Did I tell you I met a guy who rode a Harley Low Rider to Tierra del Fuego? 2.5 months of riding. He has a house in Guadalajara and Peru. He's a geologist. I wonder if its too late to change professions. I wanna be a geologist, too. He promised me a link to a YouTube site of his crossing the Darien Gap with the Harley in a sail boat.
Zimapan to the Hotel Rancho Viejo, approx 430 miles, 17 hours!
Why approximate? Cause my speedo cable ate it today. When we removed the clutch cable, uhhh, guess that was yesterday, there was a zip-tie joining the clutch and speedometer cables. I cut the zip-tie off and then completely forgot about it. Well, it was there for a reason and today somehow the speedo cable got in a bind, and is now toast. Other than that, the 'Hornet keeps on puttin' along. Motor is sound, no leaks and clutch cable is holding. Good ole Hornet. She's a real beast.
Had a great hotel room in Zimapan. Two rooms, nicely furnished, original 40's furniture it looked like, huge tiled bath, great old fashioned style place currently being renovated. $25.
There was a carnival in town, with rides and such, set up right in the town square, in front of the church, and so last night was hoppin'. I was so starved, not having eaten all day, (didn't want to waste the daylight) I went around to all the sidewalk stands and had one of everything. Tacos, pizza and hamburgers. They make their 'burgers here with ham added on top of the meat paddy. The town has a wild west feel, some buildings look right out of a spaghetti western. Like I said, it was hoppin'. Everybody having a grand time. Loud music, jivin' dj on loud speaker. Whoopin' and screams from the rides.
I was told it would take 4.5 hours to travel the 100 miles to Tamachunchale. Well it took me 5.5 hours. The first 43 miles, to Jacala, is the most spectacular I thought. Cardon cactus giving way to pine trees, cool air, spectacular scenery. I didn't like the strech between Jacala and Chapulhuacan as much, though it was pretty amazing, mountainous, the road is an engineering marvel, constantly twisting and banking. Great motorcycle road, I'm thinking it may be better than Hwy 120 from Jalpan to Bernal, but then it is soooo long. From Chapulhuacan to Tamachunchale the road descends into the valleys, lush vegetation, hot. Tamachunchale, with its exotic name, ain't much to look at. It ain't in the mountains, its at the bottom of the mountains, hot and mind numbing traffic. Coming south the traffic was backed up for a mile.
The road actually straightens out from Tamachunchale to Ciudad Valles, but this welcome development is tempered by the fact that there are now speed bumps spaced every 4-5 kilometers along the way, making slow going. HOT HOT HOT. Orange country. Piles of oranges everywhere. Fresh, cold O.J. at $1 a liter. Yumm. And HOT. Really Hot.
The people are different here. Shorter, more slender, darker. Huastec Indians. Thatched roofed houses, first I've seen. This is what's called the Huasteca.
I'm in familiar territory now. In Ciudad Valles (3:15 pm, traffic) I stop (feel the heat) at my favorite place, the Bonanza Restaurant, where they had a buffet waiting for me. I was hot, dirty, and burnt. I must've looked a sight 'cause the waiter immediately handed me a glass of cold Tamarindo water, without my asking. I drank about 6 of 'em, cleaned up, ate all the food on my plate. Topped off with dessert and coffee. This is a great place, open 24/7, just good eats. Popular with the locals.
Well, in Valles I reflect I am now only 700 miles from Austin, it's 4:30 pm and I'm out of pesos. Don't know if I'm up for this but off I go. The road is straight, true, and fast to Mante, minimal traffic and no speed bumps. Round houses with thatched roofs. This is the Gulf coastal plain. Then crossing over the cane fields of Xicotenatle, there is a raging dust storm. Turns the mountains a dull grey, turns the sky a yellowish beige. The low sun a dull golden area of the sky. Dull grey filter over everything. Is that smoke? No, it dirt... The wind is outrageous. When I stop I fear it will blow my bike over. Ahh well, what's a trip to Mexico without a dust storm?
