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Old 04-08-2006, 08:43 PM   #1
Gustavo OP
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Cool2 Por la Libre - Exploring Mexico's backroads

On the last day of November Lizbeth and I started our long awaited motorcycling vacation through Mexico. Lizbeth flew to Chihuahua and I rode to meet here there from Portland. I lucked out and got a break in the weather that allowed me to ride straight down I-5, having cold, but dry weather crossing the Siskiyous.

Siskiyou Summit:

My first stop was Sacramento to visit my brother. The ride was pretty good, after I defrosted from riding the Siskiyou and Mt. Shasta passes (it snowed on the way down from the top of both). Made good time to Sacramento, a bit of lane splitting in rush hour traffic and I was there.

Thursday started out wet, I had rain for the first two hours, then the rain stopped and was replaced by very strong winds on the way to Bakersfield. It was strong enough that I had to slow down to keep the bike in my lane.

Leaving Sacramento:

The winds never really stopped, but were relatively softer and easier to manage going out of the LA metro traffic (more splitting, I love CA). I made it to Phoenix that evening, but made the mistake of not going all the way across town to Mesa or Chandler. I had to deal with rush hour traffic the next day due to this. After a short stop-n-go section, I joined the unofficial NASCAR track known as I-10 through metro Phoenix. I was going a real 80 MPH and having trouble keeping up with the fast traffic on I-10...

I made my destination of Las Cruces, NM, early in the afternoon. I went shopping for parts for a service I decided to do before driving into Mexico. My friend John offered his garage, so all I needed was oil and a pair of spark plugs I had forgotten at home. I went to Las Cruces Motorsports and got to buy 2 plugs for the price of 3. Unless you absolutely have no other option, I highly recommend not shopping there if you are on a trip in that part of the country.

I had dinner with John, Phil and Lois, all of whom I had not seen in ages, it was fun to catch up with old friends.

On Saturday morning, I finished the maintenance on the bike and Lizbeth’s cousin’s car and headed out to the Santa Teresa border crossing to get my and the bike’s permit to go into Mexico. There were some people there already (close to noon) but it only took 30 minutes total to get all the paperwork sorted. At 12:30 I was blasting down the road to Chihuahua. I got caught in a (very usual for this area) dust storm that made visibility very limited for a while. Given these conditions, I decided that it would be most effective to use the toll highway in this case, rather than get stuck on the two lane road I was planning on using.

The road south of Villa Ahumada:

Driving in Mexico can be two very different experiences. The toll highways (also known as cuota) are very similar to US style highways, typically two lanes in each direction, mostly (but not always) limited access, and usually in reasonable, sometimes even in very good condition. But, they come at a very high price. The tolls often seem like highway robbery, given the cost, frequency and road conditions in some states. So far, the state of Chihuahua stands out on this trip as having the best roads/facilities in the toll sections. It’s also noteworthy that it’s the only state that gives a lower rate to motorcycles, roughly 50% of the rate they charge cars. What is really not like in the US are the speeds. The official speed limits vary from 90 KPH to 110 KPH, but most Mexicans absolutely ignore these signs. At a real 85 MPH (140 KPH) I was passed regularly by other cars. But, you also have to keep in mind that some of the vehicles that circulate on these roads are barely capable of keeping up with the speed limits, so a lot of caution is required when estimating closing speeds. The best part is that there is a very strict lane discipline. I never had to wait for a car or truck to move over (unless it had US plates, then all bets were off, some were just as asleep at the wheel as when they drive in the US).

The free roads, usually posted as por (la) libre or simply libre when there is an option, are the old roads that typically go through every little town along the way. They show a different Mexico than that seen while traveling the new highways. But going through every little town (and it literally means through, the road is usually the town’s main street) along the way means it can be really slow. You have to make the choice. On this trip my intention was to stick as much as possible to the libre roads, to see the Mexico we usually miss when we have less vacation time.

Just before Chihuahua there is a short section of toll road, whose alternate is a very nice winding road, which after days of mostly straight highway riding was a very welcome change. I made it to Chihuahua early in the afternoon.

From Chihuahua we started heading south and east. Our first destination was Saltillo, one of the oldest cities in northern Mexico. Saltillo sits in the high desert, and appropriately, it gets rather chilly after sunset. Actually, as we discovered on the way into town, it gets rather chilly even before the sun sets. It can also be windy on the road from Torreon. We found the hotel we were looking for fairly quickly, after checking the map just once to get a better idea of how the downtown streets ran. Saltillo has a nice, old, colonial center that doesn’t really feel like a big city. We stayed at Hotel Urdiñola, which is walking distance from the cathedral and several other attractions. We found it very curious that the downtown area is full of shoe stores. And I mean full, as in several per city block on almost every block of the downtown area we walked through.

