To Oaxaca

Despite reports to the contrary, my trip ain’t over yet! I’m holed up in Playa del Carmen and have been very lazy with the updating of the blog. Apologies!

I recall cursing into my helmet the day I left Mazatlán, having tarried longer than intended, and now for having to breeze through much of central Mexico.

Salem had mentioned to me that a surf competition was going on in Sayulita, a beach down about 5 hours south of Mazatlán.

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Of course, leaving at nearly 11AM on the day of departure ensured that I would miss the entire competition and arrive around sunset. Which of course is exactly what happened. Upon arrival, I rode around for a few minutes until my mind decided it wasn’t ready to camp again, so I rode another 20 minutes to the tourist town of Puerto Vallarta and checked in to some hotel.

The day had been fairly uneventful, except when I whacked my foot while riding into a road marker.

I didn’t feel much until I took my boot off.

Bruised the heck out of it! Anyway, despite Puerto Vallarta’s party reputation, I stayed in that night as I had quite a ways to go the next morning. Besides, I had just partied an entire week straight.

When I woke the next day, I scarfed down some free toast and jam, hopped on the freeway and headed west. I was not expecting the ride that lay before me.

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What was some fairly brushy scrubland soon turned into lush green pastures as the road carved through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range (the same range that contains the Copper Canyon).

At one point I stopped in a small town called Juchitlan, right outside of Guadalajara, drawn by this brilliantly white church.

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Right out of a spaghetti western.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but every decent sized population center in Mexico that I’ve run across has some kind of colonial style church or cathedral.  And this one was particularly impressive.

Look, another one!

Look, another one!

My final destination was to be a lake town known as Ajijic, just south of Guadalajara.  I had considered staying contacting the doctors I met in Mazatlán, however I knew for sure I’d miss my deadline if I partook in the delights that I’m sure Guadalajara has to offer.  I don’t remember how I found out about Ajijic, I think perhaps some random website, but it seemed as good of a destination as any.  What I know now, of course, is that it has an expat population of something like 50,000 Americans and Canadians, which probably explains why there’s a website about the town, as well as the real estate prices there. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, it was just wholly unexpected.

Right before I rolled into town I spotted a motorcycle rider who was pushing his bike up the highway, on a shoulder the size of a human shoulder.  Pulling over, and with many hand movements and some broken Spanish I learned he had ran out of gas, so I siphoned some out of my tank, and off we rode to the next gas station. He was pretty stoked.

The guy even escorted me a few more miles before peeling off to his home, which was pretty cool, and I headed off to Ajijic.

It’s a big art town, both local and expats, and a big vacation area as well.  I pulled in right at sunset and started scouring for a hotel, but the prices were higher than some places in the US.  Eventually I found the Hotel Italo owned by a Mexican man named Italo, and 300 pesos later I had a place to store my bike and put my head.

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Yep I had my own balcony. Low season I guess.

They just let me park it in the party room. Because I bring the party.

They just let me park it in the party room. Because I bring the party.

I figured I should take some photos and grab some dinner at the lakeside while I still had light.  Here’s the results.

And that was pretty much it for Ajijic.

The real challenge, or so I told myself, lay the next day.

See, all the “bad stuff” you think happens in Mexico? Well, it really only happens in one state, Michoacán. The state is essentially close to martial law right now (or was at the time), with autodefensa groups popping up everywhere as the government sat back and did nothing about the narcos in the area. Of course to be completely fair to Michoacán (and much to the chagrin of my friends in the states of Jalisco and Sinaloa), it’s not completely isolated to that one state, but it is the place you’re most likely to run into trouble.  It’s where another rider went missing a few weeks before my arrival as well, a thought that was on my mind throughout my travels. Sadly he’s still missing.

Luckily, things seem to be getting better, much better.

Anyway, I bring all this up because I was NOT STOPPING IN MICHOACÁN. Nope, no sir, no how.  I had met a nice woman in Baja who had grown up in Michoacán, and she told me how beautiful it was, how nice the people were, etc, and even she warned me to not cross through that state (though not without getting misty eyed).

So, it was to be toll roads the entire way, non-stop until I reached the down of Puebla. This would be the safest route for me, and the most patrolled by the cops as well.

And of course, nothing happened. I’d show you photos but there are no photos to take on toll roads. Well, I did take this video while riding (hi Mom!)

I rode close to 450 miles that day, for about 8 hours, and who knows how much money I spent on toll roads. Probably $100 or more. Pulling into Puebla with 3% left on my phone, I was mentally exhausted and just tired of riding.  I managed to look on advrider.com and find a hotel someone recommended; I believe the phrasing they used was “oh, it’s decent I guess.”

I guess some of us just travel differently, but I was so tired I ponied up the $100 and proceeded to use every single complementary product in the room. Even the shower cap.

900 miles in 3 days!

Carnivál in Mazatlán

 

Armed with a new (to me) brake line and renewed sense of purpose, I pointed my iron steed south towards the coastal city of Mazatlán, home to the world’s (disputed) third largest Carnival celebration.

Before I arrived though, I’d need to ride something like 500 miles in one day, the longest I’d done so far.  And actually, looking at the map now, I have no idea why I took the long route, but at the time it made sense.

The route...err why did I go this way again?

The route…err why did I go this way again?

This was also the first time I took the cuotas, or toll roads, a decision that, while allowing my DR to speed along at 80mph (and still be constantly passed), would cost me about $90 in toll fees.  Oops! I stopped in Durango for some lunch (and to rest my cheeks), before pushing towards the final leg to Mazatlán.

Now, if you’re unaware, there is a road known as Espinazo del Diablo, and it provides the conscientious rider with some of the best motorcycling in the world.  Sadly, it takes between five and six hours to ride, and, what with it being 4PM already, I had no choice but to continue on via cuota, a route that would take a mere two hours.

I pulled into Mazatlán right near sunset.  It’s the second largest city in the state of Sinaloa, and a major tourist attraction as well.  The border town of Villa Union is extremely poor, with people lined up near the checkpoints, trying to sell you water or chili covered food stuffs, but as you enter Mazatlán it becomes much more urban. I should mention (as my Dad mentioned to me many times on the phone), that Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman had been captured just days before my arrival, so I was interested to see what the city would be like following this guys downfall.

With my phone running with only 1% battery left, I managed to find my home for the next 6 days.

The Funky Monkey Hostel, not to be confused with Hostel Funky Monkey in Laos (though they use the website funkymonkeyhostel.com, so yeah, there will be some confusion).

The Funky Monkey Hostel, an awesome hostel in one of the nicest neighorhoods in Mazatlán.  I borrowed this photo from their website.

The Funky Monkey Hostel, an awesome hostel in one of the nicest neighorhoods in Mazatlán. I borrowed this photo from their website.

The Funky Monkey is owned and operated by my (now) good friend, Salem.

The Doctor himself.

The Doctor himself.

Salem is about my age, though much more traveled; for seven years he backpacked around the world, and stayed at many hostels.  Ultimately he came to one conclusion; why should I wait until I’m old to retire? Why not retire now? So the man set out to do just that, touring around to find a decent spot to open his own hostel and live out his dreams.  And well, he’s pretty much accomplished it.

You walk in and feel immediately at home. Everyone is extremely nice, the staff and guests always make you feel included, and there is literally always something going on. It’s a place that feels good to stay and hang out in, a great base of operations for exploring Mazatlán, with a wealth of local knowledge at your disposal.

My first night I was treated to some free beer and some in-hostel partying, the vast majority of the guests planning to go out and see Carnival in it’s full range of motion the following night, a Saturday. This being my first real hostel experience (though I had stayed at others with an ex-girlfriend, we always got private rooms), I didn’t know what to expect but I was surprised by the friendliness and welcoming attitudes of all the other guests. Anyway, it was completely fine by me to stay in my first night, as I was pretty beat after riding some 500 miles that day.

The next day I got up late, walked down a few blocks and grabbed a salad to eat, having not exactly been eating healthy the past few days, as one does when traveling.  Walking back to the hostel, among the gated hedges carved like ducks, I heard a sing song voice call out.

