La corona

We gunned it back to Durango on the main highway so I could get my crown installed that night as Doctor Silva had generously offered to do it that Sunday evening. Yeah, I know, getting a crown put in on a Sunday night in Mexico? Who’d have thought? Anyway it happened and a big thanks to Doctor Silva and Stephen for making it happen.

On the way back, about 30 miles outside of Zacatecas, we saw a handful of semi’s parked on the side of the highway with just a half built, smoky, unmarked concrete house close by. Smoke was rising out from the hut and I could smell the wood burning. Even though there were no signs, all my food senses told me this was our lunch stop. As I pull up to park, a truck driver asks me if I’ve come for the food. Best food from here to Durango he tells me, and says you’ve got to try the nopales. After a little more small talk, Dave and I thank him as we dismount our bikes and head into the unmarked house. What we encountered was a real treat. Vegetable dishes. Lots and lots of vegetable dishes in various colorful cauldrons. There was a cactus dish (as recommended by the trucker), a cauliflower dish, a green bean dish, a spinach dish, a squash and zucchini dish, a cabbage dish, and an eggplant dish, along with some protein dishes as well. There’s definitely a lack of greens in most northern Mexican cuisine so this assortment of vegetable stews was a real delight. …and they were all delicious. Here’s some pics.

Grandma, El Chef Principal

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A ride back to Durango

So the plan was to head up towards Monterey and cut west, just south of the city, on Route 20. A road that cuts through a canyon and from picture’s I’ve seen, looks stunning. From there we would head to Parras, a Puebla majica in Coahuila which has the oldest vineyards in Mexico and actually produces excellent wine. Excellent wine in Mexico you ask? Why yes, it really does exist. …and making wine tasting the last destination before turning home seemed like a great idea.

We didn’t make it. We were riding north on a high from the Golondrias experience when we got bored with the highway and decided to take a side route again. The side route disappeared and kicked us into a sugar cane plantation. It was super cool and as we were ridding, I just wanted to stop and take pictures of the sugar cane workers, covered in tar and molasses, but was afraid of time and kept trucking. Our exit to the main road was foiled too as we encountered an aquaduct blocking our path. Eventually we found a way out of the sugar cane maze but not before loosing a good 3 hours. The experience was incredible and since we never made it to route 20 or Parras, I’m just kicking myself for rushing and not stopping to take pictures. The people were all waving and so friendly, it would have made for amazing pics. Once again this was a lesson in don’t focus on the destination but focus on the present.

When Dave and I stopped for a food break, we both talked about the experience and that’s when my regret really kicked in, because I didn’t want to be the one holding him back and he didn’t want to be the one holding me back yet we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We studied the map and realized that to get to Parras and back to Durango for my crown to be put in, we’d have to ride straight highways for 2.5 days and neither of us thought it would be worth it, so we turned south. …

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Sotano de las Golondrias take dos.

I had visited this place my last trip as well but this time it was very different.

Dave and I got there just before sundown with plans on camping. I was worried about time, but the road to the Sotano had been completely paved, and there was even palm trees and flowers planted on the sides of the road on the way up. Northern Mexico feels so much more prosperous than when I was there three years ago.

We got to the park entrance in plenty of time and were immediately surrounded by kids that wanted to guard our motorcycles (for a tip of course). They were cute and enthusiastic and immediately Dave and I felt welcome (when I was there three years ago I was the only tourista and felt nervous about even leaving my bike for an hour or two to see the golondrias, but this time I had no such concerns and felt 100% confident I could leave my bike on the street overnight and nothing would be missing.

Armed with an army of 14 kids, Dave and I opted to bring all, and I mean all, of our stuff down the 400 vertical feet steps to the camping hut by the Sotano. The kids were great and kept egging us to get there faster. Once there they just wanted to head back but we held most of them for a group photo. We gave them each 2 pesos and told them double tomorrow morning for the way back up and be here at 8:00am.

The sight of the Golondrias blew away the experience I had the first time. When I was there in January 2011, the sunrise never crested the mountains before the birds exited the cave, so with the flat light, you could never get a good focus on them as they spiraled around at 160kmph. Also it took over an hour for the 3 million sparrows to exit the cave versus the 20 minutes this time. This time the sun light the birds up with a hard contrast again the light rock, and the sound, the sound was so intense that it felt like the whole cave was shacking.

In the morning we packed up and were ready to go by 7:30 as we waited for our army of kids to help carry our gear back up but only one boy was there. Eager and waiting at 7:30, we told him we had to wait for the others to show up at 8:00am. 8:00 came and went and by 8:15 we were thinking we were on our own. We sent the boy to go and recruit other but he came back ten minutes later empty handed. At this point we realized he was all we had and started loading up for multiple trips up.

