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Ride Report: A Solo Adventure Ride Through Mexico and Guatemala

Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
133
Location
Fort Worth, TX
Ride Report: A Solo Adventure Ride Through Mexico and Guatemala

After lugging the ever-voluptuous C-14 through the Sierra Madre Oriental in 2015, it was quite obvious that there was even more fun to be had with a bike that was better suited to the inconsistent and sometimes challenging road conditions that are encountered throughout Mexico, so I decided to add another bike to the stable, specifically one that was prepped for some adventure touring. I’ve had my eyes on a DR650 for quite some time, so after a bit of an obsessive search, I finally found the right horse that was largely already set up the way I wanted it to be. A few minor adjustments and a shakedown ride to Big Bend later, and the new girl was ready for a big adventure.

The Plan

My goal was to ride along Mexico’s Pacific coast and Sierra Madre Occidental into Guatemala, then head northeast into Belize, before crossing back into Mexico, exploring the Yucatan peninsula, and finally riding along the Gulf coast and Sierra Madre Oriental back into Texas. I had up to five weeks to complete the journey before I was expected to be at work again, which seemed reasonable enough for what I estimated would end up being around 7k miles in total.

But solo? Why would you go solo?

This was mostly due to practical reasons: not many people are able to take off from work for a period of five weeks, and even fewer are willing and able to spend that time scratching around Spanish North and Central America. As usual, I received a number of ‘maybes’ and ‘hopefullys,’ but ultimately ended up planning this as another solo adventure. There are actually a few advantages to riding solo: you are free to alter your itinerary on a whim, and you never have to worry about getting anyone else in trouble. Also, there is no one there to tell you that something isn't a good idea, but let's not get ourselves caught up in details...


Day 1: Fort Worth, TX → Eagle Pass, TX (427 miles): And so it begins…

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The one part of these trips that does require a bit of courage is pulling out of your driveway on the first day. Do I have all of my documents? Did I leave anything important behind? After a few miles, you begin to settle into your groove and stop thinking about any items that you may have forgotten. That part was made easier for me by choosing the scenic route to the border: I took I-20 W to US-377 S to Brody, and then US-190 to Menard, and then US-83 to Uvalde. From there, I took FM 481 S to US-57 into Eagle Pass. I also learned that I had overestimated my fuel range by a few miles when I almost ran out of gas near Leakey, but was able to make it to the next gas station on mere fumes.

I spent the night in Eagle Pass, and stayed with a couchsurfing host named Paco who lived just a few blocks from the border. Paco, a realtor and Eagle Pass native, was both a fellow rider and an adventurer, and we immediately became friends. For dinner we crossed over to Mexico into Piedras Negras, and met up with one of Paco’s friends, who showed up on a 1200GS. After some great food, a few beers, and a lot of good stories being exchanged, Paco and I crossed back over to the U.S. side and called it a day.

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Ready to leave the driveway on day 1. This is the only part of a trip like this that actually requires courage.


Day 2: Eagle Pass, TX → Saltillo, Coahuila (271 miles): The Crossing

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The border crossing was uneventful. I crossed around 8:30am and reached the immigration office on Mex-57 at Allende about 30 minutes later. It took only about 25 minutes to get the temporary vehicle import permit (TVIP) and the tourist card. I stopped for lunch at a small comedor in Monclova, before continuing down Mex-57 S all the way into Saltillo.

In Saltillo I was being hosted by another couchsurfing host: Danny, who lived in the northern part of town and was also a motorcyclist and promoter, working for a well-known dog food brand. When I told Danny about my preference for tacos de lengua (tongue tacos), he immediately did some recon and found us an excellent little taco shop that had the best tacos de lengua in Saltillo. We had a very nice and relaxing evening in Saltillo, and Danny gave me lots of ideas and suggestions for my travels.

Quote of the night, said in a voice of despair: “Man, I don’t know why I like chubby girls.” This may or may not have caused me to have beer come out of my nose.

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Ready to cross into Mexico. I don't know why this always triggers the melody of "Tequila" by The Champs to start playing in my head, but I'm not fighting it!

[ame=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H6amDbAwlY]Warning: This may not leave your ear for days.[/ame]

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The Aduana at Allende. Time to get the TVIP and tourist card.

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Mex-57 South toward Saltillo, having just passed Monclova and the Sierra de la Gloria.

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My couchsurfing host stayed in an apartment in the northern part of town. The DR was locked and covered for the night, just to err on the side of caution.


Day 3: Saltillo, Coahuila → Torreón, Coahuila (159 miles): The Accident in the Desert

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The third day was about to deliver the first bit of real adventure on this trip, if only in a form that unexpected. My destination for that day was the city of Durango, a 5.5-hour ride through the desert on the Mex-40D Quota (toll road). About 90 minutes into the ride, everything was going nice and easy, and I was passing a part of the highway, at which a local highway (COAH 102) branches off to go south toward the town of Parras de la Fuente. I was continuing straight, and there were very few vehicles on the highway at the time. The intersection also had a Pemex gas station on the right hand side of the highway, and there were a couple of 18-wheelers parked parallel to the highway, blocking off much of the access to the gas station.

As I approached that intersection, I noticed the front end of a silver pickup truck protruding from between the two 18-wheelers. One of the two 18-wheelers was blocking the view of the pickup truck, so I slowed down as I watched the truck slowly inching its way onto the highway. Being positioned in the left lane, I had a sufficient amount of space, and I would enter its field of view long before it would come close. The pickup truck continued to slowly roll onto the highway, while remaining perfectly perpendicular to the direction of travel. It isn’t unusual for a car to pull out as you are passing it, so I thought little of it and expected the truck to time its emergence appropriately.

However, the truck continued to roll onto the highway a bit too quickly, even after the driver was able to see me. I began to shave off some speed, which eventually turned into full-on threshold breaking once it became evident that a collision was unavoidable. I kept on hoping that the driver would either stop the truck or gas it at the last second, allowing me to get off the brakes and steer around it, but no such luck. Fortunately, I was able to shave off the majority of the speed before the impact, but I still slammed right into the driver’s side door. As I made impact, the bike folded to the right and we both bounced off and back onto the pavement, where I did my best impersonation of a tope (speed bump). Son of a bi$@%&! My first thought was that my bike was going to be in pieces, and that this trip was going to be over on just the third day. My next thought was that my right hand and my ribs hurt like a son of a gun, and that there might be more to this accident than whatever damage there was to the bike.

Much to my surprise, the DR actually did fairly well, with cosmetic damage to the tank, grip, and hand guard. However, the big question mark was about the forks. Based on a quick self-assessment, I was fairly confident that the fingers on my right hand were only sprained, although the pain in my ribs was remarkably familiar from back when I used to occasionally crack a rib during martial arts training. Knowing that there wasn’t much that could be done for either of those two injuries, I decided to refuse medical assistance for the time being.

I asked the other party—an elderly couple from Mazatlán who were on their way to visit their sons in Chicago—to call the police, so that we could go through the proper channels. The municipal police showed up within a few minutes, and much to my delight, they immediately interviewed both parties and took detailed pictures of the accident site and both vehicles. After about 30 minutes of what appeared to be a reasonably thorough investigation, they informed us that since the accident occurred on a federal highway (Mex-40D), they had no jurisdiction, and that they would inform the Policía Federal, who would be responsible for this investigating this case. I can only assume that they were so bored that they initially decided to overlook the obvious and sought to kill some time.

The local office of the Policía Federal was only about 200m away, well within view from where we were standing. Nonetheless, after two hours of waiting, they had yet to show up. At that point, the driver—who had since apologized to me for his mistake—walked over to the office to see if he could motivate them to come out. Apparently they told him that they had no interest in coming out, and if they did, then they would start by impounding both vehicles until the matter was settled. I suppose this was their way of saying, if you force us to come out of the air conditioning, then we are going to be pissed! After telling me about their response, the elderly man launched into a tirade about the Federales in English, which was pretty funny in itself.

Without any official police involvement, the matter was now left up to the insurance companies, who had been notified and were both sending their adjusters to the accident scene. This meant two more hours of waiting time until the adjusters from both insurance companies arrived. At this point I was very glad that I had purchased full coverage for Mexico, so even in the event that the other party was to pull a fast one on me, I was covered. Fortunately for me, the other party was very honest about what happened, and officially accepted the liability for this accident. Since my bike was still rideable, I opted for getting the damages repaired upon my return to the U.S., and was finally able to move on with my trip. We completed the paperwork, and after over four hours of waiting in the desert heat, I was finally on my way.

My goal for the day had been to reach Durango, but that was still 240 additional miles through the desert, without knowing the exact damages that the bike had sustained in the accident. Instead, I decided to limp the bike to Torreón, which was only about 80 miles away from the accident site. I arrived there during the heat of the day, and found that the hotel that I had in my notes no longer existed. Exhausted and in pain, I decided to stay at the nearest place that my GPS would suggest. This happened to be an auto motel—a type of hourly (“romantic”) hotel that is big on privacy and low on price, and is quite common in most Mexican towns—but I was too tired to care. The lady in charge was a bit confused with my desire to spend the entire night there (by myself, no less), but finally quoted me a price of 300 pesos (approx. $16) for the night.

I ended the day on a positive note, by hanging out with Paula, another couchsurfer and a local dentist. Paula was a friend of Danny, and was nice enough to show me around Torreón that evening. This was also when I realized that I had not memorized the name of my hotel, so it took a bit (ok, a lot) of time and a very annoyed taxi driver to find it again. The rest of that night was uneventful, with the exception of the unsolicited midnight concert that was being broadcasted from the various sections of the hotel complex...

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Heading into the desert west of Saltillo.

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Within a few minutes after the accident, the municipal police was on the scene and actively investigating. You can see the dent in the driver's side door of the Toyota Tundra. If you look closely, you can even see my hand imprinted. Ok, just kidding on the last part.

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This was the site of the accident. I wanted to go straight, and the truck came out of the gas station, trying to cross the highway get to the exit to Parras. At the time, there were 18-wheelers parked a bit further behind of where they are positioned in this picture. The truck came out between two 18-wheelers onto the highway.

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Finally on the road again after over four hours of dealing with the accident in the desert heat. This picture was taken about 23 miles SE of the town of San Pedro.

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Auto motels have "private driveways," in this case with curtains that can be closed behind the car.

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I tried not think of what kind of life this bed has lived.

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A pink & white bathroom. Because nothing screams romance quite like this. Or something.

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The sign on the door offered everything from drinks to shampoo. The sign on the left offers help to victims of extortion.

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Enchiladas verdes for dinner.


Day 4: Torreón, Coahuila → Victoria de Durango, Durango (164 miles)

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After rolling out of bed and feeling like I had been run over by a truck, I did a relatively thorough mechanical check of the bike. The forks were moving freely, so even if they were a bit tweaked, it was possible to continue the trip. The rest of the damage was largely cosmetical, although the gear shifter had taken a bit of a beating and had to be rigged back into place. I actually felt good about being able to move on toward Durango, and took Mex-40 southwest through the desert.

I did a quick lunch stop near Los Cuatillos, and reached Victoria de Durango by the early afternoon. This city of roughly 500,000 people sits at an elevation of 1,880 m (6,168 ft), causing the bike to show the first signs of altitude sickness as the carburetors were starving for oxygen. This started a routine of adjusting the idle, which basically continued on a daily basis throughout the trip. Eventually I became so used to adjusting the idle that I would often do it while sitting at a traffic light.

I stayed at Hotel Paso Real for the proud sum of 270 pesos (approx. $14.40), which got me a decent room with a moldy shower, a non-working fan, and secure parking in the back of the hotel. The town itself seemed lively, and I spent the rest of the day exploring it on foot.

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Early that morning, I went through the bike to assess the damage from the accident. The DR had come out surprisingly well.

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What you call overloaded, others call efficient. Photographed near Cuencamé, Durango.

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No frills, but at least there was no midnight concert involved here.

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Some of the Mexican Walmarts sell small-displacement motorcycles. Cost: 15-17,000 pesos (around $729-826 dollars).

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A small concert was taking place at the main plaza.

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Durango's cathedral, Catedral Basílica de Durango.

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Another church, Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus.

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This place was practically next to my hotel, so it was perfect for dinner.

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My favorite dish for dinner: enchiladas verdes.

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Dinner is never complete without dessert, just like a plaza is never complete without an ice cream shop. I tried the tequila ice cream, but that concept didn't really work for me.


Day 5: Victoria de Durango, Durango → Concordia, Sinaloa (200 miles)

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I was excited to leave Durango the next morning, because this would mark my crossing the Sierra Madre into Sinaloa, and, hopefully, seeing the Pacific ocean in Mazatlán by that end of the day. The way to coast offered two strongly contrasting routes: you could take the brand new tollway (Mex-40D) through 60 mountain tunnels and many brides, including Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge, the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world at a total length of 1,124 m (3,688 ft), and sitting at 403 m (1,322 ft) above the valley below. The second option is to take the old highway (Mex-40), which beautifully snakes its way through the Sierra Madre, but is also notorious for being hazardous and time-consuming.

The decision was easy: I was going to do both. This required some careful time management, so I decided to take the toll road until near the town of El Salto, then switch to the old highway to ride around the area of Parque Natural Mexiquillo, a place that is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, and finally continue until I was in Sinaloa, at which point I could backtrack to see the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge.

The new highway was exactly as one would expect: mostly flawless pavement and Texas-style straight road as far as the eye could see. This allowed me to make good time and it was easy to find the branching point to cross over to the old highway near El Salto. The old highway instantly won my heart over, as the scenery was breathtaking and the riding through the Sierra Madre was nothing short of spectacular. The pavement quality was mostly good enough to have fun on, and the view was intoxicating. It didn’t take long for the effects of the new highway to become obvious, as there were very few vehicles on old road, and many vendor stands and shops that had been abandoned. I spent several hours of carving through the mountains, and only encountered about a handful of other vehicles.

At some point I stopped in a village to get some gasoline, when suddenly the serenity was interrupted by the sound of about half a dozen ATVs and side-by-sides that came screaming up a nearby dirt road filled the air. They aimed straight for the gas station, and quickly inundated the place from every angle. The first thing that struck me as odd was the fact that these were all super high-end vehicles, and most of them looked like they had just rolled off a showroom floor yesterday. The guys riding them were mostly young and all of them were in full gear, with a few wearing ski masks. I glanced at the gas station attendant, who was pumping my gas, but her look was stern and she refused to look up. The entire situation was bizarre and unexpected, and made my inner alarm bells go off. A couple of them pulled around the gas pump to the side that I was on, and seemed surprised by my presence (I think being on the far side of the gas pump had initially concealed me). They looked at my bike and me, and I, not knowing what else to do, gave them a friendly nod. A couple of them nodded back at me, then they all roared back down the same dirt road that they had come from.

I’m not the type of person that is easily spooked or quickly jumps to conclusions, and while there are people who ride ATVs in these mountains, this group created a set of dynamics that were both unnerving and unpredictable, and I was glad to get out of there. Every Mexican national that I’ve ever told of that encounter was convinced that they were narcos, since the area is known for its narcotics activity. Whoever they may have been, they did have some good taste in offroad equipment.

When I finally reached the tollway again, I was already in Sinaloa. I backtracked until I reached the famous Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge, and stopped there to take a break and eat some snacks at one of the food stands. When I finally arrived in Concordia, I was exhausted from the long ride in the heat. Concordia is a small town of about 8,000 people, and is located about 30 miles East of Mazatlán. After a bit of searching, I found the house of my couchsurfing host Eduardo near the town center. He is a young guy who builds electric guitars for a living, and enjoys meeting travelers from all over.

We decided to spend the evening in Mazatlán, and took a local bus for the 45-minute journey into the city. Mazatlán is absolutely everything that everyone always claims it is: a beautiful oceanside town of about 440,000 people with a strong colonial history that served as the capital of Sinaloa in the 19th century. We made our way to the beach, and enjoyed some local ceviche while watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. After that, Eduardo decided to show me the nightlife of Mazatlán, and off we went on what essentially amounts to a pub crawl, during which we partied like rockstars. We were having such a good time that we missed the last bus and ended up having to take a taxi all the way back to Concordia, which cost us 500 pesos (approx. $27), and was well worth it.

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The bike is ready to go after spending a night in the "secure parking" area of the hotel, which was essentially a back room.

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This was the type of landscape that was found west of Durango City. Photographed about 12 miles NE of El Tecuan National Park.

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On the old highway, about 1 mile N of the village of Las Adjuntas, Durango, and the Río Presidio.

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The old highway is phenomenal for riding: the pavement is (mostly) great, and the scenery is spectacular. This was about 1 mile W of Los Bancos, Durango.

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Fantastic riding in the mountains near the Durango-Sinaloa border.

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The elevation was now approximately 7,500 ft (2,286 m), and not a soul in sight.

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Not only the bike was feeling the elevation. This was in the middle of the Sierra Madre in Sinaloa.

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The Tropic of Cancer in Sinaloa.

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The town of Potrerillos, Sinaloa.

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Once I was finally back on the new highway, there were lots of tunnels to pass through.

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And, of course, Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge, the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world at a total length of 1,124 m (3,688 ft), and sitting at 403 m (1,322 ft) above the valley below.

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The main plaza in Concordia, a sleepy little nest of about 8,000 people, located 30 miles East of Mazatlán.

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The San Sebastian church in Concordia is about 350 years old, making it the oldest church in all of Sinaloa.

