I will continue this one later.........OK, NOW I'M BACK......
The ferry from La Paz, MX. (pop. 200,000), was a huge modern ferry - escalators, elevators, restaraunts, bars - compared to the much smaller, slower ferry from Guaymas (pop. 130,000). As an example, this ferry could easily hold 100 loaded 18 wheelers, and a few hundred cars. It took 5 hours to cover slightly more distance while it took the Guaymas 12 hours to cross! (For my sailing friends, it moved at 40 kts, vs. 13 kts.)
We sailed at 1600h and while I was sitting on deck enjoying the warm sun, I was joined by a really nice Mexican girl also travelling alone back home at the end of her 3 week vacation. She helped me a lot with my route planning, suggesting many neat non- tourist beaches SE of Acapulco, in the Peurto Angel area. She said on these sort of hippy beaches you spend the nights on hammocks, and with a full supper and breakfast it's only 20 pesos...approx $3CAD...I can't wait !!
We had supper together and parted company at Topolompampo (pop. 7,000) which is mainly a commercial seaport for the city of Los Mochis (pop. 200,000). It was dark (2100h) by now, and with no place to stay, I decided to break the first rule which is, DO NOT TRAVEL AT NIGHT and try the 30 kms to Los Mochis in the middle of all the traffic leaving the ferry. Well it was a rather uneventful, slightly stressful 30 min. trip on a divided highway to Los Mochis, where I found my usual cheap hotel...200 pesos...and spent the night.
200 pesos (divide by 7.5 for $CAD, or 11.3 for $USD) is about the cheapest you can get a reasonably clean room in northern Mexico.
My next major stop would be Guadalajara (pop. 2,000,000), a 2 days ride, S and E, but I would have to spend the next night in Mazatlan (pop. 350,000). Mazatlan is a really pretty city. It's Mexico's main Pacific seaport for fishing and trade, as well as a prime resort centre with 16 kms of beaches, and Latin America's largest fleet of commercial shrimp vessels...guess what I had for supper enjoying the cooler on shore breeze from the ocean in an open outdoor beach resto after a walk down the beach and watching the sunset?!?!
A very popular way of preparing camarones (shrimp) or most seafood for that matter, is called "ceviche" - a cocktail of raw seafood, marinated in lime, and mixed with onions, chilies, garlic, and tomatoes, and served cold in a tall soda glass...it' SOOO good!
Usually I spend the final hour before lights out preparing my route and plans for the next day.
The next day would take me S through Tepic, then SE up to Guadalajara. Here is what my travel guide said about the route from Mazatlan to Tepic, "...mostly 2 lane with heavy truck traffic. Stretches of poor surface. The last 120 kms are thrilling enough to recall the carnival ride you'd like to get off, but can't till it's over. Imagine duelling semis (18 wheelers) racing, passing at top speed on a narrow 2 lane blacktop road. The pavement has sharp edges, 4 inch dirt shoulders and a 20 foot drop off into vegitation on each side. The semis swerve into lines of traffic with the rear ends of trailers "snapping the whip", leaving cars barelling over and down below!
In the span of 120 kms, 4 semis were seen rolled over with their wheels up, plus a few cars and a few burnt out hulks with police wizzing by, unable to pull off the road to render aid. Be prepared, drive in daylight with a full tank of gas, and pray you don't get a flat....there's no way to stop, or no place to pull off. When it's all behind you,you will feel an exhilerating appreciation for well being.......OR you can take the new 4 lane divided toll autopista!"
Well, not yet having lost my sense of adventure, I opted for the more "picturesque" old road.
I only saw 3 upside down semis - one, loaded with the best tomatoes you ever sank your teeth into, blocked traffic for almost 1 hour - and one wrecked pickup truck...it was quite a ride beginning the climb from the coast into the Sierra Madre foothills of Tepic and I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the Tepic sign!
From Tepic to Guad. I passed through Tequila (pop. 22,000). Yes, the same town and region where all the tequila comes from. Fields of blue agave, the cactus like plsnt from which tequila is distilled stretched for miles. To control the quality, Mexico allows the blue agave to be only grown in this region, the state of Jalisco.
While in Montreal, through this site, I contacted the "Motolatino.com" and I recieved many generous offers for help, tourist info and lodging. In this area - Guad., and Mexico DF, I heard from Miguel Ibbera, fromMexico DF, Alberto Lopez and Humberto Moro, from Guad. Miguel, of the Revolucion Motorcycle Club., wrote to me often about my plans and urged me to visit Mexico DF, despite much reading that said to stay out of Mexico DF as a tourist with a motorcycle. He offered lodging and 24/7 companions from his club to ride with....WELL, again I could not say no.
Using Miguel as my "point man", I emailed him from Tepic and he arranged for Angie, the leader of the women's moto club in Guad., to meet me just outside Guad., and escort me in to the city center where I would meet Alberto Lopez who would put me up for a few nights. Everything worked like clockwork and by 2100h I was in Alberto's home with his mother, sister, and brother.
They are all the most generous, warm, and hospitable people you would want to meet. They opened their home, "fridge", and hearts to me. By 2300h I had a shower and was asleep.
The next morning, after a great breakfast, Alberto took me out to "see" Guadelajara, a really beautiful clean city.
