Guadalajara is a big city. During the drive in, Russell and I were only saved from the confusion by blue signs pointing towards the city center – our destination for the night. Before G, Saltillo was the only large city we had actually driven through, and we got pretty turned around there due to construction and poor signage. G was easier to navigate in theory, but the traffic took some getting used to. There were lots of people, and the people turning left from a lane to our right was startling.

Upon arriving, gasoline was our first priority. After that bathrooms, ATM, and hotel took over in that order. We rode through downtown and a little past before finding the friendly PeMex. The attendant was nice and offered advice for the other things. They were all within walking distance. We chose an upscale hotel for the below ground parking. Motorcycles are common there, but ours were definitely from far away and looked more expensive than the local varieties.

The hotel we chose may have been the tallest building in town because from our view none appeared any taller. We got to our room on the 12th floor of 14 just before sundown and missed our chance to dip in the pool.

After a walk to the Walmart on another corner Russell and I were stocked with the toiletries, sunscreen, and water we needed for the rest of the trip. Not once on the trip did we drink public water, and not once did we get sick. He and I walked around the city looking for food and people watching. I also wanted to buy a notebook to keep a journal. He and I found everything we wanted and seated ourselves near the balcony of a 2nd floor restaurant overlooking one of the many plazas in downtown Guadalajara.

It was surreal. I’ve dreamt of visiting G almost my whole life, ever since hearing that Mariachi was created there. My childhood mind romanticized the city, and now I got to be there. Our dinner began with music from the square below, but eventually it turned into what can only be described as a one man protest. This guy was adamant about something, and passerby’s stopped only for a few seconds. As his incessant preaching droned on the two of us dined on a local buffet that filled our bellies and made us smile.  Sol was our beer of choice for the evening, or was it Pacifico? We enjoyed a few local brews.

On our walk – many churches!

My first thought after dining was tequila, and we made good on that instinct. Russell doesn’t drink as much as I do, but we still put away a decent amount of the bottle before leaving the hotel room again.

The view from our hotel at night – before the adventure really began.

We wanted to see what nightlife was like in the second largest city of Mexico, and after a short walk towards the now sparsely populated center we found a place lit up with a neon green “bar.” This looked liked the place. Climbing the stairs into the second level corner bar with glass windows all around we heard what the place was to be like before seeing it. And our first sight confirmed, a large man, poorly dressed, singing karaoke. It was obvious that he was the entertainment, but for us the laughs were just beginning. They haven’t stopped yet.

Russell may not want his personal life divulged, so I’ll keep it to a minimum just to set up the story. His relationship status was worse than complicated, and after talking to him I got it in my head that he needed a girlfriend. Just our luck since a single girl was sitting by herself near the door. I offered her a drink and left the two of them alone for a bit. Neither looked like they were having a good time when I returned.  Apparently the language of love isn’t universal, or at least one must know a few words to pick up chicks in a foreign country. I ended up translating a mundane translation about family and birthplaces.

We bought her another drink, and that’s when I realized something – her beers, while much smaller than ours, cost 5 times as much. Someone once told me that since prostitution was illegal, it was more socially palatable to buy a girl overpriced drinks from which she would get the kickback from the bar. This had the added benefit of making sure the bar was always stocked with available women. Well, that’s what we had, and I thought it was hilarious. Somehow, after a few more tequilas and beers, I invited her to join us on a motorcycle trip to the beach, riding with Russell, and even told her which hotel we were in. Thankfully that never came to fruition, but what happened next is still hard to believe.

The bar only had a few people in it, and few were talking, but a man with a video camera came around asking everyone to dance for one song. He wanted to film a commercial to put on Mexican television. After a little coaxing Russell found both his left feet and took his date on the floor. Another girl appeared, willing to dance with me, and we danced our asses off for that one song, during which the videographer had us move around the room to shoot from many angles. I’m sure anyone seeing that commercial will wonder what the odd pair of gringos, one with a bald spot, the other well over 6 feet tall, were doing dancing with local girls in a Guadalajara bar. I hope one day to see it.

We retired to our hotel safe from temporary love and not so secretly hoping the girl wouldn’t show up the next day expecting to ride to Puerto Vallarta. And for more than a few reasons it’s good she didn’t, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

After a late start we asked the valet where one might find breakfast on a Sunday morning, and he gave good advice. Breakfast was fantastic, one of many good meals we had on the trip. Before heading out we took one more stroll around the center to see what people did during the day.

It was a lovely place, and I look forward to going back.

Discovering Mexico, Day two

Russell and I woke in a foreign land. We were hundreds of miles south of anywhere familiar and hungry for more. Mostly we were hungry. After dining in the same restaurant that hosted the wonderful buffet of the night before we packed up ready for the day. FYI, breakfast was as we would see many times on the trip: tacos and an orange Fanta. The Fanta is of course to pretend something healthy.

Packing up.

On the road we were back to desert; it would last most of the day. It was beautiful.

