After finishing the motorcycle maintenance and other stuff that I had planned to do in Santiago, I had a little more than a week left and did not want to spend this time in Santiago. It's not really that much a thrilling city (although it's certainly not too bad either). So I decided to go to Valparaiso, Santiago's famous harbour.
It took me less than 2 hours to get there and to find my accomodation (pre-booked since it's high season), the Villa Kunterbunt with a large portrait of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Langstrumpf covering the entrance gate. The Villa Kunterbunt is owned by a chilean-german couple Enzo and Martina, who are living there with their 3 children. Enzo claims himself to be a Punk - although without the looks. I had a long discussion with him and he turned out to have his very own definition of Punk which I would rather call conservatism, to be somewhat euphemistic. However both are nice, friendly and helpful people who have quite a notion of customer service (despite him being chilean ;-)). They are keen to have motorcylist guests and offer their help to motorcyclists all over Chile.
Valparaiso itself has the usual charm of a harbour city, i.e. a little run-down and busy (it reminded me somewhat of Bremen). The city center is surrounded by hills that are mostly covered with nice and colourful buildings and can be reached by a number of funiculars. The most impressive building however is the nacional congress, which is so enourmous and ugly that it must be designed by a socialist government architect. I also explored the coastline south of Valparaiso which has a few nice beaches (usually covered in mist until afternoon), some good twisted new roads and is largely covered by coniferous woodland (finally no Eucalyptus).
After two nights I left Valparaiso heading north, looking for some nice virgin beach to spend some days, enjoying sun and water. There are a lot of more or less nice beaches - with sand and rocks - north of Valparaiso, but they are far from being virgin. The entire coastline consists of resorts and holiday villages - which surprised me since even in high summer (the equivalent of July in Europe), the climate is rather cool and the sun usually does not dissolve the typical mist of the pacific coast before afternoon. Once the sun comes out, it is so very strong that you won't spend a long time under it. I spent only one night in the small town of Papudo, enjoying the quite populated town beach and the sun.
Continuing northbound, heading for the famous town of "La Serena", I left the coast and took the overland road through a hot and mostly arid landscape of mountains and valleys. Proceeding further north, the lower parts of the dry brown hills were increasingly covered by green geometrically looking spots: Vinyards. They got bigger and more dominating the further I approached La Serena. Anywhere where water is available, it seems to be pumped up the hills to feed the vinyards, converting the brown, arid landscape at least partly into a green and fruitful - although oppressively hot - region.
La Serena is a surprisingly nice and calm town with a couple of beautiful colonial buildings. The town is situated a few km apart from the beach and therefore not too much affected by tourism. The beach itself is of course completely spoilt by dozens of high-rise hotels and apartment complexes. However, I didn't want to spend too much time on the beach since most of the time the sky was grey and it was max some 20 degrees, with a cool breeze from the sea. Nevertheless the beach was full of obviously much-tougher-than-me chilean families, with a couple of people refreshing themselves in the icy cold pacific ocean. I also had a look at the close-by habour town of Coquimbo, which was not particularly interesting but dominated by a very ugly huge and accessible concrete cross that was built on top of the "cerro" above the city.
I realized that I had still some time left and had to decide what to do. A look at the map and the decision was done: Some two hundred km eastwards from La Serena, there is the well-known Paso Agua Negra to Argentina, which I wanted to take already at the beginning of my stay but couldn't, since due to its high altitude of 4700m it's only open in high summer. The only insecurity was the fuel again: I had given away my extra can after leaving the Carretera Austral, some 3 weeks ago - and I did not know how much fuel the bike would consume at that altitude - neither did I know the exact distance between the last service station in Chile and the first in Argentina. However, there was no problem at all to cover what turned out to be a distance of just 270 km - and I arrived tired and sweating but without any problems at the Argentine border post (and the close-by filling station). I was really happy when I found a spa hotel nearby, which was exactly what my tired bones and muscles needed after this ride.
