On how to leave the Baja

One day before we leave Todos Santos I receive an email from Baja Ferries. I know enough Spanish to know the news isn’t good. The La Paz Star is broken, and our boat ride to Mazatlan has been cancelled. A phone number is provided to obtain more information.

We’re told we can take a boat to Topalabambo and then a bus through Sinoloa to Mazatlan. We can go the same day as planned, but to a different destination.

We decide to cancel our tickets and explore other options. Our Warmshowers host tells us there is a cargo ferry, but women are not allowed. We investigate flying. Another friend tells us there is another ferry she is just not sure of the name. It turns out the cargo ferry our host knows about and the “other ferry” our friend mentioned are one and the same, and they do, in fact, allow women on board. Bingo.

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Only a day later than planned, we sail away from the Baja.

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We sleep up on the top deck, and I watch three frigate birds ride the wind all night long.

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We arrive in Mazatlan, curious to explore mainland Mexico.

For those interested, the other ferry option is TMC. They only sell tickets the day of the sailing, and you must go to their office at the port in Pichilingue to buy the ticket.

Family comes to Mexico

Tyndall’s parents and my sister meet us in Todos Santos for a week of sun and beach. Instead of two wheels, we bounce around Baja’s back roads on four.

We cook good meals.

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We explore empty beaches.

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We watch big waves.

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We send baby sea turtles off into the great unknown.

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We watch whales play.

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We talk.

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It was a good week. Thanks for coming.

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La Tortilleria

I’m addicted. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the tacos. I started by eating a few each day. That was a month ago. I think about how many I had yesterday. Was it 15? Or more likely a 1/2 kilogram? Supposedly the “healthier choice” over flour tortillas, I’m told it’s OK by a friend who lives in Mexico.

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Maíz tortillas aren’t for everyone. They dry out quickly and break easily, dumping their contents on the floor. Their mouth feel is granular. However, they are slightly sweet, cheap, and when prepared properly have a particular bounce that makes me return for more.

Fresh is best. Each town in Mexico tends to have their own Tortilleria and it’s busy before meal time. Everyone wants a steaming stack of fresh tortillas to share with the family. As they come skidding off of the machine, workers weigh them out in stacks. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

They come in half or whole kilogram increments wrapped in paper. The fancier stores use bleached paper that have logos printed on them while smaller local stores use non bleached paper similar to a newspaper without any ink.

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At home, the hot stack of tortillas is kept in its paper cover and further wrapped in a towel to preserve moisture and heat.  When dinner is ready (or rather any meal because they are eaten all the time) the tortillas are placed on the table and eaten as an American would eat fresh bread.

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They are rolled up and used to push food on the plate. They are dipped in soups. They are made into food vehicles conveying tasty tidbits into your mouth. They go with everything. It’s OK to have a couple kilograms of maíz tortillas at home. They will get eaten.

Of particular note is that the warmest tortillas are the best. While eating dinner with a friend I noticed that she didn’t take from the top of the tortilla stack. Rather, it is important with a fresh stack to find a tortilla in the middle and pull it out. It’s like getting the center roll out of a fresh baked pan of rolls.

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After dinner the tortillas are wrapped up in the towel and left to cool. They will last another few days but they won’t be as good as they were when fresh. Slowly, the moisture escapes and the maíz tortillas become brittle and dry. They are rejuvenated for each successive meal by heating in a hot skillet or over an open flame. Their flexibility and bounce returns.

Eventually, the heat treatment will not rejuvenate the days old tortillas.  They are destined for a new life as Chilaquiles.

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Through the Sierra La Laguna

Time passes.

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We finally pull ourselves away from friends and leave San Jose, pointing our wheels towards the mountains. The locals call the road Los Naranjos. They tell us it’s in good shape. Out past the airport a sandy road shoots straight west and up.

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It’s the hottest part of the day and I linger in the shade, savoring my water. Not far along and there’s running water, flowing across the road. We have been in the desert so long that it didn’t even cross my mind to ask anyone if there is water along the way, but there it is. I count six water crossings before we stop for the night beside one. I can’t remember the last time we camped next to running water. It must have been somewhere in southern Colorado.

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Frogs croak and crickets chirp. We share our sandy campsite with a plethora of daddy longlegs. For some reason, there’s loads of them here. I am grateful for the floor in our tent tonight.

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Through the mountains the Pacific comes into view. We zig and zag down towards it. There’s a beach campsite down there somewhere with our name on it.

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We tuck ourselves in an arroyo and watch the sunset. I ponder the irony of a man building a beachfront home telling me not to pitch my tent in the dunes, as we’ll disturb the sea turtles.

In the morning we ride the last 10 miles to Todos Santos.

