Exiting the "Hassle Free Zone", riding to Banámichi
I don't even know how the idea came up but my wife suggested that since we're 5 miles from Mexico that we should take a ride South a ways to see what it's all about. Since we had a 3-day weekend for MLK day I figured the time was right and we should just go for it. Banámichi is a small town on the Sonora River about 150 miles distant from us; I figured that being so close it wouldn't be too uncomfortable and probably somewhat Americanized.
After a bit of research we determined that we could get a 7-day tourist visa free at Naco but would have to go to either Agua Prieta or Cananea for our vehicle permit. Of course we could do it all in Agua Prieta but I have an irrational dislike for AP.
We headed down to Naco for our Tourist Visa on Wednesday evening, I really didn't want to try to jam too much in on Saturday as the Banjercito in Cananea only stayed open until 1 pm and I'm prone to getting lost. It's easier to park on the US side and just walk through the pedestrian gate into Mexico that to worry about taking the car.
The immigration office is about 50 feet past the border, I was prepared with all the necessary documentation so I didn't expect a hassle here, and didn't get one. The official at the desk didn't speak a whole lot of English so I made sure to speak really loudly and waved my arms around so he'd get the message. Realizing that he was dealing with someone who was mentally deficient he made sure to not only tell me what day we needed to be back but also to point it out on the calendar then count the days back until today.
Before we left we asked where would be the best place to exchange for some pesos, he told us to go down to the next block on the right side and we'd see it. This is where I came to realize the flaw in our plan to ride in Mexico; I don't speak a work of Spanish. Sure I took my first lesson last night and have another one tomorrow but none of the store signs are in English, what am I supposed to do?
As we were wandering around one of the ubiquitous children selling whatever it is they sell came up and rattled off something; I countered with a big "No Gracias" and continued on my way. My wife, being smarter than I am, asked him where we could get some pesos; his immediate reply was "Oh, Cambio!" and pointed to the store that we were directly in front of. We gave him a dollar and stepped inside. Now I'm still not sure what Cambio means but we were in some sort of cell phone company office. As we waited in line I watched the kid who'd directed us in here waving his dollar around while he shouted something that was probably in the vein of, "hey all the rest of you I have a sucker in here that will believe anything you say and give you money, everyone come over here!" Of course I'm only guessing.
We approached the window with trepidation as our turn came, ready for the laughter and "Stupid Gringos" that were sure to chase us out onto the street; instead to clerk wrote the exchange rate on a piece of paper and we got our pesos, way too easy.
We'd had enough for now so we headed back over the border to our car, I'm always amazed at the different vehicles the Mexicans get than what we get in the states, this might be just some Chinese knock-off motorcycle but it might be something cool.
Saturday morning dawned and we got loaded up. We didn't have a really strict schedule but I knew we needed to be in Cananea before 1 so I set our leaving time at 10:00.
Did you ever notice how large saddlebags look until you try to pack them? I've learned my lesson about packing light but even so it was a squeeze trying to stuff what I felt I needed into only one bag. My wife didn't quite make it and decided she'd need her backpack as well as her saddlebag.
Armed with all the Spanish that 2 lessons could give me (I can tell you my name and then in return ask you for yours) we rolled out. We gassed up a couple of mile from the border, it was only 150 miles each way and I knew I could make it that distance so we'd just need to fill up before we left the hotel.
Coming up into Naco is the border fence, but it's not quite as imposing as you might think.
Okay, it's still a fence designed to keep people out but at least it sort of looks cheerful.
Getting into Mexico is a breeze; basically you drive through the gate, dodge a few speed bumps, wave & smile at the soldiers and that's about it.
I always thought Naco was a pretty small town, but it has about 5500 residents which puts it pretty far ahead of many places we're about to go.
If you don't look too hard you see a bustling business district with lots of stores.
As you leave out of town though you notice that the only paved street is the one you're on and most of the yards are made of mud; luckily it's dry mud right now but during the rainy season I'd be willing to bet it's a mess.
It was a little chilly as we exited Naco and worked our way toward Cananea, mid 50's would about do it.
We turned onto Mexico hwy 2 which appears to be some new construction, it's still just a 2-lane road but I'm guessing it's highway. I didn't see any sort of speed limit signs so I used the Montana method and just kept it reasonable and prudent; evidently others idea of reasonable and prudent is different than mine as I immediately got passed.
