Por la Libre - Exploring Mexico's backroads

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Gustavo, Apr 8, 2006.

  1. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    On the last day of November Lizbeth and I started our long awaited motorcycling vacation through Mexico. Lizbeth flew to Chihuahua and I rode to meet here there from Portland. I lucked out and got a break in the weather that allowed me to ride straight down I-5, having cold, but dry weather crossing the Siskiyous.

    Siskiyou Summit:
    [​IMG]


    My first stop was Sacramento to visit my brother. The ride was pretty good, after I defrosted from riding the Siskiyou and Mt. Shasta passes (it snowed on the way down from the top of both). Made good time to Sacramento, a bit of lane splitting in rush hour traffic and I was there.

    Thursday started out wet, I had rain for the first two hours, then the rain stopped and was replaced by very strong winds on the way to Bakersfield. It was strong enough that I had to slow down to keep the bike in my lane.


    Leaving Sacramento:
    [​IMG]


    The winds never really stopped, but were relatively softer and easier to manage going out of the LA metro traffic (more splitting, I love CA). I made it to Phoenix that evening, but made the mistake of not going all the way across town to Mesa or Chandler. I had to deal with rush hour traffic the next day due to this. After a short stop-n-go section, I joined the unofficial NASCAR track known as I-10 through metro Phoenix. I was going a real 80 MPH and having trouble keeping up with the fast traffic on I-10...

    I made my destination of Las Cruces, NM, early in the afternoon. I went shopping for parts for a service I decided to do before driving into Mexico. My friend John offered his garage, so all I needed was oil and a pair of spark plugs I had forgotten at home. I went to Las Cruces Motorsports and got to buy 2 plugs for the price of 3. Unless you absolutely have no other option, I highly recommend not shopping there if you are on a trip in that part of the country.

    I had dinner with John, Phil and Lois, all of whom I had not seen in ages, it was fun to catch up with old friends.

    On Saturday morning, I finished the maintenance on the bike and Lizbeth’s cousin’s car and headed out to the Santa Teresa border crossing to get my and the bike’s permit to go into Mexico. There were some people there already (close to noon) but it only took 30 minutes total to get all the paperwork sorted. At 12:30 I was blasting down the road to Chihuahua. I got caught in a (very usual for this area) dust storm that made visibility very limited for a while. Given these conditions, I decided that it would be most effective to use the toll highway in this case, rather than get stuck on the two lane road I was planning on using.

    The road south of Villa Ahumada:
    [​IMG]


    Driving in Mexico can be two very different experiences. The toll highways (also known as cuota) are very similar to US style highways, typically two lanes in each direction, mostly (but not always) limited access, and usually in reasonable, sometimes even in very good condition. But, they come at a very high price. The tolls often seem like highway robbery, given the cost, frequency and road conditions in some states. So far, the state of Chihuahua stands out on this trip as having the best roads/facilities in the toll sections. It’s also noteworthy that it’s the only state that gives a lower rate to motorcycles, roughly 50% of the rate they charge cars. What is really not like in the US are the speeds. The official speed limits vary from 90 KPH to 110 KPH, but most Mexicans absolutely ignore these signs. At a real 85 MPH (140 KPH) I was passed regularly by other cars. But, you also have to keep in mind that some of the vehicles that circulate on these roads are barely capable of keeping up with the speed limits, so a lot of caution is required when estimating closing speeds. The best part is that there is a very strict lane discipline. I never had to wait for a car or truck to move over (unless it had US plates, then all bets were off, some were just as asleep at the wheel as when they drive in the US).

    The free roads, usually posted as por (la) libre or simply libre when there is an option, are the old roads that typically go through every little town along the way. They show a different Mexico than that seen while traveling the new highways. But going through every little town (and it literally means through, the road is usually the town’s main street) along the way means it can be really slow. You have to make the choice. On this trip my intention was to stick as much as possible to the libre roads, to see the Mexico we usually miss when we have less vacation time.

    Just before Chihuahua there is a short section of toll road, whose alternate is a very nice winding road, which after days of mostly straight highway riding was a very welcome change. I made it to Chihuahua early in the afternoon.

    From Chihuahua we started heading south and east. Our first destination was Saltillo, one of the oldest cities in northern Mexico. Saltillo sits in the high desert, and appropriately, it gets rather chilly after sunset. Actually, as we discovered on the way into town, it gets rather chilly even before the sun sets. It can also be windy on the road from Torreon. We found the hotel we were looking for fairly quickly, after checking the map just once to get a better idea of how the downtown streets ran. Saltillo has a nice, old, colonial center that doesn’t really feel like a big city. We stayed at Hotel Urdiñola, which is walking distance from the cathedral and several other attractions. We found it very curious that the downtown area is full of shoe stores. And I mean full, as in several per city block on almost every block of the downtown area we walked through.

    Saltillo's cathedral:
    [​IMG]


    The internal courtyard at the Urdiñola:

    [​IMG]

    Gustavo
    #1
  2. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    Our next target was Jalpan de Sierra, deep in the Sierra Gorda. We started with a blast down highway 57 towards San Luis Potosi, but got off the highway on the road to Rio Verde. It wasn’t a bad road, but I had hoped it would be more interesting (as in more winding). But, it was good for making time, and it helped make up for the long defrosting stop in Matehuala.

    In Rio Verde I got some bad gas that made the bike stumble and surge a bit. The stumbling was pretty obvious as soon as I tried to make the first overtaking maneuver, it didn’t like WFO settings. I probably should have slowed down, but I didn’t, and I suspect that it did some damage to the chain and sprockets, because after these 180 miles, all were showing more wear. It probably wasn’t the root cause of the excessive wear, but I expected the chain and sprockets to last more than 10K miles. I didn’t realize this was happening until the next day, when the chain needed another adjustment, and after only 200 miles another one.

    Before that, we enjoyed the spectacular views of the Sierra Gorda, as we made our way to Jalpan. Rio Verde was true to it’s name and the scenery became a lot greener than it had been for the last two days. As you climb into the Sierra, the forest becomes denser, the vegetation is different, and it changes as you climb in altitude.

    Mountains and rivers in the Sierra Gorda are a welcome change in scenery after two days of desert landscape:
    [​IMG]


    The road got really windy, the pavement was mostly good and the roads had little traffic. One thing they did have, as most secondary roads in Mexico do, is topes, or speed bumps.

    Climbing deeper into the sierra:

    [​IMG]


    Mexican roads that go through any sort of town will usually have several topes as you get to the urban area (and urban is very loosely defined here). Some are sp steep they could damage your wheel if you don’t slow down to a crawl. Obviously, it doesn’t make for good (or pleasant) progress through these urban areas. You can make it up outside of town, where passing happens whenever and where ever you feel like it.

    Jalpan didn’t look like much when we got there, until we took the side streets to get to the plaza, where our hotel was. The town is actually very nice, it has very well kept buildings, a nice plaza and the mission, which is one of the many Sierra Gorda missions that were built to help "civilize" the locals in the 16th century.

    Hotel Maria del Carmen in Jalpan looks small from the plaza but is a huge
    (and very nice) hotel:
    [​IMG]


    Jalpan de Serra mission. One of many Sierra Gorda missions in this style:
    [​IMG]


    Secure parking Maria del Carmen style, right inside the lobby:
    [​IMG]


    Another Sierra Gorda mission:
    [​IMG]


    Our plan of starting to make our way to Papantla after Jalpan was changed when I realized the chain was not going to make it through the whole Mexico loop. We decided to head towards Pachuca, a relatively large town, to try and find parts.