Saltillo's cathedral:

The internal courtyard at the Urdiñola:


Gustavo screwed with this post 04-08-2006 at 10:49 PM
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Old 04-08-2006, 09:01 PM   #2
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Por la Libre - Continued

Our next target was Jalpan de Sierra, deep in the Sierra Gorda. We started with a blast down highway 57 towards San Luis Potosi, but got off the highway on the road to Rio Verde. It wasn’t a bad road, but I had hoped it would be more interesting (as in more winding). But, it was good for making time, and it helped make up for the long defrosting stop in Matehuala.

In Rio Verde I got some bad gas that made the bike stumble and surge a bit. The stumbling was pretty obvious as soon as I tried to make the first overtaking maneuver, it didn’t like WFO settings. I probably should have slowed down, but I didn’t, and I suspect that it did some damage to the chain and sprockets, because after these 180 miles, all were showing more wear. It probably wasn’t the root cause of the excessive wear, but I expected the chain and sprockets to last more than 10K miles. I didn’t realize this was happening until the next day, when the chain needed another adjustment, and after only 200 miles another one.

Before that, we enjoyed the spectacular views of the Sierra Gorda, as we made our way to Jalpan. Rio Verde was true to it’s name and the scenery became a lot greener than it had been for the last two days. As you climb into the Sierra, the forest becomes denser, the vegetation is different, and it changes as you climb in altitude.

Mountains and rivers in the Sierra Gorda are a welcome change in scenery after two days of desert landscape:

The road got really windy, the pavement was mostly good and the roads had little traffic. One thing they did have, as most secondary roads in Mexico do, is topes, or speed bumps.

Climbing deeper into the sierra:

Mexican roads that go through any sort of town will usually have several topes as you get to the urban area (and urban is very loosely defined here). Some are sp steep they could damage your wheel if you don’t slow down to a crawl. Obviously, it doesn’t make for good (or pleasant) progress through these urban areas. You can make it up outside of town, where passing happens whenever and where ever you feel like it.

Jalpan didn’t look like much when we got there, until we took the side streets to get to the plaza, where our hotel was. The town is actually very nice, it has very well kept buildings, a nice plaza and the mission, which is one of the many Sierra Gorda missions that were built to help "civilize" the locals in the 16th century.

Hotel Maria del Carmen in Jalpan looks small from the plaza but is a huge
(and very nice) hotel:

Jalpan de Serra mission. One of many Sierra Gorda missions in this style:

Secure parking Maria del Carmen style, right inside the lobby:

Another Sierra Gorda mission:

Our plan of starting to make our way to Papantla after Jalpan was changed when I realized the chain was not going to make it through the whole Mexico loop. We decided to head towards Pachuca, a relatively large town, to try and find parts.

The road to Tamazunchale:

This is a wide load you don´t want to meet unannounced. Luckily, they have a big crew in front to warn drivers to pull off the road:

Molango in the Sierra Gorda:

Now keep in mind that Suzuki is only starting to import the V-Strom to Mexico this year and there are almost no bikes, let alone spare parts in the country. Also, most Mexican shops sell smaller displacement bikes as their bread and butter, and only a few larger bikes, so I didn’t expect them to have parts in stock, but maybe be able to order them. We got to Pachuca early enough to make some calls. A Yamaha shop had a chain but no sprockets. The rest couldn't even begin to figure out where to get the parts in a timely manner.

Street vendors show up early to claim a spot in the plaza:

While I was waiting for the Yamaha guys the next day to make some calls, I asked the Yahoo VStrom2 guys for help with alternate parts that fit. Within the hour I had several replies of what other Suzuki bikes share similar sprockets and offers to mail me the parts if needed. A fantastic group and a great showing of the power of the Net. I ended up finding a shop in Toluca that said they could get the parts within 3 day max. We were going to go to Toluca later, so we changed the order and rode to Toluca.

On the way to Toluca, I found the exit for the highway that goes around Mexico City (DF) closed. I figured there would probably be another up ahead and continued on. Next thing I know the signs only read Mexico Centro... We stopped as soon as the highway ended and changed to surface streets to see what options we had. It seemed that at this point the shortest way to Toluca (on the opposite end of the DF) was straight through. Lizbeth didn’t like the idea much, but accepted that we had to do this to get to Toluca early. The route took us through two of the DF´s busiest roads, Insurgentes and Paseo Reforma. There was a lot of traffic, but since lane splitting is not only allowed, it’s expected and encouraged to keep traffic flowing faster, we made really good time despite the traffic.

The Suzuki shop in Toluca is a very small shop, but these guys know how to get stuff done. They found a chain set fit the V-Strom and had it installed that same afternoon. The only issue is that they didn’t tell me the front sprocket they got is smaller than the original I had, and now my speedometer is really way off. Luckily, I had installed a Sigma speedometer, which is still as accurate as it was before the gearing change.

