Quakes, Volcanoes & the 'Hill of Hell'

Detail of Palm, Guerrero Negro

Our time in Guerrero Negro offered us a very nice break.  So nice, as a matter of fact, that it took us awhile to leave.

With our hotel room offering two beds, one for each of us to perch upon, we spent our time leisurely catching up on world news, writing, reading and connecting.  We found ourselves settling in to the luxurious and sedentary life of hotel-dwellers.  It didn’t help that we had a hot shower at our beckon call any time of the day, clean bedding, large functional windows, a quiet setting filled with flowers, an attached restaurant serving great food and a mercado just down the street.  At night we would unwind the television cord, run it across the room to the nearest electrical outlet and watch movies.  We slept in.  We were clean, comfortable…….and growing used to it.

Every day that we handed over payment for the room we cringed a little, knowing that we could easily be camping instead (and saving a ton of money).  We were paying the most we had for any hotel to date –  500 pesos, which is around $37 US, depending on the exchange rate of the day.  We were still within our budget ($15-30 per person per day) but eventually, the stress of paying for a room caught up with us.  Beyond that, our bodies yearned for the hours of daily exercise they had grown accustomed to.  It was time for us to pack our panniers and get moving again.

The next morning we cycled down the main street of Guerrero Negro, stopping at the various businesses to stock up on supplies.  Since we’ll be traveling through several towns on our way back across the peninsula we don’t need to weigh our food pannier down with a ton of food.  At the mercado, we grab enough for two days of lunches and a dinner and the head across the street to the aqua (water) purification center to fill up our bottles and an extra Ortlieb water bag.  When the guy working there passes our bulging Ortlieb water bag back to us Kai asks how much we owe him but his hand waves back and forth in sync with his nodding head.  “Nada.”  Nothing.  We laugh and insist but with twinkling eyes and a huge smile he tells us again it’s nothing and offers us a “Buena Suerte” as we wave goodbye.  Our last stop is at the local tortilla shop where we pick up two bags of fresh maiz (corn) tortillas.

Ortlieb 10L Bag, filled with potable water

Our Ortlieb water bag attached to our Ortlieb rack pack.

Making Tortillas, Guerrero Negro

The local tortilla shop making….. tortillas.

Despite a headwind, we fly the 76 km (47 miles) southeast from Guerrero Negro to Vizcaino, on a straight and mostly flat highway.  We pull in to Hotel Kadakaram, spend the afternoon on their shaded veranda using the free internet and pay 150 pesos (~$11US) to camp in a sandy area behind the hotel and adjacent to an orchard.  A very clean bathroom with a hot shower is included in the cost, making it a great deal.

A Rude Awakening

That night, around midnight, we wake to the ground moving beneath us and the tent violently shaking.  We find out later that we were experiencing two quakes within minutes of each other (a magnitude 6.2 and 6.9).  To come out of a deep sleep to such conditions is more than a little freaky and it’s hard not to panic.  Heart racing, we sit helplessly in our tents, jostling back and forth in rhythm with the quake.  There is little we can do since we are already outdoors and there isn’t anything around us that will collapse or crush us.  As long as the earth doesn’t open up directly underneath us we’ll be fine.  It’s during times like this, when in a span of a few precious seconds between normalcy and possible crises, you have an awakening of sorts.  Everything that is superfluous and trivial falls away and you instantly focus on what is most precious.  Life.  People.  Love.  And when the shaking stops and your heart beat begins to slow, long after people gather under the moonlight to verify each others survival, you’re left with a clear and unsettling question.  Am I living my life well?

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve & “Eco-Tourism”

The next day we wake feeling a bit tired, which isn’t surprising considering the events of the night before, and we ride through El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America.  One of the most diverse areas in the world, it is also one of the most threatened.  ParksWatch defines main threats as including “agriculture, overuse of groundwater reserves, extensive grazing, illegal fishing, and legal and illegal hunting.”  They also site the mega-tourism industry, mining and infrastructure projects, like the “Escalera Náutica” or Nautical Ladder project that we mentioned in an earlier post, as major threats to the area.

