Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 4 & 5 Lake Chapala!

Day 4 & 5
I’m writing this on the morning of Day 5 - sitting on the balcony of my very nice room overlooking the large manicured grounds of a Mexican hotel/resort.

Before I go on though, I have to clarify that on a trip like this the bike isn’t just a form of transportation. It’s not like hopping in a car to get somewhere. For me, the bike IS the vacation - it’s the journey I love, just as much as the destination. Otherwise, four days of riding just to spend a week somewhere and then do it all again to get home makes no sense whatsoever. I’m just lucky enough that Rosi is willing to come along. I’m not stupid; she doesn’t feel the same passion for it as me but she doesn’t just tolerate it either. There’s times she loves it too. It’s unfortunate that this area of Northern Mexico isn’t the most picturesque - and it’s often a LONG way between cities of size - but hey, we’ve seen things few others have.

Which brings me to yesterday. I don’t like to ride more than three days without a break and I like to keep it to ~ 500 klm but this time that just wouldn’t worked out. So far we’ve been averaging >600 klm and we pretty much had to ride another day to get to some warmth.

Because we’re starting to feel a little road weary we didn’t get an early start. By the time I got up and pulled the bike out of the lobby and loaded our gear it was after 8:00 before we left our little town. We then pulled into the first Pemex/Oxxo we came across for our obligatory breakfast of coffee and muffins so it was close to 9:00 before we really started to make tracks.

After that it was more of the same. Miles and miles of miles and miles - all of it at close to 120 kph but good roads and light traffic. Approx 1 ½ hours south we picked up the Autopista and I was able to average 140 kph again. The Autopista is the Mexican toll freeway system. All the roads are four-lane divided freeways in fantastic shape and are patrolled regularly by the Green Angels in case of breakdowns etc.

We wizzed through Zacatecas on a freeway by-pass and continued down the road to Aguas Callientes. According to my map there should have been another ring road in AC but for whatever reason we missed it. Instead we knew we were in trouble as the divided freeway became just four lanes, then two and then regular city roads in an ever increasing amount of traffic. AC is a large Mexican city of approx 1,000,000 and it brings new meaning to the terms hectic and chaotic. It’s BUSY, especially when you’re two-up on a loaded bike and you’ve been spit out in the very centre of town. The main town square was on one side, the main mercado on another and traffic and people were closing in fast. And poor Rosi, who doesn’t like Mexican traffic at the best of times, was panicked and more than willing to let her displeasure be known through the intercom. I actually didn’t know she knew some of the words she used - and I’m REALLY happy the Mexican drivers couldn’t hear her or we’d still be there trying to explain that we really didn’t mean it when we said the things we did

And here’s the other thing: like the previous three days, up until AC the temperatures ranged from cold in the mornings and at higher elevations, to cool during the day, but when we descended into AC it got hot. REAL hot, REAL fast - and here we ere, stuck in chaotic Latin American traffic and unable to peel off the rain gear we’d been using to add a layer for warmth. So now, on top of worrying about traffic we were both approaching heat stroke. OK, even I had to admit , Mexican motorcycle adventure or not, a nice flight into a resort for a few weeks was looking really good at this point.

But all things good come to those that deserve it - or maybe God truly does favour the brave - all I know is we eventually made our way through the maze of downtown and got spit out the other side and were able to pull over. We got off the bike, peeled off our rain gear and took a minute to decompress and get our bearings. I was able to ask a man on the street walking by for directions and it turns out he was right. (you sometimes have to ask three different people for directions and then use the average. They either don’t know and don’t want to admit it or they don’t understand because of the language barrier) He told us to take an immediate left at the next light and follow that road all the way out of the city until it hooks back up with the Autopista. We did and it did, and an hour later we were back on track and rolling down the freeway.

But….. and I have no idea how this is possible but we’re in the central highlands so it may have something to do with the elevation and mountains…..within minutes the temperature plunged and huge thick clouds rolled in. We knew we were in trouble so we pulled into the first Pemex (have I mentioned that we LOVE Pemex stations? They’re often our comfort zone and home away from home) and put all our rain gear again. We could see a HUGE storm rolling in but I asked one of the attendants which way it was to Guadalajara and it looked vaguely clear in that direction so we decided to chance it.

And for those of you now thinking “Poor Rosi. what a bastard for putting her through that”, I offered to stay the night and avoid the storm but it was only 2:30 at that point and we really wanted to get here. So we bundled up and headed off into the wilds. And what a wild ride it was!

For the next 45 minutes the winds ranged from hard to horrendous: we had heavy rain and sometimes hail so hard it actually hurt through all our gear and in the distance forked lightening, which only added to the pucker factor. But heads down and a look of grim determination on our faces, and with the promise of a slightly lighter sky in the distance, we pressed on.

Our perseverance eventually paid off because we hit clear blue sky again and had to finally pull over and peel off layers.

Our next bit of excitement was hitting Guadalajara at rush hour. The freeway into the city is eight lanes wide and BUSY. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city with a population of six million, all of whom seemed to be out driving when we arrived. But all’s well that ends well. We only had to stop and ask for directions once and only had to perform two U turns before we made our way to the road out of the city to Lake Chapala.

Which is where we are now. We found a really nice large hotel type place right on the shore of the lake. It’s a resort, but not in the North American way you probably think. Instead, try to imagine the family vacation type places that were popular in the fifties - kind of like the place in the movie, Dirty Dancing - and you’ll have a better idea. First, it’s huge, with lot’s of rooms, and a restaurant, a large ballroom and an absolutely HUGE outdoor dance floor. It’s right on the shore of Lake Chapala with beautiful manicured lawns and two pools - but no disco, no bar and no loud crass tourists. As a matter of fact, it’s not popular with gringo’s at all. Rosi and I are the only white faces here, which is just how we like it.

There’s only one wrench in the works. We’d really like to stay for three days but they’re fully booked starting tomorrow so we may have to push on. If there’s a cancellation we’ll stay but otherwise we’ll head to the coast in the morning. And from looking at the preparations underway for a major fiesta it may not be such a bad idea.

More to follow
Viva La Mexico!

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