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Finally at the house of my couchsurfing host in Concordia.

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Secure parking. Bedroom parking, even.

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This was a cute little house with the coolest doorways.

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The yard was used to grow Aloe vera, among other things.

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The bathroom was essentially an outhouse, which worked just fine.

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A short bus ride later, and we were hanging out in Mazatlán.

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Mazatlán was dynamic and fun. I could get used to this!

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And yes--the Pacific Ocean!

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We picked a neat spot to enjoy some seafood, drink beers, and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

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I always considered for Costa Rica to have the best ceviche, but Mazatlán was giving the Ticos a run for their money!

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Watching the sunset at Mazatlán. Therapy for the soul!


Day 6: Concordia, Sinaloa → Guadalajara, Jalisco (295 miles)

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I woke up with less of a hangover than I had anticipated, so I was able to get an early start. My goal was to make it at least as far as Tepic in Nayarit, and ideally all the way to Guadalajara. Not being quite at 100%, I opted for the toll road and took Mex-15D into Nayarit and past Tepic (where I was hit by a bird with questionable navigation skills), at which point I figured that I had enough energy in my tank to make it all the way to Guadalajara. I briefly considered stopping at Tequila, but ultimately decided to stay two nights in Guadalajara instead (blasphemous, I know). My couchsurfing host there wasn’t expecting me for another day, so I grabbed a hotel room in the center of town. It was called Hotel Dali Plaza, and was a solid step above the class of hotel that I normally prefer to use on these trips, but at 495 pesos (approx. $26.40) it was still within the scope of my travel budget.

Driving in central Guadalajara wasn’t as bad as you it could have been, but still, it did entail a crash course in lane splitting and creative passing that would end up serving me well later in the trip. Everything essentially boils down to one simple principle—if there is space, take it or someone else will. Note that ‘space’ is a rather loosely defined term, and can mean anything from a part of a lane to a part of the shoulder or even off-road. Regardless, if you’re not using that space, someone else will.

I ate dinner at a restaurant called La Chata de Guadalajara, which turned out to be absolutely amazing. The wait was about 45 minutes (it was a Saturday night), but the food was absolutely incredible and well worth it. Lengua en salsa verde (beef tongue in green sauce) turned out to be one of the best dishes that I’ve ever had in Mexico, and was nicely complimented by some Jose Cuervo 1800. Afterwards, I sampled a few of the bars on my way back to the hotel, but after that crazy night in Mazatlán, Guadalajara actually seemed comparatively tame. Nonetheless, this was a fun Saturday night in the center of town.

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Props to one of the coolest-ever couchsurfing hosts for an epic adventure in Mazatlán!

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The streets of Concordia were even sleepier than usual when I left that morning.

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On Mex-15, about 4 miles S of Ojo de Aqua de Palmillas, getting ready to cross into the state of Nayarit.

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Splurging on a tourist class hotel room. Low on adventure, high on comfort.

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The center of Guadalajara was filled with people and all sorts of activities.

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The cathedral at the Plaza de Armas in Guadalajara. This is by the main square in the historic center of town.

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La Chata de Guadalajara served me one of the best meals of the trip with this beef tongue in green sauce. Delicious!

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Jose Cuervo 1800 and a couple of unidentified chasers for good measure.


Day 7: Guadalajara Centro → Zapopan, Jalisco (6 miles, in-town riding only)

This was my first day off, but I still had to ride across town to reach my couchsurfing host Humberto, who lived in Zapopan, which was northwest of the center of town. Navigating in a metropolitan area is usually the most difficult (not to mention annoying) part of motorcycle travel, and this was no exception. My GPS refused to acknowledge that his address existed, so I was stuck using creative measures to aim for a location that was close to my actual destination. Getting to the right part of town was easy, but finding the actual street was another matter altogether. Eventually everything lined up, and before I knew it, Humberto and I were drinking beers and watching the Copa America on tv. Humberto was one of the most laid-back people that I have ever met, and he pretty much seemed impossible to offend or even get a rise out of. He teaches English classes to Chinese students online, so he gets to work from home and have a flexible schedule.

For dinner, we went to a local taco stand that had some ridiculously good tacos. There were so many choices that I decided to just take one of each. It rained cats and dogs that evening, and I kept hoping that the weather would pass by the next morning, which it fortunately did.

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The author Robert Heinlein once said that one should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast. Like the one I had at a place called La Fonda de San Miguel Arcángel, in Guadalajara.

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My couchsurfing host Humberto lived in Zapopan, which was a bit less scenic than the historic center, but the tacos there were to die for.

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Secure parking in front of Humberto's place.

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I need one of those taco stands on my street as well, please. At each end. And one at work as well.

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These guys may look like regular Mexicans, but they're actually magicians. Those were definitely the best tacos that I've ever had.

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I didn't really know what to order, so I just got one of each, which included sausage, intestine, steak, and a few other things that I do not recall.


Day 8: Zapopan, Jalisco → Pátzcuaro, Michoacán (182 miles)

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The eight day marked an important part of the trip, as this was the beginning of the part when I would travel through the states of Michoacán and Guerrero, which are considered to be high-risk areas. Both of those states have a very rich history and culture, but they have also been marred by periods of unrest and violence. To be honest, I spent a disproportionate amount of time planning that section of the trip by digging through every shred of information that is available on the security situation in those two states. As it turns out, there is an abundance of disparaging information out there about those areas, but a careful analysis shows that much of the violence is restricted to cartel-related issues, and even that is commonly reported through the eyes of fear and sensationalism. There is no doubt that some of those areas can be quite dangerous, but it is also a fact that a combined eight million people live in those two states, and most of them are able to avoid the violence every day. I planned on being one of them by setting a few rules that have always served me well in the past:

1. Never ride at night. I have previously done a significant amount of nighttime travel in rural Mexico by car, and there is no doubt that it increases the associated risk exponentially. Daytime Mexico and nighttime Mexico can be two very different places. A number of Mexican nationals with first-hand knowledge of the situation in those areas also confirmed that the vast majority of the operational end of narco activity occurs at night.
2. Query the locals. Get a consensus from multiple local sources with obvious knowledge of that particular area. In my experience, reliable sources include taxi drivers, truck drivers, and soldiers of the Mexican Army.
3. Use common sense. If I’m in a high-risk area, I’m much more likely to stick to primary roads, and do not feel as tempted to explore random routes that look like they could lead off the beaten path. A lot of those rural areas that do have narco activity have tons of lookouts and informants, so people will know about your presence long before you actually encounter them. If an area looks like it might be a bit too adventurous, I have no qualms about turning around and losing a few hours, rather than shortening my own life expectancy.

So off I went down Mex-15D across River Lerma into Michoacán, and continued on the tollway until near Churintzio, then headed south on Mex-37 until near Carapan, at which point I turned southwest on Mex-15 toward Lago de Pátzcuaro. I stopped in Zacapu for lunch, and just past Comanja the road became deliciously twisty. Unfortunately, the sky opened up shortly thereafter, giving me my first rain ride of the trip in a mountain section, of all places. The ride around the lake (Lago de Pátzcuaro) was incredibly scenic, and I finally arrived exhausted but happy in the town of Pátzcuaro. This place was founded sometime in the 1320s and has since played a major cultural role in Michoacán.

I spent the night in Hotel Pátzcuaro, which was located near the town center, for 395 pesos (approx. $21). The room was tiny but clean, and secure bike parking was available in the lobby. The city has a very colonial look to it, and many of the streets are paved with cobblestone. Throughout my travels I have always noticed that as elevation increases, the local cultures tend to also become increasingly distant, making it more difficult to have genuine interactions with people. Pátzcuaro (elevation 2,140 m [7,020 ft]) was no exception to that rule, and it wasn’t always easy to get people to engage in conversations.

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A quick pre-departure shot with my couchsurfing host Humberto, the chillest dude you will ever meet.

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Entering Michoacán.

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Lunch stop in in Zacapu, Michoacán.

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So, so good. I wanna go back to Zacapu, just to eat at that restaurant again.

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Tzintzuntzán, is a small town (with a cool name) that sits on the northeastern shore of Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán.

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Plaza Vasco de Quiroga is the main plaza in Pátzcuaro, a place that has both a rich culture and a lot of history. Also, you don't see a lot of sportbikes outside of the metropolitan areas, so the red & white R6 was noteworthy.

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The plaza was dedicated to Vasco de Quiroga, a bishop who took over the town at a time when the Spanish were ruling the place with an iron fist. This fountain is honoring that same bishop.

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The Ex monastery of San Agustin.

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Dinner at Restaurant Lupita with a mug of Indio, my brew of choice in Mexico.

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For a good local cuisine, the staff recommended "Pollo Placero," which were essentially Pátzcuaro-style enchiladas, stuffed with cheese and onion, as well as sauteed carrots and potatoes.

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Hotel Pátzcuaro was a decent hotel, located in the center of town.

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Secure lobby parking.


Day 9: Pátzcuaro, Michoacán → Zihuatanejo, Guerrero

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Heading down to Zihuatanejo had been on my mind for a long time, even though it wasn’t part of my original itinerary. The accident in Coahuila had slowed my progress and I had already burned a couple of my “flex days,” but I thought, what the heck—I’m already here. I took Mex-120 South into the mountains. There was a police checkpoint at the northern end of the town of Opopeo, and they took their time thoroughly examining my TVIP documents, which was a first on this trip. Those cops were edgy and grumpy, and I was happy to be on the road again after about 15 minutes of answering questions and showing documents. Mex-120 looks like your typical primary highway on the map, but as soon as you pass Santa Clara del Cobre, it instantly becomes a very desolate mountain road. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and the views of the Sierra Madre were a treat for the senses, but the isolation and sense of vulnerability on those desolate mountain roads—whether real or just perceived—was eerie.

When I got to the southern end of La Huacana, there was a checkpoint where I was signaled to pull over. Traveling in Mexico means passing through lots of checkpoints, including both police and military versions. But this one was different. It was manned by a guy in civilian clothing, his maroon-colored 90s model Nissan Sentra parked off the road, and clutching an AK-47. Going through a police or military checkpoint is one thing, but I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of being questioned by someone without any sort of uniform or official designation. Finally I noticed a patch on his sleeve—Fuerza Rural, one of the autodefensa (self-defense) paramilitary/vigilante groups that were originally created by local civilians in an attempt to fight the cartels. After some initial successes battling the cartels, the situation had quickly became complicated, and several of those groups were ultimately dissolved after evidence emerged that their leaders were themselves involved with the cartels.

The guy asked me who I was and what I was doing there. I was sporting the most disarming demeanor that I could muster, and told him that I was just a traveler passing through the mountains on my way to the coast. He stared at me in disbelief and said that this area was very dangerous, upon which I assured him that I was heading straight for the tollway at the earliest opportunity. At that point, he got on his cell phone and reported to someone on the other end. “Yeah, I got the motorcycle.” Not ‘a motorcycle,’ but ‘the motorcycle.’ That one word sent chills down my spine. He appeared to be receiving instructions, which he acknowledged with an occasional grunt. Almost a bit surprisingly, but much to my delight, he told me to be careful and let me go on.

I was relieved when I finally reached the tollway Mex-37D, which ran straight to the coast. It was already late afternoon when I crossed the Atoyac River, the natural border between Michoacán and Guerrero, eventually reaching Mex-200, which runs right along the coast. The sight of the Pacific Ocean instantly gave me a huge second wind, even though I had to dig out my rain gear for one part of the final stretch.

As I was approaching Zihuatanejo, I couldn’t help but to think of Harry Devert, the 32-year old New York native who was murdered while on his way to ride to the World Cup in Brazil in January 2014. His remains were later found near Zihuatanejo, and a local gang leader was eventually arrested for his murder. Everybody in town and the surrounding area was familiar with the case, and it was rather interesting to hear the various local perspectives. Most of the locals feared the mountains, but Zihuatanejo itself was considered to be relatively safe. The consensus was that Devert’s main mistake was breaking one of the golden rules: he rode at night.

Guerrero is considered to be at least as high-risk as Michoacán, so I had a strong interest in the security situation. One lady told me that she had been abducted by narcos a few years ago, and that she had been held captive for several months. At some point she managed to escape, but has never been able to return to her hometown in the mountains out of fear of the narcos there. Stories like hers were not unusual, nor were reports of mutilated corpses being found off the mountain roads.

After a quick walk through the center of town, I decided to stay at a small hotel called Hotel Ada, named after the lady who owned it. It took a bit of haggling, but we finally agreed on a rate of 250 pesos (approx. $13.25), which got me a nice and clean room with a ceiling fan and lobby parking. The main beach near the town center features a combination of restaurants and infrastructure for local fishermen. One of the main attractions are fishing tours for tourists, and there are lots of private vendors who are offering to take you out in their boats. Local restaurants are even advertising to prepare and cook your own catch of the day for you. That evening, I enjoyed a nice dinner at the beach, and found the town to be unexpectedly charming, in spite of the abundance of tourists.

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Heading South on Mex-120, about 2.5 miles N of Opopeo.

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Crossing the Infiernillo Reservoir on my way into Guerrero.

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After a long mountain ride, I finally made it to Zihuatanejo. Nothing cures fatigue like the sight of the ocean.

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Hotel Ada, my home-away-from-home for the night.

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The room itself was nice and clean.

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A statue dedicated to the State of Guerrero.

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Zihuatanejo seemed vibrant and energetic, the way you'd expect a beach town to be.

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Fishermen at the beach of "Zihua."

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Zihua even has a humane society.

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There are lots of restaurants along the beach, some of which will cook your own catch of the day for you, if you feel so inclined.

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A statute dedicated to Jose Azueta, a Mexican Navy Lieutenant who died while fighting against the U.S. occupation of Veracruz in 1914.

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The pier at Zihua.

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Had I not been exhausted from a long ride, I probably would have chartered a small fishing boat to catch some dinner. Next time!

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Some of the finer things in life come in small packages. At least that's what I keep telling myself when I'm hungry and the portions are small.


Day 10: Zihuatanejo, Guerrero → Taxco, Guerrero (262 miles)

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After a nice breakfast in Zihuatanejo, I backtracked on Mex-200 along the coast for a bit, before heading northeast into the mountains on Mex-134. I ran out of juice in Coyuca de Catalán, so I stopped there for some lunch in the form of my usual favorite—enchiladas verdes. The way to Taxco proved to be long and tedious through the never-ending sequence of blind but beautifully scenic turns through the Sierra.

At one point I became concerned about running out of gas, so I stopped at a farmhouse and asked if they had any gas for sale. They didn’t, but pointed me toward another farmer that lived nearby, and that person was nice enough to sell me five liters of gas. The road was extremely curvy and full of switchbacks, and seemed to drag on for hours. Every time I passed through a village, a lot of curious eyes seemed to examine me, and I did my best to offer a friendly nod or a wave everywhere I went.

Shortly before reaching Taxco, I was exhausted and running low on energy, when a local rider passed me in a particularly celebratory fashion that woke me up and got my juices flowing again. We ended up in a friendly race for the last ten miles to Taxco, and he turned out to be a solid mountain rider, complete with a couple of kamikaze passes into blind turns.

The GPS estimated about 6.5 hours for the route, but the actual time was every bit of 10 hours. I pulled into town right as the sun was beginning to set, so I had no time to waste if I wanted to explore Taxco a bit. I booked a room at Hotel Real de Taxco for 420 pesos (approx. $23.85), which included a neat accommodation, a fan, hot water (!), and secure gated parking.

Taxco is a city of about 52,000 inhabitants, and is known for its silver mining and smithing. It is set in a very rugged and steep part of the mountains, and some of the streets are among the steepest that I have seen anywhere. Curiously, the vast majority of the taxi cabs in Taxco are Volkswagen Beetles that have been customized specifically for that purpose.

That evening, I decided to spoil myself to a nice dinner at a fancy-ish restaurant, which included a regional speciality called mole rosa, which entailed chicken breast in a chocolate-based sauce, and was followed by platano flameada (flamed bananas), prepared with tequila and orange juice, and was absolutely delicious.

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Just a few houses here and there were all that you'd encounter in the Sierra Madre of Guerrero.

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I was able to buy some gasoline from the farmer who lived at this house. This was about 8 miles N of Vallecitos de Zaragoza.

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The road itself featured a never-ending series of turns as it wound its way through the Sierra Madre.

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Absolutely breath-taking scenery in the Sierra Madre of Guerrero.

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Not an unusual sight in Mexico, and one of the reasons why hauling tail would be ill-advised.

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Luscious green everywhere you looked: Finally climbing out of the Sierra.

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Having left the Sierra Madre behind, the road began to straighten out accordingly. This was about 10 miles S of Coyuca de Catalán. The mountains ahead mark the state border between Guerrero and Michoacán. (To be precise, the actual state border is formed by the Ayotac River that runs through those mountains).

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Lunch in Coyuca de Catalán, Guerrero.

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A clean hotel room with hot water. What more could you ask for?

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Parroquia de Santa Prisca y San Sebastían, the official name of the cathedral at Taxco.

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As is usually the case, the main plaza was adjacent to the cathedral. Notice the white VW beetle taxis, which seemed to be the standard for taxis throughout Taxco.

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After searching for the right hole-in-the-wall type of restaurant, I decided to treat myself to some fancy grub at El Rincón del Toril.

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Mole rosa was a local delicacy that is said to be based upon an Aztec tradition, in which tomatoes, vanilla, and spices were mixed with other ingredients. It might look unorthodox, but this stuff is delicious.

