“San Ignacio to San Javier”
We left Motel Fong late in the morning. We rode a paved road, lined with tall date palms, into old town San Ignacio, running over fallen dates along the way. While taking photos of the mission in old town, we met a lady that had cycled the length of Baja California, on MEX-1, twenty years ago. She said she came back this time to see all the sites she didn’t have time to see then.
The road leaving old town was on fast, mostly downhill, pavement with a tailwind almost all the way to the Pacific Coast. We stopped at the tienda in San Zacarias for a rest break. They had bags of mini mixed Lindt dark chocolates; the first good chocolate I’ve seen in Baja. Neon wanted to split a bag, but no way was I going to split the first real chocolate I’d seen since we left the states. I walked back out to my bike, giddy with delight, and opened a little square of dark chocolate with sea salt, bit off a corner and just sat there smiling while the tiny goodness melted on my tongue.
The road turned to dirt shortly before La Laguna. We stopped for lunch under a tree, looking across the water at the mountains we had ridden near out of Vizcaino. We continued past Ejido Luis Echeverria Alvarez until we found a place to camp, a ways off the road, in some short bushes, in a low undulation in the landscape. We watched the sun set over the ocean and talked about all the cool things we’ve seen and experienced on our trip.
We woke the next morning to a colorful sunrise, and headed out into a slight headwind on the salt flats. Near lunchtime, a man stopped and asked about our ride. He delivers produce to the little towns out here and offered us some oranges, handing us three each. We immediately sat down and ate them all. Despite their yellowish orange, and a little green, peels, I think they were the best best oranges I’ve ever had. We discussed our route, deciding not to take the canyon road to Mulege since we’d already spent a week there over Thanksgiving, but instead to take the alternate that continues south along the coast to San Juanico, then back east to reconnect to the main route at San Isidro.
We made it to El Datil by mid-afternoon. We bought water and snacks at the tiny store. On our ride through town a group of boys on bicycles flocked around us, asking for stickers. Two of them were riding barefoot and another did a wheelie as he rode up beside Neon. Neon told them a little about our bikes and what we carry for our trip. I stopped to take a picture of a group of pelicans hanging out on a boat when one more boy came racing up behind me yelling “stickers”. I told him “no stickers”. He stopped and just sat there in the road, staring at me with disappointment. I said goodbye and rode on to catch up with Neon. Rap music blared from one of the houses on the edge of town.
We continued back out onto the salt flats, climbing small sand dunes, before climbing up into the mountains. Late in the day we came across a road working crew with big trucks spreading new rock dust on the road. I’d been wondering who maintains these backcountry roads. We found a place to camp deep in a wash and listened to the sound of big trucks dump and spread rock until, all at once, they stopped. I guess it’s quitting time, I remarked to Neon. We watched the sun set through the trees and toasted to another day. I watched a fuzzy white velvet ant meander through our camp in the glow of the setting sun. A few birds came and went. We settled in for the night.
The next day we rode through the tiny town of Cadejé, passing a small colorful, cemetery on the way in. A little boy ran out and started taking to Neon. The little boy said he used to go to school, but his town doesn’t have a school anymore. The closest school is in the next town and there’s no bus. As we rode on I wondered what sustained this little town. A few hours later, a truck stops, and a old hippie gets out and says “No way, bicycles! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw bicycles coming down the road.” He told us about his ranch, just a few kilometers away, all the organic produce he grows, how he rescues horses and donkeys and dogs and cats. Before leaving, he gave us each a sticker, a rainbow for Neon, and a “Go Vegan” sticker for me. Everything you can imagine seems to exist in Baja, especially in what seems like the middle of nowhere. After a few more kilometers we pulled into the town of San Juanico on Scorpion Bay. We found a hotel and then a restaurant with a second floor patio with a view of the bay.
The next day we headed out of town on pavement, for ~sixteen kilometers, before turning uphill onto a soft silty road that climbed up onto a mesa. We pushed our bikes for most of it until descending the most fun sandy steep hill ever, all the way down into a canyon with a wide valley and steep cliff walls. We pedaled across sand, and river rock, until we came to a beautiful swimming hole at the base of a cliff. The walls of the cliff were embedded with sea shells. We climbed back up, winding our way through the the hills and camped amongst the cactus.
The next day we road through La Purisima and San Isidro. The towns were small, off the beaten path, on a paved road lined with palm trees, a whole forest of palm trees. An old canal ran through the towns, supplying water from the nearby river. We climbed out of San Isidro and connected back with the main route. We pushed our bikes up steep hills, then rode fast downhills, then climbed again. The terrain changed from river oases back to desert, then to a volcanic landscape littered with dark rocks. The rocky terrain made camping difficult. We finally found a pullout on the side of the road and setup for the night.
The next day we road through San Jose Comondú, another river oasis small town, past another mission, and another old canal at the edge of town. We climbed out of the river valley, pushed our bikes up hills, rode some fun downhills, encountered more road work, and then climbed one last giant hill at the end of the day. Toward the top of the climb we met Francis, a Canadian guy with two dogs, hiking around Baja with a mono-wheel cart for carrying supplies. We found a beautiful place to camp, with a perfect sunset view, down an old road at the top of the hill.
The next morning we made our way toward San Javier Mission. Once we reached the paved road that leads to the Mission, we turned left to make a detour, all the way down to Loreto. We rode the most amazing windy road, thirty kilometers, down into Loreto, back to the Sea of Cortez, to visit a trail friend from New Mexico.
Our friend lives in Loreto part time and plays Santa Claus every year at some of the local schools. During our visit we had the privilege to visit one of the schools with him. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen kids so excited to see Santa before. When we arrived there were only a dozen or so kids; apparently because the bus that brings the children to the school had ran out of gas, but these kids had all walked. Not missing a beat, Santa offered to go pick up as many kids as he could fit in his four wheel drive sleigh. An hour later he returned with a truck full of moms and children. Photos and candy-canes proceeded. I never participated in this tradition as a child, but for these children it seemed to mean so much. I struggle to understand what that “much” is, but clearly it has deep significance and this was a day that they will cherish forever.
We spent an entire week in Loreto. It was a very different experience from anything previous in our trip. We wandered the streets, found a favorite breakfast place, not for the food, but for the conversation with a new friend (from Columbia), where I listened so intently to understand Spanish that it actually gave me a headache. We met so many other people that have travelled all over, extensively, through Central & South America (oh, the stories). I finally got to eat at the infamous “El Ray Tacos”. And in finale, Neon finally got the bike seat he had ordered three weeks previously.
Thankfully our friend (from New Mexico) let us stuff our bikes into Santa’s 4×4 sleigh, so we could have a chariot ride back up the long and windy road. He dropped us off right where we had turned to ride down into Loreto. One quick selfie and we said our goodbyes. We got our bikes all put back together and headed back on route to San Javier Mission.
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