Chapter 24 – Mexico

“Mmmm…that was a bit too easy” I thought as I rolled out of the Mexican border in Tecate. No US exit post, no Mexican immigration, no Customs. No paperwork was bound to make things difficult for me later on so I returned to the border and spoke to a security guard who pointed me to the immigration office. I was given a tourist visa form to complete and told to walk two blocks down the hill to the bank to pay the M$262 (Mexican Pesos) and obtain a receipt. Once I had my visa I asked about Customs and the temporary import document for my bike only to be told they couldn’t be issued there; only Tijuana or Mexicali. Both of those were wellout of my way and so I asked about La Paz on the Baja peninsula. “En La Paz tambien”. Great, no detour required. I had been planning on heading SE away from the border on a dirt road but the distant sky was black and the forecast was thunderstorms so I opted for the longer route staying on tarmac. It wasn’t long before I was wearing my waterproofs and it was pissing down – not what I’d had in mind for my first day in Mexico! Lot’s of muddy road works took me SW Ensenada where the streets had started to flood before turning SE and crossing the hills in limited visibility. The screen of m GPS started flickering vertical lines, then fading out and back in again, eventually quitting completely. I couldn’t believe that after 6six months in the USA/Canada (where I could easily have taken it to a Garmin dealer for repair), it died on my first day in Mexico! I rode on, watching the distant lightening as I luckily skirted the worst of the storm and by the time I stopped at the first of many army checkpoints at the junction of Route1 (the main north/south highway along the Baja California Peninsula). After a quick search of one of my panniers and a few questions I was on my way.

This video represents many conversations I had in the US. In fact, if I had a $1 for everytime I heard it, I woudn’t have spent Christmas in my tent!

 

Back in SanDiego I had felt a tinge of trepidation at the prospect of heading into Mexico. Having been in the western world for the past year I felt as though I was starting my journey again but as I sat in the sun drinking coffee in San Felipe it didn’t seem strange that nobody spoke English, the currency had changed, the country was obviously poorer. There was in fact a familiar feeling to being back in Latin America, and I liked it. Once I’d warmed up I rolled south out of town, acutely aware that the sun was rapidly setting and the coastline I was following was disconcertingly residential. At the first sign of beachfront palapa’s (shelter under which you can camp or sling a hammock) I stopped, haggled over the ridiculous price and eventually pitched my tent on the concrete base. Supper was the last of the outstanding fish Ken had cooked and then very kindly vacuum packed for me to take with me.

Blown Away

I was led in my bed with my laptop on my campstool watching a film when the wind picked up. Having had plenty of windy night in my tent I didn’t take much notice but suddenly a gust bent the side of my tent in so far that it knocked the stool over and the wall of the tent touched my chest. The next gust blew the tent a metre across the floor of the palapa, a feat I thought would be nigh on impossible given the combined weight of me and all my kit inside it. By then I was concerned and had no choice but to collapse the tent on top of me. I reached outside and released the four pole ends from there eyelets but it wasn’t long before the wind had unhooked one of the fly sheet hooks and it was flapping wildly. Concerned that it would either become unhooked completely and blow away or simply tear, I reached outside once again, unhooked it and dragged it inside. Now though the wind could blow through the mesh vents of the inner tent and were trying to lift it off the ground. I managed to hook one leg around one pole, hold the other with one hand and pull my sleeping bag over my head (it was a chill wind) before gathering up a handful of flapping material in my other hand.  And that was how I lay for the following six hours. Somehow I eventually fell asleep and awoke to a windless blue sky and a tent full of sand. Unfortunately it wasn’t just the tent that got filled. In the rush to secure the tent I hadn’t packed away my laptop and it wasn’t until I went to burn some photo DVD’s a few weeks later that I found the optical drive full of sand and non-functioning. Bugger.

What the feck!

After a slow start I finally managed to pull my finger out and fit the pair of tyres I carried from Ken’s. The tarmac would end early today and I didn’t want the extra weight of the tyres onboard. As I fitted then so I saw a few bikes ride south but being a fair way from the road they didn’t notice me. Sure enough te tarmac soon ended and typically, just 20mins south of the palapa I found plenty of opportunities to bush camp. Here the properties were loosely scattered and mostly for sale with signs in English; a sign of more Americans hastily trying to liquidate their assets? Later in the day I spotted a motorcycle in the distance. Englishman Nick Jones was stopped at the roadside. As if encountering a UK license plate out here was unusual enough, Nick was riding a Yamaha YBR125. Yep, you read that right…a 125cc.

Nick Jones

Not only had Nick ridden it from Wrexham (England) to Cape Town but he’d done so with very little money and bush camped the whole way! From Cape Town he shipped ‘Rudolph’ (his bike) to Korea, spent a year teaching English to earn some money then shipped it to San Francisco and was on his way to Ushuaia. You can read his blog here – Tales from the Saddle

Nick Jones

Baja Boys

Nick was looking for a place to camp but I needed to find supplies before I could do so and was therefore unable to join him. A few kilometre’s after leaving Nick I came to a shop/restaurant complex in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Outside were parked three motorbikes, presumably those I’d seen ride past my palapa earlier. Joe and Pete had ridden down from Pennsylvania and had met Kay (an Egyptian living in Baja) the previous day. After eating dinner together we rode a few hundred metre’s to the beach and pitched our tents in the shelter of an engineless truck and a long since abandoned fishing boat. Based on the amount of beer Joe and Pete kept fetching from their panniers I don’t think they’d packed any clothes!

Coco’s Corner

The following day we all rode together to Coco’s Corner. Anyone who’s ever ridden in Baja or read a ride report regarding Baja will have heard of Coco’s Corner. Twenty years ago Coco arrived with M$20 a 5lts water, set-up camp and has been there ever since. A checkpoint on the Baja1000 desert race, Coco’s is adorned with memorabilia (mostly girls underwear!), race photos and travelers photos. Visitors return year upon year and his guestbook’s now run into volumes. It’s not just motorcyclists that call in for a cold beer either. The landscape and ‘lack of rules’ has attracted buggy drivers for years. Some driving the classic Baja Bug (based on a VW Beetle) other in U$100k purpose built creations.

Coco’s Corner (Coco shirtless)

Nick arrived whilst we were chatting and a plan was formulated for the rest of the day. Joe and Pete were also travelling with Joe’s boss, bike shop owner ‘Cooper’ who had chosen to come on a Ducati Multistrada and so was sticking to the tarmac. Joe, Pete and Kay set off to meet Cooper whilst I waited for Nick. Nick puts most ‘adventure’ motorcyclists to shame with regards to how/where he rides but he does so at Rudolph’s pace! By the time we all regrouped, Kay had continued south to a wedding leaving the rest of us to eat fish tacos in Bahia de los Angeles. Just south of town we found an abandoned fish factory that we could just squeeze the bikes into.

It was atight fit but Pete managed it!

With the original sea facing sliding doors long gone it provided both shelter and a great view. It wasn’t long before the tents were pitched and we were dipping into the bottomless beer cooler that was Joe & Pete’s panniers!

Sharing a beer with big Pete

I haven’t mentioned that Pete’s Russian and is therefore built to Russian proportions. He is the only person I have see dwarf a BMW 1200 Adventure. Not only does he sit on it with both feet flat on the floor, knees bent. But he gets on it by swinging his leg over the topbox! With less holiday time than the others, Cooper headed home but not before a manouevre outside the local supermarket had us all burying our heads in our hands and wondering whether he’d make it! We spent the following few days together, riding the dirt roads, camping in the evenings. Joe and Pete had their first experiences riding sand (and vowed to return with lighter bikes). One night, under the moonlight on our bushcamp just outside San Francesquito, I saw something move from the corner of my eye. I hate scorpions and quickly grabbed my headtorch. I needn’t have worried…it was just a Tarrantula (hell bent on getting under Nicks tent!)

