I’ve been offered a lucrative opportunity in Portland for a few months, which I’m seriously considering taking. This would let me refill my coffers, so to speak, allowing me to travel even further following this contract. It’s kind of a no-brainer to be completely honest.
My issue of course is what to do with the motorcycle, as I fully intend on completing the trip. And yes, I do realize this is the opportune time to head into South America, but Lady Opportunity is banging down my door.
So my choices are:
* Leave the motorcycle in Playa del Carmen. I’d store it at a friends house (drained this time, heh), and fly back later on to retrieve it. The problem is that it is currently on an (expired) temporary vehicle import visa (TVIP), so I’d need to renew it in Cancun or at the border of Belize. Could be tricky, but certainly doable, and actually, necessary, as not canceling the TVIP will cause me serious problems any time I return to Mexico. Now being a vehicle smuggler, of course.
* Sprint to Panama. Basically run through all of Central America in 2 weeks or so, and ship the motorcycle out of Panama to Texas. There I’d retrieve it, pop it in the back of my truck and take it with me to Portland for off road fun while I work this gig. Keep the skills sharp! The main drawback is I would miss most of what the Central American countries have to offer, as I’d be speeding through to make the port. In the future I would just ship it back.
* Ship the bike out of Cancun. Similar to the previous option, just less traveling. Bike arrives in Miami or Houston and we go from there.
* Forget about the gig and keep going. Self explanatory.
* Ride back to Austin through Mexico. I don’t really want to do this but its probably the cheapest option. Mostly because I don’t want to backtrack north if possible. I’m guessing it’d take 3-4 days, though I’d have to pass through Tampico, which isn’t so great these days.
I’m at a bit of crossroads. Leave me your thoughts in the comments!
Cleaned the entire motorcycle today. You should have seen the sludge inside the gas tank. Carb and jets were cleaned, air filter cleaned, spark plugs replaced, and the fuel line replaced. I also managed to add in an inline fuel filter to hopefully prevent any crap from entering the combustion chamber. The spark plugs showed some carbon deposits, so I’m thinking the fuel/air mixture is probably off. Either that or the piston rings are about to go, hah!
Bonus: managed to spray carb cleaner directly into my right eyeball. Of course it was my good eye, hah! Y’all should have seen how quickly I ran to the emergency eye wash station a.k.a. the water faucet. So far so good, not blind yet!
Tomorrow I start the Beast up again!
And, well, hopefully, write something about the last 4 months.
Yes, despite my egregious lack of updates on this website, I’m still alive, and well!
I’m currently in Playa del Carmen, and have been for the past two months. Or has it been three? This place, while expensive compared to other cities I’ve visited, is fantastic and full of wonderful new travelers everyday. I’m also not sure where the time goes or how I’ve managed to neglect my readers for so long, but that’s how it goes on the Riviera Maya.
But before I get into how I got where I am now, let’s finish up the Mexico tour portion of this grand old trip.
The following takes place on and after March 19th, 2014 (was it really so long ago?).
Throughout the trip so far I’d been pretty lucky with staying connected to friends and family through various social networks and text messaging (thanks for that amazing plan T-Mobile!). A friend of mine that I knew from an Austin watering hole kept posting updates on his travels through México, except he was going north. And in a happy coincidence it looked like we were in the same area, so we made plans to meet up in Villahermosa.
First though, I wanted to visit Palenque. Palenque is the site of a Mayan city-state, containing some spectacularly preserved ruins. The best part? 90% of the site is still covered by the jungle, so there is so much more to explore.
So, I headed out very early from San Cristobal de las Casa, and subsequently broke down about 20 minutes later on a steep decline in the middle of Chiapas. Being in heavy Zapatista country (and, at the time, still being extremely wary of many local people), I was a bit nervous and positive I was going to be kidnapped. I’m not sure why to be honest, especially considering I had ridden so far without incident, but the irrational paranoia was there. Luckily the problem was easily resolved; the kickstand kill switch is a bit loose, so as the suspension unloads and the kickstand drops, the switch disengages and kills the engine. And that’s why I brought zip ties!
The bike all fixed up I headed down out of the mountains and into the sweltering heat of the jungle. Pretty uneventful and hot ride, except for me almost getting decapitated. Well, maybe; you decide.
