Hot springs and giant cacti– Cycling Baja California part 3

Cardones

Cardones

Hot springs and giant cacti– Baja by bicycle part 3
Country
: Mexico
From San Felipe to Coco’s Corner
Lesson learned: Don’t camp without a tent on a windy night
Laughed about: Chopping ice bricks is a profession down in the Baja
Most wonderful miracle: Hot springs
Animals we saw: vultures, coyotes, dolphins
Days on the bike: 2 1/2
Kilometers cycled: 208
Average kilometers per day: 83.2
Total kilometers cycled: 26,496

Baja by Bicycle part 2. Missed the last entry? Here it comes: Desert, wind and a salt cloud – Baja by bicycle part 2
Blog auf Deutsch: Von heißen Quellen und Riesenkakteen – Niederkalifornien mit dem Fahrrad Teil 3

Leaving San Felipe

Leaving San Felipe

Baja by bicycle part 3 It was an early Sunday morning when we left San Felipe. We had most of the road for ourselves. The wind blew from our right and slightly from behind. For now we enjoyed being pushed forward. We still didn’t know how much of a struggle these west winds would mean for us soon.

Cycling the desert of Baja California, Mexico

Back on that desert road

Soon we reached the „Valle de los Gigantes“ (Valley of the Giants), home to several hundred year old Cardon cacti. These guys were very resistant and though there are few forest fires here they grew very old and very tall. For a moment I was sad about the two tiny cacti I managed to kill in my time as a student with clearly zero talent for gardening.

cycling towards the Valley of the Giants, Baja California, Mexico

Towards the Valley of the Giants

What we saw here were giants of up to 20 meters and 25 tons. The Cardones (Patchycereus pringlei) were close relatives to the famous Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). These are the green giants with arms and spikes that you might know from Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner. The main difference is that while Saguaros grow their arms mostly from the center of the main stem, the Cardones grew most of theirs from the first 20 centimeters.

The most impressive ones were said to grow on a private farm, but since they charged a $10 fee per visitor we decided to simply go with what we saw on the side of the road. And we were not disappointed.

A small giant in the Valley of the Giants

One of the smaller Giants (talking about the Cardon here)

For the first 60 kilometers of the day, there were several signs pointing to “Campos” on our left. Campo Los Amigos, Campo Buenavista, Campo Santa Maria and all kinds of Campos with creative names. What we thought were campgrounds turned out to be holiday homes for retired US-Americans. After a life full of hard work, their pension wasn’t enough to buy them a home by the beach in their own country, but it bought them a little trailer on the Sea of Cortes, sometimes even a little house.

Cycling the Baja California

Scenic ride

At about half way we reached the Village Ejido Delicias, where we combined a late breakfast and lunch break. We didn’t know it yet, but this would be the last point for us to reach cell phone service in the state of Baja California.

Bumpy Highway 5, Mexico

Some bumpy stretches today, but South of Puertecitos the roas was brand new.

We’d get a very patchy Wi-Fi network once more some days later, but that’s it. We ate our granola, played cards and observed the other customers. This was where we finally saw the Campo’s habitants: mostly US-Americans in too short shorts.

VW Beatle with truck wheels

Beatle prepared for the Baja

Ice cubes and ice blocks were the top sellers, light beer was a very close number two. There were two people working in the shop: the cashier and an old ex-fisherman whose profession it was to cut ice blocks into the exact shape of cooling boxes.

Highway 5 Baja California, Mexico

Today’s ride: 2/3 of these destinations

By 1 pm it was fresh enough to continue the ride – thanks to the strong winds. The desert’s vegetation was in a constant change. Over here we saw less cacti and more empty shrub and surprisingly green bushes.

In the and dust all trees appear grey

In the dust all trees appear grey. This one could make a good lunch break stop!

Coachwhips (family of the Fouquieriaceae) took over. These bush like plants grew up to seven meters high and all they existed of were branches and spines. Only after a heavy rain they would show leaves and flowers.

