Jules and I had been a little nervous about heading into Mexico because while we were cycling through the US most of the people we met were incredibly negative and had warned us not to go to there. We had got to the point where we would just lie and say “Mexico? no we're not going there.. that's a crazy place”. Mexico has a very bad reputation and of course there are areas that are dangerous, particularly if you are a member of a rival drug cartel. However, we are pretty cautious and plan on avoiding the bad areas, and so far we have been absolutely astounded by this awesome country. The people are welcoming, friendly and quick to a big smile or laugh (particularly at our terrible attempts at speaking Spanish).
We were shown the generosity of the Mexicans early on, staying in a 'Casa de Ciclesta' (a free house just for bicyclists) and then in the garage of Pedro, who was working in the local park of a small desert town. We had planned on camping in the park and had been sitting around cooking and eating our picnic dinner when Russ started up some mimed conversations with Pedro, who was collecting the money at the public toilets. Russ and Pedro had a singalong on Pedro's guitar and then Pedro asked us back to stay in his garage/shed. He didn't want any money from us, he was just worried we were going to be cold in the park so he invited six random, grotty gringos back to stay with him. Hmm.. are these the Mexicans that everyone warned us about?
We had also been warned about the taffic rin Mexico but the majority of drivers are very considerate and they wait until there is enough space before passing us. The truck drivers have been particularly polite, pulling out and give us lots of room when they pass us, which is more than I can say for many of the drivers of the big RVs who come from north of the border. In fact one tourist RV driver told us he would run us off the road if we were in the way when a truck was coming! Obviously he has not discovered what that second pedal next to the accelerator is for.
Although the roads have been narrow and most have no shoulder we can always hear the trucks and cars coming from a long way off. When necessary, if we are on a blind corner or there is traffic coming the other way, we can pull off to give them room. Every time they pass the truckers give us big grins and waves and everybody yells “hola”.
Even the army convoys that we see on the road have been friendly. Posed with massive machine guns pointing out from the tops of jeeps or armoured cars, the soldiers wave and take photos of us as they pass. At one entrance to a military checkpoint Lorely somehow didn't see a giant orange witches hat in the middle of the road and plowed straight into it. The soldier in the camouflage hut on the side of the road pretty much rolled around on the floor wetting himself in mirth (well, if some gringo on a loaded bike comes riding out of the desert and straight into a traffic cone you would find it pretty funny too!).
We had entered Mexico with our cycling gang (Lorely, Russ, Aiden, Maurice and ourselves) at the much maligned town of Tijuana (tequila, sex or marijuana) but we just cycled around the outskirts of town and headed towards the coast, where we tried to get onto the toll road. Unfortunately bikes aren't allowed on the toll road and the guard at the booth (very goodnaturedly) refused to let us on, so I asked him if we could go down around the back of the toll booth and then push the bikes back up the embankment and back onto the road further along. He said this was ok for us to do, and then gave us directions on how to carry out this illegal activity. Ah I love Mexico.
We actually had to do a number of similar cross- country manoeuvres in the next few days, heading to and from the toll roads -across road embankments, through barbed wire fences, along a stone wall, up little goat trails and through a section of road closed off for roadworks. Poor old Maurice's first introduction to cycle touring was a little out of the ordinary. I had to assure him we didn't usually go cross-country as much as we had done in our first few days in Mexico!
At the beach in Tijuana we started cycling south along the main (pretty much only) highway down to the south of Baja. After a few days inland we reached the beach again, where we had to say goodbye to Maurice who was finishing up his cycle touring taster. The next day we reached the small town of El Rosario, where we had a rest day camped in the backyard of the very helpful Duffy and got our supplies for the desert.
After El Rosario, the road started climbing and the next few days were spent up in the beautiful high desert, riding alongside a variety of cactus scattered across the landscape. At one point the landscape changed to boulders tumbled across the hills with Dr Seuss-type tall cacti reaching to the sun. It was hot during the day, but cold at night in our wild camps under the expanse of stars, with only the sound of the wind and the occasional rocking Mexican circus music from cars out on the highway.
We stumbled back into civilisation at a sizeable town called Guererro Negro. Having only passed through small pueblos or little loncherias (cafes) over the last few days it was nice to have a rest day in a hotel, to shake the sand out of all the body crevices and to wash for the first time in about six days! Back to the desert tomorrow...