Brothers of Loreto, a bookstore, and a Spanish Mission
There is a special feeling that comes with waking up naturally. I am cursed with that usually being just before sunrise. I looked out across the sea of Cortez at the mountains and watched as the sun came up slowly. Fishing boats were leaving the harbor nearly 5000 meters offshore. They all took a similar route from the harbor headed to the fishing grounds. I have read and seen a lot talking about the biological preserves in the Sea of Cortez. The hard work of the fishermen and quality of the fishery working together to make the delicious dinner the night before.
Out on the beach; I fiddled with some of the settings could get photographs without completely whiting out the screen. Taking photos directly into the sun is a tricky business. I stand in my board shorts with nobody around the beach to myself and snap a couple of photos before deciding that I want to go sit in a cafe for breakfast.
The bike ‘blurped‘ to life and chugged throatily as I rode off the sidewalk, into the dirt, then down the cobblestone driveway of the resort. I crept through the back alleys of Loreto as the town was just awaking up. Old ladies walked in town squares, birds chirped, and old guys drank coffee on every patio. Presumably while reminiscing about the good old days.
I pulled up to a cafe that was well regarded/recommended. A couple of these aforementioned old guys were sitting around a table and made the comment, “Hey Mike, that guy just pulled up on an old BMW.” As I walk by them on the patio they say something about the bike and we strike up conversation. We start a good banter but I quickly realize that food is not happening so I cut off the banter to ask them something very important; What they would recommend and if I can join them. They inform me that this advice and a seat at their table will cost a coffee refill. I laughed and obliged; minor detail. I grabbed their cups to fill as my pittance for joining them.
Inside, the counter is an distressed wooden counter that would fit into any hip bistro at home. This counter is not designed to be distressed; years of food and drink served over this counter show real weathering. The unfinished counter polished with a dull shine from plates slid across to patrons. On the advice of the elders I order the ranchero omelette which comes with beans. I asked them to add fruit; no issue no charge. I return to the table with my payment in coffees.
Jim seems to be the ring leader of this motley crew of 70’s retires and former US Navy sailors. We talked for another hour about everything and nothing; a lot about how life is living in Loreto as expats. I got the scoop on some of the local scene in Loreto. Slowly, eventually, and politely, the gentlemen had to go to their respective appointments or meet up with other friends. This left Jim and I drinking coffee at the table sharing more of our stories.
A gentleman from Spain pulled up on a V-Strom and it was loaded with too much gear. Jim commented about how much equipment this guy had strapped to the bike. The V-Strom is fully capable of carrying this amount of equipment but looked really funny.
The guy walked past and somehow identified me as the rider of the Pachyderm even though I was wearing a t-shirt and board shorts. (maybe I was looking real hard at him and he could see the miles in my eyes) We talked briefly and I passed along the advice on the ranchero omelette along with a quick report of road conditions ahead as he was going south. After ordering he sat at another table and worked with a multitude of electronic devices: GPS, cell phone, tablet, SPOT, Amazon Fire Box, Blu-Ray, Alien-ware gaming computer with four monitors … some other handheld devices (OK, a few of those are made up but you get the ideal). Occasionally he would pop over and ask me a question about mapping but he was using an iPhone which was not playing nicely with Google Maps in Mexico. Google Maps was the most complete mapping solution from my experience in Baja. I attempted to help him but we pretty much settled on the fact that he needed to learn more about his own gear, I could not help much, and he definitely should not have wasted his money on the Garmin GPS (for Baja at least). We did find a work around for him (Google maps) which eventually got him some directions while on the road. Jim and I bid him safe journey then talked a while longer.
I was also was starting to get itchy about hitting the road. Jim wanted to show me the gringo bookstore he had told me about. Story was that a dual national woman and her late husband ran the bookstore. A retired schoolteacher with a recent knee replacement; she was recovering and not actively running her business. A most amazing thing about the expat community; many people had keys to the store and kept an eye on things. Gringos continued to purchase books, placing money in a known secure location, and leaving new & returned books to a pile. The store did not require an operator in order to continue functioning and make money. The honor system was working. After marveling at the art and books Jim walked me over to the mission.
