A young biker couple I had met in Chile had highly recommended Edward James' Gardens "Las Pozas" to me, a park landscape near the village of Xilitla in the middle of the Sierra Madre north of Mexico City. They had been so enthusiastic about these gardens that I took the 600 extra km - and did not regret it. It turned out to be something like Dali's surrealistic paintings made reality.
The gardens are situated in a beautiful steep green jungle landscape in the middle of nowhere. There are a couple of completely useless but utterly beautiful structures with steps leading in circles to nowhere, balconies, towers, little waterfalls, basins etc. Hopefully I took some nice pics with my old non-digital Nikon
The landscape around is also quite impressive. I had left the very busy highway 57 in San Juan del Rio, heading northwards. After passing some busy and dusty towns, I entered a landscape of arid hills, growing larger and larger, while the highway gradually became a twisted roller-coaster like ride up and down and along mountain ridges with the abyss at both sides. The highway climbed more and more until the grey desert-like landscape suddenly flipped into a cool and pleasant alpine scenery of intense green, steep, wood-covered peaks with some marvellous views.
In Xilitla I stayed in a pleasant (and cheap!) hotel with a great view of the forest-covered valley and the surrounding dark green hills. Leaving Xilitla and heading for the famous Pyramids of Teotihuacán (I always have to look up the name in the guidebook), the landscape was equally spectacular, although I had to cope with some denser traffic and virtually millions of speed bumps.
Teotihuacán posesses probably the most impressive pyramid of Mexico, being the second biggest in Mexico and third biggest in the world (Cheops is bigger). But what makes the site even more remarkable, is the combination of the two huge pyramids (the Sun and the Moon pyramid) and the entire complex of avenues, temples and dwelling areas. The city's supposed administrative complex, the so-called citadel (Zitadelle/ciudadela), a large square area, lined with pyramids, reminded me of the Reichsparteitag complex in Nuremberg - maybe Teotihuacán is just a cheap copy... ;-)
From Teotihuacán I went straight to Puebla, trying to avoid Mexico City as far as possible. On the map it looked like easy-going via some kind of "Autobahn", i.e. dual carriageway highways. Unfortunately these turned out to be mainly chaotic, dirty and dusty inner-city avenues, with places signposted (if anything) that I rarely found in my map - and of course the signposting was completely inconsistent and unreliable (this is not Western Europe, is it?). Luckily I had a good description from the Teotihuacán hotel's exceptionally helpful and friendly concierge, and finally found the toll "Autopista" direction Puebla. You might guess that I was really happy having escaped Mexico City's tentacles.
Two hours later I was in famous Veracruz, which is nice but not half as impressive as its reputation - and double as hot and sweaty. Quite a contrast after close-to-zero temperatures when I started the trip in Teotihuacán - at an elevation of 2300m. Veracruz is a rather rundown seaport with some fine buildings around teh zócalo and a wide harbour esplanade. However, the hotel was cheap and friendly and had a safe bike parking possibility and cable TV. That's something for a start - especially when MIB2 is on TV :-)
Next early morning I left Veracruz towards the famous laguna Catemaco, a blue lake which is surrounded by small green volcanoes. I spent a tranquil night there and then hit the road back to Palenque, where I had already been some 4 weeks ago. Now the weather was much better than 4 weeks ago - and I could visit the ruins and the waterfalls. The special beauty of the Palenque ruins is their location on and around some jungle-covered hills at the edge of a great plain. This gives them - especially in the early morning - a magnificent atmosphere.
With the end of my journey already in sight, it seems my equipment is slowly falling to pieces. My jacket stinks, lost the zip which connects it to the trousers, keeps loosing buttons and its lining and velcro fasteners are dissolving. My trousers stink as well (and with 3 weeks to go in the hottest parts of Mexico, I see no point in washing them). I wonder why they don't dissolve with all this sweat ;-) The bike's rear mudflap had already broken in Brazil. The chain-oiler had given up in Argentina. The left pannier has ceased to be waterproof since the crash in Mérida. The rear tyre's tread (Profil) is close to zero. Finally on the trip to Catemaco my helmet's vizor just broke and I have to drive with the toned vizor by day and night. Luckily I don't have to drive at night :-) And you might guess but not want to know: My underwear is evenly dissolving - especially my socks do look disastrous ;-)
Since I had decided not to enter Mexico City by bike, I will do it by Bus, starting tomorrow night and arriving in the morning. The bike will remain in the Patio (courtyard) of the tiny and extremely cheap hotel Yun-Kax - and most of my luggage will remain in their "bodega" (basement/keller). Hopefully everything will still be there when I return. :-) But I am in Chiapas - the peope here are trustworthy.
