Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Overnight Baja Run-México

Hey Mike... Want to run down to México with me?   ...Sure!

©2014 Words by Jim Foreman Photos by Jim Foreman and Mike Kurthy

Be careful and put your ID in a Baggie in your shoe...  AAA advice when traveling out of the country.  -Mike's FB friend Teri.

Destination: La Cueva del Pirata Hotel and Restaurant.  Camalú, BC, México.  
Cast: Jim Foreman (Blue BMW K 1200 RS) and Mike Kurthy (Blue H-D Deluxe)
One Way Mileage: 270 Miles  
Best time to go: Fall, Winter, Spring
What You MUST Bring: Passport or PassCard, Mexican Auto Insurance and a Great Attitude.
International Border Crossings: 2 (One Going, One Coming)  
Fun Factor: 10+ 
Passenger Fun Factor: 10+ (Estimated)
Safety Factor: 1-10 (10 is best) US - 8, México - 9.5  
Cops seen: 6 in the US, Doesn't matter in México.
Total US Dollars Spent on the Entire Trip <$120.00 ($1,500 Pesos with money left over)
Place to get good México Motorcycle Insurance: Mexican Insurance Store
Best Travel Insurance for Overland Motorcyclists: World Nomad  
Highest Speed Attained in México: 225Km/h  (You'll need to do the math.  1 mile = 1.6 kilometers)
Map Link: Google Maps

I already know what some of you are thinking...  Will I be kidnapped by a Drug Cartel, accosted by corrupt cops, or be forced to do untoward things to a burro?  Those who watch too much TV, instead of riding a motorcycle, are very prone to this thinking.  Especially avid watchers of the 24/7 news outlets, are prone to believe the worst about nearly any topic.  The reality is that México is quite safe and especially in Baja California and Baja California Sur.  These two states in particular have significantly lower crime and violent crime than California and most of the rest of the USA.
Well, this is a ride blog and not a political commentary.  Let's believe you have a streak of adventure, a passport, Insurance and a couple days to have an amazing time in México.
Let's get a couple details out of the way...
Things you need to bring….

    • Passport or Passcard
      • ID and Birth Certificate is NOT OK anymore.   They may let you in, but you’re going to get a secondary screening.  Then again, they may not let you back in.
    • Any Prescription Medications in its original bottle.
    • Mexican Auto/Motorcycle Insurance
    • Proper Full Protective Riding Gear
    • Knowledge of a couple Spanish phrases.
    • Excellent running motorcycle with fresh tires with at least 75% tread life.
    • Great Attitude!

DO NOT BRING….  Guns, large knives, pepper spray, Medical Marijuana and most importantly, DO NOT HAVE a superior attitude or a demeaning attitude.

 It’s very wise to bring….

    • Emergency Satellite Locater (Delorme InReachSE)
    • Travelers Insurance (WorldNomad.com)
    • Maps (Guia Roji is best.  AAA maps are a decent start and free for members)
    • Smart phone with a Spanish dictionary app.
    • GPS if you already have one, but you really don’t need it except for big cities.
    • Tire Repair Kit and inflation system.
    • Alka-Seltzer or Tums
    • Lightweight Cool and warm weather gear.
    • GoPro or similar camera. More than one is better.

Traveling down I-5 to Mexico
Once you're packed and ready to go, start early.  The mileage may seem fairly short, and it is.  Riding in Méxcio requires more attention and focus.  You'll need more breaks.  These are excellent times to drink some water.  

It is recommended that you do NOT ride in groups larger than 4 riders.  This way, similar riding skill levels can be grouped.  Also you are less disruptive to traffic and everyone can have a great time.  Simply arrange to meet at the first Pemex station in a particular town.  

If you have never ridden in México before, it may be wise to travel with someone who has, the first time.  The riding style is very different and can seem intimidating to some.  Also, be honest with yourself.  If you don't have good to very good riding skills, and can put a motorcycle exactly where you want it, it may be better to gain more skill in the US.

