Nothing but smiles in the Sierra de la Gigante
Definitely one of our highlights while bike packing the Baja Divide, the last 280 km from Ciudad Constitución to La Paz. A gruel stretch on this beautiful route tests our physical abilities to the max, but we get so many rewards in return. These rewards are found in beautiful views, delicious food... but most of all in the beautiful smiles of the locals. Read all about our adventure in this blog.
The last part on the Baja Divide
Jan. 28, 2023 - The alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m., Niels wakes Stefanie and after a good yoga session we pack our panniers. We just spent three nights in Ciuadad Constitutión, a larger Highway town in Baja California Sur. Our bodies needed some rest before we began the final leg of the Baja Divide, section 16 towards La Paz. Via the Highway this would take only two to three days, but the mountains are calling and we choose to follow the Divide. A tough 280 km we hope to cover in five days. 'Poco à poco' will be our new slogan, the fastest route is not always the best. The greatest challenges make for the most compelling stories and this stretch of the route does not disappoint either!
After a rich breakfast, granola with almond milk and fresh fruit, we say farewell to Jakob & Annette. It was enriching to spend a few cycling days with this Danish Couple and interesting to see how each couple develops their own routines along the way. They are staying a little longer in Ciudad Constitución, but since they are tremendously strong cyclists we don't doubt for a second that our paths will cross again.
We close the door of our hotel room and jump on our bikes. Just 200 meters furhter we fill our water bottles at an Agua Purificado Center. Next stop is the supermarket, our panniers are again filled with tortillas, beans, avocados and bananas. We hope the bananas will survive the bumpy ride ahead! When Niels also comes out with three packs of cookies, Stefanie wonders aloud if this isn't a bit excessive? "Better too much than too little!", Niels replies, "We have no idea what supplies we will come accross over the next few days." On the map we see several Ranchos on the route, but because we mainly eat vegetarian it's hard to have an idea about the food possibilities.
The official Baja Divide route leads you through the garbage dump, deliberately made part of the route to see how waste disposal works in Mexico. A road full of glass, nails, smelly carcasses and pungent odor. Meanwhile, we felt it was clear that being environmentally friendly with waste and resources is not the top priority in this country. We already cycled through small piles of garbage, saw piles of trash by the side of the road every day, and unfortunately counted more than 30 dead dogs as roadkill (Check our blog "Expecting too much in Mexico"). The decision to skip this part is logical for us and leads us via the Highway to a washboard road, 37 km further we find ourselves back on the route.
We can do this forever, keep pedalling!
Around lunchtime, we reach the Misión of San Luis Gonzaga. Covered in sweat we drag the bikes to a shady spot next to the church. On the other side of the road in this deserted village there is an old woman, full of impatience and a big smile, waving at us. Niels goes to say hello and she wants to prepare food for us, but we decline the offer with our heavy panniers full of food. She then invites us to shelter from the sun under her palapa and makes Niels a nice coffee. Not much later her son arrives on his horse and joins the party. When we ask how much the coffee costs, she replies with a big smile. "Que tu quieres...", in other words, whatever you want!
Surprised, we reach 75 km at the end of the day and quite proud of this achievement, we stop in time to find a camping spot. Among the cacti we pitch our tent, wash ourselves to the extent possible, make a fire and enjoy yet another beautiful sunset. It is one of those days when we think we can do this forever. The only setback of the day turns out to be an enthusiastic donkey (burro) that comes to hang around our tent for an hour around midnight. Wherever you are, silence is hard to find in Mexico!
Small Tienda's on the Baja Divide
The next morning begins with a slightly less good mood because we hear gentle tapping of rain on the tent. "If it really starts raining again today I'll stop riding my bike!" grumbles Niels. Stefanie soothes him and fortunately it is not as bad as it seems, because while we are putting away our sleeping gear and having a nice breakfast in the tent, blue skies show themselves quickly. The road fortunately remains dry, quite important knowing that a lot of altitude meters await us. The goal today? To reach a first big summit after a tough climb at the end of the day.
