So we leave Deming and head across to Yuma where we were to make our boarder crossing into Mexico. The bike was having difficulty with some low down tuning and Grant deduced, after many discussions with various people, that maybe the KnN filter was leaning the mixture off at low speed and allowing the bike to run very poorly. Now to find a stock air filter!
After trying several places we ended up in San Diego where Hugo at South Bay Power Sports rang everyone in town and located a stock airfilter for the bike. After 2 hours in peak hour San Diego traffic we had our airfilter and were ready to go to Mexico.
We decided to go down the Baja, for old-times-sakes as we had been there on our previous 2 trips to Mexico, and wanted to see the changes.
We crossed in Tecate where we met Jorg from Germany (on a Honda Africa Twin) and travelled with him for a few days.
It felt very good to be back in Mexico after 5 years.
Half way down the Baja we stopped in Cateveña for the night. We negotiated a price for three people in a 'camp-ground' of sorts. Actually it was someones back yard! The man who owned the campground was Santiago and he kept hugging Jules and saying how beautiful she was. It lifted her spirits after a long hot ride especically as she was suffering a case of very bad helmet hair!
We travelled to some of our favorite haunts such as San Ignacio and Los Barrilles and our favorite Mulege where we enjoyed swimming in the beautiful waters of the Bahia de Conception.
The Cabo Corridor which, 10 years ago, was very touristy yet charming had lost its charm and is now filled with one luxury hotel after another. It was still nice to visit there though.
We arrived in La Paz in the middle of a huge rain storm. We had been heading towards it for some time and Jules, ever the optomist, kept saying how we would miss it..... not so!
The sky was black as spades and lightening abounded. When we hit the rain it was so heavy it caused a lot of flash flooding in the dessert town. Grant had to ride through creeks that had become rivers. Cars were stuck. A taxi that had been swept off the road into a ditch. There were rocks and barbed wire, branches and rubbish under the water and Grant negotiated these rivers three times. The water was so deep it came up to Julies foot pegs.
Once throught the torrents we stopped to survey where we had been and could not belive we did not get a flat tyre or bent rim or any damage what so ever.
We stayed in La Paz for a couple of days to service the bike, change spark plugs etc ready for the next stage in our journey on the main land of Mexico and especailly the Copper Canyon.
We cross the Gulf of California on the Ferry from Pichelingue (La Paz - Baja California) to the mainland Topolobombo (Los Mochis) on the fast 5 hour ferry. Jules did well organising the tickets in her bad broken Spanish and even asked what time the ferry would arrive!
Whilst travelling on the ferry we saw quite a few pods of dolphins swimming along side the boat, were given lunch as part of our ferry ticket and watched some crappy movies.
We met Claas and Patrick, from Germany, riding to Tierra del Fuego on Honda Africa Twins.
The four of us tried to find a camp-ground once we disembarked from the ferry, however after riding around until about 9:00pm we gave up and went to a little hotel/motel on the outskirts of Los Mochis.
Jules spoke to the Manger about how much rooms cost for one bed, for two beds (as we had the intention of sharing the room between the four of us). Once it was settled and we had organised the one room with two beds the man was very concerned that Patrick and Claas did not have a room each.... he was surprised and somewhat confused about two men sharing one bed between them! At first he thought Grant and Jules wanted separate beds and that was even more confusing.....
We said goodbye to our new friends and headed north on a two day ride to Creel. The gate way to the Copper Canyon.
Frank & Brenda
We arrived in Creel and found a hostel right on the main plaza for $US25/night (private room with bathroom) including breakfast and dinner. We met a lot of really great people there including Terry and Mike from the US who were riding thier Harleys around Mexico, Pete from England but lives in France and is building a house out of an old barn, Kelly from Australia but lives in Scotland and is a fantastic artist, Sergio and Maria Jose from Mexico City, Frank (from Aus but lives in Mexico &US) and Brenda (from US lives in Mexico & US), and finally Dieter from Germany but lives in Canda. We had such a good time with everyone, day trips to Divisidero and the Hot Springs, hanging out drinking vino tinto and wandering around town.
For Mexican Independance Day we took a ride down to Batopilas in the bottom of the Copper Canyon.
We travelled an hour along a very winding lovely paved road for 75 km, turning off at the town of Samachic we started our decent into the famous Copper Canyon. We have to say that negotiating this decent gave us new found respect for the Suzuki.
The gravel and rocky road was was very demanding on a semi-loaded two up motorcycle. The constant switch back corners at very steep angles, deep graveled corners (recently graded), potholes, donkeys and goats made for an interesting ride.
The scenery was breathtaking! Jules hardly looked due to the dizzing heights and sheer drop offs, with no guard rails or safety turn outs! NADA!
On the decent (at about 2000m in altitude), we caught up with the Tarahumara shephards who had been chasing their goat heard down the hill and stopped for a breif chat. They were not even out of breath, unlike us even though we were on the bike.
Once in the bottom of the canyon Grant had to negotiate two timber bridges with very interesting (to say the least) timber arrangements.
We survived the trip and reached Batopilas at around 3:00pm and found two push bike riders Rayner and Brad, who took us to a ladies house for lunch. She runs a small restaurant out of her kitchen and cooked us some lovely burritos, spaghetti and salad for lunch. As it was so hot at the bottom of the canyon (our jackets were soaked and had to be rung out) she made us sit out in her garden instead of her dining room!
We found some accommodation and spent the evening enjoying the festivites of the Fiesta.
In the morning we headed off early, to avoid the heat. About half way up a donkey decided that he would just wander all over the road in a blind panic and Grant, whilst avoiding him, ran into a ditch. The ditch was deeper than Jules´ foot pegs, but the bike remained upright.
Grant negotiated his way out and it was back on to the road to Creel, almost running out of petrol. We arrived at Creel on the smell of an oily rag at about 11:00am, just in time for lunch!
After a few more days swanning about Creel we headed off to the Colonial Heartlands.
We left Creel and headed towards Zacetecas. We had heard that it was a lovely city to visit and that we should not miss it. Our first stop was the city of Hildago Parral. We spent a lot of time riding around to find a cheap place to stay, but the cheapest we could find was Hotel Turista on the round-about for $US35/night. It was very clean, had secure parking and cable TV, but the decor was very very 70´s!
