The sketchy construction North of La Paz meant setting an alarm. I know, alarms during a relaxing trip such as this (whiskey tango foxtrot?), but my thought was it would probably be the best plan to traverse the construction zone that nearly gave me heart palpitations during the morning hours when it was cooler and with less traffic. I woke up about 5:30, showered, got all the gear together and mounted on the bike before I went back to the restaurant.
THE MORNING YUMS – IN POWER RANGER GEAR
Desayuno incluso remember? Only catch – I am informed that they don’t serve until 7 a.m. I stand around the additional 15 minutes, fully geared, ready to ride, and wait for my free breakfast (No such thing as a free lunch). I was the only one in the restaurant so they brought me a coffee while I waited for them to set up the buffet. I wandered with my coffee and looked at the unique (very Indonesian) art they have in the restaurant.
I was the only person dining in the restaurant. Most people staying there were on vacation, they probably had more drinks than I did the night before, and based on my unofficial/unscientific pre-dawn survey of the property resulting in zero people…definitely were not awake (likely half drunk in bed).
I scarfed down a bit of chilaquiles, fruit, and two more cups of coffee. The sun was just barely starting up over the Sea of Cortez as I rolled down El Malecon exactly as I had the night before. This time not in waning light but waxing light. The Mexican vacationers walking the Malecon looking for beer and food were replaced with fit locals exercising while the air was still cool.
FIT TO RIDE
Just like the fit locals, my plan to hit the construction during the cool hours worked out fantastically. For most of the ‘off road construction bypass’ I was the only vehicle on the road. This meant no dust and more importantly no semi-trucks riding my bumper through deep sand.
What I had not considered is that throughout the evening or early morning the construction workers found it in their hears to wet down the road. This meant that most of the formerly deep sand was hard packed and SO much easier to maneuver through with a heavy bike. Though the temperature was cooler I was still working the bike slowly (not much air flow) through the construction. This left me drenched in sweat right at the start of the day. The few miles of construction travel was still difficult but I was very relieved to be done with it in a safer manner this time.
Northbound in a Non-Threatening Manner
The road North to Loreto was easy and fun after passing the construction. The road winds through the mountains with exciting twists and turns (Standard disclaimer about road conditions apply). There were very few people on the road so I could regulate my own safe speed.
One does have to be careful about the street signs. Mostly the fact that they are deceiving, often absent, and do not reflect present road conditions. For instance more than once I’ve come around the corner on a perfect line leaned over enjoying the freshness of my newer tires and found rocks the size of my fist strewn across the road. The cliffs above crumbled into the road often and it seems like there’s no one tasked to clean these deathtraps off the road.
Mind The Wash
Many times as one descends into any of the thousands of wash/bridge crossings (punte) you cannot see the bottom of the wash. The speed limit might be 80 km/h (which to most Americans means 80 miles per hour anyway) but as soon as you hit the bottom of the hill there is four or five inches of sand across the bottom of the wash. If you hit this unexpectedly you may be in big trouble. Where as, the rest of the road conditions are fine this one obstacle might kill you. So I adopted the method of slowing at washes enough to see all of the road before twisting the throttle again. These conditions are universal across all of Baja but took a couple pucker moments for me to learn on my own. As Captain Pete says… ‘Slow is Pro’.
PEMEX for Go Juice – Do Not Pass San Javier
I arrive at the outskirts of Loreto with about a half tank of fuel and decided that I should fill the tank before attempting to go up the mountain to San Javier Mission. After only 5 minutes at the PEMEX fueling up I backtracked the highway for about a mile to turn towards the mountain onto The Road to San Javier. There is a small ranchero barbecue joint close to the highway that is advertising free beer! (Maybe next trip) I consider what kind of place has to advertise free beer in order to get patrons. It would be worth checking out sometime but extreme judgement might be exercised before eating and drinking here.
I had read up about the road and knew I would need to take it slow and keep my wits. The Road to San Javier does not disappoint. The road is famous, only goes to San Javier, and is actually named “The Road to San Javier”.
Go With God & Goats
I found my rhythm winding through the hills. Dipping into turns left, right, up, and up. Along the way I am greeted by goats in the road (pucker), rocks across the street (heart palpitations), and unmarked curves with sheer drop offs (clean shorts needed). I consciously keep but slow my rhythm.
