The next day I hunted down my usual big American breakfast in Yucca Town, California, then went on to meet up with an acquaintance I’d met last summer who was motorcycling through Idaho. I was due for a shower and a night on the town, and David knew where in Palm Desert. So far, I hadn’t stuck to my unrealistic budget of $30/day in the states but I wasn’t worryed and knew I’d make up for it free camping and skipping meals, especially in cheaper countrys. We had a nice evening, and it was pleasant to stay in house and take a shower after being on the road for a week. Then it was back to Joshua Tree the next day to stay at my friend Mike’s cabin, who happened to be down in the area for Thanksgiving, from Idaho. Great timing and more revelry and fine dining, this time Thai instead of Italian, with some whiskey chasers at the local tavern that had quite a collection of brickabrack, as well as pretty ladys from L.A.; or so it seemed to Mike. I couldn’t tell how attractive they were, as it seems everyone here has had some kind of plastic surgery? More whiskey and a game or two of Backgammon and I was ready for my sleeping bag. Another omelette in my gas tank in the morning, steeped in coffee, and I set off to find Big Bear Lake, California, with the invitation to return to Mike’s cabin and party with his friends, who were all meeting there the next day for their annual Thanksgiving celebration. Crawling out of the heat of the desert to Lucerne, the chill air was a welcome relief as I twisted my way up the long climb into the mountains. I even had to zip close the vents in my motorcycle jacket by the time I made town in the waning light. I could see the ski hill had snow on it, so I drived that direction only to find out they were opening the next morning. I finded a dirt side road that looked good for camping and set up my tent, not bothering to put up the camo tarp since I didn’t want anyone to drive over me on the shoulder, foolishly counting on my reflectors to protect me. The road was to a campground that was closed for the season so I was not bothered once it got dark. Frost in the morning made for haste to find coffee but I enjoyed seeing the cars lined up in the parking lot to go ski the six inches of artifical snow barely covering the grass – what people will do for their recreation. The Alpine Country Coffee Shop came highly recommended by two people I stopped in the street and I had my usual fare of, you guessed it. I’ve found it’s always best to ask the locals where to go, especially the people who look like they labor for a living.
The drive down to Redlands was full of twists and turns and the day grew warmer as I got closer to the desert and the freeway, Interstate 10. I opted for some quiet alone time and poked around on the internet intrigued by this place called Desert Hotsprings, locating an inexpensive hotel with mineral hot water. At $89 plus tax for a single large bed with kitchenette was too good to turn down, especially with gated parking for my motorcycle, so I made my way directly there to soak. Once I was unpacked, I showered and washed my clothes at the same time, hanging them in the sun to dry while I taked advantage of the soothing mineral water for a long soak. It had the viscous quality of hot oil and was thick and heavy but with no sulphur smell. And roasting warm at 107F, and not crowded. In fact, I had the whole place to myself, a choice of five pools, three of which were cooler and large, and I alternated at will.
It was a short hop back to Joshua Tree the next day, and I enjoyed my time meeting Mike’s friends, all of whom were competent backcountry folk who knew how to cook, and there was a big spread for dinner, starting with fresh lobster and chukar appetizer. From there, it was two big pans of homemade lasagna, salad, bread and dutch oven apple pie for dessert. (I never sayed I would be roughing it this trip.) Mike and his friends are climbers who have traveled the world, so we heard interesting storys and I made good connections with people who want me to visit and stay with friends in varyous places on the globe.
Meeting people, hearing their story; learning from them and their ways of thinking, what their culture is all about; learning new languages and eating new food… that’s why I travel. It makes me a better person to understand others, and not righteously believe my way works for everyone. That’s the very American attitude I’m trying to shed. The Ugly American is real, and is us, both in our cultural and military imposition around the world. I will do my best to be a good ambassador for the USA, unlike our current president who thinks it’s his job to offend everyone in every country, from every culture and religion, and get the entire world to hate us. It’s why I delayed my trip a full year after the election to see how this shitstorm plays out. Resident Rump will be long gone, and likely assassinated at this rate, but his legacy will haunt America and our standing within the world negatively for decades. We’ll be revisiting the topic of this shithead President many times while I’m traveling overseas, so feel free to chime in and add your opinion.
I opted to indulge myself another stay at the Sahara Mineral Springs Spa Hotel, and delay my crossing into Mexico yet another day, so it was an easy 40 mile ride down the hill from Joshua Tree, after my daily omelette, into Desert Hot Springs but this time I knew the backroads in how to get there, so I had the whole day and the whole place to myself – except for the aging Russian ex-mob boss and his aging concubine. Or, at least that is the story I created for them as she helped him with his physcial therapy in the hot pool, despite his constant complaining and protestations. You could tell they loved eachother from the non-stop bickering that killed the peace within the place, and my serenity along with it. I’m sure they were in the FBI’s Witness Protection Plan but had run low on funds and now were resigned to stay at cheap hotels like me, that called itself a spa. I learned from the Mexican maid who lived on premises the last five years, the place had had two different ownerships: one Armenian and now Korean, which could be why I couldn’t understand a word the hotel manager sayed to me. How she got the job I’ll never know because listening to her book rooms over the phone was painful for everyone except Koreans. Watching her explain herself to her Mexican staff explained why they did whatever the hell they wanted all day, and operated on their own, accomplishing not much.