    The road to Tamazunchale:
    [​IMG]


    This is a wide load you don´t want to meet unannounced. Luckily, they have a big crew in front to warn drivers to pull off the road:
    [​IMG]


    Molango in the Sierra Gorda:
    [​IMG]


    Now keep in mind that Suzuki is only starting to import the V-Strom to Mexico this year and there are almost no bikes, let alone spare parts in the country. Also, most Mexican shops sell smaller displacement bikes as their bread and butter, and only a few larger bikes, so I didn’t expect them to have parts in stock, but maybe be able to order them. We got to Pachuca early enough to make some calls. A Yamaha shop had a chain but no sprockets. The rest couldn't even begin to figure out where to get the parts in a timely manner.

    Street vendors show up early to claim a spot in the plaza:
    [​IMG]


    While I was waiting for the Yamaha guys the next day to make some calls, I asked the Yahoo VStrom2 guys for help with alternate parts that fit. Within the hour I had several replies of what other Suzuki bikes share similar sprockets and offers to mail me the parts if needed. A fantastic group and a great showing of the power of the Net. I ended up finding a shop in Toluca that said they could get the parts within 3 day max. We were going to go to Toluca later, so we changed the order and rode to Toluca.

    On the way to Toluca, I found the exit for the highway that goes around Mexico City (DF) closed. I figured there would probably be another up ahead and continued on. Next thing I know the signs only read Mexico Centro... We stopped as soon as the highway ended and changed to surface streets to see what options we had. It seemed that at this point the shortest way to Toluca (on the opposite end of the DF) was straight through. Lizbeth didn’t like the idea much, but accepted that we had to do this to get to Toluca early. The route took us through two of the DF´s busiest roads, Insurgentes and Paseo Reforma. There was a lot of traffic, but since lane splitting is not only allowed, it’s expected and encouraged to keep traffic flowing faster, we made really good time despite the traffic.

    The Suzuki shop in Toluca is a very small shop, but these guys know how to get stuff done. They found a chain set fit the V-Strom and had it installed that same afternoon. The only issue is that they didn’t tell me the front sprocket they got is smaller than the original I had, and now my speedometer is really way off. Luckily, I had installed a Sigma speedometer, which is still as accurate as it was before the gearing change.

    Toluca Suzuki crew that got me a new chain and sprockets in record time (even for a US shop, not to mention in Mexico :deal:
    [​IMG]



    Downtown Metepec:
    [​IMG]


    End of the day and shift change for the Metepec Police:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #2
  3. JohnK

    JohnK El Turco

    Joined:
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    Hola Gustavo,

    Can you also post your route if possible. I did a trip to Queretaro last October through the "bacak-roads" and loved it. Put 2000 miles in 5 days....

    I am planning another trip next fall and considering some routes.

    Thanks.
    #3
  4. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    Since we were already in Toluca, we took a day trip into Mexico City. This time we used public transportation, as the cost is so low it’s ridiculous and the convenience of not having to secure the bike and riding gear while walking around town is a great benefit. The bus trip from Toluca to the DF is $3.40 and the Metro costs $0.20 (yes, you read that right, twenty cents, includes as many transfers as you need). For reference, just the toll on the (very nice) highway between the two is $8.


    Busses are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to travel in Mexico. We used these to travel from Metepec to explore the DF:
    [​IMG]


    The Metro (subway) is the way to explore the DF. Fast and cheap:
    [​IMG]


    We started in Chapultepec, Maximilian’s palace, then the anthropology museum, and then we walked along Paseo Reforma to see the different monuments the adorn the glorietas (traffic circles). This is a beautiful part of the city, it divides some of the best neighborhoods in town. When you drive in or out of the DF, you get to see the slums most of the people live in. It’s as if you were in a different planet. We lucked out and our friend Chayo was in town for work, so in the afternoon, she gave us a guided tour of the historical center of the city. Lizbeth observed there were a lot of people everywhere you went. Well, it wasn’t as if the 18 million that live here were there, but it certainly seemed like it.


    Getting directions in Chapultepec:
    [​IMG]


    I must look like a tourist, because all these kids shouted "hello" and waved at me:
    [​IMG]



    The Chapultepec Palace:
    [​IMG]


    Paseo Reforma. One of the DF busiest roads, I was lane splitting here a day earlier:
    [​IMG]


    Very helpful tourist info booths are now in many touristy areas of the DF:
    [​IMG]


    Totonac people preparing for the "Voladores" rite:
    [​IMG]


    Five men get on the top of a 20 meter tall pole:
    [​IMG]


    Four jump off backwards and fly (volar) until the ropes unwind:
    [​IMG]


    It takes a few minutes and probaby tens of revolutions to get down:
    [​IMG]


    Almost there:
    [​IMG]


    Amazing how they go from upside down to upright and they are on the ground:
    [​IMG]


    Traffic in Mexico City:
    [​IMG]


    Special police units for tourist assistance:
    [​IMG]



    One of the biggest issues the city seems to be having difficulty with are the vendedores ambulantes (roving vendors). It’s in the news on a regular basis, how the city is trying to clean up the streets and how the vendors keep a step ahead of the authorities to avoid being caught. In some areas of the historic center, 4 lane avenues have been practically shut down to vehicle traffic, as the vendors take over the driving lanes to set up their merchandise. And they are everywhere. You can buy anything from indigenous handcrafts to pirated CDs, DVDs and other merchandise on the streets.

    Lizbeth buying Oaxacan products from street vendors:
    [​IMG]



    Street food DF style:
    [​IMG]


    You can buy almost anything from a man or woman with a bicycle:
    [​IMG]


    Smog obscures the wonderful Paseo Reforma monuments:
    [​IMG]


    La Casa de los Azulejos. Once belonged to a Mexican president, now a Samborns:
    [​IMG]


    Original mural by Orozco in this now restaurant:
    [​IMG]


    The DF is full of old churches:
    [​IMG]


    Organistas are on every street corner in the DF:
    [​IMG]


    Night market off the Zocalo in Mexico City:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #4
  5. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    On Saturday we went to visit my friend Johan and his wife Juanita in Valle de Bravo. The road from Metepec to Valle that goes by El Nevado de Toluca (a snow capped volcano) is spectacular. Not only the views are fantastic, the road is well paved and is an endless series of curves after leaving Toluca all the way to Valle. It also goes by a section where Monarch butterflies pass on their annual migration. It wasn’t a very sunny morning, so they were not out in great numbers, but it was still a beautiful sight. It is also note worthy that some organizations in Mexico make a serious effort to protect the butterflies by having state police slow traffic down in this area to reduce "road kills" and to allow people to safely pull over if they want to take a closer look.


    We went to Valle de Bravo to meet Johan and Juanita:
    [​IMG]


    Johan and Juanita gave as a great tour of their city, we hiked up a river to a waterfall, drove up steep cobblestone streets to get a spectacular view of the city and had way too much to eat. It also happened to be Johan’s birthday, so he said it was a great birthday gift to have us visit and to go for a ride together.


    They took us to see this beautiful waterfall outside of Valle:
    [​IMG]


    Johan walking down to the lake in Valle de Bravo:
    [​IMG]


    We rode up steep cobblestone streets to get to this view point:
    [​IMG]



    Gustavo
    #5
  6. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    We left Metepec on our way to resume the original route going around the <st1:place><st1:placetype>Gulf</st1:placetype> <st1:placetype>Coast</st1:placetype></st1:place> to <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state>. The short route goes through <st1:state><st1:place>Puebla</st1:place></st1:state>, but before that through <st1:city><st1:place>Mexico City</st1:place></st1:city> again. I convinced Lizbeth it'll be OK, this being a Sunday morning, and pretty early at that, to run through one of the world's most crowded cities, again.

    OK, I forgot it was it was the day prior to dia de la virgen de Guadalupe (Mexican's holiest saint, used by those clever Spaniards to convert the local indigenous people to Catholicism), and there are thousands of pilgrims on marches, either on foot or by bicycle that clog all major roads in the area. Some even on major highways, which makes for rather hazardous situations, where regular traffic encounters a blocked lane often, due to the different processions. They mostly kept to the right shoulder where they could, but sometimes you would encounter one procession passing another both going less than 30 KPH on a highway where other traffic was still running at regular Mexican speeds. Not that it is unusual to find slow traffic on Mexican roads, but allowing this many on major highways is a recipe for disaster. As long as you remember that you can't trust anybody but yourself (OK, some of you I wouldn't trust either... :lol3) you can survive the experience.

