Baja 101

Here are some tips for traveling in Baja on your motorcycle.

Be alert. In Mexico, the minute you think it’s okay to clip corners because you haven’t seen another car for two hours, that’s when a chicken truck will come barreling over the double yellow into your lane. If things seem shady or just not right, don’t do it. Knowing how to read your senses will keep you out of trouble. Know where you are at, how to get back to camp when your boys lose you, and where you left your bike. Border towns like Mexicali and Tijuana are a mandatory place to be alert. The roads on this trip are in relatively fair condition, but there are potholes everywhere. If you’re riding in a pack, ride single file so you can swerve right or left to avoid any rim-wrecking craters.

Be courteous. Nothing pisses us off like uptight Americans who come to Baja and treat the place like their personal toilet. The locals deserve our respect. Getting along with them is a piece of cake if you show an ounce of respect. A little humor goes a long way—We’ve never experienced more laidback people, except maybe in Hawaii. Don’t litter. Local merchants expect you to bargain for prices on trinkets, but don’t be insulting about it. Military check points are a way of life in many countries, and Mexico is no exception. We’ve always been nice to the Federales and treated them with respect. Just like our boys doing roadblocks in Iraq, they are mostly young, bored and in the middle of nowhere when they would rather be on vacation like us. They love stickers and sometimes will take a break and pose for pictures or trade souvenirs. If you have stickers, hats or patches from your club, shop, or military unit the guys will usually figure out something to trade if their LT isn’t looking. Keep your hands in the open and your tone friendly and they will treat you fine. In over twenty years of traveling Baja roads, we’ve never had a single bad incident with a Federale. Cops, yes, the army, no. As for cops, if you get pulled over for some violation, real or manufactured, ask politely what you did wrong and then ask if you can pay the ticket directly to the cop in lieu of going to the station. McGoo got popped for driving to breakfast with a bed full of dudes and it cost him $50. Third Reich Eric was stopped for doing a smoky burnout on the sidewalk with no helmet at 2 a.m. in the morning and his fine was $35. Justice? Of course not—unless you’re the guy wearing the badge. Both guys kept their nose clean and their dumb comments to a minimum and they got off unscathed. Put up a fight or act like a know-it-all prick gringo and you will lose every time.

Be Prepared. Physical preparedness means having everything you need to sustain yourself for the entire trip. Bring enough food to last me an entire day just in case you get stranded somewhere. Water is the heaviest thing to carry and it's wise to bring enough to last a day and then pick some bottled water at a local mercado before the next day’s trip. You will need this for brushing your teeth as well as drinking. That water bottle may very well come in handy as an improvised gas container out on the road. Go ahead and drink the local water if you are a daredevil but there is a good chance you’ll regret it. On that subject, there are shitters along the routes we’ve chosen but sometimes they can be few and far between or completely under stocked. When locals wipe their asses, they fold the paper and throw it in a can by the crapper—not in the bowl. Nothing bogs down a Mexican toilet like a fistful of Charmin, so don’t throw your paper into the can. Here’s a minimum list of things you should pack for the ride:

• Toilet paper
• Water—one day’s supply
• Gas
• Tool kit
• Spare bike parts (plugs, cables, inner tubes or patch kit, etc.)
• Bedding
• Bath essentials
• Clothing. In 2006 it rained, and the mountain passes were in the 35-degree range. In San Felipe we swam in 78-degree ocean water. Wear layers, and expect to peel them off as you ride through different terrain. It's mostly mild, but you never know.
• American smokes (Mexican Marlboros are shit)
• Flip-flops or shower shoes (public showers can be pretty nasty)
• Instant coffee and something to boil water in
• Cash. There are ATM’s, but only in major towns. Everywhere we stopped on the 2006 EDR took US dollars, but the exchange rate was shitty. Consider swapping money when you get to San Felipe at a legitimate bank or exchange facility.
• Personal ID (driver’s license, passport and both if you have it), legitimate registration papers for your motorcycle and current license plate on your bike
• Mexican insurance. Available on the US/Mexico border. We’ll stop and buy some when we get there, but if you’re running solo, find a place and buy it. Generally less than $75 for a four-day trip.
• Helmet (for the California leg and within all city limits in Mexico)
• Rope and tie-downs
• Camera
• Lock and cable

Be flexible. In Mexico, mental preparation is even more important than physical preparation. You can always buy a raincoat or a pair of sandals, but you only get one chance to make a quick decision. Getting mentally prepared for Mexico is easy. Take off your watch, turn off your cell phone and remind yourself that everything runs on a different time schedule. No one you come in contact with in Mexico is going to be in a hurry. Relax, be self-reliant and flexible and everything will work out just fine.