I had planned to continue the ride to Mendoza - but chatting with some Mendocinos at the hotel these warned me of 40 degrees at day- and 30 at nighttime. So I decided to stay at this altitude and take the road the led some two or three hundred km southwards alongside the Cordillera Andina, heading for Uspallata on the main road from Mendoza to Chile. Uspallata was not as bad as I expected - for just a little roadside town. It has friendly people, at least two or three decent hotels, an internet cafe with perfect opening times (until 2 a.m.), a big service station, a variety of restaurants and all kinds of shops. On saturday night there is quite some movement - much more than e.g. in Paraguay's capital Asunción - but with a very relaxed atmosphere.
In Uspallata I met a biker couple from Bavaria and another from England: Lisa and Thomas. Thomas had just recovered from an incredible accident somewhere in Brazil, when a small bridge broke under the weight of his bike. He had broke his neck but managed continue riding his bike for 23 days until he got to Sao Paulo and finally entered a hospital. He was operated and needed 2 months of recovery (Actually they wanted to keep him longer but he just wanted to ride again...) (see their website 2ridetheworld.com).
From Uspallata I took the road back to Chile, via the "Paso de los Libertadores". With its huge rocks and colourful mountains and the "Puente del Inca" (a natural bridge over a stream) it's one of the most impressive passes between Chile and Argentina. On the way I met Paúl from Bilbao on his very old and torn Yamaha FJ 1100. He is an ex-teacher who has become a painter a few years ago - but still can afford such a journey... lucky guy! :-) (see his website euskalnet.net/saituapaul/ and euskalnet.net/gametxogoikoa).
Being back to Santiago, I just had to do the final preparations: Make an appointment with the forwarding agency, have the bike cleaned, bring the bike to the airport and strap it to the skid. The last part turned out not to be that easy: Some two weeks before, I had sent an e-mail to my travel agency, asking whether or not the skid was still there. The answer was "Everything fine." Well, bullshit, the skid was gone - somebody did like my strong self-made 200x75 cm skid and had taken it away. As you can imagine, I was rather pissed - but then I told myself that it's just south America - what did I expect?
Hector, the guy from the forwarding agency who had been looking for the skid together with me, got a 2nd hand skid 200x100cm from somewhere and took it and me to his father's place, where we adapted it to my needs. Hector's father is a kind of carpenter and worked hard in the afternoon heat - doing everything manually without electric powered tools. I only had to say what to do and give a hand once in a while. In the end the skid was almost as good as my own one and served perfectly fine. I had still enough time to strap the bike to the skid (with a dismantled front wheel, mud flap, windscreen and handlebars) and finally Hector even brought me in his car to the next metro station, so I could return to the Hotel quickly. So in the end everything worked out fine - why getting upset? :-)
The flight to Cancun was long but without major incidents. 9 1/2 hours from Santiago to Dallas, and 3 hours later a 2 1/2-hour flight from Dallas to Cancun. Loads of Yanquis, but all friendly people (how can this be in Bush-country?? ;-))
Cancun itself is all-right. Well actually I like it. It's clean, safe, warm, has the carribean beaches - but no historical buildings at all. You got all facilities, free open-air life concerts at weekends, cheap and small open-air restaurants run and visited by locals, various interesting restaurants, great ice-cream, equally great tropical fruit juices and loads of very modernly equipped internet cafés.
Luckily most of the gringos stay outside, in the vast hotel zone (where you actually find some nice hotels - "Riu Palace" is my favourite, although far beyond my budget). The hurricane Wilma had heavily struck the entire hotel zone, which is located directly at the seafront. It seem that at least some 90% of the hotels is closed for renovation, some have lost nearly all their windows. In comparison to that, Cancun itself and villages like Puerto Morelos remained pretty unharmed.
