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Mexico - Part 3

Continued from part 2

By Colleen First

December 20, 2004 � January 28, 2005
Total Miles: 6,563 miles, 40 days
San Diego, CA � Seattle, WA (via Baja and Southern Mexico)
Tickets: 0
Mishaps: 1
Puckers: too numerous to count

Day 19 - Chapalla - Union de Tula
198 miles

There are two volcanoes south of Chapalla Lake, near Colima, one of which was supposed to be active so we packed up the bikes and took off around the lake. It was very slow going through the numerous little towns and their accompanying topes (speed bumps). We finally got to the south side of the lake and took Rte 110, a road that led us south and into more mountains. I should note that until now, bugs had been almost non-existent. In fact, I had forgotten what a pain they could be until I started to run into them more frequently south of Chapalla. The road surface looked slippery and was pocked with ruts and bumps, so it was a pretty casual ride for the group. The road rose up from the edge of the lake giving me a great view of the long narrow body of water and the frequent towns along its shores. Eventually the pine trees started to cover the land and the road began its descent, winding downward through rich pine needle-covered earth. As we dropped in elevation we entered a land of vast and lush fields, something I later learned to be sugar cane. They stretched out for acres and lent a very vibrant hue to the landscape. We stopped for lunch in a small town with a view of the two volcano peaks. As we waited for our food, the active volcano let out a large plume of steam that curled and stretched its way hundreds of feet into the sky. How very exciting! The locals at the restaurant were also excited about the steam cloud, so I could tell that this was a rare occurrence. Our route after lunch took us along the northern slopes of the twin peaks and we dashed through narrow twisting roads until it opened up once more and we were able to see the peaks, this time from the west side. We climbed another mountain pass that challenged our cornering skills simply by the amount of "road apples" we came across on the way to the top. Apparently this route was not an uncommon one for horses. There were more beautiful views of deep valleys full of farms and houses. We found the town of Union de Tula nearby and chose to stop there for the night.

Day 20 � Union de Tula � Talpa de Allende
79 miles

One of the members in our group had a friend from the States who was getting married in Talpa de Allende that day, so our goal was simply to reach the town, find the wedding and enjoy ourselves. We left Union de Tula and found the road to Talpa de Allende to be a narrow, twisty two-lane road that crossed over many mountain passes. It was a great ride! There were white flowering trees along the road that gave an odd look to the landscape, as most of the trees had dropped their leaves for the season and left the forests looking barren and dead. We passed through more agricultural areas, many valleys, some very small towns and over some more ridge tops before dropping down a dramatic valley into the beginnings of Talpa de Allende. This is a rather small and quaint town with a large Catholic following. There is a story about a virgin with a mole on her face, but I never was able to find out more than that. The town is famous for this virgin and is visited by people from miles away, sometimes on their knees. We found a hotel and then sent Mark on his way to find the groom. That took much longer than we thought, but while we were waiting we found Norm, one of the riders from earlier in the ride. We had exchanged emails and had made arrangements to meet up here and ride together for a few more days. Mark finally found out where we should be so we hopped onto the bikes and rode out to the family ranch, where tents and a band were set up and the drinks were flowing freely. We were made to feel welcome and offered drinks and dinner. It was a really fun time and we stayed until late that night, making for a wild ride back to the hotel on dark farm roads.

Day 21 - Talpa de Allende � Puerto Vallarta
110 miles

It being Sunday in a highly Catholic town, it was not a quiet morning. In addition to the "gas" trucks, we now also had dump trucks that would steam slowly down the narrow streets, their recordings crooning out an enticing offer: "basura." Yes, it was time to bring out your trash. I was amazed that anyone could make a garbage truck sound alluring, but they did it. There were also drums and flutes for some performance dancers in the plaza in front of the main church and they played for a long time. Each town naturally has their main plaza and accompanying cathedral, but it is interesting to note that the bells in these cathedrals rarely ring in any organized or consistent manner. They will ring at any time of the day, for any length of time and not always in a consistent rhythm. I tried many times to find a correlation between the bells and the time but I was unable to do so. It took us a little longer to get on the road, but eventually the four of us hopped on our bikes and headed to Puerto Vallarta. It was time to hit the coast! However, being on Dual Sport motorcycles, some felt that it was only right that we approach the city from the most remote and impossible way: directly across the mountains.