“You wouldn’t happen to be staying at the Funky Monkey Hostel would you?” said the attractive Australian (nope, South African) girl in the passenger seat of the taxi.

“You wouldn’t happen to be asking because I’m a white guy walking around in a Mexican neighborhood would you? It’s right over there.”

And that was how I met Amy.

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Amy has still left me pretty stunned many weeks later as I write this.  The girl has been traveling for over 10 years (!!!), and carries around a little map she updates by hand whenever she goes somewhere new.  I wish I had taken a photo of it, because it’s so cool, with pencil lines indicating ship crossings, and different colored pens for overland and air routes. When I asked her how she could afford all that travel, she looked at me like I had asked her how one breathes air. You just do it of course, and damn the doubting Thomases.  The details of her means are by mostly finding work on yachts and other ships traveling to far away lands, volunteering, and the occasional dive master gig.

I say stunned, because after talking with her a while, and sort of examining my life to this point, it had never occurred to me that traveling that way, no, that living that way was really possible.

I mean, sure, we read about it, in books, on blogs (like this one), but it’s different when you meet and talk to another person who’s actually doing it, who’s Indiana Jonesing it out there in the big world. Conversations like that don’t happen often (at least to me), and when they do, they leave their mark.

Anyway, I digress; suffice to say we got along famously.

That night a bunch of us headed out to experience Carnivál in all its glory.  That Saturday (March 1st) was to be a grand re-enactment of French invasion of Mazatlán through the medium of fireworks.

They were pretty incredible, exploding extremely close to the crowd after having been launched from, what looked like, the ocean itself.

And the people, my god man the people! They were everywhere!

Banda bands were on stages down the entire stretch of the Malecón (the longest in the world) whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

Needless to say, I think I got home around 4AM, happy as hell.

The next day was more of the same; a late start to the day, punctuated by some of the greatest chilequiles I’ve ever eaten in my life, and then a slow crawl into the night for the big event; the parade.

These were so good. Available at a spot called Pura Vida in Mazatlán.

These were so good. Available at a spot called Pura Vida in Mazatlán.

Myself, Amy, this guy named Dane (whom I had coincidentally met before in La Paz, Baja and was/is bicycling down to Brazil for the World Cup), and another gentlemen whose name escapes me from Canada sailing his way along the Mexican coast all headed down to Malecón fairly early with plenty of beers to secure a good viewing point of the parade.

When it started, well, we were pretty disappointed, as beer truck and sponsor truck rolled by one after the other for a solid 20 minutes.  And then, nothing.  We couldn’t believe that so many people would come out just to watch beer trucks, but after about an hour, well, maybe they had?

In the meantime I got my blood pressure checked for 5 pesos. All good!

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Luckily patience paid off, and the real parade started as soon as it got dark.  The floats were huge and brightly lit, and in between troupes of dancers from all around the area twisted and spun down the entire length of the promenade. Sadly my phone ran out of batteries, but I did manage to get some decent snaps of the parade (and Amy still owes me her copies, ahem).

Tired and happy, I once again headed home, though much earlier (and less drunk) than the night before.

The schedule of Carnivál events for Monday the 3rd had a bull fight and some fireworks as the highlight, but my mind kept returning to something I had missed.

Espinazo del Diablo.

I just had to ride it. A road with multiple elevation changes and over 2000 turns, are you kidding me? I’d never forgive myself if I missed out on that road.

I left a note, suited up and headed east.

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It reads, “Dear Hostel Peeps. I’ve gone to crack the Devil’s Spine (Espinoza del Diablo). Should I fail to return at a decent hour, say by tonight (that’s “cerveza trente” in Spanish, free lesson for ya), undoubtedly two fates have befallen me: 1) I’ve met and duly charmed a mountain Mayan princess, and, her beign suitably impressed by my command of the local tongue, she has convinced me to join her in a life of luxury and royalty, and I won’t be back. 2) I’ve careened off the side of a cliff or experienced oblivion by running into a donkey and am dead. Please dig, rifle, and peruse through my belongings and notify my family should the latter have occurred. Also if someone could contact Warner Bros. and secure the movie rights to my story, well, that would be swell.”

So I suited up, and headed back east, riding the magnificent road all the way to small town called El Salto before turning around and taking the cuato back to Mazatlán.  The cuato itself is an amazing road, letting you bomb through 63 tunnels straight through the mountains at over 90 mph, crescendoing by crossing the Baluarte Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in the world.

It’s such a cool route.

I even got that all necessary “crossed the tropics” photo, even though I had crossed them a while back.

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After returning and resting up for a while (and being berated for not having taken Amy with), about five of us headed downtown to see some Banda bands and fireworks.  At the time two American medical students studying in Guadalajara were staying at the hostel, and they had a truck, so we did as they do in Mexico and hitched a ride.

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I think I almost fell out around one turn trying to catch a photo.

 

We posted up outside of the entrance to the party, and enjoyed a few beers, watching the people march into the Malecón.

Salut!

Salut!

That night the Malecón was PACKED. People were everywhere, and large groups would surge forward with 50 people attempting to fit into a space the size of a watermelon.  Apparently the number one Banda band in all of Mexico was playing in the town square. It was absolutely insane.

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Salem wasn’t having any of it, and after losing everyone in the crowd, I also headed back to the hostel, calling it a relatively early night.

Tuesday came, and Amy, a girl named Susie and I decided to see what Mazatlán had to offer besides copious amounts of drinking and partying.

Susie liked to pretend she was a pro with the locals, for the jokes of course.

Susie liked to pretend she was a pro with the locals, for the jokes of course.

So, besides beach activies, Mazatlán has this church.

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Hey look I'm actually in a photo for once.

Hey look I’m actually in a photo for once.

And it has this gazebo.

Oh, neat.

Oh, neat.

And that’s it.

Well we were already down town, so the girls decided to get their hair cut, and I wandered around looking for passenger pegs for my motorcycle, an errand that was ultimately doomed.

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It’s pretty rare to find a Suzuki dealership, most motorcycles down here are the Italika brand or Dinamo, and when they hear Suzuki they just immediately shake their heads.  Because obviously everyone uses different sized pegs and wholes right? Of course not, but it’s difficult to convey that message with my poor Spanish. So, alas, there was going to be no ride for Amy around Mazatlán.

Later that night Salem invited me out once again; it was the closing day of Carnival featuring a second parade, and he was anxious to see at least one float this year, having sat out the parade on Saturday night.

So we took a ride down to his friend James’ house, in front of which sat a “red taxi” full of the elderly.  James was apparently showing them around the Carnival.

James and I in our elderly chariot.  These people got down though, I tell you what.

James and I in our elderly chariot. These people got down though, I tell you what.

Back on the Malecón, Salem, James and I walked around and just looked at everything.  There was a lot to see.

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Even the local authorities got in on the action.

The rest of the night is a blur, but we had a great time. We ended up back at James’ house, drinking some beers and just chatting a while, before retiring back to the hostel. James turned out to be hilarious.

I somehow bought some art work which may or may not still be at the Funky Monkey Hostel, because really, how are you going to carry around paintings on a motorcycle.

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Dane had this to say about my purchase on his blog: “I had a great time and after some serious contemplation have decided I am giving up attending parades for lent. This is a picture of Phil whom I met in La Paz and reconnected with in Mazatlán. Phil decided way after closing time one night that the best addition to a multi-continental motorcycle trip was some decent sized artwork. Phil has given up collecting art for lent.”

Nursing the mother of all hangovers, that Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, was a pretty quiet day. Not much to report.

On Thursday my body pretty much shut down, it must have been some bad fruit I ate because I could not for the life of me get off the toilet.  I basically slept the entire day and night.

I did manage to join everyone for some food at an awesome place called Barracuda’s, afterwhich we headed to the movies to watch the thrilling Oscar blockbuster known as Pompeii for the princely sum of 10 pesos.  Yep, 80 cents to see a movie.

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Friday say Amy taking off for the Baja. She was going to spend two months there with a friend, potentially working at a dive shop but who knows with her.  And do you know where she was staying? Why, the beautiful Cabo Pulmo of course. The universe has its own cosmic sense of humor.

So, I said my goodbyes.

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And Salem said his.