These women were holding up ropes and wires, some with flags, in attempts to stop cars and get people to buy bananas and what not. I was pretty furious and scared at this point, not quite sure how tight that rope was tied on and, as I later found out, rightly so. A few days later while in Merida, while chatting with some other motorcycle travelers, they told me that a tour bus had been stopped in a similar fashion and people had rushed out of the jungle and robbed everyone blind. Lucky me! All that said, things aren’t great in Chiapas these days, so I sympathize with the local’s plight. It’s a beautiful state though!
Eventually I made it to Palenque. I didn’t have much time, so I paid the park employees to watch my motorcycle and belongings, gained entrance to the park and shadowed a tour guide for about an hour, admiring the ruins. They are indeed excellently preserved.
Afterwards I grabbed something to eat at the park and headed off in the sweaty afternoon to meet up with my friend Steve in Villahermosa.
Steve was down here scouting out locations for a new movie he’s producing about baseball in México, and was set up in a really nice hotel. Heck, it even had the Miss Tabasco contestants staying there while the pageant went on. Bonus!
It was fairly hilarious to me walking into this fancy hotel, disheveled and smelly, looking like an astronaut and asking the front desk for the extra key. First thing I did? Clean up and get a shower, you know it!
While there, he invited me along to a couple of meetings and dinners with the director, art director, and other producers. It was a fascinating insight into the film industry that I hadn’t been privy to before.
Left to my own devices most of the time, I lazed about on his couch for about 3 days, caught up with writing on this blog, hit the gym, and slept. Eventually Steve and the others geared up to leave for Mexico City, and I packed up and headed towards the Yucatán. I had some friends that I had to meet in Playa del Carmen in three days, so I had to get moving! Many thanks to my good friend Steve for his generosity and hospitality!
So my destination that day was Merida, a place famous for hammocks. At least that’s what everybody told me. This was my first time seeing the Caribbean as well, but it was a very long ride. Six hours later though I finally made it and checked in to a hotel. No pictures, but I had a good time. It’s a very European city, with great restaurants all around and multiple zocalos dotting the cityscape.
My memory is a bit hazy at this point, but I believe I left two days later to Playa del Carmen. First though, I wanted to stop at Chichen Itza, a famous Mayan ruin. Sadly, I wasn’t too impressed. It’s very commercialized, and after seeing Palenque and actually explore the ruins it’s a bit of bummer to not be able to climb the pyramids. They’re pretty spectacular, and I imagine very beautiful during sunrise or sunset, but the hordes of people there soured my mood.
Finished with the sightseeing, and anxious to meet up with my buddies in Playa del Carmen, I cruised another three hours, stopping in Valladolid for lunch and eventually arriving in Playa.
Whoops, 19 days since my last post? Yikes! Sorry about that folks!
So, briefly, from Oaxaca I rode down to Puerto Escondido via the 131, which traverses some mountain ranges and is full of twisties. Tons of fun. Took me about 3 hours and was for the most part uneventful, though lots of nice scenery.
Puerto Escondido is a pretty famous tourist town in the state of Oaxaca, known for the Zicalete beach and the “Mexican Pipeline,” a renowned wave that surfers from all over the world come to see. It was also damn hot for the two days that I stayed there. I stayed at a hostel my friend in Mazatlán had recommend, Vivo Escondido, which turned out to be a palatial residence right near the beach, run by a dude named Ross. Luckily there was a bed open for me as I arrived quite late, but even more lucky, Ross had come through many years ago on a motorcycle, and had a sweet garage where I could park my DR650 next to his pretty new BMW F650.
Escondido was hot. Damn hot. But, still had a great time. Hit the beach, did some partying at the hostel, and even saw a Chinese circus! I was only there two nights though, so sadly I had to move on, as has become yet another theme of this trip.
Ross had recommended a few beaches along the way; Mazunte, Zipolite, and Puerto Ángel, yet they were extremely close. Most riders (as I’ve read) will go from Escondido straight to Salina Cruz, but local knowledge once again prevailed and Ross said it was better to skip Salina Cruz, a large commercial shipping town with not much to see or do. So I, took off on the one hour ride to Puerto Ángel, checked into some hotel, enjoyed some food and views of the beach, and hit the sack early for a 5AM departure time the next day.
The next day’s ride was long and difficult, with a calculated time of about 7 hours. Heading out around 6AM, I figured I’d arrive in the early afternoon.
Boy was I wrong.
