February 16, 2011 GMT
Mexican Caribbean Coast
There have been some interesting motorcycling sights spotted in Mexico, grandmothers looking perfectly composed riding side saddle on the back of a scooter, a family of four on a scooter with a baby wedged between the parents and a toddler standing on the footplate and numerous weird and wonderful modifications. My favourite modification to date has been splitting the bike in two at the forks and using the front for steering and controls with the back positioned to power one side of a trike, the third trike wheel doesn‘t have power or brakes. A large flat load carrying surface is created and I have seen a couple adapted to take a wheelchair.
Outdoor Latin American Dancing Is Popular With The Oldies
I had lost a filling in the USA where obviously it was far to expensive to think about getting it fixed. It wasn’t painful and I intended to get the tooth refilled in Mexico or Costa Rica. I then lost a second filling while in Oaxaca, Mexico so decided to seek out a dentist. The owner of the Merida hostel I was staying in recommended someone and after the initial examination one tooth simply needed refilling but the other required a root canal. I wasn’t sure what a root canal procedure was but I do now, a long two stage filling that requires a lot more anaesthetic than a standard filling. The standard filling cost 42 pounds ($61 USD) while the root canal was a whopping 222 pounds ($323 USD) which is probably more than I would have paid in England. The good news is that despite the dentists bill after five months of travelling in Mexico my savings have increased slightly so for the first time on this trip I have been able to live and travel on the rental income from my house in England and not had to dip into savings.
Celestun Beach, Gulf of Mexico
I rode out to Celestun from Merida to take a boat trip and see a flock of pink flamingos, fortunately the ride was enjoyable with some good scenery finishing on the Gulf of Mexico coast. I could have taken a coach tour from Merida which included the boat trip and lunch for $40 USD so expected the boat trip alone to be considerably less. When I arrived at the boat landing I discovered that I couldn’t join a boat tour but could only hire a boat and driver / guide which was going to cost $60 for a one hour trip. I decided that I didn’t want to see pink flamingos that badly and after a second visit to the beach returned to Merida. I can see pink flamingos at home at the nearby Washington Wildlife Trust!
Chichen Itza Pyramid
I stopped at Chichen Itza another popular Mayan ruin site between Merida and Valladolid with lots of tourist coaches in the car park and when I got there a queue of over a hundred were waiting to click through the turnstile entrance. Once inside the site was large enough to accommodate everyone and although there were lots of souvenir sellers lining the pathways they weren’t pushing their wares at you the whole time as I had been told. One guy from a tourist group, presumably forgetting which continent he was on and confusing the dead Mayan religion with the still practised Buddhism was loudly asking for “a Buddha” from one of the Mayan traders! There should be a test prior to issuing passports to avoid such embarrassments!
Chichen Itza Iguana
In the Yucatan Peninsular the rain seeps through the porous limestone to form underground pools known as Cenotes. These underground pools were the water supply for the Pre Columbian Mayans and presumably still supply freshwater today. A number of them are accessible for swimming. The Dzitnup Cenote near Valladolid has a small hole in the roof which casts a beam of sunlight onto the water although the day I went it was overcast so I didn‘t get to see it at its best. On the return five mile ride to Valladolid wearing only a regular shirt and trousers it decided to rain, it was only a light shower but it seemed a little unfair that I happened to be riding the bike when the first rain I have seen in over four months fell.
Cenote Dzitnup On A Good Day.... I Didn't Have The Shaft Of Light
I was in two minds about going to Cancun, a city that has been developed over the last forty years from a small fishing village into one of the worlds premier seaside resorts famous for the USA spring break invasion of wild partying students. However Cancun was the last opportunity to visit a BMW dealership until I get to San Jose, Costa Rica over 2000 miles away. There wasn’t any spares that I desperately needed but decided to replace the mirror stolen in Guanajuato and get a few other bits and pieces as I try to guess what might go wrong. The parts were almost twice the price they would have been in the USA because of the high Mexican import tax so if your heading this way stock up in the USA.
Cancun Hotel District
The Garmin GPS holder failed during a short ride to Cancun beach. It had given trouble on the way north through Canada to Alaska eight months ago when the GPS would turn itself off intermittently as the damp weather got into the electrical contacts. Cleaning and a blast of WD40 would cure the problem for a while but I ordered a spare which has lived in the bottom of a pannier for over six months as once I got into the drier USA summer the problem disappeared. The humidity of the Caribbean seems to have caused the problem to reoccur and cleaning and spraying with WD40 didn’t fix it but fortunately I had the spare. I’m swivelling the holder upside down and further under the windscreen when parking to try and protect the new holder electrical contacts from any rain.
