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Old 12-26-2009, 06:14 PM   #1
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Incidents of Motorcycle Travel in Yucatan.....

"Hello, my name is Matteo, and I am a Bike'a'holic....."

Woke up today with a Christmas hangover and ready for something new. So we finally decided to do what had been in mind for sometime, to follow the Stephens trail across the Yucatan.

John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood setoff in 1838 to explore an unknown part of our World, the Yucatan Peninsula. They were in search of mysterious ruins which were lost in impenetrable forest, or so they thought. Following a series of trails, small country roads and sac beh's the two adventures made their way through unknown territory to find the now well known Ruins of Chichen Itza, Labna', Mayapan and Uxmal. (to name a few)

Our aim is to recreate their journey, not by horse and mules, but on a motorbike. We will try to retrace their footsteps, only travel on secondary roads (if we are lucky) and dirt roads. We will deviate from using highways, and search for the elusive sac beh's the Mayans built thousands of years ago which were roads that connected all of the most important Maya Cities in their time.

There have been witnesses of still standing sac beh "roads", they were the paths of yester year cut through the jungle by the Maya. The base of these roads were stones, lime stone was crushed to a powder, and then mixed with water, superheated, and was poured on the base stones to make a flat surface, the basis of our modern pavement.

Unfortunately the Maya Roads (Sac Beh's) were either paved over by the Government to create our modern roads, or ruined by the Spanish 300yrs ago with their horse pulled carriages (The Maya had no beasts of burden, the sac beh's were used on foot, and lasted for thousands of years) We will access Maya Villages and Ruins only through back roads, hopefully through trails and off the beaten path roads (where are Stephens Maya Guides when you need them!)

Because the Stephens/Catherwood map is a few hundred years old overlapping it with a modern map will be challenging, and will make for a great adventure. We will try to upload pictures throughout the travels as best we can, gas will be a challenge, non the less an internet connection, but we will try.

The Map we are following:

The modern Map:

The Bike:

Tracy, who will not be riding her bike, but will be a passenger this time......

We will leave tomorrow from Playa del Carmen and head to Tulum, cut across to Coba, then to Chemex in order to meet up to the Stephens trail. He came from Holbox onto Chemex where we will meet his trail, and the adventure will then begin........

Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato
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Old 12-26-2009, 06:51 PM   #2
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Groovy. I have read the Stehpens books, in fact I just sold them to Powells. As I had not read them in 25 years.
So much has changed since Stephens was there. So much has changed just since I was there many years ago.
Tourist development like crazy. And so many of the temples/buildings have been carved out of the overgrowth that was hiding them 30 years ago.
I hope you will have many photos to post.
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Old 12-26-2009, 07:42 PM   #3
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The Yucatan is one of my favorite states in Mexico. It's been way too long since I was there. I'm really looking forward to your reports and pix.
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Old 12-26-2009, 08:17 PM   #4
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I need to get back there, this time on a bike.
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Old 01-17-2010, 03:24 AM   #5
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YES, it has taken me ages to get back to this (not out of disappointment) due to the crazy Xmas season which followed immediately after this incredible ride.

No, this is not an Alaska to Patagonia ride (of which many new founds friends from this forum are currently enjoying) this is not a test on the BAM road, nor a death defying feat of any kind (for the exception of ghosts pushing motorcycles to the ground, more on that later, you should try this if you can)

The Stephen & Catherwood's trail was followed, and I do recommend this exploration ride to anyone visiting Quintana Roo &/or Yucatan.

Living in Playa del Carmen, only 1hr south of Cancun, will make one feel as if we are living in a cosmopolitan area, and I too figured following a 200yr old map would disenchant me. But that could not have been further from the truth. Barely 40 minutes from our comfortable, tourism driven, all too plush little corner of the Yucatan Peninsula we were immediately enveloped in the land of yesteryear, and I will explain.

Please read this as: "I'm going to Cancun for the week and have to put up with Tourist hell. What should I do!!". or "I love riding motorcycles and exploring but do not want to drive my bike 6,000 miles to do this" and perhaps, most of all "I love riding, but my spouse/girlfriend/significant other friggin hates riding! What can I do to change her mind?" Sort of report.