Our little sherpa, I’ve forgotten his name, was a real trouper and entrepreneur. He ran up the steps carrying his first load and was back for his second in no time. He did 3.5 trips in the time I did 2. With all our stuff up at our bikes we gave our new friend 15 pesos (he deserved every penny) and Dave gave him his wallmart comforter he picked up in Douglas before crossing the boarder. The pesos were expected but the boy got really excited about the comforter and rushed it home to show it off to his mom. Overall, the whole experiece at the cave was magical and am so glad I returned.

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A return to Huasteca

‘k, I love this place. It’s beautiful, it’s lush, it’s prosperous, it’s friendly, it’s got the right amount of tourism with the right amount of local culture. Dave described it as Coast Rica without the Americanization and tourism. That’s a great description. This place is an eco-tourist’s dream but without the token zip lines or vegan hostals, just natural beauty and ecological treasures. It’s also a sportsman’s paradise with rock climbing, spelunking, caving, white water rafting/kayaking, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, even scuba diving… This place has it all. …albeit a bit on the hot and humid side for my taste.

Huasteca consists of a small mountain range on the edges of four states (San Luis Potosi, Querétaro, Veracruz, and Tamaulipas with the lions share in SLP). What I didn’t catch the last time I was here and what took me by surprise this time is this mountain range is lower than anything we’d ridden so far on the trip. My first visit to Huasteca, I rode in from the coast, but this time we came via the planos altos (high plains) of Durango and Zacatecas, all between 6,000-8,500’, only to find ourselves dropping down into a mountainous area. It seemed a bit surreal as I always associate mountains with high altitude but this range varied from 200’ above see level to 7,0

00’. It was a crazy feeling dropping down into mountains.

Day One took us through Xilitla and we had to make a stop and Sir Edward James’s. I can’t say enough about how cool this place is. See post

Limited for time, we didn’t stay long in the gardens. Just long enough to get a feel for the place, cool off in the waterfall and air dry ourselves with a cerveza before heading to the river. A quick view of the river, and another quick dip in the water and we proceeded to the Sotano de las golondrias.

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The road to Huasteca

After the third day of dentist appointments Dave and I finally got on our way around 2:30 in the afternoon. My mouth still sore, my pocket book empty and with my  mood needing a change, getting back on the road was just what the doctor ordered. Even the highway out of Durango rocked! We headed straight out on highway 45 for the first 80 Km before we stopped for a cerveza and fresh mango and avocado where we decided to get off the highway and start exploring. What a great move. We rode some beautiful farm lands and cactus fields before ending up in Canitas de Felipe Pescador, a town where the railway intersects mulitiple lines and all night long trains were swapping cargo. We were the only ones in the hotel and the locals went out of their way to accommodate us including getting the neighbor to leave his car out on the street so we could park our bikes in his locked garage.

…and excellent pollo asada for dinner. …just sayin’

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Off to Durango.

We felt three days in copper canyon was enough so even though we had a few more routes we thought about exploring, we decided it was time to start heading to Naica, our next destination. Everything we had read online suggested we wouldn’t be able to get a visit into the famous Naica crystal caves but who are we to listen to internet rumors, and we were feeling fairly confident we could gringo charm our way in. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to give us a tour?

We stayed in Parral where there was some festival going on, for no other reason than it was a Friday, and it was some day of some month, and that there hadn’t been a festival in a while. Let me say it again, I love Mexico.

We got up early and headed up a boring, straight highway for about 100 miles before turning off onto the road to Naica. 30 miles in we come across a sign saying road closed ahead 200m. 200m later the road dead ended at military gate and a military camp. No pasada! locals only! permit required! I tried to charm the guard at the gate but even with my very improved espanol and my innocent but guilty smile, no luck. He said to get to Naica would require about 300-400 mile loop of highway via Chihuahua. Doh, our plans to see the caves were foiled after all so it was off to Durango.

We headed south and once again tried to avoid the highway. We opted for a pass off the beaten track, which after copper canyon we were feeling we could tackle anything, and once again we were wrong. It turned out to be way more challenging that we were expecting but not until we were over half way and on our way down the other side so the idea of turning back wasn’t very appealing. To add to the challenge, I dropped my bike and flooded the carburetor. It wouldn’t start until we sprayed ether in the airbox and once running, it was coughing something fierce, forcing me to coast down the next 10 miles. I ended up at a farm where a friendly cowboy gave me an apple as I waited for Jim and Dave to catch up. From there we got the bike running again and after twenty miles of holding the throttle wide open, it started responding a lot better but not perfect.