Toluca Suzuki crew that got me a new chain and sprockets in record time (even for a US shop, not to mention in Mexico :

Downtown Metepec:

End of the day and shift change for the Metepec Police:


Gustavo screwed with this post 07-13-2006 at 07:44 AM
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Old 04-08-2006, 09:15 PM   #3
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Que bien viaje....

Hola Gustavo,

Can you also post your route if possible. I did a trip to Queretaro last October through the "bacak-roads" and loved it. Put 2000 miles in 5 days....

I am planning another trip next fall and considering some routes.

John Kalyoncuoglu
Current Bike: TBD

past bikes: 10GSADV,09GSADV,0512GS,0415RT,0015GS,9811GS,99F650 ,96SuziGSX650
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Old 04-08-2006, 09:20 PM   #4
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Por la Libre - Ciudad de Mexico, DF

Since we were already in Toluca, we took a day trip into Mexico City. This time we used public transportation, as the cost is so low it’s ridiculous and the convenience of not having to secure the bike and riding gear while walking around town is a great benefit. The bus trip from Toluca to the DF is $3.40 and the Metro costs $0.20 (yes, you read that right, twenty cents, includes as many transfers as you need). For reference, just the toll on the (very nice) highway between the two is $8.

Busses are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to travel in Mexico. We used these to travel from Metepec to explore the DF:

The Metro (subway) is the way to explore the DF. Fast and cheap:

We started in Chapultepec, Maximilian’s palace, then the anthropology museum, and then we walked along Paseo Reforma to see the different monuments the adorn the glorietas (traffic circles). This is a beautiful part of the city, it divides some of the best neighborhoods in town. When you drive in or out of the DF, you get to see the slums most of the people live in. It’s as if you were in a different planet. We lucked out and our friend Chayo was in town for work, so in the afternoon, she gave us a guided tour of the historical center of the city. Lizbeth observed there were a lot of people everywhere you went. Well, it wasn’t as if the 18 million that live here were there, but it certainly seemed like it.

Getting directions in Chapultepec:

I must look like a tourist, because all these kids shouted "hello" and waved at me:

The Chapultepec Palace:

Paseo Reforma. One of the DF busiest roads, I was lane splitting here a day earlier:

Very helpful tourist info booths are now in many touristy areas of the DF:

Totonac people preparing for the "Voladores" rite:

Five men get on the top of a 20 meter tall pole:

Four jump off backwards and fly (volar) until the ropes unwind:

It takes a few minutes and probaby tens of revolutions to get down:

Almost there:

Amazing how they go from upside down to upright and they are on the ground:

Traffic in Mexico City:

Special police units for tourist assistance:

One of the biggest issues the city seems to be having difficulty with are the vendedores ambulantes (roving vendors). It’s in the news on a regular basis, how the city is trying to clean up the streets and how the vendors keep a step ahead of the authorities to avoid being caught. In some areas of the historic center, 4 lane avenues have been practically shut down to vehicle traffic, as the vendors take over the driving lanes to set up their merchandise. And they are everywhere. You can buy anything from indigenous handcrafts to pirated CDs, DVDs and other merchandise on the streets.

Lizbeth buying Oaxacan products from street vendors:

Street food DF style:

You can buy almost anything from a man or woman with a bicycle:

Smog obscures the wonderful Paseo Reforma monuments:

La Casa de los Azulejos. Once belonged to a Mexican president, now a Samborns:

Original mural by Orozco in this now restaurant:

The DF is full of old churches:

Organistas are on every street corner in the DF:

Night market off the Zocalo in Mexico City:

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Old 04-08-2006, 09:25 PM   #5
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Por la Libre - Around the DF

On Saturday we went to visit my friend Johan and his wife Juanita in Valle de Bravo. The road from Metepec to Valle that goes by El Nevado de Toluca (a snow capped volcano) is spectacular. Not only the views are fantastic, the road is well paved and is an endless series of curves after leaving Toluca all the way to Valle. It also goes by a section where Monarch butterflies pass on their annual migration. It wasn’t a very sunny morning, so they were not out in great numbers, but it was still a beautiful sight. It is also note worthy that some organizations in Mexico make a serious effort to protect the butterflies by having state police slow traffic down in this area to reduce "road kills" and to allow people to safely pull over if they want to take a closer look.

We went to Valle de Bravo to meet Johan and Juanita:

Johan and Juanita gave as a great tour of their city, we hiked up a river to a waterfall, drove up steep cobblestone streets to get a spectacular view of the city and had way too much to eat. It also happened to be Johan’s birthday, so he said it was a great birthday gift to have us visit and to go for a ride together.

