Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Everyday Is A Winding Road - Mexico - Moto Trip: The Americas

Mexico es bonita.

It was Saturday, August 26th, and we had a ferry to catch later that day at 8 pm. We left our hotel around noonish and headed to McDonalds. I know, it's a super American thing to do and we are walking caricatures, but we knew the food would be cheap, and we were counting on the free wifi to work on our blog. While Josh went up to order our food he ran into a fellow gringo from Canada who had been sailing around Latin America for 4 years. He just got into town the night before and was in the process of setting up a sailing tour company. After talking with Nicolas for a while, he invited us down to the docks to check out his boat. We hung out there for a while, discussing the finer points of travel, before we had to head to the ferry.

About 20 kms outside of La Paz was the ferry terminal. It was easy to find with the huge ferries crowding the area. We had read up on this, and hoped it would be easier than crossing into Mexico was. Because we are traveling in the off season, there were no lines for us to deal with. We pulled up to the security checkpoint and the officers reviewed our passports and TVIP's (about 6 times), then made us get off the bikes one at a time to walk over and press a small button, sort of like a crosswalk button. Johanna's button turned the light green, and she was waved away. When Josh pressed the button, it turned red with an audible buzz, like he just lost a gameshow. This button is supposedly random, and normally this would mean that all his bags would have to be opened and searched thoroughly. The officers looked at us, then at each other, and apparently decided they didn't want to go through all his bags. Body odor for the win!

We were then directed to several different locations through vague hand gestures, and eventually found the correct line for our ferry. After we watched a ton of large trucks get loaded, we were finally given the signal. We followed another biker we had met from Guadalajara (more on that later), and parked near a wall on the highest parking level of the ship. All of the tie down straps they had were either broken, or crushed/bent by trucks running over them. Josh pointed this out to one of the workers, who then helped us tie the bikes down with some large, sailor style knots. We were a bit worried all night, but the bikes were fine the next day. After our surprisingly good dinner that was included with our ticket, we retired to our cabin to pass out. The next morning we arrived in Mazatlan, and after waiting in the queue for drivers, were finally allowed down to our bikes. It was a quick and efficient unloading process, unlike what we had read about, and within minutes we were on the streets of Mazatlan.

We took another rest day in Mazatlan and then hit the road South. We were on the toll road for a bit, which surprisingly added up after a while. We did our best to stay off it as much as we could, and found ourselves in some impressive mountainous areas before descending back to the coast. That night we stopped at Hotel Paraiso Miramar, where we camped for 125 pesos per person. Within an hour of setting up our tent in the sweltering heat, a freak storm rolled in related to the tropical cyclone (Lydia we think) that was threatening La Paz, and the property was drenched. The power went out, and of course our tent (and the entire camping/parking area) was flooded. 

The staff took pity on us and told us we could stay in a room for no extra charge. The upgrade was excellent, but drying out all our stuff was not. Especially when we discovered that our Wolfman bags had developed small holes in the bottom of each, and were no longer waterproof, and filled with a few inches of water. Luckily we regularly seal most of our stuff in individual bags, so nothing of high value was too damaged. We duct taped the holes and repacked our bags to the sound of thunder, and set out the next morning to Puerto Vallarta.

The ride to Puerto Vallarta was fairly uneventful, but when we got within 30 kms of the city, the traffic became thick and slow. We made it in to the city center, where the streets were cobbled and you could feel the history. Also full of hills. Slick, steep, cobblestone hills. This was not super fun on our little overloaded bikes, and we could feel the locals eyes following us, wondering what we were doing there. We got back to pavement and looked around for a place to stay. This was a tourist town, and many places told us they had nowhere to keep our bikes, as most of their customers fly in and have no vehicles. Finally we found a place advertising 303 pesos per night. And they had a ramp to drive our bikes into the property. But the fine print said 303 pesos PER PERSON. Too tired and hot to care anymore, we took it and parked our bikes next to the bathrooms for the night.

The next day we loaded up and put all our rain gear on, only for the rain to stop as soon as the bikes were rolled out of the entrance. Such is life. We decided to avoid heavy traffic and highways, and made our way to the 544. At first this was a quiet, simple road running through small towns, filled with too many topes (think extreme speed bumps, that are placed EVERYWHERE). As the road began to climb we encountered a large barrier across the road, but no signs indicating why or if there was a detour. There was a small track in the mud around the barrier, so we followed it. As we came around the corner, there were a number of police vehicles and officers armed with assault rifles. We approached and they waved us through with a smile. Not sure what they were doing, but apparently they didn't care that we had bypassed their barrier. The road became very twisty, and filled with debris from rockslides and fallen trees, and sections of the road that had just collapsed and slid away. We assumed it was connected to the freak storm we experienced in Paraiso Miramar, and continued onward. Soon we began to see workers with various large machines clearing debris, which continued on and off for the next 20 km.