(check for latest pics under http://fotoalbum.web.de/gast/winfried.lichtblau -> Album "Digicam5 Mexico")
The 14 hour bus tour to Mexico City was surprisingly easy. I had two seats for myself and actually slept some hours, which I did not really expect. The bus and its passengers was checked by highway police and immigration three times on the way - once even with a drug search dog - and 3 or 4 guys where taken out by the authorities. Luckily I weren't one of them.
Mexico City is just as expected: Above all it's endlessly huge, quite hot, there's always a thick brown smog layer over the city (which seems to be less thick on Sundays) and the traffic is chaotic and aggressive. Cultural (and Night-) life seems to be more diverse than anything I have seen before and the people are surprisingly helpful, friendly and seem to show quite some solidarity with their paupers and beggars. The poverty was actually the most striking thing to me and I could hardly pass by an aged man or woman or child begging or selling chewing gum without leaving a few Pesos. At the same time the third richest person in the world is a Mexican. Something seems to be going completely wrong in the world.
Mexico city's public transport system is quite good and extremely cheap, with a Metro ticket costing less than 20 Eurocents and the buses being similarly cheap. I made a lot of use of it and visited some of the more relaxed and snug outside neighborhoods which until not long ago had been independent villages. Of course I also visited the SAP offices, which are situated in a modern building on a former garbage dump on a hill over Mexico. The modern architecture business centre is called Santa Fe and - according to Sven - is designed in the style of "La Defense" in Paris. One eye-catcher there is an office building that looks like a huge washing machine. There's also a huge shopping centre, which looks just like any other shopping centre in Europe, the US or Asia, with prices mostly beyond what an average german household could afford. Luckily shopping is one of the pastimes I can very well live without - so we just had lunch at the (evenly exchangeable) "food court" and then I continued my sightseeing trip.
One striking impression of Mexico is the endless number of (mainly inofficial) street markets. You can buy all kinds of stuff here: clothing, food, all kinds of cheap plastic junk but above all original-looking music and software CDs and movie DVDs for very competitive prices. So I bought some fantastic Jazz, Blues and Latin CDs - and obviously was completely surprised when I discovered that it was all pirate copies.
The Mexican fiesta was another positive surprise to me (although it was nothing positive for my health). Sven (my host) and me were invited (indirectly) to the birthday party of somebody completely unknown. It turned out to be a really enjoyable evening with loads of dancing, singing and Tequila - and the Mexicans ending up calling me "Pepe", since they could neither pronounce nor remember my real name.
See Mexico pics under "Digicam5 Mexico" and "Film17.." to "Film19..".
Having safely returned by night bus from Mexico City to Palenque, I was very happy to realize that my bike was still in the courtyard of the little hotel, where I had left it. Even my left luggage was complete and untouched. Well actually I did not expect anything else - I have great faith in the people of Chiapas! :-)
I took a shower, had a good breakfast with loads of coffee and re-arranged my luggage. Around midday - the hottest time of day - I started the 300something km trip to Campeche at the Gulf Coast of the Yucatan peninsula. Campeche is nice, very tidy, with a city centre full of neatly painted houses in pastel colours. It's Unesco world heritage but I am getting the impression that nowadays every doghouse is appointed Unesco world heritage... (I'm sooo bad.. ;-)). With regards to bathing in the Gulf .. forget it. It does not seem to be suitable for swimming, just amazingly shallow, supposedly quite muddy and somewhat looks like concrete since the water does not move at all.
