Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The last three days have been some of the most frightening and hardest of the trip but also the most exhilerating and rewarding so far. Viva La Central Amercia!
What goes around comes around. We call Queen Charolotte City a city and the Guatemalans call the Pan American Highway a highway. Neither of which are even remotely accurate.
Day15 dawned bright and clear and we were underway by 6:30. It was an early start because we hoped to clear the border early and make it as far as the colonial city of Antigua. Big mistake!
We pulled into the border area and I was lucky. I´ve crossed into CA before and had some idea what to expect (some - but not all by any means) but the others had no idea. It´s absolute chaos and pandmonium. (sp?) As you get near the border the road side stands and buildings get thicker and close in. Then, when you´re actually within in sight of the border you´re descended upon by a screaming mass of people. Some are money changers shouting at you to exchange any Pesos into Quetzales and others are ´´handlers´´ offering to walk you through the process. For a feee of course. It´s all VERY foriegn to a North American and VERY intimidating, especially because Latin American´s have a very different concept of personal space than we do. It´s loud and crazy and chaotic - but all part of the journey. It´s also complicated by the fact that with three of us it takes lonnger. In this setting we always want to have two with the bikes to watch over the gear so only one can go through the process at a time.
Here´s what it entails....
1. Go to the Customs building, stand in line, get a stamp in your passport.
2. Go to a photocopy kiosk and make any necessary copies. (We all had some in advance but always seemed to be missing something)
3. Go to another building - with the bike - stand in line - pay a feee - have the bike sprayed with insecticide - get a stamped piece of paper. Latin Americans LOVE stamps and paper
4. Go to another building - stand in line - present licenses, passport, registration, and fumigation certificate and, after a VERY frustrating wait while the clerk SLOWLY fills in the paperwork, receive some documents back.
5. Take these documents to another building - stand in line - pay a fee to another clerk - receive a stamped piece of paper.
6. Take all this back to previous building - stand in line - clerk comes out to bike to check serial numbers etc.
GOOD TO GO!
I´ll NEVER complain about US or Canadian border crossings again!
This took approx 2 1/2 hours in 30 degree heat but we eventually completed everything for all of us, paid our handler and we were on our way......with one error.
We entered Guatemala slightly further north than we expected. All along we planned on taking the Pacific route, known as CA2 (the second PanAmerican Hwy?) because we read it´s a newer and better road. Because we were further North though, we though what the heck. On the map it looks closer to Antigua if we stay North - and on the map it was CA1 so how bad could it be? BAD! First, ít may be CA 1 but it´s not really part of the ´´highway´´ until it reaches Quezaltenango. Second, it´s the worst road I´ve ever been on. It was rough, narrow, and it climbed from just above sea level to approx 9,000 feet in only a few klm. The switchbacks are closer to U-Turns because you do 180 degrees in the space of a car length. It made the Devil´s Backbone in Mexico look like a cakewalk! We climbed through dry lowlands, thick jungle, rain forrest and cloud forrest and the temperature dropped to just above freezing. During the this part of the trip we had lots of close calls, I dropped my bike once, and we got lost in two different cities on the way through. Guatemalans apparently don´t believe in signage. We eventually arrived at Quez much later than expected and totally spent. Rather than try to find something we flagged down a cab and explained in very broken Spanish that we need him to take us to a good hotel downtown. We´d follow on the bikes and pay him when we got there - and he had a vested interest in not loosing us in traffic. It worked! He took us right downtown to a great old colonial hotel on the main square. We all had a good night sleep and wondered around that evening taking in the sights of Guatemala´s second largest city - and arguably it´s prettiest.
Distance - 298 VERY hard klm!
