dispatches motorcycling

To Oaxaca

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 9.23.20 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 9.47.16 PM

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.


Right out of a spaghetti western.

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

Look, another one!
Look, another one!

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

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

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

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

Yep I had my own balcony. Low season I guess.
They just let me park it in the party room. Because I bring the party.
They just let me park it in the party room. Because I bring the party.

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

And that was pretty much it for Ajijic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

900 miles in 3 days!



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.

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 8.43.35 PM

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.

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.

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!


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.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.58.37 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.01.34 PM

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!

dispatches motorcycling

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!


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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 4.09.31 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 5.19.46 PM

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.