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Old 01-25-2008, 10:53 AM   #1
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SF to Panama... eventually

This is being copied from my livejournal so if it looks more like a blog than a trip report... that's because it is

I confess that I'm starting this thread a little late - the trip has been underway for a month. There are still at least five months more to go, and I've been trying to write a little every day... so reader beware, this might get long.

The blog is here and the complete set of pictures can be found here.

A little introduction: I'm a 34yo techie from San Francisco. I've been riding on-and-off for the last 10 years but have never taken a motorcycle trip longer than a 3-day weekend. Also, while I've seen a fair amount of the world, I have never traveled alone. A few months ago I left my (highly unusual, but that's a different story) dotcom job, rented my apartment to friends, and decided it was time to hunt Grand Adventure.



Now, on with the story...

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Old 01-25-2008, 10:55 AM   #2
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The Trip

[Originally posted December 27, 2007]

This trip is defined by a direction, not a destination. The direction is South.

I don't have a lot of specific plans. Ride great roads (both paved and not). See cool things. Eat yummy food. Meet interesting people. Drink. Learn Spanish. Write code for the Next Big Thing.

The closest thing to an itinerary I have:

* Xmas with the parents in Prescott.
* Ride down Baja.
* Spend a week in southern Baja with a friend flying into Cabo.
* Ferry across to the mainland from La Paz.
* Find someplace pleasant in southern Mexico to spend a month taking Spanish lessons.
* See what's left of Villahermosa.
* Set foot (and tire) in every Central American country.
* Visit Yaviza, where the road ends in Panama.

I'm planning to do this the slow way, taking the most obscure routes and staying a few days wherever the natives are friendly. Honestly, though, I've never taken a trip like this so I don't really know what to expect. I'm not even sure when it will end. I'll be gone at least six months. If I'm still having a great time when I bump into the Darién Gap, I will probably put my motorcycle on a boat and sail around to Columbia to continue the tour south. Unfortunately the timing would land me in Tierra del Fuego in the middle of winter, but I've heard Brazil is a good place to hang out for a few months while the seasons change... so a return date is hard to predict :-)

Start here:
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Old 01-25-2008, 10:58 AM   #3
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Prescott, AZ

[Originally posted December 28, 2007]



My prime directive for this trip is to avoid anything that looks like a schedule. So naturally, it starts with a mad race to get to my parents' house in Prescott, Arizona by Xmas.

Departure was determined by the date I got my bike back from its final service at Scuderia. This turned out to be three days later than planned, plus I needed another day to remount and rewire the GPS after I got it back. On the positive side, the mechanic let me watch most of the service and gave me tons of advice; I'm new to KTMs. I don't plan to do much wrenching on this trip, but... it's a KTM.

By the time I had everything packed and ready, it was late afternoon on the 23rd. It was sad saying goodbye to San Francisco and the people I love.

My first stop was San Luis Obispo, where I lived twelve years and still have many old friends. I had hoped to spend a couple days there but the clock was ticking. I had a great dinner with Shawn, Zac, Joel, Alana, and Cindy. As usual, the conversation turned to the merits of leaving SLO and moving to San Francisco. As usual, Shawn and Zac remain unconvinced. I try.

I set an alarm (ugh) and woke up at 8am (UGH) to ride from SLO to Prescott, AZ. It's about 600 miles. This is far, far too many miles to do on an LC4 in one day, but the idea of spending Xmas eve in a hotel didn't appeal to me. I made it in about 12 hours, but just barely - it's $@*#%!! cold here. Below freezing. Various parts of my body were going numb, despite the heated equipment and wearing every layer I had.

Here's a picture of Roy's in Amboy, on the old Route 66. Amboy was part of the inspiration for Pixar's Cars. The freeway was realigned and the town (along with Essex) died. All that remains is a huge gorgeous building in partial state of restoration.



Xmas with my family was, well, xmas with my family. I love them and we get along great. But as a friend told me, there's your biological family and there's your logical family. I missed my SF family. Here's my brother and my parents:



Here's my mom and the greenhouse she designed and built. It keeps her orchids alive in the less-than-tropical environs:





Incidentally, I had my first motorcycle problem on the way to Prescott. One of the bolts holding the luggage rack sheared off in the subframe. Fortunately my parents' house is quite literally full of tools, including the necessary drill and easy-outs. I brought a small bag of KTM bolts for just such an eventuality. The problem is fixed, but I'm less than thrilled with the mount design of my Happy Trails luggage rack. Part of the problem is that I tweaked the subframe dropping the bike in the mud on Usal Road, so it puts odd stresses on the bolts... but it shouldn't be this fragile.

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Old 01-25-2008, 11:38 AM   #4
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Nice looking blog. Not caught up yet but getting there. Keep the story coming!!!!

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Old 01-25-2008, 11:47 AM   #5
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Looks like a great trip you have planned and thanks for the link to your blog!

I hope you can update this thread from time to time
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Old 01-25-2008, 11:51 AM   #6
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San Felipe, Baja California

[Originally posted December 30, 2007]


[google doesn't know where San Felipe is!]

