Tiffani's Yamaha FZ-07 Tour: Puddle Riding and Palapa Living in Mexico

Chapter 3, Part 3

Tiffani on her FZ-07 Tour through Mexico
The candy-stripe style guard rails made it feel like I was on a race track and made the winding highway 1 that much more fun. If only the road itself wasn’t in such bad condition, so I could actually enjoy it.Photo: David "Hollywood" Hayward

We woke up in the farmer’s yard on what was looking to be another perfect day. The obscenely loud and constant barrage of trucks, screaming down the highway the night before hadn’t allowed for much sleep, but I was determined to finally put down some distance. Which is good, because I soon learned there weren’t many places to stop along the next stretch. We gassed up in El Rosario and continued down.

The road from here was ravaged by deep and destructive potholes, turning the highway into a slalom course. We had to slow our pace considerably as they became harder to spot and harder to dodge, as even the smaller ones that I failed to get around were good for a painful jolt to the bike. I can’t even imagine how bad it would be hitting one of the deeper ones at speed, assuming you can even keep it upright after that.

But it turned out it was a good thing that we were forced to ride modestly, as, unbeknownst to me (if there was a sign, I definitely didn't see it), this stretch of road was devoid of any services for 200 miles—definitely not safely in the FZ-07's fuel range (At least not since I put all the weight and luggage on it anyways). With about 60 miles left to go before the next Pemex station, we pulled over at a military check point where a rider on a dual sport bike was getting fuel from a man in a cowboy hat with a beater truck full of gas barrels. I imagine this is a pretty lucrative business with all of the unsuspecting travelers and motorcycles with small tanks that pass through here.

Tiffani on her FZ-07 almost runs out of gas in Mexico
I hadn't quite run out of gas yet, so I don't know for SURE that the FZ wouldn't have made the whole trek, but rather than risk sputtering to a crawl with no shoulder to pull off on, I filled up first chance I got. I didn't expect to need my spare fuel so soon in the trip!Photo: David "Hollywood" Hayward

We chatted with the other rider for a few moments, as he stared at our mud-covered bikes, shocked that we had been going off road. I was equally confused that he had a fully dual purposed motorcycle and specifically avoided off road, as the bike was completely spotless even half way down the Baja. Not that I don't still prefer to avoid dirt myself, but I'm still technically on a sportbike and traveling in Mexico doesn't leave many options. Strange.

But after a nice conversation with the other rider, I ultimately decided to shy away from the expensive gas served out of a rusty old drum barrel. I still had 2 liters of auxiliary fuel, my fuel light had only come on maybe 15 miles ago, and I was fairly certain I could make it. I emptied the 2 liters into my tank, and we continued on the road, hoping to make the last 60 mile stretch. Much to my delight, the FZ pulled into the gas station, 50 miles passed the blinking fuel warning, not even sputtering. Good work, FZ!

We putted on a few more miles to Guerrero Negro, and grabbed a surprisingly luxurious but inexpensive hotel for the night. After well over 300 miles of twisty highway, we were both pretty beat, and I wasn’t sure where to find camping, so it was worth the small fee. Hotels are fortunately cheap enough down here that I feel less guilty when I want to relax in civilization every now and again. The small tab also made it a little more palatable to stay another day when we carelessly learned the hard way to order our margaritas without ice. The next morning we headed out toward a campsite called Ojo de Liebre. The campsite was on the beach of a large lagoon that was really popular for its whale watching, as the lagoon was a huge breeding ground for gray whales. By an unexpected stroke of luck, we happened to be in the area for the height of mating season, where an estimated 2,500 whales were all congregating in the lagoon. The campsite was off about 15 miles of grated dirt road, looping through salt flats that sparkled like diamonds. But the road was marred by the occasional sandy pitfall that made sure I didn’t get to spend too much time admiring the scenery. Strong winds were sweeping across the road and constantly blowing me sometimes several inches off line, adding to my nervousness.

