Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, Nov. 10–13—Any time our south-of-the-border brethren invite their biker buddies over for a celebración on the Malecón, you can bet it’s going to be a rocking good fiesta. There’s just nothing quite like the parties that our Mexico neighbors put together but when the fun includes an anniversary like a sweet 16, the party is sure to get loco on a large scale. As a matter of fact, the party on the playa was completely sold out by September, which meant that those who hesitated found themselves looking for condos or house rentals since every hotel room in town was booked.
Group rides are organized for departures from various points in California and Arizona so there’s always someone to ride with if you don’t relish the idea of a solo excursion. Once you arrive in the laid-back beach town, activities are pretty much nonstop. The entire town of Puerto Peñasco gets involved in making bikers welcome as locals themselves get in the groove. Everywhere you go folks are smiling and joking. It helped, of course, that the weather was picture perfect this year. From desert rides and poker runs to designated burnout areas and pirate ship parties, practically no biker-esque activity is overlooked. Sightseeing was fun as we cruised around to the lighthouse and restaurants perched above the city, rolled past the hotel where infamous gangster Al Capone used to hang out and meandered just past city limits where a little museum sits perched between the desert and the surf, proudly displaying a reconstructed whale skeleton that serves to make one feel small and inconsequential while standing next to it.
Every bar in town rolls out the red carpet. There are quad rentals for dunes driving, horseback options, watersports and beach combing. Puerto Peñasco is a fishing village so fresh seafood is abundant and each resort offers regular happy hour entertainment as well as drink and food specials. Prices, for the most part, are comparable to American. We set up housekeeping at the Playa Bonita and each evening made ourselves at home on the playa facing the brilliant evening sun as it slowly sank into the Sea of Cortez right before our eyes. All the songs ever written about the beautiful and romantic beaches of Mexico were played out each night as the bands serenaded the riders gathered in the warm night air. By daylight engines were revved up and ready to head out for another day in paradise.
In Mexico, a girl’s coming of age is celebrated and she is traditionally given a tiara. It could be said that Rocky Point itself was certainly rocking her sweet 16 crown jewels as riders from around the world descended on the quaint fishing port and turned the place into the hottest spot in the country. More than 8,000 bikes filled the streets and the ruidosamente partido (loud party) reached rocking levels.
The point of the rally, besides meeting the neighbors and partying in the streets, is to raise funds for local organizations and the monies collected for registration are distributed to a variety of different charities to include a local families and children office, a home for seniors, a school for disabled children, the Cancer Center for Women, the local fire department and the Red Cross. By Saturday afternoon, once the parade to the Malecón was under way, the serious fund raising had begun. Due to the international trade laws and border crossing headaches, there will probably never be American vendors set up at Rocky Point, which is fine by us. The local flavor is bright and warm as you stroll the crowded streets and citizens could not be more hospitable. From cart vendors selling bright candies to sidewalk cocktails served up in fresh pineapples, the gulf community is happy to share its culture with the hordes of partying bikers. Riders continue to lap the pier in a never-ending parade of wacky headgear, masks, skimpy garb and beads. Lots and lots of beads. If a bike, or biker, overheats in the process and refuses to function, helpful guys stand ready to help with jumper cables and bottled water. In the more extreme cases, an icy beer is offered in sympathy. It is all about brotherhood, after all.
A first-ever air show brought the entire Malecón to screeching halt on Saturday as colorful planes did loops, spins, rolls and hammerheads while the crowds stopped in their tracks and stared skyward. It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch the planes tumble through the blue skies just barely over the crowded streets and out over the ocean. Oscar Palacio Soto from the Playa Bonita explained that the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Rocky Point helped arrange the thrilling display that was paid for through taxes.
An extreme bike show is spread out over the upper and lower level of the Malecón and all manner of motorcycle was laid out for the perusal of young and old. Families cruise in on quads, carts and two wheels to join the biker nation celebration. Several boys set up with wash gear to scrub up biker’s rides curbside as smiling teens offered individual pizzas in exchange for donations. And people cheerfully gave.
