17.3 mi / 8.6 mph / 983 ft. climbing
Home: Rosarito AirBNB
When we became nomads in autumn of 2021, we had no intention of leaving our native country during our first winter. It was only when we stayed with Jayaram and Aparna in Alameda that Rett became obsessed with the idea to cycle the Baja peninsula (particularly to visit the gray whales), and I slowly came around to support it. Even if it didn’t fit our cautious, conservative style (or maybe, because it didn’t?) We don’t speak Spanish (though Rett is working hard to learn, and I’m mostly keeping up), we’ve never been to Mexico, we’re very bad at asking for help or information, and we just know very little about living nomadically for a period in a foreign country.
So it sort of feels like we’ve been playing a strange game of chicken between us, where we’re both waiting for the more-sensible one of us to peel off of our course at the last second. And then the other one of us would glady follow, saying with great relief “ohmigod, you’re right, we were insane! How did we let ourselves get so far down this path of madness before we came to our senses?!”
But as of this morning, neither of us has emerged as the more-sensible one. So, we checked out of our motel let our momentum carry us the couple miles to the border crossing. And neither of us turned around. We walked our bikes to the gate at PedEast that said MEXICO in large aluminum letters. And neither of us called a halt. We did pause briefly to observe their operation, and perhaps hope that the other would pull the plug, our very last chance. No luck. Rett went first, wedging her bike into the outer edge of the turnstile and slowly working her way through it (luckily there were two turnstiles so we weren’t blocking the other pedestrians). I followed, and it was done. For better or worse, this game of chicken had taken our bikes, and the lives that they carry, into Mexico.
There were no lines of people, no formality, and the first officer quickly directed us over to wait in the small immigration office to get our 180-day visitor’s permits (since we would be staying longer than 7 days…well, unless we came to our senses). Fill out a small form, pay $35/person to the man with a very large watch, and continue over to the airport-style x-ray machine, where, though no one tells us what to do, we unloaded all our bags, sent them through the machine, and then walked with our bikes to the other end to pick them back up. And then we walk out of the building and into the blare and glare of Tijuana.
Holy shit, we really did it. We rode our bikes to Mexico. I know this is something people do all the time, and is not really a big deal, but somehow I just hadn’t seen us as those kind of people. Apparently I was wrong! On the ramp down to the street (and one more turnstile), we already got words of advice and encouragement from fellow border-crossers. Through the last turnstile, we took a moment to pause and catch our breaths, and then headed out into Tijuana traffic.
The “sensible” part of us that remained wanted to get us out of Tijuana as quickly as possible. So we made no stops (not even to get pesos), took the most-direct path, and did no sight-seeing. We navigated a few large European-style traffic circles, and in a few miles made it to Highway 1, our friend for as far south as we go down the peninsula.
A Federal highway, starting in the middle of one of the biggest cities in Mexico, climbing a 1000 ft. hill, with no shoulder, and two to three lanes in each direction, sounds like a recipe for terror. And it was pretty stressful for Rett, particularly when the sun and heat in our faces started pouring the sweat in her eyes, forcing her to stop (and worse, then restart on that shoulderless 5% uphill). But for me, it was the least-terrorizing hill I’ve ever climbed with similar traits. And that’s all due to the excellent Mexican drivers.
We didn’t have a single car honk at us the whole way up, even when they had to sit behind us at 5mph. The few close passes we had came either from taxi drivers, or from, of course, Americans. If we had climbed that hill with 100% American drivers, we would have been honked at multiple times, screamed at, told to get off the road, and been passed closely with roaring engines spewing black smoke as they whipped back in front of us as frighteningly as possible. Instead, the only reactions we got were waves, thumbs-ups, and toots of support. Hmm, maybe it’s staying in the United States that would have been the crazy thing!
Once we crested the hill, all we had to do is roll down back to the coast at Rosarito. We got an intermittent shoulder for the way down, which made it even easier, though once into town again we had a bit more urban chaos to deal with. Then it was west down a really long residential block to our cute, behind-wall AirBNB, three doors down from the beach. Phew, we made it to our safe space!
But we’d seen a little birria taco stand on our block, essentially in someone’s front yard, and since it was nearly 2pm, we immediately went back out to have our first actual Mexican experience. The proprietor didn’t speak English, didn’t take credit cards, but did take US dollars (we had no pesos yet). We were able to communicate somehow, and she cooked up our order, bringing out all the sides: radishes, chili-pickled onions, sauces, etc. And they were such good tacos! (Coincidentally, the first time we’d had birria-style tacos was on Alameda when we stayed with Jayaram and Aparna, our Mexican inspirations). I was so proud of Rett (and myself) that, instead of going to the McDonald’s or Starbucks that we’d passed, we dove right in and went for the no-Ingles, literally-home-cooked option, and that made the tacos taste even better.
Next stop was groceries at the Calimax (one of the big chains, so a more sterile experience like you’d normally expect out of Neil and Rett). We partially walked down the beach to get there, where we saw a lot of horse hoof-prints driven deep into the sand. Then some practice reading various signs along the way. Happily my credit card went through at the Calimax, and then we finally took out some pesos at the ATM inside. But didn’t use them to buy the flowers I got for Rett for Valentine’s Day, since we couldn’t understand the numbers the vendor said, but paid in dollars when she showed us how many.
Dinner was a big mess of vegetables we roasted in the light-it-with-a-lighter oven.
Rosarito Day 2
After seven days of riding since our re-start, we were past-due for a break, so we booked three nights in Rosartio, both to give Rett’s back a rest, and to let us get our bearings a bit more in Mexico.
The day was cold, gray, and windy, with some significant dumps of rain, so that was another reason we’d made the call to hunker down. And so we didn’t do much, besides catch up on journal entries, do some planning, and then we went out for a late-Valentine’s dinner.
Right across from the Calimax is Restaurant de Langosta La Guerita, a place specializing in Puerto Nuevo-style lobster. We both got lobster-combination plates, drinks, piles of sides (including wonderful fresh-made tortillas), and were out the door for something like $65. Yeah, Mexico ain’t bad!
Afterwards a stop at the Smart and Final (an American grocery chain, eek!) for some groceries for the next day.
Rosarito Day 3
Another day mostly like the last, except for a home-cooked dinner of pasta, “American meatballs”, and tomato bouillon cubes (something we’ve never seen in the US). The day was a bit nicer, but still cool and windy, so we again failed to visit the steps-away beach. I didn’t even take any photos, so instead, some notes on COVID-consciousness:
While no COVID tests or proofs-of-vaccination were required at the border, Mexico in February 2022 seems to take COVID more seriously than the United States did at any time in the pandemic. Half the people walking down the streets are wearing masks, and grocery stores and restaurants do temperature checks and give squirts of hand sanitizer to every customer upon entry. This, despite the fact that the country is far more-vaccinated than the US.
It’s a bit funny how many Americans have a distant view of Mexico as a lawless, wild-west sort of place filled with danger, while in reality, most Mexicans crossing into the United States must be the ones who feel a culture-shock, and wonder why US citizens are so intent on trying to kill each other and posing an infection danger to our southern neighbors!