Mexico is a wonderful country and I'm glad I finally got to experience it for myself. Before I left, I was asked about how I planned to stay safe and secure in this dangerous country of Mexico. First of all, Mexico is not a dangerous country. Of course there are bad parts like the border towns, but as I was told and proved to myself, once you pass the border zone, it's a very friendly and welcoming place. Never once did I feel my security threatened. Well, it probably helped that I am brown-skinned and everyone thought that I was Mexican.

The riding in the country was phenomenal. From the awesome dirt-track down to Batopilas in Copper Canyon to the ever winding Espinoza Diablo to the numerous other unexpected twisty havens, Mexico truly is a rider's country. But I have to say the topes (speed bumps) became a little unbearable towards the end of the trip. I guess in trade-off, since the speed limits aren't really enforced allowing for more hooligan-style riding, the topes have to be lived with. Besides my gaffe along the Pacific coast, low-siding into a ditch, traffic was very well-behaved. I felt my riding may have been more of a threat to the locals than them to me.

The scenery all across the country was truly marvelous. From staring across the deep Copper Canyon, to the mystical fog-filled Espinoza Diablo, to the picture-perfect sunsets, I was amazed at the diversity of surroundings that are to be experienced in Mexico. The interesting views that are to be seen also include the gorgeous colonial cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. And pyramids. Seeing pyramids for the first time is definitely a moment to treasure and I'm thrilled I got to experience the Pyramid of the Sun all to myself.

My mouth still keeps watering whenever I look at my pictures of the food I had. Nothing was too elaborate or expensive, but it hit just the right spot for me. From Barbacoa burritos on the road side, to grilled fish by the ocean, to the heavenly meat stew of Birria, to the carnita tacos at the local food court, my taste buds have truly been spoilt. Ever since coming back, the blandness of the food here in the States in general has been heightened. But maybe that's because all my taste buds have been burnt off already. I've found the recipe for Birria and it looks complicated, but I'm going to give it a shot to satiate my yearning taste buds.

Everyone I met on my journey was warm and hospitable. I already knew that going into it since I generally have greater faith in humanity, but to see acts of kindness and openness was very welcoming. From chatting up with other tourists on their own journeys, to helping an ex-drug dealer practice English, to hearing people's love of Mexico such as an ex-Physicist and accountant, I got an insight into other people's journey through life and what makes Mexico so special.

Regarding my ride, the only thing I would do differently would be to mount more street-oriented tires than the 50 street/50 dirt tires that I started on. I'm sure the Kenda K270's would have made the whole journey of 6,400 miles if I didn't ruin them on the first day, but even for the ride down to Batopilas, I think 90 street/10 dirt tires would've been fine. Besides that, before the trip, I was worried about not having hard luggage. I didn't have the time to mount up a new rack and hard cases and just went with my sport-touring saddle bags and they did fine, besides the damage during the low-side. I was wondering how hard cases would have faired during a low-side like that and I'm thinking they would be the better option. But if an aluminum mount for a case broke, it would be very hard to get it fixed and continue the trip. My mini air compressor proved handy during the off-road riding, but the Pemex's had free air at most stations.

Regarding cost of the trip, I exchanged $900 in Chihuahua and used it up over the next 14 days in Mexico. That's including lodging, gas, food, cuotas and bribe money. On average that comes out to about $64 per day, which is not bad. I tried to stay in the cheapest lodging possible, but also took into account location and recommendations. I could've gone cheaper for lodging in some locations, but gave priority to proximity to the town square as I didn't want to stay far away and then take a taxi into town, which would negate the cost savings. Food was very low budget for most meals, but I did splurge up to $15 or even $20 for some meals, sacre bleu! I was thrilled that the majority of my meals were under $5, especially for how tasty they all were.

