Travel Through Mexico on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Mexico on a Harley (24/1/02 - 19/2/02)
Distance 5181 km (272795 km to 277976 km)

This is part of the Eighth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from the United States of America
 

24/1/02 The border crossing efficient. As we were heading deep into Mexico we required immigration tourist cards, $US 23.00 each and temporary importation for the motorcycle $US 24.00 making it an expensive border to cross. Plus a $US 2.00 bridge crossing toll over the Rio Grande River. Heading towards Monclova the road, single lanes, potholey and bumpy, with little traffic, passed through some small villages, desert mountains all around and goat herders tending their animals. I couldn't help feel we had returned to a real world coming from a fantasy land where everything seems and needs to be perfect, a hollywood in real life.

25/1/02 The last two nights have been spent in 6 hour rooms, although most people seem to stay less than one hour. These purpose built "hotels" on the edge of towns have off the road parking, next to each unit with curtains to hide the vehicle, its number plate and identity of the occupants while they indulge on the king-size bed, with air-conditioning and Playboy channel on the TV. For a small extra charge the room can be rented for the night, by truckers or travellers, a cheap comfortable alternative to an inner city hotel. We headed south west to Torreon through desert mountains in crisp sunshine.Our first Love Motel, great privacy, single channel TV not so entertaining The poor sandy soils filling up open valleys for minimal agriculture. The white Mexican hat popular around towns with its more tattered version worn while on horseback rounding up cattle or goats. At Cuatro Cienegas there are numerous warm to hot pools bubbling up out of the desert floor that harbour unique species of fish and turtles.

26/1/02 Still moving towards Zacatecas, 450 km. The government run and owned Pemex petrol stations have a fixed price throughout the country, at about twice that of the USA. This keeps poorer people travelling on buses but doesn't seem to slow the wealthier cars owners down. 40 km/hr in towns, 60 km/hr on the outskirts and 80 km/hr most other places. Somehow the locals know where the police are and then keep to the speed limits, otherwise its about 50% more. The main slow me downs are the metal domes hammered into the ground across the road forcing most vehicles to a crawl. These seem to be arbitrarily positioned in and around towns. Toll ways or simply toll town bypass roads can inadvertently add considerable costs to travel. Motorcycles, with two axles are the same price as cars, and the dearest tolls we have encountered. Adding up the cheaper food and accommodation costs and offsetting that against dearer petrol, visas, motorcycle entry, internet, and not having people here to stay with, Mexico looks like costing, for us, about the same as the USA.

27/1/02 The mountain city of Zacatecas at 2500 meters altitude, was once Mexico's premium mining town, silver and gold. A lot of the wealth remained in its lovely stone roads and buildings. Set in a valley, the coloured houses of a couple of stories of square stone or concrete epitomize my view of Mexico. We inspected the ornate cathedral, caught the gondola to the mountain top for views and ate Mexican foods.Locals performing traditional dancing in Zacatecas

28/1/02 Trying to understand cultures is one of the great travelling, but almost impossible, pastimes. Particularly when I can't understand our Australian one. What culture would allow a 16 year old to have sex, and let them decide whether they will abort a foetus or raise a child, when they have to be 18 years old before they can buy a packet of cigarettes or alcohol. In America, how can you ask an 18 year old to fight a war allowing them to be killed or to kill other people when they can't gamble at a casino for three more years. Gamble with their lives but not with their money. Its no wonder non western countries can't understand western values, when I can't. We see animals working hard but with little food, and donate money to change this yet let children be raised malnourished. Shop keepers in the third world will let food rot while trying to get a sale and a child will starve to death. The more we travel the less we understand. People will be generous to us as travellers from afar, but won't try and help someone in their local community, because of cast, colour, or religion or some other hidden cultural reason. We visited the old silver mine, a museum containing 2,000 masks from local cultures, and mentally tried to solve the world's problems, but did nothing.

29/1/02 We have no Spanish, but are trying to learn, hopelessly, relying on English and sign language, which works quite well. When we do encounter people who speak some English, we have learnt to try to mimic their accent, otherwise they don't understand us. This works as well with a non native English speaker or a native one with a strong accent like the Irish, Scottish or someone from the deep south of the U.S.A. We caught the local bus to Guadalupe for a visit to their historic museum and convent. A rickety ride of rattles and squeaky brakes. The proudly displayed music box worked brilliantly drowning out most other noises. A sit in the plaza, of which there seems to be at least one in each town, lovingly cared for, pride of the town, and the only green grass to be seen so far.