The road from Cancun to Tulum is a straight four lane dual carriageway which passes a number of resort hotels and although following the coastline rarely gets close enough for a sea view, the road does get you to Tulum quickly though.
Tulum Mayan Ruins
At Tulum the remains of a Pre Columbian Mayan fortified town sit right on the cliff top overlooking a narrow beach. Walls were built on three sides of the town with the cliffs down to the beach protecting the coastal side of the town. The town continued to be occupied by the Mayans for seventy years after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors and its final demise is thought to have been brought about by Old World diseases introduced by Spanish settlers killing most of the Mayans.
Tulum Ruins Beach Once Used By The Mayans To Land Their Boats
The ride to my final Mexican destination, Chetumal along highway 307 wasn’t particularly exciting. A long straight road with no changes of scenery but it was in good condition and did the job of getting me to my destination. I have been unable to load my GPS map for Belize and am waiting for a response from Garmin otherwise I will have to resort to the old fashioned paper maps and stopping to ask directions once I reach the towns. Even if I get the map installed correctly, all Garmin has to offer for Central and South America is their world map which only shows national borders and major roads so I will be trying even harder to avoid the bigger towns.
I have enjoyed travelling in Mexico for the last five months, the people have been great, including the numerous police and army personnel I have met at checkpoints who are doing a difficult and dangerous job while the “war on drugs“ continues. I have only had four relatively minor negative incidents and three of those were in the last couple of weeks on the touristy Caribbean coast. I had a mirror stolen from the bike in Guanajuato when I had (foolishly?) left it parked on the street overnight. At an army checkpoint on the Yucatan Peninsular I was asked for a bribe by a young soldier, he was smiling and I think just trying his luck, I dodged the issue with my tried and tested “No Habla Espanol” (a badly phrased version of “I don‘t speak Spanish” I believe). At a hostel in Cancun I was asked to pay $5 USD a night over the proper rate by a worker from New Zealand, fortunately I had checked the price on the internet before arriving. He claimed he had made a mistake but I later saw the rates written on a board behind the reception desk. And finally when I was buying my ticket to enter Tulum ruins the ticket seller tried to short change me but he handed the extra $5USD over when I tapped on the glass.
Chetumal Near The Belize Border
The next stop is in Belize which I’m passing through fairly quickly on my way to Tikal and Flores in Guatemala. I had heard that Belize is expensive compared to neighbouring countries although I have met travellers recently who have just left saying that they found reasonably priced accommodation and restaurants.
Posted by ianmoor at 01:42 PM
February 04, 2011 GMT
January 25, 2011 GMT
Mexico - Oaxaca
Farwell, a well travelled friend I met in Montana told me his favourite place in Mexico was Oaxaca and as I have made my way south most people who had been really liked the place. At this time of year (January) it has an almost perfect climate with Canadians travelling to it to escape the cold and Argentineans to escape the midsummer heat.
Another Day In Paradise - Oaxaca Main Plaza, The Zocalo
The large main plaza, Zocalo is a lively, colourful place with plenty of activity and entertainment from orchestras one night to Peruvian panpipe players another. Everyone gathers there in the evening, children play with giant cylindrical balloons outside the cathedral while various traditional musicians busk at the restaurants and living statues pose for photos and give you a fortune card in exchange for dropping a few coins into their collection boxes.
Long Cylindrical Balloons Outside The Cathedral
One perfect tropical evening in the Zocalo I was watching an excellent group of musicians playing traditional Peruvian music with panpipes, flutes and guitars thinking that life couldn’t get any better when a street trader came round selling cheesecake. CHEESECAKE without having to move, Viva Mexico!
Bike Stored In The Hostel Courtyard (www.mezkalitohostel.com)
There was an outcry as fuel rose by 2 pesos with concern that it would push up the price of basic food, bus journeys and everything else. It now costs 9 peso per litre (48p per litre or $2.74 per US gallon if I got my sums right), still cheap by European standards.
An English language Mexican newspaper reported that Mexico now headed the list of obese nations. Maybe there is a downside to having street dealers pushing their cheesecakes onto a hedonistic populace innocently out for a good time and in moments of weakness succumbing to temptation. One of the pushers looked like he was a cheesecake addict himself, selling no doubt to feed his own habit.
