As the ferry slowly steamed its way across the “Golfo de California” I slept like a log. I had a really beautiful cabin with a nice large window. Woke up to the sunrise shining in and bathing the cabin in a nice warm glow. Breakfast was not included in the ticket so had stocked up in La Paz. Had bought a couple of sweet rolls which I ate washed down with a bottle of cola, you just can’t beat a good healthy breakfast-?.
Then it was up onto the deck to breathe in the fresh sea air. Met up once again with Alberto and his friend, two Mexican bikers returning home after, in the case of Alberto, a long trip. It is always good to meet up with other bikers and to have a good chat. Bikers together are like a bunch of old women, we love to talk and tell stories. They where on their way to Veracruz and a warm welcome. They were taking the Pacific Coast road.
I, on the other hand, was taking the Mex40 or “El Espinazo del Diablo”, The Devil’s Backbone. A stretch running from Mazatlán to Durango. It is an amazing road, it winds its way up over the Sierra Madre Occidental. It reaches a height of around 2000 meters above sea-level and then it gets cold. The 10 km stretch of road that crosses “The Devil’s Backbone” has approximately 2000 curves and no, I did not count them. The road is extremely well maintained but it is narrow.
That meant stopping to take photos was a super risky business. Also, I was having trouble with my wrist. But the real truth is I was having a damn good time, also the average speed on this road is slow and I did not want to be stuck here at night. But to get an idea check out this link.
There are also a lot of videos on YouTube of this spectacular road. In 2013 a new road was opened, the scenic Mex40d, a toll road with 115 bridges and 61 tunnels. It runs, in some places, parallel with the original Mex40d. It is also possible to cut out bits of the 40 by using the 40d.
I was really happy to reach my hotel in Durango, I was dead beat plus it was getting dark. The town of Durango is a nice little town. Had a hotel in the historical center. Went for a walk and ate in a super little restaurant with a buffet.
You pay and eat as much as you want. It was frequented mainly by the locals, so it had to be good. It also had a choir; 3 men were singing Christmas carols. I also discovered that I had passed through a time change, I had lost an hour. That night I slept, despite a painful wrist, like a log.
The next morning I had a quick look around town and headed out on the Mex 45 to a place called Zacatecas approximately 290 km South.
Crossed the Tropic of Cancer on the way, stopped at the marker and had a drink, also had to go to the loo. It was an easy run, using the express way. Made good time and the afternoon saw us heading into Zacatecas which is 2.496 meters above sea level. Made a big mistake and rode into the old historical center.
It was a disaster, narrow streets, paved with slippery slate tiles, on really steep hills with 90 degree turns and to top it all it had been raining. This city was built, in the sixteenth century, at the foot of the Cerro de la Bufa, in which was one of the greatest silver mines in the world. Instead of having an orderly plan of streets, the Spanish settlement followed the old Indian neighborhoods with narrow streets and alleys squeezed into a large ravine.
It is a city filled with small winding alleys and streets and tiny plazas, I have never seen anything like it. Hightailed it out of there, those are no fun on a fully loaded dual sport bike sporting Heidenau K60 scout tyres. Found a hotel, on the main road, with a reasonable level bit to park Tiggy Moondust and walked into the old town, which is a world heritage site. It was really worth it. This is a city with a rich and turbulent history. It is famous for its silver mines. The state of Zacatecas is one of the richest states in Mexico.
The next morning headed out on the Mex 45 which joined up with the Mex 49 to a place called Santiago de Queretaro,, about 395 km away. Once again on the express ways. On one desolate section I saw a family pushing a little Italjet 150cc (I think) motorcycle along the side of the road. Dad was pushing the bike whilst Mum was walking and carrying a small child. I stopped to see if I could help. They had run out of petrol and the nearest station was a good bit away. I gave them a couple of liters from the spare can on the back of the bike, boy were they happy.
This city is rated as the most dynamic city in Latin America, its historical center has been declared a national heritage site. It owes it wealth and growth to a large number of manufacturing companies who are located here. From Bombardier, Kellogg’s, Samsung…. The list is a who’s who of major international companies. It also has a thriving IT center and a lot of call centers are also located here. But what was really a super plus it was getting warmer again.
The next day it was a 350 Km run to Puebla city. I chose to use the toll roads as they were the fastest way plus they avoided the worst of the Mexico City traffic. Even then it was a nightmare.
