From Baja California Sur to Yucatan [part 2] – Crossing the Sonora desert

This is part two of Jeanette and my 2023 journey through Mexico on our motorbikes. Click here to read part one where we ride from La Paz in Baja California Sur to Ensenada in Baja California.

In 2023 Jeanette and I make another large journey through Mexico. This time we’re headed from La Paz in Baja California Sur to the Yucatan area. We try to ride as few toll roads as possible and try to avoid western tourism where that makes sense.

I’ve planned a route over the last few months. And on April 24th we left La Paz with all our belongings and started our big adventure. We hope to get a good look at Mexico post-chinese flu.

From Ensenada to Puerto Penasco

In this part of our adventure we head east, through the northern parts of Mexico. It consists of only 3 segments. For the first segment we planned to ride from Ensenada in Baja California to Puerto Penasco in Sonora.
I had prepared a route via Tecate, on the USA border, to Mexicali and then crossing the Rio Colorado river delta into the Sonora desert.

We left Ensenada in the morning under a cloud cover facing stiff winds. The forecast predicted the wind should stop once we crossed the mountains near Mexicali. Looking forward to that we went on our way wearing long pants, jackets and 3 layers of clothing.
After a mostly uneventful ride of casual rain and relentless wind from every direction we finally crossed a mountainous area near Rumorosa and *poof* sunshine and no more winds! Woohoo!

There were some road repairs in the mountains and a semi-truck got stuck in a bend in the road so we took some pics while we waited for traffic to clear.

After a quick break and a hotdog at a truckstop near Mexicali we drove through the Rio Colorado river delta and headed into the Sonora desert. In a small farmers town we were warned by the locals not to loiter around as some guys on a black motorbike were trying to rob other motorists. We were lucky and didn’t encounter any trouble.

Because todays distance was 500+ kilometers this is the bit where I wanted to drive faster to make up some time and reach Puerto Penasco before nightfall. Speeding along highway 3 we quickly left civilization behind and into the desert were I crashed straight into this massive hole in the road.

Jeanette was behind me and could barely avoid it but I boinked through the hole going about 100km/h (~60 mph). Miraculously I came out fine at the other end but my wheel didn’t survive. A big dent on the right side, smaller one on the left and the tire didn’t hold air anymore.

After gathering my wits for a few minutes and cursing Mexican roads, Mexico in general and everything in it we decided to head back to the last town, some 20 kilometers back. This of-course took ages with a bent rim and an almost flat tire. We did find a friendly mechanic who had no tools to actually do anything useful but he tried to bend the rim straight with a massive wrench. Despite his good intentions he didn’t have much luck.

His advise was to head to a bigger town further down the road;
“Which town?”
“The one with a traffic light in it.”
“Right, we saw a traffic light. How much further is that?”
“Oh, just 10 or so kilometers.”

Having little choice we limped there, which took a good 30 minutes. After looking around a bit we found ourselves in a similar situation. A car friendly mechanic with few tools. He did manage to make a weak seal with paper and oil so we could carefully drive to a better repair place… But as soon as we left his workshop the tire deflated again. So that was a wasted effort.

BMW roadside assistance is a joke

While the 2nd mechanic was working on trying to get the tire to hold air we called BMW roadside assistance and spend 2 excruciating hours on the phone with their incompetent callcenter only to realize that no help was coming. It took almost an hour before they understood our problem, who we were and that we definitely had a BMW motorcycle. We provided pointless details and endless explanations and wasted a lot of time before they to promised a tow truck that never came. We got promised a hotel in the wrong city. And they would send a local taxi that doesn’t exist and then the connection was lost, or they hung up on us. When we finally got them on the line again they basically cancelled all service because “They do not provide service for BMW”. Oh, right, of-course… What were we thinking calling the BMW service number?!

So with no hope of help arriving anytime soon we paid the mechanic for his time and drove 27 more kilometers on a flat tire in the dark along a rural highway to the first place that looked like a city. Google Maps said it had a motel so we could get some dinner, rest up and rescue ourselves.