New Hwy 81(?) connecting Tampico and Victoria. Dark outside of Victoria, I push on, fight to stay awake. Good road, nominal traffic, I have to stop multiple times to either nap or jump around. Finally find a good place to stop with some trucks, park my bike by one of those little crosses on the side of the road, this one has a fence around it, and collapse in the tall soft grass and fall asleep in full riding gear. 40 minutes of unconsciousness later, I'm rejuvenated! Ahh, what's a trip to Mexico without sleeping in a ditch somewhere? Suddenly it gets colder around San Fernando. Stopped at my very first army check point, they want to review my bags. These army guys crack me up. I have all of Mexico to my back and they ask where am I going? Uhhh, Texas? Where does it look like I'm going, Jack?
12:30 am, Hotel Rancho Viejo, Km marker 202, north of San Fernando. $35, free internet, credit card accepted. Stratigically located, this is the same place Clayton and I have stayed a couple of times, a good value. Sore butt tonight.
Being a bad boy I have two days to get home. After carefully studying all my maps and options this morning, I decide I really can't go to Zimapan and Tamachunchale on my way back home. After all, it would be 1020 miles from Acámbaro to Austin, via Zimapan (Hwy 120 to San Juan del Rio, Tequisquiapan, Cadereyta, then cut across to Zimapan and Hwy 85 (mountains), to Tamachunchale, Cd Valles, and on to Reynosa/McAllen). On the otherhand it's a more palatable 870 miles from Acámbaro to Austin via the more traditional Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Saltillo, etc 4-lane slab route. Yeah, I decided Zimapan was definitely out. Can't afford the time. It's pay-back time. The long putt home. And I was so not looking forward to 2 days of Interstate style highways.
Then, I just said, to heck with it. And did what I dang well pleased anyway, regardless of rationality, and ended up in Zimapan, stuck, well, that is its impossible to make it home by Wednesday morning from here. I guess this is just one of the things that happen when I travel alone.
Chemin, tha man An amazing thing happened today. I left my little basic motel, all clean and fresh headed home, got 30 miles into the ride and my dang clutch cable snaps. Well, that's it I thought. The nearest Harley dealer is Leon. Leave the bike, go home, return for it later.
I had pulled over into a kind of a rest area outside of Jejécuaro. I was having trouble shifting gears. Well, no wonder the cable was on it's last thread which snapped before my very eyes. So then an ambulance pulls up, and Jose speaks some English, he used to live in Arkansas. (These days, EVERYONE has put some time in the States and they love to practice their English.) So the ambulance guy, Jose, says he has a fire to attend to but he'll be back. Next thing you know he's back with a couple of guys that start right in dismantling the clutch cable. I'm wanting to be broke down in San Juan del Rio, but I'm thinking "whatever", at the same time trying to maintain some control over the situation. The clutch cable is useless anyway. Well Chemin is one of these hyper guys like on natural speed. Talks so fast and into everything, I'm saying, "Hey, tranquilo, dude". Jose the ambulance guy's got to go pick up some dead person. Chemin and his ayudante disappear down the road walking, with my clutch cable. "Hey," I holler at 'em. They stop. "You got a phone number or something, just in case?" Oh, yeah, the ayudante has a cell phone, #'s exchanged. Jeez.
Well there's a rest area here cause its the local fishing and swimming hole. A couple of dudes are down by the water smoking pot. Another one fishing. A young couple are meticulously detailing their beat up car. I'm, like, chillin'. Many people stop and ask if I need help. Mostly they know some English.
So next, another Jose pulls up in a pick-up truck and says he's here to help me buy a new clutch cable. Turns out he's completely unrelated to the other folks already helping me, he just heard in town some Gringo on a Harley was broke down out at the fishing hole. So the word has spread. Well luckily I have a little piece of paper as to where the clutch cable went and, well of course he knows Chemin so off we go into town to find Chemin.
Wait. The bike? With all my luggage? Well I guess I forgot to mention this other old dude, didn't catch his name, who is selling bee honey and flower pollen there at the rest area/swimming hole. So everyone knows everyone and we get the honey dealer to promise to watch the bike, which is out in the middle of the open area, albeit partially dismantled. Tools lying around. Did I mention I had to remove the battery support to get to the clutch cable? Oh, yeah. Had to tell Chemin, "cool it! I'll do this part". (4th time this trip for me but who's counting.)