.............more to come............
We rode together on my bike and spent 3 hours walking in "el centro" up and down the Plaza Tapatia, a beautiful combination of both modern and very old structures including the beautiful old Cathedral of Guadalajara, the construction of which began in 1558. Perhaps this inspired me to buy the book, "The Da Vinci Code (Fred, I have some questions for you) in a nearby bookstore. We returned to Alberto's for lunch, typically at 1500h, while supper is generally a light snack. After lunch we went to "Parque Mirador Independencia" about 3 kms from the city centre that ends literally at a the 2,000 foot cliff of an amazing canyon, Barranca de Huentitan, with a river flowing at the bottom.
...........more to follow on Guadelajara.....it's now Tues, 6 July......
After Parque Mirador it was off to Tlaquepaque, which is sort of a suburb of Guad. It's raison d'etre today is centered on it's creative talents and has converted many old 19 century country homes into stylish restos and galleries.
When Alberto and I got "home" from Tlaquepaque, Alberto shared his photo album with me. Alberto "works" as a member of Team Honda where he races Honda CBR 600's on paved race tracks at the NATIONAL level where he ranks in the top half. He tells me they reach speeds of over 200 kph on the track. He also competes in the race circuit in Europe....WOW. (Alberto, send me a link for your web site so I can post it.)
The next day, Monday the 5th, I just vegged out, and in the evening we all, (Alberto, when he wasn't checking the world race results on the internet, Yolanda, his mom, and Yolanda, his sister) sat back and chatted.
The next morning I reluctantly said goodby to this beautiful family, but not before a photo session in front of their house.
Then it was off NE to the AMAZING village of Guanajauto (pop 73,000 , elev 6,500 ft.) , where I arrived yesterday in the afternoon. This place is truly special and beautiful and have never quite seen anything like it before...Thanks for the recommendation Yolanda (Alberto's sister). I will describe Guanajauto in the next entry after I've had more of chance to explore.
I digress to what the weather has been like since I left Montreal 37 days ago. It was coolish untill North Carolina, where it became hot (30's) with an hour of rain in the late pm, usually after I got off the bike for the day, but not without the occasional downpour in the mid afternoon.
Contrary to what I thought, MOST of Mexico is made up of the Sierra Madre mountain chain that runs down from Texas to Guatemala, and the weather - temperature - varies directly with the altitude (10 - 60 minutes of rain after dark).
When you are near the coast - LOW altitudes - it's hot and dessert like - upper 30's to mid 40's - and once you leave the coast and head 50 - 100 kms inland you begin to climb, and the temperature drops to the mid 20's to the low 30's.
Now more on the roads...
Once you reach the Seirra Madres the roads also become very narrow and VERY windy with steep hills and many switchbacks with drop offs of 1,000's of feet. Here the heavy semis CRAWL up the winding steep hills resulting in an accumulation of much traffic behind them, and then go barreling down the other side. Everyone passes when they can - double lines mean NOTHING - not even the ubiquitous "Curva Pelligroso" (Dangerous curve) signs make a difference. When you reach any sharp curve, the guardrail, if there was one, is usually totally mangled. This up and down repeats itself at least a few times every kilometer. When you reach the rare straightaway it becomes a REAL game of "chicken"....ALL traffic in both directions pull out to pass (remember these are 2 lane roads). Fortunately with the power my bike has I can usually pick off 3 or 4 trucks before being forced back in by either on coming passers or a Curva Peligrossa...and this goes on all day. Ocaisonally though it's interupted by some plateaus with the gently rolling hills of the agricultural regions.
All drivers in Mexico have one driving trait that takes a while to get used too, and that's how they use their direction signals...the right one is normal, but the left has 2 uses....it can either mean he is turning left, OR it means he is NOT turning left but it's OK for YOU to pass. So when you see a left flasher, you must first check if there are any turnoffs. If there is none, you know you can pass. If this happens on a curve where people pass all the time, you just take your chances. All in all, it's quite exciting.
Guanajuato (pop 74,000, elev. 6,000 ft.), is a beautiful city crammed into the steep slopes of of a ravine with narrow streets that twist and turn around the hill sides and then dive underground into a series of tunnels. The subteranian roads have all the characteristics of normal roads...intersections, street names, parking,...etc., and to get anywhere you are half of the time above ground and half of the time below ground. Neither road system has a straightaway that exceeds 100 meters. After one hour of trying to find my hotel, I gave up and hired a taxi to lead me...I NEVER could have done it myself.
This impossible topography was settled into in the 1500's because of the discovery of some of the best silver and gold deposits in the world, and much of the fine old architecture created from this wealth remain intact today, making this city a living monument to a prosperous past. It is listed by UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site”.
The main reason for this underground network of roads was that as the city grew there was obviously no way to widen the streets without destroying the buildings, so streets were added underground !
Because the cobblestoned streets are so narrow, they are all one way, making getting around even more complicated.
The city is also home to a 21,000 student arts university, adding to the life and culture of the area. All the buildings are painted in different pastel colors. Restos and shopping are everywhere...(a bit like Kinsale, IR., Joanne, Laurie, and Glen, but with much more “life” and culture). The main zocalo (downtown square) is crammed with people, food vendors, and strolling minstrals every night...it’s a real show!
