Way Advanced Planning
Hi Baja 2010 Gang!
So far nine people are in. You're the group either committed to go, should be committed for doing this, or at least expressing a strong likelihood of going. To my knowledge three people going have been motorcycling in Mexico before. This is gonna be funnnn!
Here's a summary of basic details so far:
- Target dates: 2/24 to 3/4/2010
- Start point: Meet the evening of 2/24 at the Best Western, 1355 E Main St, El Cajon, CA - 619.440.7378
Day 0 2/24 - Your home to El Cajon, CA
Day 1 2/25 - Tecate -> Ensenada -> El Rosario
Day 2 2/26 - El Rosario -> San Ignacio
Day 3 2/27 - San Ignacio -- Whale Watching outing! and no-ride day
Day 4 2/28 - San Ignacio -> Mulege
Day 5 3/1 - Mulege -> Bahia de los Angeles
Day 6 3/2 - Bahia de los Angeles -> El Rosario
Day 7 3/3 - El Rosario -> Tecate
Day 8 3/4 - U.S. Border to your home
This is already more planning than I usually do for my own travels! I travel with the belief it's not the schedule or route that matters. I'm here for the experience. The minimum organization needed will be done and nothing more. So, anything could change based on conditions, cool stuff to see, weather or the group's desires.
The above route has particular flexibility around Bahia de los Angeles. If we are running behind getting everyone back we can easily skip it. For those of you that have been to Baja before, feel free to suggest alternatives. I can think of only two "rules" regarding the route, 1. back in the U.S. by morning of 3/4 so we can plan insurance and 2. a whale watching stop.
I consider whale watching in Baja one of the must do events. The Gray Whales (Ballena Gris) winter in Baja's Lagoons. Baby whales are born in Dec/Jan. We can pay licensed locals to take us out into the lagoon in small boats (pangas). Nearly always the whales will come right up to the boat. The adults are about twice the length of the boat. They express as much interest in the boating land lubbers as we do the huge "fish". There's about a 50% chance you'll get to pet the whales as they are along side the boat and put their nose up expecting a touch. An unbelievable experience.
But, if you're not up for it, that's okay. San Ignacio (town where we'd see the whales) has a nice mission to tour and great central square. It will take about 3/4 day to get out to the lagoon, whale watch, eat and get back.
I'll have more preparatory details to suggest as we get closer but there are a few longer lead items you should start thinking about or attend to now. Don't let any of these "lists" scare you off. Need help? Ask.
- Passport. Don't have one? Get it! Required to get you back into the U.S. Have one? Make sure it won't expire before 3/4/2010.
- Bike title. Two points. First make sure you have a valid one with your name. Second, verify if there is a lien against it (i.e., you have a current loan on your bike). If so, get in touch with your lender. You need to have a letter from them authorizing you to take the vehicle out of the country for specific dates. Often this won't be checked but if someone does you could be very stuck (specifically your bike could be very stuck in Mexico). Most lenders have no problem with this. No rush but don't wait to the last minute (or just payoff the bike this year!!).
- Fix it. Kinda should resolve any maintenance on your bike. Plan/budget now for anything you think will need to be fixed/replaced on the bike before leaving. Getting parts is not easy in Baja. You can always find helpful creative resourceful folks that will help you with a broken bike (buy me a beer--cerveza--and ask me how I know) but you
will enjoy the trip more without bike issues. Your fellow travelers will like you better too. In particular, consider new tires before leaving.
- ATM Bank Card. This can be a very helpful means to get additional Pesos (aka cash) when needed. We'll be in two towns that for sure have banks with ATMs. But, check with your bank. You'll need advance authorization (from yourself) to allow international transactions against your ATM card. I've used mine on nearly every trip about half way. You might want to authorize your credit card as well but I'll warn you that almost no one accepts them outside major towns. Cash is king. Dollars welcome but not always at the best exchange rates. We'll hit the bank in Tecate so everyone can get Pesos as needed.
- Cell phone. Actually kinda useless. There is coverage in some towns we'll be in. But if you want to be able to call home on your phone get in touch with your network provider. Make sure you have coverage in Baja and a plan that will allow you to do international calling back to the U.S.
- Insurance ... on your body. Some people like to have an international rescue/evacuation policy. This will provide some kind of transport back to the U.S. in the event you are injured. Generally a medical flight of some kind. I don't travel with this but I know people that do. Each to their own. If you're interested, start shopping to find a deal.
