declined his kind offer.

I don't know why but coconut vendors always remind me of the Marx brothers.

Downtown San Felipe. The covered walkways are delightfully cool in the heat of the day. For a 360 degree video of the main intersection in town click HERE.

I rounded the corner and headed back towards the hotel via the waterfront and the beautiful beaches.

San Felipe is known for a few things. One being the enormous change of the tide. The sea rises and falls over 20 feet! Another thing it's known for is its seafood. There are shrimp and fishing boats just offshore all day. They catch it, bring it in and clean it and it's on your table almost immediatly.

This is one of the shrimp boats...notice the super-fine nets they use.

A statue (one of a pair) on the waterfront commemorating something. I'm not at all sure what that fish is doing to that guy.

I arrived back at the hotel at about 4 in the afternoon. The temperature was still in the 90 degree range. The perfect time for a swim in the Sea of Cortez. Part of my reason for picking San Felipe as a destination was because it's on this sea. I'd never seen it before and I must say it does impress. It is a deep blue in color with fine, white sand beaches and it's WARM! It had been a long time since I'd swam in warm salt water (the last time there were people shooting at me) and had forgotten what it tasted like (yuck) but had a great time splashing about. Very therapeutic.

I dried off and headed down to the hotel's restaurant where there was LOTS of fish on the menu.

I ordered a fish medley. White cod, stuffed clams, fresh-off-the-boat shrimp and garlic octopus. I figured I'd eat the fish and "taste" the rest. I'm not really a big fan of shell fish.

Boy was I wrong. Everything was delicious! I all but licked the plate.

Back to room for an exciting evening of doing some laundry and reading. This was day 5 and I was running short of socks and shirts. I'd forgotten to bring my laundry kit (clothesline, powdered Woolite and a sink stopper) so I made do with a plastic bag to stopper the sink and some of my shampoo in place of laundry detergent. Drying is done by using some clips I always carry to fasten wet clothing over the heater/cooler unit and setting the fan on "high."

Miles ridden this day: around 150

Day 6-Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I rose early the next morning at about 6 o'clock. I wanted to watch the sun rise over the Sea of Cortez.

It was simply breathtaking! (note the shrimp boat already out)

The sunrise turned everything a wondrous red.

I had originally planned to spend two days in San Felipe but was a bit concerned about the bike and that persistent leak in the fork area and the lack of a good rear brake. I decided to start my trip back north.

So after breakfast (huevos, sausage and of course tortillas and beans) I loaded up the bike (it was already getting hot) and was on the road before eight.

Mexicali and the border are 122 miles north up Hwy 5 and past two military checkpoints. It's HOT, HOT, HOT! I think the desert and the heat were starting to make me a bit cranky.

Mexicali is a nice place and unexpected for a border town and quite urban. It's the capital of Baja and much cleaner than the other border towns I've seen. Still it's 5 miles of stop and go crazy traffic in the blistering heat. Both my air cooled engine and I were suffering. I couldn't put my hand on the valve cover but for a second. It was too hot and I was worried.

I'd been told by desert_rider about the motorcycle and permit (people who cross daily are given a quick way across) lane at Mexicali. So after a couple of false starts (it's not well marked...it's on the extreme left behind the concrete barrier) I found it and made my way past litteraly 1000's of trucks and cars waiting to cross. Their wait to cross was estimated at two hours. As I moved to the front of this five minute line the guard motioned to me that I was in the wrong lane??? I asked what to do and he motioned me to move over into the front of the next "automotive" lane. The guard in that lane told me that I couldn't cross there because I hadn't passed over this special bump in the road that must contain some sort of scanning stuff. He told me to try the next lane and go over the bump. I squeezed between the barricades and over the bumps to the sound of people shouting. They must have thought I was a terrorist trying to break into the country. Fortunately the guard at this station (an Hispanic woman) took pity on me and let me cross after simply showing my passport and removing my helmet.

I got one block into Calexico before the Guzzi stopped running. The temperature was 100 degrees plus. Sputter, sputter, cough. I pushed the 600 lb., loaded bike around the corner and luckily there was a parking space available...right in front of an "exotic dance" club. No matter, I could see a bank down the street and I need U.S. dollars (all I had at this point were pesos from Mexican ATM's) and a grocery store on the next block.

I got my much needed dollars and got an ice cream sundae in a cup and a bottle of Gatorade for me and a litre of spring water for my poor bike. I splashed the water on the heads of my mighty V-Twin engine then leaned against the wall of the strip club and ate my sundae and drank my Gatorade.

After about 1/2 an hour I fired up the bike (bless its heart) and we got the hell out of Calexico.

Next stop, the Salton Sea. I hated to stop for fear of overheating the engine again but I really wanted to see this place. It's kind of eerie and doesn't smell very good. Lots of rotting, salted fish. So I took a couple of pictures and wouldn't you know if my camera ran out of memory. Sigh...

Okay fine, let's get going. I was going to stop in Indio and see if I could find the house my family lived in back in 1955 (no snickering) but decided against it because if anything it was getting hotter and my plan now was to mimic the shark...gotta keep moving and keep air flowing over that engine (and myself).

I had to stop for this amazing wind farm outside of Palm Springs though...it was so beautiful! Something is so right about a Moto Guzzi sitting in the middle of a wind farm.

Finally I reached Barstow at about 6 in the evening. I took the last room at this place and paid WAY more ($150) than I wanted for some sort of "junior suite." Whatever that is. The receptionist insisted that I park the bike right out front where they could keep an eye on it for me.

The motel had a laundry I could use, they had 3 HBO channels, a coffee maker deluxe and they gave me free popcorn. I washed all the clothes I wasn't wearing, took a much needed shower (even shaved) and then collapsed into a deep sleep on an extremely comfortable bed (the pillows actually had either "firm" or "soft" embroidered into the covers...never seen that before).

Miles ridden this day: Somewhere around 400 hot, dusty ones

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