We didn’t roll out of our hotel till the crack of noon and encountered more bumper to bumper traffic pretty much right outside our hotel door. We eventually found ourselves in a very ritzy part of town after missing a turn the GPS wanted us to take. Beautiful new homes, security guards everywhere, we were worried one of the guards would run us off for trespassing. The GPS rerouted us straight through the subdivision and a few minutes later we found ourselves at the end of a cul-de-sac facing a really crappy looking dirt path with the GPS urging us on. According to the GPS, this is a through road. Hmmmm! A moment later a cab zipped right passed us and down the dirt road. Ok, I thought, if he can do it… Continue reading
We had a very short 174km’s to Morelia and our 8th state (Michoacán), and even with our morning detour to Guanajuato, we made it there with plenty of daylight left. We managed to hit another huge traffic jam navigating our way downtown to the first hotel on our list. Nice place but parking was an issue as I would have to get the bike up the rather significant sidewalk curb, through the main door, over the raised threshold and into a small sunken courtyard right next to the nativity scene. There was just enough space to park the bike but not enough space to turn around to get out of the sunken courtyard.
The girl at the front desk told us about another hotel a few blocks over with secured parking and drew us a little map. Looked good but parking was across the road although in a secured building. We thought we’d try the other hotel on our list first, the Hotel California. But the GPS took us out of downtown into a much more depressed part of town, down some alleys we both thought were questionable and of course no hotel in sight when we got to our destination. Back to #2 it was.
On the way there, we were behind a pick up truck waiting for a light to change when one of the kids in the back of the truck yells something to us in spanish. “Lo siento, no hablo español,” I replied. The girl next to him then yells back in perfect english, “do you know where the theatre is?” Seriously? You’re asking us for directions? BWAHAHAHAHA! Continue reading
Somewhere over the last few days we’ve began feeling pretty homesick, almost 7 months on the road and it hits us now? With Christmas fast approaching it’s only going to get harder I think. There’s no doubt that there are good days and bad ones but we’ve noticed we’re having more of the bad ones lately for some reason.
Mexico seems like a paradox of sorts. It has some of the most amazing architecture we’ve ever seen, the buildings, cathedrals, every town is beautifully decorated for Christmas, people are nothing but friendly, well dressed, platform shoes and high heels are totally in at the moment. On the flip side the poverty is almost overwhelming. You can’t drive through a small town and not notice it, even in larger cities. Some of the buildings are so dilapidated it’s hard to imagine anyone living in them. Driving through a small town we watched a family doing their laundry in the creek, 50 feet upstream another one doing the same thing. We wondered if that was also the town’s water supply but if they’re doing laundry in the creek, it’s possible there is no running water at all.
Stray dogs are everywhere. Dead ones litter the roadsides and the ones that are alive are so emaciated it’s heartbreaking to see first hand. The language barrier doesn’t help either and just seems to make everything that much more stressful. We were having a difficult time processing everything emotionally and have found ourselves essentially shutting down by the end of the day some days. We’ve gone from everything being essentially easy and fun to everything being a struggle. What’s going on? It didn’t hit us till about a week later that what we were experiencing was culture shock! Continue reading
While loading up the bike in front of the hotel the next morning, we were approached by someone from a Mexican magazine, Enlace, and ended up doing an impromptu interview. We fielded questions about Durango and whether we felt safe, about the missing students and also about Obama’s immigration bill.
We crossed into our fourth state today, Zacatecas and stopped in the city of the same name. We passed the hotel we were aiming for on the opposite side of the divided highway and in trying to turn around, we quickly found ourselves being sucked into downtown amongst some pretty insane rush hour traffic. Traffic here is way more chaotic than back home, cars going every which way, pulling out into traffic from a side street to merge when there’s really no room, bikes filtering everywhere and yet strangely it seems to have a good flow to it.
One of the first things that stands out about the highways in Mexico is that drivers tend to keep to the right (unlike in Canada or the states). Back home there is almost like this sense of ownership of the lane people are in, especially the left lane. Continue reading
“Where do you want to go next?”
“I don’t know, where do you want to go?”
This is a conversation we’ve had many times during our trip. Without a specific plan or agenda for Mexico, it was one we’d have again many times. Sometimes looking at a map will help us make this terribly difficult decision.
In Mexico you have a choice of travelling by the cuota (toll road) or taking the much slower Libre (free) roads. The cuota is typically much more direct (read boring) and isn’t all that cheap. The downside of the Libre roads is that they are indeed much slower as they go through all the little towns. Each of these towns has between 2 and 8 topes (or speed bumps). Not sure I know why any town needs that many topes on the main road but they all have them. More on that later. One look at the map above and it was an easy decision between the two.