When riding into Tijuana, stay to the right.
The best places to gain skill in SoCal are Angeles Crest Hwy (CA-2) and surprisingly, Ortega Hwy (CA-74).  Both of these roads have a lot of what you'll encounter riding in Mexico.  Lots of high speed sweepers, occasional debris on the roadway and high speed straightaways.  Streetmasters taught by Walt Fulton is also a highly recommended course.

Take Heed... When entering into a town, you MUST slow down.  Towns throughout México have topes or speed bumps on the outskirts of town and in the town center.  This is also where you'll have any issue with the police about speed.

Let's talk speed for a moment.  On highways, there are ridiculously low speed limits posted.  These are even ignored by bicyclists.  It's the Darwinian Speed Law in México.  Only travel as fast as your personal evolution will allow.  In other words, ride at your skill level, but hold some skill in reserve for an unexpected occurrence.  If you go too fast and get into a collision.  It may be some time before help will reach you. 

Topes!  The blue building on the right is a perfect place to get pesos.
It's easiest to travel I-5 South to the border at Tijuana.  For a simple overnight, this is the best way to go.  Getting into México is usually no problem.  In México, Lane Splitting is completely legal.  You can certainly split through lanes to get ahead.  Generally stay to the right when entering México.  Most cars bunch to the left leaving the right wide open with no waiting.  
When you reach the actual crossing, slowly cross the topes and follow the directions.  In most cases you'll get a green light to proceed, but if you get a red light, just wait to be told where to pull over and expect a search of your bike.  It's typically no more than 5 minutes. 
While you're here, make an immediate U-turn to the blue SAT Building on the right.  Pay no mind to the direction arrows on the ground.  Park your bike and use this as your best opportunity to get Pesos from a bank ATM (Best Exchange Rate) and use the super clean restroom.  Also it's a great opportunity to snap your first picture in México with the enormous Méxican flag in the background.  There are federal attendants.  nearby.  If you ask nicely and smile, they will keep an eye on your bike if you are riding alone.
Great place for Pesos, Baños y Fotos.
Riding in México, you'll quickly notice that being on a big bike, You will have a lot of respect.  It's true.  despite the large numbers of cheap 150cc Chinese bikes in cities, big bikes are quite rare in México.  Only those well-to-do have them.  Most people in México, from the cops to the truck drivers, wish they were you.  Wave to them.  They think you're super cool or 'Chingón!', as they put it.  When filling up, it's common for people to ask, 'How Much is it?'.  Do NOT take offense to it.  You can answer in US Dollars or better yet convert it into Pesos.  $10,000 would be $130,000 Pesos or $130mil.  You'll also be asked how many cc's is your engine.  You may even be asked if you like the Méxican women.  
Speaking of women...  If you're a woman riding your own bike in México this will be of great interest to Méxicans.  Not in a bad way.  Simply put, it's super rare for a woman to ride a big bike in México.  Smile a lot.  You'll be fine and respected.
One thing to know is what town or city you started your day and where you're headed.  This is the most common question asked by authorities.

Once cashed up, pressure relieved and photos posted on FB, turn off Cellular Data on your phone or you will have a rude awakening when you get your mobile bill.  Head toward Ensenada using the Cuota or Toll Road.  It's not a very direct way, but pay attention to the signs and you'll be on your way.  Never mind the stench as you pass near the river.  This is the only place you'll experience it.  Also, stay out of Tijuana.  TJ has always been a magnet to those who wish to liberate naive Americans of their money.  That will never change.  Avoid it and you avoid 99% of any potential unpleasantness.  
The toll for motorcycles on the Cuota is $15Pesos.  ($1.20USD).  They will give change.  If riding in a group, save time by having one person pay for the group.
Paying at the toll booth.  It's only $15 Pesos for Motos.
On the toll road, you can experienced a beautiful run toward Rosarito and Ensenada.  This high-speed run will help you get your bearings for riding in México.  As of this writing, the road was in the process of being partially closed between Puerta Nueva (South of Rosarito) and Ensenada.  It's highly recommended that your first break be taken in Rosarito.  Just follow the exit signs and stay to the right.  You'll want to go to the tourist zones.  Here, about half-way through town but a block before a tall high-rise hotel, both on the right, is the El Nido Restaurant.  Look for street parking in front of the restaurant or just take a right at the corner.  Look for the parking lot on the left for El Nido.  There is usually an attendant who will watch your bikes.  This is an amazing steakhouse that has been there for many years.  they hand make their tortillas and you can enjoy Méxican Coke.  They do offer alcohol, but please don't drink while riding in México.  It's not that you'll be pulled over, but that you need all of your skills and experience running at 100%.  Riding with even one drink can impair that.  Drink all you want when the bikes are put away for the night.