A Tarrantula visits camp

Joe and Pete were great company and there time to leave and continue their ride south came all too soon. Our campsite on the outskirts of the little missionary town of San Ignacio didn’t have a toilet and so the owner had given us a shovel. He also sold fresh dates, a large bag of which I’d bought and so had Pete but he left his behind. Now though I was camping with a fellow Englishman and that meant tea, and lots of it. Combined with the dates that shovel saw a lot of action! “How much persuading would you need to hang around for another day?” asked Nick over breakfast on the second day. “Very little” I replied. We rode together for the next three weeks…

Registration

Unlike the UK where a vehicle registration lasts for the life of the vehicle, in the USA (amongst others) it expires annually and therefore needs to be renewed. Aware that I could renew online I had had the safety inspection carried out in Utah but wasn’t able to renew until 30 days prior to expiration. When I did try to log-on I discovered I needed a pin number that had been sent with the renewal notice. I emailed Ian (the previous owner where Rosie is still registered) but no renewal had arrived. And never did. A phone call to the Utah DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) informed me that I could log-on with some different information. All good, or so I thought… I got right through to the payment page where I selected ‘UK’ on the billing address page but the ZIP (post) code box would only accept a US style 5-number code and so it wouldn’t accept my card. Having my registration expire could lead to problems later on so I needed to resolve it. One email to Saints Scott & Joanne was all it took. The following day Joanne sent me confirmation of my renewed registration; two days before it expired! Thanks again guys but you still need to have that chat! J

Road of Stones

With the admin out of the way we could head inland across the mountains and pick-up a more interesting route to the south. From Loreto we followed the road towards San Javier as hugged the canyon side.  20km after the road became dirt we turned NW onto a smaller track that would take us through the old Jesuit mission of San José de Commondu (1737) and onto the main dirt road from Rosarito to La Purisima at San Isidro. Or so we thought… The road had obviously been damaged by water fairly recently as many of the bridges had been washed away and replaced by dry season only ‘route-around’s’. With an hour or so of daylight left we decided to cross the pass ahead of us and camp on the west side. The track up the pass was the knarliest I could remember riding. There was no obvious ‘line’ through the rocks, no trails to follow, just deep rain ruts and rock steps. Only a very good jeep would be able to negotiate this track and as we hadn’t seen any of them I began to wonder if this was the right way (another track branched off just before the climb started). We made it a third of the way up before deciding to turn back and try the other track but after several kilometre’s that just led us to a dead end and a deserted corral. With the daylight rapidly fading we returned to the foot of the climb and pitched camp.

Camping at the foot of the ‘Road of Stones’

The following morning we set off up the climb once again. Knowing some of the lines from the previous day made the first section a little easier and as I came to a level spot so I stopped to take a few photos of Nick.

Nick tackles the Road of Stones on Rudolfo…

…but doesn’t find it easy!

The next section started with a steep section with a rather narrow rideable line and I hit a rock with the front wheel, bouncing me into a patch of larger, loose rocks. Despite digging out some of the rocks from between my wheels I couldn’t get going and waited for Nick to arrive to help push me out. My hoped for delivery address in Panama had fallen through and so I was carrying all my maps and guides for Mexico, Central and South America as well as a bit of extra reading material (I knew English books would be hard to find) and some extra spares and the extra weight was just enough to tip the balance and upset Rosie’s great off-road handling. The track suddenly improved, lulling us into a false sense of security. A few hundred metre’s later deteriorated once again into a track on which I daren’t stop. On and on I rode in first gear, dodging the avoiding the deep rain ruts and loose rocks. Several times I used up all my ground clearance and I wondered how Nick was coping. As I reached the pass and the track leveled out so I stopped to wait for him. After a while I started walking back to learn that he’d just got going again after falling (again).

My turn to get stuck

We passed a few abandoned dwellings as the track climbed and descended the canyons. There were very few sections of reasonable track –everything was damaged. After a few hours we came to a canyon filed with lush palm trees. The early Jesuit missions were all built on springs and so we knew we weren’t far from San José. We descended into the village, parked outside the church and after a look around ate lunch in the shade of the adjacent pavilion. There were a lot of pick-up trucks in town which was promising. They certainly hadn’t got there on the route we’d taken which meant the road out of town must be half decent – right? We turned right, following a sign to San Isidro and stopped to fill-up with water as we crossed the stream. Almost immediately the road deteriorated into a rocky trail that climbed steeply up the canyon side. At the top the track split with the left fork looping almost back on itself to head SW past the cemetery which was the wrong direction for us. Instead, we took the right fork and continued our rocky ride north. Sometimes wide open, sometimes hemmed in by cacti, often washed away but rarely easy so the trail continued. It was hot; bloody hot. There was no shade and the sun beat down on us relentlessly. We passed an occupied goat herders shack which was promising (the road was in regular use) and rode on. Sometime later we rode into the yard of an unoccupied dwelling/corral. Upon first sight it appeared to be a dead end but after parking the bikes and walking around we found two tracks leading away. We took the one heading NW. We passed an abandoned hacienda that was on Nicks map but not mine and realized we weren’t on the track we thought we were. No two manufacturer’s maps are the same for this region which brings into question the accuracy of any of them. Instead of heading NW we were heading north. It wasn’t all bad though as the main Rosarito – San Isidro track ran East-West to our north so as long as we kept riding, eventually we’d intersect it.

A rare break from the stones

Whilst we were stopped I noticed my GPS bracket was looking somewhat lopsided. A closer look showed it had broken on one side and the vibration had split the other. The trail was taking its toll. When the compacted tyre tracks on the trail led into another dwelling/dead-end we were pretty pissed off. The trail ahead didn’t have so much as a hoof print on it although the ‘stripe’ through the landscape indicated it had once been a regular trail. Again we rode on, climbing the rocky, water damaged trail, our unspoken concerns exactly the same. With the trail no-longer used, would we encounter a washout that had no route-around? The next descent was the section for which Nick coined the term ‘Road of Stones’. It was like riding on marbles, big marbles and at the bottom my unspoken concern – an unrepaired washout. I sat in the shade provided by Rosie and filtered drinking water whilst waiting for Nick. We had two options. 1 – Return the way we’d come. 2 – Find a way across the washout. There was no way we could return up the Road of Stones as we’d have been riding directly into the sun and we’d have crashed our brains out attempting it. Returning would have meant camping for the night and there was no-way I wanted to awake to more of this. We had to find a way across the washout. As it happens, our viewpoint from where we’d stopped made it look much worse than it actually was and once stood in the washout it wasn’t hard to work out how to cross it. We rode on. Again my thoughts returned to the Babusa Pass. This was hard going on Rosie which meant it would have been impossible for me on Lady P, yet I did make it across the Babusar Pass (Pakistan) on Lady P – albeit with a lot of help. Atop the next ridge so the track turned 90° left to descend into a flat valley. Down in the valley was a hacienda, the first sign of life since entering the Road of Stones and sign also of improving roads. Seeing it though was one thing, getting there was another.

The final descent was tricky going over the rock steps

A series of rock steps led to a trail of loose rocks that continued into the valley. I couldn’t roll over them quickly as I’d have bottomed out the engine and so I slowly rolled over each step, my left foot bracing against the hillside for balance. Once over the steps I could pick p some speed over the rocks until the track turned 90° right onto a trail of loose volcanic pumice (again like riding on marbles). Several hundred metre’s later the track met with the one emerging from the hacienda and so I parked and walked back for Nick. I found him just around the last bend. He fallen again (no surprise given the going) but he and Rudolph were unharmed, just exhausted.

Yep, that’s the trail behind him!

