Jan 14

Star Status in San Felipe

Typical tourist fare in San Felipe. They have a whole street of this... but no tourists

Ghost Town

When I rode into San Felipe, my first impression was that it was tourist town, just without the tourists.  It’s a little bit surreal as all the artisan, souvenir, and knick-knack shops are still open and there are still the guys wandering around trying to sell you “Aztec” silver jewelry or cheap sunglasses, but the streets are completely empty with not a gringo in sight.  It’s like all the tourists have just been abducted by aliens – sucked off the street – and none of the locals have had time to react yet.  It’s a ghost town.

In it’s former glory, from about 1995 to 2008 San Felipe was a happening town.  It was the go-to place for RV tourers, dune buggiers, dirt racers, retiring expats and 20 year old spring breakers.  There was shrimp in the sea, there were bodies in the bars, and there were fat white rich tourists roaming the streets.  Life was good.  Then in 2008 when the GFC hit, the real estate market dried up.  Not long after, the US media started broadcasting news about the drug cartels and the US government issued a travel warning for Mexico.  So the retiring expats, the RVers and the tourists have stopped coming.  In addition, the Sea of Cortez is now overfished and – because San Felipe politically is a branch-off under Mexicali – the local government has very few funds to try and change their town’s fate.  Life now, is not so good.  Only the racers are still coming for the various events like the BAJA 250s, 500, and 1000, but they aren’t enough to sustain the town.  It’s very sad; in just the space of a couple years, a lot of dreams dried up.

Fishermen. The Sea of Cortez around San Felipe is famous for the best shrimp in the world. But, overfishing and the US taking all of the water out of the Colorado river has led to a sharp decline of shrimp in the sea. The local gov't has taken steps to reverse the situation, but with few alternative trades to offer the fishermen it's not an easy problem to solve

A large portion of the anger and frustration is focused on the American media.  From the local perspective San Felipe is perfectly safe to come and holiday at, visit, or live, but the media is making it sound like all of Mexico is so very dangerous, and so the tourists stay at home while the people of San Felipe watch their livelihoods dissipate.  To them, it just doesn’t seem fair, and it’s mostly all out of their control.

You want to meet the mayor?

My first morning in San Felipe I was rolling my bike off of the beach I’d camped at, when a truck stopped next to me and I met Mark.  Mark is a Texan who works and lives part-time in San Felipe.  He had just met that morning “two Swiss chicks” who were cycling north, and he was going to meet up with them later and offer them a place to stay in his one bedroom apartment with a large deck, an offer he extended to me as well.  Within a few hours, Mark had made me coffee, cooked me breakfast, and driven me around town to drop my bike off at a bike mechanic and pick up my laundry.  Incredible generosity.  Then the deal got even sweeter when Mark talked to his landlady Carol.  Carol generously agreed to let us three cyclists stay in the empty two bedroom apartment she had below Mark’s place.  This meant beds, this meant hot showers, this meant fully stocked kitchen, and this meant coffee machine.  We were officially in touring cyclist heaven.  But wait, there’s more…

The Malecon. Once bumping it is now eerily quiet.

The mayor wanted to meet us.  Well, I use the term us loosely, he wanted to meet Martina and Monika, the two Swiss girls who had been riding for two years up from Argentina, but I was happy to ride along the coattails of their fame and fortune.  After meeting with various official individuals in various official places, including the government office, public library and the new cultural centre about to be opened, we finally met the big man himself Robert Ledon Perezchica, and many a photo were taken.

I also use the term mayor loosely as San Felipe is not big enough to have a “mayor”.  Roberto’s technical title is actually delegado, but he is most certainly the big man in town.  The man looks like a race car driver whose already accepted the trophy and cracked open the champagne with his baseball hat, sunglass, tucked-in windbreaker, well-past-five-o-clock shadow, and enormous rock star smile.  He is a very nice man, who gave us a very warm welcome.  After offering us an escort on our ride out of San Felipe (which we declined) and inviting us to have lunch at his favourite restaurant (which we accepted) He asked us to please tell the world that San Felipe is a nice, welcoming, safe place and that everyone should come and visit.


After enjoying my five minutes of entourage-esque fame, it was time to relax, wander around San Felipe’s quiet streets, and get ready for the next leg of my trip.  Much of my time in San Felipe was spent comparing notes with the Swiss girls and hanging out with Mark who, apart from baking us brownies and being a hospitable host, also took us on an interesting four hour beach trek just south of the town.  We also met Mark’s local friend Angel, who among other things manages the Rockadile bar in town.  Angel was a particular pleasure to meet because he has his finger on the pulse of the community and could give us fresh insights into local aspects of politics, the drug cartels, tourism, the real estate market, the Baja races, Mexican cuisine, and more.  Essentially, pretty much anything you wanted to ask him about he could give you an informed response to.

The loooong road to Guerrero Negro.

The next stint of my journey will take me 450 km straight south to the town of Guerrero Negro.  It is a particularly desolate stretch, with half of the first 250 km being on unpaved road that only passes by two off-the-grid pockets of civilisation that are a long ways from deserving the title of “town”.  After that, the dirt track meets back up with the paved Highway 1, and for the next 190 km you are on a flat, particularly barren, make-you-go-loco stretch all the way to Guerrero Negro.  This journey will take me 5-7 days to complete.

Preparation for a stretch like this can be a bit more involved, with water and food being the big concerns.  I am extremely fortunate to have had Martina and Monika here who have just come across this stretch.  I sat down with them and we pored over the maps and they dished out loads of valuable up to date information regarding where I can get water, food, and fuel; road conditions; good areas to camp; and so on.  Essentially, I will need to carry five days of food with me, as the food I’ll find on the road is sparse, moldy and expensive.  As for water: I can get fill-ups in a few places, and I can buy bottles in a couple more (a fill-up costs about 75 cents, the equivalent amount of water from buying bottles can cost up to $5 depending on the bottle size available) so it isn’t a huge concern.  Fuel: there is one petrol station, but it’s hours are short and unreliable, so I need to top up my fuel bottle before leaving and use my fuel sparingly.

Naturally, with all the desolate off-roading in front of me I am worried about my back wheel and the possible breaking of spokes.  I had Manuel, the street corner bike mechanic have a look at my bike instructing him to clean my chain and have a look at my wheel.  Because I did such a good job truing it on the road I suspect that he didn’t touch the wheel, but the chain is spotless, and I got a couple of spare nipples (bike parts!) off of him, so for $3 I am hardly going to complain.  $3 is a small price to pay for self-absolution.  Now if a spoke breaks, I can blame Manuel that damn Mexican mechanic, and not myself, the never-do-wrong man-scout.

Loco Coco

Monika and Martina also asked me to take some tortillas to Loco Coco.  Coco is a legless mexican desert hermit who lives 15 km or so from the highway in the middle of nowhere and sells beer.  No joke.  The man has been there since the mid-90s and is an establishment in his own right.  He is literally on the map at “Coco’s Corner”.

I’m excited.


Martina and Monika have blogs, one in partial english, the other in german that you can check out:

Martina: www.colorfish.wordpress.com

Monika: www.ufem.velo.blogspot.com

Also, for anyone who has been paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movements etc…  Mark, our host has been getting involved in a VERY interesting project that looks like it may be going forward: http://www.the-99-declaration.org/





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