Monte Alban, on the outskirts of Oaxaca is a 2400(ish) year old Mesoamerican archaeological site that I visited on a tour rather than ride the bike through the city traffic and back. The tour included a guide who said the now bare walls were once covered in red stucco and showed us a small sheltered corner which still had traces of red paint. He explained that the colouring from red oxide was vastly superior to modern paints as this paint was applied 5000 years ago (twice as old as the wall!). All the time he was telling his tale he was tapping the wall with a stick and you could see flakes of paint coming away as he did so.
The bike was due another service so I got the hostel manager to write out a note in Spanish that I could memorise to go round the covered carparks asking if I could do the work there. The first two refused, worried about any mess I might leave although I had plenty of cardboard and newspaper to catch any spillage. The third one said it would be ok so I popped back for the bike and did the job sheltered from the sun. I was charged 20 peso (just over a pound or $1.54), the normal cost of two hours parking although I gave the guy an additional 100 peso for letting me do the service there. I then rode round stopping at a number of waste bins to get rid of the paper and large sheet of cardboard. That makes 36,000 miles I have done on the trip so far.
The 6pm Flag Lowering Ceremony, Main Plaza, Oaxaca
The Zapotec town in Mitla, an hour or so ride from Oaxaca reached its peak from 750AD to 1521AD until the Spanish destroyed it and used some of the stones to build the nearby church. Mitla is unique among Mesoamerican sites for the elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover tombs, panels, friezes and even entire walls. These mosaics are made with small, finely cut and polished stone pieces which have been fitted together without the use of mortar.
Mitla Zapotec Ruins With Restored Red Stucco
The Unique To Mitla Site Wall Decoration
Santa Maria Del Tule has the worlds largest tree in the grounds of the church. I think this is the second ’largest tree in the world’ I have seen as different methods of measurement are used. The Tule tree, a Montezuma Cypress has the largest girth of trunk, 54 metres (164 feet) and dwarfs the nearby church. It is over 2000 years old so it was around when the Zapotec civilisation was flourishing in the region. The General Sherman is the largest tree by volume, a Giant Sequoia in California. The tallest tree, a Coast Redwood at 115.6 metres (379.3 feet) is also in California.
The Biggest Tree In The World, Tule
Posted by ianmoor at 08:16 PM
January 15, 2011 GMT
Xilitla And Almost Mexico City
I was planning on going to Xilitla to see Edward James’s garden and when I told Letty, the owner of my San Luis Potosi hostel it turned out she was going there for Christmas to stay with her sister who ran a hotel. I was invited to share their Christmas meal so travelled to Xilitla on Christmas Eve without realising that they were having their main meal that evening rather than on Christmas day as we do in England. I hadn't met most of the family until we sat down for the Christmas meal but we all got along with Letty translating when required.
Letty And Israel Marquesa
Family had travelled from around Mexico to get together for Christmas, the only time of the year they were able to do so which made it quite a family reunion. The Christmas meal of roast lamb, tortillas and salsa followed by chocolate coated strawberries was excellent and it was a privilege to be invited to share it with the Marquesa family. I was surprised to see strawberries in the markets but they are cultivated in Mexico.
Xilitla Main Plaza On A Misty Christmas Day In The Rain Forest
Edward James was born into a wealthy family in England in 1907 and became a sponsor of surrealist art. His most fantastic surrealist creation was realised in the Mexican rain forest, a surrealist Sculpture garden, "Las Pozas" (The Pools), three kilometres from Xilitla. Between 1949 and 1984, James built thirty-six concrete follies - palaces, temples and pagodas, including the House on Three Floors “Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six“, the House with a Roof like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven. For a while it certainly felt like the Staircase To Heaven was never going to end as it wound up the steep valley side and although the view from the top is good it falls short of my idea of heaven.
Edward James Garden Pools And Waterfalls
Construction of Las Pozas cost more than $5 million. There were also plantings and beds full of tropical plants, including orchids - there were 29,000 at Las Pozas at one time. To pay for it, James sold his collection of Surrealist art at auction. If there’s one thing Britain excels at it is breeding eccentric millionaires and I hope we continue to do so!
Edward James Garden
The jungle is slowly taking over the reinforced concrete sculptures and gardens although there are plans to restore the gardens to their former glory.
Edward James Garden, Xilitla
I wanted to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacán and Cholula, both fairly close to Mexico City which I wanted to avoid like the plague. With a population of between 19.5 and 45 million depending on who you listen to and whether they are talking about the city or the metropolitan area I didn’t fancy tackling the city traffic or the urban sprawl.
