Cycling the desert of Baja California

Cycling the desert of Baja California

A journey from -40°C at the start in the Alaskan wilderness, now is heading to +40°C in Mexico. In six months I’ve ended up deep in the desert of Baja California. It is no longer icy and cold, but dry and often hot, sometimes extremely hot.

The landscapes look like as if I landed on the moon. The snow-white trees from a few months ago are now sandy landscapes adorned with a several sorts of cacti and other plants with thorns.  My nightmare here is the goathead, a little ball with thorns that lie on the ground hundreds at a time in many places and gets stuck in about everything.

I was still in doubt whether I should cycle through Sonora, which is about mainland Mexico, or through the Baja California peninsula. I hadn’t done much research, but the fact that Baja California is not heavily populated attracted me. Several cyclists had told me that this peninsula of Mexico is really worth cycling.

Cycling in Baja California

Cycling in Baja California

I had to get used to this new environment because the crossing was quite heavy from Rosarito to San Felipe. A great mountain landscape, where I went from the fresh Oceanic breeze to a kind of sandy microwave. With a police or military check at every important point such as a town or city. A person would then ask me for my passport and sometimes if I would carry hard drugs with me. There are jeeps driving around with armed policemen and military vehicles with armed soldiers guarding over the people.

Mexico is a country that for a long time already has been in internal conflict with many drug cartels. These cartels control smuggling routes across Mexico to the United States. I’ve been told that Baja California is one of the quieter states when it comes to cartel violence. What is happening on the peninsula is the illegal hunting of the totoaba fish, also known as ‘cocaine of the sea’. The bladder of the fish is sold for a lot of money on the Chinese black market. With a good deal you can go towards € 5000 for a single swim bladder. In this hunt, the Vaquita dolphin is also victim, which lingers in the nets and is therefore almost extinct by now.

In Rosarito I had received a lot of information from Ix Chel about places and people who would like to get in touch with cyclists. In Baja California there is an amazing network of people who help cyclists. Following the tragic incident of the murder of two European cyclists in the state of Chiapas in April 2018, a network for cyclists, the Red de Apoyo Cicloviajero México (RACmx), has been set up. There is a whatsapp group where information is shared and where you can ask for help about routes in Mexico or bike-friendly places and people.

Cycling in Baja California

In San Felipe I really needed tire patches and the attachment between me and the expensive gravel tires from Missoula, Montana was completely dissolved. They weren’t good for the many thorns and be now also quite worn out. It was a disaster with the many flat tires I got. The last part the San Felipe was exciting because I had forgotten to buy a stock of new tire patches and I needed to cut a large last patch in half. I sent a message to Daniel, a cycling enthousiast from San Felipe, who immediately came to pick me up. He told me he was the manager of the local hospital. That seemed to me like a rather demanding job, but it looked like he had plenty of time for me. He took me to a small bike shop in San Felipe where I could change my tires. Tires from an unknown brand from China, for the price of €15 a piece and that was fine. I then spent two days with Daniel’s family sleeping on the couch in a messy house where he lives with his wife and three daughters.

After San Felipe, huge cacti started to form. It was like the journey with the giants got a sequel.

Journey with the giant cactus

Sunset in the Mexican desert

I was camping in this impressive dry landscape that was a bit like the moon, so vast. It was morning and the previous night I had pitched my tent next to a long-armed, thorny monster. Large red ants walked past my tent looking for something useful to take back to their nest. I’m always fascinated by these impressive creatures and watch them attentively. Out of nowhere, a small spider ran quickly towards one of the large ants and gave the ant a sting. The poor little creature ran around and then fell down to the ground while the little spider waited patiently. A little later the little spider came to collect his prey and began to eat the ant. I sat staring at the scene in astonishment with my cup of coffee at hand.

Daniel had told me about Xochitl, a lady who also likes to cycle and has a shop in Puertecitos.
“If you see her, give her my regards”, he had instructed me.
I walked into a store called Los Palmas in Puertecitos and indeed saw Xochitl there. I enthusiastically approached her, asked if she was Xochitl, and made a joke from my limited vocabulary of Spanish, which of course she didn’t understand. It became a bit awkward and I quickly said that I got her name from Daniel.
“Oh, Daniel,” she said and then went back to her work in the store.
I had no idea if she was shy or completely uninterested in the attention of a stranger who couldn’t even strike up a decent joke.
I decided to leave it for what it was and sat outside in the shade to eat some fruit.
And then came Alma and Guerdo, originally Mexicans but now living in San Diego. Alma was very interested and started telling me about a hot spring here in Puertecitos.
The last thing I was attracted to in this microwave was hot springs. But Alma didn’t stop glorifying this miraculous happening:
“It’s so beautiful, you’ve never experienced anything like this before”
“It makes you sleep like a baby.”
Guerdo added:
“It’s so good, even Marilyn Manroe was here”

Cycling in Baja California

And if even Marilyn was here I had to go with Alma and Guerdo to a campsite. They kind of smuggled me in so I didn’t have to pay $25 in entry. Early in the afternoon I entered the auspicious hot water that flows from the rocks directly into the sea.

Cycling in Baja California

Moving hours and hours all day between the rocks looking for the perfect sweet-spot where the fresh sea and hot water are mixed just right. I was also completely opted by the brown pelicans that dive into the sea for there meal of fresh fishes.

Cycling in Baja California
it turned out to be a wonderful day and I indeed slept like a baby that night.

Sources used in this article:

News about the illegal fish trade on the Reuters platform
News about the murder of cyclists on the Guardian platform