Tropic of Cancer – Finally, a Start

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Diving the Honda Varadero into the melee of a Tijauna traffic circle makes this tour’s stutter start preparation worth it. The act is a stinging belly-flop plunge into a different culture. It’s an act of faith that inserting the big adventure bike into the swirling vortex of squealing family sedans, rattle trap buses and braying taxis will work out. Miraculously, it does.

It’s an apt metaphor for a trip that has veered and swerved its way into reality. The bikes arrived at the last moment, their PDI rushed to a “check the boxes” completion, their accessories bolted on by Kevin and I over the course of five days at a friend’s place in Ukiah California. Then with any sense of schedule left in billowing tatters of urgency, we pushed southwards towards the Baja. Two or three Californian roads squirming through the state’s crumpled topography offered throttle twisting release, before the sighing realization that time wouldn’t allow a strafing attack of the Malibu Canyons or other asphalt delectables.

The thwump-thwump-thwump of super-slab carried us to San Diego, the Varaderos proving their freeway comfort, and more last minute scrambling as we hastily arrange first service for the bikes, a switch to “knobbie tires” to better cope with the Baja’s dirt road conditions and finally scramble maddly for Mexican insurance.

We’ve jokingly dubbed the bikes the Armor ‘Dero’s in honor of the extra protection they’re carrying, but prying open a space in the traffic circle’s inner orbit, they don’t seem overdone. The drop resistant Trax bags, SW Motech crash guards and Barkbuster handguards from Twisted Throttle, are just as suitable “bike hardening” for urban warfare as the back of beyond.

For the first time in two weeks of being away, I’m grinning like an idiot. Here you can ride as pushy and as hooligan as you want and discover you fit right in. What’s right seems to be what works, and we’re rolling with that.

What isn’t working is our navigation. We miss our exit, then are spat out of the circle into a one way bus lane. A U-turn later and we’re back in the vortex, this time following signs for the vehicle importation office. We’re not looking for importations, those aren’t needed for the Baja, but tourist permits are required. Arriving at the parking lot, it seems too easy; so unbelieving we turn back into Tijauna traffic.

A grey Suburban rolls in behind us.

Twenty minutes earlier, in the parking lot of a San Ysidro Autozone, a trucker from Tijauna started by asking us about the Varaderos and ended by giving us directions to the Instituto National de Migracion (INM) which would issue our travel permits. Since then he’d watched us miss our turn as we crossed into Mexico, enjoyed our traffic circle antics, then caught up with us to set us on course. We double check his directions with a motorcycle Policia who’s pulled up behind us and two blocks later pull into the walled fortress of the Banjecito parking lot.

A friendly guard points us on to the INM office, and the officer behind the desk notes our gear, asking the default question, “What do you ride?”

“We’re on Honda Varaderos.”
“What are those? Enduros?”
“Big adventure bikes.”
“Like Ewan McGregor?” I can feel a psychic shudder ripple through the entire Honda organization, but this is near enough for official purposes.
“Sort of, a similar idea.”
“I ride a Ducati nine-six… teen.”

The quarter drops, this isn’t an official interrogation, but it’s a bike talk where our near non-existent Spanish is meeting the officer’s good English. It’s reminiscent of our Canada-US border crossing where the guard engaged us in a twenty-minute conversation, giving us pointers on the best places to eat in the Baja and a run down of road conditions into the required adventure destination of Mike’s Sky Ranch. A discussion that likely left the traffic behind us wishing they’d chosen another lane.

This motorcycle effect of opening doors, largely attributable to riding bikes that near no-one has ever encountered in the US and now Mexico, has been a joy of the trip.

Tourist permits neatly folded by the officer and placed in our passports, we return to the parking lot only to find a group of three men, from different classes and two different countries standing, pointing and discussing the bikes. They watch the grindingly slow process of us gearing up, starting the bikes, fiddling with the GPS and then finally setting off. I feel like I should reward them with some kind of show, a wheelie or something, but the guard is watching too. He has a gun. I defer, we’re guests here.

This is the grand irony of our trip through Tijauna, in the news there is nothing but bad press of vicious drug wars and violent killings, yet everyone we’ve met has gone out of their way to help. Are the good people just doing that much more?

We’re lost again. A search for gas has put us on a major thoroughfare through town. Eventually it dawns on us that the street won’t rejoin with 1-D that’s to carry us South. We pull of a quarter of a block down the road from a food stand. While we discuss our navigational failings, a man jogs up.

“Ensenada?”
“Si.”
“You need to go back, the other end of town.”

We start gearing up, then the smell of meat grilling, fresh salsa and grilling vegetables hits us and we’re stopped. At the cart we’re treated to carne asada and chorizo tacos packing more flavour than any restaurant meal we’ve had in the US. Five dollars covers four tacos, a drink and a tip.

“You go back to the highway. The other way, there are bad people.”

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian says:

    Hi Neil,
    Any chance of a 1920×1200 >< copy of the main image for wallpaper?

    Cheers
    Ian

    Like

    1. Ian,
      No worries. Let me talk to Kevin (the photographer) and we’ll get you one.
      Neil

      Like

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