Time on the road

Monday, August 31, 2009

Leaving Mexico City to Veracruz State/Cordoba Aug 30

Melissa Wrote: The Mexicans have a saying “dejaste huella en mi vida” which literally means “You left a mark on my life” but in essence sums up the effect that some people and some experiences have on our lives. This trip has given me a heightened awareness of the reasons why you meet some people, and the effects that their simple kindness and openness can have on you…if you let them. It also has shown both of us the richness that we have in friends made over the years, and how fortunate we all are to be able to pick up those friendships after a long time apart and feel immediate closeness.
We left Mexico City yesterday, nervous about driving out of the city, especially since the GPS was on the fritz and we would have to rely on a map. All good; we got onto the highway and started to cruise. All of a sudden traffic came to a complete stop. Cars ahead were pulled over, hoods up, engines overheated… a mess. I asked a car next to us what the problem was, and he told me that the rains of the past few days had caused a lot of flooding of the highway and the adjacent towns.

 As we inched along, we saw cars leaving the highway via the “on” ramp, exiting into water that was halfway up to the doors. The highway started to show signs of flooding, the bike started to overheat from the stops and starts, and we were getting low on gas. Finally, we decided to exit, also from the next ‘on’ ramp. Some industrious locals were standing on the highway directing traffic and blocking traffic trying to enter so that all of the stranded cars could get off. Best 20 pesos we ever spent!
When we finally exited the road, we drove through a little town that was very flooded, all of the exited cars following each other. You could not see what was under the water, so when we hit a big gully, the bike almost went over. I could just picture us ending up in that dirty, god-knows-what water! Chris, however, did a great job and got us out of there. We got some gas, cooled the bike off, and went through surface roads until we could get back onto the highway. This had set us back a bit, so instead of traveling all the way east to San Cristobal de las Casas, we decided to head for a town called Cordoba, about a 6-hour ride by now, and spend the night.

What a silver lining!! Cordoba, located in the state of Veracruz, is a colonial town where the contract for Mexico’s independence from Spain was signed in 1821. It has a very Spanish feel, with portales, or restaurants and hotels built around the central square, The Plaza de Armas. There is a large, beautiful cathedral right in the middle of the square. We pulled into Cordoba at about 5pm, and since it was Sunday, the church bells were ringing and all of the locals were dressed up to head to Mass. We found a great little hotel, Hotel Bello, dropped off our bags and set out to have a coffee in the square. There was a brass band setting up in front of the City Hall, and lots of well-dressed elderly residents, men in white guayaberas and pants (along with the requisite white shoes) were standing with their well-dressed wives, milling about waiting for the music to start. As soon as Mass let out the party began! The band started playing old classics and the couples started to dance “El Bailon” which is the local dance of Veracruz. It looks like a slower, more formal style of Salsa. We hurried over to watch it. I began to take photos and video, and must have been smiling and clapping and obviously enjoying it, because an elderly man got up from his chair and asked if he could teach me to dance. He looked expectantly at Chris as if to ask permission. So here I was, in my flip flops and shorts, fresh off the motorcycle, doing this local, formal dance with an 82-year old gentleman named Benito. I felt like I had stepped into the Buena Vista Social Club. It was one of those magical moments that only travel and an open heart can bring. When we finished 2 dances, it was time to go. He bowed and shook my hand, and I told him in Spanish “Benito, dejaste huella en mi vida.” The smile on his wizened, sweet face told me he understood!

The night didn’t end there. We had some dinner, and when walking back to the hotel, met 4 guys on motorcycles, 2 GS 1200s, 1 GS800 and a KTM 950 Adventurer. They were from Guanajuato, and had just arrived from San Cristobal de las Casas, en route to home. We began chatting with them and they were friendly, wonderful people, and we had a very enjoyable night with them, having a drink on the square and talking politics, adventure and….of course…motorcycles!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oaxaca to Mexico City- August 29th