We didn’t make it to Durango that night but got a really lucky surprise when we pulled off at a hotel in Canutillo. We knew that we were in Pancho Villa country and we knew that Hidalgo del Parral, where we stayed the night before was where Pancho was assassinated but we did not know that Pancho’s home town was Canutillo and that there was a museum in his former Hacienda, until the owner of the restaurant we had dinner at told us. Sweet surprise and well worth a visit.

Jim starting hearing some pesky engine noise that had him concerned as we exited out of Copper canyon on some newly paved roads. Dave and I didn’t think much of the noise but Jim was convinced it was serious and three days of riding with the noise, Jim wanted to get it checked out. I was still having carburetor problems so I was all for seeing a mechanic as well but didn’t want to hold anyone back because of it. But more important I wanted to see a dentist about an ache I started having the night in AZ before we crossed into Mexico. Long story short, Jim’s bike couldn’t be fixed and the mechanic agreed with him that it sounded serious. I had a crack under an old cavity that required a root canal and a crown. Three days and four different dental visits had Dave and I on the road while Jim ended up shipping his bike back to Nogales and a 20 hour bus ride to get there. Can’t say I was sad to leave Durango but sorry that Jim couldn’t join us.

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Copper Canyon take tres

From Sal’s we headed down to Copper canyon, but not before having another round of delicious machaca burritos in Arizpe. I’ve picked up a couple kilos of dry machaca so I’ll be able to treat some of you back home to the same.  Can’t wait.

Copper canyon was stunning as always. The first night we didn’t make it to Urique as planed and stayed in San Raphael where we met some locals working on installing electric lines. They arrived at the hotel just as we were breaking into the bourbon and we asked if they wanted to join. Three shots later we were inquiring where the best food in town was. They took us to a place where the specialty was Camarones Aguachile en Molcajete.

Being in central Mexico, and half way down a desert canyon, at least ten hours from the coast, the idea of seafood didn’t sound particularly appetizing and wasn’t the local cuisine I was expecting, nor was I eager to trust the seafood, but Charlie (one of the electrical workers) convinced me it would be safe and worth it. Was he ever right. This was as good (but different) than the Aguachile in Culiacan with the Sirens. I got the recipe and yet another dish I look forward to testing on friends when I get home.

We woke up the next morning to find gasoline spilling out of my air filter. Hmm, no bueno is what we were thinking. We took apart the carburetor and examined the float bowl and put it back together scratching our heads, cleaned out the air filter compartment and fired her up only to see gas spilling out of the carb. Oops. Now, that I’m thinking this is above my ability so we found the only mechanic in town but he was busy with the governor of Urique’s pick-up. After three harassing visits, I pushed the bike over and showed him what was going on. It took him about 3 seconds to point out I didn’t put the carburetor back together properly. Doh!

With a late start we got on our way to Urique for lunch and cervezas. The bike functioned fine but would eventually need a new o-ring when we’d get to Durango.

Copper Canyon was stunning as always and we enjoyed a beautiful ride down. Dave had deciphered a route from Urique to Batapilas from Google earth that wasn’t on any of our maps. Intrigued, we wanted to give it a go, so we inquired about it and were told, “oh yeah, no worries, would take you guys about 3 hours. 3 hours?, magic carpet again. It was probably the hardest terrain I’ve ridden in my three visits to the canyon and most of it was in first gear. We got separated at one point and lost about an hour, which forced us to drop down 5,000 vertical feet of steep switchbacks in the dark. We made it down safely but not something I particularly want to repeat.

The day was really fun and rewarding and made the beer and the tacos adobada taste oh sooo good.

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Duck hunting and camping…

…that’s how this trip started, at least the campsite we stayed at.

Just outside of the Douglas, AZ border, was a recreational shotgun club and had different activities each day including duck hunting the day we were there. A very friendly place with regular snowbirds that had been camped in their RVs for weeks or months.

Mark, a fellow ADV rider whom I met on the Panama/Colombia crossing joined us for a few days and we all headed into Mexico together.  It was great to see him and I think he thoroughly enjoyed the couple days as well. If he felt anything like me, it was just great to be back in Mexico. The border crossing went very smoothly and we were continuously welcomed.

We headed straight to Sal’s ranch (…post…) . Having been almost 3 years I feared Pancho would have passed away from his tumor in his wrist that he refused to get medical treatment for. When we were on the ranch last, we were told it needed to be amputated but Pancho would have nothing of it and instead believed it to be some kind of voodoo. Pancho was alive and well with scares up and down his arm from something eating him inside. His wrist was still bothering him and not as functional as one would hope but not really any worse than the last time we saw him and he was in full spirits.

