Things were looking bleak out there in the desert. The martian cactus started to resemble potential flats and stickings instead of the mystical wonders they were before. While the sun had given me a pretty sexy tan, it had also grown two blisters on my lower lip that had stopped me from enjoying hot sauce on my food. To make up for this new shift in my cuisine I tried making lentils cooked with onions and garlic sauteed with cardamom and curry on top of rice cooked with sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. It actually wasn’t too bad. Of course, I was the only one brave enough to attest to that.
In Guerrero Negro we searched for Geraldo’s uncle’s hotel, but did not receive the hospitality Geraldo literally showered on us, and since he was not there we left an hour later than we had arrived. Mountain Standard Time, baby. Another landmark completed.
The little tits over where we should camp, where to pop our tents, the speed at which we rode, the kilometers we put in all started to add up to a pretty miserable experience. Then came the day where we were 60 kilometers to San Ignacio – a town that Davin had been to when he was younger and was supposedly a lot of fun. We were motivated and happy to get to our destination so we loaded up with a heaping dose of oatmeal and headed on our way. We agreed to meet in San Ignacio so we could put our heads down and pedal. This was just a figuire of speech for most of the day which was a flat ride through the dry desert. Until the hills came. That was when the winds decided to blow and you needed to lower your head to cut wind resistance. At the first hill I slowed down quite a bit. So much in fact that a lone yellow butterfly fluttered beside me for a moment and then passed me maintaining a line that would make a drunk’s walk look elegant. When I finally crested the hill I hung my head to rest and continued battling the winds. VROOM! a buggy built for the Baja Mil zoomed past faster and closer than any other car has done before. The drivers were space age killers. They peered out on the road through reflective visors and their rigs were so decked out they looked like they had rocket launchers in the back and lasers in the front. I shouted at the driver but my cursings were immediately swallowed by another dune buggy. What had started with a perception of simple riding had quickly grown into a tormenting ride of will.
From the hills above San Ignacio the town didn’t look like anything special, just a larger clumping of homes. We had to pass through a military checkpoint where the soldiers were playing soccer. We couldn’t see very well, but we had a pretty good idea that San Ignacio was going to be magical. A single, bright green billboard simply pronounced “RICE AND BEANS first left off main street.” That billboard was the most effective billboard I have ever seen. I had never wanted a big ol’ plate of rice and beans more in my life. We didn’t go. Not enough money to spend on eating out. But as soon as we took that first left off the main street that brings you into the main plaza we were overjoyed. Palm trees towered over the street and provided a cooling shade. The road wound along a dark river with waves that glowed orange in the draining sunlight. Political posters campaigned from orange and lemon trees while our tires squished fallen dates and rumbled over cobble stones that brought us to the grace of a magnificent, old mission.
El Mision de San Ignacio sits and looks down onto the shady town plaza. Great stone steps give visitors the feeling they are entering a sacred place. Red flowers grow between orange orchards placed on either side of the church within arms reach of the street just as the Bible preaches so no one may go hungry. Small restaurants, whale-watching businesses and markets lined across from the mission like a congregation in pews.
Although dimming, the sun shone hotly above the plaza and so we rested in the shade of trees and waited for the internet cafe to open so we could look up where to find free camping. It was taking a while so I stretched out my legs on a stone bench and took a nap.
“Hey, man. You BMX?”
A group of six kids, four with BMX bikes, crowded around my bike. “No, pero quiero BMX.” The kids just kinda looked at me funny. “Este tu bicicleta?” they asked. It took me a moment before answering “Si, uh, andar de Portland.” Some more funny looks. “No BMX?” No BMX. I gestured at the boldest kid’s bike. “Se puede?” I asked him. He nodded and leaned his bike towards me. I grabbed the handlebars and took off into the cool slate plaza quickly. I grabbed the brakes and prepared for a sweet skid just as the rear wheel slid out from underneath me. For a brief moment I slid on the smooth surface before stopping with an oozing raspberry on my knee. All of patrons and staff of the streetside businesses stood and gawked at me as the kids proffered their loudest laughter. Putting my best showman foot forward I swaggered to the fallen bike and rode over to the kids with a pathetic attempt at a wheelie. Two inches. Oh yeah, baby.