    For a highway, the road from <st1:state><st1:place>Puebla</st1:place></st1:state> to <st1:city><st1:place>Orizaba</st1:place></st1:city> and Cd. Mendoza is actually pretty exciting. Long sweeping turns that go on and on, lax (read none) speed enforcement and traffic that mostly lets you be, make for good times. Add some seriously dense fog going down the mountain around <st1:city><st1:place>Orizaba</st1:place></st1:city> (and I mean dense, visibility was less than 30 ft. in some sections) you get a really exciting ride. I went by Ciudad Mendoza with about 140 miles on the tank and decided I could postpone the gas stop to somewhere later on the highway. Yup, as you can guess, this is the one highway in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> where there isn't a single damn gas station on the highway for the next 80 miles. I ran out of gas 3 miles outside of <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> (and the same distance to the next gas station...). Luckily, Mexican's are the nicest people, and within a few minutes we had two offers for rides to the gas station. Lizbeth took the ride into town with a gentleman from <st1:city><st1:place>Monterey</st1:place></st1:city> who not only gave her the ride into town, but also gave her a ride back to deliver the gas and didn't want to accept anything for his trouble. It seemed the V-Strom runs exactly 220 miles on a tankfull under these conditions. Adventure touring...

    I love the V-Strom, it´s a great all around bike, but it´s not perfect. It doesn´t run without gas:
    [​IMG]


    <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> is a great city, it's a lively town with an interesting historical center and lots to do, even beaches if you are so inclined. We spent a couple of days exploring the city on foot and using public transportation (which is dirt cheap). We took a bus to Boca del <st1:place>Rio</st1:place>, a suburb south of Verzcruz that is home to the nice beaches (<st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> is more of a port city, the beaches developed south of town). It also has the doubtful distinction of being home to so many big box retailers and chain restaurants it looks like "any town USA" in some newly developed areas (mostly behind the hotel area). We liked the beaches, but preferred to eat in the market...

    Having cafe con leche at the Gran Cafe de la Parroquia:
    [​IMG]


    Oil rig being repaired after the hurricanes:
    [​IMG]


    Veracruz street:
    [​IMG]


    Veracruz city workers decorating the zocalo for X-mas:
    [​IMG]


    Veracruz zocalo:
    [​IMG]


    No hurry for these guys. They sat here all morning:
    [​IMG]


    On the day of the virgin Guadalupe kids are dressed in traditioanl costumes:
    [​IMG]


    Working at the zocalo:
    [​IMG]


    If you are not quicker then they are, these kids take to your windshield like a NASCAR crew. The one on the near side even through his bottle in the same style as soon as his water was gone:
    [​IMG]


    Veracruz market:
    [​IMG]


    Lizbeth eating caldo de camaron at the Veracruz market. Some of the biggest shrimps I have ever seen:
    [​IMG]


    Veracruz market:
    [​IMG]




    Gustavo
    <st1:state><st1:place></st1:place></st1:state>
    #6
  7. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    From <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> we headed to Ciudad del Carmen. Along the way we stopped in Tlacotalpan, a really nice little town that is on the UNESCO world heritage list. This gives the town some extra incentive to keep it as if it was straight out of a movie set. This is what you imagine quaint little Mexican towns look like, except it is a real living and working town.


    The zocalo at Tlacotalpan:
    [​IMG]


    Lazy morning playing dominos in Tlacotalpan:
    [​IMG]


    Due to too much time spent walking around Tlacotalpan, we decided to hit the highway. I know there is still a lot of corruption in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but if I had to pick an example of a place where it's way to obvious it would have to be <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> toll highways. The tolls are expensive (no discount for bikes like in <st1:state><st1:place>Chihuahua</st1:place></st1:state>) and these are the worst roads I have driven in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>, cuota or libre. Someone must be pocketing the money...


    Cool bridge on the way to Villahermosa:
    [​IMG]


    How long would a statute like this survive in the US before someone was offended and asked it be modified?
    [​IMG]


    As we were making our final miles to Cd. del Carmen, I pulled in to get gas in Frontera. A PEMEX pickup pulled in next to me while we were resting a bit and the driver came over to chat. Turns out he is a biker (owner of an R1) and he was impressed by the sound of the V-Strom as we passed him earlier. He gave us a recommendation for a hotel in town, and he even showed us the way around the downtown maze. Very nice guy.


    V-Strom meets Gulf beach:
    [​IMG]


    Our next destination was <st1:state><st1:place>Campeche</st1:place></st1:state>. There are great views of beaches along the hwy. <st1:state><st1:place>Campeche</st1:place></st1:state> roads are really well maintained and I was pleasantly surprised to find a curvy libre into <st1:state><st1:place>Campeche</st1:place></st1:state> (the <st1:state><st1:place>Yucatan</st1:place></st1:state> is mostly flat).

    <st1:state><st1:place>Campeche</st1:place></st1:state> has a really nice historical center (another UNESCO Heritage Site). It's contained within the remains of the old fortifications (baluartes) that protected the city in the wilder days of pirates and warlords. Very nice malecon (boardwalk) too. We spent a long afternoon exploring the baluartes circuit, plaza and malecon.

    Lizbeth was waiting for this pan de cazon a Campeche specialty:
    [​IMG]


    One of many remaining Campeche baluartes:
    [​IMG]


    Family transportation:
    [​IMG]


    Puerta de Tierra, Campeche:
    [​IMG]


    Puerta de Tierra, from the "outside":
    [​IMG]


    Garden inside a baluarte:
    [​IMG]


    Lizbeth alarming the city:
    [​IMG]


    Campeche´s zocalo at calle 10:
    [​IMG]


    Campeche´s malecon:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #7
  8. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    Hi John,

    I'll see if I can trace it on MS Streets and Trips, it usually doesn't have enough deatil for Mexico to follow all the roads we took, but it'll give you an idea of where we went. I am a low tech kind of rider, I use paper maps. :cromag


    Gustavo
    #8
  9. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    Going out of <st1:state><st1:place>Campeche</st1:place></st1:state> to <st1:city><st1:place>Uxmal</st1:place></st1:city> I found another surprisingly fun road for a few kms, then rolling hills. We got to Hacienda Uxmal and found it mostly empty. It seems like the hurricanes have scared the tourists away. Lizbeth negotiated a killer deal and we got the empty Hacienda Uxmal all to ourselves. This place was originally built to house the teams of archeologists that excavated the <st1:city><st1:place>Uxmal</st1:place></st1:city> ruins. Surprisingly, Hacienda Uxmal does not provide drinking water. That is, they have water, but you have to pay for it (dearly, I may add). Considering that providing bottled water is common even in budget hotels, it seemed to not fit with the high end pretensions of this place.

    Hotel Hacienda Uxmal:
    [​IMG]


    Visiting the ruins was an outstanding experience. We spent about 3 hours walking around the site. Simply amazing architecture and location. A picture is worth 1000 words, right?


