Mexico, Done & Dusty
From lots of rules and regulations and relative order to chaotic driving and congested living and people doing what seemingly doing just what they want. Yep you have just crossed the border into Mexico.
No one at the border seemed to care what I was doing or who I was. I had to stop them to ask how I go about temporarily importing the bike and myself into their country. Now I believe that it is rude not to attempt to speak the language of the country you are in but it is bloody hard to communicate when your spanish is limited to what you used in a bar the last time you were in Majjorca. So off I went, driving in traffic wandering where it wanted on the road. 20km out of town I get to the place. Now the fun starts. I line up at a desk that looks promising only to get to the official who points me to another desk. To be fair the whole process only took me 2 hours and cost me $50.(at least $20 more than it should have I now know!) This is a fast border in comparison with what I am told awaits me later.
Posted by Peter Slarke at October 23, 2003 02:22 AM GMT
It was good to finally get going and get some miles in before dark. After 5 hours I made the town of Maderra. I needed a hotel, after much searching I found one. $26 was not what I had expected more like $10. Next day I was headed to Copper Canyon, Mexico´s answer to the Grand Canyon. The tarmac road from Creel to where the dirt starts was super twisty and fun. When the dirt started I was glad to be on something that could take a hammering. The road, only 43 miles long took about 4 hours to ride. It was like nothing else I have experienced on the trip. How the hell they built it is one thing, how many have snuffed it driving it can only be guessed at. There are plenty of little shrines at various places that give you some idea. The road was single lane, full of stones the size of softballs, had ditches where it had washed out and had drops off the side that were very big indeed. Add about 30 switchbacks into the bargain, a drop in height of about 2500 feet, animals on the road and psycho locals and you start to get the idea. The village of Botopillas at the bottom was like nothing I have seen. Very run down looking, tiny streets full of roaming dogs, pigs and the occassional cow and lots of kids wanting high 5s as I rode past them. I liked it, all apart from the dog that mounted a conserted attack on me every time I rode past looking for a hotel. In Botopillas I got to stay in my first hotel where they insisted that the bike be brought inside through there hallway floored in white tiles, to ensure it would be safe. How cool, and all for $10. Thats more like it! Did it match the Grand Canyon for scenery? It sure did, it is one spectacular place I would like to revisit and spend more time in. My route then took me to a town called Parral, then the next day to Durango. The road to Mazatlan from Durango was another highlight. It passes through the Sierra Madre mountains and is so twisty. Not one straight in one 90 mile section and you are riding on top of the ridge most of the way. Lots more stunning jungle views. The only hassle was the drivers and the state of the road. One corner I come round to be faced with a pile of logs sticking out of a broken down truck. I just managed to stop! Another section of the road would not have looked out of place in Beirut. Lots more animals to hit mainly cows and donkeys (There are no fields to graze animals in you just turn them out onto the road then go find them later, that is the ones who are not lying dead beside it) Add to that potholes you could hide a football in. Then there was the military roadblocks and heavy overall presence. They were cool with me but they certainly like to have lots of guns. ( In the south of Mexico gas stations, banks and lots of other businesses are all gaurded by local police with pump-action shotguns!) I am told that this road is good by day, but not somewhere to be at night. Lots of Banditos aggressively gaurding their crops of weed and poppies.
Mazatlan was my entry into the tropics. I was so hot and humid. Really hard to ride wearing what you know will protect you if you crash. I then realised that by heading south I was riding into an ever increasing furnace. I will work out how to cope.
From Mazatlan I headed down the coast to Peurto Vallarta, what I now know is the US´s second favourite holiday destination. Its just like being on the Costa Del Sol but at least I can speak english and be understood. I had to have a rest day here as 7 high mileage days on the bike had taken its toll. On the 7th day I could no longer sit on the seat and had to use a travel cushion to try to get some relief. I also paid the price for eating in many roadside food huts. There cheap but hygiene mmm. Luckily I packed some Imodium I guess. Still being sick in a place you can walk 10 mins for a swim in a bathtub warm Pacific Ocean aint too bad and it was excellent people watching.
Back to the bike the next day and heading south down the "coast road". Now my idea of a coast road is one you can see the sea from, you know marvellous vista awaiting you around every corner. The Mexican idea seems to be a little different. They want to hide all their beutiful coastline so place the road about 1- 10kms back from the coast. Now I have ridden the whole thing, I would say that dissapointingly you only get Pacific Views for 60kms of the 1,600kms of it I rode. While I am having a winge I have to mention the Topes, quantities of which are found in every village. Topes are what we would call speed bumps but these are not mere bumps but more like mountains. The roads in Mexico go through every village. Villages are at most no more than 10kms apart if you are lucky. Every village has at least three of these suspension destroying monsters in them. Try riding 450 kms in a day like I am doing and the hatred developed for these things gets way out of hand. The most annoying aspect of Mexico bar none. Second to the topes must be the "killer" dogs present in every village. Wether dogs are born into the role or are assigned it via the local canine committee I am not sure, but the fact still remains that in every village from somewhere a dog (or dogs) will come tearing out of the bushes barking wildly, chasing the bike no more than centimeters from my boots salivating at the jowls. As of yet no contact has been made with the "killers" but not through want of trying I might add. I still need more practice to conect my size 10 motorcross boots with the offending mutts head!
