Baja Bound - A Bucket List Item Checked Off!
Written by our friend, and fellow motorcycle enthusiast, Rick Albertson.
The journal below is compiled from Facebook posts that are the foundation for the book, Motorcycle Journey > Cabo Journal.
9/30 San Ysidro
Drove my truck with the motorcycle to Coronado Island. Was uncomfortably anxious all day. Became angry when I wasn’t allowed to camp in my truck, even though I had a reservation at Silver Strand State Beach Campground because there are no bathrooms. Of course couldn’t get a refund for $67 fee! Instead, stayed in a cheap hotel in San Ysidro. Long night with friends in the clean, comfortable room: a loud, ancient air conditioner and a host of tiny bed bugs.
10/1 San Ysidro > Erendira
Off early to the storage unit to leave the truck. Crossed border, cleared customs by 9:00 am. Terrible poverty, smelly homeless camps immediately over the border. Less than a quarter mile later three lanes of traffic came to a stop as cars merged to outside lanes to pass a small pickup at a standstill in the center lane. As I neared the truck, I noticed a red gym shoe placed near the left rear tire of the truck, I thought like a traffic cone. Then I saw the other near the front right tire. Then I saw the dead body sprawled on the pavement - without shoes - in front of the truck. No one paid the least attention to the poorly dressed, filthy, handsome young homeless man. I, too, rode on swept away by traffic.
Beautiful ride to Ensenada. Stopped in the tourist area (serving cruise ships) for a wonderful breakfast: omelet, beans, potatoes, tortilla, and a milkshake.
Thirty-minute ride through dusty, smoggy traffic, seemingly the same the world over, to clear the town. Pretty ride through farmland to Santo Tomas and gas at 1:00 pm. The light rain became steady as I spent thirty minutes stopped for construction on the road up and over small mountains.
Erendira near the Pacific Ocean. A couple of miles outside of town the road turned to soupy, slippery, soaked red clay. I made it to within a quarter mile of my destination for the night - Coyote Cal’s - but fell over in slow motion into a mud bog. Randy, a salty expat, came by and loaded my mud covered gear into his truck. The two of us, with him wearing flip flops, slipped and slid all over unable to lift the bike. A few minutes later a truckload of teens stopped and had me up in no time.
Coyote Cal’s juts out on a peninsula breached by turbulent waters from Hurricane Rosa crashing ashore. Wonderful place and extremely friendly folks: Tomas and young woman cook, Roxanna. Covered in mud and the rain still falling, I decided to forgo camping and stay in the super nice hostel. I’m here lying alone in a room with four bunk beds and an unobstructed view of the seamless gray sea and sky.
Roxanna fixed me a delicious dinner of chicken, rice, vegetables, salad, and garlic bread. Says all have been cleaned and water is safe.
Very tired, but a very successful first day. I now feel great about this adventure. Took a few sunset photos and read for a while: “Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer.”
10/2 Erendira > El Rosario
Good rest, shower, waffle breakfast by Tomas.
After breakfast, he helped me drain bad gas I got yesterday; engine running rough. Filled with 91 octane and put on my rain gear just in case I fell again on the slippery clay road out of Coyote Cal’s. Thankfully, the road was much improved. Glad I had gear on, it was a cool ride in the morning. The bike was now running well again.
Continued ride on Hwy 1 through the fog along coast first, then clear skies for the remainder. Excellent two-lane highway with practically no traffic apart from four or five dusty stretches through a few small towns, one indistinguishable from another to my eye. Passed miles of seemingly endless vineyards and several very prosperous looking buildings. The climate there not far from the coast must be ideal. Thoughts of riding a loneliness rocket alone mile after mile seeing no other vehicles. Passed workers in fields; two walking hand in hand along the roadside. I ached for such contentment with another.
Had planned to stop for lunch at San Quintin, but the brief crossroads wasn’t very appealing. I’m slowly aligning my expectations with visual reality. Stopped at a second military checkpoint. Again, just uttered the name of the town to which I was heading and was passed right through.
Beautiful, massive forested (with strange trees) valley and a climb over a small mountain pass before reaching El Rosario. Once again not much of a town but clearly an agricultural hub. Rode through town a few times and didn’t like the look of the very shabby camping area with no shade that I had planned on. Lunch at the highly recommended Mama Espinoza’s which more than earned its rating.
Decided to stay at Mama’s hotel next door for $26. Nice to have a bed, shower, and electricity; good cell service throughout town. Before removing hot motorcycling outfit, I rode the bike a mile to a house displaying a “car wash” sign. Great hand-wash for $2.50 removing caked on mud from yesterday’s adventure.
Long drive tomorrow to Bahia de Los Angeles through what is considered some of the most scenic and interesting desert country in the world. I’ll camp on the beach of the bright blue bay for two nights. May run out of gas between distant stations. Carrying an extra 2 gallons. Anticipate clear skies, mid-70s - perfect riding weather. Quiet, restful afternoon. Read some and snacked for dinner. Pretty tired so early to bed.
10/3 El Rosario > Bahia de Los Angeles
Today felt like the first adventuresome day, crossing into the rich desert of central Baja unique to the peninsula. Though I didn’t sleep well (maybe two Coka Lights for lunch), a quick shower left me refreshed. Did a little early morning bike maintenance: lubed chain, topped off tires and oil, loaded gear.
