Uruapan to Catavina: Redefining Road
Sorry, dear readers, but it seems that since I’ve entered Mexico, the land of the siesta, my blogging has relaxed in the tradition. I can’t promise that will stop. Once you’ve participated in a slower society you really appreciate the pace. I suggest everyone tries it. In fact, what if when you are offered a job, instead of bargaining for higher wages, more vacation time or better benefits you said, “You know what? I would like a two-hour siesta every workday.” Small steps towards getting America back on track. Dream the revolution people.
And speaking of sleepers, anybody noticed how boring and vacant the comments section is on this blog. Do I need to offer a dime for every comment to get some community going on here? Let me know what you think, folks! Where should I go? Is my style difficult to get through?
Okay, now to the good stuff. Erendira to Catavina. I had to look through my notebook to decide how to split up the almost month-long excursion through Baja. Its really all a blur. The desert only varies so much, but is still spectacular. The Sonora Desert is a dry and vast beauty in the early morning sun. It is like a wrinkled sheet from a water-coloring book with the ink already stained into the paper where the child simply needs to dip a brush into water and stroke it across the landscape. Here the catalyst of creation has long ago dried out and left only impressions of distant mountains and arid vegetation. Shattered glass twinkles alongside the road with shredded truck tires and various sorts of plastic bottles. The amber liquid contained within them could either be fading caramel color or a trucker’s piss. So far I haven’t been thirsty enough to find out, but acquiring water is very difficult. I started Mexico with four one-liter bike water bottles. That number dropped down to two when I left two of them behind in Rosarito and I picked up a refillable 5-liter jug. I now have two of those, a heavy-duty 2-liter bottle and an emergency 1.5 liter bottle. 15.5 liters of water in total. Now, they aren’t always filled because that would be a lot of weight, but twice so far on this trip, before I had all of my bottles, I ran out of water and had to have riding days in the desert with a dry mouth.
On a clear, windless day we left the orphanage and headed to the coast instead of riding the Mexico 1 inland. We found the smoothest road in Mexico yet and rode it downhill towards San Isidro as the sun set and the winter coolness dried the day’s sweat. Down the road there was one exit south on the map: a dotted line marked as “ungraded and unimproved.” If it was unrideable we would have to backtrack and lose a day. We pulled into the beach village of Erendira and were harassed by multitudes of guard and stray dogs. A local drove towards us and told us we could camp on his undeveloped land that he had just spent the day clearing out for something. It rested against the back fence of an abalone plant that hummed and buzzed loudly all night long like a neighboring alarm clock so far broken that it couldn’t even pulse, just drone. Slightly above us on a hill was a house with a porch where we set up our stoves and cooked dinner after peering through the windows and deciding it was a gringo’s summer home. That night I slept without a tent because the stars were so brilliant and I was lazy with food and darkness. In the middle of the night I awoke to ferocious barking from a dog on the hill. I turned and saw its hair hang matted against its large legs. Its teeth glistened in the moonlight and its ears were drawn back just 10 yards from me. Fear boiled adrenaline into my brain as I laid still and trapped within my sleeping bag unprotected. “Uh, guys. I’m gonna need some help here,” I whimpered to my companions. The dog reared and barked more fiercely and approached even closer. From inside their canvas fortress, Acey called back hesitantly, “How many are there?”
At the new sound from the tent, the dog became unsure of its ability to rip me apart and backed off a bit and continued only to growl.
“Just one, but he’s real close and real mean,” I said. “I think you just talking was enough though.” I’m getting more courageous with animals while camping, but that defintely sent a chill down my spine that I had trouble heating all night.
Oregon, my alma mater
marched softly and heavily in my ears when I awoke. It was every Ducks fan’s birthday. Oregon vs. Auburn in the showdown for national glory. I had been pushing the crew to get some miles in, but today was the day I wanted to do nothing and try to find the game. There was a hostel nearby and so I went to go investigate the TV and internet situation there. DO NOT GO TO COYOTE CAL’S. That might be the introduction to our movie after the way we were treated. The woman who opened the doors to us was extremely unfriendly. A cup of coffee was $5 and internet was $10. She spoke perfect English so her rudeness was not a language thing. She just realized that I had little to no money to spend and so gave me a very, very cold shoulder. I returned to the campsite disheartened and ready to ride and miss the game. But the beauty of a bike tour is that when you bust a tube, all of a sudden you have a strap.
The hostel was kind of enough to let us poop in their toilets instead of unprotected behind the abalone plant. Davin was the last to empty his bowels and so went to the hostel but took a wrong turn and dropped the kids off at the wrong pool. Fortunately this pool was olympic-sized with diving boards and a triple platform and a lifeguard on duty named Susana. Directly behind the hostel, Susana runs a cabana resort. She was a full-figured woman whose hospitality was as big as her. Her grandmother was born in the house she inhabited and she knows nothing else. She opened one of her cabanas for us and let us stay a night for free. I tried to explain my plight of watching the Ducks game and to my delight she knew the password for the internet at the hostel, which she also was not a fan of. In the last year they had killed some of her pigeons and one of her dogs. All of us pulled out our respective internet fetchers and Susana relished in our thievery.