Pyramid Of The Sun, Teotihuacán
The road to the Teotihuacán pyramids was very slow as it went through countless villages each with their multiple topes (severe speed bumps) that had me grounding the engine guard going over them at walking speed. It took 5 ½ hours to cover 143 miles (229 km) with a ten minute sandwich lunch break. The scenery was good though as the road swept through jungle which was a change from all the high plain cactus. I stopped for fuel mid afternoon a 100 miles (160 km) from Teotihuacán, saw a reasonably priced motel and decided to stay as I had been told that Teotihuacán accommodation was expensive. I had arrived at the pyramids the following day by late morning leaving plenty of time to walk round and get back on the road towards Cholula.
Climbing The Pyramid Of The Sun
It was pretty hot walking round the site and climbing the pyramids in the afternoon sun wearing the motorcycle suit, particularly climbing the steep steps up the pyramids. It was one of the busiest days of the year when I was there and you had to queue waiting for people to leave the Pyramid Of The Sun before you were allowed to start your ascent.
Modern Day Sun Worshippers On Top Of The Pyramid Of The Sun
Teotihuacán at its zenith in 450AD housed around 200,000 people making it the largest city in the Americas at the time and one of the largest cities in the world. The three main features are the Pyramid Of The Sun, The Pyramid Of The Moon and the Avenue Of The Dead. The Pyramid Of The Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world after the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico. The original names used by the Teotihuacanos for the pyramids is unknown, the Aztecs named them centuries after they were abandoned.
Pyramid Of The Moon, Teotihuacán
The Pyramid Of The Moon at the north end of the Avenue Of The Dead mimics the contours of the nearby mountain, Cerro Gordo. It was dedicated to the Teotihuacán goddess of water, fertility, the earth and creation which must have kept her busy. A team ball game used to be played with either the winning or losing side being sacrificed (historians haven’t determined which). The team being sacrificed were beheaded or sometimes tied up into a ball and rolled down the steep pyramid steps.
The Vertigo Inducing Steps Of The Pyramid Of The Moon
The Avenue Of The Dead is three miles (5 km) long and 131 feet (40m) wide and was the main road through the centre of the ancient city. It was named by the Aztecs because the mounds along the road covering the building remains looked like burial mounds or tombstones.
Avenue Of The Dead, Teotihuacán
I had been without internet access for over a week as I approached Cholula and hadn’t been able to look up exactly where the pyramid was. I also intended going to nearby Puebla where a BMW dealer was listed to get some spares but without WiFi I hadn‘t been able to find out where it was. I figured the biggest pyramid in the world ought to be easy enough to spot although I had read that it looks like a natural hill with a church on the top. I had an approximate grid reference from google earth so I knew I was close but was in the city of Cholula surrounded by buildings with nothing vaguely resembling a pyramid in sight. Stopping beside a Starbucks Coffee House and asking for directions in Spanish I got the answer in English that the pyramid was just round the next corner. Taking a right turn a few hundred yards past Starbucks brought the pyramid in view a short distance ahead of me.
The Biggest Pyramid In The World And I Couldn't Find It
There was a wonderful bit of ancient Spanish Conquistador spin on one of the signs at Cholula. It is a well documented that the Conquistadors destroyed any temples or places of worship in an attempt to force the local people to give up their beliefs and convert to Catholicism. According to the sign the Conquistadors had taken the building materials from the original temple to build a new catholic church to symbolise the replacement of old ideas with new as the human race progresses towards true enlightenment! Possibly the earliest piece of political spin ever documented.
I had vowed never to set foot in another Starbucks after going into one in Virginia and asking if they had WiFi before ordering and being told that they had. I expected to sit down with my coffee and get logged on but found that I had to buy a card for so many minutes access. After getting the card I had to fill in my personal details including my address, the system accepted England but told me I had entered an invalid ‘zip code’ when I typed my postcode. I had to go back to the counter and in the end a staff member entered a new set of personal details that had nothing to do with me and said that there was the normal, free, no hassle internet access at the café across the street. I wish she had told me that when I asked before placing my order. All told it took 45 minutes and $10 to get logged on to get information that only took 10 minutes to find. I wanted to track down the Puebla BMW dealer and as I knew Starbucks was nearby I reluctantly went for coffee and internet time. Things had improved in that I didn’t have to pay for the internet but before I could use it I had to rejoin the queue at the counter to get a password. After getting the address of the BMW dealer I couldn’t locate it on the GPS so I tried going onto the dealers website which failed to load and sending an email to them came back as an invalid address so I decided to head straight for Oaxaca instead. Fortunately the bits I was after aren’t urgent.
Carved Stone Head, Cholula Pyramid
After several days of slow riding through towns and villages with slow traffic and the tope speed bumps I opted to go on the faster toll rode to Oaxaca which took me at motorway speeds to the outskirts of town. It took another hour to find a hostel as Garmin GPS once again decided to go through the local market with its stop go traffic on the way to the Colonia Centro.