We made our way to Cananea and realized one of the second flaws in my plan, the street signs are in Spanish. We had some directions but they turned out to be pretty bad; I'm quasi-sure that at one point I was going down a one-way street in the wrong direction but since there were no Policia around to correct me I just took it as a learning experience.
Eventually we made our way to the Banjercito to collect our vehicle permit; I was under the impression that I would be purchasing a 6-month permit but evidently if you have a 7-day tourist visa you can't have your vehicle in Mexico any longer than you're going to be there.
The office was quite small, there were 2 people in front of me so I waited my turn. I made good use of the wait by practicing what I was going to way to the clerk when I got to the front of the line. Finally it was my turn and I spouted, "Yo Americano, permiso de auto?" The answer I recieved was...well I really don't know.
Using the little English the clerk knew, which was still more than my Spanish, we got all the paperwork sorted out. It was soon apparent, however, that the clerk was confused as I'd asked for an auto permit but given her the registration for a motorcycle. We got it figured out but she told me she needed to see the VIN on the motorcycle, this is sort of embarrassing but I've never seen the VIN tag on my Guzzi, there's a tag that's sort of hidden by the gas tank that shows the year and I've always assumed the VIN was on it as well but hidden under the tank. The clerk cut me some slack as she realized that I was going to remove the tank and told me it was okay. Finally, an hour after arriving we were out of the Banjercito and ready to hit the road again.
I was sorely tempted to make a detour into the Bodega next door after the last hour.
I spent a lot of time as we were getting out of town just looking at the vehicles around us, you really do see different things in other countries; for instance, when was the last time you saw a chicken in a milk crate at a stoplight?
After a few wrong turns we found the Ruta del Rio Sonora and were actually on the road! A couple of miles later and I was again questioning the wisdom of the trip as I saw this sign.
After the hassle at the Banjercito I just wasn't sure if I could take leaving the Hassle Free Zone!
The roads weren't wonderful but if you ever come down to Bisbee I guarantee you'll find our roads are some of the worst ever, in comparison I'd say the Mexican roads were somewhat equivalent to feather pillows.
About 10 miles down the road, just as I'm getting used to things we come up to some sort of guard post.
My thought was it was just some sort of customs crossing; I ran into one in California once, it was like California was a whole different country than Oregon.
Since there was a line Karen disembarked so she could stretch out a little, we got our passports ready and just enjoyed being on "Mexico time".
The 2 trucks in the front of the line were from Colorado, I guess they were down for some ATV'ing or something; anyway the guards gave them a thorough inspection. The truck in front of us was from Sonora so I figured they'd get a pass. The Coloradans were finally sent on their way, as I expected the Sonorans were being waved through but at the last minute they were halted and ordered to empty the back of their truck.
There must have been 4 or 5 guys in the cab of the truck, it was like a clown car at the circus when they started piling out. They came around the back of the truck and started unloading rifle cases, before I knew it there were guns everywhere. There weren't any issues, I think they were just showing off their hardware.
The one guy with the automatic rifle just sort of stood there and looked intimidating his partner had his piston stuffed in his pocket but took it out and started waving it around so the other guys could check it out. Before long they were all packed back up and sent on their way. I expected to be stopped and searched but they just gave us the move-along as we came by.
Part of the Ruta de Rio Sonora is the river crossings; the road crosses back & forth over the river quite a few times. We are in the dry part of the year as they haven't seen rain in a couple of months but at least a few of the crossings still had some water in them.
People on horseback were something we came to see a lot of, the horse is still a viable means of transportation in Mexico.
We came into the town of Bacoachi right around lunchtime; a wrong turn immediately upon entering the town had us tooling up and down tiny streets wondering if the signs on some of the buildings meant food of fertilizer. Soon enough we found our way out to the main drag and came upon this little diner sort of place on the side of the road; we were hungry and decided to stop in and give it a try.
I originally thought that they cooked and served the food outside but that was actually the condiment bar; you went inside to order and eat but put on your veggies out in front. It was stifling hot inside but it felt pretty good. Unfortunately both of my Spanish lessons deserted me when we went inside and discovered that no one spoke a word of English; one of the women ran outside brought in a guy who did all the translating, I still think we could have figured it out but I may have ordered something with tripe in it without his help.
As it was I got a couple of beef tacos.