I swapped my tires in the morning and prepared for the unknown conditions of the road south. As we exited through a poorer neighborhood a crowd of twenty frothing dogs surrounded us and berated us with their bone-shivering barks. Just when we felt their breaths on our heels a chubby kid dressed fully in a magenta sweatsuit and snacking on candy told us to hit the dogs when they got close. With our new-found permission to beat animals we sternly shouted back at the dogs and kept them at bay. In moments we were alone with only the sounds of the ocean swishing at us. After about 8 kilometers, Davin ran into some disc-brake trouble, but it was at the most beautiful location. We parked our bikes on a low, grassy cliff that stepped over a sandy beach inlet. Waves rolled over a giant rock that more than likely allowed the beach to exist. I suggested we set-up camp surrounded by such magnificence and allow Davin to repair his bike in peace. Acey and I pulled out my fishing gear to try and catch dinner while the tide came in and crashed at our ankles on the cliff. After the first toss the line broke and stealing from the sea became unfeasible, but we did get to have our first fire. What a place, what a place.
Confused cattle paused their grazing the next day and stared at us as we pedalled on the dirt road. Very quickly rocks started popping out on the ground and whoop-de-doos and switchbacks halted regular car traffic and left us to conquer its technical slopes. We were unknowingly and very fortunately on the Baja 1000. Our low gears attacked massive puddles and sprayed brown water onto the cacti beside. Absolutely the most fun riding. Sand, boulders, cracks, gravel – you name it, the road had it. Towards the end of the day the road was a still, sandy trench through trees and bushes. I felt like a kid playing capture the flag on my bike.
That was the first stretch where I ran out of water. Fortunately it was only on the last day. After that, it was back to the highway, back to sharing the road with trucks and campers. We knew that up ahead was a stretch of dry desert where there are no stores and no chances to replenish our supplies so we loaded up. I decided to buy my first bottle of tequila and tried to explain to the clerk that I wanted the cheapest deal, which was much harder to figure than you would think. In the end it didn’t even matter. I had bought so much food that I couldn’t fit my bottle inside my panniers and so tied it down with the elastic cords on the top of them. Well, we rode through the dark to find a campsite and I couldn’t see a giant pothole and I bounced over it and launched the bottle through the air. I heard a pop followed by a tinkling sound and looked back to the bottle smashed on the asphalt. All of you that are so far from me, I unintentionally poured one out for you. It was a sorrowful evening as the next the thing that graced us was a sandy washboard road that was nearly impossible to ride. It was so difficult, laughing was all I could do. At the end of the road was a bar filled with gringo’s watching a Spurs vs. Mavericks game. We joked with each other saying we should go inside and try to get them to buy drinks for us. A security guard approached us and set we could camp in the sandy parking lot if only for a night. Just as we turned to set-up a round and smiling man in a sweater smelling of breath mints shuffled to ask us about our trip. He was amazed and invited us into the bar for he was the manager and he very much wanted to buy us a drink. Geraldo comes from a long line of hosts that believes that the root of the word restaurant is “to restore,” and restore did he. First he gave us margaritas and we chatted about Mexico, bikes and his year-old son with the long fingers who he calls “Little Freddy” and presented a picture of him in a red and brown striped sweater. I lamented to Geraldo that I was very thankful for the margarita because my bottle had just broken. He ducked away and came back with a whole bottle in his hand. “For jyou,” he said. Molino Viejo was the tequila, distilled by Geraldo’s own father. Music swirled in our brains with the alcohol from another round of beer. After saying goodnight to our new friend we floated to our tents drunk and without wanting dinner.
And it didn’t end there. Before we left, Geraldo made us a breakfast of eggs, ham and pancakes with coffee, orange juice and ice water to wash it down. In turns we ate and took warm showers and felt completely restored. But the feeling was short-lived. It was back to the sand and within 10 minutes the sand was so deep and our spirits so weakened with each slip that we abandoned the pedals and sloughed our bikes with much difficulty.
We finally got out and onto the 1 just when the sun was hottest. The sun was so wicked and tormenting I welcomed the exhaust of a passing van or oncoming semi because the cool breeze of their trailing drag was worth more. Our water supplies dwindled as we battled the noon-time heat. We had to adopt a strategy of waking early and getting a good chunk in to take a long break during the hottest hours of the day, 12-3. The scenery didn’t change much. The desert can get to you after a while. It would be like living on Mars. For the first couple of days it would be mesmerizing and the fireworks of the stars at night could make you lose your mind in them they’re so clear, but soon you would find there just isn’t much to do and its hard to live. Until we came upon a magical land just outside of Catavina. Huge granite boulders squatted for miles flaking their stone skin in the sun and wind. Massive cactus grew like fungus at their feet. Julie and Davin are big rock climbers so we spent two days just running around and climbing.
If you haven’t been checking the SPOT page (which is on the top right – “Where Am I?” link) I am in the middle of Baja. Still have about a month left here until we cross with a ferry to mainland. I will hopefully get another post out today and catch you all up to date.