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Old 12-19-2007, 08:00 AM   #1
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Minimalist’s ride through Mexico.

Hello, my name is Jeff, and I am a self proclaimed minimalist. I drive a 10 year old 4 cylinder truck, I own a 750 sqft home, I like thrift stores, and I love my ninja 250. Now don’t confuse being a minimalist with being broke or cheep….ok, maybe I am a little cheep.

After getting into motorcycles 18 months ago, I have been hypnotized by reading great ride reports to far away places. I have been known to spend 4 hours straight reading a good one on ADVrider or TWT. The motorcycles and equipment used in these ride reports vary, but it seems most are done on ADV bikes from BMW or a big 4 dual sport.

I have been a travel nut since graduating college. I will be ordering extra pages for my passport next year, as there is only room for about 3 more border crossings, and the passport doesn’t expire for another 4 years.

Anyhow, the plan was born this summer. I was going to combine my love of international adventure with motorcycles for this first time this December.

The country: MEXICO!
The bike: 2007 Ninja 250.
The duration: 11 days.
Distance: 2000 miles in Mex.
What I will bring: As little as possible!
Cost: $550

First the research and preparations. Books that made this possible are Lonely Planet “Mexico”, “Guia Roji” tourist road atlas of Mexico, and a folding map of Mexico.

The little Ninja was prepped with an oil change, valve adjustment, and new tires! Here she stands with 5700 miles on her and ready to GO!

Packing was easy enough, remember I am a minimalist! Four shirts, 2 pull-overs, 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of skivvies, and 1 pair of pants. Yes, just one pair of pants. Don’t tell me you have never worn pants for a week with out washing them, as they are just getting broken in by that point. I did do a bit of bathtub laundry on the trip, so I did stay in fresh socks and skivvies.

My riding gear, including wider electric vest.

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Old 12-19-2007, 08:06 AM   #2
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I had been posting this on a local msg board ( I have been a full time lurker on advrider for more than a year (even in the basement).

With all the advice I have gotten here, it was time to post up.

Sorry, I bring no sammiches. If you come over, I'll get ya a beer though!
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:07 AM   #3
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DAY 1:

Now I love riding the crud out of my little Ninja, but DFW is a heck of a long way from my border crossing of choice. Call me a wimp, but I chose to throw the bike in the back of my pickup for the 450 miles of straightness know as I-35. A bit of cheapness played a role in this as well. I don’t care what kind of MPG gain you get on a bike, it won’t add up to savings in tiers and maintenance.

Here she is all loaded up!

I got the ramp from Lowes Hardware for under $50. Check in the lawn mower section.

Here is the main character (what a long haired hippy freak…we will have to see if we can do something about this in Mexico).

The straightness.

Little Ninja seems to be happy not to be using up her brand new tiers on the straightness.

My destination is the border town of Laredo. My first night is spent camping at Lake Casa Blanca International Sate Park. I set up camp first, and then took a walk around to stretch my legs.

Why they call it “International” I have no clue….maybe the International house of pancakes could help us out on this one. I watched the sun go down. If you look hard enough you can see the two flags at bridge #2. For some reason the Mexico flag was much larger.

After the sun went down I went into town for a final American meal. I sat at the bar a Chili’s and chatted with a few locals and the bar tender. I had a HUGE burger and a tall beer.

I returned to the campsite for a bit of last minute research and hit the hay by 10 PM.

Stay tuned….the next day is when the adventure begins!

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Old 12-19-2007, 08:08 AM   #4
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Day 2 – Crossing over!

The day started well. I broke camp quickly, had a granola bar, and got the gear situated. I was leaving my truck in TX at a fellow TWT member’s home. I had posted asking for a parking place near the border and Oscar (scar04) was quick to offer his drive way. A quick phone call and some directions landed me there. Oscar and I had lots in common and chatted it up for a bit. He gave me some last minute advice on border crossings and current issues, helped me unload, and I was off!

The border was easy. First the toll bridge, then follow the blue signs to the immigration office. Once there you get permission for yourself, get copies made of documents, import your bike, then pay up. It is really quite painless, but it does eat up more than an hour. There was lots of standing in different lines and waiting for the officials to hunt and peck on their computers.

I walk out “official” and am pumped finally be in MEXICO.

