60.7 mi / 11.2 mph / 823 ft. climbing
Home: Llantera Motel
This morning when the alarm went off, our bodies were ready for the big-mileage day. We ate our in-room breakfast (heating water for our AeroPressed coffee again on the stove outside our door), and were on the just-lightening road at 7:30am, our earliest start ever.
For the third day in a row now it was humid and cloudy for the morning (though thankfully no fog today), so I guess it’s a normal pattern for this desert? We’ll take it, it was only 62 deg F, and any miles we could put away before the sun started draining us would be a bonus. The other reason we were out so early was to do as many southward miles as we could before the crossing headwind built up enough strength to start being a real problem.
South of Ciudad Constitución, our road changed to one lane in each direction, but with a wide shoulder. This isn’t all that different from two full lanes, since Mexican drivers will often use the shoulder as the “slow lane” to make it easier for faster traffic to pass them. But just like when they encounter us in a travel lane, they all move over to pass us without issue.
One thing I’d been trying to figure out is exactly when we should expect the bad/dangerous traffic (due to the holidays) to begin. Officially, only Viernes Santo (Good Friday) is a bank holiday, and that’s six days from now. But I’d learned that, with schools out, many Mexicans take the whole upcoming week off (and then often the next week too). Which then means that it would be prudent to expect travel to start this weekend.
As the day wore on, that expectation seemed to be confirmed. Traffic volumes steadily increased, never to the point of cars backing up behind us (our shoulder only lasted the first 15 miles or so), but enough that I was calling out to Rett “car. three cars. big truck. two cars” with abnormally few periods of silence.
More-tellingly, many of the cars passing us were nicer, newer models than we’re used to seeing in these areas, and often packed with some luggage/beach-gear on the roof-rack. Those things indicated that these are people traveling out from the bigger cities, wealthy enough to be even taking vacations.
And then the most-unusual thing was the ratio of Mexican license plates to American license plates. There have been areas between towns, even far south into Baja, where it seemed like up to 80% of the cars were American. Here, today, it was down to maybe 5%. And yes, any increase in Mexican travelers would reduce the percentage of Americans, but even in raw numbers, the American presence felt incredibly low. Since this is still the main/only highway on the peninsula, it’s hard to imagine any other explanation than the fact that Americans are actively holed-up and staying off the road for this period.
Except for us! And it felt fine. I didn’t see any evidence of drunk or unsafe driving, beyond the unsurprising fact that some of the Mexican city-dwellers drive a bit more aggressively than their rural counterparts.
We stopped for lunch at Restaurant Los Pinos, a middle-of-nowhere loncheria that was one of the the only stopping places the whole day. It was another simple but very-good place where you just have a conversation with the cook about what they can make for you, and we ended up with some machaca burritos, a quesadilla, and Rett had our first tamales.
Up until that point the road had been arrow-straight and flat, but Los Pinos marked a slight left-hand turn (and the beginning of some mild hills) that again let the morning’s headwind hopefully turn into a slight tailwind as it strengthened. And yes! The forecast seemed to hold, including temperatures that stayed in the 70s, making the miles near the end of our longest day feel not much more difficult than the miles at the start.
Las Pocitas is a very small town, and it doesn’t even obviously have a motel. But I had read from previous travelers that there is a small block of four rooms, and you need to talk to the tire shop (llantera, something that exists in even the smallest Baja towns) on the opposite side of the highway to check-in. So, I wander over to the group of guys working on a car, and yep, one of them goes to find someone else, who eventually turns out to be a kid, I get the key, and give them MX$250 in exchange. That’s US$12.50, easily our cheapest motel in Mexico. It’s less than the tax on even a cheap motel in the U.S.!
There is some reason for that extremely-low price: cold water only, no WiFi, and steel door with small gaps built into its corrugations. But it has air-conditioning, a TV with cable, a shower (where our ride-end left us hot enough that the cold water wasn’t a big deal), a normal flush-toilet, and was plenty clean. They could charge twice what they do and it would still feel like a decent deal, even in Baja.
We walked a couple doors down to dinner at Restaurant Los Dolores, an enchanting medieval-feeling stone-and-palapa-covered structure where the grandmotherly owner re-warmed the pot of wonderful fish soup that she had on the stove, and made up some more burritos from the simmering beef. I’m really going to miss these personal family kitchens when we leave rural Baja!