El Nido Steakhouse looking northwest toward it.

Amazing riding on the mountain pass approaching Ensenada.
At El Nido, the food and service is excellent.  The prices are quite reasonable but still more American.  It has a wonderful ambiance and it's a great place to break.

After enjoying Lunch at El Nido, continue south but don't get back on the toll road.  Stay on the side road that parallels the toll road.  It's more interesting and just as fast.
Regardless of when they repair the toll road, you are wise to keep on this side road and follow old Mex-1 down into Ensenada.  It's a spectacular mountain road that will leave you with lots of smiles.  You'll run through part of México's wine growing region, smaller towns and away from all the Californians in too much of a rush to slow down and enjoy themselves.  In México, bikes typically pass slower vehicles like trucks.  Often they will flash their left turn signal to let you know the road ahead is clear.  Still use your best judgement.  If passing, pass and get back into your lane with haste.  Decide and act quickly or just back off and take it slow.  
One very important riding tip...  STAY AWAY FROM THE CENTER LINE IN BLIND CORNERS!  It is not uncommon to see drivers and trucks drift into the oncoming lane in a corner.  Slow down a tad and hug the right section of the roadway.  
There are some serious elevation changes and you may get a bit chilly.  You may want to put on something to keep you a bit warmer.   
Approaching Ensenada is awesome.  It's the biggest non-border town in Baja California.  It's a busy port town similar to smaller Long Beach, CA.  It's also a cruise ship port.  Saturdays and Tuesdays see a flood of cruise passengers experience Ensenada.  It's a great place to find a coffee shop, take a break and update your friends on FB.  If you leave early enough, a fun side-trip is to La Bufadora.  It's about 30Km south of Ensenada and worth a visit.  Huge signs on the road make finding it very easy.

Tuesdays and Saturdays bring Cruise passengers from Long Beach, CA
South of the Ensenada Tourist Zone is where 'Real México' begins.   This is where the desire to appear the way visiting Americans want to see México ends and authenticity begins.  Besides some easy Military checkpoints, it's a beautiful ride over mountains toward Camalú.  Camalú is about 100 miles south of Ensenada.  You will pass some agriculture areas and small villages along the way.   
A couple things worth mentioning.  Oxxo (Oh-So) stores are similar to 7-eleven stores here.  They're a great place to get water, snacks, beer (for later) and cash, if needed.  Also don't hesitate to fill up at Pemex stations.  They don't use ethanol in México.  Your engine will run cooler and your fuel mileage will increase.  It's recommended you run the red, premium (Roja), fuel in your bike.  It costs a little less than it does in the US, but not much.  A motorcycle fill up is between $200 and $250 Pesos.  Some accept credit cards, but most don't.  Also they will take US Dollars but at a posted exchange rate of between $12 and $12.50 Pesos per dollar.   
Mike and I at Pemex.  Look for the ones that sell Premium.
In México, the gasolinerias (stations) are full-serve.  Make sure the counter is set to zero before filling.  Most attendants will point it out to you.  They are usually experienced in filling motorbikes.  Don't be afraid to ask for 'poquito mas' (little more) if it's not filled to your liking.  Don't be shy about tipping the attendant a couple pesos difference if it comes to a difference of 5 pesos or less.  If the charge is $196, consider just giving $200 and saying 'Gracias!'.  Tips are not mandatory.  The attendants do typically take pride in their work.

