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Old 10-06-2012, 07:32 PM   #4
fintip OP
Vagabond in training
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Joined: Mar 2012
Location: Austin
Oddometer: 12
Update... 4?

Sorry it's been so long guys. Not much riding lately, just enjoying Mexico city here with my friend and his family, seeing what life is like on a day to day basis.

My friend's (Samuel's) mom is a dentist. She owns a relatively large house that is technically shared ownership between all of the grandchildren of a wealthy and once-well-known grandfather from Nicaragua who was the patriarch. The house isn't luxurious, by any means, but it's not something to complain about either. It includes an apartment up front that she rents out, and a side room where she practices dentistry with her own equipment. She doesn't make much, however, as dentists are apparently paid much less here than in the states.

They are at the bottom end of middle class, perhaps; not exceedingly poor, though we wash our clothes by hand here. The electricity goes out on occasion for a while, a few minutes or a few hours, sometimes a day. That sounds bad, but it becomes quite normal here--the weather is always mild in Mexico city, so you don't really notice it if it's during the day, and it usually is. (There is no central air conditioning or heating.) They live in the north of Mexico city, on the outskirts of a suburb of the city. Mexico city is vast, huge, mindbogglingly so. You can drive from here for 30 minutes on the highway at high speeds and only be 'less north' than we are now, still not to the center of town. It goes quite far south. If you just keep going north, though, which I did the other day, the city never quite thins out... Just keeps going, thick metropolitan crammed streets for miles and miles and miles. It's really not comprehensible.

Mexico city, after Tokyo, is the largest city in the world by population when including its suburbs. (It also has the worst air quality in the world; it is said that a day in the center is like smoking a pack of cigarettes.)

So most of the time, I have used the city's excellent public transit. Out here, there's a train (called the 'suburbano', even though it doesn't go underground, for some reason). The train will take you in less than 20 minutes at high speed to a fairly north/central Subway and "Metrobus" (specialized bus system that has dedicated lanes--like a subway, above ground, on wheels, that stops for nothing but lights) station.

The system altogether is pretty impressive--utilizing train and metrobus, I was able to get from the far north of the city to the far south in 1.5 hours (not during peak hours). I didn't realize how impressive this was until much later.

The subway is amazing--vast and fast. It is also very easy to navigate, and within a few days I felt confident going anywhere in the city on my own on the public transit. Again, the speed with which the subway moves is deceptive, and makes things feel closer than they really are. Travelling the same distance above ground takes many times longer.

At the same time, it's usually quite warm from all the bodies--even when it's not during peak hours, when people cram in Tokyo-bullet-train style, shoving and cramming in as many as can fit and still get the doors to close. (The two front subways are dedicated to women and children during those hours, though they are equally crammed I am told). There is a kind of 'mafia' that operates on the subway, with the footsoldiers being peddlers of random goods--pirated books on CD, bubblegum, scissors, pirated music on CD (they come in wearing a speaker in their backpack, skipping through tracks to sample the CD for sale, yelling out the artists and songs featured--everything from dance music, to pop music, and mariachi music), toys. Then there are beggars, and occasionally, if you're lucky, buskers. One very lucky day, I got to see a family (a father and his three children) playing an instrumental of a Simon and Garfunkel song quite beautifully. Alas, I ran out of space shortly after I started filming--terrible timing.

All forms of public transit are incredibly cheap, and are subsidized by the city in an effort to help with the air quality, which the city is aggressively trying to improve. (The situation isn't helped by the surrounding mountains, which trap air in.)

Mexico city, Samuel frequently has told me, is remarkable as a microcosm of the income inequality of Mexico itself. I can clearly discern some of the different accents in the city, and he tells me this is because the rich and the poor and the middle class all live in such different worlds that they never interact, even though they live among each other. I have only a tiny grasp of this, because as much of the city as I've seen, I have only gone wide and not deep. To go deep in this city by any measurement would take at least 6 months of concerted effort.