Ocotillo

These spikey guys can grow very high

A car stopped ahead of us and a man hopped out to water the desert. Another one waved me over. Did that guy really expect me to stop and watch his buddy pee? I was indignant and made sure my face would show. Who did this guy think he was?

Empty desert road in Baja California

Ride through the desert. Believe it or not, but there’s so much to see!

Then I heard Roberto shout “Hello, it’s great to see you again!” from behind. Other than me he had recognized Said, whom we had met a few days ago at Abel’s “Oasis”. I quickly changed my disgusted facial expression into a fake sporty exhaustion and slowly changed into my most charming smile as we approached him.

Leter we found this simple abandonned house that was perfect ...

Later we found this simple abandoned house that was perfect …

I hoped Said wouldn’t have noticed. He had stopped to say hi and his buddy had taken the chance for a quick pee break. We spent a while chatting on the roadside, then Said got back behind the wheel. “See you next time!”

... for a little nap!

… for a little nap!

We had nearly made it to Puertecitos, when another kind of an oasis appeared. The “Cowpatty” offered cold beer, hotdogs and nice company. Clearly we checked this place out. Who could say no to beer and hotdogs? We chatted with owner Richard, some of the customers and barkeeper Guillermo (Momo), the only Mexican.

Cowpatty in Puertecitos, BC, Mexico

Cowpatty

Momo was a bike traveler himself and every year when the Cowpatty closed for the hottest four months of the year (a week from now) he grabbed his bike and cycled all the way down to Cancún. Regular customer Tom was all excited about our travel and our stories and invited us for our beer and the hotdogs. He even offered us a space to camp in his yard, but we were too excited for the hot springs.

A tree that grew out of a tiny but of soil between the rocks

A tree that grew out of a tiny but of soil between the rocks

Puertecitos’ main attraction are the three natural pools in the sea. On high tide you wouldn’t notice the difference, but when the tide was low the pools filled up with very hot water. The best time for a bath was the time in between, when the fresh seawater and the hot spring water mixed up. The Cowpatty’s tidal calendar showed that we were late, so we better got going.

Zero G Line Intrepid Wechsel tent in Puertecitos

Our home for one night

Puertecitos was a few houses, a few permanent trailers and a campground. Owner Clara was also owner of the town’s only restaurant, one of the two shops, the library (of the size of a public phone booth), and the hot springs themselves. She charged entry fees because it was her family who had settled here many years ago and started this little emporium.

Where the desert meets the sea

Where the desert meets the sea

We usually don’t like bargaining with people, but $ 20 was clearly too much for a shady spot, a bucket of water and some electricity, especially if we hardly used the latter two. In the end Clara offered us a discount. She didn’t have fixed fees, because prices for water and electricity changed constantly. Even with the discount she had made very good money with us.

The ride down just after Puertecitos

The ride down just after Puertecitos

We parked the bikes and walked the kilometer to the hot springs. The upper pool was boiling hot while the lower pool was still too cold. The middle pool was tiny and hard to find and access, but the temperature was just perfect. Luz and Jose from San Diego joined us and we talked about hiking, mountains and biking. Luz and Jose were retired Mexican-Americans and travelled through the Baja. After our bath we pushed the bikes next to their tent and pitched ours under the neighboring Palapa. If you want to read more about Puertecitos and have a look at some cool pictures, I recommend you Roberto’s Three unknown jewels of the Baja California.

Enjoying the hot spring pools in Puertecitos, Baja California, Mexico

Enjoying the hot spring pools in Puertecitos

Palapas are something very typical here in Mexico. Especially on beaches the locals often provide them. The minimal form of a palapa is an umbrella made of dried palm tree leaves on a wooden pole.

