02 Nov Goodbye California, Bienvenido a Mexico, Cycling Across the Mexican Border
Leaving San Diego cycling to Potrero County Park, 49 mile
We are super excited to start a new chapter vof our “Bicycling the Americas Adventure”. We had stored our bikes in a small storage unit near the San Diego Hairport and spent a month off the bikes to fly back home to celebrate our daughter’s wedding.
When we returned in the evening, we rushed over to the storage building to retrieve our bikes. The next morning we spend repacking our bags, putting new chains on the bikes and doing some routine bike maintenance before heading out the following morning.
Our plan for the day is to continue our bicycle tour to the Mexican border crossing at Tecate, which is supposed to be much quieter and friendlier to cross compared to Tijuana or Mexicali. From there we will continue cycling down the Baja California.
The following morning we will cross into Mexico so we can make it into Mexico’s wine country before it’s time to find a place to set up camp.
However, it was a long ride out of San Diego to the small county park in Potrero near the Mexican border. Although we had an early start from our motel near the San Diego airport, it took us much longer than anticipated to reach our goal for today.
Maybe shopping for food for the next three days in an unfamiliar grocery store didn’t help as it takes me forever to go zigzagging through the isles to find everything I am looking for. Maybe it was the 48 miles of mostly climbing after being off the bikes for about a month, or it could have been the persistent noise coming from Ron’s rear wheel and the frequent stops to pursue and fix the noisy problem that lead us to reach our destination after nightfall.
At least the scenery was nice along the way and the traffic became more and more enjoyable as we made our way out of town and into the mountains.
The drivers along the way were mostly courteous and gave us plenty of room as we slowly wound our way up the rugged, sparsely overgrown mountains, which reminded us of some old western movies.
Once we reach the county park, we are greeted by an already closed ranger’s office. Luckily, the sign near the door states that hiker/biker sites are only 5 dollars a night and there seem to be plenty empty sites available at the tent sites.
We set up camp in the dark, eat our leftover chicken tenders and bread by candle light, and sit and relax for a moment. It doesn’t take us long though to crawl into our sleeping bags since we’re a little beat and tired. To our surprise though it’s not even 8:00 o’clock yet, what the heck. Apparently, we really need to pay more attention to when we get going in the morning, since night fall comes early at this time of year.
In the morning, we wake up before sunrise, but it doesn’t take long for the first rays to peak over the mountains. The morning is sunny but cool, after all we are camping at 2400ft elevation. We warm up with a hot cup of coffee and chat with one of our camping neighbors, a firefighter who is going to stay in Baja California with his buddies to volunteer at a national park to exchange firefighting knowledge with the locals.
After the cup of Joe, Ron tries to work on his bike again for a few minutes. Ever since putting the new chain on the bike it has been making an awful ruckus every time he has been pedaling hard. Apparently the new chain does not mix well with the well worn back sprocket and it has a tendency to slip and grind between the sprocket’s teeth. After adjusting the tension again, cleaning and oiling the chain and paying for our campsite, we are off to make it to the border…of course it is already later in the morning than we planned on leaving….such is life on the road.
The Tecate Border Crossing, Welcome to Mexico! 14 miles
After a nice long downhill, a little bit of climbing and cycling south, we reach the border town. There are plenty of signs, warning people not to bring any marijuana, recreational or medical, into or out of the country. Also, bringing any weapons into Mexico is strictly forbidden according to the big signs along the road. However, there appears to be no signage to point into the actual direction of the border crossing. As we see a few cars parked in the street, we figured we must be close and get off our bikes to push them along the sidewalk. Once we head around a corner we finally see the Border crossing.
Two men in official uniforms tell us to head inside the building to get our visa and stamp to enter the country. There is a couple already waiting while another gentleman is currently in the office. When he comes out he informs his friends that the official only takes cash for the entrance visa. Ron leaves to grab some cash from his bike. Shortly after he returns it’s our turn to enter the office.
The border official sits at his desk and asks for our passports. He gives us the visa papers and helps us fill out some of the information. To our surprise he asks if we want to pay in cash or with credit card when we are finished. Since we haven’t converted any dollars yet and paying in pesos is cheaper, we pay with the credit card, for about 26.00 $ each, we are proud owners of a 6 month Mexican visa.
He stamps our passports and visas, smiles and wishes us a good trip.
Afterwards we grab our bikes and head through customs. Since our bikes won’t fit on the conveyor belt to get x-rayed, the young officer just asks us where we are going and if we have anything in our bags to declare. “That’s a long way!” He looks extremely surprised, when he hears that we want to ride our bikes all the way to Argentina. Since we don’t have anything to declare he simply smiles and states “Wecome to Mexico!”
We are officially Cycle Touring the Baja California now
We still can’t believe, we made it into Mexico as we half push half ride our bikes down the steep hill from the border into the center of town. At the first intersection we spot a city park and a bank. It’s time to stop and get some local money. Ron waits outside while I try my luck at the ATM inside of the bank. The instructions are confusing. I see a dollar sign, but the amount of dollars seems outrageous, especially the conversion rate and commission the bank wants. I abort the transaction and go back outside empty handed and ask Ron to try his luck.
Ron comes back out with 4000 pesos, or roughly 200$ American. Apparently, what I didn’t realize was that the currency sign for the Mexican peso looks just like the American dollar…well that made much more sense!
As we find our way through town we see several huge dressed up skeleton statues. People stop and take pictures with the fun statues and others decorate pavilions and different areas with orange flowers. It seems the preparations for Dias de Muertos are in full swing. Although we would like to check out the festivities, we think it would be wiser to get a bite to eat and to head out of the border town to find a place to stay the night.
As we head down the road we stop at a small taco place. An older gentleman that works at the place watches over our bikes while we order. Our first food order goes as expected: between very broken Spanish and lots of gesturing we manage to get a few very tasty tacos de asaga, 2 cokes and all the fixings….and the price is right as well.
With full stomachs and in good spirits we head out of town to find a place to stay for the night. The road winds up a few more climbs. It is starting to get very warm. Traffic becomes more and more quiet as we leave town and it seems we have the whole big “slow lane/shoulder” to ourselves. Occasionally, we get a friendly honk, a thumbs up or encouraging cheers from drivers passing us.
The surrounding mountains still resemble old western movies: brown and arid and riddled with big rock’s. Along our route, we stop at a few motels just to note that they are closed due to either COVID related reasons or because they are closed for the season already. Eventually though, we stumble upon a campground and pull into the gate. The campground is empty, but the groundskeeper assures us we can stay for the night. He states the price and shows us the campground. There are 5 pools we can pick from to go swimming. Unfortunately, most of them are not kept up at this time. There are several bathrooms and some showers. The camp shop and the bar are closed and most of the amenities are being worked on or somewhat neglected since it is off season at the moment. The groundskeeper, however lets us take hot showers in one of the cabins and even offers for Ron to come along with him to the store to buy some beers.
We already love Mexico, the slow traffic, the friendly drivers and the people we encountered so far were wonderful. We finally feel like we are bicycle touring again and can’t wait to explore more of the Baja California, Mexico.
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