Almost all the infrastructure including the towns like Cancun and Playa del Carmen as well as the hotel zones are little more than 20 years old. The entire area had been planned and realized (quite succesfully) as a huge holiday resort by the Mexican government. So Cancun itself is a planned city with loads of green spaces and wide avenues. I like that. The mexican drivers (at least those in Cancun) are the best drivers of all Latin American countries I know up to now. They are quite calm and considerate towards pedestrians. I think the Cancun state ("Quintana Roo") is one of the best places to live in Mexico or even in Latin America. That's probably why there are so many huge expensive cars (mainly those f***ing SUVs), even Porsche, Mercedes and BMW. Probably a great place to retire - so buy your real estate now!! ;-))
On the other side I was not too lucky with my motorcycle, especially with respect to timing. Generally customs here is straightforward, efficient and 100% corruption-free. However, you should not arrive on a Friday afternoon, and even less if the following Monday is a public holiday. So on Tuesday I got my papers and had been told that the responsible customs office is only open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Well, so I had to wait until Wed to get my bike and it'll be Thursday (tomorrow), almost one week after my arrival (!!), when I finally get on da road again. Getting the bike out of the customs area was no problem and cheaper than in Santiago. I put the bike together, connected the battery and started it. It came on the second try and ran smoothly. That's how it has to be!!
Since I had some time to spend, I did a bus trip to the famous archeological site of Chichen Itza, some 2 hours from Cancun. Of course it was one of those typical tourist tours which always approve my decision to do the trip by motorbike. However it was not too bad and we had quite a qualified guide who told us a lot of stuff that I have already forgotten. Similarly to what had happened to me at Iguazu, the main attraction - the huge pyramid - was inaccessible.
We were offered an additional stop at a beautiful underground pond (so-called "cenote") which was really as beautiful as praised by the driver, and an "authentic maya community" which turned out to be a typical bullshit tourist market. I am already fed up with maya calendars... Why can't they think of anything else and maybe more useful to sell?
I already applied my "Alemania" stickers as well. What's that?? Well, according to a recommendation of some German bikers I met in Chile - and according to my own conclusions - it's better not to be taken for a "Yanqui" (citizen of the US) here, especially with the current US government. Germany has a very good reputation here - and it's not unusual, that you get much better (e.g. hotel) prices than a "Yanqui". And - by the way - a little pride of your country is nothing bad - although rather unusual in Germany (the "3rd-Reich-complex"). So I got a couple of black-red-yellow "Alemania" stickers manufactured in Santiago which I now placed on strategical parts of the bike. This does also answer the most common question you are usually being asked in latin america: "Where are you from?" :-)
Didn't I just praise the Mexican drivers? Forget about it.
I just had entered the outskirts of Merida on the main road, when the traffic light at a crossroads turned yellow. A good german as I am, I stopped. Bad idea: The usual instinctive glance in the rear view showed a car approaching me at high speed and at the very same moment I heard its wheels squeeling on the pavement.
I swerved the bike a little to the right to avoid the impact - but only almost succeeded: I heard and felt a crash, saw my left pannier overtaking me, but did not fall. I yelled angrily under my helmet described an elegant U-turn with the bike and parked it on the roadside. I put it on the sidestand, got off, took off the helmet and greeted the culprit who had also gotten out of his car with a handshake. My pannier was a mess but the car - a VW Polo looked even worse - probably due to the pedestrian-protecting soft crush-zone at the front. The police showed up some 20 seconds later, since they had been waiting a few hundred meters back.
So what do you expect? Well-informed policemen? Swift formalities? Helpful insurance agents of both sides, showing up quickly and coming quickly to the agreement that it was 100% the car driver's fault? The pannier repaired quickly, maybe even the next day? A compensation cheque from the opponent's insurance company? Next day? Are you kidding? In Mexico? That's not even possible in Germany!
Well, I expected none of this - but this is actually what happened. Everything was done within 30 hours, i.e. Pannier beaten out (didn't even expect that this was possible at all), pannier floor riveted, rack straightened and 250 Dollars cash in my hands. Who told you funny stories about Mexico??
