Monday, Apr. 18, 1994:
I flew from Victoria, British Columbia to McAllen, Texas with stops in Seattle, Phoenix, and Houston. Flying the weather was decent except a little turbulence just east of Phoenix. I saw Mt. Rainier in Washington, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Flying over New Mexico the deserts were very red.
My luggage missed the connection in Houston, so I arrived in McAllen with no gear except my helmet and jacket, which I had carried on. Also my credit cards and bank cards wouldn't work in any Texas bank machines, though I tried several banks. Pancho Villa boss Skip Mascorro agreed to put $200 US through on my VISA in exchange for 600 Nuevos Pesos. (A new peso is worth roughly $0.35 US.)
The airline then phoned and said my luggage would show up in McAllen at 11:30 PM. Whew!
I test rode my rental BMW, a 1985 R80-GS. This is a dual-purpose 800 cc boxer (opposed twin). It had a nine gallon fuel tank, a low Corbin saddle, Metzeler Enduro tires, and hard saddlebags with decent liner bags. Wierd but likeable.
I'd been told that BMWs have "tractor-like" transmissions, but I didn't think it was bad at all. It didn't have a distinct 'stop' when shifting but worked fine. Shifting felt kind of spongy and had to be done with deliberate moves. Steering felt a bit strange due to the high enduro handlebars.
The sidestand and centerstand were the pits to use. My legs were too short to put the sidestand down while seated, so I had to climb off the bike just to put the sidestand down. I was told that most BMWs have handles for the centerstand, but this R80-GS doesn't.
I met the other riders. Ed from Wisconsin would be riding his Gold Wing. This fellow was 68 and would be my roommate throughout the trip. He constantly liked to tell tall tales and old war stories. He reminded of a combination of "Cliff Clavin" from Cheers and "Grandpa Simpson".
Also riding were:
- Rich and Jan from Colorado on an older Gold Wing,
- George and Audrey from Ontario on a Gold Wing,
- Paul from North Carolina on a Gold Wing,
- Paul's friend Fred on a BMW K100LT,
- The guide, Frank, on a BMW K75RS,
- Darryl from Texas on a Harley Softtail.
- The support van (with trailer) driver, Clem.
I was the least experienced rider by far, with only two years under my belt. All the others had been riding for at least several years.
Tuesday, Apr. 19, 1994 (Day 1):
We headed out to the border crossing. Pancho Villa had all the paperwork, insurance, and permits done. Everyone *else* got processed in only twenty minutes. I, however, had a major problem: my rental bike was registered in Skip Mascorro's name, but the border officials expect to see a rental vehicle registered in a company's name. They were going to send me away until I dug up a copy of my rental agreement that had both Skip's name and the company letterhead.
- You can't ride a borrowed vehicle across the border into Mexico. Period.
Rental vehicles must be documented.
- You must have a major credit card to pay for your entry permit. Cash or cheques will not do. I suspect this is to ensure you have enough 'credit' to pay for repairs, etc. while in Mexico.
- You must have the original title of ownership, NOT a photocopy.
- You must have a valid license.
- Mexico has a helmet law, but it didn't seem enforced away from the border. I saw many Mexicans riding bikes without helmets.
- I don't believe it's mandatory, but you should have *Mexican* auto insurance: American or Canadian insurance won't cover you in Mexico. Skip gets a special group rate from Sanborn's that includes basic liability, theft, and medical for about $4 or $5 US per day (NO collision). If you insure your bike on your own, I think you can get only basic liability and medical in Mexico (NO THEFT or COLLISION) so don't take a motorcycle that isn't expendable (ie. don't ride your Vincent Black Shadow into Mexico).
After running through all the paperwork (one rider called it a "Chinese circus"), the border officials put a hologram-type entry permit sticker on your bike's windscreen. We had to put this sticker inside the map pocket of my BMW's tank bra.
After paying a toll booth 25 cents, we finally cross the bridge over the Rio Grande into the border town of Reynosa: we're in Mexico! We rode by many small white buildings with archways. Lots of open-pipe diesels. Tons of litter scattered along the road side.