They took us to see this beautiful waterfall outside of Valle:

Johan walking down to the lake in Valle de Bravo:

We rode up steep cobblestone streets to get to this view point:

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Old 04-08-2006, 09:39 PM   #6
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Por la Libre - Back on the road to Veracruz

We left Metepec on our way to resume the original route going around the Gulf Coast to Veracruz. The short route goes through Puebla, but before that through Mexico City again. I convinced Lizbeth it'll be OK, this being a Sunday morning, and pretty early at that, to run through one of the world's most crowded cities, again.

OK, I forgot it was it was the day prior to dia de la virgen de Guadalupe (Mexican's holiest saint, used by those clever Spaniards to convert the local indigenous people to Catholicism), and there are thousands of pilgrims on marches, either on foot or by bicycle that clog all major roads in the area. Some even on major highways, which makes for rather hazardous situations, where regular traffic encounters a blocked lane often, due to the different processions. They mostly kept to the right shoulder where they could, but sometimes you would encounter one procession passing another both going less than 30 KPH on a highway where other traffic was still running at regular Mexican speeds. Not that it is unusual to find slow traffic on Mexican roads, but allowing this many on major highways is a recipe for disaster. As long as you remember that you can't trust anybody but yourself (OK, some of you I wouldn't trust either... ) you can survive the experience.

For a highway, the road from Puebla to Orizaba and Cd. Mendoza is actually pretty exciting. Long sweeping turns that go on and on, lax (read none) speed enforcement and traffic that mostly lets you be, make for good times. Add some seriously dense fog going down the mountain around Orizaba (and I mean dense, visibility was less than 30 ft. in some sections) you get a really exciting ride. I went by Ciudad Mendoza with about 140 miles on the tank and decided I could postpone the gas stop to somewhere later on the highway. Yup, as you can guess, this is the one highway in Mexico where there isn't a single damn gas station on the highway for the next 80 miles. I ran out of gas 3 miles outside of Veracruz (and the same distance to the next gas station...). Luckily, Mexican's are the nicest people, and within a few minutes we had two offers for rides to the gas station. Lizbeth took the ride into town with a gentleman from Monterey who not only gave her the ride into town, but also gave her a ride back to deliver the gas and didn't want to accept anything for his trouble. It seemed the V-Strom runs exactly 220 miles on a tankfull under these conditions. Adventure touring...

I love the V-Strom, it´s a great all around bike, but it´s not perfect. It doesn´t run without gas:

Veracruz is a great city, it's a lively town with an interesting historical center and lots to do, even beaches if you are so inclined. We spent a couple of days exploring the city on foot and using public transportation (which is dirt cheap). We took a bus to Boca del Rio, a suburb south of Verzcruz that is home to the nice beaches (Veracruz is more of a port city, the beaches developed south of town). It also has the doubtful distinction of being home to so many big box retailers and chain restaurants it looks like "any town USA" in some newly developed areas (mostly behind the hotel area). We liked the beaches, but preferred to eat in the market...

Having cafe con leche at the Gran Cafe de la Parroquia:

Oil rig being repaired after the hurricanes:

Veracruz street:

Veracruz city workers decorating the zocalo for X-mas:

Veracruz zocalo:

No hurry for these guys. They sat here all morning:

On the day of the virgin Guadalupe kids are dressed in traditioanl costumes:

Working at the zocalo:

If you are not quicker then they are, these kids take to your windshield like a NASCAR crew. The one on the near side even through his bottle in the same style as soon as his water was gone:

Veracruz market:

Lizbeth eating caldo de camaron at the Veracruz market. Some of the biggest shrimps I have ever seen:

Veracruz market:


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Old 04-08-2006, 09:57 PM   #7
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Por la Libre - Veracruz to Campeche

From Veracruz we headed to Ciudad del Carmen. Along the way we stopped in Tlacotalpan, a really nice little town that is on the UNESCO world heritage list. This gives the town some extra incentive to keep it as if it was straight out of a movie set. This is what you imagine quaint little Mexican towns look like, except it is a real living and working town.

The zocalo at Tlacotalpan:

Lazy morning playing dominos in Tlacotalpan:

Due to too much time spent walking around Tlacotalpan, we decided to hit the highway. I know there is still a lot of corruption in Mexico, but if I had to pick an example of a place where it's way to obvious it would have to be Veracruz toll highways. The tolls are expensive (no discount for bikes like in Chihuahua) and these are the worst roads I have driven in Mexico, cuota or libre. Someone must be pocketing the money...

Cool bridge on the way to Villahermosa:

How long would a statute like this survive in the US before someone was offended and asked it be modified?