They're actually quite small, maybe 5" diameter tortillas but they were packed with minced beef. I went out to the condiment bar and put a little bit of colored stuff on them for forms sake and then heartily enjoyed them. I've never considered that tacos don't necessarily come with ground beef.
When all was said and done I think the meal cost us less than $8 US for the two of us, tasty and affordable!
While we were having our lunch Alberto came in with a couple of his buddies; he told us he had a ranch about a miles away and would we like to take a tour?
I was a little nervous at first but finally decided that we were here for a bit of an adventure so we might as well give it a go. We drove about 1/2 a mile down the asphalt and Alberto turned off onto a dirt lane. As we're following him along what seemed like 40 miles of loose dirt all I could think of was that in 10 years someone was going to come across whatever was left of my body after the wildlife was done with it.
Finally we come around the last corner and are able to feast our eyes on La Paloma; actually it doesn't have a name yet but this is what the townspeople call it.
The ranch has been in Alberto's family for well over 100 years and all the land is worked much the same way it was back in the day. He started building the resort 9 years ago and hopes to open it this year; actually he already has a family booked for the end of July so he needs to get working. I got the feeling that he's built everything the the help of a few friends and his 2 sons; all the supplies are fairly local, such things as the bricks are all hand made.
Alberto lives in Cananea and comes down about 3 days a week to work on the property; there are only 9 guest rooms but he has the ability to expand if it's necessary.
He's still got a lot of work to do but I can tell you that I look forward to spending at least a long weekend down here sometime in the near future.
This is a real working ranch, all the cattle are worked on horseback; Alberto told me that he was approached recently by some American cowboys who were tired of doing their jobs on motorcycles and ATV's and wanted to come down to work for him like real cowboys. He was all for it except that they wanted equal wages to what they were making in the States, it just doesn't work that way down in Mexico.
Alberto is rightfully proud of the history of his land. He has a water pump that's been in operation since the mid 1800's; you can see the beam that the horse would be hitched to on the right side of the picture, there is a linkage that runs underground and is hooked to the belt on the well to the left. Amazingly, to us at least, the water level in the well is very high; we tried a bit and it was sweet, clear and cold.
We finally had to bid Alberto a fond farewell, it was getting a bit late and we weren't sure what else we might run into on the way. Alberto told us to watch for a certain rock formation called the Serape, he said we'd know it because it was right by the Madonna but unfortunately it was best viewed in the morning sunlight.
We got back on the road but I became increasingly sure that I'd made a wrong turn somewhere; of course there really aren't that many turns to make but I tend to glance at the sign, go whatever direction is comfortable and then spend the next ten miles trying to remember what direction the arrow was pointing.
Eventually we came upon a brightly-colored painting on the side of the cliff wall.
It took me a few minutes to register that this was probably the Madonna and that I'd completely missed the Serape. I'll be back through on Monday and maybe in the morning so I chalked it up as something I'll see on the way back.
While touring La Paloma I realized that my camera battery was well on its way to dying, I'd not brought my charger since I had 2 batteries but this didn't look good; I elected to try to save my battery as much as possible.
About an hour later we pulled up in front of La Posada del Roi Sonora.
Our hosts, Bill and Irma were waiting for us, I got the impression that they expected us much earlier and were waiting around for us to arrive. We were the only guests in the place and they had people to see and things to do. Bill took us to our room, a little dark and cramped, then took us on a short tour of the place. As we were winding up he asked if we'd like to upgrade; I asked him how much more and he told me $100, I told him no. Bill countered with $20 and I asked him what he had in mind.
It turns out Bill was saving the best for last as he led us to the Honeymoon suite. For an extra $20/night we got a good-sized jacuzzi in the room...
And this cool shower
I couldn't fit the whole shower in the picture, there are actually 2 shower head in it and the whole thing is surrounded by stone, real stone not that faux crap we get around here. We decided to take the upgrade.
I asked Bill if there was a place I could park the bike that would be off the street, he replied that there was no reason to as it would be perfectly safe but I could park it at his house. He told me to go around the corner to the first (only) garage door and it would probably be going up as I came up to it.
I made my way over there and waited while he opened the door. Once I got parked he told me that he and Irma would be heading out in the morning but he'd get one of his staff to let me in to get the bike. I felt it would be rude to take pictures as I walked through this house but let me just say that Bill's not living a hard life down in Banámichi.