But the diversity in what I did see is just unfathomable. High end boutiques and middle class shopping malls and art museums and iconic structures and old churches and beautiful murals and wooden post expansions on falling apart adobe homes; roads in so bad a state of repair that you much creep along them leading directly to the highway where you can effortlessly coast along at 90 miles per hour (and still be passed on occasion by someone actually in a hurry). A forest in the middle of the city featuring an exquisite 18th century castle and a lake, as well as a stunning monument to the 6 "Ninos Heroes" (Heroic boys/children) who defended the capital against the US invaders in the 1800's. Tacos on the side of the road for 3.50 pesos (about $0.28), a stone's throw from restaurants charging exorbitant sums by any standard, where those who wear suits dine, who will never touch those same tacos.

Those who ride the subways don't have cars. Those who have cars never ride the subway. Beneath all the grandour of the most beautiful parts of the city, the people beneath slave away. A man working behind one of those taco shacks may just be an employee, and may make $300 a month--just barely enough to survive. One older woman I found, who sold tacos the cheapest of all, said she owned hers all to herself. Had worked it for 20 years. Just outside of a subway station.

This is not the rednecks out in the sticks and the slicks in the city--this is both, next to each other, never making eye contact, and speaking their language differently. This is a jacket made in China and having an American brand name selling for $70, seams starting to fall apart in a month, and a handmade sweater of wool sold two hours away for $12.50--the tourist price, that is.


The violence doesn't quite reach to Mexico city, but the fear does. I still can't tell if this city is really dangerous or not, as I didn't have any personal encounters with it. But people have good reason to be afraid: 70k people have died in the last 5 years from the drug violence in Mexico. So whether the city itself is so dangerous or not, my friend was obviously somewhat terrified of leaving the city. While we'd originally planned to leave the city and travel to the Yucatan, he at first said he wanted to wait until Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement for Christians) passed, so he could spend it at the synogogue with his family. When that passed after a week and a half, he said he'd had a change of heart--he'd rather stay with his family while he could.

He immigrated to Israel (as all Jews have the right to do under Israel's "Right of Return") a few years ago, which is where I met him, and it'd been years since he'd been back. Now, realizing that he was going to be in Israel for some time, and not knowing when he'd return, and aware that there could be a war soon and he might be called into service, and not knowing whether he'd live... He wanted to spend as much time as he could with his family.

Which was fine with me; Mexico city or the Yucatan, it's all new to me. We were supposed to make more day trips than we did, but things just didn't happen most of the time. We did make a trip recently out to the Aztec pyramids, which were pretty stunning. It was his first time on a motorcycle for an extended period--it was his second time ever, his first being a few days ago to run a quick errand with me in town. He was terrified and elated! And he plans to buy a scooter when he's back in Israel and work his way up.

I was planning my next move. Inspired by how cheap food was here, I started looking online for what parts of central america were truly the cheapest, as Samuel said it was 'expensive' compared to what it used to be. (I imagine it's mostly inflation and imagination on his part...).

Mexico city was certainly near the bottom of the list, but the cheapest I found in Central America was the capital of Nicaragua--Managua. Also, the weather is perfect--75-85 from November to April, which happens to also be the dry season.

But, Managua is as far from Mexico City as Mexico City is from Austin, at least, and the most expensive thing I can do is drive. (Fuel is cheap here compared to the US, but living is even cheaper. And toll roads can be EXTREMELY expensive, and at least in Mexico those are the only safe option at the moment, and I don't know enough here to be confident trying them on my own.) Also, I realized that stats would only be available for major cities, and smaller towns were likely even cheaper. So I thought that after here, I'd just go to the next country south, Guatamala, where I hadn't been since I was 4 years old, find a sleepy town on the beach, and rent out some room for $50 or $75 a month, and just... live. Study programming and finance and history and whatever else tickled my fancy, and meet local people, and go to the beach, and explore local roads and make day trips.

When I first got to Monterrey, I realized that my bike was of a larger bore than 99% of the motorcycles I saw. (One rarely sees anything larger than a 350, and even still most bikes are 125cc Yamaha YBR's and the like. If it's bigger than a 350, which you see on occasion, it's likely to be a very expensive R1 or R6 or Harley or such...) So I wondered what my bike would go for here. Then I wondered about maybe selling it at some point, and flying bike--if it goes for 2k, I could live a long time here on 2k. Like, several months.

On doing a little research, I ran across a tidbit of interest: if you sell it illegally (i.e., just sell it to some guy on the streets here, having only done a temporary import as I did), you can never bring another vehicle into Mexico. In fact, even if your vehicle is stolen, you can never bring another vehicle into Mexico. (Because how do they know it was actually stolen, and that you didn't just sell it on the black market?)