Posted by ianmoor at 02:47 AM
December 23, 2010 GMT
Central Mexico Xmas
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Youth Of Real de Catorce Dressed Up For A Night On The Town
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.
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!
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!
Some Of The Guanajuato Alleys That Garmin Mistook For Roads
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.
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.
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.
San Miguel de Allende
Posted by ianmoor at 07:14 PM
November 20, 2010 GMT
Mexico - Zacatecas
Arriving in Zacatecas during the afternoon rush hour was complicated enough but the road Garmin wanted me to take was closed off by the police because of an accident causing us to continue in the wrong direction for a couple of miles. As I closed in on the city centre again the narrow, hilly cobbled streets were mainly one way. Garmin was either unaware of this or trying to kill me as on several occasions I was prompted to ride into the oncoming traffic. Eventually we were only a short distance away from the Hostel Don David that we were heading for when Garmin suggested I continued straight ahead up a flight of steep steps to arrive at my destination. I opted to overrule Garmin yet again and rode around the block to park outside the hostel.
The GPS Wanted Me To Ride Up Here To My Destination
I initially booked to stay in Zacatecas for a week but liked the town and the Hostel Don David so decided to stay an additional month to allow a new cash point / ATM card to be forwarded onto me from the UK. I had switched UK banks to Lloyds TSB prior to setting off on my trip because the local branch assured me they would ensure I had no problems using my credit and debit cards overseas. Sadly for whatever reason the debit / ATM card has been blocked by “security” every thirty days which involves a very long, very expensive phone call to a call centre in the UK to get the card reinstated. Initially I had my credit card stopped and was “fined” for not making payments when the bank failed to use the direct debit set up with them to pay the bill each month. I have now ordered a pre payment travel card from Caxton which I am hoping will allow me hassle free access to my money.
My New Home - Hostal Don David, Zacatecas
Another reason for staying in one place for a while is to allow some infected mosquito bites I picked up on my last day in Texas to heal. The bites were aggravated by wearing boots for riding the bike or walking so hopefully staying in Zacatecas for a while will give them a chance to heal. I went to a doctor, a luxury I couldn’t afford in the United States who prescribed some tablets and a course of seven daily ‘shark liver’ injections. The doctors consultation and prescription cost $2 and the tablets which turned out to be vitamin A and D supplements were $1.25. I was a bit sceptical about the ‘shark liver’ injections but when I went on the internet it turned out that shark liver is one of the best sources of Omega 3 which boosts the immune system. I reported to the hospital I was told to go to for the injections but was redirected to another hospital 25 miles away and decided that I would aggravate the bites more travelling to and from the hospital than any benefit gained from the injections. Instead I put myself on a high Omega 3 diet. Four of the seven bites have now healed so hopefully time and more tinned tuna and salmon will fix the remaining bites.
Zacatecas is obviously on the main Pan American route. I had only met two foreign bike riders since starting my trip in March 2009, a German in Canada who had ridden across Russia on the road of bones and a New Zealand couple in Creel, Mexico who had ridden from Alaska. In Zacatecas European registered bikes along with a number from the USA are coming and going all the time.
An annual Mexican car rally, the ‘La Carrera Pan Americana’ which normally runs through the country from Tuxtla Gutierrez in the south up to Nuevo Laredo on the Texan border was finishing in Zacatecas this year due to the drug gang border wars further north. Rigo my landlord, an avid car fanatic and I went to see the cars and four competing motorcycles cross the finish line. Rigo led the way through the barriers right up to the official finish line amongst the TV and press photographers so that we got soaked when second place driver Michel Jourdain Sr. sprayed his champagne. Check out the rally website www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx
After Three Years Of Competing In Motorsport This Is The First Time I Got Wet From Champagne
Winner Harri Rovanpera
That evening a street party took place amongst all the parked rally cars in front of the cathedral with Tamborazo bands playing and mescal being served from large jars on the backs of donkeys. The Tamborazo bands tend to play enthusiastically rather than musically moving from street to street playing all the while. When two Tamborazo bands meet they play louder and compete against each other rather than harmonise. It’s a great atmosphere though, as soon as the band stops walking a circle of spectators quickly forms and dancing commences.
Rigo Temporarily Forgetting He's A Happily Married Man!
