Until recently I had never really given much thought to a trip to Baja. It’s a long way from Maine and I just never really thought about it. I’m not the type that’s into racing, Dakar or anything like that, I just like to ride. But, a few months ago I bought a DR650 to keep at my brother’s house in AZ (more about that here
) and as I started researching places to ride out west I came across a lot of ride reports and inquiries about Baja. There seemed to be a tremendous amount of interest in Baja among dual sport riders. So, since it was only about 375 miles to Baja from where my bike would be kept in AZ, I started doing a little research and preparing for a possible exploratory venture into Baja during one of my visits to AZ.
It became obvious fairly quickly that opinions on riding Baja were split pretty much right down the middle. There were those who said Mexico is too dangerous, don’t even consider going there, especially by yourself - the drug cartels will kill you, there are banditos, crooked cops, scary military checkpoints everywhere, federali ’s will get you and lock you up forever, etc., etc. Then there were those who said Baja is a wonderful place full of friendly people, don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine. What I noticed during my research was that the naysayers were typically people who had never been to Baja, and those who said it was a wonderful place full of friendly people were the ones who had actually been there. This stood out to me.
I’m old enough and wise enough at my age not to take lightly any adventure riding solo into remote areas, whether it be any foreign country or my own home state. So, a lot of research and planning was done, even though I wasn’t entirely sure when I might actually get a chance to go - I figured if I was prepared then the opportunity would arise. I think it’s safe to say I spent well over a hundred hours researching and preparing - reading ride reports, gathering information wherever I could find it, asking questions of experienced Baja travelers, finding the best maps, studying those maps, collecting and creating GPS tracks, purchasing and studying a Baja guidebook, etc. I intended to be prepared. By the time I was ready to actually venture into Baja I was very familiar with the geography and main roads, to the point that I could have found my way around the main roads of northern Baja without a map or GPS, of course there aren’t really many main roads. All this preparation and all I was really planning was what I considered a “recon” trip. I planned a three-day loop around northern Baja to get a feel for what Baja was really like, what the people were like, what the roads were like, what real “dangers” there may be, etc. If all went well, perhaps I would plan a longer trip in the future.
A few things I did to prepare that are worth mentioning:
- Purchased Mexico insurance - I bought a liability policy that covers my driver’s license for anything I ride or drive. The cost was about $85 for one year, purchased from Mexico Insurance. They were very easy to deal with over the phone and I had a policy emailed to me within ten minutes.
- Purchased a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. Along with this I purchased the tracking option, GEOS Search and Rescue Insurance, and GEOS MEDIVAC International Coverage. The cost of the device was $90. Annual subscription was $100 plus another $50 for the tracking feature. GEOS Search and Rescue Insurance was $13 a year, and the GEOS MEDIVAC International Coverage was $110 a year. I’d prefer not to get into a discussion of the SPOT device here, but I spent many hours researching these and other PLB’s before deciding on the SPOT device.
- I had read conflicting reports regarding the need to acquire a Tourist Card and a TVIP (temporary vehicle import permit). I decided to ask the people at Mexico Insurance company about this since they seemed very knowledgeable and helpful. I was told that I definitely did not need either one in Baja North, but if I ventured into Baja South or anywhere else in Mexico I would need both.
And so all the planning was done . . . the opportunity came . . . and I was headed to Baja.
Monday February 20th
. . . 6:00am in Sierra Vista, AZ - all packed up and ready to roll.
A few hours into the ride I made my first stop - fuel.
A couple hours later . . . a rest stop to stretch the legs and check in with my brother since they were all sleeping when I hit the road. He said the SPOT tracker was working great and they had been following my progress all morning. One of the reasons I went with the SPOT device. They were able to follow my progress every day, and I was able to send a message via satellite every night letting them know all was well.
You've gotta love the desert . . .
