Karla and I were on route before Covid-19 had been detected in Mexico, but as we saw the situation develop we decided to pause our trip and go home. It feels weird to have our outdoor space reduced to a small backyard after being on the limitless open road, but we stay positive and hope you’re all safe and to see you on the road once all this passes. Stay strong and cheers!
We leave San Ignacio and after a chill ride we make it to Laguna de San Ignacio where we join a whale watching tour. On our previous segment we had seen whales spout from the coast, but seeing them dive under the tiny boat we were on was an amazing experience. Back on dry land we stop at the tiny store in town for a quick resupply, where the lady behind the counter is actively scrolling on her phone and she expresses her concern about “the new virus”. This area relies heavily on sea related activities and the main buyer is China, but because of Covid-19 all product shipping has been stopped, leaving people without part of the income they count on for the rest of the year. She’s also worried about being in a touristy spot, where most of the visitors are from abroad.
Hard packed salt flats take us to the small fishing village of El Dátil, where we speak with locals as we have breakfast; they ask us things about the route that they’ve wanted to know since cyclists started passing through but didn’t dare because of language barriers (“Is there an entrance fee? Are you racing? Why do you all have the same bikes?”), although they’re aware that “Nicolás” is our guide. Before we leave they warn us about bees on seasonal migration through the area, “If you hear them, lay flat on the ground and don’t move till they pass”. We had seen flying swarms of bees a couple of times on the route before, but they just went their way and didn’t mind us at all. Some kilometers later we reach a short steep hill; I get ahead and make it to the flat part where I stop to wait for Karla.
A strong wind is coming from the back, but it calms for a second and my stomach drops when I hear Karla yelling my name. I drop the bike and run back thinking she might have fallen, and after what feels like an eternity I finally see her: her bike is on the ground and she’s throwing fists into the air, “Bees!” she yells. Guessing that now it’s too late for us to “lay flat on the ground and don’t move”, I grab her arm and we run among a concert of buzzing. We make it to my bike where I give her my rain jacket while we both try to shoo the bees away from us with some freaky dance moves, we gotta cover her quick as she’s been stung several times already. These are particularly big bees; I hit one with my hand and I feel like she blocks and punches me back, then, the only vehicle we see all day shows up right this moment. The truck stops and we warn the family inside about the angry swarm down the road. I jump on the back to go retrieve the other bike and soon the bees are already on me again; I jump out, grab the bike and run for it. I put on the other rain jacket and we ride as fast as we can but a few of them still follow us for about 3 km more, likely helped by the tailwind. When we feel safe we stop; Karla was stung four times, two very near her right eye. After I take the stingers out, we hug and cry together. Following a Mexican saying, “Pan pa’l susto” (Bread for the scare), we eat a beer shaped lollipop that I had in my bags and then continue on (Note: it is NOT recommended to eat sugar when you have high adrenaline).
We turn east towards the mountains and ride on a very rocky track following a river that slowly gains elevation. Just before sunset we come across a ranch with a tiny “Bikepackers welcome” sign. The couple living there, Doña Maria Luisa and Don Chuy, invite us into their kitchen. Over cups of coffee and abundant goat cheese we tell them our bee story and they mention several cases when locals have had unfriendly encounters with them, mostly because they hit a branch accidently or an animal provoked them. In this case, I might have been the animal. The next morning, after I subtly rejected Maria Luisa’s several job offers, we get back on the route and ride through magnificent canyons while clouds slowly creep behind us.
A bit after noon we are reached by light rain, so on the next ranch we ask them if they have some roof where we can spend the night protected from the rain; they install us inside an RV and we spend the rest of the evening listening to their stories from the area and the life in the mountains. The next morning they bring out coffee, tortillas and a plate full of goat cheese, which I proceed to stuff my belly with. After the cheese is gone and our bikes are packed we tell them we are ready to leave, but our farewell is interrupted by “Aren’t you going to stay for breakfast?”. I ask what the meal we just had was, and they answer “Oh that was just coffee”. By this point I can tell my breath smells like goat even after brushing my teeth, but it doesn’t bother me at all. After buying from them yet another kilo of cheese, Karla and I leave Rancho San Miguel feeling like we just visited relatives.
A long and fun downhill takes us out of the Sierra and delivers us into Mulegé in the Gulf of California where activities seem as usual, bars and restaurants are packed and if it weren’t because of the information we see on the Internet we couldn’t tell something’s happening “out there”; there’s even a town fair during the weekend, with disturbing noises of rooster fights going on till dawn. Through the Baja Divide’s facebook group we meet with other riders and a party of six assembles before dawn to make the boat crossing to the segment known as Los Hornitos. Once on the other side our group is quickly reduced to four members due to different riding speeds, so it’s Karla and me plus Laura and Alex from New Mexico, who had been following our tracks for several days. As we ride on the coast a group of dolphins swims some meters away from us, and around noon we find a pretty spot where we take a half day off before heading back up to the mountains.