We started off by heading north to Muscota and asking some locals the way to Puerto Vallarta. They pointed to a paved road north of us. "No no", we said, pointing to the dirt road near the barn. "We want to know if this road goes there." "Yes, but it is rough" "Good!" we replied. We took off behind the farmhouse as they shook their heads. We were soon flying down a well-packed dirt road, through pleasant fields and past curious cows. At this rate, the guys figured that we'd be in Puerto Vallarta in a couple of hours. That was not to be. The road stopped being well-packed dirt and flat half an hour later and it soon rose and fell with the terrain, swooping low into valleys and rising sharply with the next ridge. We had to stop for a few minutes while some horsemen herded their cattle down the road; this was not a place for high-speed racing. There were sporadic and tiny towns that the road meandered through, and these tapered off quickly as we entered the heart of the coastal mountains. The road became one lane and usually consisted of flour-like dirt or sand and went up and down more than an oil pump in Texas. It twisted like no other road I'd ever been on. There was no time to shift up a gear between turns. What was ahead of you at any given time was a mystery because of the sharp bends. There were frequent switchbacks that would let me gain elevation faster than I thought possible and then the corresponding descending switchbacks that left me looking over the edge of the precipice into the valley far below. There were frequent large rocks to dodge and infrequent pick-ups that came barreling around the corner from the other direction. Not to mention the time I came around a tight, narrow right hand corner only to find myself face to face with, of all things, a school bus. This made for an interesting pass, as there was just enough room for me to pull up against the inside wall, lean the bike over as far as possible while the bus inched its way around on the outside of the road. There were three major rivers to cross, the largest I had ever forded in my brief career as a dirt biker. We all did well on the first one, but I hit an underwater boulder on the second one and got a bit wetter than I intended. But the bike's engine kept running and the gear stayed dry, so it was just a short wait while I poured the water out of my boots before we continued on our way. The third crossing was considerably easier and James even went across a couple of times so we could get some "action shots." Our two-hour estimated timeframe had become over 5 hours for this 40-mile stretch of dirt before we started to drop down the final range and into the valley leading out to Puerto Vallarta. It had been a hot, dusty and tiring journey and I was sorely tempted to jump in the river that we were following out of the mountains. Instead we rode in to Nuevo Puerto, just north of Puerto Vallarta, looking for Mark's friend. We must have looked fairly lost and bedraggled at the entrance to the resort because the security guard came over to ask us if we needed any help. Mark explained what we were looking for and the guard said to follow him. He jumped in his car, turned on the lights and took off without even waiting for us. We caught up to him and he led us to the resort we needed. But we didn't find Mark's friend so instead we headed to Puerto Vallarta to find a hotel for the evening. We found a good one (more hot water and comfortable beds) and then had a very good dinner on the beach while the sun set. It was the perfect end to a long and rewarding day.

Day 22 � Puerto Vallarta - Playa de Santiago
181 miles

James and I spent the next morning at the DHL office trying to pick up a package. My speedometer cable had broken back on Baja and I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get a new cable sent to me. Puerto Vallarta was the only place I knew I'd be on a certain date, so I found the DHL's address and gave it to a friend back in Seattle in order for him to ship the part to. What I didn't realize is that DHL wouldn't be able to deliver it in time, so it was sent via another carrier and the DHL office in Puerto Vallarta would not accept any packages from any other carriers. It took a long time to figure this out, as the language barrier was considerable and I was disappointed to learn that I would have to continue to travel with no speedometer cable. Needless to say, we got a late start out of Puerto Vallarta and it was getting warm. The road followed the coast for a little while, giving us nice views of the ocean and the hotels and homes that line it, but, all too soon, the pavement went inland. The temperatures rose and the road straightened out and we were soon passing banana plantations, coconut palms and date palms in profusion. The hills that we did see were evenly covered with low leafless trees that reminded me a lot of the east coast in winter: very brown and dead looking. Mark had heard about a place called Barra de Navidad along the coast, so we stopped there for lunch. It was a beautiful sheltered bay with very few people and very good food. Since we had gotten such a late start "lunch" was at 5 pm and it was finally cooling off. We didn't travel far after lunch for our evening accommodations, which were at Playa de Santiago. It was getting dark quickly and we needed a place to stay. A man told us that we could camp in his parking lot that overlooked the beach and we gladly accepted. It wasn't the best location as there was litter everywhere, sharp objects hidden in the hard-packed sand and it smelled slightly, but it was free and readily available. We all took a dip in the ocean before retreating to our tents with the sounds of the waves breaking against the sand as a backdrop.