Over the course of the rally organizers have proven to the state that they are capable of hosting an upscale, international event that not only draws riders from around the world but helps the town stay self reliant, which equates to some clout when it comes to negotiating on behalf of tourists who come out to visit their warm and welcoming community. Puerto Peñasco’s city government prides itself in keeping the roadways safe for their biker brothers. Some years back the government imposed an unreasonable tariff on vehicles traveling across the borders into Mexico and the “Hassle Free Zone” road signs are a throwback to those times. These days there is no tariff and the signs are meaningless, but the warnings stand as a reminder to a different time in Mexico’s recent history. Further down the highway are other indications of the country’s changes as brightly painted recycle stations stand in the middle of the desert, offering travelers an opportunity to shed themselves of recyclable materials and organic matter as well as the ability to make an emergency cell call. Solar powered, of course. Traffic was light and speed limit signs are in kilometers so we never were sure exactly how fast we should go, even though we knew the 1.6 kilometer to 1 mile ratio, and most who shared the road with us blew right past as we tried to respect the 90 kilometer signs. There is a helmet law throughout Mexico but few seemed to pay any attention as we got closer to the seaside city.
A large number of expats have made Puerto Peñasco their home, so many American conveniences have found their way across the border, like Costco and Walmart, so it’s only natural that the economy is much like America, also. Merchants are prepared to do business with dollars though bills were presented in pesos. Most gas stations are equipped to take cards at the pumps.
The terrain into Mexico includes, of course, a wide range of vegetation and the scenery is breathtaking for those who love plants like saguaros, cholla, prickly pear, barrel cactus and other desert plants like the ocotillo and mesquite. You’ll pass the 517-square-mile Organ Pipe Biosphere Reserve, which shares the border with the Mexican state of Sonora and Southern Arizona, and is worth a visit. The national reserve is the only place in the world where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. The reserve has two natural arches and the landscape will blow your mind so be sure to allow time for a ride through to check it out.
Loading up to mosey across the border doesn’t have to be a big deal, despite the fact that most of us get a bit antsy when it comes to making sure we’ll pass muster at the border crossing. Reality is, a motorcycle trip to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, is as easy as waving to the border guards as you roll on through. At least it was for us as we crossed near the Arizona/Mexico border town of Sonoyta, along highway 85. There was some congestion with the four-wheel crowd since they were backed up for miles, but riding around them when safe is expected and there’s a lane for bikers at the crossing so don’t be shy.
First order of business, however, is to purchase Mexican insurance, which can be done in either country but must be purchased before you venture beyond the border towns. Sanborn Insurance is a sponsor for the Rocky Point Rally so we stopped in Ajo, Arizona, and bought our policy from them. The full coverage, four-day policy cost $85 for my 4-year-old bike. Your regular American policy will not cover you in Mexico and Mexican law requires that you carry Mexican insurance, so don’t leave America without it. Puerto Peñasco lies an easy 90 miles from the border. There is no visa required in Rocky Point unless you intend to work there or stay for more than six months, but the return trip back into the U.S. required coming to a complete stop and an ID check at the border: passport or travel visa is required though we watched as a rider next to us just gave his driver’s license.
We caught up with Oscar at the Playa Bonita as the rally was winding down and even though the event means a whole lot of work for him, Oscar was beaming. “This was the second biggest rally we’ve had, with 2006 being the biggest,” he shared. “We’re slowly making our way back from the economic downturn and we appreciate the support. It means a lot to us that you come out for our rally. Please, come back and see us next year. This is the only motorcycle rally we do, though we have many other events, but we really enjoy seeing riders come back year after year. It’s really a fun time for us and we look forward to November.”
So, come on out and have a good time south of the border. Be intelligent and don’t try to bring weapons, ammo or any other paraphernalia that could cause you headaches in either direction. Remember, you’re a guest in a foreign country so be polite, enjoy the hospitality, and your weekend of fun in the sun will be a breeze.