July 27, 2006 GMT

Real de Catorce

7-24-06 start 29,055 end 29,348

Made it through the Tortilla Curtain today (that would be the Mexican border, stolen from a TC Boyle book) without any trouble. Crossed at Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass, the actual paperwork station is about 40 miles into Mexico. It always feels weird to me to just ride across the border and keep on going, but that is what I did for 40 miles. The smaller crossings the bureaucratic thing right at the border.

I got a late start today, because as I was packing up yesterday, I discovered I couldn't find my proof of insurance for the bike. It isn't good outside the US, but at least it has the VIN of the bike and current dates, and I'm guessing some town cop in Peru or someplace won't know the difference. So that meant waiting until my agent's office opened and getting them to have the underwriter email them a form, so they could print it out for me. By that time it was 11 am, so then I thought, might as well have one last American fast food hit, since i hope I won't see any of those places for a while. So Burger King it was. Anyhoo, that meant I didn't get to the border till 3pm, so I just rode 3 hours into Mexico to the little town of Sabinas.

Now I hate to say this, but one of the first things I saw when I crossed the border, was one of the angle iron trusses that cross the road and support the overhead green highway signs. The thing was installed upside down, so the diagonal members were in compression, instead of tension the way God and any decent engineer would want them to be. It looked like it was designed properly, just installed upside down. Makes me think about things like that when I get on a cable tram, or an elevator down here. I suppose after designing machines for 20 years, I'm cursed with noticing shit like that, for life.

I have to look at the map, but I think I'll get on the road early tomorrow and try to get to Real de Catorce. I'm reading a book called "Behind the Mexican Mountains" I bought for 4 bucks at Half Price Books. I only started, but if you are planning to visit Copper Canyon in your future, as any good Horizonista should be, check it out. Written back in the 1930's by a guy from U of Chicago, it's an anthropological study of the Tarahumara (Indian tribe) from the Canyon region, but gives you a good feel for what it was like back then, as well as description of the landscape.

I could have stayed at this place for $55, with guarded parking, free access to an internet terminal and cooked to order breakfast from their swanky looking restaraunt, but alas, I'm on a budget.

So, I stayed at this dump. If I can, Ilike to get a hotel in the middle of town, so I can walk around for dinner and a beer or whatever without hassling with the bike. No parking? No problem, that's what lobbies are for. This where a relatively small bike is really handy. I think the Concours would handle most of the roads I'll see this trip, but I would have smashed the exhaust if I would have tried to get it up the steps into here.

This is what you get for your $13 in Sabinas, Cuahuila.

Like most Mexican towns, Sabinas' downtown is centered around a square with a church on the

7-25-06 start 29,348 end 29,555

Didn't really sleep very well, and I think I allowed myself to get dehydrated, so I wasn't a ball of fire in the morning, but I had a fairly short riding day planned. I rode south to Saltillo, this started out in the northern desert country and climbed pretty much the whole way there. So I hope I am in the cooler weather for a while now. It sounds counter intuitive to go south to find cool weather, but elevation is everything. Quite a bit of industry in this area, both in Monclova, which was a city on the way here, and in Saltillo. GM has a plant here and I saw coils of steel on the back of semi trucks headed north, so I assume there is a steel rolling mill nearby.

Saltillo's old town is built around the traditional plaza with a cathedral on one corner. Ths one was but by Jesuits in 17 something. As i was walking around the church, I met a guy who asked me where I was from, in English. I told him and he wanted to practice his English on me. It ended up that he knew quite a bit about the church, and he showed me some literature about a children's charity he worked on through his church. He then said if I would make a small donation, he would get me in to climb the bell tower. I still do't know if I got conned or not, but it was worth a few bucks to me regardless to go up the tower. We wound up this circular staircase to the level the bells were at, It was quite a view of the city from there. We went into the organists balcony and took a look at this 1897 German pipe organ they have, which was quite a thing on its' own. The exterior was made out of mahogany or something and lots of very intricate mechanisms, and you could see how they had cobbled little baffles and things onto each pipe to get the exact tone they wanted. It happened to be high school graduation day as well, and the ceremony was held in the church, so I watched some of that from the balcony. It looked like a beauty pagaent, with all the girls dressed to kill. I suppose the guys were dressed up too, but I didn't notice them.

