Riding the Copper Canyon and the Baja of California - Part III
by Tim Zierman
DAY 5, THE FERRY RIDE FROM TOPOLOBAMPO TO LA PAZ. The ferry was huge. We started loading at about 9pm and it took nearly three hours to complete the job. There were about 50, yeah 50, tractor trailer rigs, perhaps a hundred cars, two motorcycles and ten ATV's. They loaded us between the cars and the trucks. While waiting to board, we made an acquaintance with the man with the ATV's. He was transporting them to La Paz and then to Los Cabos where he had an ATV tour business. We learned that he charged about $50 for a four hour guided ATV tour which seemed quite reasonable. Making his acquaintance would come in handy later. The ship started moving at about midnight. We sat in the bar all night and Pat got down on the floor and slept for a bit. I tried, but the floor was too hard to be comfortable. The ship was very crowded because it was a Friday night and the start of the two week Easter school break and lots of Mexicans were heading for the beaches of Baja. We arrived at the La Paz terminal about 6am. The off-loading went relatively quickly but once off the ship, there was a military checkpoint and all the cars and trucks were being inspected. I thought this is going to take all morning. Our new friend with the ATVs was talking to one of the soldiers and then the soldier came over to us and, after checking our driver's license, he said to follow our friend on the ATV. We zoomed past all the waiting vehicles! It pays to have friends with influence. We stopped in downtown La Paz for coffee and pan dulce. There we sat next to an attractive young woman from Germany. Pat struck up a conversation and we learned that she was traveling alone and had been in La Paz for about two weeks. She was a college student, probably about 20 years old. It's hard for me to imagine a student from the U.S. traveling alone in Mexico as this young woman was. Europeans are much more adventuresome travelers, I think.
DAY 5 (PART 2) LA PAZ TO LORETO. We gassed up before leaving La Paz and stayed on the pavement all the way to Loreto. We were tired and needed a break from the dirt. Shortly after passing through Ciudad Constitution my bike started to sputter and I had to go on reserve. I thought this can't be since we'd only come about 130 miles since we gassed up. I learned later when doing some maintenance that our air filters were so dirty that our bikes were running extremely rich. We both had spare filters that were pre-oiled and ready to install so it wasn't a problem, except for excessive fuel consumption for a couple hundred miles. When we arrived at Loreto we headed for the Hotel Oasis which is at the south end of the malecon. We had planned to stay in Loreto for a couple of nights so we could kick back and relax for a day but it turns out that the Oasis was booked full except for the one night of our arrival. Our timing was bad because of Easter break so we took the one night. The desk clerk checked with other hotels and it was the same story, all booked up. Incidentally the rate for the one night was $100. Which was way too much for the room we got. This is the first example of Baja banditos who don't use guns to rob you but get the job done nevertheless. Baja has been spoiled by rich gringos from Alta California! I must say however, that the beer was cold, the chips and guacamole were excellent and we had a great fish dinner that was very reasonably priced. The same can be said for the breakfast the next morning.
DAY 6, LORETO TO SAN IGNACIO. We left Loreto early on Day 6 (Sunday). Loreto is on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula and our plan was to ride dirt to the Comandus and then on to La Purisma and San Juanico on the Pacific side and then follow the coast for awhile and eventually head east to San Ignacio (not to be confused with the San Ignacio on day 4). We traveled west on a main dirt road towards San Javier and watched for a sign to Comandu. The sign was missing so we wound up in San Javier and had to back track about 4 miles to the road to Comandu. We missed the turn because the sign had been removed. I thought this a bit odd but later figured it out. The road heading to the Comandus travels over a mountain pass and was in such bad shape that only 4 x 4's, ATV’s or bikes such as ours would be able to conquer it. The climb was steep in places and extremely rocky and rutted from erosion. We eventually arrived at Comandu which is nestled in a valley filled with palm trees which, of course are not native to Baja. The Spanish Padres planted them wherever they established missions in Baja. We left Comandu and headed north over another mountain pass and within a mile or two the road split. As it turns out, I chose the wrong road which added about 30 miles of fairly challenging riding to the day. It was on this route that my third flat front tire occurred. I decided it was time to completely remove the front tire for inspection to try to find the cause (it is possible to install a new tube without removing the wheel or the tire completely). We found that the tire had two cuts on the inside and that because of the sidewall flexing in the rough going the tube would get pinched in the bigger of the two cuts and eventually wear a hole in the tube. We put some tape over the cuts and made a 'boot' out of the damaged tube and installed a repaired tube inside the 'boot'.