So I spent a night there and the next morning, returned some 100 km southwards from where I came - and then took the road eastwards, directly towards the carribean coast. After a 3 or 4 hour ride through a not-too-boring landscape of jungle, small lakes and farmland I reached the idyllic village of Bacalar at the lake of the same name. The small lake has a white-sand bottom and twinkles in turquoise colours. I rented a tiny hut right on the lakeshore and enjoyed the rise of the full moon over the lake - and the next morning I could also admire the sunrise right from my bed.
I continued just 200 km further northeast, quickly reaching the caribbean coastal village of Majahual. The village itself has nothing of interest, apart from a quay for cruise liners, which actually is a problem. Apart from the money the passengers bing into the village, they also bring the noise of huge groups of Quads withouth silencers, of high speed boats and jetskis - and they very efficiently promote the destruction of the famous coral reefs and the wildlife along the coast. Some clever person once said something like "in the near future the question won't be whether or not we can get to any place in the world, but it will be whether or not that place is still worth it". This is what I thought when I saw the huge cruising ships at the seashore and the masses of noisy tourists streaming into the tiny village and its surroundings.
Following the advice of the "Lonely Planet" guidebook I found a really beautiful place on the beach, some 7km away from the village, owned by a welcoming mexican-american couple. I rented a little hut 10 Meters from the waves. Lying in the bed I could listen to waves and the wind in the palms, watching the yellow-red moon rising over the sea. This must be paradise. Well, however even this paradise was not perfect. The water was full of seagrass (good for nature, bad for swimming) and the tranquility was frequently disturbed by the thunder of huge groups of quad-driving tourists from the cruising ships. Another "problem" there is the absence of infrastructure i.e. electricty and water, both have to be generated on-place, which involves a noisy generator running after nightfall - by day solar energy replaces the noisy diesel generator. Luckily the generator was well-hidden and hardly audible due to the constant wind from the sea.
After two nights in paradise I continued northwards, slowly approaching Cancun. The next stop on my way was the very touristy town of Tulum, which is famous for its Maya ruins directly on the beach and for the beautiful beaches, diving and snorkling possibilities. The sand is extremely fine and white, the colour of the water is so beautifully turquoise that it seems unreal - and the caribbean holds what it promises. This includes international hords of bagpacker tourists and many hotels along the coastline. However these hotels are not like "El Arenal" on Mallorca or "Lloret del Mar" on the Costa Brava but usually quite tasteful locations with wooden huts or elegant villas which do not really destroy the beach - as far as you like urbanized beaches. Well, I doubt that in the future any non-urbanized beaches will remain - or at least none where an average person can afford to go.
The Caribean is really paradisiac, but of course quite touristy (and with the corresponding price structure). I was tempted to stay on the beach all day and swim, enjoy the sun and the beach bar - but in the end I actually could not do it since I would be bored quickly - and I wanted to see as much as I could before returning home. So I did a subterranean snorkeling tour through a few of Yucatan's thousands "Cenotes" (natural ponds), which turned out to be amazingly beautiful stalactite caves.
There I got to know an equally amazing Californian biker couple, that did the same tour together with a gorgeous girl from Austria. After the fiasco of my first all-alone snorkeling tour, I was quite satisfied with this one - and when they proposed another snorkel tour at a beach nearby for the next day, I joined in quite happily.
Hurricane Wilma apparently destroyed most of the famous coral reefs but still I saw a swarm of beautiful blue fish (among others), a stingray (Rochen) and a couple of seaturtles. Quite beautiful and a unique experience! (And of course much better than my very first snorkel adventure a few days ago!) What also made this snorkel tour unique - and very healthy - was the annoying litres of salt water that I inhaled through my nose (the diving goggles leaked): This is actually supposed to be an ideal cure for my (usually very dry) nasal mucosa (Nasenschleimhaut). The healthy effect of this adventure was somewhat compensated by the decent sunburn I caught (well, this happens if you refuse to use sunscreen ;-)).
The Californian couple just matched with the experience I had had up to now (mostly on Mexico's coasts) with people from that part of the world: Those I met were so suprisingly open-minded, laid-back and affectionate, you just have to love them ;-) So California climbs steadily on my personal want-to-visit charts - and this is not only because those guys stated (to my entire surprise) that smoking pot is more socially accepted in California than smoking tobacco. Sounds like a really interesting place...
