The morning after the night before Mexico Independence Day was akin to Boxing Day in a rural corner of England. The highways were deliciously quiet, deserted even and the streets had become all but bare. Riding down the empty roads gave rise to revelling in a deep quietness. For a moment, I imagined what it would be like to be a ghost—to walk forever through a silence deeper than silence. There was something agreeably frightening about it all. The sun was a fiery orange ball in a smooth blue sky where not a single cloud blemished or blotted it.
Advertised on iOverlander as a five star hotel willing to accommodate RV overlanders in the car park, we tried our luck anyway. As arrogant as that might sound, our intentions weren’t. Adopting our usual ‘nothing-to-lose’ approach, I somehow managed to wangle, if not lower the tone: pitching our tent on Hotel Hacienda Baruk’s manicured front lawn—spongy as toe-swallowing carpet—and hanging our sopping wet bike covers on two hooks against their crisp white wall. Had the high-end establishment taken leave of its mission? I mused. Soon as the unsightly covers were dry, I made a mental note to stay low profile…
We obtained our own private lounge in a separate building from the conventional patrons—may as well kip in there—which led to an adjoining wet room each. And the easygoing receptionist granted us access to the gymnasium, swimming pool, spa, blah, blah, all in at 350 pesos (£15 / $23 USD) for the night. A tad upscale for us but everyone needs a splurge once in a while.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have rocked up flying the knicker flag, courtesy of Pearl’s handlebar; well, it was the best way to dry underwear. The porter showing us our quarters might have considered me unfit, scandalous, degenerate. But I felt good, full of promise to scrub up real nice. I may’ve looked like I’d been dragged through a bush backwards, but I’m not dragged up…time to remove those bike covers.
Post a boots-off-and-bikini-on exchange, I exalted in a refreshing dip—don’t mind if I do undertake my breast stroke to your panpipe music, enjoy the iced beverages and a basket full of toiletries in my wet room. Man alive, I couldn’t recall the last time I was so clean. “Oh look!”—a complementary lint-free cloth for shining your shoes; seen as my shoes are flip flops, will use that for my fly-splattered visor, gracias.
Wheels rolling, we passed a big farm. Its outbuildings were anchored on a sea of swaying stalks, its clapboard was molten in the shimmering, hazy light. The corn rippled with the breeze, the green wall danced until in the midst of leaves. The land was beginning to open up evenly and uneventfully. Corn fields continued to pass on either side of the road and cows went about their ordinary business, steady as history itself.
It dawned on me that the universe was being especially magnanimous towards us of late. Pulling up at Durango’s Casablanca Hotel due to lack of any camping options, along came Fernando the manager. An impeccably dressed hotelier with the neatest of groomed moustaches to match. He assumed the posture of someone who knew exactly how to occupy his own space. Post a friendly chat about the wheels and our ‘bottom up’ wandering, he sent us packing down the road to his other hotel: the Posada San Agustin. Oh shooks, perhaps we were too scruffy and soiled for the Casablanca, the “Whitehouse.”
A bit baffled, I met Fernando’s eyes and he looked back at me with toothy, clear-eyed optimism. It was then he became the bedrock support of compassion and understanding, and informed me we’d be paying zero for the privilege of staying in one of his double en suites. Fathomlessly flabbergasted didn’t begin to describe our reaction. Giving me an ingratiating smile, Fernando waved my incredulity away as if it were a sluggish but persistent fly. Humbled beyond belief, Fernando was one of life’s lovelies.
Snaking over 200 miles of devilish twisties and sweeping bends, we weaved and curled through the old mountain road for the best part of the entire day: from Durango to Mazatlán. To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, illuminating the ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, casting a brilliant tinge on the band of off-white. The afternoon light had taken on the golden weight of an English October and picked out each individual tree on the mountainside.
Frequently stopping to keep gulping down the views and water, the ride was made sweeter by keeping to the free road; no tolls, no loss of unnecessary notes. Although I wouldn’t have minded paying on that occasion to wheel across the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge—over one kilometre long on the federal highway 40D—the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
We’d been cooking with the finest ingredients all day to then taint the pièce de résistance with cheap red wine. A blunder bigger than MC Hammer’s Pants: making camp on a pricey RV park—rife with mosquitoes and stagnant water (duh!) but devoid of breeze. Not even a whisper.
An unnatural silence and stifling heat gripped the place. Even with dark sunglasses, I squinted my eyes into narrow slits. Mmn, that’s low season for you; folks absent around here were clearly loaded with enough common sense to steer clear of the searing sun. The battery in my brain was running low by dusk, the day of twisties had taken its toll despite not having taken the toll road. ‘Come on,’ I urged myself, wishing I could attach a couple of jump leads to my head and give myself a good, long zap.
I longed to be chronically caffeinated although Jason had put paid to that. I could have murdered him, though his only crime was drinking the last cup of coffee. I stood with my arms folded over my chest, my jaw was stony. I saw that in another life I should have been a crazy schoolteacher, one of those wild spinsters with six cats for company. Get over it, Lise.
Dusk to dawn surpassed heinously hot by about 5 moist degrees Celsius on top of the ever-present muggy 30. The sorry pair of us felt irritated—steaming rocks in our hothouse of oppressive gloom and I couldn’t quite pick up my sense of self. Listlessly, we somehow staved off hyperthermia courtesy of our cruel tormentor, the humidity. It was the night that kept on giving; enduring an endless bout of inertia—broken only by several showers—where the melting mind battled constant cravings for sleep. With temperatures too stupid to even hope to doze off, I would rather eat glass than make camp there again.
Hotel Lerma, however, 9 miles into town compensated admirably with a fair fee, a tirelessly big fan—which at least circulated the warm air as opposed to letting it smother us like an electric blanket—and a fabulous little seconds boutique 50 yards up the street. One of those rare finds that for a handful of pesos permitted investment in a pannier-sized wardrobe suitable for surviving the Baja this time of year. Scorchio!
Voyaging for 19 hours on the ferry from Mazatlán will swallow $1,100 pesos (£85 / $130 US per person) from one’s wallet, but will gently cruise you and your motorcycle across to La Paz, the Baja Peninsula. A neck of land that looks like a mythical dragon nose diving, is also known as Baja California in northwestern Mexico. At 760 miles long as the crow flies and anything from 25 to 150 miles wide, it’s largely desert bounded to the north by the States, to the east by the Gulf of California and to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean.
The water I saw patted and slapped off the bow as the ship began to carve through the hypnosis of the sea. Clouds raced before us, as if the entire world was heading west but I seemed to drift happily, my soul turned airy. I glanced at the sun, now hanging redly over the horizon. And stared out at the vast indigo sea, lit only by silver waves that crawled relentlessly toward the shore. And with that, our wheels and us set sail for the final phase of Mexico.