Leaving town, I crossed the Rosario River, mostly dry yet creating bounteous fields of lush green crops, before ascending and tracing the western ridge of the Peninsular Range for 150 miles, the longest, perhaps loneliest, mountainous stretch of Hwy 1. Drove for a long time without seeing another soul. Brought to mind the vision I saw of myself repeatedly after Nancy passed away a year ago; a tiny me walking alone, navigating a large circular globe. Today a tiny me straddling a loneliness rocket. Speaking of Nancy, how she, and her lifelong love of all things Mexican, would have enjoyed this journey. I regret that we never took this trip together. My fault.
The scrub-covered hills and valleys soon became host to mile after mile of weird, fuzzy, upside down carrot-looking Cirio cactus (boojum trees). Around some bends, in the mostly excellent roadway, they were joined by groves of fatherly giant Saguaro cactus.
Perhaps 80 miles into today’s journey I entered the bizarre, amazing Catavina boulder fields. How in the world, why was the land as far as I could see in any direction absolutely covered with mounds of boulders? This stunning visual carried me into Catavina, the much smaller than expected area (not even a crossroads, certainly not a town) where I had “expected” to stop for lunch. Instead, I cruised through in sixty seconds or less, leaned into a curve, and descended into a very unexpected sight: a 75’ wide, 12” deep pool replacing the washed out roadway. Coming to a full stop, I realized I had never driven a street bike through water, and was very mistrustful of its slick road tires, not knowing what the bottom was like beneath the murky water. I BEGAN to visualize myself falling over mid-way through, but IMMEDIATELY STOPPED AND REPLACED those thoughts with a confident vision of successfully crossing the tides. Thankfully, this was the case, for which momentary pride served only to foreshadow a more difficult trial a few minutes later.
Descending another sharp, downward curve I approached a fearful sight of sloppy, slippery mud of unknown depth covering what would have been at least 50’ of a now disappeared roadway. My vision? The very similar scene into which I had taken a mud bath two days prior. Well, I had to cross it, forget about previsualizing. I did so, maintaining a steady speed in first gear, all the while trying to keep the handlebars locked on a straight path. Thankfully made it through, though was now a bit anxious about what might lie ahead.
Twenty minutes later I approached the junction of the turnoff to my destination, Bahia de Los Angeles, where I was greeted by friendly young soldiers manning a checkpoint. A cursory glance by one into a couple of my bags and a cheerful smile followed by a friendly wave of a khakis-covered arm sent me along my way. By now a warning light was blinking; I was about to run out off gas. A few minutes later I pulled over and filled up.
While doing so a young Mexican couple dressed in reflective safety greenery peddled by on luggage-laden bikes asking if I needed help. No. I waved them on. A quick snack of some heavenly English Toffee and a swig of Lemonade boosted me back into the saddle for the final 30 minutes of today’s ride. I soon was greeted by the distant sight of the absolutely most blue sea I’ve ever seen, though some greenery was lying on the road before me. I stopped to pick up the reflective safety vest that the bike riders must have dropped. A mile later they huffed and puffed their thanks while unmounted and pushing heavy bikes up a steep hill. By now I was becoming quite tired; no doubt they, too.
Rolling into Bahia de Los Angeles, I found a neat, clean, sleepy little beach town of immense beauty: white sand outlining a bay - the serene deep ink-blue Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) bisected by a chain of steep, barren islands. Lunch at La Hamacas proved to be the tastiest meal yet (“crunched” eggs — scrambled with bacon and fries) and served by a delightful motherly cook/owner and a younger waitress who was intent to serve me not only food but a heaping helping of Espanol vocabulary as well. Wonderful, but oh was I tired.
After resting a bit, I mounted up and rode the final five miles north up the coast to the popular Daggett’s Campground (popular perhaps, but I am the sole camper). A beautiful setting featuring individual shaded palapas overlooking the sea a hundred yards away. So peaceful... until my slick street tires failed me yet again as I approached my campsite and fell over in deep, soft sand. Not an issue. I unloaded the bike, set up my tent, and found a local guy to help set the bike back upright.
Exhausted, I took a sweat-drenched nap comforted by a light cool breeze and the sound of gently lapping waves come ashore. Nice.
Gusty winds sweeping down nearby western slopes have swept a few stars and a bright orange planet into a deeply darkening blue-black sky. Enough for one adventuresome day. To bed with a book, a breeze, and better sleep tonight.
10/4 Bahia de Los Angeles
Decent sleep, though warm. Realize now that I came down here a little early. Still pretty warm and humid. Guess that’s why I haven’t seen any RVs. Breakfast of instant oatmeal and Tang. Read more of the fascinating biography of pioneering art photographer, Diane Arbus. Looked around for a boat ride in the bay but unsuccessful. Again, too early in the season. Was equally unsuccessful finding any Wi-Fi. What little there is in town is not working today.
Back to the same restaurant for a great lunch of queso tacos with carne asada. Drove a bit north and discovered a beautiful hotel with an outdoor pool and a view to die for. Spoke to the very nice owner who seemed to be trading stocks online, at least he was until the Internet went out.