From atop the next ridge we could see a track stretching out straight across the valley. Once on it we crossed two huge boulder fields that had had a path cleared across them. A real indication to the hurricane that it turns out had created all the damage. From here on the track was still pretty rough and on occasion sandy but I found 3rd gear for the first time that day and we covered the next 15km quite quickly. Ahead of me I saw a clearing and then a road sign – ROSARITO. We’d found the main track. As Nick arrived so I held up my hand for a high-five. “Feck that!” he said… “Give me a hug!” It had been one of those days.

Finding the road to Rosarito was like finding an oasis!

Despite having ridden just 70km we pitched our tents in a dried-up river bed and pooled our resources for dinner.

What’s the chance…ptI

We were both by now out of food and water so instead of taking our chances west we rode east back to Rte1. It was also my sisters birthday so I needed to find Wi-Fi and ‘Skype’ her. Riding east along the main track we noticed the signs indicating we were on the Baja 1000 route. Compared to the previous day it was like riding on a billiard table and we cruised along in 4th gear. At the main road I stopped to clan my chain and as I was doing so I looked up towards the sound of two bikes approaching from the south. I put my hand up to wave only to realize it was Joe & Pete! They couldn’t believe it either and turned around for a chat and a story swapping session.

Beach bums

After our efforts of the previous days we decided to hit the beach and found a nice spot under a basic palapa at the end of a bay south of Loreto. We stayed for a couple of days, swimming, diary writing, reading.

Chilling out under a palapa

Having not made it to San Isidro we were faced with the long boring stretches of Rte1. Time to get comfortable…

Trying not to fall asleep on Rte1

Trying not to fall asleep on Rte1

Our only break came in the middle of a looooooong straight section of road through Ciudad Constitución where, for the first time since Peru, I found the fantastic spicy fish dish ‘Ceviché’.

Back on the dirt

Further south a track led NE towards the sea at Bahiá Coyote. The first 60km was in excellent condition but it was the last 30km that was always going to be questionable. Once again all the maps contradicted one another. I won’t take you along for the ride this time but soon after the next photo it went a little like this…

Approaching the east coast at Bahia Coyote

Track rapidly deteriorated, became rocky, became rain rutted, often steep, Nick couldn’t select 2nd gear, we could see the sea, it got dark, we rode on, the track became narrow and sandy, hemmed in by cactus, Nick fell, we straightened his bike, we found another track leading to a clearing and pitched our tents.

A well earned brew!

In the morning we discovered we’d pitched camp on a dried mud flat behind the sand dunes

Mud flat bush camp

We didn’t ride far down the coast before we found some beautiful sites for bush camping – if only we’d have arrived a few hours earlier the previous day. The often narrow jeep track wound its way through the multi-coloured canyons and out to the sea where it opened out to become a smooth, wide dirt road highway.

Bahia Coyote

Bahia Coyote

La Paz

We rode straight through La Paz and out to the ferry terminal so that I could obtain the temporary import permit for Rosie (that I would need to enter the mainland). Back in town we stocked up on supplies and headed SE out of town with a beach camp in mind but it was already mid-afternoon and by the time we found the road we wanted we’d lost more time and had to rethink. The only place we’d seen that had potential for a bush camp in such a built-up area was on the road to the ferry. In the shrubbery surrounding a small bay we noticed a few other cars and so presumed it was a regular unofficial camping spot. It wasn’t until after we’d pitched the tents, dinner had been cooked and the noise of the camp stoves receded that the sounds of the camp wafted our way. People weren’t camping, it was love lane. Nooooooooooooooooooooo……………………… Nick remembered the name of the hotel Joe & Pete had mentioned and for the same price as the pair  of us would have paid for two dorm beds in the hostel we got an en-suite twin room with cable TV, Wi-Fi and secure parking right outside the door. We spent two nights in La Paz during which time Nick gave Rudolph some much needed TLC. What he manages on that bike is really impressive.

Impresssive artists at the tatoo parlour

A stroll into town revealed a Guinness World Record attempt at the world’s longest burrito – 2km! Walking along the promenade I noticed a tattooed, helmet carrying couple walking towards us – it was Frank & Simone!!! Unfortunately they were staying outside of town and so couldn’t stay for a beer. They’d had a torrid time of it since I left them in Oregon. Frank had had a hernia in the USA (and a U$6500 medical bill), Simone had had a cyst develop on her leg and to add insult to injury their laptop hard drive had crashed that morning! They weren’t the only ones with laptop trouble. That was the night I discovered my DVD drive full of sand and non-functioning.

The Mainland

Two ferries sail from La Paz, Baja California to mainland Mexico; one to Mazatlán (12hrs) and the other to Topolobampo, nr Los Mochis (6hrs). We took the shorter one as we wanted to visit Barranca del Cobre (or Copper Canyon as it’s known in the west). The ferry was due to sail at 1500 but didn’t sail until 1630 so it was almost 2300 by the time we disembarked.  Arriving at a hotel so late dramatically reduces your haggling ability and we stopped at a couple of hotels before finding an acceptable price at Hotel San Marcos.

Getting directions

Welcome to Choix

For some reason I really enjoyed the slow, straight road NE form Los Mochis. A pick-up truck had a second one, cut-up for scrap, wedged in the back and I saw a homemade sidecar outfit for the first time in a year. Truck drivers plied the roadside eateries and farmland stretched beyond. The mainland certainly had a very different feeling to Baja. After a late start we spent the afternoon riding through farmland and so with no obvious potential bush camps we rode into Choix for another night in a hotel. As it turned out, the cheapest room in the hotel had a covered balcony that overlooked one of the main streets. It was Friday night and the locals were cruising in everything from flash new pick-ups to beaten up wrecks that limped along. Music blared from all of them but not western electronica.  Instead it was Mexican music that filled the streets. The only vehicles not playing music were the regular, heavily armed police patrols. Earlier in the evening as we’d walked around town we’d noticed uniformed men with ‘VIGILANTE’ embroidered on their backs. Clearly there had been some trouble there previously. We though, cooked supper on the balcony, sat back and enjoyed all of this going on below us.

Damn…we’ll miss the entertainment!

Copper Canyon Pt I

Choix – Tubares – Piedras Verdes* – Mesa de Arturo – Cerocahui* – Bahuchivo – Cuiteco* – San Rafael – Divisadero – Creel.  NB. *Denotes not shown on any map.

That was our chosen route, pieced together from various online ride reports. Without the GPS though we needed to rely on asking locals the way as three of the villages weren’t on any map. Neither did any of the maps show a road from Choix to Mesa de Arturo which was rather surprising as it turned out to be a bigger, better road than that from Mesa de Arturo to San Rafael which was on the map! Sometimes we got good directions, sometimes we didn’t.  Sometimes they’d point in the direction of the village we were asking for and not the direction of the road that led to the village.

Approaching Tubares en-route o Copper Canyon

After lunching on of peanut butter & jam sandwiches J and coffee in the spread out pueblo of Tubares we asked for directions to Piedras Verdes and set off into the canyons. Here the road was much narrower and hugged the canyon walls as it climbed one and descended into the next. We were obviously in the land of the indigenous Rarámuri Indians. Their homes dotted amongst the canyons in seemingly impossible to access locations. Getting building materials there would have been a slog. We thought finding a place to camp was going to be hard and it was. The narrow road was cut into the canyon side and wherever it opened up even slightly so it was occupied. Eventually we came to a small parking are that would have been used by the road builders. Beyond the flat area a trail led onto a ledge under some trees overlooking the valley and we managed to get the bikes down there and camp out of sight.

Bush camp on the road to Mesa de Arturo

Sunset across the valley

The next day was another where we didn’t cover as much ground as expected. A wrong turn in the Pueblo of Cieregoita cost us time as did a long lunch at a spot overlooking the ‘un-mapped’ town of Cerocahui (unusual given its size).