Heard a story of a guy who legitimately had his car stolen, and 6 years later was stopped driving into mexico and told he couldn't come in.

It just happened to be mentioned on one of these pages that a trick (one I had planned on using and had read about before) that used to work no longer did, as the system had become highly computerized.

What trick?

Well, to get into the border, I give them a $200 deposit to be returned when I leave the country, if I do so legally. I also pay several non-refundable fees, since this work is all outsourced to a major bank in Mexico, and they have to get their cut.

So you leave the country and let them know you are cancelling your permit, they look you up, and let go of the $200 withheld on your card (or give you back your cash), and you're done. To come back in, you have to repeat the process from scratch.

If you come in through the north and leave through the south, you could, however, just not tell them you were leaving. This would mean you don't have to pay the fees twice. And as long as you are in and out and in and out within 6 months, no problem, right?

Used to be the case. However, I found on one of these sites by chance a mention that this trick isn't working anymore. They had received several emails of people who had tried this, and who had been thus disallowed from re-entering the country, and become stuck with their vehicles south of the border.

Lame, I thought. Guess I'll just have to pay the fee twice.

And that was the end of it, I thought.

And then, a few days later, a few days ago, it hit me. This is a huge problem.

If you'll remember my first installment from several weeks ago, I had a lot of trouble at the border. The eventual solution was to visit the County Tax Assesor and have a temporary paper issued--good for 30 days--that basically was a VIN/Title correction.

30 days you say? Does that mean you have to leave in 30 days? No reason to be alarmed, I only need it valid for the day I am to be issued the Mexican Temporary Import Permit. That Mexican Permit is then valid for 180 days (6 months), and the other document ceases to be meaningful (while in Mexico).

Originally, this wasn't a problem, when I thought I had the permit and I was good for 6 months. But if I go south to Guatamala, and cancel the permit, and need to get it again... But this time that paper has expired...

Can anyone say SOL?

So that means I'd be stuck in Mexico only. Which is an option... but less than ideal, given the security situation which is keeping me on the mega-highways and off the curvies...

This is where the second part of this story comes in.

When my first XJ650 was hit about 2 months ago, I promptly set about finding another XJ650 Maxim. I had invest months in learning THIS bike, and I didn't want to learn another bike at the last minute. So I found another one. Simple as that.

But this time, things were different. As I went through the motions on that bike, disassembling the old one and taking everything of value I could off before I had to turn it over to the insurance company, and prepping the new one for long ride duty... It was all so easy. I enjoyed it (even scraping that awful old valve cover gasket off, I really got a great sense of accomplishment installing the new one properly, attaching it to the valve cover with RTV and smearing a bit of oil on the engine's mating side... 3 days of work, doing things slowly and right, trying to figure out a way to get all the bits of the old gasket off... And yes, bigfitz, next time I will remember to stuff shop rags in the gallery beforehand...).

I enjoyed it, but it wasn't new anymore. But the real thing was that first feeling--that feeling I got when I test drove my original XJ650, when I pulled back on the throttle and the bike shot forward, and I felt that power--that feeling wasn't there for me anymore. I knew this bike well. When I would turn with my friend, who also occasionally rides bikes, riding bitch, he would get spooked by how effortlessly I was cut sharp corners. I knew the throttle well enough to pull it all the way back, and I could hit the bike's top speed and not really find myself on edge anymore. And I was starting to notice why old SJM motorcycle frames quietly disappeared in performance bikes, and feel the limitations of the brakes and suspension, starting to get curious about why "twinshock" was used as a term to identify vintage motorcycles.

And so, as I fixed the new 650 by day, I researched by night. I started looking for the next bike.

Just for future reference, I would generally say this is a Bad Idea. There's no better way to become dissatisfied with what you have than to start looking for something to want.

Originally I turned my attention to XJ900's, after looking at the XS1100 standard (not special) for a bit. I read up on it. A good bike, for sure. I started looking on various craigslists to get a feel. Saw a few come and go on ebay. Thought that was what I'd start looking for when I got back.

But then, on a whim, having once heard someone mention an FJ very briefly on this forum, I decided to give it a glance.

And then a look.