Following the Stephen's trail has been a dream of mine for years, perhaps if the person who is reading this can take the time to read the first catalog of their journey in the 1830's will realize the hardship that Stephens and his artistic partner in travels endured to first catalog the elusive Maya Temples. They passed through towns where "white people" were not seen in perhaps 3 generations, if not ever. They traveled on foot or horses. We, on the other hand, cheated. Perhaps with our mode of transport we were as foreign to natives as Stephens and Catherwood must have appeared arriving into little towns as we did, We might as well have been aliens to the many children as well as adults in those towns. Amazingly we were barely a 3hrs drive away from super industrialized Cancun when the back in time transformation occurred. A time machine will probably serve as well as yourself, your partner, and an adventure bike will were you to embark in this "little ride through the Yucatan".

I have met many adv riders as of late which have come through here heading to South America, and all have persuaded me to finally include this little ride, as they wished they could have known this areas existed during their journey. I have also read a few posts on ADVRider by people wandering "should I rent a bike while on vacation in Cancun/Playa/Tulum etc " and the answer is definitely YES!

So here it goes (Please remember we are following a 200yr old map):






We took off from Puerto Aventuras towards Tulum to find the road closest to Chemax. Quickly realizing the road to Chemax/Villadolid/Chichen is now a "highway" and we wanted to deviate form any "red road" on the map we turned into Coba' and the adventure truly began at that time.

From Coba to Peto we followed every yellow/white road on the "modern map" in order to get a true feel, and that was definitely delivered. Do not expect road sign to guide you, or the few people you will see helping you to your next destination. No one I encountered knew who Stephens or Catherwood were. Non the less where the town clearly shown on your map is. Every sign on the road points to a little town not on your map, every town on your map will not be shown on a sign, EVER!! A compass is imperative, as well as pure intuition and an excellent co-pilot/navigator.

Apart from that, (which will drive you crazy) all roads are paved and immaculate. We must have passed 4 cars on 400km or more. The absence of vehicles made this ride even more pleasurable, as we were the only ones on the road at all times. The highways make up for 99% of traffic in our area, driving through secondary roads is but a forgotten pastime in this region. More of a reason for us to go on another exploration trip next weekend...
Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato

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Old 01-17-2010, 04:35 AM   #6
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Again, finding your way around can be tricky, it seems as if all maps of Quintana Roo & Yucatan are as reliable as the 200yr old map we were following.

Sometimes the 200yr old map was better than the current 2009 Guia Roji de Mexico. A compass usually works best, or in my case a trio of super drunk Mayas on the side of the road.

I cannot believe I have no pictures, or a video, but these 3 guys were as drunk as I have ever seen drunk in a long, long time. One guy was the "smart one", the other the "catch guy", the third the "totally obligerant drunk". "Buenas dias!!" I said at 11:15am. (in Spanish) "Can you tell me which way to Peto?". Obligerant drunk, stumbling, being helped by the "catch guy" as he is falling down. "Whannana oppsana, ggtthereian, whwhwtkatity..." As he is pointing South.

Not knowing if that was drunk speak or Maya I took his word for it and walked back to the Bike. Of course "the smart one" followed, begging for cigarettes, alcohol, or a soda. Whichever came first. I was totally entertained by their utter drunkenness at 11:30am that I did donate a few cigarettes, and a few pesos to give them a mixer/more alcohol for the day. I sure wish I would have photographed this moment, it had been a while since I had seen anyone totally shit faced drunk at 11:30am and I will admit I was too stunned by the spectacle to even consider taking a picture.

All of which, following the totally drunk's directions brought us to the town of DETOX! Where those guys should have been the whole time! I knew I would eventually end there myself, but in comparison ......

