Ciudad Constitucion to San Evaristo

So we’re all freshened up, fed, rested, and ready to hit the road. We roll out of town Boxing Day morning, going from main boulevard to side street to dirt road.

The Trail of Trash

I thought Leigh had mentioned something about the route going past the local dump. I had imagined the road skirting a land fill area. Instead we rode right through it, piles of smouldering trash lining the way. It was nothing short of apocolyptic. Every sense was affected, and not in a good way. 

All in the first hour.

By noon the heat was in the mid-thirties. We were climbing gradually for most of the day, nothing crazy and a lot of it was our favorite kind of terrain: wall to wall washboard.

Sandy Washboard

The one thing that made it all worth while was that we were headed back to the Sea of Cortez.

I think I might have been a mermaid in another life. 

We camped in el centro of Misión San Luis Gonzagas.

Misión San Luis Gonzagas

This church was abandoned long ago and is barely holding it together although some of the locals – direct descendants of those who helped build it – have reoccupied various areas. An interesting effect. 

After a morning coffee – nothing happens before coffee – and a round of my soon-to-be-not-so-famous breakfast burritos, we broke camp.

Breakfast Burrito

 The route now took us through the Sierra de la Giganta. We were surrounded on all sides by monstrous towers of solid rock. Naturally, the topography became much less forgiving. The flatter sections were fewer and often soft sand but most of the day was spent climbing or descending our way along severely rutted roads strewn with small, sharp boulders. Oh

Finding some cold water on a very hot day

, and today was hotter than yesterday. Just sayin’.

There were a few small gatherings of homes, not quite villages or even hamlets but enough to warrant a name on a sign. We stopped at most of them to ask about food and water.

More camping in the desert 🏝️

Late in the day, the answer was finally, “Si, para allá.” And they had cold beer. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere. We loaded up and rode a little further to spend another amazing night sleeping in…you guessed it…the desert.

Now, with only thrity-seven measely kilometres to go, we were thinking about Coke, chips & salsa, and a swim. But those thirty-seven measely kilometres would hurt.

Riding the real deal in the Baja

Today’s ride was one of the toughest of the entire trip. We were forced to pay attention to every passing detail because if something went wrong it would go really wrong. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful out there and we are more prepared than most for remote backcountry riding but a rip in the tire wall is a major repair that could lead to an unanticipated extra night and water was scarce. Who needs that kind of stress? We took a lot of breaks and ended up walking the bikes often. Too sketchy to ride. Or too steep. Or both. Safety first, people.

We finally got past the last range of hills to have the beautiful Sea of Cortez appear before our very eyes.

The fabulous Sea of Cortez

The thirteen kilometres of descent into the coastal town of San Evaristo should have been a celebratory event. It was a white knuckler all the way down. I had to cool off our brakes with precious water more than once. My rear brakes wore out. Some of the pitches were so steep my front brakes couldn´t hold the bike from accelerating. More walking.

Leigh and I talked about the past three days over dinner on the beach; the ways we had been challenged, the contrast between how utterly tough the riding was and the constant panorama of majestic scenery, and how great it felt to have conquered that route.

Next stop: La Paz 

Loreto to Ciudad Constitucion

There are two questions we get asked all the time: 

  1. How many miles a day do we ride?
  2. How heavy are the bikes? 

The answer to #1 is more a matter of time than distance. We like to be setting up camp (or getting the keys to the hotel room, let’s be honest) by 3:00pm. Even then, we lose the sun around 5:00-ish, sooner if we’re behind some mountains.

Climbing out of Loreto

This is a relatively small window to get the tent set up, and dinner made, ate, and cleaned up. We wind down with a bit of Netflix and call it a day.

Question number two is one we consciously avoided answering. It’s not like we are going to be pleasantly surprised by how little a fully loaded mountain bike is going to weigh.