Returned to camp hot and sticky so decided to take a dip in the ocean, something I haven’t done post-“Jaws.” A few steps in, wonderful temperature. A quick dip under the building waves. “Ouch!” My left little toe is throbbing, bleeding from a wound, stung by a stingray.
Back to camp to treat it with advice from George, an American in his mid-70s with a lifetime of travels throughout Baja. He now spends much of the year living in a house next to the campground. In addition to telling me how to soak my toe in very hot water to leach out the venom, he seemed pleased to offer loads of unsolicited, yet excellent, advice on dating at our age - almost as if he’d been awaiting this very moment. Perhaps I was, too, unknowingly.
Sitting in the shade soaking my toe in the last few ounces of my water supply. Not sure it’s helping. Now all my toes are throbbing. I may have scalded them. Pretty hard to manage this with my little 7” cooking pot (now oval shaped after the last drop of the bike) and tiny propane burner. Heat water. Soak. Heat water. Soak. Foot cramps. Heat water. Soak. George says it takes about ninety minutes. My system probably won’t work that long. Part of the adventure. Will probably be a long time post-Stingray that I will re-enter the ocean. Ninety minutes later no pain!
Earlier I had mentioned to George my surprise at seeing so much military presence, including vehicles with manned machine gun turrets, in this remote outpost. He said there is a marine base on one end of town and a naval base on the other. Drugs? N0. According to George, there is a large scale smuggling operation in this sports fishing capital; illegal smuggling of the livers of an endangered fish (“tulapa” - maybe). Machine guns for fish livers?
Late in the afternoon rode into town to gas up and water up. Snacked on the beach watching the sunset. To bed with a book.
10/5 Bahia de Los Angeles > Santa Rosalia
Broke camp, drizzle, lukewarm shower, packed bike, and snacked. Off early for the ride to Guerrero Negro — the one place I’ve been warned about. Windy leaving the coast behind. Cool (mid-50s) inland riding once again past Cirio cactus. So strange looking - they remind of descriptions of C. S. Lewis’ imaginary world, Perelandra. (That book. “Perelandra,” portrays an incredible fight between cosmic forces of evil against good — an amazing read).
Arrived in Guererro Negro by 11:30 am and had a hamburgueza at the Halfway Inn, named appropriately as it is located next to the border between north (norte) and south (sur) Baja. Felt good and decided to drive on to Santa Rosalia back on the Sea of Cortez. Very warm and humid driving final 135 miles.
Santa Rosalia is the first real town I’ve come across. It’s an old mining center with a maze of streets and an interesting history. I’m a day ahead of schedule so will visit more tomorrow and stay an extra night. Looks like good photo opportunities. After two nights of primitive beach camping and a long (for me) 250-mile ride today, I’m wimping out and staying at the very nice ($45) El Morro Hotel that sits on a bluff overlooking the dark blue bay. Just took a nice dip in the pool with a view.
Feel like I got my legs today, more accurately my butt and back - little discomfort on the long ride. Nice dinner company at the hotel with Dale and Robbin from Ashland, OR, who are heading for Los Barrilles between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.
10/6 Santa Rosalia
Laid-back rest day in this neat old mining town hugging the Gulf of California. The town was developed by a French company in the 1880s. As such, most of the architecture is French Colonial. Of particular interest is the Santa Barbara Church, designed by A. G. Eiffel (of Tower fame).
Had a fun time this morning exploring and taking portraits of locals. All seemed to enjoy the experience. Only had two people refuse a photo.
I’ve changed my itinerary somewhat for two reasons. I’m now comfortable driving 200+ miles a day, and the return route I had planned, in which I would cover new ground instead of just backtracking, is no longer an option. A large section of the road was washed away by Hurricane Rosa.
Back on the road again tomorrow morning for a couple of long rides. Will be pretty much of the time riding along the coast. Hope to reach Cabo before another hurricane, Sergio, strikes.
10/7 Santa Rosalia > Loreto
Poor sleep last night, tired and sore riding, so changed plans and only rode 120 miles to Loreto. Drove slowly (50 mph) though was still ten mph over the speed limit. Amazing scenery much of the way following the coast, especially around Bahia Conception. For several miles, every twist in the road revealed more stunning views of natural turquoise lagoons outlined by brilliant white sand beaches occupied by a dozen or more palapas awaiting campers visiting paradise.
The scenery became greener every mile as I’ll soon cross the Tropic of Cancer and be in the tropics. Reached Mulege, a small palm tree filled town along a good size river flowing into the ocean. Very pretty but a bit of a let down from the exaggerated claims of a motorcycle mechanic in Phelan. Instead of spending an extra rest day there on the way back I think I’ll don my Robinson Crusoe outfit (thank goodness I brought it!) and ponder paradise at the point of conception.
Parked the bike in the center of town across from the Loreto Mission, the first Mission established in Baja, way back in the mid-1600s.
Wanting to find a good lunch I asked a lady walking by for a reference. She pointed out two nearby restaurants but then informed me she owned a cheese shop next door and suggested I would enjoy her homemade, fat-free cheese quesadillas. Well, Carlotta was right, simply the best I’ve ever had. She insisted I try two local varieties: one with horunga meat and the other with a black corn flour only available this time of year. Fantastic, especially with the special condiments she had made, including a raisin jam. Wonderful serendipity.
