Baja California - travelling in the „Hot Stove“

Discover the legendary Mexican peninsula on a R 120 G/S. The travel from the Golden State California to the Mexican peninsula Baja California is actually quite simple. A bit of paperwork, the mandatory insurance, a non committal nod of the immigration officers and we are already in a different world.

Bill and I drive on our BMWs along the American-Mexican border through Tijuana. What a cultural shock! On the right side, behind a several meters high and highly secured metal fence, lies the New World, the land of unlimited possibilities and to our left side, directly next to the street, are wrecked houses, half ruins, densely populated and narrow streets, through which the wind is blowing the garbage and we see people in worn, holey clothes.

Bill already knows that. He lives in California and he has been here several times. He leads us unerringly to the highway with direction Ensenada; the only highway section, which we will have under the studded tires for the next 14 days. In Ensenada pulsates the life. The streets are lined with numerous shops with colorful windows and they are full of people and cars. Everything is worth seeing. Everything is making noise. Loud calls and music sound between the house walls often drowned out by the roaring exhaust pipes of cruising vintage cars and smelly trucks. We have a seat in a restaurant in the middle of the action and taste some fiery tacos of the hearty Mexican cuisine and get a serenade from a street musician.

It is quite warm as we enter 30 minutes later the slopes of the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, which summits reach far above 3000 meters into the sky. The mountain range separates Bajas Pacific side from the significantly milder Gulf coast. The highway No. 3 is perfectly expanded and leads in innumerable windings, like a streamer, through the fantastic rocky landscape. And as we are rolling down, to the Gulf of California, the temperature is rising with every curve and every meter. The name California comes from the Spanish words “calida forna”. And now I understand why – it means “Hot Stove”. The wind is blowing sandy swaths across the asphalt; cacti and prickly shrubs are standing side by side.

The first view at the Mar de Cortés, the Gulf is deep-blue and lies to our feet. Two or three curves later, we look directly into the openings of unlocked sub-machine guns – one of the numerous military stations on the Baja. The uniformed soldiers work correct, most of the time friendly but resolute and investigate every corner of the passing vehicles. We are no exception. Our bags are opened and the tank bag is inspected. While they are searching for drugs, they don’t forget anything. Where are you coming from? Where are you going to? I presume that the boring service in the baking sun makes certainly curious. Bill and I give detailed information.

In the evening we arrive in San Felipe – a lively coastal town, where we spend the evening outside, drinking Mexican beer and – of course – the local Tequila. Later, we also find the way to our motel, the Hacienda Don Jesus. It is not a secret that the maps of the Baja are not always right. We also learn this the next morning. Due to the perfect asphalt road, we have to skip the planned Off-Road trip along the Gulf coast. Ok then! We fly through sand dunes and an ingenious coastal panorama with direction South. In Chelo’s Cafe, which is located somewhere on the track, we have a late breakfast. We enjoy a real Mexican breakfast with deep-black coffee, fresh juice, hot salsa with tasty tortillas, beans, eggs, bell peppers and more.

Ten kilometres later, where the map indicates a big yellow line, the real life reveals that it’s over with the smooth, straight road. 56 kilometres permanent construction site, across the landscape far away from the original track, promise fun drifting through dust and gravel, strong slaps in the chassis and sometimes wild jumps over beautiful hills. Quite unexpectedly, after driving through a valley, my GS makes a full brake. From 80 km/h to zero - we are lucky that Bill keeps a great distance, because of the dust and luckily, I did not drill in the nose. Somehow, I manage it to stay on the BMW. Yes, I have heard that the splash guard of the GS can break. But that it becomes wedged between TKC studs, inner fender and the rear frame is a new variation.

Near Chapala, a small village, that not really deserves this designation we take the Highway No.1, the large and fast North - South connection. Just one more winding and then we pass the local sign for Bahia de Los Angeles. Thanks to Bill, we immediately find a quite inviting beach hotel. It seems that we are the only guests. Nevertheless, the elderly landlady opens the kitchen only for us and presents us a delicious evening meal with freshly caught delicacies from the Pacific.