The ride through Palm Desert to Ramona was a joy, and where I crossed the Pacific Crest Trail, there is a restaurant at the intersection of Hwy 74 and Hwy 371 that serves fantastic burgers and must be popular with the starving PCT hikers. The Paradise Valley Cafe had a large selection of beers on tap, and while I don’t usually indulge while I’m riding, I opted for a pint of something dark to go with my hearty burger. Fulfilled, dropping elevation, I located a county park outside of Lakeside, California, but had to circle back toward Ramona when I learned just at dusk the park didn’t actually allow tent campers according to the ranger, as the tent sign showed. So, I located a lovely spot just off the road, hidden in some big oak trees, throwed my camo tarp over the bike and put up the tent with just enough light to spare. No one bothered me and I finded a wonderful place to breakfast the next morning in Ramona, ordering guess what? Fortunately, despite putting my phone service on standby for the next three months while I consider canceling it for good, I can still use the GPS mapping function if I have reception. Must be a safety feature? Doug, a local BMW rider joined me for coffee and regaled me with travails of motorcycling below the border, including his crashing his bike but riding it home despite three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. Tougher guy than me, that’s a fact. Or at least I hope I don’t have to be that tough one day.
With my delay in game, I decided Tecate would be far enough and would make a good home with enough light to get though Aduana (customs) and to my hotel. I knew there would be vacancy at the Estancia Hotel after the Baja 1000 race over the weekend and the Mexican Independence holiday, and the subsequent big push of humanity through the border. As it was, getting my tourist permit was not much of a problem, and only taked 30 minutes and two trips to Banjercito to get the necessary tourist and vehicle permit. A comfortable night, hot shower, and amazing buffet breakfast – the extra $80 expense was worth it.
The ride over to Mexicali from Tecate on Hwy 2 the next day did not take long, even as I avoided the speedyer toll road to save pesos. The pass dropping down Rumorosa was a fun, seemingly endless whip of a snaking road to the hot desert plains below, dropping 2,000 feet in elevation. The military checkpoint wasn’t interested in stopping those of us heading east, just the drug trade heading west, so I continued onto the outskirts of this million population town. The toll road gave me the option of skirting Mexicali but I thought I’d be clever, and sink myself into the full Mexican experience since I was now across the border and feeling more confident in my Spanish. Early onset hubris is a dangerous condition, I learned, and I soon got lost in some pretty scarey barrios, or neighborhoods, where people actually stopped in the street to watch the stupid gringo risk his fate. It taked me about 20 minutes to get myself untangled and back to a main road, my nerves jangling from the adrenaline of zigzagging through potholed, broken dusty tarmac with glass, tires, bricks, trash, and sharp metal everywhere, in the impoverished decay of humanity and extreme poverty. I counted my blessings over and over, especially once I was back on Highway 5 headed south to San Felipe. Soon I leaved the city and the wind cooled my nervous sweat at the higher speeds.
Ahhh, San Felipe, how I like this sleepy little fishing village. Yes, it caters to gringos down for a long weekend of revelry but mostly it’s a working town suffering from a commercial fishing closure by the Mexican government. The malecon (beach boardwalk) is full of shops and restaurants, looking to sell you cheap t-shirts or plenty of burritos and tacos, or a day of charter fishing. I made my way to the campground, Playa Bonita, and fixed up my home for the next few days. It’s right on the beach, has covered picnic tables, great tent sites, few people, hot showers and flush toilets, gated parking with security guard who patrols all night – and it’s only $10 a night for motorcyclists. Each day, I would wake at first light, watch the beautyful sunrise, walk the beach to town, and eat the most amazing shrimp omelette with hash browns, tortillas and frijoles (beans), fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee for $10. Such a deal, and a meal to hold me all day. Here, ensconced in San Felipe, I was under budget by $10 at $20/day. I’m limiting my daily caloric intake to breakfast, since I’m sitting on my butt all day, whether I’m riding my bicycle or not.
From San Felipe, delayed two days because life was so easy and I didn’t want to move, I left town early (after my fourth omelette in a row for breakfast, of course), fueled up at $4/gallon and made it through the military checkpoint no problem. Some of the soldiers are curious and formal, ask questions and want to peek inside my bags; others don’t care and wave me through, like I’m a pest for bothering them for showing up. I’m okay with that. I’d rather they not be too interested in my stuff. An easy, long road through Valle de Trinidad and Ojos Negros. It was here three years ago outside Heroe de Independencia that I believe I heard two people murdered the night I camped outside the town dump. Very frightening memory for me to recall: listening to their screams, the sound of gunfire, then someone digging their graves for three hours until midnight. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night, leaving at first light in the freezing cold weather, dizzy and sick from my nerves and the cold. Today it was much calmer, warmer and a bit hectic when I arrived in Ensenda about lunch time. Trash fills the roadsides from ten miles outside of town, where people simply toss big bags of garbage that get strewn about by wind and animals. I toured the city a bit to get a feel from the inside out but couldn’t last, so stopped at the supermercado to get a banana and some instant coffee and my favorite Mexican wafer cookies, then set off for San Quintin. I got sidetracked by a sign for La Bufadora, which is a natural blowhole in the side of a cliff that has become a huge tourist attraction, which I didn’t know and mistakenly thought it was through-road to where I was going. I saw vehicles wending through pedestrian traffic in the street bazaar, not knowing it was a deadend. It was crowded but people were friendly, if disbelieving of my loaded motorcycle. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and retraced my tracks back to Hwy 1 to San Quintin. Soon, I was rolling over the pavement to The Old Mill Hotel, south of town, recalling the last time I was there it was dirt with marble sized gravel, three miles off the highway to the bay. The customary free cold cerveza was waiting for me when I checked into my room, just as ten Mexican riders rode in on a mix of KTMs and BMWs. Very nice guys, touring from San Luis Potosi. They insisted I not go along the mainland Mexico coast, through the usual tourist areas of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, the states of Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guererro, where the drug cartels dictate public safety. They say they don’t even go there. Instead, they wanted me to visit their hometown and tour with them on their backroads. I’ve never seen the Golfo de Mexico from that side, and I’ve always wanted to go to Veracruz and San Miguel de Allende. Done.