Reflections for the month of November

November 29, 2010

1. Why spend time getting to know a woman when it just increases the chances of her picking you out of a line-up?
2. I never expect anything from my ex and, sadly, she never disappoints me 🙂
3. Nada pode me separar do amor de Deus.
4. The only thing the drug crackdown in Mexico has done is to hurt poor Mexicans who rely on tourism for their livelihood.
5. I have a plan… and we all know how plans go 🙂
6. I’ve never known the loving of a woman but it sure felt nice when I was holding her hand.
7. In Mexico, it’s not the Tequila that will kill you… it’s the lime!
8. The culture, the food, the music, the importance of family in Mexico is something worth living.
9. Life’s not the breath you take… it’s the moments that take your breath away. When was your last moment?
10. Trust is not an argument that can be won or lost.
11. The reason we have faith is so we can still see the right thing to do even when we are blinded by fear and doubt. Our beliefs define us… if we lose them who are we?


Mayan overload

November 28, 2010

We left Campeche a little late and were promptly delayed even further by a police road block. Up to this point, we have had relatively little interaction with the police or military. However, three checkpoints later, we realized that we were now in a more heavily policed security zone. Whether that made us feel better or worse is still being debated. We headed out on route 261 and took the long way to Merida. Along the way we stopped at 4 different Mayan sites, the last and most impressive being Uxmal. Check out my blogroll for more info. By the time it was all over we were on overload. Enough with the piles of rocks!

We rolled into Merida very late and spent the better part of an hour searching for the Kawasaki dealer so Alex could get new tires. Having no luck and it now being dark, we used my GPS to guide us toward the hotel area. Some interesting things we did along the way were we rode next to a motorcycle cop who had a machine gun slung over his back and we made it through several roundabouts / rotaries. In Mexico the rule of the road for the roundabouts is see a gap in the traffic and go for it. Seriously, lanes and who has the right of way mean nothing. It is a wild free-for-all that we survived just fine.

We made it to the downtown hotel district and spent another 45 mins riding around and around and around the labyrinth of one way streets looking for a hotel with parking… no luck! Finally we found the Hotel St. Lucia which has private parking but it was a lovely boutique hotel with rooms going for the princely sum of $120 a night. Now that is nothing for the US but here it is a fortune. Since it was Saturday night, the chances of getting a tire on Sunday were slim so we booked in for two nights and enjoyed the beauty of the hotel and the town itself. There were festivals and parties and all sorts of things going on in Merida so our stay was wonderful. Check out the street dancing below:

Alex got to go out to a club until the wee hours of the morning and I got to lay by the pool, update my blog and watch football. I also got to rest my aching backside 🙂

Tomorrow we get Alex’s bike sorted out and the plan is to end the day in Cancun where we will rest for a couple of days while Alex goes diving and I go sleeping 🙂

The madness continues!

November 26, 2010

Our destination for the day was Palenque which meant that we would be driving all day in the heat. As soon as we rode out of the mountains near Mexico City the day before, the weather had turned hot and humid. Now we finally felt like we were in the jungle! The ride there was fairly boring and we stopped just outside Villahermosa for lunch and to replenish our pesos at the ATM. When we finished our meal we came out to find the two lane highway completely backed up with traffic. ARRGGHHHH! Our first real battle with the infamous Mexican traffic was about to begin.

Sadly, we did not film this debacle but suffice it to say that it was like playing the latest video game on the Playstation! Rather than sit in miles and miles of traffic, Mexican motorcycle riders are graced with the special powers of “if you can fit through that gap then you are allowed to do so”. We began what can only be described as a death defying, harrowing, exhilarating and crazy ride in, on and around every obstacle in our way. The beauty of the crappy Mexican roads is that there is no actual defined shoulder so our bikes could be ridden in the ditch/sand-pit/gully/grass/weeds and trash strewn underbrush that borders them. So off we went, dodging obstacles like people, soft sand, embankments, potholes, cars, buses, other bikes and the occasional bus that was taking on passengers. At one point, we cut through a gas station and actually drove BETWEEN two semi-rigs that were parked next to each other with about a five foot gap between them. The driver had his door open and had quite a shock when two bikes whizzed by him out of nowhere. In the end, we spent the better part of 20 mins getting out of what surely would have been a two hour traffic jam due to a truck breaking down. It was a truly odd, fun and memorable experience and it reminded me of my younger days spent weaving in, out and around traffic in Bermuda.