And then I found an FJ forum.

And some old reviews.

And then I joined the forum and started asking some questions. (And pissed off a few people in the process, I tend to ask too many sometimes....)

I found a website of a mechanic who only works on FJ's, and races a super-customized '84 FJ1100 in the pre-injection class against '01 bikes, the last of the superbikes that used carburetors, and he is in the top of the results.

And I really fell in love with this bike. I started studying it voraciously in my spare time at the house in Mexico city. I started looking them up on craigslists around the country. They can get pretty steep, up to 4k in price, but usually more like 2k. Occasionally you see one below. Once in a blue moon, you seem them for less than 1k, usually as a project bike, but VERY occasionally running rough and needing just carb and cosmetic work.

About the time I realized I was stuck in Mexico, I found a beautiful example that was perfectly fine, but had developed an electrical problem a year ago, and the owner was very hands-off, mechanics only, I don't have space and time to work on it, etc.. Given the price per hour, once he had had the starter and solenoid replaced to the tune of 1k, he didn't feel he could afford to just have the mechanic start blindly trouble shooting.

So he was selling it. For half of its value, at $1,299.00.

In Seattle. Where I had 2 friends living and 3 friends visiting--one of whom owed me $1100.

And I thought... This is crazy... But what if...

What if...


I called the guy and started talking to him. Asked him a lot of questions. Felt like he was rather trustworthy. Asked him how he felt about $900. He said that was less than he was willing to take. I said I'd have a friend look, and we'd talk. He said that sounded good.

Tried to get a friend out there. Took a day or two or three. Finally after thinking and studying some more, I called the guy and talked to him, made sure it was still on the market. Asked him how he felt about 1,050. "Closer", he said. "You're not the only one looking at this bike, you know. I have another girl who has been emailing me for some time who is considering a serious full restoration of the bike."

"1,100 is all I could possibly do."


A sigh.

"...I think I could do that."

I call my friend urgently. Yes, he can make it that evening. Yes, he can pick up money from my other friend.

That evening was pretty tense; at the last minute, I had one friend trying to withdraw $550 from an ATM (too much; but his son was there, and they were able to do $300 from one and $250 from the other, and pay each other back later), another trying to get to the Ferry and meet them before the 6:45pm (bike was an hour long ferry ride across the pudget sound) ferry left--luckily, they were located on the way, close to the ferry. Everything *just* worked out, me calling people from my computer coordinating. Writing a check list for my friend to inspect the motorcycle with, since he didn't have any background in motorcycles.

And then, handing over $550--half for now, half upon pickup.

So if I wasn't going to go to Costa Rica, screw it. I wasn't going to stick to the highways.

I'm going to drive back to Austin, sell my XJ650 if I can or take a loan with the bike as collateral from family or friend if I can't, and buy the bike, fix the electrical problem (electrical on old bikes is just... easy. I've been doing my research), and then drive the bike down the west coast.

Visit Canada, just because I've never been and it'll be an hour and a half away.

Drive down Hwy 1. Detour through the Redwoods via Hwy 36, "The most perfect road ever designed," go through some more redwoods south of there, back onto Hwy 1, enter San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, head east to Death Valley, Drive through Las Vegas, see the Grand Canyon, go to Santa Fe, Roswell... And then get home. At least, this is the early sketch--if anyone else wants to recommend any sights or routes or people to visit--or if any of the wizards of this forum are on the way and would like me to buy them a beer--I'd be glad to hear them.

Here's the route.

So Costa Rica will happen another day. As for me, I'm leaving Mexico City tomorrow afternoon; I will arrive in San Luis Potosi 300+ miles away that night and leave the next morning. I will drive another 300+ miles to Monterrey and visit old friends who have invited me back, and leave maybe after a day there, drive another 300+ miles clear to Austin. About a thousand miles.

I'll paint the bike and start selling the spare parts I collected (already put a thread for those, see my signature or profile or the XJchat section), put the bike on CL, and either sell it--I'll go as low as $950 just to make everything work and get out of town ASAP--and buy a ticket to Seattle.

Lots of pictures and video to come still, it's a big task editing all this video, but I promise you it will get done at some point, though it might be with me back in Austin.

fintip screwed with this post 10-10-2012 at 12:00 AM Reason: Added links, made prettier.
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