After twenty minutes we get out into flat (very flat) dry farm country. There are dozens of buzzards and hawks circling overhead. The road is as straight as an arrow. It was sunny and about 80 Fahrenheit; the air was a bit humid and muggy.
Shortly after going though a government checkpoint, we stopped to buy gas. There are two kinds: leaded 81 octane NOVA in blue pumps, and unleaded 89 octane MAGNA SIN in green pumps. Diesel is in red pumps. The pump attendant tried to short change one rider by five pesos ($1.65 US) so watch out for this!
We stopped at a bar called "Le Granjosa". I ordered a clubhouse sandwich (real Mexican, I know) and slurped down two bottles of Coke. I really wanted beer, but I figured with the heat, it might affect my riding.
After we got riding again, the group's speed was about 65 to 70 MPH (110 to 120 KM/H). I found the R80-GS a tad clunky shifting until I got used to the big 'throw' from first to second gear. Second and higher were quite smooth shifting though. The boxer's engine had a very nice broad powerband and was quite pleasant to use (I thought). The switches were laid-out a bit oddly. The clutch action was very good, but the brakes were crap (especially the front). This was a pre-Paralever shaft drive, but I didn't notice any shaft effect, and I was looking for it. I did notice a slight torque effect when standing still and then giving the throttle a quick twist.
One flaw: handlebar vibration. The left grip had a soft foamy grip but the throttle had a hard rubber grip. Even with my thick insulated gloves, my fingers started to 'tingle' after an hour or two of riding.
Traffic: a lot of freight trucks, buses and pick-up trucks. Mostly Mexican plates, but occasionally you'd see US plates (particularly Texas). There were many horses, cattle, chickens, goats and sheep on the sides of the road to watch out for. Riding was pleasant but not exceptional. This was a boring straight farm road with very few curves and not much scenery: mostly fields of sorghum, corn and some citrus groves.
I missed the turn-off to our hotel and rode on for about five miles before George and Audrey caught up with me to warn me. I should have read the maps instructions more carefully.
We stayed in the Hacienda Santa Engracia, an old ranch hacienda built in 1924. We had a good Mexican dinner, then sat around B.S.ing and drinking Cokes. Mexican beef tends to be tough, so steaks are sliced very thin. That night it clouded over: we heard thunder but couldn't see any lightning.
Wednesday, April 20, 1994 (Day 2):
We had a very good Mexican breakfast and then headed south on highway 85. We gassed up and then skirted around Ciudad Victoria to Ciudad Monte.
Along the way we went through some decent mountain twisties. We had a great view of two volcanic cones rising from a huge bowl-shaped crater. It looked like one of the alien planet's in a Calvin & Hobbes "Spaceman Spiff" cartoon. Really, it did!
We stopped at a little dirt shack where a very poor peasant family were using burros to turn a grind stone. They were crushing sugar cane for molasses. They also sold honey by the roadside from their shack.
We rode through some twisties, but nothing strenuous. Many cargo trucks belching black smoke. Lots of sugar cane on the road. Tons of road kill. I saw buzzards circling ahead over a curve so I slowed down. Sure enough there were two dead colts on the side of the road. Yuck!
We passed through several small towns, but most didn't have topes. Topes are speed bumps. They're usually no big deal, but sometimes you'd see metal topes. These are a row of steel egg-shaped ovals set into the asphalt. It's a bitch to ride over them without your bike tires being shunted to one side or the other.
We rode across the Tropic of Cancer, marked by a ten foot-wide orange concrete ball on the side of the road. Naturally we stopped to take pictures. We also passed Ejido 1917, where the Mexican constitution was written.
As we got into Ciudad Valles, my signals, ammeter, and tachometer stopped working. I figured I'd blown a fuse and kept going. We rode through Valles and arrived at the Hotel Taninul. After settling in, we rode to the nearby town of Tamuin. We then ended up on an absolutely abysmal road: it was more potholes then asphalt. My R80-GS did great, but the heavier bikes had to go very slowly.