The next place we stopped was Parras. A 420 year old wine producing town. They made some very nice ports that we were able to sample, perhaps 10:00 in the morning was a little too early. We stayed there for a few days in a very nice little hotel.
There, a man tried to 'pick up' Jules while she was reading in the courtyard and Grant took a nap. He kept saying how beautiful she was and his room was down stairs. She used her old faithful saying 'No entendo' (I don´t understand), but he would not let up until Grant appeared. The he jumped up at break neck speed and introduced himself to Grant and disappeared for the rest of our time there.
On one of our many walks around Parras we found a very neat and tidy machine shop with several beautifully maintained lathes and tools by the hundreds. Parked outside the workshop was this little bike.
Parras was a nice place to visit and walk around, we enjoyed our time there immensley. We also found out that there was to be a Horizons Unlimited meeting in Creel (where we had just come from) and decided that we would go as far as Zacatecas and then go back for the meeting.
After leaving Parras we attempted to find Real de Catorce. We found a lovely little green church in the dying town of Los Muchachos, and took a 50km detour down the wrong way to Estacion Catorce before turning around and heading back to the main road.
100kms later we made it to Mathuala where we stopped for the night before heading to Real de Catorce.
Real de Catroce is a very cool place to visit. If you have seen the film 'The Mexican' with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, the town in Mexcio they go to is this one. It is an old silver mining town with a history of ghosts and fortunes gained and lost. You need to drive for about 30km on cobble stones...
...then through a 2km one way tunnel to get there...
Once there you are greeted by an over look of the city where you can park your vehicle and walk to the town, however we chose to attemt and navigate the one way streets. This probably would not have too much of a problem except we had arrived on the weekend of a pilgrimage. The town was full of market stalls and Grant had to navigate through them and the people shopping at them. He started out saying, in polite Spanish, 'Disculpe' and 'Perdon' and finshed with yelling 'LOOK OUT!'
We returned to Mathuala and headed to Zacetecas.
We arrived in Zaceteca, another Mexican town filled with one way streets, and found the hostel recomended to us, Hostal Villa Colonial(corner Primero de Mayo and Cjon Mono Prierto). Victor greeted us and made us feel very welcome.
Ernesto, the owner, was very helpful and gave us lots of information on local attractions, festvals, language schools - you want to know it - Ernesto´s your man!
We had two big surprises in Creel the first one was that Kelly, who we met in Creel, was staying there.
She had been on an excursion form the hostal to Real de Catorce the night before and saw us go past. So we had crossed paths and not even known it.
Whilst staying at the hostel we met Andy (from Italy) and Lee (from Sydney). They had been travelling together for six months through Central America.
We took turns in cooking for each other and who ever else was at the hostal and wanted a feed.
Our second big surprise was when Brenda and Frank (who we also met in Creel)arrived. We stayed an extra couple of nights to spend time with our lovely friends.
Time to go back to Creel!
Time to leave Zacetecas... again, and say goodbye to Frank and Brenda... again.
We headed off towards Durango and decided to call it a day in a small town 7kms off the main road called San Juan del Rio.
We followed the signs into town advertising a hotel, and hoped it would not be too expensive.
We were pleasently surprised to find this hotel for $USS17/night. It was very clean, very comfortable and the night watchman, Jose Gudalupe, was very very very helpful.
We were concerned about bike parking, Jose was determined not to loose the custom and said we could park it up in the lobby.... how to get it up there was another matter!
So we were asking if it was a safe street and Grant was feeling uncomfortable about just leaving the bike on the street. We looked around for a pole to chaining the bike to, but with the very narrow one way streets there was no where near by to do this.
Jose assured us the town was very safe and the police station was just down the road. After some misunderstanding by Jules we worked out that we could leave the bike at the police station! This was a new one for us!
After unpacking Miss Piggy we took her down to the police station and left her for the night on the verandah.
We walked around town, did a little shopping, used the internet cafe and eventually had some dinner at a hamburger stand.... they made great burgers - even if she did not put any beetroot or pineapple on it!
At about 11:00pm we woke to banging on our hotel room door. Stunned we opened up and were asked to go down to the police station and move the bike.... to where we wondered.
We went down to the police station and were told that they wanted the bike moved inside the jail! About 14 Police Officers were very pleased that Grant parked the bike away from TV! They were working all night and changed shift at around 8:00am.
We chatted to them in Spanglish about where we had been, and where we were going and that we were going to take some Spanish lessons. A few of the guys had worked in the US for varying times.
Some of the inmates wanted to sell us some horse whips that they had made. We asked what we would do with them and one of the Officers thought we could use it to make the bike go faster! This was met with a lot of laughter.
Back to bed we toddled and were woken again, but this time at 5:00am by fireworks being exploded at the church! We got up and decided to go to a bakery to get some sweet bread (pan dulce) for the Police Officers to say thankyou for looking after the bike. However bakeries open at 9:00 not earlier like in Aus.
Jose came to our rescue again! He took us to the bakery and banged on the door until they opened up. We had the pick of freshly baked rolls and took them down to th police station and took Miss Piggy out of jail!
Back at the hotel Jose was very curious as to why we were up at this time of the day, especially as it was still dark outside. He asked if it was the explosions from the church! Very perceptive. He made us coffee and spent about an hour explaining our trip and he told us about his life.
On to Parral and then back into Creel
We arrived in Creel, with the intention of staying a few nights at Marguaritas but noticed some guys already at the camp ground so we moved in there.
We settled into the Camp ground. Russ, Andy and Federico were there and bought to our attention that our rear tyre was showing steel. We had only checked it at San Juan del Rio, 2 days ago and it was fine.
With the help of Federico we organised a tyre to be shipped from Gudalajara to Chihuahua where we could pick it up.
Our first night in Creel started our lovely, we had made a nice fire on the grill, Federico was making quesidillas with cheese Andy and Julie walked 10kms for and Jules made some lovely rissoles (hamburgers to those from outside Australia). Then the storm hit, we got soaked quickly, we slavaged what we could and headed for the cover of the Verandah of the main building.
Whilst we sat about chatting and drinking red wine the stray dogs in the campground ate the whole block of cheese, guacamole, chips, anything that may have been left out was gone! The dogs must have had a belly ache all night because there was an awful lot of howling for the rest of the night.
We disapeared to Chihuahua overnight to get the tyre with no hassles and Grant changed the tyre using the tools we carry and a lot of grunt.
The HU meeting got underway.
