Wednesday morning Alex and I woke up at the Rodeway Inn and met up with Charlie to go over our provisions. We laid everything out on the ground and got rid of everything we didn’t need. I didn’t get rid of much; just my insulated jacket liner (I have a warmer jacket packed that will do a better job when it’s cold), my SteriPen water filter (I have iodine), and a water bottle that I thought was excessive.
We have gotten to know Charlie well. His Aussie accent is great fun and he has the same care-free mentality we all exhibit. He is an excellent rider and his Yamaha puts our Suzuki’s to shame. We plan to ride together off and on all the way to Argentina. As a 28 year-old Australian miner, he is very confident, mechanically inclined, and tough as nails.
We got a late start after the huge push from San Francisco to LA so we didn’t leave for San Diego until midafternoon. Ninety miles didn’t sound very far but it turned out to be a nightmare navigating the SoCal traffic. I quickly learned to lane split, which means riding between lanes full of moving traffic. We never made any dangerous moves at high speeds but it was still terrifying slipping between all the luxury cars with my huge panniers protruding off my frame. I calmed down when a California Highway Patrol motorcycle lane split past me doing twice my speed in the fast lane; turns out that’s what you do in California.
We finally got to San Diego in the evening to stay with Chad Jerde for a night. I haven’t seen Chad since high school so it was great to catch up and eat his awesome burrito meal. Chad has a cool apartment near the SDSU campus and seems to be enjoying his recently purchased ’87 Westfalia van.
Thursday morning we got up earlier with an ambitious plan to hit the border early afternoon. Then we proceeded to spend the next six hours shopping, picking up my registration, getting gas, and finding our bearings. It was about 3:00pm when we finally did everything that was absolutely necessary before crossing the border. Not accomplished: getting spark plugs (we have no spares…), spare tubes (we barely have enough), and getting travelers’ health insurance. Even so, we needed to meet Sarah in Ensenada so we had to make the move.
We decided to take I-5 South to the Tijuana crossing. We were finally making great time in the left lane as we came to the crossing prepared for a customs search and a bunch of passport hassles. To our surprise, all we had to do was slow down to about 10mph, hop a few speed bumps and we were in the most dangerous city in the world. They never even stopped us on our way into Tijuana.
Begin the most Mexican experience of my life. Lane splitting the previous day turned out to be essential as we entered the chaos of Tijuana traffic. Forget turn signals and courtesy, in Mexico it’s all about gunning it every chance you get and keeping up with the flow. Want to go left? Just go and screw the car bearing down behind you; just like Chicago. Basically, put yourself anywhere you want on the road, cut off everybody, never stop at intersections, and keep your engine revved high so people know you’re there. Welcome to Mexico, get with the program. Luckily, three beefy motorcycles with three loaded white guys are pretty hard to miss for the other drivers on the road and we rode around the city like pros weaving traffic.
We stopped very soon after crossing the border because we faced a serious issue. Charlie is Australian therefore he absolutely had to have passport stamp to eventually get out of Mexico. For Americans the rules are much more lax, but we still needed to purchase our tourist visas and import our bikes. Lost in Tijuana, our solution was very basic. Go back to America and try it again.
This is where the lane splitting came in. We skipped the entire border line back to the states by riding between, around, and through the most hectic traffic jam I’ve ever seen. At one point we hopped the curb, crossed fifty feet of dirt footpath, and cut off a bunch of Mexicans on our way towards the frontera (all under the advice of Mexican vendors selling trinkets in the traffic). The US Customs agent had a good laugh at our situation and explained that we needed to take a separate lane in order to get to immigration. He waved us on through with no apprehension and just like that we’re back home!
For about ten minutes. On the second try we hit the far right lane and actually found immigration. Charlie got everything straightened out and Alex and I got our tourist visas since we’ll be here longer than thirty days. Apparently we will get our passport stamps and import our bikes in La Paz, Baja before we cross into mainland Mexico. After about an hour dealing with Tijuana’s confusing and disorganized immigration, we were on the same page with the Mexican government and ready to ride down the coast to Ensenada.
With our limited Spanish skills and complete lack of directions we somehow managed to get on the right toll way to Ensenada around 5:30pm to much relief. Ensenada is sixty miles south of Tijuana on the West Coast of Baja. As a cruise ship port, it is a tourist-friendly town and a great first stop. Plus, Sarah was waiting there for us with a hotel room. We pulled in around 7:00pm exhausted but exhilarated.
