Yesterday I completed the journey over the border, making it from north San Diego to Ensenada by day’s end. It was the longest and toughest day so far. I clocked in at around 160 km (100 miles) but it felt much longer, struggling as I was probably 30-40km before Ensenada.
I was mentally and physically exhausted by day’s end. It should have been no surprise that crossing the border and getting out of Tijuana didn’t quite go according to plan…
The day before leaving I was feeling quite down about leaving San Diego. I’d got pretty comfortable there, enjoying the rest and being able to relax. I considered staying longer, but figured that perhaps I’d still feel the same when it came to leave. So, decision confirmed, I planned an early start to give me as much time as possible for the day ahead.
I was up later than hoped but managed to get away by 8am. My intended short stop at Café Virtuoso (a local Fair Trade coffee roaster) turned into a much longer but great experience (see previous post). But after the tasting and lingering talking to Stephan and Rigo for a while, I had to get back on the road. I still had several miles to the border.
Passing through San Ysidro, the final US town, I got a sense of what was to come with two main smells beginning to dominate. Money (cambio booths everywhere) and fast food. But I pressed on and had a surprisingly uneventful crossing. The border turnstiles almost contrive to put a block on cyclists passing through but were just wide enough for loaded-up Edna. I found the immigration office, got my tourist visa, suncreamed up and was on my way again. Now for the fun part – which way is it to Ensenada?
To make things interesting for newbies, there are two routes – the free and the toll . And I thought I’d found the right way, following the signs, only to roll up to the start of the toll road 8km out of town and be told to turn back around. Not good; I was already behind schedule. On the way back to Tijuana I missed the sign (that didn’t exist) but back in the city centre I managed to get on the right path after asking a passing cyclist the way. It meant another detour through Tijuana, which was a messy riot of fumes and food and music. Complete contrast to anything I’d experienced in the US. The ride out of Tijuana was long and arduous and became mentally exhausting. Lots of traffic, no bike lanes, distractions everywhere. It made cycling through LA seem like a picnic.
Rolling through the subsequent towns was so different to anything before. Rosarito and beyond are just long strips of getup for tourists. Roadside shacks selling all kinds of food; litter; hotels & restaurants; people all about; cars (and some trucks) driving pretty much as they wish to. Many places in Baja have been going through a push for attracting more tourists but this stretch looks like it has bitten off too much, with many developments looking half-finished and untouched in a while.
I was in a bit of a rush to get to Ensenada before dark, and then had a push inland that led me through some hills that felt a lot bigger than they probably were. By then I’d been on the road for 5-6 hours and still had another two or three to go. I felt ready to stop even then. The remote countryside meant just pushing on as I passed through good and bad phases; I was determined to make it before dark.
One thing I was very happy about earlier in the day was soon after crossing the border when my concerns about leaving San Diego and the US were replaced by excitement of having reached Mexico. I felt good about being here and the new experiences that will bring.
With some relief I pulled in to the main tourist area of Ensenada and went to my intended stopover, only to be told it was full…luckily (or perhaps by strategy) the guy’s brother-in-law had another motel a couple of blocks away. An extravagant night for a double room (no singles) but I didn’t care by then. To have arrived safely and in good time was all I was thinking of. Oh, and dinner..