Along the way south on Mex-1 you'll pass through a town called Colonet.  The next town of this size will be Camalú.
Once in Camalú you can relax.  You've made it.  In the middle of town will be a street light with a billboard with an arrow at the top indicating a 'Beach Two Miles'.  This is where you want to turn.  Just beyond the billboard is an Oxxo and Pemex Station if you need anything.
The road to La Cueva del Pirata is dirt, but it's hard packed dirt and gravel.  It will be no problem taking streetbikes on this road.  just keep it in second gear and use the rear for most of your braking.

Look for this billboard at the stop light in Camalú.
The building you're looking for is still under construction, the rooms are clean and comfortable and only $400 pesos ($30USD full price).  If you are looking for two or more rooms, ask for a special discount.

Please plan on eating at the restaurant.  It is awesome!  The lobster is brought in fresh and the cook is awesome!  He will make it exactly the way you want it.  It's also priced Méxican not American so you will feast and drink like kings but pay like a meal at Norm's.  

You can also ride or hike down to the beach, but it's a bit rocky.  There is a lot of privacy if you wish to be left alone.  

Two things that will make you cheer is that the restaurant has free high-speed wi-fi and there is cell service out there.  

The restaurant and main hotel building.

Bring enough Pesos because sometimes the credit card machine is not working.  You're in real México now and these things happen.  México is still very much a cash culture.  While some nicer restaurants, hotels and gas stations take credit cards, most don't.  Make sure you have Pesos on hand.  It's wise to generally keep no more than $400 Pesos in your wallet.  Keep the rest in a discreet pocket in your jacket or in your armor pocket in your pants.  This way you won't appear like a flashy rich American when you pay for goods.

The two of us thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and made a point to stay again when we return.  It was simple, but the food, drink and value made it stand out amongst other choices nearby.  

If you are traveling to Mexico with your partner, this is a great destination.  Just be mindful that it is NOT a 5-star resort.  It's a clean comfortable room on a clifftop overlooking the beach with an amazing restaurant and view. 

Sunset at La Cueva del Pirata.  Camalú, BC, México.
This place draws in many locals who want to impress their loved ones.  This is important.  Though you just rode in from SoCal, this is considered a nice place and it's good manners to act appropriately.  Don't be loud and obnoxious.  Have fun, but be respectful and you will have a great and memorable time.  It's probably a good idea to have a flashlight if you want to head down to the beach after sunset.  México is a country with overreaching rules and too many signs.  They expect you to have common sense and to take responsibility for your actions.  If you get hurt doing something unwise, don't plan on suing someone else.  It won't work.  That said, if you want to go to the beach at night, no problem.  Just be aware that if you get hurt, it may be a while before help comes.     Mike chose to nurse some Johnnie Walker he picked up in Ensenada.  This led to the only concern about safety in the entire trip.  Mike said he was sitting on the chair contemplating life.  All of a sudden he noticed a series of ten or so headlights heading toward him.  Fearing a scene playing out from the movie, "Traffic", Mike began to worry. A short time later he realized it was just some cars traveling on the main highway.  With little ambient light to mess with ones depth perception, objects did appear closer than they actually were.

The beach in the morning at La Cueva del Pirata, Camalú.
We both laughed over lobster omlettes for breakfast the following morning.  Both of our bikes were completely safe that night. 
Well rested and refreshed, we decided to hit the road and have lunch in Ensenada.  
A quick stop at the Pemex station to top off our tanks and we were off.  
In Ensenada, there is this spectacular cafe that's only a few blocks from the tourist zone, but it's really a locals restaurant.  
Cenaduria El Parian in Ensenada.

Mike Kurthy enjoying riding in México.
Military checkpoints are common in México.

The Author enjoying some sport riding in México.
Jim's GoPRO Camera Mounting System for riding in México.

Wave to truckers, cops, kids, pickups, etc.  They think you are cool!

Dining room of La Cueva del Pirata.  Complete with Pepe Aguilar playing on the projector.
Oxxo is like 7Eleven in the US.  Good place to get water, Pesos, snacks, beer.
Big Motorcycles are special in México.  You can make someones day by letting them sit on your bike for a photo.

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