We saw a ceremonial Huastec pyramid temple. Very interesting: it had a central area where priests and royalty were buried. Some original frescas were still visible.
Most of the group stayed in Tamuin for dinner. I rode back to the hotel with Fred and Paul, where we all had a good meal and a couple of beers.
Frank checked out the boxer: one of the fuses had a dirty connector. We cleaned it and then the indicators and gauges worked fine. I like these simple fixes. The sidetrip was about 30 miles for a total of 215 miles that day.
We saw a badly sunburned man riding a Suzuki GS650. He'd flown to Miami
from his home in England. He then bought the Suzuki for $700 US, rode to through
the southeast US and Mexico to Guatemala, and was now riding it north to Alaska
or bust!! And he was only 22 years old! He said the bike was running well and
the only problems he'd had were:
- army checkpoints in Guatemala had ordered him to turn around and go back on two roads (which he did - hard to argue with someone pointing a semi-automatic at you!).
- he'd had a good helmet stolen in Mexico (and was wearing some cheapie 'bucket' until he got to a motorcycle store in the USA).
- Someone had stolen his motorcycle cable lock when he'd left it sitting somewhere.
Thursday, April 21, 1994 (Day 3):
We had breakfast at the Hotel Taninul and then headed south on highway 85. We started to climb into the Sierra Madres Orientale (eastern). There were constant sweeping curves, and the vegetation quickly became very lush and tropical. It started to rain so heavily I had trouble seeing the white line on the road. We passed through several mountain villages as the rain turned into a dense heavy fog.
We went up in the mountains to the town of Xilitla (the 'X' is pronounced like an 'H'). This area was very reminiscent of the Milford Sound area in New Zealand.
As I rounded a corner, I went into the village of Ahuacatlan and found The Cobblestone Road From Hell. This was about a half kilometer of roughly-hewn flat rock chunks jigsaw-puzzled together. There were several bad potholes from where trucks had torn out 'cobblestones' (and I use that word loosely). The rocks were slick from the fog and rain. Children and dogs were playing in the street. My adrenaline level rose substantially. Somehow we all rode past it without mishap.
Descending into a dry valley, we stopped in Jalpan to get gas. There was a carnival in town and the influx of extra vehicles had drained the only gas station dry. We went for lunch at a small restaurant next to the bus station. When I went to take a whiz, I noticed that the washroom lacked toilet paper, so I'd recommend carrying a few squares in your pocket when touring Mexico. A large group of kids gathered to look at the bikes.
Just as we finished lunch, a tanker truck arrived with the plain leaded NOVA gas. Everyone else fueled up, but I didn't bother due to my BMW's huge tank. We then climbed back up into the mountains and gained altitude rapidly. It was very twisty and foggy. Many hillside farms. Dozens of people were painting political slogans on the cliff faces beside the road. We reached 8,500 feet and I started to feel a bit dizzy from the altitude. The BMW ran just fine on the 89 octane MAGNA SIN though.
We descended toward Mexico's central plateau, where the temperatures were mild and the air was dry. The land was arrid. Red rock cliff faces with little vegetation surrounded the very twisty road. There were many burros beside the road to watch out for. Some stupid dog chased me as I slowed for a hairpin. Going around one blind curve I rode right over a large rock and almost lost it.
I caught up with the faster riders. We then reached a cool dry plateau with fairly straight roads. Reaching the chaotic cobblestone streets of San Juan del Rio, we stuck together with the buddy system so no one would get lost. After parking my boxer in the Hotel Layseca's courtyard, I had an excellent dinner of enchiladas with mole sauce (this is a spicy non-sweet sauce made of cocoa beans, not moles).
Friday, April 22, 1994 (Day 4):
We left the hotel in San Juan del Rio. After gassing up, we hit the road. After riding about 20 miles, Darryl's Harley packed it in. The engine started making a loud clunking sound. He stopped it, then let it cool and tried to start it again. The starter turned the engine over but nothing happened. After checking it out carefully, we had to load it on the support van's trailer.