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We all made plans to meet up in Colombia during the month of May. Considering it’s nearly April and I’m just now in the Yucatán, well, we’ll see how that goes.Still, you never know. As Amy told me, “you gotta do what feels right for you and what you feel like doing! people and plans will form around your passion. [sic]“

Right on.

Saturday rolled around, and I had to, HAD TO get the hell out of Mazatlán. I had an incredible time there, and made some friends for life but I had well overstayed by a few days; it was already March 8th and I was due to meet up with some friends from Austin on the 21st.

Salem and I grabbed some final chilequiles at Pura Vida, I hopped on the motorcycle, and with a bit of a heavy heart, off I rode, some 1100 miles separating myself from my next stop, Oaxaca.

No filters on this guy, this is what it looked like.

Finding Brake Lines

So.

The Germans and Chris were headed north to Creel, and I was going to go with them.  After a night in that mountain city, Chris and Agnes would peel off head west to their homeland of San Diego, while the Germans would continue Northeast to Austin (I know, right!?) and eventually Daytona for bike week. I’d ride along and eventually break off just west of Chihuahua, and head south to Parral.

If you remember, at this point, I have no front brakes, and no one in Batopilas could repair them, and they definitely didn’t have any replacements.

The road from Batopilas to Creel is paved, or it will be by the end of this year, guaranteed.  There’s a beginning stretch of 40 km of graded dirt, with a mass of activity from construction machines, but believe you me, it’ll be paved.  I feel conflicted about this as we head north; on the one hand I’m glad I’m one of the few who got to ride the Copper Canyon in it’s ‘primitive’ state, but on the other, I’m sad that these areas will soon see many more snowbirds and RV owners in the near future.

After a breakfast from a neighbor of Juanita’s, consisting of mostly fruits that gave all of us diarrhea, and a brief conversation with the owner that, yes, marijuana was indeed how everyone made their living around here, we headed north.

Being well-rested, everyone was able to tackle the terrain this time round.

40 clicks of this, and dodging construction machines. Awesome!

40 clicks of this, and dodging construction machines. Awesome!

Parts of the road that seemed to be paved would quickly become a bit more treacherous as there were rock slides everywhere.  I’m not sure what the Mexican government plans to do about them, but they’ll probably get tired of repairing brand new roads every few days.

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The biggest one we saw, the picture does not capture the enormity of this rock as you ride by it. The orange dot in the bottom left is a standard safety triangle, undoubtedly placed there to warn travelers that there is a boulder the size of the moon in the middle of the road.

The road hugged the base of the mountain ridges for a few kilometers, and we drove by scores of these rock slides.  We even  crossed a few sketchy bridges made out of wood, but they held up just fine.

Andi made it! But will the others!?

Andi made it across! But will the others!?

An hour in and we started to climb the mountains again, though this time on pavement. Fresh new asphalt was everywhere, accompanied by construction crews marking the dividing lines with string and spray paint.

Look, pavement!

Look, pavement!

The sun climbed higher in the sky, but with the elevation change the temperature began to drop.  Still, it was completely bearable and I had time to take in some gorgeous last views of the Canyon.

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Cresting the mountain (whose name I never learned), a rollicking ride lay ahead, as switchback after switchback accompanied us up and down the mountain ranges, through many a small farming village. At one point it started to drizzle, the road getting slick, which made my motorcycling quite exciting, what with it only having a rear brake. If you’ve never ridden before, it’s exceedingly easy to lock the rear wheel, which is usually not a problem (and often warranted), but it can be quite dangerous on wet roads,  occasionaly resulting in a lowside or (god forbid) highside crash.

I had the skills to pay the bills though, so I trucked along and took it easy, and we eventually stopped at a tiny town called Samachique until everyone caught up.

Standing there on the side of the road, looking at the map, Stefan came over and pointed out that it would be much shorter to just go directly to Hidalgo del Parral now instead of looping north.  It’d be safer too I mused, and after a few minutes of internal debated I decided that I shouldn’t press my luck, and it was time to part ways.

We took some photos, and I bid my new friends adieu.  I’ll never forget our journey together through the Copper Canyon, and even now it remains a highlight of my journey. I’ll see you all in Heidelberg one day soon.

Adios muchachos!

Adios muchachos!

As they roared off on their BMWs, I turned around and went through the small village of Samachic, promptly getting lost.  A local told me that I indeed was supposed to go the way of the Germans, at least a few more miles before turning, so off I went.

No real pictures of the next few hours, but it got cold.  Really, really cold.  I could see the treeline at times while riding in this almost alpine climate but just kept going.

I immediately regretted shipping back my riding liners in La Paz.

I stopped in Guachochi for some gas, and kept riding east.  The vast majority of the houses in this area are log cabins, which was unexpected, and it was smokey most of the time as people burned timber to keep warm. I half expected to see red lumberjack shirts everywhere, but most everyone was smart enough to stay in because it was too cold, so, on I rode.  Finally I started descending through the mountains and the land opened up.

The scenery changed dramatically, as wide open plains and highlands were splattered around, the road cutting through them.  There was not much traffic here, but the views, the views! All that suffering through the cold was more than worth it.

No filters on this guy, this is what it looked like.

No filters on this picture, this is what it looked like.

I don't know why but it reminds me of National Geographic pictures of Africa.

I don’t know why but it reminds me of National Geographic pictures of Africa.

Oh you beauty.

Oh you beauty.

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As I neared Hidalgo del Parral, I passed through a town that looked to a bit forlorn.  Entering there was some kind of deserted military embankment, which raised my wariness level a bit, but I passed right on by and never saw nor heard anything. But of course, they don’t just build these things without reason.

Lookout!

Lookout!

Entering Hidalgo del Parral you’re stopped at a police checkpoint, and as has been the case my entire journey, they just wove me on.  Still, there were many more police here than I had seen before, but I can’t say whether that was due to a higher criminal presence or it simply being the biggest city around.

After gassing up and checking my phone, I broke out into a massive smile; Parral had a Suzuki motorcycle dealership! Yes! This was going to be easier than I thought it was.

And, it wasn’t.

Because the dealership only sold motorcycles with drum brakes, and not disc brakes.  The poor girl working the place, having to deal with my broken Spanish and wild flailings of the arms as I gestured towards the brakes, just shook her head sadly, they didn’t have anything for me.

But, yes, perhaps they might have something at a local independent shop called “Gabriel Moto,” so she took out some paper and drew me a map to the place, and off I went.

Parral is a pretty big town, most famous for it’s silver mine as well as hosting the site where Pancho Villa was assassinated.  As it was 5PM, it took me a while to snake through traffic and into the city, but eventually I found the small shop.

Ah hah!

Ah hah!

And things started to look good.

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Real good.

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For the life of me, I can’t remember this guys name, but he spoke some English and he understood that I needed a new brake line. Initially I thought it was Gabriel, but, as I have so often been on this trip, I was wrong. Anyway, there was an older Suzuki in the back of the shop, but sadly the brake line was too short, and would have certainly broken (or broken part of the caliper) off. He called up his boss, came back, and told me that his boss also had a Suzuki, and he would bring his line for me and we’d see if it would work.

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So, I waited a while, talked with the guys, and watched the employees go about their day.

Hanging out and waiting.

Hanging out and waiting.

The quality of some of these bikes coming in is astounding, I can't believe people ride them.  This one guy came in with a chain that was completely rusted, but they just beat on it a bit, put in a few new links and off he went on tires so bald you could see the cords.  Pretty ballsy!

The quality of some of these bikes coming in is astounding, I can’t believe people ride them. This one guy came in with a chain that was completely rusted, but they just beat on it a bit, put in a few new links and off he went on tires so bald you could see the cords. Pretty ballsy!

I made this video too, though I don’t know why, since, while writing this dispatch, I just realized I explained everything in 30 seconds.

Eventually Gabriel showed up and had a brake line.

Gabriel and I. What an ace for helping me out, I highly recommend his shop!

Gabriel and I. What an ace for helping me out, I highly recommend his shop!

And the line, while a bit short, and a bit old, fit just right! Huzzah, I have front brakes again!