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The streets in Taxco are steep. Really, really, steep. Much steeper than it appears in this picture. If you learn how to drive with a manual transmission here, you're probably going to be fine driving anywhere else in the world.

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Some of the streets don't look like actually using them would be a good idea.

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The crowds were out and about in the evening, strolling around the main plaza.
 
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Day 11: Taxco, Guerrero → Acatlán de Osorio, Puebla (168 miles)

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Having spent several days in the Tierra Caliente, it was finally time to leave the state of Guerrero and to head into the neighboring state of Puebla. The route involved riding through the beautiful sweeping mountain turns on Mex-95D into Morelia, followed by a local road to Jojutla and Tepalcingo, north to Amayuca, and then southeast into Puebla on Mex-160 until Izúcar de Matamoros, where I stopped for lunch. I lost a bit of time mid-route when I took the wrong road out of Jojutla and headed north toward Ticumán. I hadn’t paid any attention to speed limits since northern Mexico, and was a bit surprised to see the local cops pulling over people in such a small town. Fortunately for me, they were busy with other victims, so me blasting past them merely earned me a few evil looks. The final stretch then took me southeast on Mex-190, a very scenic road, to Acatlán de Osorio.

This early 18th-century town of about 35,000 people is a sleepy nest in the southeastern corner of the state, not far from the state border with Oaxaca. I stayed at the Hotel Posada del Rey, which was located just a few blocks from the central plaza and the market. Lodging cost me 250 pesos (approx. $13.25), which included a garage for secure parking, hot water, and a fan.

After settling in, I went on my usual task of exploring the town, which included a rather lively market near the town center. This place was entirely devoid of tourism of any sort, so I earned a lot of curious looks. It was also ridiculously hot there, even with me having already been well acclimated to riding in hot weather. I stopped in an Internet café to plan my route for the next day, but the heat in that place was nearly unbearable, so I left that part for later.
That night I seriously regretted not upgrading to an air-conditioned room, as the heat in my room was absolutely staggering. The small wall-mounted fan was just circulating the hot air, and it reminded me a bit of a desert ride in the middle of the day. It got so bad that I eventually resorted to using a wet towel as a blanket, with the effect of evaporative cooling making it almost bearable. Almost.

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Taxco is extremely picturesque, especially in the early morning sunlight.

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I could have easily spent a couple of extra days in Taxco, but I was on my way to Guatemala with a limited amount of time before I had to be back home.

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The hotel wasn't a cheap one, but getting some much-needed rest was ultimately worth it.

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Secure parking in the back of the hotel.

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The town of Izúcar de Matamoros is located about 35 miles S of the city of Puebla, and was perfect for a lunch stop.

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The food at this place was kind of average for Mexican standards, but would still mop the floor with that Tex-Mex stuff that they sell back home.

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I stole this idea from Sjoerd Bakker, and I'm glad that I did. A giant cactus, located about 10 miles NW of Tehuitzingo.

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Two more impressive specimens that I spotted a bit further south, next to a bridge leading across the Atoyac River.

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The Atoyac River, about 4 miles NW of Tehuitzingo, Puebla.

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Welcome to the boiler room. This room was miserably hot at night.

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Secure parking was available in a separate parking bay.

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Iglesia del Calvario, the cathedral at Acatlán de Osorio, Puebla.

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Acatlán de Osorio is a small town that was build on the ruins of another town that had been destroyed by an earthquake in the early 18th century.

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The market at Acatlán de Osorio.

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Food items and clothing were the most common commodities available at the market.

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This stand was offering an impressive product line.

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Dinner time in Acatlán de Osorio. If you feel that every dish looks delicious, then you're not wrong.


Day 12: Acatlán de Osorio, Puebla → Salina Cruz, Oaxaca (317 miles)

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Even though I had barely gotten any sleep that night, I was anxious to get back on the road the next morning. Anything was going to feel better than that 250-pesos boiler of a hotel room. The route of the day was going to take me southwest into Oaxaca to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This was over 300 miles of riding between the mountain chains of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca and the Sierra Madre del Sur. My ever-optimistic GPS estimated about 8 hours for the trip, so I figured that this was most likely going to be another 10-hour day. The only way to get this done in a single day was to take Mex-190, the most direct route.

It was only about an hour to the state border of Oaxaca, after which the road first became deplorable, and then very good with incredible scenery just past Huajuapan. I stopped for lunch in a small town by the name of Nochixtlán, a name that was about to become the source of raw emotions and extreme importance in the entire country. Unbeknownst to me, the federal government had recently passed new laws that were part of a rather comprehensive overhaul of Mexico’s education system. This was done in an attempt to minimize the corruption and bureaucracy that had long been rampant in what is one of the largest educational systems in the world. Even though the national teacher’s union had agreed with the reforms, a wing of dissidents within the union continued to be vehemently opposed to the new laws, and vowed to fight them [read this New York Times article for a brief overview].

After lunch at a small comedor in Nochixtlán, I tried to get back onto the highway, but instead found parked 18-wheelers and buses for as far as the eye could see. It quickly became evident that this was more than your regular traffic jam, because the majority of the drivers had left their vehicles, and had congregated in small groups under trees or bushes alongside the highway. Curious to see what was going on, I rode up to one of those groups to get some intel. They said that the road was blocked a few miles ahead, and that it was teachers protesting. They said I could either take an alternate route (and lose hours in the process) or ride up to the blockade and try my luck. Their attitude was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, and the image of teachers protesting—for some reason I was picturing my old Math and English teachers walking around with signs and being a bit more argumentative than normal—wasn’t particularly intimidating. I decided to ride up to the blockade to see if there was a way for me to get by.

After several miles of riding past the never-ending line of stopped vehicles, I finally arrived at the blockade. There were maybe a hundred or so protesters who had blocked the highway by setting brush and trash on fire in the middle of the road. It appeared that they had a blockade line for traffic that was northbound and then another, separate blockade for southbound traffic, with the two blockades being about 100 m or so apart. In between those two lines there was just empty space, without any vehicles, and just a few protesters mingling about.

I rode up to the first blockade very slowly, with my visor wide open and my best fake cheerleader smile, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. A few people glanced at me, but nobody really paid that much attention. In fact, the vibe seemed agitated, but not directly threatening, so I slowly continued my way past the people at walking speed, offering a smile and a nod to anyone who looked my way. Within a couple of minutes, I reached the in-between section, and was both relieved and a bit surprised at how smooth that had gone. At that point, I felt confident that my approach was working, and saw no reason as to why I wouldn’t be able to get passed the second blockade that was now just about 60 m or so away.

I briefly parked the bike and snapped a few pictures, thinking that this was a local issue and that these blockades would be an isolated event that might be good to document. After taking a few pictures, I got back onto the bike and slowly rode toward the second blockade line. The crowd there was a lot thicker, and as I got closer I realized that their level of agitation seemed to be a lot more elevated. Just when I was right in the middle of the crowd, a few men yelled something, and I was immediately rushed by a group of what I estimate were about 15-20 people. The dynamics had completely changed, and this now actually felt like a potentially dangerous situation. You could see the anger and outrage in their faces, and many were armed with machetes.

“Get off the bike! Get off the bike!,” they yelled, with several holding their machetes upright in the air. I took a brief glance ahead, and just for a brief second, the thought of just gunning it through them crossed my mind, but the blockade up ahead was complete with spike strips, so there was no way out. I turned off the bike, put the kickstand down, and dismounted. One guy appeared to be the one in charge, and he looked nothing like any of the teachers that I’ve ever had. He had long, shoulder-length hair and was wearing a matte green military-style jacket, while wielding a machete in his right hand. “Who are you?”

At this point, my goal was to reassure these guys that I had no connection of any kind to the political situation, so in an effort to be disarming, I took off my helmet and tried my best to put on a conversational tone. “I’m just a traveler, passing through on my way to the coast.” “Are you with the police?,” he asked. “No, no, I’m just passing through,” I responded. “We are going to need to search all of your luggage!” While I really wanted to avoid the nightmare of opening my luggage and having dozens of hands immediately reaching for my stuff, it didn’t seem like a good idea to deny or argue any of their requests, so I nodded, but made no effort to actually open my luggage.

Their questions were repetitive. “Why are you here?” “I’m just a traveler, nothing more.” The question that I had been waiting on was where I was from, but for some reason they never asked. Finally, sensing a frustrating stalemate, I offered up that information, but with a small twist. “I’m German.” “You’re German?” The man seemed stunned. This was true—I’m a German national, even though I reside in the United States. “Can you prove it?” “Yes, of course,” I said, and immediately started digging through my tank bag to get my passport. I tried to avoid showing my important documents to anyone unless absolutely necessary, simply because there was always the dreadful possibility of them confiscating those documents, which could be a real **** to deal with. However, this wasn’t a normal situation, and anything that could help mitigate the process of getting away from these “teachers” seemed like a good idea. I handed the guy my passport, and he took several minutes to examine it in detail, as if he was trying to memorize the information in it.

I glanced at the rest of the crowd, and everybody appeared to be focused on the guy, who was clearly in a leadership position. “Yeah, its good.” Those words sounded like music to my ears. You could almost feel the tension in the crowd going back down by several levels, and he instructed some of the men to remove the spike strips that were blocking the road ahead. “You might get into a few more blockades, but just show them your passport and you should be good,” he advised. I thanked him, put my helmet back on, and speedily made my way past the crows, nodding and smiling in all directions in the process. Once I was a few meters past the blockade and approaching the never-ending line of stopped trucks and trailers on the other side, I was so relieved that I started laughing in my helmet. I slowed down when I reached the first group of truckers that had congregated in the shade on the other side of the blockade. “How did you make it past the blockade?,” they yelled. “With difficulty,” I yelled back and smiled, as the DR roared down the road past them.

After that incident, I think I was on an adrenaline high almost until I got to the city of Oaxaca, where another blockade was awaiting me at the northern entrance of town. This time, the protesters were letting people pass, but only after searching the vehicles (even including taxis). Fortunately, their reaction to me on my bike was one of little concern, and so they waved me through. I stopped at a gas station and picked up a newspaper, where I finally got caught up on the political situation.

The rest of the route involved several additional blockades with varying degrees of intensity, but none of them came close to the degree of aggression that I had encountered in Nochixtlán. I learned a lot about interpreting the dynamics at the blockades that day, and found that best weapon was to have a calm and friendly demeanor, which ultimately proved to be disarming to the at times angry protesters. In addition, the fact that I was on a motorcycle immediately placed me into a different category than any cars, trucks, or any other 4-wheeled vehicles. In Mexico, motorcycles are primarily used for commuting rather than being recreational vehicles, and they are often used by the segment of the population that cannot afford a car. That fact alone—and, perhaps also, the fact that a DR650 looks more like an oversized dirt bike rather than resembling a $25k BMW—placed me outside of the target group of the government and wealthy individuals that were the target of their anger.

Only two days after my encounter with the protesters at Nochixtlán, the police violently clashed with them. There are different accounts of who fired the first shot, but ultimately 11 people were killed in the clashes at Nochixtlán, leaving the town under martial law. The massacre at Nochixtlán incensed people nationwide, and further intensified the situation between the Mexican government and the dissidents within the teacher’s union.

Just before I hit the coastal highway Mex-200, I caught a glimpse of the ocean again, which gave me a second wind. There was one last rain shower that I had to endure, after which I finally arrived in the town of Salina Cruz. Unlike Zihuatanejo, this is an industrial port town right at the Gulf of Tehuantepec, with no real beach tourism to speak of. Prior to it becoming the Pacific terminus of the Tehuantepec National Railway, which transported freight across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Salina Cruz was just a small village. Today it has a population size of about 76,000 people, and is lively enough to entertain you for a few days.

I stayed in Hotel Magda near the center of town, where 230 pesos (approx. $12.20) got me a decent room with hot water and air conditioning, both of which were kind of luxury items that were thoroughly appreciated at this point. It was such a good deal that I was nearly able to overlook the fact that it was run by an exceptionally crusty old man. He was the type of guy who always felt that he could predict any question that one might have, so he’d constantly cut you off with an uninterruptable sequence of words that he thought was going to answer your question.

After exploring the town center, I took a taxi to the beach, and enjoyed a very nice dinner watching the sunset over the ocean. It was certainly no Zihuatanejo-quality beach, but just feeling the ocean breeze was enough to recharge my battery after a long day of riding.

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Near the town of Petlalcingo in Puebla.

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Welcome to Oaxaca!

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The beautiful State of Oaxaca, with the Sierra Madre in the distance. This was taken about 5 miles NW of the village of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, Oaxaca.

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The never-ending line of trucks on the highway at Nochixtlán, Oaxaca caught me completely off-guard.

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The first part of the blockade at Nochixtlán didn't seem too bad. The protestors there mostly ignored me.

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Before I approached the second blockade at Nochixtlán, I stopped and took this picture. I had no idea that I was about to get mobbed some angry, machete-wielding protestors.

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Trucks were lined up for miles on the other side of the blockade as well.

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Once the adrenaline was out of my system, I was finally able to enjoy the sights again. This was about 8 miles W of the town of San Francisco Telixtlahuaca, Oaxaca.

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When I got to the city of Oaxaca, I picked up a newspaper to get myself up to speed on the political situation.

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View onto the Sierra Madre del Sur, approximately 35 miles SE of the city of Oaxaca.

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The mountain scenery never does get old.

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A blue agave field near the town of El Gramal, Oaxaca. The starch in these plants is eventually converted to simple sugars, fermented and distilled, as part of the process of making tequila.

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While tequila can only be made from blue agave (by law), Mezcal is made from any agave that is native to Mexico.

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The air conditioner in this room was worth its weight in gold.

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The fact that the world's smallest television was locked up like a treasure was mildly amusing.

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The plaza at Salina Cruz was full of activity.

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A stroll down the main market of Salina Cruz.

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The ocean was just a short drive (or a long walk, as I found out later) from the center of town.

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Salina Cruz isn't known for its beaches, but this will do nicely.

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My dinner looked a lot like gumbo, and was equally delicious.


Day 13: Salina Cruz, Oaxaca → Puerto Arista, Chiapas (149 miles)

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The night before, I had to decide on a destination for the following day. Since my plan was to cross into Guatemala the day after that, it would have to be within reach of the border, but I also wanted to feel the sand between my toes again and see another really nice beach. Not knowing anything else about it, I took a gamble and picked Puerto Arista from the map. I queried the local taxi drivers regarding the blockade situation on that route, and was advised to take the free highway (libre), rather than the normally faster tollway. The consensus was that there would be relatively few blockades, since the protesters were focusing on paralyzing the more crowded tollway.

I went north on Mex-185 past Tehuantepec and into Juchitan de Zaragoza, which still had a lot of protesters. At this point I was becoming pretty good at reading the dynamics at each blockade, and my usual method of innocently riding up at walking speed while smiling and nodding proved to be very effective. I took Mex-190 southwest until San Pedro Tapanatepec, then Mex-200 southwest into Chiapas and eventually into Puerto Arista.

Not knowing anything about it, I was secretly hoping for Puerto Arista to turn out to be a sleepy beach town, and it turned out to be exactly that. It has a bit of tourist-oriented infrastructure, but apparently it only attracts significant numbers of people a couple of times a year, and then only during major holidays. Most of the tourists here are from Chiapas, and the few foreigners that show up are mostly Europeans or Canadians.

The beach was beautiful with very few people around. The water there is known for its riptides, but I found it impossible to resist in the heat. I went swimming, drank some cold beer, and swam some more. A few beach vendors were competing over the small number of domestic tourists with a very limited degree of success. I don’t normally buy from beach vendors, but when a woman showed up and offered genuine Italian pizzas, it did get my attention. Italian pizzas in some beach town in Chiapas? As it turned out, her name was Jankara, an Italian national from Milan who had gotten stranded in Puerto Arista, and was now making a living (a struggle?) selling homemade Italian pizzas at the beach. I was even more surprised to find out that she had lived in Berlin for some 30 years, and spoke fluent German.

I bought two pizzas from her and for two hours we shared some of our experiences and adventures. She hadn’t lived an easy life, and had somehow gotten stuck with an expired passport and visa, and without a work permit in Mexico for the last seven years. But Jankara was resilient, and her strength was quite admirable. We both wished each other well, and I promised to buy some more pizza if I ever passed through Puerto Arista again.

For lodging, I stayed at the Hotel Brisar del Mar, which provided a decent room with air conditioning, hot water, and secure parking for 350 pesos (approx. $18.50). My only complaint was that the shower drain was completely clogged, instantly flooding the elevated bathroom and subsequently the lower-lying bedroom. Fortunately I was too tired to worry about such details.

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More signs of violent protests in Oaxaca: This bus in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca was heavily damaged in the process.

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The same goes for an adjacent car dealership that had been vandalized.

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Even though the education reforms affected the entire country, the resulting unrests were far more severe in Oaxaca than anywhere else.

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Oaxaca had been one heck of an experience, and I was eager to see what Chiapas was going to be like.

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Chiapas was full of luscious greenery. To the left of the road is the La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve, one of the most diverse forest reserves in the world. It consists primarily of dry tropical forest and tropical evergreen forest.

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The town of Puerto Arista is really a sleepy beach town that only awakens a few times a year during the traditional Mexican holidays.

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It also features a state-sponsored sea turtle sanctuary that is located just west of town.

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My hotel room, which I promptly flooded within a few minutes of being there. Fail.