Ruta 40 was a blast to ride, super twisty and in decent condition. It was the most fun I’ve had since Angeles Crest in California. For a while it felt like we had the road to ourselves, kind of eerie actually until we noticed something multi-legged and bright orange crawling along in the middle of the road. Slowing down to catch a better glimpse of the next one, “I think those are tarantulas” I said to Lori over the intercom. We later learned these were the Mexican red-kneed tarantulas. “Great we’re alone in the Mexican jungle with orange tarantulas, let’s not break down anywhere around here, ok?” Lori said. Breaking down wasn’t so much of an issue for us as becoming roadkill, when we leaned into one of the many blind corners only to see a dump truck sharing our lane with us. It’s alright, I didn’t need the whole lane anyway!
Much, much to my dismay, we had to get off the road not quite halfway through as Lori began feeling extremely nauseated for some reason. Not sure what the cause was but the constant rolling from side to side definitely wasn’t helping. We switched over to the much less twisty and more major 40D cuota, and put it into overdrive towards Durango. As far as highways in Mexico go, I have to say this was one of the smoothest and nicest ones we’ve been on so far, it’s also brand new. With 63 tunnels and 115 bridges, it’s definitely not a boring ride either. One of the bridges is 1,124 metres in length and is 403 metres above the valley floor, making the highest bridge in the Americas and third highest in the world.
Another nice thing, or so we thought was the absence of toll booths, at least for most of the highway. Of course when we did finally stop at one, it was 120 pesos (or about $10) por favor! Apparently taking this highway end to end would cost about 500 pesos for a car. Yikes! I think that even tops the 407ETR back in Ontario for end to end cost.
We lost an hour as we found our way back into the Central Time Zone and the state of Durango. Mexico has a total of 31 states and one Federal District. Durango would be our third. Lori was excited about only being one time zone away from the kids.
While the Mazatlán that we saw had a very distinct gringo feel to it, everything from the english speaking wait staff at every restaurant we ate, to the rock music, heck we even watched a Canadian hockey game at one restaurant, the city of Durango had a more authentic Mexican vibe to us. I admit that we didn’t see all of Mazatlán nor did we venture out too far into the older part of the city, so I‘m not knocking the city.
We had written down a few hotels but settled on the first one we checked in on, the Casablanca. With a name like that and an exercise bike in the room, what’s not to like. It was also within walking distance to the Plaza De Armas and Catedral Basilica Menor. We knew we wanted to explore a little here and checked in for a couple of nights. Durango is a fantastically beautiful city.
Ordering dinner at the restaurant, brought to you by wifi. We’ve been using a couple of translation apps (google translate and iTranslate) on our phone to help us out whenever we get stuck, which basically means we use them all the time. Even so, things get lost in translation sometimes. We ordered a grilled cheese and we literally got a hunk of cheese that was grilled! We both laughed out loud when it arrived. You know what though, it was absolutely delicious.
What stood out right away was the social atmosphere. We’ve read that Mexico is a dangerous place and one should never venture out after sunset. Hmmm! We saw kids playing with bubbles and water fountains, people shopping for Christmas gifts, couples sitting on benches making out. All around us people were out enjoying the evening.
Catedral Basilica Menor beautifully lit up. The original cathedral was destroyed by fire in the early 1600’s. Construction on the the new one began in 1695 and wasn’t fully completed until 1844 as I understand it.
The next morning we found a little cafe a few doors down from the hotel. Like a lot of places in Mexico, it didn’t really look like much from the outside, but they had this cute little outdoor patio at the back. Perfect spot for morning coffee and brekky.
Our second attempt at Mexico went a little better, or at least we lasted longer. We checked out of the hotel in Tucson and hit the Cracker Barrel for some of that hashbrown casserole one last time before heading south. On the way we rolled over 40,000 on the odometer.