The roads varied but were generally well maintained and with low traffic. Only occasionally did we have trouble passing a truck in the mountains. The KLR kept up for the most part with the VStrom, and I would have no qualms about taking it again. Of course it wasn’t me riding it. Somewhere along the way we passed a sign for ruins. Russell and I hadn’t discussed side trips, and I wanted to ask what he thought. He agreed it was a good idea, so we turned back to see what there was.

Before we even got to the ruins, which were extraordinary by the way, we found something else of immense proportions: nopales, or prickly pear as we know them. These things were unbelievable, and I expect that in my life I’ll never see any this large again. They make what we have in Texas look like babies!

These weren’t the biggest we saw, but they were right off the road and easily accessed.

The ruins were truly amazing. Archeologists are not sure who made them or exactly when, but they are far out of place for the Mayans or any other Mexican civilizations. The city is called “La Quemada,” presumably for the city of the same name not too far westward. We enjoyed hiking to the top of the hill that seated the ruins and took photos from above.

I took a lot more. Check them out here.

The next stop was at a tequila or agave plantation.  They offered free tastings, but as we were only halfway through the day and more hungry than anything, we just stopped for photos.  It was quite a sight!  Who knew agave grew so well and was so cherished? They went on for miles near the town of Tabasco. This wasn’t the only plantation we saw on the trip, but it certainly was the biggest. Of course we purposefully avoided the major traffic roads that would lead to the touristy areas. This would be especially true the third day of the trip when we took the load least traveled.

As we moved south the scenery changed, and before long it was impossible to call the terrain desert. Instead plants were more frequent and greener. Trees versus prickly pear or Joshua Trees appeared, and eventually we found a river in a valley. This was quite interesting, and we enjoyed the curvy roads that followed the river and cliff faces.

Once when nature called we pulled over to find tall brown grass and some burros tied to the river. Here was the view.

Here we noticed the vegetation really begin to change, and as we climbed out of the valley we noticed a strong temperature change. Things were really cooling off!

The valley went on for many miles, probably 20 or more, and we passed several nice pueblos, including Jalpa. Once we climbed out of the valley the scenery changed dramatically. It was now a high desert, without the vegetation we had seen before, and much cooler. The elevation was probably 2000 meters or more. As we approached Guadalajara traffic picked up significantly, and we could no longer pass the people in front of us. Finally we were 20 kilometers from Guadalajara and entering a valley. It was beautiful and of the same vegetation we saw earlier.

The odd thing was that G was supposedly the second largest city in Mexico, and within 20 minutes of it there was no evidence of millions of people living there. We crossed another valley and started up again with still no sign. The road was fun, and there were even a few bicyclists taking advantage of the steep roads. Finally, with just 6 km to go, we came out of the valley and saw it – one huge city. Guadalajara was out in front of us in it’s full glory. The outskirts we saw at first were as poor as imaginable, and they butted up against the cliff that we had just ridden up. It was a striking contrast of pure nature to pure poverty. Within a few minutes we were into the heart of the city and looking for a good place to stop.

This here is a good place to stop as G was too interesting to split up into two posts. The road there from Zacatecas had been great, and some of those sights will live with me forever. Until next time

More Mexico

Where we last left off, Russell and I were on our way south past Monterrey.  We were riding toll roads for the quickness of it all and even more quickly realizing the expense was too great.  The tolls themselves varied from 40 Pesos to 180 Pesos, or about 15 dollars.  This was extreme! And we hadn’t budgeted for so much cost so often.

The geology of the area was increasingly interesting. After turning west from Monterrey towards Saltillo, more than once we found mountains made of tilted rocks, layered horizontally but eventually nearly perpendicular to the horizon. It was worthy of our attention, and I snapped only a few photos wishing for more. Some of the best sights were not a stops, and I hadn’t yet gotten permission from Russell to stop just for photo breaks. Eventually it did become necessary to stop as the scenery was just too good, but we weren’t there yet.

Finally, past Saltillo, we decided that regular roads were the way to go. This caused a little mixup in directions – the toll roads are slightly better with road signs, and Saltillo had several detours that caused us to lose the road we had planned to take. This was fine, and actually I think we were better off because of it. The road was smaller and slower, but traffic was light, and the scenery fantastic. There are no pictures of Saltillo, the place we first saw American stores such as HEB, Walmart, Autozone, Churches Chicken, and more. It was a little hectic, and we just wanted to get back on the road. The city was on a plateau and very arid. I bet the night skies are fantastic there.

Once south of town, and on a correct road, we began to boogie. We crosses between mountains and through large valleys. The most impressive ones had sights for more than 20 miles. Several were home to large Joshua Tree forests, and we must have passed 40 miles of the mesmerizing plant. Finally it was time to stop just for a photo break, and it was worth it!


And this one I had Russell pose for.

The day was extremely entertaining. As the sun set we approached Villa de Cos, a small town north of Zacatecas.  We had been warned to drive only during the day time, and after more than 8 hours in the saddle, our first long day, it was time to break.  We pulled in to a roadside hotel and restaurant.  This turned out to be great except for the lack of hot water.  The restaurant was a buffet and our first exposure to real Mexican food.  Both of us were impressed!  I really enjoyed the chile relleno while Russell’s favorite was the pork with green sauce.  Everything on the buffet was fantastic.

