Mexico By Geezer
An extended trip to Mexico on a bike – sounded like a pretty good way to start a retirement to me.
I was bit by the bug to see places from the seat of a motorcycle a few years ago riding my Harley around the US and parts of Canada. Always looking for new roads to ride and new places to see, I naturally started to think about mixing in a little off pavement riding along with wandering around places outside of Canada and the US.
So, last year I decided to ride my Harley down to a small town north of Puerto Vallarta where we have vacationed a few times before. My wife flew down and we spent a couple of weeks basking in the sun, drinking margaritas and took a little two up side trip. I really enjoyed travelling around Mexico and experiencing the country and the people and wanted to experience more.
This year having the added benefit of a bit more time available and with my wife’s blessing I decided to allocate 3 months+ to a winter trip in Mexico. In a nutshell, the plan was to ride my bike to Sacramento in November (Since I’m not fussy about riding on our snow covered roads in January), put the bike in storage and fly back down in January, pick it up and then head south as far as Oaxaca and then back home again by mid-April. While in the Oaxaca area, my wife will join me for about three weeks to explore the Oaxaca area and then head down to the beaches for some proper tourist lounging.
While the Harley did fine last year, I’m thinking a little more off pavement bike may be more appropriate and would allow me access to areas I would never take a Harley. After a lot of thought, I decided to add a BMW 800GS to the garage that would become my Mexican steed.
November transit to Sacramento
So, get my bike down to Sacramento before snow becomes an issue, visit my Dad while I’m there and then head out to visit one of our daughters and her family. Predictions of snow before I was planning to leave encouraged me to move my start date up a couple of days. Still had a bit of snow on the ground that morning.
So, waited a couple of hours for it to soften up and headed for the border. At the border I had to pick up a couple of last minute items that I had ordered and carried on to Omak for the night.
Checked the weather the next morning to find it was -11C (12F) – man, I hate the cold! By about 10 OÇlock it was up to a balmy -4C and, much relieved, I headed out. It was such a beautiful sunny day and my gear was keeping me warm so I should be able to get in a full day. To stay out of the higher elevations I firstly wanted to avoid Blewett Pass near Ellensburg, so I headed east to Soap Lake and from there I can either head back to Hwy 97 or head south to Kennewick – I knew staying along the Columbia River would at least keep me at the lowest altitude. It looked like I wouldn’t have a problem on the small pass south of Yakima so headed over to Hwy 97 and continued to The Dalles, OR for the night.
The next morning I woke to -3C (27F) and a big storm on the horizon. Crap! So much for my theory of staying away from snow along the Columbia. As the roads were wet, I wasn’t keen on heading out until it had warmed up a bit and I was hoping the storm might warm things up a bit when it arrived – but it didn’t - started snowing instead. Well, either suck it up and get out of here or hunker down for the winter. Man, first frickin cold and now snow! Have I ever expressed my opinion about winter weather? Anyhow, this stuff just stuck to the visor – visibility was worse than rain. Took about 45 minutes travelling towards Portland for the snow to turn to rain. Was actually happy to see rain. Rode the rest of the day in the rain to Springfield next to Eugene. Had dinner at a local Brew Pub, Hop Valley Brewing which has an outstanding IPA.
The rest of the trip to Sacramento was pretty uneventful. I’ve done this route so many times now, I think I could do it in my sleep but I always seem to find the odd new road to make it interesting.
Did have one great lunch stop – the Samoa Cookhouse. The little town of Samoa is an old logging town next to Eureka, CA.
Over a hundred years ago, the loggers were fed in the cookhouse which has been now been resurrected as a restaurant that still serves in the same manner as they used to feed the loggers. Apparently they could look after as many as 500 loggers for 3 meals a day.
You still walk in to long tables all set up.