Crossing the border was uneventful. We rode right past the immigration and skipped the Aduana, after all, we already had all the required paperwork. Crossing into Mexico isn’t like riding into Canada or the states. At least not in Nogales. No booth, no border control officer asking how long you’re going to stay for, or if you have anything to declare. When I say we rode right past, I mean we literally rode right on through. In retrospect, perhaps not the smartest thing we’ve done since there’s no record of us ever leaving the states, at least not according to our passports. Hmmmm! Continue reading
You learn a great deal about yourself when you step outside of your own comfort zone. Of the two of us, I would have to say that Lori has pushed that comfort bubble much more than I have so far. Mexico however seems to have levelled that playing field. We have both kissed whatever comfort zone we had goodbye as soon as we crossed the border. After several weeks in Mexico, we find ourselves discussing the possibility of a course correction. I mean what do you do when everything is uncomfortable and unfamiliar? You seek out what is familiar and comfortable, that’s what, right? We were discussing Plan B & Plan C, maybe spend some of the winter months hanging around Florida or California, do some more riding in the south part of the US. Lori even scoped out a flight home for under $190 from Cancun as we discussed our options. But before we get to that part of the story, let’s rewind a bit and start at the beginning (of Mexico that is).
From Tucson we rode straight south towards Nogales, AZ, where we stopped to fill up and get things like water, you know just in case they don’t have any in Mexico ;). I also took advantage of the currency exchange place at the side of the gas station and swapped out some of our US bills for Pesos. Crossing the border into Mexico proved to be quite an easy task actually. The immigration building was on the right immediately as we left the US. The friendly border official stamped our passports and 10 minutes later we were on the road heading south. Our 6 month visa came to a whopping $56 for the two of us. He also gave us directions to the Aduana where we needed to make the bike legal. I’ve heard enough stories about getting directions in Mexico or Central America, so I was a bit sceptical. But 21km straight down the highway seemed pretty straightforward. Sure enough, 21 clicks later there it was. Although not as cheap as us, the process was even easier as the girl in the booth spoke English. 6400 pesos for the bike, most of which we’ll get back when we leave Mexico, so long as we leave with the bike of course. Considering how nervous we were about everything, it turned out to be quite an easy process overall. Continue reading
Hard to believe we have already been on the road for 6 months. What a trip so far! We’ve seen some pretty incredible sights and have met some truly wonderful people along the way. Whether at some random coffee shop or gas station or even at a well organized travellers meeting like the HU, meeting new people has turned out to be the highlight of our trip. In fact I’m not sure I ever anticipated the profound impact meeting a complete stranger and being welcomed into their home would have on me.
This trip has turned out to be so much more than I imagined before we started. For me, the freedom of being able to ride my bike everyday, to places I’ve only dreamt of seeing, is like nothing else. It really is a dream come true to not only have the opportunity to do this but to also have my wonderful wife along for the ride. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I thought I would write down some random stuff about our trip so far.
Mark – California, maybe more NoCal (as I’m not a huge fan of LA and all that is rich and shameless). The state has mountains, ocean and some of the best riding roads I’ve ever been on (highway 1 coming into San Francisco – wow)
Lori – Northern California. Lori says this choice was made under duress since she wanted to pick others as she had so many favourites. Truth is we both did. Continue reading
After an overnight in Victorville, we headed north towards Death Valley. It was hot and the wind was gusting from the west at what seemed well over 60mph. I got to practice that ancient art of “Drunken Tiger – Hidden Sphincter” as I tried to keep the bike on the pavement, all the while being sandblasted (literally) for that added degree of difficulty. Not quite sure why but all of a sudden I got this strange feeling like I really didn’t want to go to Death Valley, a feeling that didn’t want to leave me alone. Maybe it was the wind, or sandblasting, or maybe it was because we had planned kind of a long day which would get us into our hotel well after sunset. I’m not sure. But after about 15 minutes I asked Lori if she really wanted to see Death Valley today. Right away she said “NO”, and that she had this feeling like we shouldn’t be going there. Hmmm, interesting. Well that settles it! I told her I had the exact same thought.
We re-routed and headed east straight to Vegas. It was nice to no longer be tossed around by the wind but almost a little eerie to be in this pocket of nearly still air while riding down the road at highway speed. I lifted up the visor and could hear everything around me much clearer, everything from other vehicles to Tiggers engine purring along. Continue reading
We ended up spending a few days with family in Los Angeles. I’ve never really had any interest in LA before this, although surprisingly we enjoyed our whirlwind tour of Tinseltown anyway. Can’t argue that seeing where the Oscars take place, Hollywood Boulevard, all the studios and Rodeo Drive wasn’t at least a bit cool. Still, the highlight of the day was watching all the buskers perform at the Santa Monica Pier and dinner at the very British Ye Olde King’s Head pub. Oh and let’s not forget all the exotic cars around LA. I spied six, count ‘em SIX different Aston Martins while cruising around town. I’ve seen two on the road in my entire life prior to today. Six here in one day – crazy!