To Land’s End

We make one more ride down Revolucion de 1910 in La Paz, stopping at the neveria for horchata, the panaderia for sweet treats and the grocery for avacados. Bellies and bags full, we climb up and away from town.

The pavement takes us to La Ventana. It turns out kite boarding is a thing here. It’s almost like the balloon festival, but with kites captained by Canadians. The tide is low and we ride the beach, dodging strings and beginners.

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Weather is blowing in and we find a quiet, empty space to sleep in the dunes.

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Past San Juan de Los Planes the pavement runs out. We share the dirt road with four kids in a side by side, cruising up and down, up and down.

Soon, we go up. The grades in Mexico have been steep and this road is no different. I look down at the paved road, cars and resort below us and breathe a little easier. It’s just us and the cows again.

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The road descends through a wash alive with butterflies and then climbs a bit more to the cliffs along the coast. I sit back and hold on. The downhills are just as challenging as the uphills.

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At the end, an empty beach with our name on it.

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As the sun is setting, Javier and Gonzalo ride by. We met them on the road out of La Paz. They are from Mexico City and have a week or so to ride from there to Cabo Pulmo. They join us at our camp spot and we learn more about Mexico.

The road takes us along the coast. We dip in and out of tourist towns long enough to fill up on food and water. We sleep on quiet beaches. We see birds flock after bait balls in the sea, and watch manta rays wing by in the water. Whale tales splash on the horizon. The desert is even green here.

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We walk along the coast near Cabo Pulmo and see this. I don’t understand what’s happening. Maybe a geologist or oceanographer can help me out? It’s like mother nature dumped a load of perfectly round sea stones and left them.

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We follow the road to San Jose, and the doorstep of an old friend.

South west south

We met Karl in Whitehorse in June. He and Holly are cycling to Panama. In Guerrero Negro we cross paths. Similar riding speeds and destinations have us riding together down Mex 1 for awhile. We split up from time to time, but like magnets are drawn back together again.

Santa Rosalia is an old French mining town with good ceviche and fish tacos. From there, we aim for Bahia de Conception and pass a day at Playa Escondida swimming in the sea and eating tamales.

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A bit further south and we finally part ways with Karl and Holly. We go west to ride dirt roads through the mountains and they continue south.

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Instead of cows, we share the mountains with goats. Goats climb rocks. Goats run down the road. Goats eat cactai. Steep grades take us up and down to San Isidro. There’s an oasis here, and flowing water.

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The road goes up and over again to Comandu. A local dirt bike guide told us the road was rugged, as did the internet. We didn’t listen. A rugged double track degrades to cow trail. It’s a scenic bypass of sorts.

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Camped among the cactai, we make a plan for Christmas.

El Boleo Mining Company

“Disminuya Su Velocidad.” The sign reads as we descend a steep hill toward the Sea of Cortez. And then I see it. A horizon line on the already steep road. Where does it go? The earth drops away from our bikes as we roll over an even steeper section. Gravity is in full control. We will be in Santa Rosalía soon.

We pass the dump and ride through an industrial section. It’s an active copper mine outside of town. Further down the road the town begins to take shape. Grocery stores and concrete housing all painted in bright colors. Abandoned industrial buildings. An old wharf built many moons ago.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We ride down a street surrounded on both sides by wooden houses in various states of repair. Large porches with high ceilings. Clapboard siding. Each a different color. Old locomotives and mining equipment staged in the middle of the road to show off the history of the town.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The mining museum is at the end of the road in one of the more unique wooden structures. Again, surrounded by a beautiful porch with cast iron railings. Copper was discovered in 1868 and a French mining company was soon to set up operations.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The ore itself was of such a fine grade that ovens were used to heat the material up and concentrate it even more. A multi step process created copper ingots 99% pure. Marked with the company name “Boleo” these ingots were loaded on sailing vessels and shipped abroad. Slag (3-5% copper) created during the refining process was loaded on ships and dumped at sea.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The town had electricity and telephones. All the latest technology. Gustav Eiffel even designed the church in town. A pre-fabricated metal structure replaced stone as a building material.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

In 1954, the French company handed assets over to the Mexican government as it was no longer profitable. The Mexican government continued operations until the mid 80s. At that time, the copper ore was of to low a grade to refine in ovens. The old factories in town were shut down. 

The majority of this information we gleaned from a gentleman at the abandoned mining facilities. We did this in broken Spanish with two other cyclists we had been riding with. The facts may not be perfect but I feel they are pretty close.

Renewed interest in the copper deposits has encouraged the developement of a new project outside of town that is capable of handling lower grade ore. Many new jobs are expected as a result.

P.S. We passed the world’s largest salt making facility in Guerrero Negro. They offer tours. I was unable to take one. Next time.