December 23, 2010 GMT
Central Mexico Xmas

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas everyone. Here’s some seasonal advice that I learnt the hard way, never never never dress a cactus with Christmas decorations, not only do the locals think you are a crazy 'loco gringo' but no matter how cautious you are you will end up picking tiny, almost invisible painful spines out of your fingertips for days afterwards!

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Hostal Don David Roof Terrace, Zacatecas

I stayed in Zacatecas for over two months waiting for a new bank card to be sent from England without success. I seem to be fated to have problems with banks on this trip. Having been plagued with ‘security’ stops on my Lloyds TSB cards I ordered a Caxton pre-paid debit card which got lost in the Royal Mail postal service on its way to my house in the UK, the only address Caxton would send it to for security reasons. There was a delay while this card was cancelled and a replacement sent out. When the second card was collected it was forgotten about and lived in the bottom of a briefcase for two weeks before being posted by a Royal Mail service that can be tracked until just prior to leaving the UK where it drops into the standard overseas mail system. Presumably some customers must want to track there international post for the short domestic first leg only! My bank card ended up being sent this way by mistake, it hadn’t arrived in Zacatecas after two weeks so I decided to do a trip on the motorbike whilst keeping in touch with Hostal Don David, my Zacatecas home so that I can return should the bank card arrive.

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Climbing Towards Real de Catorce

Javier, a photographer I met at a Thanksgiving party hosted by my Zacatecas neighbour and friend Polly from the USA said I should go to Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town in the mountains at just over 9000 feet (2756 metres) so that’s where I headed first. I had plotted a route that took the back roads out of Zacatecas before joining highway 54 heading north. The roads started out fine, twisting up into the mountains then Garmin wanted me to take what looked like a farm track but when I did the route and the track disappeared from the screen. It was only ten miles or so to link up with the main road so at each junction I took whichever track seemed to be heading in the right direction. I had to backtrack twice, once when the track ended in a field and once when the track dwindled into a narrow overgrown animal trail but I eventually ended up on the main road north. It was a nice mini adventure for the first day in two months of riding the bike.

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24km Of Cobbled Road Leading To Real de Catorce

The last section of the route to Real de Catorce is on a bumpy cobbled road for 24km followed by a 2300 metre long tunnel. There were some huge ‘Prickly Pear’ cactus on the roadside growing up to thirteen feet (four metres) high. I had read that the tunnel was one way and that you had to wait your turn before travelling through but when I arrived I was waved straight into the tunnel. It was supposed to be one way and I was riding into the oncoming traffic which was ok with the cars but I had to stop up against the wall as a truck inched by.

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Real de Catorce

The town has fewer inhabitants now than it did in its heyday when all the silver mines were in operation and a lot of the buildings lie derelict. The main and possibly only source of income now is generated from tourism. Real de Catorce's other claim to fame is that the best peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus grows in the surrounding hillsides, not that I was tempted to try it, coffee provides all the stimulation I can handle these days.

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The Youth Of Real de Catorce Dressed Up For A Night On The Town

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The Entrance To The 2300 Metre Long Real de Catorce Tunnel

From Real de Catorce I headed for the large town of San Luis Potosi where I thought I had arranged to borrow a workshop to change the chain and sprockets on the bike and get the broken number plate support bracket welded. When I arrived Lalo the workshop owner and ex motorcycle racer obviously expected to be doing the work. He did an excellent job and thoroughly cleaned the bike all for a very reasonable price so I was happy seeing the sights and leaving him to it.

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Our Lady Of Guadalupe Pilgrim

December 12th marks the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe when devotees make a pilgrimage to offer thanks to the Catholic Virgin of Guadalupe. The olive skinned Virgin is said to have appeared before Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec convert to Roman Catholicism, on 12th December 1531 in the outskirts of Mexico City and told him to build a church on the site. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was subsequently built is the most visited catholic shrine in the world. Devotees make a pilgrimage to this church and others throughout the Americas on the anniversary of this appearance. I watched the pilgrims going to a Church in San Luis Potosi, many on their knees, most of these had helpers laying out folded blankets to ease the pain but some hardier or foolish first timers did it with nothing but their jeans for protection. Devotees believe that pilgrims that come to give thanks to the Lady of Guadalupe will have all kinds of ailments cured. I saw a guy pushing his own wheelchair away from the church and an old lady carrying a walking frame so there may be something to their belief!

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Guanajuato

My next stop was Guanajuato, another hill town with a very complex and compact road system which includes tunnels under the town complete with underground road junctions. After criss crossing backwards and forwards over, under and through the town trying to find a hostel I parked and searched on foot wearing my bike gear and carrying my fairly heavy tank top bag. According to Garmin GPS I was only 450 metres from the hostel but walked into a tunnel which passed underneath it and came out 500 metres on the other side! After an hour of walking up and down steep narrow alleyways with steps in the mid afternoon heat I stumbled across an alternative hostel and booked in there. After quickly shedding the bike suit it was back out into the heat to find the bike which thanks to having marked the location in the GPS was easily done but the route was pedestrian only most of the way. I flagged a taxi down at the bike and paid him the princely sum of $2.50 to lead me to the hostel, if he had only known I would have gladly paid ten times that to get back to the hostel, get out of my sweaty clothes and take a shower!

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Some Of The Guanajuato Alleys That Garmin Mistook For Roads

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That's A Lot Of Spanish Words To Say Don't Throw The Sink!

Once I had cooled down and rested I enjoyed exploring the narrow alleyways (Callejones) and the main plaza was a pleasant shady area to sit and watch the world go by. I scouted the route out of town on foot to make sure I didn't get lost when leaving on the bike but finding your way out of town is always easier than seeking out a particular street on the way in.

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Guanajuato Main Plaza

When I left Guanajuato (minus a bike mirror that was stolen whilst parked in the street) I was followed the fifty odd miles to San Miguel de Allende by a couple of bikes. We all pulled into a fuel station on the outskirts of town for a brief chat, they were just stopping in San Miguel de Allende for lunch. Rob and Duncan are doing a culinery tour of latin America (www.motorcyclemenus.com) which reminded me of the 'Hairy Bikers', a couple of TV chefs from my part of England who ride motorbikes around different countries sampling and cooking local dishes, now there's a great way to make a living.

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San Miguel de Allende Main Plaza (Jardin Principal)

A lot of United States Retirees settle in San Miguel de Allende or have second homes here giving the place a gentrified feel with its upmarket shops although the gated communities now being built seems a step too far to me. The cafes in the main plaza, Jardin Principal were expensive but there were plenty of good places a couple of blocks away charging the usual cheap Mexican prices. I found a place doing an 'all you can eat' Mexicana buffet for $5.

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San Miguel de Allende

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at December 23, 2010 07:14 PM GMT
 
 

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