That'll do pig, that'll do.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

Ecstatic, I handed over my 200 pesos (!!!) and shook hands with everyone, before running out and coming back with some Coca-Cola’s for everyone (they didn’t want beer).  It was the least I could do.

I headed in to town, splurged on a decent hotel, and stayed there an extra day, checking out the Pancho Villa museum, doing finances, and writing some blog posts. You know, the unexciting things that must be done that drive this adventure.

Carnival in Mazatlán was coming, and soon there would be only time for festivities!

Copper Canyon: Sanctuary

I woke up at dawn to the droning of millions of honeybees overhead and immediately thought Peter must have been stung to death through the night. Thanking my lucky stars for having taken the time to put up the tent for myself to protect against the murderous insects, I sat up and looked around.  Peter was standing around, admiring the view, and it became clear that wherever the droning was coming from (which seemed to be everywhere), the bees were no where to be seen. The ranges and valleys we had ridden yesterday were painted golden by the morning light.

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I never feel like the glass can adequately capture what some of these scenes look like.

Peter informed me he hadn’t slept the previous night, since he needed to take some pills to do so, and couldn’t do so without some kind of liquid.  I was pretty certain a small sip of beer to swallow the pill wouldn’t cause any issues, despite the warning label said, but he disagreed.  He then asked me to run back down the mountain to where he had previously collapsed the day before, as he had lost his motorcycle gloves and camera. So I packed up camp and shot down the mountain, spotting the gloves, but no camera. The rest of the group had already arrived when I returned, with quite their own story about the previous night.

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Apparently, they only made it about 2 kilometers in the dark, the terrain no better on the road to El Rodeo.  They stopped at a house, and after a few minutes of banging on the door an elderly man peered out suspiciously.  Stefan begged for some water, and the man brought out a small cup of water, for all six of them.  This went on a few more times until he got the picture and brought a large pitcher for them all, before they slept on some concrete.  Temperatures were around 32 degrees the previous night, so it probably wasn’t that enjoyable.

A truck pulls around and Stefan asks the driver if this really is, honestly, the road to Batopilas.  The driver assures him this road will take us there, but it’s going to be a rough ride, as the conditions deteriorate quickly heading up the mountain before they get somewhat better on the descent.

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Finally we begin moving, with Stefan and Andi in front, then me, and then the rest behind me. As I ride up a particularly steep part of the hill, I look back and notice Peter, who was behind me is no longer visible.

I park the motorcycle in the middle of the switchback, and start walking down, thinking he may need some assistance.

His bike is laid down, hanging over the edge of the road, a drop about 50 feet or so, with no sign of Peter.  I rush over and see that miraculously his foot is pinned underneath the motorcycle, which is leaking gas everywhere.

“Peter! Are you ok?”

“Yes, just get the damn bike off of me!”

The hill, where it bends left is where the accident occurred.

The hill, where it bends left is where the accident occurred.

Of course, if I move the bike first, the guy will slip down the cliff face, and probably tumble down the mountain for who knows how long, especially given his lack of sleep.  So I grab his arms and wrench him up, before lifting the bike off his leg.  Chris has come up at this point as well, and we finally get everything sorted, but the mental damage has been done.

Sadly I have no pictures or video of the accident (or maybe it’s better that way?), my GoPro having pretty much died the day before.

Peter’s decided there is no damn way he’s riding anymore, and Agnes explodes as well, exhausted and drained from having to get off and on the 1200 GS every few minutes.  They want to stay put and have us ride ahead, and send a truck back from Batopilas to pick them up.

I’m not sure how feasible this is, but I find that I’ve lost my patience and after making sure every one is ok, ride up to where Stefan, Ira, Andi, and Noah are waiting and explain the situation. It’s their group, they can deal with it.

An apt representation of the conditions of the road and people's temperaments.

An apt representation of the conditions of the road and people’s temperaments.

Stefan heads down to try and talk to Peter and Agnes, while the rest of us hang out for twenty minutes.

Andi just can't believe we've made about 1km of progress in the last 45 minutes.

Andi just can’t believe we’ve made about 1km of progress in the last 45 minutes.

Road conditions.

Road conditions.

Eventually Chris shows up with Agnes walking beside him, and Stefan a few moments later.

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We all have a big pow wow, a come to Jesus moment, a few laughs and press on.  There will be no stopping now until we get to Batopilas; the app says it should about an hour but it will turn out to take more like 4 hours.

The truck driver we met earlier was correct, the road gets worse, but there are some spectacular views as the sun climbs higher throughout the day.

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Look at all that road we get to drive!

There’s one more particularly nasty descent, extremely steep, extremely slippery, and a little frightening to those on the bigger bikes, but we manage to blast through it and keep on keepin’ on.

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We climb one more mountain face, and then are greeted with a view of a spectacular valley. And Batopilas! I can see it! Everyone instantly feels better now that our destination is in sight.

The winding road to Batopilas! Sanctuary!

The winding road to Batopilas! Sanctuary!

Confidence high, I let the throttle rip and ride hard, stopping every once in a while for a few photos.
I mean, c'mon, look at that view.

I mean, c’mon, look at that view.

I'd been seeing these purple flowers on the sides of many roads here in Mexico.

I’d been seeing these purple flowers on the sides of many roads here in Mexico.

I stop at another T-intersection and wait for the rest of the group. Andi and Noah are right behind me, and the rest appear ten minutes later.  We hook a left onto a copper colored road, and descend into the valley, passing by locals riding quads every once in a while.

The copper road to Batopilas.  We probably would have been riding something like this had the initial bridge still be intact.

The copper road to Batopilas. We probably would have been riding something like this had the initial bridge still be intact.

And then, civilization! We’ve made it!

Southern entrance into the town of Batopilas.

Southern entrance into the town of Batopilas.

Much hootin’ and hollerin’ follows as we gleefully ride into town as the triumphant adventurers we are.  The last two days have been difficult, but we persevered and it paid off.

We pull into the town square, directly in front of the police station as locals curiously look at these spacemen arriving from the mountains. I start to get off the motorcycle and, I’m not sure what happens but I lose control and drop it. So many miles through horrific terrain without a single incident, and I crash at zero miles per hour.  As I fall I grab the front brake, it’s tight and then suddenly it’s extremely pliable.

Hmm, that’s not supposed to feel like that.

Andi runs over to help me (I’m alright), and as the bike is put back up I see the front wheel is covered in brake fluid. Closer inspection reveals that I stupidly routed the brake line incorrectly, going on the inside instead of the forks instead of the outside.  So, when the forks compressed, the steel braided brake line would rub on the rotor.

And they compressed a lot in the last 48 hours.

Yeah, you can't buff that out.

Yeah, you can’t buff that out.

Your dejected mechanic, admiring his handiwork.

Your dejected mechanic, admiring his handiwork.

For now though, everyone’s tired and eager to eat, drink, nap, and shower off the Canyon. We check into a small hotel called Hotel Juanitas, which is basically this woman’s yellow house, but with a hotel on the backend.  She has a tiny ramp you can use to wheel your motorcycle through, passing the living room with the TV on the right hand side into a courtyard.

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Entrance.

Entrance.

After washing up, I visited the two local mechanics in town, but no one had anything to help with my missing brake line issue.  At least the rear brakes still worked, and they’d just have to get me through the next few miles until I could reach some major time.

The rest of the day was spent recharging batteries, resting and eating, before everyone crashed early, ready to head to Creel in the morning.

Town bench.

Town bench.

Gazebo in the town square.

Gazebo in the town square.

 

Eating a well deserved meal.

Waiting for a well deserved meal.

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Copper Canyon: Ground Up And Well Done

Outside the mine, we were greeted by the Rio Fuerte. At first glance, the water seemed shallow enough to ride through, but as we strode in to gauge the depth (as one does), we realized that would never work.  Cold water rushed up to my knees and into my waterproof boots, and the current was strong enough to have to grab on to rocks to maintain balance in certain areas.

Stefan walking the river, as a truck with luggage and passengers waits to cross.

Stefan walking the river, as a truck with luggage and passengers waits to cross.