It’s now over a week later (at the time of writing) and we’re still ‘waiting’ on that tow truck, a taxi and for them to call back. You know, because BMW cares for our safety and wellbeing…

Anyway, we made it to a hotel in Guadalupe Victoria at around 10 at night. Exhausted, frustrated and me wishing I could ride this damn bike of of a cliff and go do something fun again. I was convinced our trip would be over, or at least be delayed for several months while we waited for a new wheel and BMW to finally do something useful – Since they control the parts and repairs.

Fixing a bent rim in 3 easy steps

We found some helpful people in the motel who assured us it wasn’t a big deal and we’d be on our way the next day. I wasn’t so optimistic. But whatever… If everything got screwed up further I needed a new rim already anyway. Or so I thought.

Step 1 – get directions

The next day we decided not to bother with BMW roadside any longer and figure things out ourselves. We extended our hotel stay for a few more days and headed into town – Explore a bit, see what’s what and try and find some capable help. We spoke to a few cops that were posted near the hotel and asked where they’d service their bikes. Officially in Mexicali, far away, but they pointed us to a place near the local hospital. On our way there we spotted a Michelin tire service center with in it a well connected guy who pointed us to a rim repair shop and a mechanic. Aha!

Step 2 – Hiring scruffy dudes to make stuff happen

The rim repair shop turned out to be a welding shop and after showing him a picture of the rim his only request was to bring the bare rim and he seemed confident to be able to fix the thing. No biggie he said. Great!
A few minutes later at the mechanic shop we were assured they could help and they claimed to have tools to remove the wheel – Which was only half true, but they managed with ‘only’ minor damages to the rim to get it off the bike and remove the tire from it.

Then, after lunch, back in the welding shop the guy used a blowtorch, a mallet and a grinder to convince the wheel to be round again..

He spent about 45 minutes on it and afterwards we tightened up all the spokes and spun the wheel for a few minutes to eyeball its roundness and some minor adjustments and 300 pesos later I was on my way back to Michelin to ask if they could put the tire back on with their magic tire machine. As I didn’t trust the mechanic guys to handle it without causing more damage.

Step 3 – Putting things back together

Michelin kindly put the tire back on and inflated it. We checked if the air stayed in by dunking it in a bathtub full of water which it did. We then measured it to be 32psi and I could head back to the mechanic to reassemble the wheel onto the motorbike. They somehow managed and 500 more pesos and 20 minutes later I could ride my bike again.

All in a days work, for less than $100US I had multiple people work on my wheel and fix it sufficiently enough to ride again without noticeable difference. I think. Not too bad!

2 days left

Since we extended our hotel stay with a few days we spent those putting the stress behind us, curse BMW roadside a bit more and exploring this dusty town, city, whatever…
We found the people to be amazingly welcoming friendly. Especially when they found out we weren’t Americans and even more so when we tried to speak Spanish. Which was a very weird but welcome experience after all the stress and miserable experiences of the last few days.

We wandered around the small town center, tried some of the local restaurants and stumbled across a 2nd hand street market which was full of curious and friendly people as well. And finally we would attempt our Sonora desert crossing again the next day.

Finishing our ride to Puerto Penasco

We headed out again, riding at a slow pace this time so we could avoid the thousands of potholes. I managed to crash into the first one, but many more followed. Occasionally we followed in the slipstream of trucks swerving all over the lanes avoiding holes for many kilometers.
As soon as we crossed the Sonora state border the road got much better and we could speed things but considerably.
We made a brief stop for drinks and fuel in a small town called Golfo de Santa Clara.

And another stop for some photos at a large salt flat.

And overall we had a nice sunny ride to our destination. The first 100 kilometers or so was very intense for me as I didn’t trust the wheel. Every little bump and vibration was butt-clenching suspicious. But over the past week I rode about 1100 kilometers on it and it seems fine. I’ll probably replace the rim when I arrive in Yucatan.