I really liked Mérida and the tranquil accomodation (a rare thing in Mexico) but Mexico is huge and I have only two months. So after two nights I hit the road again, heading southwest, passing by Campeche and entering Chiapas at Palenque.
There were 3 military checkpoints on the road but only one stopped me and kind of searched my luggage. However, these were very young guys (with German G-3 rifles) and I was about to ask them why they stop me - is it because European motorcycle tourists are notorious for arms smuggling? Well, I didn't ask - better run no risks.. ;-)
Crossing the Yucatan peninsula is as thrilling as crossing Paraguay: It's above all green, hot and humid. Before you enter Chiapas, you have to cross a small strech of the state of Tabasco. It was not as spicy as I expected.
Chiapas had been notorious for fights between the Zapatistas (an indigenous rebel movement) and the mexican army. Currently there are no fights but the conflict has not been settled. However, the Zapatistas fight for their cause with modern means like the internet. Quite an interesting organization, look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zapatista_Army_of_National_Liberation for details.
Entering Chiapas is entering a mountain landscape of intensely green jungle-covered hills and mountains up to little less than 3000 meters. Like in southern Chile, reaching Palenque I quickly learned why the landscape is so green: The evening I arrived, thick clouds hung threatening over the city - and minutes after I had checked in at the hotel, the rain started. It rained heavily all thru the night and the next morning still it wouldn't stop. Palenque has one of Mexico's most important archeological sites and three (supposedly) very beautiful waterfalls - but I decided to simply ignore them and just escape from the rain. On my way back I'd still have a chance to visit these touristic highlights.
As so often on my Latin America trip I was completely wrong with regards to clothing. Since it had been quite hot the last days, I guessed that it would be just as hot and additionally wet on the road and therefore just wore a shirt under my Goretex gear. Bad idea. Climbing the Chiapas mountains on a narrow and twisted road through the green jungle, it got more and more freezing - and I got more and more drenched. So finally I had to stop in the rain and put on a winter pullover and waterproof winter gloves. I was a little less cold but still freezing enough when I finally reached San Cristobal de las Casas at an altitude of some 2200m. San Cristobal is one center of the Zapatista uprising and funnily in the crafts markets you can buy Zapatista t-shirts, zapatista postcards and so on, usually showing men or women masked with balaclavas (Sturmhauben), so you can only see their eyes - and indicating their pseudonyms like "Subcomandante Marcos".
San Cristobal is a nice, genuine and coloured place in the middle of the "Sierra Madre de Chiapas" - but IMHO it's not worth staying longer than an afternoon. So the next day I continued my ride towards the west, heading for the hot and sunny pacific coast.
Of course this time I was dressed very well, with termo underwear, long underpants and a warm pullover. And of course, after little less than two hours, I was so hot that I had to remove a couple of clothes. The special challenge is to take off the long underpants at a public lookout point at the "Sumidero" canyon near Tuxtla Gutrierrez - without being arrested. But I succeeded in doing so since it was early morning (at least in Mexican terms) and there was almost nobody in that park.
Finally I reached the pacific coast and spent the night in the very authentic and almost (apart from myself) gringo-free town of Tehuantepec. Actually I did not want to stay there but it was almost 5 pm and continuing would most probably mean traveling in the dark. As my Cancun hotel manager had warned me particularly of this road - especially at night - I had decided to look for accomodation here. I liked the city - since it was lively and really looked like you imagine original Mexico. I liked especially the three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, driven by men and always with two women standing full of dignity on the back with their hair and skirts waving in the wind.
From Tehuantepec I took a nicely twisted road along the pacific coast, through a hot land of hills and dry bushes - a really enjoyable motorcycle road - and finally arrived at "Bahias de Huatulco" - a rather new and upcoming tourist resort center, a lot calmer and a lot more exclusive than Cancun. However I was very lucky and found a nice and comparatively cheap place (25 USD per night) in a very tiny village directly at the beach. Here I spent most of the time on the beach, in the beach bar or in my room, bathing, sunbathing, reading, relaxing, eating delicious seafood, drinking beer, taking showers... But also this paradise was not perfect, since - typical for Mexico - noise prevented me from sleeping well. This time it wasn't the traffic or city noise, but a dog barking for hours in the middle of the night in front of my window and a cock starting to scream at 5 in the morning - in front of my other window. It could just have been Orscholz (insider joke ;-)).
