I’d read about El Rosario being the last big down before the desert begins in earnest. The lady at the hotel assured me that there was nothing between it and Cataviña, some 150km down the road, but thankfully people’s accounts on crazyguyonabike let me know of ranchos and a couple of other small places. That was great, because it meant I didn’t have to carry as much water. I have a water bag that holds 10 L, but carrying all that extra weight with the climbing I had ahead of me really didn’t appeal. I was up around 6 and after going to a supermarket to get some supplies was on the road before 7:30.
It was sunny, but being early it hadn’t had time to warm up much. Leaving El Rosario there was a sign saying there wasn’t a petrol station for 318km (200 miles) which emphasised the loneliness I would be entering. Juan had told me of the climb out of El Rosario that he had said was called The Devil’s Hill and so it proved. The first 30 km of the day felt like it was all uphill. The level of traffic had dropped, but I was getting more waves from trucks and cars than I had on the way down to El Rosario. Near the top of the main climb I was thinking of the journals I’d been reading which mentioned RVs stopping and giving out snacks. Being late April, there aren’t too many snowbirds on the road, but I got my own act of kindness when an older Mexican guy in a pick-up stopped to make sure I had enough water.
At the top of the climb, the desert, and the protected area of Valle de Cirios (valley of candles) that surrounds it, began in earnest. A variety of cacti were appearing, but it was getting warm and I was starting to feel the effects of the sun and a bit hungry, so figured I’d stop later to get some good close up pictures and just pushed on to the rancho that I’d heard of at km marker 108. As I got to km 103 I saw a ranch, and figuring it must have been a typo, pulled in. I ordered some lunch and got all my bottles all filled up. The food tasted OK, but it was much more expensive than I’d been expecting and when 5 km later I saw the ranch I’d read about, I felt saddened.
As I was riding, the Manchester derby was taking place. It would go a long way to deciding the Premiership title and so as I rode along, I kept checking to see if I had signal, so I could check the BBC sport website, but for one of the few times so far in my trip, my Kindle failed me and I wasn’t able to find out the unfortunate result until almost 200 miles later.
Pushing on through the desert, I kept drinking and drinking to stay hydrated, but the time in the sun was getting to me. I was getting a headache, but there was no shade anywhere to get out of the sun. My only option was to keep pushing, and get to the town of Cataviña, where I could cool down. I was waving at every vehicle that passed, although in Mexico everyone either gives a thumbs up or does the English V at people, although obviously without the meaning we have for it in England. About 15 km out of town, I was waving at a white pick-up and it pulled over. I guessed he was going to ask me if I needed water, and so rolled up next to him. He seemed to speak rapidly, although my headache probably didn’t help, and after a few tries I figured he was offering me a lift. With sunstroke and my ‘Why not?’ take to touring, I gratefully accepted.
His name was Noel, and he was driving on business. He understood some English, but didn’t really feel comfortable speaking it, which is the opposite of me. I don’t understand much Spanish, but have no problem throwing words at people in the hope that they can guess what I’m trying to say. If I say ‘to be from England’ instead of ‘I’m from England’, it’s generally going to be understood. Noel was driving to the end of the desert in Guerrero Negro and offered to take me there. As we pulled through the ‘town’ of Cataviña, which seemed to have about 5 buildings, I suggested the next place on my map, Laguna Chapala. 50 km later we were passing a large empty lakebed and he said that we were at Laguna Chapala. Apparently, people live there during June & July, when the rain comes, but outside of that it’s basically abandoned. I was still feeling under the weather and so didn’t fancy being dropped off there. It also had the issue of being a bit too far from Guerrero Negro to go in a day, but a bit too close for two days, so it was on to Punta Prieta, home of three ‘grocery stores’, where I got out.
Our willingness to communicate had meant that music had only been turned on for the last 20 minutes of our 90 minute drive and, while there’d been a lot of repetition and attempts to rephrase things, I felt quite successful. It was a nice reward for some of the things I have been studying on my iPod while I ride.