We arrived in Palenque late in a day that was about to get even more interesting. We rode through town looking for a hotel and ended up driving all the way into the national park because we couldn’t find anything suitable. On the way there, Alex spotted a campsite so we checked it out. $2.50 per person to camp was a selling point and Alex loves his camping (me not so much) but I begrudgingly agreed to stay. It’s an adventure right? Hell yes, it turned out to be quite an adventure! The campsite was nice where we set up our tents and they had a restaurant on site. Turns out the price of the camping is more than made up with the price of the food! The restaurant itself was a beautiful outdoor setup that would have been more in place on a Caribbean island. It had a very tropical feel. It also had very cheap beer to chase down our tequila shots 🙂

After dinner I went back to my tent and about 20 mins later Alex appears and says that he has met some cute German students who invited us to have a beer with them. Hmmmmm… That boy! You can’t leave him alone for five minutes. So, off we go to the bathroom to freshen up. Now, when I say bathroom what I really mean is a mosquito infested, concrete shack with nothing but a few cobwebs holding it together. The toilets had no seats or doors on the concrete stalls. Toilet paper… Yeah right! The showers had no hot water and I swear the cold water was piped in straight from the North Pole. I screamed, danced, held my breath and farted a lot to try to keep warm while putting one body part at a time under the stream of water. In the end, I got somewhat clean and also shrunk my balls to the size of raisins.

We shared a couple of drinks and some laughs with the two German girls who turned out to be on a year long medical internship. Who knew German univerisities sent their student on internships in Mexico of all places. The girls were very nice but their Spanish was better than their English so I struggled a bit to communicate. We wished them good night an hour later and crawled into our tents for some rest.

Now by rest, I mean a night of tossing, turning and screaming in the middle of a dense, desolate jungle that was the location for the 1987 movie Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was so much noise during the night that I could have gotten more sleep while being water-boarded! We had our resident drunks who insisted on talking loudly and shouting out names and God knows what else whenever the mood struck them. We had the local “Shaman” who had moved from California in 1977 to live with the local Indians and was promoted to Shaman when the Indian one died. He liked to bang on his bongo drums in the middle of the night. Then we had the camp dog who was more afraid of it’s own shadow than anything else but decided that he needed to bark all night long. Of course, all his barking made me paranoid and I had a terrible nightmare about something that was outside my tent trying to get me. I remember waking up in the night shouting “HELP ME, HELP ME”. No-one came to help 😦

It was a dream but it was also true for we fortunately had a camp turkey… Yes, I said turkey. This butt-ugly creature wondered around the camp all night making some hell inspired gobbling sound that has to be heard to be believed. Then we had the monkeys… Vile creatures! They came into camp around 3am and sat high in the trees screeching some bloodcurdling cry that resembled the sound of my bike crashing in Copper Canyon. And finally, we had the local rooster who’s internal clock said to crow at dawn… And by dawn I mean 5am when it was still pitch black!

So, after a lovely night of “sleep”, we got up. I went to pee and was promptly greeted by the Shaman who sat half naked on the toilet pooping. Ok that’s enough! Quickly, we packed up and rode off deeper into Palenque National Park to see the first of our Mayan ruin sites. The site itself was stunning. Again, simply amazing what these civilizations created all those years ago. My pictures could never do it justice. Check out my blogroll for more info. After seeing the site we made our way back north and eventually hit the Caribbean coast near Campeche. It was so nice to finally see the open ocean again and to feel the sea breeze against my skin. It made me miss home and it also made me realize how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful paradise. We settled in Campeche for the night with our goal the next day being more Mayan ruins while making our way to Merida.

Ancient civilization.

November 24, 2010

We awoke fairly early, packed up the bikes and attempted to leave our hotel. However, Alex had noticed that his main frame bolt near the chain was completely missing. Must have gotten jarred out going through Copper Canyon. He fixed it with a bolt that was slightly longer than the original and that ended up getting jammed against the chain when he started riding again. He tried backing it off but it was threaded and only came out about a third of the way. In the end, he left it like that thinking that he could fix it once in Cancun.