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The beach at Puerto Arista was exactly what I had hoped: low on crowds, high on relaxation.

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The few tourists here were primarily Mexican nationals from Chiapas.

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Meet Jancarla, an Italian national from Milan, who had lived in Berlin for 30 years, and spoke fluent German. She had been stuck in Puerto Arista for the last seven years, making a living by selling Italian pizzas at the beach.

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The beaches of Puerto Arista have grey volcanic sand that feels a lot better between your toes than it might look.


Day 14: Puerto Arista, Chiapas → Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (234 miles)

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Day 14 was an important day, as I planned on crossing the border into Guatemala that day. My plan was to leave at the crack of dawn, but somehow that didn’t quite work out. I finally got on my way around 8am, and it was three-hour ride along the Pacific coast plain on Mex-200, just South of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. This state is so lusciously green and beautiful, it was a joy to experience it. I decided to take the border crossing at Talismán, and had all of my ducks in a row to hopefully get it done quickly and effectively.

The chaos that awaited me there did take me a bit by surprise. I was greeted in Talismán by a street hustler standing on the road, frantically waving his arms in an attempt to get me to slow down and offer me his services. I truly despise aggressive street hustlers, so I rode right past him, which led him to run after the bike. Once I stopped the bike at the Mexican side of the border, I was immediately surrounded by more hustlers, offering anything from currency exchange to assistance with the documents.

Up until this point, nobody had been able to surpass the level of aggression displayed by hustlers that I had encountered in the Dominican Republic many years ago, but these guys were giving the Dominicans a serious run for their money. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to exchange at least some dollars for Guatemalan quetzals (GTQ), but at least my handy currency app helped me in negotiating a better rate. Since I was going to return to Mexico, I did not cancel my Mexican import permit, so all I needed was to get my tourist card cancelled and passport stamped. This marked the transition into the no-man’s land between the two countries, which was yet on an entirely different level of chaos.
I resisted the hustlers that follow you everywhere you go for as long as I could, but the process of getting the various documents in different offices was incredible disorganized, and most of the government officials were of little to no help, so eventually I started following the recommendations of a couple of the least obtrusive hustlers. One lady who was working for the Guatemalan immigration was also quite helpful, which was refreshing among the chaos there. After visiting numerous offices and filing different types of paperwork, I finally received the vehicle import permit and tourist permit for Guatemala. I also ran into a French guy who was on his way to Argentina on what looked to be a brand-spanking new Yamaha Super Ténéré, which made my DR look like a dirt bike once again.

After nearly two hours of navigating the chaos at the border, I was finally in Guatemala and on my way to Quetzaltenango. The difference between Guatemala and Mexico was almost immediately apparent: Guatemala is essentially like Mexico on steroids. The infrastructure is worse, the people are poorer, and the drivers are even more insane. Nonetheless, the country is absolutely beautiful, with luscious tropical vegetation and beautiful scenery.
Still thoroughly excited about having arrived in Guatemala, I stopped at a small shack near Malacatán for lunch. The full chicken & rice meal with lemonade cost me 15 GTQs (approx. $1.99), although I later found myself regretting that meal, since the lemonade was certainly made with tap water, which had predictable consequences.

I followed the CA2 just past Coatepeque, then took Que-12 northeast into the mountains of the Sierra Madre, where I was greeted by monsoon-style rains, which were by far the worst of their kind that I had encountered on this trip. Navigating the sketchy Guatemalan roads was challenging enough in the mountains without the rain, and the added factor of near zero visibility made the experience rather miserable. Fortunately it did clear up eventually, and after riding for considerably longer than anticipated, I finally reached Quetzaltenango, a town that everybody in Guatemala refers to by its Maya name ‘Xela’ (pronounced ‘shella’).

Xela is located in a mountain valley of the Sierra Madre at an elevation of 2,330 meters (7,640 feet), and has a population of roughly 225,000 people, most of which are of indigenous descend. It experiences a subtropical highland climate, and is known for being “the chilliest major city in Guatemala.” I made my nest at the Casa de Viajeros for 90 GTQs (approx. $11.95), which included a cozy room with warmish water and secure gated parking. Just getting out of the soaking wet rain gear and taking a warm shower felt like absolute bliss after a long day of riding and dealing with the chaotic madness at the border.

My usual town exploration led me to the main plaza and the adjacent market, where various vendors were cooking up all sorts of delicious foods and offering anything from clothes to souvenirs for sale. The main plaza was teaming with activity, including street artists who were performing for small crowds. There was a nice restaurant across the street from the park, which seemed like the perfect spot to enjoy good and observe the activities at the plaza.

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One last pre-departure pic of the beach at Puerto Arista just after sunrise.

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Guatemala-bound: this was near the town of Tres Picos, Chiapas.

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Just north of Tuxtla Chico, Chiapas. Right by the border to Guatemala.

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This was at the tail end of the border crossing. The building in this picture is where the TVIP is issued.

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Ok, in hindsight this wasn't the most sanitary place to have a meal. On the bright side, I was only sick for a couple of days...

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Xela’s proximity to the Almolonga volcano meant that anything that was not covered was constantly inundated with volcanic ashes.

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Like everywhere else, the plaza was the social center of Xela. A bunch of kids were engaging in freestyle rap battles in the center of the plaza.

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Local artist performing at the plaza. This guy was great!

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This is La Casa de la Cultura de Occidente, the cultural center, which was originally used as a prison. Every time I look at this picture, it reminds me of 'Back to the Future.'

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Dinner itself consisted of enchiladas tipicales, a delicious local delicacy.

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The market featured all sorts of tasty little snacks.

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My hotel room in Xela was dry and warm, which was pretty much all I cared about when I arrived.


Day 15: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala → Antigua, Guatemala (103 miles)

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I got an early start leaving Xela that day, with my route initially taking me Northeast toward Cuatro Caminos, then Southeast past Los Encuentros and Chimaltenango into Antigua. In hindsight I regret not taking the time to stop at Lago Atitlán, but at the time I felt that after having spent two weeks just to cross Mexico, proper time management required me to keep going, especially if I wanted any chance at completing the route as planned through Belize and the Yucatan.

The route to Antigua was long and exhausting, especially through the Sierra. At times, construction in the mountains would only allow for traffic to pass in only one direction for a few minutes each time, causing massive backups. Fortunately, it was understood that all motorcycles would continue onwards as far as they could. In most places in the U.S., passing miles of traffic jams between cars or on the shoulder would cause some serious condemnation, but here it was normal, and thus nobody even raised an eyebrow.

The driving experience in Guatemala as a whole was often a very intense one. Chicken buses (repurposed U.S. school buses), shuttles, and taxis were frequently ready to pull some rather borderline stunts in order to pass you, only to pull over at an upcoming stop a few seconds later. I’m not sure that the word ‘courteous’ should be used to describe the average Mexican driver (nor the average U.S. driver, to be fair), but compared to Guatemalan shuttle drivers, most Mexican drivers seemed fairly innocuous.

I arrived in Antigua in the early afternoon, and decided to make my nest at Hotel Dona Angelina. I was able to haggle a bit, and got the price from 200 down to 150 GTQs (approx. $26.20) per night, which wasn’t a terrible deal for Antigua. The hotel was located near the center of town in walking distance to the market, and included secure covered parking, and a private bath with hot (!) water. Plus, sitting at an elevation of 1533 m (5,029 ft), nighttime temperatures were mild enough to where a fan was not necessary.

Antigua is a very scenic town that is full of life and character, and it is difficult not to immediately fall in love with it. The streets are mostly made up of cobblestone, and the Spanish architecture gives the place a wonderfully endearing feel. People are walking, bicycling, and riding all over town, and colorful chicken buses (repurposed U.S. school buses) are all over the place.

Guatemala has a very strong motorcycle culture, much more so than Mexico. As in other Latin American countries, small-displacement bikes prevail. The DR650 was huge by Latin American standards, and received a lot of attention everywhere she went. People seemed to be used to seeing other overlanders on BMWs, but there was something about the rumble of the thumper that produced lots of looks and comments.

With the trip odometer reading 3,064 miles, Antigua seemed like the perfect place to do an oil change. There were motorcycle shops all over the place, so I strolled along the Alameda de Santa Lucia to shop for a suitable oil. I ended up going with Motul 15W-50, and paid a local shop a few bucks for lending me the space to work in. I also used that opportunity to check the air filter and torque of some of the bolts. The DR was now ready to head into Northern Guatemala.

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Departing from Xela in the early morning.

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Even though Xela is considered to be the chilliest major city in Guatemala, it is a very interesting and fascinating place. It has a rich history and culture, and is sometimes considered to be the "capital of the Mayas".

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Arrival in Antigua: this vibrant city was easy to fall in love with.

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Guatemala is full of repurposed American school buses, which look way cooler than in their original form.

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The local Suzuki dealership. There is a strong motorcycle culture in Guatemala.

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Pasta in Guatemala? Yes, please.

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Many of the streets in Antigua are made up of cobblestone, and motorcycles are absolutely everywhere!

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Antigua almost has a European feel to it, with lots of cafes and opportunities to sit outside and enjoy the day.

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Volcán de Agua is a dormant volcano that is sitting just to the South of Antigua, and is a prominent landmark throughout the city.

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There was no shortage of motorcycle shops in Antigua, which made it the perfect place for some much-needed motorcycle maintenance.

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The typical motorcycle shop in Antigua was small, but had a fairly decent selection of products.

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I borrowed space at one of the local shops to do an oil change.

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This makeshift funnel worked perfectly.

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Hotel Dona Angelina in Antigua was centrally located and reasonably-priced.


Day 16: Antigua, Guatemala → Semuc Champey, Guatemala (208 miles)

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I knew that this was going to be a monster of a day, but I really wanted to see Semuc Champey, so I left Antigua at the butt crack of dawn heading northeast on CA1. As soon as I got to Mixco, some nasty lingering clouds were causing all of the commuting two-wheeled riders to pull over and get into their rain gear. There were so many motorcyclists going through this ritual that it actually seemed fun to be a part of it, which may also be the only time I’ve ever said that about putting on rain gear. It didn’t take long for the clouds to make good on their promises, with the sky opening up shortly thereafter.

My timing put me perfectly into rush hour when I got to Guatemala City, which in itself turned out to be an interesting experience. Having battled traffic in Guadalajara earlier in the trip, I felt reasonably well prepared, but Guatemala City was a different type of beast altogether. The sheer amount of traffic was impressive, but the experience was really defined by the commuting motorcyclists. As traffic turned the highway into a continuous parking lot as far as the eye could see, I became part of a group of about 40-50 motorcycles that was lane splitting through the stopped cars in a long column. I was pretty close to the middle of that group, which made it impossible to stop without drawing the scorn of the riders behind me. We continued to filter between cars until there wasn’t enough space, in which case everybody went through the closest gap to continue on the other side of the blockade.

It felt chaotic and slightly insane at times, but it was surprisingly effective, allowing us to cover a lot of ground in a very short period of time. When the highway turned into a main street, all of the motorcyclists filtered through and lined up at the red light, much like a field of road racers. In fact, that analogy works well to explain what happened each time the light turned green, which instantly caused each rider to floor it, much like the beginning of a lightweight race. Since the start approach was completely chaotic and lacked any kind of obvious structure or logic, it reminded me a bit of a race of provisional novices, eager to earn their full race licenses. Needless to say, the entire experience was both exciting and disconcerting.

Navigating through Guatemala City was not quite as simple as I had hoped either, especially since my GPS had given me the middle finger the second I had crossed into Guatemala. I finally found another rider who happened to be going in the same direction as me, and he was nice enough to lead me back onto the right road.

The route to Semuc Champey was full of construction, but being on a motorcycle saved me a ton of time, since I was usually able to just navigate around the long lines of stopped cars. I was very exhausted by the time I reached the city of Cobán, but I was seemingly so close to my destination that it didn’t make sense to quit there. It was about 40 miles from Cobán to Lanquin, which seemed to take forever. When I finally got to the last turnoff, I felt like I was already practically there.

As it turned out, things were just starting to get interesting. The final stretch may only have been a few miles, but those miles were pretty intense. This was a mountainous dirt road with lots of coarse rocks embedded in the dirt. Because the rocks were wet from the rains, my 80/20 tires were almost immediately overwhelmed, and thus properly braking on the steep, wet decline was nearly impossible. Road conditions quickly went from bad to worse, before briefly improving, only to decline again, making that final portion of a very long day both adventurous and tedious. This was 4x4 country, and very few people had both the skills and the necessary testicular fortitude to attempt to pass through this area in a 2WD during the rainy season.

After about ten hours of riding, I finally pulled into the ridiculously steep driveway of my lodge around 5pm. I had to peel myself off the bike at that point, and spent the next hour or so drying off by the bar. The lodge was called Utopia Eco Hotel, which turned out to be an aptly named establishment. Like everything around Semuc Champey, it was located way off the beaten path in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by stunning scenery. For 65 GTQs (approx. $8.50), I received a dormitory bunk bed. Parking was reasonably secure, but their “hot” water was more appropriately described as being a hair less cold than cold water. This was very much a hostel-type setup, and most of their clientele consisted primarily of eco-tourists and backpackers in their early-to-mid 20s.

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As I drove into Mixco, all of the motorcyclists pulled over and put on their rain gear. Notice that their license plate number was printed both on the back of their vests and their helmets.

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About 15 miles W of San Agustín Acasaguastlán, with a view onto the Sierra de las Minas mountain range.

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3 miles NE of San Pedro Carchá, heading into the jungle.

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Riding in Guatemala meant alternating between chilly and hot, as you constantly went up and down in elevation.

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When I finally got to my turn-off in Lanquín, I thought that I was pretty much there. Little did I know that the fun was just beginning...

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Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games.

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The sheer amount of greenery in Guatemala was just mesmerizing.


Day 17: Semuc Champey (no riding)

My short change of location in Guadalajara aside, this was my first official non-riding day. Semuc Champey was so far away from everything else that it really did not make any sense to leave the next morning. Besides, the area was absolutely beautiful and I wanted to see the famous ponds and caves. I figured it would be good for me to outsource the planning for one day and signed up for a tour with a small group of the other backpackers that were staying at the lodge.

I obviously couldn’t afford to get my riding boots or spare shoes wet, but there was a Swiss backpacker who was nice enough to lend me his sandals for the caves and ponds. The trip started out on the back of a 4x4 truck, which took us to the grutas (caves). I hadn’t been part of an organized tour in quite some time, but I was expecting lots of scenery, a tiny bit of adventure, and a heck of a good time.

And boy, did it deliver. Almost immediately upon entering the Kan’Bah cave, we were up to our knees in water. A few minutes later, we were up to our necks in the water, swimming through parts of the cave. There was almost no infrastructure inside of the cave—just a rope or a worn rope ladder here and there to help you climb over obstacles or descend down a waterfall. The only light was provided by the candle that each person received. Our guide was a young guy from the local village, and he was giving pointers as to how to avoid some of the submerged boulders and where to step when descending down a waterfall.

At one point, he pointed out an area where you had the option of climbing up a wall and then jumping into one particular spot in the water that was deep enough for a safe landing. Some of the parts in the cave were adventurous enough that it made me wonder how they would deal with the average risk-averse Western tourist that may happen upon this kind of tour. Then again, this was so far off the beaten path that it seemed unlikely that anyone would stop in by accident. By the time we were done with the cave, it had been the most fun that I had ever had while caving, and most everybody in the group seemed to have confronted at least one of their phobias over the course of the tour.
Outside of the cave was a giant rope swing that enabled you to take a massive leap into the Cahabón River. Our guide enlisted his kid brother to demonstrate how to properly launch off the swing, then offered us to give it a shot. Alright, line it up, go, wait until you hit the peak elevation point, then let go of the swing. Got it. I gave it a good college try, and learned that it wasn’t it as easy to hit the landing as the guide’s kid brother had made it look like. My second attempt was a lot smoother, but the most difficult part was to wait for the peak elevation point, so that you could avoid having too much momentum forward.

Next up was a leap from the bridge. By now this felt a lot more like an episode of ‘Fear Factor’ than a commercial tour, but everybody was having an absolute blast. The bridge led over the Cahabón River at a height of 10 m (approx. 33 ft). This time it was a small child (maybe 8-9 years old) from the local village that was enlisted to demonstrate. The kid climbed up on the railing, turned his baseball cap backwards, and leaped off the bridge like he was going to wash his hands real quick. A few minutes later, he showed back up on the bridge, giggling and joking around. I figured I would probably regret it if I didn’t jump, so I climbed over the railing and didn’t look down until I was already airborne. It seemed like it took forever to reach the water, and the impact was a lot more climatic than I had anticipated. I’m pretty certain that I was giggling like a kid when I got back up to the bridge.

After lunch, we were finally off to the ponds of Semuc Champey. The ponds are formed by a massive 300 m “bridge” that consists of limestone, effectively covering the Cahabón River. There is viewpoint that is located a steep 700-m hike up a hill, which turned out to be a lot more exhausting than expected, in part because everyone was already really tired, and also because the rocks were wet and extremely slippery. However, the view was absolutely spectacular and well worth the time it took to slide up and down the hill. When everyone arrived back at the ponds, we eagerly went for a swim in the crystal-clear water. I remember thinking that it may be a good thing that this place is so far out of the way, because it is doubtful that it could sustain its natural beauty in the face of mass tourism.