Finally, I am on my way! My destination is Saltillo, about 200 miles from Nuevo Laredo. My goal was to avoid toll roads when possible, however I did not want to ride all day every day and not see Mexico. It was close to 11 AM, and the border town was repelling me, so I hit the toll road towards Monterey. Toll roads, know as “Cuotas”, cost about $10 USD every 100 Kilometers. They are in great shape, and the speed limit is normally 100 Km/hr….but most do about 140 Km/hr. A great tip I read in “Two Wheels Through Terror” by Glen Heggstad was multiplying kilometers by 6 and then drop a zero gives you miles. 100 Km * 6 = 600 = 60MPH

The ride was straight, but quick.

Pull offs were frequent, and mountains began to show up on the horizon. I was getting excited.

I made it through the madness of Monterey, and eventually into el centro of Saltillo. Finding the center of any Mexican town is very easy. There are normally blue signs that say “El centro”, or have a picture of a church. You can ask anyone where it is as well. I made my way to the main plaza, pulled over, and opened my Lonely Planet guide.

The Lonely Planet is the Mac Daddy of guide books in my opinion. They really cater to budget back packing. Their maps are fantastic. Their info on hotels, restaurants, and sights is just enough to get you there without giving it all away. I use them in all of my travels, and have 30 + of them at home from previous travels.

Anyhow, I bust open the L.P., find a cheepie hotel that has parking for the little Ninja. I don’t believe in making reservation for anything when I travel abroad, it only ruins your plans. As a matter of fact, I have no reservations for this trip, and have no itinerary of when or where I will be the next 10 days. This is the court yard where I was staying:

I was hungry, but not enough for dinner quite yet. I saw these guys in the park:

Who served me up this:

Now, this may sound nasty, but don’t knock it till ya tried it! It is called an “Elote”, pronounced EEE – LOW – TAY. First you get a cup, throw some yellow off the cob corn in it, then add a heaping dollop of mayonnaise, some crumbled ripe goat cheese, fresh squeezed lime juice, and top it off with some chili pepper. It was my first Elote ever, and not my last!

I took a walk around town and took in some of the sights:

This guy could use a hair cut more than I could!

There are no compelling tourist attractions in Saltillo. It is however a very nice stopping point on the way south, and an easy way to get off the tourist track into real Mexico. At 1,600 meters it has a nice climate. The population is 600 thousand, but the center is very compact and peaceful.

At dinner time I found a place serving “menu de la dia”, or a set plate. This concept is all over Latin America. They have one or two plates that they serve up the same way for a set low price. They are always hot and fresh, because that is all that are cooking that day.

I went for the chili relleno. It was packed with all sorts of good beef, veggies, and some nuts. The plate was $3.75 USD, add a buck for the coke. It was as good as it looks!

At the end, my waiter brought me a little cup of something.

I asked him “que es esto…tequila….liquor?” He laughed and said…ummm Jello. No worries, I gulped it down, and would find a shot of something stiffer later.

After dinner, I checked out the X-mas lights around town. I found a local bar for a couple of beers. I hit the sack around 10 PM…I was tired!

Stay tuned for day 3 when the little ninja suffocates in thin air, tackles the world’s longest cobblestone road, and meets some sheep.

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Old 12-19-2007, 08:09 AM   #5
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Day 3

I woke up feeling great. I was so pumped to be in Mexico, and couldn’t wait to get on the road. I grabbed some sweet bread at the local panderia (bread shop) and was off to find my way out of town. My destination was the ghost town of Real de Catorce, about 200 miles away. I took the free “Mex 54” towards Zacatecas, and stopped in Concepcion del Oro for a early lunch / brunch.

Parked at lunch:

My view from the table wasn’t much, but a cute senorita would pass occasionally. I have a few senorita pictures to share further down the road…

This is probably a good time to mention the topes – or Mexican speed bumps. They come in so many varieties, you never know what to expect. There is almost always a warning sign, and normally more than one. The worst ones were made out of metal domes about 8” tall. I would try to go between domes, but the back wheel may not be following the same path and end up jumping around. There were also the rumble strip types, the big sloping ones, and the terrible little ones placed every 10 meters for a kilometer or more. Normally they are in the middle of town on the main drag, but expect them everywhere! I did catch some air once by hitting one of the big sloping ones at about 40 MPH (I don’t recommend it!).

Here is a tope sign…to my disappointment it doesn’t mean, female anatomy ahead…

I continued down “Mex 54” and cut over at San Tiburcio on “Mex 62”. The roads up to now have been extremely straight. And the scenery was high altitude desert.