The environmental threat of mega-tourism is one of the reasons why we don’t normally participate in normal tourist activities of an area, like whale watching.  As much as we’d like to see a whale up close, there are environmental ramifications of whale watching via boats and evidence indicates that these activities disrupt whale communications, breeding habits and natural migration patterns.  Besides, we were perfectly content (thrilled even) with the much less intrusive opportunity to cycle alongside them, as they migrated down the coast of California.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that very few, if any, “eco-tourism” activities are actually good for the ecology or the environment.  Travel and tourism, in and of itself, disrupts ecosystems and can be economically exploitative.  Travel and tourism labeled as “eco” and aimed at especially environmentally sensitive areas of the world threaten already fragile ecological systems and cause irreparable damage to plants, animals and local communities (who rarely reap any profits or benefits from privately owned “eco-tourism” projects).  Often times, huge areas of land are cleared to make way for “eco-villages” or “eco-hotels”, which then overburden local infrastructures (sewer, water, food, trash, pollution).  In a classic example of greenwashing, private companies take on the “eco” label, without adhering to any conservation values, knowing that the label alone will draw in hordes of tourists who consider themselves environmentally-minded.  In fact, many tourists are told and, therefore, believe that their activities will help preserve the environment.  The “eco” industry is completely unregulated.  There is no regulatory body anywhere in the world that audits or issues “eco-tourism” standards or labels.  There are, however, random for-profit companies that issue paper “licenses” to tourism ventures that fill out and mail in a survey, for a fee, of course.  So don’t be fooled, you’re not doing any good by paying a premium to fly in and visit Galapagos Island.  In fact, you’re making things worse. [Here’s a good primer on the perils of “Eco-Tourism”.]

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve

The Vizcaino Bioshpere, Sierra San Francisco Mountains in the distance.

Kai, El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve

Stopping for a snack.

San Ignacio

70 kilometers (44 miles) later we find ourselves climbing around tight curves on a very narrow highway into San Ignacio, a date palm laden oasis in the middle of the desert.  A river flows from the town south and into San Iganacio lagoon on the Pacific coast, which is a major breeding ground for gray whales.  San Ignacio is a small town, with a population of about 800 people, but they have a surprising array of accommodation options for tourists coming through to view the whales (the only way to the Lagoon, over 40 miles away, is through the town of San Ignacio).

As we roll down the main road toward town we spot the Igancio Springs Bed & Breakfast, which had been recommended by cycle tourists ahead of us as a luxurious and one-of-a-kind place to stay.  We pull in and after looking at a few of their housing options decide to spend well over our daily allotted budget on the cost of a yurt overlooking the river and surrounded by date palms.  We spend the afternoon relaxing on the patio, chatting with a neighbor and eating a late lunch/early dinner.  That night we sink into a super soft feather bed with goose-down pillows thinking we will get a good night’s sleep but instead we’re regularly disrupted by the whimper and snorts of a rogue horse outside of our yurt.  We had spotted a couple of horses running through the palms earlier in the evening and were told by the owners that someone who couldn’t afford to feed them any longer had let them loose to roam for food.  Before we were done with our dinner that evening the owners garden of greens had been eaten to the ground and now they were obviously working on a particularly tasty patch of something outside of our yurt.

Date Palms, San Ignacio

Our Yurt among the date palms.

Yurt in San Ignacio Yurt in San Ignacio

River, San Ignacio

The river.

The next morning we enjoy a breakfast on the community patio, pay for our stay and leisurely head toward town.  We’ve decided to take a rest day before tackling the six days of cycling to Loreto, most of which will entail a lot of climbing.  There are several places we spot that offer camping but they either lack access to bathrooms or water or are pretty sad looking.  We suddenly pop out onto the town square, which is quite beautiful and quiet.  Huge trees grow from a green space in the square and benches line the four corners of the park.  Small businesses, most of which are closed, line all three sides of the square and a huge Jesuit mission takes up a prominent place on the forth side.  There are a few people wandering around the square, most are congregating around a taco and ice cream stand.  In an odd twist, there is an open-air tent set up on a sidewalk with four full-size functioning video game consoles lined up next to each other.  Each one has a handful of teenage boys surrounding it, totally immersed in the game.  Occasionally laughter rings out as a game spits out a tell-tale tune indicating the game is over or that points were won.

Kai decides to claim a bench in the square to people watch.  I take off on my bike to explore the roads sprouting off the town square and find the road that leads to the lagoon, a couple of restaurants and hotels, and a nice, fairly large mercado.  When I return Kai & I go to check out the two hotels and decide to check in to the Casa Leree.

San Ignacio

A look back at the river.

Mission, San Ignacio

Kai cycling past the Mission.

Mission, San Ignacio

San Igancio

Checking out the hotels in town….couldn’t find anyone at this one.

San Ignacio

The interior of the main restaurant in town.

San Igancio

“There are many things you can do to live without drugs.”