Found the Rivera Del Mar RV Park a few blocks from the plaza ($4/night). Another motorcyclist, Glen, had arrived just before me. Like me, this is Glen’s first long distance trip. He’s 51 and from Vancouver. Also, like me, he prefers to ride alone but seeks company later in the day.
I sit on the edge of town just feet from the bay, cooled by a light breeze and serenaded by a beautiful concert of hymns emanating from the mission’s bell tower. Glorious.
Coming into town earlier I saw Dale and Robin who had left Santa Rosalia a bit ahead of me. We may have dinner together. Afterward, I’m going to a coffeehouse to meet Alonso, a young graphic designer from Peru, that Carlotta introduced to me. He’s very interested in my photography background. After that, I’ll spend eight hours or so lying on the lightweight inexpensive, yet highly rated, inflatable sleeping pad I bought for this trip. Interestingly, the pad and I share bladder problems. Every time I awake to re-empty my elderly bladder the pad’s considerably younger air bladder needs to be re-inflated. Off on a long ride tomorrow heading southwest across the peninsula to San Carlos on the Pacific. Very hopeful my butt and back will cooperate.
10/8 Lareto > San Carlos
Great sleep camping last night and good energy today. My back was good, butt a bit sore. The first 15 miles riding south of Lareto is absolutely spectacular country with beautiful views of the bay to the east dotted with pretty sun-drenched islands and lush green super jagged mountains to the west. Tour companies in Lareto take tourists on trips into canyons and caves there. The photo below was taken at a roadside pullover called El Mirador (the looker). Very fitting, though the photo doesn’t do it justice.
A mile later I rode past El Juncalito, a small encampment of a dozen or so nice homes just off the sandy beach of a sheltered cove. The thought struck me that this would make a mighty fine place to winter for me and the Casita. At this point, the highway veered to the southwest and climbed over the Peninsular Range before reaching Ciudad Insurgentes and then Ciudad Constitución where I departed the highway and rode 30 miles to dead end at San Carlos and the Pacific Ocean. Pretty but not nearly as pretty as the Sea of Cortez on the east of Baja.
The wind became pretty strong as I rode directly into it with scuttling gray clouds amassing overhead — outliers of Hurricane Sergio. It was too windy to set up camp, so I rented a pretty but cheap hotel room (though overpriced at $35) at the Mar y Arena.
Hopefully, I’ll make it to Los Barrilles 70 miles northeast of Cabo tomorrow before the expected rain begins. Pretty stormy looking at sunset though winds died down.
A few words about my motorcycle: This 16-year-old rebellious teenager-acting Suzuki SV650 is a common, general purpose bike that paradoxically is known for being a good beginner’s bike but is also used extensively as a track bike. So far it has performed flawlessly. It’s low enough for me to plant both feet firmly when stopping, provides a pretty comfortable upright seated stance, and handles very well. It hasn’t missed a beat in over five million two hundred and fifty thousand engine revolutions since we began a week ago.
Yeah, it looks pretty hokey burdened with 155 lbs of gear in eight bags and a 2-gallon gas can strapped every which way onto its frame. It certainly hasn’t been mistaken for a BMW 1200 GS, Yamaha Super Tenere, or Honda Africa Twin - the bikes of choice with efficient luggage solutions for this kind of trip. I’ve gotten a few looks and have felt somewhat embarrassed by my improvised, homemade setup, Just a blur of white trash atop an overladen bright yellow bee buzzing by.
But it works great for me, and I feel like we’ve rather anthropomorphically gotten to know and appreciate one other. So much so that I need a name to call my yellow partner — maybe Suzy Q or Big Bird. Pre-trip preparations have worked well. The custom rack to carry the gas container and support the saddlebags is very functional. The loud dual-tone air horn that replaced the beep-beep horn has been invaluable. The Crampbuster throttle assist has made driving long distances much easier, keeping my hands relaxed and less shoulder tension.
10/9 San Carlos > Los Barilles
Fitful sleep, sore gut. Glad to be on my way. San Carlos is not very appealing. Gassed up on the way out of town with help from the three amigos.
Had to backtrack 30 miles east to Hwy 1, then southeast towards La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur. *A 230-mile ride, much of it through rich agricultural areas. Uneventful ride until I reached La Paz. What a mess. No road signs so I had to “let the force be with you.” The force got lost for at least forty minutes. Near the southern edge of town, now pretty sure I was back on unmarked Hwy. 1, I stopped for a bathroom break. Dale and Robbin had just pulled in. What a coincidence! They’re also headed for Los Barilles, where they rent a condo each Fall.
Driving through La Paz, I thought about the fact that I’m learning a few words of Espanol, many of which are quite similar to those in English. Like every other language, there are some words that are deceivingly difficult to translate. One of those words is “Alto,” which appears on red stop signs. Though it took a while, I have been able to come up with a loose translation based on careful observation of local drivers The word Alto means, “depending on your mood you may wish to consider slowing down, or you may simply continue through the intersection at your current pace; however, you are never to come to a complete stop.”