    Casa del Adivino - Uxmal:
    [​IMG]


    Current Uxmal resident:
    [​IMG]


    Uxmal is one of few site in the Yucatan set in a hilly area:
    [​IMG]


    The feathered snake god is said to not be an original Mayan god:
    [​IMG]


    Casa del Adivino - Uxmal:
    [​IMG]


    Ball court - Uxmal:
    [​IMG]


    Uxmal from the Gran Piramide:
    [​IMG]


    Mayan women making and selling their crafts:
    [​IMG]


    Garbage truck in Uxmal:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #9
  10. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    Location:
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    From <st1:city><st1:place>Uxmal</st1:place></st1:city> we set course to Celestun. As expected, the roads in the peninsula are not very interesting, but they do keep you busy, with livestock, wild animals and topes. We found a very nice and cheap hotel, Maria del Carmen, on the beach. Celestun is a small, mostly fishermen, town. We took a great boat tour through the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. There are numerous birds, trees and even a petrified forest to tour. We met a couple of really nice guys on the tour. Tupac is from <st1:country-region><st1:place>Nicaragua</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but lives in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Spain</st1:place></st1:country-region> these days. Brice is French, practicing his Spanish between making independent films. We ended the tour and had lunch on the beach together, before they left to go to <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city>. It's always fun to share your travels with new freinds, hear about what they have seen, learn more about their countries, etc.


    Typical Mayan house in modern day villages (including an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe outside, since it recently was the day of the virgin):
    [​IMG]


    Mayan woman selling flowers in Uman:
    [​IMG]


    The English translation could use some help, the Spanish version of the tour is fantastic:
    [​IMG]


    These two girls wanted to get in trouble with this poor dog that was looking for some shade:
    [​IMG]


    Wilber, our Celestun Biosphere boat captain and guide:
    [​IMG]


    Low flying Pelican:
    [​IMG]


    Flamingos in Celestun:
    [​IMG]


    Flamingos in Celestun:
    [​IMG]


    Navigating a "tunnel" in the biosphere:
    [​IMG]



    The beach in Celestun (yes, it was this nice and empty all day):
    [​IMG]



    Watching time go by:
    [​IMG]


    Tricycle taxis are very popular in this mostly flat peninsula:
    [​IMG]


    Futbol game on the beach:
    [​IMG]


    Sunset in Celestun as seen from our hotel room:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #10
  11. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,487
    Location:
    Sometimes in Hillsburrito
    We went to <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city> the next day.


    Abandoned hacienda on the road to Merida:
    [​IMG]



    Merida was hot, hot, hot. <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city> was hot and bustling (did I mention it was hot?), very heavy traffic in town and we didn't like the hotel we were planning on staying at (this is what happens when you pick a hotel out of an ad rather than the Lonely Planet, we should have known better). <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city> did not turn out to be as nice as expected, or maybe it was just the first impression of the heavy mid-day traffic. The narrow and very crowded (with vehicle traffic) streets make the city center tiring to walk around. It has some really nice things like the plaza, public buildings and cultural life that are certainly worth a visit and are much more pleasant to see and visit in the afternoon, when it's cooler and traffic volume is significantly lower.


    Lunch in one of Merida´s markets:
    [​IMG]


    Galvez market in Merida:
    [​IMG]


    Generation gap in Merida´s zocalo:
    [​IMG]



    It is much more pleasant in the evening when it cools off a bit and traffic gets thinner. Now, you have to remember that we were there in December, one of the two coolest months of the year in <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city>. I can't imagine visiting it in summer, especially not on a bike.


    Merida Policeman:
    [​IMG]



    As we were walking around one evening, we saw a line outside the theatre. There was a convention of Mexican dance teachers in town, and this was opening night. Lizbeth managed to get two (free) tickets and we went to watch the show. A local dance troop gave a history of the <st1:state><st1:place>Yucatan</st1:place></st1:state> in dances, it was fantastic.

    Yucatan dancers:
    [​IMG]



    Gustavo
    #11
  12. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Our next destination was <st1:city><st1:place>Palenque</st1:place></st1:city>. It's a bit far from <st1:city><st1:place>Merida</st1:place></st1:city>, and there are no highways to speak off, so in order to make good time I had to take advantage of the V-Strom’s passing abilities. But, those WFO passes on lines and lines of cars and making good time came at fuel efficiency cost. Some of the worst I got all this trip. The head winds didn't help. The town of <st1:city><st1:place>Palenque</st1:place></st1:city> has no real attractions. If it wasn't situated next to these incredible ruins from the ancient Mayans, it wouldn't be worth the ink on the map. The ruins are simply amazing. The architecture, monkeys, birds and location in the middle of the jungle make it really unique.


    Palenque:
    [​IMG]


    Heavy rains and high humidity are not good for conservation:
    [​IMG]



    From <st1:city><st1:place>Palenque</st1:place></st1:city> we rode to <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city> de Las Casas. The road is great, it's basically a series of never ending curves from <st1:city><st1:place>Palenque</st1:place></st1:city> to <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city>, but there are lots of topes. Luckily, the road goes through the Lancandon Jungle, and the scenery is best appreciated at a more relaxed pace. It is also home to the EZLN, which makes its presence known through numerous signs, posters and a large presence of Mexican military that is still looking for them, even though everything is at plain site. Only in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>.


    Entering Zapatista country in Chiapas:
    [​IMG]


    Lizbeth, V-Strom and Lacandonian jungle:
    [​IMG]


    Chiapas - miles and miles of jungle and curves:
    [​IMG]


    Ruta Maya:
    [​IMG]



    Selva Lacandona:
    [​IMG]



    We stopped for lunch in Ocosingo (which turned out to be much busier than expected) whose claim to fame is being one of the places the Zapatistas suffered most casualties during the uprising in January 1994. This seems to be reason enough to make it a tourist attraction. We also went through Oxchuc, where the main street is a real mess with colectivos (vans and pickup trucks used for public transportation) crowding the main road. There was a significant change in weather and scenery after Ocosingo, from jungle to conifer forests.


    Mayan people in Ocosingo:
    [​IMG]



    We spent some days in <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city> de Las Casas. We took a great tour to San Juan Chamula, home to a Pagan/Catholic church complete with healer ceremonies, sacrifices and poshe (sugar cane alcoholic beverage) drinking. There were way too many vendors outside, bordering on annoying, you couldn’t walk around town without being offered something every other step you made. We visited the coffee museum in <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city>, which goes into the interesting history of coffee growing in the region, and does not skip the not so pleasant sides of the treatment the landowners gave the indigenous people they employed in the fields. A lot of people in <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city> do not speak Spanish as native language, and it often makes communication a challenge. I was making fun of Lizbeth that she is not Mexican enough to be understood in these parts.


    San Cristobal de las Casas:
    [​IMG]



    Templo de Santodomingo, San Cristobal:
    [​IMG]


    When people go out on posadas, traffic has to take an unplanned detour or wait:
    [​IMG]



    Making tortillas the old fashioned way in Zinacaltan:
    [​IMG]


    Totzil woman weaving:
    [​IMG]



    Pagan/Catholic church in San Juan Chamula:
    [​IMG]


    The market in the square of San Juan Chamula:
    [​IMG]



    Colectivo - Local buses in small towns are typically vans like this:
    [​IMG]



    House (more like room) in San Juan Chamula:
    [​IMG]



    Endless rows of street vendors:
    [​IMG]



    Old scale used in Chiapas coffee trade:
    [​IMG]


    You better be looking where you walk when you step out - House on a San Cristobal hill:
    [​IMG]



    Wishfull thinking:
    [​IMG]



    It was a cool morning with fog as we climbed out of <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city>. <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city> is known for its temperate climate, it's the reason the Spaniards moved their seat in the region here from Chiapa de Corzo (which we were on our way to visit), but this was a bit unexpected. It was actually cool enough to stop and add a layer of clothing (heated, preferably...). As I have come to expect in the central Mexican regions, the road was simply great, with reasonable amount of topes (this was a surprise) all the way to Chiapa de Corzo. At Chiapa de Corzo you enter the river valleys and the scenery flattens out. We didn't stop at Chiapa de Corzo initially, continuing to Tuxtla first, so we could find a hotel for the night.

    <st1:city><st1:place>Tuxtla Gutierrez</st1:place></st1:city> is a much more modern city than <st1:city><st1:place>San Cristobal</st1:place></st1:city>, and much less interesting because of that. Actually, the only reason to stop there was so that Lizbeth could get a bus ticket to <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>, but I am getting ahead of myself.