Even in the ponds, the guide couldn’t help but inject some more adventure by leading us underneath a rock formation into a tiny cave that you had to dive to get to, and which, once there, gave you just enough space between the water line and the ceiling to keep your mouth above water so that you could breathe. Claustrophobia, anyone? He also told me that there was a cliff with an 18-m (approx. 59 ft) drop into the water below, but that it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and jump, because the guards were currently on duty…

By now the afternoon rains had started, and we were finally homebound. Of course, we had to introduce one final adventure on the way back, so we went tubing down the Cahabón River from the bridge back to the lodge. It took about two hours to make it back to the lodge, much of which was very relaxing in very calm waters. Exhausted from a long, adventurous day, I let my mind drift a bit, enjoying the sounds of the jungle that was surrounding us. That was until I heard the guide yell. I looked ahead and saw a few rapids directly in my path. Unfortunately, it was already too late to try to avoid them, so I braced for them and held on. There was some irony in the fact that this particular rapid was probably the only reasonably serious one that we encountered while tubing down the river, and now I went right through it. The second I hit it, it sent my tube airborne, flipping it in the process and put me right into the whitewater.

I’m a decent swimmer, but the water was only part of the problem. The other part was the submerged boulders that my body was slamming into, which came without warning and repeatedly knocked the air out of me. Every time I came up for air, there was more white water, making me gasp for air. I quickly decided that I needed to focus on seeing what was ahead so that I could brace for any impacts, which finally improved my situation. There was a lot of yelling going on in the background, but you tune all of that out when the feces hit the oscillating rotator. Eventually I managed to grab the tube again, and was now definitely ready for a drink or five.

That little whitewater excursion had bruised me up pretty good, but at least I slept like a baby that night, in spite of a one-man band that was playing songs in the commons area directly adjacent to the dorms. The only other thing that I remember about the singer was that he was at one point announcing a song that he had written, but he couldn’t remember the title. After a few awkward seconds, he provided what was obviously a title that he had just made up, and then started the song.

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The Río Cahabón (Cahabón River) originates in the Sierra de las Minas and flows through Semuc Champey, eventually joins the Polochic River and flows into Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala.

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View from the bridge onto the Cahabón River. This looked a lot higher in person.

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The beautiful ponds at Semuc Champey. The Cahabón River passes underneath a limestone bridge here.

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Beyond the ponds, the river continues at the surface.

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Semuc Champey is definitely off the beaten path, but the journey is well worth it.

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The water in the ponds is very clear, and makes for great swimming.


Day 18: Semuc Champey → Isla de Flores, Guatemala (216 miles)

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I was definitely dreading the departure from Semuc Champey, but not just because it was so beautiful. It had rained a lot more since my arrival, which meant that the already poor road conditions had further deteriorated, and my 80/20 tires were not going to be much help in my efforts to climb out of the jungle. And sure enough, getting out of there turned out to be an adventure in and of itself. At one point, the road turned into pure mud, and the bike went down as soon as I gave it a steering input. To make matters worse, the mud was so slippery that I could not gain enough foot traction to lift her back up, so I went to enlist some nearby villagers to help me lift the bike.

I also made a wrong turn and found the “road” ending at the river, where a bunch of villagers were busy loading goods onto trucks. They were thoroughly entertained by the idea that I had driven all the way from Texas into the jungle of Guatemala, and now happened to be lost right by their village. They gave me some directions, and a short while later I was back on track, sliding through the mud and dreaming of knobby tires.

At one point, a couple of youngsters were spanning a rope across the path. When I slowed down to see what was going on, they demanded money for me to pass. That type of “rope bandit” is not uncommon in parts of both Mexico and Guatemala. I was a bit short on patience, so I yelled and cussed at them in Spanish, upon which they dropped the rope. No backbone, these rope bandits.

Finally back on pavement, I rode back past Cobán, then headed North past Chisec and the Sierra de Chinajá into the Petén Department, the largest and northernmost state of Guatemala. When I got to the town of Sayaxché, I had to take a ferry to cross the Pasión River. It was boiling hot that day, and it was nice to be moving again after the river crossing. I was beginning to run out of steam again, but there wasn’t really any place South of Flores that seemed appealing, so I muscled through it and arrived in Isla de Flores in the late afternoon.

This island, which represents the old part of the city of Flores, is located on Lake Peten Itza, and is connected to the mainland by a road. This is the site where the last independent Maya state fought off the Spanish conquerors until 1697. Nowadays, Isla de Flores is a very scenic island that thrives on tourism, especially with its proximity to Tikal National Park.

The island had plenty of hotels and hostels for all price ranges, so I knocked on a few doors until I found something in my beloved “adventure hotel” price class. My hotel of choice ended up being Hotel Mirador, which provided a fan and secure parking (but no hot water or a/c) for 80 GQTs (approx. $10.47) per night. The room itself was predictably frugal, but the view onto the Lake Peten Itza was actually quite good. The guy who ran the place looked and acted like the cliché Hollywood crook, and I certainly wouldn’t buy a used car from him, but he did deliver on the laundry service, even if I did have to haggle it down significantly from his Utopian prices. He was also accessible 24-hours, since he slept on a matt in the lobby. Weird, but great for early departures.

I ran into the Swiss guy who had lend me his sandals at Semuc Champey at the same Hotel in Flores, and we decided to grab some dinner and drinks together that evening. He had been living the Nomad lifestyle for a few months now, traveling all over Latin America in the process. His journey was now about to come to an end, and he was preparing to head back to Switzerland in a few weeks. We exchanged a few war stories, and called it a day.

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A few backpackers departing the lodge in the early morning.

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The area around Semuc Champey must be one of the most beautiful places in all of Guatemala.

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I made a wrong turn and found myself at a dead end by the river, where a few villagers were busy loading goods onto a truck.

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The town of Sayaxché sits right by the Río La Pasión river.

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Crossing the Río La Pasión is done by ferry.

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There was a bit of motorcycle bonding time among the riders on the ferry.

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View onto the lake Petén Itzá, the second largest lake in the country. The town of Flores is located on a small island of this lake.

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Another adventure-class hotel in Flores.

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I think the interior designer was possibly still emerging in his/her craft, but the price was right.

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Its safe. -ish. Just details...


Day 19: Isla de Flores (no riding)

Climbing out of Semuc Champey had been seriously exhausting, so I decided to take another day off from riding and just relax at Isla de Flores. Not only did my body get some much-needed rest, but I also got to think about route route for the rest of the trip. I only had another 16 days before a bunch of college students were expecting me to teach them a Summer course back in Texas, and I wasn’t even in Belize yet. I spent some time at an Internet café looking at various options, and eventually decided that rushing through Belize and the Yucatan just to make it in time wasn’t going to be much fun. Instead, I’d leave that for another trip, and decided to head directly back into Mexico from Guatemala, without going into Belize first. In fact, this would also allow me to spend some more time in Chiapas, as I had originally planned.

I also went to a pharmacy to get some ear drops for what I assumed was water in my ear. Ever since swimming in the ponds of Semuc Champey, my left ear had virtually been deaf, and I was getting tired of it. My hope was that those ear drops were going to take care of it.

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Lake Petén Itzá: if you can't have a beach, then a lake is not a bad second choice.

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Flores is a very clean and colorful tourist town.

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The entire island contains two main streets that are arranged in a ring-like fashion. You can easily walk from one end of the island to the other in just a few minutes.

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There were tons of restaurants and cafes to sit down and enjoy the view of the lake.


Day 20: Isla de Flores → Tikal National Park → La Libertad

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My plan for the day was to see Tikal National Park. I had initially considered outsourcing the planning and just booking a tour, but I didn’t feel like being trapped at Tikal if I ended up wanting to leave early for whatever reason. Besides, my friend Pat strongly recommended that I should go see Uaxactun, an ancient sacred site of the Maya civilization, which is located about 12 miles North of Tikal.

I arrived at Tikal around 9am that morning, and it took a few minutes to find the seemingly random building that was housing the administration. There, an official took down some basic personal information and 50 GTQs (approx.$6.42), and then issued me the permit to drive to Uaxactun. Without this permit, there would have been no way of getting past the guard at the gate to Tikal. The road to Uaxactun is actually located within Tikal National Park--just past the gate to the ruins, where all of the visitors are walking.

The road itself is a beautiful, 12-mile journey through the jungle, and has existed only since the 1970s. Prior to that, access to Uaxactun was only possible via air or mule. This short stretch was everything I could have wished for: beauty, serenity, and purity. Just wilderness and the rumble of the 650. The site itself was in many ways the antonym to Tikal: a minimal amount of infrastructure and no people whatsoever. Just myself and the ancient Mayan ruins.

Since the “road” to the ruins formed a loop back to the village, I decided to follow it, rather than going back the way I came. This stretch consisted of very loose, moist soil on a strong decline, and it wasn’t long before my tires once again reminded me what they were designed for -- not this! The bike struggled, slid, slide some more, and eventually crashed. With the soil being moist and slippery on a substantial decline, and memories of Semuc Champey fresh in the back of my head, I tried to come up with a plan on how to best upright the bike in the middle of the jungle. While I was pondering this, I heard a noise behind me, and found--much to my surprise--two young boys from the village standing directly behind me. I must have been so distracted that I had not heard them approaching. Noting the smirk on their faces, I told them that I had apparently run out of both traction and talent, which caused them both to bust out laughing.
With their help, we quickly had the bike back up and ready to go. Since I had a tough time imagining any large and heavy adventure bikes coming down this way, I asked them whether they ever saw other traveling motorcyclists come through that way. “Yes, sometimes,” one of them replied. “But they go back the other way. They don’t take this way out.” That made a lot of sense, especially in the rainy season. I thanked the boys and made it back down to the village without another unplanned dismount.

When I got back to Tikal, the tourist crowds had already descended upon the place pretty hard. The place itself was huge, and the ruins were absolutely magnificent. The various structures date back to the 4th century BC, and were associated with one of the most powerful Mayan kingdoms (housing up to an estimated 90,000 people), until the site was abandoned around the 10th century. The national park itself covers 57,600 hectars (approx. 142,333 acres), and even the part that includes the major structures is large and takes a significant amount of time to explore. I spent a few hours there before the tourists hoards began to wear me out and the road began to call my name again.

Once I got back on asphalt, I realized that the handlebar was misaligned with the wheel, which must have been caused by the crash in Uaxactun. I initially wanted to just deal with it until I got to my destination for the day, but found it to be too annoying to postpone the action. I spotted a tiny motorcycle garage while passing through the town of El Remate, which seemed as good of a place as any to make a pit stop. The shop was owned by a young guy, and him and his buddy were immediately interested in helping me with my roadside repairs. We chatted a bit about my travels, motorcycles (“If you ride a 650 over here, you’re the king of the road!”), and Guatemalan women (“If they look at you, then you have to talk to them!”), and got the alignment issue sorted out in no time. I bought them a round of refreshments and figured it was about time to head out when a local woman started to make plans for to spend the night there.

I put my rain gear on and rode into another monsoon-style rain, eventually arriving in the town of La Libertad. My original plan was to continue on to the border at El Ceibo, but it was already late in the day, and the stretch from Lab Libertad to El Ceibo was considered to be a higher risk route, especially late in the day. I found a nice room at Hotel Estancia, which included secure parking, air conditioning and hot water for 125 GTQs (approx $16.03).

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Puma Energy is an oil company that has lots of service stations throughout Guatemala. And no, you cannot buy athletic gear there.

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The road to Uaxactun is a wonderful 12-mile journey through the jungle.

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This is the layout of the Mayan ruins at Uaxactun.

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One of six main structures that are part of the astronomical commemoration compound. These ruins were built over 2,000 years ago.

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Ancient Mayan ruins in the jungle of Guatemala, and yet they still manage to properly separate the garbage, which is more than I can say of some U.S. towns.

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The village of Uaxactun was formed after the ruins were discovered in the early 20th century.

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Most of the structures at Uaxactun occur in small groups or compounds that are connected by either dirt road or pathways.

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One of the ruins of group B. This group was a ritual, ceremonial, and political center.

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Inside the Mayan ruins.

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One of the structures in group A.

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Visiting the ruins at Uaxactun was a serene experience, with not a soul around. Just Mayan ruins and the jungle. And howler monkeys.

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Another structure in group A.

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Both groups A and B featured some of the most complex structures at Uaxactun.

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Exploring the inside of the ruins felt a bit like a movie at times.

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Palace XVIII.

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As soon as the ground was wet, my tires were instantly useless. The DR took another dirt nap while leaving the ruins.

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The descend from the ruins back into the village was steep but fun.

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Back at Tikal! This is the ceiba (Ceiba pentandra), which the Mayans believed to be the sacred tree of life. It can reach a height of up to 70 m (230 ft) with a trunk diameter of up to 3 m (9.8 ft).

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The ruins at Tikal are very spread out, which makes for a nice walk through the jungle.

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The maps that they give you are a bit imperfect, so some of the pathways don't lead to the destinations that are implied by the map.

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The ruins at Tikal are much larger than those at Uaxactun.

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Tikal is a national park and has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Some of the ruins can be explored, but many cannot.

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Some of the tallest temples reach beyond the canopies of the forest.

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A coatimundi (Nasua narica) searching for food at Tikal.

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I stopped in the town of El Remate to do some bike repairs.

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The owner (on the left) of the small bike shop was nice enough to lend me a helping hand.

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The town of La Libertad is home to about 80,000 people, and lives primarily off the oil reserves that occur in that area.

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My hotel room in La Libertad was very nice and comfortable.
 
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Day 21: Lab Libertad, Guatemala → Palenque, Chiapas (198 miles)

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The stretch of road from La Libertad to the border town of El Ceibo had occupied my mind for several days now, and I had spent a fair amount of time reading about it while I was preparing for this trip. There have been numerous cases of travelers who have been mugged at gunpoint on this stretch, and it is well-known for its bandit activity. As always, the assessments of the locals varied across the spectrum, and included everything from “you might get shot” to “no problem.” I decided that my best approach would be an early morning dash, so I made an early departure from Lab Libertad, heading NW on 13. The road wound its way through the countryside and passed through many small villages. As was previously the case in parts of Michoacán and Guerrero, once you were on that road, there weren’t many significant branching points, so your destination was immediately obvious to everyone.

The road ran alongside the Sierra del Lacandón National Park for some time, before I eventually split off from 13 (which continues NE to El Naranjo), and continued NW to El Ceibo. I minimized the number of stops, and encountered no bandits or problems of any kind, just beautiful scenery and sleepy villages. El Ceibo itself is a small collection of shops and shacks, and is a relatively-recently established border crossing. The amount of regulatory and enforcement resources was relatively small, which is why it is apparently very actively utilized by smugglers. Canceling my Guatemalan import permit was simple and straight-forward, with the customs official barely glancing out of the window to see whether I was taking the bike back out of the country.

The Mexican side was significantly better set up, and looked more like what you would expect from a border crossing. I had a little chat about the on-going soccer Latin American and Euro Cup games with the Mexican border patrol officials, before jumping back onto the bike and heading into Mexico again. The trouble-free morning and border crossing got my juices flowing, so I excitedly rolled on the throttle departing the border crossing. In fact, I was so excited that I completely forgot about the customs officials and accidentally blasted past them, hard on the throttle. The customs officials were not amused. What followed was the most thorough search that I have been subjected to in any vehicle, searching everything twice, including my tools and tire repair kits. It was obvious that they were pissed off at my perceived lack of respect, and it seemed a bit ironic how different the dynamics were compared to what they had just been with the immigration officials down the road.

I tried to keep myself from getting too annoyed with them by playing a game with myself: if I had really tried to smuggle something into Mexico, would they look in those places that I would have considered? The answer for most of them was no, so I presume that the search was indeed just emotionally motivated, rather than being an actual attempt at finding contraband. After about an hour of digging through my stuff, the eventually let me go. Upon departure, I decided to express my sentiments with a hard handfull of throttle and a power wheelie onto the road. I know, so mature.

Finally back in Mexico (in Tabasco, to be exact), I took Mex-203 NW towards Palenque. When I got to Tenosique, the road was closed and a detour pointing in the opposite direction. While I was stopped and looking at my map, a passing taxi pointed me toward the closed road, signaling that I could proceed, which was good enough for me. A few minutes later the reason for the road closure became apparent: they were building a new bridge across the Usumacinta River, and the whole thing was a giant cluster. A make-shift pedestrian crossway had detached on the near side and wasn’t usable without a lot of work and planning, but I was able to ride the DR across the dirt mounts of the construction zone across the incomplete new bridge to the other side. A watchman who was posted on the other side, briefly looked up when he heard me coming, then turned and went back to sleep.

At Gregorio Méndez Magaña (named after a Colonel of the Tabasqueño Liberal Army), I followed the road north and at some point passed through garita El Ceibo, which is a federal checkpoint located 56 km west of Tenosique on Mex-203. They checked my temporary import permit and I was on my way. It would have been faster to head South into Chiapas on the state highway TAB/CHIS-353 and then NW on Mex-307 to Palenque, but the soldiers outside of Gregorio Méndez Magaña were convinced that I wouldn’t be able to pass the blockades that were on that route. Blockades...I had almost forgotten about those. They weren’t as widespread in Chiapas as they were in Oaxaca, but they were still a major problem and could ruin your plans for the day.