30/1/02 Heading off to the coast, 620 km, we thought over two days, but with good roads we had covered the first half by lunch time and decided to continue. Wrong. Thicker traffic, mountainous terrain, detours and being tired we hurried to arrive before dark, effectively missing this beautiful part of Mexico. The desert mountains were giving way to coastal mountains, then lush green sugarcane valleys and finally the coastal plains.

31/1/02 Resting in a bungalow seaside at Manaque overlooking thousands of pelicans dive bombing fish for their dinner I realized we have now travelled a quarter of a million kilometres since leaving home six years ago.Brown pelicans herding schooling fish for dinner Recovering from yesterday's long ride, watching the birds, the mind was calculating, 1534 days living out of the motorcycle, 14 tons of petrol, 900 tank fills, 60 oil changes, 30 new tyres, 750 different sleeping places, not to mention different restaurants, coffee or drink shops or toilets. Averaging 163 km a day or 1140 km per week.

1/2/02 Mexico is full of a smorgasbord of healthy foods. Different snacks, meals and drinks, at reasonable prices. Everything you get at a Mexican restaurant back home, times more variety. Manaque has a beach in a bay, a headland, 7000 locals and quite a few Canadian or Northern Americans here for the winter. Shops cater for the Mexican weekend tourists and Canadian sun seekers. You can play bingo or participate in the local's festivities. Eat fresh fruits while sitting on the beach or splurge in a hotel restaurant. A comfortable blend of local or foreign.

2/2/02 You can never rely on one country's media to give a balanced view, particularly if the country is involved in the event. Our short wave radio receives a variety of, Voice of America, the BBC, Radio China, Radio Cuba, German radio and Canada radio. By taking an average, balanced against vested interest, honesty of the country broadcasting, and our own personal opinions, a reasonably clear picture can be formed of current world events. Festivities are everywhere in Mexico. Manaque had its party and rodeo. Somehow the town provided free food and free beer to a couple of hundred citizens and a hand full of westerners, all were welcome. This was then followed by bull riding, a live band, local snack foods and more beer, this time we had to pay. A great evening, particularly when joined by other westerners.

3/2/02 Taking the winding highway 200 along the coast, up over headlands, back down to beaches, detouring around lagoons and slowing for speed bumps in towns and villages. A lovely but tortuous 400 km to Lazaro Cardenos for a six hour room, overnight. The Mexicans were out on the roads crammed into the back of pickup trucks heading for their local relax place on this holiday Sunday. Trucks were also on the road slowing traffic and blinkering towards the road centre letting us know when to overtake. This confusing practice I am sure causes many accidents. Many countries use the flashers to say it is clear to overtake, but flash on the road edge side when clear to overtake and to the road centre when it is not safe. In Mexico it's the opposite, causing confusion, are they about to turn in front of you? or is it safe to overtake?

4/2/02 Old cars from the west seem to congregate in little corners of the world and are a good indication of a vehicle's reliability. Peugeot 504's go to West Africa, large U.S. vehicles end up as taxi's in Syria, Mercedes as taxi's and private vehicles in Eastern Europe and Africa and Volkswagen Beetles as taxi's and VW Combi's as mini buses in Mexico. These lovingly preserved and repaired, reincarnated vehicles seem never to die in their new roles, repaired by dollar an hour mechanics and home made or cannibalized parts. In some parts of Mexico the majority of vehicles on the roads are VW's. We rode the 350 km to Acapulco to stay just west of the city near the beach. Jim Milliken joined us from Florida having just ridden nearly 4000 km in the last six days.

5/2/02 It's back to cold water showers, the inch me in variety, slowly wetting head and neck while the trickling drops warm up running down the body. A day as tourists, the craft markets, a drink at the beachside, people watching, lunch in the local square, the fort and museum, and the evening watching the famous high divers of Acapulco. After climbing the face of a rocky outcrop they dive 45 meters into a small cove in the surging ocean, timing the event for maximum water depth, quite spectacular.

