Semana Mexicana

My welcome committee of curdled milk and trigger-happy bees could have been chosen more carefully, but México redeemed itself with stunning beaches, playful sea lions, and fish tacos. So. Many. Fish. Tacos.

Crossing the border was a bit of a non event, nobody wanted to see my passport or even took any notice of me. I had to hassle some people to find the key to the wheelchair accessible door because my bike wouldn’t fit through the turnstiles. I found a cheap little hotel to store the bike and went to explore Tecate, the border town I had just entered.

When in Mexico, you don’t drink from the tap and you put toilet paper in a bin, not in the bowl. I had sort of known that from travelling in South America, but had very much forgotten about these things. What I had also forgotten was a good portion of my already limited Spanish vocabulary. Qué? Como? No entiendo.

The plan was to travel back to the pacific coast through the wine country of northern Baja California. I had seen the road on street view and it looked a bit scary, with lots of hills and no shoulder. So, in order to beat some of the traffic, I started my day early. I had even bought milk and cereal for a quick breakfast, which didn’t work out so well as the what-used-to-be-milk was a month beyond its best before date. On the plus side, the road was actually nicer than most of what I had encountered in the States, smooth tarmac with wide shoulders. This gave me the chance to enjoy the views of the misty hills around me.

The enjoyment was somewhat lessened when I came to a screeching halt, took off my shirt and removed the bee that had just stung me right in the chest. I’ve had a pretty bad allergic reaction the last time I was stung, so here I was in a small Mexican village, Epi pen in hand, being bamboozled by an old lady into buying a can of soda from her. After an hour, I decided that I wasn’t dying and that I wouldn’t need the adrenaline shot, so I left the dead bee and the incomprehensible old lady behind and continued on towards Ensenada.

I made it to the coast in the afternoon and rewarded myself with a beer and a large portion of ceviche, which was delicious and inexpensive. From there it was a short ride into town, where I met Jorge, my host in Ensenada. We went to get some fish tacos and hung out with his friends, which made for a fun evening, despite my now very itchy chest.

To celebrate my return to the Pacific, I implemented a rest day to explore the city and its culinary offerings some more. I then spontaneously booked a rental car for a week, as I had heard good things about the South of Baja California, which was too far to reach by bike and still catch my flight home. Jorge let me store my trusty steed at his place and gave me a lift to the rental agency. Off I went in my little red Nissan, travelling through markets, coastal towns, and millions of cacti.

The route saw me passing a gas station every few minutes, to trick me into a false sense of security. Of course, I ran out of gas in the desert, when there was no opportunity to fill up for 500 km without any warning. The vultures circling in the sky didn’t help. A guy selling gas from a barrel on his rusty pickup truck saved the butt of yours truly. It came with a small mark-up and lots of talk, most of which I didn’t understand. Other than that, I was playing road angel as I drove along and fed the few touring cyclists I passed with water and oreos.

On the second day, I reached Mulegé, which is a small oasis town with several very nice beaches within easy reach. I got a room in a cheap hotel – which came with a free giant cockroach – and stayed for two nights to eat, swim, and explore the area a little.

The next morning, I drove further south to get to La Paz. About an hour into the day, I picked up Fabien, a French hitchhiker, who had been travelling around Latin America for almost a year. He was great company and had a good recommendation for a hotel in La Paz, so we checked in there and sampled a few Tequilas by the shore.

Both Fabien and I were keen to see the Espíritu Santo island and so we took a boat tour from a nearby beach the next day. It’s a National Park surrounded by pristine beaches, towering cliffs, and turquoise waters.

The highlight however was snorkelling off the coast of Espíritu Santo. It boasts a large sea lion colony, and the young ones in particular are very playful and curious, swimming right up to your face to check out the weird intruders in their orange life jackets.

The rest of the day was spent with ceviche on the beach, checking out a sea bird colony, and snorkelling some more around a coral reef with a bunch of colourful fish. When we were back on the mainland, Fabien and I explored another beach and had a victory beer or two back in La Paz.

When the time had come, I gathered my things and commenced the journey back to Ensenada, to trade my little red car for my little red bike. I stopped in Mulegé for some excellent sea food and a bit of afternoon beach time, but eventually pushed for Guerrero Negro, where I spent the night after I had witnessed a stunning sunset in the desert.

After another day of driving, I reached Ensenada and made my way to Jorge’s house, where I stayed for another night. I returned the car the next morning and was once again travelling by bike, after a delicious farewell breakfast prepared by my host. The coastal road took me north, into a small town called La Misión. I had heard about a hostel that would let cyclists stay for free. This turned out to be right, although it was a space on the floor in the basement. Oh well, at least it had a nice beach nearby.

Leaving just after sunrise, I pushed north to get into San Diego. The road was initially fine, but became busier and nastier as I approached Tijuana, which I had heard only bad things about. My lung probably took a pretty bad hit from all the exhaust, and I constantly had to dodge minibuses, but I eventually made it to the busiest border crossing in the world. The immigration officer grilled me for a while and then stole my apple because apparently apples are illegal in the States or something.

First thing you see when you enter the US? A McDonald’s. Go figure!

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