Karen and I finished unpacking our bags and made our way down to the dining room, the menu consisted of "Chili Colorado" and that was about it, it's not necessarily good to have the whole place to yourself. We made our way back to the room and got some rest before our travels continued on Sunday.
We got up late on Sunday and made our way to the breakfast hall; I ordered something that I think was called Machaca. After we ordered I began to realize that breakfast is sort of an ordeal. First we got a bowl of fruit, apples and melon, with a side of plain yogurt and some sort of granola; I followed Karen's lead and spooned some of the yogurt on the fruit and then poured the granola on top of it, it was quite tasty.
Machaca looks sort of like hash and had a puddle of red next to it, I made a sort of taco out of it using the accompanying dish of tortillas and wasn't displeased. Within the hour I was a little less pleased as I went into intestinal distress and knew for sure that I had some rare Mexican bowel moving disease for which there was no cure and I'd be found completely dehydrated and laying in my own filth on Monday when they came to clean the room.
Luckily the symptoms passed fairly soon and we decided to ride down to the Agua Caliente (Hot Springs) in Aconchi.
Originally we'd planned on bicycling to the hot springs as from the literature I'd read I believed they were quite close. What I found was that they were 16 miles away; I know there are many out there who'll say that 16 miles isn't too bad on a mountain bike but they can't count me among their number. From what I understand there is a hot spring that's closer but it's really only a lukewarm spring and is best left for summertime.
On the way out of town we stopped by the local fountain; it seems as though every town has a fountain, none of which have any water in them.
There is something significant about the rock on the shoulders of the men but I can't find it right now. If you look closely you can see the glyphs carved into the boulder.
These glyphs are ancient, the rock is put up there as some sort of historic relic.
Sort of like the AlCan the Ruta de Rio Sonora is pretty much the only game in town; the whole trick is to know where you're going once you get to the town you need. Lucky for us the Agua Caliente has signs marking where we needed to turn; I'm sure that someone had told me that we'd need to traverse some dirt to get there but I'd conveniently put it out of my mind.
We started off down a steep cobblestone slope that lasted for maybe 100 feet and then I'm pretty sure we were in a riverbed. I'm not really sure how long we traveled on this stuff and it got better or worse depending upon what I'm guessing was water flow during the wet season. There were some sandy sections that just plain sucked, I hate sand.
One thing you get used to seeing is livestock. I live in Southern Arizona where we have open range but it's nothing like where we were traveling; you'd come around a corner and there a cow would be, chewing her cud and staring at you.
After being completely sure that we'd fallen for the "gringo trap" which I believe involves putting up signs that lead to nowhere we came to a steep, rocky downhill immediately after which we were stopped and asked for 40 pesos, that was the signal that we had arrived.
Keeping an eye on the sky, rain was threatening at any time, we parked with the rest of the visitors in another dry riverbed where I quickly buried by front wheel in the sand.
Before getting naked and jumping in the water, well as naked as I get in public anyway, we walked around a bit to see what it was all about. In a word it was rustic. The hot water was piped out of the side of the mountain.
From where it was channeled over to the swimming area.
I wondered why the distance is so far from the source to the pool, but I can tell you that the water coming out of the mountain was hotter than I could stand.
Most people drove to the hot springs, but since this is Mexico there was at least one person who only had one horsepower under the hood.
We made our way over to the caretakers house; I swore this dog was dead but after close examination I could see his sides moving, other than that I never saw him move a muscle.
We walked back toward the pool to get our swimming clothes; it was full of mostly kids but I came across what had felt like 40 miles of deep sand and I was getting into some hot water.
We found an empty picnic table where we could store our stuff and jumped into the water.
The water really wasn't all that warm. Sure, the water coming out of the trough was good and hot but I guess it just couldn't keep up with the size of the pool. Don't get me wrong, it was still great and I was more than satisfied but jacuzzi levels it was not.
One little boy took a shine to me, I don't know what his deal was but he wanted to hang around us. Finally he started talking to me, I stared at him like a cow stares at an oncoming train and said, "Yo no habla Espanol". He looked at me like he didn't believe me and said, "No?"
He left us alone for awhile but then came back and asked me my name, in English; I told him and then Karen asks him his, in Spanish. He tells us him name is Omar and then decides he's had enough and leaves us alone. Eventually I realized that all the adults have left and we're the only ones in the pool above the age of 10 so we decide to get out and dry off.