Talking about signs. I can’t figure out why the speed limits are so low. Today’s excellent road for instance, which bisected fields perfectly perpendicular for 50 miles, had a posted speed limit of 60 kmph (36 mph) most of the time, 80 kmph (48 mph) occasionally. I preferred traveling at 120-125 kmph. Interestingly at one point just outside La Paz, the speed limit changed from 90 to 100 to 110 kmph within a quarter of a mile. An eighth of a mile later I came to a hairpin turn that couldn’t be made at more than 40 kmph! No warning. No sign changing the speed limit. Then back to 60 kmph the rest of the way.
Uneventful, well not quite. I white-knuckled my way over a three-mile dirt/gravel/sand stretch where the highway is being rebuilt. Slipped a few times but didn’t fall. [Overshare - between my anxiety and the bumpiness I had to stop three times to water the shrubbery, pretty much in plain view excepting the clouds of dust]. Shortly afterward I stopped in the delightful small village of El Trifuno to visit the mission church and the Music Museum. This was a thriving mining center from 1850 to about 1950, hence, a lot of wealthy settlers who brought a lot of pianos and organs with them. Beautiful colors everywhere in this very well maintained town.
Camping on the beach in Los Barilles at Baja Sunrise Park. The absolute cleanest, most pristine bathrooms I’ve ever seen at a campground. Out to dinner with Dale and Robbin. Their condo, Mar y Sol, is only 0.3 miles away.
10/10 Los Barilles
Lazy morning getting up after having been lulled to sleep by waves lapping the shoreline 200’ from my tent.
Walked down the beach and went snorkeling for a few minutes with Dale in front of their rented condo complex. Clear, calm, warm water and fish galore, including many large and small colorful angelfish.
Became very warm, probably 90 with high humidity, as I walked the “low road” into town, which would take five minutes according to the owner of the campground. Twenty hot minutes later, often groping my way forward through ATV dust clouds, I reached the small town of Los Barilles. The rental of ATVs seems to be the driving force behind the local economy. Only one other person shared the hot, dusty stroll with me, separated from an exclusive resort by a border crossing inspired 12’ fence keeping the outs from the ins.
Visited the OXXO convenience store across the road from the beach campground to partake of my lunch of choice for several recent days: Coka Light and an ice cream bar. Dale and Robbin graciously invited me over for a delicious dinner of chicken and cheese enchiladas that Dale prepared. Good company with them and their friend, Bob, from WA. I’ve been gone ten days now and will reach Cabo San Lucas tomorrow. After three nights there I’ll begin the 1,100-mile trip back north, this time having a pretty good idea of what lies ahead each day.
10/11 Los Barilles > Cabo San Lucas
Packed up and left the beach behind for a few hours. It’s hard to imagine that these boulders will soon be covered by sand swept in by waves coming from a new direction. Happens this time every year.
Rode the first leg of today’s journey: 0.3 miles to a delicious French Toast breakfast at Dale and Robbin’s - so nice!! I’m hoping they stop to spend the night with me in Wrightwood on their return journey in December.
Uneventful short ride to Cabo San Lucas. Crossed the Tropic of Cancer line about an hour south of Los Barilles. Per Wikipedia: “The Tropic of Cancer is the most northerly circle of latitude on Earth at which the sun can be directly overhead. This occurs on the June solstice when the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun to its maximum extent. When this line of latitude was named in the last centuries BC, the sun was in the constellation Cancer (Latin for crab) at the June solstice, the time each year that the sun reaches its zenith at this latitude.”
I was quite anxious riding the seventy miles today. Not sure why. Slept fitfully last night. Maybe finally reaching the tip of Baja. Maybe worried about driving through the maze of slippery, sandy, speed-bump ridden, mostly unmarked streets of El Centro trying to find the Cabo Vista Hotel. Found it, but was a nightmare having to stop a dozen times or more to check my GPS. Nice small hotel; very nice, super clean room with a kitchenette. Great assortment of free breakfast foods and drinks available all day. Allowed me to park my motorcycle in a gated garage so won’t have to worry about it.
Fun time photographing at the marina. Liked the combination of late afternoon harsh sunlight and wide angle lens.
Great steak dinner at Patagonia Argentina Steak House, a short walk from the hotel. Stopped on the way back to take a few photos at a Hip Hop Dance Studio. A successful day.
10/12 Cabo San Lucas
A rest day. Back to the marina mid/morning. Took a few photos like yesterday. As I walked around the marina I was accosted repeatedly by vendors wanting me to take a tour, play golf, scuba dive, visit the arch and lovers beach. One vendor started his pitch as I walked by but then said, “Oh, you already look like you’re a Mexican.”
Afterward, I was guided on a water taxi tour by this guy aptly named, Sergio. Boat traffic in the harbor is expected to be halted this afternoon as winds from Hurricane Sergio build up large waves and strong currents. Even when we went out the normally calm Sea of Cortez was becoming choppy, and the Pacific around the point of land’s end was quite rough. Apparently walking under the famous arch is dangerous. Sergio reported that two tourists were recently swept out to sea when a large wave crashed through the arch. Thankfully they were rescued by the coast guard that constantly patrols the area (I later read on a Baja website that the two Americans drowned).
The rocks and the archway framed by a blue sky of enormous white clouds and blue to green to turquoise foaming water crashing upon the shore is quite magnificent (though very hard to capture in a photo).
I haven’t done any street photography in a long time. In Santa Rosalia, each photo was taken with permission and with the subject and I interacting and them usually looking at the camera. The photos taken at the marina in Cabo were almost all taken by stealth, without permission, interaction, or with subjects gazing at the camera.
Did I “make” photographs, simply composing a two-dimensional representation of space/time reality? Or did I “take” photographs, stealing souls or at least stopping time to capture a finite moment in a person’s life? And then there are the conscious vs. unconscious decisions that direct the process.
When asking permission I very consciously “make” a photo, carefully considering its composition and lighting, forcing my eye to evaluate each corner of the frame, all the while creating a rapport with the subject. The process of “taking” stealth photos is an almost entirely sub-conscious affair. After setting focus and exposure parameters I roam around until attracted to a certain subject (for whatever reason) and then take the photo, more often than not from the hip or chest without looking through the camera’s viewfinder. Only later, viewing the images as an audience member, not a participant, do I get a glimpse of how my sub-conscious was at work, so often amazed by an image’s unique composition and even more so by the layering of elements within the photo. These photos regularly reveal secrets of which my conscience had no knowledge: parallels, ironies, and paradoxes, discoveries, hidden details, emotions, or as I like to think—serendipitous sub-conscious reckonings. It’s getting the head out of the way, letting creative instincts free, getting in the groove... a much purer, more rewarding creative experience.
10/13 Cabo San Lucas
Walked to the marina area last night. Wow, quite a nightlife scene. Weird walking around alone. The local elementary school was in session at night.
Another rest day preparing for five days of 200+ mile rides getting back to San Diego. If needed I will spend an extra night along the way to rest. Motorcycle maintenance: cleaned/lubed chain, checked oil and tires. Spent an hour and a half writing an article proposal for Cycle World while awaiting laundry. Walked to the marina for lunch, a good old American cheeseburger!
[Aspados adjective: cross-shaped, in the shape of an x; with outstretched arms.
In the vernacular: shaved ice (snow cones).]
Felt like I’ve had a creative breakthrough in the last week. Very happy about that.
Put the bike up on its center stand and loaded up. Want to get an early start in the morning. I’m ready to leave the chaos and tourists behind and head back out to the countryside.
10/14 Cabo San Lucas > Ciudad Constitución
Anxious again through the night. Fortunately, it is Sunday morning, and the streets are largely deserted. I just needed to round one block and head in the other direction on the next street over to be on my way towards Todos Santos and La Paz beyond along Hwy. 19. The road to Todos Santos is a newish 4-lane highway hugging the Pacific coastline. A pretty drive, though it can’t compare to the incredible waters of the Sea of Cortez.
I am so glad there was little traffic through La Paz. Taking advantage of this, I didn’t attempt a second futile effort to find the pseudo-bypass and ended up riding through the city along its very attractive malecon (beachfront). La Paz is known for its art galleries, something I’d like to see someday. This day I am rigidly aligned like a compass needle following true north towards the US and so do not stop.
Riding out of town I realized I’d soon come upon the three-mile sandy gravel road upon which I must detour around ongoing highway construction. No problems this time with no stop and go required as in last time’s heavy traffic. The stretch ended in no time. I gave thanks and opened the throttle.
A straight rocket ride followed to Ciudad Constitución. Interestingly, I passed far more bicycles and horses than cars. Seems to have been two organized events. A perfect day as temperatures had cooled and the humidity took a hike. I had to stop and slip on a turtleneck to keep warm while riding fast.
Basically, an extended crossroads, this town is mostly run down and seems old, although it began in 1940. It’s located about 25 miles inland from the Pacific port of Magdalena Bay. I debated just stopping for lunch and continuing on for another 85 miles to Lareto for the night, but I was tired and sore and want to pace myself the next few days, hopefully crossing the border Thursday. Reaching the Hotel Conchita, which I had chosen and booked online based on its website and photos, I just about changed my mind. Very run down — really 1940 not 1840? (I had been spoiled by the very nice small hotel in Cabo.) At least this room, though dingy, is clean looking, the plumbing works, and there’s hot water, the A/C blows cool and quiet, and the motorcycle is stored safely away in the indoor garage.
Chanced a pizza lunch with Marilyn Monroe and then stepped into what appeared to be a dollar store to buy a snack for later.
Tried taking a nap, amidst the sound of a nearby radio and what feels like tiny dust mites coming out to play from the lumpy mattress beneath the ancient embroidered bedspread upon the squeaky bed frame. Dozed in and out of a daze but somewhat restored.
Spent the remainder of the afternoon reading more of my friend Gary Hawkins’ book, “Changing China, Changing Life,” which chronicles the vast upheaval of the country’s economy and culture in the 1990s. Reading his accounts brings back many memories from my difficult trip at that time documenting Muslim minority groups in northern and western China. Just reading Gary’s day to day descriptions re-envelopes me in the culture shock that shook me then.