I made it to the border crossing in about seven hours, but gained an hour at the CA border since they’re on Pacific Time so it was only noon. I decided to have lunch at the Subway in Calexico before crossing into Mexicali. At the Subway I experienced what would really be the tone of the entire trip - a local EMT stopping in for lunch struck up a conversation with me and offered info about Baja since he’d been there often for the great surfing on the west coast. He wrote down his email address and told me to email him when I got a chance and he’d send more info with GPS coordinates for some great spots. Hadn’t even crossed the border yet and already people were trying to help me!
The border crossing was a non-event. Rode into Mexicali and kept going thru the city to MEX-2 and headed east toward Laguna Salada.
The dry lake bed I'd be heading into
My plan was to spend the night at Canyon de Guadalupe. I had been told it was a beautiful spot to camp and there were hot springs there. It wasn’t too far from the border so it seemed like it would be the perfect spot for the first night.
It was only about thirty miles from the border to the turnoff onto this dirt road down Laguna Salada, but it was another 35 miles of dirt to get to Canyon de Guadalupe.
I had ridden across the Wilcox Playa recently (a dry lake bed in AZ that's about ten miles across), but this made that look like a dried up puddle. This dry lake bed is huge.
The road followed along the dry lake bed next to the mountains for about 25 miles before turning toward the mountains and winding its way into the canyon.
If you’re going to ride in Baja, you’re definitely going to ride some sand.
There was even some road signs.
The road changed quite a bit after the turnoff toward the canyon
It got a little rougher as I neared the canyon
The final obstacle before reaching the camping area was a water crossing - runoff from the hot springs. It was knee deep - not too bad.
I felt like I was definitely in the right place when I saw this sign. It became apparent everywhere I went that moto’s (bikes) are very popular in Baja.
The camping area was beautiful. A very well maintained area, and the canyon was beautiful too. It seemed a little strange however, that I was the only one there. I walked around the whole place for about a half hour taking pictures, and there was nobody there.
Oficina . . . nobody there
I finally heard some voices on the other side of the canyon at the only other camping area here, and it even sounded like they were speaking English - this would be a good thing since I speak no Spanish. I got close enough to shout over to them to ask about camping. They said I needed to speak to Ernesto and he should be nearby.
I walked around a little more and eventually met up with Ernesto, and his dog. Thus began my first conversation with someone who didn’t speak my language. It went surprisingly well, and didn’t really seem that difficult. I noticed the word “campo” on one of the signs leading into the canyon so I repeated that to Ernesto and he got the message – why else would I be there, really. Ernesto said $35, and I raised my eyebrows and, with a smile said something like “$35, for one night?” I thought $35 was a lot, and I wanted to let him know that, but I didn't want to insult him. He said something back in Spanish and I motioned around at the camp spots asking him to show me where I could camp, and again he got the message and led me to one of the sites. It was beautiful, but I didn’t like it because I couldn’t get my moto next to the tent site, so I motioned around by the tent site, shook my head no and said moto a couple times, and guess what - Ernesto got the message and showed me another site where I could park the bike right next to the tent. Then he says; “$35, but you $30.” I smiled again and offered him “$300 pesos” to which he replied “OK.” So the actual cost was a little less than $25 US dollars. I still thought that was quite a bit, but it was well worth it.
I got the feeling throughout the trip that everything was negotiable, and that the initial price was based on what they thought they might be able to get out of you. I almost always worked out a better deal than what they initially told me.
So with the campo fee paid I rode the bike up to the site and began setting up camp. I had enough time to get my tent up, enjoy the hot spring, and walk around a little before the sun began to set behind the canyon wall.
A network of pipes had been set up to bring water from the hot springs right to the camp sites
The pool of water was very warm, but the water coming out of the pipe was hot! It sure felt good after a long day on the road.
I went to bed as soon as it got dark and there was still nobody else in the entire place. A little while later I heard a group of people arrive at a nearby site, but they were the only other people who came while I was there.
Day one had gone as planned and I slept well in my little tent at Canyon de Guadalupe. So far, nothing but friendly folks in Baja, but I was just getting started.