November 03, 2010 GMT
Mexico -ups, downs, canyons and roads

Some notes on driving in Mexico.

Petrol :- The oil and petrol business is state owned, there is one brand of fuel, Pemex. The price is the same every where in the country, even on the toll roads. Octane is variable, they all have “87” which the the equivalent of our old 2 star and then there is “91” which is the same as the UK unleaded and sometimes “92” or “93”.

Topes :- The speed bumps from hell. There are two types. Most are similar to ours, but not as smooth or small. They are sometimes sign posted and sometimes not, when you hit one at 50-60 miles an hour on a main highway you learn to slow down more near villages. The other type are lines of small metal lumps, semi-spheres, that will send the wheels every where if not taken slowly, best taken by lining up the wheels and going over a single one.


Creel is the main backpacking stop off point for the Barrancas de Cobre, Copper Canyon, Mexico's equivalent of the Grand Canyon, just bigger and with more trees.

The town has 2 passenger trains a day, one West bound and one East, which are met by the hotel and hostel owners touting for business. At least twice a day a goods train will pass through, slow down and stop. To our amusement heads appeared from the goods wagons and people jumped on and off.


The rest of the time people just walk and sit on the tracks.


When we arrived at the hostel an “Adventure Trip” company owner was there and gave us some of his time explaining the roads and the canyon places to visit. Especially the road to the canyon floor at Batopilas, with no tarmac, tight turns, sheer sides and a 2000 metre loss of altitude. We decided to attempt a trial look at the road and decide if we could get down it.

After 50 miles of good tarmac, canyon views, and fir trees the road just disappeared into compact stone and road works.


Gravel was being piled up making steering hard, especially truck avoidance. Jean sensibly turned us back after about 8 miles of it.


At least we got to ride the good bit again.

High Roads

After Creel we headed out to Hidalgo De Parral, at our third fuel stop in 100 miles (destroyer tactics) we met three Americans on bikes, Jim, Gavin and Tony, that we had briefly met the day before. As we were headed he same way we hooked up to ride together.

The road to Parral from Creel is currently my favourite road of the trip, our first Altiplano, more canyon views than you can shake a stick at, and no traffic, until a military check point where we were amused that they spent more time furtelling in Jean's panniers than ours.

Because we were all ultimately heading for Mexico City and getting on well we decided to stick together for a few days.

The following sequence of events had a lot to do with the heat, attempting a 350 mile day, riding with strangers and dehydration. The previous nights beer and tequila probably also had a bearing on it.

We had taken some back roads to avoid a city, and I use the term road in a loose sense, there may well have been some tarmac between the holes. As we passed through an intersection in a small town the traffic lights seemed to be ignored by the locals, Jim went on green and I thought he was going to a Pemex, except he saw the lights go red again and stopped, he has ABS, I don't. I instinctively used the front brake, locked it, the road was dusty, and slid into his right pannier. It was a slow bump but enough to make me lose my balance and I had to let the bike go down to my right.

There was a crowd of locals staring at us even before I did this, I should have done a bow.

The only damage to my bike was a crack in the front mud guard, the solid panniers stopped it hitting the floor. Jim looked at his pannier and suggested I do a better job of polishing it next time.

I think you can guess what happened next.

Half an hour later, leaving another town we started to pick up speed. Then Jim hit the brakes to avoid another sudden topas, once again I locked the front, the bike slid and I recovered but was still going 10 or 15 mph as I tried to dive right. I felt a moment of relief as my front missed Jim, but then my pannier hit his. Everyone thought I was going down properly this time as the bike weaved everywhere and I struggled to stay up and miss a truck which was parked in front of the topas warning sign. I stopped and just sat there bemused for a minute.

This time I had smashed Jim's bike hard, and bent some brackets taking off his pannier, mine was dinted a bit. Later I asked him if I had polished it properly this time.


For some reason, no one wanted to ride in front of me after that.

Colonial Mexico

We stopped in Parras, in the Mexican wine district (yes you can get Mexican wine), at a budget breaking resort, all sharing a large cottage. It was literally an oasis in a desert.

We had now passed into what looked to be a more wealthy region, there was still poverty but it was not as dirty or as uncared for as early regions. This part of Mexico is where the original Spanish colonists had populated.

Then it was back along semi tarmaced roads and more desert with Joshua trees, later we went through what can only be described as a huge Joshua tree forest, covering an entire valley floor.

Our target was Real De Catorce, a ghost town in the mountains. The final 14 miles of road are cobbles, winding up into it. As we approached I did not want to let Jean have any second thoughts so I just turned in and went for it.

I think my teeth rattled, the bike certainly did. Tony and I quickly got to 40 mph and left Jean and the others behind, so waited for a bit. Jean came flying round the corner and as she passed us all I heard was “I'm not stopping”. I gave chase.


After jumping the queue to enter the tunnel into the town we found our selves in a square, and realised we had no contact numbers with the other three. We made our way to the hotel that Jim and I had discussed, opposite the cemetery and hoped Jim would find it as well. While waiting I bargained with the owner, Eduardo, over prices, if the three had been with us I would have got an entire house for 100 GBP.

Eventually they found us and we spent Halloween out side the walls of a ghost town cemetery and walking round the town square lit up with candles, where the locals had decorations and family shrines with “offerings” for the Dia Del Morte.

The ride out of the town was interesting as well, extremely steep cobbled roads, that I had to do twice as Jean was not confident. As it was I nearly put her bike into a wall. Only Jim made it down unaided as the rest of us had someone balancing the rear.

We are currently in the town of Ixmiquilpan staying with Jim's in laws, which is a nice break after some wild(ish) camping next to the convergence of two rivers last night.


I've not crashed into Jim for three days now.

Posted by Bruce Porter at November 03, 2010 09:22 PM GMT

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