This fix would work for a couple hundred miles or so. The time it took to do the repair, plus the wrong turn, put us behind schedule so we picked up the pace as the going got easier. When we got to La Purisma I was hoping to find gas but it was not to be. Shortly after leaving La Purisma we turned north on the dirt road to San Juanico. We hadn't gone far when around the corner came a sand rail (dune buggy) traveling at a very high rate of speed and kicking up lots of dust. Then came another and another until about five had gone by. I said to Pat that I hoped we weren't going in the opposite direction of a race! A few more miles and we encountered a half dozen sand rails parked at the side of the road. We asked the apparent leader what was going on and he told us it was a tour group and they were the last of them. Relieved, we headed on to San Juanico and gas. The road from San Juanico to San Ignacio is a miserable road and it goes on for about a 100 miles but it seems like 500. The ride was uneventful except for encountering a rancher who was out of fresh water and wanted to know if we had any to spare. Unfortunately we couldn't help him. We arrived in San Ignacio late in the afternoon with a couple hours of daylight to spare. We checked at the La Pinta hotel and they too were full! So we went to Recardo's which is commonly referred to as "Rice and Beans" and which is well known amongst bikers but is not a very nice place (especially for $60.) but again we had no choice. The beer was cold and the chips and salsa were good though. We retired early as it had been a long and arduous day.
DAY 7, SAN IGNACIO TO BAHIA DE LOS ANGELES. We traveled on Mexico Hwy 1 from San Ignacio to Vizcaino which is about 50 miles and then headed north on the dirt. This was nice dirt with flowing and bermed corners and few rocks to slow us down. We went about 10 miles out of our way to stop at San Francisquito bay for gas and a cold drink. The proprietor said we set some sort of speed record when we told him when we had left San Ignacio. He said it takes him over a day to do it in a pick up truck and we had done it in less than four hours. It was definitely fun. After back tracking about 10 miles the road once again heads north and gets a little more difficult but we arrived at Bahia De Los Angeles (bikers refer to it as 'Bay of L.A.') at about 3pm. The neat little hotel that I've stayed at before was, quess what, full. We wound up staying at what one could reasonably call a dump but here again the beer was cold and the guacamole was the best I'd ever had and Pat thought so too. I wanted to take a hot shower but only cold was available. I'm too old for such treatment. The owner came to our table when we were having some refreshments and asked how the food was. I said, 'great but it would be real nice to be able to take a hot shower'. He said laughingly, “oh, you want hot water too?" After we both laughed and joked a bit, he said he'd take care of it, which he did. For my next attempt at a shower, the water was so hot as to be dangerous. One thing I've learned about traveling in Mexico is that it's very important to maintain a sense of humor. If not, it can at times, be quite trying. In fact, I told Pat before departing on the trip that upon return to the States he would want to get off his bike and kiss the ground. Which brings me to another point; one of the benefits to traveling in Mexico is that you have a whole new appreciation of the good ol' U.S. of A.