A few miles up the mountain I meet my first river crossing. I hit it at speed and a wave of water pushed across the river in front of me. Steam billowing off the engine engulfed me. Algae on the river bottom, I gave the motor a blurp of the throttle, and the rear tire spun downstream. Luckily, I am through the water quickly enough that the rear tire hooked up, finding traction on the dry ground, before I spun completely out. I remember thinking that I could have easily found myself floating downstream in that river. Up the mountain a little bit more I find another river crossing. Similarly, the rear tire spun but a little less this time (I learn slowly and incrementally it seems). Up the mountain further. I come up on a chasm where the road has fallen away. Luckily it was the other side of the road. I make a mental note for my trip down.
Up the mountain further. The entire road is gone. Ripped from the side of the mountain by the floods and cast down the canyon. This landslide had torn about a half mile of road from the mountain. No evidence remained of the former road.
As water hits these steep, crumbly, mountain roads it is not uncommon for the roads to be cleaved completely from their foundations and thrown into the Sea of Cortez. A detour had been bulldozed below the point in space where the old road had been. You could see where construction crews had poured a couple concrete footers that would support a future road or bridge to cross the new chasm.
I crept down into the canyon on the rocky temporary road which descended into the canyon to the left then steeply up the hill to the right before making a nearly impossible hairpin turn to left around the contour of the mountain before finally making progress back onto the remaining road. I would only suggest careful driving with 4×4 trucks & jeeps on this road. While it is not difficult on a bike either I took extra care and time because of the 70/30 (road/dirt) tires and being alone.
Up the mountain
Another river crossing (by this, the last river crossing, I had learned a bit about deep water and algae so crossing was more fun than scary). Finally, winding over a mountain saddle, I crested before descending into a narrow flat valley. Some miles later descending further into another valley. (Yes, a valley inside a valley) In the bottom this final, beautiful, green valley, stood the mission beaming brightly with its white domes.
There was a lot of water in these mountains. Which must be why the natives originally settled here and later they chose to build a mission so far up the mountain. Typically, the mission (tasking) of the Mission (cool old building) was to teach the native peoples Christianity. Along with improving their lives by telling them they were sinning by living the one true God and tithing to the church.
For a cool book on how people spread to every corner of this little blue-green rock (including the conquest of Mexico) and why some cultures developed technology that helped to displaced others so easily check out Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared M. Diamond.
Hot, Alone, and In The Middle Of Nowhere
The heat was stifling. I doff my helmet and my sweat soaked gear. I have been pumping water into my face hole all day long. Probably about a gallon and a half of water by mid day and still had not peed. The only people I have see since crossing the cobble-stoned, one road town, a couple walking out of the Mission informs me that the old guy inside will give a tour for 50 pesos. I thought to myself, “ppffftt, whatever, I can walk around the Mission without this guy…”
As I walk around the side of the building I read a sign about the water cisterns out behind the Mission. The property is large and I start thinking about the stories I wouldn’t hear…so I go back inside and pay the guy 50 pesos to give me the tour. I was wrong, I admit it, might be nice to hear some of the history. He tries to tell me it costs 100 pesos but I tell him that I talked to some other guy already and he had told me only 50 pesos. He knew he was busted then responded instantly, ‘okay my friend!’ and the tour began. Not two sentences into the tour a Swedish family shows up. Pause! He needs to include them. Grandma, Grandpa, and granddaughter join the tour. For you my friends, only 100 pesos!
We walk with the dusty old guy as he growls out a rough history, rasps a couple of stories, points out old paintings, significant areas of the Mission, and significant trees planted by the missionaries. One such tree is quite famous and they advertise it as the second oldest tree in the world. Interesting – I recalled many much older trees from hikes and adventures in Northern California over the years (amazing that I remember anything really) so I did a bit more research when I got home. I could not find it anywhere on this list: OLD TREE LIST. Still, it is a neat old tree and surely the oldest in the area. An olive tree planted a few hundred years ago – very cool to me! It is large, knurled, twisted and very much still alive.
He continued to show us the cisterns and how the water that came down from the mountain was collected. It is a fairly complex waterworks which they still use for crops today. A testament to craftsmanship that should serve as an example to the Mexican Road Commission.
Lunch In A One Truck Town
Completing the tour I asked our trusty-dusty tour guide where to eat in town (After the tree ‘fact’ I was hopeful he would be on point with lunch). He points across the street and says, ‘over there behind the truck’ which makes me giggle because there literally is only one truck in town. No matter where he was going to say it would have been in direct line of sight. After thanking him I go to the little restaurant and as per usual they try to hand me a menu. I look at the woman and ask in Spanish, ‘What is your favorite?’ she says the machaca burritos, so I order those.