The main purpose of this trip, if there needs to be one, was to introduce me to motorcycle travel in a different culture. I wanted to see how well my broken Spanish would do and I'm happy to say I actually managed pretty well. I listened to my Spanish language CDs from Michel Thomas twice before entering Mexico and then had my Lonely Planet Spanish phrase book with me everywhere I went. The language barrier was definitely not an issue.

I would like my next trip to be a ride through South America, but for that I would need much more time-off, which might be tricky right now with work and a career. One of the surprises from this Mexico trip that has convinced me that a South America trip would be totally feasible is everyone thinking that I was one of the locals, just for being brown-skinned. If I learnt fluent Spanish and some Portuguese before heading south, I'm sure I could pass off as a local in most locations, which should greatly increase my security situation, or at least help family and friends think that my security situation is not a concern. Plus, not having a number plate for most of the trip didn't disclose my origin to everyone. Next time I head south, I think I'll just remove my plate after I cross the border...

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 14 - 18

Day 14 / Friday, October 5, 2007
Start: Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, 8:30 am
End: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, 8:30 pm
Mileage: 480

The hostel provided breakfast, which consisted of dry, crispy bread with jam, a banana and powdered coffee. It was included, so I'm not complaining. During breakfast, I chatted up with a European couple, a Spanish girl who was here with her English boyfriend. They were studying in Cancun and were currently touring around Mexico by bus. They too didn't know about the Cervantino music festival before they got here and were pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the city, like I was.

It was a nice climb out of Guanajuato on the road towards Dolores as it offered a bird's eye view of the city. Houses were sprawled across the mountains and I thought of all the hidden tunnels under the mountains that are part of the city and add to its character.

The city of Guanajuato with tunnels all through those mountains.

The road was nice and sinuous and lacked traffic probably due to the time of day. Morning twisties are always refreshing. Soon after, the road got flat and I hoped on the freeway, Hwy 57 heading North to Monterrey. Thankfully, it wasn't a Cuota road as I probably would've run out of money. As I was nearing the end of my journey in Mexico, I was trying to ration my use of my remaining Pesos so that I crossed the border with the least amount possible without actually running out. I also didn't want to get anymore change back in coins from gas stations, so I started filling up to round digits of money, such as gas for 50 Pesos, as coins are hard to exchange back usually.

The highway passed through generally barren landscape, which appeared to be a plateau as I stayed at 6,000 ft throughout the day. With traffic being light, I plugged in my audio book, The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, which kept my mind entertained. I still did get very fatigued and my reserve Red Bulls came in handy. I always take two Red Bulls with me for instances when I really need them in remote regions. I also noted that cruising at 60 mph gave me a constant 50 mpg.

I was going to Monterrey to meet my Mexican friend from work, Cesar who was back home for a friend's wedding. Since he lives on the southern side of Monterrey, I decided to come in through Linares to make the directions easier to get to his house. The road connecting Hwy 57 to Linares on Hwy 85 was surprisingly an awesomely twisty road. I saw on the map that the road twisted a little bit, but did not expect such a nice road. It was recently paved and the road condition was excellent, with some construction still going on. After going through the mid-point town of Iturbide, the road goes through a national park with dramatic scenery of huge granite rock faces. It resembled the ride through Zion National Park in Utah, where the road is flanked by huge towering cliffs on either side. What made the ride more enjoyable was not expecting it. Unexpected nice roads and scenery always leave a bigger impression. It might be similar to what early explorers felt when discovering new worlds. Another fascinating part of this ride is the end, near Linares where the road suddenly spills out of the canyon and is flat as far as the eye can see. Looking back in my mirror, the mountains loomed like big giants. With a few clouds in the air, they could also be mistaken for huge rain clouds. What really makes mountains impressive is when you can stand back and see them in all their grandeur. This mountain chain ran alongside Hwy 85 into Monterrey and the southern part of the city sprawls into the quickly rising mountains.

Going through an unexpected National Park on my way to the northern city of Monterrey.

The cliffs were very jagged and views were quite dramatic. The road was running in the valley of some narrow canyons.