As Stefan and I retreated to the shore, the mining security guard gunned his engine and plowed into the river, and we watched as the rear-end of truck began to shift to the right, being pulled by the current. This was going to be trickier than we had first thought. This was going to be an actual river crossing, not simply blasting through a puddle or small stream.  Stefan walked upstream to see if there was another, more shallow crossing, but there was none. So, we would need to push the motorcycles through, with at least three people on each machine to fight the force of the river.

Stefan’s bike was first. He fired up the engine and we began to push the bike into the river.  A few feet in and the engine died, and as Andi and I held the bike steady Stefan sparked it into life once more.  A few more feet, and much deeper, and the engine died again. Not good.  We were certain the engine was waterlocked, and Stefan, cursing and barking orders, steered and pushed while Andi and I heaved the bike onto the opposite shore. To our great relief the engine sputtered to life; no one was relishing the thought of having to do extensive repairs out there.

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Stefan’s and Andi’s motorcycles, safe and sound.

The rest of the bikes went much easier; we removed the panniers to lighten the load, put them in neutral and simply brute forced our way through the river. My DR650, being the lightest, was easily pushed through the river, while the GS1200 was an absolute bear.

The whole process took a little over an hour, though it wasn’t without some mishaps.

Stefan examines his soaking wallet, containing his TVIPs, titles, and other documents the federales demand you have on you at all times.

Stefan examines his soaking wallet, containing his TVIPs, titles, and other documents the federales demand you have on you at all times.

With daylight slipping away, we bid adieu to our security escort and continued on our way.  We had zero maps of the area, and my app showed no roads either, but Chris had spoken with the guard and he assured us that going left at the fork would get us to Batopilas, eventually. We were in good spirits, a river had been forged, and our destination lay just over the mountain.  I passed out some more water from my bottle, and we briefly considered refilling the rest of the bottles from the river, but decided that drinking what was undoubtedly mining runoff would probably be more trouble than the hydration was worth.

Chris and Agnes posing after getting the BMW 1200 GS across.

Chris and Agnes posing after getting the BMW 1200 GS across.

Geared up, we continued on our path, riding through some deep sand and whoops, eventually coming to the fork.  Was it right? Was it left? We were a little confused, but Chris was certain that left was correct, so on we rode.  Dehydration was starting to set in and affect our judgement, but we had to press on regardless, no one wanted to spend the night on the mountain. Well, I didn’t mind the thought, seeing as I had camping gear, but I was the only one.

The setting sun treated us to some of the most incredible panoramic scenes I’ve ever seen as we crested the top of another mountain, and descended farther into the Copper Canyon.

The sun sets in the Copper Canyon.

The sun sets in the Copper Canyon.

I could have taken pictures for an hour, but we were running out of daylight, and no one wanted to try and ride these mountainous roads at night.

I could have taken pictures for an hour, but we were running out of daylight, and no one wanted to try and ride these mountain roads at night.

They call it the Copper Canyon because of it's copper and green color. What, did you expect some mystical explanation?

They call it the Copper Canyon because of it’s copper and green color. What, did you expect some mystical explanation?

The road into the valley made for some extremely hairy riding; deep sand was everywhere, just waiting to attack the poor fool who grabbed too much front brake and kick him over the side of the mountain.  Further, extremely steep switchbacks met you every few hundred yards, requiring constant vigilance.  Any sort of lack of concentration, or coming in too hot, and oops, nice to have known you.

The mountain descent. Check out those switchbacks!

The mountain descent. Check out those switchbacks!

It was, without a doubt, some of the most fun I’ve ever had on this Earth.

In the valley, we tore through a river bed, and eventually ended up at a small town.  Stefan asked for directions and the indigenous natives confirmed that, yes, this was indeed a road to Batopilas.  Whether or not it was the shortest road, we’ll never know. Maybe we should have turned right at the earlier intersection? Either way, they didn’t have any treated water for us. I remember now that, at that time, we were positive that Batopilas was immediately over this next ridge.  I mean, it had to be right?

And then the wheels fell off.

The terrain we encountered next is the worst I’ve ever ridden. Being on the lightest and fastest bike, I had ridden much farther ahead than the others. Slippery rocks were everywhere, and deep gouges and ruts in the road made choosing ideal lines nearly impossible. At some point I just had to twist the throttle and hold on, hoping that the bike would carry me over whatever came next and keep me on the path. I remembered back to my times in Big Bend, and what another rider had told me one night in a bar that has stuck with me since.

“Confidence and momentum. It’s all you need to get through anything.”

So on I rode.

Couple the bad road conditions with  faltering sunlight and (as I soon found out) a headlight that only worked 8% of the time (due to some loose wiring), and you’ve got yourself a bonafide terrifying adventure.

I had no idea how the others were managing, but there was really no where safe to stop and wait for everyone, so on and on I climbed up and over the mountain, finally coming to a level area and a T-intersection with another dirt road.

So I waited.

I waited a long while.

Stefan and Ira eventually showed up, and we waited a bit longer, and then Andi and Noah showed up.

Peter, Chris and Agnes were no where to be seen and after 20 minutes, with it almost being dark, we started shouting down into the valley to see if they were alright, and eventually heard Chris again.

“KAPUT!”

Which means broken, in Germany. I looked at Stefan and knew what he was thinking.

Fuck.

No water, no light, and limited tools would make any sort of repairs damn near impossible.

We needed more information, so Stefan and I hopped on our motorcycles and rode back down the mountain. He was ahead of me, which was fine as my intermittent headlight and the growing darkness increased the pucker factor of the downhill ride. I could at least see where the cliff faces were (or had been) from his headlight. We finally came  upon the three missing riders sitting in the middle of a switchback turn.

Turns out, Chris meant they were kaput; the motorcycles were fine. the three were completely wiped out, and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ride anymore. Emotionally and physically drained. Peter had even passed out standing after crashing for the second or third time. A long and grueling ride, probably severe dehydration, and in Peter’s case being pre-diabetic (news to me), had taken their toll. We couldn’t have half the group stay down there, and we certainly couldn’t ask the others to ride back down, so it was decided that Peter and Agnes would walk up the hill to the plateau we had found, probably a kilometer or so, and Stefan would ride Peter’s motorcycle up again.  Chris, at first adamant against riding more, eventually caved and powered up the hill on the big GS to the meeting point.

When we were finally all together again (and Stefan had returned on Peter’s bike), I whipped out my phone and looked at my mapping app; excellent! The T-intersection where we were hanging out  was on the map, and it looked like Batopilas was only 20 kilometers away.  The app said it would take an hour, so we debated on our next move. What the apps (and maps, for that matter) don’t tell you is how long it takes to ride 20km in horrible conditions with a well-worn group of riders who are dropping like flies.  A smaller town named El Rodeo was only 6 km away, and with the need for water rising by the minute, Stefan decided that he’d ride down that way with the rest of the group, as Ira’s condition demanded she have water.

There was no way Peter was going to be able to ride, so I volunteered to stay at the intersection and camp out with him over the night.  He was keen on sleeping outdoors “like a real cowboy.” Having camped out plenty in the Baja, I was content with setting up my tent and air mattress for comfort while he would just sleep on a blanket. The others said that, if they found water they’d ride back and give us some, but if they weren’t back in an hour or two to not worry about.

We watched the rest of the group ride away into the night. After setting up camp, we laid on the ground looking at the stars, and talked about the important things in life, as one does when often faced with hardships; life, love, and loss.

Copper Canyon: Into The Maw of the Beast

Note: I don’t have many pictures of this time period, and all the video is contained below. Scroll down to watch it if you can’t or don’t read.

Up to this point we’ve been relying  heavily on my Nexus 5 phone and the Skobbler app.  I highly recommend it for your offline mapping needs.

Stefan has some handwritten notes with distances as well, which have worked out as well, to my surprise.  Despite my reliance on technology, there must be something to these tried and true old ways, and I stash that knowledge away to be used at some future date.