DAY 8, BAHIA DE LOS ANGELES TO YUMA, ARIZONA. It's pavement from the Bay of L.A. out to Mexico Hwy 1 and then north to the dirt road that heads east past Coco's corner and north to San Felipe. A couple of hundred miles in all and most of it on a dirt road that some friends of mine refer to as 'El Diablo Road' (the devil's road). As I approached Puertecitos I stopped to wait for Pat. He didn't come in a reasonable amount of time, five minutes or so, so I headed back to find him. After about 7 or 8 miles there he was on the side of the road fixing a flat. I felt guilty that I hadn't noticed that he wasn't right behind me. Pat was always right there for me to help fix my flats so I felt I had let him down. He graciously allowed me to finish the job, thereby absolving some of my quilt. I thought we could get gas at Puertecitos but no such luck. The Pemex station was closed (not an uncommon situation in Baja so you soon learn to get gas wherever you can). About 40 miles south of San Felipe I went on reserve. I kept 'the needle in the hole' so to speak all the way in to San Felipe. I was able to put 18.4 liters in my 4.7 gal tank. I think if you do the math, you’ll realize that I was running on fumes. I had put about 16 or 17 more miles on my bike than Pat had due to having to back track to find him, therefore he didn't have the same problem. As I nursed the bike closer and closer to San Felipe, I had a plan B in my head which fortunately we didn't have to employ. It was about 3pm when we reached San Felipe but since we were now anxious to get back to the States we decided to press on. We were delayed slightly in our departure from San Felipe due to my rolling through a stop sign and subsequently being stopped by a local policeman. I talked fast and pleaded for mercy so he let me go. Pat said he'd never seen such effective groveling. From San Felipe it's about 150 miles to the San Luis, Sonora/ Yuma, Arizona border crossing and we had at least 4 hours of daylight. We arrived at the border crossing just as the sun was going down only to be hassled by a U.S. border agent who apparently was having a bad day and acted like a prick. I was in no mood but decided to grin and bear it in the interest of getting it over with as quickly as possible. Another 20 miles or so we were in the center of Yuma and checked in to a Howard Johnson. We went to dinner at a nearby Appleby’s and, I never thought I'd say this about Appleby’s, but it was a pleasure to eat there and enjoy some American food. After breakfast the next morning it was time to find a front tire for the final 400 mile grind to home. We went to the Suzuki shop first but they wanted to charge an outrageous amount for a front tire. We then went to the Honda shop and they had just what I wanted and at a fair price. They offered to install it but said we'd have to wait a bit. I said that if they'd inflate it for me that's all I ask and that I'd have the tire mounted on the wheel and to them in 10 minutes. Shortly thereafter with a new tire on my bike we were on our way.
DAY 9, YUMA TO TUCSON AND SIERRA VISTA. Since we didn't want to spend any more time on the freeway than was necessary, we motored along at between 85 and 90 on I-8 to Gila Bend. We gassed there because the DR's burn gas quickly at those speeds. But as you know when traveling on our interstate highways it doesn't feel right unless you're going at least 75 or 80 mph. In contrast, on some of the great two lane highways we encountered in Mexico 55 to 65 mph feels right. We headed south from Gila Bend on Arizona Hwy 85 to Ajo and then to Why and AZ 86 east. Pat and I parted company at Sandario Rd near the Ryan Field airport. He went north at that point to Tucson and I continued east to Sierra Vista. This route was further than staying on the freeway but was a more pleasant riding environment.
EPILOGUE. Total miles traveled was about 2400, excluding the ferry ride.
Friends have asked would I travel in Mexico again after the bandito experience. My answer is, absolutely. I've had my fill of Baja though, and so it will probably be some period of time, if ever, before I'd return to Baja. As far as mainland Mexico though, most definitely. Over the years, I’ve traveled thousands of miles in Mexico and this was the first time I'd been robbed. I will say though, that at my age, I'll probably not travel to such a remote and rugged area as Pat and I did on this trip again. However, some of the best paved roads in North America are within a day’s drive of the U.S. / Mexico border and I know I'll want to experience them again.
[Ed Note: Thank you Tim Zierman for the telling of your adventure in Mexico! Excellent...keep them coming!]