Tomorrow, before driving SE to Mexico DF (District Federale – in order to distinguish it – the city – from Mexico, the country), I will visit a museo built to honor a famous Guanajuato resident artist, Diego Rivera. In case you forget, he was Frida Kahlo’s husband (remember the movie??).
In Mexico I will be hosted by Miguel Iberra and his motorcycle club...Revolucion
Motorcycle Club....’looking forward to it!
After 3 days there, it’s off to Taxco (remember Donna?) and then back to the hot Pacific south of Acapulco, masso mennos (more or less).
Mexico D.F. (pop. 20,000,000 elev. 7,000 ft.)
Well, finally, here I am in "big, bad" Mexico D.F. (Well, actually I am leaving tomorrow for Taxco.
(My writing plan will be to write about an area when I'm either leaving it, or at the arrival at my next stop.)
Well NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH! I think the general opinion that Mexico DF is a bad, dangerous city is probably the biggest "urban myth" ever created.
The only reason I am in Mexico DF in the first place is because of Miguel Ibarra. MI emailed me through HorizonsUnlimited and insisted I visit MDF, despite my plan to avoid it. He persisted through many emails prior to my departure, and continued to follow up with me while I was on the road.
Thanks to Miguel Ibarra and his "gang" - Roberto Medallo, (police, Federal Agent Special Forces AND lawyer), Rafael, (police, public security), Julio, (computer operations), Adrian, more commonly known as "Diablo", (pharmaceutical intelligence), Juan Gonzales, and his son, "Little Juan", (one of the best motorcycle customizers and mechanic I have ever met (you are in this "class" too, Phillip Cantin), Raul Falomir, the most amazing stunt motorcycle driver I have ever seen, Geraldo Troller, owner of our "home away from home", the RestoBar, "La Differencia", Javier, who invited all of us to his beautiful country home for the day in Jiutebec, 2 hours south of MexicoDF, near Cuernavaca, and last but not least, ANGELICA, Miguel's mother who owns and runs a super 50 seat resto, "Clavo y Canela" with her two beautiful daughters, Sonia, and Jemma - Angelica, showing typical Mexican warmth, treated me more like a son than just a friend of Miguel's, and many others - made my stay in Mexico DF a truly memorable event.
As far as exactly what Miguel does (for a living), I'm not exactly sure, but he is the kind of guy, despite his 6'3", 200 lb + body, who's "bigger than life" . He seems to be the one who holds the MDF moto community together, notwithstanding the fact that he also seems to know almost all of the 20,000,000 people of the city. I guess he can best be described as an "orchestra leader who keeps the music going". The only thing bigger than Miguel himself, is his heart.
I can only say that Mexico DF is one of the most exciting, beautiful, warm, artistic and cultural, and safe cities I have ever visited!
Proof of this is that I stayed here 8 days, despite my plan of 3 days!
Of course, while any large city - and especially Mexico DF with a CITY population of over 20,000,000 people (that's about all the people we have in Canada!), has a few fringe areas that you best avoid, all in all it felt no different than New York, LA, Boston, London, or any other large city.
The ride from Guanahuato was a great ride 5 hour ride. I proceeded our pre arranged meeting place where Roberto, Miguel's very close friend was waiting, and proceeded to his house to wait for Miguel. Miguel arrived with another friend, Julio, as I finished my shower and we immediately started the 2 liters of tequila which I bought in Tequila. After ? marguritas the 3 of us moved down a few doors to the guesthouse where we spent the night.
The following day the 3 of us proceeded into downtown Mexico to Miguel's house.
Now driving in Mexico D.F. is a bit like Montreal, but only a lot more exciting. ...traffic lights are used only as a rough guide as to what you should do.
Imagine city streets - not expressways - 4 lanes wide going only one way, with 4 lanes next to you going the other way...and all lanes are always full of cars. Imagine also that when the cars try to make a left turn into the oncoming 4 lanes, they bunch up into 7 to 8 lanes and wait to cross.
Intersections where you have 16 lanes of traffic meeting with traffic lights usually have around 10 special traffic police stationed there to try to sort out the mess with horns blaring everywhere.
And then there are the rotaries with 6 - 8 lanes of cars zig zagging everywhere.
With the bikes we simple create our own lanes between the traffic saving tons of time.
Once you get the hang of it, it's really fun, and at least most of the time, cars in Mexico City really respect bikes and generally give us room.
Riding with Raul, the stunt driver, was really special. Popping wheelies and sooming in and out of the traffic was nothing compared to him popping a wheelie, THEN STANDING ON HIS SEAT WHILE NEGOCIATING THE TRAFFIC !! He promised to teach me a few tricks my next time in Mexico DF.
In order to try to control the traffic and minimize polution (which really wasn't so bad), Mexico DF does a unique thing. Monday to Friday, if your liscence plate ends in certain numbers you are NOT allowed to take your car into the city. For example, if your plate ends in 0 or 1, you are simply not allowed to use your car that day.