Walking to lunch, I had passed a very nice looking, modern design restaurant billing itself as a coffeehouse. The glass windows were darkly tinted and silk-screen etched with an eye-catching logo. I visited that evening to eat a light dinner. It is extremely well designed inside, so impressive and so far removed from the rest of the town’s buildings. I haven’t eaten particularly well on this trip. I have little appetite and have been carefully trying to avoid intestinal issues. Tonight, however, I decided I really need to eat more vegetables. I did. I ate a carrot cake!
A little reading and hopefully a decent sleep. The day ends with anticipation of an early start and hopefully, brunch in Lareto at Carlotta’s cheese shop and then a revisit to the wonderful El Morro in Santa Rosalia for an afternoon soaking sore muscles in the pool and a very comfortable room.
10/15 Ciudad Constitución > Santa Rosalia
Staying at the large shell (Conchita) was a serious error. Impossible to go to sleep until well past midnight with the room’s one metal wall vibrating noisily in beat with the amazingly loud stereos blaring from endless cars passing by. Once soundly asleep I was jarred awake by someone blowing their car horn in the garage just below me. After trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep I gave up, with the thought that I’d just get up at this dawn hour and hit the road early. Decent idea but turns out it’s only 2:30 am. Wrote this note and now will try again to sleep. Not optimistic. A serious mistake that will make today’s ride difficult, perhaps unsafe. I’m angry with myself for staying in such a dump.
Fortunately was able to get a few hours of restless sleep, though with bizarre strange dreams. A quick shower to rinse off my new bedfellows, a change of clothes, a swig of Coka Light to wash down an imitation Hostess cupcake, and I’m off. Good, very good riddance!! So great to be on the road again... was euphoric having escaped the Conchita. Channeled my inner Peter Fonda riding easy on a straight stretch of good two-lane asphalt, though sans forward footrests, sissy bar, and ape hangers.
After transversing the peninsula once more, I was soon in foothills and crossed Mulege’s river slicing through groves of Palm trees. Couldn’t discern any evidence of Sergio’s passing a few days ago. Sixty-five miles into the ride the amazing coast of the Sea of Cortez came into view. An absolute fantastic ride between rugged green grand canyon strewn mountains and the fluid gradient of turquoise waters meeting white sand beaches, mountainous islands galore in the bay. Visually this scenery is about as pretty as anything I’ve seen.
Soon arrived in Lareto, a small town that I looked forward to visiting again. Brunched at Carlotta’s cheese shop with an interesting retired Mexican who spent much of his life in California working for plane manufacturers as a mechanical engineer. He hadn’t expected to be in Lareto. On a cruise from San Diego to Panama he became ill and was put ashore to be hospitalized in Cabo. Like me, he’s slowly advancing northward a couple of hundred miles a day, though he’s doing so by luxury bus. (Bet his butt, neck, back, and thumbs don’t get sore!).
An uneventful remaining 120-mile ride to Santa Rosalia. Along the way had pleasant memories of Nancy; what a wonderful person she was.
After having passed a dozen or more cars in no passing zones and religiously exceeding the speed limit, I realized I’m bubbling in a mental/moral stew, stirring in a little loss of my lifelong boy scoutedness along with the unruly, un-helixed, anti-authoritarian strands of DNA that are a reaction no doubt to constantly having been told what to do as a child. (How’s that for a long sentence and made up vocabulary? The joys of not having an editor!)
Arrived to a warm welcome from the receptionist at the El Morro Hotel in Santa Rosalia. It was comforting riding today knowing that this was my destination. A lot of value for just a few more dollars than the C!o!n!c!h!i!t!a!
A few laps in the pool high above the Sea, and I feel great. A quiet nap, a good meal, and a peaceful sleep will more than prepare me for tomorrow’s shorter, but not so pretty drive west back across the peninsula to unappealing Guerrero Negro. This is the town mentioned earlier that straddles the border between Baja Norte and Baja Sur. It’s an out-of-the-way desert crossroads founded in 1959 and home to the largest salt mine in the world. More importantly, at least for me, the Halfway Inn there is decent with no other hotels for many miles to the north. (I’ve given up on camping for the five long distance legs of the return trip. Such a wimp.)
Strong wind from the north has developed. Looks like it’s going to be around for a couple of days. I’ll be riding into it. Will have to go slower and use more gas. Great day today.
10/16 Santa Rosalia > San Quintin
Had planned to stay in Guerrero Negro, but after leaving early to avoid the worst of the expected wind I was there by 10:15, shivering. Was cool all day, about 45 with windchill. Ate a good breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs at the Halfway Inn. Canceled my reservation there and phoned ahead to change my reservation in San Quintin.
I knew this would make for a long day, but I’m ready to get home. Rode 375 miles. Roads were good and clear of traffic heading north. The great migration is beginning. I passed a lot of luggage-laden SUVs, campers, and a dozen or more loaded motorcycles heading south.
Southwestern-like desert most of the way through with incredible as far as the eye could see cactus forests. Stopped for a snack midway in Catavina and met a couple of serious off-roaders from the Inland Empire. I think they’re training for the enormously challenging Baja 1,000 Race. I also had to use my reserve gas on this 195 mile no gas section.