Either way, he asks me to accompany him back to the old man who sold us all the Coke’s and see if we can find a way around.  Walking across the road, onto a porch shading the house from the beating sun, the smell of fresh blood wafts through the air as we’re greeted by a freshly quartered and carved cow, pieces hanging from the rafter and dripping into the dirt beneath. The old man stands by the bright Coke machine and mentions that there is a mining road we can potentially take, but you need a permit. He and Stefan speak in Spanish (Stefan speaks pretty good Spanish, among other languages), and I attempt to find it on my maps, but it doesn’t look like anyone has gone that way yet. Or they never reported it back to the OSM project, which Skobbler relies on. We thank the man and head back to rejoin the others.

So, we have three choices:

  1. We can go see the missing bridge ourselves, and potentially investigate a side road that seems to go a bit farther I have found on the maps, and hope to find a way across.
  2. We rely on Coke mans intel and ride the mining road.  He’s told us it’s about 12 km north, and then we’ll see an iron arrow pointing towards the mine.
  3. We turn around and hopefully find another way through the Copper Canyon.


The bridge.

Well, I can tell you that right away we knew the third option was right out, and how dare you even mention it as we’ll lose a few days figuring out and, more importantly, we’re god damn adventurers.

No, we decide to take the mining road. Worst case scenario, we can come back and see how the bridge looks, as well all have plenty of gas and there is sufficient daylight still.

Chris and Agnes finally show up, and, after a bit of an argument with Stefan about the groups riding speed, clarification of our current situation, and some Coke (so much Coke during this time, we would desperately wish for some later on), are on board as well.

A grader rounds the corner, Stefan asks him about the bridge (yes, it’s out) and the mining road (he’s not sure), and we mount up and ride on through the dusty road.

The terrain is much more difficult here, and the road climbs far higher than any other we’ve traversed to this point. Onwards and upwards we go, occasionally glancing at each other wondering how much longer this road continues on, until, finally, we reach a gate.

With armed guards.

The mining road certainly exists, and it leads straight to an active gold and silver mine. We unpack as Stefan and Chris (who also speaks a ton of Spanish, having done a similar trip like mine many years ago) ask about passing through the mine, explain that bridge is out, and, no señor, we’re very sorry but we don’t have enough gas to turn around and go back, we promise .

I notice another guard in a watch tower, high above the cliff face above us and the gate peering down at us.  It’s a great tactical position.

The guards radio down to El Jefe, and we wait.  I can only imagine what was going on through their minds, when four motorcycles and eight brightly dressed spacemen appeared at their gates, gibbering in foreign tongues.

We wait a while. I mention to Stefan (in German, apparently Mexicans love Alemania) that we’ll probably have to bribe these guys.

And then, they let us in the gate! We’re only allowed in the guard area, but, having paid nothing yet and no holes in our bodies, things are looking up.  We sit in the shade and wait a while, and even use the bathroom facilities. Sadly there is no water to drink, but I give a little of what I have left to the group, confident we can ask the mine owners for some when they let us proceed.

If they let us proceed, the paranoid part of my brain reminds my conscience.

Anyway, after what is probably about an hour, a truck with emergency lights comes up through the other gate, the guards come over and tell us we can proceed. I turn on the GoPro, and we drive through the mine, escorted by a truck in frond of and behind our group.

We’re ecstatic! We made it! Through a damn gold and silver mine! How many other people have driven this road before? Has anyone? Boastful Me doesn’t think so, and I’m grinning ear to ear as I wait at the exit for Chris and Agnes, to make sure they get through before the guards close the gate, until they wave me off.

I ride about a kilometer later and see the rest of the group.

And the river.

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Copper Canyon: Baby Steps

I should take some time to introduce the other members of our group that I met on the ferry, before telling you of the adventures we had in Copper Canyon.

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First up is Stefan Knopf and his wife Ira, both from Heidelberg.  Stefan used to lead motorcycle tours in Mexico for many years, and is pretty much known worldwide as the guy to contact when shipping a motorcycle from/to anywhere to/from Europe, through his company Knopf tours. He was leading the group and had the route planned, hotels booked, etc. Ira rode passenger, and is extremely pleasant.  She suffers from some type of asthma, so one of Stefan’s panniers is full of a specialized machine to cure attacks, making our long ride (and their many other long rides) all the more impressive.

Andi & Noah

Andi & Noah

Andi, the guy I met the night before on the ferry, is a plumber in Heidelberg and a motorcycle aficionado as well. Actually, he’s Stefan’s plumber, and Stefan invited him out on this trip, as payment for some work back in Germany (I’m assuming.) That’s pretty awesome of Stefan if you ask me.  Andi would ride the whole way with a young kid named Noah.  Noah was a straight badass, because, well he’s so young but he hung with all of us through some really hard days. I initially thought he was Andi’s son, however I later learned they just have some kind of good father-son relationship from a previous relationship? Not that it’s important to this story.

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Next up is Peter, a plumber from Heidelberg.  Yep, same deal as Andi.  Peter and I would get to know each other very well as the day proceeded, as you’ll soon find out.

Chris & Agnes

Chris & Agnes

Rounding out the group were Chris and his partner Agnes.  Chris is from San Diego and has been long time friends with Stefan, and he rode a pretty new and very nicely kitted out 1200GS, the biggest of all the bikes in the group. I believe he does some kind of online training of teachers.

And of course, me.

So the next morning, we wake up to find our hotel has provided breakfast for everyone.  Stefan picks up my tab, payment for use of the hotel room the previous night, and while delicious, it does delay us a bit.  The Mexican way is one of bringing out multiple dishes at different times, something none of us is really used to yet, so we don’t leave Choix until a bit later.  All packed up with my 2L of water and we’re on the road, jiving to conquer the Copper Canyon by 9:30AM.

We head out, and immediately get lost.  Stefan is leading however we’ve missed the turn onto the dirt road, and it’s another 20 km until he pulls over and asks someone, and I consult my GPS. Yep, we passed it. So, we turn around, find the entrance, and hit pay dirt: no more asphalt!

DCIM100GOPRO

Weaving through small puebla’s (and dodging donkeys) the motorcycles climb higher through the mountains, with road conditions remaining generally the same: dirty.

It quickly becomes clear that I’m riding the superior machine for these conditions; the BMWs are fairly heavy and apt to get caught in smaller ruts, while the much lighter weight of my DR650 lets me rip open the throttle to charge up the hills and stay nimble in the sand.  The big 1200GS particularly has some problems, laden down with two humans and all the gear, and Chris and Agnes have to continually stop so Agnes can walk a bit as Chris maneuvers the motorcycle through deep sand. After about an hour we stop for a break and some photos.

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Break time!

"Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what's next?"

“Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what’s next?”

It’s a little after 11AM, and my phone says we still have about 7 hours of riding left. But we’re making good time, so we hop back on our bikes and continue on, and I encounter my first stream! Excitedly I gun it across the water after watching Stefan’s line and then turn around and do it again so he can get a photo of me, as we wait for Chris and Agnes to catch up and cross the stream.

TEMPORARY INSERT UNTIL STEFAN SENDS ME THE PHOTO. FOR RIGHT NOW, JUST IMAGINE HOW DASHING AND AMAZING I LOOK.

We stop again about an hour later.  I’m itching to go a bit faster though, so I pull Stefan aside and ask if he minds if I ride ahead, still a bit unsure of the groups dynamics since I did only just meet these people the day before. He’s totally fine with it so I mention that I’ll stop again in about an hour or so and wait for everyone to catch up.

Damn fine roads son.

Damn fine roads son.

I snap another picture, rip open the throttle and barrel down the two track road, a massive grin on my face.  The DR is incredible responsive, and I quickly grow more confident with the tail end sliding around curves as we tear down mountains, through valleys, and back up other mountains.  No guard rails, at times sheer cliff faces, and just pure enjoyment.

Beats working!

Beats working!

Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn't rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I'm still carrying that dust around on my bike.

Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn’t rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I’m still carrying that dust around on my bike.

I stop a few times throughout the ride to take photos and find Peter, the oldest rider of the group never too far behind me.  At one point, I lose my phone in the dust and sand, and Peter comes up behind me. I motion for him to stop, fearing he’ll run it over, and sentencing the rest of my journey to be music-less.  A few minutes search and I find it lying in the middle of the road, well hidden. Close call, that’s for sure. We head out again, and pretty soon we find a decent pace riding together, only stopping later when Peter feels a bit guilty for our quickness as we spot some river, whose name escapes me. We pull over and wait for the others, who soon arrive, with the big 1200GS many minutes later.