From the hot and sunny beaches of the Mexican pacific coast I rode into the green coastal moutains towards Oaxaca, the capital of the state of the same name. The road almost exclusively consisted of curves, so I had to alternate between enjoying the landscape and enjoying the road. The cool mountain climate was very pleasing after the oppressive heat on the coast.
Oaxaca is a beautiful colonial city with a strong atmosphere of culture and history. It has loads of curches, fine colonial buildings and loads of tourists and those who want their money. It also has a famous archeological site, the Monte Alban, from where you have a magnificent 360 degree round view of the city and the barren valley surrounding it. The other major tourist destination outside Oaxaca is the tree with the worlds biggest trunk in Tule.
Since the last three days in Huatulco had slightly overstrained my budget, I decided to stay the two nights in a (single room in a) hostel. That's the kind of hygenic aventure I can live without. Rather "rustic" if you know what I mean. Well, you get what you pay for.
My next destination was Puebla. I started in Oaxaca at 8 in the morning and did some 500 m when during an ascent suddenly the oil warning lamp started glowing. SHOCK!!! I switched off the engine immediately, standing in the middle of the busy road. When this light glows, the engine is very close to exitus - since it means that the oil level is far below minimum. So with the engine switched off, I could not go forth since it was a too steep hill, I couldn't go back, since it was a narrow one-way road. I asked a mexican passer-by to help me pushing the bike into the next side road - of course he helped without heasitating. Immediately when I had parked the bike, another young mexican passer-by, who was walking his dog, asked me if I had any problems. I explained it, he hurried home and one or two minutes later returned with his BMW F650GS and a virgin new 1-Liter bottle of engine oil, which he gave to me and of course did not want any money for it. Great people.
I still was wondering how this lack of oil had been possible. I had just checked it, hadn't I? Mmmh, when was that? Huatulco? - No. San Cristobal? Palenque? Merida? Ooops, I'm afraid I had last checked the oil just after arrival in Cancun - and never ever after. OK, after 3000 km in the Mexican heat, a loss of 3/4 liter lies within the allowed range. So it was just another stroke of genius by Winne the manic mechanic. ;-)
One of the things I like most about Mexico, is the VW Beetles (the original old ones), which you find everywhere. Actually every 2nd car in Mexico seems to be a Beetle or the old VW Bus. Every time I see one of them, I get excited. But also the huge ancient american Chevrolet and Cadillac coupés are lovely. Well, that's really a lot of excitement over here!!
Driving through central Mexico (around Mexico City) is no fun. This is the most densely populated part of the nation - and you spend 95% of your time behind some slow bus or truck. So the only means you have to more or less avoid this is to take a toll road (which also significantly enhances your life expectancy). But these are usually very expensive and (what really pisses me off) you do have to pay the same for a motorcycle as for a car or pickup truck. Grrrr. In South America you usually pay nothing at all. Only in Chile you have to pay but that's usually half of what a car driver pays. So my little protest is to be reeeaaallllyyy slow at the pay stations. Sorry for the guys behind me...
I took the toll road to Puebla. Contrary to what is indicated in the Mexican Guia Roji Map - and unlike European or most South American toll roads - it turned out to be a single carriageway. But it was good asphalt with some nice scenic views of the barren mountain landscape. I made a short stopover in Tehuacán, a smallish city with a pleasant Zócalo, where I had my 2nd breakfast. An hour later I arrived in Puebla and was surprised how beautiful it was. Actually one of the most beautiful hispanic city centers I have seen to date. I found a really nice hotel with bike parking , breakfast and use of washing machine included. When the concierge stated the price, I moaned that it exeeded my budget but I would accept it. Bad negociation tactics. However the girl immediately offered me a 17% discount. My charming charisma again.