Zacatecas was the scene of one of the most decisive battles in the Mexican Revolution in June 1914. With the federal army holding the high ground of La Bufa and El Grillo, two hills on the outskirts of the town. Pancho Villa, the revolutionary leader and his 20,000 Division Of The North troops bombarded the hill tops with heavy artillery. El Grillo was quickly taken as smoke from the artillery bombardment concealed the elite revolutionary forces advance. La Bufa was captured later the same day with the federal troops retreating into the town as the officers discarded their uniforms knowing that all captured officers would be executed. A federal colonel detonated the arsenal killing himself along with dozens of revolutionary soldiers and destroying a city block. This enraged Pancho Villa’s forces on the hills who started raining gunfire down into the town. As the federal forces were fleeing the town they were pursued by the revolutionary cavalry which slaughtered them as they ran. During this retreat towards neighbouring Guadalupe the federal troops ran into 7000 fresh revolutionary troops blocking their path who completed the massacre leaving piles of federal corpses by the roadside. Surviving federal officers were summarily executed and enlisted men given the choice, join Pancho Villa or die. Not a hard decision to make I wouldn’t have thought. Well over 6000 federal troops were killed in this one battle.
In October the week long Festival Internacional De Teatro De Calle (International Festival Of Street Theatre) was held with usually three different performances each evening at the numerous Zacatecas Plazas. The Festival opened with the local opera and dance companies which included my landlady Violeta combining to perform a history of Mexico which I thoroughly enjoyed. The six year invasion by France (1861 To 1867) was covered by a lone actor nervously walking on stage humming the French national anthem and being chased straight back off by the Mexicans! The most moving part was a fairly recent film screened onto the stage backdrop of a 103 year old man being interviewed then singing a patriotic Mexican Revolution song. He had obviously lived through the revolution although whether as a child or soldier my limited Spanish was unable to detect.
Festival Of Street Theatre
The finale of the Festival was a performance of Romeo y Julieta in Spanish by an Italian theatre company in the Plaza De Armas with the Cathedral making a stunning stage backdrop. In this version the star cross’d lovers are reunited after death and live(?) happily ever after which had me going to my temporary home with a warm glow although I did wonder whether Shakespeare would approve of someone tinkering with his immortal script.
Plaza With La Bufa Hill In Background
The number of free events in Mexico is amazing. There are regular free concerts and performances in the open air plazas and here in Zacatecas in the indoor Casa Municipal de Cultura. Last Saturday evening I wandered between an outdoor rock concert and a traditional Mexican dance performance followed by two guys singing and playing acoustic guitars which can be best described as the Mexican Simon and Garfunkel performing in the Casa Municipal de Cultura.
Giant Head In Front Of Zacatecas Cathedral
Posted by ianmoor at 03:32 AM
September 29, 2010 GMT
September 21, 2010 GMT
Mexico - Copper Canyon
My first day in Mexico turned out to be a comedy of errors. In all the best western films the Mexican bandits get drunk on tequila in the cantina, sleep late, drink some more tequila and it’s close to lunchtime before they are ready for any serious banditry. Therefore my cunning plan was to cross the border early and be well away from the troubled border area before any self respecting bandido was awake.
Canyon Along Hwy 16 Between The Border And Chihuahua City
The first thing to go wrong was when I removed the USA / Canada memory card from the GPS and installed the Mexican one. There was no map displaying and the initial reaction is to panic. How can I possibly navigate without a GPS? It’s amazing how reliant you become on having a machine to tell you which way to go. Fortunately I was going to be following one road, Hwy 16 for a couple of hundred miles so the navigation shouldn’t be too difficult.
I camped six miles from the border in Presidio, Texas and was up early enough to feed the mosquitoes. By 8am I was handing my B2 USA visa into The Department of Homeland Security at the border. Crossing the Rio Grande to the Mexican side I rode slowly past some officials trying to get their attention but they looked straight through me. I realised that they were customs and expected to reach immigration next but no, there I was in Mexico and more specifically Ojinaga High Street without my feet touching the ground. I remembered Grant’s advise on the HU website about getting insurance at the border and sure enough there were a couple of offices just beyond the border selling insurance. Picking one at random I got sixty days of cover for $70.
Feeling that something was wrong, I should have got an immigration stamp in my passport and possibly completed some paperwork to take the bike into Mexico but also feeling relieved that I was in Mexico and through the bureaucracy so quickly I headed towards Chihuahua remembering that there was another check point 20 miles or so from the border. I was soon beyond Ojinaga as Hwy 16 climbed into the mountains almost completely free of traffic and totally free of bandidos, killers and kidnappers, my early start had obviously caught them all napping.