Day 23 � Playa de Santiago - Nexpa
180 miles

I watched the sunrise from my tent and shortly after that we packed things up pretty quickly. It wasn't the nicest of campsites and we were eager to get to something a little more inviting. The road led us along the coast almost the entire way. That meant great views, great corners and great riding. It was hot and humid, but there was some cloud cover that gave small relief from the sun. It was already 84 degrees by 11 am.

The Mexicans have a casual way of dealing with their trash: they throw it wherever they want to. You can see litter along almost every roadway throughout the country. While they do have some municipal dumps I found that most of the trash just ends up wherever the wind and the Mexicans leave it. The solution to trash buildup is to burn it. In fact they burn everything, including plastic, metal, papers and even the vegetation along the roadside. This creates huge clouds of smoke that cover the road and burn the eyes. Add to this the smoky emissions from everything from VW Bugs to full-sized buses and I feel as though I lost five years of my life to cancer-causing pollution on this trip.

We were looking for a surfers' hangout near Nexpa that we heard about. Our directions were somewhat vague, so we poked around for a bit before finding it. And it was perfect. We set up our tents on the soft beach sand. There were showers easily accessible and two good restaurants nearby. The water kept getting warmer as we headed south and this beach was a beautiful quiet crescent dotted with cabanas and private homes. We spent a pleasant evening strolling along the sands and enjoying the sunset and the moonrise. Other than the roosters and dogs, it was very peaceful.

Day 24 � Nexpa � Zihuatanjo
125 miles

One of the roosters couldn't crow. While most of the feathered critters would let out a typical "cock-a-doodle-do!" there was one who couldn't quite get it. Over and over as I lay in my tent I would hear him nearby: "cock-a-do!" I couldn't help but chuckle at this, even as it woke me up for another great sunrise from my tent. Afterwards I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the beach and then the four of us loaded up the bikes and continued to head south along the coast. Norm had decided to head inland and explore some more dirt roads, so he left the group shortly after we departed Nexpa. We were back down to the three of us and we were stuck with hot weather, straight roads and military checkpoints. It reached 96 by the end of the day and in full gear that can get pretty darned uncomfortable. There was no way that I was going to ride without my gear though. The roads were too uncertain and I was too far away from home to take such an unnecessary risk. We stopped by Ixtaca to see a hotel famous for its architecture, but the security guard shadowed us very closely and made us feel generally unwelcome. We left and continued to Zihuatanjo where we easily found a nice little motel with a pool and restaurant. We dropped off some laundry and checked out the town, which was surprisingly small. We walked around its entirety in a matter of an hour or so and didn't feel like we had missed anything. I found a leather shop and took my tank panniers to the leather worker to see if they could be repaired (the low side I experienced had stressed some of the seams). Unfortunately he wasn't able to help but he did give me directions to someone who could. I couldn't find that person, but during my search, I did see someone sitting behind a sewing machine in her shop. I went in and explained what I needed. She agreed to repair them and while I was waiting I realized that I was in a lingerie shop. I felt very awkward standing there, surrounded by beautiful, dainty things while the seamstress worked on my grimy and dusty tank panniers. But she did a great job and was happy to help me. I returned to the guys and we had an early dinner and walked around the town some more. Yep, we had seen all there was to see. We went back to the hotel room where I found our first in-city roach. There was only one, but where there's one, there're many. And lucky for me, I was the one to sleep on the floor that night. Fortunately I was very tired and didn't give it too much thought.