Anyway, Jose used to pick grapes in California, and we find Chemin. He's wearing glasses now which make him look more intelligent, at first I don't even recognize him. So Chemin has done a bang-up job wielding a blob onto the end of the clutch cable and then milling it to exactly fit the clutch lever.
Back to the bike at the fishing hole we reassemble, do a parting final tool check, (Chemin's impressed I have "puro Craftsman"), and then a test ride. The ambulance guy returns, and we are all one happy family. I am basically flabbergasted.
3 hours after loosing my clutch I'm riding off down the road shaking my head in sheer disbelief. Chemin charged me $10 for the wield job, and Jose with the pickup truck refused any compensation at all. I didn't get anyone's address. I visualize Jose, the ambulance guy just cruising around doing good deeds.
Part of the purpose of this insane excursion into the mountains when I should be headed home was partly to check out the tunnels at Zimapan reservoir. Three in all, one a mile long. The dam itself is an amazing project, damming up a huge narrow slot canyon with sheer walls. Army guys with submachine guns were guarding the dam pretty well, no stopping here. Got to love the Mexican simplicity. No body searches or car searches. Just guys with submachine guns.
Explored back roads from Mazamitla to Valle Juarez to Tocumbo (the back way), Los Reyes, Angahuan, Corpu to Paracho (again, the back way).
Tocumbo is the birthplace of the Michoacana ice cream chain. It all started right here and made the whole extended family rich. It was HOT in Tocumbo and Reyes. Had to shed my riding jacket for the first time.
Its Indian country around Zacán, Angahuen, Corpu, and San Felipe. Having a great time. Just stopping to ask directions turns into a cultural event, I'm presented a chair to sit down, offered a place to sleep. These people are amazing. Wear funny hats. A funky backwoods church service in a village I didn't catch the name of, with the same palm fans they were selling in Mazamitla, must be Palm Sunday. Saw a group of about 15 old men in Cherán, all siding on a low wall, all wearing the same kind of hats. A couple of them made eye contact with me. They recognize the spirit I carry. Look at that dude on that bad-ass Harley. And I kick myself. Why didn't I stop?? They were practically asking me to.
Paracho looks like a good place to base out from. And the stretch of road between Paracho, to Cherán and Corapán is amazing. Volcano alley. Pine trees from Zacán to Corapán. Farming out around Corpu and San Felipe. These are all hamlets near Paracho, north of Uruapan, in the state of Michoacan. I stop and bundle up. Getting muy cold again.
Ok, playtime over. Time to go home. I get on the Cuota superhighway headed east. It's night time but the Cuota's are easy at night. 'Cept it was freezing ass cold. And absolutely nothing on the Cuota roads. No bill boards, no hotels, no service stations, nothing. You are out there. What am I doing? Freezing, and I'm tired. Pull off at Acámbaro. (pronounced ah-CAHM-bahrow, practically dropping the first "a" altogether). Well I'm so sleepy I don't enter the right lane to exit the toll road, pay another $10, then have to go back against traffic to catch the exit coming the other direction and end up having to pay again.
Then no worthwhile hotels in Acámbaro, which is one podunk town. Settle at Motel California, $18. Bare minimum hotel, 4 walls, good lighting, large room with clean tile floors, no furniture, double mattress is on a cement platform, with night tables built into the walls and floors. No toilet seat, no shower curtain. But hot water. Lot better than sleeping out and the bike is in its own garage right next to the door.
To quote Joe Ely's new book, "Damn, Damn, Damn". I miss the morning soft light, I was up at 5am but went back to sleep.
Hotcakes and no beans
I walk down to La Nueva Posada for breakfast. A big gang of gringos cluster around the front door. Old gringos. "Mature" gringos. Their probably not that far from 60 but they still make me nervous. They are part of some sort of walking tour and chatter away in English.
At the outdoor restaurant garden overlooking the lake, the Americans order in English. I overhear, "two eggs, over easy, hotcakes...., and no beans". The ex-pat crowd in Ajijic is definitely older. I'm somehow reminded of the younger hip crowd I encountered in Sayulito last year. Ahhh, Sayulito. The walking tour comes in for breakfast and as tolerant as I am, there comes a point. Ok, they ruin the ambiance. I go.
