27.0 mi / 9.4 mph / 1832 ft. climbing
Home: Ensenada AirBNB
In the middle of the night I laid awake long enough to convince myself that the sounds I was hearing were not coming from my imagination in the dark, but we’re in fact the sound of an animal trying to eat something. The sound didn’t seem to be coming from where I believed our bikes to be, but it was obvious enough that I need to go out in the cold and check. Turns out Danny was right, it wasn’t raccoons, just the dogs (making just as much of a trash-mess as raccoons).
Beyond the campground’s dogs, there were distant dogs barking for much of the night, and maybe coyotes, and maybe roosters. The surprising chill also kept us from having a solid sleep. I expected a low of about 50 deg. F, and that’s what the Internet said the temperature in Rosarito was at 7:30am, but at our campsite it was 33 deg. F! I think it must be an extreme microclimate right around the campground, where the steep walls of the mountains rising immediately to the south, east, and west prevent sun from warming it in the morning or throughout the course of the day. And that’s probably exactly why it exists as a swimming-pool “balneario”, a place to escape the summer heat. Which makes it less-ideal in February, but still far from the least-comfortable camping we’ve done.
We rode a mile or so into La Mision, intending to stop an an Oxxo there for supplies, but instead checked out the independent version next door, “Abarrotes ‘Gaby’”. It somehow had even more variety (including a lot of fresh produce outside), and also our first chance to understand how an “agua purificada” machine works. Drinking tap water is not something even Mexicans do (though I’m not entirely convinced that’s science-based rather than culture-based), so that forces a change into our normal habit of filling our water bottles from whatever taps we find. Here I saw a woman filling “garrafones” (5 gal. jugs) from a dispenser in the store, so I “asked” (in sign language) the clerk if we could fill our bicycle water bottles. There is no meter or anything, just a manual valve to turn. We filled four bottles, and saw a 4 peso ($0.20 USD) charge on our receipt, so I figure the clerk just assumed 1 liter per bottle at 1 peso per liter. Fair enough. Bottled water of various sizes is also available everywhere cheaply, though not quite as cheap as that, and it’s nice to not have to buy a plastic bottle.
Then the real ride started with a big hill to take us up out of the valley as Highway 1 curves further inland. The Mexican drivers weren’t as good to us as they were yesterday, but it was a climb that still would have been a lot worse in the US. At the end of the steep part, we entered a flatter plateau, with green pastures stretching far into the distance. It seems a decent portion of bike tourers try their luck on the toll road, Highway 1D, that sticks close the ocean and has a shoulder. But since it’s illegal, some get turned back trying to enter, and some need to have uncomfortable moments with toll-officers/police/military when they reach the toll booth at the end. Still, I’d considered that route over the shoulderless Highway 1, until I saw Google’s StreetView images from two previous Februaries where everything looked surprisingly green, and the road looked empty. It just looked like a very pretty, enjoyable ride, and this February thankfully seems to have again replicated those previous years.
The climb maxed out at over 1200 ft., and then presented us with a rather thrilling descent back to the ocean at a rate much faster than we climbed. At that point, Highways 1 and 1D merged, and we were suddenly plunged from a nearly-empty road to one with constant, loud, close-passing traffic. Even though we now got that 1D shoulder, the far-higher level of stress double-validated my call to take Highway 1.
We turned several blocks inland into the city of Ensenada (third-largest in Baja), towards our AirBNB, but had half-an-hour to kill before check-in. The nearby park was under construction (we’re having bad luck with parks lately!), so we just sat under the shade of a tree on the street corner and put together some peanut butter sandwiches.
That’s when we met Miguel, who stopped to ask about our trip, and told us that he was once a semi-pro rider who rode from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas in five days or something insane like that. We chatted for a while, he took our contact information in his notebook, offered to set us up with people he knew that could help in various places we might visit, and invited us to join him at a bar he was going to later on for karaoke. The stories we’ve heard about the friendliness of Mexicans are true!
We got checked in to our AirBNB, showered, did a load of laundry there, and then said, what the hell, let’s go to a local’s karaoke bar! We took a $4 USD Uber over to “La Cantina de Nacho”. It’s a tiny little place that seats maybe a dozen around the bar, but karaoke was being sung, and Miguel insisted we take two prime seats. He introduced us around, to a group where maybe 50% had English capabilities, which made a good opportunity for us to practice our rudimentary Spanish.
Rett impressed everyone by doing a song or three (in English), and I believe I even eventually “sang” a Metallica song (there were a lot of buckets of Tecate that kept appearing somehow).
I was sitting next to Jorge, who introduced himself to me as a boxing referee. He spoke almost no English, so he communicated this to me by using the Google Translate app on my phone. It was my first chance to try it out in the real world, and it worked brilliantly. We could both just speak a message into the phone in our native language (even in the loud bar), and the other person could read the message translated into text in their own language. We were able to form an immediate bond in a way that would have been impossible without such technology.
We’d had nothing to eat, and way too much to drink, so as the bar was emptying out, Miguel got us and Jorge into a cab to take us to “the best tacos”. We pulled up to Tacos Angelitos, a mostly-outdoor stand with tacos absolutely flying off the counter to the Friday-night lines of people. The business has likely failed to legally license their Los Angeles Angels-inspired logo from Major League Baseball, but who cares, because they may very well have had “the best tacos”. And it’s a place that’s such a whirl of activity and chaos that there is no way a couple of gringos like us would have even attempted to navigate it on our own, and I’m still not even completely sure how we got our food and figured out what to pay. But that’s what Miguel and Jorge did for us, gave two Americans they had just met an incredible “locals” experience.
The only thing that tried to sour the great night with our new friends a little was when Miguel asked to “borrow” some money from us; yes, friends do loan each other money, but the request made the evening’s experience feel more like a business transaction, and less like the true camaraderie we had been feeling.
But luckily that only dimmed the bright night slightly. We were amazed and grateful that at only our third stop in Mexico, we somehow fell into a night out partying and truly feeling the lives of the people who live permanently in the place we briefly call home. That’s something that never happened in our four months traveling in the United States. We’re so glad we came to Mexico!
Ensenada Day 2
The only way that it was possible for us to spend a night drinking and singing and eating in Mexico was because we knew we didn’t have to ride our bicycles the next day. And a good thing too, because, while not brutally hung-over, we were both definitely feeling the effects of our late-night partying. So we learned another advantage of going slow; if we were on a “normal” ride-all-day every-day bike-touring schedule, there is no way we would have accepted Miguel’s invitation, and thus we would have completely missed out on one of the best foreign-country experiences we’ve ever had. We’re out to see the world, but the people are a huge part of “the world” that we’re seeing.
Our AirBNB is a modern small-apartment in the back of a really nice house. The setup, with its courtyard, narrow pathways, and winding stairs feels classically “European”. Rett enjoyed being able to look out our kitchen window over the rooftops of Ensenada, a type of view her and her mom shared a particular affinity for.
I ran out for some errands in the afternoon, getting a bicycle chain (one thing that’s not much cheaper in Mexico, partly due to 16% tax?!), some more groceries for dinner (including Parmesan cheese from an upscale boutique grocery I stumbled upon next to the gorgeous Santo Tomas winery, since normal grocery stores don’t seem to sell it here), and, not knowing how frequent ATMs will be, more pesos. Beyond that, it was the usual planning, writing, media-watching, and recovery from the night before.