We were very glad we came.
We got to meet lots of people who are interested in motorcycle travel and a few other RTW'ers. We attended some of the sessions about travel, photography etc. Grant attended the 'How to change a tyre' and learnt a few tricks of the trade whilst Jules went to the Womens session.
Andy, Jules & Federico
We had lots of lunches and dinners with people, as well as a few rides. Including a ride to a waterfall we could not find!
We made lots of new friends and met lots of new people: Andy (USA), Federico (Mexico), Russ (USA), Deb & Dave (USA & Canada), Garry & Ivonne (Mexico), Richard (USA), AT (USA), Arturo (Mexico), Michael (Sth Africa), Chris (Canada).
After leaving the meeting we headed off back to Zacetecas with Federico and Andy. We said good by to Andy in Chihuahua.
We stayed in Delicias and Torreon where we met Federico´s friend Lordes who took us to a really neat Kareoke bar where we stayed until the wee small hours.... did not sing though!
We had breakfast in Torreon in what Federico described as 'the ugliest restaurant he had ever been to'. However, they made very good food.
We arrived back in Zacetecas after riding in the rain for the afternoon and were fortunate enough to see some beautiful rainbows.
Deb and Dave (who we met at the Creel HU meeting) had not arrived at the Hostal Villa Colonia and we were not sure if they were going to come.
After about half an hour they arrived (in a Taxi - they left thier bikes in town and caught a taxi to the hostel) and we organised to stay with them in an appartment and they had decided to come to the Fenix Spanish Institute with us.
We attended classes, for a week, together and learnt lots of verbs, and we all agreed that our comprehension was increased. Each day our brains were frazzled but we tried to practice what we learnt in our wee home. Our teacher, Toño was very very patient.
Part of stella 'History of Zacetecas' monument
Each afternoon the class took walks around the city and recived some good incite into the history of the city and the surrounding areas. We also visited museums and art galleries.
Pancho Villa statue at La Buffa
The week we spent together was also the week of the Street Theatre Festival. We were able to see some 'interesting' performance pieces and were treated to a spectacular fireworks display. All events were free.
French circus performers
Fireworks over the town
We caught up with Michael, who we also met at the HU meeting, and had dinner with him.
We went to a special place the Federico knew that served purple enchilladas. They actually tasted quite good.
Afterwards we all got silly with hats!
Dave and Deb
Grant & Jules
Zacetecas at night
(Late Entry Photo: Road from Parras to Los Muchachos)
Zacetecas is a beautiful city. It has alot of baroque architecture, little 'walking only' alley-ways, paved streets and over at least 10 museums. There are great markets and losts of street stalls, you can buy almost anything you need.
The time for Deb and Dave to leave came. It was sad to see them go. Jules really enjoyed having another woman to talk to. We hope to catch up with them again some place some time.
We left the Hostel and moved over to Federico´s Hostal, Hostal Plaza del Carmen at Avenue Juarez, No 222.
There Grant was able to utilise Federico´s workshop to do some work on the valve clearances, oil change and general maintenance.
After a few days there we were invited to stay with Federico until we were ready to leave Zaceteca.
We took a day trip to Villanueva , with Federico and his sister Tlalic, to the pilgrimage to the Church for Santos Judas Tadeo. The 400 year old church was decorated beautifully, full of flowers. The town, normally very quite, was packed with street markets and people.
People walk from Zacetecas to Villanueva (60kms) overnight to attend the church service. You seel some people entering the church on bended knee going to the alter to light candles, give flowers and pray.
We also saw this excellent girl drumming band....
Staying with Federico was excellent, we were able to get quite a few little jobs done on the bike that needed doing, like extending the Touratec tank saddle bags. We had not been able to ustilise the space as well as we hoped as they jamed up the steering, they always had to remain half empty to allow free movement of the handle bars. So Grant designed some extensions and he and Federico went to an upholster to have the alterations done.
Another day trip we took was out to Jerez, about 60km south of Zacetecas. The road off the highway reminded us very much of the road from Strathablyn to Goolwa and the road to Manum in South Australia.... eucalyptus and all.
We also went camping to his Fathers ranch, in the Sierra, with his sister Tlalic, her husband Victor, thier two children Paula and Santiago and a friend of theirs Josana.
We arrived at night and set up the campsite. We had chosen a spot known as 'The Cemetery'. It actually is an old village. We could see the outlines of the buildings but would have to wait until the morning to see where we were.
We cooked on an open fire and sat up until late looking at the stars, the campfire and talking, though the kids could not handle the pace.
In the morning we woke to the beautiful scenery we mised the night before. We had set up camp at the edge a small canyon, surrounded by hills, trees and palmiters and ruined buildings.
After breakfast we went for a walk to the end of the canyon to a grotto where during the wet season (June - August) there is a waterfall, then to the top of the hill and back down to the campsite.
Our guide, 'Crocodile Tortilla', took us through fields of wild sage, that gave off its strong distinct scent with each footstep.
Along the river bed to the grotto where our 'Guide' proceded to try and convince us to scale the wall to get out!
However we chose to scale the outside hill where Jules got stabbed in the head with a cactus and Josana had some difficulty getting up and needed assistance.
Once we had all reached the top we walked across and back down to the camp. Covered in scratches and bumps and bruises the 'Guide' enforced the NO REFUND policy! So everyone had a little toyotito (nap) for the afternoon before a late lunch of chille relleno´s (roasted chilles filled with cheese) and bistec (marinated thin steaks).
We left the ranch and the sierra at dusk and arrive home tired boys and girls.
We said goodbye to our good friend Federico at the turn off to Aguas Calliente, with promises to see eachother again sometime, somewhere.
Miss Piggy ready to roll
Our first stop was on the other side of Aguas Calliente where we were initiated into buy 'lunch by the kilo'... well meat by the kilo..... we found this quite strange, however in Michoacan it is quite the norm to eat at the Carnitas.
Under the verandah of the restaurant sat atleast 4 giant vats of boiling what we can only describe as FAT!, very black and ominous looking, with the huge lumps of meat draining on a rack above. Grant tentatively chose what seemed to be the best of the meat!
The restaurant was packed and the meat was delicous! Very tender and quite possibly goats meat.... although we are not sure!
We stayed the night at Salamanca, a town with a very large Pemex (petrol) refinery. It was a dirty smoggy town. We found cheap accommodation (US$15) very clean and very hot shower.