Oops! Our plan was to ride for a short day to either Panajachel on Lake Atitlan or try to make it to Antigua, and then take a well deserved afternoon off. Both were within a few hour run. But.....getting out of a Guatemalan city is MUCH harder than one would believe. After a 1/2 hour of wrong turns we finally hit a great road and hit the throttle. But....when we arrived at a junction that didn´t match our map I stopped and asked a local - no mean feat given the language barrier - and determined we were´t where we thought we were or needed to be. We were actually 10 klm South of town. So....all of us being flexible we decided to change our plans and forgo Pana and Antigua and make a run to CA2 and on to Esquintla. There was frost on the side of the road when we began and we were all bundled up again, but as we lost elevation it climbed back into the thities and we had to peel off layers everytime we took a break. This was initially a great call though. The road was incredibly better and actually started to take on the appearence of a highway. After a few hours we pulled into Esquintla. Our goal was to stick to the original plan and take the afternoon off and we thought we´d just hole up in a nice business class hotel with a pool etc and play tourist. No again. To describe Esquintla as run down would be to do a diservice to run down cities everywhere. I´m sure that there are nicer area´s off the main drag but along the road we came in on it was terrible. The slums of calcutta don´t have anything on Esquintla. It was hot, loud, dirty, and filthy and squaller is a fair description. We stayed on the bikes and got the hell out of dodge. This changed things a lot. We decided to keep going and pressed on. The road from this point was great and we made good time, although it was a little spooky because there were few towns, no hotels and and everything had a frontier feel as we neared the El Salvadoran border. We eventually arrived at a small town right on the border, had dinner and a beer and crashed.
Distance - another 309 hard klm.
We hit the border early and right away noticed a much more laid back attitude because the El Salvadorans aren´t in your face the way Guatemalans are. Plus, we were at a smaller crossing. Unfortunatley, this laid back attitude transposed itself to the border crossing process. Three different buildings, multiple trips to each, endless lines, lots of stamps and reciepts and heat, dust and humidity. It takes the patience of Jobe and a good handler. After 3 full hours though, we were on our way but we had one final hurdle to clear. As we pulled around a line of transport trucks to get out of the parking lot we had to go around an Ox-Cart and wait for a herd of goats to clear us a path.
From there it was smooth sailing along the coast. The road is much better in El Salvador and everything is more orderly. I love this county. The people are great and there´s a sense of vibrancy that´s missing in Guatemala. ES also has a middle class so you can share a hotel with other locals. In Guat anything off the gringo trail is grinding poverty so it´s a different vibe.
We´re now in the seaside resort town of La Libertad. A popular spot with El Salvadors because it´s only 25 klm from San Salvador. Today - day 18 - is a down day and we may take a run into the city just to look around.
Distance yesterday 157 klm - not too much due to a three hour border ordeal
Total distance so far 4,941 - our poor little Honda´s are now feeling every klm. Steve´s KLR on the other hand is eating this crap up. Bastard!
Via con Dios !
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Hola Mi Amigos Y Mi Familia
Today was a good day, a bad day and an emotional day, all in one.
We started by getting up at 5:30 for a 6:30 start and it was a cold slap in the face to realize that the original Team Panama was no more. We´re still a team - and we´ll do fine - but without BUFF at our side it just won´t be the same. Kevan came down to see us off and put on a brave face but I had to leave my helmet on when I gave him a final hug, less the security guard see a grown gringo cry. It´s doubly sad because so far it´s been a pretty sane trip. Today though, we crossed an imaginary line and we´re definitly not in Kansas anymore. We´re spending the night in a small Mexican town approx 160klm shy of the Guatemalan border in the heart of Chiapas State. There´s an uneasy undercurrent in the air and a frontier feel to the whole area. And a decided lack of any other Gringos.
So much for the bad; the good today was the riding. No flat tires, no mechanical problems and some stretches of not too bad roads. We were able to put on some decent miles with one exception. The geography of this area is such that we hit the narrowest part of Mexico between the gulf and the Pacific. This point also has a mountain range that funnels any weather through from one side to the other. I haven´t followed the news to see if there are any storms in the gulf but as we went through the winds were incredible. We tried to push on but it went from difficult to scarry to dangerous and we had to pull over to wait it out. Steve is a pilot and knows a little about meteorology and his guesss were winds at 90 KPH with gusts to 100+. We had to hunker down for at least an hour until it abaited a bit and we were able to carry on. Later on down the road we saw a huge wind turbine electrical generating farm. At least 100+ of those huge windmills so we now know this isn´t just a fluke. It´s obviously a windy spot all the time.
Tomorrow we hit the border and bid farewell to Mexico. It will be a bittersweet goodbye though. Mexico is a harsh mistress. At once she´s a demanding and rough around the edges, unkempt and more than willing to give you a piece of her mind. She accosts your senses with pungent smells, a cachophony of sound and tastes all too often foreign to those who only visit on occasion. She´s much more though. She´s a willing seductress: warm and inviting and ready to enfold you in the soft carress of her gentle night sky. She´s all these things and more and she has my heart in her hand. As we leave tomorrow she´ll smile because she knows. We´ll come back. We always do.
