Our next stop was Durango, another beautiful Cathedral and Plaza, another bustling market, but without the vivacity of Mazatlan. I was eager to move on, as was Jacquie, so we stayed one night before hitting the road once more for Zacatecas.
Zacatecas is a gorgeous colonial town, a Basque minor found silver in the 16th century and the town grew. The Basque settlers made their mark with French buildings side by side with Spanish Cathedrals. Finding our hotel was a task and a half. Manoeuvring the Harley down the steep, narrow winding streets, with my GPS trying to send us the wrong way down one-way streets. We went round and round the same street until finally a local led us to it in his car.
A major difference here was the large numbers of fairer skinned European looking locals, as well as the Creperies, cafes, and bakeries side by side with Taco stands and Gordita shops. We took the cable car up to La Bufa, at the entrance to the old mine-which now is home to a nightclub deep underground. The cable car took us over the myriad of rooftops and was high enough to make our knees weak.
Getting out at the top after the ride on the cable car we were greeted by the sight of three enormous statue of Zapata and his revolutionary comrades on horse back , and a photographer willing to wrap an ammunition belt over your shoulders and take polaroids of you behind a tripod mounted machine gun, which we declined.
The views over the city were sublime, a hodge podge of rooftops and alleyways, interdispersed with grand Cathedrals and museums.
We returned on foot to our hostel and sat on the rooftop balcony chatting with the other residents, a couple of German guys, just back from Real de Catorce, and pair if French girls down from Monterrey, a Canadian couple recovering from excessive Mosquito bites in San Blas, and another couple of French guys on the hunt for marijuana, all swapping tales of where we had been and where we were going.
We spent another couple of days wondering the street, checking out the markets, and trying local dishes before getting back on the bike and heading south to Guadalajara.
We took a side trip on the way down to La Quemada, an archeolgical side on the road south.
La Quemada was our first experience of one of the many pre Hispanic ruins the are found all over México, and it was magnificent.
We had the site practically to ourselves, and took the opportunity to climb and clamber all over the ancient city. Up pyramids, across the playing fields, along alleyways. It took my breath away. I left Jacquie halfway up and continued alone to the highest point, following tracks and trails that were centuries old. The heat was intense, but the scenery was spectacular and I pushed onwards and upwards until there was nowhere to go but back down.
The experience was one I will never forget, and I wished I could have stayed longer, but once again , the road was calling, we still had hundreds of miles to do that day so we descended to the base, mounted our iron steed, and rode off in the direction of our rest stop at Aguas Calientes.
We weren’t expecting much from Aguas Calientes, other that a room for the night and a place to rest , but once again the colonial city, in its usual format of Catherdrals, Plazas and Avenues was a joy.
Again , there was music playing everywhere, a buzzing vibrancy filled the streets and we had to walk around the town on the evening of our arrival and once more on the morning of our departure, to get a feel for the city if nothing more. The leafy plaza was cool and shaded, and the Cathedral was a work of art, the more we travelled through Mexico , the more of the equisite edifices we came across, it seemed that even the smallest hamlets had a magnificent Church or Cathedral at its core. The Spanish missions were nothing if not diligent.
Jacquie had read about the town of San Juan de Los Lagos, and deemed it worthy of a final stop on route to Guadalajara, so the next morning we pointed the bike south east and rode off. San Juan de Loa Lagos is one of the most important towns to religious Catholics, and many make pilgrimages there each year, usually walking there, even from as far away from Zacatecas-a six day walk.
On arrival, the devoted then make their way down the 100 foot aisle on their knees to show their …well to be honest, I am not sure what they are showing. We watched this spectacle, as young and old alike made their way down the aisle, some in tears, some beaming, some moving quickly, and some taking a very, very long time. Outside the Cathedral, another beautiful structure, hoards of street vendors were selling religious artefacts, ranging from pendants and bracelets, to life-size Jesuses on donkeys to the pilgrims and visitors to the town in a most irreligious way. We avoided the vendors and returned to the bike, anxious to be on our way once more.
Our arrival in Guadalajara was a difficult one in many ways. Our timing was terrible. It was 7pm, the setting sun was still blisteringly hot, especially combined with the heat from the city and the immobile post work traffic. Our riding gear was sticking to our sweating skin, and once again, our trusty GPS was trying to constantly send us the wrong way down one-way streets.
Half of the historic centre, the location of our planned hotel, was being dug up in preparation for the upcoming Latin American Games, and I had steam coming out of my ears in frustration, only adding to the heat!
Finally, I rode around a no entry barrier, down a dug up road, and found the hotel we had been looking for for the past hour, only to find that we could not reach the garage or park anywhere in the immediate vicinity due to the road works. I talked the receptionist into letting me check my e-mails, and hallelujah, there it was, an e.mail from a friend of a friend inviting us to stay at their house in Guadalajara. We put our damp jackets back on, and at 9pm arrived at our friend’s, friend’s house!
The next 10 days in Guadalajara were a blur of missed dates. `We missed two free Manu Chow concerts but made it to the Free Music Festival and caught a wicked Reggae band in one of the city Squares.
We had a long drive down to San Pancho down by Puerto Vallarta, and an even longer trip back, mainly thanks to a flat tyre and an even flatter spare in our friend’s car. We went on a small distillery tour of on of the quality Tequila makers, Partida, ,were treated to a Botana from Tequila's most celebrated bartender, Don Javier
had a day at Chapala lake to the south of Guadalajara, before finally heading out for Guanajuato.
GUANJUATO had been bigged up by some many people were had very high expectations, not always a good thing.
This time, however, we weren’t disappointed. Guanajuato is an old colonial town, important because of its rich silver mines, the town prospered, and the buildings, plazas, churches and setting are all gorgeous. Being up in the mountains the climate was much cooler and the town was a joy to walk around.
We both enrolled in a language course to improve our poor Spanish and were overjoyed when we learnt our mate from London who we saw in Baja was coming ti stay at the same hostel as us with his girlfriend for the upcoming Semana Santa festival. This is basically the lead up to Easter, and the Mexicans celebrate for a week with parades, re-enactments, and music. Guanajuato also has the tradition of Dia de la Flores, when everyone buys flowers for the women, and the streets overflow with flowers everywhere.
Guanajuato felt like it was busting at the seams with the amount of people coming to the festival, the colours on the streets were intense and the smell form street vendors carts filled the air.
We spent a great couple of days wandering the streets with our Baja buddies, went for a cultural evening with the symphony orchestra, saw the Mummies in the Museo de la Momias, sampled the cuisine and wine of the region before heading off in our separate directions.
We took a slight detour to Christo Rey, a gigantic statue of Jesus on the top of a mountain, which also marks the geographical centre of Mexico, followed by another of our favourite dirt road excursions to Valencia.
From Valencia we hopped over to San Miguel de Allende, another beautiful colonial town in the same format of Churches, Plazas, Bandstands, which was beginning to become a bit to familiar. We cousin’s stepson lived here, and my cousin and his wife were all going to be at the house.
We all met up at the house, and spent a relaxing couple of days in San Mig, walking around, seeing the sights and having fun with my cousins before a detour Eastwards to San Luis Potosi and the Jungle.
I had made contact with a fellow biker on Horizons Unlimited, the website we had been using while planning the trip, and he had invited us to go stay with him. We rocked up at his house and were shown around his house, which had been built around his garage where he kept his collection of Harleys. Marco, our host, turned out to be the president of the local Harley owners club, but couldn’t ride with us as he had recently had an accident, in his car, which prevented him from riding. He plotted a route for us into the jungle, and after showing us the city and taking us to one of the Semana Santa processions, took us out for dinner and gave us a bed for the night.
The next morning we headed out East, off to the jungle proper. We rode out over the hills and as soon as we descended down to valley of Cuidad Valles, we were hit by the intense heat and humidity. The temp gauge on the bike jumped from its usual mark around 85 degrees to over 100, for the first time on the trip, and then it rose some more! My head was melting in my helmet and both of us were overheating when we came across the first waterfalls. Needless to say we took a detour, parked up the bike and jumped straight into the water for a cool down. The falls we really busy what with this being the last day of the Semana Santa holiday, but nonetheless still great fun.
We reluctantly dried off and jumped back on the bike to head to our hotel in the super hot Cuidad Valles, which would be our se for the next couple of days.