The ride up to San Javier Mission was a solid climb from Loreto. It didn’t take long for me to start ‘The Postman’ (riding side to side up a steep climb to soften the pitch) in my granny gear.

But there is one thing that is almost always a given when climbing: the view from the top is going to be spectacular. At one point we stopped to look back down the valley on Loreto. Realizing how far we could see because of how far we had climbed was like getting a pat on the back.

Then we started to see palm trees.

Palm trees = water

Cactus grows just fine in the harshest of conditions but palm trees need water. We don’t expect to find water in the desert, not until the rainy season of August and September. But there they were, big beautiful palms waving luscious green branches in the breeze. Then we started crossing streams and that was fun. With feet up in the air to keep the shoes dry we drove right through the water which was only a few inches deep to begin with.

Welcome to San Javier

By 3:00pm as planned, we were rolling into San Javier. I hope you can appreciate the necessity of what I did next: “Dos cervezas por favor.” Oh, yeah. Sometimes a Coke just won’t cut it. The first one barely saw the light of day. The second one and I were good friends for a short while.

That night we camped right next to the mission (for free – love that) with another cyclist on the first day of her first bikepacking trip. Feliz viajes, Selena.

Hola Selene

Even in the smallest of towns there will be music, dogs, and roosters competing for your attention at all hours. Still the sleep was decent. Next day we toured the mission and visited what is claimed to be the original olive tree of North America, brought over by Spaniards over 350 years ago. It looks that old. 

Ciudad Constitucion was still a few days away as we were trying to keep the daily riding times reasonable. The plan was to find a spot to camp near this abundance of water. We spent the day riding through stream after river after overflow, even stopping for a swim at one point. When it came time to settle for the day we did find water but it was not flowing so we didn’t trust it for bathing.

Camping by the river

The next day we found pavement again which improves the ride quality but inevitably adds the element of traffic. It’s never crazy busy like it is back home but vehicle maintenance seems to be less of a priority here. especially around the muffler department. 

Camping close to the highway requires cerveza

After a quick refuel in Ciudad Insurgentes we found a nice little spot in the desert for the night. We were fifteen kilometres away from our ‘refresh destination’ but that was another hour on the highway and we did not have a reservation in Ciudad Constitucion. Anyway, you know by now that we prefer wild camping in the desert and this spot did not disappoint.

The Baja is known for a few things: Fish tacos, bad water, dune buggies, and roasted chicken. We had experienced the first three in one form or another. Now it was time for the big feed.

Roasted Chicken and ribs.

After showering up and making ourselves once again presentable to the public, we followed the smell that would lead us to the source, like horses to the hay bale. A massive pile of charred chicken and pork ribs was placed unceremoniously in the middle of the table along with the obligitory fixings. It was… filthy, in a good way, but we felt rather… carnivorous afterward.

Our fellow cyclotouring friends were gathering in La Paz for Christmas and although we had intended to meet up with them it was obvious we were not going to make it, even if we took the highway. This turned out to be a decision in our favour as the route we ended up taking was through some of the best parts of the Baja.

Loreto

Loreto is one of the towns in Mexico that proudly carries the  designation of Pueblo Magico. Coming from a week in Mulegé and having camped on the beach along the way to get here, we had high expectations.

The Central Plaza of Loreto

From the highway, we rode right into the central plaza of Loreto and were instantly taken. A town big enough to have everything we needed and small enough to keep that fun, neighbourhoody feeling. Our smiles may have been somewhat influenced by the fact that we were about to have a shower and eat some fresh vegetables but our experience in Loreto was truly unique to say the least. The larger-than-life size Christmas decorations also helped sway the mood.

The central plaza has a cycling-themed coffee shop – win, and a brew pub – win. Our campsite was a block away – win, with on-site laundry and wifi. You get the picture.

Beautiful coffee in the Plaza

As we move south along the Sea of Cortez, we now find ourselves running into other campers (mainly Canadians) that we camped with previously, which is fun. Our fellow cyclotouring friends have taken a different route but we are in contact through Whatsapp and have planned a grand rendez-vous in La Paz for New Years Eve.