Puertecitos beach

Puertecitos beach at low tide

Sometimes the ground is concreted, sometimes there are wooden walls, a picnic table or a barbeque. There are also group palapas with space enough for a Boy Scout team. At night the wind finally slowed down and we heard the coyote’s call all evening.

Vulture

Vulture

The wind returned early in the morning, blowing heavily from the side, partly from the front, partly from the back. The map showed only one village all day. Locals had told us about a restaurant on the way but we saw nothing but a few houses and trailers about a kilometer and a half away from the road on the beach.

Bumpy walk into the village of El Huerfanito

Bumpy walk into the village of El Huerfanito

We had just climbed a tough hill and we were tired and hot, so we pushed the bikes over the bumpy road nevertheless. Some local fishermen pointed us the way to an empty house so we could relax on the veranda. While Roberto was having a nap, a nice lady walked past and invited us over to hers.

We started the day with some climbing

We started the day with some climbing

Rosalito and her husband Hector had been living on the weekends at this remote part of the island for more than 30 years, long before there was even a road. Now that Rosalito, a teacher, was retired, they could live here all week long. It was her, who first spotted the group of dolphins in the sea. It was great to watch them play in the waves, but they were far too far away for pictures.

Good times in the shade with new friends

Good times in the shade with new friends

We had some ice water and chats, when neighbor Olivia walked by. She and her husband Pete wanted to invite us all over for what they called a spaghetti dinner at lunchtime. Pete was a 90-year old Italian-American who was always up for a joke. Olivia was a very lively woman who spent most of her life teaching in a prison school. Now that she was retired she spent her time learning and practicing with natural health, color therapy and negative electrons.

Our new friends from El Huerfanito

Our new friends from El Huerfanito: Pete, Olivia, Rosalito and Hector

We continued the ride in the afternoon and once again I was impressed. Just a few hours ago, El Huerfanito was just another village on the map. Now it was the place where our friends lived, who were already excited for our next visit.

Dry landscape in Baja California

It was a dry and warm day, but the wind kept us refreshed

The wind blew stronger and stronger and it was getting hard to ride in straight lines. Every time a truck passed we had to grab our handlebars tight so we wouldn’t be blown away. Eventually we reached the “5 Islas” restaurant that the locals had told us about, where we chatted with the owner and his son and enjoyed some 15 minutes without wind.

View from top of the morning climb

View from top of the morning climb

It was a long day, but we made it to the little shop “Rancho Grande” in Bahía San Luis Gonzaga before sunset. We were hungry, frustrated and exhausted, a combination that translated into passive aggressive behavior and a perfect recipe for unnecessary arguments.

8 cars an hour in Highway 5 in Baja California, Mexico

Hardly any traffic. At one point we counted 8 cars in an hour.

After three minutes of rather unpleasant food shopping I stormed out of the shop with the words “then just finish that s*°t by yourself!” Short version of the rest of the evening: we each biked and walked the two bumpy and dark kilometers to the beach, him with all the groceries, me with all the water containers, each of us thinking the other one had left on their own not giving a s*°t for the wellbeing of oneself.

Bicycle by the Sea of Cortes

So close to the water and yet so far from a swim

We couldn’t find each other, so I just kept on biking, because while the bike moved, the lights were on. After well over an hour we finally found each other, burst out in tears and the misunderstanding was explained.

Tijuanense in Bahía San Luis Gonzaga

Tijuanense in Bahía San Luis Gonzaga

We spent the night in a large Palapa with three walls to protect us from the heavy wind. After all the drama we watched the prettiest most romantic moonrise and decided to spend the night without the tent, so we could watch the stars. The moonrise picture plus some more pictures are in this entry here: Three unknown jewels of the Baja California

Sounds romantic? Nope, mother earth had other plans. At one in the morning the wind turned slightly and created a wind tunnel that blew so much sand into our Palapa, that we woke up covered in sand like breaded fish. The sand was everywhere, in our nostrils, ears and hair.