After the tour we said good-bye and the next day I continued my ride northwards, getting into more and more touristy areas. I made a quick stopover in Cancun to make a hotel reservation for my last days in Mexico and to check with the forwarding agent for the motorcycle transport - and then returned a few km to Playa del Carmen, since the car ferry to Cozumel should leave the next day from a nearby pier.
I actually wanted to see famous Playa del Carmen but got fed up with it within just a few minutes. It seems to be for the US-Americans what El Arenal/ Mallorca is for the Germans. I found it just overcrowded, "overtouristed", overpriced and all in all horrific. Luckily I just spent one night there...
Cozumel is Mexicos only significant caribbean island, it's famous for snorkeling and diving - and it's a nice, calm and not too expensive place to stay. After El-Arenal-like Playa del Carmen, Cozumel was quite a positive surprise - although of course also here you have the inevitable hords of cruise ship passengers and hence hundreds of tourist-trash-shops, all selling the same useless junk - with bored mexicans sitting in front, shouting at you "amigo, come in!!". I wonder when they will learn that this is putting people off rather than attracting them.
Another interesting and little surprising fact is that the only shop (of probably a hundred), that did not sell useless tourist crap but actually very beautiful handmade textile products (handbags, scarfs, plaids etc.) was owned by a canadian expat and the stuff was produced in Guatemale since (quote) "in Mexico you don't get that quality". Do I have to say anything else?
Reaching Cozumel is not easy at all - that's probably why the beaches are so uncrowded. First you have to find the car ferry, which up to now departed from Puerto Morelos, which is some 40 km north of Playa del Carmen. Unfortunately this ferry has secretfully been moved to Calica, which is a rather hidden place some 6 km south of Playa del Carmen. If you want to know about the departure times and prices, you will have to go directly to the quay (via a sparsely signposted gravel road) and ask - since nobody apart from the one official at the tiny "terminal" knows prices and departure times. Now that you know the times, price and place and decide to visit the island maybe the next day, don't be too eager to get to the pier, since the few paved parts of your way are extremely slippery in the curves, so that being a motorcylist you might suddenly and without apparent reason find yourself skidding over the slick concrete. Having survived this, recovered your bike and yourself, you will hopefully be toughened for the next trial: The first glimpse of the "ferry", which is so corroded that it seems to have more in common with the "ghost ship" than with a regular ferry, probably makes you re-think your plans. Is Cozumel really worth the risk of being buried alive in this death-trap? But then you just do the same as all the Mexicans around you - ignore the lethal hazard and enter the boat. The rest is easy-going: Two hours in the fresh air at a speed that could hardly keep up with a bunch of children on a rubber dinghy (Schlauchboot), then you arrive at Cozumel's half-demolished ferry pier and quickly find your way to the rather inexpensive and uncrowded accomodation.
I had selected the Hotel "Papita", which made a rather calm and quiet impression - exactly what I needed for a sound sleep. Well, I hadn't counted on the Mexican genius: At 10 p.m. all the aircon units were switched on and the entire patio vibrates with the deafening roar of some thirty prehistoric airconditioners at full power - and they are not switched off until 6 or 7 in the morning. I will never really understand these people.
Anyway I decided to enjoy the beauty of the place and booked yet another snorkeling tour: This time the equipment was really good and fit perfectly - no salt water in my nose!! :-) So I could so much enjoy the caribbean underwater world that I forgot to wear the t-shirt that I brought as sun-protection - and caught another light but annoying sunburn. Again I saw a seaturtle, many colourful fish and lush reef rocks - but the best was a flock of funny fish - approx the size of pigeons - that again and again appoached me curiously to see what strange kind of animal I am... I also enjoyed the air bubbles slowly rising from the divers below me like millions of little gemstones - or like swimming in sparkling water :-) So all in all it was a beautiful little adventure. However - as the guide book had announced "some world class snorkeling" - I had expected more. But I assume that also here hurricane Wilma had destroyed much of the forme beauty.