BUFF, we´re thinking of you and hoping you arrived safe and sound
Hasta La Vista
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Second. I make no appologies for spelling on this post. I'm using a keyboard that doesn't look remotely familiar and half the key labels are worn off. Not good for someone that does't touch type.
It's been an emotional couple of days. We got up bright and early yesterday because we wanted to get to Hualtulco as early as possible in order to get Kevan into a hospital for a proper check up. Unfortunately, I had another tire problem so I needed to hang back until 9:00, when I could get into a tire shop. Rather than everyone stay back we split up for the first time. We decided that Steve and Kevan would go ahead and Brad and I would stay until I got the tire fixed. The idea was that we'd meet in Hualtulco at a specific hotel we picked out of the guide book. Everything went great. They took off and a half hour later the shop opened and we were in and out in 30 minutes. Brad and I made it to Hualtulco by 11:30 but things didn'd go as planned. Steve and Kevan wrote down the right hotel but Brad went by memory and we got turned around on the way into town so he thought they should have been at two different hotels. When they weren't there we spent several hours driving to every hospital, clinic and english speaking doctor we could find. The really weird thing was they were supposed to e-mail Brad to let us know ehere they were. Again, it was one of those things that after the fact you realize your mistake. Brad has his e-mail set up in such a way that unknown contacts can't e-mail him. It's like a spam filter. Sooooo.... they couldn't contact us and we couldn't find them. We were all worried about each other and went so far as calling spouses in Canada to see if they'd heard from their respective husbands. All's well that ends well though. We eventually hooked up in the main town square - had a few heated words about who exactly srewed up - used it as an opportunity to learn for next time - and then drank copius ampounts of rum to put is all behind us.
Which brings me to my next point. I've recieved a few e-mails and inquiries asking if I'm really enjoying this. Did I make a mistake?
It's a hard question to answer because most of my friends and family don't have a common frame of referrence to refer to. If I was a tourist the answer would be easy - NO! But we're not. We're travellers. In this case, overland travellers on motorcycles. The destination isn't important - only the journey. 12 years ago I hiked the West Coast Trail. During the hike we fought rain, mud, cold and fatigue for 8 days. Did I enjoy it at the time? Only a masochist (sp?) would enjoy days of cold rain and mud up to your thighs. Would I change it? Not at all. It's one of my fondest memories. Two years ago Rosi and visited the Mayan ruins at Tikal. Most tourists fly in for a day, get a guided tour and fly back to their resort. Rosi and I though, are travellers. We travelled overland by bus for two gruelling days in order to meet the people and really see the countryside. And at the time Rosi was sick with what we later learned was pneumonoia. Do we regret it? How can you regret being able to get up at 5:00 in order to arrive at a site before any tourists and in time to see and hear troups of Howler Monkey's? - something 90% of the toursits miss.
So, to answer the questions. Yes, it's been MUCH harder at times than we imagined. Would I change anything? Absolutly, to, live is to learn. Would I do it again - In a heart beat!
So, now for the update;
Day 12 (above) brought us to La Cruceita on beautiful Bahia Hualtulco. It's absolutely beautiful and all of us love it.
Day 13 has been a down day to suck back and reload. Steve and I spent the afternoon at a local beach while Brad caught up on sleep and Kevan layed low.
Which brings me to the very sad news that Kevan has to go home early. His blood pressure and irregular heart beat are quite serious. He's been given some emergency medication here but he needs to get back into Canada ASAP in order to start proper treatment. He and I have planned this for over a year and it just won't feel right without BUFF at our side. It was quite an emotional morning for him and I and more than a few manly hugs were exchanged while we dryed our eyes. This afternoon he gave his bike away to a needy Mexican famliy and it seems REALLY strange to now see only three bikes parked out front.
BUT... the trip continues and a new phase begins. Brad and I have redistributed Kevan's parts and tools and between the two of us we'll keep the Silverwings on the Road. Steve's been a rock and has grounded the rest of us as we've all worked though what could have been a deal breaker.
So tomorrow we enter phase II. We have a two day run through Chiapas to the Guatemalan border and, knock on wood, we should enter Guatemala sometime late on Monday. It's approx 2,500 klm through Central America, which is obtainable as long as we keep our wits about us. Three is a very different dynamic than four but Team Panama 08 is up to the task!