As we feel the day go by, we’re all a bit keen to pick up the pace, wanting to arrive before dark, so Stefan, as German as he can, tells us all not to stop again until we hit the bridge, after a town called La Mision. Peter has been wanting to stop at the next Coca-Cola sign (and mentions he lost his water bottle somewhere), and with the group getting thirsty, we press on.  I glance down as I ride and am glad I filled a two liter bottle of water before I left. Just in case of course.

I'm guessing it's called La Mision because of this mission.  Just a hunch though.

I’m guessing it’s called La Mision because of this mission. Just a hunch though.

Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.

Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.

Off we go then, here’s the video.

VIDEO OF RIDING TO THE BRIDGE. USE YOUR IMAGINATION BANDWIDTH IS LIMITED DOWN HERE.

What might not be clear is that, as I arrived at the bridge, with Peter well in front of me, three gun shots rang out somewhere down the valley.  The deal was to stop at the bridge, so I get off and wait, and Andi and Noah appear soon after.  They too heard the shots.

Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.

Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.

We wait a while and eventually Stefan and Ira show up, and they tell us they were stopped by the military.

“Yeah they just came running out of the woods yelling at us, asking us where we were going and how many of us there were.”

Peter shows back up, having seen zero Coca-Cola signs across the bridge, and with everyone thirsty  we decide to regroup in the town and search for drinks. Soon after I arrive I spot “the Army.” It looks to me like one guy in uniform with a gun and two locals in plain clothes, though perhaps the others have gone back to their posts? The uniformed man starts to get a bit agitated and begins yelling at and waving us off, so we make a quick decision to GTFO and look for some drinks after the bridge in the next Puebla.

View from the bridge. Yep, it's water.

View from the bridge. Yep, it’s water.

We cross over, and stop on the other side, and wait for Chris and Agnes, who still haven’t shown up yet at this point.

And wait.

Stefan spots a refrigerator and goes to speak to a local about the route to Batopilas, and hopefully grab some beverages. He comes back dejectedly with cans of Coke, and no water; apparently the entire fridge is full of Coke products. Impressive.

Worse, the remaining bridge between us and Batopilas had been washed away, and there is no way to get there; the water is too deep and swift to ford. We certainly won’t reach the town by nightfall.

I take a sip of Coke, look back, past  the bridge to where we spotted the military (or bandits). It’s the only way back.

I give a little bit of my water to Ira, as she needs to stay hydrated.

We’re stuck.

La Paz, A Ferry Ride, and Choix

I headed north towards La Paz (again). The road starts out as pure sand, then becomes paved with massive potholes, and shortly thereafter is pleasantly paved, the entire ride taking a mere 3 hours give or take that quickly went by as I gorged on RadioLab podcasts as I often do on long rides.

La Paz is the capital city of Baja Sur, and is a popular tourist spot for Mexicans and gringos as well.  It boasts an impressively long malecon along the sea of Cortez, with statues dotting the entire length on one side, and restaurants bars and shops on the other.  Most people come here for beach activities, and there is some impressive diving and snorkeling on Isla Espíritu Santo.

I planned to stay in La Paz for a day or two to catch up on writing some of these blog posts, which you all surely have already read. On the way in to my hotel I spotted a fellow traveler, though less mechanized.

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I don’t recall who recommended the hotel to me, but after some difficulty finding the place I arrived at Hotel Yeneka, oftentimes more museum than hotel.  Directly outside I spotted Rob, another adventure rider.

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He and his buddy where headed on the ferry to Mazatlán and then Durango in about an hour, so sadly we didn’t have a lot of time to chat.

Adios hombres.

Adios hombres.

I checked in and was given the Erotico room, watched over by Dr. Sexoloco.

Charming and hilarious, to say the least. I mentioned the Hotel Yeneka is more art museum than hotel, and there are collections of just…stuff…everywhere you walk around.  Lounging in the courtyard can prove difficult as your eye always catches something regardless of where you look. Everything here has been collected over the last 60 years.

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I met some other travelers as well; here is Alan and his son Peter.  Alan is pushing 90 years old, but still traveling strong!

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Anyway. I spent the next few days updating this blog, shipping some things back the U.S. and generally just hanging out. I hit up this gringo bar called “The Shack” a few times, as it was owned by the same guy who used to own Emo’s back in Austin.  Pretty wild!

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There also I met Cameo and Kristof, a lovely couple from Canada.  From what I gathered, in the summertime Kristof and Cameo are the harbor masters for an island up north there, and leave every winter to travel south in their steel-hulled boat the “Slade Green.” We shared some beers and stories for about two nights, though the funniest part I recall is when Kristoff said “You know you’re not going home with her, right Tex?”

Sir! I have morals!

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Great people, I hope to run into them again one day!

Eventually though, it was time to pack up and hit the mainland.

The main ferry company is Baja Ferries, however their ferry to Mazatlán was out of order, it was supposed to be back running the day I left but they pushed it to the end of March.  There was another service running to Topolobampo, as well as a commercial ferry to Mazatlán, but I didn’t have too many details about it.

Procuring a ticket was easy enough, and I opted for the cabin as well since it turned out it would leave at 2AM, with an 8 hour journey to Topolobampo. Total cost was $190.06. Not cheap, but not too bad either.

As instructed by the pretty cashier I took the road up to Pichilingue around 10 PM (the ferry supposed to leave around 2AM), and proceeded to soil myself (figuratively) as my headlight began to flicker off. Something was broken, and I prayed I wouldn’t hit some goat in the middle of the night on my way to the ferry. Luckily, leaving my highbeams on caused no problems and I had light the entire way.

Upon arrival I was promptly laughed at by the aduana guards, telling me that if I really wanted to wait around I could, but it’d be better to come back around 1:30AM to board the ferry.

So, back to town it was, where I met up again with Cameo and Kristoff at the Shack, before turning around a few hours later to go back to the ferry.

Once at the terminal, you proceed through the aduana (customs) entrance.  They instruct you to step off the motorcycle, walk over to a large button and press it.  A small light is above the giant red button; if it turns green you’re free to go, if it turns red, time to unpack all your stuff and expose it for a thorough search.  It was bizarre.

My light came up green so I off I went to wait at the terminal.

Pulling up, I spotted a group of BMW bikes.

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I parked, dismounted, made sure my gear was secure and headed in to wait for 30 minutes until the ferry arrived.

Silly me, I forgot we were on Mexican time! The wait would turn into 3 hours, with everyone finally boarding at 5AM in the morning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the terminal I started chatting with what turned out to be one of the BMW riders, a guy around my age named Andi.  He was German, as were most of his compatriots, and they were headed to the Copper Canyon. Immediately I was intrigued; this was a place I had wanted to ride, but definitely not alone, so I asked if I could ride with and he graciously acquiesced.

Eventually, the ferry arrived, we boarded our motorcycles, and proceeded to wait in a line while every truck went before us.

Waiting in line.

Waiting in line.

Just waiting.

Waiting selfie.

There was some interesting cargo.

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And some truckers clearly took pride in their vehicles as well.

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Still, we waited.

Gratuitous BMW shot.

Gratuitous BMW shot.

Finally, we were waved on board.

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When boarding, you ride up a ramp and are then directed to strap down your bike somewhere.  I had no straps alas, which the Germans thought was foolish and funny. Luckily I found a chain I could use, and, this being a newer ship with gyroscopic stabilizers I wasn’t too worried about the bike falling over.

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Travel engineering at its finest.

 

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Unchain my heart.

 

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Everything locked down!

The bikes secured, we headed upstairs.  If you don’t get a cabin, you get to sleep in a chair.

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I found my cabin, and lo and behold, I had four bunk beds.  Not seeing much of the point to use this whole room to myself, I invited my new friends to use some of the beds, and they eagerly accepted. So we all crammed in a room and got a few hours of sleep.  Breakfast was served at 8AM, simple fare of eggs and ham with a side of beans (a Mexican standard), and a few beers for some truckers from what I could see. A bit early eh boys?

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Upstairs, rolling into port.