We are getting more and more used to this Mexican way of life and take the days as they come. Our path is highlighted by the many farmers who pass us on horses or in their old cars, only too happy to have a little chat with us. How they overcome these poorly maintained roads with these old rickety cars remains a mystery to us. It's admirable, that's for sure. We try to keep our own spirits up as much like all the locals while we are dragging the bikes over loose rocks and deep sand. While the ascents get steeper and steeper, the sun burns more unforgivingly every second. Our bodies need some time to adapt to this warm weather but we love it, this is what we have been waiting for.
When we arrive in Las Animas late afternoon, we search for the little tienda other cyclists have told us about. Even though the village is very small, we don't find it immediately and need some help from a local woman. She points us to what seems like just another house. When we enter from the back, the man of the Amador family welcomes us while his wife opens their little Tienda. Wooden panels cover a very nicely decorated shop with all the necessities you need as a cyclists. Dry food, chips and cookies, obviously Frijoles and even cold soft drinks give color to the setting. Prices are not too bad despite the enormous distance the products have to travel. We also gladly pay that little bit more here to support the friendly locals, because it is thanks to them that riding this tough Baja Divide becomes just a little bit more bearable.
In our best Spanish, we explain to the family it could be helpful to have signalisation on the side of the road. A handful of seconds later, Niels gets a marker and large cardboard sign pushed into his hands and starts making his "work of art." One for each bike direction and believe it or not (spoiler!), two days later we already get a picture of other cyclists happy with the roadside sign. It's already 4 p.m. and we realize that we won't make it to the top of the big climb before dark, so we decide to pitch our tent under the palapa next to the church.
The day's goal is not achieved, frankly, we couldn't care less at this point. We enjoy our evening routine in this beautiful place, which we would never have reached without our bicycles. We are completely alone in this place at the moment and while Stefanie is standing outside almost naked and washing herself, she starts thinking about the economical impact for the locals on the Baja Divide. Seven years ago, a couple of cyclists were crazy enough to develop this amazing route here, and between November and April it gains in popularity every year. An opportunity for the locals, but at the same time a thin line we think. Maybe in a few years this place will be so popular that standing here in your bare bottom will no longer be possible. Super fulfilled we fall asleep with the sound of chattering goats in the background.
More hiking then cycling
The sunrise wakes us around 6:30 a.m. and we are eager to begin the cycling day, or shall we say hike day. A 3km climb with more than 220 meters of elevation makes us dismount quickly and it takes almost an hour to push our bikes to the top. Stefanie feels strong and enjoys the physical challenge, while Niels has the feeling to dissapear in the background with every step he takes. For the first time since long his back hernia is playing tricks on him, and with a scared heart he finishes the climb. "Don't go over your limits!", a message we received from Niels' mom a while ago. We wonder which these limits are and how many time they have already shifted during the trip? By now we have the feeling pain is temporary, an achievement becomes a memory to be proud of. At the moment Stefanie feels great but she can also relate to pain, because ever since California she hasn't had a day on the bike without physical limitations. Her hands and knees are a problem, one day a bit more than the other. Fortunately this pain is also a lesson and we start learning where to draw a line and for Niels this is the line regarding his hernia. Patience is key and he overcomes the pain, but now knowing which kind of climbs to avoid in the future.
We continue the day step by step with an average of only 6 to 7 km per hour. A lot of pushing and sweating are involved, accompanied by the most magnificent views, descending is at times more difficult than climbing. It is technical cycling over and between the largest stones and rocks we have encountered so far on the route. We see our first tarantula and we are super excited to reach our sleeping spot after 40 km. The Sea of Cortez weclomes us, as does a cold Coke and fresh pint of beer. The Sierra Gigantes is unforgiving, but we both think it's the most beautiful part of Baja California so far. Our intermediate goal is achieved by arriving in San Evaristo in 3 days, a local fishing village with 1 restaurant, 1 store and 2 places to sleep. This time we don't even hesitate, our tent stays in the bag and we lay down exhausted in a comfortable bed in one of the cabañas at Lupe.