The road was also very twisty and would be the last fun road to ride in Mexico for me.

Looking up at the jagged peaks.

I had a quick look around downtown Monterrey before heading to Cesar's house, which is set in a nice neighborhood. Arriving at Cesar's house, I gave a quick acknowledgment to the fact that I had made it through all of Mexico solo and was safe and sound. I was never really concerned about my security, or felt threatened in anyway, but there is that unknown risk factor and I was happy nothing major had gone wrong. Cesar's parents were amazed that I rode all around their country by myself, that too without a firm grasp of Spanish. After a big meal of stewed lamb and lot of Don Julio, some well deserved deep sleep was in order.

Day 15 / Saturday, October 6, 2007
Start: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
End: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Mileage: 0

With the help of Cesar's driver, I found a nice touring tire at the Kawasaki dealership on Pino Saurez road in downtown Monterrey. It was a Kenda of some kind for $76. There were two other dealerships on the same road, but they didn't have a tire in my size. The dealers mainly had dirt bikes and ATVs in the showrooms, with no sportbikes. But all the banner advertising showed their sportbikes, probably to bring in the shoppers.

The driver, Manuel said it would be too expensive to get the tire changed at the dealers and would instead try and find a mechanic shop who would do it for much less. Surprisingly, around eight mechanic shops didn't want to work on the bike either cause they were too busy or didn't want to mess with it. We finally found Moto Tecina, who would do it for 150 Pesos. It was a father and son team and their shop was quite a mess with numerous bikes in various states of disrepair, including an Ural motorcycle sitting in the front of the shop. The tires were also the originals since they had 'Made in USSR' stamped on them. I suspected the work might be a bit sloppy, which proved to be true when they punctured my tube during the reinstall and had to patch it up. I hoped the patch would hold up till Chicago. While working on the bike, they mentioned a rider who was heading for Argentina who had been through there a few years back. Must be the same guy that the restaurant owner near Melaque talked about.

Shopping for a new rear tire in Monterrey as my Kenda K270 was flat in some places after around 4500 miles.

The other side of the tire. I'm sure if I had been nice to the tire initially and not gone 80 mph on the highway it would've lasted the whole way back home. Look how much tread is left on those knobbies.

Checking to see if the Suzuki dealer has a tire in my size. One of the main streets in downtown Monterrey, Pino Suarez had about 3 motorcycle dealers. The Kawasaki dealer had the best selection of tires and I got a nice street-oriented tire for $70, similar to US prices.

Surprisingly we couldn't find a tire shop who wanted to change the tire for me. I could've done it, but it would've taken about 3 hours and am saving that for emergency situations. Moto Tecnica agreed to change the tire for $15.

The mechanics using proven techniques to break the bead of the old tire (using the kick stand of another bike to press down on the tire to remove it from the rim). I did the same thing when I was changing my tires at home.

I bet there's a Harley hidden in there somewhere… Note the Che sticker on the gray cabinet. These guys mentioned that they changed tires for another adventure rider who was heading for Argentina. Must be the same guy as before…

Putting the final bit of air inside after puncturing and patching my tube during the install. I hoped it would last all the way back home.

Check out this old Ural (a Russian military motorcycle based on a 1941 BMW R71 motorcycle design).

The tires were Made in the USSR. Wow, these tires are over 16 years old! I've never seen anything with a 'Made in USSR' stamp before... How cool.

In the afternoon we headed to Cesar's family ranch house to enjoy a big lunch with all of his extended family. The scene looked very characteristic of big Italian family gatherings with the men sitting on one table (drinking Tequila), all the women on another table and the younger generation (us) on a table on the side. The food was fabulous and I had a great time talking with various members from Cesar's family. Most of them thought I was crazy to ride around solo, but I attributed that to them being city folk, as friends back in the States were saying the same thing.

The ranch house of my friend Cesar, where we relaxed and met with all of his extended family.