We enjoyed the relaxing, laid back atmosphere of Puerto Escondido so much, and left with heavy hearts. The road to Oaxaca was very windy, with topes, or speed bumps, every few feet...all the way. We opted to take the old road, which had lots of twists and turns. I had somewhat of a hard time on the 6 plus hour ride, as being on the back of the bike for those constant turns, following trucks and inhaling diesel fumes made me pretty carsick. Coming into Oaxaca made it all worthwhile. A beautiful, almost mystical colonial city which has the feel of old Mexico, dominated by the culture and art of the indigenous people, with more than 30 language dialects contained therein. We found a hotel that was $30 per night, looked great but the price should have been a warning. The walls were paper thin, the pillows rock hard, with a small window which looked out into a big tunnel. The family across the hall had the TV blaring until 3am and we had a kamikaze mosquito who had stealth training buzzing around our heads all night. We just could not find that thing to put it out of our misery.
The next day we went in search of another hotel and came upon La Casa de Mis Recuerdos, run by a lovely lady named Nora, who also teaches Oaxacan cooking there. Our 3 night stay there was a dream. We toured the ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla, visited a place called Hiervas al Agua, which looks like a petrified waterfall but is actually calcified water running over limestone, went to see the Thule Tree which is the largest tree in the world, went to a Mezcal tasting, and met a weaver who makes handmade rugs, still using a spinning wheel, a loom, and who uses only dyes made from natural materials like pomegranite, herbs, indigo and a small bug called cochinilla which grows on a cactus plant. We went to his home where he does his work and it was fascinating.
We were debating what to do next...Chris had broken his big Canon camera, the bike needed a service, and we needed to go to a big city for that. The only choice was to double back 4 hours to Mexico City, which made me very happy, as since I had lived there for 2 years working for Amex, I have some great friends and former colleagues that I wanted to see. Chris tried to do an oil change himself in Oaxaca...we found a Honda dealer that agreed to let him use the facility and to dispose of the oil. We took the bike into the market and found a place to buy some oil that was almost right. When Chris went to do the actual change, they only had a small funnel...and a bucket. He was under the bike, and went to drain the oil and the nut from the oil thingy fell into the funnel and blocked the hole, so oil came spewing out all over him. Juan Carlos and the guys at the dealer had a hell of a laugh at this crazy gringo covered in oil. He is still finding it under his watch, behind his glasses...everywhere.
We opted to head to Mexico City, and the ride was not too bad...getting into the city was a little crazy. One of the bikers that we had met in Acapulco, Luis, owns a hotel in Mexico City and invited us to stay there. What a great place! Located in Polanco, near Avenida Mazarik, it is called Casa Vieja and it is truly like a colonial home. We would highly recommend this place, just love it. We have gotten together with some great friends from my Amex days in Mexico City...try Ivoire Restaurant in Polanco, great place. Visited the Zocalo, got the bike serviced at Bavaria BMW near Polanco, Chris got his camera fixed, and I got my rain jacket shipped from Motorcycle Superstore via home. Mexico City is a cosmopolitan, bustling city, full of life with great restaurants and a sophisticated vibe. Tomorrow---on to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Acapulco to Puerto Escondido

Arriving in Acapulco from Ft Lauderdale on Continental, we were greeted on the tarmac by an official who ushered us all into a waiting area. We then formed a line and had our temperature taken. After this, an official handed us forms to fill out along with a brochure detailing the effects of swine flu. We went inside, reported on our temperature, and handed the form to a doctor who asked us a few questions. I questioned the process, and was told that this was to prevent swine flu sufferers from entering Mexico. I did, however, explain that being greeted by some mariachis with frozen pina coladas might be more conducive to tourism! You don't feel any of this when traveling inside Mexico...the U.S. press really has made more of this thing than is reality.

My trip home was great. It was so nice to see friends, re-connect, hit the gym and to generally enjoy the benefits of an air-conditioned house where I didn’t have to re-pack every day. Christian, the CEO of Chris’ company came to Acapulco with me to meet with Chris and do a quick business update. It was great to be with him and to enjoy this transition back into our adventure. We went to a fantastic restaurant in Acapulco called Zibu, and had drinks at an equally great place called Becco al Mare. The guys went fishing and caught some yellowfin tuna….the chef at the Elcano Hotel, where we stayed, prepared it for us and we enjoyed a great dinner overlooking Acapulco Bay. Chris spent much of his spare time in Acapulco fixing the fridge, which he broke when he did a 50+mile offroad adventure while I was gone. The poor fridge rattled itself to death! He bought a soldering iron at Home Depot in Acapulco, got some spare parts from a computer store and it was as good as new. We met some bikers who had come to Acapulco from Mexico City, Luis and the guys, super nice guys who gave us some good information and tips. We also went to see the Cliff Divers which happens at the Hotel Mirador, a long way from the center of town. This prompted Chris to come up with one of the many "Yogi Berra-isms" he had had on this trip. We were riding in taxi and the ride went on, and on and on...he looked at me and said "In Latin America, to go somewhere you have to go everywhere."