Enjoying local life at Lupe and Maggie's
About eight years ago, Lupe and his wife Maggie started a little restaurant in the fishing village where we find ourselves, San Evaristo. Calmness radiates from the man, he is always ready for a chat and to every question we ask him he replies "Por qué no?", or "Why not?". While he welcomes all the people, clears tables and makes coffee, his wife and children spend most of their time in the beautiful open kitchen. Here they prepare the freshest dishes for tourists who arrive by bicycle or sailboat. Every day at lunch and dinner many sailors arrive in the bay, looking for a nice meal after several days on open sea. Everyone who makes a stop here carries an interesting story with them. So we meet a Canadian couple that has been sailing around the world for 36 years, as well as an American who proudly shows us his Tour of Flanders t-shirt. The world is small and it feels to us like all the pieces of the puzzle are falling together for a moment here. After three hard days on the bike, it is time to spend three nights in this unique place.
Even in this remote spot we meet other cyclists. Evan, a 25-year-old American from San Diego, is cycling the Baja Divide for the second time, this time south to north. He is a journalist and photographer for Bikepacking.com, a website/community where every cyclists can easily find inspiration on everything that has to do with, of course, Bike Packing. We spend an entire day together and exchange interesting stories, who knows, maybe we'll appear in his next piece about the people he meets on the Baja Divide. Alex, a cyclist who makes a quick stop for breakfast with Lupe and Maggie, also decides to spend the rest of the day with us. Nothing beats a day with like-minded people sharing stories, drinks and good food... these are the days we will never forget.
In the early morning, fishermen head to the Ocean. About four days a week their day starts around 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and they return in the evening around 6 p.m. Every day they catch fresh fish and Lupe buys fish from them to use in his restaurant. We ourselves eat mostly plant-based food, although we certainly make exceptions during this trip, and have quite a problem with the overconsumption of animal products and animal cruelty in general. In a small community like this, where few other resources are available, we feel it is certainly sustainable to live this way. It doesn't get any fresher than this and in our opinion is totally different than buying whatever processed food in a supermarket.
While Stefanie enjoys a relaxing yoga session on the beach in the morning, Niels joins Evan to take a look at Lupe. Every day Lupe skins the freshly caught fish himself and he is only too happy to show how this is done. There is a lot of blood involved, but every piece of the fish is used and even the birds in the background occasionally enjoy a fresh piece. This fish here in front of us will be the one we will eat later that day. It will be incorporated into the fish tacos, sashimi and ceviche. Lupe proudly serves the sashimi on the table and together with Evan we enjoy a delicious, fresh lunch.
Friendship on the road
Our time in this local fishing village makes us feel relaxed. We enjoy staying in bed longer, eating fresh pancakes in the morning with the tranquility of the sea present in the background. We make time for things other than cycling. We write, read and disconnect from wifi and connection to the outside world for three days. The silence delights us and our batteries are recharged to complete the last part of the route to La Paz. Suddenly it seems very surreal that we will have cycled through Baja California within a few days. Without a doubt, this was physically the toughest stage of our world bike trip and mentally it wasn't always easy either, but the prevailing feeling is that we got a lot in return for overcoming this challenge.
As we enjoy a healthy snack we see two cyclists descending the mountain in the distance. "There they are again!", we shout to each other. Jakob and Annette reached San Evaristo two days after us and it is gratifying to see them again. In a relatively short time we have gotten to know them better, sharing intense moments and adventures with other cyclists quickly creates a sense of close friendship. So it is blissful to spend the last evening in San Evaristo with them and exchange stories about the Baja Divide and life in general. Everyone experiences this extreme route in their own way, has his/her own story but in the end we can all relate to the beauty we find ourselves in.