The whole time...all 8 days in Mexico DF, either Miguel, Robert, Diablo or Julio were at my side. They, especially Miguel, like all Mexicans are fiercely proud of their country and know everything about their history. Of the 4, Diablo spoke fluent english, and as for the others, let me say their english was a lot better than my spanish, but yet we all managed very well. Most of my time was spent with Miguel and Roberto, except for the 2 or 3 nights I stayed with Diablo. The rest of the time I slept at Miguel's and was treated to Angelica's super traditional Mexican breakfasts and lunches at Clavo y Canela.
In all the most amazing thing was that despite cultural, religious, language, and age differences (me being at least double, if not triple the age of most of Miguel's gang"), you would think we had all grown up together.....all that really mattered was mutual respect, of which there was plenty, and riding the roads on 2 wheels!
Friday night, my 2nd night in the city, was Miguel's club's meeting (as Miguel called it, but it was more like a party to me though), at Geraldo's resto bar, La Diferencia, which, because of the heavy rain, did not end till 4 AM and only because that's when the bar closed. Miguel, Diablo, Roberto, and I think 1 or 2 others...not sure...rode in the rain to Diablo's, where we all "crashed". I spent the next 1 or 2 nights there with Diablo.
The next 5 days were a whirlwind of sightseeing -
The downtown Zocalo (main square) Plaza de la Constitucion, surrounded by the President's office, the Mayor's office and the the Cathedral Metropolitana, built in the late 1500's. This was also the site where the original "Mexicans", the Aztecs built the city in what was originally a huge lake covering many square miles. In fact MexicoDF is a huge flat plain (the lake) compleatly surrounded by mountains 2,000 ft higher than Mexico DF. Because of this many of the earlier structures are very slowly sinking. You can actually see this when you "sight" along ant large building. During the days there are hundreds and hundreds of outdoor stalls selling crafts and food, while at night the city treats it's people to some form of live entertainment.
The Almeda Central, not far from the Zocalo, which is a huge treed park surrounded by many monuments and dominated by the white marbled "Placido de Bellas Arts". It was here where Diablo and I parked our bikes while Miguel and I took a few pics, that I had my bike "imobilized" while Miguel and I were only 50 meters away. Diablo who stayed with the bikes could do nothing to stop it without risking his bike too. The "imobilizer" in Mexico is their version of the "Boot", but it's a 2 inch steel cable that's put through your wheel and locked to an iron sign. Once it's locked you must take the ticket to the city hall and pay 350 pesos ($45 CAD), then bring the reciept back to the bike, hail an "immobilizer" truck, who then unlocks the cable.
The Monumento de la Revolucion, The Angel Monument, and many others too numerous to mention.
The Basilica de Guadalupe, not far from Miguel's.
The Zona Rosa, the main shopping, hotel, and entertainment district.
Teotihuacan, )just 30 kms outside of the city), Mexico's bigest ancient city and the site of two enormous and spectacular pyramids - Sun and Moon.
Garibaldi Square where you can "rent" mariachi bands by the song. It's also the only place you can drink alcohol in public.
Coyoacan, once a small colonial town, just south of the city, but now swallowed up by Mexico DF. Despite this it still retained it's colonial atmosphere and is now a trendy mix of rich and hippy with a beautiful park and many restos and bars.
Another great day was spent at Javier's "country house" south of MDF near Cuernvaca. 12 of us did the 3 hour back road ride to Javier's. Miguel, and Roberto used this day as a rest from me and stayed in town.... :-) . The narrow 2 lane road became very twisty, as usual, when we reached the mountains. But they showed me how to ride Mexican style....the space between the double lines down the center of the road is actually a third lane for motos. This enabled us to pass long lines of traffic as they crawled up the steep hills......go figure....and all the time I thought a double line meant NO passing!
After spending the afternoon at Javier's pool, enjoying sun, pizza and beer, we all rode back in the rain.
The last day was spent at "MOTO Expo", a big motorcycle show at the World Trade Center (yes, the same name). Miguel, who among other things seems to be the major force behind the "Federacion Mexicana de Motociclismo A.C.", a federally incorporated federation which sets moto standards for all of Mexico, and of which I am now the only non-Mexican member.
And last but not least, I spent one day roaming the "atellier" of Juan while he repaired one of my broken rear shocks, and strengthened my luggage rack. While hanging out there with Miguel, and Roberto, I met a steady stream of "drop-ins" - the "who's who" of motorsport in Mexico. This is where I met Raul, the stunt guy, and Raphael, the other cop, who gave me a Mexican flag sticker for my bike...and let me play with his 9 mm weapon...awsome! Other than having to pay Juan to repair the shock (it had to be sent out for very special welding), he refused to accept any money for the other repairs, saying that I, being a friend of his friends, Miguel and Roberto, meant I was a friend of his and he was just happy to help me out. I say this because this is typical of the the way Mexicans treat their friends and tourists.
Friday morning, before Miguel left to spend the second day at the Federacion's booth at MOTO Expo, he escorted me to the main road to Taxco, where we hugged good-bye.
The whole gang in Mexico DF, as well as Alberto Lopez and his family (from Guadalajara), made me promis to stop in again on my return north in September.
Well, this is now my first morning, Saturday, after arriving last night in Taxco.
More to come after I leave Taxco tomorrow for the Acapulco area coast.
Taxco, pop. 52,000 elev. 5,800 ft. (SW of Mexico DF).