Climb "Camino a la cruz" a hill overlooking Ajijic, for the views. Its got the 12 stations of Christ along the way. About 30 min strenuous hike, 50 min from the hotel. Oh My God, when crossing the hwy I see long lines of cars at the light. The tapatios (what Guadalajarans call themselves) are out in force. In hordes. Its Saturday. From my view point, overlooking the lake, I can see that much of the newer development is on the mountain side of the hwy. The old Ajijic is between the hwy and lake. All of the north shore of Lake Chapala is slowing being developed, as an extension of Guadalarara.
Hard to leave Ajijic, I kept meeting interesting people.
Studied maps upon waking. Evaluate oil tank support, another one has broken but its going to be OK. Leave motel, fool around in Tlaquepaque. Breakfast in the market. Try to shoot photos. I need to learn to shoot portraits. A real photographer has certain people skills, and I find myself challenged. Find high speed internet and disappear for 2.5 hours. Back outside the place has become inundated with tourists. Day trippers from Guadalajara. Time to go.
Short blast down to Lake Chapala. The hard part was trying to get out of Guadalajara. And then Ajijic, I park in front of the police station. And....
Ahhh, this is why I came. The town is so tranquil. The sense of well being is immediate. Laid back. Lots of Americans and Canadians but the locals have no hostility. They must bring in the bucks and the locals know it. Whatever. Everyone seems to get along. No hurries here. Suddenly my trip seems very short.
Now all I've read about Lake Chapala is that the water level is down, no it's fluctuating. The water is polluted with fertilizers. Well, I walked down to the shore of Lake Chapala, and let me go on record as saying, it is beautiful. Watched an amazing sunset. The colors just kept coming long after the sun had disappeared behind the distant hills. I was so full of peace. Returned to the plaza, stunned. Last night, coming in off the road into Guadalajara in the dark, burnt, rattled, overwhelmed, was the low point of the trip. No doubt.
At last I've found my groove. At last I feel in sync. Ajijic, regardless of what you read about the gringos taking it over, real estate prices, yada-yada-yada, has earned 4 stars in Otto's book. And I'm pretty picky. Kudos to Ajijic.
Stayed at Ajijic Hotel, right on the plaza. My room is right next to the pool. No AC, they just leave their windows open. $40.
Rio Grande to Tlaquepaque (Guadalajara), Jalisco. 332 miles
I feel I'm making a mistake by NOT going into Zacatecas. But I pass on it, taking the Cuota road bypass. Beautiful day, sky so blue. I just remember how congested it was last I was there (2001?). Would need to spend the night to do it right.
The wind continues to be down right cold. Mexican Highlands. In AguasCalientes, for the first time on this trip I feel overly warm in my riding jacket, but soon the sun goes down and it's frio time again.
I pull in to super crowded heavy traffic Guadalajara at 9-10pm. Tired burnt by the sun I've 'bout had it with this Mexican Central Plateau. I'm plateaued out. The last toll plaza had 12 toll booths. I'll admit I was a bit rattled with all the night time traffic, unmarked hwy lanes, everyone in a hurry. Can't see shit.
I exit Tlaquepaque (that's TLA-kay-PAH-kay) and land at the first Pemex station. Its huge. Four buses are gasing up at the same time on one side. 6 cops fly in on Honda 250's. They are like 'skitters. In fact, there are cops all over the place, some in flak jackets. One hour to unwind, regain my dignity. Study maps on the wall. What to do, where to stay? I'm a crispy critter.
Somehow wind up in centro Tlaquepaque, the real Tlaquepaque, and fall in love with it. Run into a motorcycle "gang" of young kids, 15 bikes. Orlando leads the Black Dragons. They pretty much don't know what to make of me and the 'Hornet. But smile big when I say I came from Rio Grande today. Giant moto rally in Mazatlán next week end. I'll have to miss it.
Many streets closed to car traffic but at this hour, I follow the Black Dragons's lead and enter the pedestrian zone. Great chow at an outdoor restaurant that takes up a whole city block, actually its made up of many different eateries and bars. Gouged with a bill for $19! That's the most I've paid so far.