THOSE CRAZY FORKS IN THE ROADS WHERE YOU GO WTF! Those two towns are not found on any map except for Valladolid, totally the wrong way,

Finally it did get interesting, where the yellow roads were actually "white lined roads", which means unpaved. With the F650 fully loaded, and the all too brilliant stock Battle wing tires on the bike we slipped and slid our way towards Peto.....

The road did eventually improve, with massive pot holes instead of deep loose gravel, much better on road tires...

In the meanwhile all little towns were surreal, we might as well been riding around 200yrs ago.

oookkkkeeeyyyyy...... left or right?

Finally found the main path to Chicken Snot!

The further we traveled in the center of Yucatan the more we traveled back in time. Appearing on our motorcycle people stared out their windows, people stopped in their tracks staring at us. Children in the road stared at us when we stopped for water, and even more so when we took off our helmets. I must admit stopping the bike, getting off and taking of the helmets felt as if I should have then said, " WE COME IN PEACE!" or sometimes "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER!"

I will post more pictures of the road from Peto to Oxkutzcab, what a great ride. Not knowing where to stay we pulled out the laptop to search for Haciendas. The perfect one was found immediately, Hacienda Tabi. Affordable, close to the Ruta Puuc, and absolutely beautiful this Hacienda is a gem of it's own. Unfortunately we arrived at dusk, and riding in the dark in the muddy/slippery orange plantations did not appear to be a good idea, so we turned around. At the crossing we asked (another putrefied drunk) a local where can we find the Hacienda Tabi. He looked very concerned, and gladly said it's closed, it's been closed, and hopefully it will be closed forever.

Little did we know until we returned to Oxkutzcab that Hacienda Tabi is one of the most haunted places on Earth! So naturally we had to go back and find it at day break!

Not sure how to post videos but....


Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato

Animo screwed with this post 01-17-2010 at 04:49 AM
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Old 01-17-2010, 04:37 AM   #7
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Helmet Picture!

What a beautiful "helmet". A long time ago a man I knew told me that nothing turned his stomach than a beautiful woman pressed against his back, and this just confirms it! Enjoy your trip, old boy, looks like a "lovely" time.
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Old 01-17-2010, 05:45 AM   #8
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Great photo's
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Old 01-17-2010, 09:23 AM   #9
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Great so far. Haunted city? Cool.
I'd rather live, than live forever...
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Old 01-17-2010, 07:50 PM   #10
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In for this. Had my oldest daughter's wedding party in Kailuum about 15 years ago. Spent almost 2 weeks there. Want to go back, this time on 2 wheels.
Great RR!
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Old 01-20-2010, 08:02 AM   #11
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The incidents continue

For starters my hat's off to all of you who are able to post your trips while traveling, I have no idea how you are able to do it! If I were to take a trip to Patagonia it would take me 3yrs to show 1/2 the journey, if not longer.

Where was I..... yes, on the way to Oxkutzcab following directions given to us by 3 seriously drunk individuals, which by the way were more reliable than brand new maps of the area. Now that I think about it all was made more difficult with the pronunciation of all the Towns, Tixhualahtun, Xcalakdzonot, Sackpucenha, Tixcacalcupul, Tixcacaltutyub, and the sorts. On top of that 90% speak Maya with Spanish as a second language. I speak Italian with Spanish as a second language, it was a mess!

Please keep in mind all is much easier following the interstate highways in Q. Roo and Yucatan, we do have fantastic roads. Because we were following a map which is 200+ yrs old the only roads which matched Stephens journey were the secondary roads lost in time. Incredibly, the 200yr old map proved again more accurate than the 2009 road map editions. The Stephens map showed towns we were passing through, which the new map did not. We mostly relied on our compass, plenty of shitfaced drunk Mayans, and the old map for much of the way.

Leaving Dzitox the roads became considerably better, some as if they were just paved the day before, and again no vehicles in sight. The absence of vehicles on the roads made this ride a treat. Whenever we encountered the few cars on the road (no trucks at all) all would wave at each other seemingly happy to finally see another vehicle and/or human being.

No cars in sight, what a treat!

On the way to Peto, brand new roads paved just for us the day before!