Now I am in Puerto Escondido, after a beautiful 2 day ride from Acapulco.
But first, an event in Mexico DF. which I forgot to mention. The first full day with Ibarra, and Roberto, was spent as guests of the Mexican head office, and plant for Yamaha Motorcycles. Miguel Ibarra was of course invited to a special "PR" day for the Mexican press, TV, VIP's. The day started with a tour of the facilities, and then an instructional video on all aspects of how to ride a bike (moto). After we all headed outside and were each assigned a bike and had a practical course on how to ride...from the basics to the advanced. After 4 hours, they treated us to lunch, and then we all recieved personalised diplomas.... I am now a "Yamaha VIP" who is driving a Honda !!
Now back to Taxco, the silver capital of Mexico. Even though the silver mines have run "dry", it continues to be the silver (hand made jewelry) production capital of Mexico (remember Donna?).
Taxco, is a beautiful colonial antique town, and one of the most picturesque places in all of Mexico. Clinging to a steep hillside, it's narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn and then suddenly open onto pretty plazas., but unlike other colonial towns, it has not surrounded itself with industrial suburbs. Hundreds of VW taxis run through the labyrinth of streets like ants on an ant hill....or beetles... Very few streetscapes are defaced with rows of parked cars because the roads themselves are only wide enough for one car.
By "colonial", we generally mean white hacienda type buildings with red terracota roofs, with the interior, furniture, and doors made of heavy Mexican cedar, ornate black wrought iron, and floors of shinny dark red tile. The federal government has declared Taxco a "natl. historic monument" to preserve its architecture and heritage.
There are literally hundreds (300) of shops of all sizes and descriptions selling hand made sterling (min. 92.5% pure silver) silver jewellery, much of which is exquisite and original. The quality is strictly controlled by the Mex. govt. and all pieces must be stamped with the "seal" followed by ".925". Anyone discovered selling forged .925 pieces is sent to prison.
After two days of shopping, roaming the streets, and taking the little Swiss made cable car high up over the city to a fabulous hotel perched on top of a mountain, I left for the one day ride from the mountains, to the Acapulco coast.
Stay tuned for Acapulco, and Peurto Escondido.
Hasta lavista, baby.....
(which means "see you LATER, baby"....Arnold Schwartzeneger was in error when he used those words before he "blew" that guy away since, obviously, he would NEVER see him again. The better choice would have been, "addios, baby" which means "good-bye, baby"!
Hi again, I’m way behind in my reports (see Simon...it’s not ONLY with Xerox)
Now I am in beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas. Previously since Taxco, it was Pie de la Questa, Acapulco, Peurto Escondido, Zipolite, Tuxcla Gutierrez, and now here!
Leaving Taxco and heading SW to PdlQ was not such a great ride...lousy, uninteresting roads and more than anything else, I lost the sun around 1500h, and by the time I arrived in Acapulco, it was on and off rain...the first for me in weeks. Also just on the edge of Acapulco I did what I was warned not to do, and that is to make eye contact with a police when he shouts/whistles/motions to pull over. I then had no choice but to stop. He and his buddies were very friendly, mind you, even calling me “Norman” after checking my papers. They proceeded to inform me I broke the law by not wearing a helmet and that a ticket was $450MX, ($48CAD), BUT that he would return my set of many sets of photocopies of my documents, and ignore the infraction if I gave him $100MX. I also noticed he had his name badge convientely hidden by his pocket flap, as did his buddies. He assured me it was a good deal…and it was raining, so I paid, got my copies back, and it was off to Pie de la Questa. (PQ)
PdlQ, is a potentially interesting place, since it’s much less touristic and expensive than Acapulco (A), and you have the ocean beaches on the left side of the road and on the right for almost 1 kilometer you have a fresh water lake. And PQ is only 10 kms. North of A.
But, maybe it was the grey skies and rain, but I found it to be dirty, and access to the lake side was blocked by many closed and shabby establishments. So the next morning it was off to A 10 kms. south.
The weather cleared in the early afternoon an it was off to the beach.
A is a busy, and crowded city. The main road around the bay was constantly jammed with traffic, and the beaches were packed shoulder to with tourists. If you like Miami Beach, Cancun, etc. then you would like A, but not me.
After watching the cliff divers that evening diving from a cliff 400 meters high, into the foaming, surging surf below (try THAT Joanne), I packed up and it was off to the surfers paradise of Puerto Escondido – a 200 km ride SE of A.
(BTW, Donna, Las Brisas is still there, but there was no sigh of Condessa del Mar).
After a few days in beautiful Taxco, and a day in "not-so-beautiful" Acapulco...Much to busy, noisy, crowded, etc.
I´m leaving today, and heading SE along the coast to Puerto Escondido/Puerto Angel, where for $15CAD you can spend the night on almost deserted beaches in a cabana/hammock including a freshly grilled (al carbon) seafood dinner.
Weather on the coast starts at 28-30oC at 0700h, and quickly hits the upper 30's by noon...I love it....riding down the coast on my bike in nothing but a pair of gym shorts and the warm wind on my face.....
Rain only in late pm or at night.
Stay tuned...next complete update in 3 - 5 days.