I eventually left Tabasco behind and crossed into Chiapas, completing the scenic route to Palenque. The city itself is the only urban area in the region, and contains a population of over 40,000. After this very long day, I was in no mood to do a lot of searching for lodging and settled for the first place that seemed reasonable, which was Posada Guadalupe. For the price of 250 pesos (approx. $13.25) I received a decent room with warm-ish water and a fan. There was no secure parking available, so the hesitantly agreed to let me put the bike into the lobby. That night was miserable and hot, and made me wish for air conditioning. I barely slept, and couldn’t wait to get back out into the fresh air the next morning.

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I made friends with this little gal while I was getting the bike ready for departure.

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The ride from La Libertad to El Ceibo was beautiful, but I can see how it is considered to be not without risk. Once you're on that road, both your destination and purpose are largely obvious to everyone. Combine that with the remote setting, and it becomes a magnet for bandits.

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Leaving Guatemala at the El Ceibo border crossing. There was a portable office in the white delivery truck parked on the left, where an official cancelled my TVIP (after merely glancing out of the window to confirm that I was taking the bike back out), and I was on my way.

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Back in Mexico: this is the immigration office on the Mexican side. I chatted with the officials about soccer, and got my new tourist card in no time.

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Each vehicle is fumigated to prevent the importation of pests.

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I was so excited about being back in Mexico that I accidentally rode right past the Mexican customs officials. They were not amused.

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The road was closed for the construction of a new bridge at Tenosique, Tabasco across the Usumacinta River. This temporary pedestrian bridge was detached, and wasn't going to work either.

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After doing some recon, I decided that I could cross the river by riding across the dirt mount on the right, and follow a dirt banking that lead to the other side.

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The city of Palenque greeted me with this awesome smoothie.

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Did I mention that I'm not good with moderation?

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The city of Palenque has a population of about 43,000 people, primarily consisting of the Ch'ol people of Mayan descend.

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The church of Santo Domingo in Palenque, Chiapas.

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Palenque is surrounded by rainforest vegetation.

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The main plaza in Palenque.

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Palenque is an enjoyable town, with plenty of activities and restaurants to enjoy.

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Lobby parking at Posada Guadalupe.


Day 22: Palenque, Chiapas → San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (141 miles)

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Still tired but relieved to finally be out of the baking hot hotel room, I went on my way to visit the Mayan ruins near Palenque at the crack of dawn. It was a short 15-minute ride to the archaeological site, and turned out to be an awesome experience. The site was larger than the one at Uaxactun, yet still significantly smaller than Tikal, making the visit very enjoyable.

After the ruins I had to backtrack to Palenque, before heading South on Mex-199 into the highlands of Chiapas. These northern highlands around Palenque are home to the indigenous Ch'ol people, who are part of the Maya, and have their own language, which is called Lak ty'añ (or simply Ch'ol as well). There is a significant number of the Ch'ol people who are monolingual, and the ones who do speak Spanish speak a variation called “Castia.”

The ride down Mex-199 was beautifully scenic and twisty, although the road quality was inconsistent and unpredictable, and included everything from perfectly smooth tarr to mid-turn moon craters or stretches of deeply sunken asphalt. I also encountered several blockades, especially at the entrance points to Ocosingo and another one a bit further South of that town. You could feel the tension at these road blocks, but fortunately none of them gave me any trouble. I also encountered a couple of rope bandits. In one of those cases, two women refused to lower the rope and insistently demanded money. I made it clear right away that I wasn’t even going to consider paying them, but they persisted with their demands. I put the bike into gear, pointed the front wheel at one of them, and gave it just enough gas that it would still allow me to break or change course, depending on her reaction. This did the trick, as she got scared and dropped the rope. Pinche gringo! Finally, I made it to San Cristobal via Mex-190.

This city of about 160,000 people sits in a small valley in the Central Highlands region of Chiapas, and has a beautiful colonial layout complete with cobblestone streets and houses with red clay tile roofs. My friend Paula “the super dentist” whom I had met in Torreón earlier on the trip was also currently in town, so I was looking forward to chatting with a familiar face. I stayed at the Rossco Hostel, where I treated myself to a private room with hot water and secure parking for a total cost of 750 pesos (approx. $40.54) for two nights. This hostel was slightly above standard hostel quality, with a nice centralized campfire and a location that was reasonably close to the center of town.

As is usually the case at hostels, there were some interesting people who were staying there. One of them was a young teacher from Ohio who had lived in Guatemala City for the past two years, and was now on his way back home on his commuter DR350. We exchanged a few stories of things that we saw in Guatemala, and I was able to give him a few pointers about dealing with any blockades that he would almost certainly encounter while passing through both Chiapas and Oaxaca.

I also used that time to find some more medications that would help me with the water that I still had in my ear. I hadn’t been able to properly hear out of my right ear since Semuc Champey, and I was getting a bit tired of it. The pharmacist advised me to see a doctor next door, which I did with a bit of reluctance. The doctor examined my ear, cracked a few jokes, and then told me to go to the convenience store and pick up a bottle of cold water and a cup of hot water. I did as told and showed back up at the doctor’s office with both ingredients in hand. He mixed the two until he was happy with the temperature, then used it to flush out my ear, which felt a bit like a high-speed train running through my head. Voila! Seconds later, my hearing was back to 100%. Apparently the problem wasn’t the water at all, but rather something that may have been in the water and had been lodged in my ear. The water flush had dislodged the culprit and instantly solved the problem.

He charged me all of 100 pesos (approx. $5.41) for the entire thing, which was almost embarrassingly cheap. If all doctors were as funny and affordable as he was, then I’d actually feel inclined to visit one from time to time. Perhaps my next visit is going to be the next time I’m in Mexico again...

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The Mayan ruins at Palenque date from ca. 226 BC to ca. 799 AD, and are some of the finest examples of Mayan architecture that can be found anywhere. This is the Temple of the Inscriptions, the largest structure at Palenque.

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The Palace.

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The ruins at Palenque were incredibly picturesque.

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View onto the palace, which is located at the center of this ancient site.

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Water from the Otulum River was channeled into this subterranean aqueduct by the Maya.

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Another view of the Temple of the Inscriptions.

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The ride down Mex-199 is an interesting one. This was about 4 miles S of Ocosingo, Chiapas, after having passed two more road blockades with protesters.

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The protest and the resulting deaths at Nochixtlán were on everyone's mind. A commemorative wall was erected in San Cristobal de las Casas.

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Protesters and street vendors in San Cristobal.

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Rossco Hostel in San Cristobal had its fair share of backpackers and a few overlanders.


Day 23: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (no riding)

The next day I met up with Paula, and we decided to explore the San Cristobal area together that day. Paula had heard good things about a small town called Chamula, which was just 6 miles NW of San Cristobal. We took a colectivo (i.e., a van-style bus) to Chamula, which seemed like an interesting small town, until we decided to take pictures of the old abandoned church, or rather its ruins. We had previously abandoned our plan to visit the new church, as there was a bit of a negative vibe that included charging tourists admission to the church and verbal threats that our cameras would be confiscated if we tried to take pictures inside of the new church. The Chamulas are extremely private people who will sometimes shield themselves and their children if you attempt to take a picture.

At one point, a much friendlier person mentioned that we could instead visit and photograph the old abandoned church, which was about a 10-minute walk away. As we were arriving at the old church, we passed the cemetery, where a couple of guys were sitting by a grave smoking dope. As soon as they saw us, they started shouting at us. We initially responded, but when their loud inquiries belligerently descended into insults (in broken English, no less), we just ignored them, hoping that they were too busy doing dope to continue to try to engage us. No such luck. By the time we were standing in front of the old church taking pictures, the men were getting angrier by the second, and finally started aggressively walking towards us. Without any other people around who could calm these figures or be our witness if things went awry, we decided to cancel our photography session and began to walk away from the church.

As we were walking away, a sizable rock (slightly larger than a softball) landed next to me, missing me by inches. At this point, this situation could have gone a number of ways. Obviously the throwing of a rock--especially one of that size--was a cowardly and dangerous act, and it made me want to abandon reason and use that very same rock to beat an education into him. As tempting as that was, the best thing to deflate the situation was to remove ourselves from it, so we left the cemetery and led these guys burn off their energy by shouting grammatically-incorrect insults that made me chuckle at times.

As you can probably imagine, Chamula did not exactly win us over that day, so we decided to cut our losses and caught a collectivo back to San Cristobal. I tried hard to think of any other place that had left me feel a bit unwelcome in Mexico and couldn’t think of one. In all honesty, I’d probably give Chamula another shot on future visits to the San Cristobal area. This was much too bizarre of an experience for it to represent the norm there.

Next we went to a nearby cave system called Grutas de Rancho Nuevo, which was interesting and definitely worth the visit. Once you reach the end of the walkway that leads through the cave, you have the option of hiring a guide that leads you an additional 300 m or so into a art of the cave that has no infrastructure, leaving you with only a flashlight and a hard hat. That latter part of the cave was by far the most interesting, with the guides explaining the major formations and providing an insight into the history of the exploration of that cave.

We finished the evening with good food, a bit of tequila, and some of the best crepes that I’ve ever had in my life. Or perhaps I was just really hungry--either way, they were fantastic!

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Among other things, San Cristobal had the best crepes that I've ever had at a small place called crepas & crepas.

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My friend Paula the super dentist testing out the DR.

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Iglesia de Mexicanos is one of my favorite churches in San Cristobal. It is located just north of the town center, and is reportedly the only neo-Gothic style church in the state of Chiapas.

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Packed into a colectivo on the way to Chamula.

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The church of San Juan in Chamula. Photography inside of the church is strictly prohibited to the point where your camera may be confiscated and/or smashed.

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The old church of Chamula is adjacent to the cemetery. This was also where the incident with the rock-throwing men occurred.


Day 24: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas → Palenque (141 miles)

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I have a serious dislike for backtracking on trips like this, but this was one of those time where it was difficult to avoid, considering that I wanted my return route to be closer to the Gulf coast. Palenque was the only destination that made any sense that day, and so I took off early that morning to cross the central highlands one more time. It was cold and rainy when I left San Cristobal, but once I got past Ocosingo, it started to get hot again. There were fewer blockades that day than there had been a few days earlier, which was definitely less stressful.

North of CHIS-243, I made a pit stop at Cascadas de Aqua Azul, which I had been itching to see. After I took the turn-off to Aqua Azul, a group of about four men were pulling a rope across the road. I thought they were a group of rope bandits, which initially made me hesitant, considering the size of that group, but their body language seemed harmless. As it turned out, they were collecting a fee for Aqua Azul, complete with receipt. I paid and went on my way, only to be charged a second fee, again with receipt, down the road. Both fees were negligible (20 and 40 pesos, respectively), so it was just a very minor nuisance.

I knew that these waterfalls were beautiful, but I had no concept of how magnificent they were up close. The water featured a very attractive shade of blue that shimmered in the sunlight. My timing was also immaculate, as it was largely free of tourists, so I nearly had the place for myself (minus the ever-abundant vendors, that is). I walked along the waterfalls and just enjoyed the scenery for a couple of hours.

There weren’t any rope bandits on the route that day, so I arrived without any further incidents in Palenque. I wasn’t about to spend another boiling hot night in the same hotel as last time, so I settled on Hotel Canek instead. It was a bit closer to the central plaza, and it had everything that the heart desired, including air conditioning and Wifi. The only downside was that the lobby parking involved climbing a high curb and a few steps up into the lobby. The owner originally asked 450 pesos ($24.32), but I managed to haggle it down to 350 pesos ($18.92), which was reasonable enough considering the amenities.

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Getting ready to leave San Cristobal to head North.

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The beautiful waterfalls at Cascadas de Agua Azul in Chiapas.

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The river that flows through the waterfalls at Aqua Azul is Rio Xanil, which eventually flows into Río Tulijá in the state of Tabasco.

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It is nearly impossible to get enough of the waterfalls.

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Any tree trunks that are submerged are eventually calcified and covered in limestone, which is caused by the high mineral content of the water.

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View from the top of the waterfalls.

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The kids who "guarded" the DR.

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My first order of business when I got back to Palenque was to get a smoothie.

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Not wanting to stay at the same boiler room as last time, I decided to upgrade my lodging.

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Lobby parking, as usual.


Day 25: Palenque, Chiapas → Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche (202 miles)

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The goal of the day was to leave Chiapas and make it to the Gulf coast in Campeche, about 200 miles from Palenque. Backing the bike back out of the hotel lobby proved a little more challenging that I had anticipated, which was mostly due to the fact that I was still half asleep. I briefly had her positioned at a weird angle, and promptly laid her down in slow-motion. Ok, I was awake now.

Heading north on Mex-199, I noticed that the bike felt terrible. The alignment seemed way off, and the bike was actively resisting any kind of steering input. I stopped and turned a few wrenches, unbolting first the handlebar and then the triple-tree bolts to fix the alignment. No go. I was convinced that it had something to do with the gentle laydown while backing it out of the hotel lobby in Palenque, but this felt worse than some of the bikes that I’ve crashed while racing. In any other circumstance, I would have guessed that the head bearings were bad, but I had a hard time making a connection between a gentle laydown and worn head bearings. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Either way, there wasn’t anything that I could do about it at that moment, so I got back on the road.

From Catazajá I took Mex-186 across the Usumacinta River into Tabasco, before crossing into Campeche just a few miles later. Much of that stretch from Catazajá all the way to the coast is no man’s land, with few towns and lots of straight road. Eventually, I took Mex-259 for the last few miles to the coast. Arriving at the coast is always exciting, but the sight of the blue water was especially intoxicating. In that sense, riding Mex-180 along the coastline was plain amazing. There were countless options for pulling over and just jumping into the crystal clear, blue ocean water, without a soul anywhere.

West of Sabancuy, Mex-180 turns into a causeway that connects Isla del Carmen to the mainland on the coastal side of a giant lagoon, Laguna de Términos, which is one of the largest tidal lagoons on the Gulf of Mexico, and is home to species like the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). At the far western end of the island was my destination-Ciudad del Carmen. It was named after the perceived protector of the island, the Virgin of Carmen. With a population of around 170,000, this city has long outgrown its roots as a sleepy fishing town, a process that was accelerated by the discovery of oil in the 1970s.

I had planned on staying at Hotel Adriana, but it did not appear to exist anymore, so I splurged and got a room at Hotel Los Andes, which is a tourist class hotel with secure parking, air conditioning, hot water, and Wifi. The asking price was 849 pesos ($45.89), but I managed to get it down to 700 pesos ($37.84). I spent the evening hanging out at the beach, eating ceviche, and watching some guys ride motocross at beachside track. It didn’t take long for us to meet, and before long, they were inviting me to a motocross camp that they were organizing in Chiapas in August.

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Early-morning departure from Palenque. It was backing the DR out of this hotel lobby and down onto the street that made the bike lay down for a snooze. She was just resting her eyes.

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Crossing the Sabancuy estuary, just NW of the fishing town of Sabancuy in the state of Campeche.

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Riding on Mex-180 along the Gulf Coast of Campeche is like a dream. Turquoise water and white sand for miles, with the highway running alongside of it all.

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The Bahamas? Destin, FL? Nope, picture-perfect beaches right here in Campeche.

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Sp perfect, it almost looks fake.

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There was a nice breeze at Ciudad del Carmen.

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Dinner at the beach in Ciudad del Carmen.

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Fresh ceviche, what else.

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A few of these destinations are tempting.

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A few local MXers were practicing by the beach. Here one of them is instructing some of the junior riders.

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Same guy riding a demo.

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Not sure if this was staged, but it is a display that was part of a drunk-driving awareness campaign.

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The beach at Ciudad del Carmen was charming and full of activity, even past the daytime hours.


Day 26: Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche → Minatitlán, Veracruz (227 miles)

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My goal for that day was to continue riding along the coast all the way past several major lagoons to Sánchez Magallanes, a small fishing town in northwestern Tabasco. I had originally picked the town from a map, mostly because I wanted to stay at a small beachside fishing town that allowed me quick access to Veracruz for the following day. I took Mex-180 west just past the town of Frontera, and then the Comalcalco-Paraiso road to Paraíso. This area was very tropical, and made for an interesting scenery, although it took some time to navigate the single lane road to Paraíso.

By this point, my GPS was only working part-time, so I implemented a mix of traditional navigation that was occasionally assisted by GPS. Before I knew it, I found myself in the center of town in Paraíso, and decided that it was a good time to take a breather. I inquired about the condition of the road along the coast, but found that it was good until Tupilco, but that the stretch past Tupilco was impassable. The word ‘impassable’ initially sounded like a challenge to me, but the more questions I asked, the less it sounded like a good idea. Regardless of who I spoke to, they all confirmed that the road had been washed away in multiple spots, making Sánchez Magallanes accessible only from the west, but not from this side.

The thought of having to backtrack in the afternoon did not sound very appealing, so I decided to leave Sánchez Magallanes for another trip, and searched for another destination. After spending some time with my maps, I found that either Minatitlán or Coatzacoalcos (both in Veracruz) would geographically make sense, so off I went in that direction. This time, using the inland route via Mex-187 until the town of Cárdenas, then West on Mex-180. When I crossed Río Tonalá into Veracruz, there were lots of roadside vendors offering life parrots for sale to truckers and anyone else who they thought would be in the market for a parrot. Each vendor would hold a large branch that multiple parrots were sitting on (presumably tethered to the stick). As a biologist, I found that to be extremely disturbing, and as a human being, I found it downright appalling.