Salina Cruz was indeed, pretty boring, and I only stopped there for some gas and a quick bite to eat. However, heading north of the city? That’s probably some of the most white-knuckled riding I’ve done to date.
I should have known my travels would get harder when I started passing the first wind farm. Wind speed must have been at least 40-50 mph, and I didn’t dare go faster than 25MPH on the incredibly light Suzuki. This added a ton of time on, but at least I’m alive. Eventually the wind died down and the elevation rose as the highway crept into mountains, and I finally came to San Cristobal de las Casas.
It’s a bit off the beaten path, but San Cristobal de las Casas is a gorgeous city in the highlands with a very rich native history. You might remember it from such armed political activists as the Zapatistas, and indeed I saw many protests during my two days there. This also explained the heavier than normal military presence. I would have liked to have visited a Zapatista village, and even found one and a way to get there, however I just ran out of time. C’est la vie.
It’s also the site of random parades!
Note to any motorcycle riders staying there; you can get a night’s free lodging at the Rossco Backpackers Hostel. Also note it’s way flipping colder than other parts of Mexico, even in late March, so bring a sweater. I had stupidly shipped all but one back to Austin, where they were subsequently lost by UPS.
The rich culture in San Cristobal lends itself to many travelers around the world, and a lot of great food and drinks. It also seems to be a popular spot where foreigners stop to learn English, and I highly considered it as well but I was on a deadline.
I can’t say enough good things about San Cristobal, and I would highly recommend it to any travelers out there. I was extremely sad to leave so soon and not have enough time to explore the history of this important Mexican city. Maybe next time?
So, I woke up in the fluffiest bed ever conceived in a swank hotel in Puebla, fully rested and ready to get some more road grim on my riding suit. Gearing up, I headed downstairs to the hotel lobby where my iron stallion had spent the night, under a beautiful vintage spiral staircase, presumably venting Magna gasoline the entire time.
The raised eyebrows of Puebla’s visiting elite while drinking their cappuccino’s made me smile, so I made sure to let out a hearty roar from the single cylinder 650 cc engine as I rode through the lobby over granite tiles and out into the streets of Puebla.
Anyway, enough about my $100 lodging. The ride to Oaxaca was supposed to take around five hours.
It took more like seven as I hit some traffic on the way there. And as most things on this trip so far, this wasn’t normal traffic. No, a few hundred locals with some grievance had decided to take over the toll booth on this particular cuota, so traffic didn’t flow for a few hours as we waited in on the highway for the protest to abate. Looking at my map, I didn’t have near enough gas to turn around and take a side road, so, wait I did.
After 30 Mexican minutes (or 2 hours), the protestors started letting cars through again. They stopped people, myself included but, at the time, I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. In hindsight I think they wanted money for their cause.
Let me back up a wee bit, as the ride from Puebla to Oaxaca was pretty exhilarating. There’s a stretch of wide, sweeping turns through the Sierra Norte mountains that provides ear-to-ear grinning rides. Sadly there’s also high traffic in this area from regular colectivos, Toyota Hiace vans that run the regular stretch from Puebla to Oaxaca, and charge a flat fee per person. They’re all over the road, and the Latin machismo is readily experienced as they hug the centerline, not wanting to let people pass them. I digress. Oaxaca has some Mexico’s most rugged terrain, as four mountain ranges intersect in the state. It’s also dotted by these pretty purple flowering trees everywhere, whose name I have yet to discover.
When I finally arrived in Oaxaca, I (once again) had around 3% battery life left on my phone and was eager to find a cheap but safe hostel after the previous night’s hotel binge. Riding around the colonial city filled with numerous one way streets, I stopped and inquired into numerous places, but all were far above my price range or did not have adequate parking for my motorcycle. Those Spaniards didn’t exactly build the roads wide enough for mass parking, and empty storefronts that double as parking garages indicated everyone’s looking to jump on a free spot. Eventually though, I found a hostel that charged 100 pesos a night and would let me keep my motorcycle in their courtyard.