Casa Laree is a lovely place with an enclosed garden setting, private and very relaxing, with internet available in the main home’s library (and sometimes in the patio area outdoors if conditions are right).  We enjoy the simple accommodations and Kai spends the afternoon paging through the binders of historical information that the owner has compiled and left in our room while I check out the historic artifacts strewn around the gardens and relax in the hammock.  That evening we prefer the firm bed but we hardly get any sleep because as soon as we turn off the lights we hear mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.  So we start the game of turning on the light, finding the offenders, ridding ourselves of them and then starting the whole process over again.  Lights off.  Lights on.  It went on all night so they must have been coming in through the roof or perhaps there was a breeding ground somewhere within the room.  Regardless, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had.  To top it off, when I went to pay I was told the room was 130 pesos more than the price I had been quoted the day before!  After some awkward discussion between the owner and the woman who had quoted the price of the room I decided to just pay the asking price for the room.  It was only $10 difference and I didn’t feel it was worth arguing about at the time but, unfortunately, it totally marred any good feelings we had about the place.

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

Our Room at Casa Laree

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

Do not look behind the curtain!

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

They didn’t build these rooms for vertically gifted folks like Kai.

Casa Laree, San Ignacio

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

The garden gate.

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

View of the outdoor laundry center, with water tank.

Casa Leree, San Ignacio

Taking it easy in the hammock.

Santa Roasalia & “The Hill of Hell”

Feeling unrested after our rest day we headed back up toward Highway 1 and spent the majority of the day climbing, ascending over 1600 feet then spent the other third descending, over 2100 feet, till we hit the eastern shore of Baja.  The mountains made the ride more interesting than the straight flat roads we’d been getting used to lately and we had several interesting things to look at throughout the day.  The Tres Virgenes volcanoes popped up before us and plateaus offered great vistas of gorgeous valleys.   We even spotted the geothermal development on the side of the largest volcano, the El Virgen.

IMG_5637

El Virgen Volcano & Expansive view of the valley.

El Virgen Volcano & Little Sheila (pointed out by the arrow)

P1030224

On the other side of the volcano. You can see the steam from the geothermal development.

As we inch closer to Santa Rosalia we know to expect a fast descent, as previous cyclists had described a “big downhill” before hitting the coast, but we did a double take when we saw a sign labelled “Cuesta del Infierno” which means “The hill of hell”.  We laughed out loud, thinking the description had to be an exaggeration but as we turned the corner we suddenly found ourselves teetering at the top of the steepest cliff-hanging descent we had ever seen.  We were blown away by the severity of the grade, the lack of guardrails and the fact that the narrow road seemed barely perched on the side of the mountain.  We slowly made our way down, stopping often to cool our brakes.  The road had patches of grease and brake oil on it so at times you would feel your tires slip from under you a little which didn’t help at all.  As we descended, other cars, trucks and huge trailers also descended, slowly and painfully aware of the lack of guardrails or turn-outs.

At the bottom of the descent, we came upon police forcing people to pull off the road.  Apparently the road was being cleared in order to allow a double-wide trailer to ascend the mountainside, the narrow road and the tight switchbacks being too much for two-way traffic in such an instance.  Kai, being well ahead of me, had stopped to wait for me and was talking with a tractor trailer driver, using wild gestures and large sweeping motions of the arms.  When I pulled up beside them I realized that Kai was trying to tell the guy that he thought he was bat-shit crazy for driving a truck down that descent.  If their brakes were to go out, it would mean a swift, sure and ghastly death.  The funny thing is that, regardless of the fact that neither of them spoke the other’s language well enough to be sure, it appeared the guy totally agreed with Kai and broke out into a lengthy, bellowing laugh that was, obviously, laced with a bit of crazy.

Being on bicycles and taking up so little space on the road, we were allowed to continue onward.  As we climbed out of the valley and over the steep incline, it was odd to feel the gaze of hundreds of eyes upon us, everyone in the valley having nothing better to do than to watch us as we cycled up, up and away.  As I was sweating profusely and my legs ached I remembered a passing comment from one of the stalled drivers below.  “Looks like you’ve chosen the better way to travel these roads today.”  And although I know the comment came from a place of impatience at being slowed down from getting from Point A to Point B in their travels, I not only agreed with them but I would go even further, to say that I have chosen the better way to travel these roads, not just today, but every day.