The next day we headed to Morelia. The ride was very nice, appart from having to detour around the town of Valle de Santiago. It was well sign posted but the detour took you through lots of little alley ways and narrow streets. It was very confusing indeed!
We entered Morelia crossing the bridge over a large lake and headed straight to Centro, where we found some excellent accommodation at Hostal Allende, Allende No 843, Centro (www.hostelsofmexico.net) who allowed us to park the bike in the court yard right outside the door of our room - it was good and reasonably priced.
Cathederal - Morelia
Morelia is another good town to walk around (very clean and relatively safe). The 8 blocks that make us Centro are UNESCO hertatige listed so there is lots to see and the colonial charm is maintained. There is a great market place full of variety, colour, smells and boots!
Boot stall in markets - Morelia
As always, we were looking for some lunch and we found a tiny restaurant/cafe located in a ladies kitchen (Calle Nicholas Bravo - has no name but is not far from the street the Comercial Mexicana shopping centre is on). She made the most amazing tacos for Grant and a Milenesa torta (schnitzel roll) for Jules. So cheap and she threw in some youghurt jello for sweets.
The lady was amazing! We were trying to locate our friend Marilyn (from Vancouver) but were having difficulty with the telephones. With our broken Spanish we conveyed our problem to her. She rang for us, got the address and drew a map so we could walk to the house and catch up with Marilyn.
Marilyn & Jules
It was a treat to spend a day and a half with Marilyn, visiting all the sights we could fit in. (We took Marilyn to the little lunch place and the lady was very glad to see that we found eachother).
Mural of Morelos in the Justice Palace - Morelia
We said our farewells to Morelia and headed to Patzcuaro (very famous for Day of the Dead Celebrations - for wich we were a week late, however lots of evidence around of the fiestas).
We found a campground (Villa Patzcurao on the road into town) and set up camp early and headed out to the archeological site Tzintzuntzan.
As a storm headed towards us we made our way around the site. The setting is on a hill overlooking a small town and a lake. This site was ain imporatant place of government, religon and commerce for the Tarascan peoples. Very amazing architecture on a grand scale.
Detail of Yaccas
We headed to Valle de Bravo where our friends Eduardo and Margaret invited us to stay with them at their house.
On the way we rode the Mil Cumbres Pass which takes you up a beautiful forrested winding road to almost 3,000 meters. At the top there is a marker describing the distances to various parts of Mexico and the road construction time frames. The view is fantastic, the road is good, however there are a few places where it is in a poor state of repair as most people use the new fast autopista.
Church on the Mil Cumbres Road
We arrived in Valle de Bravo in the middle of the Funduro dirt bike rally. One of the biggest in Mexico. The normally quiet zocalo was tranformed into Rally Headquarters with a mutlitude of parked bikes. KTM's, Honda's, Kawasaki's and even the odd BMW!
Dinner with Eduardo and Margaret
Whilst staying with Eduardo and Margaret we had the opportunity to visit the Para/Hang Gliding site up above the village. On our way down the hill we came across young boys making their living by cutting down the 'protected' trees for fire wood. This is highly illegal in the state park, however it is quite a common occurance.
We were also very lucky to be able to take a sail on the lake with a some of the first monarch butterflies to arrive in the area (from Canada!) for the winter.
Eduardo determined to make a sailor out of Jules
On Eduardo's suggestion we headed up Nevado de Toluca. This is a dormant volcano that stands 4,500 meters above sea level. The dirt road from the highway winds 27kms through lovely forrested areas to the exposed alpine crater cone. Then decends into the crater to two lakes at 4,300 meters.
The Road to the Top
Once again Miss Piggy shows her virtues as we were fully loaded two up on a very rutted dusty road, with some very loose patches and others quite rocky. During the first 15 kms you often had to dodge fallen tree trunks laying across the road, and sometimes halfway around a bend. This is one time where we found ourselves both standing on the foot pegs too keep the bike stable.
Once we cleared the forrest, the view was outstanding and seemed to go on forever, and we just continued climbing with the road becoming narrow in parts and at times we crossed lava beds that had been 'cleared' for the road but were extremely rough and very narrow with steep sudden drop offs on one side.
Over the Lava Field
It was very exciting and most worth while as we decended into the crater to view the blue lakes of the Sun and the Moon.
We stayed at the crater for, perhaps, an hour. Before commencing our journey out, which was not without incident, we had to make a detour around a vehicle, that could go no further, when we dropped the bike in some badly rutted section. There was little damage to the bike and us zero, we both struggled to pick the bike up fully loaded at that altitude. Sweating and out of breath we climbed back on to the bike feeling a little shaken about the mishap.
Getting going after the fall
The ride down was uneventful, though tiring and at the intersection to the main road we stopped and enjoyed cheese, apples and dried fruit from our stores for lunch.
We circled the base of the vocano, heading for Ixtapan del Sal where we based ourselves for a few days, catching up on email, doing a day trip to Taxco and organising to meet our friends Garry and Ivonne, from Mexico City. We orignially met them at the HU meeting in Creel.
Garry, Ivonne and Jules
On Sunday the 20th November (Mexican Revolution Day) we were to meet Garry and Ivonne (on thier BMW) at the Zocalo, 10am. Grant could not get the bike out the hotel foyer due to a parked car so Julie walked to the Zocalo to meet them. In the mean time Grant managed to get the bike out only to find that the road was completely blocked off at both ends and a parade was ensuing.
Jules caught up with Garry and Ivonne as planned and returned to the Hotel to get Grant who was no longer there but had rode up the street to find a place to park, and was then enveloped in the crowd. He was replaced by school girls and boys twirling battons, waving pom poms and dancing for the whole extent of the street. After about an hour of much searching and being caught up in the festivities we all found each other and headed off to the archelogical ruins at Minalco.
The road was 'Topes-landia' (topes are speed bumps to the extreme) .... it seemed like every few meters there was another one, and the town itself was defintilely not user friendly and was a chore to manouver the fully loaded bike through, however we perservered and had a lovely lunch and a tour of the archeological site which involved a hike up a steep pathway, not too hard though.
Jules & Ivonne
Garry and Ivonne invited us to stay at thier house in Mexico City as it was probably an easier option than our original destination of Cuernavaca. Grant did not feel 'ready' for Mexico City but we decided to give it a whirl.... despite the horror stories of traffic conditions, pollution, population etc.