- First Aid Skills. Not specific to Mexico at all but "Be Prepared" has been drilled into my head after many years leading Boy Scouts into the back country. As we get close, one thing I'll ask is who has a First Aid or better certification. If you don't, and are so inclined, the next few months are a great time to get one or renew. Check with your Red Cross, local Boy Scout Troop or Community College for classes. Cheap and a smart thing to do.
- Learn (a little) Spanish. It's much more fun when you can interact a bit. Besides, the locals and your travel partners will be entertained by the incorrect words and poor pronunciation. One source for learning I can suggest is Coffee Break Spanish. You can download their podcasts for free. A fun way to learn a bit over time.
That's all I can think of for now. If someone has either an item I missed or a question, send me a note. Sometime around Jan 2010 I'll send out a "important items to pack" list and some "things to be aware of" for the trip.
Still plenty of time to prepare but we are getting much closer. Fall's here. The Christmas shopping season is just six weeks away.
As we head into the Fall season, I thought it would be a good time to check-in with everyone and provide a few longish-term reminders. So, get those long-lead items squared away--major bike maintenance, select replacement riding gear, take care of any title issues and schedule the time off at work.
We're up to 12 people/bikes planning to make the trip, including me. A good group!
Please read the Baja 2010: Way Advanced Planning above if you haven't already.
A few reminders:
- Passport. If you haven't already taken care of this from the last preparation e-mail, then get to it! The processing seems to be running about 6 weeks right now so you have time. But, please don't wait. This will stop you from going. There can be problems getting the passport that need resolution so now's the time.
- Language. How's the Spanish coming? You can absolutely get by without it. But a little Spanish goes a long way. I, and the locals, will be entertained by the incorrect words and poor pronunciation. Besides, why should I be the only one mangling the language. My suggestion is Coffee Break Spanish. You can download their podcasts for free. A fun way to learn a bit over time.
- AND ... remember this trip is in no way an organized, sponsored, or lead event. I take no responsibility for any of you trouble makers. I will share my preparation suggestions, route, previous Baja experience and act as all Good Samaritans should by helping as much as possible if I see you having trouble. I might even buy you a cerveza or point you away from the bar if you've already had too many, but I'm not the leader.
Control your excitement and enjoy the Fall. I'll be back with everyone after New Year's with the final preparation items and packing suggestions. I'm ready to RIDE!
Weeks to go. Time to get final preparations in place. Here are some final Baja trip details and reminders.
Most of any useful thoughts on preparation I know have already included in previous notes. So, here are the last few important ones:
- If you are interested in a medical aid service that will follow you into Mexico, here's one that might be a good deal: Medical Air Services Association MASA waves their inital fee if you are a current AMA member. Sign up throught the AMA Direct Link site.
- While you can get insurance at the border, I suggest buying it in advance to get the best deal and save time. Here are some web sites that offer Mexican insurance: Mexico Destinations. Bajabound.com was my best deal last year.
I'm sure you all are expert motorcycle trip packers. So I'll limit my few tips to just a few that might be unique to Baja.
- No mater what you think about the U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment, do not pack a gun or ammunition of any kind or any form. It will be found at a military checkpoint. It is a serious offence and will likely reflect on the whole group.
- Bring a prescription for any medication you are carrying. Very helpful if you loose it or in the case that some inspector believes your pill looks just like cocaine.
- I always travel with a small tent and sleeping bag. While we plan to stay at hotels each night anything can happen and I like to have options.
- I bring a relatively complete tool kit, 12V air pump and critical spares.
- My approach regarding money is to convert U.S. into Pesos at the bank in Tecate. ATM machines are a good approach as banks give good exchange rates. You'll need cash for everything given few places will take your plastic.
- I keep a "spare" wallet with small amounts of cash and a photocopy of my license and registration. The real wallet is hidden away. While it has never happened, if someone ever wanted my wallet more than I do, they'd get my "spare".
- Pack your passport, license, registration and vehicle title. Put them together with your original insurance documents in a ziplock plastic bag. Hide the bag with originals in your luggage then keep the bag with copies within easy reach.
- Water. I take a Nalgene bottle filled with water then refill each day from purchased bottled water.
- Please arrange to meet everyone at the Best Western, 1355 E Main St, El Cajon, CA, 619.440.7378 on the evening of 2/24/2010. We'll spend the night there then head south the next morning.
- I plan to return across the U.S. border sometime late on 3/3.
- Everyone will need a Mexican Tourist Card or FM-T Visa, which we will get at the border in Tecate. They cost about $20 and are good for 180 days. Baja does not require Vehicle Permits as do the other regions of Mexico.