Hasta la Vista Y Via con Dias!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
To describe the last two days as gruelling would be a vast understatement. They were two of the longest, hottest days I´ve ever experienced. Nerves were frayed, patience was tested and our stamina was really put to the test.
Day 10 started on a sour note because we originally planned on a very early start to beat the heat. Instead, we had a slight setback. Nothing serious in the big scheme of things but maybe a sign of what was to come. We dropped off our laundry at a local lavanderia and they promised us it would be ready to be picked up by 9:00. They lied. They didn't even open the next day. By the morning we wanted to leave we were VERY worried. There was no phone number on the door or on the receipt, and we were starting to think of contingencies IE a major shopping trip to Walmart. Luckily though, we picked up everything at 9:00 and were on our way out of Acapulco by 9:30. Just in time for rush hour and the start of the heat. It´s been around 33 with a Humidex of 42!
Anyway, we were finally on our way. It started out great. More sweeping vistas of the Pacific and some great riding. But.....as the day wore on it became hotter and hotter. Then we had our first "issue".
Now you have to understand, I´m a fairly novice rider. I haven´t experienced a lot of things. Like say, A FLAT TIRE AT 110KPH!! I had no idea what was happening other than my bike started to do the funky chicken and I was going WAY too fast for my liking. We were able to limp along to a spot where we could all pull off and then the fun began. And here I have to give a VERY big KUDOS to Kevan. If not for him, Brad, Steve and I would still be back on the side of the road looking at the tire and thinking WTF? Anyway, it turns out that I picked up a 4 inch screw that managed to work it's way right through the side wall. We had to pull the tire, remove it from the rim, install a tube as an emergency fix and re-install the wheel, all in 35 degree heat without a lick of shade. It took a full two hours and by the time we were back on the road the damage was done. I´m sure we all had varying degrees of heat stroke and dehydration and it was borderline dangerous. Later that same day we were all litterally exhausted. At one point I dumped my bike when we pulled over for a break. It was a stupid mistake and only because I was too tired to see it coming.
One final bit on the tire change. It´s quite an endeavour! After the wheel is removed you have to break the ¨bead´ in order to remove the tire from the rim. (I didn`t know what it meant either)
Now, to do this takes a lot of pressure. The easiest way is to place the wheel on its side on the ground and jump on the sidewall of the tire. Soooooo.......three of us held hands and stood in a circle and jumped up and down on the tire! Our own little Circle of Friends. But- did I mention how hot it was? And that we wear black riding pants? Riding pants that we eventually took off to stave of heat stroke. So, know you have three grown men, all in their underwear but wearing black motorcycle boots, holding hands and jumping up and down in a circle. We´re lucky we didn´t get arrested!
We eventually made it to the middle of nowhere, dusty, dirty and VERY Mexican small town of Pinotea Nacional. We pulled in to town at 4:30 - a 7 hour trip that was supposed to have taken 4 hours.
Hilights of the day. A heard of goats on the raod, wayward pigs and burro´s and Steve VERY nearly being clobered by a falling tree by some Mexican road workers that had a major chuckle while trying to kill their first Gringo on a Motorcycle.
Mileage- 269 klm
Today started off well. It was at leat 30 when we got up and there was a heavy mist - a nice indicator of the humidity level. We were planning on riding to Haultulco. A ride of approx 250 klm but no such luck. The tube apparently didn´t do the trick because I started loosing air after a couple of hours. Kevan packs a portable electric tire pump - again, KUDOS - and we tried an emergency foam injection to get us into town. It did Ok for a while but it was slow going and the heat really started to take its toll. We stopped at a tire shop in Puerto Escondido to refill it and they were able to point us to a Motorcycle Shop. He pointed us to another Motorcycle Shop, where we were able to buy a tire. All of this sounds quick and painless now but at the time it was 35 in Mexican city traffic and we had countless wrong turns and the language barrier played no small part in our frustration. It was the first time any of had ¨words´ amongst ourselves. Some of which rhymed with Duck - go figure. Anyway, the tire eventually went completely flat and I had to push the bike the final few blocks to a hotel in order to save the rim. Long story short - we pulled the wheel - again - and I took it, and the new tire, by cab back to the tire shop. To put a positive spin on this, the guys at the shop don´t normally work on motorcycle tires. They put their heads together though and installed the new tire by hand, staying a half hour late on their own time in the process. Cab ride back, install wheel and voila!
