Tag Archives: mexico

I’m Still Alive! And How I Got To Playa del Carmen

Yes, despite my egregious lack of updates on this website, I’m still alive, and well!

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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.

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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.

Rolling on.  Took me forever to take this photo.
Rolling on. Took me forever to take this photo.

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!

I love how the woman at the back is just mean mugging me.

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!

Found a stowaway in my helmet.
Found a stowaway in my helmet.

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.

Kicking it, Steve absent due to wheeling and dealing.

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!

Adios amigo!
Adios amigo!

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.

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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.

Towards San Cristobal de las Casas

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.

Home sweet home for the DR and her new friends.
Home sweet home for the DR and her new friends.

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.

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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.

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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?

That’s all for now!

Oaxaca

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.

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Please, pull up a chair, admire my ride.

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.

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I didn’t even break a precious Mayan vase!

Would I recommend this hotel? Oh yes.

I got my money's worth.
I got my money’s worth.

Anyway, enough about my $100 lodging. The ride to Oaxaca was supposed to take around five hours.

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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.

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You can’t really tell but the toll booth is about 2km ahead. Traffic finally moving!

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.

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I took this picture on the shoulder of a highway, the width of which was around one watermelon. Maybe a cantaloupe.

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.

Mole mole mole mole mole.
Mole mole mole mole mole. There’s some turkey confit in there as well, and those swirls are plantain bananas.

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!

Miguel saying "salut!"
Miguel saying “salut!”

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.

So many different types of Indio beer.
So many different types of Indio beer.

I managed to find time to get my hair cut and beard trimmed (professionally) for the princely sum of 70 pesos.

It took about an hour, and was well worth it.
It took about an hour, and was well worth it.

We even sampled some local street cuisine, chicken quesadillas with hot sauce for 15 pesos.

John and I laying down a good base for the evening.
John and I laying down a good base for the evening.
Hand-made tortillas, can't beat em.
Hand-made tortillas, can’t beat em.

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!

Next stop: Puerto Escondido!

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.

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.

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.

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Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit
Google MapsGet Directions

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Cabo San Lucas

Look.

Cabo San Lucas is a party town. Fín. Done. No más. It exists solely to ply dollar bills from tourists by getting them drunk and perhaps taking them sport fishing if they can fit it in.

To give you some indication of the kind of city I’m talking about, it’s often known as the “Fort Lauderdale of Mexico.”

Yeah.

That’s not to say there’s not much to like about the city, it has great restaurants, cheap drinks, and I’m told being there during Spring Break is a thing of, shall we way, glorious youthful exuberance. The disparity of wealth between the tourists (mostly Canadian from what I could tell) and the locals is pretty glaring though.

I wasn’t too excited to be there if you can tell, as I’ve found it’s pretty hard for a solo traveler to mix into the stew of group travelers which are ever so common in touristic cities like Cabo.

I had to go though, I mean, you always hear about Cabo on those horrible private school teenage drama shows that my old roommate used to love.

I arrived in Cabo San Lucas late afternoon and sat in traffic, before finding a most excellent hotel, the Cabo Inn Hotel.  It was pretty cheap at $38, they let you pull in your motorcycle into the courtyard which consists of a common table and massive jungle plants everywhere, and it’s smack dab downtown, close to everything, unlike the $800 a night resorts that my Hotels.com app was recommending me.Cabo_Inn_Exterior

I performed the hotel ritual that has become part of my life now, and then headed out into the city to grab a beer.

Just some random graffiti along the way.
Just some random graffiti along the way.

First stop was Cabo Wabo, famous for being owned by Sammy Hagar.  As has been common with most of my time in the Baja, I was 20 or 30 years junior to the other patrons, but you just roll with the punches.  They had a 2 for 1 beer special going on for 50 pesos, which isn’t really a deal anywhere else in the Baja, but what can you do.

This surfer-esque guy in a straw hat asked me if I was alone, and when I mentioned I was invited me over to his table.  I was pretty sure he was going to hit on me but I wanted some company so, why not. Turns out though Mr. Hobie Higgins was just waiting for his wife and buddies, and pretty soon we had a party, with me playing the seventh wheel role.

Hobie and his gang
Counter clockwise, Hobie, Marc’s wife, Marc, Mel, and I forget. At Cabo Wabo. That’s my water. And yes I was drinking beer as well.