As we were making our final miles to Cd. del Carmen, I pulled in to get gas in Frontera. A PEMEX pickup pulled in next to me while we were resting a bit and the driver came over to chat. Turns out he is a biker (owner of an R1) and he was impressed by the sound of the V-Strom as we passed him earlier. He gave us a recommendation for a hotel in town, and he even showed us the way around the downtown maze. Very nice guy.

V-Strom meets Gulf beach:

Our next destination was Campeche. There are great views of beaches along the hwy. Campeche roads are really well maintained and I was pleasantly surprised to find a curvy libre into Campeche (the Yucatan is mostly flat).

Campeche has a really nice historical center (another UNESCO Heritage Site). It's contained within the remains of the old fortifications (baluartes) that protected the city in the wilder days of pirates and warlords. Very nice malecon (boardwalk) too. We spent a long afternoon exploring the baluartes circuit, plaza and malecon.

Lizbeth was waiting for this pan de cazon a Campeche specialty:

One of many remaining Campeche baluartes:

Family transportation:

Puerta de Tierra, Campeche:

Puerta de Tierra, from the "outside":

Garden inside a baluarte:

Lizbeth alarming the city:

Campeche´s zocalo at calle 10:

Campeche´s malecon:

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Old 04-08-2006, 10:04 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by JohnK
Hola Gustavo,

Can you also post your route if possible. I did a trip to Queretaro last October through the "bacak-roads" and loved it. Put 2000 miles in 5 days....

I am planning another trip next fall and considering some routes.

Hi John,

I'll see if I can trace it on MS Streets and Trips, it usually doesn't have enough deatil for Mexico to follow all the roads we took, but it'll give you an idea of where we went. I am a low tech kind of rider, I use paper maps.


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Old 04-08-2006, 10:17 PM   #9
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Por la Libre - Campeche to Uxmal

Going out of Campeche to Uxmal I found another surprisingly fun road for a few kms, then rolling hills. We got to Hacienda Uxmal and found it mostly empty. It seems like the hurricanes have scared the tourists away. Lizbeth negotiated a killer deal and we got the empty Hacienda Uxmal all to ourselves. This place was originally built to house the teams of archeologists that excavated the Uxmal ruins. Surprisingly, Hacienda Uxmal does not provide drinking water. That is, they have water, but you have to pay for it (dearly, I may add). Considering that providing bottled water is common even in budget hotels, it seemed to not fit with the high end pretensions of this place.

Hotel Hacienda Uxmal:

Visiting the ruins was an outstanding experience. We spent about 3 hours walking around the site. Simply amazing architecture and location. A picture is worth 1000 words, right?

Casa del Adivino - Uxmal:

Current Uxmal resident:

Uxmal is one of few site in the Yucatan set in a hilly area:

The feathered snake god is said to not be an original Mayan god:

Casa del Adivino - Uxmal:

Ball court - Uxmal:

Uxmal from the Gran Piramide:

Mayan women making and selling their crafts:

Garbage truck in Uxmal:

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Old 04-08-2006, 10:35 PM   #10
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Por la Libre - Uxmal to Celestun

From Uxmal we set course to Celestun. As expected, the roads in the peninsula are not very interesting, but they do keep you busy, with livestock, wild animals and topes. We found a very nice and cheap hotel, Maria del Carmen, on the beach. Celestun is a small, mostly fishermen, town. We took a great boat tour through the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. There are numerous birds, trees and even a petrified forest to tour. We met a couple of really nice guys on the tour. Tupac is from Nicaragua, but lives in Spain these days. Brice is French, practicing his Spanish between making independent films. We ended the tour and had lunch on the beach together, before they left to go to Merida. It's always fun to share your travels with new freinds, hear about what they have seen, learn more about their countries, etc.

Typical Mayan house in modern day villages (including an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe outside, since it recently was the day of the virgin):

Mayan woman selling flowers in Uman:

The English translation could use some help, the Spanish version of the tour is fantastic:

These two girls wanted to get in trouble with this poor dog that was looking for some shade:

Wilber, our Celestun Biosphere boat captain and guide:

Low flying Pelican:

Flamingos in Celestun:

Flamingos in Celestun:

Navigating a "tunnel" in the biosphere:

The beach in Celestun (yes, it was this nice and empty all day):

Watching time go by:

Tricycle taxis are very popular in this mostly flat peninsula:

Futbol game on the beach:

Sunset in Celestun as seen from our hotel room:

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Old 04-08-2006, 10:48 PM   #11
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Por la Libre - Merida

We went to Merida the next day.