Baja Road Tips
- If you come upon a car that signals left, likely that means it's OK to pass them on the left. Of course there's some chance they plan to actually turn left, but I doubt it.
- If your bike is very sensitive to fuel octane, you might want to buy octane booster and bring it along. Generally it is available at just about any automotive store in Mexico.
- We will be stopped at a number of military checkpoints. Do not be alarmed. The Army is one of the most trusted institutions in Mexico. For most Americans it is a bit jaring the first time you arrive at one. There's just something about multiple high-powered automatic weapons pointed at you by 18 year old kids. Breath deep and relax. They might wave us through or stop each bike and inspect all your luggage. Some useful Spanish here is: “Adonde va?” (where is your destination?). Conversely, “De donde viene?” is (where are you coming from?). Mostly smile and ask if someone speaks English. Usually one person will.
- At hotels, chamber maids expect a propina (tip) but we often overlook this in the states. The propina (tip) makes up a much more significant portion of their wage than is the case in the U.S.
- Angeles Verdes, or Green Angels travel Baja route 1 to offer aid for broken-down vehicles. You might see them. Watch for one in the unlikely event to need help and no one is around.
- Vado and Tope. Watch closely for these signs. Tope is a speed bump. We will encounter many as most smaller towns have a series of topes near the center of town. Traffic lights are expensive so topes do the work. Likewise, bridges are costly to build and maintain. Rivers are dry in Baja almost year so there's unlikely to be any water in one. Thus, when a river crosses a road, the Baja approach is to pave down into the river bottom and back to the road. That's a Vado. You'll be surprised how severly these drop off and return to the road height. Kinda cool on your bike when you see it coming. Air time! Watch for vado signs.
That's it. This is your last chance. If you have any questions that I've not covered, please be sure to e-mail me. I'm happy to get any issues resolved before we push off.
Get ready to have some fun and adventure!! Here we go!
Another Baja adventure is in the books. This year's trip may have been one of the best. Of course, each year seems to be better than the last.
Here is my trip picture album.
It was a nearly two week trip with more to show and tell than I have pictures or words for, and you have the patience to read. So I'll cover just a few highlights.
The group arrived at the Tecate border crossing coming from different directions. I road down the night before, from a conference in Vegas, and stayed nearby. Bfrank joined us from visiting friends in San Diego. Russell hosted the Sacramento contingent--Nate, Sarah, Ted and Doug--overnight as they came down in the truck with trailer the day before (Is it really a bike trip if you don't ride from door-to-door? ;-) ) We all immediately proceeded across the border to stop at the taco stand on main street in Tecate. Baja! A quick stop next door at the money changer and we're off.
Wine tasting was our next stop in Baja. There's a surprisingly nice wine region in the mountains south of Tecate. Good reds (my thing) but the whites were better. They even had "wine" in two liter plastic "soda" bottles. Very convenient for a motorcycle gang. We bought some peach stuff and had it later at dinner. Not bad.
After the usual overnight at Baja Cactus in El Rosario, we zoomed south on pavement to the Bay of LA--our first of four bay overnights.
Baja has so many great Bay locations. Each has its own special charm. LA is rapidly becoming a "more significant" destination as the road is paved all the way to the town. Right now, it's still a great place. The Costa de Sol where we stayed is especially nice. Great rooms with bike parking and palapas in front of your door. Cold beer open and waiting as we stepped off the bikes. Dining is just a few steps away in their restaurant. For dinner they cooked us a seafood platter and refilled it as needed. We ate like kings and queens. In the morning it was time for some dirt.
An enjoyable afternoon ride on firm dirt sent us to the next bay destination--San Francisquito. But, as we road along we found Doug laying in the middle of the trail with his broken BMW taking a nap. He have gotten caught in the sand and dropped hard. We got the bike up and operational, he toughed it out, and off we go to finish the last 10 miles or so.
As quiet and remote as you can ask for, San Francisquito had palapa like huts containing cots and a main building housing a kitchen and eating area. Other than that, nothing but very blue water and a full moon. The local caketakers brought us a stack of wood for our campfire on the sand. Do you enjoy quiet warm beach beauty? This is the place!
In the morning Doug's bike is loaded into the staff pickup and he's off to Bay of LA and pavement. Two days later he's back in San Diego and flying home to somewhere near Sacramento. Seems he had three cracked ribs and a partly collapsed lung. Ow!
Another day of dirt riding through El Arco adds more dust and fun. The road out of El Arco back to highway 1 is the closest thing I've ever seen to a dirt superhighway. Wide, straight, flat, and relatively smooth we were comfortably cruising at 70 mph.
