This is the final installment from Alex Dunn’s bicycle adventures in Baja. Read more about Alex’s journey in Baja aboard a Surly Big Dummy.
it’s already been nearly two weeks since i last wrote. the days really do blend together into one long, glorious bicycle ride. once i arrived in la paz i remained there for four days, for it is a place i hold dear to my heart – almost three years ago exactly i stayed in la paz for the better part of a month, stoking the fires of an old flame. she attended spanish school, while i did my usual wandering about. this time around i stayed again in my favorite hostel, pensión california, just a couple blocks off the malecón. i had to do some re-exploring, mainly sniffing out the best food vendors in the crowded streets and eating to my heart’s content. the beauty of bicycle touring is that one can indulge in rather obscene amounts of food, with no real concern or regrets, for food is fuel and much fuel is needed. i often find myself eating upwards of five or six full meals in a day, not including the various desserts; but of course, the dessert compartment has an entirely different capacity.
after much feeding and rest, as well as swimming with whale sharks and mingling with germans and canadians, i was ready to ride again. i had been throwing around different ideas for what routes to take on my last big ride down the peninsula. i had nine days until my flight to ecuador, which left me seven days for cycling if i wanted to play it safe – reserve time to decompress and disassemble my noble steed and put it in a bike box. what i really wanted was pure solitude. not just a day or two’s glimpse, but a real confrontation. i wanted to be alone with this great peninsula and say my goodbyes to the land and water that have benevolently guided me. i had already seen the western cape from my previous journey and i was itching to ride on dirt roads, so it only made sense to head east towards cabo pulmo.
late in the afternoon i finally left la paz, after waiting around for a few hours in a bike shop for the owner to deliver me a 2.35in tube. he eventually arrived with tube in hand, but of course it was a 2in tube – smaller than I cared for. he then rummaged in the back and finally found one of ample size, yet despite his inspection i discovered several small holes in the tube already. i promptly left in mild frustration for i didn’t really need this tube, it was only for piece of mind since all three of mine were littered with patches from goat head punctures. being that la paz was the last big city i was going to encounter, and has grocery stores which carry such rarities as nuts and berries, good coffee, and so on, i squandered a few more hours of daylight purchasing enough food to last me almost a week. at long last, i said adios to the hostel and it’s dueño and i was on my way.
pedaling east on carretera 286 was a sluggish, steady ascent for about twenty miles, peaking at about one thousand feet. the sun was beginning to dim but i was not anxious, for the descent was one of the more amazing things to behold. i could see san juan de los planes twenty miles off in the distance, the road reaching down and out in a perfect straight line from myself to the small town. i easily covered this distance in less than an hour. in los planes i filled my bottles and bladders with water, fourteen liters in all, and started out on the dirt road for boca del alamo. the sun was growing heavy and tired, and so was i. half way up the climb to the ridge line of the sierra la gata, i gave in and set up camp right there on the side of the road. i hadn’t yet encountered anyone and things were becoming quite steep and treacherous, so i figured i would not be bothered. here i had a wondrous view of the setting sun over los planes and the wide valley stretching out into the sea of cortez. as i cooked dinner ants and spiders swarmed my station and the lonely song of the coyote filled the air, but i didn’t care for i had john prine, hank williams, and townes van zandt to keep me company– men who make loneliness seem alright; they make it feel appropriate, or honorable even. and so i relished in my loneliness and sleep came easy, my dreams filled with a feeling of amity.