We stopped for lunch on the edge of the charming town of Mascota, then continued on the 70 until we reached Ameca. We found the tiny, old Hotel Catalina, where there was nobody at the front desk. After ringing the bell for a while, Josh spotted someone on the roof, and went up to investigate. He found an employee up there, and managed to secure a room, with parking for the evening. The parking required us to ride up to two sets of stairs in a narrow hallway, without smashing their antique furniture with our bags, but somehow we prevailed. We grabbed dinner and some rum to relax after a great day.

When we woke up it had luckily stopped raining so we loaded up and rode the short distance to Guachimontones, an ancient site from a society that existed as early as 300 BCE. After paying the 60 pesos (about $3.42) to enter, we parked and walked up a steep winding hill about a kilometer before finding the site. The main draw is a circular pyramid consisting of 13 levels, with an additional smaller 4 levels on top. In the center is a posthole, where it's believed they performed the Danza de los Voladores.

After that we were back on the road to Guadalajara. It didn't take long for us to enter the city, and we quickly found that everyone there has no concept of how to drive. People were cutting across 5 lane roundabouts, causing endless congestion. Being on motorcycles helped us cut through a lot of it, but was exhausting as we had to be constantly aware of every vehicle around us, as they don't care about pushing you off the road, into other cars, etc. Manuel, who we had met on the ferry from La Paz, had told us about his business called Ride Endless. We were due for an oil change, and hoped they would let us drain our oil there. It took a while for us to find it, but when we did the staff was very accommodating, and insisted on doing the service for us while we hung out and talked bikes with them. We had a great time and highly recommend a visit if you're in Guadalajara, especially if you have a BMW.

After leaving Ride Endless, we made our way through the crowded city streets toHotel Estación. We found this on booking.com, as we just wanted a cheap place to stay for the night, and this was the cheapest. It was easily the worst place we've stayed on this trip, maybe ever. Our room was located on the third floor, down a dark hallway with a single light bulb that would flicker on when it sensed someone there. It felt eerily like a horror movie. The room itself was disgusting, and we opted to use our sleeping bag rather than sleep in the clearly unwashed sheets.  After dropping off our gear we walked around the town a bit and did our laundry before heading back. When we returned we found the lobby full of policia, all armed with assault rifles. We thought this odd, but tried not to think about it and returned to our room. At about 9 pm Josh went down to the parking lot to check on the bikes, and see if they had closed the gate to the parking area. The building was still full of cops, and Josh asked one if the bikes would be secure there. He told Josh that it was in fact NOT safe here, and that we should leave. At this point it was pouring rain, and Josh explained we would only be here one night, to which he just said okay. We went to bed uneasy, hoping that our triple locking the bikes and covering them would be enough.

At about 3 am we woke to incredibly loud music playing nearby. Josh went to investigate and found the adjacent hall's lightbulb no longer turned on, but at the end of the hall was a room where the music was coming from. And standing in the dark in front of that room was one of the officers, who did not move. We didn't want to investigate any further, and spent the rest of the night trying to sleep over the sounds of accordion music. Our alarm went off at 6:30 and we were up immediately, packing our things and lugging them down to the bikes. They were still there, and we quickly got our bags strapped down, all while a group of policia stared from their truck. As we started our bikes and began to roll out, they turned on the truck's loudspeaker and shouted something at us in Spanish that we couldn't understand. We just ignored it and rolled out, eager to get the hell out of Guadalajara. That unfortunately took over an hour, as the road we needed was under construction for about 10 miles, forcing us to take numerous detours before we could finally get on a highway towards Lagos de Moreno.

It was a fairly uneventful day of riding, and we managed to get to our hotel at about 1 pm. They had a private garage across the highway, so we unloaded our bikes, then drove them over, and ran back across the highway. We changed out of our riding gear and walked to the center of town, where everyone stared at us, as if they had never seen such painfully white people before. We had a great lunch at a university pizza pub, and explored a bit more before settling down for the evening.

The next day we were able to sleep in a bit, before riding an easy 70 miles to Guanajuato. As we got into the town, the streets became cobblestones, and we followed traffic through a series of tunnels. The streets became increasingly narrow, and aggressively steep. We got lost a bit trying to find our airbnb for the night, but eventually we did. Johanna had found us an old castle to stay in, for only $20. It was a fantastic property, and we were able to walk a short distance to the downtown area, which was the most touristy place we've been to on this trip. We grabbed some fancy dinner and ice cream before walking back to our castle.