We went though Acambaro and then Jerecuaro. The "J town" (as we called it) had fairly bad cobblestone streets. As we left Jerecuaro, the ball hitch on the trailer broke a bolt and almost dumped the Harley!
After straightening that mess out, our guide Frank's clutch cable then snapped leaving town. He tied a loop in the end of the clutch cable so that he could at least pull it with his left fist. Of course, this made it very difficult for him to shift smoothly, so we had to skip the scenic mountain road to Patzcauro.
When we got to the large city of Morelia, we rode onto a multi-lane highway. Frank then pulled the group over. We had been using the buddy system to make sure no one got lost in Morelia, and had thus been doing only 45 MPH in a 60 zone. Frank lost his temper a bit and complained that the group was riding too slow to be safe on the busy highway. After giving the slower riders heck, he pulled away too quick on the loose gravel of the highway's shoulder (remember that jury-rigged clutch?). His K75's front wheel went skyward and he dropped the bike on its right side in the gravel. He scratched the mirror, the right saddle bag and cracked the fairing. Ouch. Luckily, he wasn't hurt (except maybe his pride).
When we all got back on the road, we all started to ride really fast. I tried hard to keep up with Frank, but he was moving about 75 MPH now. After weaving though moderately heavy city traffic we got back out on the open country highway.
I was passing a bus when it suddenly pulled left into my passing lane. I'm not very religious but I started praying as I opened the throttle as wide as it would go. I passed the front left corner of the bus by perhaps a foot, with a foot of space between me and the concrete divider on my left side. Whew! I kept it pegged until the bus was a tiny spot in my mirrors. Lots of traffic weaving.
Finally we got into Patzcuaro. Frank had calmed down and looked a bit sheepish for losing his temper. After apologizing, he got everyone's room numbers and asked us to move the motorcycles into the courtyard of our hotel. He then tried phoning a couple of BMW owners in the BMWMOA handbook without success.
We all took a taxi van into Patzcuaro's town plaza and had dinner at the Mansion Iturbe, a small hotel that was built here in 1790. The town plaza was a large square with cypress trees and late 18th century Spanish architecture. We all had a good dinner.
Saturday, April 23, 1994 (Day 5):
What a great day! Very good challenging riding. We (excluding Ed and Darryl) rode to the small town of Santa Clara del Cobre. This was a very pretty village - quite clean. We parked our bikes after the short twenty minute ride.
We saw an artisan working copper in the courtyard of his house. He would take bundles of surplus copper wire and melt it in an old bellowed furnace. The copper chunks were then repeatedly heated and hammered into shape. The copper cooled quickly, so this process would have to be repeated 100 times before the finished product was completed. I bought a small copper cream pitcher for about 19 pesos (about $6 US).
We then visited the local museo (museum) that also doubles as a college for copper artisans.
The group then rode back into Patzcuaro and ate lunch at Los Escudos (the swords). I had broiled whitefish from the local Lake Patzcuaro - it was excellent.
After lunch, the couples from Colorado and Ontario asked me if I wanted to ride to Paricutin volcano. This was a fifty mile ride each way. I said yes. What a great (challenging) ride: first, long straight stretches, followed by a climb into some hilly twisties. We reached the town of Uruapan. After five miles of busy urban traffic, we got onto a fantastic new stretch of asphalt winding through pine forests and volcanic rock from the 1943 eruption. It was very twisty. The pavement through the hills was new and in excellent shape. It was sunny (about 75 Fahrenheit) and there was little traffic except the occasional slow-moving farm vehicle. I loved it.
We reached Anganhuan, a small town with cobble streets. There were many people riding on horses. We rode the bikes to the edge of town and then had to ride over a half kilometer of deep volcanic dust (similar to cigarette ash). This sucked mightily. I was yelling and swearing at myself as I struggled to get over it.
We finally made it to a cafeteria on the edge of a valley overlooking the volcano. We could see the volcanic cone about five miles away quite easily. There was a church steeple visible in the valley poking up out of the solidified lava. In 1943, a small town was buried by an eruption without loss of life.
