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Feb 13

LA PAZ! And the end of Operation: Fish Tacos!

The deep track through the deep sand is a sign of deep frustration... Time to push.

Well, Tony and I have reached the end of the road for Stage 2 of the Tour de Zack y Tony.  Operation Fish Taco is now complete.  Baja California has proven itself to be a very special place; a wild, desolate strip of desert with only one road to take you from one end to the other.  I will have two predominant memories of the place.  The first is bound to be of cowboy camping in the midst of vast expanses of flat nothingness, surrounded by a sea of dust and rock lit up by a sky of brilliant stars, listening to the silent howling of the wind, and hoping the sea mist won’t climb up this high and soak me in the night (again).  Here’s a video from the last leg of Loreto showing our camp…

Up into the hills to San Javier, hardest hills of the trip so far. Was on my lowest gear for most of it.

The second main memory of Baja California will be of cycling along flat, straight, dusty roads, past the occasional loncheria or ranch house.  I will remember the rhythm of the pedals under the full bore of a midday sun, the feel of the sweat and sunscreen dribbling down my shoulders and evaporating into salt and dirt and the smell of ammonia rising from my back as I watched the bike computer slowly count each kilometer crawling past.

As enjoyable and adventurous the wild kilometers of Baja California have been, Tony and I have grown weary of it’s treasures.  The small towns, full of RVs and American Expats but lacking in the normal throng of tourists, have all resonated a hollowness with me, as though there was once a town here, but now there is only a vague remnant of a former prosperity, a mere hint of a life long gone.  Dust to Dust.  We are ready for “real Mexico”

Great camp spot in San Javier, In the end, I decided that I couldn't pitch my tent on the rock...

In many ways, Baja California has been viewed by the other touring cyclists and myself as a transitional land, one that is a far cry from the United States, but still very different than the rest of Mexico, and indeed, Latin America.  In fact, I sort of feel that the real beginning of the Tour de Zack is only just arriving, despite the 3,400 km already under my belt.  The US was the test ride, Baja was the warm-up, and now Stage 3 is the starting line.

I am very eager to get to the mainland of Mexico to see what it is like.

The road from Loreto to La Paz

The 390 km, five-day ride from Loreto to La Paz proved to be the most difficult of the trip so far.  On the paved hills up to Mision de San Javier I was on my lowest possible gear for the first time, and for extended periods as Tony and I churned through 720 m of climbs in just 15 km.  Then, the pavement stopped and the 90 km of unpaved road started.  This stretch would deliver about 30 km of difficult conditions, 15 km of which were so bad that the bike often had to be

Mision de San Javier

pushed through the soft sands.  Finally, there were still three long days on the pavement that finished with the last 40 kms done in the rain (the first day riding in the rain for this trip).

But the difficulties, despite making my butt incredibly tender, also served to highlight the great parts of this section, and so all the hardships were easily endured.  For a start I had good company for this leg, as the Swiss couple Johan and Marie chose to also brave to off-road to/from San Javier, and the first night we found a wonderful spot to camp, right next to the river of San Javier under the branches of leafy trees.  We had to toss our bags and bikes over a fence to get there, but I had a refreshing swim after to make up for it.

San Javier itself is a beautiful little town that for 3 hundred years has been largely self-sufficient.  The main street is cobblestone and leads to definitely the most impressive mission on the peninsula.  Behind the mission, down a dirt path that smells strongly of earth, there is an Olive three.  This olive tree was planted 300 years ago with the founding of the mission and is still alive.  I like to call it El Viejo.

Mision de San Javier

After San Javier, there is a sandy track that leads from San Javier through 80 km of desert.  Though passable, it was certainly the most difficult section of my trip so far, and the Swiss – who have

Mision de San Javier

ridden all the way from Alaska – said it was the same for them.  The road wound its way through an incredibly wide and shallow canyon before exiting the mountains and embarking along the flat coastal desert plain.  The scenery was archetypical of the rugid beauty of Baja and felt like a final fare-thee-well from the land to us.

Back on the pavement, we camped one of the nights near a

The 300 year old olive tree behind the mission.

ranch house.  We ended up pitching our tent next to the pig pen with two noisy pigs who seemed upset that I was having ham with my dinner.  While we set up camp I had the assistance of the 11-year boy who lived on the ranch.  I attempted to have a conversation with the lad, but he

Mision de San Javier

spoke lightning-quick, even after being asked to slow down, and it would sometimes take me 5 minutes to decompress his words and work out what he’d asked me.  In the morning, the boy was gone, but the pigs squealed away as the ranch’s herd of cattle decided to run in from the fields where they’d been grazing bring with them a cloud of dust.  All normal stuff on the road in Mexico.

Despite the long kilometers we were all in good spirits, probably because we were pedaling for peace, fuimos pedalando para La Paz

A long and winding road

The sign reads "El Eden". Somebody obviously had a sense of humour.

"Oh sweet bitumen! How I missed thee!" ... Getting back on the pavement after 90 km of offroad

Team Suiza: Johan and Marie, happy to be back on pavement

 

La Paz

Team Suiza: Johan and Marie, happy to be back on pavement

When we arrived in La Paz, we actually arrived at an RV campground 10 km from the centre of La Paz.  There the Swiss couple were reunited with an adorable French family traveling by motor-home.  They’d last seen each other in British Columbia, 5 months earlier.  After Johan gave each of their three precious little kids rides around the RV park in his bicycle trailer, I was invited to join everyone for a ride to the beaches south of La Paz (Tecolote and Pichilingue), which was then followed by tacos for dinner that we cooked up in their mobile home.  The next day Johan and Marie, as well as the French family headed for the ferry terminal to cross the Sea of Cortes for Mazatlan.