Abandoned hacienda on the road to Merida:

Merida was hot, hot, hot. Merida was hot and bustling (did I mention it was hot?), very heavy traffic in town and we didn't like the hotel we were planning on staying at (this is what happens when you pick a hotel out of an ad rather than the Lonely Planet, we should have known better). Merida did not turn out to be as nice as expected, or maybe it was just the first impression of the heavy mid-day traffic. The narrow and very crowded (with vehicle traffic) streets make the city center tiring to walk around. It has some really nice things like the plaza, public buildings and cultural life that are certainly worth a visit and are much more pleasant to see and visit in the afternoon, when it's cooler and traffic volume is significantly lower.

Lunch in one of Merida´s markets:

Galvez market in Merida:

Generation gap in Merida´s zocalo:

It is much more pleasant in the evening when it cools off a bit and traffic gets thinner. Now, you have to remember that we were there in December, one of the two coolest months of the year in Merida. I can't imagine visiting it in summer, especially not on a bike.

Merida Policeman:

As we were walking around one evening, we saw a line outside the theatre. There was a convention of Mexican dance teachers in town, and this was opening night. Lizbeth managed to get two (free) tickets and we went to watch the show. A local dance troop gave a history of the Yucatan in dances, it was fantastic.

Yucatan dancers:


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Old 04-08-2006, 11:12 PM   #12
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Por la Libre - Chiapas

Our next destination was Palenque. It's a bit far from Merida, and there are no highways to speak off, so in order to make good time I had to take advantage of the V-Strom’s passing abilities. But, those WFO passes on lines and lines of cars and making good time came at fuel efficiency cost. Some of the worst I got all this trip. The head winds didn't help. The town of Palenque has no real attractions. If it wasn't situated next to these incredible ruins from the ancient Mayans, it wouldn't be worth the ink on the map. The ruins are simply amazing. The architecture, monkeys, birds and location in the middle of the jungle make it really unique.


Heavy rains and high humidity are not good for conservation:

From Palenque we rode to San Cristobal de Las Casas. The road is great, it's basically a series of never ending curves from Palenque to San Cristobal, but there are lots of topes. Luckily, the road goes through the Lancandon Jungle, and the scenery is best appreciated at a more relaxed pace. It is also home to the EZLN, which makes its presence known through numerous signs, posters and a large presence of Mexican military that is still looking for them, even though everything is at plain site. Only in Mexico.

Entering Zapatista country in Chiapas:

Lizbeth, V-Strom and Lacandonian jungle:

Chiapas - miles and miles of jungle and curves:

Ruta Maya:

Selva Lacandona:

We stopped for lunch in Ocosingo (which turned out to be much busier than expected) whose claim to fame is being one of the places the Zapatistas suffered most casualties during the uprising in January 1994. This seems to be reason enough to make it a tourist attraction. We also went through Oxchuc, where the main street is a real mess with colectivos (vans and pickup trucks used for public transportation) crowding the main road. There was a significant change in weather and scenery after Ocosingo, from jungle to conifer forests.

Mayan people in Ocosingo:

We spent some days in San Cristobal de Las Casas. We took a great tour to San Juan Chamula, home to a Pagan/Catholic church complete with healer ceremonies, sacrifices and poshe (sugar cane alcoholic beverage) drinking. There were way too many vendors outside, bordering on annoying, you couldn’t walk around town without being offered something every other step you made. We visited the coffee museum in San Cristobal, which goes into the interesting history of coffee growing in the region, and does not skip the not so pleasant sides of the treatment the landowners gave the indigenous people they employed in the fields. A lot of people in San Cristobal do not speak Spanish as native language, and it often makes communication a challenge. I was making fun of Lizbeth that she is not Mexican enough to be understood in these parts.

San Cristobal de las Casas:

Templo de Santodomingo, San Cristobal:

When people go out on posadas, traffic has to take an unplanned detour or wait:

Making tortillas the old fashioned way in Zinacaltan:

Totzil woman weaving:

Pagan/Catholic church in San Juan Chamula:

The market in the square of San Juan Chamula:

Colectivo - Local buses in small towns are typically vans like this:

House (more like room) in San Juan Chamula:

Endless rows of street vendors:

Old scale used in Chiapas coffee trade:

You better be looking where you walk when you step out - House on a San Cristobal hill:

Wishfull thinking:

It was a cool morning with fog as we climbed out of San Cristobal. San Cristobal is known for its temperate climate, it's the reason the Spaniards moved their seat in the region here from Chiapa de Corzo (which we were on our way to visit), but this was a bit unexpected. It was actually cool enough to stop and add a layer of clothing (heated, preferably...). As I have come to expect in the central Mexican regions, the road was simply great, with reasonable amount of topes (this was a surprise) all the way to Chiapa de Corzo. At Chiapa de Corzo you enter the river valleys and the scenery flattens out. We didn't stop at Chiapa de Corzo initially, continuing to Tuxtla first, so we could find a hotel for the night.