At 12;30 a.m. I get a room at the very first place I find. For $26 it comes equipped with fancy TV, free porn and one of those sex swings hanging from the ceiling. I kid you not. Plus my own private garage. I don´t care. It's brand new, super clean, and the bike is safe. A respite from the mean ole wind and sun out there on the Central Plateau. I didn't see the sign warning no children or minors allowed until I left this morning. You gotta love it. So much for one of those classic old colonial hotels in the Guadalajara center.
Tlaquepaque is a part of Guadalajara. Funky old town. 6 square blocks of pedestrian only streets.
This a.m. I´m greeted with a small puddle of oil under the bike. My friend, Warren sez it ain´t officially a "leak" if you can cover the spot on the floor with your hat. Well, I guess this qualifies since black oil is dripping from under the engine, both sides, and along the swing arm to the rear axle.
OK, long painful story short. I traced the leak to a hose clamp that connects to the bottom of the oil tank reservoir. It seemed loose so I tightened it. The chore involved draining all of the oil from the tank. The job took me all morning, performed in front of my room. No shade. I get to know the maid. So it´s all fixed? Nope. Still leaking black oil, maybe worse.
Now this Harley has a peculiar set-up. The battery (heavy) is supported by a bracket that is wielded to the oil tank. (Stupid design.) Vibration and riding rough roads has repeatedly broken one of the battery bracket supports -- and I fear the leak may be coming from a crack in the tank, where it is wielded to the battery shelf support. Right next to the hose clamp.
Option. Ride on, checking engine oil frequently. After a cruise thru town I about decide to do just that. Get the bike to Zacatecas and be broke down there. I contemplated the ride back all the way to Texas with this messy oil leak.
On my way back to the motel/hotel I run across a motorcycle repair shop and decide the best use of my time is to fix the bike here and now.
I put the bike into the shop. Mechanic Gabriel and I will do this chore together -- inspect the bottom of the oil tank. As in, remove oil tank for inspection. 1st mishap, we clumsily loose 1.5 liters of jet black oil onto the shop floor.
Finally, tank is removed. Gabriel thinks the hose is old and ratty. I ask him to check for other leaks with gasoline, and hear him talking to his boss about that, but somehow this is passed. Of course when the bike is reassembled, I still have the oil leak, so for the 3rd time for me, 2nd time now for Gabriel we break down the bike and remove the oil tank. We´ve got it down now. Passing tools, working as a team, we tear it down "volando" (flying). Sure enough, testing with gasoline, now Gabriel finds the suspected tank leak at the seam with the battery bracket, an insignificant looking tiny crack. He´s off with the tank to the wielder. Job finished about 7;30pm. I´m done.
Good news. That leak is fixed for now. No engine oil leak. Just a slight primary drive case "seep" (does´t pass the hat test) and I can live with that. Please no comments about new bikes or leaky Harley´s in general.
Went into town later that eventing. Small town, closing up at 9;00. Had an excellent burger cooked on a street grill. $3. Skateboard gangs in the Plaza.
Loved my hotel room in Cuarto Ciénegas. Saltillo tile floors and spacious bath. High, rustic ceiling. Thank you Lonely Planet. It reminds me vaguely of the Hotel Hacienda Santa Engracia, only better.
I played with my Epson P2000. This Walkman sized device allows me to download my camera cards on a 40 GB hard drive without a computer, and then allows me to view the photos on a 4 in screen and begin my selection process. The newer P3000´s are better, but I bought this one off EBay without first doing my homework. But basically I´m pleased with the P2000.
Excited about riding
Out of the room at 9am. Hotel breakfast, Italian dude, morning show Mexican TV where periodically everyone gets up and dances. Goofed around the plaza looking for milk bottles. Internet Ciber Cafe. Check list the bike. Load. Ready to roll at 1pm! Well, there´s one thing to be said about being meticulously cautious and ready to go --- when you are ready, you are REALLY ready to go. I was excited about riding.
It´s 122 miles from Cuatro Ciénegas to San Pedro with nothing in between. Tanque Nuevo, which owns a spot on my maps? One abandoned building. Don´t count on gas there. No gas for 122 miles. A couple of places that looked like "living" stores, maybe. Incredibly there are dirt roads leading off to other unseen communities off in the horizon distance. I could only wonder what lies at the end of those tracks.