Valles was an extremely uninspiring town, and I couldn’t wait to leave, so we spent the one night before heading deeper into the jungle to explore Xilithla and Aquisimon.
Valles was an extremely uninspiring town, and I couldn’t wait to leave, so we spent the one night before heading deeper into the jungle to explore Xilithla and Aquisimon.
Xilithla was the site of Edward James’ Castillo. An expressionist set of buildings in the jungle, originally built as a monkey sanctuary. Edward James was an Orchid collector and enthusiast, and he was so upset that many of the flowers on his site died that he decided to make statues of them in concrete so they would never die.
A walk round the site was enough to almost dehydrate us , so after a few hours exploring the jungle,culminating with a terrifying hike up to a tree house with an amazing view of the surrounding countyside. We headed back to Aquisimon to find a room.We suffered in the heat, our walking pace reduced to a meander, moving from shade to shade avoiding the sun.
We rose early on our second morning to see to Sotano di Golondrinas- the Cave of Swallows. We got in a pick up to take us up the mountain at 5am so we could watch the swallows leaving the cave, and after a bumpy 90 minute ride up the mountain, we hiked another 20 minutes back down to find the cave.
We arrived just before sunrise, perched on the edge of the cave. If you were brave like Jacquie you could have a rope round your waist and a local would lower you over the edge for a better look, I on the other hand was happy on the edge.
We waited and waited some more until finally the birds started leaving the cave. Unfortunately this was one of those times where the trip had been built up so much, and so many people told us how amazing it was that we were disappointed.
Sure it was a good day, but the best Mexico has to offer-no way!
We followed the cave trip with a walk through some natural caves and we were lead in and out of these huge caves by a local guide who loved showing us his secret nooks and crannies- ooh err!
We got back to our place around 2 am and both went straight to bed exhausted. We slept most the afternoon and couldn’t leave the air-conditioned semi comfort of our room for more than an hour at a time after that.
We ventured out for some food and as we sat down I heard the familiar rumbling of a Harley. A couple of minutes later a pair of Harleys rode into the square. I rushed over to greet them and realized these were the same guys I had spotted and chatted to a week or so earlier in San Miguel De Allende. Pedro, Hector, and Hector’s 12-year-old grandson Pedro
I showed them where I was staying and we arranged to meet for dinner.
We sat around in the square drinking sodas and eating Tacos with our new Harley buddies, and hatched a plan to ride together the next day to the waterfalls at Tamul.
The road started off promising, then got better as we reached a beautiful swathe of fresh new blacktop. This ran out after about 3 miles and we switched to gravel, then dirt, then a lunar landscape. The 3 Harleys trundled along slowly along these roads for a good hour at a meagre 10 mph until we reached Tamul, less than a mile from the waterfalls. But it was one mile more than I didn’t want to do on the Harley. I parked at the top and Jacquie and I changed to our swimmers and walked to the river.
From there it was a 2 hour canoe ride, with the five of us paddling-some more than others.
We stopped off along the way at a cave where we could swing on a Tarzan rope and jump into the clear waters of the cave, before heading further upstream to reach the falls. A short hike from where the boat let us off led up to the falls and made for a spectacular view point.I hiked up to the base of the falls, and swan in the pools beneath before rejoining the group and the canoe.
We made our way back elated and refreshed, and after a shared meal together we went our separate ways.
We had to go back to San Luis Potosi (the City) to have a service on the bike, our 20,000 miles was here already, and our friends recommended us a mechanic who used to work on Harleys, and as there were no dealerships around unless we headed straight to Mexico city, it was the best option.
After an exhausting 25 mile dirt road, we were once again on the blacktop, and we motored on. We had to stop over one night, and experienced our first Sex Hotel, where rooms are charged by the hour. We negotiated an all night rate, and parked the bike. There are several great things about these places. There is always covered parking, usually in a lock up garage, this is to protect the privacy of the fornicators, but is also very useful if you want a good place to park the bike, the rooms are cleaned very regularly also there is free porn… another bonus to some travellers!
Our Sex Hotel
Ruben at work
We found Ruben easily enough, working on a powerboat in his yard, and he greeted us in true Latino style. Rum was poured, beers ordered and Ruben produced hundreds of Harley Magazines. He took us out to lunch , and more beers, and it was late in the day before work commenced, slightly altering our plans to get out of San Luis that night and stay somewhere smaller than this big city.