After leaving the coast we find ourselves climbing constantly and our days end feeling exhausted. Karla and I discover more things in common with our new friends than just our average daily distances, and we quickly become fond of each other. With an intermittent drizzle we roll into the town of San Isidro and after resupplying we get on the road again; the climbs are relentless and the drizzle turns into proper rain, but we are making progress. Then suddenly I feel as if I had stepped on fresh cement and I’m quickly unable to roll at all: after weeks of escaping from it we’ve finally been caught by the infamous Baja Divide death mud and it’s hard to even walk 100 meters before our bikes clog again, so after some pondering our soaked group decides to make it back to San Isidro. Since we find out that it might take some days for the clay to dry we decide to ride the paved road to Ciudad Constitución.
The following morning Alex tells us that Laura vomited through the night and that he’s feeling a little diarrheic; our best guess is that it was the beans they ate last night. They hitch on the back of a truck headed to Constitución, and Karla and I decide to ride back up to the mountains and continue the official route. We pass the town San Miguel de Comondú and make an early camp as Karla expresses feeling out of energy, “I’ll nap and wake up for dinner” she says, but she just goes on sleeping. During the night she develops a diarrhea and a slight fever, but we didn’t eat from our friends’ beans, so we conclude it could be the hose water we filtered in San Isidro. The fever goes away by the morning, but the illness persists so we decide to play it safe and go back to the town, where we find a local going to Constitución with enough room for us and our bikes. So-damn-lucky. On the way he tells us that water in San Isidro is not very clean and even locals get sick if they drink it after being away for a while. Once in the city we regroup with Laura and Alex, who are still in some discomfort but better. Here we find out the coronavirus situation has escalated and after seeing the news I start wondering if I should be filling my bags with toilet paper instead of food. We start considering the need to go back home, but not much can be done from here anyways so the four of us decide to ride to La Paz where more transport options are available. The morning we leave, our friends find out the USA government issued a statement encouraging all citizens to return to the country, or be prepared to stay abroad indeterminately.
We leave Constitución behind through the infamous unavoidable landfill and for two days we ride in and out of canyons, with some steep rocky sections that a non-mountain biker like me would consider “technical”; I congratulate myself out loud every time I keep pedaling against the instinct of putting my foot down. The people in the ranches along the way keep their usual kindness and eagerness to talk; it’s hard not to get too close, to see the cups they offer us as something to be careful with, to not shake their hands. After all, we are the ones coming from a city, and they are the ones living hours away from medical attention. I make a water stop and an older man comes walking down the road carrying a bunch of dry sticks. I want to conversate but also think about riding away, then it’s too late; he says “¡Buenos días!” and approaches, “do you have any medicine? I get migraines sometimes but I don’t have any pills anymore”. I give him a handful of Tempra’s and then he asks if I know something of that virus on the news. I tell him what I know about the symptoms and how to avoid getting it, then, as if forgetting what I just said, he tells me we are welcome to stay at his ranch any time and that he knows some very cool springs nearby where we could go swimming. I thank him and ride to catch up with the group.
Passing the highest point of the segment a crazy downhill brings us back to the Gulf of California at the fishing-tourist town of San Evaristo. After two very intense days we resolve to take a day off in this beautiful place but the next day, as we are resting a huge breakfast in a restaurant, the owner tells us they just received a communicate from the local government telling all businesses to stop receiving tourists, and even the local store might close. So we rush to the store which is packed with people trying to get internet and we buy everything we need for the next three days, since we don’t know if the stores on the way to La Paz will be open. We pack our bags to the maximum and ride/push our heavy ass bikes back to the hills again; so much for a day off.
The next days we pedal along the coast through beautiful geology, taking noon breaks to escape the scorching sun and camping on the beach under the Milky Way fading into the lights of La Paz, which remind us of the uncertainty that’s to come; but I allow myself to focus only on enjoying the ride, after all, it might be the last in a while. We make a water resupply at San Juan de la Costa, the town before La Paz, where everything seems to be running as usual, and then we ride the last kilometers into a city we had been looking forward to get to, but for different reasons, because now it means our trip must come to an end. While I ride on the malecón I look back at Karla and we smile at each other, then I put aside my erupting emotions of accomplishment because now it’s time to start thinking how to go back to Sonora.