Across the Sea of Cortez

After a wonderful few days with Mike and Cholie in San Juanico it was time to go. The two were so welcoming and helpful, providing all the beach necessities and some needed tools, equipment and parts to get the bikes back together again after the Baja episodes. They also shared some insight on the ‘wild wild west’ way of life in the Baja which was really fascinating to hear. Living among the locals, albeit briefly, was nothing short of delightful and we will remember our time in San Juanico for years and years to come. We left the town to the ever-present sound of chickens clucking, dogs barking, and a distant yet powerful sound of Mexican music. We topped up on gas at the local station, which syphoned fuel from one of the many massive jerry cans stored on shelves in a small shed.

How nice was it to be on pavement! We maintained our focus to avoid the consistent potholes and sink holes that have bitten into the now legitimately described highway, and where there was no drainage along the ditches it was almost guaranteed that part of the the sandy base was washed away leaving a crust of asphalt hanging in the salty breeze drifting in off the sea. A local had explained to Tym previously at the beach that seasonal hurricanes frequent the area, taking little time to wreak havoc on the infrastructure still being patched up from the previous downpours.

We left the San Juanico area with a view of the ocean over the sandy horizon until it faded away behind us. The rest of our journey to La Paz was relatively uneventful as we motored down the main highway through the thinning cacti. Approaching the port city, we noticed an increase in humidity that came with the changing climate that allowed for more and more vegetation to break the surface of the sun baked soil and sand. There was also a significant increase to the length of fencing running alongside the road, however there was still more livestock in front of the fence than behind it and we honked our way passed numerous bulls and cows.

La Paz is a touristy town, though many of the visitors seem to be Mexican, so the need to fumble our way through hotel rooms and menus remained unchanged. We got there in time for a dip in the pool and to put our feet up before supper. The next morning we decided to recce the ferry terminal that was 15 km outside of town. A brief discussion with a lady at the office made it seem as though the process would be easy enough: show up at 5PM to buy tickets and go through the boarding procedure before our scheduled 8PM departure.

We went back to the hotel to pick up some laundry, go to the bank, and pack our things before pausing for lunch and a swim at a nice beach we had discovered on our morning recce. We couldn’t relax for too long though, and we were soon back at the ferry terminal and were pleased to see we had beat the line up! But our smiles didn’t last long as we went from office to office for photocopies of documents, importation papers, stamps and tickets before a vehicle inspection and a weigh-in! Good thing we got there early – this was a full-on border crossing! Seriously, the Baja has different entry requirements than mainland Mexico so there was a rigorous paperwork maze to crawl through before boarding the boat (surprisingly more rigorous than air travel). At one point in the line-up, karma struck again. While Dom was inside the waiting room, he met a 21 year-old Canadian named Liam travelling by bicycle from Vancouver to Mexico City. We had booked a 4-bed cuarto on the ferry and Dom kindly offered him our empty bed. Meanwhile, Ben and Tym met a Mexican outside who was also named Liam and also 21-years old! He and his girlfriend Tellula were heading home after finishing school in California, and after asking us about our trip he offered us a place to stay in Puerto Vallarta! Amazing.

We finally boarded the impossibly hot and humid cargo hold, and once the bikes were directed and redirected where to park, we unpacked our essentials and headed upstairs into the air-conditioned sanctuary of the dining room and lounge. Tonight would be a wonderful chance to gain some mileage with somebody else behind the wheel, and the only thing that could go wrong would be if the un-strapped bikes tipped over in the nights. We spent the evening talking with Liam, Liam and Tellula and then drifted to sleep as we inched South East through the Sea of Cortez, closer to Mazatlan and the unknown adventures that awaited us as foam frothed outward from the sides of the mighty ship.