    This was the only time in many years of travel that the Lonely Planet let us down. The hotel we picked was indeed nice, but as we were checking in, it turned out there is no hot water available at <st1:place><st1:city>Hotel Posada</st1:city> <st1:state>Chiapas</st1:state></st1:place>. Never has had. Oversight on the part of the LP writers or misunderstanding on my part assuming that even budget hotels have hot water unless otherwise indicated? In any case, it was a deal breaker for my co-pilot, so we wandered off to look for a place that did have hot water. The <st1:city><st1:place>San Marcos</st1:place></st1:city> wasn't too far away and did have all the amenities, but it took us a bit to find it, since it wasn't our next pick. Should have gone by geographical proximity and saved an hour we needed to go see el Cañon del Sumidero.

    We got back to Chipa de Corzo around <st1:time minute="0" hour="14">2 PM</st1:time>, using a local bus since I didn't want to leave the loaded bike at the boat ramp for a couple of hours. The bus was very basic, and had a feature I had not seen before. The driver had an assistant whose job was to find passengers. As they'd pull over where people were standing waiting for a ride, he'd shout the route to the people and try to talk them into using their service. He also handled selling tickets and hitting on all the young girls that boarded the bus. Wait, the last part may have been extra curricular, but appropriate for his teenager status...

    The Cañon del Sumidero turned out to be as impressive as I had read, but there were few photo opportunities. Due to the late hour the sun was getting too low, and it created very sharp light/shadow contrasts which were too difficult for my camera to handle. I did get a few good ones of some crocodiles that warming up in the sun.


    Cañon del Sumidero:
    [​IMG]



    Cañon del Sumidero resident:
    [​IMG]



    The plaza in Chiapa de Corzo:
    [​IMG]



    So why didn't we simply stay in Chiapa de Corzo that night? The road from Tuxtla to Oaxaca passes through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and in a 15 km stretch that ends in a town called La Ventosa (the windy one) there are very strong northern winds blowing from the Gulf to the Pacific (the isthmus coincides with a valley that runs in the same direction in this area, making the effect more pronounced). Some high vehicles have been blown off the road due to these winds. Lizbeth checked the weather, and the previous day winds up to 80 KM/H had been reported, so she wanted nothing to do with riding this road on a motorcycle. The assumption was that she'd take a bus (tall vehicle, but try to explain this to her... :lol3) from Tuxtla to <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>, and if I survived the odyssey, we'd meet there the next day. Well, it turns out that due to the proximity to the x-mas holiday, there were no available seats on any type of service to <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state> until after Dec. 25th. I guess we'd have to ride there two-up.


    Gustavo
    #12
  13. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
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    2,487
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    Lizbeth was pretty nervous about this change in plans, but she conquered her fears and we made the trip without any incidents. I have to admit that it was one of the windiest sections I have ever driven/ridden. The winds may have not been quite up to the 80 KM/H velocities recorded earlier, but it was rather gusty and it moved the bike around quite a bit, even after slowing down significantly. Before La Ventosa, we rode up and down a mountain that offered both great scenery and roads for motorcycling, and as usual, it was amazing how quickly the landscape changes in this part of the country. After Tehuantepec the road starts climbing to <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>'s central valleys. Again we were treated to fantastic views on the mountains and valleys. And of course, as I have come to expect from any decent Mexican road, it is absolutely made for motorcycling. You have to love these low budget roads that have to follow the terrain closely rather than blast the mountain and create straighter sections.

    In <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state> we met our friends Adalberto and Margarita, who had invited us to stay at their home in <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>. Good thing too, because hotels were hard to find during this holiday season. Adalberto is another of my Motoaventuras buddies, friends I had made on-line talking about bikes and turned out to be just a very good friend. Lizbeth and Margarita were chatting the first evening in a cafe in the zocalo and they commented that it seems as if we had known each other for years, not hours.


    Coffee in Oaxaca´s zocalo:
    [​IMG]



    <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state> is one of those places in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> that could keep you busy for a long week as a tourist, without ever getting bored or running out of things to do. Luckily, the bike has very limited carrying capacity, so one activity - shopping - was out of the question. Very lucky too, because I could see Lizbeth filling up a truck with different Oaxacan crafts...

    What we did do is eat. That kind of shopping you carry with you (hopefully without any problems...) regardless of how much space you have in your saddlebags. <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state> has several typical foods - chocolate, different moles, chapulines (grasshoppers), qusillo (type of cheese), etc., etc.. We started the day with breakfast in the market. Oaxacan breakfast can't be had without a (very) large bowl of hot chocolate and sweet breads, and the market is the place to have both. We also went back to the market for lunch, taking the opportunity to try different moles, tamales, etc. I need to go on a diet now.


    In Oaxaca you have to have hot chocolate for breakfast:
    [​IMG]


    Lizbeth enjoying hot Oaxacan bread and chocolate:
    [​IMG]



    Tamales de mole negro y rajas (for breakfast? :huh No, this was lunch :lol3):
    [​IMG]



    We took an obligatory trip to <st1:city><st1:place>Monte Alban</st1:place></st1:city>. <st1:city><st1:place>Monte Alban</st1:place></st1:city> was a Zapotec capital about 2000 years ago. It sits on a tall mountain overlooking the valley, very strategically located. We typically use a guidebook rather than hire a guide to walk around the sites, but this older gentleman, don Agustin, was very convincing when he approached us, plus I thought, what the heck, we'll give the old man some work. Well, turns out don Agustin is not as crazy as some of the younger guides seem to imply (only half jokingly, it seems). He is very well read on the history of <st1:city><st1:place>Monte Alban</st1:place></st1:city>, the Zapotecs and many other cultures, and he managed to make connections that he says are his "theories" based on what he has read, talked with experts he met visiting <st1:city><st1:place>Monte Alban</st1:place></st1:city>, etc.. One thing I am sure off, I saw <st1:city><st1:place>Monte Alban</st1:place></st1:city> differently because of his talk during the tour, things that are not even mentioned in the guidebooks, but seem to make a lot of sense when he talked about it showing us the different buildings.


    don Agustin, our guide to Monte Alban:
    [​IMG]


    The size of Monte Alban is very impressive:
    [​IMG]


    Evidence that the "barbarians" the Spaniards came to "civilize" where light years ahead of the conquistadores in medical knowledge:
    [​IMG]


    Lizbeth at Monte Alban:
    [​IMG]



    Monte Alban from the sun pyramid:
    [​IMG]




    Of course, just walking around Oaxaca is a very nice way to spend your time, there is plenty to see and do.


    Renovated oldie in Oaxaca:
    [​IMG]


    Templo de Santo Domingo:
    [​IMG]



    Lizbeth strolling down Calle Alcala:
    [​IMG]



    Artist getting ready for Noche de Rabanos, a Oaxacan tradition on December 23rd:
    [​IMG]


    Inside Templo de Santo Domingo. All that glitters actually is gold in this case:
    [​IMG]




    The next day we went with Adalberto and Margarita to see a spring called Hierve el Agua (the water boils). Its location almost at the top of a mountain makes it a fantastic scenic place to visit. The fact that it has a very nice road going up to it makes it a great motorcycle day tour.

    Oaxaca has very diverse landscapes. Cacti "forest" going up to Hierve el Agua:
    [​IMG]


    Natural water pool at Hierve el Agua:
    [​IMG]



    Hiking around Hierve el Agua:
    [​IMG]



    Hydration stop:
    [​IMG]



    After the visit we headed back on the 3 mile long dirt road to the highway. Less than a mile down the road, a sign that pointed to the left said "<st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>." I stopped, told Adalberto that I am fairly sure we came straight through on this road. He asked an old guy at the intersection, who indeed pointed to the left and said this is the short way to <st1:state><st1:place>Oaxaca</st1:place></st1:state>. The (dirt) road started by climbing up the side of this steep mountain, and it climbed, and climbed, and climbed... Then we got to the top, looking down, there was nothing but a dirt road snaking its way down the other face of the mountain. Yes, this may be shorter distance-wise, but it was 25 miles of dirt switchbacks and hairpins. If you are riding a burro, it probably is shorter and fatser than going around on the paved road...