I spent the night before last in a random hotel Yuma, Arizona. It was the first relaxed day of riding on this trip; not too many miles and plenty of time to do them. It also provided the first "holy cow, this is amazing" experience of the trip, riding through gorgeous southern Arizona desert into an enormous, glowing pink sky. A coyote looked at me quizzically as I rode past. I'm pretty sure he immediately got on the phone to ACME corp demanding an elaborate and experimental contraption to catch my modern orange interpretation of the roadrunner. I'll keep an eye out for anvils, big red fireworks, and tunnels painted onto mountainsides for the rest of the trip.

Southern Arizona is strange. I'm fairly certain that the only foliage that grows naturally here is the RV Park, mobilitis senioris. The landscape actually reminds me of Mexico, but instead of haphazardly constructed cinderblock buildings the shantytowns are made out of haphazardly placed mobile homes. Acres and acres and acres of them.

Crossing the border into Mexico at San Luis Rio Colorado was anticlimactic. There was a gate, I drove through it, I was in Mexico. It actually took me a while to find Immigracion (right next to the gate, DUH). You can visit the border towns (and most of Baja) without any paperwork, but southern Mexico requires visas for both myself and the bike. From stories I hear of border crossings in the rest of Central America, this was a painless process, but it still required me to visit two different offices, plus get photocopies of the visa (which, btw, was itself a carbon-copied document) made at a random copy store across the street.

What is it with the need for copies, and why on earth don't they put a copy machine in the office??

Immediately upon receipt of bureaucratic blessing (good for 180 days, after which I become public enemy #17323586), I proceeded to get myself totally lost. For a few not especially good reasons I haven't loaded Mexico maps into my GPS so I had to navigate solely with paper maps and the conspicuously absent street signs. I ended up riding cross country on several dirt farm roads and asking directions a couple times in my broken spanish. On the plus side, I got a good tour of Sonora farmland and several towns that have exactly nothing to recommend to tourists except maybe a slightly different shade of silt.

I did find one cool thing in my meandering - a set of derelict railroad tracks in pretty fair shape. I'll have to check google earth to find out where they go; this could be a truly hardcore adventure for Anton's makeshift railcar.

My wandering finally took me to the main highway to San Felipe, which is a spectacular road that cuts across deserts and a vast dry lakebed that dwarfs Black Rock. Again with a giant glowing pink-and-orange sunset. My second "holy cow, this is amazing" moment in as many days.

San Felipe is standard Baja tourist town, with a Baja-1000-themed twist. Lots of gringos, dirt bikes, and quads. The beer is excellent, though. I think beer tastes better in Mexico. Must be the dirt.

Today I continue south, taking some roads the map marks as unpaved. I promise to get pictures this time.
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Old 01-25-2008, 11:50 AM   #7
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Sounds like an outstanding trip.. good luck to ya and i'll be reading along.
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Old 01-25-2008, 02:24 PM   #8
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"Unlimited" time on your hands
I wish I could do that...
Keep the reports coming, this is very interesting.
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Old 02-20-2008, 12:58 PM   #9
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Monte Albán

Monte Albán is the ruin of an ancient megopolis perched on a low mountain overlooking the entire Oaxaca valley. It's about 15 minutes by van from downtown. I've seen a fair number of ruins; European castles, Anasazi cliff dwellings, abandoned General Motors plants, etc... but this is bigger. Monte Albán was one of the biggest cities around for over a thousand years, with a population of tens of thousands of people. Then it was simply abandoned.

Here's what it looks like today (if you were 2,000 feet tall):



This view is pretty much what you see looking 360 degrees around the mountain - the populous Oaxaca valley. I'm sure the city commanded quite a presence to all the people living in the valley, but it must have been tough to get water.



This is the middle of the dry season, so all the grass is brown. When it rains the scene turns green.







One of the ball courts, for the Zapotec equivalent of fútbol:



Here's what the city must have looked like before excavation:



The experience is what I imagine it would be like to walk through a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, only with little placards explaining the purpose of each building.
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Old 02-20-2008, 01:44 PM   #10
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Bars

Hello matey! I,m off to work in Oaxaca on Monday for about two months
While you were there did you find any good bars? Oh yeah and anywhere to hire a bike up there?
Cheers Albert theturtleshead
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Old 02-20-2008, 02:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theturtleshead
Hello matey! I,m off to work in Oaxaca on Monday for about two months
While you were there did you find any good bars? Oh yeah and anywhere to hire a bike up there?
Cheers Albert theturtleshead
Woot! Two months should be perfect. What will you be doing there?

Honestly I didn't get to know the bar scene well; if I had stayed longer I probably would have. I liked Colectivo Central aka "Bar Central" west of the zócalo; it's a lot like a hip San Francisco bar in both the good and bad ways. A fellow norteamericano and I watched a US-Mexico fútbol game in Bar Caffeine (next to Inglesia Santa Domingo) and had a great time drunkenly rooting and joking with the locals in our respective broken languages.

