An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mexico mi Amigos! (7 June - 16 June 2011)

Mexico, the world's 11th most populous nation at over 112 million, the origin of chocolate, chilies and corn, home of ancient Aztec civilizations and cities, a drug running and corrupt country, yet host to some of the world's nicest, most generous people and great food and scenery!  The capital, La Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City), originally Tenochtitlan, was built on an island in Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325.  Mexico City now sinks 6-8 inches a year into the lake as water is pumped out for city use.

7 June 2011 (243km) – Aguas Blancas (Camp at waterfalls)
This morning I made the border crossing at El Ceibo from Guatemela to Mexico and was a breeze.  Details are at the end of the previous Guatemala post.  I crossed with Kev and Lorraine riding two up on a BMW.  We headed into Tenosique first for a bite to eat and change of currency (at the time 1 AUD = 12.57 Mexican Pesos).  We were apprehensive of what to expect in Mexico with the police and checkpoints.  In the first hour or so of entering the country we were stopped at few police checkpoints.  Some wanted to do a paper check and others waved us over just to say GDAY and make sure we were doing OK.  A good experience all round! After we stopped at a basic house restaurant fora fishy lunch, I split with Kev and Lorraine as they were headed to Palenque to check out more Aztec ruins.  I was headed to some nice waterfalls a little closer called Cascadas Aguas Blancas to camp.  The fee to visit the waterfalls and caves was 15 pesos and it was free to camp the night if you chose so!  I definitely did!  It was a beautiful place with stunning small waterfalls and beautiful caves above it, a small pool, a few barbeques and great locals to chat with.  Best of all, it was well off the beaten track!  I setup tent under a small barbeque shelter and relaxed after a 'showerswim' under the falls!

Details for the TVIP requirements at the El Ceibo border.

El Ceibo, Mexico side.

The waterfalls I camped at and showered under on my first day in Mexico!
Basura (rubbish) and a local pup searching for grub.

8 June 2011 (502km) – El Nanche (Camp in yard at restaurant on lagoon)
I left camp around 8am and filled up, rode on and had to fill up again eventually and noticed a servo up ahead in the distance so I pulled in, only to be part of the coincidence of all coincidences!  Three travellers motorbikes were parked at the rest house at the servo.  3 BMWs.  Belonging to 2 Brazilians and 2 Poms!  Somehow Renato and Edson (who I'd ridden with in Nicaragua) and Kev and Lorraine (who I'd ridden with over the past few days, and myself had all met at this service station.  It's amazing how these things happen. 

We chose to ride together for the rest of the day, with the Brazilians heading north and the Poms heading in a similar westerly direction as me.  We passed through some beautiful old villages together (and paid a hefty 159 P in road taxes for using the new roads) and eventually split with the Brazilians.  I'd already passed the point on the map I thought of camping at so I was in search of somewhere else.  The poms decided to stay in a small town, but I had the urge to camp! 

We split, with my motorbike getting warm and frustrated in the small, hot breezeless coastal town of Alvarado.  I pushed on and took a few side roads towards some coastal lagoons and finally found a small village on a lake.  I asked if I could camp in the big yard at the restaurant and they let me after finally talking to the owners.  It was a great afternoon.  I setup camp and bought some beer at the local tienda (shop) and got shouted one by some locals too.  The sun slowly sunk into the crimson sea above the lagoon as the sombrero toting owner came down to talk.  He invited me up and shouted me a couple of beers as I listened in to his informal business meeting with some associates about opening a new hotel next door and shared some of my ideas as well!  I dined well with some fresh restaurant tortillas and mangoes purchased from a local selling out of the back of his truck.  What an arvie!!

Coincidentally meeting my former riding partners all at one spot!  L to R, Edson, Lorraine, Kev and Renato.
Toll roads...crap!

A beautiful roadside neighbourhood.
This truck was dropping stones, which were bouncing up and pelting the SHIT out of Nessie and I.  I ducked and one whizzed by my head like a bullet!

Mexican toll roads

The entourage riding into a small coastal town just before we split up again.

Where I dined and camped near the lagoon.