I knew where the mission was but he just wanted to help more and was excited about my trip so wanted to hang out more. We bid each other bon voyage as I went into the mission to see the museum I had missed on my way South.
Fifty pesos gets you access to the museum. A number of artifacts from the seventeenth and eighteenth-century belonging to the missionaries who first colonized Baja. The stated goal of the Spanish sponsored missionaries was to convert the native population to Christianity. Tertiary and unspoken goals were to find wealth for the Spanish crown. In fact some missions lost their charters when they did not produce on these goals. Many of the missions were funded by governments but subsequently failed because they were not able to survive the harsh environments. Influxes of investment money or deliveries of food allowed them to sustain their work, some of them for hundreds of years, in places where Europeans were not otherwise adapted to living.
The artifacts included paintings, chests, and daily use items of these religious settlers. Included in the museum were also artifacts from the native population which were much more ancient possibly even thousands of years. I was in awe that they would have such high quality items so accessible to the public. Well worth the fifty pesos to walk through the exhibits and read stories of the interaction between the missionaries and the native people. The courtyard in the center of the mission depicts parts of daily life that were conducted inside the mission. There was a large wheel press which could be used as a machine to make olive oil or juices for wine. Old vines and trees still dotted the courtyard.
Having seen the parts of Mission de Loreto that I missed on my way south; I made my way back to the motorcycle, then hotel, where I found the staff had already made up my room. Nothing was disturbed in my room. Wanting to be respectful of the check out time I made haste in putting everything back on to the bike. I idled the bike to front desk to get my 100 peso deposit for the remotes then bid farewell to the hotel staff who were extremely nice. Even the ‘guard chihuahua’ came out to bid me farewell. One of the older housekeeping ladies who happened to be walking by when I was saying goodbye to the Mexican micro-dog; she laughed at image of a big man on a motorcycle saying goodbye to the little old porch perro.
North to get a miner’s burger
Before getting out of town I stopped at a corner Mini Mart where mariachi music was blaring at 3000 decibels. A young man sat indifferently behind the counter. I needed water so grabbed the gallon chugged as much as I could, filled the Camelbak and my emergency backup hydroflask. After drinking as much as I could I dumped the rest over my head. The young man seemed to think this is pretty funny wondering why I would dump perfectly good water which I just paid for over my head. But I couldn’t take the remaining portion of the gallon of water with me so I might as well use it for evaporative cooling.
Back on the road and headed North again towards Mulegé. The road was pretty good with very few construction zones. I made good time and enjoyed the ride immensely. Cruising with the Sea of Cortez to my right this time and the mountains to my left. Occasionally the road moved inland for short straight shots and then back to the coast winding around then over dry, crumbly, and jagged desert mountains. Standard Mexican road conditions; driver beware!
I passed through Mulegé and saw the mission off to the left which I had visited on my way South. I remembered some of the washed out road which was just below me under the bridge and the cool paver stones on the last 100 meters to the mission. This was one of my favorite missions.
I move through the town fairly quickly while looking for a Pemex gas station but did not see one. ‘Well, I guess I will have to see if I have enough gas to get to Santa Rosalia.’ I thought to myself. The gas game stressed me out a little bit every time. As time went on and no gas stations appeared I started the game; doing the math in my head I realized that I had likely enough gas in the tank to make it 100 miles. Signs informed me it was exactly that distance to Santa Rosalia (160 kilometers). Satisfied with the fact that I could coast into town on fumes or if I ran out of gas I had my two extra bottles I told myself this was no stress… But for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my mind. As I rode along doing the calculations again and again. Each time the MPG – Est. of gas in the tank – convert to Km – contingency gas … calculations worked out no problem. Just then another street sign with the kilometers to Center Rosalia… I run the calculations in my head again… I should totally be fine! Why am I still worrying!
The old BMW coasted into Santa Rosalia with 2 bars left over on the gas gauge. Right where the warning light comes on. No problem! Who was worried? Pfft…Good to go!