Lady comes around and starts going through a long list of food, pauses and asks “would you like that?” Um, OK. A mixing bowl of soup is the first thing to come out and you ladle out however much you want. Then a couple of salads, then beans, vegetables, barbeque pork, potatoes and cake . . . this is lunch. At this point I’m concerned if my bike’s suspension will accommodate my now much larger ass. Then the lady comes back and asks if I want seconds. Uh, no thank you. Cool old place and great experience. Good food to boot.
Arrived in Sacramento visited my Dad, visited my son, put the bike away for two months and headed to Australia to visit one of my daughters and her family. Whew!
Start the trip: Day 1 – Jan 18
My plans for the morning were going to get a bunch of things done and get out of town at a decent hour. The plan was: I had some stuff I wanted to leave behind and needed to run it over to my Dad’s storage locker, have my rental car back by 9, get my bike loaded and out of town by 10 or so. Of course, those are plans. So, arrive at the storage locker and can’t find my access code and of course the office doesn’t open for an hour and a half. OK, plan B – take the car back, load up bike, get the access code from my son, ride over to the locker and then head out . . . about an hour late.
Once I got going had a terrific ride down Hwy 49 – particularly the lower part where it is great twisty roads, great scenery and no traffic. Found a couple of other roads off of 49 that were almost as enjoyable. Last year when I came down the same way, they had obviously had some snow as there was a lot of sand on the road. This year, clean and dry.
Was going to take some back roads to Bakersfield but was running a bit late to pull that off in the daylight. Headed down to Fresno and some boring freeway riding. Snooped around Fresno looking for a BarBQue place that was recommended (find good food first then a nearby motel) – of course when I finally found it, it was closed. OK, let’s just find a room. Did and from the desk clerk’s restaurant recommendations, Famous Dave’s stood out as I had BarBQue on the brain. It was mediocre.
Day 2 - January 19
Good start in the morning as I wanted to get to Palm Springs by dinner time and cover some nice mountain roads on the way. As is unfolding with this trip, plans are, well, just plans. Just before Bakersfield I noticed temps getting cooler, quickly find that the heated liner isn’t working. You may recall my previous comment that I hate the cold . . . anyhow the controller has stopped working Wasted time looking for Gerbings dealers in the San Juaquin Valley . . .
Now I'm behind, have to cut out the mountain roads to Palm Springs and put up with southern Calif freeways and traffic. Hmmm, still, the weather sure beats what is going on at home.
Arrive at my good friends, Dave and Joan
Day 3 – Jan 20
Spent the morning putting my new tires on (Heidenau K60 on the back and TKC on the front) – went well for the second time I have changed tires on this bike but that Heidy is one bitch of a tire to mount.
Finally got gas and left town about 2:30 headed to Pine Valley to be near the border for an early morning crossing. Beautiful roads and scenery. As I gained altitude, temps dropped. Decided to practice riding in cooler temps without the crutch of heated gear. Worked fine (duh) – arrived at Pine Valley Motel at 5 pm and 8 deg C (46F). Had dinner at the Diner – good hamburger.
Forcast for the morning is for 47 to 49 deg F but locals claim it has been down to low 20’s every morning. If it’s that cold, I’ll be hanging around for a late start.
Day 4 – Jan 21
Woke up to some pretty heavy rain. But, it was in mid-40’s. Low 20’s? I wonder if the locals are playing with that wacky tabacky? Checked the forcast to see if it would be worth waiting and leaving later. 100% chance all day until 4 pm. Load up and leave. Stopped at Campo Diner for breakfast. Decided on French Toast and waitress smiles and says “oh, your going to like that” – and I did.
Sloshed my way down to Tecate border crossing. Waved through – none of this do you have something to declare BS. Headed straight out of town for Ensenada. Started to get a lot of fog in the moutains which made seeing much scenery problematic – still drizzleing. Got to Ensenada and found the well marked Migracion office and got my Tourista paper work done. I already had the TVIP for my bike so it went pretty fast.