The lagoon by sunset with a Sol tally in hand.
9 June 2011 (332km) – Huamantla (Camp in new housing estate)
After paying way more than I ever wanted to ride the toll roads (apparently safer and nicer) I hit the freeways again, mate was it liberating!!!  Eventually, however, I was forced back onto toll roads and paid 173 pesos for road use today!  After a fairly uneventful day riding through Cordoba and Mendoza (besides the beautiful roadside tacos for lunch) I made it to Humanatla, where an old Hacienda (farm) castle style mansion had been turned into a hotel.  I found a mostly empty housing estate to camp in but had to ask at the Hacienda for permission, according to one of the few homeowners.  I obtained permission and asked out of curiosity what it costs to stay a night at the Hacienda...1800 pesos ($144 AUD/night)!  I returned to the estate and talked to the nice family who let me camp under a tree in one of the empty blocks.  I setup camp and had some pawpaw and banana for tea as I managed to forget to get anything!  A nice change for dinner anyway!!

The snake I saw when leaving camp at the lagoon...already dead :(
The old Hacienda!
The view above town from the hill

My camp in a housing estate
10 June 2011 (450km) – San Miguel de Allende (Stay at local riders house)
Today I was on a hell-bent mission to avoid toll roads at all costs!  I took dirt back roads, pot-holed sub highways, alleys and paddocks to avoid paying another $15 to use the motorways!  On top of that I kept a wide berth around Mexico City to avoid the smothering smog and trapping traffic!  A mostly uneventful day finally led me into San Miguel de Allende, where on a map I noted a nearby lake I should be able to camp at.  On my way into town I passed several hat stalls and tortilla stands, and finally, a motorbike shop with two touring bikes out the front.  I pulled a quick u’ie and doubled back into the shop to say g’day and see if they were travellers.  It turns out I had just met the Mexican owner of the shop, Alberto, and a local German Mexican, Claudius, who both rode touring bikes.  We talked for a while and after mentioning my intentions to camp at the lake, they informed that it was a mud cess-pool and I should stay with Claudius.  I eventually returned with Claudius to his amazing house on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, and shared travel stories over some spag, beer and cigars.  It turns out Claudius had earlier travelled through part of Central America by bicycle and now owned a couple of great cigar and hat shops in the city (Havana Cigar Co.).  He was also involved in a trip decades earlier when four motorbikers tried to raft from Panama to Colombia using motorbike powered rafts!

Impressive cathedrals were abundant throughout the whole of Mexico.

A Mexican roadside fruit stall.
Some nice Mexican back roads, winding through farms and avoiding toll roads!
Sombreros for sale!

The Panama-Colombia excursion.  Unfortunately they didn't make it as the bikes overheated.  Years later 2 made a new raft and floated the Amazon succesfully, publishing their story.
Claudius, his backyard garden and shower.
11 June 2011 (10km) – San Miguel de Allende (Stay at local riders house)
This morning I followed Claudius into town through the botanical gardens and checked out the beautiful plaza in the very touristy centre of San Miguel de Allende.  I even participated in a university run survey!  Claudius showed me his two cigar shops near the plaza as well, which was an absolute treat as I have come to enjoy my celebratory cigars here and there!  His shops were the most extravagant I’d ever seen, with beautiful Panama hats, humidified cigar rooms and great artwork to set the vibe.  It was more than impressive and I insist you visit his shops if you love a good cigar!  The plaza is also host to a most impressive cathedral where a wedding had just taken place.  I could barely step back far enough to fit the cathedral in the photo!  Eventually we headed back to Claudius’ place and my plan was to head to Zacatecas.  It was early afternoon and Claudius twisted my arm (quite easily) into having a beer, relaxing in the hammock on the upstairs deck in the breeze, and deciding whether to go Zacatecas today or tomorrow.  Well you know how that turned out!  I had a couple of tasty nectars and dozed off in the afternoon breeze.  Before you knew it I was cooking roast (but I accidentally but silverside) and having more beers and yarns with Claudius!

The botanical gardens in San Miguel de Allende, after some bad fires went through.
Further along the botanical garden trail.
The plaza in San Miguel de Allende.
One of Claudius cigar rooms!
Ice cream outside the cathedral anyone?