Garry did a marvellous job of guiding us to his home and it was not as terrifying as we imagined. Garry was to take us to Cuernevaca after work the following day.... as we had no idea how to get out of Mexico City... apparently it is quite easy when you have lived there for 20 odd years!
We spent the day with Ivonne who took us to San Angel (suburb) and we had a nice walk around the markets, streets and visited the Convento de Carmen. It was a very beautiful church and had a lovely walled garden. We did not realise it at the time but there is a museum next door that houses some mummified bodies.
Convento de Carmen
The ride out of Mexico City that afternoon was in mild traffic (according to some people) but was quite hard work. It seemed to take an age to get out of suburbs and hit the open road to Cuernevaca where we were greeted with an amazing sunset.
We arrived at Alan and Theresa's (Garry's in-laws) and stayed in their lovely house enjoying icecream, pizza and good conversation, leaving the following day for Cholula near Puebla.
Alan and Theresa with Grant and Miss Piggy
Cholula a small town some 126km south of Mexico City boasts over 70 churches and the largest pyramid of the ancient world though this is mostly in ruins and has a cathedral built on the top! It still is a remarkable site with over 8km of excavated tunnel.
Los Remedios, sits on top of the pyramid
Around the base of the pyramid are many excavations of the temples that surrounded it, with exceptional stucco and architecture.
We stayed 10 days spending our time walking about the town and finding, yet again, another church or cathederal. Some were extrodinarily ornate, the entire interior being carved and painted, others were tiled beautifully and very simple and austere inside.
There is a small free museum, on the zocalo, in Cholula with anthropoligical artifacts and history on the area from pre-hispanic times to Spanish occupation.
Church in Cholula
Eating grasshoppers with chile and lime..... delicous
We also took a day trip to Puebla (about 20 minutes away) on the bus. The bus travelled at over 120km/hour, racing down the 'Rapida' road, fully loaded, passengers standing. It was like a rollercoaster and equally as scary!
Puebla is famous for its tiles, ceramics and Basillica. The zocalo was being prepared for Christmas with the planting of hundreds of pointsettias giving a beautiful splash of red colour to the grey flag stoned square.
It is a great place to walk around with a great many buildings, some up to 400 years old (many with thier exteriors still retaining the original tiles.
Building in Puebla
We also took a day trip to Tlaxcala, where we spent the turn of the century on a previous trip to Mexico. The town had not changed much and is still a very nice place to visit and relax.
Church in Tlaxcala
We headed to Veracruz grimly deterimed to find the Libre (free) road to the coast and were unsuccessful spending $US15.00 on the journey to Cordoba.
On the road to Veracruz
Veracruz is a large port city with outstanding old architecture and a vibrant atmosphere. It is loud, dirty, warm and fun. We found a hotel with secure parking for the bike, right near the Malecon and zocalo at $US17.00 per night.
Building in Veracruz
We stayed for 4 days and then headed for Tajin an ancient city/archeological site.
The weather turned bad on the morning we left with very strong headwinds and lots of rain all the way up the Esmeralda Coast, however, the 300km trip was worth it with the 2000 year old city being spectacular.
We stayed in Papantla which again is a very busy, noisy place. Our hotel was very cheap. You could not swing a cat in the room and you were able to hear the amorus goings on of the other hotel patrons, quite clearly! Fortunately the room had a TV with good volume. The hotel manager allowed us to cook on our door step to the amusement of many of the other guests and staff.
Woman in Papantla
Papantla has an excelent show of the Valadores at the Cathederal on most days and the zocalo hosts tradional dancing and music as well. We were there during a Vanilla festival where the Queen of Vanilla was crowned.
Flying Valadores in Papantla
We returned to Veracruz for a couple of nights to enjoy the warmth and plan where we were to head next.
Tiled building - Veracruz
We arrived on the 12th December, the day for the festival of the patron saint of Mexico 'La Virgen Guaudalupe'. The zocalo was jammed packed with people and the childeren were dressed in traditional costume, the little boys had moustaches painted on. They had their photos taken with paintings of the Virgen. A Cuban band played late into the evenings and the crowd was dancing.
Child in Zocalo
Colourful building - Veracruz
Next we headed to Xalapa, the Capital of the state of Veracruz, where they have the 2nd largest anthropoligical museum in Mexico.
On the way into Centro we were confronted with some of the worst traffic conditions of our trip and unfortunately a ute reversed and collided with us and we hit the deck. We picked ourselves and Miss Piggy up while the driver sat in his vehicle obviously not to concerned with our plight! Jules went to talk to him as he had hit us and he just yelled at her and drove off.
After clearing ourselves of the traffic we checked ourselves over, no damage, most fortunate. Miss Piggy also was fine although the left hand side pannier which took most of the impact was partly crushed and the frame bent and broken.
We commenced some minor repairs to fix the damage enough to continue on to a hotel when Andreas approached us and we explained, in Spanglish, what had happened. As he was a motorcyle rider himself (he rides a Kawasaki 800 Vulcan) he was concerned about fixing the bike and offered us the use of any tools and bolts that we needed as he had a sewing machine shop across the street. He was also very interested in the modifications that Grant had done to the bike like panniers, bash plate, top box etc. We moved the bike over and with Andreas and the guys from his shop helped Grant to bash the box back into shape and re-bolt the pannier back on. Andreas and his wife Patty offered a room in thier home for the evening, which we gratefully accepted.
After a delicous lunch Patty, Carlos (son, 14) and Karin (daughter, 10) drove us into Xalapa so we could have a look around the city. They also took us to Cuatapec, a quaint little village nearby, and we attended the local pastorela, nativity play performed by the children - it involves singing and dancing, and an exhibition of over 700 nativity scenes from all over the world.
On Friday Andreas drove us out for the morning to visit another nearby town and to see the cascades, unfortunately the weather was very foggy and overcast we could not see them at all! We could, however, hear them (better than our Creel waterfall adventure!).
We left for Perote and Puebla, accompanied by Andreas and Carlos on the Vulcan, in some of the worst fog we have seen, thicker than pea soup (sopa de chicharos). The 40km trip to Perote took over an hour and traffic was heavy.
We said goodby to our new friends and continued on as the light began to fade. We arrived in Cholula at about 9pm breaking our golden rule of never riding in the dark. We spent a day in Cholula sorting a few things out and organising for Garry and Ivonne to meet us and guide us back to Mexico City on Sunday.
