Saturday, October 02, 2010


Apologies to readers: I have been struggling with bronchitis for the past ten days, dosed with antibiotics, depressed and writing slowly. I am on the mend and will write more and faster....




Lanchero is border Mexican-Spanish for a diner. We pass one every forty or fifty miles. Normally the lanchero is a lone building beside the highway. There is no apparent reason why the builder chose this site. Why not a hundred yards south or north – or 500 yards in either direction?
We pull in at a lanchero on the left. Intricately worked saddles and splendid chaps hang from the ceiling. Smaller pieces of harness fill a glass-fronted display cabinet. Probably thirty miles or more to the next house in either direction, a hundred miles to the nearest town – quite a drive for horsemen in want of spare stirrup leather.



I am a follower on this journey and must concentrate on the riders ahead. Riding alone, my mind is free. I chase the same thought day after day, worrying at it as a terrier does a hard rubber bone - and small details of the countryside, of fauna and flora awaken memories. Today has been better - perhaps because I have become more accustomed to the group. Temperature exceeds 100 – a 60 degree rise since we left the hotel this morning. We have ridden north beyond the boulders and cross a seemingly endless plane circled by mountains. Small, pale yellow butterflies zigzag on the breeze. Flowers on two small roadside shrines to the dead are the gifts of love. The flowers are already desiccated. A dead cow rots in front of the shrines. Gorged vultures perch on the candelabra cacti. I recall, from my early twenties, vultures as signals of suffering in a desert where nomads, trekking from dry well to dry well, abandoned their children and the aged so that the breeding stock of the tribe could survive...And where I could do nothing other than extend the suffering of a chosen few with a few cups of water.
There was a further guilt: that, for me, the desert was an immense playground, a marvelous land alive with great herds of gazelle, where majestic oryx and kudu grazed, where lions sprawled in the sun, giraffe nibbled the treetops, elephants were king. To be shot at on occasion was part of the adventure in those glory days of tribesmen armed with single shot rifles, relics of the First and Second World Wars and often loaded with the wrong gauge ammunition.
Now every teenager in that desert wields a Kalashnikov or an M16 – such was the strategy of the Cold War: arm your enemies' friends' enemies with no thought for the future.
The future is now. Animals are gone, vicious chaos rules, refugee camps line the frontier.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010



Finally the sun melts the cover and paints small curls of pale red gold on the underside of small puffs of white cloud high above. Never in my travels have I seen mountains so blue. We pass three small shrines to the dead on a straight stretch of highway. A hundred yards or so separates the shrines. Surely not casualties of three separate accidents? Yet, if the same accident, why the separation? Anger between the families of the dead? The blame game? Three kids racing down the straight on Saturday night? A drunk driver? Or high on dope? Or was he driving one-handed while hugging his girl and lost control? Was there a quarrel between the three? Did one of the passengers strike the driver?
Were I alone i would stop a moment, read the names, presuming the dead were Catholic, murmur a Catholic prayer. A local driver, curious, might stop. We would talk a while. Such is traveling...



Dawn approaches as we ride out of the Hotel Oasis courtyard. Sea fog rises from the ocean and spreads across the desert. We ride for two hours in chill air beneath the low grey canopy to breakfast at the Desert Inn, San Ingnacio.

Monday, September 27, 2010


main highway


J is keen to organise joint off-road and bike trips on the Baja peninsular using California Scooter Company bikes. Joe and Big John are enthusiastic. I am an outsider and keep my thoughts to myself. However, the main highway is about the only tar road in Baja. Surely dirt bikes would be more suitable?
Coco Chanel is very different from the pre-production bike I rode south – not in looks but in feel. Coco purrs and the vibration from the unitary chassis seems less. The seats on both bikes are mounted on coil springs. They are wide seats for wide butts. I love them. They are the type of seat I dream of on my travels. And the riding position is ideal for my build. Sit upright and my hands rest as comfortably on the controls as they did on the Brazilian Honda Cargo I rode round the Americas – as they should on a work bike or a touring bike, bikes on which the rider will spend hours each day. The Indian manufactured Honda Stunner was more a cafe racer for teenage posers. The rider's weight was on his hands and on his crotch. Longer than half an hour in the seat was cruel punishment.
Mechanically, both Hondas were perfect: 40,000 miles on the Cargo without a mechanical fault; 10,000 miles round India, not even a puncture. The Cargo averaged over 120 miles to the gallon while the Stunner maintained a remarkable 160. The Stunner was stable on mud and gravel and on river beds marked as roads on India's road atlas.
Coco isn't a dirt bike. For transport I would chose Honda. Coco wins on charm. It is a bike to love. It is the bike I would chose to ride to the Malvern spa of a Sunday morning where it will attract a crowd of admirers. Even my youngest son, Jed (20), would be proud to show it off to his friends and he doesn't like bikes. As to reliability, the few faults we have found on this journey will be cured. Future complaints will a rarity.
So there you have my judgement – as always, Horses For Courses...



We are back at the Hotel Oasis, a modern building devoid of charm but with air-conditioning, comfortable beds and a small square of water advertised in the hotel brochures as a swimming pool. Swim two strokes and you would break your wrists or concuss yourself at the far end. We stand in the pool and talk of our journey and the beauty of the ride down to the sea and of the heat and of where to have dinner. A taco stand on main street wins the food stakes. We sit in white plastic chairs on the sidewalk, eat tacos with parboiled, grilled cactus and roast shallots. Party night in Constitution and quad-bikers parade on Main Street.