Cerocahui overlook

Cerocahui mission

Copper Canyon Railway

From Cerocacahui to Bahuchivo was a landscape of rocky outcrops and trees that could easily have formed part of the National Park. In Bahuchivo we crossed the Copper Canyon Railway for the first time and then paralleled it into the next canyon. The 653km, 14hr train ride stretches from the coastal town of Los Mochis to the inland plains of Chihuahua and is said to be one of the world’s most extraordinary train journeys.

Following the Copper Canyon railway

Sometimes alongside, sometimes above, sometimes below, the railway was never far away as it shared the canyon with the road. In Cuiteco we were diverted around the pueblo along a riverbed and across several shallow water crossings. Beyond Cuiteco we entered a fabulous, deep, narrow canyon where an all but dry river trickled past boulders as big as I’d ever seen. We needed a place to camp and as we climbed away from the canyon we found the perfect spot. The road crossed the railway that appeared through a cutting to our left. By riding parallel to the railway, up and over the embankment we were not only out of sight but had a fair view onto the track should a train approach.

Copper Canyon Railway bush camp

We awoke to frosted tents and the sound of an approaching train and after snapping a few photos and eating breakfast we headed for Divisadero.

Copper Canyon Railway

In Divisadero we paid the M$20 to access the road to the viewpoints. It was worth a quid…

Copper Canyon

At the railway station we parked the bikes and walked up to the platform. I’d read that the Gorditas (fat corn tortillas, sliced open, stuffed with your choice of filling and baked or fried) there were exceptional but they turned out to be the best in Mexico. As well as the food stalls, the locals came to sell their produce to the train passengers. The train itself was due an hour after we arrived and so the platform was a hive of activity.

The best ‘Gordita’s’ in Mexico were served on the station platform

Divisedero Railway Station

As we were getting on the bikes to leave so we were pestered by two young hawkers. Despite me buying something for my niece from the older of the two, she still sported a face like a smacked arse…

So Nick showed her his willy…

He didn’t really! 🙂

What’s the chance…ptII

Whilst riding around Creel looking for the supermarket I spotted to KLR650’s parked in a hostel. A closer inspection revealed they belonged to Duncan & Mark who I’d stayed with in Seattle back in July. The receptionist dragged them out of bed (they’d had a hard night on the Tequillla) and we swapped stories for an hour or so. For now though we were heading in separate directions so the beer would have to wait. Just outside town we pitched our tents alongside Lago de Arareco and settled in for another cold night. Sure enough we awoke to frost on the tents and ice in my water container and we ate breakfast basking in the sun like a pair of lizards.

Lago de Arareco

Copper Canyon PtII

60km or so of well surfaced road led us through Samachic to the pueblo of Karare and the start of the descent into the canyon proper. From here on the road was dirt and after passing through a shallow valley it emerged into a magnificent canyon. Almost 2km below us we could see the road cross the river and disappear into the next canyon (the road crosses four of the six canyons en-route to the town Batopilas  60km away).

Nick provides a sense of scale

The road to Batopilas

Every corner led to another photo opportunity and it was slow going down to the river. It was the first we’d seen containing a reasonable level of water but the real water level was evident in the erosion line some 10m above. Indication the river would be an unstoppable force in full flow. After a few hours we arrived in the old silver mining town of Batopilas. After a look around the long abandoned hacienda we followed the riverbank south out of town before climbing out of the canyon to find a bush camp. We struggled to find anywhere at first but eventually found a perfect spot. A trail overgrown with brambles led to a steep descent alongside a rain gulley and onto a small flat plateau on which a radio mast was perched.  In the distance we could just make out the road as it wound its way further up the canyon.

Batopilas bush camp

Compromised!

Imagine our surprise when we awoke just before midnight  to the sound of a vehicle scraping its way past the brambles. At first we just listened in the hope it was just somebody else looking for somewhere too sleep. No other vehicle could drive to where we were so we weren’t too concerned; unless it was a repair gang coming to the mast? Surely not at this time of night? Then came the slamming of doors, torch lights, voices. As I scrambled into some clothes I heard a voice say “Gringo’s!” As I poked my head out of my tent I came face to face with a M16 machine gun. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the light and realise that the person holding it wore a uniform, an army uniform. Thank f#@* for that! “Donde vives?” said a voice from the dark. “Inglaterra” I replied and was relieved to hear “No problema”. For the next hour we led awake listening to the soldiers battle their way through the cacti that surrounded us and down the hillside beyond. Then puff and pant as they struggled back up carrying whatever it was they were recovering. In the morning we went for a look ourselves but either they did a good recovery job or their booty was a long way below us. We hadn’t ridden far out of Batopilas when Nick’s chain broke and whilst he got covered in grease, I wandered down to the river to photograph a lonely cow. The ride out of the canyon in the harsh morning light wasn’t quite as good as the ride in. I’d like to see it again when the river is at full height, the waterfalls are flowing and the vegetation lust green instead of parched. Leaving the canyon behind us we rode SE to Guachochi and the spectacular Cańon de la Sinforosa. A dirt road led us 18km south of town to what looked like a private residence. Ready to turn around thinking we’d missed a turning, a man appeared, charged us M$20 each and opened a gate. Another dirt road led several hundred metres to a parking area and a large lookout.  No roads lead into the 1830m deep canyon and treks along its length take 2-3 weeks!

Sinforosa Canyon

Back in town the newly built Hotel La Roca provided us with a twin room, en-suite with Cable TV, Wi-Fi and parking for M$300 and we wandered into town for a final meal and a beer.

Solo

After three weeks of riding with Nick it seemed strange to ride out of town alone. He’d hit it off immediately and had shared a lot of laughs but now we both wanted to go in different directions and so it was time to part. By lunchtime I had 280km on the trip and stopped at a sign saying ‘Gorditas’ in the pueblo of Revolucion on Hwy45.

Stopping for lunch on Hwy 45

The morning’s ride through the hills was just like riding through the backroads of northern California but here on the highway it was about to get boring. Over lunch I scoured the map and decided to head back across the Sierra Madre Occidental and pick-up Hwy23 towards Durango. The first part through Santa Maria del Oro and on to San Bernardo was on tarmac and clearly signposted. Even El Colorado was signposted, albeit by a wooden sign nailed to the wall by the plaza. Every little town has a plaza and San Bernardo was no exception.

St.Bernardino

El Colorado didn’t have a plaza. It didn’t have much of anything including people when I rode through and out the other side on the wrong track. Because I hadn’t seen any alternative I presumed I must be on the right track but it was running parallel with the ridgeline I wanted to cross and showed no sign of turning west. Eventually I rode back through El Colorado where I met a guy in a pick-up and asked directions. As I approached the last building so I spotted the track and as I did so the homeowner came out. I didn’t understand all that he said but I did understand ‘Bad’, ‘There is no traffic’, ‘30’km’, ‘1½hrs’. Great, he didn’t say road closed. The track was pretty broken up and in places almost blocked by landslides but it was no problem on a bike. I would have taken some photos but it was late enough in the afternoon for me to be riding in the shade. On the west side I encountered some long, deep rain ruts. Eventually I fell but in trying to prevent falling I managed to trap my right foot under the tank. It took me a while to get free and then a while longer to pick Rosie up and get out of the rut by which time I was a little concerned about the remaining daylight. Once upright it was an easy ride to Hwy23 but it was after dark when I rolled into Tepehuanes and found a hotel. The only eatery open in town was a snack wagon and as I ate my supper so a family of three arrived. The wife spoke English and was surprised to see a gringo in town. I explained about my journey and when I came to pay for my meal the snack wagon owner said “No. Es regalo.” It’s a gift, and she thanked me for visiting her van.