I search for a place to grab a bite and opt for an ‘authentic Mexican burger’ joint. (Hahaha, ok I know…bad ideal for so many reasons which would become apparent later.) I had seen so many is these kind of Mexican pizza and burger places so wanted to try one.
I walk into the front of the restaurant. Obviously the first person of the day. The decor was similar to the old west town (which it was) with the covered walkway out front and wooden clapboard interior. This place was not decorated old west rather was authentic…not done ironically or as a theme park. I look at the menu and they tried to sell me on spaghetti and pizza. Not sure why I would come to Mexico to eat pizza. But then I also guess I don’t know why I was about to be eating a burger either. There is a selection of Mexican burgers. Could these be considered Mexican themed burgers or are they authentic Mexican Burgers because we are Mexico? This is something that I have probably spent way too much time thinking on. I opted for the ‘most Mexican burger’ I can identify on the menu with some papa fritas and a lemonade. I was still overheating from the ride and exposure so went into the indoor-outhouse (only good description of the condition of their bathroom) and rinsed off. I sat directly under a fan and after a few moments cooled off.
The food took a long time to come out of the kitchen but a good-looking burgerwas finally presented and the fries are extremely hot; perfectly crispy.
I have a theory about the french fries. They should only be eaten when hot. If they get cold they are better off placed in the fridge and used for hash. (or fed to the dog)
Always eat fries first!
So I eat my fries, or as many as I can, until they are no longer piping hot before tucking in to the massive burger. It has been a number of days since I’ve had anything except real Mexican food; the burger really hit the spot. There is fried ham and chilies on the burger. The seasoning was right on. I can now genuinely say there is a difference between an American burger and a Mexican burger. By the time I finish, the owner of the restaurant is busy working with vendors who are making deliveries through the front door. They are cautious not to be loud or distracting to me, which I appreciate. On the television is Vevo streaming Mexican pop songs which help me with my Spanish as well as give me something funny to watch. I watched the workers of the restaurant who seemed to be watching TV and watching me that more than working.
The owner approached my table to ask me if I would like another lemonade. I indicate yes and thank you. He brings me a new glass with ice and I drink it because I am still hot after smashing the burger. This was been the hottest day on the trip. The midday rest and cold drinks were perfect rejuvenation. After I finish eating I move to a table closer to the owner because he and I had started talking. We spoken Spanish and English told me (a version of) the story about the Eiffel Church, which was only about 2 blocks away.
Legend: As he told the story the church was actually built for the Philippines and loaded on a boat but transited through Santa Rosalia where by the people of Santa Rosalia and Mexico decided that they needed a church and took it off the boat to be assembled in town.
Research: Built in 1887 by “The” Alexander Gustave Eiffel as a prototype for French Missions in tropical climates (like the Philippines possibly?) and to withstand tropical storms. The French Boleo Mining Company found out that the church was stored in a warehouse in Brussels…so they purchased it and assembled the church in Santa Rosalia in 1897. Boleo struggled along managing the mine until the 1950’s.
I wrap up our conversation and head back to the bike knowing that I have to get the gear on quickly and get moving or else I will overheat again. I cruise through the dusty, dilapidated, old mining town and ogle at the infrastructure left over from Boreo mining operations. This is an industrial town but looks like very little happens anymore; including road repairs.
I still need gas. So I turned North along the coast and find the Pemex. Standard operation by now, pulling off the gear, and tell the gas attendant premium. Gas tanks full, I pull forward a few inches so that he can serve the next vehicle.
For the third time I’m asked if I would like my windshield cleaned. No Thanks; for two reasons — 1: The windshield has a small crack in it and I don’t want anybody pressing on the windscreen at the risk of breaking it further. — 2: I enjoy sending pictures to my Canadian friend who diligently, and with only a little OCD :), cleaned all of our windscreens on this trip. Top notch brother and I wish he were along on this trip!