In Puebla I spent a day with sigthseeing and eating, including a short visit to the famous Amparo indigenous arts museum - which once again showed me why I hate museums: I am so awfully uncultural, I was just bored stiff.
From Puebla I headed straight westwards towards the Volcanoes of Popocatepetl and it's neigbour, Itzisomething. Popo is still active, which becomes manifest in a quite unspectacular and hardly visible trail of smoke over its peak. I passed wetween the two volcanoes on a dirt road and through a small national park, then I dived into the densely populated area south of Mexico city with its heavy traffic (mainly trucks and buses) and speed-bumps every 200m.
As quick as I could I found a toll-road, which allowed a decent cruising speed and reached the idyllic mountain town of Taxco within a few hours. I immediately fell in love with this place - not because of its hundreds of white beetle taxis that fill the streets like ants - neither because of the expensive and poor-quality hotels but because of the way in which the white, well-tended houses cling to the steep mountain, connected mostly by stairways or steep and narrow cobblestone streets. It's fun to discover the small city center walking, climbing, ascending and descending on foot and almost without orientation. The narrow, steep, chaotic market below the church is a must-see. And it's also fun to take one of those VW bus taxi-collectivos, which can transport more people than you would ever imagine.
The next morning I started very early since I had to take a toll-free road and I wanted to avoid the dense traffic. It worked - I really enjoyed the first 100 or so km of twisted mountain road heading for Acapulco. Close midday, when the traffic got denser, I took the toll highway and reached my destination "Pie de la Cuesta" west of Acapulco quite quickly. I arrived early afternoon, so I even had time to get myself roasted on the beach and have a bath in the Pacific ocean. The beach was almost empty and the waves really infused respect - but they looked worse than they were. I waited until somebody else got into the water (without being killed by waves or undertow) and then tried myself. It was no problem at all, you just have to keep a look on the waves, otherwise they might surprise you from behind and swallow you.
I did not visit Acapulco itself. Despite its legendary name, it's not a very attractive city, mainly hotel and commercial complexes and loads of traffic and pollution.
After a short day-stay in Pie de la Cuesta near Acapulco, I drove another 300 km on the mainly nice and twisted coastal road to Barra de Nexpa, a really tiny beach place the mouth of the river Nexpa. The place mainly consists of a few rentable huts, one or two B&Bs, and a really pleasently laid-back crowd of mainly north american pot-smoking surfers in their late 40ies or early 50ies.
However it's really rather a surfer than a swimmer or snorkler paradise, since the water is not as clear as in other places and the beach is mainly pebbles (although there is also a sandy stretch). So Huatulco remains my favourite. For the evening I was invited to a delicious barbecue and once again I almost regretted to detest so much the taste of smoke. ;-)
I somewhat took the habit to get up at 6 in the morning and hit the road latest at 7, so I can enjoy the road with hardly any traffic and with pleasant temperatures. So I started from Barra de Nexpa with the first dawn and drove a long way along the pleasantly twisted costal road with the sun rising in my rear view and hardly any traffic at all.
One characteristic of Mexican roads are the loads of dead animals - dogs, cats, raccoons (Waschbaeren), even entire horses and cows are rotting at the roadside. Another are the unpredictable speed breakers, the so-called "topes". Sometimes these topes are announced, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are logically erected in villages along the road but sometimes they surprise you at a insignificant crossroads in the middle of nowwhere and without any previous warning. So you quickly learn to concentrate on the road and not dream about, or otherwise you'll quickly learn to fly...
It was around noon when I arrived at my planned destination, the tiny Laguna La Maria between the small city of Colima and the volcano of the same name. The Laguna had been recommended to me - and I was willing to spend a night in a tent. However it turned out to be just a simple pond with some nice green surroundings - just like you find it anywhere in southern Germany or northern France. For a mainly dry place like Mexico it might be spectecular, but I was rather disappointed. Apart from that, the owner of the place wanted 8 USD for a place for a tent with virtually non-existent sanitary facilities. So I quickly came to the decision to continue the journey to Guadalajara. Two hours later I arrived there, sweating and smelling (my gore tex gear needs a laundry again) and checked into the hotel.