Pretty kool ride actually. Somewhat like the Big Bend area. Across Chihuahuan Desert. Ocotillo, creosote bush, picaya cactus. Much of the territory is unfenced. The road straight and true, very little traffic. I saw trucks carrying logged trees headed north, trucks carrying huge blocks of rock, 3 at a time, headed south.
About 85-90 miles into the ride on the other side of a little mountain range called Sierra Las Deicias, the desert turns white flat NOTHING. No creosote bushes, no cactus. It was shocking. I guess this is part of what they call Desierto Laguna de Mayrón. Not really sure why they call a desert a laguna.
Torreón, La Perla de la Laguna
From San Pedro de Colonias to Gomez Palacio to Ciudad Lerdo, it was the usual dodge-and-dance traffic around Big-City Torreón. Not only do you have to watch traffic and deciper road signs, but also you watch the road conditions immediately ahead, which can change drastically without notice.
So lets see, the priorities in descending order -- watch road, watch traffic, watch signs. I guess its not all that different from the States. Just seems more intense here. Don´t look at the 8 people and wheelchair in back of that pickup. Too distracting. Eyes on the road. Taxi whizzes by on my right. Speed Bump!
Its 5;30 when I´m finally on the other side of it all. 4.5 hours for the 1st 183 miles.
And then its Autopista (toll road hwy, comparable to our Interstates). $12 toll for 46 miles of super hwy, worth every damn centavo. Huge Nazas river just south of Torreón. It´s the Central Highlands. Setting sun casts long shadows on rock formations and arid mountain ranges.
I exit the Autopista at Cuencamé (it continues on, Durango bound). It gets dark and colder and the road is rough and hazardous with traffic to Juan Aldama, where I finally pause for food. This is a bus stop spot, decorated with pictures of Marilyn Monroe. 3 huge buses are parked outside the gas station cafeteria. Delicious burritos ($3.50) I can´t figure out how you pay for them. The gals behind the cafeteria line watch over me. When all the buses leave, the place is deserted. It´s 9;15, I push on for another 42 miles of Mexican night riding. Good choice. The road is much better and traffic is lighter. Just gotta get used to the oncoming cars/trucks passing on my side of the line, with me coming. They expect you to move over. It´s a little unnerving.
10;15pm, Rio Grande, Zacatecas. OK, I´m ready for a room now. Rio Grande is a small farming community. Lots of fertilizer smells coming into town. Hotel El Carreton, $18. It´s a motel located directly across from one of the bus stations. I´m skeptical, but tired, and in the end, grow to call the place home. I am so adaptable.
Yesterday I went to the bank in San Buenaventura to change $100. It was fairly crowded, all the employees were helping customers. I caught the eye of one gentleman behind a desk and asked if I would be able to change money here. He asked if I was changing Euro´s. I don´t know why, but I took that as an extreme compliment. Don´t get me wrong, I´m proud to be American and I´m proud of my country (Mrs Obama) but I was really proud to be mistaken for European.
I guess I´m so far off the Gringo trail, only European travelers pass thru here. I met one today. An Italian on a bicycle with a trailer. He left San Antonio 10 days ago. We stayed in the same hotel in San Buenaventura and then again last night in Cuatro Cienegas. I complimented him on his good taste in hotels.
And...... another pearl. The bank gave me a better exchange rate than the Casa de Cambio in Piedras Negras. I was surprised. I always thought you got better rates at the Casas, especially near the border. A fluke? Maybe.
Terrible sore throat this morning, and all day. Wonder where that came from. My cold ride to Houston? Or the winter storm in Austin?
Did some serious goofing off today before leaving San Buenaventura. Taking photos of bell towers and bicycles. Saw several trucks move through the plaza area with beautiful horses in the back, but not quick enough with the camera. Don´t know where I read it but some boss was talking to his photojournalist before an assignment in a foreign country and he said-- I want to see what the milk bottles look like.