The attendant points at my helmet and give me the thumbs up. He says this is a very nice helmet. I think he was impressed with my Scala 9 communications because the helmet is actually a very cheap helmet which is 2 years old and needs to be replaced. I showed him my playlist for Baja which includes some Mexican songs that everyone in Baja probably knows. I start to sing along give a little dance and he is really impressed with my music choices and starts laughing hysterically at my fully gear dance while on the bike.
San Ignacio Mission
North out of town; past the dump. The red headed vultures Circle around the dump indicated that I was leaving Santa Rosalia. The road ahead includes my infamous pothole so I know the next few miles I should play extra close attention. As I settle into my groove, ready to tick off some miles, an oncoming SUV flashes his lights at me. I dropped a gear just in case. As I round the next corner a horse is charging diagonal across the road straight at me! I dropped two more gears and got on the brakes. This gives the horse enough time to cross safely. Around the next corner two Caballeros (cowboys for you gringos) on horse back are in pursuit. I motion to them that the wild horse had crossed to the other side of the road and was ahead of them. With that excitement behind me I continued to San Ignacio mission. The road forecasts the mission with signs for miles … but not marked that well when you finally need to turn. This required me to make a u-turn after I realized I had overshot my target.
Down another dusty side road. A soccer stadium built in the puente (wash) had been completely destroyed by a storm but left to nature to absorb back into the ground. The walls crumbling and mud across the field. It seems that all towns and people’s homes built in the river flood areas were caught by surprise when floods and fires took their structures. This is no different in the U.S. as rivers expand to enjoy their flood plain every 50 years or so catching the unknowing or short-minded by surprise.
The road crossed the river on a on a concrete wash bridge that is built with the intention of the river over flowing when at flood stage. The river was pacified when I crossed. Birds and reeds; looked much like I would imagine the Tigris or Nile might. A desert oasis lined by greenery and abundant with wildlife. I brought the bike into the sleepy little town square with a small park surrounded by a cobblestone road. Nearly no one occupied the town center around the huge mission which towered over the near end of the plaza. Birds chirped from the large trees in the plaza, but otherwise quiet, still, and hot as the late afternoon sun hung heavy.
I doffed gear and ascended the steps to the mission. No tickets or tours; The doors are open as the mission belongs to the people.Without adult supervision I explored the mission a bit more than might otherwise be allowed; but with respect.
As I walked back to the bike I see a huge pickup truck with a 5th wheel attached pull into the plaza in front of the mission. Canadian plates but driven by a German couple. They speak English but no Spanish so we talk briefly in English. They admire the bike (Germans are proud of BMW) then they head into the mission.
Lake of fire and Italian at the hotel de los muertos.
Back on the bike with the goal of getting to Guerrero Negro before dark. It is a straight and long run across the desert. As I approached Guerrero Negro I saw a fire on the horizon. Smoke drifting for miles to cross the highway ahead. I could smell that it was probably trash or tires. I take a deep breath inside my helmet while in clean air then plunge into the smoke cloud not wanting to breathe much of whatever healthy toxins might be in that cloud. Good practice for spearfishing I thought to myself…until I pass out and crash…I took a breath just at the end of the cloud and successfully made it to fresh air. Visor up, I had to get the fresh stuff in!
Guerrero Negro (G.N.) is one of the larger towns in the area but still very and only the main streets are paved. I look for the accommodations recommended by the old guys in Loreto. Found the place easily but with a lake in front. Water main break?
Fording across the small lake into the dirt parking lot was not difficult. I parked the bike in front of hotel Don Gus and went inside.
Inside the lobby a strange temple with offerings to unknown deities…probably safe to assume they were prepping for dia de los muertos. Unfortunately there was no one living to be found at the front of the hotel. I wandered around the dining area then back to the kitchen where I bumped into highly energetic young man. He tried to help me for about three seconds then passed me off to what I believe is his wife. She directed me into a smaller room at the back of the building that was the registration and check-in office. For the ‘low low price of 600 pesos’ (a little more than $30 US) I got a room with air conditioning, television, and nice bathroom. I ask them how their kitchen was for dinner to which they responded that they have a full kitchen with both Italian and Mexican food.
