Baja Day 4: The tide turns to the north

Day 44, San Antonio de las Mines to Popotla Beach, 61 kilometers

I’ve been taking this tour for six years now. October usually, five times riding from Oregon to Southern California, with the Sun Writers Retreat at Esalen serving as my primary justification for the quest. Last year, The Sun took a bye, no retreat, so I didn’t ride south. And how I missed it. Then I saw that Laurie Anderson was performing in San Francisco this May, so I took a spring trip down the coast. Twice down the PCH in 2015, and this fall, into Baja.

Yes, as fate would have it, my obligations to the north are calling. The tides are turning at my restaurant, a small shop in the south side of the college town of Corvallis Oregon, subject to the whims of student appetite and fandom, combined with the sometimes fickle interest of the community at large. Sales have dropped off this week, precipitously. This is the sign I take that it is time to draw my fall tour to a close. And just as I’m beginning to relax about being in Mexico. My friend Barb has been writing all her friends in Cabo, and telling me the best camps to stay at on the way south. I tell her I’ll be back, when I have time.

I’m up about an hour before dawn, that’s 5am this morning. Lissette is driving her daughter to school in Ensenada at 6, and I want to catch a ride with her out the the Mex 3. The air is brisk, high 50s, a lot like Oregon. I’m excited to ride again. I decide to retrace my steps back over the hills to Mex 1, then north to Rosarito. Second time on a road, feels a little less foreign, a bit more familiar. Now I get to see the landscape I’d missed on the way in, when it was overcast and my mood was similarly cloudy. I’m blessed by a light headwind, so riding goes easy.

I stop again at La Fonda, for a breakfast. I’m not sure where to stay, so I look up the hotel here on Google. Not good, several reviews speak of bed bugs. Yikes. And I notice the linens in the restaurant have burn holes from cigarettes. All the linens, napkins and tableclothes. My breakfast is served and the beans are tepid. Scrambled eggs that have been sitting. My appetite fizzles. But not my resolve. I get up to pay, and the cashier has some fun with the Peso-Dollar conversion rate. She shorts me about 30 Pesos, which I only figure out as I’m getting back on the bike. Since that’s about 2 Dollars, I decide to let it go. I think they need that couple bucks more than I do.

Riding north along the coast now, easy into a light wind. I decide to stop at Popotla Beach, where there is an RV park and campground. High price, but there’s wifi and a restaurant I can plug into and get off road for the night. I spend too much time of Facebook, something a bit insidious, but also a connection with home I don’t want to question at this point. Fish tacos, not as good as the Ensenada version. Loud Mexican music playing, exaggerated sentimentality of singers crooning, lots of violins. For the tourists, not doubt. The tourists, to my relief, are missing this time of year. Here in the restaurant, and out on the highways. Cycling has been no more difficult than in the States. Cars few and far between, respectful distance when passing.

I’m back in my tent after sunset. Wind is blowing, surf loudly crashing on the beach, but not more loudly than the trucks that are jake breaking as they approach the military checkpoint just above on Mex 1. I can’t sleep. Too excited to be riding north again? Streetlights glaring into my tent. I get up a few times, see the crescent moon above with Mars and Venus. Astronomical alignment, no doubt the astrologists will be predicting great tidings, or doom. I finally doze off.

I’m away before the dawn, seems to be the norm on this trip, in a tent, knowing the days are ever shorter, as is my time on the road. I grab some breakfast at the RV park restaurant, message Mary whom I will see next in Rosarita. I ride the few kilometers to her house easily. We are meeting at the Walmart. Yes, Walmart in Rosarita. I barely want to admit the joy I fee when first I see the Home Depot, with Mexican flag above, then the Walmart.

I’m there just a few minutes when Mary drives up. We toss my bike in the SUV and drive over the Playa Santa Monica, a gated development of cottages on Rosarita Beach. A shower, a lunch of local fish tacos, shopping at the same Walmart, watching the sunset from a friend’s house. A group of young surfers are playing the waves, riding up the coast with the rip current. She prepares an excellent scampi with locally caught shrimp. I’m so grateful for Mary’s hospitality, but also to be heading back to the States. Sleep comes easy tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll cross the border again.

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