After Ruben nearly dropped the bike on me ( he said he did it on purpose but I don’t believe him!), massacred my oil filter and drained all my engine oil, he gleefully told me that he didn’t have any oil or a filter. I thought we were stuck, but we got in his Jeep, drove around to a couple of shops and a couple of garages, and by 8om, my service which would normally take 40 minutes at the most, was over. 7 hours later!
We had a bit of a challenge finding a room, but in the end gave in a took a room that was way above our budget, but at least meant an end riding round confusing, narrow, cobbled one way streets of San Luis.
San Luis Plaza Principal
Our next destination was Queretaro, another of Mexico ‘s fine colonial towns, and one of our favourites, as it turned out.
On the road to Queretero, a stop fro strawberries
We found a lovely place to stay and were told that we were visiting at a good time as it coincided with the Queretaro Cultural Festival.
We unpacked the bike and had a quick shower before heading straight out to the city to catch some of the action.
We saw a couple of bands playing in the squares, walked around and soaked up the atmosphere and the architecture. We could have stayed longer, but Mexico City was our next stop and we were both rearing to go. One more night in Queretaro and then we were off into the big unknown of Mexico City.
We really were very,very unprepared, we couldn’t get a fix on the address on our GPS, no one we spoke to knew where we should go, so we decided to just head to the freeway and follow the signs ‘til we got closer, then we would ask for directions again. A simple plan-destined for failure!
As night fell, we were just entering the city limits. My cousin in Mexico City, Stanley advised us to enter in the evening when it would be cooler, it skipped my mind that it would also be darker!
Sure enough, about 10 minutes into the city we hit our first patch of trouble.
Mexican Police always have their flashing lights on, so you don’t always pay attention when you see the reds and blues in your mirror, but this Police Motorcyclist pulled up next to us and signalled for us to pull over. Uh oh, what have I done?
Well, apparently motorcycles are not allowed on this road, the Periferico, which is Mexico City’s ring road. The vague directions I had gleaned from my cousin told me to ride along the Periferico until I found the exit for Los Palmas. I explained in my broken Spanish that I had no idea about the motorcycle exception, and that I hadn’t seen any signs, and he just pulled out his rule book and showed my something which appeared to be written in Spanish legaleese. Roughly translated it said; “You owe me 15 days minimum wage.’ I told him I didn’t make minimum wage and that I didn’t have a job, which he didn’t find amusing, and then told me that the fine was 1,500 pesos, or £75. This was my first fine, how was I going to fare?
I informed the officer that I didn’t have that kind of money, and I got the expected response; “you can pay me here, now, cash 750 pesos.” Right, getting better, a little haggling and we were down to 500 pesos and I thought I had done well, until I recounted this story after I met up with Stanley, and he said I could have gotten away with 200 pesos, easy.
Oh well, it was my first time, next time I would do better.
After repeatedly getting lost in the maize of freeways and off shoots, we hired a taxi to lead us to my a Mall near Stanley’s house, and called him come pick me up and lead me to their home.
We spent a few great days wandering the streets of Mexico City, we were cleansed by a Shaman in the Zocalo, the main square in the city centre, visited the museum of Anthropology, we had our futures read by some birds, the feathered kind, climbed up the pyramids of Teohoatican, and took a boat trip along the old canals.
Then, swine flu hit, hard. The bars and restaurants closed and the government advised everyone to stay indoors. Everybody started wearing surgical masks and the streets became deserted. We figured it was time to leave, so we said our goodbyes, packed up the bike, and headed off for the Pacific coast.
Getting cleansed by the Shamen in the Zocalo in DF
The ride started as normal, and we found our way out of Mexico city without too much trouble, the problems started later on. The road was glorious. We rode up, down and round mountains, through the forest, twisting and winding our way along in the sunshine, and after a few hours, we were ready for a stop.