A quick comment about the TVIP – do the online routine. Last year it took about an hour to get it at the border. Online was a snap – document arrived in about 3 days by courier, email the base documents back to them and get a nice email back thanking me for the documents. All from the comfort of your home. It’s really important though to double check your VIN not only for the TVIP but check the actual VIN on the bike to your registration. If you get checked, they will compare the VIN on the TVIP to the VIN on your bike. It is possible for VINs to be entered incorrectily when a bike is bought.
I was tired of the rain and could have stopped in Ensenada but really didn’t want to hang around this town for a night. Decided to head to San Felipe on the chance the bad weather would stay to the west of the mountains.
Great roads leaving Ensenada but crappy rain continued for the first 50 km or so then finally, came over a hill and saw broken clouds and sunshine in a pretty little valley and . . . dry roads. What a delightfull rest of the day. Amazing how a little nice weather can perk one right up. Picked up some pretty good cross winds but I’ll take those over rain anytime. Cooled off as I gained altitude but then warmed up nicely as I approached the coast.
Army checkpoint at the junction of the road I was on with the Mexicali San Felipe road had them do a cursory check of my side bags. Usually I just get waved through once they figure out I’m just an old guy on a trip.
Arrived in San Felipe just at sunset – seem to do that a lot. The town is really stretched out with at least 20km of developments along the approach to town – all sand and beach. Designed for Gringos. Many were set well back from the water and were higher end stuff with guards at the gates, etc. Still looked kind of desolate, just houses sitting out in the open on sand. Guess I’m just too used to houses surrounded by trees.
Wandered around town for awhile and finally settled on El Capitán motel. . . bit pricy 480p but it looked like there were only 3 guests there.
Went for a walk looking for dinner. Town is nice but quite spread out. Seems nice but very quiet – I’m thinking the lack of tourists has to be devastating to towns like this. Finally found the restaurant / bar area and stopped at Chuy Place had a good Mexican meal. The best part was the garlic clams they brought out as an appy. Mmmm.
About midnight some Mexican dirt bikers / quads arrived and partied for a couple of hours in the motel parking lot. Grrrr, I woke me up and, I didn’t invite me. Then the motel apparently gave one of them a key to my room and this guy comes busting in just as I was dozing off again.
Day 5 - Jan 22
Was thinking about taking an extra day in San Felipe but was grumpy from lack of sleep and decided to carry on. Glad I did. Didn’t know what to expect since I knew there was supposed to be a couple hundred km of gravel road so, loaded up on water and snacks and headed south. Got gas first and the Pemex girl tried to stiff me for 10 p – beats the 100 p one guy tried to stiff me last year.
When I first left San Felipe, I kept seeing these roads in the sand running parallel to the paved road. Thought it looked cool and I sould try riding it – looked pretty solid. Guess just quads had been on it – it was soft and deep and my bike sank down like the Titanic and here I am wiggling all over the place like that snake the Honey Badger just caught. Quickly got back on the road – didn’t dump it though!
Turns out the government is slowly paving this road and they now have about 140km of paved and with still 80km not pavedl. Eventually the brand new highway pavement ran out . . . no sign – just humping a long at 120k and realize the road disappears – start to slow and then can see that it not only disappears but turns to dirt, drops down and turns left. Jeebus! Good brakes!
Road from then on was combination of gravel, rock, sand (geez I hate sand) and a combination thereof, oh, and washboard. Like putting the bike on a paint shaker.
Came across three riders heading my direction. Stopped and chatted with them at the store about half way along. Two of them were a couple from Brittan doing a two year round the world ride. The other fellow was a friend of theirs from San Felipe. Nice people. Paul & Angie www.twobikesrunning.co.uk
Stopped at Coco’s corner. What a hoot. I see why everybody talks about Coco. Coco had a good time getting his pic taken with Angie . . . and she added to his collection.
You can rent a room at Cocos
Or, you might want to sit under the stars and watch TV
Paul, a guy from the Learning to Drive a Land Rover group, Angie, Paul, another LDLR and RexBuck.
Left Coco’s headed for Bahia de Los Angeles. Thought I would have to use my spare gas. Decided to see how far I could get. Made it with 0.2 liter left and didn’t have to touch the spare.