The brew pub also serves pizza so that was a no-brainer. Shortly after ordering a small feast this local artisit came around to play a song or two.

Great talent at the brew pub

He’s really good (check out the end of the previous video) and we ended up sharing our enthusiasm with the folks at the next table… who eventually invited us to join them at their vacation home in Nopoló, about ten kms away.

So we went, and from there we are very happy to have made some very good friends. Marco & Luny put us up while Pablo & Laura had us over for a superb dinner.

Pig Boil

Next day we all headed to San Nicolás, a tiny fishing village about an hour north of Nopolo, for a pig roast – more like a pig boil, really. This was as authentic as it gets for cultural immersion. The local community of about one hundred people (and two hundred donkeys) got together for the annual Christmas gathering and we gringos joined in. Pause here and take a look at the video if you haven’t already. They/we ate every bit of that pig. Enough said.

Marco & Luny had us stay another night and made café olé (coffee with cinnamon) and quesadillas with salsa verde for breakfast.

Quesadillas and Cafe Ole

We went from camping in the desert eating my one-pot-wonders to a room in a beautiful home with home-made Mexican food. Did not see that coming.

Back in Loreto we finally did a tour of the town, biked along the waterfront, and tried some Eloté, corn with a whole lot of nothing healthy.

Elote – corn with mayo, butter and spices

From there we are heading back into the mountains to check Misión San Javier and beyond before ending up in La Paz.

Mulegé to Loreto

Mulege is a town we shall see more of on our next trip and believe me, there will be a next trip, only next time the bikes will be attached to the back of our van. Oh yeah, baby, it’s happening. There is no better way to explore the land than by bike but our days of going a week without a shower are numbered.

The coast of the Bahia de Concepcion is dotted with little beaches that are accessible right off the highway.

Our first glimpse of the Bahia de Concepcion

They are typically pretty raw in terms of services – no running water, no flush toilets, no electricity but a local will still come around to collect something in the vicinity of 100 pesos per person per night. Granted they will take away the garbage and can deliver water or firewood for a small fee. They will also arrange most any type of activity or special request us gringos can think up. All in all a fair trade. 

The first stop on our beach hopping extravaganza was to Playa Punta Piedrita where I got an up-close look at how horribly wrong the sport of kiting can go.

Our Palapa on Playa Punta Piedrita

On our second day, I was helping this guy with his kite. Up it went, sort of. Then it spun, dove, swooped back up, and yanked him forward raking him across the shoreline that was strewn with rocks and shells. He managed to get away with some ugly lacerations to his forearms (blood everywhere) and some bruised ribs. I’ll take a solid pass on kiting.

The beaches are also serviced by locals selling food, blankets, and other Mexicana.

The local banana bread and chili rellenos guy

We came to rely on a daily morning delivery of chilies rellenos, tamales or empenadas. It’s true, I make a mean bowl of oatmeal but we can’t do that every single day. 

Playa La Escondida was far enough from the highway to be the peaceful little sanctuary we were hoping for. And it was lined with campers from Canada. Everybody seemed to know each other – most were regulars down for the winter.

Dave & Theresa – Playa La Escondida

We met Dave and Theresa before we had the tent set up. Dave made us pour-over coffee every morning. He is a god among men. We ended up there for five days, not only because of the community pot luck event on day four but it was a factor.

So, between Mulege and Escondida, we were on the road for two out of ten days. Lazy bums. We did finally set off for Loreto, another gem that Will, our virtual Baja guide said we would enjoy.

My near-miss into the canyon

The ride there was fairly uneventful except for the one part where a sudden cross wind nearly sent me down an embankment. We spent another blissful night camping in the desert at the halfway point, just us, the cactii, my amazing burritos and some Netflix!

