47.2 mi / 10.1 mph / 2902 ft. climbing
Home: Desert wild camp on a path to a radio tower
We seem to have perfected slow-travel: across the last 19 days, we’ve managed to move 85 miles south. That’s an average of less than five miles per day, and a distance that a younger version of my bike-touring self would frequently exceed in a single day. We generally don’t see any problem with this unusually slow pace (relaxing at the beach is way more enjoyable than sitting on a bike for six hours a day!), but one issue is that it makes us doubt whether we’re physically capable of covering greater distances for consecutive days, now that we want/need to. See, we want to get to La Paz, which is 220 miles away, and there are no beaches, or historical towns, or any particular reasons to stop in that stretch. Nor even many places to stop even if we wanted to. So we’re going to see if we can cover nearly three times that previous distance in less than 1/3rd of the time. Will it be easy because we’re rested, or impossible because we’re out-of-shape?
It at least started easy, because Highway 1, south of Loreto, suddenly became a multi-lane thoroughfare, with a nice wide shoulder! And the views as we headed toward the Sierra de la Giganta mountains were dramatic, if a bit scary (at some point we would need to be climbing that threateningly-named mountain range). We saw several groups of local cyclists out for morning fitness rides on the opposite shoulder, something we’ve not seen anywhere else in Baja.
I discovered that part of the reason that an American-style highway comes out of the south end of Loreto (but not the north end) is because there are a line of American-style golf resorts this way. We haven’t seen a single hint of golf anywhere in Baja, and even with the gringo-tourism of Loreto priming us, it was a still a bit of a shock to see this level of cultural importation (and desert-greening) happening. One of the resorts/communities even had signs at the entrance that were entirely in English, without a single word in Spanish, just to eliminate any potential confusion about who the intended patrons should be.
Given the unparalleled mountain-and-sea surroundings, I can at least understand the motivation of the economic colonizers. And now having seen the natural beauty extending in each direction from Loreto (Bahia Concepción to the north, and this dramatic terrain along the Sea of Cortez to the south), I can understand even more how it is an unmatched central location for a nature-loving expat to set up a home base.
We stopped for drinks and snacks at the Ligui MiniMarket, a small middle-of-nowhere store past the south end of the developments that felt again like normal Baja to us (though it impressively sold just about everything, from vegetables to car tires to kayaks!) We talked for a bit with a German traveler, who temptingly invited us down to where he was staying on the nearby beach. But we were taking this break as a rest and fuel-up because our feared mountain-climb was about to begin.
It was a 1400 ft. climb, and we needed at least one stop to dry out the sweat pouring into Rett’s eyes, but in the end, it fell well short of the drivers’ imaginations of 15% grades that had terrorized Rett. The steepest parts were a difficult-but-manageable 7%, with a lot of 5-6% and even some flat/downhill sections mixed in. And visibility was pretty good for a mountain climb, helped by post-resort traffic returning to its normal Baja-levels of “very little”. When the road flattened out at the top, we lost our view of the sea, but we remained surrounded by dry buttes and spires.
About 35 miles in we reached our baseline goal of El Parguito restaurant, the only stop in a 52-mile stretch between Ligui and Ciudad Insurgentes. The friendly guys there waved us and our bikes in as we were preparing to park them outside their fence, and quickly offered cold cervezas (we went with agua mineral and Coca-Cola). We then added on burritos and quesadillas to eat in the open-air restaurant, and finally, homemade flan for dessert, a true treat for us!
I felt bad for internally snarking at another gringo couple who showed up and revealed their newness to Mexico by ordering a single burrito and a single quesadilla. Here, burritos are little things (hence the “-ito”) rolled in an open-ended tortilla, not the big fully-wrapped things that we know in the United States. But hey, good for them for immediately ordering more when their sad mostly-vacant plates appeared, rather than pretending that’s all they wanted all along. And bad for me for internally-laughing at the same learning-process I had to fight my way through not that long ago (especially since I still know only about 1% of how to get by in Mexico).
Then a third gringo couple showed up (there was also a proper Mexican truck driver too, don’t worry), but this one we recognized! It was Dan and Ellen, the couple we’d had a nice conversation with at the Mulege Brewery more than two weeks ago. I’m becoming more convinced that there are only like 40 gringo tourists traveling up and down Baja, but either way, it was good to catch up with them and hear where they’d been. It was less-good to hear that they were also headed for La Paz, but would make it there tonight, very much unlike us!
Then it was decision time. There were supposedly rooms for rent here, making it the last place with a roof for a long way (though they never offered them, so who knows if they were available?) Or we could go another 11 miles while we still had a tailwind, shortening the miles (and climbing) we would need to do into tomorrow’s predicted headwind. Even though her heart wasn’t fully in it, Rett eventually wavered into the “push on” column for long enough for us to get back on the bikes and rolling into the afternoon heat before she could waver back. Her main objection wasn’t coming from her tired body, it was from the understandable discomfort of wild camping.
The 11 miles were tough in the 95degF heat, especially with a good-sized climb at the end. And when we turned onto the rocky road angling back north to a radio tower installation, it didn’t get any better. There were pockets big enough to set up camp regularly spaced along the roadway, and I tried to find a suitable one (not right next to the highway, not filled with trash, not all torn up an un-level) as quickly as possible so that we could create some shade. The fourth or fifth pocket in had just a few eggshells, and sandy ground I could level out with my foot, so that was our spot.
I set up our rainfly as a shade-tent, just as we had done at Playa Santispac. Although it wasn’t quite as windy as our days there, it was still windy enough to blow dust onto everything (with every step kicking sticky fine gravel everywhere), which meant that the discomfort level wasn’t decreasing at all. I was able to at least get Rett to sit (naked) in a chair in the shade while we waited a bit for the both the sun’s heat and the wind to decrease so that we could cook a meal.
After an hour or so, just seconds after she put some clothes on, we heard a vehicle coming up the roadway. Crap. And it says “Policia Municipal” on it. Double crap. “Hola!” says the policeman in the passenger seat with a friendly wave as they drive by, continuing on their way without even hesitating. Huh. Ok, I guess we’re fine here! I don’t know what was happening at the radio tower, but it was nearly an hour before they passed us again on their way out, again with zero concern for us camping there. Phew.
We made one of our famously-complex camp dinners, and while it was really good and made us feel better about the overall-dreadful camping experience, simplifying our cooking/cleaning process is something we really need to do to reduce unnecessary stress if we ever wild camp again.
But with food in our bellies, the cooling evening, and the white-on-navy half-moon high above the orange horizon, we could see that our desert camp wasn’t entirely dreadful. It’s the least-enchanting of our wild camps so far, but we’re still alone in the desert, hidden from the highway on other side of the ridge, and closer to tomorrow’s destination. And no roosters! We’ll never be able to run the experiment to know whether this was more- or less-exhausting than sleeping in a bed but adding 11 miles to tomorrow’s ride, but at least as we drifted off with the stars above our tent, it felt slightly more worth-it than it had earlier.