Sometime in the afternoon we finally arrived in Puerto Penasco, 4 days later than planned, and quickly headed to a hotel and then the beach to enjoy the nice weather and sea view there.

If you recall, I mentioned the desert crossing consisted of 3 segments. I’ll talk about those other two in the next post where we continue our adventure to Hermosillo and Guaymas in Sonora.

From Baja California Sur to Yucatan [part 1] – Heading north

Loreto Mexico

In 2023 Jeanette and I make another large journey through Mexico. This time we’re headed from La Paz in Baja California Sur to the Yucatan area. We’re not sure exactly where we want to end up. As usual for us we try to ride as few toll roads as possible. And we try to avoid ‘regular’ tourism as much as possible.

I’ve been planning the route for the last few months. And on April 24th we left La Paz with all our belongings strapped to the bike and started our big adventure. We hope to get a good look at Mexico post-chinese flu. Our trip will be about 8800km (~5500 miles) long.

Jeanette rides her BMW G310GS and I’m on a BMW F850GSA. Both bikes have been modified a bit with pannier racks, sidecases and GPS phone mounts. Jeanette also has a 4 liter RotoPax fuel tank.

Loreto and San Javier

Loreto

Our first stop was Loreto. A silly little town full of American tourism. Our main reason for stopping there was to visit the tiny village of San Javier a little ways into the mountains. Loreto is nice for its restaurants and hotels but has otherwise very little to offer to us. We spent 2 days here, 1 day exploring the town center and the next day we went to San Javier.

En route to San Javier

San Javier

In San Javier the main attraction is the old mission church and what’s left of the garden/grounds behind it. Most of it is in ruins, but the main church building is fully preserved which was very nice to see.

Mulege

After Loreto we moved on to Mulege, another small town where we spend the night.
Mulege is a bit of an oasis town which has a small river and some trees which was a nice change from living in La Paz where most nature is arid desert most of the year.

Mulege River

Mulege also has a old mission church, which was closed. I was hoping their old Prison would be open, apparently there is a nice museum in there, but it was closed as well. So instead we explored the town and its surroundings for the afternoon and moved on the next day.

Mulege river dam

San Ignacio

San Ignacio is another oasis town, mostly known for its town square and preserved church, which has a small museum next to it. Some of the clergy quarters and such are preserved. The museum was open, and lucky for us, free of charge. We also found a small museum that had replica cave paintings found in the area. Which was nice to see as well.

Also here, we explored the town and tried the few restaurants and had a nice time here.

Guerrero Negro and the cold front

Unknown to us a cold front had snuck up on Baja California. Which presented itself to us on the way to our next stop – Guerrero Negro. First as clouds, but later a firm northern wind hit us head-on as well. Suddenly we went from sunny 25-35 celsius to 8-15 celsius temperatures and a thick cloud cover. We stayed in Guerrero Negro for 1 night mostly to split up the long ride to Ensenada. But it was the coldest night in weeks…

Cold in Guerrero Negro

We both kept adding layers of clothing to keep somewhat warm, but that only works for so long. So we felt a bit miserable in our summery clothes.

Clouds in Guerrero Negro

In Guerrero Negro we strolled around town a bit looking for a decent restaurant but not much was available. The ‘hotel’ was one of those places where you’d expect a cockroach in every corner, but actually was pretty good. Still, we felt we made a poor choice in hotel somehow. At least the shower was hot…

El Rosario de Ariba and Ensenada

The next day we headed out into the pervasive northern wind which was even colder than yesterday. Our next stop was El Rosario de Ariba, a small farmers village, again to break up the long ride to Ensenada. We found a nice hotel there with an attached restaurant which had great food, yay! This cheered us up from the freezing cold quite a bit. The hot showers also helped a lot.