The snorkel trip was finished around lunchtime, so I had some time left for an island discovery tour - finding out that the rest of the island is very flat and boring (exactly like the northern Yucatan peninsula) - apart from a few beautiful beaches with beach bars where you can very well enjoy the setting sun - as far as the beach access is not closed at 5 p.m.
There's a small island at the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula and it's called Holbox. It's rather off the beaten track, i.e. less touristy and you get there by a one-hour ride on a kind of waterbus from the mainland. It makes most sense to leave the bike on a guarded parking lot on the mainland - and this is what I did.
Holbox is very tranquil and a little hippie-like, it has only sand streets, loads of cockroaches and supposedly mosquitoes (the latter at least in summer) and the main means of transport are golf carts. I've only seen two real cars, one of which was the police. I decided to make up a little with my deficit in body exercise and walked along the loooong deserted beaches. There are some quite beautiful places - although it is a rather cool and windy place - don't know if this is normal or I just caught a "cold" day.
The main beach is huge, windy and full of purposlessly cruising golf carts and a few speeding motorcycles. So it's nothing you'd like when you are looking for a calm place - but it seems to be a preferred place for kite surfers. There's also a few ruins of not-so-old looking hotels, that had been built directly on the beach and apparently recently destroyed by Wilma or a similar storm.
Apart from that there's a kind of central plaza with a few restaurants - and this is basically all the features of this tiny place. So I left the island after two nights, caught the ferry and headed for the next and last island on my list - the "Isla Mujeres" ("women island") close to Cancun.
This is another small place which is - due to its vicinity to Cancun - completly built upon. There is not a single space without hotels, bars or private villas. Nevertheless it's not too expensive and still a nice place to stay. But also here - after 2 nights - I had enough and left for Cancun, where I had to prepare for the return trip.
The customs formalities were rather hassle-free and easy-going and took me about half a day - and gone was the bike. So there was little more than one day left to get some more sun, beach and sea and to pack my bags. Tomorrow I'll take the plane and Saturday morning I'll touch down in Frankfurt/Main. That's the unspectacular end of a great adventure.
Even 6 months can be over so quickly - coming monday I'll be back to work...
You won't be surprised to read that I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of this extensive motorcycle tour. During these 6 months I covered some 35000 km (on my '99 BMW F650), of which some 27000 in South America. I crossed Argentina (almost entirely), Bolivia, Brasil, Chile (entirely), Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
I have been extremely lucky: Not only because I had the opportunity to do this trip but because I had no problems whatsoever during the entire tour, i.e. no technical problems or breakdowns with the motorcycle, no significant accidents or crashs, only one flat tyre (which somebody else repaired for me immediately), no illnesses or injuries (not even a cold), no assaults, thefts or significant corruption and no real border hassles. I almost exclusively met friendly and helpful people and was always helped when I asked for it.
Many people ask me which of the countries I visited I like most - and I cannot answer this question. Every country has its beauties - only Praguay is just boring ;-). Argentina has Patagonia, the Puna, the Iguazu falls, the glaciers and the women of Buenos Aires. Bolivia has the bizarre Altiplano landscapes and the green valleys of the south. Brasil (I have only seen such a small part of it) has the Iguazu Falls and the beaches of Santa Catarina. Chile has the vast Atacama desert, rain forests and glaciers. Mexico has an innumerable variety of beautiful beaches and colonial architecture. Peru has the Titicaca lake, Machu Picchu and the marvellous landscape in between (Still a lot to be visited...). Uruguay remainds me of a nice big golf course on the beach with a friendly and lively capital.
However, if you asked me in which of the world's metropolis I'd like to live, I'd probably say Berlin. That's one of the lessons I learned on this trip: To appreciate the standard of living we have in Europe. But of course this is not the only impact this trip had on my views of life and people.
In case you like to read more in detail about the impressions I got during my 6 months tour - or if you like to spend a few days or weeks on watching photos, here is the link.
Anybody who tinkers with the idea of starting such a trip or a similar one on their own - just do it - it's not as risky as it sounds - and you'll never really be alone.
I'd be happy to see you again - in Germany, Europe or wherever...
Good luck to you
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