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Old 03-16-2008, 06:12 PM   #121
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Phew!

After ten days of crazy adventure, I'm finally holed up in a nice quiet hostel in Morelia. I have electricity! And internet access! More stories soon.
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Old 03-17-2008, 03:19 PM   #122
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The Return to Mexico City

After a hard weekend of riding, camping, not showering, and exhausting my supply of clean laundry I wasn't especially looking forward to fighting with DF traffic. And then there is a question of what to do with the bike - the hostels downtown have no place to put it, and the KTM shop was closed by the time I returned.

Usually I try to find lodging as close as possible to the center of town. Instead I found a hostel listed in my Lonely Planet "on a quiet residential street" and in reasonable proximity to Motoaltavista. Here is the Hostel Cactus:





Unfortunately, when I went to take a shower there was no hot water. After some fiddling, the host apologized profusely because they had run out of gas. I was beyond caring; I took a cold shower, went out for Chinese food, and collapsed in bed.

Here's the sweet-and-sour fried róbalo I had for dinner:

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Old 03-17-2008, 03:28 PM   #123
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State Of The Bike

The bike is holding up, but I would not say that the bike is holding up well. The 640A is designed as a race bike - light and powerful. Unfortunately that means they had to sacrifice something, and the key missing component is a balancer in the compact single-cylinder engine. It vibrates like a paintshaker.

The vibration doesn't actually bother me that much, although other riders have complained more bitterly. What worries me is the toll it takes on mechanical components. Bolts do not like to be vibrated. When subjected to such torture, they slowly unscrew themselves and then leap off the vehicle the first moment they taste freedom. Vibrating metal parts tend to fatigue and break.

Here's the list of casualties so far:

* One sheared pannier bolt (in AZ) and two pannier bolts vibrating out, one on each side. Partly I blame the design of the Happy Trails luggage rack.

* The small metal hanger that holds the handlebar cabling in place broke. It's a minor part and not particularly important, but it gives you an idea of the mechanical stresses that are in play here:





* The most severe problem so far, found after the WRC trip. An oil leak caused by a loose head bolt:



Overall, these are pretty minor issues and I'm very happy with the performance of the bike. I don't think any other bike would provide the same quantity of grin-inducing fun both on and off-road. When I'm on highways I often wish I had a twin-cylinder 990A instead, but every time I leave the pavement I'm reminded how much this bike kicks ass.
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Old 03-17-2008, 04:22 PM   #124
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In-Flight Entertainment



The source is a Garmin Zumo 550 hardwired to unswitched power and mounted to the dash with a RAM mount. It's loaded with maps of Mexico from Bicimapas.

The Bicimapas are good but certainly not perfect. The good news is that they include a *lot* of the small dirt roads I like, plus street-level data for most significant cities. The bad news is that the maps are sometimes wildly wrong and you have to be very careful to doublecheck the autorouting. Still, without the GPS my path would be constrained to major highways or "right hand rule" exploration of the maze of Mexican roads. The Zumo+Bicimapas is without doubt the star of my kit.

The Zumo not only speaks directions (with text-to-speech, highly amusing when pronouncing Spanish street names) but plays MP3s. The music is stored on an 8GB SD card but there is a hard limit of 1000 songs in the device, so I periodically rotate the audiobooks and music from my laptop.

I use a pair of Etymotics ER-6i earbuds with the foam earplug tips. The earplug-like isolation and sound quality are amazing, but wires are pretty frail looking. I destroyed the plug in a dirt crash on Usal Road some months ago and soldered in a replacement from Radio Shack. The drivers themselves fit nicely under a helmet.

My backup headphones are Westone UM1s, which I don't like as much as the Etymotics. They don't fit as deeply into my ear canal and the twisted-pair wires tangle too easily. Someone needs to start an "earbuds for motorcyclists" thread so we can find the right combination of isolation, wire strength, and fit under a helmet.

The extra little brown/black box between the Zumo and the headphones (clipped to the right side of the tankbag) is a Shure "Push To Hear" control. It fits inline and has a single switch. When you flip the switch, it mutes the music and activates a microphone in the device so you can carry on easy conversation while wearing isolation earphones and a helmet. The construction of the device is extremely poor but it's incredibly useful anyways, especially when trying to communicate using a language in which I am not fluent.

One other little trick is that the Zumo 550 speaks bluetooth with my cellphone. It allows me to answer the phone and listen, but since I have no microphone plugged into the Zumo I cannot respond. I don't use this in Mexico (not at $1.50 per minute) but it has been very handy several times when riding in the US and getting calls from people that know I am on the bike.

This whole setup will get significantly more complicated when my riding buddy shows up with my Autocom. I'll post the updated diagram of my setup then.
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Old 03-18-2008, 03:35 PM   #125
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California Arrives

The fireworks festival of Tultepec approaches March 8.

Motoaltavista has become my personal garage in Mexico City. I dropped off the bike and took the metro to the airport to meet the first of the California contingent, DGregg.