We met Garry and Ivonne at the zocalo, with no parade to greet them, and headed back to Mexico City. The first part of the ride was smooth and easy, but we entered the city through some really ugly traffic (30km's taking 2 hours).
Mexico City is inhabited by more people than live in the entire country of Australia!
So we could not imagine what it was going to be like to visit there. You dont just visit Mexico city, you experience it!
We are so grateful to know Garry who lead us in and out of the city on his BMW 1100GS or the Honda CBR 1000 and Ivonne, who has the most amazing driving skills, took us every where in the van!
On the way into Mexico City and ominous sound began eminating from the rear wheel of the Suzuki. We stopped as soon as possible to inspect and found the chain guard had broken off and was caught up in the wheel. Grant suspects it was damaged from the accident in Xalapa. We pulled it out of the way (with trusty cable ties) and Grant, in true Mexican fashion, repaired it.
Chain Guard Before
Chain Guard After
The first evening in Mexico City we were driven to Down Town and the Zocalo to see the Christmas Lights that decorated the buildings surrounding the square. At a snails pace Ivonne negotiated the traffic which was unusually heavy, allowing us plenty of time to see the scenery and the amazing light show on display.
Trades People for hire at Zocalo
There were alot of people out in the square and even in the side streets. We were surprised to see so many people and families walking about. You always hear about how dangerous Mexico City is, and for the most part, most places in Mexico City are no more dangerous than our experiences in other big cities.
That evening we visited Coyacan, a very arty and trendy suburb of Mexico City, wandering the evening markets, eating icecreams and corn on the cob.
It was a very pleasant introduction to one of the biggest cities in the world.
We made a plan for the weeks activities, scheduling time in for bike work (as we still needed to finish fixing the pannier) and a roast lamb! Something we had been craving for weeks and weeks.
Men at Work
We spent our time in Mexico City visting some of its most famous places such as:
Templo de Mayor - The remains of the greatest Aztec city in Meso-America. Most of it is now under Mexico City, which incidentally is built on an ancient lake.
Snake Head at Templo de Mayor
Cathederal - A beautiful grand church with a huge pipe organ. The whole building is sinking in to the above mentioned ancient lake and tilts. in the middle of the building there is a huge plumb bob that hangs at a very noticable angle as the building moves. While we were there the plumb bob was actually swaying, which meant that the building is moving (sinking actually!).
Zocalo - Traditonal Indian dancers were performing and there were a lot of people milling about (probably trying to steal Grants hands - inside joke).
Dancing Indians in Zocalo
Murals & Buildings - There were lots of them. The huge Diego Riviera mural of the history of Mexico is a truly amazing work or art! The post office is spectacular. The Old Government House is very interesting. Just DON'T touch the hand rails!! (inside joke - sorry if you dont get it!).
Basillica de Virgen Guadalupe - We attended mass and recieved a blessing on our Saint Christopher and Guadalupe medals. There are two Basillica's on the site, the old and the new (as well as a number of smaller chapels). The old is a deteriorating (and also sinking), restoration is underway to repair this beautiful austere hispanic building. The new Basillica is very modern and functional and was a source of great constenation due to its modern design amoungst the Catholic communities. It is estimated that some 7 million christians attended the 12th of December festival for the Virgin at this site. This is the area where the Virgin appeared before an Indian man and told him to tell the church to build a temple here on this site. The Virgin Guadalupe is a unifying force in all of Mexico.
Old and New together
Frida Kahlo museum - Very Cool. The Blue House (Casa Azul) is Frida Kahlos familiy home. Her studio and house is open to visitors and there are her and Diego Riveras paintings on display as well as other displays. Her work is testiment to her talent as a modern artist in Mexico. Grant was disappionted Salma Hyak was not in attendance. Diego Rivera`s collection of pre-hispanic art is on display in the garden too.
Garden of Casa Azul
All extremely interesting. We also had the opportunitiy to visit the Tiangues. Wall to wall street markets and shops where you can buy anything and everything you could imagine, even latches for panniers. There is a section of town called Garibaldi where you can buy Marriachi's! Well hire thier services at least! They all sit around the square in full costume and you can pay them to play a song or hire them for a function or party.
We spent a whole day at Teotihuacan. An ancient city some 50 kms from down town. It was a very intense and enjoyable experience. The Pyramid of the Sun seems to emit an amazing energy when you stand in the centre at the top. The view of the whole site from there is quite breath taking. The museum, dwarfed by the Pyramid of the Sun, is full of interesting information and artifacts from the site. It also contains a model of the whole site as it would have been during its epoch (takes up a whole room!).
Avenue of the Dead
At the stair way to Pyramid of the Sun
Mural in the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl
Afterwards we enjoyed 'almost' authentic Cornish Pasties from Pachuca (not too far from the site). They were delicous and very cheap! Pachuca was an old silver mining town that at one time in the 19th Century was settled and mined by immigrants from Cornwall, hence the legacy of the pasty!
Jules and a Pasty
Garry and Ivonne invited us to spend Christmas with them and their family in Zacatecas, so we all piled into the van and drove north to Ivonnes brother Carolos' house.
We arrived and were greeted by a house full with approximately 40 people. Christmas in Mexico is celebrated on Christmas Eve (Buena Noche). Families gather together and festivities kick off at midnight. We enjoyed a lovely meal of roast meats and vegies.
After dinner the family sang the Posada (the story of Mary and Joseph asking the inn keepers for a room for the night and being turned away and eventually finding someone who let them stay in their barn). The Baby Jesus is placed in his crib in the Nativity scene and then presents are opened. Gifts are usually clothing. Children recieve presents of toys on the 5th of January (the day of the Three Kings).
Grant and Jules bought a piñata (for the kids - of course) and filled it with sweets and peanuts. Carlos strung up a line and the smashing began! Everyone has a go at swinging a stick at the piñata while the onlookers sing a song. You start with the smallest people and work up to the bigger people. Aunty Laila at 85 was very good at it.
Bruce battling the Piñata
Whilst in Zacatecas it was really nice to catch up with our friends Federico and Ernesto. Grant also had the opportunity to meet Trevor from North Korea (Trevor is not his real name - just easier) riding a BMW650 to Tierra del Fuego at around about the same pace as us. Hopefully we will meet up with him along the way.
