It’s taken me a while to get this ride report down on “paper.” As I’ve said, I can be lazy when it comes to writing the blog. It’s an effort. For me, sitting down to write is hard — mostly because I’m a lousy typist. Heck, it’s taken me something like five minutes just to write these five sentences.
So, finally getting to it… I recently went to Baja on a ride with some of the guys from the BMW Club of Southern California. It wasn’t a “sanctioned” club ride, although every participant was a club member and every machine was a BMW. It was my first long distance trip with my fellow BMW club members. I’m still working through some of the ups and downs of riding with 11 other alpha males, whose common bond – and maybe only bond – is the love of a German motorcycle brand.
As life events go, I’m not a fan of the term “Bucket List.” To me, it sounds desperate. I have too many friends facing serious illnesses who often find themselves unable address the day in front of them, let alone a “must-do-before-I-die” list created in healthier times. So I just keep a list, mostly in my head, of stuff I’d like to do or see as long as my physical luck holds out and my desire for adventure continues. One of the things on that list is “Play with Whales.”
This Baja trip offered me an opportunity to view gray whales up close and personal in Baja’s San Ignacio Bay, which is about 600 miles south of San Diego. I didn’t realize how up close and personal until I was in a twenty foot boat staring a forty foot gray whale mama and her eighteen foot baby in their eyes while bobbing in the water. Size does matter.
Above: The starkly beautiful Baja coastline along the Sea of Cortez on the way to Alfonsina’s Resort, which was our first day’s destination.
Above: Alfonsina’s Resort is a famous waypoint for Baja off-road tourism. It’s set on the beach of a small cove on the Sea of Cortez. Cell phones don’t work here and they shut off the power generator at 10pm.
At Alfonsina’s the beer is cold and the fish tacos, caught locally and served family style, are muy bitchen. My “roomie” for the trip, Bip, is looking into the camera with his third taco stuffed in his mouth. To Bip’s right is “The Lion” and, as is the case with any lion, shouldn’t be disturbed while eating.
Sunrise at Alfonsina’s Resort. The serenity gets shattered when 12 motorcycles start up at the same time to head for San Ignacio.
Side Story #1: Part of the day’s journey to San Ignacio involved traversing about 24 miles of dirt road, which is no big deal on a dirt bike, but can be a little tricky on an 800-pound, fully loaded touring bike. In front of me, in the photo below, is “Pete-the-D@#%” who got his nickname during the trip because, well, he’s a d@#%. Pete-the-D@#% is a curmudgeonly older dude (but not in a good/cute way) and was inexperienced and very unsteady riding dirt on his K1200LT. I tucked in behind Pete to keep an eye on him while others raced ahead to Coco’s Corner, an authentic cantina in the middle of the desert and made semi-famous by Baja 1000 racers and featured in the 2005 film, “Dust to Glory.”
About halfway in, Pete-the-D@#% crashed at low speed after ignoring my repeated warnings to “pick a line and stop zig-zagging in the sand.” He went down hard. I got him out from under his bike, but was concerned because I wasn’t sure about Pete’s physical situation (as in, could he continue to ride) or how we’d get his bike up and moving. We were seemingly all alone in the Baja desert. Right then, a camper truck approached from the other direction and stopped to render aid. Out of the driver’s side emerged a blond-haired woman wearing a skimpy pink bikini top, white short-shorts and pink ostrich skin cowboy boots. Her name, of course, was Lulu.
Lulu was a nice as could be and helped me get both Pete and the bike back up. When I asked her the standard, “So, what’s a nice girl like you doing in place like this” line, she told me that she was heading north to San Felipe, having stopped for a beer or two at Coco’s Corner, where she left her pink panties tacked to the ceiling.
Oh, okay. Wait. What?
Apparently, this is a thing at Coco’s Corner. And I have proof.
Above: Lulu’s contribution to Coco’s ceiling is located above my right shoulder. “Forget it Jake, it’s… Baja.”
