Trip Report: Baja is No Joke
Location: Baja California & Baja California Sur, Mexico
Conditions: High 80’s in daytime, down to lower 40’s at night and through the Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountain range. Mostly Sunny during the day and clear at night.
Close to the coast on the North-West side of the Peninsula was slightly damp in the mornings. The surrounding area around Guerrero Negro was a massive fog bank in the mornings. Keep this in mind when planning your trip South, it is treacherous trying to navigate that fog bank on the road. We were almost hit more than once by oncoming traffic.
The North-East side of the Peninsula was dry with high wind gusts.
The northern mountain ranges, towards the center of the Peninsula, have weather that is slightly unpredictable. Be prepared for much colder temperatures and scattered showers. The most northern range received snow while we were there.
Duration: 8 days/7 nights
Riding Difficulty: Easy to Moderate on Paved Routes. Moderate to Difficult on Un-Paved Routes, there are many off-road routes I would have rated Advanced to near impossible on a large, loaded adventure bike (particularly for Amateurs, with little to no training). I would say, learn the basics of riding in sand before you go, if you plan to leave the slab.
Amanda Zito is a born and raised Montanan, transported to Portland, OR in 2010. She works at Latus Motors Harley-Davidson and Triumph, in Gladstone, OR. Latus hosts the monthly ride called Karl’s Mystery Ride in the Summer, which is led by Karl Lipke and swept by Amanda. Their goal is to create an environment that's friendly and a little challenging for medium-heavy weight adventure bike riders in the PNW.
This trip to Baja started as a joke (Spoiler: Baja is No Joke.) Karl and I were supposed to do a different trip at the end of 2017 that got canceled due to snow. So, we were talking about alternatives we could try, and I jokingly threw in Baja. It snowballed and well, here we are.
Seven adventure bikes left Portland, OR in a 28ft Latus Motors Truck and made the journey to San Diego, CA where they were unloaded and fitted for the adventure to come.
Four Triumph Tigers, a DR650, a KTM 690, and a BMW crossed the border and spent 8 days exploring Baja, Mexico. I was new to my 2016 Triumph Tiger 800xc and itching to get it into some dirt. We all had our own ideas of what we wanted to get out of Baja, and I was no different.
With the help of Next Adventure, Wolfman Luggage, Western Power Sports and Scorpion EXO I was kitted out with the gear I needed to survive our trip to Baja.
I believe it’s very telling to let you know that part way through our trip, our tagline became “ Baja is No Joke .” Between two flat tires, three bent tire rims, four drops, two bee stings, one stop by the Mexican Marines, one chain sacrificed to the gods of baja and an oil leak, I think you get the idea.
We packed up and left our Airbnb in San Diego, CA and headed to the Border, for what would be my very first experience in another country. We crossed in San Ysidro, and I felt very fortunate to have someone else to follow through the building to get our Tourist Visa. Mexican Auto Insurance already in hand (having purchased it online before we left), when it was all said and done it was a painless process and everyone was very nice. We paid $530 pesos (roughly $28 usd at time of purchase) for 8 days in Baja Mexico (7 days or less is free, but you still need to get your FFM/Tourist Visa).
There were many things about our crossing into Baja that were shocking, but also felt uncannily familiar. Next to the border there were hoards of people trying to sell their goods to those who were crossing back into the US. They reminded me strikingly of the hawkers who man the kiosks in malls. There are stray dogs everywhere, that I desperately wanted to rescue and take home with me. The sheer amount of garbage along the roads has a resemblance to Southern California where garbage has replaced tumbleweeds floating across the roads. Dilapidated homes surrounded by clusters of beater cars in various states of repair, similar to rural areas of Montana and Idaho. These examples of poverty were highly contrasted with the large villas surrounded by iron
fences and perfectly manicured exterior landscapes, not unlike the large income gap that can be seen in just a few blocks in US cities.
The best example of this gap we experienced were two of the hotels we stayed at. The first of which, Hotel Jardines in San Quintin was Instagram Heaven incarnate and was only missing a beach. This void was filled later by an extremely overpriced resort we stayed at out of necessity, which was rewarded by the incredible sunrise over the bay.
Probably the most jarring thing, that has no equivalent for me, is being surrounded by people who don’t speak your language. This experience brought with it a whole new understanding that I haven’t experienced before. I mean, not being able to read everything on a menu and be picky about what is or isn’t in your food was…interesting. This was tempered by the sheer amount of hospitality we felt from the local people. Everyone we met were kind to us, and in some cases went out of their way to help us and make sure we were safe. Even the Marines who stopped us on the road were primarily concerned for our safety.
Roads in Baja were a totally separate story. I was by no means surprised by the condition of the paved toll roads, they’re no different than most rural roads in the US. Having been warned by everyone about how terrible the roads were, I was lulled into a sense of false optimism. The toll roads have some rough spots, like where the road looks like it had terrible acne as a kid and picked at every pimple, resulting in terrible pits and craters in their face. Like that.
Little did I know, this was just a small taste of the moon craters we would face farther south. Craters ranging in size and depth, so close to each other it felt like I was trying to pick a clear line through a minefield. At the end of that treacherous patch of craters, I felt lucky to have escaped with only a bent rim on my front tire. The off-road sections of our route were less forgiving, and two of our group suffered flat tires. Learn from our experience and make sure you have the necessary tools to remove your tire, break the bead, and replace the tube.
However daunting some of the roads may have been the pay-offs were inumerable. For example our campsite along the water of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, south of Guerrero Negro. Where we challenged how many tents you could fit inside a Palapa, were pleasantly surprised with an open restaurant along the beach, then giggled like children at summer camp before reluctantly going to sleep.
Bahia de Concepcion, with its brilliant turquoise water and series of twists and turns that appeared like a mirage out of the desert hills. We were enchanted and strongly tempted to stop in the middle of the day and plop ourselves in the white sands to drink up the view of the crystal water.
Adventure is what happens when your plan goes awry. I would definitely call our experiences in Baja an adventure. The ups and downs that all groups experience, our attempts to overcome challenges presented by obstacles, and the hard earned views and experiences we had. Go prepared, go with an open mind, and don’t be in such a rush you miss the people and scenery you’re passing by. Baja is No Joke.