Canyon Along Hwy 16 Between The Border And Chihuahua City
After 25 miles I was beginning to think that there wasn’t going to be a second check point but a mile or two later there it was. A friendly guy came over who could thankfully speak English and wanted to see some sort of vehicle permit. Obviously this was something I should have got at the border but I thought and hoped I could get it at this second checkpoint but alas, no I would have to return to the border at Ojinaga.
After trying to get away from the border area as quickly as possible I was now riding the first 27 miles three times! Once back in Ojinaga I got some Pesos from a cash point machine (ATM) and realised I hadn’t a clue what a Peso was worth. I got the temporary vehicle import paperwork and an immigration stamp in my passport at the border. The system seems to be that you are supposed to know that you have to park and chase after the stamps and paperwork on your own volition. If you don’t you will find out 27 miles later!
I now needed fuel to reach Chihuahua and was hungry so bought food and a drink for me and a drink for the bike. Having dealt with Immigration, Vehicle Imports, corner shop trader and fuel sellers (four at the pump and two in the office, I never discovered what they all do) and found them all helpful and friendly to someone whose only Spanish is “No habla Espanol“ I forgot all about the bandidos, killers and kidnappers and headed down Hwy 16 once again. The man at the checkpoint wanting to see the vehicle import documentation was happy and 2.5 hours after my first visit I was finally leaving the checkpoint and heading for Chihuahua again. There was another military checkpoint further on manned by a group of army recruits with guns almost bigger than they were. Once again, taking my helmet off, grinning and saying “No habla Espanol” seemed to amuse them and we maintained a friendly banter while they searched my bags. Whatever they were looking for they didn’t find and I was free to go.
My Spanish has now advanced from “No habla Espanol” which according to Google-Translate actually means “Does not speak Spanish” and may explain the amused expressions on the faces of the military to “Soy no habla Espanol”, “I do not speak Spanish”, I think the Mexican population at large quickly appreciates that I don’t speak Spanish regardless of how or what I say!
Tarahumara Women From The Chihuahua Region
Initially I thought I might make it to Creel beside Copper Canyon, my first real destination in Mexico but backtracking to Ojinaga ruled that out. I decided to get through Chihuahua then start looking for somewhere to stay on the western outskirts of the city. I navigated to Chihuahua without incident but getting out the other side wasn’t as straight forward. I went through the town centre, melted whilst standing at all the red lights and ended up taking any main road that was heading south west (as indicated by the GPS) until I accidentally stumbled on the right one. Shortly afterwards I saw a motel and as I pulled up read a sign saying that rooms were 200 Pesos. I had no idea how much 200 Pesos was but decided to stop anyway as I hoped to sort out the GPS problem, wanted a shower and as I hadn’t seen any campsites was probably going to have to stay in a motel anyway.
After showering I checked the exchange rate and my air conditioned room with shower and secure covered parking was $15, less than I had paid the previous night for a small patch of hard Texas ground to put my tent on and the privilege of feeding the mosquitoes in the morning. And there was more good news, searching my box of Garmin bits I found another unlabelled memory card. Once inserted Garmin could confidently navigate anywhere in Mexico but I have no idea where the memory card I had originally fitted came from.
Statue Of Christ On The Hilltop Overlooking Creel
The next day I headed for Creel which is a good base for exploring Copper Canyon. More good roads and scenery with little traffic although what traffic there was doesn’t give you the amount of road space that you get in the USA, not a problem, it just requires a bit more attention. At 2238 metres (7242 feet) Creel has an almost perfect climate for me at this time of year, cool enough to avoid baking in helmet and bike suit, cool enough for walking but still shirtsleeves weather. The clouds do build up and there have been some late afternoon thunderstorms but you can’t have everything.
I met someone at the Grand Canyon in Arizona who said that if I was going to Mexico I should visit Copper Canyon, it was bigger, deeper, wider and grander than the Grand Canyon without the commercialisation and the crowds. It’s certainly very dramatic, wild and rugged country. In one respect it reminds me more of the maze of canyons in Canyonlands in Utah, Copper Canyon is one of eleven interlocking canyons, twisting in different directions in a confused tangle of gorges and whitewater. The whole area is covered in trees which tend to soften and blur the canyon sides which for me meant that the Grand Canyon has the bigger initial wow factor. That said, I spent two weeks exploring the Copper Canyon area, saw some amazing scenery and feel as though I have only scratched the surface of the place.
I was in Creel for Mexico’s 200th Independence day. The town square or plaza was decorated and a stage built for live music for a party the evening before which ran on until the early hours. The following day there was going to be a parade but I didn’t know what time it was and I missed it. By the time I went out the town centre was being reopened to traffic.