Claudius' beautiful garden in his yard.
12 June 2011 (407km) – Boca del Tuneles (Camp)
After a brekky at Claudius’, we headed off on the bikes to join several other riders going for a Sunday ride to Guanajuato.  Eventually about 15 of us left on a mix of touring bikes, riding off into the exhilarating hot winds.  It was an inexplicable feeling to be coasting the tarmac surrounded by riders from all walks of the world!  The tour took us winding through deep canyons and creek beds, had us passing and passed by a Harley crew out for a Sunday ride, and into our greatest hearts desires at that moment...freedom!  At one stage one of the riders hit a hay bale that fell of a pickup, lost all steering and veered off the road with the bale stuck between his two wheels.  Luckily he managed to control it and continue the ride!  We met in Guanajuato and had lunch and coffee in the market and town plaza!  Amazing food once again!  It was an absolute pleasure to join these great people and be welcomed so nicely into their group.  A big thanks to you all!!  Eventually I headed off for Zacatecas, stopping in at the huge, black statue of Jesus at ‘El Cubilete’ on the way.  I ended deciding not to stay in Zacatecas and headed to a tiny village off the main road called Boca del Tuneles; a town nestled on the cliffs overlooking a huge Canyon filled with caves.  I camped at in a yard at a cabin house and was assisted in setting up by some local kids.  It was an amazingly peaceful night under the full moon. 

A few bikes before we headed off for a nice Sunday ride.

Cruising with some San Miguel bikers!
Mild panic after hitting a hay bale on the road!
Who drop's a hay bale, seriously?!  All is well though.

Beautiful views...
Mexican shops and signs.

Black water tanks on house roofs all through Mexico.

Finally in Guanajuato with the crew!

Guanajuato markets.

The black Jesus on the hill top at 'El Cubilete'.  On the road up here there were heaps of peasants living under small cloth huts on the road, begging and praying for the best.
The view from El Cubilete
A beautiful camp at Boca del Tuneles.

The view from town.
13 June 2011 (625km) – Rodeo (Camp @ church)
I had made it 20km out of town when I realised my bike wasn’t handling normally...and then my heart plummeted through my stomach!!  I realised the day before when I was adjusting my chain, I was distracted by the kids and forgot to tighten the wheel nut, and even left the tool on there!  I tightened the chain and nuts and decided to return to look for the tool, but to no avail!  The days ride was stunning, passing through more canyons and eventually wide open plains and straight roads!  Nessie had been overheating multiple times today, forcing me to stop and rest.  I made it to Rodeo and found one of the nicest camps I’d ever seen.  It was on a beautiful river with ample space to set up camp under the trees.  Unfortunately everyone told me there it would be way too dangerous to camp up there and there were lots of people with guns at night.  I now regret not camping there, but at least I was safe, as I was now in the northern part of Mexico, not too far from Chihuahua, where drug running and crime start to become a big problem.  Mexico is a beautiful country with heart-warming people, but it’s frustrating how it is tainted by crime.  As I was riding around looking for a camp I actually made a small prayer that I would find somewhere safe to camp and asked for guidance.  Completely forgetting about this later, I ended up asking permission at a small house next to a church to camp in the closed basketball court.  I was told to ask the father at the church right in the plaza, as it was his governance, and he let me camp there...crazy coinsidence!  It was amazing.  I sat down at the plaza and ate dinner, watching people drive by the church, crossing their chests and removing their grand sombreros in respect.  Latin America has a very strong Christian following and it is an amazing spectacle to witness.  I even stepped in the church myself for a little taste.  Unfortunately I don’t follow what the priests say in English let alone in Spanish!

Beautiful tortillas for lunch!
The view leaving Boca del Tuneles
No horsecarts por favor!
Plain yet stunning.
I decided to overtake a truck going very slow through a town at some speed bumps.  But I decided to overtake off the road on the shoulder, despite noting the traffic police cop in front of me.  He pulls me over and says I can't do that, and I explain my engine overheated stalled, and started again.  He said OK then asked to take some pictures with me for his motorbiking buddies!  Grand!
Mexico and its abundant prickly bushes, mesquite from memory.
It looks hot but was fairly mild as it was high in elevation!