The sad news is Sal was not at the ranch at from what my Spanish could decipher, he was in Hermosillo getting cancer treatment for what sounded like colon cancer.

Pancho said he’ll be back in a week or so, so we plan to stop by on the way back to see how he’s doing.

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Heading back to Northern Mexico

Dave, Jim and I are going back to Mexico on a similar route we did last time. We should be crossing into Sonora Monday morning. Woohoo!!!
Also if you want to see where I’m at on my travels. Here are links to Dave and Jim’s spot trackers.

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El Fin Del Viaje …for now

Almost 60,000 km and 14 different countries, the second leg of the incredible journey comes to an end.

After two rough weeks in Lima, a quick bolt down to Bolivia to sell my bike, a couple bus rides and a flight back to Lima, I fly home today, May 1st as I write this in the Starbucks at the Lima airport…and then it’s back to reality. This unforgettable adventure has been filled with incredibly memorable experiences and it’s shares of ups and downs. Overall it’s sad to see it come to an end but exciting as well to come home and share some of my experience with friends.

Here’s a recap of the final 3 weeks…

The food in Lima was excellent but for a city of 7 million, there was a surprising lack of street food and what there was, lacked variety (a lot of bony chicken empanadas). Even in the Mercado Central and Chinatown, a 12 city block market in downtown Lima was a bit of a disappointment, but did sprout a handful of interesting moments, including a guy trying to sell me a strange looking, live sucker fish on the sidewalk before a Chinese guy pushed his way in and bought the whole lot, and the tasting of an excellent Almeja a la criolla, a clam ceviche served in it’s shell with choclo, aji, mushrooms and onions. A real treat and something I plan to reproduce back home.

funny looking fish

Lima’s a modern, cosmopolitan city with a strong western influence and seemed to lack a lot of the character I’ve seen in other Latin American cities and towns on my trip. I stayed in the trendy, gringolandia area of Miraflores, which was expensive, touristy, and too posh for street food vendors. You couldn’t even get fresh juice on the sidewalk, something I’ve become addicted too and expect everyday. Luckily, not far outside of the ritzy district, lay the markets and vendors I’ve grown accustomed to in my Latin American travels so I could still get my juice fix in the morning. That said, they were far less impressive than I’ve seen in much smaller towns.

The historical district of Lima is beautiful and I did have some memorable moments including visiting the gastronomical museum of Peru so I’m probably not being fair to Lima. I went there knowing the trip was coming to an end, and with plans to fix stuff on my bike as well as figure out a solution for shipping her home. Neither fun activities. …and it started like this.

I got pulled over 4 times coming into Lima as it was getting dark, during rush hour traffic, with some of the least friendly cops I’ve met in Peru, and all looking for a kick-down. The final one pulled me over for going through a “red” light. It was barely yellow, and I was forced to go through, pulling evasive maneuvers as a bus was backing into me, going the wrong way down the highway. It became a waiting game, and I hate to admit it, but in the end he won, and I paid my first police bribe of this whole trip.

He first claimed they had me on camera and that I won’t be able to exit the country. When I asked, “if that’s true, how’s giving you 350 soles gonna get me the pics and clear my record?” Back and forth the arguments went, and I caught him on no less than five different lies. He didn’t seem to care and kept changing his story. It was clear he wasn’t giving up until he got some money and stubbornness was going to win. My favorite excuse was the one where he said that “on Semena Santa, going through a yellow is the same as a red”, after he admitted the light was yellow. After about 20 minutes and already dark, I finally caved in and said, “you’re not letting me go ‘til you get some money, right?” He nodded. “So how about 20 soles?” (about $8.00). He said ok and off I went.

I’m never a fan of driving into a new city, in particular a city of 7 millions, after dark and during rush hour. With this in mind, I had done a little research, and thinking it might be hard to find a place with motorcycle parking, I had picked out a hostal that catered to motorcycle travelers. After an hour of bumper to bumper traffic, and getting a bit lost in the city, I located the address, only to find the building torn down, a construction sight in it’s place and a sign for condos coming soon. Doh! I shortly located another hostal close by, and parking was far easier than I had feared, though the prices were higher than expected. I only planned on staying in Lima a few days so it didn’t seem too bad.