After that temporary fix, we headed back from town to the Gate 3 of the Teotihuacan site. We were the second people on the site and it was nice to be able to get pictures with few people in them. We parked the bikes outside the gate and had a local gentleman keep an eye on them while we went inside. We climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon and by the time I got there I was panting heavily. I can’t believe how out of shape I am! Then I realized that I am also in smog infested, 7,000 foot plus altitude and that may also be a factor.

The site itself was incredible. Absolutely amazing how huge and well preserved the city is. At one time it was home to about 85,000 people so you can imagine how big it was. Alex also ran to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun but I stayed down below licking my wounds.

After taking the requisite photos, we got back on the bikes and decided to get as far towards our next stop of Palenque as we could. We only made it to just outside Cordoba but that was far enough. We got a nice clean hotel with internet for $30 and spent a bit of the night walking around the town square and having dinner. I was tired so I went back to the room early and Alex stayed out chasing the ladies for a while.

Up, up and away

November 23, 2010

Sorry for the delay on my posts. Finding a place to stay that has internet is not always easy. Uploading photos and video is even harder. If I do post something I may have to upload pictures/video at a later date.

I filmed the entire town of Batopilas as we left on Sunday. Watch the video below and experience a quintessential Mexican town. Also see a dog try to attack Alex, the local gas station and the bridge you have to cross to get to the town 🙂

NOTE: video coming soon

I was a bit stiff and sore from the previous day’s fall so I told Alex that I was going to take my time going back. I wasn’t sure if going up 3 or 4,000 feet was going to be better than going down it. I was a bit nervous and was very steady at the wheel. I almost dropped the bike twice due to the deep sand and slow speeds I was doing but in the end I managed to wind my way up the goat track in about two hours. You can see a bit of the trip below and also see me passing a truck who would not move over for anyone.

NOTE: video coming soon

Once back on the pavement, I breathed a sigh of relief and Alex and I made a quick exit for Hidalgo. The four hour ride there was beautiful with the road taking us through the mountains and providing some breathtaking views. We managed to get “lucky” and found an auto motel on the outskirts of town. For those who don’t know, auto motels are clean, sterile rooms that have an attached garage (hence the term auto motel) and, at one time, were usually rented by the hour for various purposes. We got a nice double for 25 bucks but also a warning that the owner of the place had his glass door broken the previous night by some thugs shaking him down for protection money.

I settled in to write my blog and make some calls while Alex disappeared off to try and find some food for us. When he returned, he said that he found some really good food but also that he had some info. Apparently, the street vendor that he got our incredible bisteak tortas and burritos from had been hit by the same protection racket and the tienda (store) where he bought our drinks was robbed at gunpoint the previous night. Joy!

With that in mind, my sleeping was not so good but we made it through safely and left at about 7:30am the next day. Our goal was to put some miles under our belt in our effort to get to the incredible archaeological site of Teotihuacan, about an hour northeast of Mexico City. The days ride was long and quite boring. No real scenery to look at and the weather started at 50 degrees and peaked at 91 during the day. We saw a couple of fellow riders headed north and gave them a friendly wave. I wonder where they have been and where they are going? We ended the day riding around the city of Zacatecas and finding yet another auto motel ( for 25 bucks) where we spent the night. Alex went out and scrounged up dinner and also kindly bought me back a beer. It was a1.2 liter Indio beer… He must think I have a drinking in problem 🙂

Today we spent riding another 8 hours and made it to Teotihuacan. We made a few wrong turns, drove the wrong way down an exit ramp and crossed the median twice to make U-turns with traffic whizzing by at 65mph. It is amazing the crazy driving you can do in Mexico and nobody seems to think it is a problem. The stuff we did today you would be arrested for in the US. Alex was extremely proficient with his fuel estimating and basically coasted into town on nothing but fumes! Good planning I say 🙂

Batopilas or bust

November 20, 2010

After a night of semi-restful sleep freezing my butt due to cold, we got up early and made our way south past El Divisidero to see some wonderful views of the canyon. The bikes had a nice coating of frost on them and my bike’s temperature gauge said it was 32 degrees! That’s the coldest weather I have ridden in yet and I did not expect it to be this cold in Mexico. However, we were at 8000 feet elevation so I guess that had a lot to do with it.