Reminded me of scenes from movies of old world Italian family gatherings, were the men sat at one table (drinking tequila), the women at another table and the kids on the side table. The food was fabulous; stewed lamb, pork and beef. And the Don Julio flowed like water...


Day 16 / Sunday, October 7, 2007
Start: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, 9:00 am
End: San Antonio, TX, 6:00 pm
Mileage: 346

This would be my last day in Mexico and I wasn't overly eager to cross back into the States. I was thinking that if I had two more weeks of vacation, I'd turn around and ride some more. I was told by Cesar's dad to cross over at the Colombia bridge instead of the two bridges in Laredo as they would have no truck traffic and probably no traffic being a Sunday. The toll from Monterrey on the cuota road to Laredo was 85 Pesos, from my last 100 Peso note. On the road to the Columbia bridge, there were numerous truck cargo sorting facilities. And the sites they occupied were expansive with over a 100 trucks and trailers at each site. This is probably all fueled by NAFTA and these trucks are probably bringing goods from border factories for sorting before crossing over into the US and onto Canada.

I was heading to San Antonio to meet Bob from advrider.com (tricepilot). He was following my trip report from the road and offered his place for me to crash at. From the experience of his two previous crossings into Mexico, he gave me the run down of what to expect when exiting Mexico. I was supposed to find the customs office and turn in my tourist visa and bike permit to legally exit Mexico. The problem is there are no Mexican exit immigration facilities and the road takes you straight to the bridge to cross back into the US. I went around to the customs checkpoint on the entrance to Mexico side and explained what I needed to do, but they just kept waving me on and saying it wasn't necessary. Not wanting to cause any issues, I crossed the bridge and entered the US. I should've parked my bike and walked into the Mexican Immigration office, but I'll deal with this at my local consulate in Chicago.

When I crossed into the US, the border agent asked what my number plate was since my plate wasn't there. He was very casual about it and wasn't really bothered that I had no plate. I hoped any more encounters with the law enforcement on my trip to Chicago would go just like this.

Being a relatively small border crossing, there was only a small 'Welcome to the US' sign. I was expecting a nice big banner, but maybe that's at the bigger crossings. I've entered the US many times on my work visa, but there's always a small amount of hesitation before being fully approved since the immigration officer could chose to do further questioning and detain me if they have the slightest suspicion of anything, like why I wanted to ride around Mexico for two weeks on a bike. Luckily, the immigration officer at this border crossing was very friendly and she did a great job. Two years ago, when I crossed back from Canada after a ten day sport-touring trip, I was a bit more nervous going up to the immigration officer since I was wearing full 'Power Ranger' leathers with torn up rain gear, which was definitely not presentable. But they hardly gave me a second look.

Regarding tolls at this crossing, there's a $2 toll to cross the bridge from Mexico and then there's a $2 toll to use the two-lane highway from the border to I-35. This was the smallest toll road I've been on in the US and that too, the least used probably. There was one toll booth agent for both sides of traffic, that's how lite the traffic was.

I continued on I-35 and made it to Bob's house, north of San Antonio, on time around 6 pm. It was really fun to meet another enthusiast motorcyclist and his loving family. We spent the evening drinking brews and talking about travel and other random subjects. Bob was heading back into Mexico for the third time in 12 months and is terribly in love with the country. He has opened up his place as a launching pad for motorcycle trips into Mexico as some other riders had parked their truck and just left for Mexico recently. He truly is an asset to the ADV community.

Thanx to Bob for the following pictures:

Arriving at tricepilot (Bob's) house in San Antonio from ADVrider.com. The border crossing back into the US was a breeze. Bob was following my trip report from the road and offered his place for me to crash at on my way back home. I always enjoy meeting other motorcyclists, cause we all have the same mindset no matter which walk of like we come from.

Bob and I. Bob's an ex-Air Force Colonel and has ridden to Mexico twice before and was going again in two weeks. He's in love with the country and asked how I managed to do the trip solo.

