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.

Parisian Food

Things are going well at the conference, and I’m learning a lot.  The food just keeps getting better here.  Today for lunch was quiche, and for the first time in my life it was done well – well enough to enjoy!  Mostly we’ve eaten out, but tonight is different.  For dinner we picked up some things from the local cheese, wine, meat, and bakery shops.  Looking forward to chowing down.  Photos to come.

Quiche

Bon Jour

Arrived in Paris today by speed train.  Man those things go fast, almost 200mph

Paris is great.  The cheese and wine are excellent and decently priced.  The views are outstanding.  The apartment I’m renting is barely two blocks from Notre Dame.  It’s a beautiful day, and there is a lot to see.

and a post from Sunday that wasn’t posted:

“I’m getting the grand tour today.  We’ll visit Rotterdam and Delft, maybe Den Haag if there’s time.  Last night was Utrecht – the second or third largest city in the Netherlands.  It’s not cold, but windy and cloudy constantly.  The cities are very pretty although foreign.”

Paris

I’m in Tilburg, Netherlands right now at a friends.  He’s from Chile but works here temporarily and has a great girlfriend working on her PhD.  Monday I head to Paris for a conference on Mars Atmosphere, but it’s nice to get here early to adapt.  This jetlag is awful.