After a long day of riding, we arrived in the evening at the Baja Oasis Motel, our accommodations in San Ignacio. Bip and I were all set to bunk together, but at $22 per night, we decided to splurge and get separate rooms. Mine didn’t have hot water.
Above: The Baja Oasis Motel has a dirt parking lot, poor lighting, limited hot water and, probably, rattlesnakes. The best line of the day and possibly the best line of the entire trip came from The Lion who, upon looking at his sketchy room and surroundings said, “Why the f@#% am I staying here? I’m rich!”
That still cracks me up.
After accepting our fates at the “BO” Motel (in my case, a cold shower), we found a local to drive into town for us to buy and deliver take-out tacos (not bad) and a bottle of tequila (bad idea).
Above: Here we are, 600 miles from San Diego, sitting in second-hand, busted up hotel chairs in the middle of a dirt parking lot, smoking cigars and drinking what we hoped was tequila. I think Bip is watching a rat trying to chew a way into his room.
The next morning we all crammed into a tourist van and headed for San Ignacio Bay. There we were met by naturalists who explained the local gray whale situation. On this particular day there were 137 cows, 137 babies and 8 solo whales. I don’t know how they know this, but they do. The mamas migrate to San Ignacio from Alaska and give birth to the babies in the safe surroundings of the bay. A gray whale’s biggest threat, as usual, is man.
We then split up into groups and piled into “panga” boats, which, as mentioned earlier, are about twenty feet long and have a small outboard motor for the two mile ride out to the center of the bay and the center of the action.
It took a little while, but soon we began seeing water spouts from these mammoth beauties. The panga captains take turns carefully approaching a cow and her calf. They kill the motor and glide up silently until a massive mammal comes into view by breaching the surface, or gliding under the boat. The calf then appears next to her. The cows seem to have an understanding with the locals and actually nudge their babies toward the boat. As a baby approached the side of our boat, head out of the water and seemingly looking at me, I put my hand over the side and was blown away by what happened next.
Yep, I got to pet a baby whale. She approached the boat about six times in all, and each of us got a chance to connect with her. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. All the while, the cow – all forty feet of her – was just hanging out next to the boat, as if this happens every day, which I guess it does. I know what you’re thinking, because at the time I was thinking the same thing, too. If you touched a gray whale, baby or otherwise, in US waters, you’d find yourself under indictment and likely occupying a US Federal jail cell, which would still be nicer than a room at the Baja Oasis Motel.
Above: The group has a final dinner to celebrate a day of whale encounter-ing before heading back to Ensenada and home.
On the two-day ride to Ensenada, Bip and I stayed at the Catavina Mision Hotel in Catavina. The notable things about Catavina were…
1. It’s pretty much a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. (Note the policia cleverly hidden to catch speeding bikers. Nice biker-funded truck, amigo.)
2. There isn’t a gas station in Catavina. There is, however, two enterprising locals selling gas for five bucks a gallon at either end of the town. You’ll need to fuel to make the next town. You know it and they know it.
3. The world’s best margarita is served the Catavina Mision Hotel. You know it and they know it.
Side Story #2: Our final destination in Baja was Ensenada. The plan was to meet at the San Nicholas Casino Hotel, stay overnight, then cross the border in the morning, split up and head home.
On the ride to Ensenada, four of our guys decided to take a side trail ride to the famous Mike’s Sky Ranch, which is where many Baja off-roaders go for adventure. Which would’ve been fine, except our guys didn’t have the right tires on their GS bikes, or really know the difficulty of the terrain. Long story short, they spent the night in the open desert, sharing a bottle of water and a half-bottle of tequila. We waited late into the night for them to arrive in Ensenada, growing more concerned by the hour, and then we launched a search party early the next morning. The four were located and returned safely to Ensenada, albeit hungry, thirsty and little humbled.
Above: Here’s a shot of the relieved reunion with our missing four guys. You live. You learn.
I can now take Baja and whale petting off my list.
Up next: Chaptering.
Travel safe. And often.