6/2/02 I don't know where the custom began but we first saw them in Greece, roadside crosses. Sometimes up to seven just planted along the road, often at a curve or seemingly there for no reason. Usually well maintained, painted, surrounded in flowers or other memorabilia, with a simple inscription. A stark reminder of the road carnage and a warning to slow down. They are in southern Europe the USA and everywhere here in Mexico. A dip in the surf, warm tropical waters now, lunch at a beach side restaurant and a margarita to watch the sun set. Another arduous day.Overlooking Acapulco

7/2/02 Our first day's ride with Jim, who had already managed to pick up a French Canadian female who was hitch hiking Mexico and needed a lift. There have been numerous military road blocks along the way, searching for drugs, we normally get waved through, heading south, but today, two searches from the five check posts. Jim says he rarely gets through being a biker (no profiling?) and towing his coffin (camper trailer), a sure place to hide a load of drugs, or just wanting an inquisitive look. Called in at Puerto Escondido, unloaded the hitch hiker, checked out the expensive western filled accommodation and moved on to a cheap local room for the night.

8/2/02 Back into the mountains on another winding road, the 175 towards Oaxaca and cool mountain air. Bounced again over an array of speed humps. Mexico now rating as number one on our list of worst speed bump countries surpassing India for the position. Some small towns may have 10, closely placed, steep high ones that bring our low slung motorcycle to a complete stop. Hit one a bit fast and we removed the stand spring needing roadside repairs. Met our first motorcycle traveller, for the trip, after almost a month out, John Sharsmith. We have previously passed a couple of maybe motorcycle travellers, but they didn't stop. We flashed our lights at John and he U-turned for one of those great roadside chats that last perhaps only a few minutes but where you feel you have known each other for years. Info on where each other has been, how the bikes are running, problems with the weather or officials, and departing probably never to meet again. If you see us, flash your lights and blinker to the road edge and we will always stop, rain, tired, or late, it's worth the chat.

9/2/02 We have moved from the coastal holiday tourists to the highland cultural tourists in Oaxaca. The main area of town is situated at the Zocalo (town square) where evening cultural performances are held and restaurants surround. Balloon sellers, fluffy candy, popcorn, local hot dogs, sellers mingle with Mexican and foreign tourists. Oaxaca is a centre for the distribution of indigenous crafts, made in the surrounding villages. We visited the main markets, local food delicacies, the magnificent interior of the Santo Domingo church, the westernized tourist shops and a new local bar with live music and 3 for one beers. A place where you can come for a day and stay a week.Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec capital, started in 500 BC

10/2/02 Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec capital, started in 500 BC and off and on occupied through to 950 AD. Built in a dominant position atop a levelled hill surrounded by valleys on all sides. Tombs, platforms, ball courts, rock built and elaborately carved. Our first visit to this type of ruin, of which many are found in this area and into Central America. A surprisingly large well organized structure.

11/2/02 Jim's washing had been promised to be delivered to the hotel Saturday night as the laundry was closed Sunday. But they forgot, perhaps Jim would have left town and they could keep the washing. Suspicious, no, cautious yes. So after waiting for the laundry to open, Monday morning, our bikes were sandwiched in by a VW. Three of us had to lift the rear end to drag it then push the front across while the owner had a leisurely breakfast somewhere in town. A late start. A visit to the largest tree in the world, a huge cyprus, 2000 yrs old, the size of an average house at the base, 58 metres circumference. A look at local weaving and a taste of mezcal, tequila, and of course we bought a bottle for later. Then travelled to a seemingly out of place limestone formation amongst semi desert hills at Hierve el Agua. This spring, used for thousands of years for irrigation, deposits it's dissolved limestone in a large stationary waterfall down the mountainside. 250 km to Tehuantepec for tonight.Hierve el Agua, frozen waterfall, a limestone formation