Shortly before the split, I decided on going to Minatitlán, as the few things that I had read about both places made it sound like Minatitlán was going to be more interesting. It turned out to be larger than expected, with a population of about 360,000 in the metropolitan area, situated at a northern bend of the Coatzacoalcos River. Navigating in Minatitlán was challenging, because many of the one-way streets were not exactly running parallel or perpendicular to each other. To make matters worse, none of the lodging places that were in my notes had vacancies, so it took some time to find a hotel that was both available and suitable. It ended up being the Hotel Grand Plaza Comfort, where 600 pesos ($32.43) bought me a very comfortable room with air conditioning, hot water, and Wifi.

My afternoon explorations yielded some interesting view of the Coatzacoalcos River, followed by a stroll through the market, and eventually a nice dinner of enchiladas suiza (chicken enchiladas in tomatillo-cream sauce) at a restaurant named El Marino. On my way back to the hotel, a bunch of local bikers suddenly congregated right in front the entrance, and included anything from older sportbikes to HDs. This impromptu bike night only lasted a few minutes, then they all took off in a rumble of engines down the street.

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Cemetery near the coastal village of Jalapita, Tabasco, about 7 miles E of Chiltepec.

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The beautiful San Marcos church at Paraíso, Tabasco.

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The city of Minatitlán, Veracruz features a large oil and trade industry.

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The Coatzacoalcos River flows through the Minatitlán, with small boats taking people across.

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According to a local legend, the indigenous god Quetzalcoatl got lost on the river on a raft made of snake skin. The river was thus named Coatzacoalcos, which means “the place where the serpent hides” in the indigenous language of Nahuatl.

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The oil refineries in the background form the heart of the local economy in Minatitlán.

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The town itself is a bit of a maze,which made navigating it a bit of a challenge.

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Enchiladas suizas for dinner.

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The main plaza in Minatitlán.

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This impromptu bike night popped up on my way back to the hotel.


Day 27: Minatitlán, Veracruz (227 miles) → Orizaba, Veracruz (194 miles)

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The ride from Minatitlán to Orizaba was straightforward via Mex-145 and Mex-150, albeit with lots of road construction. The last part on Mex-150 involved approaching the prominent Pico de Orizaba volcano, with the town of Orizaba being located of the foot of this dormant volcano, which is also the highest mountain in Mexico with an elevation of 5,636 m (18,491 ft). Pico de Orizaba is part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a 1,000-km long continental volcanic arc that spans across Central-Southern Mexico.

Orizaba was a very neat town, with lots of interesting colonial architecture and a cute plaza with a friendly and inviting vibe. I stayed at Hotel Arenas, which was centrally located, had warm-ish water, a fan, and secure lobby parking for the bargain price of 150 pesos ($8.11). It also had one of the nicest attendants that I encountered on the trip, making my stay there very enjoyable.

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Lobby parking at Hotel Arenas. This place was one of the best lodging bargains of the trip.

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My hotel room was simple but functional.

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The Palacio de Hierro (The Iron Palace) is a famous palace that was constructed of Belgian steel. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel, whose company also built the Eiffel Tower of Paris.

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Another view of the Iron Palace, which used to serve as Orizaba's city hall.

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The main plaza in the center of Orizaba.

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Orizaba has gained in popularity in recent years, which is due to its low cost of living and strong economy.

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Part of the Catedral de San Miguel Arcángel in Orizaba.

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The main plaza was teaming with activity.

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Dinner in Orizaba. Enchiladas verdes, what else.

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The Pico de Orizaba volcano is visible from the main plaza, and is the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America.


Day 28: Orizaba, Veracruz → Metztitlán, Hidalgo (256 miles)

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My original destination for that day was the town of Cholula in Puebla, which was a short 2.5-hour ride away from Orizaba. Departing Orizaba via the tollway Mex-150D was beautiful but chilly mountain ride, even with the bike handling like a senile donkey. I repeatedly stopped and wrenched on it, but to no avail. Any steering input required a significant oversteer, because the bike was actively resisting any inputs to the point where straightaways were almost more fun than turns.

I arrived in Puebla de Zaragoza pretty early in the day, and somehow managed to miss my exit off Mex-190 to Cholula several times. One of my main draws to Cholula was of course the Great Pyramid of Cholula, which is the largest pyramid and monument of any kind (by volume) known to exist in the world today. I must admit, I had not done my homework on the structure itself, and was scanning the horizon for a massive pyramid without any luck. GPS and signage eventually lead me to a hill with what looked to be a church on top of it. The parking lot attendant read the puzzled look on my face, and quickly enlightened me on the history of the pyramid.

The church that is visible on top of the hill is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies), and was actually constructed by the Spanish in the 16th century on top of the pyramid. Since that church still remains a major Catholic pilgrimage destination and is generally of significant religious importance, the excavation of the pyramid has remained incomplete, which in turn conceals the true size of the pyramid. Therefore, if you’re standing at the base of the hill, you’re actually standing on a significant portion of the unexcavated pyramid below. Its base is 450 m x 450 m (1,480 by 1,480 ft), and the entire structure is 66 m (217 ft) tall, giving it a total volume estimated at over 4.45 million cubic metres. For comparison, the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is about 2.5 million cubic metres. It was constructed from the 3rd century BC until the 9th century AD, and was originally dedicated to the worship of an Aztec deity by the name of Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent), the God of wind and wisdom.

The views at the top were spectacular, but it seemed a bit too early in the day for me to spend the night in Cholula, so I started to make a plan for riding a few more hours. I was geographically separated from the Greater Mexico City area by the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanos, and had little desire to get any closer to the capital. Nothing against Mexico City, but I was simply too exhausted from the long journey to deal with the madness of that place. Cities like Pachuca or Tulancingo made sense geographically, but there was another place north of Pachuga in the middle of a biosphere reserve on the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The town was called Metztitlán, and seemed like a very promising destination, even if it still was a few hours away.

I crossed Tlaxcala on the quota, and continued into and through Hidalgo, entering the Federal District, before crossing back into Hidalgo and heading north on Mex-88. By the time I reached Pachuga, I was hot and tired, and tempted to just stay there for the night, except Pachuga reminded me a bit too much of Mexico City, and Metztitlán wasn’t that much further. The stretch from Pachuga North on Mex-105 across the Pachuga mountain range was fantastic, and definitely the highlight of the day. Somewhere near the village Acalome, I took HGO 37 into the canyon to Metztitlán.

Ahh, the serenity of a sleepy little mountain town. Except of course, that I had coincidentally arrived on the day of the onset of the biggest party of the year, la Feria de la Santísima Virgen del Refugio, Feast Day of the Most Holy Virgin of the Refuge, Metztitlán’s patron saint. Upon my arrival, there were people setting up stages and vendor stands all over the central plaza. Due to the large event in town, there was only one hotel that had any vacancies left--Hotel Quinta Espanola. It was directly overlooking the central plaza, and had warm water, a fan, and lobby parking for 300 pesos ($16.22). This seemed like quite a bargain initially, especially since the hotel was very nice and conveniently located. It didn’t take long for me to realize why it was the only one in town that had any vacancies left: this mega party, complete with live bands and various performances, went on until 3am, and the volume of the music was definitely at or near the concert-level.

I made the best of it by immersing myself in the celebrations, and spent much of the afternoon, evening, and night playing various carnival-style games, drinking beer, and having one **** of a good time. By the time I got back to my hotel room, I was so tired that not even the loud concert right outside of my window was able to keep me awake. Small caveat: At about 5:30am, they lead a procession of the image of the Virgen del Refugio through town and up to the cathedral, complete with a marching band that played with such vigor that I was immediately awake again. Regardless, I had a phenomenal time in this exceptionally scenic and welcoming town.

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A view from near the town of San José Cuyachapa, Puebla to the northeast, as Mex-150 snakes its way through the mountains.

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This valley in SW Veracruz contains the Cañón del Río Blanco, a national park that is named after the White River that crosses the park.

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View onto the city of Cholula, Puebla, with the Popocatépetl volcano in the background.

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The walk up the Great Pyramid of Cholula is nice and steep. You can see the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on top.

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Mex-105, about 4 miles S of the village of San Pedro Tlatemalco, Hidalgo.

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A beautiful church in the biosphere reserve of the canyon Metztitlán, about 4 miles S of the town of Metztitlán.

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The town of Metztitlán is situated in the biosphere reserve of the canyon with the same name.

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Steep cobblestone roads were standard in Metztitlán.

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Preparations for the biggest party of the year, la Feria de la Santísima Virgen del Refugio, Feast Day of the Most Holy Virgin of the Refuge, Metztitlán’s patron saint, were in full swing.

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Most of my canine friendships are easily established, but this one took quite a bit of work. That, and some fresh ground meat. People around me thought I was completely insane for feeding fresh meat to a street dog. He was extremely skittish, but he did take the last piece directly out of my hand.

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The church is called Templo y ex Convento de los Santos Reyes, and is one of the most significant buildings in Metztitlán. It was built in the 16th century.

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Lobby parking at Hotel Quinta Española.

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The biggest celebrations of the year brought the entire town (and then some) to the main plaza. It included bands, dancers, and lots of food.

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Vendors were offering various photo ops over the course of the festival. This girl passed on the PW-50 to the right, and went straight for the Boss Hoss...


Day 29: Metztitlán, Hidalgo → Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro (196 miles)

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With the bike handling like an oil tanker, I decided to forgo the mountains roads and take the desert route instead. My goal for the day was Santiago de Querétaro about 150 miles away. The plan was to take the road to Ixmiquilpan, followed by Mex-85 and Mex-45 to Querétaro. However, being super-exhausted from the long trip and operating on a minimal amount of sleep, I accidentally backtracked instead, and found myself en route back to Pachuga. Oh well. When I got to Pachuga, I pulled up at a motorcycle garage, and had the mechanic give me a quick assessment of what he thought could be done to keep the bike from handling like an aircraft carrier. He was convinced that the forks were slightly bent, but said that it was too risky (given my time constraints) to start trying to straighten them without knowing what other hidden problems were going to be uncovered in the process. He told me that he commonly waited on parts for a couple of weeks, which wasn’t realistic for me for obvious reasons. I still wasn’t sold on the idea that the forks were actually bent, but due to my time constraints a proper assessment of the forks was secondary anyway.
From pachuga I went South on Mex-85, then West through the far northern parts of the State of Mexico, back to Hidalgo past Tula, back through the State of Mexico on Mex-57, and finally on Mex-45 into Querétaro. My timing had me arrive in Querétaro right at rush hour, which was complete cluster, as one would expect in a metropolitan area with over 1,000,000 people. Once I was able to muscle my way through traffic and find a hotel, things instantly became more enjoyable. I picked Hotel Carmelita, which was extremely basic, but for the price of 330 pesos ($17.84) it provided all the necessities for a stay in an otherwise rather expensive city. Not wanting to deal with the crazy traffic, I left the bike at the hotel and fetched myself an Uber to explore the town.

Querétaro is famous for being one of the safest and most dynamic cities in the country, and has a very strong and healthy economy. Its old colonial center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and features a number of Baroque monuments from the 17th and 18th centuries. Its most prominent structure is probably the aqueduct, which was built in the early 18th century to transport water from La Cañada, which is located about 4.5 miles East of the city center. I spent the afternoon and evening exploring as much as possible on foot, which was very relaxing and enjoyable.

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Hotel Carmelita in Querétaro was basic but cheap. Parking was available right outside my door.

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One of Querétaro's most famous features is the aqueduct, which consists of 74 arches.

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The aqueduct was constructed in the 18th century at the request of the nuns of the Santa Clara Convent to bring water to the city from nearby La Cañada.

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A chapel in the Queretanos Ilustres Cemetery.

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Templo de la Santa Cruz in Querétaro.

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Dinner is being prepared at a small taqueria.


Day 30: Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro → San Luis Potosi, SLP (132 miles)

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On the day of my arrival I had noticed that there was motorcycle shop almost immediately next to the hotel, and I hadn’t given up on getting my bike to be at least somewhat manageable for the remainder of the trip. The person there had told me that the owner was away, but that he would be back the following day, and since my route for the day was just a short 2-hour ride through the desert, I decided to let him take a look at the bike. I dropped it off and ubered back into the town center until the mechanic texted me around midday. He had taken the front end apart and found that the main issue was the completely-shot head bearings, which confirmed my initial suspicions. Unfortunately it would take much too long to get replacement bearings, so I was stuck with the handling of a cruise ship for the rest of the journey. This diagnosis also did not come cheaply, but I suppose that is to be expected from a shop in a major metropolitan area and a bike with Texas plates on it. I can’t remember how much exactly I paid him, but I do remember thinking that it was only marginally cheaper than it would have been in the States.

The riding portion of the day was an easy 130-mile stroll up Mex-57 through the state of Guanajuato and into San Luis Potosí, to the city with the same name. Originally a silver and gold mining town at its foundation in the late 16th century, this city is now primarily fueled by its manufacturing industry. As was the case with Querétaro, the town center of San Luis Potosí has also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its unique display of colonial architecture.

I stayed at a rustic hotel called La Terminal, which was conveniently located near Alameda park, which is in the town center. For 210 pesos ($11.35), I received a tiny room with hot water, lobby wifi, and secure lobby parking. Like Querétaro, this was another metropolitan area with a population of over 1,000,000, as well as its fair share of historic buildings. However, it did not quite have the charme of Querétaro, and even though it was an interesting place, I wouldn’t have considered extending my stay there, had that been an option.

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My stay in Querétaro had been extended, so I did a bit more sightseeing in town.

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A bronze statue of an Otomi soldier in the historic city center of Querétaro.

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A statue that was dedicated to Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, a woman who fought for independence against Spain. She was also one of the first-ever women to be depicted on Mexican stamps.

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A less spectacular version of my enchiladas, but still a tasty lunch.

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Hotel La Terminal was centrally-located and cheap.

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The courtyard of Hotel La Terminal in San Luis Potosi.

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My hotel room in San Luis Potosi was frugal, to say the least. I believe that even my dorm room in college was a bit more spacious than this.

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Lobby parking, as usual.

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El Teatro de la Paz is one of four main theaters in San Luis Potosi.

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The cathedral at San Luis Potosi.

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Santuario de San José y Señor de los trabajos, the sanctuary of Saint Joseph and the Lord of Labor.

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Plaza del Mariachi in San Luis Potosi. Some of those mariachis were looking a little rough.
 
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Day 31: San Luis Potosí, SLP → Galeana, Nuevo León (225 miles)

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With Galeana being my next destination, I was now undeniably getting close to home. It almost felt strange seeing the signs for familiar towns like Matehuala, Saltillo, or even Monterrey, all of which were within a day’s ride to the U.S. border. Most of the day’s route was just a straight shot up Mex-57 through the desert, and felt a lot like riding through West Texas in the Summer. The town of Galeana is a very popular motorcycle destination, mostly because it is geographically convenient and the road across the Sierra Madre is both twisty and exceptionally scenic. Because it is located on the Western slopes, the mountainous parts of my route were relatively short, which was not the worst thing on a bike that was handling like a banana boat.

As I had done previously when in Galeana, I stayed at Hotel Magdalena right on the main plaza. For the price of 370 pesos (approx. $20) I received a room with hot water, a fan, lobby wifi, and secure parking. It felt good to be back in Galeana, even though the end of the trip was now imminent. I spent the rest of the day walking around town and making plans for my last few days of the trip.

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Hotel Magdalena is located right at the main plaza in Galeana.

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Galeana is located on the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental, and is home to about 40,000 people.

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The church of San Pablo Apostol is visible from the plaza in Galeana.

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Dinner in Galeana.


Day 32: Galeana, Nuevo León → Monterrey, Nuevo León (125 miles)

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I hadn’t been to Monterrey since 2007, so this seemed like a good time to make a pit stop there on the way back to my everyday life. The western route around the Sierra was the faster one, but it was difficult to resist the curvy section of Mex-58, as it heads East across the Sierra. Since this was going to be my last opportunity for any mountain riding, I ignored the handling issues of the DR and headed eastwards to Linares. By this point, the bike was nearly unrideable, and it was quite the chore to maneuver the bike through the twisty roads of Mex-58. I never thought I would say this, but I was actually relieved when I was done with the mountainous section and was looking at largely straight roads again.

Monterrey seemed a lot bigger than I remembered it to be. The city itself has a population of over 1.1 million, but the metropolitan area boasts upwards of 4.5 million people, making it the third-largest metropolitan area in the country (after Mexico City and Guadalajara). This city is beautifully situated north of the foothills of the Sierra Madre, with the Cerro de las Mitras (Mountain of the Mitres) to the West and Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain) to the East.
The city itself is also rather attractive, with lots of monuments and parks throughout the entire area, as well as very positive dynamics and friendly people. Being one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico (and in the world), hotel prices were accordingly steep, so I decided to stay a bit further north of the city center at a place called Hotel Amega. In spite of being located off a major freeway, it was a bit tucked away and not that easy to find. The price of 350 pesos (approx. $18.92) was not bad, and got me a room with warm water, air conditioning, relatively secure parking (out of sight, right in front of my room), and the most apathetic hotel attendant that I encountered on this trip.

I took an Uber to the town center and spent the rest of the day exploring the area. Among other places, I also visited the Parque Fundidora, a 142-hectare park to the East of the town center. This park contained extensive walking trails, museums, and even a small lake, which easily made it one of my favorite sites in Monterrey.