I just got back to “civilization” after spending the last 5 days living and rafting in the jungle of Mexico on the Guatemalan border. I am now in Comitan, MX., and will be in Guatemala tomorrow.
Puerto Escondido (PE), is a real gem, notwithstanding the beautiful ride there along the coast from Acapulco.
PE has 3 main beaches…each one about 1 km. From the next. All are beautiful, with white sand and far, far less people than A. It’s really laid back. I chose the beach with the big breakers, where all the surfers hang out. The beach is around 1 km. long with palapa resto/bars every few hundred meters or so. Arriving there at around 1400h, gave me the opportunity to spend the afternoon on the beach watching the surfers. The only problem though was that most of the cheap lodging was full and my room cost $250 MX or around $30CAD….so I left the next morning for Puerto Angel/Zipolite.
After a great 2 hour drive to Puerto Angel, I found heaven on earth….the beach at Zipolite, around 2 km. west of Peurto Angel. Zipolite is one of 3 beaches/bays that run west from Puerto Angel…each one is around 1 km. apart.
Zipolite though is one of the least developed and the least expensive for great food and lodging. It was almost deserted, despite it being prime vacation time for the Mexican People. Most of them go to the other 2 beaches. You could choose any part of the beach to lie down on and there would be at least 100 meters between you and the next person.
It’s also probably one of the only beaches in Mexico where clothes are optional.
I found a really neat hotel, where for the first time in my life I slept in a hammock…..for 4 nights, at $50MX ($8CAD) a night.
Life here is slow and easy and for the first time in years I did not see or HEAR a cell phone!
Life is literally spent between the low and high tide lines. All my meals were eaten with my feet in the sand…either watching the sun rise, or set.
The days were hot, the water warm – just the right temperature that you can lay in the sand and let the waves wash over you for hours without feeling cold, and every afternoon was with a siesta in my hammock.
The nights were warm enough that a hammock and shorts were all you needed.
BUT, as difficult as it was, I had to leave and find my way North East up in the mountains to San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chiapas.
This was a really long ride from the coast to San Cristobal de Las Casas (SCC). In fact I had to overnite it in the town of Tuxtla Gutierrez, approx. a hundred kms. from SCC.
TG., pop 425,000, elev. 2,000 ft. is the state capital of Chiapas one of the many states of Mexico. It lies in the west side of Chiapas' hot humid central valley...a valley that runs N-S from the Carribean to the Pacific.
While crossing this valley from Juchitan on the coast eastward to TG, I experienced the most heavy cross winds ever for almost 150 kms. These winds blow down the valley from the Gulf of MX to the north, to the Pacific. They are frequently strong enough to blow over 18 wheelers, but after 150 kms. of "white knuckles", I finally made it to the protection of the mountains, and TG. It must have looked funny though to see me riding on a straight road, with the bike at a 10o angle leaning into the wind.
TG was a pleasant, and friendly city, and before leaving the next morning to SCC, I took a 3 hour boat ride up the Canon del Sumidero. The Sumidero Canyon is a daunting fissure in the earth with the Rio Grigalva flowing northward through it.
Motorboats take us through the Canyon between towering sheer rock walls almost 1 kilometer high. And on the shores of the river we watched aligators and iguanas (Joanne) sunning themselves. And at one point we watched monkeys swing through the trees.
Then it was off to SCC, (pop. 113,000) a 2.5 hour ride to cover 85 kms. This was because the road climbed from 2,000 ft in TG to almost 7,000 feet in the space of 85 kms. This road was amazing with steep switchbacks, hairpin turns, and 1,000 foot dropoffs at the edge of the road - most of which had no guard rails.
It was also amazing how the temperature dropped from the 30's in the Canyon to upper teens in the clouds. Infact I had to stop to put on a shirt, jacket, long pants and shoes.
SCC has been a favorite travellers haunt for decades, and it's rewards come from walking it's rambling streets and discovering many intriguing nooks and crannies and visiting many nearby villages. SCC has a bohemian, artsy, floating community of both Mexicans and foreigners with a lively music, bar and resto scene.
Prior to leaving on my trip, through this site I contacted Hugh Sinclair, an American, or I think more accurately, a "world citizen" who convinced me to visit the state of Chiapas, where he lived for a few years. Despite all the warnings of problems with the Zapatistas - a sort of gurilla rebel group lead by a masked cult "comandante" named Marcos, I decided to go. Very simply, Marcos was trying to bring to world attention the plight of the poor people of Chiapas by kidnapping and robbing travellers...you probably saw him on CNN, 60 Minutes, etc., wearing a ski mask and smoking a pipe.
Anyways, Hugh sent me some contacts in SCC who I contacted. One of which, Maru, a beautiful girl from Argentina, invited me to share her huge colonial style home a few kms. from the center of town, while I stayed in SCC.
I arrived at Maru's just as she was coming home from work. The sun was now almost down, and for the first time in a long time I found it quite chilly. We took a "collectivo" taxi to town where we roamed the markets looking for a wool sweater, after which we proceeded to her friend's Argentinean resto for the best steak since leaving Texas. Then it was back to Maru's and a nice blazing fire to take the chill away.