It also happened to be the 429th anniversary of the towns founding. They had a festival in the plaza at night where they set up quite an elaborate stage and sound system. Some woman singer was backed up by a few guys who played all different instruments, from guitar to piano, sax, trumpet, bongos, concertina, and I don't know what all. My favorite part was when they did a real stripped down jazz tune, with just sax, piano and drums. It was a little strange, since I had never heard that kind of slow, smoky jazz song sung in spanish before, but it really sounded good. I have no clue who this woman was, but the crowd obviously did. She did a call and response song, and everybody but me knew what to say.

I moved up to a $26 hotel for tonight, because I wanted to stay in the old town and needed a place with secure parking. Ayway, i had a real interesting night just walking around town checking out everything that was going on.

06-07-26 start 29555 end 29735

I got up at a reasonable hour and got on the road by 9, after a quick breakfast. I then spent half an hour riding in circles trying to find the free road south. Finally gave up and took the cuota (toll) because I knew where it was. It really was a pretty good deal, at 52 pesos from Saltillo to the turn off to Real de Catorce. The road was not quite up to US Interstate standards, but it was close. The thing that struck me was the number of semi trucks headed north. Mostly enclosed trailers and a lot of the same freight companies you see on US roads, JB Hunt, Roadway, Schnieder, and others. The were trucks going south as well, of course, but northbound was easily 2 to 1. The road went through a lot of irrigated farmland, there were always mountains in view, but the ranges are spread out enough that the road can go between them. It rained, sprinkled really, a few times on the way down, but once I turned off the main road it was raining for real.

I realize this is only the third day of the trip, but this is already a highlight for sure. To get to Real, you have to go about 20 miles on a cobblestone road, where the cobbles have been polished smooth by traffic for who knows how long. We are not talking about formed bricks here either, these are just rounded river rocks set in the round. Kind of what I picture the Appian Way, from ancient Rome looking like. Not fun in the rain on a motorcycle. You climb most of that time, and I haven't seen a sign, but I bet Real is at 8-10,000 feet. You then have to go through a 2.3 km (~1.5 mile) tunnel to finally get to the town itself. Once I popped out of the tunnel, I was immediately acosted by 3 kids who wanted to be my agent in finding a hotel room. I let them lead me around town, first to a place that was out of my budget, then to another place where i got a fine room for $18. I gave the kids 15 pesos to split between them, but not before I taught them how to say "do you need a hotel?" in English. A bargain, as I would never have found this place on my own. Once again, i parked my bike in the lobby, but I wouldn't be afraid to leave i on the street in this town, as long as it was locked up.

Real de Catorce was a silver mining town, whose heyday was in the 1890's. After that the price of silver dropped for some reason and the town dried up. The place was more or less forgotten until 30 years ago, when it was rediscovered by artsy types, who they claim make up a good portion of the population today.Most of what I've seen so far is the same t shirts and crap that every tourist destination sells, but I'll walk around tomorrow and see what I can see. There are tourist buses that come here, most people seem to day trip out from Matehuala, the nearest town of any size. I got here in the afternoon, when they were leaving, so tomorrow I'll see what it's like with more tourists, as I've decided to stay another night.

This place attracts a very hip, upscale crowd, lots of 20 and 30 somethings with piercings and carrying guitars. It's an easy weekend getaway from San Luis Potosi or Monterrey, and all the private cars I've seen have Mexican license plates on them. There is no night life to speak of, no internet cafe, and no mountain bike rental. So I'm picturing a Hostel/Brew Pub/Restauraunt/ with internet access and bike rental. And while I'm in my perfect world, it would be full of Swedish backpacker girls with low moral standards. Potential investors, please contact me. I will be back to this place for a romantic getaway with a lady friend some day. I don't know who that will be right now, but whoever she is, she has a big treat coming. Oops. I lied about the internet cafe. There is one, which is why I was able to upload this entry. Im having a heck of a time with pictures though.


This is gonna get ugly....

Posted by Andy Tiegs at July 27, 2006 06:17 PM GMT

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