    We stopped to see El Tule on the way back to Oaxaca.


    El Tule is considered the oldest known living tree, estimated to be at least 2000 years old:
    [​IMG]



    Not only the bikes needed a wash after our off-road adventure:
    [​IMG]


    Unfortunately, it was time to move on, we left Adalberto and his family, glad we made these great new friends and a little sad we had to part ways so quickly. I am sure we will see them again.

    Gustavo
    #13
  14. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
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    2,487
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    We made our way to <st1:city><st1:place>Cuernavaca</st1:place></st1:city>, to visit other friends. Cuernavaca is known as a resort town for the <st1:city><st1:place>Mexico City</st1:place></st1:city> rich and famous, as the weather there is described as an eternal spring. Sure enough, there were all sort of flowers in bloom late in December, most annoying of all was this one called Morning Glory (the blue, non invasive type). It's a plant Lizbeth has been nursing in our <st1:state><st1:place>Oregon</st1:place></st1:state> climate, and she gets very excited when it blooms. It was growing wild, and blooming, by the side of the road all over the <st1:city><st1:place>Cuernavaca</st1:place></st1:city> area...


    Cortes´ palace in Cuernavaca:
    [​IMG]



    Hanging out in the Tepoztlan plaza:
    [​IMG]



    Mexican police doesn´t take chances. When you get a ticket, they remove your plate. If you want it back, you better pay the fine:
    [​IMG]


    Street market in Tepoztlan:
    [​IMG]



    From <st1:city><st1:place>Cuernavaca</st1:place></st1:city> we took a day trip to visit <st1:city><st1:place>Taxco</st1:place></st1:city>, an old silver mining town that is still very famous for its handmade silver jewelry. It's built into an insanely steep hill, its narrow streets winding up and down like a maze. Unlike many other colonial towns in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>, they have managed to control the growth and it remains very much like you would imagine it looked in colonial town. Well, that plus the never ending streams of VW Bug taxis and combis driving way too fast up and down the steep streets (did I mention the streets are narrow and have no sidewalks?). If you day dream while walking around <st1:city><st1:place>Taxco</st1:place></st1:city>, you are likely to get run over by a taxi.


    Steep Taxco street:
    [​IMG]


    The zocalo in Taxco:
    [​IMG]


    Good thing they put that no parking sign there :lol3:
    [​IMG]


    Taxco street:
    [​IMG]


    Funky buildings:
    [​IMG]


    Many of Taxco´s streets require 3 point turns, even for small cars:
    [​IMG]


    Taxco from Cafe La Terreza:
    [​IMG]



    Gustavo
    #14
  15. GSPD750

    GSPD750 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,541
    Location:
    Calgary, AB
    Great report. Thanks for sharing.

    :clap
    #15
  16. VHRAM

    VHRAM Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2005
    Oddometer:
    178
    Location:
    ventura county,ca
    :clap :lurk enjoyed the post:clap
    #16
  17. carcher2k

    carcher2k usually in a ditch...

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2005
    Oddometer:
    196
    Location:
    Swindon, UK
    :clap what a fantastic trip. looks an absolute blast

    thanks for sharing
    #17
  18. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2004
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    2,487
    Location:
    Sometimes in Hillsburrito
    Our next target after leaving <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 /><st1:city><st1:place>Cuernavaca</st1:place></st1:city> was making it to Toluca/Metepec early enough to pull into the Toluca Suzuki shop and have the front sprocket replaced. It's a short distance, but it's all either mountain roads or small libre roads that go through many, many, many little towns. The initial climb out of <st1:city><st1:place>Cuernavaca</st1:place></st1:city>, going through the Lagunas de Zampoala national park is a nice start to the day, climbing through forested areas and getting short glimpses of some lakes nestled between the mountains. The road conditions varied greatly (typical for <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>), and there were some sections under construction which made for slow progress.

    Once out of the mountains, the landscape flattens and you start rolling through small towns, their respective agricultural areas and mandatory topes every 5 meters. There is quite a bit of traffic here, as the center of <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> is densely populated. Lizbeth kept complaining that in the 70's the government had much more progressive (and aggressive) family planning campaigns that helped keep population growth at more reasonable levels, and now those programs no longer exist, if anything, the opposite is true, with church leaders vocally opposing any attempts to create programs that encourage smaller families.

    Despite the traffic we made it to Metepec (and then <st1:city><st1:place>Toluca</st1:place></st1:city>) right around <st1:time hour="12" minute="0">noon</st1:time>, just in time to find Roberto and show him the small counter shaft sprocket. Sure enough, it was a smaller sprocket (I hadn't actually seen it, it's a pain to remove the cover and clutch slave cylinder without a full tool kit, but I was sure it was because of the way the bike ran), so he went off to source one (you didn't actually think that he'd have one in stock, did you? :rofl) and I waited, trying all sort of scooters and small "work" bikes on for size while I did. A couple of hours later, the sprocket was installed, everything back together and I was ready to continue our trip.

    We wanted to go visit Myrna and Juan in <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city>. There are several route options, but it's a significant distance, and like other parts of central Mexico, it's highly populated, so taking the libre roads makes for a very long day of riding (or two day trip if you do not want to travel at night with a very convenient stop over in Morelia, which would have been very interesting to visit), but we decided we wanted to get to Guadalajara in a single day, and preferably early in the day. So I plotted a course using toll roads and we left Metepec with that as a plan. Of course, we had to cross <st1:city><st1:place>Toluca</st1:place></st1:city> first, and the exit towards the highway to <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> (and other destinations north of <st1:city><st1:place>Toluca</st1:place></st1:city>) was under construction. This made a real chaos, as the heavy traffic that uses this route to get out of <st1:city><st1:place>Mexico City</st1:place></st1:city> was diverted to several side streets trying to get around the construction area. Luckily, we were on a bike, so long lines of cars and trucks didn't slow us much, and we lanesplit our way to the front of every traffic light until we got to the highway. It still took us 40 minutes to get to the highway, something I am guessing would be less than 20 under normal conditions. No idea how long it took those who had to wait for all the busses and trucks to make those tight turns on the side streets.

    In order to avoid the <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> adventure, where I ran out of gas, I made sure I had a full tank before getting on what I thought was a highway. It was a toll road, but it was only one lane in each direction, the only advantages over the libre road was not going through every little town along the way (did I mention central <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> is a crowded place?) and the pavement quality was as good as it gets. In a car, this could have been a slow road, on a bike, we hardly had to slow down before a passing opportunity arose. After about an hour of this, we got to the "real" highway (as in 2-3 lanes in each direction) and soon I was relegated to the right lane, as traffic was going by us at 150 and 160 KM/H. As in past trips, the highways leading to Guadalajara turned out to be the only ones with regular (and real, as opposed to a cop sleeping in his car that is parked by the highway) speed traps. They were actually using the some sort of radar device and pulling cars over. Luckily, the fine honed speed trap detection skills one develops in the <st1:country-region><st1:place>US</st1:place></st1:country-region> still worked after weeks of being dormant, and I immediately recognized the two parked police cars for what they were. Rolling off the throttle was enough to divert any attention from us to other traffic on the highway, and we didn't have to find out how high speeding fines in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> are.

    After miles and miles of not seeing a gas station on the highway, I started to think that maybe the highway to <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state> was not that unique. Except this time, when I saw a gas station sign next to a toll plaza, I knew I had to be in the right tollbooth lane so I can pull off the highway at the exit immediately after it and go to the gas station. If you are not in the right lane, you can't use the exit and have to continue down the highway.