More kids looking at us drive by with "that look on their face", priceless.

Every little Town had majestic Churches built anywhere from the late 1,600'ds to the late 1,700ds. In many cases they were the only "modern" building around. You encounter hut, hut, hut, hut, school in Maya with "Spanish also spoken" signs, hut, hut, hut, HUGE church. WTF? How did they build it in the middle on nowhere, especially when the only road was a trail or Sac Beh?

The local taxis were trippy, half motorcycle, half tricycle. I have seen the cycle in front towing the back seating compartment, but this village had the taxis with the bike on the side, and the rest as a tricycle, and they held ass! Nothing like a 250cc tricycle.

We finally arrived on the Ruta Puuc at the base of the Yucatan Hills. I have driven by many times but only on the highway and I had never seen the hills which I had seen shown only on the Stephens map. They were absolutely beautiful (and unexpected) with winding roads and gentle hills with amazing views.

This is when we drove to the Hacienda Tabi at night, in the middle of nowhere on an orange grove muddy trail. I must admit it was spooky, and at that time I had no idea the place is supposedly ghost filled. So we gave us the search and headed to the Town of Oxkutzcab to find a hotel and a restaurant. for the night.

The Town was a typical Spanish style trading town with great food and cheap, clean, comfortable hotels. We rented the "junior suite" (the nicest room they had, furnished like my Greatgrandmother's house) for barely $30usd.

Dinner was definitely rewarding following the orchard's experience.

So we relaxed for the night, watched videos on the Tabi ordeal, read all about the ghosts, blood pouring down the walls of some of the bedrooms "the shining style", demons in the cistern etc awaiting sunlight to go check it out.

Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato
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Old 01-20-2010, 08:19 AM   #12
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This will be an interesting adventure to follow. Great write up and photos, I will keep an eye out on this one.
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Old 01-20-2010, 08:58 AM   #13
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FOllowing the ride !!! ...nice ride, BTW!!
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Looking for a house or apartment at El Salvador ? your solution is here !!
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Old 01-20-2010, 11:02 AM   #14
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The Ruta Puuc

We kept forgetting the aim of the travel itself, which was to follow the route two explores I have much admired for years had taken about 200 years ago. Maybe it was the same roads being so easy to travel on, or maybe it was the fact that we were not on a horse, or on a wagon pulled by pulled by a donkey. But the area, the towns and it's people were a reminder that we were riding in an area which had been lived in for over 10,000yrs by the Maya.

Woke up in the morning with absolutely beautiful weather, crisp 70F, no clouds in the sky, the perfect day for riding. While checking out of the hotel I told the young Maya at the front desk we were going to the Hacienda, the look in his face was not promising. "It is closed senior, I would not go there..." So naturally we started our day towards hacienda Tabi which was only 15 minutes from the the little Town of Oxkutzcab.

More empty roads........

Had I known Mayan Saddle Bags were soooo easy and affordable I would not have spent 5mil on the BMW ones!

Well, come on! The sign looked pretty promising! (and recently placed)

Now that I see the pictures I realize why we didn't feel too comfortable at night.

The road kept getting trickier....

and trickier....

There were a couple of forks in the paths, so it took some trial and error to find the correct road.

Now, I will say this. I am not easily spooked, I do not really believe in ghosts, haunting, ghouls, friggin vampires or other. But, the closer we came to the Hacienda, the quieter everything became. Crickets no loner sang, birds were non-existent, orange groves so beautifully tended 2km away were un-kept with thorn bushes growing everywhere, dieing trees. "Knock, knock. I am looking for the Adams Family..." kinda place. The road turned into a semi foot path right at the gate when we finally arrived, and the f**ing place was CLOSED!!!!!

We had read reports of people scaling the fence and walking the 1km to the Hacienda, which we just about did ourselves, but then I started thinking. "Here we are looking for ghosts and we'll get shot by some drunken Maya security guard for trespassing!" Now, I am scared of no ghosts, but a brainless, drunk Mayan guard with an old rusty rifle? Absolutely!