The following morning consisted mostly of sitting around the lobby of the ferry waiting to unload the ship. Walking into the cargo hold was like walking into a sauna – except we weren’t wearing towels at a nice ski resort or country club, we were fully clothed carrying all of our luggage in the belly of a ship listening to the clanging and banging of cars and trucks driving over steel ramps. Our passports and paperwork were checked one more time after we unloaded, and we sped southwards, having left it with Liam and Tellula that they would send us a message online with our rendez-vous point in Puerto Vallarta.

We navigated easily through Mazatlan, past storefronts, market places, and little restaurants where small groups congregated, usually including a wrinkled face lazily poking some type of fire and smiling through a reduced mouthful of teeth. A dusty refrigerator usually sat with cardboard or Styrofoam taped to the broken glass door, and cartons of beer or Coca-Cola waited in front for space to cool off and escape the humidity – much like us. At most of the small towns school children could be seen in groups of white knee-high socks running past a group of navy blue ties – laughing and playing in front of a dreary backdrop of windowless concrete homes. Wooden frames were common too, draped in cloth, canvas or cardboard to shade the bags of shrimp and crates of fruit that vendors tirelessly waved in front of passing vehicles.

Between the outcrops of human activity lay vast stretches of prehistoric rainforest. Rolling hills, jagged peaks and steep cliffs were all covered by a thick blanket of textured greens – light and dark, bright and dull – from which we could catch the odd glimpse of grey-brown rock that broke through the thick jungle canopy that strongly held on to the unstable slopes. One could almost expect to see a long-neck dinosaur feeding on the rich canopy that filled the steep valleys which seemed to travel as far into the horizon as they did back in time.

Approaching a coastal town called San Blas we stopped at a small roadside shop. From behind the barred windows we exchanged pesos for cold bottled water as the water bottles strapped to our luggage were hot to the touch. We enjoyed the company of half a dozen truck drivers who had stopped for a cerveza break. Health and Safety reps in North America might find the notion cringe worthy but it all seems to be part of life in Mexico. One ice-cold beer seems reasonable on a hot day no matter what your profession, and we were looking forward to our own. The drivers suggested spending the night in San Blas to avoid risking a dark arrival into Puerto Vallarta, which is when the bandidos like to operate… As we hadn’t heard from our ferry friends, we agreed that that ship had sailed and moved on, forging new plans.

‘San Blas it is’, we decided, and we arrived in time to touch up the bikes including cleaning air filters, fix chain oiling systems, and tighten a few loose bolts – before some more tacos. The town seems really cool and has a lengthy beach front lined with restaurants, boat tours of the jungle river and more. We, however, spent only the one night and were lucky enough to find a small hotel with a pool and air conditioning. We decided to have an early morning to try to make a dent in our schedule that was growing increasingly tight. We have a concrete date of September 23rd to sail from Panama to Colombia, on Captain Ludwig’s Stahlratte. A four-day cruise through the San Blas islands, motorcycles strapped on the deck of the 100 foot boat – the trip sounds amazing. But first we need to get there!

This morning we sat down with our host, Pepe, and discussed our route to Guatemala, which was largely unknown. One option would be to pass through the States Guerrero and Michoacan along the coast, but that would be quite long and there are some travel advisories against the two States due to violence in the area. The second option was to head north, and cut through central Mexico. This route would be quicker and safer as long as we avoided Mexico City… We opted for option 2 but included a brief coastal tour via Puerto Vallarta.

The road to Puerto Vallarta was lovely and we passed workers clad in sombreros reaching from the back of their pickup trucks to pluck the low lying fruit to fill the baskets and boxes that will soon be at a grocery store near you. We continued to alternate between jungle foliage and small towns where countless street dogs scoured the streets and alleys for food, water and love – a yearning to feed their bellies and their souls. As the towns faded back into jungle, we travelled under a perfectly squared canopy, trimmed either for or by the tour busses and semi-trucks that occupied the lanes. We hit a brief squall at one point, the large raindrops hitting our skin like hail and forcing us to pull over and put our jackets on that had been left off to give our poor bodies a chance to compete with heat and humidity. We exited the mountain pass, and the rain cleared up along the approach to the beautifully manicured Puerto Vallarta area. Given the recently realized time crunch, we passed through only to catch a glimpse of construction-induced traffic. Turning East we climbed upwards, through more twisting jungle roads that bordered and crossed steep valleys thick with trees, ferns and leaves that led thin streams towards the sea.