The road was under construction, led through some arid mountain ranges. Cuatro Ciénegas, about an hour away, is a fine little desert town, upbeat, painted with bright colors, laid back. And internet. Poked around, got the lay of the land there are all these pools, or pozas they call ´em here. In the middle of the desert, and there are lots of them, like oasises. Lonely Planet suggested one in particular for solitude, and that´s where I headed, about 10 miles out, after finding out where it was. There were several palm roofed palapas available, the place was deserted. Spent the afternoon there next to the water, taking photos with my new gigantic big-bucks lens. (Hard to even hold the camera.) Took a swim. Saw a turtle, and a lone duck. Both disappeared under the water and I never saw where they surfaced again.
Then out came the maps and calculator and it was time to plan the rest of my trip. After careful deliberation, I decided on a big push to Guadalajara, before coming home. Towards the end of the afternoon the wind started blowing fiercely. I toyed with the idea of heading out tonight, towards Torreon, but there is about a 100 mile stretch with no gas and my tank was less than half full.
Then a couple of older guys (in their 60´s?) show up in a pick up truck and proceed to sit with me at the table under my palapa and share their lunch of tortillas, avocados, sandwiches, coffee and sweet rolls. One of them,Raul, was described by the other, Jose, as the owner of this land. Well, Raul said he owned 17,946 hectares of it. You do the math. I was pretty impressed. He admitted it was a lot of land.
With the wind out of control, late in the afternoon, I decide to be nice to myself and go back to Cuatro Ciénegas and spring for a room. Finally nailed a nice room! Woo Hoo! I so tickled. Check it out at Plaza Hotel. At $47, what a deal.
295 miles Devine, Texas to San Buenaventura, Coahuilla
Depart Devine at 8:30 am. South on I-35 10 miles to Moore, where I take a right off the Interstate and head for Eagle Pass. No lodging in Moore, wise choice to stop in Devine.
Flat empty road across south Texas scrub. On the road again. Me and my bike and the kaleidoscopic carousel of faces, vistas and observations. Cloudy cold wintery looking day at first, gives way to clear skies.
53 miles. Yoni´s (Mexican) Restaurant in Batesville. I´m the only white guy in the joint and the place is packed with Hispanics. I´m directed to the only free table in a side room next to stacks of soft drink cases. Many folks are eating bowls of menudo. The waitress writes my order on the palm of her hand.
63 more boring miles to Eagle Pass. Auto Zone stop for motorcycle maintenance. Top-off engine oil (low), primary drive case oil holding well. Brake fluid, tire pressure, good. Various bolts and nuts checked for tightness. This poor ole bike has seen it all. On past trips it has lost brake levers, foot pegs, gear shift levers, rear views, all. Even the transmission in 2005. But she´s looking good today.
The reduced traffic at the Eagle Pass - Piedras Negras is a mixed bag. No Casa de Cambios on the US side. And then I almost lost the bike in an oil spill at the International Bridge. And get this, you obtain your vehicle papers 50 miles inland, into Mexico, south of the border. This seemed so strange I found it hard to believe at first, and needlessly waisted time asking others and chasing wild geese. But at the 2nd check point, the inland check point, they processed my papers in record time, 10 minutes max. I was the only sole there. The Mexican Immigration official even filled out my Tourist Card for me. When is the last time you saw that? When he asks where I´m going I answer, Puerto Vallarta. Seemed as good an answer as any.
I am finally, really in Mexico. Strip coal mining near Allende and Santa Rosita. Man-made mtns of coal. Man-made mesas of eroding earth. Then, the landscape changes, now this is different. I make it to San Buenaventura for the night, which is not mentioned in Lonely Planet´s tome, Mexico. San Buenaventura is 170 miles from the Rio Grande, technically north of Monterrey and Brownsville, due south of Midland Texas and Sheffield, near Monclova which I am proud to report, I avoided altogether. The Monclova bypass took me across the wide open boonies thru some pretty rough, poor towns. One had a plaza that looked like the Sahara desert with sidewalks. No plant life whatsoever. I mean, what´s the point?
I arrive in San Buenaventura just after dark and the plaza is popping. Police direct traffic, watch my bike, please? Thumbs up. Hotel Gran Plaza ($30) in the only hotel immediately obvious. The manager goes out of his way to be nice, giving me extra towels and offering to help me put the bike in my room. (An offer I declined. I love my bike, but... Guess I´m not a real biker.)