OK - it´s not all as bad as it sounds. It´s still an incredible trip and we all wouldn´t trade it for the world. OK, maybe some of yesterday and today but only that.
Now the bad news. Kevan is really feeling under the weather. He´s been fighting a cold or flu and the heat and humidity is quite hard for him to deal with. Add to that the fact that he worked his ass off today and yesterday, plus possible heat stroke and probable dangerous levels of dehydration and he´s in tough shape. He went to a local clinic and his blood pressure, which has never been a problem, is way too high and he´s got an irregular heart beat. We´re pushing on to Hualtulco tomorrow because they´ll have better medical facilities. He´s going to go into emergency and get a full check up, including an EKG, to rule out anything serious. We´ve all got our fingers crossed that it´s just the heat and last two days. They just a little stressfull!
Total mileage 3,544klm
Still no pictures - internet cafe computers just won´t allow it. Next time I´ll bring a lap top for sure.
Hasta La Vista
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Just a quick follow up to my last post and an apology. You may see some pretty poor spelling on these posts. Unfortunately, I´m now the result of 15 years of spell check and I couldn´t spell well in school to start with. Add in a Spanish keyboard, and the fact that spell check doesn´t seem to work on an English website when accessed from Mexico, and this is the result. If you see a word that´s mispelled please just give me the benefit of the doubt.
When we checked into our hotel in Zijuat we decided to change things up and I shared a room with Steve. Now, we´re all tired and we all snore to a degree, so we´ve all had to put on our game face and suck it up. To describe what Steve does as snoring though, would be to describe the Grand Canyon as just another small hole in the ground. Oh, my gawd! I´ve heard freight trains that were less noisy! It was a long sleepless night but at least Steve got some well deserved rest.
Day 8 was another amazing ride day down the pacific coast to Acapulco with Day 9 (today) a down day to catch up on laundry, buy some parts at Walmart and just hang out at the beach.
Total klm so far - 3,128
A few highlights so far, in no particular order:
The sights: sunrise, mist rising on the Pacific, sweeping vistas, beautiful beaches, amazing cliffs, incredible colours, smiling faces, smoke, burning garbage, trash, VERY busy traffic, volcanoes, smiling children, goats on the road
The sounds: traffic, horns, chickens, music, MORE music, LOUD music, barking dogs, birds
The smells: diesel fumes, sewer gas, fragrant spices, citrus, cilantro
And finally, the heat and humidity, which is taking a greater toll than we originally thought.
Mexico is not for the faint of heart but if you´re willing to get away from the resorts and explore all that it has to offer it´s a feast for the senses and worth every penny of the price of admission!
Tomorrow it´s a 6:00 start to beat the heat as we head out to Puerto Escondido.
Adios Mi Amigos Y Mi Familia
Sorry - I´ve been trying to upload photos for the past 20 minutes but it just won´t work. Maybe the next computer will have better luck
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Now, any of you that have travelled will know the joys of tourista- AKA, travellers diaraha. This wasn`t that. This was full blown, cold sweat, projectile vomiting, food poisening. I was up all night and at one point I must have found God because I know I prayed that if He was up there, to please just kill me now and bring this to an end. Brad and Steve had slight bouts as well but I must have had the one bad taco. Needless to say, it was unpleasant in the extreeme and made for a VERY long day the next morning.
Saturday was a very short riding day of only 156 klm to the city of Colima. It took us longer than it should have though, because of me stopping every 45 minutes to get off my bike to fight back the waves of nausea. We varrived in Colima around 11:30 and grabbed the first hotel we could find. We lucked out and found a great little very typical Mexican hotel that had secure parking and was right on the main town square for only $23 per night. I crashed and slept right through until 5:00 but Steve, Brad and Kevan were able to take in the sites and soak up some fantastic culture. Colima is the state capital and a lovely collonial city, with museums, sidewalk cafes and fantastic sites.
We ended up at a sidewalk cafe right on the main square for dinner and were able to see a huge free concert of local musicions and dance troups.
Today was Nirvana for any of you that ride. We got up early and, I`m VERY happy to say, we were all back to 100% as far as feeling well. We hit the road at 7:00 and had an absolutely FANTASTIC ride along the Pacific Coast. Tight switchbacks, huge sweeping curves, periodic straight stretches, major elevation changes and all with the crystal clear, unrealistically blue, Pacific crashing on to long stretches of deserted powder white beaches for miles and miles.