What the hell is up with this Italian thing in Baja? I get my room key and requisite two remotes (one for the air conditioning and one for the television). Mama directs me to move the bike around back. Huh? Okay I guess I have to ford the river again well if I’m going to ford the river again I might as well run into town and pull out some more cash from the bank.
Being careful not to get bucked off the bike as I clear the speed bumps; (Especially high in Guerrero negro.) the bank is an easy trip and I figured while I’m out running errands I’ll fill up the bike. I stopped at PEMEX and have a moderately long conversation with the guy before he identifies that they have no premium fuel. *CRAP* Well, as luck would have it (and in the infinite wisdom of the Mexican city planners — Laughing as I write this at the possibility of Mexican city planners… HA!) there was another PEMEX on the other side of the road. I make a turn against traffic and whip the bike into the station. No problemo amigo! We fill up the gas tank, I set up a tune in my helmet to make the speed bumps fun… money in my sock, then back to the hotel. (**let that play in a separate tab as you read the next part.. haha!**)
The sun had gone down and the night life of G.N. was starting to pick up. There was a policeman standing in the middle of the road 250 feet away from the entrance to the hotel directing traffic down the dusty dirt road the opposite direction I needed to go. I guess officials decided to do something about the broken water main finally. *Sigh!* I don’t want to have a conversation about how I can cross no problem. So I take the detour down the back alley with the rest of the vehicles.
I kick on my auxiliary flood lights as I roll down the dark, unlit, dusty and rocky road; around the block. The passable businesses that line the main road are gone; replaced with trash/construction heaps, dogs, and mud brick houses with dirt yards. No lights on in any of the houses. Occasional characters leaning in dark corners. Finally, the caravan of vehicles turned back onto the main road; I am the only one that takes a right towards the hotel. While the policeman was busy directing traffic into the detour alley (not looking at me :)) I push a small wave ahead of the bike and cross the lake ‘back to the hotel’. I back the bike all the way up to the room door and take off the bags. Air conditioning full blast – Check. Television with Mexican soccer full blast – Check. (only thing on) Just as well, it completed the ambiance.
After cleaning up a bit, relaxing, and taking a few notes on the day I walked over to the hotel restaurant to see what kind of non-Italian food I can scrounge up. The highly energetic man and his wife were right in the middle of their meal. I tell them to please finish their meals first and I walk around in the meantime looking more at the art installation which is in the front lobby. Looks like Santeria, or possibly re-creation of a pet cemetery, with lots of color candles. I sit down and work from my phone for a few minutes while I have ‘the Wi-Fi’. Then twitchy comes over and tells me the menu. No written menu. He starts rattling off a whole bunch of Italian dishes and I stopped him. Traditional Mexican food please. He looks at me quizzically surprised because they are probably trying very hard on the Italian stuff. He nods in understanding and starts listing every Mexican dish one could imagine. I asked him for a plate that has an enchilada, taco, some beans, some rice, and salad. Twitchy ran away into the kitchen.
On the television in the dining area the Cubs are playing their last game before the World Series. This is the first baseball game I’ve seen this year and the excitement on the television is a little bit contagious. I caught myself paying attention to the game while working from my phone. Food came out of the kitchen about the time I was wrapping up my second beer. Standard Mexican food, excellent! No frills, no thrills, but delicious and fills my belly. I rinse it down with another Modelo Negra and call it a night.
You might have noticed that I have been gone a while! I started a new gig which gives me more flexibility and travel to new places. Sounds like I should be writing more but that just hasn’t worked out. Follow on Instagram @_boutside_ to see quick stories and happenings “more real time”… but please check back in here for full stories in long format. Thanks a ton(!) for your patience and following! Cheers! ~B
Next post should wrap this trip up… let’s say it ends like most awesome trips, anticlimactically, but I’ll spoil a little bit here… I did not make it home without catching a hilariously epic case of Montezuma’s Revenge. Traveled the whole damned peninsula and it got me on the last day!
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