the next day’s dirt was precarious, yet gratifying, with climbs so steep i had to dismount and sudden descents that rattled me close to my own demise. i was periodically stormed by clouds of wasps, who seemed only to want to drink my sweat, no taste for flesh or blood. still, without revealing any sense of nervousness or trepidation, i could not help but feel a little wary inside for there were enough wasps to bring anyone into anaphylaxis. this only made me pedal faster and i reached the water’s edge quickly, arriving just north of boca de alamos in the early afternoon, roasting in the heat and swiftly turning on the first path i saw out to the water. i dumped my bike in haste and was immediately swimming in the ocean. the sun has only become hotter and hotter as i’ve traveled south, almost thwarting any desires to travel further once the early afternoon heat is upon me. after my swim i decided to camp in order to play guitar and reserve ample time for my sunset routine. as the light grew dim, manta rays began jumping out of the water twenty yards off shore, much like the salmon do of the northern pacific where I spend my summers. all through the night i could hear their large bodies slapping upon the surface over and over, either trying to rid themselves of parasites or loosening their eggs. they may also have been communicating or simply playing. apparently, this activity is still a great mystery to the many biologists who have studied them, just like the mystery of the salmon. i like this, when nature evades the scrutiny of humankind, when only our sense of magic remains to describe the world. we are infants stumbling upon a planet of creatures far older than ourselves.
in the morning i rose with the sun as always, yet i took my time. i am here to embrace the beautiful boundary of land and sea, not to hurry along to the next destination as so many bicycle tourists do. con despacio, con despacio had become my mantra. first i stretched, then drank coffee. next i played songs for myself, for the changing colors in the sky, and for the many saguaro cacti standing proud as they too looked out upon the sea and the wonder of the day unfolding. i packed up slowly and once ready i took a quick swim with the sword fish and puffer fish, to cool myself in preparation for the coming heat. and as expected the heat arrived. i skidded, slid and slithered along the mostly flat dirt for most of the day’s journey and it became quite unbearable to wear anything but my shorts rolled up and a bandana wrapped around my head, like a great naked bicycle pirate in the desert. for the few passing cars (mostly elderly white folk) i seemed to be quite a surprising sight to see – almost a bashful yet confusedly impressed look of shock they had on their faces. some of them even stopped their cars involuntarily, stunned and slack jawed, and i rang my bicycle bell and yelled yargh!– a sweaty, maniacal marauder on a strange two wheeled ship! and i loved it. anything to shock the old bald heads and white hairs. the heat was certainly going to my brain, and i needed to cool off quick. i decided to make this another short day and i stopped just south of punta pescadores to swim and drink the cold beer i purchased as i passed through cardinal. this beach wasn’t the best, and had the encroaching american retiree sprawl of los barriles just five miles south, but it was still beautiful and i was getting a little too picky in my search for ‘my own’ private paradise. it would have to do. i had neighbors camping a kilometer down the way, but they couldn’t hear my singing and hollering so i didn’t give a damn. more songs, more burritos, a deja vu baja sunset and the crystal clear light of the waxing moon. i drank my last beer then fell into a deep, blissful, oceanic slumber.
i started early the following day since i had ambitions of reaching cabo pulmo by early afternoon. i was up and at it quickly, no time for traveling tranquilo like the last few days. i immediately rolled through los barriles, which certainly seems like a real paradise if one is old, has some money, likes to windsurf and doesn’t really know any spanish. at first i didn’t like the immediate transition from rural mexico back to american refuge – i could feel the imposing despondency of cabo san lucas already. although, after encountering my first little tienda in baja that carried all the vegetables and grains you would find at the local organic co-op in the united states of america, and witnessing the real happiness in the eyes of the aged couples as they motored around on their four-wheelers. with nothing to do but go from the villa to the beach to the bar and back, i began to understand. maybe if i make it to be as old as the hills and have a little cash stacked up, i’ll change my tune and i too will want to find a little piece of earth all safe and sound where the cold never comes, where the sun lights the way and nothing is ever urgent. i just don’t know if i’ll do it quite like this.