We then rode out. By this point I was tired and it showed - I had to ride pretty slow (50 MPH through the curves) back to Patzcuaro. We got back to the hotel just as it was getting dark.
I had a few beers as I watched the Tarascan dance of Los Viejitos (the old men). These dancers wore brightly colored serapes, "old man" masks and wooden sandals as they did a traditional folk dance.
Mexican cobblestone: when the rain season makes potholes in the asphalt roads, the local repair crews shovel rocks into the holes to 'patch' them. Make sure your motorcycle has a good suspension and good tires.
Sunday, April 24, 1994 (Day 6):
It was time to head back north again after breakfast. Frank had made a clutch cable out of steel fishing line, but it snapped after only ten miles. We rode to Morelia (30 miles) while he and Clem loaded his K75 onto the trailer along with the Harley.
I could see Frank was frustrated with the onslaught of problems. Since he had to lead the group (he was the only who knew the route), I offered to let him ride my R80-GS for the rest of the day to San Miguel de Allende. He was happy for the offer. I hopped into the support van and we headed out.
Morelia is a very large city that took a long time to get through. This
region consisted of arrid grasslands with gently rolling hills. We passed
through Moroleon, Celaya, and Selamanca. We stopped for a rest break at the
Cafe Camembaro. Most of us just grabbed a Coke or a coffee, but Ed was hungry.
"I like pork," he told the waiter in pidgin Spanish. "Please give me some pork to eat."
A few minutes later, the waiter returned with a nice steaming plateful of pickled pigs feet. This made Ed the butt of jokes for a while.
"Hey Ed, it's important to eat healthy food, right?" someone asked him. "You are what you eat, right?"
"Yep," replied Ed.
"And you're eating pig," came the response.
We started up into some hills, not very twisty. We then reached Guanojuato. This was an extremely pretty city. It was founded in the 18th century near some silver mines. The city has many beautiful churches and winding cobble streets. As we left the city, we had a magnificent view of the valley. The colorful cubic buildings were scattered over the hillsides, with a large church sitting on top of a hill in the city.
Frank pulled over then and asked me if I wanted to ride again as the next thirty miles were very twisty. I decided to be a nice guy and say no. I am a fool: the next thirty miles were fantastic. Beautiful twisty mountain roads with lush green vegetation. Grrr. I really missed out. I may go riding again Monday just to go over these roads.
Reaching San Miguel de Allende, we got into the Hotel Aristos. After everyone settled, we walked the short distance to the town square and entered a restaurant. Some of us ordered pizza: it was quite decent. We then wandered around the town square. I bought some postcards that featured the large cathedral in the plaza. It was built by locals who were inspired by postcard pictures of European cathedrals. That Sunday night, it was lit up, and looked like a magical castle.
We wandered back eventually. The square was packed with people leaving Sunday night Mass. Sheer chaos. I then went for a jump in the pool. While checking over my bike, I found that it had a small rust leak in the tank.
Monday, April 25, 1994 (Day 7):
I slept pretty well despite the hard bed. I then got up around 7:30 AM and walked into town with Ed. The market square didn't get going until 9:30 or 10:00 AM. We found the post office a block from the main square and mailed some postcards. We wandered into the Cafe de Jardin where I had scrambled eggs, frijoles, and coffee - very delicious. I found a film store and bought a cheapie disposable camera for about 28 pesos. Both of spent two or three hours walking around taking photographs. I bought a couple of t-shirts with Aztec artwork on them. Ed bought some silver jewelry. It started getting hot so we walked back to the hotel. Frank the guide had replaced his clutch cable with one from a Volkswagen bug. He'd tested it and it seemed to work pretty good.
Frank told Ed and I to gas up before heading out the next day, so I bought veinte litros of MAGNA SIN (20 liters of unleaded). The tank didn't leak much so the fuel must have been below the rust spot in the tank.
As I write this, I'm sitting in the shaded patio. It is quite sunny and about 80 Fahrenheit with a cool breeze blowing from the southwest.