The dangers of the roads were brought much "closer to to home" over the next few days. Over the last 4/5 weeks I became accustomed to seeing many wrecks, but Maru's late arrival at the end of the next day showed me a more personal side of the problem. Maru arrived later than planned because of a visit to the hospital where a friend of hers was involved in a fairly serious car accident between TG and SCC. Her friend's mother required hospitalization.
The next day some beautiful friends of Maru, Juan and Gabriella, arrived from Mexico DF to spend a few days with Maru. They told us that on the way from Mexico their taxi was involved in an accident. Though not seriously injured, Juan's lower leg had to be bandaged up and Gabriella was quite shaken up. Maru also mentionned that a few weeks ago her co-worker friend was involved in a serious accident when his car went over the edge of the road and rolled a few hundred feet down into a ravine.
Juan and "Gaby" livened up Maru's big house, and over the next few days we all had great conversation, super diners (thank-you Maru) in front of a blazing fireplace, and even a DVD movie thanks to Juan and Gaby's laptop PC.
The next few days were spent visiting SCC and a few surrounding towns, one of which was Zinacantan to which I rode the 10 kms. with Gabriella who kept me laughing all the way. Zinacantan is a small orderly clean town to be contrasted to another nearby town of San Juan Chamula which was much livelier and considerably dirtier.
SJC is among other things known for its unique religious practices or rituals. There is supposedly a huge sign at the entrance to town, which I didn't see, forbidding any photography.
While mainly Christian, the Tzotzil people, like many others of the small remote towns of both Mexico and Central America also embrace pagan beliefs. There was a very colorful religious procession in the Centro as I rode into town. After watching a few minutes I took out my camera to take a few photos. Almost immediatly I was pelted by corn cobs which litter most streets, tomatoes, and a few rocks, amid much shouting by men waving sticks. I quickly got the point and left as fast as I could. Another tourist, a Mexican, saw what happened and explained that these people could be quite dangerous if provoked and could actually destroy my camera, if not me!
I decided to visit the church where I was treated to another amazing site. The floor was covered with pine needles to a depth of a few inches and covered with thousands of lit candles, groups of which were surrounded by families chanting and rocking while kneeling with their faces to the pine needles. The darkness, broken only by the candles, along with the candle and inscence smoke and pine smell, and the sound of hundreds of chanting people created quite a powerful impression.The men were surrounded by 5 to 10 bottles of cokes and other softdrinks as well as eggs or bones. Images/statues of saints dressed in holy garments are surrounded with mirrors. The Chamulans revere San Juan Bautista (Saint John The Baptist) above Christ (a place for you, FatCat), and his image has the most important place in the church. The chanters rub themselves with the bones and eggs while drinking their soft drinks, which facilitate burping which is believed to expel evil spirits....wow...and I thought Judiasm was complicated!
After leaving the curch I went back out into the bright sun to watch the rest of the religious ceremony sans camera. When they saw me return, a few of the men with big sticks stood beside me all the time. Every 10 minutes or so the other men would pack around 15 steel cylinders about 10 inches high and 3 inches in diameter with gun powder. Then they would hold these above their heads and light a fuse causing deafening explosions.
Before leaving SCC for the jungle and much warmer weather I visited the amazing museo Na-Bolom - a beautiful 19th century house originally the home of anthropologist Trudy Blom and her archaeologist husband who studied, photographed and helped the Mayans and protected the scattered Lacandones (people) with whom I stayed with in the jungle in my next stop.
My last stop in SCC was at Servico Aguilar, where the owner Alfredo extended to me the most helpful and professional service possible. Changing the oil was easy, but getting a filter for a bike that does not officially exist south if the USA was not. This was despite the fact that Alfredo owned a bike the SAME as mine - the only other I have seen. After a few calls, Alfredo located a filter in Mexico DF and had it FedEx'ed the next day. After many hours chatting with Alfredo who left me with his personel home and cell number, his friends, and workers, I returned to Maru's for a final dinner with the gang and left early the next day for a prearranged adventure trip with a very professional outfitter, "Explora" in the remote areas of north eastern Chiapas in the Lacandon Jungle.
I was a little nervous about this trip, since it meant passing through Ocosingo, and Palenque on some remote roads.
Here is what the official position of the Canadian government says,
"This Travel Report replaces the previous one, dated June 21, 2004.
Unrest in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas, has resulted in the blockade of a foreign-owned hotel/ranch. Canadians travelling to the state of Chiapas are advised to exercise caution, remain in known and well-frequented tourist areas such as Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristóbal, and avoid areas of political tension (particularly in the highlands). Travel between Palenque and San Cristóbal and in the area north and northeast of San Cristóbal should be avoided. It is recommended you carry a valid photo identification with you at all times while travelling in Mexico."
Bus crashes occur frequently in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca due to poor road conditions and mountainous terrain. Avoid road travel after dark.
Next report.....the Lacandon Jungle
The only "problems" between San Cristobal de los Casas and Lacanja (pop. 500 elev. 950 ft.)were the hundreds of topes along the road, the heat combined with the humidity, and the first rain storm that lasted longer than 15 minutes. Other than that it was a great ride. The roads from Palenque to Lacanja were mainly straight and flat, with only the slightest curve here and there.
Just before Palenque I pulled into Misol-Ha where the Rio drops 150 feet into a wide pool surrounded by lush vegetation. It was a refreshing 1 hour stop playing in the natural pool under the waterfall.
I decided to skip the famous ruins of Palenque, since 3 hours later I would be in the Encampemento Lacandon which is essentially a wilderness jungle camp run by Explora. Part of my stay there included a 2 day, one night jungle rafting trip down the Rio Lacanja, ending with a 1 hour hike through the jungle to the ruins of Bonampak. This would be followed by a motorboat ride 2 days later down the .5 mile wide Rio Usumacinta, which separates Mexico from Guatemala, to the ruins of Yaxchilan near Frontera Corozal.
It began to rain just as I turned south from Palenque. I put on my raingear and continued to ride slowly on the almost deserted road towards Lacanja, but soon the rain became so heavy I could hardly see, so I pulled over and stopped by the side of the road. Two minutes later amid the thunder and lightning I heard some shouting and whistling. Looking throuth the heavy rain, I could barely make out a poor farm house about 200 feet from the road, which looked more like a shed. On the porch was a man waiving and inviting me to come into his house to get out of the rain. I shouted back "si" and he ran to the gate to let me in and we ran together back to his house. All this guy had to his name was a small plot of land, 4 chickens, 2 ducks, a dog, a few goats, and 2 of the cutest little daughters I have ever seen. He spoke no english, yet we managed to communicate quite well during the hour it took for the rain to stop. This was quite a moving experience for me, to see someone so poor with a million dollar heart. This guy's behavior essentially summed up the attitudes of all Mexicans.
About 2 hours later under steamy sunny skies I arrived at the encampment. It was beautiful with a large kitchen and out door dining area under a large palapa.
The rooms were actually a series of 8 bamboo huts scattered along the Rio Lacanja with mosquito neting surrounding each bed. I had already started with my Maleria pills. All one could hear was the birds, crickets and other assorted jungle animals. While eating supper, a beautiful guy, Leoncio Reynoso, a Doctor from Mexico DF, came over to my table and we began to talk motorcycles. He told me how he used to ride enduro and motocross all over Mexico, but now with both a family that he cares very much about, and a number of sophisticated medical testing clinics scattered around Mexico City he had no time to ride. He was very intrigued about my trip, and we compared notes about the places I rode, most of which he knew well. Before leaving we promised to exchange photos, and he insisted that I visit him in Mexico DF on my return.
The next morning after an early morning swim in the warm river just outside my room, I met Axel, a Mexican who would lead the rafting trip, and his assistant Alex, who was a Lacandon - an local Mexican indian tribe, similar to the Mayans.
Axel explained that we would be joined by another Mexican family, Miguel and Isabel Cruz y Celis and their 3 great kids. All 8 of us would share 2 rafts for the next 2 days. Miguel was the director of all operations for Mexico and Central America for the giant software company, "SAP". They all spoke english fluently and were a big help in explaining to me what Axel and Alex was saying.
We all got along quite well and Miguel and I appeared to be reliving our childhood playing in the water and floating down the river with the rafts.
The river was mainly flat interrupted by a few sections of white water - some as high as 5 meters.
In the middle of the afternoon we tied up at the side of the river and hiked 45 minutes through the jungle to a beautiful cascading waterful, passing some scattered ruins under going restoration along the way. We spent an hour in the falls jumping of 9 meter high cliffs into the warm pools.
After a snack, it was back to the rafts. We paddled some more until around 1800h, when we pulled in and set up 3 tents in a clearing in the jungle. Axel prepared a great dinner of pasta in a cream of mushroom sauce and by 2000h I was fast asleep.
What a treat to wake at sunrise - 0700 h - to the sound of junjle life, including a few "howler" monkeys. These large black monkeys, about the size of a 10 year old, call to each other from the trees with a sound that sounds like a deep gutteral roar of a lion. It was really scary the first time I heard them, but Axel assured us their "bark" was worse than their bite.
After a breakfast of coffee and quesadeas, we were off in the rafts by 0830 h. We coasted down the river, half the time in the rafts, and half the time in the river until the early afternoon, where we pulled out for the last tome and hiked to the ruins of Bonampak.
The ruins of B, which was once a prosperous Mayan village, date back to around 500 AD - that's 1,504 years ago. Bonampak is famous for its well preserved painted murals.
After touring the site, we were picked up by a bus and driven back to our rooms at the Explora encampment.
After dinner, Miguel and his kids taught me the fine art of dominos.
The next morning after having breakfast with Troy an American teacher in Mexico DF and his friend "Texas Mike", I said goodby to Miguel and his family after exchanging emails and phone numbers, should I run into any problems.
Around 0930 Axel drove me the 20 kms to Frontera Corozal, where I picked up a motorboat and began the 1 hour ride down the river to another famous Myan ruin, Yaxchilan. Here are many tunnels that you need a flashlight to explore. Upon entering the tunnels it was quite un nerving to be surrounded by hundreds of bats flying around screaming. I also saw a family of six howler monkeys roaring in the trees.
Then the boat back, where Axel was waiting to bring me back to camp.
After a great night's sleep it was off SE to Comitan, MX., my last night in Mexico before crossing to Guatemala and Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan.
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