We eventually made it to Zijuatenajo (sp?) around 3:00. We left Colima and it was fairly warm but cool once we got up to speed. By 10:00 it passed warm on the way to hot and by 12:00 we hit Freak`n Hot! We`re all drinking at least four bottles of water by noon and it`s still not enough.
Tonight we just finished a typical Mexican dinner at a little family restaurant. All four of us had a quarter chicken (yes Sweety - El Carbon!) refried beans, tortillas, rice, french fires and three beer each and the total came to less than $40 Can - Viva Mexico!
Tomorrow is another short day to Acapulco and a well deserved day off. We have to pick up a few things at a bike shop to do some maintenance on one of the Honda`s and then it`ll be laudry and a day at the beach.
Today was 452 klm and our total so far is 2,883. Hard to believe!
Take care Mi Amigos Y Mi Familia
Hasta La Vista
Friday, January 18, 2008
Well, so much for internet cafe´s. I just finished writing what I think was a very good post and ¨poof¨it was eaten by the internet gods.
So, rather than do it all over you´ll just have to believe me when I say it´s been an incredible few days. Days 3, 4 and 5 included a down day in Mazatlan and WAY too many beer at lunch, another breakfast of goat soup and tacos in a small Mexican town that NO tourists ever get to, a fouled carb due to poor Mexican gas, a great dinner and hotel in Rincon de Guayabitos, mountain roads and a VERY close call that I´m sure Keven is still thanking God for saving him and two wrong turns onto one-way streets in a small Mexican town. And of course, since it was market day, there were at least 100 Caballeros in town for the auction that had quite a chuckle at our expense.
We´re now in Barra de Navidad and heading to Colima in the morning.
Day 4 - 399klm
day 5- 299 klm
Total - 2,275klm
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
We made it to Mazatlan last night but it was a gruelling trip - 867 klm / 14 hours ! Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!
Do any of you remember the movie from the Eighties - An American Werewolf in London? It´s a classic. In one scene they´re told time and time again, don´t walk at night on the Moors. What do they do? Walk at the night on the Moors. And of course, what happens after that is a great movie.
Every guide book, web site and blog ALL say, DON´T drive in Mexico at night. What did we do? Over 200klm last night in the darkest, most desolate stretch of Mexican super highway you can imagine. I guess God favours the brave ( or the stupid in this case ) because we made it safe and sound but never EVER again.
Oh, and by the way, a Honda GL 500 can go 317 klm on a tank of gas. The last 25 of which are on reserve which makes the "pucker factor" even higher. According to my owners manual my bike has a 17 litre gas tank. When we finally made it to a gas station it took 17 litres to fill it so were all on fumes!
We left Nogales Az early on Monday morning. OK, not as early as we´d have liked because two that shall remain nameless slept in. Crossing the border into Mexico was a breeze. We must have timed it right because there were no lineups to speak of at all. The whole process takes about 45min but you have to double it because only two of us could go at once so that we always had someone with the gear. After that it was the culture shock of going from Order to Chaos. Clean to Dirty. Organized to Disorganized. We loved it!
The road from the border is a two lane toll highway that´s pretty good. It´s divided highway but not a freeway and we made pretty good time after we finally finished all the paperwork. Our only set back was our first fuel stop. Again, someone who shall remain nameless, (not me, in case you´re wondering) filled their tank with diesel. Hmmmmm.... diesel is spelled the same in Spanish and English. Oh well, a half hour of siphoning later we were back on the road.
Our first night was spent in San Carlos.
One final note for day one - it started out really cold! We´re all wearing mesh hot-weather riding gear so we added every piece of clothing we have. Including our rain gear. We all look like the Michelin Man. By noon it warmed up enough that we could start peeling off layers but it was still chilly all day. Even at 20 degree´s it´s cold when you´re riding a bike at 90kph.
Day two started on a better note. Everyone was up at the right time and we have the packing down to a science now. We thought it was cold when we started but as we travelled south we also climbed in altitude. By the time 9:00 rolled around it was absolutely freezing. I´m going to guess somewhere around zero because we could see frost in places!
We stopped for breakfast at a road side stand in the middle of nowhere and we were chilled to the bone. We joined some locals at their table and had a great meal of taco´s and cabbage soup. Hey, it wasn´t coffee but it was hot!