I'm thinking it would be very nice to live here in San Miguel if you had some sort of steady income. You could take spanish lessons at the local school and then head out for nice long twisty rides a couple of times a week. In the winter the temperatures drop to as low as 55 Fahrenheit - gosh how awful! I think I'd want a BMW or maybe a Honda to do much riding in Mexico, as it is very difficult to get parts here. You'd have to order parts in from Mexico City and wait a few days as they were shipped to you by bus or truck. I've seen lots of BMWs, Suzukis, and Hondas, a few Yamahas, Kawasakis, and Harleys, and no Ducatis or other brands.
Once across the border, I saw cops on the open road only once or twice. Once a black and white passed me while I was doing 70 MPH in a 60 zone. Most cities have a few traffic cops, but if you don't behave like an idiot they'll leave you alone. I've been told that if you are ordered to pull over, do so immediately and let the cops see your vehicle permit and passport. Because you are a turista gringo, you will be let go almost immediately unless you are stupid enough to be carrying any illicit drugs or firearms. The Mexican government has apparently cracked down on big-time on crooked cops and the drug trade as they want to promote the concept of Mexico as a safe tourist haven.
Since arriving in Mexico, we haven't had one single problem with cops. Once through the border, we had to stop at one checkpoint where a cop spent about five minutes looking over our papers and permits. That's it.
Montezuma's Revenge: I was advised before I went to eat Pepto Bismo tablets for three days before I left, then maybe one day after I arrived. I've been doing this and (so far!) haven't had any health problems. I've been drinking some tap water and eating whatever I want. No problems so far.
Gasoline: my BMW has been running very well on MAGNA SIN. The others' bikes have been running fine as well. The gas stations are not very common out of towns. Since 'Pemex' fuel is state-owned, there is usually only gas station operated in each town. Occasionally they run out: this almost happened to us in Jalpan. I'd recommend riding a bike with at least a 200 mile range, and always try to keep the tank at least half full. There is also good quality motor oil, but I would bring a liter of your favorite brand.
Bike stuff: I would bring the following:
- spare clutch cable
- spare spark plugs.
- tire patch kit and inflator.
- water bottle.
- duct tape.
- tools, including small vise grips.
- spare fuses.
- spare indicator bulbs.
- spare oil filter.
- tie down straps or rope if you need to put your bike in the back of a truck.
Make sure you have good tires and a good battery. Make damn sure your motorcycle is in excellent mechanical shape. All the above may sound paranoid, but if you have a breakdown in Mexico, you'll have a hell of a time getting parts. I warned you!
Since the roads can be so bad, I would highly recommend stripping you bike of any unnecessary plastic body work. These cost $$$ to fix and replace. Also if you can get crash bars fitted, I'd recommend it.
Safety: I felt much safer in Mexico than I would in a large Canadian or American city. Mexicans have little tolerance of violent crimes. Their laws are based on the Napoleonic Code: assumed guilty until proven innocent. They also have a "three strikes you're out" law: three strikes (felony convictions) and you can get twenty years without parole. Mind you, there is a lot of petty crime such as pickpocketing and hotel theft, so be careful with your money and important papers.
Money: Most of the hotels we stayed at were clean budget rooms. They seemed to be about 75 to 100 pesos per night. Gasoline was about 1.3 to 1.4 pesos per liter (that's about $2 US per gallon). Breakfast can be around 10 pesos for a good breakfast and coffee. Dinner was usually about 15 pesos plus drinks. A bottle of Coke was usually about 2 or 3 pesos, and beer was about 6 pesos. A peso at the time was roughly $0.35 US. Mexico devalued its currency by 1000 to 1 in 1992, so you will often see two identical bills where one says 10,000 Pesos and the other says 10 Nuevos Pesos.
I just spent ten minutes talking with Frank. He told me that the medium-size bikes seem to do best. A BMW GS, a KLR650 or an XT600 would be a great bike for Mexican touring. One small woman from Chicago showed up on a well-maintained Honda CM200 and was able to blow the bigger bikes away in the mountain roads. The most important factor is that the bike be in great shape.