Spectacular views on the road to Altamarina( The Road of Death)
We pulled into a little taco stand on the side of the road and ordered some grub. There was a Federale eating beside his pursuit car next to us and we waved hello. These are the guys that we were warned about; the Federales are the hard-core cops, no messing, so we were a little wary. We were half way through our meal when he ran to his car and sped off. 10 minutes or so later, we also got back on the bike and started making our way down the mountain. A couple of miles down the road we hit a tailback, and cruised along the side of the queuing cars and trucks to the front, where the same Federale was in his car, blocking the road. I parked up and went to see what was going on. This Federale was a really cool guy. He wanted to know all about our trip, where we came from, how much the bike cost, what did we think of Mexico and so on. He apologised for the delay, told us there had been a tanker spill a little further down the road, and it would all be cleared up soon.
Sure enough, a few minutes later he motioned for us to pull ahead and pull over to the side of the road, where he deputised us as Federal Deputies, and handed us both Policia Federale badges. To say that this made our day would be an underestimation!
We continued towards our destination, huge grins on our faces, narrowly missing a herd of cows crossing the road, then narrowly missing a herd of goats, then donkeys, around every corner it seemed there was something living that shouldn’t have been there.
Some of the animals we encountered on the road
The scenery as we rode around the winding mountain road was gorgeous, and had to restrain myself from pulling over every 5 minutes to take photographs.
As we descended one mountain, we came across a town, and another roadblock. We waited on the bike for a few minutes before dismounting to see what was the hold up. One of the townsfolk told me that there had been a shooting only moments before, and a man was dead; the police had to close the road to gather evidence, and were also interviewing witnesses. It looked like we would be stuck for a while, then an old local farmer told us there was a back way around the block. Brilliant, we backed the bike up and headed down a narrow road, only to get stuck in traffic again. I got off the bike and walked a little way down the road to investigate. On my way down, I stepped on a round concrete drain cover, which promptly gave way, leaving me with one foot on the ground and one leg knee deep in the water. There were 2 ladies in a pickup truck next to me who looked down at me in horror and jumped out of their truck to help me out of my hole. I had a couple of grazes, but was otherwise fine, and everyone in the traffic queue had a good laugh, myself included. As it transpired, a coach had decided to have a go at this back way round the road block, and had managed to wedge itself in good and proper on a tiny bridge, and couldn’t go forwards or backwards, so I was forced to go back to the bike, turn around, and head back up to the main road. Fortunately, the road had been re-opened, and we were able to continue what we had named “The Road of Death” to Zihuatanejo and the beach.
After the hustle and bustle of Mexico City (before the swine flu closed everything down) and our 2-day ride along the road of death, we were ready to kick back and relax on the beach. We found a lovely little guest house ran by an eccentric Cuban, and spent a few days just chilling on the beach and wandering round the town before following the coast road down to Acapulco.
The beach at sleepy Zihuatanejo
The ride to Acapulco was another great one., twisting roads, with glimpses of the Pacific thrown in for good measure every now and then.
The Beach at Acapulco
Acapulco had been the uber resort for the well to do Mexicans and Gringos since the 50’s, and was way past its heyday, after being offered girls and drugs by 10 year old boys, we decided to get out ASAP, we spent a night there and headed off along the coast again to Puerto Escondido. If Acapulco was a disappointment, Escondido was the cure.
Ice cream on the beach at Escondido
Beautiful beaches, cheap rooms, and a cool, friendly vibe made for one of our favourite stops. We found a lovely little wooden Cabana for 150 pesos and went out for some Happy Hour action on the beachfront.
A few more days of Escondido and it was time to move on down the coast, we stopped at another little fishing village on the coast that had been overrun by hippies in the 70s and was still thriving on backpackers and budget travellers, and stayed in one of our favourite rooms so far. We moved into a little second floor room with a window and balcony that looked out over Zipolite beach and the Pacific Ocean.
The Beach at Zipolite
On our second night there we saw what looked like a green light bouncing off the waves as they broke on the shore. In the morning we asked the owner what it was that we had seen , and she told us that it was phosphorescence, and it was the brightest that she had seen in her 15 years of living there, apparently we had had quite a treat.
On out 3rd day in Zipolite our old friends Dan and Stacey e.mailed us to tell us that they were in Escondido, and that another biker that we had met in Baja was also arriving there in the next day or two. We had been a few days ahead of these guys for the last couple of weeks, so we decided to backtrack to Puerto Escondido to hang out with them for a couple of days.