I’m not sure which canyon we actually ended up viewing but it was stunning anyway. I made friends with the local inhabitants and gave three indigenous kids a strawberry nutri-grain bar. They were very excited but didn’t open the packages. I guess they weren’t sure exactly what this tall, strange, white man was giving them. No matter, I’m sure they would enjoy them later. After taking pictures at two different spots, Alex and I headed back toward Creel and took a small dirt road off that lead to a set of caves. Here, indigenous people actually lived and sold their wares. It was a totally foreign concept and it made me appreciate how much I have and how lucky my kids are to live where they live.

After viewing some cool rock formations, we headed south and our rendezvous with Batopilas. Little did we know what challenges and beauty lay ahead. The first hour to Batopilas took us on paved roads that twisted, rose and fell in the high mountains. The scenery was very nice and we made it to the turn off for Batopilas in good time. I had purchased a GPS map for my Garmin so I knew where to turn onto “unpaved road” even though a portion of it had now been paved. We made the turn to Batopilas and after about 15 minutes the pavement turned into hard packed soil covered by loose gravel. That surface was especially interesting because you were never quite sure how deep the gravel was in spots. After another 15 mins, the gravel ended and the real fun began.

The road, if you can call it a road, went from two lanes wide to basically a sandy, bumpy, rock and gravel strewn track that was very tricky to navigate. It had one track for the right tires of a car and one for the left tires with the gravel and sand building up in the middle like a line of stone. Problem is that this gravel line is extremely soft and dangerous. Every time you would cross over it, the bike would get loose and you had to struggle to remain upright. We quickly learned to stay in our lane so basically we had about 3 feet to maneuver in. Now, that wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the “road” was cut into the side of the mountain and you had anywhere from 100 to 4,000 feet of vertical drop. I’m serious!!!

I was very nervous about the whole thing. My BMW is a dual sport machine but I didn’t have it set up for off-road. My tires were Tourances and I was weighing in over 1000 pounds… not exactly off-road specs!! After about 10 mins of riding on this goat track, I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it when I rounded the corner to one of the most breath-taking views I have ever seen. The entire canyon lay before us and the Batopilas river could be seen thousands of feet below. Our road could also be seen thousands of feet below and it gave me a shiver to think that was where we have to go. Alex and I took the opportunity to have lunch in one of the most beautiful places on earth before setting off down the mountain.

After about an hour and a half of off-road riding we got to the bottom of the canyon and slowly made our way toward the town. Alex was ahead of me because his KLR was much better suited for this terrain and he has more off-road experience than me so I was trailing behind. I exited a set of curves and motored downhill through a relative benign stretch of the track. I looked ahead to see if I could spot Alex and found out why they say don’t take your eyes off the road for a second. In the moment that I looked for Alex, I drifted into the center of the track and my front wheel lost its grip in the loose gravel and sand. The bike went down hard on its right side and ejected me forward at 30pmh my left shoulder taking out the wind-shield as I flew to the ground. I landed hard on my right shoulder but fortunately my right arm was tucked against my body so it absorbed the blow. The back side of my head hit the ground hard and I immediately grabbed my head with both hands as I slid to a stop in front of the bike.

The good things that happened were my Aerostich Darrien suit proved it was worth the cost. The huge shoulder pads and elbow pads absorbed most of the blow and the bulletproof vest I was wearing protected my ribs because I had my jacket unzipped due to the warmth at the bottom of the canyon. Another good thing was that I didn’t plunge to my death off the road! And one more good thing… I was filming at the time so you can share the accident with me!!! Check it out!!!!

Bad things, IT HURT. My shoulder was sore and my shin got a large bone contusion. Poor Juliette got a beating as well… windshield gone, crash bar bent, turn light broken, broken fog light, brake lever twisted, engine cover dented (again) and Micatech pannier really dented (again). Still, it could have been much worse and the biggest pain is having to replace the windshield. I have a spare in Boston so maybe I can get it shipped to a hotel in Cancun.