This is my first experience with the DF metro system. My first impression: WOW! The trains run every two minutes. They go almost everywhere in the city. They're fast and quiet. What a dream!

Then I transferred onto another train. I was a little confused that people were lining up, not getting onto the train even though there was plenty of standing room. I stepped on. At the next stop, more people got on. And again. In a few stops we were crammed in, people pushing their way into the overfull car. Then the train stopped for 20 minutes at a time in several stations. It took about two hours to get to the airport. Yuck.

Here's a typical picture of the hallways:



Oddly enough, there is (or was) a small library in one of the stations, deep underground:



I've since spent much more time riding the DF metro. While it can be overwhelming at rush hour, it's still a modern marvel. As a San Franciscan, I'm envious.

DGregg and I ate some amazing Tabasqueño food at a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet in the Condesa, María de Alma. Here's some more food porn:



We stayed for two nights at the house of someone DGregg met on globalfreeloaders.com. It actually worked out pretty well. A couple months ago one of the founders of couchsurfing.com came by the weekly dinner party I host in SF and I had been meaning to try out the concept. I still prefer to stay in hostels, though - more chance of meeting fellow travelers.

We had a couple days before the hordes arrive, so we spent a day at the
Museo Nacional de Antropología. We were there 9 hours and saw about half of it, including a very large temporary exhibition of Egyption artifacts. Somehow I went to Mexico and learned about Egypt, go figure. I have put Mexico City on my future "museum travel list"; a good place to fly in for a week and do nothing but visit museums. I'm not even sure a week would do it.
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Old 03-18-2008, 04:37 PM   #126
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The Hordes Arrive

DGregg and I checked into the Mexico City Hostel, where our group had reserved a single 12-person room. It's quite a bit nicer and more relaxed than the Hostel Cathedral around the corner. Then we ran off to the airport to welcome our friends.

Mexico City's airport, it seems likely, was designed by the same assholes that designed the highway system. Here are some interesting factoids about MEX:
  • There are two terminals, #1 and #2.
  • The metro goes to terminal #1.
  • Most international flights go to terminal #2.
  • Terminal #2 is a couple miles away from terminal #1.
  • There is an overhead tramway that shuttles between the terminals, but IT'S A SECURED ZONE. You can only get on it with a departure ticket in-hand. Even arriving passengers can't use it!
  • There is a bus that will take you between the terminals. It takes 15 minutes and costs 5 pesos.
  • The bus doesn't even leave you in a nice bus stop. You have to walk across this parking lot and quite literally dodge the other incoming buses:

I am at a complete loss to explain this design. Just getting all my friends to the metro was an adventure.



After some dinner we wandered around the DF at night, eventually landing at the shrine of "Our Lady Of The Metro". This seems a distinctly Mexican cultural quirk, although usually it involves burnt tortillas. Water seeping out of the tunnel created a stain resembling the Virgin of Guadalupe (a miracle!) so they chopped out the rock and created a shrine. No, we couldn't see it.



Greg (not to be confused with DGregg) had actually arrived a few hours before the others and taken the metro back to the hostel by himself. On the train, a cute Hungarian (who had arrived in the DF at the same time) asked him to recommend a hostel. Since two of our party had become ill at the last minute and couldn't make it, Greg invited her to stay with us. Greg is clearly the most brilliant among us!

Krisztina, adopted into the family:



She and I, well, clicked
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Old 03-18-2008, 06:31 PM   #127
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Xochimilco

We took an additional day in the DF before leaving for Tultepec. We decided to spend it at the floating gardens of Xochimilco. During Aztec times, Xochimilco was a city built by pushing up piles of mud and making chinampa farms in the middle of a shallow endorheic lake. Now it's a district about 20 kilometers south of the DF. A few canals are all that is left of the once enormous lake.

Still, Xochimilco is quite beautiful. It also provided an opportunity to combine beer and boats, two of my favorite things. It started with a long ride on the metro (cue Berlin music).



We all piled on one of the colorful trajinera boats:



As you can see, it was hard work:



Well, for someone:



One of our stops was "creepy doll island". Apparently a farmer started collecting dolls he found in the canals and created a shrine to drowned children.











What could make creepy dolls even creepier? Swarming bugs, of course:



The creepy founder of creepy doll island, now deceased:



Back row: Me, Krisztina, Alana, James, Greg. Front row: DGregg, Carol, Dan, Joel, Turtle, Josh.



Afterwards, we went in search of the Luche Libre restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet under "Quirky Mexico City". This section included both the Metro Virgin and the Creepy Doll Island, so what the hell. Well, we found it. And we had to order the "signature dish":



It took three of us to eat it:


stickfigure screwed with this post 03-18-2008 at 09:19 PM
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Old 03-22-2008, 06:13 PM   #128
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Tultepec



I left my bike behind at Motoaltavista (now considered my personal garage) and joined my friends in the 11-person van we rented for the trip to Tultepec. In standard Mexico fashion, navigating the 30 km there was an adventure. The cuota roads in Mexico present novel logistical problems that will seem strange to Norteamericanos. Cuotas tend to stretch on for long distances without underpasses or overpasses. To keep you paying, have very few exits and entrances... so these long stretches of highway that effectively act as impermeable barriers. Furthermore, it's often very difficult to find your way onto the few roads that do cross the cuotas.