And the next day we started our 3rd day into the strong winds for the final leg to Ensenada.
The ride to Ensenada was scenic at times, with ever greener mountains and long stretched valleys. But the endless wind sort of ruined our mood. The road was narrow and didn’t allow for much stops, so we kinda had to get a move on and we arrived in Ensenada in the afternoon.
Ensenada, the touristy bit anyway, seems to be a small-ish sleepy town. Until a cruise ship arrives. Then suddenly all shops open up. The actual Ensenada is of-course much bigger and a ton of people live here.

Also the weather cleared up a bit, which was nice. No more clouds, woohoo!
Ensenada

We explored the touristy bit first and the next day the ‘regular’ city center as well and found the excellent Casa de Cultura, a preserved hacienda style building with a large garden that apparently has been used as a casino, hotel, bar, disco and a bunch of other purposes over the years. According to the lore the Margarita drink was invented here.
Currently it’s a bit of a museum and has a small bar kind of setup in the courtyard. A nice place to sit and have a drink.

Ensenada Casa de Cultura

Onwards!

Soon we’ll head east into Sonora and onto the rest of our journey trough Mexico. Some 7000 kilometers to go. Hopefully in nicer weather than the last few days.

My drinking problem is solved!

Nelson Rigg Trails End bag

Today I received my Nelson Rigg Trails End mini roll bag to hold a bottle of water for longer rides. This comes in handy for the desert segments through Baja California next month. Or so I hope. But also in the future as a mini beach bag or something – You know, stick a beach towel or something in it for a beach day…

It straps right to the top of my Givi side-cases, but the straps let me put it anywhere where I have a bunch of attachment points really. My plan is to either strap to the case as pictured or tie it to my drybag that goes on my luggage rack.

It’ll fit my luggage rack and side rack as well. So that’s good.

Fixing my BMW F850GS Adventure once again

A few months ago I had a little accident where I crashed into the back of a car at a traffic light. Someone pulled out in front of me into my lane and when I swerved to avoid that I was of-course distracted with ‘saving myself’ and didn’t see a car already waiting for the red light.

Minor damage to me and the motorcycle. Last month or so the insurance finally paid for my damages and yesterday the new headlight I ordered finally arrived. Other than that I also need a new plastic cover for the front wheel and had a tiny dent in the rim fixed along with a loose spoke.

A dumb stupid accident at the end of a long day of driving.

Yesterday afternoon I replaced the headlight and today I finished up the protector that goes in front of it.

Importing GPX files in apps like Osmand and Guru Maps

Osmand and Gurumaps

A common question I find on the internet is how to navigate with apps. GPS devices are fine, but their maps are often clunky, old, or simply have no maps for the area you’re going to.
We owned a Garmin GPSMAP 64i (or something to that extend) and after a few days of struggling with it I decided that the frustration that using this thing brought would ruin our adventure. Garmin navigation isn’t for me… But then the next struggle started – Where to find a good navigation app for smartphones that “just works” and is not hard to use.

Turns out that wasn’t as easy as it should be either. But I have a few workable solutions!

Discovering Osmand

After some trial and error I eventually settled on using Osmand, for which I bought the lifetime update package, activated some mapping plugins and Jeanette choose to use the free version.
Figuring out how to mape GPX files work with it was a bit of an adventure in itself.
I prefer to prepare maps and routes on my laptop, export that file and then load it into the app on my phone. Osmand doesn’t like that very much, but ones you get it working it works mostly fine.

The settings are a bit finicky because there are so many of them, so once you’ve got it set up you may want to export the settings profile. Then if an update screws it up you can easily restore your working settings. This also helps to sync your different devices or to share your ‘ultimate’ settings to your adventure buddies.

I have a full write up with screenshots on how to get the Routes and Tracks from MotoTravel working in Osmand here: Importing GPX files into Osmand. This includes step-by-step instructions for Android and iPhones.

