Baja Day 2: La ruta del vino

Day 42, Rosarito to San Antonio de las Mines, 68 kilometers

A fitful night’s sleep didn’t prepare me for the ride today. And somehow, the distance ahead seems further than ever before, even though I’ve ridden many longer days. I’m again apprehensive, heading into the unknown. Where am I going, who will I meet? One person, for certain, is Lissette, a friend from Corvallis and the restaurant and, of all things, Facebook. We’ve been following each other for a few years, though never formally met. Today, I’m headed to her home in the Baja wine country. We are chatting over WhatsApp, I’m trying to get directions. At last, confident, I tell her I’m on my way.

The morning ride on Mex 1 is easy going, winds are favorable and rains are holding back. I glide over the coastline south of Rosarita, light traffic, good pavement, easy terrain. I stop for breakfast at La Fonda, invited in by a roadside sign which reads “GREAT BREAKFAST SERVED BY THE SEA”. I decide I need a break. A good Mexican breakfast, indeed with a beautiful view of the surf. And wifi, so I make contact again with my friends back home. A lifeline, this thin link through the internet. Perhaps next time I venture into Mexico, I’ll buy a data plan for my phone.

Back on the highway, Mex 1 climbs, leaving the coast and the Mex 1D Scenic Highway. Instead, I’m riding through La Mission, up through a steep pass, winding curves cut into rocky cliffs. The highway opens to a wide plateau, range land crossed by high tension power lines. Empty, lonely this place is to me. Yet, all along the way, small stands of vendors and water: I’m not alone. Lonely is a state of mind. A choice.

A few more miles, I come to an intersection. I look at the informational sign, Baja wine country. A bypass road, leads me directly to San Antonio de las Mines, cutting over 12 miles off my original itinerary. Better yet, this bypass stays at the higher elevation, instead of dropping down to the coast and then climbing Mex 3 back up again. Bolstered by my good fortune, I turn and ride, into la ruta del vino, the route to wine country. Rolling hills, cattle grazing, sage and stone, sand and clay. The Baja high country is beautiful.

I make another turn, following clues from the informational sign and my saved Google directions. Smooth going, except for those dogs, barking. Then two make chase! Stop or fly are my choices. I yell NO NO NO and stand in the pedals, outrunning the annoying beasts. Normally I would stop, stand down the dogs. But here I’m in full sprint, easily escaping. Wow. That was fun. Not really.

Just a few more miles, passing wineries now, tall palms and scents of coconut and grape. There, the turn onto Mex 3. But how am I going to find Lissette now? No wifi. I told her I’d meet her at the Pemex station, 2 hours from now. I’m resigned to sit on the curb and wait, then I see her waving from the other lane, just passing me. I do a quick U-turn, cross over the highway, and meet my host for the next stay. She helps me load my bike and bags into the back of her SUV.

I breathe a sign of relief as I climb into the passenger seat. I’m glad to have found my connection. I know where I’m going now. Lissette will later tell me I had a look on my face that said, What am I doing here in Mexico? What have I done? Not far from the truth. We drive a few miles over a maze of dirt roads, turns I could never remember without a map, and there is no map for these roads. We arrive at her home, a beautiful house, build by her husband Juan. Several greet, save one who yaps at me. First business, water, rehydrate. Hot shower. Ah.

Lissette is making a Spanish chicken soup, perfect for this weary crazy cyclist. I enjoy a huge bowl, then Juan offers me half a fresh local pomegranate. I eat until I can eat no more, then head to bed early. Exhaustion and relief. I’m looking forward to visiting tomorrow, to the tour of Ensenada and the wine country. But for now, I can barely keep my eyes open. No wifi here to distract. Sleep comes easy in the comfy bed.
_____

I sleep in the next morning, only rising when Lissette calls out, “Ocean, Breakfast!” A delicious Mexican breakfast. She’s entertaining a couple of friends too, says she always has people over. After breakfast she takes me on a whirlwind tour of her neighborhood, from an upscale winery to the local clandestine vintner who sells 130 barrels a year out of his hand dug cellar. We then head down the long hill to Ensenada, to get her daughter from school.

I want to try the famed Ensenada fish tacos, so Lissette takes me to the stand the locals all frequent. Excellent! The last stop is for the Cocos Locos, a seafood cocktail made from a fresh coconut filled with other fresh ingredients. This is also good, but I’m filled to the brim now. Back up to the house, another early night for me. I’m planning to cycle again tomorrow.

Lissette’s hospitality has been amazing. I’ve told her she could easily run a B&B. Maybe, after her youngest has left the nest. But Lissette also has plans for a beach house. The stuff dreams are made of. Her warmth and enthusiasm are contagious. And as a cultural ambassador, Lissette has helped this anxious road weary Oregon gringo find the heart of Baja, the soul of Mexico. I will be forever grateful.

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