Just as we're getting ready to leave a couple of Caballeros ride by, I still get a kick out of seeing this sort of stuff.
We get packed up and head on out the way we came, I'd almost forgotten that hill we'd come down to get here and now we had to go back up.
The ride back to Aconchi seemed shorter than when we came out, or at least it would have been except that we had to wait for awhile for some truck that was filling it's water tanks from the stream and blocking the road. They kept telling us we could make it around but until I get the hover attachment put on the Guzzi I'll have to stay on the ground.
We just sat and talked to the cows while we waited for the road to clear.
Of course eventually the road cleared and we made our way back into town. It was getting to be past lunchtime but I'd seen a Pemex that had premium so elected to get gas first; no hassle getting gas and this was one of the few self-serve Pemex stations I've seen on my travels in Mexico.
We didn't see anything that really called out to us in Aconchi for lunch so we continued south to the town of Baviácora, I really didn't know what we were looking for but I'm a sucker for towers and steeples so we had to stop to get some pictures at the church.
Now you know this stuff has been around forever, I'm guessing 1800's easy if not quite a bit older; I really should check my history a little more.
I like the columns, and I find it fascinating that they leave the doors wide open, after all you never know who might walk in.
As I stood there I noticed the carving above the door.
It took me awhile to get it but I've decided that it's a really demented rabbit trying to grab something out of the dish?
Look closely; the ears are on the left pointing up, there's an eye in the center and then another on top, you can barely make out the nose in the center, he's got that funky flabby mouth and then his little rabbity paw reaching up.
Okay, so it's a guy being baptized but I still see the bunny first.
To be continued...
Great report of an area that is easy to enjoy! I have crossed at Naco twice, last time I recieved my TVIP via the internet.
In March of 2009 while I was riding from Arizpe to Banamici about mid morning a large pure black mountain cat crossed the road right in front of me. The people in Moctezuma said it was probably some kind of mountain lion.
We walked around for a little while longer and just took in the sights.
I swear that every town we went through had the same bandstand in the middle of the city square.
We started to get a bit hungry but after my bout in the morning I wasn't too hot on having anything spicy. As we walked around we came upon the San Francisco Hotel & Restaurant; my guess was that any place that had English writing on the outside probably had English speaking on the inside, I really have to work on that assuming thing.
The menu was all in Spanish but at least I could figure out what hamberguesa meant; unfortunately I didn't realize they put mayo on burgers but since it's supposed to be an adventure I didn't make a hassle about it and it was quite good.
As we exited the restaurant I noticed that the sky was beginning to threaten a bit of rain so we decided we'd better get moving back to the hotel.
The ride was uneventful but we finally found what Eddie Bauer started doing after his Ford editions stopped doing so well.
As we were coming back into Banámichi I noticed this theme park looking thing over to the side of the road.
It looked pretty cool but a little closer inspection of their climbing was revealed that the hand & foot holds we stuck to plywood that was peeling away from the frame. It was all fenced in some sort of a compound, we went up to the building but the doors were all padlocked shut.
Dinner that night was a much different experience than the night before, for one thing we received a menu!
Of course I had no clue what most of the things were but Bill had told me last night that Taco Dorados were what we were having; figuring he wouldn't steer me wrong I went ahead and ordered them, after all I like tacos.
As we sat back and waited for our dinner I took some pics of the dining room. Bill and Irma had bought the place a few years back and it was a complete ruin at the time. The ceiling over the dining room now is original but much of the rest of it had collapsed and was sitting on the ground. I get the feeling Bill had traveled a lot and bought a bunch of souvenirs to decorate the place.
Dinner arrived and we were both a bit surprised by what we got.
Karen wasn't that hungry as we'd eaten lunch rather late so she'd ordered soup guessing that it would be nice and light.
I'm pretty sure the soup was more solid than any steak I'd ever had; she said it was delicious though.
I was a bit dismayed at seeing my tacos at first since it looked like it was just a big plate of salad.
Further inspection showed that there were three tacos under four pounds of lettuce; I've never had tacos like these before, I think they consisted of a regular taco, with just meat in it, that is then dropped in the deep fryer. They were tasty as hell but I could feel my arteries hardening as soon as they passed my lips.
After dinner we explored a little bit; this place is full of these miniature doors that are locked, I can only imagine what is behind them.
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