Once again off to Mexico on our Triumph Tiger 800 XC. This time we combined attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a ride through northern mainland Mexico, a train through the Copper Canyon (or Barrancas del Cobre) with a lengthy two month stay in La Paz Baja California Sur. La Paz felt like home after such a long stay!
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
First up was Albuquerque and the Balloon Fiesta. We've been here before in late 1980's and again in 2014. But, this trip was different in that we went on a motorcycle and stayed in "Glamping Tents" within the park where all the action takes place. It was a great way to participate. Walking over to the launch field was rather easy so we could head over early in the morning for launch and back late at night for the balloon glow. We saved on high parking fees and avoided long waits getting the car into the area each day.
Weather interrupted some of the events, particularly the night time balloon glow, but otherwise we experienced all the event's fun during our three days at the event.
As the event entered the final weekend, we packed up and headed for southern Arizona to meet up with two additional bikes joining us for the Mexican part of the trip. Two days later we connected with them at a hotel in Wilcox AZ east of Tucson.
Now, as a group of four bikes, we continued to the Agua Prieta border crossing where our FMMs are stamped as we enter into Mexico. After a short ride in the Mexican state of Sonora, we stop for the night in the pleasant town of Cananea MX.
A full day ride on route Son 89, a back road along a river passing through a number of small towns, leads us to the big city of Hermosillo MX. While generally I don't seek or enjoy big cities, Hermosillo turns out to be one of the better ones. We had an enjoyable overnight and a ride through the busy downtown in the morning.
A near race on Mex route 15D brings us to the Sea of Cortez and the town of San Carlos MX. Mex 15D is a high speed four lane that is absolutely straight from the outskirts of Hermosillo to the coast. Clearly the good people in the coastal resort towns want no delays for their customers.
San Carlos and the Sea of Cortez Beach Club
San Carlos is a beautiful spot on the coast with a number of nice resort hotels, beaches, restaurants, and marinas. Along with the neighboring town of Guaymas, this area has many condos, hotels and second homes. While there are many gringos, the majority of the people in the area seemed to be Mexican nationals giving the area a more authentic feel. We stayed at the Sea of Cortez Beach Club where we had direct beach access, a restaurant, bar, pool, spa, and all the other resort amenities at a very reasonable price. Our room was large with a mini-kitchen. While we stayed just two nights, a longer stay would be no problem and quite enjoyable. This area is definitely on our list for another visit.
Barrancas del Cobre or Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon is our next stop in the Mexican state of Sinaloa (yep, known for its cartel). This is one of the largest canyons in North America. By some dimensions, it is larger than the Grand Canyon in the USA. We choose to leave our bikes for a few days at a hotel in Topolobampo along the coast and board the El Chepe train. We board at the Los Mochis station with prima (first class) tickets. El Chepe is the only passenger train in the country of Mexico. It is special. The route is cut into the walls of the canyon from the coastal region to the mountain towns where the canyon ends. Service on board is fantastic (large comfortable seats, view car, dining car, and bar car) and the view is amazing. We ride all day arriving at our planned stop in the town of Divisadero located high canyon rim about 4 pm. A short two mile drive from the station, we stay two nights at the Hotel Mansión Tarahumara, which is really more of a castle than hotel.
From here we could explore the hiking trails along the canyon rim. We visited a Tarahumara home along the rim. They are the most numerous of the three indigenous tribes that have populated this canyon for centuries. A bit of rain, along with the cool temperatures that go with high altitude, encouraged us to read a book by the comfort of the hotel's great room massive fireplace. No one lost weight at the hotel. Meals were traditional foods with dinners coming from the evening's fixed menu. The tortillas were made by hand in the traditional way using a wood fired oven. All good stuff!
After our fantastic train ride, overnights, and train return, we spend another day in Topolobampo on the coast to recover and prepare for the ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez to Baja. Ferry ticketing was much more complex than needed. Each bike had to be weighted (all were well below the minimum 750 kg the scale can weigh), measured for length, then VIN numbers checked and recorded. Separate tickets are required for passengers and vehicle. Travelers over 65 years old require a doctors note! A maximum of one person can go in or with the vehicle and be on the associated ticket. As we had hours to wait for the ferry to begin loading at midnight, so we might as well pass the time handling ticketing paperwork in Spanish.
The ferry is very large with seven lanes and three decks of vehicles. Much larger than I expected and the largest I've ever been on. Most of the cargo are semi-trailers without the tractor unit so they can pack the maximum. Loading in Topolobampo starts at midnight and does not complete until around 2:30 am. The yard-jockeys are very entertaining to watch as they race to load the many waiting trailers as fast as possible. Sliding them into position on the ferry with less than three inches clearance between units. Motorcycles are nearly the last on, so we wait in the staging parking lot for hours watching the show. The payback, we hope, is that we get to be nearly the first off when we arrive.
Around 3 am we are all on board, bikes tied down safely in the hold, and off we go. There are private rooms on board with a bed that can be booked, but we went for the basic seating, which turns out to be quite nice. Large reclining seats with significant leg room for all! I had no problem getting to sleep quickly and, other than a short break for a bathroom walk around 4 am, I slept until we were approaching port in La Paz. Unloading was quick after a few truck trailers were moved out of our way then we cruised the short 10 miles to the malecón beach front and our rental house, a.k.a. our home, for the next two months.
We really got to know La Paz being there for two months. Our house was built before 1850 so it was both historic (actually marked on Google Maps) and unique. Located two blocks off the malecón, across from a grocery store and easy walking distance to numerous good restaurants, we really enjoyed it. Both Bryan's and Bree's family were able to come visit for a few days. I very much expect to return to the area for another long stay.
On the day we were to leave, after packing our gear and locking up the house, we found that the bike would not start! The motor turned over but didn't fire. After checking the easy items it seemed likely the fix would require significant disassembly and likely a part I did not have. We extended our stay two more nights at a hotel nearby, arranged for the bike to be transported directly to the San Diego Triumph dealer (where I purchased it back in 2013), and then left on a flight from La Paz to Tijuana, followed by a one-way rental car to home. As I write this, the bike is not fixed but the dealer diagnosis is a sensor in the engine must be replaced.
Other than missing the expected ride home through Baja, another successful trip. Even getting home as our return cost (including shipping the bike) I estimate was only $100 more than if we had followed the ride home plan.