Guadalajara is Mexico's 2nd biggest city - but it's a lot smaller than MX-City and it's a really attractive place with a fascinating big historical center and the charming neighbourhood Tlequepeque. Tequila is - apart from certain sorts of Grappa - the only hard liquor I like. The town of Tequila is very close to Guadalajara, so you find Tequila shops everywhere, some offer detailled explanations and offer tastings. I shouldn't have participated - now I couldn't resist buying two bottles (one "Joven"/"silver" and another "reposado"), both very delicious and traditionally made.
What really strikes me in Mexico is the lack of friendliness of almost all mexican service staff. Be it in a hotel, a restaurant, café or petrol station: You'll be happy to get a 'Hello' but rarely get a smile and never ever get a good-bye, let alone a friendly farewell. They just simply ignore you after you have paid. This is quite the contrary of what I have experienced in South America and I still have not become used to it. First I thought it might have to do with Tip - but you can try out any percentage between 0 and 20%, you'll allways get the same reaction, i.e. none at all. It doesn't either have to do with being Gringo, since the Mexicans are treated in the same way.
On a motorcycle you are much closer to your surroundings: You notice the landscape more intensively and do more intensively perceive impressions like heat, cold, rain or smell. Mexico is the country of roadside smell adventures. Apart from rotting animals and smelly industry of the strangest kinds, you should take a nose of the heavily contaminated rivers or the mexican speciality: Fire.
Apparently they love burning things, e.g. when in Europe (or any other more developed country) the weeds on the roadside are cut or mowed, in Mexico they are burnt. Or even better: As in any other latin amerian country (and most other countries), the roads are lined with (mostly plastic) trash. In Mexico many small towns and villages have one or several semi-official dumps on the roadside near the village where they simply leave their trash building large heaps of it. This gets a lot more enjoyable when they set fire to the trash - the mexican variant of "thermal trash recycling". Anyone passing by is tempted to stop and take a deep breath.
Zacatecas is a beautiful small old city, which became rich due to the close-by silver mine. Especially the huge elegant theater building looks rather inappropriate for a city of this size. The silver was dug out by indigenous slaves aged usually between 12 and 30something (when they died) and made the local spaniards rich. I arrived in the early afternoon and had time for a walk around and a guided visit to the silver mine. The mine is beautifully prepared for visitors, with all kinds of light and sound effects and some art objects on display. It's impressive to see the large cavern that has been the silver vein now dug out. Nowadays there's just 2 of 5 levels accessible, the rest is flooded and the visitors can see the illuminated water deep below their feet.
The next day again I started early and took the extremely boring road thruough the Mexican steppe-like highlands towards Guanajuato (via Aguascalientes and Dolores Hidalgo). For a change there was not a single toll road, the traffic was light and I wasn't stopped at the military checkpoint. No wonder: I went the opposite way than the drugs. However once I took the wrong way which I only reckognized after 40 km when I had to return. Due to the high altitude of some 2000 m , it was surprisingly cold on the road.
Early afternoon I arrived in Guanajuato which turned out to be a spectacular maze of old underground streets, tunnels and alleys. The town is squeezed in between two hills and is real fun to discover on foot - but an absolute horror on motorbike. I got lost completely, driving in circles without finding any of the street names mentioned in my guidebook's plan. Yes, was looking on the right plan. :-) So finally I gave up and chose the next hotel on the way, which was the Alhóndiga. There they let me know that they wouldn't accept motorbikers. A fine example of Mexican hospitality? Luckily next door was another hotel with own garage, where I found a room for the night. After taking a shower I walked through the city and ejoyed the fine views from one of the hills.
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You can have your story here too - click for details!