Once we packed up the next day, we were rising into the mountains above Guanajuato then back down through several small towns until we arrived in San Miguel de Allende, recently rated the best city in the world. We found a cheap place on the edge of town through booking.com that allowed us to easily walk in. This worked out well since the parking situation in the city is limited, and the streets are once again narrow and slick with cobblestones. We liked it so much we decided to stay an extra day. San Miguel de Allende has a surprising amount of impressive graffiti, and we had a great time exploring the area.

After two days of much needed rest we left towards Bernal. Getting out of the city proved to be worse than expected, as our maps.me lead us through seemingly random streets, often picking the most vertical, and crowded street. Trying to hold your bike on a rain-slicked rocky slope while cars in front of your randomly stop with no way to get around them is not a good time. But we prevailed and finally made it out. The ride to Bernal was otherwise uneventful, and eventually we saw the massive monolith that overlooks the small town. We found a small guesthouse that allowed us to camp in their yard, and we were the only people there as it was off-season. Within an hour we managed to walk through the entire town, and grabbed dinner, with Johanna drinking a massive Michelado.

Our next stop was Xilitla, which was several hundred kilometers away. We took the Mexico 120, which was a great ride, despite the weather. At first it was just overcast, but the road continually rose higher into the mountains with endless switchbacks. Before long we were in a deep mist which forced us to ride with our visors up. Eventually we managed to rise above it, reaching over 8,000 feet. At this height our bikes performed fine, but we noticed they started having some backfires. We stopped for gas in the mountains, where an overly friendly dog climbed on us and made it difficult for us to leave. When we started the bikes again, the backfire problem ended, for now. As we began to descend we were back in the mist, and found ourselves soaking wet. We stopped for lunch and threw on all our rain gear. 

The road never stopped winding through mountains, which was great, but with the rain made our progress slower than normal. We finally reached Xilitla around 3pm, and our map software told us to go through the center of town, which became pretty hectic. It then led us down several of our favorite kind of roads: rain slick, steep cobblestones. At one point it put us on a road so narrow that some vehicles were parked on it, and we had to push their mirrors shut to pass by. This road was so steep it required both brakes to control our descent, but the map assured us we were nearly to our destination. Suddenly, we could see that the road simply ended in a cliff. Our destination was indeed ahead, if we wanted to drop to our deaths on top of it. Since this wasn't an option, we had to very carefully execute a 3 point turn, where even our small bikes were bumping into each wall of the narrow street. We managed to get out of it and back into the town, where we followed a dirt road downward until we found Casa Caracol. It was an odd sort of hostel, filled with random art and a never ending techno beat in the background. We stayed in a 5 person teepee, with an Argentinian who didn't show up until 1:30 in the morning, but we managed to talk a bit with him the next morning. It was an interesting place, but definitely for the younger backpacker crowd.

In the morning we went around the corner to visit Las Pozas, and were the first in line for it to open. As soon as we were inside we went right to visit the sculpture garden first. It did not disappoint. Built by a rich, eccentric English artist named Edward James, it is a monument to surrealism. Many of the structures felt as if we were walking through an M.C. Escher painting. We spent the next hour and a half exploring the site before we had to return and check out of Casa Caracol. We set up a new room further up the road, and got settled in and managed to do a little laundry, as our situation was becoming desperate.

The next day we took a short 50 mile ride in the pouring rain to Chapulhuacán, where we stayed in the surprisingly nice Hotel Posada Don Mauro. We walked the entirety of the small town before the rain started back up and we retired to our room. 

In the morning we were hopeful that the weather would hold as we packed our bags. But by the time we went to load them on the bikes, it began raining hard. Harder than it had the entire trip so far. We threw on our rain gear and headed further into the mountains. Before long a heavy mist settled in, forcing us to ride with our visors up. It became so thick we could barely see each other, or the road ahead of us. And the rain never let up. It was a long day. We stopped only for gas when we could find it. After a long day we finally descended and came out of the mist. While searching for a place to stay we found the small riverside resort of Madhó Corrales. Besides a few locals having a late lunch it was empty, so we snagged a cabin for ourselves and were the only ones there that night.

In the morning we had a scenic ride through backroads to the city of Toluca, where we found a cheap room at the Hotel Tollocan. Tomorrow we will be staying with Garry, an expat living in Mexico City that we met on the Motorcycle Mexico Facebook Group. He's offered to put us up for a few nights, and we're going to experience Mexican Independence Day while there. We'll post again in a few weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment