September 13, 2008 GMT
Tacos and Topes


With our Houston deadline drawing ever closer, we were happy to have budgeted no less than a month for our ride through Mexico. Taking in spectacular colonial towns, exhilarating mountain roads, ancient Aztec sites and breathtaking coast lines, Mexico didn't disappoint. That's more than can be said for that final drive bearing!

Bienvenido a Mexico!


Arriving hot and sweaty at the Mexican border, it was the bikes that enjoyed a cold shower and not us. Mind you, at 5US$ a pop for a thirty second token fumigation, we thought it a tad steep.

$5 fumigation

As soon as we crossed the border, we noticed that Mexico seemed to be obsessed with sleeping policemen (or 'dead policemen', as my brother used to call them when he was little). They were everywhere. Every few hundred metres, there were these 'topes' as they are called in Mexico. Sometimes they were official ones, painted with warning stripes and with a handy sign announcing them; other times they had been homemade by the villagers and disguised as a bit of normal road, so the first thing we'd know about them was hitting them.

(Don't tell Dave but we sent him first, so we'd see him fly up in the air as he hit them unawares).

Sleeping policemen...or woman?

While in Nicaragua, we'd made the exciting discovery that we were carrying a third passenger! We were both very happy about this and it was perfect timing as by the time we got home I'd be about 14 weeks pregnant - over the nasty tired stage and into the full of energy stage. Or so the books say! Actually I'd been very lucky and not had any sickness, which would have been a complete nightmare on the bike. Because of this, Hame and I decided to take it a bit more easily than we had been, avoiding the dirt roads and extra vibrations. We also planned shorter days and splashed out a dollar or two more for a room, ensuring I could get a good night's sleep.

The three of us and Dave rode to San Cristobal de Las Casas, our first experience of a Mexican Spanish colonial town, of which we were to see many. With colourful colonial buildings and lots of churches and markets to wander around, it was a pleasant place to stop.

San Cristobal de Las Casas

After a couple of nights we took a great twisty road through Zapatista rebel territory to Palenque, a Mayan site which was inhabited from 100 BC to AD 740.

Territorio Zapatista!

Along the way, we stopped off for a refreshing swim in the waterfalls at Aqua Azul. Well, at least the boys did.

Aqua Azul waterfalls

"More ruins," said Hamish. "Great."


These were pretty cool ruins though (unlike the weather, which was extremely hot and humid) and with Dave we had a great day exploring the old temples and buildings. Although the Spaniards knew of the ancient city, it was hidden in the jungle until 1837 when it was properly explored for the first time. Even today parts of it remain swallowed by trees. Howler monkeys roared in the distance like something from Star Trek, and toucans flew over our heads as we sat and took it all in.

Here we said farewell to Dave as he was on a mission to get to Canada for a date with some grizzly bears. We'd enjoyed riding with him and hoped to catch up in the UK, when we're all back in reality again.

Em takes a roadside breather

Hame and I returned to our old slow pace, enjoying the ride to a lovely village called San Augustinillo by the Pacific coast to chill by the beach for a few days.

San Augustinillo

We settled in at Casa Azul and hung out with DeNel and Brent, two Canadians who'd been there a few months.

Brent and DeNel

The beach was gorgeous, and the owner of Casa Azul had thoughfully built a small swimming pool which during the day was like lying in a warm bath, and was the only place to be as it was so hot.

See you soon...very soon!

It was very hard to leave but when we did tear ourselves away, we got ten kilometres down the road until we had to turn around and come right back again....

I thought I felt a vibration from the bike's back end as we rode into San Augustinillo, but as it had been a long day's ride and the fact the roads weren't the best, I ignored my instincts. To be honest, the last thing I wanted to do was replace the final drive bearing for a second time. After our fairly major rebuild in Medellin, Colombia, I'd hoped we'd make it home before conducting any more repairs. I should have known better!

So when we set off from San Augustinillo, my fears were confirmed. Even Em could feel a vibration through her foot-pegs, indicating a final drive bearing on its way out. However, unlike myself, Em wasn't too disappointed as it meant another day by the beach!

After our big farewell, it was hello once again to DeNel and Brent before I set to work, catching the local collectivo to town in search of a press to remove the failed bearing. Upon my return I used our trusty camping stove to heat the new bearing, before 'persuading' it into place.

Not again...


...oh, well...

...there you go...


Note: Although not recommended in the BMW handbook, better results are achieved when only wearing boxer shorts during unscheduled maintenance.

Crazy Canadian, Sylvia

The following day we really did leave, vibration-free this time. We rode along the coast to a small beach town called Playa Ventura. It had been really hot all the way so a swim was most welcome. Just before we jumped in, I saw dolphins swimming by, just metres from the shore.

Who needs a stand, just get it stuck in the sand!

Room with a view

Pacific sunset

We said farewell to the Pacific until who knows when, and headed inland to the very lovely Taxco, an old silver mining town which still sells silver in every other shop.


Taxco's markets were built along its steep, narrow streets and covered with tarps - so it was easy to get lost. It was a wonderful place to explore.

More Beetles than a VW factory!

All the way through South America we'd been in touch with Eduardo and Margarita, friends of Jules and Grant. We'd met them when they visited Jules and Grant in San Rafael. They live in Mexico City and had asked us to call in on the way through.