Riding down the only road in town checking out the 4 or 5 motels and the owner of one is standing out front waving me in. Go back, nice place, well looked after, good parking back from the road and the owner, Victoria has this huge dog Scooby that I don’t think any ladrón would want to mess with. I’m the only one here - guess it will be a slow night in the restaurant. Within 2 hours there are about 13 dirt bikes here – 3 groups – rooms are packed – restaurant and the bar will be going for a while. Victoria is smiling.
My bike sitting out by itself ready to lure a bunch of dirtbikes in (See Double H's pic above)
Victoria and Scooby
Day 6 - January 23
By the way, the name of this motel is Costa del Sol. Had breakfast and settled up with Victoria about $60 for room, dinner, breakfast and a bunch of beers. Didnt worry about the bike with Scooby around. I think she hustles pretty hard and is a good businessman it looks like she is building a second building with a bunch of additional rooms it looks like she has figured out how to cater to the dirt bike crowd. As soon as these guys pulled in she was there greeting them, assigning rooms and taking their drink orders.
Considered taking the road south of Bahia de LA but after talking to some of the dirt bikers it sounded like it would be 200k of pretty rough conditions and a lot of work. When a dirt biker tells me a road should be doable with that bike, I interpret that as youre an idiot to take that pig on that road. So, decided to stick to pavement today.
Some of the hills coming out of Bahia de LA. The scraggly stick on the right with short little branches is predominate at a bit lower altitude.
Day 7 - January 24
Short day today as only planning on going to Loreto, so hung around Mulege for awhile. Walked around town; generally pretty nice with fairly well kept houses and some touristy shops/restaurants. Seems to be a Gringo influence in areas of the town.
Talked to a dirt biker at the hotel - says he's been riding and traveling in the Baja for years. He indicated there used to be a lot of Americans living in Mulege who had built some quite nice houses along the river. Apparently they could keep their boats in the river and motor out to the ocean. However, a hurricane a few years ago caused some massive flooding in the river, wiping many of the houses out and they were never rebuilt. As I was leaving town, noticed there still seemed to be a few houses along there – pretty setting in the palm trees.
Strangely, the mission/church in Mulege is Misión de Santa Rosalia while the town of Santa Rosalia apparently has associations with Santa Barbara. Man, the infighting between the saints must have been/be terrific. While this was one of the early missions established in the early 1700's, as with many of these buildings along the coast, hurricanes necessitated rebuilding a number of times.
Ride up to Loreto was spectacular. Beautiful coast line; rugged, somewhat like California but with much quieter surf and crystal clear water. Nice twisty road & good pavement. Quite a number of beaches along that stretch are developed for people to park their motorhomes on the beach & pretty cool. Looked to me like a lot of the motorhomes were parked well below high tide mark but I'm sure they watch the tide tables.
Still pretty dry around here
This shrine is typical along the roadways and there are a lot of them. A lot of effort is placed on honoring the dead in Mexico and these shrines can range from a simple cross to shrines such as this (usually a quite a bit smaller) to massive monuments. I thought this one was particularly nice overlooking the bay. They are almost always well cared for and will many times have fresh flowers.
Stopped at a little community of gringo houses I think is called Concepcion. Have a café there and had some great Huevos Rancheros and good coffee.
Arrived in Loreto; nice town. Stayed at the Coco Cabañas. Great motel hidden about 2 blocks from downtown area. Owned by an American and his Mexican wife. Although many Mexican hotels don't have much formality for sign in, I thought Stephen had a cool sign in system; name address and phone in a big registry book, like in the olden days. Nice pool and hot tub. Coffee pot in the room. This was by far the nicest place I've stayed in so far.
Wandering around town and came across "Mikes Bar" - with a name like that, had to stop. One other guy in there turns out he is from Vernon also - lives across the lake from us. Has a septic pumping company. I think he may have been the guy who did the shitty job with ours a few years ago . . .