I ended up leaving San Diego a day late, feeling a bit under the weather. I considered staying another day but the sting of US hotel prices drove me out. I intended to ride to the border, go into Tijuana, and stay the night there. Fortunately, I got lost trying to get back on the route and ran into two other southbound cyclists: Eric and Joel. They planned on staying on the US side and going over to Ensenada in the morning. They had a route which included a scenic ferry crossing and little traffic. What a find. I joined up with them and continued south for the day; eventually deciding to ride across the border together the following day.
Eric and Joel left from their home of Sonoma a couple weeks ago. They had been kicking out 80 mile days to stay on schedule, they only have about a month before they have to go back to work. And I thought my 65 mile day was tough, sheesh.
So, morning came early, 6AM. This is by far the earliest I’ve woken up on my ride so far. I’m more of a just-before-checkout-time kind of guy. We rode into the border crossing and discovered that there was little to no checking of documents unless you went to the office and explicitly asked for a stamp and a visa. $22.50 later, I’m good to go in Mexico for six months.
I had been looking for information on navigating Tijuana on bikes on the internet but found little. The only thing I did find was mention of bicycles not being allowed on the toll road; and it’s true. Eric also had issues finding any good information. So, we rolled into TJ, asked a cab driver where to go and promptly followed his bad instructions. Long story short, several people told us we could ride next to the toll road, on the toll road, and over the hills through some suburbs. All of these methods turned out to be incorrect. When we did try to enter the toll road we were told we could not and were turned back. Playing the gringo card didn’t work either; the only direction was back the way we came. We eventually got onto Hwy 1 rather than Hwy 1D. I didn’t ever see any indications pointing us towards Hwy 1 and I still have no idea how to get there the correct way. What you don’t want to do is follow any signs that say “Scenic Route”, Hwy 1D, Juarez St, or Cuarto. You want the free road, Hwy 1 (Libre). I believe you need to take a left somewhere in TJ then a right to find it but I really have no idea. We ran into yet another southbound cyclist (Amy) who happened upon the right route simply by taking streets with less traffic. Some people in a forum recommended taking a train from San Diego to Rosarito or Ensenada and now I see why.
After our 16 mile scenic detour through TJ, we finally got on the road towards Ensenada. It was clear we weren’t going to make it another 60 miles that day so we selected a campground about 34 miles south. The road was treacherous: shoulder drop offs of several inches to several feet where there was construction, narrow roads, abrupt potholes as deep as 6 inches, and traffic that barely fit on the road without a bunch of crazy people on bikes on the side. Still, the drivers were very courteous, the view was excellent, and hey; we were in Mexico. What’s not to love about all that? Right Joel? :)
We stopped at one point to check the map to see how much further it was to the campsite only to discover it was just a few blocks behind us. As if this coincidence wasn’t enough; while we were collecting supplies, sharing a few well deserved Modelo’s, and watching the feral cats prowl the area we met John. He had noticed us from across the street where he was waiting for a cab to take him home from the office. John, a sometimes resident of Baja, came over to talk to us about what we were doing and where we were going. Almost immediately he offered to let us stay at his cabin, just 3K back up the road from where we had come. This turned out to be a very cool experience. We were treated to soft beds, running water, hot showers, an amazing sunset, and some great company. The cabin was actually a trailer in a trailer park which was built in the 50′s or 60′s. Each “trailer” had since been modified to the point that it was no longer visible and became unique structures resembling houses. Thanks again John! You can read about our visit on John’s Blog as well.
The next day we awoke, made breakfast on the gas stove; there’s no electricity at the cabin, and took off for Ensenada. The road was much less busy than the previous day’s bustle and all in all in better condition. The route took us up over a 1200′ hill, rolling up and down to get there. We were all pretty tired for some reason that day and took it pretty easy. Fortunately it was all downhill from the top into Ensenada where we had our first tacos. To any cyclists taking this route, you may want to bring a gas mask to ward off the fish factory odors at the outskirts of Ensenada.
We hung out last night together in town and had some good fun. Eric and Joel left this morning to bust out some miles while I stay here for a day or two to update the blog, do some laundry, get my phone sorted out, let some ailments heal, and take care of some other errands. I’ve only been in Mexico for two days now but my overall impressions are: The people are very very kind and helpful, the food is good in my opinion, it’s a little more expensive than I would have guessed, and most important of all: the flavor here is real. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of Baja.
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