You can't get your clothes wet if you don't wear any

As we left Taxco it started raining and the wet stayed with us all the way to Mexico City. We'd been running ahead of the rainy season but it felt like it'd caught us up. By the time we met Eduardo, we were very cold and wet, but he made us so welcome - food and hot showers were waiting for us so within minutes we were comfortable and grateful for the fantastic welcome into their beautiful home.

Mexico City is home to 23 million people. Hame and I are not great city people, so we found the traffic and general busyness quite draining, but the sights of the city were excellent.

Even the local Police were a sight, jetting around on their little electric buggies...

Hola, Hola

...but not a patch on the Traffic Cops in their cool V8 Dodge Chargers!

Mexican Mad Max

By coincidence, my stepbrother Adam and his wife Yvonne (who live in Houston) were on holiday in Mexico City the weekend we were there, so we met up and explored the city and surrounding area together.

One of Diego Rivera's fantastic murals depicting scenes from Aztec life

Aztec dancers in the Zocalo - Grand Plaza

Part of the Zocalo - one of the biggest plazas in the world

While teaching, I'd taught the kids about the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan, the beautiful ancient Aztec city which was ransacked by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Reciting all sorts of nerdy facts, I bored poor Yvonne; Hamish and Adam finding it more interesting to talk to each other (about beer and engines).

The Aztec sunstone, discovered when excavating for a new building

Part of the main temple in Tenochtitlan, right in the middle of the city

Em was disappointed not have made it to Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast, to see the famous Voladores, therefore it was a bonus when we stumbled across a visiting troupe in down-town Mexico City.


Attaching a length of rope to their ankles, the men 'float' down in circles from a high pole, to the sound of pipes played by one of the flyers - it was an amazing sight indeed.

Saying farewell to Eduardo and Margarita, our kind hosts.

With Adam and Yvonne on top of the Great Pyramid at Teotihuacan, ancient site North of the city.

The Great Pyramid at Teotihuacan

Roadside breakfast


We weren't sad to leave the big city and ride North to quieter areas. We stopped off in Guanajuato, a fantastic town which was once an important mining town. Many of the original tunnels are still there, now occupying the town's roads, thereby saving the town from congestion. The town itself seemed to be built on many levels, with tunnels giving way to high walls and houses perched on steep hills.


Mariaches serenading a couple in the plaza

By night Guanjuato had a warm atmosphere, both in temperature and friendliness. We wandered around the streets where people of all ages sat and chilled in cafes, on steps and on benches in the plaza, enjoying the evening air. Musicians were everywhere, playing requests for passers by. In one hotel I even got the impression musicians were a kind of pest, as one of the instructions on the door said - "Do not introduce musicians to your room"!

Pests or players?!

As well as the mariaches, one evening we discovered a man playing bagpipes near our hostel. The man playing them had built them himself. Both Hamish the Scot and Hamish the engineer were intrigued.

Mexican Pipes!

Colourful buildings in Guanajuato

Guanajuato hostel

Again, Guanajuato was a place we could have stayed for far longer but after a couple of days we had to manouever Bertha out from her space by our room, and get back on the road.

Zacatecas Cathedral

Stopping off further north in Zacatecas, we took in the colonial architecture whilst wandering the streets in search of a clinic. Em had been pregnant for ten weeks now and was therefore due a scan, as we'd not be able to get one easily in the States and it would be a few more weeks before we were home. Stepping into what we would later learn to be the oldest hospital in Mexico, we were treated extremely well, both overjoyed to learn all was well with junior to be. (Although perhaps we'll have to play recordings of motorcycle engines to get him or her to sleep! - Em)

Leaving the Central Highlands behind us, we headed North-East towards Monterrey across the plains and some pretty straight roads!


As if to break the monotony, we found ourselves once again crossing the Tropic of Cancer - the last time being two years previously in Western Australia. Come to think of it, the roads weren't so different there!

Tropic of Cancer

However, soon enough we turned off and found a 28km stretch of cobbles, which led us to a 2km long tunnel, which in turn took us to Real de Catorce - a coming-to-life ghost town which was a busy, rich mining town 100 years ago. The town was used as a backdrop for the film "The Mexican" and it was like stepping back in time. We found an adobe house to stay in which looked like it hadn't changed in years.

28km of cobbles - I shudder to think how long it took to build!

And then a 2km tunnel

Home for the night

A place lost in time - Real de Catorce

Back through the tunnel, and soon we were back into the present day where we pointed Bertha to the North and headed off into the heat.

Not long before Monterrey, we suddenly came upon a traffic jam. Winding our way to the front and to the source of the bottle-neck, we found a damaged beer truck on its side, passers-by swarming around, helping themselves to the booty. If only the panniers weren't full...


Wishing to avoid Monterrey, Mexico's third largest city, we instead sought out Villa de Garcia, a small village to the West of the city. It was famous for the nearby Grutas de Garcia, apparently the country's largest and most beautiful cave systems. We weren't disappointed. After a fashion (understatement), we found a wonderful hotel for the night, a former colonial mansion, complete with courtyards and fountains. Furthermore, we were the only guests! Result!

With our Houston departure a matter of weeks away, we headed for the border and the Land of Plenty. After after a fantastic 18 months, it was adios Latin America.

The Last Bit....

Hamish and Emma

A rather substantial tequila menu

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Posted by Hamish Oag at 09:33 PM GMT

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