After dusting myself off, Alex helped me right the bike and make some repairs to my fog light. The rest of the repairs could wait until the next morning. I had borrowed Alex’s multi-tool to try to reposition my mirror and I tossed it back to him from some 20 feet away. Note to self, do not try to throw something to someone after you have taken a hard blow to the head. I was WAY off target and Alex’s tool went flying over the edge of the cliff!!! All I could do was laugh because I really wanted to cry. Alex took it well and we could see the tool had stopped about 30 feet down the cliff. SOOOooooo… out came the rope from my bike and we had our first rappelling adventure. See the video for all the action.

The sun was going down and we needed to get to Batopilas and find a room for the night. We rode into main square some 30 mins later to find a huge celebration going on. The police were out patrolling around with machine guns and the music was blaring as practically the whole town celebrated Mexico’s 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence. We found a room in a house off of the square that included a home cooked meal. Yummy. We paid $15 for the night. The price also included a huge number of unknown creatures that swarmed your pillow while sleeping and sucked the blood right out of you! I am not joking. The place was infested with bed bugs and I awoke the next morning to many blood spots on my pillow. Alex also found tons of dead bugs in his bed when he awoke. GROSS!!!!! We didn’t bother to shower or anything… we just wanted out of that house. We got the bikes packed and I made a few repairs from the previous day’s accident before setting off for the local “gas station” and the way out of the canyon.

Mexico… For real!

November 19, 2010

I got up a 5 am and Alex and I were on the road by 6:15. It kind of sucks having to get up that early on your birthday but I guess I will always remember where I was. We crossed into Mexico at Santa Teresa and it was very quiet. An ominous sign read no importing of drugs, food or weapons of any kind. We had to produce our vehicle import permits for the Border agent and one hundred feet down the road we were stopped again at a military checkpoint. They wanted to see our papers and made us open up our panniers. Since they were carrying the machine guns we obliged them. Right away, they spotted Alex’s giant crocodile Dundee knife in his top case. Good thing he speaks fluent Spanish because I watched him dance around the fact that the knife was most certainly a weapon. Alex assured the guy that the knife was because he was afraid of animals and needed it to feel safe. A string of continued lies seemed to satisfy the soldier and we quickly packed up and got back on the road to Chihuahua.

The roads were all toll roads and so they were in excellent shape with virtually no traffic. Mexicans cannot afford toll roads as a general rule. We made good time and went through a Police roadblock. Alex went through but I swear the guy motioned for me to stop. Must have been my paranoid tendencies. A bewildered look and “no hablo espanol” kept the policeman from asking any more questions and on I continued.

The weather was extremely cold when we left. I expected going south to be warm but our first hours riding was spent in sub 40 degree weather. When we stopped to get gas we talked about the weather and I remarked to Alex that I was ok because I was feeling the warmth of Kevlar 🙂

We made our way through Chihuahua and toward Creel which is a tourist town where the train through Copper Canyon stops. As we were going through one small town, I almost missed a stop sign that was hidden on the side of the street. I braked hard and semi-stopped before continuing on. Alex, however, did not see the stop sign at all and breezed right through. As luck would have it, a motorcycle cop was about to enter the intersection that Alex just ran through. I watched as the blue lights and siren came on behind us and I pulled over. The cop went right around me and straight after Alex. Apparently, I had done enough of a stop to be considered somewhat legal. I watched as the cop got off his bike and headed up to Alex. Oh boy… here we go! I wonder how much of a bribe this is going to take. Much to my surprise, the cop immediately extended his hand out to Alex and they shook firmly. It turns out that the motorcycle brotherhood is alive and well in Mexico even when breaking the law. Alex apologized profusely and told the policeman all about our trip before the guy let us go on our way. Talk about a lucky break.

We continued on to Creel and I got to watch and learn as Alex demonstrated the art of finding a room for the night. A couple of helpful locals were more than happy to assist us as well. After dismissing our first two attempts at a hotel, Alex secured a room in an alley off an alley off an alley off a dark hole in the wall. I was a little frightened but for 20 bucks for the two of us it had a private shower, free wifi, relatively clean sheets and electricity that flickered on… and off 🙂

Tomorrow we get up early and head into Copper Canyon. Our route is mostly off road and has some serious elevation changes but is supposed to have some spectacular views! I’m looking forward to it.