‘Es regalo!’ The snack van in Tepehuanes

Zacatecas

I did plenty of laps of the UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Zacatecas before finally finding Hostel Colonial. Unbeknown to me I’d arrived on a national holiday weekend and took the last bed in the dormitory. I spent four days in Zacatecas, wandering the streets, visiting the cathedral and enjoying coffee from the first expresso machines I’d seen since Baja. Nick arrived, his gearbox still playing up and causing him concern. Several emails led to the offer from a dealer in Colima to supply all parts at cost and for Nick to use his workshop and tools!

The streets of Zacatecas

The streets of Zacatecas

More photos from Zacatecas in the Mexico gallery

Guanajuato

Avoiding the ‘Quota’ (toll road) meant riding through the centre of Aguas Calientes, another Mexican City that suffered from ‘disappearing signpost syndrome’. A local guy on a bike pulled alongside and asked where I was going. I said the centre and he said to follow him. We had a broken conversation at the red lights en-route and when I said I was just stopping for lunch then continuing on to Guanajuato he replied “No time. Guanajuato 3hrs more. You can’t ride after dark!” He led me through the centre and pointed me in the right direction before peeling off to work. Then the signs ran out and I rode around in circles again. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Guanajuato, another UNESCO World Heritage site, was once the richest town in Mexico thanks to its gold and silver mines. Wedged into a narrow ravine it sits atop a network of tunnels that once channeled the river under the city. These days the river runs much deeper and the tunnels have been paved to allow the traffic to by-pass the centre.

Tunnels beneath Guanajuato

A vibrant university town there was always something going on. Every night around the Jardin de la Union musicians serenaded diners and students dress up to stage interactive shows. Small bands would wander the streets with followed by groups of revelers dancing and clapping to the classic Mexican songs.

Musicians warm up in the plaza

It soon became my favourite town in Mexico and I walked miles between the Market, Plazas , churches and up the hillside to Monumento al PÍpila and its viewpoint over the town. A great spot for watching nightfall…

Nightfall over Guanajuato

Nighfall over Guanajuato

Nightfall over Guanajuato

Sitting by a snack wagon one evening eating a very tasty quesadilla stuffed with shredded beef and beans, I could hear loud music asthough some kind of outdoor show was playing. I walked around the corner to find a light and sound show celebrating Mexico’s Bi-Centenary being projected onto the wall of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.

Lightshow on the Alhóndiga de Granaditas

On my final day in the city I wandered out into the street to find a carnival style parade taking place. My favourite was the traditional Mexican dance group that was obviously playing out the stories of the songs.

Bi-Centenial parade in Guanajuato

Bi-Centenial parade in Guanajuato

More photos from Zacatecas in the MEXICO gallery

 

Mexico City

Back in the USA I’d posted a question regarding Mexican Insurance on the HUBB. Amongst the replies was one from Garry Dymond who invited me to stay if/when I passed through Mexico City. The mornings ride from Guanajuato through San Miguel de Allende was great but after a few more large towns that suffered with the ‘disappearing sign syndrome’ and encountering plenty of Sunday drivers on the twisty Hwy 15, I was suddenly aware that I wasn’t going to make my 1630 rendezvous with Garry at the BMW dealer in Leerma. I stopped at a petrol station to phone him but the phone only took cards and they’d sold out and so I rode on. The next petrol station sold me a card only for me to discover that both their pay phones were out of order. They sent me back to the previous village where I finally found a phone that did work; only it wouldn’t recognise Garry’s mobile number and the house phone was engaged. I waited and tried again; still engaged. In the distance the black sky was occasionally lit up by lightening and I decided to take the Quota in-order to make up some time and hopefully pass through the storm quickly. As the traffic separated to enter the two tollbooths so an Alaskan registered BMW R1200 GS appeared.  We exchanged a few words as we crept towards the barriers but I didn’t realise it was Englisman Dom at the time. Sure enough it pissed down but fortunately not for too long. By the time I reached the BMW dealer Garry was long gone so I rode back down the hill to the local Oxxo store where there was a phone. Still it wouldn’t recognise Garry’s mobile number and the home phone was still engaged. I knew Garry and family were going to the Bi-Centennial sound & light show in the Zócalo and so my time was limited to contact him. I rode into town and found an internet café only to be told they closed at 1900 – 20 mins away. No problem said and emailed Garry asking if I could meet him at the Zócolo. Finally lady luck shone down on me and at 1905 with the internet lady tapping her fingers Gary replied with the address of a parking garage close to the Zócolo. All I had to do was find it, which was easier said than done in one of the world’s most densely populated cities inhabited by over 20 million people! I hastily printed off a few Google map pages and set off toward the city. It was of course dark. I didn’t recognize any of the names on the signposts and eventually stopped to ask two policemen. They seemed a little confused by the combination of map and address (I later found out why) but eventually gave me directions to where the arrow pointed on the map. I rode away and got lost again. Closer to the centre I could finally consult the city maps in both my road atlas and guidebook. Eventually I came close to the Zócolo only to find it closed off from several blocks away due to the show. Again I looked at the maps and headed off to find the parking garage. I got within a few streets of the arrow on the map but it was obviously the wrong place. Not only was it too far from the Zócolo but it was I an area of town I really shouldn’t have been in (hence the policemen’s confusion). I left – quickly! Back near the Zócolo I spoke to a security guard and learnt that the street I was looking for was parallel to where we were standing, five blocks closer to the Zócolo. I rode around but all the roads were closed and I couldn’t get in. I returned to the security guard and he jumped on his bike so I could follow him. He led me around the barricade and pointed me onwards. It was like swimming against the current as I crept my way through the throng of pedestrians that came towards me. I got within one block of where I wanted to go before I was stopped and forbidden to go any further. I asked two policemen on what block the address I was looking for was on and headed off to try and get around the closed area. Just as I thought I’d succeeded so I came to a police car blocking the road I wanted to go down. I opened my flip-up helmet and let out a silent scream and to my amazement the driver looked at me and backed up enough to let me through! Nearly there; I found the street I wanted but I was facing it from the wrong end (it was a one-way street). A few turns later and I pulled-up outside the parking garage just in time. Minutes later the show finished and 300,000 people poured out of the Zócolo and poured past me like a stone in the river. It took what seemed like forever for the crowd to shuffle past and for the first time that night I began thinking about my alternatives should Garry not show up. Finally, a voice said “You must be Adam.” I shook Garry’s hand – I hadn’t been so pleased to meet anyone in a long time! It was a 40min drive back into the suburbs to reach ‘Garry Hostel’. Garry and his wife Ivonne had the foresight to presume I would be hungry and we stopped along the way to eat the best tacos yet in Mexico.

Garry Dymond ‘Geezer’

Englishman Garry Dymond ‘Geezer’ met his Mexican wife Ivonne in London back in ’76. Married her, moved to Mexico City and hasn’t looked back. A keen motorcyclist, Garry (and the real ‘Garry Hostel’ boss, Ivonne!) have been hosting international motorcyclists at their home for several years.

Garry Dymond ‘Geezer’ and Aldous

Zócolo Show

After cooking some cracking omelet’s for breakfast, Garry gave me directions of how to get to the Zócolo on public transport. A hour’s bus ride to the metro station followed by a 30-40min train ride. Mexico City’s Zócolo (Central square) is the third largest in the world but with all the equipment and stages set-up for the evenings show it was impossible to really appreciate its size. The Cathedral that stands on the north side of the square is the largest in Latin America. Stepping inside I was immediately struck by the fact that it’s wonky (It was built during the ‘Wonky’ period Paul. Sorry, family joke!) Look straight along the aisle and you can clearly see the columns out of alignment. In the centre of the Cathedral a plumb line floats above lines marked on the floor indicating its movement. Built on a lake, the Cathedral, like much of central MC, is sinking. The 1½hr long show depicting the history of Mexico was a magnificent spectacle. Unfortunately my Spanish was far from sufficient to follow the narration but that didn’t detract from the visual show. Big screens told their story in pictures whilst the lightshow illuminated the Cathedral, Palace and adjacent government buildings on a scale I’d never seen. At one point all the building ‘moved’ and at another, depicting the 1985 earthquake, they ‘fell down’.