    We made it to <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> in good time, Juan's directions were very good, and we found their place without a problem. <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> is the second largest city in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and as you may expect, it's a large, prosperous town. The old historical center of the city is well kept (and still used as the seat of government) and is still a major business center. I am not sure if this was due to it being the days just before the New Year, but it was full of people out strolling, eating and, of course, shopping everywhere you went.


    Horse drawn carriages are popular downtown Guadalajara:
    [​IMG]


    Hospicio Cabañas:
    [​IMG]



    <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> is strategically located next to several attraction, for Lizbeth, one of the major ones is Tonala, a town that has a street market twice a week where you can find never ending rows of stalls selling mostly house wares. One of the local specialties is ceramics - you can find everything from simple tiles to hand painted decor. Good thing we came on a bike... :evil

    The other visit we made was to Tequila, home to the original beverage by the same name. There are numerous distilleries in town, but one of the better tours is at Jose Cuervo. Not being big tequila fans, it was a very educational tour, you get to see the whole process, converting a piña to 110 proof tequila (we got a small sample of that, man, does this thing clear your sinuses :freaky) and later to something a bit less strong (everything is relative... :evil) that most people can actually drink. We also happened to be in town when a wedding ceremony was ending in the main church, they had mariachi playing for the guests as the exited to the town's main plaza, and it was a very festive atmosphere.


    Mariachis in Tequila:
    [​IMG]


    They don´t serve in smaller bottles in Tequila:
    [​IMG]


    Piñas in an old carriage:
    [​IMG]


    Old cars in the Jose Cuervo factory, said to have been the originals used to transport Jose Cuervo barrels:
    [​IMG]



    Stocking piñas into the ovens for cooking:
    [​IMG]


    Future Tequila :1drink:
    [​IMG]



    Agave harvester statute in the Cuervo factory:
    [​IMG]


    Plaza Hidalgo, Tequila:
    [​IMG]


    Gustavo
    #18
  19. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,487
    Location:
    Sometimes in Hillsburrito
    We had an invitation from Jose Luis (another of my Motoaventuras friends) to spend New Year’s with him and his family in <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>. He extended this invitation to all the subscribers of that list. We knew that at least 4 of us would show up. Lizbeth decided she needed more time in <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> with Myrna, and then wanted to spend some more time at home, so she sent me on my way and was planning on returning to <st1:state><st1:place>Chihuahua</st1:place></st1:state> by bus.

    Technically, there is really only one road option between <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> and <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, you have a choice of toll highway or libre back road (passes through Tequila), but on the map, there do not seem to be other options. I remembered Jose Luis posting about a trip he took to a town called Mascota in the mountains between <st1:city><st1:place>Guadalajara</st1:place></st1:city> and PV, he said parts of the road aren't paved, and it seemed to coincide with what my Guia Roji maps said. So I decided that a good Por la Libre trip requires me to explore this option to get to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>. It didn't start out very promising. The road to Ameca was very busy and mostly flat. There is a Coca Cola bottling plant in Ameca, and there was a lot of truck traffic, plus, some road construction (going from two lanes to four) didn't help. But, as soon as I passed Ameca the road started climbing into the mountains towards Mascota and the fun began. I am not sure if the road was that good or I had been really bored in the previous couple of hours, but I really enjoyed the stretch to Mascota. Mascota is a sleepy town (well, at least on December 31st) with cobble stone streets in a deep valley. It would seem the major economic activity here is agriculture. There is an old church that has seen better days, but makes for a nice visit on the west end, before you leave town. That was the only time I stopped to take pictures on this leg. I was too busy enjoying the ride the rest of the time.


    Old mission in Mascota:
    [​IMG]



    The road out of Mascota was gorgeous, but this area gets heavy rains, and it seems to suffer from some very serious mud slides when it rains. Many sections of the road had been washed away or were covered with dirt from the slides. There is a section that used to have a bridge that was completely washed away, so you take a very steep one lane (controlled access, surprisingly but luckily, it’s not wide enough for two cars to go side by side) detour down to a river, do a river crossing (through roughly 30 cm or 1 ft this time of the year, but I have heard about it being too deep to cross even in tall pickup trucks) of running water and then climb steeply on the other bank to re-join the road. The road was even better on the other side of the river, but it too suffered from many slides. I named this road the best road in worst condition I had ever ridden. Just when you start feeling comfortable and picking up some speed a corner comes up with sand/dirt/ rocks/no pavement to keep you on your toes. I had a blast. I made good time to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, and got to Jose Luis' house just in time to have an excellent late lunch Noel had prepared. When I got to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, Noel and Johan were already there, but Ruben (aka El Guerro) wasn't there yet. He was still on his way from <st1:place>Cancun</st1:place>, getting a late start to an already extremely optimistic riding plan. This set in motion the events that would lead to a completely different adventure than I had planned. More on that later.


    Pickup conversion in Puerto Vallarta:
    [​IMG]



    Noel and Johan enjoying Noel's excellent fish recipe:
    [​IMG]



    Where did we get to? I was in <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, eating this great fish Noel had prepared and we were waiting for Ruben to show up. Around <st1:time minute="0" hour="14">2 PM</st1:time> he calls - he is in <st1:city><st1:place>Coatzacoalcos</st1:place></st1:city> :eek1, that is in the far eastern regions of <st1:state><st1:place>Veracruz</st1:place></st1:state>, and about 1500 kms (~930 miles) from <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>. Oh yes, he still has to cross <st1:city><st1:place>Mexico City</st1:place></st1:city> if he takes the shorter route, or loop around it, adding distance if he doesn't. The good part is that it's December 31st, and commercial traffic should be light to none. We tell him to take it easy, to stop when he gets tired, not to try to push to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city> that night.

    We had a traditional <st1:time minute="0" hour="0">midnight</st1:time> New Year's dinner, watched the fire works in town (from Jose Luis's house). No signs or phone calls from Ruben yet.

    Celebrating New Years with the MotoAventuras crew in Puerto Vallarta (with Tequia, of course :freaky):
    [​IMG]



    The plan for New Year's day was for Jose Luis to show us this beach he says they go to every year, where a lot of the bikers in <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city> meet. He said it was 40 kms south of <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>. He said there was a dirt road to the beach, what he didn't say was it was another 40 kms of dirt road, not always in the best condition, from the main road to the beach. It had not rained in a while, so it was very dusty (well, probably better than being muddy). I kept my distance from whoever was in front of me at the moment, so I could see where I was going. On a couple of occasions, I met an oncoming car that was traveling at a good clip using the whole road to make a turn, one in particular was very close, literally. We passed through a couple of small villages (I had to wonder what do these people do for a living, this was literally in the middle of nowhere) that we used to stop and allow the ladies to catch up in the Jeep.


    On the way to the beach with Noel:
    [​IMG]



    We finally made it to the beach, and it was certainly worth it. It was a small cove outside Bahia Banderas (where <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city> is located), seemed like a small fishing village, a few houses, some small restaurants on the beach, and that's about it. This was a beach that you don't get to by mistake, no tourons, only locals, and not many of them either.


    We finally made it to the beach:
    [​IMG]


    Tehuamixtle Bay:
    [​IMG]



    Tehuamixtle:
    [​IMG]



    Just like Jose Luis said, there were many bikes by the beach, most of them enduro type, as off-roading seems to be more popular than street riding around here. Several dad, mom and kids riding groups, so a real family outing on New Year's day. The restaurant was a bit disappointing, their service was painfully slow. At around <st1:time minute="0" hour="15">3 PM</st1:time> we started to leave (big group, takes a while).