As we arrive at our next destination, San Ignacio, I'm in for a treat. I've heard about and wanted to try the San Ignacio Springs yurts but they've always been fully occupied in the past. Not this time. We're in!
Yurts are round tents common to Mongolia. A Canadian couple has set up a number of them in the palm grove along side the river entering San Ignacio. They have a main kitchen "building" (really an organized outdoor area with a sun roof) along with the yurts and serve group meals as part of your stay. These "tents" are not like anything you've slept in before. Too cool!
Next day we're off to see the whales in the San Ignacio lagoon about 30 miles south of town. Except, at a re-group stop half way there, Ted's bike is peeing oil. Oh man! Not good! Seems the mount for the BMW's skidplate has cracked and taken a large chunk out of the bottom of the motor. Within minutes a pickup headed back to town from the lagoon stops and we load Ted and his machine on-board while we all continue on. How lucky is that! Baja road service!
Ted does okay. Back in town he gets the services of a local mechanic. They rivet a metal plate into the hole, then JB Weld around it. Within two days he's got a working bike. He rides to Gonzaga and meets up with us three days later.
Whales. I don't have the words or photography skills. Just take a look at the short video clips and imagine it. You've got to see this place once in your life!
Another remote beautiful bay overnight is waiting so we're off on the high road south to San Juanico, a.k.a. Scorpion Bay to the gringo surfers. Here we've scheduled our only no-riding rest day. We have a house near the beach reserved and treat ourselves to a group cooked meal and breakfast (okay, really a Nate and Sarah cooked meal but I walked to the store and bought the eggs at 9:00 am or "the crack of dawn"). Baja, just one beautiful beach after another.
We used the extra day here to get Bfrank's foot pegs welded by the local vehicle repair guy. $5 Per side. Then we're off to Mulege by way of Loreto.
After a brief lunch stop in Loreto and we arrive in downtown Mulege. As is tradition, we stay in the center of town at Alfonso's Hacienda hotel. It's always good to see him. This guy is amazing. Each year I learn something new about him. Still going strong at 80+ years, he's taught himself nearly perfect English, retired from owning and flying a plane, owns two hotels in town, and is building homes--really a development--north of town in a desert area. I tell him he's in the book Baja Legends and promise to e-mail him the relevant pages when I get home.
Our crew of five (down from seven at the start) continues on from Mulege to Gonzaga Bay. We have e-mail messages from Ted suggesting he's got the BMW running and might meet us there.
By late afternoon, after a morning of pavement and an afternoon of dirt, we are pulling into Gonzaga and see Ted's bike at Alfonsina's, the local (only!) hangout. We secure rooms and dinner. Our forth remote beautiful bay.
Our last Baja day awaits. We head out from Gonzaga in the morning to find the only fuel station is out of gas and closed. Not uncommon in Baja, and particularly so here in a remote location like Gonzaga. The bigger (i.e., smarter!?) bike riders buy some gas off other visitors that have cans full in their truck. But I calculate I have the remaining range to reach fuel near San Felipe, our afternoon's destination. I'm wrong.
After a morning of rocky dirt roads we reach the new pavement south of Puertecitos and speeds pick up. About five miles out of San Felipe I roll to a stop. Ted comes to the rescue with a MSR can of gas. That gets me about 3.5 more miles. Another embarrassing stop and Nate drains a bit more fuel from his KTM supertanker and I cover the final distance. I roll into the Pemex on the south side of San Felipe running on fumes. Next time I stick to John's first rule of Baja "Where there's gas, buy gas."
Our last overnight is enjoyable but uneventful in San Felipe. This is a real city with all the services so it makes a fitting last Baja stop. It's an opportunity to ease back into all the services and commercialism that is the U.S. Our final day includes the twisty pavement of MX Rt 2 over the mountains south of the border back to Tecate and the U.S.
My Suzuki has been unstoppable the whole way, assuming you ignore the rider's stupid lack of fuel purchase in Gonzaga. Now that we're back in the U.S., it clearly feels neglected. After the afternoon lunch stop, I find the oil filler cap is missing. Of course, not until riding some miles and coating my self and the right side of the bike with 20W50. Some duct tape to the rescue. We continue on.
The tape gives way just two miles from San Diego's Fun Bike Center. More minor roadside "repairs" and we make FBC as the rain starts pouring down. A bit of searching at FBC finds a suitable replacement cap (I think from a Suzuki GSXR) and all's good again.
Russell treats us all to an overnight at his place in San Diego and I finish the week with a day's ride up the coast to Paso Robles in cool but sunny conditions.
Another Baja. May there be many more to come!