For our big adventure through Mexico I had prepared every segment of our route as a track which also included Points of Interest. Osmand often got confused with routing with the POI and Waypoints. So half way through I switched to not using Waypoints at all. And again later on in the trip I figured that having the Points of Interest in a separate file would be better. This worked really well. That’s why every route on MotoTravel has a separate file with Points of Interest and Waypoints are not included at all – They’re mostly irrelevant anyway since the map itself has those places as icons on it as well.

GPX and Guru Maps

Later on I also discovered Guru Maps as being a decent navigation app. I haven’t really used it much as I’m, for now, invested into using Osmand. But I did experiment a bit with Guru Maps on some shorter rides. I like the way Guru Maps renders the map better compared to Osmand. So maybe I’ll switch in the future.

Anyway, I did figure out a good workflow for loading GPX files into Guru Maps and in my limited testing this works very well.
Also for Guru Maps I did a full write up with step by step instructions and screenshots for Android and IPhones on how to load GPX tracks and routes into the app.
You can check it out here: Importing GPX files into Guru Maps.

But wait, there is more!

On top of this I also created short tutorials for several other apps such as BMW Connected, Routes (Android) and MapOut (iOS) all with step-by-step instructions and screenshots on how to load GPX files into the apps and how to use them for navigation.
Check out all tips and tricks here: Using GPX files.
All these steps should work for the majority of GPX files out there, but I never tested that. I usually use my own routes which I uploaded to MotoTravel.

Roadside assistance for the BMW G310GS

Yesterday we were headed out to Todos Santos for lunch and icecream and just a leisurely drive. After stopping for fuel near the Walmart in La Paz the BMW G310GS wouldn’t start anymore. Dead battery – Not just low voltage, but actually dead.

We know a local guy which provides great service – And also does comes to your aid as it turns out. So with waiting and checking the battery and replacing it we were back on the road 2 hours later.

But it made me wonder, the symptoms match a lot of quirks my F850GS Adventure has… Maybe that one is bad too?

Update: I have recently replaced the battery in my F850GSa and since then none of the software, abs, brake and brake light issues have reared their head. Which made me realize all the electronics on it are kind of a luxurious pest.

Roundtrip to Cabo

Yesterday I went to the Cabo area for some exploring and alone time. Along the way I found a jungle like area that reminded of me of the Philippines. Having barely dodged a rain storm everything was nice and freshly green after the rain forced the dust to the ground.

Replacing the headlight on the BMW G310GS

Today we replaced the headlight on my mom’s BMW G310GS. The OEM mount broke a few months ago. BMW in all its wisdom makes everything from plastic and a new headlight assembly costs a ton of money and has to be done at a service station because they won’t sell me the part… With BMW services being a 5 days ride away – Not an option.

We ordered a compatible aftermarket LED assembly online for just under $150US. And today I went on the task to replace it myself. This is a laborious process that involves taking pretty much the whole front-end of the bike. All the plastics from the saddle on forward needed to be removed.

All to get to the 3 mounting screws and the small plug for the pilot light.

Taking off the many plastics took a while, it’s a puzzle of plastics screw-holes and maaaaaaany screws. 39 screws not including the headlight mount to be exact. I also replaced the hard-rubber mounting rings I put in last year to fix the wiggling and vibrating of the whole headlight unit. Not super nessesary, but while I’m in there… Why not. For this I used some simple rubber gas seals from the local hardware shop. You know, the ones you use to seal a valve where it connects to a hose.

And behold! The new headlight is a funky and modern looking LED assembly!

Looks like it’s working alright. Soon we’ll test it in the dark.

Finally fixing the BMW F850GS Adventure

After making up my mind for a few days and being depressed about BMW service being the worst I decided to finally have my motorcycle fixed.
I found a local repair shop with a guy in it who was happy to finger my BMW F850GS Adventure to apply a new gasket seal for my motorcycle.

Hopefully this fixes the leak BMW couldn’t fix. They replaced this seal 3 months ago…