Pepe had mentioned San Sebastian Del Oeste, an old colonial town allegedly 5 minutes from the main road but worth the visit. It was an old mining town, founded in 1605, which supported the gold, silver and lead mines in the area. ‘Why not’ we thought, as we followed the road sign pointing us North. 5 minutes was 15, but nonetheless it was a splendid ride up the steep hills, with more twists and turns, that opened up on remote farmland sitting below a veil of white mist before reaching the town. Colonial it was – and we handled the wobbly cobblestone roads with relative ease, at one point meeting an unaccompanied mare and foal, clip clopping down the street beside us.

Our whirlwind tour of the great town was over and we kept moving east. Nearing Mascota, our eventual stop for the night, we passed an unforgettably beautiful sight. Having just crept out of a steep and foggy mountain pass, a wide-open set of fields appeared on our left. A few hundred metres away from the road beyond a healthy crop of corn and the terra cotta roof of a long squat barn sat two perfect knolls draped in grass as green and smooth as a billiard table. Atop one of the hills stood a proud wooden cross – its white paint weathering to a dull grey before our eyes – and it overlooked a herd of cattle – brown, white and black bodies flicking their thin tails and taking unconscious steps as they trod through the magical fields feeding on the plentiful pasture. How wonderful to be greeted by a prosperous wealth of farmland after so many miles along dusty desert roads.

Mascota was another colonial delight, with more ‘wobblestone’ that led to a now-regular tip over. Our hotel owner swung his gates wide open for us to ride into his courtyard, over the sidewalk and up the step, where the bikes are now parked for the night. Mascota tonight is much cooler and drier than San Blas which is a great relief, and we should be well rested for tomorrow and the next few days which will be busy as we aim to make good mileage and regain an important cushion of time in our back pocket.

Until next time!

Mike's dune buggy in San Juanico. A 1964 beetle that's been Baja-fied! 

Mike's dune buggy in San Juanico. A 1964 beetle that's been Baja-fied! 

One more picture of our San Juanico beach.

One more picture of our San Juanico beach.

Tym filling up with some quality fuel at the san juanico gasolinera.  Susie enjoys mexican fuel so much that she drinks an extra 2 litres / 100 km.

Tym filling up with some quality fuel at the san juanico gasolinera.  Susie enjoys mexican fuel so much that she drinks an extra 2 litres / 100 km.

Enjoying an ice cream during a brief break in ciudad constitucion, on our way to la paz.

Enjoying an ice cream during a brief break in ciudad constitucion, on our way to la paz.

La Paz during the last sliver of daylight.

La Paz during the last sliver of daylight.

ben and tym sorting out their motorcycle importation documents before boarding the baja ferry.

ben and tym sorting out their motorcycle importation documents before boarding the baja ferry.

A behind-the-scenes look at a video log as we get set to board the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan.

A behind-the-scenes look at a video log as we get set to board the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan.

A blurry island through a portal window of the ferry.

A blurry island through a portal window of the ferry.

Packing the bikes in the hot muggy depths of the ferry.

Packing the bikes in the hot muggy depths of the ferry.

Home for the night in muggy San Blas.

Home for the night in muggy San Blas.

Dom on a stretch of highway between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Dom on a stretch of highway between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastian Del Oeste.

The same stretch of road, another cool shot captured by Tym

The same stretch of road, another cool shot captured by Tym

Peace in the hills of San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Peace in the hills of San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Tym riding into the hotel courtyard right off the street.

Tym riding into the hotel courtyard right off the street.

The three bikes will sleep here tonight.

The three bikes will sleep here tonight.