We rode back to Escondido and spent the next few days exchanging stories of breakdowns, near misses, and Police encounters, good and bad, with our fellow bikers.
The gang back together again!
Release the beast!
The lot of us took a trip out to a beach a few miles down the road and released some baby turtles into the ocean, we relaxed on the beach and drank on our porch, it was great to be back together again, but, as ever, the clock was ticking and the rainy season was fast approaching, so after our little catch up, we packed up once again and headed off toward the Yucatan.
We made a beeline to Oaxaca city where we visited the ruin of Monte Alban, and from there headed out via the Valles Centrales to Chiapas and San Cristobal de Los Casas.
Toasted insects at the market in Oaxaca
The ruins of Monte Alban
Our ride along the Valles Centrales road was a non-stop sightseeing tour. We visited two ruins, a busy local market, the biggest tree in Mexico, and finally arrived at Hierve El Agua, a petrified waterfall. We had seen pictures of the falls in Oaxaca, and had decided to check them out.
The clifftop pools at Hierve El Agua
We had originally planned to arrive at the falls at around 2pm, and then see if we wanted to stay overnight or to move on, but after a being delayed from all the sightseeing on the way , and by the last 11 miles of dirt road that slowed us to a mind numbing 10mph, our only option was a quick dip in the pools on top of the falls, and a night in the mountains. Our lights had dropped out of their casings after all the off-roading, and were now pointing squarely at my front fender, and showing a few inches of road ahead, so night riding was out of the question, and we had about one hour of daylight left, on top of that , my fuel consumption was dropping wildly, and instead of my usual 250 miles range, I was down to 150 miles, and I barely had any gas left in the tank, meaning we would have to backtrack to the nearest town before we could head out East.
Fortunately for us, there was one room left at Hierve El Agua, and we took it, we strolled down to the top of the falls and the sight took our breath away.
The pools are formed from sulphur springs gushing out over the granite rock. As the water washes over the edge of the rock, the sulphur deposits form a petrified waterfall down the side. We sat in the pool right at the top of the cliff and looked out over the gorgeous scenery around us.
We stayed in the pools for an hour or so, then made our way back up to the taco stands for dinner before walking into the nearby village to watch the Mother’s Day celebrations before getting an early night in our bungalow. That night, from our porch, we watched an amazing light show, courtesy of a distant electrical storm, before jumping in our bunks for another early night in the middle of nowhere.
The next morning we bought an emergency litre and a half of gas from a shop in the village, before making our way back down the mountain and onward to San Cristobal.
We set off in the glorious sunshine and left Oaxaca state, into Chiapas. The brown and dry landscape gave way to lush, tropical vegetation, the roads became bumpier and more pot-holed, and after lunch, which was the first time we tried Iguana-and the last, hopefully- the weather started to change too.
Soaking wet after our first tropical downpour
As we climbed one of the mountains, the sky darkened, we rounded a corner and the road was wet, maybe we had missed the rain? No such luck, a minute or so later, the sky went from grey to black, and the rain came down. All we could do was laugh, within seconds we were absolutely drenched. Water filled our boots, my glasses steamed up, and the rain stung my face and cheeks.I slowed to a crawl and squinted through the droplets on my windscreen. Around the next corner we rode under a sign reading, “BIENVENIDOS A CHIAPAS”.
Fortunately the downpour lasted only 10 minutes or so, and we dried out in just enough time for the second instalment as we entered San Cristobal in the dark.
Our first night was a bit of a put off, arriving in the rain never really gives a good impression, and we just wanted to find somewhere as soon as possible to get out of the wet. We looked in our Lonely Planet, found a reasonable looking Hostel, and went straight there and booked in for two nights.
This was a mistake. We never usually booked more than one night at a time, but being tired, cold and hungry, we went along with the receptionists suggestion to book and pay for two nights. That night we slept very badly in the cold, windowless, damp room, and uncomfortable beds, and were awoken at 6 in the morning by the early shift arriving at the hostel and turning the music on, loud. The other thing that bugged us was the amount of rules posted on every wall in the hostel. In the breakfast room, a sign proclaimed;
“Guests are entitled to one visit to the breakfast buffet, one glass of juice, two slices of toast, one fruit, one cup of coffee”. It was worse than being back at school, and seeing as the only people causing problems in the hostel were the staff, we thought this was rather rich. We spoke to the receptionist in the morning to ask if we could check out and get our money back for our second day. He replied “ No problemo” so we went off in search of alternative accommodation for our second night, and that’s when we met Juan.
