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Old 01-18-2010, 03:38 PM   #1
bisbonian OP
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Location: Bisbee, AZ & Banamichi, Sonora
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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.

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Old 01-18-2010, 03:51 PM   #2
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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.
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Old 01-18-2010, 03:57 PM   #3
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Old 01-18-2010, 04:06 PM   #4
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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?

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Old 01-18-2010, 04:20 PM   #5
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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.

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Old 01-18-2010, 04:40 PM   #6
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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!
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Old 01-18-2010, 06:33 PM   #7
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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.
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