Used the exterior ring around Mexico City and it was here that I met my first corrupt “federales”, Mexico’s federal police. I had just cleared a toll both on the Mexico City ring. I was in the parking area putting my gloves back on when he appeared out of nowhere. They were hassling a local car further up when one of them spied me and over he came. “I.D. Señor”, I followed the golden rule and that is “Sorry I don’t speak Spanish”. So, he shouted louder and in a higher tone “I.D.”! Okay gave him me driver’s license, he made a show of trying to read it and checked the registration number on the bike. Then came the bottom line….. “Not possible to drive today, special permit, 60 dollars”, this whilst clutching me driver’s license. To add legitimacy to his ranting he flashed a page of fines from a well-used book and pointed to 60 Mex dollars. He also shouted to his partner to come over here for the rich pickings. I now had two of ‘em and the one was holding onto my driver’s license. “60 peso’s”, I say, “okay got 20”, it was change from the toll booth, “that’s like 10 each”. His voice was getting even more high pitched: “60 U.S. dollars, no peso”. I had to get me license back so reached my hand out, took hold of his grubby hand and said “60 dollars?? Okaaaayyyy, okay, my license please”. He loosened his grip and that was enough, I got it back, “let me just put this away first”, I said. Zipped me pocket back up and said “Okay, I don’t have 60 dollars, I am European”. “500 pesos” he screamed. Jeeeeezzzz, this guy was beginning to play on my nerves. I had covered the ignition key with my glove, so he couldn’t see it, didn’t want him grabbing it. Turned to the other federales, who just stood there saying nothing. “Your friend wants 500 pesos, what do you think about this???” He just stared at me. I was debating, with myself, whether I should start the bike up and just go, or say to them okay, let’s go to the federal police station and I will pay with credit card, when I had a big stroke of luck. “What’s that”, he said pointing to my spot tracker that was flashing intermittent green lights and the Bluetooth microphone and controls on the front of my helmet, “is that a camera???” Hallelujah I thought. “Yes, it’s a camera connected to the satellites and it records everything in the area of the bike, it’s necessary in Europe”, I said. He turned a whiter shade of pale, his voice was no longer a high-pitched shout as he said, “You go, you go now”. Oh boy, I pulled me glove on quick, started Tiggy up and we were off. I opened her up to put as much distance as possible between me and Laurel and Hardy the two pathetic federales.
The one thing you should never ever do is to pay them. Doing so makes it difficult for other travelers. Play dumb and never speak Spanish. I have to admit though that these two were unique, near to Mexico City I suppose. I had passed through countless military and police checkpoints and not once was I stopped or asked for ID. These two were just pathetic little grubby sorry excuses for federales. A safe distance from the Mex Ring I stopped at a petrol station, filled the bike up and got a drink. That little encounter, though highly amusing, really freaked me out in a way. I realized that this was the first, but it was not gonna be the last run it with corruption. Next time will give them my international driving license, I have two of them, so if they want to keep it they are welcome to it. A common trick is that they keep your documents and you have to pay them to get them back. For obvious reasons I have no pictures of this eposide….
Anyway, suffice to say, that I made it to Puebla City and another nightmare, it’s big and it has double decker roads, one on top of the other. The bypass being the top one. Now I was trying to find a hotel and poor Holly, my satnav, was trying to figure out where the hell we were. Managed to find a nice little hotel though. Puebla City is the fourth largest city in Mexico. It has five of the best colleges in Mexico, the largest Volkswagen factory outside of Germany and the most technically advanced Audi factory in the western hemisphere. To supply these factories countless other factories have sprung up around the city.
The center of the city is a world heritage site. All told a busy little place and a nightmare to ride in. I didn’t go into the center, so I got no photos. Found a nice little local restaurant and had me din dins. It was really nice. They made it fresh. What was nice was that locals were coming in and taking pre ordered food away in saucepans. This was a so-called Restaurant Economico and these are by far the best places to eat in Mexico. Because I don’t eat meat they made me a special meal.
Leaving the city was just as big a nightmare as entering it. Finally made it onto the Mex 150 and then the 150D. Was planning to stop for the night at a place called Orizaba but was making good time so pushed on to plan B, which was a place called Córdoba.
A GS 1200 Two up, with Mex plates, rocketed past me at one stage, it was fully loaded. I overtook them at a toll both, but once again they rocketed past me. Caught up with them at the next toll booth and filtered my way down the line to tuck in behind them. Wanted to see if they fancied stopping for a coffee. Then they waved me on and the toll man told me to go, they had paid my toll for me. I carried on and they once again rocketed past me. They were really moving. A while later pulled into a petrol station and met up with them.