We went to Mama Mia's, an italian restaurant. I ordered lasagna. Quite honestly, it tasted so-so. As I finished eating it, I started feeling queasy. I had to go outside for some fresh air. After gulping down a coke and some Pepto Bismo I felt a little better. I think I'd have to give Mama Mia's a thumbs-down.
Tuesday, April 26, 1994 (Day 8):
Woof! I got very sick from last night's lasagna. I had to get up four times in the night because Montezuma was calling my name. I had perhaps three hours of sleep. I tried eating a small bowl of plain oatmeal but only managed to eat a few spoonfuls. I stood outside to get some fresh air while the other riders ate, but San Miguel can get very smoggy for a town of 45,000 people.
We saddled up and headed out, stopping at the top of the valley to look back and take pictures of San Miguel. I was shocked by the layer of brown smog in the valley. Mexico doesn't have any vehicle emissions laws so even a small town in a valley can have bad air.
We then took a somewhat rough, boring country road to highway 57 north. HWY 57 was a fast multi-line highway where the average speed of our group reached 75 to 80 MPH. This road was mostly straight with a few gentle curves, so it was easy to keep up a fast pace.
The highway narrowed to a strip perhaps three lanes wide but was completely unmarked. Most of the traffic consisted of tractor-trailers. These guys were very courteous; they'd hug the shoulders in both directions, deliberately allowing us plenty of room to lane split up the middle of the asphalt.
To bypass the busy city of San Luis Potosi, we all took a brand new toll road that cost each motorcycle 15 pesos (about $5 US). This road was very smooth and straight with virtually no traffic. It times I was doing up to 85 MPH. The R80-GS handled a bit nervously at this point so I didn't push it. The terrain was flat, desolate sandy desert with sagebrush.
Heading north, I passed by the Tropic of Cancer again. Here in the middle of the desert there was an ugly concrete monument and a small shack with the sign "Cafeteria Becky". A Mexican woman lived there with Becky, her cute little daughter perhaps three or four years old. Becky peeked around her mother's skirt as she stared at our strange-looking motorcycles.
This was a sight that made me very sad and introspective. I had to wonder what kind of life Becky would grow up to live. So many of Mexico's kids grow up without any chance to be 'successful' (however you might define that) in life. In Canada, America, or Europe a bright or talented child can overcome poverty or abuse to go to college, study a trade, the arts or music. For all I know, little Becky could be a potential de Vinci or Mozart, but here in the middle of the desert what chance would she have to bring forward any talent or genius she might have? The situation reminded me of how someone (Sting, I think) wrote the following line in one of his songs: "How many Einsteins have died under a hot African sun?" I snapped a couple of photos, drank a Coke and gave Becky a handful of old pesos coins I had in my pocket.
I got into Matehuala after riding 225 miles. The rest of the group wanted to go to Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town 10,000 feet up in the nearby mountains. I decided to lounge by the pool, due to my unsettled stomach. I took some imodium and this seemed to help a lot.
When the others got back they raved about Real de Catorce. At the heat of the mining boom there were 40,000 people living there, but now that the mines have run dry there are only 1,000 inhabitants. One of the group said that it was as if someone had evacuated San Miguel or Guanojuato at the height of its glory and then stuck the entire town in a time capsule for one hundred years.
Finally feeling better, I ate a good chicken dinner. Some riders were discussing the differences between meats in the US and in Mexico. During a lull in the conversation, Ed piped up with "Hey, do you know how they butcher turtles in Wisconsin?" He then told us that one of the turtle's limbs is cut with a small knife. The hose from an air compressor is inserted and the turtle is blown to pieces! We were all stunned speechless. "Yep, turtle soup," said Ed. "Them's good eating." I asked him later that night if he was pulling our legs and he insisted that this was the truth.
