With my visa a day away from expiring, it was time to leave the US. I’d been able to ride in 36 of the 50 states and while there were things I didn’t get to do, places I couldn’t see, and people I didn’t meet, I think of my time as a great success. There were so many great experiences, that it’s difficult to decide. The west, home to places like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, southern Utah and
the PCH, has the highlights as far as natural beauty are concerned. Having said that, the Outer Banks, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are gems in the east. Trying to come up with a favourite state is an impossibility. Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa having spent so little time in them, are really the only ones I can’t extol the virtues of.
Linda teaches in Spanish, and did me a great favour of giving me a handwritten note that I could use when I’m trying to ask for a place to camp. It’s a simplified version of what I would say when I knocked on doors in places where I could use English. Here’s to it being very useful in the future.
Thankfully the ride to the San Ysidro border crossing was painless and involved no real hills. I hadn’t had time to explore San Diego, but it just gives me something else on my to-do list next time I’m back in the US. The closer I got to the border, the more rundown the housing seemed to be and the last couple of miles were filled with places to sign up for Mexican insurance and change dollars into pesos at an unappealing rate.
After a bit of confusion about how to get to the correct part of the border crossing, it was an incredibly simple experience. I showed my passport to 3 customs agents and they were friendly before ripping the I-94 out of my passport. Next it was wheeling my bike through a turnstile which involved lifting the front up high. The final stage was to fill in a bit of paper registering myself with Mexican immigration and getting to break out my atrocious Spanish. The whole process took 15-20 minutes, I’m just glad I wasn’t coming the other way as that looked a lot slower.
I was finally in Mexico, my 3rd country. It was the start of a long run of countries that outside of Belize, are going to be speaking Spanish. I’ve been studying on and off, but am really no better than a beginner. Even though the part of the US leading up to the border hadn’t been swanky, the sudden change that the border brought was jarring. I felt like I had when I’d crossed onto Native American reservations, except Mexico didn’t have the token pristine US highway running through the middle of it.
Although technically bicycles are prohibited on the autopista (highway), that’s the route I’d had suggested to me. I found a sign leading towards it and was on a two-lane road which didn’t have a shoulder for the first 500+ metres. I’d been warned about drivers in Mexico, and the cars flew past me less than a foot from the side of. Gone was the American style where cars often try to move over for you, it seems like Mexicans trust their ability to fit past as well as mine to hold a straight line. Thankfully the shoulder kicked in not too long after, and I got to breathe again which was a good thing as the road kicked up steeply to cross the hill leading to the ocean.
I’d been told that when I saw the toll booths, I should jump off my bike and wheel it through without making eye contact. I was caught out about 1 km before the booths by a security guy with a gun. He waved me down and after realising my Spanish wasn’t up to the job switched to English. He explained how I wasn’t allowed on the toll road for my safety and that I should double back into TJ and go on the free road. I thanked him for his concern but assured him that I felt more comfortable going that way and would definitely prefer that option. After going back and forth for a while, I asked if it would work for him if I walked the 40 km to Rosarito. He was quiet for a while and then pointed me down a path, told me to take it to the main road and then follow that for 2-3 km where I’d find a dirt path taking me onto the toll road after the toll booths and so all would be OK. I thanked him, followed his suggestion and a little while later found myself getting to lift my bike over the waist-high barrier that runs next to the road.
When I got on, I was greeted by perfectly smooth roads that followed the coast line along and offered gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. It had taken a bit of effort, but was definitely worth it. I took it all the way to Rosarito, where seeing a Walmart sign I pulled off and entered the car park. A guy in a cap waved me over and told me that he’d look after my bike while I spent as long as I wanted inside. I took him up on the offer and was walking inside when he yelled after me that he’d like to try my sunglasses on. I told him to knock himself out.
When I came back out, I saw him walking backwards around the car park with a giant grin on his face. He was in love with my mirror and was eager to know where he could get his own. We spoke for a while and he told me that he’d lived in Oregon for 22 years, but had been deported for committing a crime and so had been split from his family. I was flabbergasted by the matter of fact way he told me, a complete stranger, about something that most people would keep well guarded.
I took the free road the rest of the way to Nick, my host’s, place. It went through the town of Rosarito and went back to the slightly crazy driving of earlier, but thankfully the cars were going a bit slower and the traffic died down once I left town.
Nick, my host, is about to graduate with his Linguistics MA and is living in Baja while he works and studies in San Diego. He spends most of his time in Baja where his place is much cheaper, and in a more beautiful location, than a smaller place in SD would be so lives with the commute. He let me know I was welcome to stay as long as possible and after eating the fish tacos downstairs that Baja is famous for knew I could have stayed for a good while. It would have worked nicely with my wait for Mike too, but I wanted to head south through the desert before it heated up too much and just decided on the one rest day.
Welcome to TJ