Tuxtla Gutierrez is a much more modern city than San Cristobal, and much less interesting because of that. Actually, the only reason to stop there was so that Lizbeth could get a bus ticket to Oaxaca, but I am getting ahead of myself.

This was the only time in many years of travel that the Lonely Planet let us down. The hotel we picked was indeed nice, but as we were checking in, it turned out there is no hot water available at Hotel Posada Chiapas. Never has had. Oversight on the part of the LP writers or misunderstanding on my part assuming that even budget hotels have hot water unless otherwise indicated? In any case, it was a deal breaker for my co-pilot, so we wandered off to look for a place that did have hot water. The San Marcos wasn't too far away and did have all the amenities, but it took us a bit to find it, since it wasn't our next pick. Should have gone by geographical proximity and saved an hour we needed to go see el Cañon del Sumidero.

We got back to Chipa de Corzo around 2 PM, using a local bus since I didn't want to leave the loaded bike at the boat ramp for a couple of hours. The bus was very basic, and had a feature I had not seen before. The driver had an assistant whose job was to find passengers. As they'd pull over where people were standing waiting for a ride, he'd shout the route to the people and try to talk them into using their service. He also handled selling tickets and hitting on all the young girls that boarded the bus. Wait, the last part may have been extra curricular, but appropriate for his teenager status...

The Cañon del Sumidero turned out to be as impressive as I had read, but there were few photo opportunities. Due to the late hour the sun was getting too low, and it created very sharp light/shadow contrasts which were too difficult for my camera to handle. I did get a few good ones of some crocodiles that warming up in the sun.

Cañon del Sumidero:

Cañon del Sumidero resident:

The plaza in Chiapa de Corzo:

So why didn't we simply stay in Chiapa de Corzo that night? The road from Tuxtla to Oaxaca passes through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and in a 15 km stretch that ends in a town called La Ventosa (the windy one) there are very strong northern winds blowing from the Gulf to the Pacific (the isthmus coincides with a valley that runs in the same direction in this area, making the effect more pronounced). Some high vehicles have been blown off the road due to these winds. Lizbeth checked the weather, and the previous day winds up to 80 KM/H had been reported, so she wanted nothing to do with riding this road on a motorcycle. The assumption was that she'd take a bus (tall vehicle, but try to explain this to her... ) from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, and if I survived the odyssey, we'd meet there the next day. Well, it turns out that due to the proximity to the x-mas holiday, there were no available seats on any type of service to Oaxaca until after Dec. 25th. I guess we'd have to ride there two-up.

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Old 04-08-2006, 11:37 PM   #13
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Por la Libre - Oaxaca

Lizbeth was pretty nervous about this change in plans, but she conquered her fears and we made the trip without any incidents. I have to admit that it was one of the windiest sections I have ever driven/ridden. The winds may have not been quite up to the 80 KM/H velocities recorded earlier, but it was rather gusty and it moved the bike around quite a bit, even after slowing down significantly. Before La Ventosa, we rode up and down a mountain that offered both great scenery and roads for motorcycling, and as usual, it was amazing how quickly the landscape changes in this part of the country. After Tehuantepec the road starts climbing to Oaxaca's central valleys. Again we were treated to fantastic views on the mountains and valleys. And of course, as I have come to expect from any decent Mexican road, it is absolutely made for motorcycling. You have to love these low budget roads that have to follow the terrain closely rather than blast the mountain and create straighter sections.

In Oaxaca we met our friends Adalberto and Margarita, who had invited us to stay at their home in Oaxaca. Good thing too, because hotels were hard to find during this holiday season. Adalberto is another of my Motoaventuras buddies, friends I had made on-line talking about bikes and turned out to be just a very good friend. Lizbeth and Margarita were chatting the first evening in a cafe in the zocalo and they commented that it seems as if we had known each other for years, not hours.

Coffee in Oaxaca´s zocalo:

Oaxaca is one of those places in Mexico that could keep you busy for a long week as a tourist, without ever getting bored or running out of things to do. Luckily, the bike has very limited carrying capacity, so one activity - shopping - was out of the question. Very lucky too, because I could see Lizbeth filling up a truck with different Oaxacan crafts...

What we did do is eat. That kind of shopping you carry with you (hopefully without any problems...) regardless of how much space you have in your saddlebags. Oaxaca has several typical foods - chocolate, different moles, chapulines (grasshoppers), qusillo (type of cheese), etc., etc.. We started the day with breakfast in the market. Oaxacan breakfast can't be had without a (very) large bowl of hot chocolate and sweet breads, and the market is the place to have both. We also went back to the market for lunch, taking the opportunity to try different moles, tamales, etc. I need to go on a diet now.