This was my response. All I needed for my Mexico trip was the Lonely Planet guide book (which had all the hotel and town info), the Guia Roji Mexico road atlas (used in planning the next day's route), my Spanish phrase book and my GPS with the Bicimapas Mexico maps.

The phrase book was invaluable to me. I listened to Spanish language audio CDs on the way down to the border, which taught me basic pronunciation and sentence structure and when used with the details of the phrase book, I did all right. Once I even managed to tell a hotel receptionist that the shower had no hot water. I was quite impressed that I could communicate that.

My trusty Garmin GPS 60Cx, which had the new Bicimapas Mexico maps with auto routing. The maps weren't 100% accurate but it was still a good tool to have especially in the big cities.

My new rear tire that I mounted in Monterrey, it's a more street-oriented tire for the highway riding.

The remains on my number plate, which I think broke off after Batopilas, early in the trip. I rode all over Mexico with no one bothering me about it and even rode from Mexico back to Chicago with no cops hassling me about it. Number plates must be overrated...

The road rash and bruises from my low-side near Zihuatanejo on my elbow. There's no holes in my jacket, so I think this was caused by the friction as the road surface was quite rough. My jacket has foam armor in the forearm but this was the one place with no armor.

Enjoying a brew with Bob's brother, Joe.

And I arrived just in time for pizza!


Day 17 / Monday, October 8, 2007
Start: San Antonio, TX, 8:00 am
End: Little Rock, AR, 8:00 pm
Mileage: 560

I got an early start and was aiming to make it to Memphis that night and then Chicago the next night. I went through a little rush hour traffic in Austin and then experienced a vibration coming from the rear tire. Not having a rear tire go flat on me before while riding, I didn't know immediately that it was flat. When I pulled over on the shoulder, since the tire had gone completely flat, my kick stand was now too long to support the bike, so I had to point the bike in the opposite direction of traffic to get the kickstand on a lower ground, which would be the edge of the tarmac. It was starting to drizzle lightly, so I decided to use the Slime compound to seal the leak before committing to doing a tube change.

Yeah, so that puncture and patch job those guys did on my tube while mounting the new tire in Monterrey… I don’t think it held up, cause the tire went flat south of Dallas. I'm pointing the opposite way because I had to find lower ground for my kick stand because it's too long if there's no air in the tire and the bike will fall over. I put Slime and pumped it back up, hoping it would hold.

A few minutes down the road, the tire went flat again. I called a few knowledgeable friends who said the Slime compound took a while to work effectively. But after riding for about 20 minutes on the shoulder at 30 mph, I figured the Slime was not working and I was committed to doing a tube change. At a gas station, as I was looking for items to prop up my bike, a guy in a van said there was a Suzuki dealership just down the road. I was gladly happy to pay someone $65 to replace my tube than me struggling for probably 3 hours on it. The guys at Action PowerSports Suzuki in Red Oak, TX were a great help and they immediately got working on my bike. The mechanic was amazed that I was able to ride up to their shop after he discovered that my tube had exploded in my tire and somehow the tire held up for so long. I think the heat from running on a flat tire at highway speeds accelerated the puncture and caused it to explode. The Slime had gotten everywhere and sealed the tire to the rim. We had a good chat and I found out he was a local road-racer, originally from Mexico. He was pleased to hear that people were touring on motorcycles around Mexico and expressed an interest to do something similar in the future. He did an excellent job of repairing the tire and also gave the bike a look-over to see if anything else was an issue, such as brake pads, clutch cable and front tire wear. Great service.

Alas, the Slime was not going to help. This is the remains of the tube. It exploded in the tire and the Slime was just filling up inside the tire. I think the heat from running on the highway when the patch let go was the culprit.

Luckily I found a Suzuki dealer right by the highway who got working on replacing my tube. I was prepared to do it myself, but was on a time crunch to make it back to Chicago.

I finally got going around 3:30 pm and made it up to Little Rock five hours later. I wasn't too far behind schedule.

Day 18 / Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Start: Little Rock, AR, 7:30 am
End: Grayslake, IL, 9:30 pm
Mileage: 730

The last day of my journey. One mistake I made was to end the previous day just south of Little Rock as in the morning, I had to deal with heavy rush hour traffic as I was making my way through the city. I should've spent the night just north of the city. Oh well, besides that, it was an uneventful ride back home. I was truly surprised that I could it make it all the way across the US from Texas to Chicago with no number plate on the bike. They must be overrated.

As is customary with all my bike trips, the closer I got to home, the more I slowed down and did exactly the speed limit. No use tempting fate after not getting any speeding tickets while on the trip only to get nabbed a few miles from home. As I pulled into my garage, I let out a sigh of relief that I made it back safe and sound.

Next: Epilogue

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 12 - 13

Day 12 / Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Start: Zihuatanejo, Guerreo, 6:00 am
End: Teotihuacan, Mexico State, 6:00 pm
Mileage: 315

Even though today marked the trip's turn North, heading back home, there was still a lot of see before the trip was actually over. I was off to see the pyramids of Teotihuacán near México City today. I got an early start and felt bad about having to wake up the hotel owner to let me and the bike out at 6 am. It was still going to be dark for another hour or so, but I knew I had about 350 miles to go today, so even if I had to go slow until the sun came up, it would be better than starting later and having to rush it.

As I turned onto Hwy 134 heading Northeast to the city of Altamarina and Toluca, I let a pickup truck pass me and then decided to keep up with him, since I could use his headlights to look further down the road. The exciting thing was that this was one serious twisty road, that too in excellent road condition. He was hauling at a pretty good clip and I was easily keeping up with him, but I was conscious not to ride above my limit. After all, I had just low-sided yesterday and here I was ripping up these awesome twisties in the dark. It was a thrilling ride. It was also a little safer actually to be behind him, as there were many animals roaming on the roads that full stops were needed to let them by; donkeys, horses and cattle. Riding alone through here in the dark would definitely have been more dangerous. Also for the topes; we went through many small villages and after riding in Mexico so far, it was easy to predict where the topes will be, but not always. Having the truck slow down for the topes took the guess work out or the worrying about hitting unseen topes at speed. He was also a nice guy and knew that I was tagging onto him as an escort and he would wave back if he went through gravel and kicked some back towards me. As the sun came up around us, the scenery was fantastic. This is a remote road with no real towns between the coast and Altamarina, no Pemex's as well. The road climbed to about 6,000 ft and the lush mountains and the jungles hugging the road made this a special ride. I enjoyed it almost as much as the Espinoza Diablo. I let him go in Altamarina, as I wanted petrol after 140 miles and some desayuno (breakfast).

I was still a little nervous about riding around without a number plate and didn't really want to get the attention of any local cops, but I knew the bigger cities would have more Fedaralis floating around. What to do, there were pyramids to be seen. So, as I stopped for breakfast, a Fedarali pulls up right behind me, goes in for his breakfast and then takes off. If he didn't notice anything missing from such a close distance, I was probably doing all right.

The rest of Hwy 134 into Toluca was quite bumpy and there was lots of construction going on with widening of lanes up and down the mountains. On the map, it's clear that the area of Mexico City is quite crowded and you start feeling this as you get closer and the volume of traffic increases on all the roads. However, the road was still quite scenic as it wound its way through numerous towns and climbed to about 10,600 ft before descending to the 8,000 ft plateau where Mexico City lies. All this elevation change was showing how ineffective my Motoport gear was for changing climates. Up to 8,000 ft, the mesh was fine, but above that it gets quite chilly. It wouldn't be a problem if the elevation didn't vary up and down, but the road climbed up and over a few mountains. Putting on the jacket liner was no problem, but putting on the pant liner by the road side would be too much trouble, so my legs felt chilly. For varying climate riding, a textile jacket with zippered vents for warmer riding would seem to be idle, where you could easily control the flow of air unlike the Motoport jacket, which is all mesh. But then again, the exacting custom fit of my riding gear takes the upper hand for riding comfort, so I can overlook this downside as I probably won’t be in varying elevation changes too often.