    Johan and Noel waiting for lunch, and waiting and waiting... :freaky:
    [​IMG]



    We were no more than 3 kms from the beach when I spot Jose Luis parked next to another R12GS up ahead. It was Ruben who was just making his way to the beach when he ran into Jose Luis leaving. When they stopped to chat, Jose Luis notices something leaking out of Ruben's engine. It's a black liquid. He tells him to stop the engine, Ruben does, and the rest of his engine's oil is dumped on the ground...


    Rubens R12GS had a close encounter with bump. It broke the skip plate mount and draining the sump:
    [​IMG]



    Noel worshiping the dirt god - el guerro Valdez :rofl:
    [​IMG]



    Turns out that in Ruben's rush to meet us at the beach, he was going a bit too fast and bottomed his GS' "skid plate" on something. Instead of shearing a bolt, the bolt snapped the rear mount, which is part of the oil sump, and he had been losing his oil over the last 3 kms. OK, so we are about 40 kms from the main road (but Tuito is hardly a place to find a solution for this, just easier to pick up the bike later), we have 300 kg worth of bike and gear to take back to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>. Ruben has not eaten since breakfast, so we send him (on Noel's GS) with Johan back to the beach to get something to eat and drink.

    While Johan and Ruben are gone, we find some guys in a Nissan truck that are willing to help us take the bike to Tuito. We have no ramp. Between 4 of us, we lift the beast up on the (very) short bed of the truck, secure it and send them on their way.


    These guys helped us get the bike back to civilization. It took 4 of us to lift the beast:
    [​IMG]



    I offered Noel to give him a ride back to town, so that we wouldn't have to wait for the other two to come back and then start the longish and slow two-up ride on the dirt road. It's getting dark quickly too. Noel was brave (foolish? :evil) enough to accept the ride, so we left, catching up to the Nissan quickly. It was good to see that these guys were taking it easy with this load in the back, but it also meant we'd have to wait for a while until they got to town. After we passed "our" truck, we caught up with a few more trucks, but it had gotten dark already, so I wasn't sure I could find a safe place to pass (with Noel on the back, I was also worried about clearance) so I fell back and waited for an opportunity. We ate a lot of dust in the process. When we got to Tuito, Noel mentioned how impressed he was with the V-Strom’s suspension, that he thought it handled the dirt road better than his GS. I was very surprised to hear this, as I generally think the GS has better suspension, especially for off-road riding. Jose Luis (or el doc as he is referred to, he is an MD) knows a lot of people in <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, he knew someone in Tuito that would store the GS in secure place until the next day. I was very impressed that it took no more than 10 minutes to find someone to store the bike.


    It took a while to drive that truck on the dirt road. We had to wait for quite a while:
    [​IMG]



    I gave Ruben a ride back to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, he was dully impressed with the V-Strom too. Needless to say, after that off-road adventure, both the bike and I needed a bath when we returned to <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city>, the rims and my 'Stitch were almost the same color.


    Gustavo
    #19
  20. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,487
    Location:
    Sometimes in Hillsburrito
    I left <st1:time minute="30" hour="8"></st1:time>Puerto Vallarta heading north through San Blas towards <st1:city><st1:place>Mazatlan</st1:place></st1:city>. Just before <st1:city><st1:place>Mazatlan</st1:place></st1:city>, you take the road to <st1:state><st1:place>Durango</st1:place></st1:state>, and this brings you to one of the finest roads I have ever ridden. The road between <st1:city><st1:place>Puerto Vallarta</st1:place></st1:city> through San Blas until is not bad, but I guess many people were returning from the holiday weekend, so traffic was heavier than I have ever seen on this section. The views of the ocean and mountains, when you get close to San Blas are fantastic. I took the libre section north of <st1:city><st1:place>Tepic</st1:place></st1:city>, and it didn't disappoint, much more fun than the highway. I got to Villa Union around 12:30, fueled the beast (those passes on long lines of cars showed up at the pump), and got back the road. El Espinazo del Diablo has an almost mythical reputation, both in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region> and among many riders that have been there. Most car drivers are afraid of it, in the olden days, loosing your brakes going down El Espinazo was common, it led to accidents with on coming traffic. I doubt this would be an issue in a modern car (unless you are a totally incompetent driver), but the folklore is stronger than facts.

    How good a motorcycle road is it? Let me put it this way, it took me 3 hours to do the first 200 kms (120 miles). This is for sure one of the best motorcycle roads I have ever been on. Not the best, because it has a lot of traffic (for a good moto road) and that traffic includes wild semi drivers that use the whole road to negotiate turns much faster than they should. I knew this was an issue, but I almost became a hood ornament on a semi twice, despite being cautious. I was setting up for a tight left hander, on the far right side of the lane, looking for my late apex when a big white semi comes around the corner, cab all the way in my lane. I moved all the way to the right, basically riding the fog line (no shoulder to speak off), and changed my line to a very late apex. I felt him go by, even though the speeds were relatively low, he went by pretty close. So just when I think time to make this bike turn, his buddy in an identical truck appears on the same wide line (they were running very close together). Damn, that was a long moment. :eek1


    The road from Mazatlan to Durango. If you squint, you can barely make the
    road on the far ridge:
    [​IMG]



    Despite the traffic, and the need to be cautious, it was a fantastic ride. I stopped only twice to take pictures. Once, I got stuck behind a police pickup truck. I figured passing them on a double yellow between curves would not be the best way to make friends, so I spotted a place to park (there aren't many, and those that exist, are typically not in the good sections) and took a break. The second was to take the obligatory picture of the sign that reads: Espinazo del Diablo. It's like riding a combination of all the good roads in the PNWet I know put together without connecting straights (or at least very short ones on occasion, so few that you can't remember them).


    Going up El Espinazo del Diablo:
    [​IMG]


    El Espinazo del Diablo:
    [​IMG]


    By the time I got to the high plains I was really tired. It's like riding 3 hours straight on the track. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. I decided to call it a day in <st1:state><st1:place>Durango</st1:place></st1:state> despite the fact that it was only <st1:time minute="30" hour="17">5:30</st1:time>, I figured riding tired at dusk on these roads isn't good for my health or life expectancy.

    I found a nice hotel a block away from the zocalo. They didn't have parking, but the bell boy assured me that parking on the sidewalk is safe. <st1:state><st1:place>Durango</st1:place></st1:state> was a bit disappointing, there wasn't that much to do downtown. It's certainly cowboy country, hats, boots, blue jeans and big belt buckles seem to be very popular, and many of these guys are indeed cowboys, you can see them herding cattle as you drive the backroads of <st1:state><st1:place>Durango</st1:place></st1:state>. The next day I wanted to get an early start, but as soon as I walked out I got reminded that I am back in the high desert. It was a bright clear morning, the sun was shining, but it couldn't have been more than 4 deg C (38F) at <st1:time minute="0" hour="8">8 AM</st1:time>. I took my time, but at <st1:time minute="30" hour="8">8:30</st1:time> I was ready to leave, so I made my way out of a sleepy <st1:state><st1:place>Durango</st1:place></st1:state>. There was little traffic on any of the city streets, and little traffic on the road to Parral too. I stopped for gas an hour later, and I was still cold. Only around <st1:time minute="0" hour="10">10 AM</st1:time> I started to feel the sun was really out there. The road got more interesting as it snaked north, but I wasn't getting into it. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong, but I wasn't comfortable picking up the pace, despite the low traffic. Then I saw a pickup coming in the other direction and it hit me, this road is really narrow, much more so than a normal road, the lizard brain was in self preservation mode... Once you cross into <st1:state><st1:place>Chihuahua</st1:place></st1:state>, the roads show a significant improvement. They are back to being normal width, are well paved and marked, a nice change. I made it to <st1:state><st1:place>Chihuahua</st1:place></st1:state> much earlier than expected. So much so that there was nobody home to let me in. There is a saying in Spanish: No por mucho madrugar amanece mas temprano. :scratch Look it up. :lol3


    Gustavo
    #20