A postscript to my comedy of errors in entering Mexico. I read in a guide book that you had to take your tourist card issued at the border to a bank to have it stamped after paying a fee. I had borrowed the book from it’s author who was staying in the same hotel so making use of his expertise I checked with him which of the numerous official bit of paper issued at the border was the tourist card. The following day I waited in a queue at the bank for over two hours only to be sent to the manager by the confused bank teller. After ten minutes of trying to communicate with each other I finally understood when he said “No Necesario”. It turns out I had paid the fee at the border only instead of stamping the card they had stapled a receipt to it which I couldn’t read.
I decided to ride the short distance to Lake Arareko and walk around the lake taking a picnic lunch. Halfway round when I could see my bike across the lake there were some thunderclaps and I thought I was in for a soaking but the rain fortunately held off. I got back to the bike still dry but thirsty and hungry. After a quick shower I walked into town for a Mexican meal or a meal as they call it here. I’m in the country that gave the world chocolate, sweet corn and Mexican food which has to be a good thing.
Another day I took a ride to Basaseachi Waterfall, a 173 mile roundtrip. It was warm so I left the motorbike suit behind and only carried lightweight hiking waterproofs. The road took me up over some mountains and it got cooler and cooler so that by the time I arrived at the small town beside the falls I was ready for a hot drink and some warm food. The road was mainly paved but there were short stretches of dirt and two of these were deeply rutted.
Basaseachi Waterfall From The Top
Basaseachi Falls are the 20th highest falls in the world and the third highest in the Americas. At 246 metres (807 feet) they are the biggest I have seen. Of course now I want get to the nineteen bigger falls wherever they are!
Snake In Pool At Basaseachi Falls
I was enjoying the view from the top, basking in the warmer afternoon weather and watched a small snake swimming in a pool wondering if there was a path down to the bottom of the falls. It was a mixed blessing when I found that there was. It was very rough and uneven as well as being steep enough to have to hang on to the vegetation or the cliff wall in places. However once it was discovered I had no choice but to venture down and then make the arduous ascent later,
Basaseachi Waterfall From The Bottom
Shortly after setting off on the return journey as I started to climb back into the mountains there were the obvious signs of rain ahead. I was putting on the lightweight waterproofs as the first heavy drops began to fall. Soon it was raining heavily with water running down the road, the drainage unable to cope and the thunder clashed loudly overhead. I got colder and wetter and had trouble seeing through the visor which is overdue being replaced. The two soft rutted sections were fun with water and mud splattering up my legs. Once I reached the summit and started to descend the rain eased considerably and stopped altogether for periods although it was raining steadily for the last fifteen miles as I shivered, stuck behind an old pickup truck crawling along. I will carry proper waterproofs with me on any longer trips in future.
The following morning I realised a drawback of travelling light and not thinking about what I had been wearing. I often wear my lightweight shorts under my trousers so that I can swap from bike trousers to lightweight trousers or remove either to just wear the shorts whilst maintaining what little dignity I have left. Both the shorts and trousers were still wet so that I had nothing to wear other than the bike trousers until the shorts dried.
I was premature in stating that Garmin could now navigate throughout Mexico. The map and database are nowhere near as detailed as the European or USA ones. Roads that have clearly existed for a while and appear on maps aren’t in the Garmin Map. Seeking alternative navigational aids I thought I had discovered a new way of plotting routes but suspect I have just caught up with everybody else. Using Google Earth I started locating destinations and waypoints then transferring the grid references into the GPS. This has worked so far apart from Garmin refusing to plot a route because there are no roads nearby when we are actually riding on the ‘missing’ well established tarmac road!
Cusarare Waterfall Near Creel
I have spoken to a number of travellers who visit Mexico regularly. From what they say and from my own positive experience I think the ’Mexican border problem’ isn’t as bad as it used to be. Everyone I have met has been helpful and friendly. Certainly the vast majority of visitors experience no problems. I guess the situation will have to be stable and safe for several years before tourists get the confidence to start coming back in their previous numbers. It seems a shame, walking around Creel with all its empty restaurants wondering which one to give my custom to.
Copper Canyon, South Of Creel
The road from Creel running south east towards Parral is one not to be missed, particularly the first section that runs through the Copper Canyon area. The mountainous road snakes through and over the canyons with stunning scenery but being Mexico you have to look out for horses, cattle, donkeys, goats, small boy goat herders, chickens, rocks and patches of mud. I saw all of these lurking around different bends! Dogs were unusually absent though.
Posted by ianmoor at 01:29 AM
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