At 6pm Saturday night, I was finally leaving my casa. Lord, why does it take me so long to pack? Stopped and chatted with Allan for another hour. I don´t care about the time anymore. No deadlines. I finally feel like I´m on vacation.
Once on the road all my misgivings evaporate.
Logged 114 miles to Devine Texas, just south of San Antonio, where I checked into your basic overpriced ($60 night) frumpy motel room. Stained carpet. Torn upholstery. (No rooms at the Quinta in San Antonio.) I was pretty layered up against the cold, but almost warm actually. Tee shirt, long johns, long sleeved heavy flannel shirt, pull-over goosedown shirt, riding jacket, and finally the rain jacket. The little East Indian man at the Country Corner Inn motel said, in broken English, You-have-a-lot-of-jackets.
Oh, and by the way, I have no idea where I´m going. I´m just pointed south. I´m headed for Cuartocienegas, but from there, I´m not real sure.
Shake down cruise from Austin to Houston and back. Left Saturday night at 8:30 pm. Haven't ridden the Green Hornet since I can't remember. The night was chilly, got colder and then frigid. Had to stop and layer-up twice. 4.5 hours to go 175 miles. I must be getting old. No, I am old. I'm 60 fer-Christ's-sakes. Couldn't help thinking there must be an easier way to have fun.
I flirted with a Buell earlier Saturday. Rode one for 30 minutes. Now there is a spirited filly. Responsive, torquey, able to stand you on your head with stopping power. In comparison, the Hornet is like a steam locamotive. Big and sluggish, it changes gears with a resounding CLUNK. But I'm familiar with the system.
The return trip back to Austin was a little easier. I left in daylight for one thing, at 5:30 pm Sunday, weather was boisterous, leaden skies, threatening rain. I put on full rain gear and waterproofed my luggage in Katy, and of course, that insured it wouldn't rain. Discovered the rain parka does a hell of a job of keeping me warm. 3.5 hours for the return trip, same 175 miles. Sore butt. No country for old men?
At daybreak on Wednesday morning I was wandering streets around the bus station in Matamoros, waiting for my departure, when a man about 50 years old approached me.
"You speak Spanish?" he asked. "You live here? You crossing to The Other Side... ?" (Aquel lado.)
He was finding it hard to ask me what he really wanted to know. Finally, after coughing, rubbing his face, looking around, coughing again, he put his hands in the air and said:
"I have to cross to find work on the Other Side, and I don't how it's done. Can you tell me anything at all?"
He was from the southern Mexican state of Michoacán, an area so overpopulated and politically out of control (some refer to it as a narco-state) that the whole region has been on the verge of insurrection for years. You can read an article called "Indigenous Land Struggles in Michoacán, Mexico" at http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/pwork/0407/040714.htm.
I told him that it was easy to cross the river and go through holes in the fence, but then a few miles inside the US there's another line of customs control, and that's harder. You can try to go around stations and escape the constantly roving Border Patrol by going deep into the desert, but you can die there. In fact, unless you have friends helping on The Other Side, or you're smuggled professionally by "coyotes" you can trust, or someone has paid off a US border official (I'm surprised how many people have told me lately that that's how they get in), getting to where the jobs are is very dangerous, much harder than it used to be."
His face indicated that he'd heard the same from others, and had hoped I'd say something different.
Inside the bus station at Matamoros, where I overheard scraps of several conversations of people trying to get to The Other Side, the walls are hung with large posters aiming to dissuade people from crossing illegally. You can see the most convincing, showing a tight little band of folks about to wander into a hostile-looking, seemingly endless desert, each person carrying only a small bag and a plastic jug of water, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/07/070331po.jpg.
In big letters, at the top the poster asks "How far can you get on a jug of water?" The words below say "Taking three days to cross through the desert can bring you to a fatal destination." You don't really need to know what the words are saying in order to understand what's going on. The people's body language and the desert say it all.
Other posters show in gory detail people who have been abandoned by their "coyotes" and who died of exposure, women raped by their "coyotes," and drowned bodies.