The place was really basic, I mean, they didn’t even have toilet seats. But hey, for $7, can you really complain? And I at least got a 4-bed hostel room for myself, which was nice. I got settled in and headed out to the zocalo, the main city square where tourists and locals congregate, merchants sell their wares, and restaurants line each side of the quadrant. I started to do a lap but stopped short when I heard my name; who should I see drinking a beer but Bill and Dorothy Bell, the awesome couple I had met back in Mulegé, BCS. Completely random! Sadly I didn’t get any pictures, but they told me how they had been traveling around a while and decided to rent an apartment in Oaxaca for a month and just enjoy themselves. I remember Bill leaning over to me as well and saying, “Welcome to REAL Mexico.” Man, he was right. We shared a few more beers and then they went on their way, as Bill was scheduled to have some dental work (which is so much cheaper here in Mexico) done the next day.
I’m actually surprised I have no real shots of the center of the zocalo. Sorry about that folks!
So perhaps you’re wondering why I stopped in Oaxaca in the first place? The answer is fairly mundane; pretty much every traveler I met told me to go by there, and I wouldn’t regret it. I’m not sure how this place got on everybody’s radar though; as best as I can tell the 2006 protests brought the place to the attention of the global community, but that’s not really a reason to visit. As the photos above show, there’s certainly still some dissent in the area, but it’s all very peacful. Certainly Monte Albán is a famed archaeological site many historical types would like to see, but you have to wonder how many come visit after seeing Teotihuacan right outside of Mexico City. My guess?
It’s the food.
It is so delicious there. The mole sauce is exquisite, a strange and amazing mixture of spices and chocolate. There’s actually seven different kinds, but I only tried one, the black. It’s pretty easy to mess up mole sauce, but here in Oaxaca, wow, it was incredible. And don’t even get me started on the tlayudas.
And of course they have grasshoppers (which are surprisingly quite scrumptious).
Well, it’s just a theory.
So, I wandered around and explored the city a bit before heading back to the hostel to catch up on some sleep.
While there I met a couple of Americans, John and his friend whose name escapes me (another common theme to this trip), who invited me to drink their mezcal with them. Well, what kind of hostel guest would I be to refuse? So we proceeded to drink some beers and then paint the town red. John was there visiting his friend, who lives in Guadalajara and codes websites to earn a living, and both had come to Oaxaca to relax for a bit. The night desk was staffed by a young dude named Miguel, who used to live in Arizona but had gotten kicked out of the States for various misunderstandings (as often happens in one’s youth). He was hilarious!
I stayed in Oaxaca a total of two days, and the three of us just drank beers and walked around the city, admiring the sites. At night we’d go to local bars, of which there are quite a few due to the city’s medical school, and hit on various groups of med students in broken Spanish. It was as hilarious as it sounds.
I managed to find time to get my hair cut and beard trimmed (professionally) for the princely sum of 70 pesos.
We even sampled some local street cuisine, chicken quesadillas with hot sauce for 15 pesos.
Anyhow, those two had to go back to their respective real lives (hah) and headed out a day before I did. This gave me a great chance to check out another great sight in Oaxaca, the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman, a gorgeous church and monastery with Baroque stylings everywhere. And gold, the interior covered in gold everywhere. You absolutely can not miss this place.
On my way out I was greeted by a parade, complete with effigies.
Can’t beat that with a stick.
And that’s about it for my Oaxaca experience. Saw some churches, met a lot of friends, ate amazing food; I completely understand now why people like the Bell’s would want to stay a month, and why travelers always recommend it. I could have easily stayed another week.
Sadly, I had to move on; amigos from Austin were due to arrive in Playa del Carmen in less than two weeks!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is owned and operated by my (now) good friend, Salem.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We posted up outside of the entrance to the party, and enjoyed a few beers, watching the people march into the Malecón.
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.
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.
So, besides beach activies, Mazatlán has this church.
And it has this gazebo.
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.
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.
Back on the Malecón, Salem, James and I walked around and just looked at everything. There was a lot to see.
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.
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.
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.
And Salem said his.
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]”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And things started to look good.
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.
So, I waited a while, talked with the guys, and watched the employees go about their day.
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.
And the line, while a bit short, and a bit old, fit just right! Huzzah, I have front brakes again!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Stefan heads down to try and talk to Peter and Agnes, while the rest of us hang out for twenty minutes.
Eventually Chris shows up with Agnes walking beside him, and Stefan a few moments later.
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.
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.
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.
Confidence high, I let the throttle rip and ride hard, stopping every once in a while for a few photos.
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.
And then, civilization! We’ve made it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Which means broken, in Germany. I looked at Stefan and knew what he was thinking.
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.