Wednesday, April 27, 1994 (Day 9 - the last day):
We had breakfast at the hotel Las Palmas. I felt okay and ate a ham omelette. We rolled out at 8:00 AM and hit Highway 57 north. It was pleasant and cool. We were riding at 70+ MPH. Frank had warned us of "border fever" - the desire to get back to the US makes riders careless.
We reached the road that turned from the San Roberto Junction to the town of Linares. This road climbs up into the mountains for thirty miles. Very, very twisty hairpin stuff. V-shaped valleys with winding low traffic roads. It was almost identical in appearance to the Haast Pass in New Zealand. After some fun, spirited riding, I reached the Linares junction. The group had broken up in the mountain passes so I was by myself. I reread the instructions: they said to ride to the town of Linares and then follow the signs to Montemorelos. I rode though Linares, got lost and had to ask for help from a 14 year old boy on a bicycle.
"Ayuda. Estoy perdido. Va Montemorelos." (Help. I'm lost. Go Montemorelos.) The boy pointed in a direction. "Mucho gracias," I said and took off in a blast. At this point the air was starting to heat up and get muggy. I caught up with the others at a small general store on the road northeast from the town of "General Teran". They were worried I'd become lost as they'd been waiting there 15 minutes or so. I gulped down a half quart of Gatorade in about ten seconds.
After another hour or so, we reached the town of China where I slurped a Coke and fueled up. It was now quite hot: about 95 Fahrenheit in the shade - if you find any. Did I mention I was wearing my leathers? Everyone else was wearing t-shirts and jeans by this point. I am really chicken of road rash but I unzipped my jacket so I could catch some cool wind. Problem is that when it's that hot, riding feels like you're standing in front of a giant hair dryer.
The next sixty miles were hell. The pavement was good, but it was very hot and there was a 25 knot wind gusting from the southeast perpendicular to our northeast course.
Finally we reached the border town of Reynosa. What a nightmare! To work our way through the crowds of border-crossers, we had to split lanes through the buses and cars. The car drivers were aggressive jerks, so you had to be an aggressive jerk right back at them.
We let the officials strip the hologram permit stickers from our bikes. Then the group rode to the US customs building. As we rode up I noticed all the American flags were at half-mast and wondered why. In the customs line-up, a drug dog sniffed at our bikes and then we were cleared to go. (Sorry, Rover, nothing in there but my dirty socks.) As we were leaving, the dog handler pointed at a small pickup truck that was being torn down to the frame. The dog had smelled something, so they had started a search. So far they'd uncovered 300 pounds of marijuana! Tonight there'd be a very unhappy camper sitting in the McAllen jail.
We finally crossed over the Rio Grande and headed back to the hotel we all started from. At one point some butt-head in a car started riding my rear wheel to read a bumper sticker I don't have as we headed down the expressway at 65 MPH. Naturally, I pulled over to the shoulder to let him pass by, but he wouldn't pass me! I don't get it - in Canada, New Zealand, and Mexico it's a sign of courtesy and common sense to let faster drivers go by. Finally I frantically wave the driver by. He passes and I pull in behind him. What does he do? He keeps driving the same speed! Geez this bugs me: if you're riding someone's butt, pass by and get going for crying out loud.
Finally we got back to the hotel and I unloaded my riding gear. I then rode the R80-GS over to Frank's house a few miles away for safe keeping. It was so hot and muggy I rode without my leather jacket. It seemed very strange to lane split without leathers; not something I'm used to.
I ate dinner and packed. Oh yeah, I found out that the flags were at half mast for Richard Nixon's day of mourning. I slept well and packed for my flight home. When I went to the airport to catch my plane, I found that my bank card worked just fine, now that I didn't need money urgently. Figures.
I really enjoyed my tour in Mexico. I found it extremely demanding, as the road conditions force you to be alert and pay attention. The rough surfaces give your riding skills a real work out (not to mention your suspension).
If you leave behind your prejudices and accept the Mexican "way" of thinking, you'll enjoy the culture and the people.
As a satisfied customer, I would highly recommend Pancho Villa Moto-Tours. You can get a free information packet by phoning 1 (800) 233-0564. They have a web page at http://www.panchovilla.com/