As for me, I was going to stay for a few days, and my short stay in La Paz was made all the more special because I managed to get hosted by the only Warmshowers host in the La Paz area.  It turns out I was also his first Warmshowers guest, though he had hosted a fair number of people before through Couchsurfing.  I stayed with Eduardo and his family for two nights and getting to know them a little bit and enjoying their generous hospitality was certainly a highlight.  They were also exceedingly patient with me and my mediocre Spanish as I tripped around my conjugations and stuffed up my reflexive verbs.  I strongly suspect Eduardo and his Dad speak better English than my Spanish, but they stuck to their native tongues, for which I was very grateful, and I admire them even more for their patience.  For my part I was able to share with Eduardo some of my experiences and lessons learned on the road.  Eduardo is hoping to embark on his first bike tour as early as next month.  It is possible, though not too likely, that we could end up cycling together in a few weeks time.

Michael, an American touring cyclist who has no idea how far south he will be going, was with us in Loreto for a couple of days, we saw him again a day out of La Paz, he caught up to us by taking the highway instead of the dirt track.... Smart man?

La Paz itself is a nice enough city, though my impression of it was greatly skewed as it was  more or less my first real city in Mexico.  I liked that it was big enough to have a life of its own – with or without the tourists who wandered the malecon in their hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts – but it was also big enough to have a Walmart, a Home Depot, an Applebees, a Burger Kings, and a McDonalds… which I was not so fond of.  I spent my few days there wandering around the hilly centre, and getting a feel for the place.

Nearby the lovely cathedral my beer-dar started sounding off and I soon found myself inside “The Beer Box”, a beer store/bar that sells international beers as well as a wide range of Mexican Craft Brews.  I happily picked up a couple of Cucapa brews, a brewery in Mexicali, for enjoyment later.  Their Clasico was decent, but it was their Chupacabras brown ale that really won me over.

While we are on the beer subject I might mention that my last day in La Paz I came up with an idea for a new beer and it’s one that I am pretty sure no one has tried before… but of course, it’s a secret, “shhhh…”

Rain the last day to La Paz. We woke up to Thunder clouds and Lightening. No real rain until lunchtime though.

It was also time for me to prepare for Stage 3 of the Tour de Zack y Tony, so spent one whole afternoon wandering around the city trying to find a roadmap for the next stage of my trip.  I was completely unsuccessful.  It seems that nobody in La Paz sells road maps.  When the places I asked at started telling me to try places I’d already been to, I knew that I had lost.  I tried the bookstores, the supermarkets, the tourist advice kiosk, and the car rental agencies, but still not joy.  Looks like I’m going to the Mainland with only my beer-dar to guide me!  And no, I didn’t try Wal-Mart.

Beyond my fruitless search for a map, I did a lot of cleaning up.  My tent got it’s first wash of the trip, my clothes got washed, I gave my pots and stoves a good scrub, I aired out the sleeping bag, and then I gave Tony some tender loving care.  Tony was in pretty bad shape after the last leg, so I had to spend 4 hours and a can of WD-40 taking him apart and cleaning up his rear cassette (the gears on the rear wheel), the chain, and the crankset.  It’s funny, I’d forgotten that the rear cassette was a shiny silver color and not black.  After the cleaning and a generous application of lubricant though, Ol’ Mate was all good to go again.

So what’s next?

Shamelessly, my only photo from La Paz. The Malecon

A couple or entries ago I wrote that I was 50-50 about heading south to Los Cabos, the tourist mecca at the tip of the Baja Peninsula.  Now, I have decided that I can’t be asked to head down there.  The miles, the time, and the money just don’t add up to make me inclined to check it out.

Instead, I’m off to the Mainland.  I’m not however getting the ferry to Mazatlan as originally planned.  Instead, I’m getting the ferry to Topolobampa, on the coast near Los Mochis, roughly 450 km north of Mazatlan.   The reason I’m heading this direction is that I want to go check out Barranca de Cobre, or Copper Canyon.  Besides being the largest canyon system in the world, and in places deeper than the Grand Canyon, it is also the home of the Tarahumara Indians.  More correctly called the Raramuri, these guys are famous for their superhuman running abilities as written about in the book Born to Run.  Apparently, these guys runs hundreds of miles nonstop on homemade sandals.  It will be a little tricky getting there, as there is no clear road, only a train that heads up there from Sinaloa, and even if I found a road (I don’t even have a map yet…) I would need to cross a mountain Range, Las Sierra de Occidente, to get there.  In any case more on the Raramuri later..

So Stage 3 of the Tour De Zack y Tony, AKA Operation TEQUILA! TEQUILA! will take me to Mexico City, and will involve at the very least 1500 km of riding, more likely around 2000 km.  I will introduce this stage more thoroughly in my next entry.  For now, I have to hit the road…

2 comments

  1. Kara Ryska

    I love reading about your adventures . . . especially as I sit here on the couch, feeling huge as a whale, waiting to have this baby. -kara

    1. Zack

      Let’s just hope the baby isn’t the size of a baby whale! When are expecting? April?

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