The dining area was a palapa which was doing double duty as the family living room. At the back of the restaurant there was a nicer dining room table next to a china hutch filled with silver cups and plates. Obviously, something they are very proud of and will likely be passed down from generation to generation.
In the room with me was a preteen girl watching The Disney Channel in Spanish at 400 decibels (even I could hear it). I actually got into the show because the Spanish is about my level. Two little boys were bouncing balls under the palapa until Grandma yelled at them to get lost. They ran outside into the street to bounce their balls.
A few moments later my machaca burritos arrived with a side of beans and a nice little slab of queso. (No pictures included here as I had snapped a hasty picture which turned out blurry.) The meal was all very basic but welcomed and perfectly delicious. I scarf my meal down with plenty of water. The temperature was in the upper nineties and I was wearing a power ranger suit…best to keep pumping water.
Finished with the burritos, paid, then walked out of the restaurant only too bump into the Swedish couple with their Granddaughter. We talked briefly and I recommend the machaca burritos. They also were staying in Loreto but I gleaned that they had paid a little bit more money for a little bit less accommodation. I bring them up to speed on the hotel I’m staying at so that next time, or tomorrow, they can upgrade to save some money. They are very nice couple and wish me well on my travels. I bid them the same.
Bajando La Montana
Back down the mountain. Through the washed out road, construction, slowly across the rivers on the way down. Down the mountain. Back into Loreto. Much less eventful on the way down as I knew what to expect and where to expect it. I made my way to the hotel on the beach which costs a whopping 950 pesos or about 50 bucks. They had a fantastic pool, right on the beach, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. The rooms fairly current and very close to the town center which makes this an amazing value (again).
I decided for dinner to go into the town center and do some exploring. Only four or five blocks away – I decided not to wear gear. No helmet, no pants, no jacket, no gloves made for a very free feeling ride. The cooling evening air felt so refreshing! I cut through town at about 20 MPH, circled the town center, and got the lay of the land.
First order of business was to check out out a taco shop that was recommended to me by a young cowboy who was hanging over a pretty girl working the front desk. The place was not open, the chairs were stacked, and it obviously was more appropriate late night food fair. I circled the town center again looking for anything interesting and happened to bump into the 1697 Brewery. Breweries are not common around these parts; particularly microbreweries. So this catches and holds my interest. I parked the bike up on the sidewalk behind a smaller motor scooter.
Rehydration & Sustenance
Inside of the brewery was a restaurant with fresh seafood. Perfect! I decided to have dinner on the patio and watch the bike. As I came into the patio I caught the attention of a young man who wanted to practice his English – he was the waiter. We talked back and forth; he tried English and me with my toddler’s Spanish. He understood most of the things that I said and helped me along when I needed an extra word. I understood some of what he was trying to say but we switched to Spanish or pantomimed so I could help him with the English words. We had a great conversation about his family, fishing, motorcycles, the Baja 1000 and the people that event brings to town.
All of the food was absolutely incredible! Each dish perfectly cooked and seasoned using only fresh local ingredients. I learned near the end of dinner that the brewery was started by a Mexican woman and an Irish man who had met in Hong Kong. They opened the restaurant and he had very strict guidelines regarding quality of materials he would use in the beer and food. This means that the menu is subject to changes without warning and goes from a medium size menu to very small menu occasionally. I recall my years in the Navy meeting Irish and British business men in Hong Kong. This made me feel like I knew the kind of people the owners were even though we have never met.
My food arrived. Clams – roasted on the grill with micro vegetables, white wine, and a little shave of cheese. So fresh I could taste the ocean. Slurp! I pounced on them like a hungry bear and had them nearly finished by the time the waiter came back to the table. For an entree I had ordered the white sea-bass which came with mixed vegetables and rice. A fine butter and white wine sauce was included that did not overpower the fish; was very light and fresh. There was plenty of sauce to push the rice around to sop it up. I am glad I stopped here- two beers, lots of conversation, fantastic food.
As I left the brewery I saw a dance troupe choreographing a dance in the plaza for some unspecified upcoming event. For fear of being the creepy guy watching I did not loiter too long. The night life was starting to pick up but I was tired from my day and decided to turn in for the night so back to the room for a great night’s sleep.
Stay tuned for the next installment!
I will play with a camera, hang out with old guys, see the Mission Loreto in more detail, visit the Mission San Ignacio, dodge a huge fire, and get the trip’s first bout of explosive diarrhea during a Mexican wedding, as punishment, for trying to satisfy an American food craving!
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