I’ve put all the lightshow photos in a separate gallery entitled Mexico City Lightshow gallery

Here’s a few…

Zócolo lightshow

Zócolo lightshow

Zócolo lightshow

The public transport system coped well considering the volume of people departing the venue but it still took me 1¼hr to get back to the metro station at Viernes. I emerged to find the bus depot empty and despite hanging around for ½hr no buses arrived. Eventually a taxi pulled up and I showed him Garry’s address on a piece of paper. He didn’t know where it was but was eager to help and made a few suggestions so I jumped in. After 20mins of driving around and me pointing to the rough vicinity on a map in the taxi, he finally admitted defeat. He stopped at a taxi stand and wanted to pass me over to another driver but they didn’t seem too sure either and so I got him to return me to the metro station. He was very apologetic so I gave him a tip for his effort and wandered across the road to the taxi stand which now that it had taxis in it, was obvious! The first driver I spoke to knew where to go, until we got close-by and he had to radio the dispatcher to find out exactly where it was at which point, being that far away, the price went up. Finally, I tip-toed through the house at 0130 three hours after the show had finished.

Dentist Pt1

Months ago a hole appeared in my tooth that was so big a filling must’ve fallen out. Being in the USA I avoided visiting the dentist and instead waited until I was in Mexico. Garry walked me down the hill to his local dentist where I made an appointment for the following day. When the dentist looked up from my mouth she did so with a gasp and eyes as big as plates… not good. Apparently I was close to needing a root-canal, but not quite. After too much drilling/grinding for my liking she was finally ready to make a mould. It was Thursday and I was to return on Saturday once a filling had been made.

Dentist PtII

I returned on Saturday to have my filling fitted and was dismayed to be approached by the mask wearing assistant. Garry had been winding me up about not letting the assistant touch me. The filling didn’t fit and as she prised it out so she dropped it down my throat! I just managed to gag and cough it up before swallowing it (I didn’t fancy having it fitted had I had to wait for it to pass!) She tried a few more times but eventually had to concede to the dentist proper (who was treating a second patient in the second chair in the same room). The dentist didn’t have any luck either and suddenly my visit to the Torture Museum (OMG!!!) the previous day didn’t rate as one of my better ideas! Again and again the dentist tried fitting the filling, taking it out, grinding it, trying again, taking it out, grinding it (repeat to boredom). Eventually she decided it had to be re-made and took a second mould. It was probably the attempt to hold it still with one hand (whilst using the other to talk animatedly to the rest of the room that now featured an alarming number of people), that led to the mould being so inaccurate. “It’ll be ready on Monday. We’ll call you.”

Dentist PtIII

It was the following Friday before the call finally came but thanks to the description in the last paragraph I wasn’t confident of it being a quick visit. It wasn’t. In – out – grind – in – out – grind…repeat to boredom once again! To be fair, she was patient and conscience which was fortunate as I eventually had an excellent fitting filling, albeit after almost six hours in the chair! Can’t complain at M$1200 though.

The waiting period

My time waiting for the dentist didn’t go wasted. I visited many of the sites in town including the world class Anthropological Museum and one Sunday, after Canadian Aldous arrived on his F650 we all went to the magnificent pre-Colombian ruins of Teotihuacán , NE of Mexico City. We also spent an evening strolling around Coyoacán. Once a capital in its own right, it’s been absorbed into Mexico City but with its own church, plaza and market manages to maintain an air of independence.

The view towards the Temple of the Sun, Teotihuacán

A used replacement GPS unit arrived for a very fair price from Mike Jones, a friend of Jim Brannon that I’d met in Georgia back in April. Efficiently delivered by Dick Turpin’s Express Courier robbery service. I spent some time researching and downloading (free) maps that cover all but Ecuador, Bolivia and the Guiana’s.

Maintenance

Packed with the GPS was a set of steering-head bearings that I’d had sent to Mike’s and so I fitted them, changed the oil, serviced the brake calipers and checked the valve clearances.

Garry Hostel

My room was quiet and my bed comfortable. Every night when my head hit the pillow I all but passed out. I hadn’t slept so well in months and obviously needed it. Ivonne kept me well fed and their son Lloyd took Aldous and I to the wrestling – one of Mexicos most avidly followed spectator sports. It was a great place to stay where I really felt at home. On our final Sunday Garry, Aldous and I rode out to Tres Marias where the local motorcyclists gather to pose, pull wheelies and check out the other bikes. Having seen so few bikes on the roads I was surprised to see so many, let alone so many sports bikes, many of which were new. Sunday morning playthings explained Garry. They’ll all be back in their garages by mid-afternoon.

Moving on…

When I arrived I’d asked Garry if it was ok to stay for 4-5 days. The dentist had other ideas and so it was 15 days later that I rolled out of Garry Hostel, though not alone. Aldous and I would ride together for the first day but first I needed to visit the Post Office and so Garry led the way. Bloody good job he did as we’d never have found it!

Post Office parking

I’d had a fabulous time with Garry, Ivonne and Lloyd. Garry was truly a Dymond Geezer not just by name but by nature.

Garry & Ivonne

South East

Garry led us to our turn off, pointed the way and continued on to work. Once clear of the city we stopped for lunch before heading over Paso de Cortés at 3800m (named after conquistador Hernán Cortés), between the easily pronounced volcanoes of Huejotzingo and Popocatepetl!

It was rather chilly at 3800m

The next day we went our separate ways. Aldous to the coast and me to Oaxaca on Hwy190, to date my favourite road in Mexico (after Copper Canyon). I didn’t find Oaxaca the fabulous destination so many others do. Perhaps after four weeks spent in various cities I wasn’t quite ready for another. I took in the elaborate church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán…

Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Oaxaca

Santo Domingo de Guzmán

And headed down Calle Mina where cacao can be seen being ground and where they serve big bowls of hot chocolate and bread.

Grinding Cocoa in Oaxaca

Road to nowhere

With the WWF listing some sections of the pine forest as being the richest and most varied on earth, the area of the Sierra Madre Norte, NE of Oaxaca had to be worth a look. According to my road atlas it was possible to turn east off of Hwy 175 at the village of Ixtlán approx 60km north of Oaxaca, then make a loop through the mountains and rejoin Hwy 190 SE of Oaxaca at Mitla. Hugging the mountainside, the road passed through several pueblos as it climbed towards a pass at 2800m. Up in the cloud it was bloody cold and the trees were covered in a light dusting of snow. Even as I descended I took a while to warm up as the vegetation was so dense it was a while before I was back in the sun. The road was lined with recently cleared landslide debris and I was glad it wasn’t raining.

Sierra Madre

From an overlook I could see the road leading away from the pueblo of San Bartolomé Zoogocho and into the valley beyond. When I arrived though, I found myself in the middle of a market with no way through. I returned to the edge of town where a sign appeared to be directing traffic around the centre. I followed the sign up a steep concrete road, around a few switch-backs only to encounter the road gang still building the road. Back at the junction I spoke to two old guys waiting for a ride and asked them the way. What made it confusing was that there were two pueblos named San Andres and whilst the map said the road led through one to get to the other, the guys I was talking to were pointing in different directions. Eventually I rode away and turned left into the valley just a kilometre or so up the hill. Sure enough the road joined the one leading from the pueblo. Down in the valley the landslides had been so big that the road was now cut through the debris like a railway cutting. In the valley bottom the tarmac ended and a dirt road ascended to the next pueblo of San Andrés Solaga and on through Santo Domingo Yojovi.

Santo Domingo Yojovi, Sierra Madre

Santo Domingo Yojovi, Sierra Madre

Soon after, the track plunged towards the valley and I rounded a corner to encounter my first obstacle. A section of unrepaired road indicated that from here on the road was closed to most traffic but it was still worth a look on a bike.