Anyways, I made good time to Toluca, a city west of Mexico City and was hoping to take the freeways around the congestion and head straight to Teotihuacán. This was also my first Cuota road in Mexico and I was impressed to see that I was given a plastic card that kept log of how far I had used the toll road, instead of the paper print outs I've seen here in the States. It was also quite impressive to see a massive six-lane highway snaking around a twisting mountain at around 8,000 ft. And the sprawl of houses as far as the eye could see was also quite impressive.

The Bicimapas GPS map wasn't fully up to date as it didn't have a new connecting highway, which I saw in Guia Roji maps, so I was down to following the highway signs and hoping I ended up in the right direction heading away from Mexico City towards Teotihuacán. I got around to the northern part of the city and then got turned south right on a big freeway and bam, a motorcycle cop pulls me over. I saw him on the side of the highway pointing a radar gun at traffic and we made eye-contact, after which he pulled up beside me and forced me to pull over.

It clearly wasn’t for speeding as I was sitting in the middle lane amidst a lot of traffic. So, this biker cop points to my number plate and I explain that it broke off and he nods his head. Then he says he’s pulled me over because no bikes are allowed on the auto-pista into Mexico City. Huh? He pulls out his little hand book and shows me a traffic sign saying no bicycles, trucks or motorbikes are allowed on the auto-pista. We have to use the feeder lane. I never saw a sign like that on the highway. But then again, there were no bikes on the freeway besides me. This guy first says the fine for this offence is 200 Pesos, I’m like, 'not bad, I’ll pay', then he goes, 'No no, 200 Dollares!' WTF! I tried to explain that I’m a tourist, my first time here, I didn’t see the sign, blah blah blah, can you just forget the offence. He keeps saying "Cash, money. Cash, money," implying that I should go to an ATM and pull out the money for him and I keep saying, "No Money left." I tried to call some of my Mexican friends, but the calls weren't going through. I definitely had more than $200 in cash, but didn’t really want to part with it. In desperation, I showed him my 140 pesos from my jacket pocket and he smiles and tells me to put it away quickly. Ohhhhhh, looking for a little underhand kind of payment huh. I offer 100 Pesos and he says ok and points to the top case of his bike and opens it. I drop the 100 Peso note in and he waves and speeds off. My first thought was, phew, didn’t want to spend $200 and then thought, what a cheap cop, he accepted a $10 bribe. Have some dignity man!

Well, thank goodness I now know how to deal with these situations. Haha, just like back home in India. Get pulled over, leave a few currency notes on the dash and bribe is accepted. A 100 Peso bribe, seriously? What would that even get him, two meals? Still shaking my head at that. So, that’s a lesson, always keep very little cash easily accessible for situations like this or while getting mugged. I later found out from my Mexican friend that corruption runs so deep in the police system here that police chiefs actually setup bribe quotas that their officers have to meet. That is, he might say I need 500 Pesos from you today and the cop has to go out and get that much in bribes. So, you can't really blame one person, you have to blame the whole system or just human nature. Righteous minds could say, well, it's up to the individual to decide whether to ask for a bribe in the first place. However, in life it looks like realistic conditions prevail over idealistic ones. If one officer doesn't meet his bribe quota, he might be released from the force and have to find another job. Or, he could stick with it and do what he's told so that his family can live a decent life. It's a tricky situation.