Some of the potential camps by the river at Rodeo.
I camped in the courtyard to the right of the church in the town plaza.
14 June 2011 (370km) – Balleza (Camp @ mechanic’s place)
After riding for a couple hours I decided to change my front sprocket from my 15 tooth to my 14 as I was starting to ride more and more tarmac and needed the highway gearing.  I spent a while changing and lubing the chain and a Mexican bloke came up to me, saw my oil covered face, and handed me a small towel to clean myself up with.  Unreal!  Eventually I found myself smoothly gliding through twists and turns heading up a mountain range.  I passed a broken down pickup and stopped 1km further up the range to take some photos.  All of a sudden my pictures became grey and blurry and a strange smell filled my nostrils!  Holy shitballs my bike was smoking!!!  I quickly shut her down and she continued to smoke.  A foul smell.  A smell of burning plastic.  I tried turning the ignition on.  No luck.  The smoking continued.  My heart  stopped.  Crap!  I turned the bike around and rolled down the hill to where the pickup was and I had space to investigate.  We chatted for a while and he had a mate riding back to town to pick up a part for him.  He offers me a beer.  I decline as I was expecting to have a quick fix and take off.  I ripped off a side panel and saw my wiring harness had melted!  Maybe I should’ve taken that beer!  I started removing my seat, tank and panels and started patching up.  Turns out some wire ends had touched at the headlight, bypassed the main fuse and sent high voltage through the wiring harness, burning several wires and melting them together! 

My mate with the pickup later says to me “tiene una pistola?” to which I reply “no, no tengo pistola”, to which he says “quieres pistola?”  He’d just asked me if I had a gun, I said no, and he offered me one!  Unreal kindness!  So here I am broken down in steaming northern Mexico, supposedly extremely dangerous and a place you don’t want to be broken down and I get offered beer, a gun and given electrical tape and fuses by this guy.  Old mate eventually left.  I spent five hours by the road trying to repair it and finally when I thought it was fixed, I tripped another fuse.  It was getting dark.  I stuck out my thumb to get a lift, a van passes.  I can’t fit in there.  A pickup comes by and my thumb goes up again.  Within five minutes and two vehicles of me sticking my thumb up, I had a lift 15km back to town with a few travelling electricians!  My new amigos spent a good half an hour searching the town for a bike mechanic.  Eventually we found one and they dropped the bike and I off.  I waited outside his garage/house working on the bike as the mechanic disappeared to work.  By 7pm I was inside his garage working on the bike through the night and sharing stories with the mechanic and his young son and mate.  Finally I was done and he let me camp in his backyard for the night.  Thankyou Mexico!

For you Keithy!  Made it to Rodeo buddy!

A roadside taco stand.  Beautiful and tasty!

Stunning Mexico.
The photo I took before my camera was clouded by electrical smoke!
Stranded and going nowhere in a hurry...but don't worry, it'll work itself out!  No point stressing, that doesn't help the situation.  Just get to work!
The mechanics back yard I camped in.
The mechanic (Polaris only) and his son with Nessie.
15 June 2011 (514km) – Near Yecora (Camp @ ranch)
Finally I was back on the road and headed to Copper Canyon.  The canyon was amazing, deeper and larger than America’s Grand Canyon.  I ventured up to the Basaseachi Falls which were dry as a bone this time of a year.  I planned on camping but at 150 pesos to camp near the dry creek bed, I decided to push on.  Eventually I found camp at a cattle station and shared my dinner and juice with the owner there.  It was a serene last night in Mexico, my tent nestled in amongst a sea of cow paddies and twinkling stars. 

The beauty at Copper Canyon.

Basaseachi falls looking a little bit parched.  Ay bru fetch me a bucket of water!

A beautiful after fire ash effect.
16 June 2011 (704km) – Catalina (Camp @ ranch) Mexico > USA Border Crossing
I left camp at 6am and made Hermosillo by 1030.  The last few hundred kilometres before the border was interesting.  Army and police trucks armed with mounted machine guns patrolled the roads.  I also saw several army boats being transported each way.  Nearly every kilometre there was a cross on the side of the road.  I lost count at 70 crosses on the north bound lane in my first 100 km’s.  I was pulled over at an inspection site 100 km from the border and had one of my bags searched.  The guy found my condoms and asked what they were, and I told him condoms.  “For what” he says?!?!  I was shocked...I reply “sex sir!”  Finally he lets me go, both of us perplexed I’m sure!  After my last taco lunch in Santa Ana, I made it to the border at Nogales.  It was fairly straightforward.  I handed in my paperwork, received a receipt, stamped out my passport, received my $400 cash back for my TVIP and left Mexico.  20 km down the road I came to USA, heavily guarded.  Several Mexicans were selling goods on the high-fenced border.  The first border crossing I didn’t properly research and I found out I needed a pre approved visa-waiver.  The Americans were great and took me into the office and fast tracked my entry into the country.  I was stamped in, paid a $6 land entry fee, my bike mostly ignored and I was off into the English speaking world again.  Least to say, the next 24 hours were an absolute culture shock, the biggest of my life...