12/2/02 We had been riding less than an hour in strong gusty wind when confronted by a couple of hundred trucks blocking an intersection, jostling for position and moving slowly. At first we thought a road block or accident, but as the wind gusts increased incredibly, particularly at crawling speeds, blowing us across our entire lane, we realized the trucks were just moving slowly because of the wind. Over a 20 km stretch we counted 6 semi-trailers lying on their sides right next to the road, simply blown over. If we could reach 40 to 60 km/hr our weight and counterbalance kept us straight, but if we weren't overtaking and had to crawl behind trucks it was extremely difficult to remain upright. Jim was following and reported seeing the wheels of semi-trailers just lifting off the ground, even at these speeds, during some gusts. The catabatic wind was just dropping straight off the mountains and onto the plains, the sudden gusts overturning the trucks. The rest of the day was spent in less windy conditions with  more winding roads up and over mountains and into San Cristobal. The mountains in Mexico unusually difficult to build roads over as they seem to be all points and valleys without any ridges, but make for good riding.Out for a horse ride, market day in a local village our destination

13/2/02 San Cristobal is surrounded by Mayan Villages, each different, and one way to see them is on horse back. Our ride went to just one village. Yesterday was their "Carnival" and today market day. All the important dignitaries were out in their traditional dress, having arrived by mini bus, that mix of old and new, like the mix of ancient and modern religions that these people have adopted. It was Jim's first ride in 30 years and ours since last year. Good horses, happy to trot and canter, with that slow western trot you can sit to all day. Many tourists visit this village so there were plenty of westernized artefacts. We bought a traditional skirt and sash that the ladies wear every day. Made from the wool of the blackest sheep and hand spun, then woven on a small loom. They look shaggy when new and slowly wear to a smooth dense mat like blanket.

14/2/02 If you're going to have bad luck make sure you have good luck with it.Jim's trailer hitch snapped, ploughed into this corn field Jim and his trailer decided to part company while heading up a hill. Too many speed bumps and uneven roads broke the 2 cm bolt attachment and the trailer careered off into the corn field undamaged. Only five km from town, we watched the trailer while Jim found a welder and we were back on the road in about two hours. It's also amazing how far your front wheel can slide downhill on an orange. I think Jim now has the record, a 2.5 metre long skid mark, with the orange still trapped under the tyre. An interesting day. A slow ride to Palenque for the night.

15/2/02 The Mayans flourished in this region about 700 AD but by the 10 th century their empire had disappeared being reclaimed by the rainforest jungle and it wasn't till 1773 that the first westerner discovered Palenque's existence. Still surrounded by rainforests the partly restored ruins are an impressive site. Everything here was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel. Temples are still being found with valuable artefacts. You can still see unexcavated temples in the rainforest as they have sat for over 1000 years. It is Kay's 50th birthday today, Australian time, so a restful afternoon and dinner at a nice restaurant.Palenque, Mayan ruins from about 700 AD

16/2/02 The Mayan had built Palenque on the first rise of hills off the vast Yucatan flat limestone plains running out to the Caribbean. We were now out of the mountains and with good roads covered the 650 km to Chichen Itza. A vast time shorter than it would have taken the Mayans on foot. The almost uninhabited flat wetland area supports an amazing variety of bird life, unfortunately one decided to fly into our headlight, causing more damage to itself than the motorcycle.

17/2/02 Chichen Itza is the main Mayan ruins in Mexico and free on Sunday making it a busy place today. We were there at opening and managed a quiet two hours before the crowds arrived by the busload from Cancun, the so called Mexican Riviera. Fly in beach side package tourists out for a bit of history. Later ruins than we have been seeing, there are many more carved stone tablets depicting the violent religious practices. The skull temple, surrounded by hundreds of stone carved human skulls. The ball court depicting the death of the losing team's captain and perhaps the entire team. The cenote, a limestone sink hole, dredged and excavated, revealing human sacrifices of all ages, children and upwards. The site has been occupied on and off for hundreds of years with temples built atop older temples, completely preserving the original one beneath and often its tomb and contents.Chichen Itza, the main Mayan ruins in Mexico

18/2/02 We arrived at Tulum yesterday evening, supposedly a relaxing beach side cabana (bungalow) area stretching along the warm Caribbean coast. We are here too late, the overflow from further up the coast has permeated and the prices have risen and the services diminished indicative of an over popular backpacker's spot. The sea and sand are still lovely, the breeze cool, but the running out of water in the bathrooms, the high prices and the untidy mess detracting from the beauty.

19/2/02 Leaving the coast a couple of days earlier than anticipated we arrived at the border mid morning. Nothing to pay to leave Mexico and after handing in our tourist cards and papers for the motorcycle we were out in 30 minutes.
 

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