From there it was miles and miles of miles and miles. Northern Mexico is kinda like Montana but just more desert. It´s pretty desolate. The good news though, is although the tolls are fairly steep, the roads just got better and better as we continued south. We went through Obregon, Novajoa, and Los Mochis. All of it on great highways with gas stations every 50 klm.
Around 3:00 we arrived just outside a large city called Culliacan (sp?) and that´s where things fell off the rails. What we SHOULD have done, is simply called it a day and gone into the city for a hotel. But we didn´t like the idea of riding in a city and we had this vague notion that there must be something better just down the road. And just then, as we´re debating the issue over our maps a Mexican overhears us talking about a place on the map called El Dorado. On the map it looks just off the highway a little further south. He tells us, in very broken English that it´s a great place with lots of hotels. Lying bastard! He´s probably still laughing. We decided to give it a try but it turns out it was much further than we thought. We had just gassed up but we had go down the freeway a little further to the turn off, and then in on a secondary road for at least 25 klm. And as we went, it got worse and worse. The town it self was VERY dodgy, with a HUGE sense of lawlessness and NO hotels that we could see. Brad and I have both travelled a lot in Mexico and we both strenuously argued that it wasn´t the place to spend the night. I think the conversation went something like, Oh my God! Let´s get the f!!! out of here! Anyway, the problem of course is it´s now after 4:00 and dusk is just around the corner. We all felt though, that driving at dusk couldn´t be any worse than the current situation so we turned tail and ran.
Except now it´s dusk and the local factory has let out and all the workers are heading home in buses, carts, bikes, cars and donkey´s, none of which have working headlights. 25 minutes in turns into 45 out and it´s getting VERY dark when we finally hit the main road. And HERE is where we made our fatal error.
Do we backtrack 25 klm to Culliacan where we KNOW there will be a hotel or do we continue south hoping to see something? You guessed it - continue south.
Right around the corner we hit another toll booth but this time it was much more expensive and now they referred to the highway as the Autopista rather than just a highway. We paid the toll and continued on - now in full on dark. BIG MISTAKE.
As soon as we cleared the booth it became a full on freeway and the only stretch of road in Mexico with no FREAK´N gas stations!! On top of that, the temperature continued to drop but the were no pullouts that we could stop at to put on more clothes and stopping on the side of the road was too dangerous to even think about. It was a long, cold, dark, very scary drive! As the kilometers racked up the fuel levels dropped and as we neared what we hoped were the lights of Mazatlan, tow of us hit our reserve. When we finally emerged from this surreal hell of a ride we ended up in another toll booth where we could finally pull over and put on the rest of our cloths. At this point - all kidding aside - I´m sure we were approaching hypothermia. Except for Kavan of course, he has an electric vest!. They told us at the toll booth it was 28 klm to Mazatlan, which we finished at only 80kph to conserve fuel. The lights of the first Pemex gas station were a shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark wasteland of fear and despair! OK, maybe an exaggeration but it would have been a long walk if we had run out of fuel.
The irony of course, is after gassing up we had to drive in city traffic at night to find our hotel - probably the most dangerous part of the whole day!
When we arrived at our hotel it was 14 hours and 867 klm later but all is well.
We picked something nice right downtown because we earned it
We´re going to spend a down day here in Mazatlan to recoup and then the journey will continue
Sunday, January 13, 2008
The flight down was OK as well, with the exception of the stop over in Salt Lake City. We changed planes as planned but after we taxied out to the runway we sat for a full hour while the pilot tried to correct a mechanical problem. They eventually pulled us back to the airport for mechanics to fix it but no such luck - so it was everybody off the plane and re-board on a replacement. It all worked out though, and even though I was two hours late, I arrived safe and sound in Phoenix and - oh joy of joy's! - my luggage was waiting for me!
We stayed up until midnight going over routes and pouring over maps. After a solid 4 hours sleep I was wide awake and ready to go - the problem of course, was it was still 4:00 in the morning! Oh well, eventually 7:00 arrived and we all got up, had a great breakfast, loaded our gear, said our many good by's and hit the road at noon.
We arrived in Nogales - 276 klm - at 5:00. It would have been sooner but it took a solid hour to get through Tuscon. Cities!
Anyway - tomorrow bright and early at 6:00 we're finally crossing the Mexican border and the "real"journey begins