The next morning I left the hostal on my way to the motorcycle shop about 2 km away, when I was forced onto the expressway by a series of buses turning left from the right lane. I was on the expressway for only 2 blocks and trying to get off, when a police officer waves me over. Damn, I thinking, I’ve left my papers at the hostal. Not only did I not have my papers on me, motorcycles and trucks weren’t allowed on the expressway (I didn’t realize this until the copper told me). I’m thinking I’m screwed this time, and I really am at fault, and of course he’s also looking for money. I pull out my wallet to start negotiating the bribe and pay him off, when he pushes my hand down and tells me we can’t do this here, it’s too public. He calls a friend and tells me to meet him two blocks passed the off ramp. I agree but once I get off the off-ramp, I quickly pull a U’ey before the corner and drop my bike off at the shop without any further police harassments. Phew!

The bike shop held the bike for a week, charged me $200, about what it would cost in the US, and in the end didn’t fix any of the problems.  Grrrrrr….

With the bike in the shop, I spent the following morning in the bureaucratic customs office at the port of Lima. After about 4 hours, I got recommendations for three logistics agencies for shipping quotes. I spent the afternoon at those agencies, as well as a trip to the airport customs and another logistics company there.  It took three more days and two more trips to get the quotes, with the winning bid at $1,230.00 USD, which was said to cover everything. I agreed and was told to come back on Saturday to get the bike crated, customs forms filled out, and the bike would go out on Monday. Feeling pretty good, I booked a flight home for Tuesday April 24th.

I showed up Saturday morning at 9:00am and by 8:30pm, 10.5 hours later and 7.5 hours after the customs office had closed, the bike was crated and ready to go. I asked if it was wise to crate the bike, “won’t customs need to see the bike and verify the VIN number and do an inventory? “No te preocupe” I was told, a phrase I find Peruvians use way, way, way too loosely (means “don’t concern yourself about it”, or more simply “don’t worry”). I got back on Monday at 9:00am, and of course I had to uncrate the bike, remove the battery, siphon the gas and run the bike dry, remove the windscreen, mirrors, front wheel, cases, inventory all items in the cases, and re-crate the bike, and after all this was all done, was casually told there’s a $350 additional charge for combustible goods that I need to pay to the customs. …but no te preocupe, it’s only $350 and there won’t be any more hidden charges. I threw a mini hissy fit with the logistics company who swore, the $1,230 would cover everything, and how is this still combustible goods?, if you’ve made me remove the battery and drain all the fuel. Long story short, 2 hours of arguing brought the boss and I finally saw the real estimate which had been hidden from me, and it was for $2,490.00, over twice the $1,230, I’d been quoted. And this didn’t include the $500-$800 in storage, handling, and port fees I would need to pay in Seattle.

They knew of these charges all along and just quoted low to win the bid, with plans on making me pay these various charges one at a time, banking on me being too deeply involved to back out. They also new my flight was for Tuesday so I think they planned to hold my bike hostage until I paid. Furious I demanded why hadn’t they shown me this quote, and “no te preocupe” was the response. I snapped back at them I’m damn well going to “me preocupo” if you guys are planning on charging me $2,490 and then insisted on getting my money back (which took another two hours and a lot of “no te preocupe”). About the time it took to uncrated the bike and put it back together, and once again, left the agency 10 hours later. And now, after two weeks in Lima, I was back to square one. The next day I went back and started getting fresh quotes as I was already out $280 for the crate and hopped to still use it. I spent another 7 hours at various logistics agencies without much more success but that night I heard back from Sam, a Kiwi interested in buying the bike. SOLD!

The whole process of selling in a foreign country is a bit dodgy, and in order to make it work, I would have to exit Peru on my paper work, and Sam would need to enter a country on his, so it was time to gun it down to the Bolivian border and make this happen. The ride was stunning. It took me through the Nazca lines (which you can really only see from above but still cool), some stunning mountains ranges and high passes, and incredibly beautiful countryside, mostly in high plains of an average of 12,000’ (Damn cold). I had to cover about 2,000km in 3 days so not much time for stopping or picture taking but an amazing ride that left me with a very sore bum.

a cold but beautiful morning start in the Andes

Sam flew into LaPaz, Bolivia and bus’ed it up to Puno, Peru where we met.  We turned around that night and headed to the Bolivian border, only to find ourselves stranded in a dirty border town as the border was closed. We spent the night in one of the nastiest and smelliest hotels I’ve ever stayed in but kind of a fun experience and all part of the adventure. It certainly didn’t feel threatening as border towns can sometimes be. Up at 6:00am, we headed out in the cold and crossed into Bolivia at 7:30am. It all went smoothly, the deal was done with a handshake and a wink, and we spent the night in Copacabana, Bolivia where we both had delicious Trucha a la diabla, and quite different than any diabla sauce I’ve had before. I went back the next morning for brunch to get another and find out the secrets and get the recipe before bus’ing it back to Puno. Here’s some pics.

An amazing end to the trip!

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