The desert, act 1

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El Rosarito to Guyaquil

The lads who had brought us fire wood back at the campsite in El Pabillon are also fisherman, and as it’s a full moon it’s a good time to catch clams.  They drive up and down this ROUTA1 going to different fishing spots (the road we are travelling on each day), so each day for the last 3 days we’ve seen them, they stop and chat to us, we sort of run out of things to say in Spanish and then we all just laugh until they speed off again.  They said they were our ‘Guardian Angeles’ on this road. It has left a smile on our faces and made us feel safe; especially after our first negative experience of being on the road.  On the morning we left El Rosario we were subjected to a naked flasher, he’d stopped his truck as the side of the road and then did his thing as we cycled past. He seemed pretty happy with himself, but we were just pretty pissed off about how’d killed our good moods.

But anyway – our mission that day was to enter the desert. And I have to remind people that here in Baja there is only one main road, which goes anywhere, so yes, the road dictated the desert.  I can’t say I was, or am totally psyched about this thought.  My only previous experience of desert terrain being the Sahara in Morocco, it was dry and desolate, and I got food poisoning  so we got stuck in some crappy town for what felt like an eternity.  The desert feels biblical to me, the vast unknown nothingness and of feeling completely insignificant and at mercy to the landscape, I approached this was more of a mental than a physical challenge.

And so we crept up these mountains for around half the day, we just kept going as there was no shade and sitting on the rubble seemed pretty grim.  I don’t know how hot it was, maybe 30something degrees Celsius, but with the climb and without any shade for respite we were just downing vast quantities of water and it was a real challenge.

I seemed to be turning the pedals at a great speed to make it up the hill – I turned this in to a game – counting each revolution – I’d fix on a point on the road or at the side and try to see if I could make it to that point before I counted to 100.  I played this game with myself for what seemed like ages, and I think maybe this was speeding me up.  I entered weird day dreams thinking about everyone in my life.

It sounds totally dramatic now but I started fantasising about water – we still had loads spare in my panniers but it seemed really sacred because of the vast nothingness.  The mountainous scrub land turned to cacti as far as the eye could see. 30 miles after leaving El Rosario we caught out first sign of life, a truck stop – here we downed pints of coconut water and fizzy drinks until we felt normal again.

It really was a day of 2 halves, after leaving the truck stop it was pretty flat, the heat of the mid day sun had passed and we began to appreciate this vast landscape as we rode into the early evening.  We covered some serious miles without too much difficulty before we came to the next sign of life, a little café which also appeared to be someone’s front room. We spoke with Abraham, who lived here with this mother and father, before we asked if it might be possible to camp behind their house for the night.  They agreed and we ate delicious maize quesidillas with re-fried beans before setting up camp, and watching the most beautiful sunset over the desert, we were in our tent asleep before 8pm.

22nd May Guyaquil to Catavina

23rd Catavina to Chapala

24th Chapala to El Rosarito

25th El Rosarito to Guerrero Negro

We rolled out of our tents pretty early, determined to beat the heat and start early. Abraham’s mum made us eggs and refried beans with her homemade salsa which she’d made that morning on the wood stove in the middle of the cafe/living room.  There was no running water there, and even though their cafe was 24hrs they only had enough electricity to last a few hours, Abraham explained that this was why the cafe had been quiet over night, drivers didnt realise the place was open as the lights werent on.

Abraham knew these roads pretty well, he breifed us on the terrain over the next few days- Catavina was only 30 flat miles away, and after that again there is nothing for quite a stretch. Again we witnessed the change in the landscape, piles of boulders started to appear, and then before long all we could see was giant boulders and cacti, a pretty extrodinary sight which felt totally pre-historic.  We made it to Catavina within a few easy hours, we were in good spirits, we felt less intimidated by the desert somehow.

So we checked in to a hotel in Catavina, where there was hot running water, took advantage of this to wash our clothes, and sleep in a bed. The following day still keen to max out on our beds and the hot water we didn’t leave the hotel until checkout at 1pm. We cycled easily to Chapala that evening, again this place was just a cafe/home and place for truckers to stop.  The family were more than happy for us to camp on their porch. The following day we cycled a good 60 miles to El Rosarito, Leah and I were joking about the only significant part of cycling that day being the Coca-Cola truck man stopping and handing us drinks. We said that he drives back and forth down the 400 mile stretch between 2 of the towns on this road, he said that there are plenty of cyclists coming down this road and he thinks its a great thing to see, but this was the first time he had seen females, funnily he’d also seen us further up north cycling at the beginning of the week.

We arrived at El Rosarito and this time we didnt even need to ask to camp outside the restaurant, the woman took one look at us and offered us her garden.  People here dont even hesitate about saying yes to us camping, and each night I’ve felt safe as I know we’re camped next to a family home, we are increbibly touched by peoples attitudes here. The following morning we woke late and road 50 easy flat miles to Guerrero Negro, a salt farming town on the coast.  The ride seemed easy as we could feel the breeze of the sea again and on stopping for lunch we found a fruit seller, our first signs of  fresh fruit and vegetables for 4 days, we hit up the stall pretty well, totally maximising on the fresh mango with chili salt sprinkled on, with fresh lime juice ontop.

 Its hard to keep writing new things about cycling through the desert, I guess one of the reasons it hard riding there is because we will be riding 30 miles or so before seeing any civilision, – also one of the big things I guess is the lack of running water (apart from the hotel in Catavina) making it more effortful. The food is well, as you’d imagine, pretty dry, and the shops in the desert are crazy expensive.  We’ve been eating store cupboard foods like jam in tortilla wraps and nuts, and evaporated milk with granola or if we eat food from a cafe its mainly eggs, torillas or cake.

So we have just completed one desert, on arriving in Guerrero Negro we crossed over a sign telling us we were now in Baja Sur, saw saw our first road signs to La Paz, which is where our journey across Baja will end in 500 miles time.  On crossing that sign we also crossed a time zone, I think it’s the time that’s happened to me on bike.  So last night we found this place to camp, a campsite but as we were the only people and it was really windy as it’s so flat the owner let us sleep in the restaurant.  Here we drank beers with loads of lime and ate our first fresh meal for what felt like forever, we are also totally maxing out on their internet now.  This restaurant is totally surreal, the floor is made of crushed shells and the owner just seems to watch dubbed Elvis films, and there is a Christmas tree in the middle of it.  Photos will follow.

Now today we enter another desert, the Vizcaino Desert but I understand from what I read that there are actual towns in the middle and it’s not going to take so long to cross.

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