Day two of a tour is never as exciting as the first. This one was an exception. As good as it felt to sleep under the tarp shelter on the desert floor, man was it hard to get up. It was just before 8am when we finally got out of the sleeping bags. Good thing we had no schedule. With no fitness on the bike we had to take things slow. A late start? No worries. We had all day long to get to wherever we stopped. There was no need to be anywhere but the moment we were in.
There was no ‘good morning!’ with a coffee headache already creeping in. If we wanted coffee we first had to build a fire. Going lightweight meant not even having a cookstove. We’d done it before in La Baja and thought why not try again to cook over the flames and coals again. But it always takes a little work.
So fire on my mind I sent straight for our dug-out pit in the sand. Our fires are always meager in the desert. Why build an inferno if all you need is a flame.
Coals still burned from the night before under a thick blanket of ash. I gathered dried grass, a pile of twigs and with some heavy blowing we had a blazing flame. Onto this went some dried cholla cactus, the best for a hot, fast fire. Perfect for boiling water for the instant coffee, dried soy milk and sugar waiting in the cup. The cook pot hung from a branch strong enough to support it’s weight with water. The branch was set on a small boulder and weighted down on the other side, allowing for the right height above the fire. If more clearance was needed, we added a small rock between the boulder and the branch. Air flowed under the pot allowed the fire to roar to life.
In no time the water rumbled and we sat in silence enjoying our surrounds, sipping our morning brew. Yes, the entire routine was high maintenance, but an integral part of our desert camps. The fire cooked our meals and kept us warm in the desert cool of dusk to dawn. In the pitch black of the desert sky when so far from any lights of civilization, however big or small, it was the greatest gift to have. The light of the fire allowed us to stay awake long after the winter sun set. We were never at a loss of appreciation from it’s glow.
By 10am camp was broken, breakfast gone and the fire pit all but a memory now buried in the sand. A quick glance back showed just what we hoped: it was as if no one had been there.
Up and down the East Cape Road we pedaled. Determination overrode the reality of how difficult it was at times to continue pedaling in the soft sandy stretches. Especially when the road tilted up. It was like doing all-out anaerobic efforts at times I had to pedal so hard not to fall over. Peter laughed hard each time I’d fishtail for what seemed like ever and still held the bike up.
The barbed wire fence lining the thin vein of eroding road soon disappeared. It felt good to look at the cactus jungle without that barrier marking private property. The sheer warmth of the wind blowing in our faces made the headwind bearable instead of the wicked force it was making forward movement difficult at times. It’s hard to believe that section of Baja hadn’t been taken over by development yet. The intentions were visible but all to show for myriad money-making real estate ventures were grand entrances, for sale signs and empty lots. Opportunities seemed endless but thankfully a reluctance to commit prevailed.
And then we reached Los Freilles. Or ‘Los Fray-lies’ as many gringos pronounced it. Over a decade had passed since Peter’s last visit to the gringo camp. It was exactly as he remembered: the ‘trees’ camp populated by mainly Canadians, the ‘arroyo’ with mainly Americans, the fish camp made up of Mexicans, a mixture of the two former and some Euros under the palapas on the beach. Then there were the approximately six small boats anchored in the bay, half of which flying the red and white of Canada. And finally, the snorkelers in the rocky area marking the southern boundary of the Cabo Pulmo Aquatic Park.
We circled the ‘tree camp’ section and are immediately greeted with offerings of water. ‘Need anything else?’. We were just looking for a place to camp. Super friendliness was welcomed after a shorter second day than the first. We decided to stay. The place was packed but the vibe was good. And maybe if we were lucky, we thought, we’d get some fresh fish.
We continue looking for a camp and end up in a makeshift dump. Backtrack to the road and up the arroyo camp and camp found us. Not even 100 yards into the area we heard a woman’s voice ‘where you coming from?’. We hear but don’t see her. From the tone she’s a nice lady, checking us out from inside the RV.
After a short exchange she asked if we like fish. Fish? Yes, fish.
‘Hold on a minute, let me put my paints away and I’ll bring you some out’. We learned quickly the reason for her seeming apprehension was not us but her paints drying. Our new friend Katie had an art studio set up in the RV, and she was in the middle of painted a massive, vibrant piece.
Next thing we know we’re invited to spend the night in their screened in gazebo. Katie’s husband Mel comes out to show us the outside fireplace he built from bricks and the stack of coveted ‘palo fiero’ or ‘iron wood’ that burns so hot water boils faster than a plug in kettle.
Mel talked about being ‘water rich’ after a visit to some friends north of Los Freilles to fill up their water tank. The parched desert is a winter haven for so many northerners but without a connection to clean water, no matter how nice your RV when you’re off the grid like that in the East Cape, you’re desperate.
We walk down to the beach with a swim in mind ends up in a wade to the knees. The water feels cold at first but warms nicely when walking in the shallow section of Sea of Cortez. The cool salt water feels good on the tired feet. After so long off the bike shoes, cleats and pedals leave my feet on fire after only a few hours of riding. We stood in some of the best waters for snorkeling in the world. Without any gear all we could do was watch others exploring the underwater world so magical and full of fish life.
Back at Mel and Katie’s we discover a gift on the outdoor plastic table beside our gazebo camp. A massive metal mixing bowl holds all the fixings for a romantic dinner for two. Katie’s artists touch was everywhere, from the salad decorated with carefully cut vegetables and a sprinkling of pine nuts so perfect we didn’t want o disturb it with forks to the eclectic wine glasses and vibrant napkins, it was such an abundance of kindness I wanted to cry.
To top it all off she asked ‘do you two like red wine?’. Red wine? Of course! Next thing we know there we are after Mel and Katie left for dinner in a town close by sipping a rich Argentinian red eating fish fresh off the coals.
We had nothing to offer but energy bars and freeze dried meals because we’re traveling light and on bikes, but this didn’t matter. All we can promise is to pay it forward as we always do. “That’s exactly what I’m doing and it makes me so happy to help you two out. I’ve been helped so many times by people along the way.”
I felt so happy I had to shout it out loud. Peter agreed. We sat for the next hours in Mel and Katie’s camp chairs sipping that wine and smiling about the world. Not just the gifts left us feeling so good, also that they trusted us to leave us in their winter mobile set-up with all they own.
A male and female Oriel fluttered in and around the surrounding trees, glowing in the late day sun. The Sea of Cortez sparkled in view. The sights, sounds and kindness received meant so much it almost hurt. There is no five star hotel or fancy restaurant on earth I would exchange for that night we had in the arroyo camp courtesy of our new friends.
We could hardly believe it was only day two of the bike tour. Only 38 miles from our starting point and if that was it for the trip it would have been no less than complete in terms of experience.
And the next morning…another invite from our friends before leaving for ‘real coffee’ and sourdough pancakes.
The beauty of giving was not lost on us. We left feeling utterly inspired by the basic human kindness offered in La Baja.