Several places in this country have been designated as ‘Magical’ places. We’re not sure what qualifies as a magical town but Loreto has achieved this benchmark.

The Central Plaza of Loreto

We loved it from Go. The San Fransisco Javier mission is part of the central plaza that was done right up for Christmas. The RV park we chose was a block away from the plaza and also full of Canadians, some we had met in the previous weeks of beach hopping. Dinner at the brew pub (also in the plaza) was thoroughly enjoyed. A local musician stopped by to play a few songs. I was most impressed – he’s in the video above.

Marco, & Luny, Pablo & Laura from Nopolo

Two local couples sitting close to us caught our attention, agreed that this young artist was quite talented and then invited us to their home in nearby Nopolo. We were taken aback by this generous offer from people we had known for all of ten minutes but the offer was sincere so we agreed.

What happened next was to become one of the best memories of our trip.

San Ignacio to Mulegé

Our stay in San Ignacio was very authentic in the sense that there were next to no other tourists there.

San Ignacio Plaza sans tourists

I think we were camping with the rest of them at Casa del Cyclista. We met Donald from Québec who decided heˋd had enough of pushing his rig through the sand of the Baja Divide (itˋs not for everyone) and was taking to the road like us. We also met Jerson, a chatty Mainland Mexican exploring his own country by bicycle and Instagraming his journey on the fly with only a phone and a drone – impressive. We were quite the mix of travelers crossing paths in the middle of the Baja.

Make no mistake, weˋre certainly not finished with the Baja Divide mountain bike route. These unpaved trails crisscrossing the peninsula are definitely challenging and the potential for a worst-case-scenario gets real pretty quick with zero water resources for many miles but the extra caution required is what gives riding through this barren landscape such appeal: no other traffic to contend with (maybe the odd donkey), 360 degrees of scenery, the only sound being that of the tires managing the raw dirt, and a bathroom is always near, although somewhat more labour-intensive (sparing the details).

Leaving our desert campsite

The elevation changes arenˋt too bad and thereˋs the whole camping in the desert thing that we absolutely love. But riding an unmaintained trail of rocks and sand and goatheads lined on both sides with very thorny bushes makes for a long day. So we balance our riding between the offroad routes and pavement.

The highway leading to Santa Rosalia could not have been a more contrasting experience to off-road riding. In the desert we are constantly evaluating the terrain infront of us, glancing up here and there to take in the ever-changing landscape. On the road we ride a seemingly straight line for hours, easily excited by an upcoming bend. 

 Miles of straight highway and not much to look at

We can see for miles in every direction while practising Spanish with the Pimsleur app or fidgeting with the GoPro. But ride the highway we did, stopping at small tiendas for food and water, finally heading into the desert to find somewhere to camp just before entering the town.

Santa Rosalia is as much an industrial town as anything although we did find the most awesome cafe, Mas Café, and had a bit of a feast on some of the best food we have yet to find in any café – anywhere. We’ll exlpore this little town further next time we come down as we know for certain there will be a next time. For now we had to get back in the saddle to find another camping spot. 

The map gave us the impression it was fairly easy to get to the site we had chosen but we ended up bushwacking our way through some dense foliage to a flat spot near the shore of the Sea of Cortez.

We managed a quick swim before dinner and some Netflix.

If you have ever been to the Baja you have heard about Mulegé. Of all of the towns we have seen, this one is by far the best. Itˋs small enough to be personable and big enough to be enjoyable, amenities-wise. It has its own brewery, say no more.
Entering Mulegé

We slowed down here, partly due to the rain but we also wanted to enjoy a mini vacay and, seeing as a proper campsite in town with power, decent showers, flush toilets and an awesome restaurant was $14 per night, we came to a complete stop for five days.

Mulegé lived up to the hype – thanks Will from Moab on making sure we included it in our travels. We’ve met some great people during these past five months. This trip gets better and better. I can’t wait to tell you about Loreto.