The kids put on a good show of wheelies, skid spins and one of them even jumped off a three-foot stage. Davin pulled out the camera and started filming their sweet feats. “Se puede?” the bold kid asked me and pointed at Sir Norte. “Of course!” I cried and started closing all of my panniers and removing my helmet which hung from them. The kid climbed on but couldn’t sit on the seat. While standing he pedalled into the middle of the plaza. Right away his awkward stance caused him to teeter and nearly fall. The next kid got on and had much more grace. He cranked away at those pedals but couldn’t figure out how to stop and so circled the plaza five times before slowing enough to put his foot down. Another kid took a shot but I took hold of the handlebars after he got two pedals. There was no way he was going to handle it. Then the wheelie-popping, stage-jumping hooligan wanted a go. He was the shortest of the crew and had to rest Sir Norte against the benches so he could pull himself on. But once he was up there it was like there were jets on the back of the bike. He was gone. I sprinted behind to keep up with him. I chased him not so much to catch him from falling, but more because I was afraid of him taking off with my bike. He barrelled forward like a wayward bowling ball bouncing off the bumpers until…SMASH! He ran one of the panniers straight into a light pole, jamming the handlebars and throwing him onto the ground. Every kid exploded and the boy stood up and puffed his chest and shoved his friends embarassedly. I asked the kids how to say bike gang. “Bici Equipo,” which is actually translated to Bike Team. Not as cool, but that’s alright. They were the most badass bike team I’ve ever encountered.
After a moment of checking the internet I returned to my bike to find a father and son, decked out in spandex and straddling hardtail mountain bikes, checking out our bikes. I never miss out on a chance to geek out and started talking to them about their bikes, our bikes, and mountain biking. Negro, the father, told me that he has biked every trail in Baja and that the trails around San Ignacio are by far the best. He offered to show me around the next day and I heartily accepted his invitation. A private excursion with a local rider? I am in! He pulled out his cellphone and showed me a picture of all the trophies he has won. This isn’t going to be some nothing ride either. He told me he didn’t think my bike could handle but I assured him that if wheels can ride it, Sir Norte can beast it.
We left for our campsite which was a gorgeous scene beneath date palms that we gathered from the ground and rinsed them in the arroyo that flowed at the edge of the site. They were very dry, but very sweet and you don’t argue with free food. In the morning black cormorants cried at each other and fought over food with a sound that resembled joy more than anger. I spent the day snapping photos and looking for a place to do my laundry. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know where it was, and when they did start to give me instructions I couldn’t understand them. This was a first attempt in trying to communicate with Mexicans without the aid of Davin’s Spanish fluency. Finally, a barber I asked for help thought it would be a good idea to put me in the stead of two high school girls who happened to be walking down the street. Dulce and Maria I think their names were. Dulce was a very plain girl, wearing a simple purple shirt and jeans. I thought she was teasing me by telling me her name is Dulce, which translates to Candy, forgetting that in the States that name exists too. Maria was completely washed with powder and blush. I couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t an inch of her natural skin exposed. She had on a very showy get-up with a flashy black vest, red and slightly opened shirt and jeans. I say this only because it was laundry day, so I was wearing my only clean clothes, which happen to be a fancyish white button-up and khakis. I tried speaking with the girls but they seemed to have no interest in speaking with a gringo. They stopped at a market and I took the opportunity to flee. I ran down the street into the neighborhood I was told the lavanderia was. For 10 minutes I floundered, looking for my clean-clothed haven. Finally I asked a little boy for help and all was right in the world.
I returned to the campsite and had a half hour to remove the racks on my bike and replace the tires for my ride with Negro. I was tired from the frustration of translation and getting lost. I decided that I would ditch the plans of the ride (I had mentioned to Davin, who was planning on going with us, that I might do this). I went for a walk through the date palms and found a boat and two palm fronds that made excellent paddles. I asked Ace if he wanted to go fishing and upon his affirmative I bolted to the store for beers and bait. Unfortunately there weren’t any hot dogs or cheese or anything so I headed to a burrito cart and received very confused expressions when I tried to explain that the machaca burrito I wanted was for the fishes and not me.
I was happy and relaxed when I got back to the camp, letting the weight of the beer swing my arms pleasantly. And then, leaning against a tree I saw two bikes that weren’t ours. New tourers I thought before realizing that there were no racks on the front suspensions mountain bikes. As I got closer, Negro and his son came into view sitting next to some drying dates. I must have looked like an idiot in my nice shirt cradling two beers and a half-eaten burrito in my arms. “Listo?” Negro asked. Goddamn it. I apologized as profusely as I could in Spanish and Negro assured me that all was well. He even gave Ace and I some pointers on how to catch fish and better dry the dates. I was only a tiny asshole.
Once again, our fishing excursion failed. But it was okay because the group had decided to catch some bigger fish. We gave into Davin’s hopes to see the whales at San Ignacio Laguna. But the road to get out there was a treacherous 70 km of gravel that a car barely handles. We weren’t scared, we weren’t disheartened, just a bit unsteady from those empty stomach beers. Will the whales only visit us in our dreams? Will we learn what a whale’s skin feels like? Can you catch whale lice? Stay tuned, readers.