They had already had coffee and were getting ready to go. Alex and Alexandria, a couple from Mexico City on their way to Lake Bacalar for Christmas. Hope they made it okay…… Thanks guys for paying the toll. I owe you a drink if we ever meet up again.
I missed the turnoff for Córdoba and since I was on the 150D, a toll road, there was no way back. The next viable option was a town called Coatzacoalcos on the coast, which would mean that my day’s run was gonna reach a grand total of 472 km. These distances may not seem great but believe me it’s a day’s ride, taking into account that it’s hot, road conditions vary from good to bad and loads of hold ups. Made it to the outskirts of Coatzacoalcos and then began a real nightmare. It was pitch dark, traffic was enormous, it was 6 p.m. and the evening rush hour was in full swing. But to compound matters I was faced with a road that was deteriorating by every km. I had to use my two LED spot lights to light the road up. It was a nightmare. Potholes the size of craters and bumper to bumper traffic. There was nowhere to stop, swampland on both sides. Then came the city and the traffic got heavier, the road was by now just rubble and I was exhausted.
Saw a motel on the left but couldn’t cross over to it then a motel showed up the right hand side. Indicator on and I swung off the road into the driveway and down to the motel. Then came major puzzlement on my side. No reception just rows of garages on both sides. Some of them had their doors open, others were firmly closed. A guy walked up to me and asked me what I wanted. “Motel” I asked puzzled. “Si, Señor how long do you want it for”. I was staring at a sign that read “rooms minimum 4 hours for 180 peso’s…….”. Oh, My Gawd…., light was dawning into my tired and slow brain… A car passed me, disappeared into an open garage and the door closed immediately. “I want to spend the night” I said…… “Si 320 pesos”, was the reply. He showed me into a garage, there was a stair leading up to the room above the garage. He explained to me how to close the door and told me that my bike was going to be safe, and safe it was. The stairs led up to a huge big luxurious room with a huge big bed, soft lights and a huge shower. It was a so called “Love Motel” I knew about these places, but this was my first experience. It was clean, major clean.
Love Motels and Auto Hotels are a phenomenon in Mexico and are everywhere, mostly on the outskirts of towns and cities. They are for couples who are having an affair, a man entertaining a call girl or escort service girl or gay couples and also for young courting couples who are still living with their respective parents but want to spend some quality time together. No one can see your car and the owner guarantees discretion. There is a menu and you can order anything you like. They are probably the safest places in Mexico. The bed was super comfortable….. a waterbed, it was quite high… strange. The TV was a huge big flat screen. It, also, had 3 sports channels, a kinda group Yoga, Pilates and Ti-Chi all rolled into one. The people seemed to be enjoying themselves, though judging from the grunts, groans and squeals of pleasure must be some Mexican sport thing-?. Lucky for me there was also some film channels. But to be honest, I just wrote a bit for the blog and fell asleep, I was exhausted.
Next morning bright and early headed out towards Villahermosa on the 180. As it turns out that motel was the best option, there were no other hotels in that town, it was just a harbor town servicing the oil rigs. This was also a crappy road. Narrow with heavy truck traffic.
Then disaster, that horrible dreaded sound of metal grinding on metal. Pulled the clutch in and swung over on to the side of the road. My diagnostic function in overdrive. No noise when engine running, pull clutch in: no noise, select first gear: no noise, let clutch out and start to roll ….. noise, pull clutch in and coast, noise. …. I immediately go for the worst-case scenario, bearings on the primary sprocket shaft or rear wheel bearings. Grab me telephone and then common-sense kicks in, have a good look. Started to have a look and found the problem, the chain guard was hanging loose on one bracket, the other two were bust, and was rubbing on the chain. Toolkit out and I just removed it. It is not the OEM chain guard but an
aftermarket, an SW-Motech aluminum extended one. Yep, German technology. It was major dangerous doing this as the road was really narrow and trucks were whizzing past at full speed. Anyway, got it sorted and headed on to Villahermosa which is in the State of Tabasco, the locals call it the “Green Hell”. It’s hot and humid…. And I mean hot and humid. After a bit of searching got a hotel in the center with parking for Tiggy Moondust. Unloaded, parked up, secured and covered the bike, she was in a multi-story carpark. parked next to the security booth that was manned 24 hours a day. Had a shower, changed into me town clothes and headed out to explore the town.