The first obstacle was a simple washout

A few corners later and a slide a halved the width of the road…

So was the second…on a bike

…and a few yards further on I had to clear rocks from the path to get through.

The third meant moving a few rocks

A few more corners passed by before I came across a slide that initially looked impassable but that actually proved very easy

The fourth was pretty straightforward

One more washout took me around a corner to where I was finally stopped. Two slides blocked the road and whilst the first was negotiable, the second certainly was not. Not only that but the slide was so big that it covered the road below me aswell.

The final (impassable) obstacle

Now whilst the ride down had been pretty straightforward, the ride back up proved to be anything but. Halfway across the washout my rear wheel slid out on the loose surface, bottomed out the engine and I toppled over. After unloading all my camping kit it still too me over an hour to dig Rosie out.

Re-crossing the final washout caused me problems…

It was like the scene from Long Way Round where they all muck in to dig away at the riverbank and make a ramp for the vehicles to climb out of the river. The difference being that I had no digging tools and was working one handed whilst I hold Rosie upright with the other. Eventually I managed to scrape away enough of the bank to clear the engine and get some flat stones under the rear wheel to aid traction and drive her out.

Getting some traction helped

Reloaded I continued on up the track only to be foiled again at the section where I’d had to move rocks. At the far end there was a large rock to negotiate and doing so meant riding close to the edge on some loose rock to allow enough space for my panniers to pass. Halfway past and the surface under my wheels gave way and I slid down the small bank so that the left footrest sat atop the large rock. Rosie was stuck. Again I unloaded all my camping gear and tried to free her. A big concern when trying to unstick a stuck bike whilst riding solo, is injuring yourself before the bike is freed. Do that and you’re screwed. The large rock was preventing me from standing her up and so I needed to break some off. Using a tyre lever as a chisel I began working away at the large rock.

A tyre lever made for an improvised chisel

Fortunately the rock was fairly soft and broke relatively easily. Unfortunately, the only thing I had to use as a hammer was smaller pieces of the same material and so they often broke before the big rock! It was a time consuming process but I eventually managed to break off enough to allow me to lift her slightly. That was part 1. Part 2 involved digging around the rock under the right handlebar as I couldn’t lift the bike enough for the tank pannier to clear it.

The rock that needed moving…

…was finally moved.

With the rock moved and some smaller ones wedged under the rear wheel I managed to lift the handlebars a few inches and drive her out into open space. With just 10 minutes of daylight remaining I wasn’t going anywhere and so pitched my tent on the road. There were still two obstacles between me and the village so I knew I was safe. As I cooked my dinner in the last vestiges of sunlight so lights began to appear across the valley, teasing me with their proximity. The following day I made three more attempts to find a way across the mountains. Following a sign to ‘Zoochina’through a gap in the hillside, I emerged at a T-junction overlooking another valley. Turning left led me to a church and a view of the pueblo below but there was no road leading on from there.

Zoochina church

The right turn led me through a pueblo where the track crossed the combined school/churchyard before descending past the graveyard and into the valley beyond. Initially the road was somewhat overgrown and I was skeptical about it leading anywhere but a few corners on I encountered a freshly graded track and between the trees I could see across the valley to a road heading east.

The elusive road east!

No way through!

Several more turns later and my hopes came to an end. Below me was a bulldozer still clearing the road. I made one more attempt through the pueblo of San Caterina Yahuio but that led to yet another slide, only this time being cleared by hand. Clearly the region had recently suffered huge damage and I finally resigned myself to returning the way I’d come. I arrived back where I’d left Hwy 190 1½ days earlier and rode east.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

It took me two days to ride to the hill town of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Hwy 190 remained the great ride it had been the majority of the way from Mexico City and carried me through a slowly changing countryside. Twisting through the cacti, following the Rio Quiechapa gorge the road traversed the Sierras in a seemingly never ending string of 80km/h turns. The temperature rose as I descended towards the coast and plummeted again as I headed back into the hills beyond Tuxtla Gutiérrez; a sign of things to come. Here in the state of Chiapas the vegetation had changed completely and it was as though I’d entered another country (I later learned it was once part of Guatmala). Cacti gave way to a huge variety of trees including palms and everything took on a greener, more tropical look. On the way into San Cristóbal I passed a flooded village set in a mountain bowl. The village had flooded in September, a month in which it had rained everyday!

It rained every day in September…

San Cristóbal was a pleasant mountain town where the indigenous people from surrounding villages come to trade which adds to the appeal of wandering its streets. It was a gringo town though and I saw more foreign tourists than I had in the whole of the rest of my time in Mexico put together.

Indigenous women in San Cristobal de las Casas

The weather turned for a couple of days and the temperature plummeted. Nowhere had any form of heating which I found surprising given the 2100m altitude and as the mercury sank well into single figures overnight so the breakfast conversation turned to how many blankets everyone had piled on their beds. I spent five days editing and uploading photos, wandering the streets watching the world go by and thawing out in the coffee shop. In the evenings I would walk to the market outside the Templo de Santo Domingo Guzmán (yes, there’s one in Oaxaca too!) where I not only found a lady selling great ‘Tamales de Pollo’ but Arroz con Leche. Now Arroz con Leche was something of a revelation to me, as it would have been to all Brit’s as it was basically rice pudding in a cup!

San Cristobal de las Casas

Chamula

10km west of San Cristobal lies the the Tzotzil Maya village of Chamula where the locals practice a blend of traditional animist belief and Catholicism. Photography is banned inside the church and a ticket has to be purchased prior to entry but stepping inside reveals an interior unlike any other. There are no pews and locals sit on scattered pine needles whilst arranging candles to make a ‘message’. The walls are lined with statues of the saints furnished with offerings of food, drink and clothes. The thousands of candles are the only light, emitting a surreal glow. I sat at the back and watched the locals come and go, performing their rituals as they did so. It was fascinating to watch but I felt like an intruder and so I left. The locals aren’t keen on having their photo taken so I was surprised when two young girls ran up to me asking for their photo to be taken. I of course obliged.

Chamula girls

Chamula church

In ruins…

It seems that even the road builders were confused over the distance to the Mayan ruins of Palenque.

Make your mind up!

It was my final day of enjoyable roads as Palenque sits at the foot of the Chiapas highlands. Beyond; the flat Yucatán Peninsula stretches NE to separate the Gulf of Mexico from The Caribbean Sea. Here is not the place to go into detail regarding the various sites I visited but I’ll give a brief overview and post a few photos. I camped just along the road from the ruins and got a ride to the site entrance with a French family who were camped next to me. Arriving at opening time allowed us to beat the crowds and get a feel for the place before it became overrun. Unfortunately though, as turned out to be the case at every site I visited, the best view of it came from looking east making late afternoon the best for photographs. Unfortunately, anything after 10am meant hordes of visitors.

Palenque

Calakmul

Probably the largest archeological area in Mesoamerica, Calakmul has nearly seven thousand buildings. The great pyramid here is the largest Mayan construction in existence. Thanks to its location 60km inside the Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul, close to the Guatemalan border makes it one of the less visited sites. Even when the coaches begin to arrive, the site is so big that it seems to absorb the crowd. Watching the resident howler monkeys is as time consuming as touring the ruins themselves. Standing atop any of the pyramids all you can see in any direction is the top of the jungle canopy, and of course those building tall enough to pierce it. My only disappointment was that the photograph used in all the promotional material was obviously taken from the air and so isn’t visible on-site.

Calakmul

Campeche

I took a break from the ruins in the coastal town of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico. The heart of the town is built within a defensive wall intended to keep out pirates. The town had many beautiful buildings, in particular the Catedral de Nuestra Seńora de la Concepción which stands on the Parque Principal. The most unusual though was basically a square ‘flying-saucer’ that was lit up by an ever changing sequence of coloured lights.

