Jan 29

Trouble in Paradise (San Ignacio)

The definition of an oasis

There is something special about a desert oasis.  For the ancient travelers crossing the interminably inhospitable landscape of dust, sand and rock, finding an oasis must have been a spiritual, almost religious, experience; an experience that cannot be understood by those who have never experienced it for themselves firsthand.

San Ignacio was my first oasis experience, and one that I will always remember.  Situated smack in the middle of the Baja peninsula, it is surrounded on all sides by hundreds of kilometers of dry, dry, seemingly lifeless terrain.  Riding a bike to it, you feel every minute of the exposure as you pedal beneath the full glare of the sun whose rays do not need to fight through an ounce of atmospheric moisture to get to you.  Cycling alone, the unremitting howl of the abrasive winds is enough to slowly etch away your sanity and drive you mad.  A spot of shade, just big enough for a tired cyclist to sit down in, becomes a source of preposterous lunchtime contentment.  And then, in the middle of nowhere, the flat desert landscape opens up to reveal a canyon and you descend down into paradise.

It happens quickly like that.  First, you see the date palms filling the bottom of the canyon.  Then, as you descend below the tree line, the air grows moist and cool.  Finally, in a suddenness that audaciously defies logic, you find yourself standing on the shores of a river, watching the green-blue water drift lazily by.  Heaven.

The Mission in San Ignacio

Felix and Karl relax in the plaza mayor of San Ignacio

San Ignacio is tiny, incredibly charming town – village really.  At it’s centre is the main square with large leafy trees providing shade for all and beneath each tree are taps, fed directly from San Ignacio Lake, that dispense fresh, free, drinkable water. On one side of the square is the beautifully preserved mission and on the other three sides you’ll find the town’s shops and taco stands.

We were there on a saturday night, and the village kids – none older than 15 – were out in force and strutting about in their coolest clothes doing what kids do in small towns all around the world: not much.  The groups of girls would walk repeatedly around the square giggling and whispering to each other while the boys at the centre of the square did their best to display their manly prowess by doing tricks on skateboards, and kicking around a football.  There was a very real sense of harmony in the air as Karl, Felix, and I sat on a bench – taco in one hand, beer in the other – and quietly people-watched.

Not a bad campsite... haven't pitched a tent in weeks!

We camped next to the river that night and spent the next morning swimming and munching away on the dates that peppered the ground.  Eventually, I got around to doing some work on Tony as the last couple of days I’d been having trouble again with spokes going loose on the rear wheel.  That morning I was going true the wheel again but also try and make all the spokes a little bit tighter on the hope that this would make it harder for them to go loose again.  It was this morning that I first saw the cracks.  At four of the nipple placements, small cracks had formed in the rim – evidence that the rim was starting to split at the holes – and at one of the nipple placements much larger cracks had formed, including a one centimeter crack along the rim edge.  ”Mierda”, I thought.   I was going to need a new rim.

Not a good thing

I now understood why all those spokes went loose on me that day before San Felipe.  The rim must have first cracked that day, ever so slightly, but more than enough to make the spokes loose their tension.  When I re-trued the wheel I had to retighten these spokes which once again put stress back onto the compromised nipple placements.  This held up for another 600 km or so until the rim cracked further, causing my spokes to go loose again.  Once again I retightened and re-trued but this time it only lasted 100 km before it cracked further.

I was in an interesting pickle.  In order to ride on, I needed to true my wheel and tighten the spokes back up, but doing so would only cause more damage to the rim.  To replace the rim I would need to make it to Loreto, the nearest town with a skilled bike mechanic, but this was still 210 km down the road.  Would it hold up that long?  Or would a badly placed bump could cause catastrophic failure at an incredibly inopportune moment… like when I am doing 70 kph down a hill?  I’m not trying to be dramatic, this is actually a concern of mine as unlikely as it might seem.  If my rim were to crack enough, a nipple might pull out of the rim, this would cause my wheel to go all wobbly, and it could cause me to loose control.

My options were pretty limited, so I retightened up all spokes (except for the particularly worrying one; I left that one a bit looser), re-trued the wheel, and we got back on the road.  There was nothing to it but to see how far I could make it.

Route from Guerrero Negro to Loreto

210 km to Loreto


  1. Aunt Barb

    Jan 30, 2012
    Hi Zack!
    Firstly, I will be looking forward and eagerly awaiting your next blog, with your little situation. Hopefully, in Santa Rosario? But, I am not too worried, since Serendipity is at your side in forces!
    I keep wondering how you are communicating a blog since you need an internet connection and a computer. The only thing I am aware of is internet cafés so I am assuming that is how? But you are posting lots of very, very fun photos too so that gets even more complicated. I keep trying to figure out how you are doing it all. It has been nothing less than an amazing journey you have been on. I am looking forward to reading your “world’s most comprehensive how-to-guide for travel, adventure and the nomadic lifestyle”. Then I will have all my questions answered
    What an educational it has been to read about your travels and all the people you have met. It is enjoyable, fun, amusing! In fact, you are the talk of the town here, with our family and friends. Some of them are now following your blog too!
    When you get to Columbia, don’t know for sure but one of our friends has family down there, so it might be possible that you could connect with some of his family. He said he didn’t visit his family last time he was there, and that was 30 years ago I believe. So we’d have to clarify what the situation is exactly.
    The beautiful white hotel (unless it is a house!) in your photos of San Felipe looks pretty nice. I want to find out whether it is a hotel, because I immediately imagined being there and relaxing at such a beautiful place. Your website is amazing – so easy to read and beautiful graphics!
    Take Care. Will be thinking of you.
    Aunt Barb

    1. Zack

      Hey Aunt Barb,

      Thanks for the message!

      Free internet access and especially free WIFI are becoming the norm these days. Because so many people these days are traveling with netbooks, smartphones, and computers, it makes sense for the cafes, hotels, and even restaurants/bars to spend $20 on a wireless router to attract customers. So, many of them are doing exactly that. As I type now, I am sitting outdoors under a shady pagoda in a campground, and I have a good wireless internet connection. Normally, I do not travel with a computer, but I am doing so for the first time this trip, so organising photos and blog posts becomes a lot more convenient, and most of the work I can do off-line. In principle, I am against the idea of traveling with a computer, but I accept that eventually, the computer/smartphone/tablet will become a “necessity” in a traveler’s kit. Internet cafes that have computers for you to use are becoming less common and less convenient, books and paper guidebooks will be replaced by ebooks and online information, and the cost of computing power continues to go down, etc…

      And I am not sure about the white building in my photo of San Felipe. There is some sort of bar (Boom Boom Room) on one side of it, but they also had a cross at the top of the building. Like I said it was a bit of a ghost town, so sometimes its hard to see if a place is even open still!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>