So we drove along the fence surrounding the property. To the right of the property the trail basically stopped 1/2k later. One the left side it kept going along the fence and a very old aquifer on the other side of the path.

As we were slowly turning around to head back the way we came from the strangest thing happened. The bike, which is truly a marvel in stability started weighing 4 tons while being pushed away from the fence. It leaned to the left so heavily I strained to keep it standing up with all my strength. I was basically leaning fully on the left hand side of the bike while the bike was being "pushed" to the right, and bahm! Down we go. Tracy jumps to the left, I stubbornly stayed on the bike not believing what the bike just did.

We just stood there, 1/2 laughing, 1/2 with a WTF! look on our faces and I think "Take a picture..." We picked the bike back up on a "one, two, three...!" (man was it heavy, but only weighed what it was supposed to weigh) Checked the damage, and there was none.

I turn the bike around to head back where we came from and the tires were between a few big stones, So I said "Look, let me start it and I'll go forward a few feet away from these rocks, then you can get back on..." Started the bike, moved slowly forward for about 5ft, and there she goes again, weighing in at 4 tons pulling to the right away from the fence again! And down she goes, there was no stopping it. (I bet you that if I stood by your bike and pushed you as hard as I could you would be able to keep the bike straight. I could not.) and BAHM! This time the bike is almost upside down, with both wheels off the ground, resting on the hand guard, engine guard and the pannier, both wheels not touching the ground! Unfortunately at this time I thought "Fuck this!" we picked up the bike again, got on and took off! I regret not taking the picture of the second fall, but that was the last thing on my mind at that time.

I will attribute the above to a case of "a serious and immediate imbalance due to the Earth's gravitational instability in that particular longitude and latitude on the planet at that time." and I will leave it at that!


We visited the beautiful caves of Loltun (Grutas de Loltun) shortly after (after the Hacienda experience it took about 2 minutes to get there driving at 200kph) The Loltun Caves are the largest in the Yucatan, and were visited by Stephens in the 1,800ds. He had written about the caves as being incredibly large, but with a small, claustrophobic opening in which they had to crawl through in order to enter the first main chamber of the cave. The entrance is no longer so, and they are now easily visited.

The caves were used for rituals as far back as 10,000yrs ago (so the Guide said, but all accounts in history books date inhabitants at over 2,500yrs ago, go figure....) Mammoths bones, saber tooth tigers and giant tapir bones have been found inside these caves from the last ice age. They were latter used as hideouts for the Mayas during the War of the Castes, a fortification is found inside one of the chamber leading to an exit completely build with huge stone as protection form invading forces (the Spaniards) The Guide had said some "Thompson guy" had discovered these caves in the 1940's. So I asked why is it that Stephens and Catherwood described these caves and had drawings of them as far back as 1840's. He's answer was much like everyone I had asked about Stephens. "I do not know, I have never heard of Stephens or Catherwood..."

Handprints left by other Adventure Riders about 2,500yrs ago

We then followed the Ruta Puuc towards Labna, truly Stephen's baby.

The Ruta Puuc offers 5 incredible Maya sites very close to one another. Unfortunately due to the time taken to visit each one of them one should consider a 3 day trip on the Ruta to fully explore all of them.

Labna as drawn by Catherwood.

Labna as found today.

The Maize God being reborn from the mouth of a crocodile.

The famous Sac Beh roads we are still in search of....

As drawn by Catherwood

As found today....

The archway as drawn by Catherwood (Looks like they had more visitors in Labna' in the 1,800ds!)

The Archway today.....

And then away we went towards Uxmal!

Passing through small villages again, with roads barely wide enough for two bikes, non the less two way traffic. This land is bike land, and we outnumber cars 1,000 to 1 so traffic was never a problem.

With yet another mandatory HUGE church. Perhaps they were competing against the Maya pyramids, who knows....

But it does become pretty clear where the stones to build these churches come from.... where else but the Maya Temples themselves?

Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato
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Old 01-20-2010, 11:27 AM   #15
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Looks like a great ride. Is it safe enough for Gringos?
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