After three days it was time to head back to the city and make preparations to continue on our journey.
Bikes at Tres Marias - Near Cuernevaca
So we leave Mexico City and ride with Garry on the Honda, Michael and Alan on the Kawasaki for a hundred or so kilometres before Garry turned around and headed back home. Michael and Alan escorted us to Taxco where the Christmas traffic and many detours through narrow and steep winding streets proved a little difficult on the loaded Miss Piggy. At one stage we were climbing one of the many steep and slippery laneways when a car stopped in front of us suddenly. Poor Miss Piggy stalled and started sliding back until Grant could halt the descent with the gears.
Sweating considerably we arrived in the Zocalo, stayed briefly, said our goodbye´s too our Mexican friends and headed out of town. Taxco is a lovely town, filled with lots of silver crafts tiendas (shops), but not at Christmas/New Years on a heavily loaded bike!
Zocalo in Taxco
The ride from Taxco to Iguala is a very exciting road, by motorcycle, with lots of fast tight corners and a good road surface, however Grant started getting a migraine head ache and we decided to stop in Iguala for a couple of days. Our little hotel had a tranquil garden and very comfortable rooms for $US15.00 per night including cable TV and hot water! You can even rent a room at 'Siesta Rates' for $US5.00 per hour. Hmmmm
Are we lost? - Road to Acapulco
We spent New Years Eve near Acapulco at Pie de la Questa where camping is very expensive. After celebrating the coming of the new year with a nice fish dinner we did our "normal" New Years Eve trick and were in bed asleep by 10:30!
Whilst Acapulco may be a pleasant stay in the resort zone, the rest of the city is noisy and dirty with heavily congested traffic and we were pleased to head out along the coast.
New Years Day - view from our tent
The 200 km road between Acapulco and Pinetepa Nacional follows the 'Rule of Fives'. It is littered with small towns each seeming to be 5 kms apart and posses at least 5 topes each. When you do your sums it adds up to lots and lots of bumps and a very slow day!
At Puerto Angel we turned inland and headed towards Oaxaca City. 220kms of steep winding and broken road surface which took us over 8 hours. Much of it was in first and second gear. None the less, the scenery was spectacular and made for a very exciting days ride. It is very interesting to see the small villages perched on steep precipices and ridge tops. Homes are very simple and consist of four walls and a bed. Most living is done outside, with this region being very poor many people live from day to day.
Lunch on the road to Oaxaca
Oaxaca City is very quaint but touristy and the hotel prices reflect this, it is very difficult to find cheap accommodation with parking for the bike. We stayed briefly and headed to Mitla 40kms away.
Balloon Seller - Oaxaca City
We spent two days in Mitla a very interesting small town built around an extensive ancient Zapotec ruin with excellent examples of stucco, stone carving and murals. The church and its grounds have been built by dismantiling some of the pyramids and temples and has utilised some of the walls of the existing buildings as its own.
Zapotec Ruins at Mitla
Another view of Mitla
We were sentenced to two nights in a cheap hotel that was much like staying in a dungeon or jail and had the most "unusual" bathroom we have come across so far! To shower you needed to stand over the toilet and lean on the basin. It was hillarious, to give it credit though the water was hot, the pressure good and the room was clean!
We were dissapointed to find that the hotel managers children had decided to use our pannier as an advertisment for thier hotel and scrawled on the address with a black marker. We did not mind so much but the parents seemed to show little to no concern or even offer an apology.
The ride back to the coast was uneventful and in Tehuantepec we fully serviced the bike and met up with a local motorcyclist. Ruben and his son Daniel showed a great deal of interest in Miss Piggy and us. Ruben had ridden his Dynamo 250 Custom (Chinese imported bikes in Mexico - very popular and inexpensive) from Tehuntepec to Panama City and return!
Markets in Tehuantepec - Yes the rail line is in service!
We made Tehuntepec our home for a few days thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of the town and its people. We spent a great deal of time wandering the amazing street markets that were set up each morning on the rail way lines selling everything from plates to pineapples. Each night they would clear the tracks for the night freight trains to come through.
Moto-Carro - Tehuantepec public transport
The southern coast of the Istmus is renowned for its very strong winds and the next day ride to Tuxtla Guitierrez proved to us to be no exception. At times we were blown all over the road and at one point when we stopped to ask for directions Grant had to move the bike in fear of it being blown over. Grant could barely hold the bike in an upright position whilst stationery. It was quite scary and we were glad to head inland for Tuxtla about half way through the journey.
Tuxtla Guitierrez is the capital city of Chiapas. It is quite modern and has a wonderful zoo where you can actually roam about with many of the animals. ZOOMAT was founded by Doctor Miguel Alverez Tores to ensure the preservation of the native animals and plants enabling the local indigenious people access to thier heritage.
To get to the zoo it is easier to catch the Collectivo. This was an experience! The bus hurtles through narrow streets and stops suddenly for passengers at any time. In the mean time passengers, carring all sorts of goods and chattle, are packed in like sardines.
Leaving Tuxtla we climbed high into the mountains to San Christobal de la Casa. From there the road winds through lush mountains and valleys to Ocosingo and then onto Palenque. On the way there was evidence of the previous troubles in Chiapas with many signs and political posters warning this was Zapatista territory and you are under thier rules.
Local Transport - Chiapas
During the day Jules got an insect sting in her eye, for over eight hours it wept heavily and before gong to bed she took an anti-histamine. By the following morning it was puffed up like a balloon, she was a very sorry sight. Fortunately it went down very quickly the following day and all was well.
We were looking forward to camping again stopping at Maybells Campground, close to the ruins of Palenque. It was very dirty, full of a lot of drunken tourists and seemingly drugged out hippies. We stayed a few nights, to save some money, but it was quite an unsavoury experience.
Sugar Cane Hauler
Leaving the mountains of Chiapas behind the ride to Merida via Campeche was pleasant with long coastal roads. At the small town of Chable on the state boarder we crossed the toll bridge and found a small restaurant for lunch. We were a bit hesitant about eating there as it appeared empty and a little dirty, however when Grant is hungry, he must eat! So we ordered fish and a Milenesa and were greatly surprised by the quality of the food and the huge servings all for $US7.00! It was the best fish meal Grant had eaten in all of Mexico.