Day 25 � Zihuatanjo - Zihuatanjo
0 miles

I woke up around midnight and felt sick. Very sick. I spent the rest of the night up and down between the bed on the floor and the bathroom. It was not pleasant. When the boys got up in the morning, I informed them that there was no way I was going to be able to ride that day. Heck, I couldn't even walk across the room without staggering against the wall. They agreed to go out and be tourists while I stayed in bed and watched bad Spanish TV (with no remote � life can be so cruel). And that's how I spent the day. I took some Imodium A-D, drank plenty of water and slept very soundly. I've found a surprising number of toilets in Mexico don't come with toilet seats (mostly in public places) so I was very pleased that our hotel room's toilet had a very nice seat on it. Eventually the boys came back with tales of parasailing, boat ferries, beach combing, massages and having a good time in general. I was glad that this was a good town to be stuck in. I eventually worked up the nerve to eat a banana and then an apple, but that was the extent of it. I did go down to the pool and bobbed around for a while, but I didn't trust myself to walk too far or do too much. Tomorrow would be a better day.

Day 26 � Zihuatanjo � Barra de Vieja
190 miles

I was feeling better and ready to make up for yesterday's lost time. We got an early start and were soon headed to Acapulco and points beyond. There was a military checkpoint mere minutes after we left Zihuatanjo and they were very thorough in going through our bags. Usually they just looked at us, asked a couple of questions and then let us pass. Apparently they were concerned about the high volume of drug trafficking that takes place in this area. After they let us go, we found the road to be fast and the weather hot. We made it to Acapulco by 1:30 where we had lunch and drank cold fruit beverages on the beach, in the shade. Following Mark's GPS, we took the non-toll road south from Acapulco, only to find that the GPS was wrong and the road ended at a river. They were building a bridge over this river, but they had been building it for the last four years and it didn't look like they were going to finish it any time soon. This was no ordinary river and it looked too treacherous to cross. While it was probably no more than 50' wide, the riverbanks were sandy and looked unsupportive of our bikes. A man offered to ferry our bikes across in his boat but that didn't appear to be the safest option at that time because one of our bikes was considerably larger than what would normally be ferried on such a boat. It was also getting late in the day. We had noticed a nice cluster of buildings back a few miles and decided to ride back to check it out. There was a hotel, a couple of small restaurants and cabanas on the beach. We made arrangements to put up our tents on the beach and looked forward to a very quiet night on the empty shore. As the sun dipped closer to the horizon I heard some music. I figured that since it was Friday night there must be live music at one of the restaurants and didn't give it a second thought. Not wanting to sit on the beach with the sand fleas, we opted to walk around the buildings behind our tents to see what was there. We got quite a surprise when we rounded the corner to find a large clearing, many many tables and chairs, a bandstand and a six-tiered wedding cake. We looked at each other and shook our heads; so much for our quiet evening on the beach. We asked a local about the set up and yes, indeed, there was to be a wedding reception for 500 people with 3 bands, scheduled to start around 9pm. We went back to our tents and crawled in for a long night of music and revelry. They didn't stop partying until 4am, and then the roosters started to crow.

Day 27 - Barra de Vieja � Santiago
173 miles

I will say that the band played well and I enjoyed the music, but the tent was too hot and I was unable to sleep much that morning. I was ready to just get on the road and be somewhere else. We still had to back track to Acapulco before we were able to get on a road that could actually cross the river that had stopped us the previous evening. Once we got back on the main road it was slow going, with topes in every town and bad pavement in between towns. Topes, I've decided, are the devil. They come in many forms and while most are marked, some are not. It can simply be a sharply raised ridge of asphalt, or a gentle slope of poured concrete, or a line of large 6" metal balls buried halfway into the road surface, or simple ineffective rumble strips. They are almost all painted bright yellow (or had been painted bright yellow at some point in time) and are usually well indicated by signs, both in advance and immediately over the tope itself. All of this does nothing to lessen the fact that they are evil, slow traffic to a complete stop through every little po-dunk town in the country and are generally ineffective to a bike with a suspension such as mine. Having said all that, I can see how they are useful for traffic control in a country where drivers (and pedestrians) generally ignore all signs and traffic laws. There is no ignoring a tope when you're in a car.