My ride has taken me through Acapulco at 8am on a Saturday. The madness of the traffic has to be seen to be believed. You are defending the space you ride in, not lane, with fierce determination. If you are unsuccessful, one of the twenty zillion VW Beetle Taxis will be making a b-line to get you. No overdramitization, that was how it was. Just out of Acapulco I stopped for food, brunch you would call it. Now that my vegetarian principles have well and truly gone out the window (dont mock,you try to order off a menu you dont understand and hope not to get meat in a big meat eatting country) I eat what I am lucky enough to get put in front of me after normally going for a guess off the menu. Anyway there on the menu was the dish I could not refuse. Molle de Armidillo. Thats right it even had a picture of an armidillo in case you were not sure. A different breakfast to say the least. And how did it taste, you all already know the answer to that dont you. Chicken of course but with a hint of porkiness. It was great served in a spicy sauce. Later I discovered that I could also have had Iguana (lizard) but was glad I didnt as it is suppossed to have the same effect as Viagra. Now wouldnt that have been interesting trying to sit on a motorbike all day after your Iguana meal!
Another drama that I have had is having half my back eaten by insects. As it is so hot I was riding with my jacket open. What a lovely way to cature and hold all the insects in the air in the back of your jacket. Not all of these tropical dudes are friendly, what a field day they had on me. I thought I had contracted chickenpox again!
A pleasant surprise has been the lack of hassle I have had compared to what everyone in the USA was telling me would happen. Every day I pass through at least 2 military checkpoints. So far only three have stopped me and had very brief looks into my boxes. Always they have been very courteous to me. They all seem terminally bored, but not bored enough to have the patience to try and work out what the non-spanish speaking gringo is trying to say. My spanish is not coming along very well, I find it bloody hard work and as for remembering the words! Also luckily no run-ins with the Federales, the national cops. Last time I was in Mexico my friends and I had to bribe them to get out of some dreamed up traffic offence. This time the only contact has been one giving me a friendly wave as I passed.
Yesterday was unusual. I got a hotel earlier that I had planned due to a roadblock on the Pan American Highway. I went to the front of the line of traffic to see what all the delay was, an accident I thought. On arrival I saw this line of men all eqquiped with 2 foot machettes standing or sitting on the truck tires that had been used to block the road. Behind them the women were also sat, not with big knives but 3 foot long clubs. I got told in no uncertain terms that it was "no passada" and with the show of weapons they had I wasnt going to be the one to argue. The dispute was over the government taking their traditional land and this type of protest was common now according to a truck driver. Now what could we achieve in the UK if you blocked the M1. The militant flame in me may be burning weak now but it hasnt gone out!
At present I am an hours ride away from the Guatemala border at Melsilla and plan to cross it tomorrow. I have a lovely 2.50uk hotel room and my bike is safely in the hallway.
I am glad to have reached the border as Mexico seems to have taken me a lot longer that I thought it would. I have enjoyed the ride down and have found that in general the Mexican people are very poor and live in very basic conditions. From the road you see villagers carrying water to their houses from wells or tankers and I doubt a lot of them have much more than a few light bulbs in their houses, some out of the towns no electricity at all. To see earth floors through open doors is common in the villages. All the Mexicans I have encountered have been very friendly and helpful, always trying to work out what the stupid gringo is trying to say in broken spanish. The notion of them all being thieves and out to swindle you, has proved untrue. There is far too much prejudice gladly offered to you from people in the US. I suggest they travel the country and get the true story first hand!
I now have the Mayan ruins of Tikal to look forward to and the notoriously corrupt border official of Guatemala to deal with. Add to that the Tramitadores (kids that hassle you to let them help you get through the border, for a price) and the street kids who want paying to "look after" your bike and it should be a fun 24hrs. I will let you know in a week or so how it turned out.
(still no pictures, will add them at xmas when I get home)
Well Oz, you're still alive and enjoying life on the road - good to hear it. I'll buy you your favourite meal at Ingleton (but with bacon as well)!when you get back and we can get a day on the grit. Off to Thailand in 2 weeks so will be at roughly the same latitude as you, so can get a true taste of the heat that you're experiencing, except I'll be in shorts, on the beach, trying to suss out what to do with the strings.
Take it easy and see you in the middle of winter (do you really want to come back to the UK at this time of year?)
glad to see your having great time the following apart from former capital are must see's. spend full day in tikal on temples - pyramids - monkeys etc. also must see's are lake attitlan - most beautiful lake in worls - awesome take a boat ride across to unspoilt village underneath volcano - wild monkeys etc - idol worship right in front of you - not touristy. also go to market town called chichicastenago - great market and old fashioned accomadation with real fires etc its cold at night at this altitude. roads in highlands are v. bendy and hilly watch out for mad busses and accidents which are v. common. if you are climbing a volcano watch out for bandits and get a reputable guide and put valuables in bank safe etc as roberies etc are quite common - wish i had done this!! also guatemala city is a strange looking place look out for the barrios (slums) as of particular social interest. finally you could go to the former capital city (santiago ?)which was extensively damaged by earthquakes and is good example of colonial spanish city. enjoy!!
Hi Oz, Makes fascinating reading - look forward to the book! Hope your rear end is lasting up ok as well as the bike! Just had Jess call in two nights whilst visiting your Mum in between. Good to catch up with all the news. Look forward to seeing you back safe and sound at Christmas. Take care David & Deborah
happy new year,
came accross your site, thought you would be well shackled by now, but supprising as ever, seems not. Don't recognise the bird, can't see her white stick either.
Good to see you are stil full of adventure and enjoying life, you ar to be admired for your resilience to a settled life.
take it easy
nice reading oz, but where's the latest upadets you promised!
enjoy it when you get back out to it....