There were many signs warning of free range livestock, the signs mainly depicted cows, but some had a donkey figure on them. I kept my speed down around 50 to 55 MPH most of the day. I did see lots of livestock in the road today, and throughout the trip. Most of the animals seem to know they aren’t supposed to be there, and are just crossing as quickly as possible. I would always slow down to a crawl when passing. Sheep ahead:

There was very little traffic. I would go for a half hour or more without seeing another car. Here I am entering Zacatecas state. Zacatecas seems like a very proud state, as they advertise the entry and exit very well. I have some employees from Zacatecas state, and they insisted before I left that I had their state on my itinerary.

I was really taking it all in, and enjoying the scenery today. I would stop every time I saw anything of interest, or just to snap a random picture. I had made it the 175 miles to the cobble stone road that leads to Real de Catorce in 6 hours….yeah, lunch / pictures / stops for the heck of it…I was having a blast!

The turn off of “Mex 62”:

The cobble was pretty rough stuff to ride on. Some places smoothed out with speed. I took some of it at 35 MPH, and some at 10 MPH. There were quite a few pee pee stops, as it was one bouncy ride! The little Ninja’s stock suspension is very soft, so it wasn’t too bad in this instance. Going down on this stuff was not an option!

I made it to the tunnel, as they were letting traffic through. It is a one way at a time tunnel, so I had to wait and get the picture when I exited. Riding through was super cool. I felt like I was on some huge liter bike by the way the exhaust was rumbling off the walls. Here is the Real de Catorce side.

Now the misadventure begins! Well, it wasn’t really that bad…but the most misadventure that happened on the trip, so I will have to play it up good. I planed to zip around town and just pick a hotel. My map fails to show the topography of this place. Let’s also not forget that we are sitting at roughly 9000 above sea level. The little Ninja’s 25 or so horses were really cut in half up here. Going down the main drag, they had blocked the street for repairs to the church. This left me with the option of going steeply down a cobble stone path in bad repair, or going steeply up a cobblestone path in bad repair. I chose the high ground….

Now this puppy may not look so steep in the picture, but I assure you it was one bad mutha of a hill! I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and got a good running start. I’ll paint the picture…

One ATGATT gringo getting up to 15 MPH in first with the tach set at about 10 G’s. This gringo takes the turn smoothly and starts up the bad mutha of a hill. The gringo is at full throttle and clutch out in first, but quickly loosing steam. Soon, the clutch is feathered to attempt to keep the RPMs over at least 6 G’s, but it was all in vain. The little Ninja sputters and burps to a stop. Quickly gringo estupido pulls in the clutch and front brake and puts his feet down only to be sliding one coble length distance down the hill backwards at a time. I gather myself, as I am stopped, my feet are down. The worst that could happen is dropping the bike and watching it slide down. Luckily a few locals were there, and were helpful in guiding my uncontrollable backwards slide down . All of this was done though my FF helmet and the face shield down, as I was not about to take a hand off the bars. Once down, I opened up the face shield to thank my two helpers. I offered them a few bucks for lunch, but they said I was crazy and wouldn’t accept even enough to grab a beer. Very nice of those guys, and I feel sure I would have dropped the little Ninja if it wasn’t for their help.

After the “misadventure” I was at the bottom of bad mutha hill, only to see a sign for a hotel right there at the bottom. Well, you know where I slept that night!!! There was a bit more misadventure as I was pushing the bike into the lobby of the hotel to park. As I was clearing the bump inside the bike went about 2/3rds the way down. Again, there was a guy passing by that helped me pick her up and no damaged occurred. Once parked, the helper was no where to be found give my thanks to. Again, very nice and helpful folks here!

I spent the evening walking about the town taking pictures and snacking on street food. I was asleep by 8:00 PM, it was an exhausting day of riding that cobble, being defeated by bad mutah hill, mostly dropping the bike, and exploring the hilly town.

Stay tuned for day 4 where I see make a run for an old silver mining town, and get off the beaten tourist path Mexico.
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:09 AM   #6
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Day 4

I woke up and had some breakfast coffee in the lobby of my hotel. This is also where my bike was parked. I met George, another guest in the hotel. We sat and had our coffee together. He was from Monterrey, and gave me some advice on the roads. He also assured me that I wouldn’t run into many other gringos in Zacatecas (where I was heading). He said, “No, no hay gringos…..solo chilies verdes.”, as he pointed to himself. I assumed “chilies verdes” was referring to Mexicans, like himself.