Tiffani and Hollywood at Palapa hut in Mexico
Made it! As much as I complain about the dirt roads and as much as I’m still intimidated by them, the spots we’ve gotten to as a result have almost always been worth it. The little Palapa huts felt so authentic and cool, that I almost would be willing to do that again. Almost.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

But when we finally got to camp, we found a beach lined with palapas (tiny huts built with woven palm fronds), whales breaching and spouting everywhere in the lagoon, clearly visible even from shore, and it had all the character of a little tropical paradise.

Well, except for that wind. The one thing we had failed to do was check the weather before we had chosen our destination for the night. The winds were just a precursor for what turned into a massive storm that ravaged the campground that night. Fortunately, we had set up our tent inside the hut and staked it down, as the rain and wind poured into the little structure with an impressive deal of force. “Storm of the century!” they kept telling us. I’m glad our tent held up, as a few others in the area weren’t so lucky!

Tiffani in a Palapa in Mexico
After a few days trapped in the Lagoon, the little hut was starting to feel like home.Photo: David "Hollywood" Hayward

The next day saw constant rain and wind as the storm continued to blow through. While this wouldn’t have normally been that big a deal, the Baja isn’t particularly well equipped for rain being it’s an unusual occurrence, and it turned out the road in had become an impassable 15 miles of heavily puddled, slick, and sticky clay like mud. Everyone at the camp accepted that we were all going to be stuck there for a while.

FZ-07 on pier in Mexico
Unbeknownst to me, Hollywood talked to the guy running the whale watch tours and they decided it would be pretty cool to ride my bike out to the end of the pier. Can’t leave this guy unsupervised for even a minute!Photo: Tiffani Burkett

But, all in all, it wasn’t the worst place to be stuck. There wasn’t much to do other than watch the whales spouting off, the wide range of birds fluttering around, chat with tourists and surfers, and sit and read Jupiter’s Travels on the beach, so the days went by slowly. After 2 days of good weather went by, we finally decided to brave the road. I was stressed out and nervous after the thousandth report that it was still quite bad, but we were running low on supplies and needed to get moving.

Tiff and her FZ-07 riding the flooded dirt roads in Mexico
Fortunately, the traffic coming in had packed down a tire’s width worth of road through some of the more flooded parts, so I was able to pass picking a careful line. Some of the road was not as motorcycle friendly.Photo: David "Hollywood" Hayward

Much to my surprise, about 90% of the road was actually better than it was coming in. The sand had been hard packed by larger vehicles that had been forcing their way through, the grating washboards had been flattened out quite a bit, and there was no longer dust and gravel getting kicked up everywhere I looked. The other 10% of the road, however, was far, far worse. The road didn’t drain or absorb well, so even after 2 days of sunshine, there were still massive patches of thick sticky mud and deep puddles. Some of the worst spots fortunately had a set of narrow, albeit bumpy, tire tracks we could get through with a very careful and steady wheel. In the hairiest sections, honestly, however much street cred I’ll lose for this, I let Hollywood get my bike to the other side. As even he struggled to get his bike across the sloshy soft pools, my skill level in the dirt meant the risk far outweighed the reward, and at this point I just wasn’t having a good time. There’s a fine line between expanding your comfort zone, and doing things that are way over your head to the point that it’s paralyzing instead of simply challenging.

Tiff and Hollywood face the tough puddles in Mexico
These parts of the road, however, were a whole lot tougher, and just watching Hollywood struggle to get through them made me more than a little bit terrified. I felt a little ashamed to not do them myself, but sometimes, when I know how far I have still to go, I feel like safety is a little more important than my pride.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

But, after much ado and an hour of struggling, we made it back the 15 miles to the main road and finally we’re back on our way!

Tiffani's Chapter 3 Part 3 Map of Mexico ride
After all the tough, flooded roads, the trek continues.©Motorcyclist