Noel’s company had a place for its workers to sleep in both Punta Prieta and in Guerrero Negro. In Punta Prieta at least, it was a small room which was crammed with beds right in the middle of ‘town’. He said I’d be fine camping nearby and, even though it was close to the road, put my tent up. The earplugs and sleeping mask that I picked up for the Amtrak ride have been put to good effect and I wish I’d had them earlier.
The ride from Punta Prieta down to Guerrero Negro was a straight road with a couple of bumps in it, nothing compared to the climb out of El Rosario. It was interesting to see how the desert changed as you went through it. Different types of cacti that had been visible further north had vanished and been replaced by others. Around Cataviña, there had been giant boulders which people had thought it a good idea to cover in graffiti. Red flowers started appearing south of Punta Prieta and the further I got the more they seemed to take over almost like a spore, creating a look similar to that in War of the Worlds and I found myself repeatedly humming the theme from the BBC radio drama that I’d listened to so much as a child.
Arriving in Villa Jesús Maria around lunchtime, I stopped for a couple of tacos and noticed a laptop on Facebook. I was still unable to get service on my Kindle, but asked the owner if I could use the internet for a few minutes. I checked the BBC sport website, which took an age to load, and immediately wished I hadn’t, as my fears came true. Manchester United had been awful and lost 1-0, meaning that the title is Manchester City’s to throw away. If they win their next two games, they’ll be champions, quite possibly on goal difference. In a way it just sets me up for the disappointment I’m going to feel when I race to bars in the summer to find places to watch England’s performances in Euro 2012 and am met by a promising game and then some more very English failure.
Just north of Guerrero Negro, at the 28th parallel, is the border between the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. I was crossing into my second of Mexico’s 31 states and already wondering how many I’d end up in. Would it end up like the US, where I visit the vast majority (37/50) and consider state borders when I’m thinking about my route? Crossing the border, there was a checkpoint, but I was again waved through without anyone wanting to look at my papers. They probably got bored of looking through dirty laundry whenever cyclists come through.
I rolled into Guerrero Negro looking for the Tourist Information office, but couldn’t find it. I later learnt that it’s seasonal and only open during January to March when Guerrero Negro is swamped by people coming to watch the whales that congregate in the waters to have young. Although it’s a town of 13,000, only four of the roads are paved, the rest being sand, and as I rode around looking for inspiration I found a coffee shop with a wifi logo where I spent the next few hours catching up on my never-ending backlog of tasks, and reading more about Manchester United.
Everyone whose Crazyguy journals I read seemed to stay in motels in Guerrero Negro, but that was more than I was wanting to spend. There was a RV campground that allowed tents, but it charged $12. It’s obviously aiming at Americans, who come down as when I ended up there they had to get their calculator out to work out the price in pesos.
Before that, I was coming out of the grocery store having picked up some essentials and was met by a guy who started asking me questions in English. He was from Jesús Maria and after he’d asked me the normal questions was about to leave before I asked him about camping. He mentioned having friends at a nearby motel and so I could get friend’s rate prices, but that seemed more expensive than I was after. He told me that he liked me and so he’d solve my problem and so started walking round the car park asking people for places that I could camp. After a few minutes, he came back with a huge grin and told me to follow. I did and to my surprise ended up at the RV campground. He paid half of the fee and when I asked him his name told me that it didn’t matter. I was thankfully able to get a picture of him, but I’ll just have to know him as Mr. Mysteriously Kind Mexican.
It was definitely designed for RVs and with no thought to tents. Outside of a little bit of mud along the side, there was nowhere that my stakes would drive in more than an inch. With a freestanding tent, that’s not usually a huge issue, but, with the wind blowing strongly enough that my tent threatened to fly away with all my bags in it, I put my tent at the back of an area for large vehicles where it was not only protected from the wind, but also I could stake it down.
Driving along – windy
In Punta Prieta
Valle de los Cirios
In the desert