The road passed through some nice terrain with dry hillsides and lush river valleys. We saw many school kids being let off from buses at the side of the roads, usually with no place to walk except on the road itself. The vegetation was almost always crowding up to the edge of the pavement, which left the kids, and anyone else for that matter, very little room to walk. It seemed very dangerous and gave reason to think that perhaps not all of the numerous roadside memorials were all dedicated to traffic accidents. It was also interesting that Mexican school kids wear uniforms. I noticed this throughout the entire country, so it didn't appear to be a local or isolated event. The further south we went, the more likely we were to see water under the bridges that we crossed over. James was not feeling well, so we did not ride hard or far, stopping for the night in a dumpy little town called Santiago something-or-other near the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua. We stayed on the outskirts of town in a less-than-desirable neighborhood. Mark and I left James sleeping in the hotel room while the two of us trudged along the narrow road back into town to see what we could find. Along the way we discovered another motorcyclist on a grand journey of his own. Jim was from Olympia, Washington, and was riding his '96 1100 GS down to South America, taking his time and enjoying his time off. As he was alone and had no real plans, he agreed to ride with us the next morning to Puerto Escondido and see how things went from there. The three of us walked around the plaza discussing our individual trips and circumstances before heading back to our hotel for the evening.

Day 28 � Santiago � Puerto Escondido
30 miles

span style="font-size: 10.0pt; font-family: Arial">The next morning we were once again a group of four. It was a quick ride to Puerto Escondido, both in road type and sheer distance. The foliage had grown visibly greener and thicker and there was a major bridge crossing a fairly large river. I looked down at the river's edge and was surprised to see a dozen or so people in the river, washing their clothes on rocks along the shore. I had read about this and seen pictures, but I never expected to actually see people doing it. We reached the seaside town in time for lunch and made our plans to find comfortable accommodations for the night. We found some well-made cabanas that looked across the road to the beach and the delightfully warm water beyond. Jim decided to stay with us, so the four of us made arrangements to share a cabana. There was a clean and inviting pool and I didn't take too long to dive in and relax in the sun. It's hard to get a tan when you spend all day in motorcycle gear. Puerto Escondido is incredibly small but it has a lively international feel to it. We were actually south of the main part of town, but this was perfect for me: one small strip of shops along the water and that was it. We found a good place for dinner where I had some of the best BBQ pork ribs I've had in a long time. That night there was a live band at the pool, and when they were done playing there was a TV playing in the background for the rest of the night. And for the first time in my life I slept under mosquito netting! I didn't notice that the mosquitoes were bad, but why take a chance?

Day 29 � Puerto Escondido � Puerto Angel
24 miles

I was going to leave the group that day and head back to Seattle on my own. I had a timeframe that I had to stick to while the rest of the group had none. Because of the confusion of who wanted to do what and where they wanted to go, no real decisions were made until almost 11:30. I knew that the road north to Oaxaca (my next destination) would be a full day's ride, so I chose to stay one more day and get a fresh start in the morning. The rest of the group was enjoying the casual pace of Puerto Escondido and was already intending to stay. That's when we found out that our cabana had been rented to someone else and there were no more available where we were. Since we had to pack up to move anyway we decided to move to a different town and headed to Puerto Angel, a short hop down the road. We found a very quaint little place just off the beach with more mosquito netting over the beds. We walked along the short beach, stopping to help some locals get their fishing boat off the sand and into the bay. At our hotel there was a nice couple that had been in Puerto Angel for a while and they invited us to join them for dinner. We agreed and later met them at a local restaurant. It was pleasant to talk with them (they were from California) and find out how long they'd been in Mexico and what they were up to. It was a late night at the restaurant and we went to bed as soon as we got back to the hotel. I had repacked my bike completely back in Puerto Escondido so I was prepared to just get up and go in the morning. I was ready to head north.

...continue to part 4


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