Step one: chain the bikes together and put our valuable luggage inside the room. Step two: beer. Charlie, Alex, and I got to know Sarah over a case of Sol before we headed out on the town for some tacos and more drinks. Sarah is 26, a Colorado native, and a prospective grad student at University of Montana Missoula. So far she is a great fit for the group and doesn’t seem to mind our male mentality, language, or odors. After a full load of pastor tacos and passing around a few more forties of Sol we all hit the sack pretty late.
Our luxury home called the America Hotel has two beds, a bathroom, and a kitchen. It’s all there, but don’t count on much comfort. My pillow last night was actually a couch cushion with a pillow case over it; I love Mexico! The beer put me to sleep pretty quick but I woke up with some sever gut-rot around 3:00am. I put laid on my Thermarest for over an hour holding my stomach and listening to my intestines gurgle. To add to the misery, Charlie was dealing with the exact same issue at the same time and I got to hear his glorious diarrhea symphony as I tried to hold mine in. At some point I fell back asleep without exploding and have been fine since.
Today we finally got a day of relaxation. We all woke up late and got a slow start with a delicious sausage, egg, and tortilla breakfast cooked over the stove. After wandering the tourist strip and getting some espresso we decided it was time to ride. We all lightened up our bikes and immediately tore off for the nearby mountains to eat some dirt. With four dual-sport bikes at our disposal, we can conquer anything Mexico can throw at us.
We ended up deep into the far reaching neighborhoods of Ensenada and found an amazing dirt trail that lead from one side of a mountain to another. So far, all the Mexican locals we see our very excited about our bikes and happy to see us enjoying their country. From the summits we then bolted for the sea and ripped the bikes down the sandy beach in Ensenada. It was a little strange buzzing by beach going tourists on a 650cc monster but it was completely legal (actually encouraged by Tourist Information) and quite a learning experience.
I don’t have sand tires so I dropped the bike immediately when I hit the sand. With adrenaline pumping, I was able to heave the beast back upright and never let it go down again. After about a half mile of beach cruising, a Mexican armed official flagged me down and told me to head back to the city. He wasn’t angry, but apparently I had hit the motored vehicles beach border. By that time I was sick of navigating the mushy sand and ready to get back to the hotel.
I hit up Alex on the comm system and told him I was bailing for the road… bad idea. I wandered aimlessly away from the beach and immediately sank my rear tire until my frame was resting on the sand. Somehow through a lot of grunting and sweating I managed to rock the bike out of its hole and kept searching for an exit point to the road. By this time Alex was out of reach for the comms and I was completely on my own (don’t worry; it was on a sandy beach in a tourist town on a sunny day).
Finally, completely exhausted, I found a tiny opening between a barbed wire fence and a concrete barrier that led from the beach to the road. I rode right up to it hoping to squeeze through and to my dismay, my bike would not fit through with the panniers hanging off the sides (trust me, I tried damn hard to get that thing through and the bike has the scratches to prove it). Absolutely unwilling to go back to the sand, I decided to just remove a pannier and walk the bike through the narrow pathway. Twenty more minutes of wrenching and grunting I was back on the road alone in Mexico.
Surprisingly, I was not scared at all. This country is no more dangerous than parts LA if you keep a low profile and stay collected. I knew which direction my hotel was and zipped back there at a leisurely pace enjoying the freedom of the bike and the exotic sights. I got back to the hotel flustered from my beach experience but much fulfilled. I had gotten myself out of a jam alone and felt very confident.
Upon my return we all knocked back a couple beers and soaked in the setting sun. Which brings me to Zutaza Café right right now. All four of us are wired in and updating our various communication channels. Tomorrow we will hopefully get some spare motorcycle parts and take care of this health insurance situation. Until then, I have Imodium holstered in my pocket just in case today’s tacos seek revenge.
Oh yeah, I plan to figure out how to upload pictures here at some point, but until then feel free to browse Alex’s photobucket profile. He has been awesome taking great pictures of all our feats.
As well, check out Alex’s separate blog which he is scribing on ADVrider.com. ADV is a site completely devoted to overland motorcycle travel so you will see a lot of envious fans commenting on our adventure. Check out his perspective and enjoy the ADV love!