We also tried out a few new beers and sat for over an hour playing cribbage in the restaurant.  The two of us did look out of place, but everyone was friendly and accommodating.  My Spanish was coming back slowly but surely, and I felt really comfortable.  It was the perfect day of riding and reflection.  By that night all of my anxieties were gone, and it was the beginning of a real adventure.

Riding at sundown

Stay tuned for the next day when we discover some Ancient ruins and reach fantastic Guadalajara. And the rest of the photos from that day are here.

Mexico, reflections and day one

It is due time that I write up a recent trip to Mexico that my friend Russell and I shared on motorcycles.  This trip was to be a minivoyage of our original grand design to ride to Panama.  Due to time constraints and concerns of money, our little jaunt would become a reconnaissance mission for hopefully future ventures.  In this journal I will try to faithfully reproduce our adventure from both memory and written notes compiled during the route.

We departed in the ominous circumstances of nightfall and bad traffic from the northside of our Austin community.  Roads congested with red lights and exhaust encouraged us to take a less direct path through town, and before long our bikes were pointed south to Mexico and past the famous Austin City Limits sign.  That first night was to be a short one of only two hundred forty miles – to the US side of the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas.  It was cold, the coldest riding we would face until our return, and several stops to increase our insulation and add fuel both to our bikes and our bellies made it as comfortable as possible.  The stretch of Interstate Highway 35 took us through San Antonio and saw our, thankfully, one instance of mechanical failure.  A quick repair emboldened our hearts, and we arrived at our reserved destination only slightly worn for the wear.

The next morning was to afford the best shower we’d find until being home again.  That day started slower than planned but proved useful.  We drained our bank accounts of some American funds and used those to purchase Mexican Pesos at an incredible rate that beat even the day traders.  Unwisely we converted only $100 each, but had we known the rate was so good it would have influenced the purchase.  We also decided that travel liability insurance was prudent, and after receiving temporary coverage for our planned time abroad we asked for some favors from the nice salesman.  He provided copies free of charge and valuable advice that aided our border crossing.  Before long we were on the road again, just the 3 miles to the river that separated first world US of A from its much poorer and yet somehow content southerly neighbor.

The border was intimidating.  In fact, up to this point I had been nervous about the whole idea of going to Mexico.  It was something I’d been dreaming up for years, and maybe that and normal trip beginning unease factored into my jitters, but the reality of danger was certainly on my mind.  Warnings from friends and family of death and dismemberment filled our heads, but thankfully this proved to be all mental, and not once in the whole trip were we molested either by bad guys or the police – the latter my greatest fear.  In fact, to give a little foreshadow, the people we encountered were as friendly and warm as one could ask, and I am encouraged to do a similar trip at any possible juncture.  It took a couple of days for me to feel completely comfortable, and by the second day I was right at home, on the dream-like road trip that I imagined.

The border itself was docile and easily crossed.  Only a toll booth stood between us and the customs office visible from the northern banks of the Rio Grande River.  With little difficulty we made our way through the paperwork and bureaucracy.  This was my first opportunity to practice the Spanish that had at one time been a daily language for me.  It came back slowly, but I understood enough and could communicate at a level that got us through the office and back on the road.  Stopping to properly dress for the next long stretch, plan the route, and snack, Russell and I both gave big smiles of enthusiasm before mounting our steeds powered by internal combustion.
Here he is at the customs office and soon after at the first immigration checkpoint fifteen miles southward – where his camouflage colored military food canisters attracted attention from the young army men stationed at the border patrol.

We continued our tour south on the main highway/toll road that led us towards Monterey, our fist large city.  We had made this entire stretch in the morning with the intent of catching the worm so to speak.  It served the secondary purpose of getting past all of the feared border danger while the drug lords and gangsters were asleep.  We saw none of that.  Actually, what we did see was at first about 10 miles of small-time salvage yards with old American cars tossed into lots with little regard.  That and a lot of desert.  Had we began our journey in daylight, rather than the night before, we would have noticed the transition from the relatively lush surroundings of Austin to the shrub desert of south Texas.  Instead we were surprised (only slightly) to find a very brown terrain surround us and distant mountains sleepily looming in the distance.  We passed between ranges with little effort, and at no time was there a worry about weather.  In fact it was getting warmer and more pleasant as we went.  The week we left was to be the first of two bad cold periods in central Texas, and we missed it entirely while enjoying the wonderfully clear and warm days that Mexico provides in winter.
A few desert pictures

After one more military checkpoint and toll we were on top of Monterey and all of the pollution and congestion that comes with.  The soldiers by the side of the road were polite and comedic.  They were young again, as it often seemed to be, and curious about our motorcycles.  Mostly they were interested in Puerto Vallarta, where the girls allegedly all wore bikinis and unknowingly filled these young men’s dreams.

It was early afternoon, and we had no plans for tourism.  Our goal was to get as far south towards our destination of beach – any beach – and away from the border as possible.