Uxmal

A combination of setting, elaborate decoration and Iguana’s made Uxmal my favourite ruins amongst the few I visited in Mexico. As per all previous sites I arrived at opening time, earlier in fact as I got changed under the shade of a tree in the carpark just as they opened the barrier and I was the first one in. I left at 1130 just as several coaches spilled their passengers through the gates. It was the longest I spent in at any of the sites I visited. In the car park I chatted with a bus driver from Cancūn who owned a ’76 Honda CB750 and was part of a motorcycle display team!

Pyramide del Adivino, Uxmal

Palacio del Gobernador, Uxmal

There were plenty of Iguanas at Uxmal

Chichen Itza

Thanks to its proximity on the main highway from Cancūn to Mérida, Chichén Itzá is by far the most visited of all Yucatán’s Mayan sites. I’d camped in the grounds of the Piramide Hotel in the nearby town of Pisté the night before visiting and was at the entry gate before opening time. Here though the gates to the carpark were closed until 0800 at which time I was charged M$20 (the same as a car) to park Rosie. Despite the grandeur of El Castillo I wasn’t really taken with the site. Unlike previous sites where you were allowed to climb the pyramids (and get a sense of location).

El Castillo, Chichen Itza

Heading for the beach

‘Cenotes’ can be defined as ‘surface connections to subterranean water bodies’ and the Yucatan has many of them. Some attract cave divers who are slowly starting to map the underwater cave system, others attract locals ad tourists who just want to swim or snorkel. West of Chichen Itza, close to the city of Vallodolid are the ‘X-Keken’ and ‘Samula’ cenotes. As my journey goes on so I find myself saying ‘it looks just like x’ rather than ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before!’ but these cenotes certainly fall into the later category. X-Keken was packed with people when I arrived but I did get lucky across the road at Samula where I had the place almost to myself. What a bizzare place! A shaft of light illuminates tree roots that reach 20m(?) into the water from the ground above.

Cenote Samula, Yucatan

Finally….the beach!

Holger & Anja the German couple I met at the Horizons Unlimited travellers meeting in Australia back in 2008 had recommended this spot on the beach 25km south of Playa del Carmen and so it was that I holed up here for Christmas. I hadn’t even removed my crash helmet when American Ralph called me over to join him and wife ‘Putty’ for a beer. One beer soon became two, became dinner, became three. They couldn’t have been more hospitable and I came to thoroughly enjoy their company over the next week. A few days later Ross and Cathy arrived from Canada in their VW camper and made for some very sociable breakfasts/evenings.  Cathy’s breakfast pancakes were particularly special!

Xpu-Ha beach camp

Xpu-Ha beach

I unfortunately got the shits for the fourth time in Mexico and so didn’t enjoy the beach as much as I should have. I don’t know whether I had four different bugs or whether I never really shook off the first one but it was very unusual for me to be unwell, especially so often. It took me 5 days (including Christmas :() to return to normal, or as Ralph so elequently put it…”Happiness is a solid shit!”

Another tough day for Ralph & Putty 🙂

New Year

I accepted an invitation from Garry Dymond ‘Geezer’s’ daughter Leslie to join her, brother Lloyd and friends in Playa del Carmen for New Year and so left the beach on New Year’s eve and headed up to Leslie’s. She and her house mates cooked a fantastic roast lamb and roast potatoes (not what I was expecting but hey, her dad’s English!) afterwhich we headed into town to see the New Year in. As in the majority of households very little happened on New Years day and I spent most of it in front of the TV (I hadn’t seen one for months).

Hasta Luego Mexico!

Finally though it was time to move on and not just from Leslie’s but from Mexico. Despite spending 11weeks there I felt like I’d seen a little over half of what I’d wanted to. It’s a big country, as diverse in it’s food as it is in it’s countryside. Vibrant, friendly, helpful it’s a shame so many American’s have come to view it like the guy in the video.

For those of you who have been I nave two words – Tacos and Topes!!!

Next up…Central America…

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13 Comments Add Yours

  1. Michael Jones

    Man you are just making me wish I were retired and traveling with you.
    I might not make all of this however because I am just not brave like you are to sleep out that much in the open without firepower or a group…
    I will try to review all of this soon.
    God speed to you.

    Reply
  2. Greg Niesen

    Adam

    Great job with the Mexico chapter. I like the pace you’re going at. The places you’re going will never be seen by your typical tourist. Thanks for the insight.

    Best wishes for a safe / fun trip through Central America.

    Greg

    Reply
  3. Nathan Everson

    Hi Adam.

    I am now one week from departure date headed south into C. and S. America. All of the preparations have been made. The last item that has been frustrating me to the point of giving up is finding reliable information for GPS usage. I know that you ride with a Garmin. Which maps do you download? I have researched SmellyBikers maps but the site seems to be falling into disrepair. I know that there are also free maps available. Can you recommend which are the best maps, and how reliable are they? Lastly, what are your recommendations for finding “bush camping” spots. What to look for, what to avoid, etc. Thank you again for your insight. You are an amazing resource to the unexperienced and an inspiration!

    Reply
    • adamlewis

      Hi Nathan,

      Do a Google search for ‘rutable GPS map (country name)’ and you’ll find maps for Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. I’ve used the ones for the countries I’ve travelled through and they’re all good.
      Since Mexico City I’ve been using maps from the Open Street project and they’ve been excellent – more accurate than the paper map in El Salvador and Honduras!

  4. Mark Hill

    Hi Adam,
    Two instalments in a month, brill.

    Reply
  5. Dave Goodwin

    Hi Adam
    Found your blog through tales from the saddle spent a
    couple of weeks reading from the start. Thanks for a fantastic read and great pics. Good luck for your miles ahead. Dave

    Reply
  6. Belanda Goreng

    Hi Adam,

    sounds like the trip gets better&better!
    Mexico is now way up my travel list………
    Keep up the good work of writing and pic’s.

    big kiss and hug from Holland
    Ilse Maarten Lilou & Kaya

    Reply
  7. Nick Jones

    Who use the word “willy” anymore, really! Except for maybe my sex-ed teacher…..

    And Wrexham’s in Wales num-nuts…I MUST have told you I am Welsh, not English! No more tea for you!

    Reply
  8. Jim

    hey man I just wanted to let you know how thoroughly I enjoyed reading ’bout your adventures, your talented writer and a great photog… keep up the great work and stay safe

    Reply
  9. Tom Wiseman

    Wow! Thanks for the fantastic read and such awesome photographs. It was a pleasure to meet you at Palenque and I have often thought of your journey since then – you are an inspiration. The picture I took of you didn’t come out well but it features in this gallery where you can also find photographs of Palenque in the more favourable later light of the same day! http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewize/sets/72157625771119036/

    I’m interested to hear what you made of Guatemala, I continued on my trip down there and it was a great success, although the wildest part was the transport so I don’t know that you will have experienced that bit!

    Looking forward to the next installment, stay safe out there.

    Tom

    peace

    Reply
    • adamlewis

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m guessing the slight haze at Palenque burnt off then?

      As for Guatemala, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. In fact it was my favourite Central American country. As for the transport I do my best to literally avoid it! I’ll have to pull my finger out and write another chapter but here in Colombia the last thing I want to do is sit in front of my laptop!

      Cheers

      Adam

    • thewize

      Yeah, I also went back to see the mushroom man with very pleasant results! I nearly shit my pants when I met a tarantula back at the lonely campsite that night but I survived.

      hahaha I see you have updated and I plan to read it tomorrow with a student who is a biker. I wonder what you will have made of the Honduran habit of having to overtake on any and every blind corner/summit!

      I read to el salvador so far but scrolled to the last picture so i see your point entirely!

      Happy riding!

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