These guys all work for a mortgage company in Oklahoma (if I’m remembering correctly), and were down here with their wives as they were the top salesman for the year.  I was pretty surprised mortgage companies were still shelling out money for these types of things, which they considered to be pretty funny in a post-recession world.

Hobie turned out to be a real wild card, always amped up and excited about life, in a madly infectious way. His official role at the mortgage company was something like “Director of Fun.” Further enquiry led me to discover that his responsibilities consisted of things like planning trips to Cabo.  I’m stunned these jobs exist, but it’s more of a “right time, right place” type of thing to get such a job, and most likely you have to create it yourself.

We got kicked out of Cabo Wabo because Hobie wanted to wear a luchador mask while drinking his beer, which the bouncers were not too keen on, so we headed to the The Giggling Marlin for some food and more drinks.

I still regret not buying a bunch of these!
I still regret not buying a bunch of these!
I'm of the mind there should be less giggling and more consideration for your plight from overfishing Mr. Marlin.
I’m of the mind there should be less giggling and more consideration for your plight from overfishing Mr. Marlin.

A mariachi band appeared and many Mexican versions of Elvis songs were sang.

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The food was…well I don’t remember, so probably fairly bland. We paid out and headed to Happy Endings, which turned out to be my favorite place.  Thousands of dollar bills are stapled all around the interior, signed with names of traveler or simple messages like “Roll Tide.”

Massage parlors are one block up, get your mind out of the gutter.
Massage parlors are one block up, get your mind out of the gutter.

I paid for the round of specials, which consists of two beers and two shots of tequila.

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I should mention that, after having told my story (quit the job, lost the girl, time to ride the old motorcycle south because life is too short amigos) back at Cabo Wabo, Hobie was insistent that I would pay for nothing that night, reminding me that I would need that money sometime down the line.  Fair enough mate, you won’t hear me complaining. Still, I always my debts.

We quickly found out there were beer pong tables, and after much trash talking from Mr. Higgins it was off for a match, where myself and Marc (a fellow Texan) promptly represented and destroyed Hobie and his buddy.

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Then it was time for one last hangout, at a popular place called Squid Roe.

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They take many forms of payment.

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Squid Roe has banked on the “audience participation” model for entertainment, which almost certainly involves a lot of bare skin and body shots during Spring Break, but sadly it’s February, so we had to contend with the chicken dance.

At one point a “shot girl” came around offering jello shots.  We bought a few, but they were hard as rocked so we proceeded to attempt to make them stick to the ceiling, but only achieved in inventing Jell-O rain.

It turned 10PM, Hobie and crew had been out since noon and were drunk and/or tired so they called it an evening.

I had a blast meeting these folks and hanging out with them, but I was also feeling fairly run down from all the partying of the last few days.  It was time to head up the East Cape, towards Los Frailles.

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Thanks for taking a lonely traveler in amigos, until next time!

Blasting Through Baja Sur

I left Mulegé and headed south, passing by Bahía de Concepción.  It’s gorgeous; sheltered bays, beautiful beaches and a deep blue water everywhere.

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I didn’t stop though, except to take these few pictures.

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Why? Well, I wanted to save a little bit of the Baja for my next trip out here; I don’t knew when it’ll happen but by now I was convinced that I would return one day. And as much hype as Bahía de Concepción gets, and I was lead to believe, I was kind of tired of hanging out with older gringos. So, it was time to push south west, towards Cabo San Lucas.

Sadly, I had a bit of a mishap on the way; my Geigerrig backpack wasn’t strapped down correctly and somehow fell off the motorcycle, held on by only one bungee cord, and therefore dragging along for about a mile until someone pointed it out to me.  The bag, a camera lens, and an external battery pack were destroyed, but luckily I still had my TVIP papers which were inside. Could have been worse!

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A local gringo who goes by JamaicanPrincess on ADVRider and apparently lives in the Bay came down and offered some help, but really, what can you do in this situation but bundle everything up and hope that insurance will pay out?

Of course USAA didn’t (they only cover fires and meteor storms, not stupid mistakes), but all was not lost: Geigerrig, those magnificient bastards warrantied my bag and sent me a brand new one! Their exact words were, “to lessen the blow of the accident.” First class fellas, first class!

Anyway, my plan was to get to Loreto, spend a night there, and then head south to Cabo San Lucas. So, like I was saying I left pretty late and headed out towards Loreto, about an hour and a half drive or so.

Loreto is a very touristy beach town, with a high gringo population, much higher than I had seen elsewhere.  I found a hotel on the malecon, and paid my 400 pesos, though later I found out I had no hot water yet the owner had already left for the weekend. Oh well!