We had seen a couple of places, but when we went into Posada Mexico, we were greeted by the biggest, friendliest smile we had seen in ages. Juan was a chatty and quite excitable Mexican in his twenties. He showed us round, and we took a room and paid a deposit. We rushed back to our first Hostel, the Backpackers, to retrieve our bike and luggage and move out.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in Latin America. When we went to get our money back from reception at Backpackers, we were told that the owner said that we couldn’t have the money back. Here we go again, I thought. I asked to speak to the owner, and the receptionist called him, and then told me that the owner didn’t want to talk to me. So I kicked up a bit of a stink, wrote a long and not too favourable report in their guest book, and left the hostel with half our money and a bad mood.
Back at Posada Mexico, we parked the bike up in the garage and settled into our room. We chatted with Juan, who was a mine of information, and then went to explore San Cristobal. This city was the first time we saw Mayans in traditional dress in an urban situation. The town was quiet, due to the swine flu scare, and we wondered round in the rain, diving from doorway to doorway trying to keep dry.
On returning to Posada Mexico, Juan introduced us to a couple of Frenchmen who were also staying in the hostel and asked if we would like to go out for dinner with them all, which we gleefully accepted. We all ate well, and drank too much that night, and became firm friends with the Frenchmen and Juan. We were all planning to go to see the ruins at Palenque and to visit the waterfalls at Agua Azul, so we decided we would go together.
The next day, the Frenchmen set off in the Jeep they had hired from Mexico City and we followed behind on our bike. We rode up and up into the mountains, through Mayan villages, over a ridiculous number of speed bumps until we reached the town of Ocosingo where we would stop for the night. Ocosigno had been the base of the Zapatista Rebels, and many of the bars and restaurants had pictures of balaclava clad, cigar smoking, gun toting rebels.
Then next morning we rose early and headed out to Agua Azul. We arrived early before the crowds and had the pools and falls all to ourselves. We climbed to the top of the falls, and then, made our way back down to swim in the pools at the bottom. By this time the tourists and the vendors had arrived. We were surrounded by young Mayan girls with baskets of bananas and tamales on their heads. We bought some of both and chatted with the girls, who found it extremely amusing when I tried to balance one of their baskets on my head, without much success. At midday it was time to head of to the jungle enshrouded ruins of Palenque.
We had all really been looking forward to Palenque, one of the best known ruins in Mexico, and we weren’t disappointed. We scrambled all over the site with our guide, up the pyramids, in the tombs, and through some of the jungle to see some of the 95% of the site that is still covered in moss, trees and grass.
The site itself covers some 20 km, with only 5% cleared and restored. We explored the site in oppressive heat, sweat pouring from all of us, until the site closed at 5pm, before heading back down to the entrance to the Palenque national park to find a place to stay in the heart of the jungle.
We were shown around a few options before Jacquie and I settled on a tree house overlooking the river. Needless to say the camp of cabanas, bungalows and tree houses were full of backpackers, hippies and travellers, and there was a very easy going and friendly vibe in the camp. We made friends with our neighbours, a group of Israelis who had just finished their military service, a couple of Swedish girls and a young Mexican bartender on holiday from Playa Del Carmen, and our newly formed posse headed to the restaurant for dinner and a fire show, and on returning, Jacquie had “Happy Birthday” sung to her in 5 different languages, simultaneously. Isn’t it strange how every nation known to me sings that song to the same tune?
I could have easily stayed at Palenque, in the Jungle Palace tree house, for a few more days, but the next day, with slightly fuzzed heads, we said our goodbyes to the Frenchmen and our new Israeli friends, packed up and rode out. We visited one more set of ruins at Tonin with the Frenchmen before we went our separate ways.
It felt good to be riding unaccompanied, even though we missed the company of the Frenchies, we could speed up where we wanted, slow down where we wanted, and stop where we wanted. The weather was as gorgeous as the scenery as we rode north up the Yucatan Peninsula and towards the Gulf of Mexico. We had never seen this side of the country and when we finally came to the beach road, the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf welcomed us in an unforgettable way.