This is a lovely little town, I fell in love with it. Sat and had coffee and realized that I had made good time. I was within a day’s ride of Ciudad Del Carmen and I had time to spare. Decided to rest out here. I had been travelling for 14 days, 13 days riding and 1 day on the boat. I covered a distance of just under 4,000 km. These were all road kilometers. They were on some fantastic roads and some crappy ones…..: deserts, mountains, swamps, tropical jungle and rain forest….., it’s time to chill out. Time to frequent the terraces, sit on the square and people watch and maybe do a bit of the tourist thing.
The next day was the touristy day. Villahermosa is the capital of the State of Tabasco. It has a tropical monsoon climate. I was there in December and the daily temperature was 35c to 38C (99.5 to 100.4 F) and humidity was around 82%. Loosely translated it was hot. Went to Parque Museum La Venta, it is situated in a jungle park and incorporates a small Zoo containing animals from the State of Tabasco. The museum is dedicated to the Olmec civilization 1800 BCE (Before Common Era) to 200 CE (Common Era). The Olmecs are known as the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica, meaning that the Olmec civilization was the first culture that spread and influenced Mesoamerica.
The park also borders on the Laguna da Las Ilusiones, so I spent some time there. It is well worth a visit. Went back into town to take me seat on a terrace, then back to the hotel and did a Facebook photo journal.
Next day was just a lazy one, hanging around the squares and people watching. Pure bliss. Felt good to have the bike nice and securely parked, a nice hotel and not to be rushing.
Had a slow start the next day, had to get in contact with ING, my bank in Holland, live chat. Needed a replacement debit card. My card was bust and was held together with sticky tape. Took the Mex 180 towards Ciudad del Carmen. Was planning to stop on the way if I saw somewhere nice.
It was only 177 Km to C.D. Carmen, but I had a day to spare. There was nowhere that I really liked so pushed on to the hotel. Ciudad del Carmen is an island connected to the mainland by two bridges, one on each end. It is a nice wee town, famous for the off-shore oil drilling. Susie had booked a hotel through booking.com.
One that had secure parking and would also let me store all my camping gear for 6 weeks. Hotel was called La Venta Inn. Found it, was by the sea a short bus / taxi ride to the center. Staff were really friendly and let me check in a day early. Parked the bike and went into town. Took the bus.
It’s a nice little town, got summit to eat wandered around, admired the Christmas tree… How many Christmas trees have I seen…. ??? This town was the stronghold of Pirates in the old days. They used to ply the Caribbean Sea and return here to rest up and hide from the Spanish and British war ships. So it has a rich history. Then back to the hotel to back up my cameras to my external hard disk. I had been a wee bit remiss about that the last month or two.
Next day after a super breakfast went to work on the bike. Needed to get her back into passenger carrying mode. Also wanted to give her a quick service and an inspection to see what bits had fallen off or were about to. Completed my service and check covered Tiggy Moondust up again and went for a well-deserved coffee. Had just returned to the hotel, dived into the lift to get to my room to work on the blog and had a pleasant surprise encounter….. The elevator was dominated by a figure dressed in a dirty sweat stained tee-shirt and bike jeans full of holes and covered with good old honest to goodness road grime and oil. He was staring just as much at me as I was at him. I said, “Hello and where are you from”. “England mate”, he replied. I immediately introduced myself with “Hee, I’m your naughty neighbor, I’m from Ireland” and he carried on with “Are you riding a Triumph Tiger and is that it, covered up outside???”. No getting away from the fact that this guy is observant, I was wearing me Triumph tee-shirt and Tiggy was parked in front of the door. No point in denying this so I just said, “Yep am supporting the English economy”. I had a terrible nagging feeling that I knew this chap, but I am in an elevator in a non-tourist town well off the Pan-Am and Gringo Trail. Then came the clincher…. “I know you, we met…. in Alaska on a petrol station, I am travelling with my girlfriend riding two British registered Harleys” Ohhh My Gaaaawwwddddd ……, Jyl and Chris….., I was just flabbergasted. This was over 6 months and around 32,000 kms ago. What a coincidence. Went straight up to their room and got a super cuddle from Jyl. They had just arrived, Jyl was still in her leathers so we arranged to talk later. We immediately exchanged WhatsApp info, summit we had not done the last encounter. You can check out their blog here, it’s really worth it: https://jyloldham.wixsite.com/jilloldham
Went back to my room and started to work on the blog and to check with Susie who was en-route to Mexico. Took me laptop down to the restaurant and met up with Jyl and Chris for dinner. Spent the whole evening just chatting, the restaurant had closed around us. Then it was off to bed. I had to get to the airport early in the morning to meet up with Susie.