Camping without a tent in the sand is not a good idea when it's windy

We didn’t get much sleep due to the sand

The beach looked so pretty and inviting, I would have loved to spend the entire day here.But it was too windy to swim. While I was hot behind the Palapa’s walls, I needed a fleece jacket for warmth whenever I left the shelter.

wind hose

It was a little windy indeed

It wasn’t quite the weather for swimming, but this kind of wind isn’t fun cycling weather either (unless it’s a tailwind, which it wasn’t). So we decided to start it slow, packed our things and returned to the shop to see if we got wifi or met somebody who had read the wind forecast.

Playing cards with the military

Relaxed morning with a deck of cards and nice playmates

Instead we met Luis, who was waiting for his ride. Luis was a worker on the highway, the last 30 kilometers that would connect highway 5 with the peninsular highway were yet to be paved (they want to be done by December 2016).

The ride between the beach and the shop had an airstrip right next to it.

The ride between the beach and the shop had an airstrip right next to it.

Luis had a big bottle of coke and some ice, we had a cup and playing cards, so we spent the morning together. Luis taught us “Crazy eight” and we taught him “s°*thead”.

Some of the soldiers stopped for some shopping. There had been plenty of military controls all throughout the Baja and we felt very safe here. Two of the soldiers joined us, one of them played cards with us.

Unpaved part on Highway 5, Mexico

End of the paved road. Bumpy road here we come!

By 1.50 pm the wind wasn’t even going half as strong. Luis’ ride was nearly two hours late, but without wifi or cell phone coverage the only thing he could do was wait. We got back on the bikes and started a very gently climb. It was so gentle in fact, we didn’t even notice climbing. Twenty kilometers later we reached the end of the paved road and continued on a very bumpy path.

Mexican desert

Now you ride fast and relaxed …

The last bit of the refreshing wind was gone and it was getting hot. After no more than a kilometer, we stopped at the “Comedor” (food stand) to grab some lunch. Lili and Sonia were the only ones working here. It was their job to provide warm food for all the workers plus the occasional paying customers like us. We ate our chicken with vegetables and Roberto laid down to take a nap on the bench.

They say the last part of Highway 5 will be paved by December 2016

… and now you don’t. They say the last part of Highway 5 will be paved by December 2016

I took the time to chat with Sonia, the owners’ daughter. She was originally from Guadalajara, but her parents had asked her to come and help out with the business, because they just couldn’t find anybody else for the job. Lili was a great worker, but she couldn’t do it on her own.

The pretty landscape was worth every extra drop of sweat

The pretty landscape was worth every extra drop of sweat

And whomever they had hired, nobody ever lasted long. “They miss their homes. It’s so quiet here, there’s not much electricity, no phone coverage, no internet, not much privacy. Some last a week, others don’t even make it through the first day”.

Comedor near Coco's Corner

Shade and food? That’s enough good reasons for a break.

After about an hour, Roberto grabbed his helmet, murmured “So let’s get this over with”, and pushed his bike back out into the sun. We weren’t really all that motivated.

Another lovely elephant tree.

Another lovely elephant tree. I want one for my future home!

Fortunately the landscape brought back every bit of enthusiasm. We saw many of my favorite desert trees, the “Torotes” (Elephant trees). These guys had a very thick trunk and a lot of interwoven branches that slowly got thinner. There were no leaves, fruit or flowers, only branches, but these trees were so pretty. They grew in rocky fields with some cacti.

Elephant tree in Baja California, Mexico

My favorite tree!

And out here it was that we saw our first coyote! It crossed the road twice, then a car passed and the coyote ran away.

Welcome to Coco's Corner!

Welcome to Coco’s Corner!

Today was a very short bike day, it wasn’t even 40 kilometers when we reached Coco’s Corner, a very small and lonesome but very famous roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. This was home to the legendary Cocos. But we’ll talk more about this famous man in Roberto’s  portrait Coco from Coco’s Corner and in the next blog.

 

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