We did a VERY long ride to Puerto Escondido, 7 hours in high heat and humidity. Towards the end of the ride the skies got ominous and we had to pull out our raingear. Arriving in Puerto Escondido, we pulled out the Lonely Planet and found a great little hotel above a surf shop called Las Olas. Turns out the Quicksilver Surfing Championships are happening right now, so the town is filled with pro surfers and a really good vibe. This prompted another comment from Chris, "I think that Muslims should take up surfing." Yikes....This is a great little town, where we were supposed to spend one night and move on to Oaxaca..tonight will be our third night here. That's the 'problem' with Mexico...this hospitality is so good, the people so nice, you can't make yourself move on!

El Fuerte to Acapulco Solo

Chris wrote: When we first planned this trip Melissa was going to take a break every 4 weeks for a week to go home and then fly back and rejoin me; however she had a lot more fun than she expected--and I didn't want her to leave, so she stayed for over two and a half months and then took a 10 day break to check on our stuff back home. This allowed me to spend some time going off-road in the heart of Mexico. She's back! and we are having a blast again. This posting is about the second half of my solo trip.

I left El Fuerte and headed south and ended up in a small town called Copala, on the road to Durango from the coast.This town was first established as a mining town in the 1600's and is now a quaint little town in the mountains, with cobblestone streets, whitewashed walls and red barrel-tile roofs, occupied by Mexicans and a combination of Americans and Canadians. They live there because Copala is 3000 meters above sea level and in the tropics surrounded by jungle, the perfect climate.

Copala's Mission. Every town has a Mission, my mission is to photograph them.

I really could have stayed a lot longer.

I then decided to do a bit of a offbeat route and headed to Durango, I didn't know that Mexico was so vast and green, with a beautiful mountain range; many times I thought I was in the Drakensberg Mountains back in South Africa.

This is a back country Starbucks, terrible coffee.

2500 meters up

This is the local form of transport in the mountains.

Windy roads, but in very good condition.

I had to take this pic, I don't know how many there are but the brolly is a nice touch for the 100- degree weather. I was surprised Granny wasn't in a rocking chair.

Road to ?

Every place that I stayed allowed me to bring my bike inside and to park it right ouside my bedroom door. This place was in a town called Mezquital at the end of the tarmac road. The rate for my room, $4. I had to buy a towel which cost me $5.

The next day I headed south on a dirt road in to the heart of Mexico and most of the people I met had never seen a Gringo or a bike like mine. This little kid was fascinated especially when I gave him my camera to take the next pic.

I am smiling here because I had no idea what I was about to get into.

In the back you can see a lady with her child, she is sitting in her kitchen next to her dining room, open plan and all, which also happens to be the town resurant and the local "Starbucks."

After I left this town I rode for a while and came across an area of road which was barely passable by car and I see this red SUV parked on a corner and a old man sitting on a rock, in the middle of nowhere, so I pull up to say hi, and he is smoking a bit of the dilly stuff. As I greet him these 3 young kids poke their heads out the window of the car to see this gringo and his bike. Only after I left did I realize what he was doing, the road was so bad that he needed to cool his nerves and slow his driving down, I don't think it would work on 2 wheels.

After a 100 miles of terrible dirt road, Thuli Pass for 100 miles, I came to this point where a guy stopped me because they were blasting the road with dynamite. Half an hour later there was a really big bang and I headed up the road to find a big bulldozer making a new road through the rubble, that took another half hour and I went through only to find another crew drilling and placing more explosives in the middle of the road. The only way through was to ride over the already placed charges. This really is a different world.

The river had washed this road away so the only way across was through to the right: not too deep-- about 2 feet.

Riverbank soccer, when you get muddy you kick the ball into the river and chase after it.

Now this was about 3 to 4 feet deep and about 300 feet across and brown water so I could not see what was down there, so I put the bike in first gear and aimed at one of the tire tracks and held on for dear life. The BMW R 1200 GS Adventurer really is the 2 wheel King of Adventure touring.

Locals in their Sunday-morning dress. They wanted to swap a photo for a lift. Guess they figured a big bike could take the whole family, so I played dumb ( I had to try real hard) and gave them some Pesos instead.
Shortly after this I got caught at sunset on a road being newly constructed in a torrential downpoour. It was like riding down the side of a mountain in a river. All in all, a fantastic 190 miles of off road.

Back at the coast again. Hot muggy and dreamlike beaches for as far as the eye can see.

This is where I spent a night, in a little cabana right on the beach with this sunset, fantastic

Lying in my hammock at sunset.

Not bad, hey?

Acapulco, a big group of riders from Mexico city.

Cliff diving, more on this later.
Missy is back now and so she will be picking up on her responsibilities soon!! Her posting to come.