Arrived in San Quintin back on the Pacific side ten hours after leaving at dawn this morning. It's said that pain is the body’s way of talking. Well, we had a long drawn out conversation. In addition to the tales of increasing sciatica in my left leg, my neck talked on and on, just would not shut up! The difficult discussion centered on the large vertebrae at the base of my neck. Talking slowed after stopping for a brief break and 10-minute nap in El Rosario.
Staying at Hotel Jardine, highly recommended by Robbin and Dale. Wonderful, wonderful place a mile off the highway in a date palm and olive grove. A very welcome oasis.
Great restaurant, too, where I had delicious carne asada. Will save a few bites for breakfast. Incomprehensible that the Jardine costs only $5 more than the crappy Conchita. THE crappy Conchita. Very happy to be here. If I awake exhausted I’m going to stay an extra day, lounging in the beautiful gardens. Did I mention that this place is wonderful? It is wonderful! Really, it is wonderful. If I’m ok in the morning, I’ll ride the final 185 miles to Tijuana, cross the border, pick up the truck, load up, and head for Gary’s house near Poway, in north county San Diego. We’ll see.
Was just served the most wonderful cheesecake dessert. Did I say wonderful? I think I’m wonderful starved. This is helping one bite at a time.
My eyes are no longer obeying commands to remain open. Going to feel my way back to the room. Goodnight.
10/17 San Quintin > San Ysidro
A few bites of last night’s steak, a quick shower, and some maintenance. Lubed chain. Checked oil — way low, from yesterday’s long, fast ride! Added oil and took off concerned that I may have damaged the engine. This concern + knowing that I’d be riding through three cities of traffic + the hassle of crossing the border + worrying whether or not I’d complete the trip safely today was emotionally draining. I was quite anxious riding out of the hotel’s loose gravel entranceway and down the very rutted dirt road a mile back to the highway.
Made it through busy, dusty San Quintin (pronounced Quin-teen). A few miles later the excellent highway high above the coast afforded beautiful vistas below. Passed the beach camp-ground at Playa Saldamando where Nancy and I spent a few nights on one of our last good trips together. Good memories of a wonderful time, Nancy so happy to be in Mexico; one in particular of her being serenaded by a gentle, smiling old street musician.
The bike was running great so I put that worry pretty much behind me. Stopped twice to pay tolls and three times at a variety of military/police checkpoints. Soon on the outskirts of Ensenada. Had to navigate for a half hour through very busy traffic searching for Highway 1D, the scenic coastal drive to Tijuana. Very few signs and a crazy route through small streets. Looking for a potentially lucrative occupation? A government endowed sign painter could be your ticket.
The signs nearing the Tijuana-San Ysidro border crossing we’re pretty good at the outset, but the closer I got the more I had to depend on the force (will be with you) to access the correct approach lane. I had read that motorcyclists were allowed/expected to cut to the front of the line. I’d also read that U.S. Customs officials have been known to angrily detain riders improperly using the Sentries Pass lane — the lane I ended up in!
An agent stopped me and pointed past several lanes of cars indicating that I needed to be in a Ready Lane. So, I found myself duck-walking the unstable luggage-laden bike in a westerly direction. Drivers, many of whom had likely waited 1-2 hours to reach this point, were very accepting of my dilemma suddenly imposed on them. At any rate, I made it through and found myself just a few cars from the front of the line. A quick comparison of my passport photo (groomed) with my helmetless (appallingly ungroomed) reality and the young agent passed me on. An amazingly quick twenty-minute crossing. Scratch that worry.
Only one worry left — crossing the border and riding the last five miles to the storage facility where I’d left the truck - went without incident. Was successful, what a relief. Loaded the bike on the truck, changed clothes, and took a quick nap before heading to Gary’s house - a thirty-minute drive away. What a nice re-entry welcome: good conversation, a great steak dinner, and a soak in a muscle-relaxing hot tub and a very comfortable, bug-free bed. Thanks, Gary!
I did it! I made it!! I’m back in the USA!!! Probably not a big deal — the same trip is made by many, many riders each year. But this 66-year old, anxiety-ridden, non-Espanoler, bucket list-checker-offer did it, solo, on an old bike. For me quite an achievement.
About the author: Rick Albertson is a retired freelance documentary photographer living in a mountain community in Southern California. Photo assignments provided adventurous travel to remote locations in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America, as well as throughout the U.S. After his wife of 43 years recently died from dementia Rick decided he needed another adventure: a solo motorcycle trip down the Baja Peninsula from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas and back, his first undertaking of the sort. It was indeed an adventure!
Rick's photographs from this trip are also available on YouTube:
You can see more of Rick's inspiring photography at https://www.rickalbertson.com/.
Rick Alberston is a retired freelance documentary photographer. During the latter half of his career Rick photographed assignments in Asia, Africa, Central and North America for large non-profit organizations. Since retiring he has pursued creative personal projects including recent street photography in Baja Sur, Mexico, during a solo motorcycle trip the length of the peninsula. His new coffee table book, Documentary Portraits: Retrospective, has recently been released, along with Alone, a 60-page zine portfolio of images expressing his feelings of being alone since the passing of his wife, Nancy.* Rick also enjoys writing, speaking, teaching, and playing bluegrass music.