Upon arrival in bustling tropical Merida we found ourselves quite lost in the narrow streets around the Zocalo. Once again our street map (in our guide book) proved to be almost completely different to what is actually on offer. That is not quite true, because most Mexican towns are a maze of one way streets, so to get to where you want to be on the map you have to first work out which streets go in what direction. Oh so amusing!
Building in Central Plaza - Merida
We stopped to ask for directions only to be interviewed about our travels for a local radio station! In our broken Spanglish we managed to communicate our story, reving the engine of the bike, at the request of the interviewer, for artistic effect.
Merida is a lovely town though very busy Most of the cities population appear to spend their days crowding onto the narrow, hot one way streets, however, you can find solice in some of the many shaded parks.
We visited several museums, one being for modern art where we were treated to a free and delightful concert and the zocalo where dancers in thier white costumes performed.
After several days we headed off to Celestun to see the flamingos that were not in season! Oh well you get that! However the town was pleasant, but unfortunately inundated with flood waters from recent tropical storms. We found a cheap hotel with a million dollar view from our balconied room, situated right on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. That evening we had a huge feast of fish and chips whilst watching the sun set.
The Puuc region beckoned us where we found Muna and Santa Elena. Whilst in Muna Grant changed the front brake pads and bled the system and also changed a full set of sprockets and chain. We had put up with a clunking chain for over 10,000kms and it was very refreshing to ride the bike that felt new again.
Anna Maria runs the GL Hotel in Muna Centro. The rooms are very clean and spacious with Cable TV, fans or air con and offers safe parking for vehicles, all for $US15.00.
Santa Elena, 40kms from Muna, is another typical Yucatan small town with a massive Spanish church. This one is built on the foundations of an ancient Mayan pyramid with a facinating museum about the town and area. One of the most interesting exhibits is that of 4 mumified bodies of children exhumed from the floor of the church. They were discovered when maintenance on the flooring of the church was being undertaken.
Church - Santa Elena
Sacbe Bungalows offers camping and bungalows in a beautiful garden setting within walking distance of the town. Many Mayan sites are located near Santa Elena including Kabah where there is an enormous archway at the enterance to the sacbe (an ancient Mayan road or causeway) that ran to Uxmal (another Mayan City) and beyond.
Archway to the sacbe
On the steps of the Archway we were greeted by a beautiful iguana resting in the sun. He did not mind us being there and even posed for photos.
We spent several hours wandering the site and enjoying the solitude of this small rarely visited archeological site.
Statues - Kabah
Many of the towns in this area have enourmous Spanish Catholic churches which were often built from the building materials of ancient Mayan structures and were constructed by using thousands of Mayan slaves at the time of Spanish occupation.
Heading towards Tulum, on the Carribean Sea, to celebrate Grants birthday, we found the main highway through Coba turned into one lane filled completely with potholes. Many trees and sections of forest are still flattened providing evidence of the hurricaines that devastated parts of the Yucatan Peninsula in the last 6 months and as such many tourists have stayed away causing a great deal of economic hardship for the locals.
Tulum turned out to be quite dissapointing, it was something like a surreal version of Disney Land, with very crass names for beach resorts like Dreams Six.
We stayed briefly in a slightly upmarket accomodations to what we have been use to, which made for a very nice respite.
Arriving in Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, we were surprised to find a very modern city, with wide two way streets, traffic lights that work, no busses in the centre and an enourmous cosmopolitan shopping centre with cinema and English movies.
Chetumal has a laid back feel with out the fuss and scurry of the usual large Mexican towns. It was a great base to plan our trip to Calakmul, a major ancient Mayan city somewhat isolated and off the normal Ruta Maya circuits.
Our intention was to ride the 145km to Xpujil, the nearest town to the site, find a hotel and then travel the 240km round trip to the site in a day. After unsucessfully securing cheap accommodation we ended up heading into the biosphere to stay at Yaax Che Campground (Km 7 Calakmul Road) within 60 kms of the site.
We were not sure what to expect from Calakmul (Calak = Towers, Mul = two) as there is little published information on the site that has been steeped in secrecy and mystic for many years since its discovery. It has only recently been opened to the public and is now believed, by the working archeologists, to be the greatest ancient city of all Latin America, with more than 10,000 buildings and temples discovered to date.
The nearly 60 kilometre ride was beautiful. Thick jungle, tight corners on a narrow strip of black top. Butterflies fluttering through our path, peacocks running across the road, every now and then you can peer through the underbrush and see an obvious mound of rocks that would once have been a dwelling or small temple. It is an exciting ride.
Road to Calakmul
We paid our 33 Pesos each and went in through the gate. You seem to walk for miles seeing mounds of rubble covered with brush. Spider monkeys jump from tree to tree forraging for food. In the distance you hear all number of birds singing and Howler monkeys sounding thier eerie cry.
The site is wonderful. It is a beautiful nature park as well as holding some amazing buildings. It contains over 140 stellae detailing the names and dates of the ruling classes thus there is a clear record of the history of the city which was inhabitated for 14 centuries or more.
We climbed to the top of Gran Acropolis, the largest of all the structures, breaching the canopy of the jungle below. After the steep climb we turned around and could see the tops of Buildings 2 and 3 rising up through the trees. The view is spectacular and you can see right to the horizon. You notice that all the surrounding areas is flat apart from mounds that used to be temples and a few mountains right off in the distance. From this vantage point you can see clear into Guatemala.
View from the Gran Acropolis
We sat up there for quite a while eating a mango and absorbing the atmosphere and energy, watching the howler monkeys down below jumping from tree to tree, and wondering about the people who used this place as their home.
In all we spent about 6 hours at the site before returning to our campsite both of us tired but feeling in awe of our days experience. We decided to eat in the small restaurant at the campsite and as we were the only customers staying in the campground we were given special service with the cook and her helper showing us through the traditional Mayan kitchen so we could watch the cooking in progress.
Making tortillas in the Mayan Kitchen
Calakmul was a wonderful end to nearly six months of travel in Mexico for Chetumal is the border to Belize our next country on the journey south.
BORDER CROSSING - EXIT MEXICO
A very simple affair but be warned: Corruption is rife at this crossing and we were conned out of 100 Pesos ($US10.00) for supposed services provided by the Immigration Official.
Note: There are no charges to exit Mexico for persons or vehicle!
After six months in Mexico without experiencing a trace of corruption it saddened us, however, shit happens!
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