Next morning after a coffee and a quick breakfast it was off to the airport. The hotel has a free shuttle service so first he dropped me off at the airport then he carried on to drop some oil workers off at the docks and came back to pick us both up. Susie’s plane was on time and she was out in no time. Was a super reunion.
Then back to the hotel for breakfast, my second one. We shared breakkies with Jyl and Chris. They were off to Playa del Carmen to have Christmas and New Year with Tash, Chris’s sister, who was flying in from England.
Susie and I were going to Merida for Christmas and Valladolid for New Year’s. We spent the day unpacking and rearranging the gear. Susie was bringing essential supplies with her, things like teabags and an upgrade for Holly my Garmin nav unit that had just about given up the ghost.
We also spent some time hanging around the pool and catching up on what’s been happening. Susie is a life long friend and partner on many an Adventure. She also manages my affairs back in Europe. She is the www.rideliveexplore.com site moderator and administrator. We also own a small sci-fi and fantasy book business together which she runs almost entirely, I just pretend to do things there. If anyone wants to take a peek, then it’s to be found on www.magicgalaxies.com .
The next day was a slow start, had to bring the luggage down to be stored.
Then it was time to Giddy up and go. Destination was Campeche 206 km south. Took the Mex 180 that runs along the Golf of Mexico. It’s a nice little run and an easy one to get Susie used to the bike again. Only it was hot. She was coming from mid-winter in Holland to Tropical South Mexico.
“Campeche is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful capitals in the country. UNESCO named it as a model of a colonial baroque city planning. Additionally, it was declared a World Heritage Site. It has 17 archaeological sites including Calakmul, the largest Mayan city that has ever been discovered”.
The above is a direct citation from the visit Mexico website and to be honest I could not put it any better. It’s a magical beautiful place. It is the capital city of the like named state. That night we went out to celebrate our first real dinner in Mexico. This was in a gorgeous little restaurant called “Luz de Luna” or Moonlight. It has some of the best décor around.
Next day we just wandered around town exploring and chilling. That evening we went to the beach and watched a super sunset. Neither of us fancied doing any of the cultural stuff. Sometimes it’s just nice to wander around.
Next day it was off to Merida where we were going to spend Christmas. Merida is a short run, down the 180, of about 185 Km. Yep, we are really moving. We had hired a little apartment in the old town.
Merida is the capital of the State of Yucatan and has the highest indigenous population of any of the large Mexican cities. Approximately about 60% of the population is from Mayan descent. We ate a nice dinner in an Italian restaurant and people watched.
Then went for a walk down the main drag to look at the Christmas lights and decorations. The next day was Christmas Eve.
Went shopping and made a Christmas dinner and exchanged presents and just lazed around indoors. One of the essential supplies that Susie had brought over was the famous Christmas pudding or just plain “plum duff” and of course brandy butter. These were supplied by me dear sis, who for the last years has been supplying all my “plum duffs”. This is gonna get the non-Anglo and Irish readers googling like anything.
The next day, after a super Christmas breakfast went into town and went to the Mayan Museum, which was closed and was going to stay closed for the whole of the Christmas holidays.
The next day, or Boxing Day as it is called in England and Ireland, we spent wandering around town where I bought a Mexican sim for HAL my windows phone. It was a 40-day unlimited local calls, texts and one and a half gigabyte internet.
Up until then I was using my American throw away phone with an American AT&T sim card. HAL is an old Lumina windows phone that I carry. It has, offline, navigation and I use HERE maps on it. HAL is the reincarnation of the famous computer that starred in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. She still has the neighing to try to kill me. This time by sending me down a super big one-way main road the wrong way or as was the case months earlier in South India sending me off road on a track that ended in a swamp…. Yep HAL is really naughty and lives up to her name.
Then it was time to Giddy up and go, this time to a town called Valladolid, but that will be another story. There is a photo album called “Mazatlán to Merida via Durango” on my open Facebook page it’s called Ride Live Explore or you can get straight there by clicking on the link in the menu bar.
Thank you for reading the blog, looking at, commenting and liking the photo albums on Facebook and sharing the ride with me. I appreciate it!
Hasta la Vista