Baja: Tropic of Cancer – Hazards of the Road

South of the oasis town of Mulege and rounding the corners overlooking Bahia Concepcion it’s hard not to be distracted. White sailboats, float on azure waters, bracketed by eggshell beaches, all rendered in travel brochure saturation… And then someone throws a car at you – several, in fact. The topper though is the bus.

On tarmac in the Baja, the residents drive like the wind, in vehicles so dilapidated that their days of being driven with flair should be long gone. They cut corners, they hug the center line, bored by those actions they disregard the single yellow stripe completely and attempt impossible passes. Here people drive like 16 year-old boys with everything to prove and no skill to back it up. And so, a Baja safety tip for when the dirt road runs out — stick to the right. Ride clinging to the white right line as if your bike has a bad coke habit. Hug cliff walls overlooking oceans like they were long lost relatives. Develop an intense and violent allergy to the yellow line. Until, you see any local slow down and flash their vehicle’s headlights.

In Canada a flick of the high-beams would mean “cop ahead”, in Baja that doesn’t seem to apply. The most interest we’ve had from any police is to look at the bikes, give us the thumbs up and wave us on. Here flashing headlights signal danger; an accident, goats, horses, a vado (washes where the rivers flood across the road post rain) full of water, sand, burrows, and cows… mostly cows. Grazing, non-committal, unaware, unflappable cows; until they panic and bolt in front of you becoming bone-lean pylons.

There is a different relationship to animals in the Baja than in Canada. In Canada open range, generally translates to wide spaces where cows can fatten over the summer. In the Baja it means the edge of the road, where cows become leaner, faster and fitter. Periodically sprinting in front of traffic will do that to you.

A cow’s life here seems to be survival of the fittest. If you are slow and fat, your cow chances of survival on the highway are drastically reduced, only the fit survive… Darwin would be so proud, in the reverse of selective breeding by farmers, the toughest beef you ever encounter can be found in Mexico.

Dogs likewise roam here. Scruffy mutts, that in the cities and towns are fattened by the treats of gullible tourists if they’ve mastered the wag-and-approach looking cute school of begging, much leaner if they’ve only managed the cowering-don’t-beat-me stance. Or if they live in the country, and you see those by the road too, they are skinny and scavenging, mostly feeding on Betsy after she’s failed to out-sprint a family sedan.

It goes without saying that you don’t want to hit livestock on a bike. And if you do, strangely, you owe the farmer for the dead animal. Being a norteamercano these cows or goats can become suddenly very expensive, Leon the owner of the OutPost Bed and Breakfast in Loreto points out.

So, flashing lights mean slowdown and move towards the center of the road. Then just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, someone throws a bus at you.

In a widened section of road, through a corner with warnings posted on either end, the bus has overcooked it. The driver has entered the corner to fast. Even before the wheels start to slide and the bush is beginning to fishtail, I’m on the breaks and beginning to take evasive action. Except, really, there is none. It’s hard to evade a bus being thrown at you in a corner, especially sideways… tires screeching and boiling with white burnt-rubber smoke.

Completely against the odds, the driver regains control. We miss each other, and I do not join Betsy at the roadside. Dogs go unfed. Vultures do not circle. I suffer a “looking death in the sockets” sort of scare. The driver will suffer inflated machismo. Once I realize I’m alive and I don’t need to change my shorts (how is still a mystery on both counts), I’m fueled by adrenaline and riding with “joie de vivre” – literally. The final turns and straights to Loreto fall quickly under the Varadero’s wheels.

Rolling into to town, for the first time this trip, we’re at a loss as to places to stay. We’ve had exceptional luck; nearly everyone we’ve run into has passed on a suggestion as to where we should stay next. It’s word of mouth creating a chain passed on knowledge between Baja riders. So let us pass on a find of our own; the Outpost Bed and Breakfast with its fan palm roofed palapas with full bathroom and amenities, wi-fi and a nice breakfast spread.

Loreto’s tourism industry hasn’t been so lucky as to avoid its own bus, which hit is oncoming in the form of sky rocketing fuel prices preceding the economic downturn. Based on fuel prices the airlines serving the tourist town cut the 5 daily flights serving Loreto drop to one Horizon Air flight carrying a mere 350 passengers. And while independent travelers like ourselves still make our way as far south as Loreto, we’re a scarce handful in comparison to planeloads full of tourists. Even that 350 is likely an optimistic number, with the recent economic downturn Leon, a sharp man with the numbers, has estimated the drop in tourism to be 80%.

We hear about these tourism woes under a fan palm roof in the kitchen and dining area of the outpost. Last night, a Tuesday, we stayed, in one of the two occupied palapa rooms, and ate in an empty restaurant. It’s a poor showing even for the shoulder season. Loreto is having some quiet time, waiting for it’s next onslaught of traffic expectantly, while we are seeking to avoid it.

Baja Outpost Bed and Breakfast
Blvd. Lopez Mateos
Between Manuel Hidalgo & Fernado jordan
23880 Loreto, BC
Phone: +1-888-649-5951

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