In Oaxaca you have to have hot chocolate for breakfast:

Lizbeth enjoying hot Oaxacan bread and chocolate:

Tamales de mole negro y rajas (for breakfast? No, this was lunch ):

We took an obligatory trip to Monte Alban. Monte Alban was a Zapotec capital about 2000 years ago. It sits on a tall mountain overlooking the valley, very strategically located. We typically use a guidebook rather than hire a guide to walk around the sites, but this older gentleman, don Agustin, was very convincing when he approached us, plus I thought, what the heck, we'll give the old man some work. Well, turns out don Agustin is not as crazy as some of the younger guides seem to imply (only half jokingly, it seems). He is very well read on the history of Monte Alban, the Zapotecs and many other cultures, and he managed to make connections that he says are his "theories" based on what he has read, talked with experts he met visiting Monte Alban, etc.. One thing I am sure off, I saw Monte Alban differently because of his talk during the tour, things that are not even mentioned in the guidebooks, but seem to make a lot of sense when he talked about it showing us the different buildings.

don Agustin, our guide to Monte Alban:

The size of Monte Alban is very impressive:

Evidence that the "barbarians" the Spaniards came to "civilize" where light years ahead of the conquistadores in medical knowledge:

Lizbeth at Monte Alban:

Monte Alban from the sun pyramid:

Of course, just walking around Oaxaca is a very nice way to spend your time, there is plenty to see and do.

Renovated oldie in Oaxaca:

Templo de Santo Domingo:

Lizbeth strolling down Calle Alcala:

Artist getting ready for Noche de Rabanos, a Oaxacan tradition on December 23rd:

Inside Templo de Santo Domingo. All that glitters actually is gold in this case:

The next day we went with Adalberto and Margarita to see a spring called Hierve el Agua (the water boils). Its location almost at the top of a mountain makes it a fantastic scenic place to visit. The fact that it has a very nice road going up to it makes it a great motorcycle day tour.

Oaxaca has very diverse landscapes. Cacti "forest" going up to Hierve el Agua:

Natural water pool at Hierve el Agua:

Hiking around Hierve el Agua:

Hydration stop:

After the visit we headed back on the 3 mile long dirt road to the highway. Less than a mile down the road, a sign that pointed to the left said "Oaxaca." I stopped, told Adalberto that I am fairly sure we came straight through on this road. He asked an old guy at the intersection, who indeed pointed to the left and said this is the short way to Oaxaca. The (dirt) road started by climbing up the side of this steep mountain, and it climbed, and climbed, and climbed... Then we got to the top, looking down, there was nothing but a dirt road snaking its way down the other face of the mountain. Yes, this may be shorter distance-wise, but it was 25 miles of dirt switchbacks and hairpins. If you are riding a burro, it probably is shorter and fatser than going around on the paved road...

We stopped to see El Tule on the way back to Oaxaca.

El Tule is considered the oldest known living tree, estimated to be at least 2000 years old:

Not only the bikes needed a wash after our off-road adventure:

Unfortunately, it was time to move on, we left Adalberto and his family, glad we made these great new friends and a little sad we had to part ways so quickly. I am sure we will see them again.

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Old 04-08-2006, 11:52 PM   #14
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Por la Libre - Around Cuernavaca

We made our way to Cuernavaca, to visit other friends. Cuernavaca is known as a resort town for the Mexico City rich and famous, as the weather there is described as an eternal spring. Sure enough, there were all sort of flowers in bloom late in December, most annoying of all was this one called Morning Glory (the blue, non invasive type). It's a plant Lizbeth has been nursing in our Oregon climate, and she gets very excited when it blooms. It was growing wild, and blooming, by the side of the road all over the Cuernavaca area...

Cortes´ palace in Cuernavaca:

Hanging out in the Tepoztlan plaza:

Mexican police doesn´t take chances. When you get a ticket, they remove your plate. If you want it back, you better pay the fine:

Street market in Tepoztlan:

From Cuernavaca we took a day trip to visit Taxco, an old silver mining town that is still very famous for its handmade silver jewelry. It's built into an insanely steep hill, its narrow streets winding up and down like a maze. Unlike many other colonial towns in Mexico, they have managed to control the growth and it remains very much like you would imagine it looked in colonial town. Well, that plus the never ending streams of VW Bug taxis and combis driving way too fast up and down the steep streets (did I mention the streets are narrow and have no sidewalks?). If you day dream while walking around Taxco, you are likely to get run over by a taxi.

Steep Taxco street:

The zocalo in Taxco:

Good thing they put that no parking sign there :

Taxco street:

Funky buildings:

Many of Taxco´s streets require 3 point turns, even for small cars:

Taxco from Cafe La Terreza:

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Old 04-09-2006, 12:10 AM   #15
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Great report. Thanks for sharing.

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