We eventually made it to our home, a small school two blocks from the zócalo.



There were three main events on three different nights. The first was aerial fireworks synchronized with music. It was very well done, and as is typical in Mexico we were much closer to the action than possible in the US. Picutres of the fireworks didn't come out, but I did get a shot of the chicken-foot soup I tried:



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Old 03-22-2008, 06:47 PM   #129
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Running Of The Bulls

The next day was the running of the toros. First the bulls (about a hundred of them) are paraded through town. Unfortunately I didn't get pictures of the best ones:




(the guy on the right is Garry Dymond, a fellow advrider living in the DF who came out to see the fun)











Even the kids get in on the action:



This is someone working on a typical bull's frame. Each of the little white cylinders is a rocket that will go flying into the crowds:



We spent a lot of time mixing with the locals. They would invite us onto their bulls, dace with us, etc. This is one of the parts of Mexico in which gringos are a novelty:







Then the fun began. One at a time, the bulls were lit and charged through the crowds. It's nearly impossible to photograph, but here's a few. Click through to the whole flickr pool:









Our party did not escape unscathed:

















In the aftermath, the entire zócalo was covered in spent rocket cartridges:

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Old 03-22-2008, 08:17 PM   #130
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in your Way to Guatemala

Great report !!!!!!!!!!! when are you planning to be in Guatemala ? let me know will pick you up at the Border and hook you up with a nice Hotel in Antigua and couple of nice rides !!
Regards !!
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Old 03-22-2008, 10:58 PM   #131
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Great report, thanks for sharing and the bump of new stuff.
Missed it last month.
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Old 03-22-2008, 11:32 PM   #132
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guateadventure
Great report !!!!!!!!!!! when are you planning to be in Guatemala ? let me know will pick you up at the Border and hook you up with a nice Hotel in Antigua and couple of nice rides !!
Regards !!
Thanks! My friend Gavin and I should be riding across the border in about a month - we will take you up on your offer

Somehow he convinced me to fly to Atlanta to run a half-marathon with him, which is where we both are now. On the 1st I fly back to the DF and he flies back to Phoenix, where is where he left his bike. We should both be in Zacatecas within a week of then. At that point we will slowly head south... but the schedule is pretty vague

Jeff
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Old 03-23-2008, 05:25 PM   #133
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Los Castillos

Wandering around the town, we found this neat tortilla-making machine. The totillas make three passes through the heated part in the center.







My parents love to tell a story about taking me to the LA Zoo when I was a child. Apparently what I found most fascinating in the entire zoo was an old swamp cooler that had been removed from the roof of a hotdog stand and left on the ground with the cover removed. Yes, I am a geek.

The castillos were set up on the zócalo. The crowds stood in the middle of the action. By this time my group had had enough excitement for one trip and we watched from the relative safety (and relative inebriation) of a restaurant balcony:







Some great tacos we had that night:

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Old 03-23-2008, 05:42 PM   #134
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Teotihuacán

Before returning to the DF we spent an afternoon at Teotihuacán, the ruins of the biggest pre-Columbian civilization in the western hemisphere. It reached its zenith between 150 and 450 AD but collapsed sometime during the 7th or 8th centuries. It was long abandoned by the time the Aztecs showed up in the 14th century.













A butterfly on top of the Pyramid of the Sun:



The city is staggeringly large. However, I thought the ruins at Monte Albán were more interesting, possibly because there were more plaques explaining the purpose of each building.
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Old 03-23-2008, 08:44 PM   #135
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Popocatépetl and Ermita

My California friends departed for the airport, leaving Krisztina and I at the Mexico City Hostel. She had to be an an organic farm in a few days but was fascinated by my pictures of the volcanoes to the southeast (see "Buenavista"). I borrowed a helmet from Alejandro2 and we rode up into the mountains!

The main volcano of the pair that form the mountain range is Popocatépetl. It's apparently still active, and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the area in 2000. Gulp.



Our home for two nights. We moved the bed into the room with the fireplace and kept the fire going all night. It's COLD up here!



In central Mexico, trucha is almost always on the menu. I heartily approve of the Mexican obsession with pescado.



We spent a day hiking in the area, including a visit to the beautiful monastery that was closed the last time I was here. It's called Ermita, and this time we were able to wander around inside.





















A waterfall creates a stream that runs through the whole complex:







Inside the main building. Out every window was a beautiful view of Popocatépetl.









The (apparently empty) habitation of monks:



It was beautiful enough that I considered becoming a monk for almost 0.27 seconds:



Krisztina contemplated it for a few more tenths of a second:

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