That night I wanted to go out for dinner some beers, but after riding around some of the same areas that I had previously seen during the day, I changed my mind and made it an early night. The vibe that I got from Monterrey at nighttime was very different than what it was like during the day. I wondered if that was perhaps just my own perception, but the feedback that I received from my uber drivers was very much congruent with this. Even though the security situation had drastically improved since 2010, when the split between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas had turned this place into a warzone, the security situation at nighttime still left a lot of room for improvement. Some of the things that my uber drivers had seen and experienced themselves were discouraging, to put it mildly.

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A view into one of many valleys of the Sierra Madre Oriental, about 5 miles S of Galeana, near the village of Puerto de Pastores.

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Heading deeper into the Sierra Madre Oriental.

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Riding the mountain roads with bad head bearings was torturous, but the scenery was stunning. This was about 5 miles W of the town of Iturbide.

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Mex-58 on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental.

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Welcome to Monterrey! This large city of over 1.1 million people (4.5 million in the metropolitan area) sits at the foot of Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain) to the Southeast.

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The old steel mill at Fundidora Park in Monterrey.

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The old steel mill was decommissioned in the mid-1980s and now houses the Museo del Acero (Museum of Steel), which is one of the largest museums in the country.

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Fundidora Park is full of of technological artifacts of the 20th century.

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This bronze statue at the Macroplaza in Monterrey is known as Fuente de Neptun (Neptune's Fountain).

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The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Monterrey.

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The city hall of Monterrey.

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My hotel room at Hotel Amega seemed pretty standard.

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...although the bathroom ceiling was badly in need of a little bit of love.

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Also, I'm pretty sure whoever installed this window unit was either drunk or six years old.


Day 33: Monterrey, Nuevo León → Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas (136 miles)

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Even though I was within an easy ride to the border, I wasn’t quite ready to end my adventure just yet. Besides, I was exhausted from almost five weeks of riding, the bike handled like a Greyhound bus, and it was ridiculously hot. So I decided to spend one final night in Mexico before crossing back into the United States. The only question was, where? After weighing my options, I determined that it was best to spend the night close to the border, and eventually settled on Nuevo Laredo. I had previously crossed there before, but had never spent any time in the actual town, so this would present an opportunity to see what the place was all about. That way, I could also get an early start and cross the border at the crack of dawn.

The ride there was just a straight shot through the desert on Mex-85. I passed an immigration building, but since I didn’t see an Aduana, I kept going and found myself in Nuevo Laredo a short while later. The plan was to cancel both my tourist card and the TVIP that day, so that I could cross without having to worry about that the following day. I expected to see the buildings or the at least the signage for them as I approached the border, but instead I suddenly found myself in line for the exit booths out of Mexico, without having cancelled either document. To my surprise (and much to the dismay of the people in line behind me), the booth attendant was able to cancel the TVIP right then and there. I still had to get the tourist card cancelled at an immigration building, but at least the TVIP was taken care of. Since I wasn’t actually trying to exit the country yet, they let me do a very suspicious-looking u-turn against traffic and back into Mexico, for just one final night.

I had a couple of lodging options in my notes, but none of them still seemed to exist and at least one of them led me into some sketchy areas (of which there are many in Nuevo Laredo), so instead of following my notes I just went to the city center and looked for a hotel there. I picked a place called Mesón Del Rey Hotel, which was a tourist class hotel that was located right on the main plaza. At 510 pesos (approx. $27.57), it certainly wasn’t cheap, but I was near the end of the trip and I still had plenty of Mexican currency. It also came with air conditioning, hot water, and secure parking, so it fit the bill rather nicely.

Nuevo Laredo has a terrible reputation, being a major drug corridor and the base of the Zetas cartel. Since the Zetas split away from the Gulf Cartel and took control over Nuevo Laredo, the town has become a battleground between the two and the Sinaloa cartel, which has formed an alliance with the Gulf Cartel. It was interesting to see to what degree that embattlement affected the dynamics of everyday activities. The perhaps most obvious difference to other towns was that people were generally much more distant, and not as open to conversation with others. And while the streets were still busy during the daytime, things quickly died down after sunset, with even the central plaza being nearly void of the usual social activities that you see in most other towns.

It was also surprising to see how difficult it was to find a restaurant near the center of town. It seemed like I walked all over town before I finally found a restaurant where I was able to have my final meal in Mexico, before crossing over the next day.

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Leaving the charming *cough* Hotel Amega in Monterrey.

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Electrolit Coco was my go-to drink while riding through the desert. Available at any Oxxo store.

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Nuevo Laredo wasn't exactly charming. The plaza was half-empty and the people were notably distant and aloof.

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The clock tower at Hidalgo Plaza.

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A stroll down the streets of Nuevo Laredo.

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Fresh fruit juice was being offered by local vendors in Nuevo Laredo.

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After five weeks, my final meal of enchiladas verdes before crossing back into the US.


Day 34: Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas → San Marcos, Texas (210 miles)

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I got up to an early start, ready to cross the border and be back on home soil. If things went well, I could possibly consider going all the way back to Fort Worth in one day. It was a short ride to the border itself, and while I was busy looking for the immigration office, I somehow found myself in line for the crossing. Not again! This was a Saturday morning, and the line behind me was long and dense, so turning around did not seem like a feasible option at this point. Instead, I made a plan to cross over to the U.S., park the bike, then use a pedestrian crossing to head back over and cancel my tourist card. It would probably eat up an hour or so, but it was still early and it shouldn’t be a problem.

The U.S. border patrol agent asked me the usual questions, checked my permanent resident card, and I was back in the States. He also told me that the nearest pedestrian bridge was just a few blocks away. I rode over to that bridge and parked the bike close to where you paid to cross the bridge. It was already pretty hot by now, and I decided to leave my jacket and helmet on the bike, securing both items with a cable lock. I wasn’t going to be gone for long, and it seemed highly doubtful that somebody would make an effort to steal my sweaty gear that looked and smelled like an adventurous trip.

When I got to the immigration building on the other side (which was easy to find heading that direction), I found out that canceling my tourist card was going to be quite as easy as I had thought. When I had crossed from Guatemala back into Mexico at El Ceibo, they hadn’t charged me for issuing the tourist card, which meant that I had to pay the fee upon canceling the document. To make matters worse, any fees always have to be paid at a bank, and the small bank that was located in the building that I was in was closed on weekends, leaving only the main building to take care of everything. That building was adjacent to the other bridge, which was an annoying walk in the heat without a sidewalk. When I got there, the place was already overflowing, with the line leading halfway through the parking lot. Oh ****.

After an eternity of standing in line, baking first in the outside heat and then in the inside heat, I was finally able to get the fee paid and the document cancelled. It was now almost ten o’clock, but at least I was finally on my way. I walked back to the pedestrian bridge, and stopped by a convenience store before crossing back. I bought a bottle of water, opened my wallet, and instantly realized that I had made a terrible mistake: When I had crossed into the U.S. a few hours earlier, I had left my gloves on when handing the border patrol agent my documents. When he returned my permanent resident card, I had trouble sliding it back into my wallet, and, not wanting to hold up the long line behind me, stuck it into my jacket pocket instead. Yes, the same jacket that was now on my bike, which in turn was parked across the border in the US.

I had never attempted to cross an international border without valid documentation before, and even if I had to, then the US-Mexico border wouldn’t have been my first choice. There was a lot of colorful language that was running through my head, but it was of no use--I was stuck in this predicament, and there wasn’t much I could about it, other than explaining the situation to the border patrol agents. So I joined the mass of people who were crossing and/or attempting to cross into the US on foot. It took about 45 minutes for the line to finally reach the border patrol checkpoint, and I immediately sought out the agent to explain the situation. The agent listened, and then told me to enter an adjacent office to talk to the agents there. When I attempted to explain the situation to the agent behind the window in that office, he switched into interrogation mode and began to ask me questions that sounded like standard protocol when a story seemed fishy to them. Most of the questions were along the lines of who I went to visit on this trip, who I traveled with, and how I received my permanent residency status in the first place. I patiently answered all of his questions, and was (fortunately) able to supply my passport and secondary methods of identification. The only thing that I was missing was my permanent residency card.

After a while, he started asking questions that were beginning to sound a bit more troublesome: “Is this your first time?” (My first time doing what? Forgetting my permanent residency card in my jacket on the other side?), “How much money do you have on you right now?” (Um...what?), and “How much do you have on your credit cards?” (How much...available credit? Or my balance?). He never really clarified upon request, but instead assigned me to an official interrogation room, where another agent showed up a few minutes later. I tried to explain the situation to him, but he instead cut me off and explained that he would have to search me. I was told to place my hands against the wall, and spread my legs. You know, movie stuff. Right when he was about to get started, his supervisor interrupted him and the frisking was off.

After a bit of pleading, I was finally able to convince them to let me lead them to my bike, which must have been within about 100 m of where the office was. They begrudgingly agreed to follow me, but both became agitated when I had trouble orienting myself outside of the office. The lanes that were leading in the other direction were out of sight, blocked by some building structure, and so I wasn’t 100% certain that I was walking in the right direction. They immediately thought that I was playing games with them, so I just started walking in the direction that I assumed my bike was in. This whole situation was ridiculous, but it was ultimately my own fault, which is probably the only reason that I was able to keep myself from giving them a piece of my mind. That, and the fact that the border Gestapo could always deny entry, which would have sucked.

As soon as we walked around a few structures, there she was--parked right where I had left her. I have rarely been as happy to see the DR just sitting there. Better yet, my jacket and helmet were still properly locked to the bike. I unzipped the jacket pocket and handed them my permanent resident card with a smile. After that, it didn’t even take ten minutes for everything to be ready and me being on my way. By now it was already midday and boiling hot, but I felt like a million bucks when I finally got to take off on the banana boat.

Any hope of getting home that same day had long since vanished, but I wanted to put down at least a few hours of riding. I stopped in Seguin, where I met a few of my buddies at a reptile expo. It was great to see some familiar faces, and the idea that I was back in the States was now finally beginning to sink in. I rode a little while longer, before finding a small roadside hotel just north of San Marcos.

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Secure parking in the back of Mesón Del Rey Hotel.


Day 35: San Marcos, Texas → Fort Worth, Texas (220 miles)

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The last day of the trip felt a bit surreal. Everything seemed to be so reassuringly easy, with only the heat to worry about. Even though it had only been five weeks, I felt like I had been gone for five months. I finally pulled back into my driveway after having ridden about 6,400 miles, and with merely an afternoon left to relax before having to go back to work.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of these adventures as much as I loved living them.



Epilogue

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RIP Terry.

I'd like to dedicate this adventure to Terry Jenkins, a good friend and fellow rider who recently passed away doing what he loved most. We love motorcycles not because we have a death wish. To the contrary, we have a life wish.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Sep 25, 2007
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Cibolo, Texas
Great and detailed write up!!! Thanks for taking the time.

PS, the ATVs you saw had nothing to do with narco activity. Their well heeled owners ride the back country in Durango and Sinaloa for fun.
 
Joined
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PS, the ATVs you saw had nothing to do with narco activity. Their well heeled owners ride the back country in Durango and Sinaloa for fun.
Glad to hear it! That was such a strange and tense encounter. Also a very impressive selection of equipment: it looked like it had just rolled off a showroom floor somewhere.
 
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I seldom read ride reports, I just quickly scan the photos. I really liked your daily map screenshots so I knew where you rode without reading and could associate with the photos. Good job!

_
 
Joined
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Bien hecho, one of the best ride reports I have read. And the perfect bike to enjoy the roads off the autopista. You used very good judgment when traveling thru sketchy areas, Que te vaya bien.
 
Joined
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McKinney, Texas
Thanks for posting this, I live in Plano and have wanted to take a ride to Mexico for a few years (with my wife, she rides also) so this will really help convince her to go..

Gary
 
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McAllen
Great report. Travel is the gift you bring home. Gods hand was on tour shoulder. You never know the burden that is carried by those you observe along your journey. I am sure you lifted the spirits of those along the way. Your report certainly lifted mine. Bravissimo!
 
Joined
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Jalisco, Mexico
As far as your interest about the ATV riders, quien sabe? There are lawless areas in Mexico where virtually everyone either has connections with the local cartel or knows someone in the cartel. Best to err on the side of caution and mind your own business, then move on. If you spot an Iridium satellite phone in an ATV, there is your answer.
 

FCBH

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:clap:

Outstanding and the best Mexico ride report to date! You provided extensive pictures and a detailed desciption of your activities.

Thanks for sharing.

RB
 
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Well, that killed ALL of my free time for the last few days, but I certainly enjoyed it. Goodness what it must be like to have five weeks in a row for a huge adventure. Whether it's this one or another one, I'm supremely jealous.
 
Joined
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Fort Worth, TX
Thanks guys, I really appreciate all of the positive feedback. A lot of work went into this ride report, but there is probably no better way to preserve those memories.

Also, just a quick note on my experience with filing a claim with a Mexican insurance company. Prior to both legs through Mexico, I purchased a policy through BajaBound.com from a company called Ace Seguros. I went with a deluxe coverage package, which included full coverage (except medical) for what I estimated was the total replacement value of the bike ($5k), including aftermarket parts. The total cost of that policy came to be approximately $11/day.

Apparently it is the custom in Mexico for the dispersal of the funds to be conducted by your own insurance company, even in the event that the other party was at fault. Their insurance company pays yours, which in turn releases the funds to you. In my case, this was a benefit in the sense that I got to deal with a highly-rated company (Ace Seguros), as opposed to a lower tier company that would make things more difficult.

That said, it did take almost exactly four months to finally resolve this issue, with the single largest contributing factor being their inconsistent communication. Things initially appeared to progress smoothly, but were soon hampered by various holidays and contact persons disappearing for weeks at a time. At one point, none of my e-mails or calls were returned (even voice mails left with supervisors), and I was close to involving a regulatory agency (the company is based in Mexico, but also operates in the U.S.). The claim was ultimately resolved to my satisfaction, but it did take a significant amount of time and persistence. (Not that this is unique to Mexican insurance companies--I've had an experience with Dairyland Insurance in the past that mirrored this one.)

The probability of getting into an accident with another vehicle in Mexico is obviously low, but I will continue to spend the few extra dollars to get a comprehensive policy. Now that I'm familiar with the process, I'd also not shy away from purchasing another policy from Ace Seguros.
 
Joined
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The claim was ultimately resolved to my satisfaction, but it did take a significant amount of time and persistence. (Not that this is unique to Mexican insurance companies--I've had an experience with Dairyland Insurance in the past that mirrored this one.)
I was going to say this sounds like my wife's claim with Farmers. Claims person had to have surgery, so our claim was delayed. ***? Other delays happened as well. All in all it sounds like your experience with them was on par for what is to be expected with insurance companies and is good to know that for the amount you paid, which seems very reasonable, that you got a product that is on par with what you can get here. Good to know and something to take note of for future reference. Thanks for sharing.
 
Joined
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10 miles from Mexico
Hey thomas im glad u made this journey an awesome adventure, been wanting to read up on it so finally made some time, da truck that u hit was a tacoma same color as mine n like me i hope they dont fix her up it adds character to an offroad vehicle, what day were u in that accident? Doug, danny n i rode thru that same intersection from saltillo to parras oct21 on a friday about 3-5 in da afternoon maybe. N i can tell u ive been to zihuatanejo n taxco a couple of times both very charming towns, did u buy any cheap silver? That nonpolice ckpoint tells u that someone somewhere maybe up in Some high mountain overlook had already seen u coming, its an adv right, u signed up for it.
 

Tourmeister

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Excellent! :bow:

I took the time to read it all rather than just scanning the pictures. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I know it takes a LOT of time!
 
Joined
Feb 16, 2005
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Dallas
I really enjoyed your report. I have a DR and I would like to ask you a couple of questions. At what highway speeds do you normally travel? What sprocket combo are you using?

Thanks again for sharing your voyage.
 
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
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Fort Worth, TX
At what highway speeds do you normally travel? What sprocket combo are you using?
I'll have to check on the sprocket combo when I do some wrenching on her this weekend, but my regular highway cruising speed was around 60-65 mph. The gearing was actually a bit short (and buzzy in 5th gear) for highways, so I expect to drop a couple of teeth in the rear next time.
 
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Yeah, that sounds about right. It was one of several things that I'd like to address before the next big trip. The other items include front brake upgrades (the OEM brakes are okay in the dirt, but pretty pathetic on the street), and a better seat (the Seat Concepts kit is okay, but makes me do the cha-cha after a couple of hours). :rider:
 
Joined
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10 miles from Mexico
I checked, it was 15/48. Gonna try 15/46 in Copper Canyon next week.
46 sounds better to give u faster hwy speeds, down in el canon del cobre u don't need torque its an easy ride in there, stay in da hotel with the river view n with an older lady running it she will take care of u n bikes with inside parking
 
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After way too many hours of uploading images and editing existing links, I'm happy to report that the image links are finally working again (in all of my ride reports)! Thanks to those of you who messaged me about it -- apparently the problem was due to the fiasco caused by Photobucket changing its terms without warning a few months ago.

I'm a little bit behind schedule, but the new ride report from the Yucatan ride this past Summer is also in the works. Stay tuned! :trust:
 
Joined
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Far East DFW
After way too many hours of uploading images and editing existing links, I'm happy to report that the image links are finally working again (in all of my ride reports)! Thanks to those of you who messaged me about it -- apparently the problem was due to the fiasco caused by Photobucket changing its terms without warning a few months ago.
Not to worry, many of us have been out there doing the same. Pain in the rear for sure.
 
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