Packing up, we unloaded our bikes, headed to the parking lot and geared up for a short trip to Choix.

The landscape and the people change immediately; the first thing I noticed was the vast amount of animals on the side of the road compared to Baja.  Some were tied up, some were not, a stark reminder that hey, maybe it’s not a great idea to ride at night if you can help it.  Poverty seems to be a bit more present as well.

We rode east, passing through huge trees, the mountains looming as we got closer to Choix. I think we arrived around 4PM, I can’t remember anymore, but I do recall it taking us a while to find the hotel that Stefan, one of the other German riders, had booked for everyone. Mostly because it was unlabeled, oops.

We did manage to find it though, and while the upstairs was under a remodel it was pleasantly comfortable and very secure.

The hotel.

The hotel.

Bikes resting in the courtyard.

Bikes resting in the courtyard.

That evening we all piled into the back of the owners pickup truck and headed to a local chicken place, the only thing open on a Sunday night.

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We came back and found a nice table set up, and proceeded to enjoy a great meal.

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Chicken, salad, and some noodles.

Chicken, salad, and some noodles.

The owner even came out and gave us some tequila from his local stash.  Muy delicioso.

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Needing some much needed rest, we all crashed pretty early, eager to tackle the Copper Canyon and reach Batopilas in the morning.

 

 

 

 

Baja Paradise: Los Frailes

I’m not sure where or when I first heard about Los Frailes, most probably some random travel blog while researching this trip, reducing whatever information I gleaned to some red marker on my Google map. Regardless, my beach quotient at this time was precariously low. I know, you’re thinking, “but Phil, haven’t you been at the beach this entire time?” Absolutely not sir, I’d respond, merely visiting a beach is not the same as enjoying oneself at the edge of an ocean. If it were, the thousands of images of pristine coastlines and beaches on Flickr would be enough for any would-be traveler.

There are two ways to get to Los Frailes (or Cabo Pulmo, the tiny town 4 miles away) from Cabo San Lucas; one involves around two hours of deep sand riding up and around the East Cape, while the other is riding the MEX1 highway north and looping around back south.

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The road inches its away along the coastline for a good while, with multiple sandy switchbacks greeting you at every turn, and of course there are no guard rails.  A few shrines greet you at the tops of some of the hills, and peering down as you ride by, it’s difficult not to imagine the last moments of whichever poor soul it was that miscalculated and drove off the cliff. For the most part, my ride was fairly uneventful.  At one point the wind picked up and I lost my brilliant AAA map of Baja.  I turned around and searched for a while, eventually giving up; I was near the end of the Baja portion of this journey as it was, and who needs maps anyway?

Another time, I spotted my first burro, pacing up the road.  He stopped for a quick picture before bounding away through the dunes.

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About an hour later, I was in Los Frailes. It’s pretty remote, save for the large contingent of snowbirds and their RVs, all from Canada of course. I picked a spot near the end of the beach and set up camp under a palapa, watching the sun set and a few yachts pull in to dock for the night.

Oh you know, just a pretty standard view.

Oh you know, just a pretty standard view.

Then I met my neighbor, Bernie.

The man himself, Mr. Bernie.

The man himself, Mr. Bernie.

Bernie is originally from Köln, but has lived in Canada for the last 31 years and, as he explains it, “I spent 1 winter in Canada and the last 30 here in Los Frailes.” This guy is a straight character, and an establishment himself in Los Frailes; everyone knows him and he regularly has visitors. He chuckled as he told me some young couple a few years ago had asked if he was “the Uncle Bernie we read about” on the internet. In the summers he hauls and sells organic fruits and vegetables in a 10-ton truck for a few months, saving up some money. Then he travels south every year to Los Frailes for 6 months, in his custom Mercedes MB100D camper van, though (as he latertold me), he’ll be selling it soon for a VW since everyone gets hung up on the Benz logo.

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Here’s a video of the interior as well; hot water, shower and toilet, what more can you ask for?

After talking for a while, I had to ask the man (in a very Office Space-esque manner):

What exactly is it that you do all day here?

He thought this was hilarious.

What do I do? What do you mean what do I do? I wake up, I catch some fish, I cook and eat the fish. Maybe I go kayaking or snorkeling later.  I have some lunch, maybe do some reading or more kayaking in the afternoon, and ja, before you know it the sun is setting. And we have some beers like we are doing now and then time for bed.

It didn’t sound like too much to me at the time.

We were then joined by Bernie’s friend Kai, who also lives in Canada, but in the Yukon.  According to him, it’s a very German place, reminding a lot of them of the great outdoors and the Black Forest and what not.  Dude has a seaplane he uses to get to his home and to town when in Canada. I didn’t catch what Kai did for a living, but one evening I showed him my Olympus, and we talked cameras a bit; it was clear he used to be a photographer, and had a bit of hostility for the digital age and the ensuing era of would-be professional shutterbugs.

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Kai had originally planned to travel around all of the Baja, but once having found Los Frailes, had remained there for the better part of two months, and had already severely delayed his return home. He’d fallen into a very regular routine of fishing, kayaking, and enjoying the beach life.

And pretty soon I did as well.

My first day I was lost and unsure of what to do with myself, spending the morning eating a breakfast of tuna fish from a can and peanut butter and then looking through my belonging, feeling a bit off in these surroundings.  I went swimming, borrowed Bernie’s ancient and leaky snorkeling gear (but it worked just fine) to explore a cove, and finished up a book on my Kindle.

Later in the day I hopped on the bike and headed to the town of Cabo Pulmo to grab some supplies and possibly arrange some scuba diving. Cabo Pulmo is four miles north of Los Frailes, and has three dive shops and three or four restaurants, I could never be quite sure, as I only ever ate at one, La Palapa.

They have the greatest fish tacos I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’m deliciously serious.

I booked a dive for the next morning, at $100 for two tanks and rental equipment included, which is a pretty good deal, grabbed some food and a few beers and headed back to the beach.

 

And so bright and early , I woke up, headed out to Cabo Pulmo and dove throughout the day.  Cabo Pulmo is a national marine park, and the oldest of only three coral reefs on the west coast of North America. So you’ll believe me when I tell you that the diving is spectacular.  The diversity is unbelievable, the sites are extremely easy and short to reach by panga, and the visibility is great, though according to my friend David, better in November.

This is David and his girlfriend Maryse.

David and Maryse

David and Maryse

I met David on my first day of diving. He showed up wearing a drysuit, a Hogarthian rig, and a Shearwater Petrel dive computer. He’s a serious diver, and runs a diving travel agency called Dazzle Dive. Yep, a diving travel agency, pretty perfect job if you ask me. We shared some beers after the dive, and decided to dive again the next day, but at the Cabo Pulmo Watersports dive shop this time.

So, yeah, this is how my paradise started, a near perfect Groundhog’s Day. I’d wake up, go swimming, eat some breakfast, ride up to Cabo Pulmo and go diving for a few hours, head back to camp in the afternoon and putz around for a bit, and then join Bernie and Kai for some conversation and beers in the evening. This went on for days, perfect days of sun and sea, early evenings and sleeping while listening to the whales breach the water, sounding like cannons going off as the plummeted back into the ocean.

It was perfect. It is perfect.

I’ll be back for sure.

A few random things did happen that I should mention.

I lost my camera in the ocean and found it again.

Here’s a compilation of all my dive videos as well.

Here are many of the sunsets I was able to capture.

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So you’ll believe me when I tell you it was difficult to leave.

But I had to.

Whatever this trip is about, and I’m not sure yet what that is, there’s more to see and do outside of Baja.

My last night, the moon rose blood red from the ocean, an incredible image that will be etched in my mind for ever. Sadly, it proved near impossible to capture correctly with my camera gear.

The bloodmoon god rises again from the ocean, thirsting for souls. Or something less ominous. The reds were incredible!

Yeah, that’s the moon guys. I couldn’t effectively catch the reds.

I shared some whiskey with Bernie and Kai, and we talked at length about travel, life choices, and women.

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The next morning I left at sunrise.  Bernie had already gone fishing before the sun rose.

It was off to La Paz to catch a ferry. The mainland awaited.

 

Overland adventures.