south of los barriles i couldn’t escape the two mile stretch of carretera 1 before turning back onto dirt around buena vista. about seven or eight miles later, just past la ribera i pedaled through a skeleton of what was going to be a cancun-like resort. thankfully, president calderón denied building permits last year after research could not prove that the project would not damage the neighboring reef system. out and around cerro los teso, i entered the cabo pulmo national park, home to the oldest of only three coral reef systems in the entire eastern pacific (around 20,000 years old). several hours later i arrived in the town of the same name right on schedule. as i rolled through this tranquil little pueblito of post tourist season dormancy i encountered several old ex-pat, resident windsurfers. but mostly, everyone else was local save for a few of the dive shop owners. as i meandered about i was approached by a young american man who liked my bike and said it reminded him of the extracycles he and his friends used to ride from the northern tip of alaska to tierra del fuego. his name was jacob and he turned out to be one of the ‘ridethespine.org’ crew, a blog i had indeed used as a reference as i designed my own long bike. the serendipity of our encounter grew as we realized we shared common friends in seattle as well, and he invited me to go on a snorkel tour of the coral reef with him and his girlfriend the following morning. naturally i accepted, then i headed off to look for my campsite – i was directed by the locals to a privately owned beach that spanned a few kilometers north of town. here i was all alone on a littoral of small stones, sparse bushes and thinly scattered cacti. two dogs, one that looked similar to my dog reina back home and had the very same demeanor, greeted me as i was clearing out a space for my tent. right away they attached themselves to me and became my guardians for the next two days, scaring off any creatures that came within one hundred yards of my new residence. they even slept right next to me. reina’s cousin made sure that our sides touched through the tent walls all through the night.
i awoke earlier than usual to break camp so i could make it back to town for the snorkel tour. we headed out in a small skiff and snorkeled around the electric reef, swam with sea lions, hawksbill turtles, and great whirlpools of jack. so many other various species of fish of the most vibrant colors, parrot fish, banded guitar fish, sword fish and moray eels. we then went out a few kilometers to where the manta rays were jumping, sometimes upwards of six feet in the air. for some reason we could not help but giggle every time we saw one jump out of the water – it was as though, with each attempt, they truly believed they were one step closer to flying up and away from this confounded ocean. really they were just awkwardly flailing. we dove off the skiff and beneath us there were thousands of rays, what seemed to be millions, flowing beneath us. the surface of the sea is a guise for a real ocean below. these waters were alive with manta.
after the tour i said goodbye to my new friends and headed back to my camp, my guardian dogs patiently waiting for my return. a pair of horses had also come by to visit, inspecting my bicycle and tent and grunting in approval. i napped, played guitar, then cooked us all a little feast of rice and beans, avocado, cheese and chorizo. i even gave my new amigos a little beer for we were in a celebratory mood – they were quite thankful. the sun fell and the moon rose, emitting a glow almost brighter than daylight, and i could hear the pleasant sounds of the mantas practicing for take-off all through the night.
the next day i pedaled only twenty miles to punta colorada, about half way from cabo pulmo to san jose del cabo. nonetheless, at a pace of no more than six miles an hour this was a long four hour journey. the road was more like riding on the sandy beach and the sun had grown hotter, larger and more oppressive– a challenging and strangely euphoric combination. drink, sweat, pedal. my thoughts were no longer. i acknowledged the flora around me, the large white clouds hanging sparsely overhead, nothing more. if there were cars that passed my way, i cannot say. by circumstance this had become zen bicycle meditation– feet on pedals, wheels spinning round.
i awoke from my practice in the middle of an arroyo, hard packed dunes rising fifteen to twenty meters all around me. i followed the arroyo out towards the sea where it faded into the soft sand of a lonesome beach and i knew i was somewhere near punta colorada because despite my previous exercise in letting go, the words boca de la vinorama (a nearby rancho) hung lightly in my recent memory. there were five palapas or so along the water’s edge and no signs of humans, only a small house sitting atop a short plateau a few kilometers away. this was the ideal spot for my last night camping on the baja peninsula. i parked my bike underneath a palapa, dropped my shorts and dove into the surf. i swam well past the breaking waves and floated on my back, staring up at the drifting clouds. my ballad of cortez quietly played, fading into the pacific ocean here at the mouth of the gulf of california– the end of the sea of cortez. i had made it and i could care less if i pedaled to the famed arch at cabo san lucas– the geographical tip of the peninsula. a goal such as that would be existential regression. and so i smiled and said goodbye.