Following the coastal road, we soon came across a small restaurant right on the beach, so we pulled over, parked up and went and sat on a table on the sand, hastily removed our boots, rolled up our jeans, and went paddling in the warm Gulf waters. We shared a lemonade and enjoyed the calming sounds of the water lapping the white-sand shore before booting up and riding along the coast. We detoured into the town of Sebaplaya, just because it was there, and also it meant we could ride the costal road a little further. The latter was far more important than the former.
It was here that we came across the bullring. We weren’t sure at first exactly what this huge wicker basket looking building was. It looked like it had just been put up, was made of wood and covered in palms, it reminded me of “the Thunderdome” in the Mad Max movie. We found a spot by the side of the road to park the bike and went over to the ring to get a closer look. We had arrived just in time to the matadors get ready to enter the ring, and the bulls getting moved into position outside. We were in prime position right at the gate to see the grand entrance of the matadors, and the release of the first bull.
We asked around and were told that the bullfights would go on for three days, so we jumped back on Garth and headed north once more for the last 60 miles to Campeche. We found a nice cheap hostel in the centre of the city and unpacked the essentials. We parked the bike out side and pulled out the bike cover, it felt safe as houses so we didn’t worry much about anything happening to Garth overnight.
The Castillon at Campeche
We met some fellow travellers in the hostel who said they had seen us on the road and had basically been following the same route as us for the past few days, passing us, or being passed by us, on several occasions. We all wet out for some street tacos together, and wandered round the city, we talked about the bullring and the guys said to they ‘d like to come too. So, the next day, we headed back to Seybaplaya , bought hot dogs, beer, tickets and chips,and took our seats for the bullfight.
We had been too late to see any bullfights, the Mexican season ending in March, with the Matadors basing themselves in Spain for the Spanish season. I had wanted to go to a bullfight well before I had ever thought of going to Mexico, and was full of nervous excitement of what was to come.
Run Forrest, RUN!
I was intrigued, and to the distain of my fellow travellers, quite enjoyed the spectacle, Jacquie stayed for the first fight, then left, then the Aussies from the hotel left, leaving me feeling quite guilty and alone in our terrace seats. I watched one more fight, during which one of the matadors had to run for his life from a bull that had him in his sights, and then went and rejoined Jacquie and the guys to return to the hotel, and a slightly more “civilised” night in town.
From Campeche we had a hard ride on a dirt road 21miles down to Celestun to see the pink flamingos. The “short cut” added about an hour to our journey, and caused a not insignificant amount of tension between Jacquie and I, but that was all washed away on the boat trip to see the Flamingos the next day.
From there, it was a straight shot to Cancun, via the amazing, and very expensive, ruins at Chichen Itza. It was blistering hot again, but the site was incredible.
It was a shame that it is no longer possible to climb the pyramids, apparently health and safety is making a rare appearance, however, the ruins were irresistible to explore. After a few hours scrambling round the huge site, we road down to the nearby Sambula for a quick refreshing dip in one of the Yucatan’s many Cenotes- an underground pool of water, before heading to Cancun
Security guarding our bike at the Cenote
Jacquie booked her flight and we were left with one week together. We headed down to Playa Del Carmen, not wanting to stay in the gringo high-rise Mecca of Cancun any longer than necessary, and after a few days there, moved down to Tulum and stayed in a sand floor Cabana on the beach, catching up on our tanning before Jacquie’s return to the gloom of the UK. We loved Tulum, enjoyed Playa Del Carmen, and made the best of downtown Cancun, but all the while, the impending separation weighed heavy on our minds. Jacquie had bought a return ticket as it was the cheapest option, and we both focused on the option for her return in two weeks time.
The time came for Jacquie’s departure, and we rode from Playa to Cancun for the last time. We had both decided to make our goodbye as quick and painless as possible, so I helped her in with her bags, went with her to check in, then we had a quick drink whilst sorting out last minute details like money. We hugged each other tightly outside the terminal and I walked back to the bike alone, turning round and waving to Jacquie every 5 paces.
I got on the bike and rode out of the car park, I rode over to Jacquie who was still standing outside the terminal, we had one last hug, and then I rode out of the airport and towards Chetumal and the border.
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