I threw the back pack on my bike, rolled her outside, and was off. I had about 250 miles planed on they way to Zacatecas. (Free “Mex 57” to San Luis Potosi, then the free “Mex 49” into Zacatecas with a few side trips)

First it was back through the tunnel.

Not many pictures from today. I really just enjoyed the ride, stopped for lunch, and took my time.

Arriving in Zacatecas at rush hour was a bit unnerving. I did a bit of lane splitting, and did not care for it much. Traffic was tight, but not very aggressive. Drivers seemed very used to sharing the road with motorcycles…as well as sharing the lane. I followed the sings for el centro, when I saw a decent looking hotel with a wide side walk for motorcycle parking. It was a done deal! Hotel Colon was $17 USD per night (low end of my $20 average), and was one of my best rooms. It had cable TV and HOT water all day long. It was just a 2 minute walk into el centro.

I rested up a bit, went out for dinner / coffee, grabbed a few pictures and called it a day. I was very tired from today’s ride. I think it was coming back down the cobble stone from Real, and long slow ride on the free ways getting here. I was on speed bump overload!

Stay tune for day 5 where I get MUCH better pictures of beautiful Zacatecas, and get my breakfast from a guy with a donkey.
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:10 AM   #7
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Day 5.

I woke up in Zacatecas and found their version of a Red Bull energy drink. I sat and observed a few happy customers come and go before I approached. Here is the man, his donkey, and his goods in the clay pots.

They all seemed to be consuming what ever he was offering, and waking away looking normal, so I was game! I asked what he had. His response was “aguamiel….es dulce”. To me, this translated to honey water. After getting home and researching, it is actually the nonalcoholic juice from the agave plant that when fermented becomes alcoholic. It was quite good, and did taste like watered down honey. It was very cold too. The stopper to his clay pots was part of a banana tree trunk.

My next stop was Mina de Eden. It is a short walk from down town. The mine was in operation from 1586 through the 1950’s. They mined silver, gold, iron, copper, and zinc. It has 7 levels, but they have too continuously pump water out to keep the top 4 open. There is even a discoteca on one of the levels that is opened on weekends.

First was the trolley ride, a rock museum, a guided tour, and finally a elevator ride back up. We were 3000 feet down! It was well worth the time.

Once back on the surface I took a ride up the Teleferico. The teleferico is a Swiss built cable car that takes you on a 7 minute ride up to Cerro del Grillo. There were some great views on the ride, and from the top.

After spending an hour at the top, I hiked the mile back down. I grabbed a few gorditas for lunch. This place is kind of like Subway Sandwiches. There are tortillas ready to be stuffed, and you just pick what you want in them. I had one with beans and one with chicharon. Chicharon is fried up pork skin and pork fat with whatever meat happens to be in there. I highly recommend it!!!

Also, Nescafe is really big in Latin America. I really love my coffee, but I am no coffee snob. This stuff will get you by in a pinch, especially if it comes from one of the automatic machines. You can choose what kind of Nescafe you want from the machine, I usually go for an Americano.

I spent the afternoon walking the town and relaxing in the park. Sorry, no riding today, but I did get a shot of a new 200 CC motorcycle for sale there. It was going for about $2,200 USD. Check out those engine mounts!

The town:

For dinner it was a few tacos de bistec and a few tacos de lengua (yeah - tongue). They were some of the best tacos I have ever had! Had they been open for breakfast the next morning, I would have been there.

There was an outdoor concert in the plaza around the Christmas tree that evening. We got to hear some of my Christmas favorites such as Queen’s “Another one bites the dust”, “We are the Champions”, a few rockin’ ones from the Beatles. So, it wasn’t Christmas music, but it was pretty good!

I got a few beers, and retired to my room after a hard day.

Stay tuned for day 6 when I see a 60 foot statue of Jesus and get lost in some tunnels!
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:45 AM   #8
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ADV decals, patches & flag? Here
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:50 AM   #9
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Looks like an amazing trip. Enjoy and keep it coming... looking forward to hearing more.
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:53 AM   #10
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Old 12-19-2007, 09:09 AM   #11
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Old 12-19-2007, 09:37 AM   #12
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Great Ride !

How are you planning to go back to Laredo Tx_
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Old 12-19-2007, 10:29 AM   #13
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Great report. Way to get off the beaten track. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12-19-2007, 10:46 AM   #14
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enjoying the report, keep it coming. two thumbs up for a fellow DFW rider
Be well...
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
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Old 12-19-2007, 10:58 AM   #15
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Way to go !


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