On the other hand, on my last night in Oaxaca some guy I'd never seen before tried to kick my ass in a nightclub, but it got as far as him reaching for me when his friends jumped all over him. I still have no idea what that was about. I had been having a good time talking to his friend (who spent a lot of time in LA and had lots of gang tattoos - funny, but the tough guys are always really nice in person) for about fifteen minutes. I don't remember the name of the nightclub, but it's the one in my pictures with the red walls.

Hiring a bike? Dunno, but I didn't look - I conveniently brought my own

For two months, you might just want to buy one and sell it when you leave. 200cc bikes are cheap down there. Even new they're only about 20,000 pesos, so they can't cost too much used. Bigger bikes are rare in Oaxaca, and cost way more than they do in the US. If you go this route, I'm curious to know how complicated the paperwork, etc is!

Jeff
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Old 02-20-2008, 03:50 PM   #12
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Oaxaca to Tehuacán

I left Oaxaca on Feb 9th headed for Mexico City. I hadn't bought a plane ticket yet because I wasn't sure when I would be ready to leave, but I needed to be in San Francisco before Valentine's Day.

I assumed I would stop in Puebla, but I got a late start. Thanks to the prior evening's festivities, estuve crudo. This didn't make the traffic any easier (note - the cars in the middle are parked on the old abandoned railbed that runs through town):



Once on the road, the scenery was grand, back into beautiful deserts:





I looked longingly at the road carved into the side of the mountain in the distance:



When I crossed into the state of Puebla, the roads became dramatically worse, potholes everywhere. The vegetation also changed. The road was lined with big sugarcane plantations. All of a sudden the air started smelling of heavy, sticky, burnt sugar. It was actually quite tasty. Then I saw this:



A refinery surrounded with truck after truck of sugarcane, waiting to be unloaded.

It was getting dark, so I opted to stay in Tehuacán. There isn't much to say about Tehuacán, touristwise, but it's fairly cute for a sizeable city and Lonely Planet recommended a hotel overlooking the zócalo:



The next day I noticed something odd about Tehuacán and Puebla. There are countless intersections like this one. Talk about mixed signals...



Tehuacán:

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Old 02-20-2008, 04:28 PM   #13
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Railroads of Oaxaca

There are very few functioning railroads left in Mexico. In the US, most abandoned railroads get pulled up for scrap pretty quickly, but not in Mexico. This excites me.

Some friends of mine constructed a makeshift railcar which we have been using to explore derelict railway in California:





On other trips, I've tried motorcycling the railbed:



...however, hopping over rails on a big bike is tough:



(that's sp4ce looking proud)

Every time I ride by abandoned railbed in Mexico, a little gland in the back of my brain oozes happy juice. You might say I'm a little obsessed.

Here are some pictures of the railroad that once ran between Puebla and Mitla (according to my map). I was told it's been abandoned for 15 years. It's probably too overgrown and broken for the railcar (and too far south anyways) but it's fun to dream about:













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Old 02-20-2008, 01:36 PM   #14
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Your Tax Dollars At Work

If you are American and you want a six-month tourist visa to Mexico, you cross the border and pay $20 at the immigration office. If you stay in the border regions you don't even need to do this. If you travel by airplane the cost is already included in your ticket price.

If you are Mexican and you want a tourist visa of *any* duration to visit the United States, you must:

* Pay $140 USD for the privilege of having an interview with US Customs.
* Travel to Mexico City to interview with an agent.
* Let them keep the money even if they deny you a visa, which is 3/4 of the time.

This is horrible and demeaning and makes me embarrassed for my country.

Adolfo recently went through this process. Two minutes into the interview the agent told him his application was denied. Adolfo has no criminal record, an education, a good job, and family in Oaxaca. The fact that he can't get a tourist visa makes me really upset. The fact that he and lots of people like him are getting screwed out of a significant amount of money by a boldfaced money-generating racket worthy of any corrupt third-world bureaucracy makes me really angry
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Old 03-03-2008, 03:38 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stickfigure
If you are Mexican and you want a tourist visa of *any* duration to visit the United States, you must:

* Pay $140 USD for the privilege of having an interview with US Customs.
* Travel to Mexico City to interview with an agent.
* Let them keep the money even if they deny you a visa, which is 3/4 of the time.
People of all nationalities would be well advised to watch their cornholes around Uncle Sam. The last time I returned from Mexico, US immigration stuck us up at the border to the tune of $550 because my wife forgot her green card. She did have her valid British passport and the immigration official had computer records of her green card and the dozens of entries she has made on that green card over the last 4 years. The $550 was just for "processing" and "special exemption".

I never worry about "corruption" or "extortion" when I travel abroad - hell, it's 10 times worse at home in the fucking US. We just codify it and make it all real legal-like...so you can't haggle.

Unsurprisingly, some countries have started making special exceptions for American tourists and are returning the kind treatment their citizens recieve when they visit us.

-sp4ce
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