Sand, stones, dust, on the next morning everything is flying around my nose. We have left Bahia and drive through the rock and cactus desert at the foot of the volcano Santa Evita. Our destination is the mission in San Borja. In 1762, a Jesuit built this station to provide a hostel and help station for travellers. Deep, rocky, partially sandy and worn lanes are leading us through the outback. We pass huge and several metres high cacti. We stop from time to time to discover the fantastic and impressive landscape and to enjoy the absolute silence. Despite the long track, time passes in flight and we stop in the shade of the stone church at noon. Only one single family lives here at the end of civilisation. José Gerardo welcomes us with arms wide open and narrates about the mission. His wife shows us the church and finally we climb alone on the roof to enjoy the fantastic view over the cacti desert.

Countless rocks, cacti, red glowing hillsides and circling raptors later we reach Highway No.1. The gas station, of that we are so dependent, is under construction and closed for months. But Mexico wouldn't be Mexico, if there wouldn't be someone benefiting from this situation. A clever neighbour sells, with little additional cost, fuel from the canister. We have to buy it, even if it would cost twice as much. Afterwards, we drive again from the cool West to the hot Eastside. Our destination is Mulege and of course Bill knows the most inviting hotel of the city. The bikes are cooling down right next to the pool, while the first Margarita is waiting for us. It won’t be the last at this evening.
The next day, we drive many kilometres – and every single one is a dream. Whether we drive along the palm-tree and cactus-lined coastal routes along the Gulf or just across the hot inland, over the almost cool mountain ridges in the middle of the Baja or high above the even cooler Pacific coast at San Carlos, no meter is boring, the eyes are always attracted by something interesting and we look at the beautiful landscape. The constant military controls and the gigantic trucks we overtake provide additional diversity.

Via La Paz we finally arrive in Cabo San Lucas – the southernmost point of the Baja. We stay here for two days and wash off the dust of the desert in the sea, while we are enjoying the comfort of our “all inclusive“ deluxe hotel and the varied nightlife of the over 56,000 inhabitants village. What a contrast to the deserted width of the Baja.

Only our BMWs seem to dislike the rest. We both have the impression that they keep on calling us. Okay, it’s no use, in the early morning of the third day in Cabo San Lucas we get back on our R 120 G/S and leave with direction North. We follow the Highway No. 1. Somewhere in the mountains in the West of La Paz we drive behind a police car – same direction, same speed. A hand is casually waving out of the window and signals us to overtake. For the first time in my life, I am overtaking the police, in ban on overtaking, on double - solid line and faster than the speed limit – but it I am also for the very first time in the Baja.

A few kilometres behind the Ciudad Insurgentes we turn the indicator for our next Offroad section. And once again, we are driving to a mission: San Francisco Javiér de Viggé-Biaundó. Behind this fine-sounding name hides a small village, situated between rocks so incredibly beautiful and blessed with an impressive church that you think you are in the artificial scenes of an Indiana Jones movie. On the sparkling clean village square, right in the shadow of the church, we order an ice cold Pacifico to rinse the dust of at least 80 kilometres of sandy and rocky slopes down through the throat. The next 30 kilometres to Loreto are - again – a total contrast. A perfectly constructed, wide strip of asphalt meanders through an adventurous mountain land, where fantastic views are alternating with 180 degree bends. And that sometimes half of the road has just slipped into the abyss without any sign indicating - that's the Baja.

For the several days long return path to California we travel on the west-, the Pacific side of the peninsula. The continuous change between the blue sky, extreme heat and dense fog patches, which bring a comfortable chill, is quite interesting. And there remains still enough sun for the trips to the beautiful sandy beaches that made the sea in painstaking work.

Finally, we finish our adventure Baja California in the hustle and bustle of Ensenada. Once again, we eat Tacos, Quesadillas, Enchiladas and Chili until we can’t eat more and we drink ice-cold Corona, the delicious beer with a proportion of maize, tuned with lime juice and last but not least one or the other good Mezcal with not less than 40 percent of alcohol.

As we are leaving Baja California and Mexico via Tecate, Bill is talking about the things we haven’t seen yet: “So you know what to expect the next time! "


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