::

Eventually, from great heights, we have our first sighting of local mines and the Sea of Cortez.  As we coast down the latest mountainside we come around a tight curve and swiftly find ourselves dropping in to one of the most tragic scenes of our trip so far.  What we expect to be a glorious view of the Sea and a quaint village turns out to be a horrific scene of a huge dump.  Thousands of scavenging birds hover for miles over the massive valley dump.  Plastic grocery bags are everywhere – floating on the Sea, hanging from trees and bushes, lying alongside the road and tangled in barbed wire fencing.  Every square inch of land for miles is covered in plastic bags, reaching up and over the mountainside and sweeping down along the shores.  A sorrowful sound of plastic stuttering in the breeze accompanies the scene.  It is heartbreaking.  Disgusting.  And what makes it so tragic is that it is completely preventable.

IMG_5649

Lots of steep, cliff-hanging descents to Santa Rosalia.

P1030229 IMG_5647 IMG_5656

Santa Rosalia

Doesn’t even come close to depicting the trash….neither one of us could bring ourselves to document the dump and plastic bags at the foot of the mountain, but this section of the road shows a little of what we witnessed.

The rest of the ride in to Santa Rosalia is tainted with the vision of plastic bags and trash everywhere.  We head in to town and cycle down the main streets, do a drive-by of the famous pre-fab church that may have been designed by Gustave Eiffel and we grab a couple of cinnamon buns from a local bakery.  It’s Friday night and town is hopping and although I’d like to explore more, it’s getting late and I’m depressed about the dump and trash.  At this point, I only care for a shower and a bed, so we continue on down the road, searching for a place to stay for the night.  As we climb out of town we discover few places we’d want to spend money on (roach infested) or we find hotels that don’t seem to have offices or reception areas, so we end up wandering around for awhile before we give up and move on.  Eventually, a couple of miles outside of town we come upon a huge hotel that overlooks the Sea, obviously built with grand intentions of entertaining tourists but that has since fallen in to a bit of disrepair.  We take a look at the room and it’s decently clean and comfortable, has hot water and free wi-fi so we gladly hand over payment.  After an 80 km (50 mile) day of mostly climbing we were beat!

:::::

Our GPS route from Guerrero Negro to Santa Rosalia

Guerrero Negro to Santa Rosalia

8 comments to Quakes, Volcanoes & the “Hill of Hell”

  • Karolien

    Hi,

    A few weeks ago I came across your videos on Vimeo-World Cycle Videos. Especially looking at all your great Tiny House videos, I just love them! Then I found out I won’t be able to see the end result as you were leaving on your world cycle tour, a very sad moment for me! But then I discovered your blog and I was hooked! Just love it! Read all your post within two weeks time…
    As I live in a 40 square meter small apartment (most people think it’s too small, I think of it as my palace) for 8 years, trying to have as less negative impact on the planet with everyday choices in my live, love bicycling (don’t even know how to drive a car and don’t want to) and just bought a travel/touring bike (a long time dream and now my big love), I really can relate to a lot of things in your posts. As I don’t really have any people living the way I do, I often feel like I’m standing alone with my principals, but it’s blogs and people like you who gives me the feeling that there are more people out there who try to live up to there dreams and try to live as sustainable as they can. It gives me a boost and the energy to live up to my dreams and principals. I just want you to thank you for that and wish you all the best!

    Looking forward to future posts…
    Greeting from Antwerp (Belgium),
    Karolien

    • Karolien, we’re so glad you found our site and introduced yourself. Sounds like we’re sharing a similar journey! The feeling of gratitude is mutual…..knowing you’re out there gives us a much needed boost too and for that, we thank you! Sending much love and hope to you, in this good fight for a better future. 🙂

  • Mark

    Another great post…! But please share the pictures of the dump with us. I think experiences like that heighten awareness of the injustices around the world and shed light on the impact of our consumerism. I personally want to see it.

    • Thanks Mark! Unfortunately I doubt this is the last dump or scene we’ll witness so we’ll be sure to document it more next time. I think you’re right in pointing out that documentation of these scenes can raise awareness, definitely.

  • Super post as usual. Love all the detailed info and your photography. Keep the rubber side down 🙂 Debi

  • LInda H

    Hi Kai and Sheila,
    This last post is rich with contrasts!!! Earthquake, tropical beauty, desert challenges, poverty, and emotional extremes. WOW!! Thanks so much. On my to list: Send an email to Sheila…about several things, including a connection in El Salvador. Hey…How did Adventure Cycling find out about your Tiny House and your world tour? Have you considered sharing your story with the readers there? Your photography gets better every day, Kai, and Sheila’s writing puts me on the road with you!!
    Be well,
    Linda

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.