This hotel was right near a little bar called Augie’s, so I stopped in for a beer and some food after doing some writing and laundry. Did I mention the food was free? It’s a thing they do.

They have free food during Happy Hour! Score!
They have free food during Happy Hour! Score!

This is where my story takes a turn towards amnesia, as the one night in Loreto turned in to two. You see, many beers were had over the course of the evening, and even some Jameson shots; a surprise to me to find Irish whiskey so far south.

This guy is named Mike. We got pretty drunk.  He arm wrestled a lady later on that night.
This guy is named Mike. We got pretty drunk. He arm wrestled a lady later on that night.

That’s the last picture I have, as at that point my phone had died. Suffice to say, I’ve pieced together the following from various Mexicans I saw the next day, stopping me on the street and slapping my back, chuckling at what an excellent night we had the previous evening, and did I take home any of those girls? And would I be shooting pool again that night? Oh no José, oh dear god no.

Here’s the timeline of that night:

  • Many cervezas and Jameson shots consumed at Augie’s
  • In my elastic state, I’m convinced by some of the regulars to go with them to a local club, so we hop on some four wheelers and end up somewhere.  It looks like someones house, like a bar in Austin so I’m all in.
  • There is much dancing and merriment at the aforementioned club
  • On second thought it was probably a brothel
  • I meet some local guys and we’re cracking jokes, and they invite me out to another bar
  • We go to this bar, clearly built out of mud and stone for Mexican cowboys, and play some pool.  I’m definitely the only white guy in the place. Had an excellent time!
  • We eventually get back to the city, where myself, Mexican #1 and Mexican #2 (I feel guilty I don’t remember their names, but, c’est la vie) drink some beers and shoot the shit in our respective Spanglish dialects until 6AM, and we all go home
  • I wake up the next day at 3PM, with the mother of all hangovers and watch movies all day, falling asleep again at 10PM.

So yes I was severely hungover.  And to be honest, the only way I was able to piece together much of this was, as I was looking for sustenance on the Mother of All Hangover Days, a nice chap ran out of his restaurant laughing and talking to me about the previous night, before inviting me in for a meal.  He recommended the fresh “Vampire” juice (it had beets in it, surprisingly tasty, but what isn’t during these periods), and I was only too happy to attempt to right the previous night’s wrongs through fruits and vegetables.

So, I burned a day. These things happen.

I probably owe Loreto a better run through some other time, they do have one of the larger marine parks in the Sea of Cortez, and probably great diving as well. I did catch the sunset though, somehow figuring out how to operate my camera phone in my hungover state.

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Oh no sorry, that picture is from La Paz.  I guess I didn’t see the sunset.

Anyway, the next day, I was (seriously) up bright and early cracked on.  My mission was to make it to La Paz, spend a night there, and keep going to Cabo San Lucas before slowing down and enjoying the East Cape. I knew I would be spending a few days in La Paz before hitting the mainland, so one night was more than enough.

The general route.
The general route.

There’s not much in between Loreto and La Paz, as MEX1 cuts west and you ride through heavy agricultural country.  There’s one large city, Ciudad Insurgentes, followed by another, Ciudad Constitución, where you can stop to grab a bite to eat and gas up, but the ride is flat, flat, flat, with a little straight, straight, straight thrown in. I mean seriously, look at those Wikipedia pages; nothing on em.

For hours.

Luckily, I had some RadioLab podcasts to keep me company.  Did you know that they can (sometimes) cure rabies by inducing a coma? It’s called the Milwaukee Protocol, something I learned about while riding around.

I digress!

I found a decent hotel in La Paz, ate some great food at a place called Tail Hunters, caught the sunset (for real this time), and went to bed pretty early.

Sunset, La Paz B.C.S.
Sunset, La Paz B.C.S.

The next day, I blasted south to Todos Santos, a very popular surf and artistic town.

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I know it’s popular because there’s a lot of wealthy Canadians and Americans living there, and I couldn’t find a hotel for less than $100 a night.  So, I grabbed some lunch (tamales, my god they were good), and rode along the coast.  I probably could have stopped, camped out for a bit and learned to surf, but I was still feeling a bit guilty about my whole Loreto experience. I’m still not sure why, but there you have it.

And then as I rode through another big sweeping curve (and there are a lot of them on some Baja paved roads), I saw my ultimate destination:

Cabo San Lucas.