Getting There Away

Bahía San Luis Gonzaga sits smack in the middle of one of Baja's worst stretches of road, the span of México 5 between Puertecitos (p143) and the Transpeninsular. It doesn't usually require a 4WD vehicle, but it does require sturdy tires and slow speeds. This route is a good alternate to the Transpeninsular on either the southbound or return-leg of a peninsular road trip. If you're heading north to San Felipe, taking México 5, rather than the Transpeninsular shaves some serious miles from the trip.

COCO'S CORNER

About 40km (25 miles) south of Gonzaga, or 21km (13 miles) north of the junction of México 5 and México 1, lies Coco's Corner. This Baja landmark is a customary stop on any journey north or south on México 5. In the middle of a harsh desert landscape, Coco's is an island of art made from objects Coco has collected over the years: oil cans, hats, hubcaps, posters, auto parts, autographed underwear and, of course, beer cans. Radiator water, motor oil and automatic-transmission fluid are all available here (along with Coco's Corner T-shirts and hats), as are ice-cold drinks. Camping is encouraged (free, with pit toilets).

Coco arrived here in a wheelchair in 1990 after an accident left him without his right leg. He's built most of what you'll see himself. He's an excellent source of information and a great talker (he speaks English well). Upon signing his guestbook (which, along with the books at Mamá Espinoza's in El Rosario, is the most famous registry on the peninsula) he'll add a sketch of you and your vehicle.

DRIVING MÉXICO 5

México 5 runs from Mexicali south through San Felipe and passes Bahía San Luis Gonzaga before hitting the Transpeninsular near the dry lake bed of Laguna Chapala. Only the stretch between Mexicali and Puertecitos is paved. The rest, although most maps show it as a gravel road, consists of bone-rattling washboard, hellishly sharp rocks and random washouts that will slow you to a crawl. A 4WD vehicle is usually unnecessary, but high clearance is helpful.

The stretch between Puertecitos and Gonzaga takes about four hours without stops. It's another 1/2 hours between Gonzaga and the Transpeninsular. If you're going to tackle this road, do it as the locals do:

■ Take the laterales (parallel tracks) - These tracks sometimes run alongside the main road. If your vehicle has decent clearance, the laterales usually offer a far smoother ride than the washboard.

■ Drop your tire pressure - Locals swear by 18 to 20 psi. It takes the pain out of the washboard and turns your tires into part of your vehicle's suspension. It also keeps your vehicle from hopping around. Refill your tires in Puertecitos or at the llantera (tire shop) at the junction of México 5 and the Transpeninsular. (Never drive paved roads at speed with low tire pressure!)

■ Watch your speed - The stretch between Bahía San Luis Gonzaga and the Transpeninsular has less washboard but has the sharpest rocks. High speeds cause punctures.

■ Run the washboard - This is a tricky one. Driving washboard requires finding the sweet spot in your speed - usually about 56km/h to 64km/h (35mph to 40mph). Drive too slowly and you'll bounce like crazy, too fast and you'll either lose control or hit a rock you didn't see.

■ Be patient - Flat tires are the biggest problem, and nearly all are caused by impatient driving.

■ Enjoy the view - This road is slated for paving, so disfrútelo (enjoy it) while you can.

NORTH TO PUERTECITOS

The worst stretch of México 5 is between Bahía San Luis Gonzaga and Puertecitos. At the time of research, storms had damaged some sections of this roadway, but rugged 2WD vehicles with high clearance were getting through. For more details on this route, which is steep, narrow and washboarded, making it emtremely difficult for vehicles with low clearance and impossible for RVs, see p144.

SOUTH TO MÉXICO 1

The roughly 61km (38-mile) road from Gonzaga Bay to México 1 is in better condition than the road north of Gonzaga, but the rocks along this stretch are sharp; keep speeds low to avoid flat tires. The drive takes two to three hours, depending on your vehicle.

From Coco's Corner (p149), another dirt road leads east to little-visited Bahía de Cala-majué; a branch off this road eventually leads south toward Bahía de Los Ángeles but is suitable only for high-clearance vehicles with 4WD and short wheelbases.

México 5 meets México 1 directly north of the dry lake-bed of Laguna Chapala, about

52km (32 miles) south of Cataviña. There's a tire shop at the junction, where you can reinflate your tires for pavement driving.

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