After that interesting episode, I finally found my way to Teotihuacán with the help of the GPS and a general sense of direction. I arrived at 5:55 pm, when the park was closing in five minutes. There was no real rush, since tomorrow would be a simple riding day to Guanajuato, so I would check out the Pyramids in the morning. I stayed at the Hotel Posada Sol y Luna (Sun and Moon, named for the two big pyramids at the site) for $33 and had secure parking in their garage. The town center of Teotihuacán was quite active and I had a good dinner at the local food court. I felt very much at home, sitting at the food stalls and observing life of the regular citizens. Being brown was definitely a benefit, as no one batted an eye that a tourist was among them.

In the small town of Teotihuacan, just north of Mexico city. I was here to see some pyramids the next morning. This guy was providing some dinner music at the food market.

Locals enjoying some freshly made tasty dinner.

The food stall that I ate at. Various kinds of meat served with cilantro and onions. Simple and always good. Note the pineapple on top of the meat stand.

Dinner of some pork tacos with a slice of pineapple - Hawaiian Tacos?


Day 13 / Thursday, October 4, 2007
Start: Teotihuacan, Mexico State, 11:00 am
End: Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, 6:00 pm
Mileage: 281

I woke up early and was at the park when it opened at 7 am. It was quite chilly and foggy in the morning. As I entered the park, I was surprised to see that most of the park offices, museum or curio shops were not open as well. I saw store keepers trickling in with me and I guess they were more focused on the regular tourists who were bused in from Mexico City and who would be here from 10 am to 2 pm, when the site is most crowded.

It was exciting to see a pyramid for the first time, especially noting that the Pyramid of the Sun was constructed nearly 2,000 years ago and was made using only slave labor with no tools. The pyramid is 246 ft high and is the third largest pyramid in the world. The exact purpose of the pyramid is not known, but it's suspected to being built to honor an ancient Teotihuacán deity. The climb to the top took only about 10 minutes, but some parts were quite steep. It was a little surreal to be sitting on top of a pyramid with no one else in sight and pondering what really went on here 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. It was built around 2000 years ago and was possibly used for astronomy. I came at 7 am when the park opened and had the whole place to myself.

Climbing the steep steps to the top. It took only about 10 mins.

The view from the top, which is 246 ft from the bottom, making it the 3rd largest pyramid in the world.

Sun flare from the top.

The Pyramid of the Moon as seen from the Pyramid of the Sun.

Enjoying a peaceful moment at the top of the pyramid.

Climbing back down the steep steps.

No wonder it's called the Pyramid of the Sun…

After catching a local bus back to my hotel and packing up, I decided to pay my tourist permit fee at a local bank before I forget when crossing back to the US. The teller wasn't really aware of what I was asking her to do, but a high level manger was familiar with the process and then I was on my way after some breakfast at the food court.

Taking a local bus back to my hotel as there were no cabs around. Cost $0.40.

Having breakfast at the food market again.

These are what they call Quesadillas in this part of Mexico. A thick flour tortilla with various meats and cheese.

She was making them super fast. The tortillas were being made fresh.

I had a Picadillo (meat with potatoes) and a Barbacoa (pork). The fried tortilla was really tasty.

All the various ingredients being used.

Cutting across the northern part of Mexico City, heading towards Querétaro, I once again got turned south on the freeways and was caught up with morning rush hour traffic heading into the capital city. I was a little weary of getting pulled over again for being on a motorcycle on the auto-pista, but I soon figured out how to keep north west towards my destination.

After paying too much money in tolls yesterday and this morning, totaling around 250 Pesos, I figured I should take some local highways to keep the trip cost down, since I would need to be taking the Cuota roads near the border. But since the roads weren't that exciting and my tolerance for topes wearing thin, I decided to get back on the highway and just relax. But relax I couldn't, since I was limited to a top speed of 65 mph for my tire's sake and that proved too slow for all the trucks and traffic, who were over-taking and causing me some discomfort. The cars were going crazy fast for such dense traffic, maybe over 100 mph with the trucks doing about 70-80 mph. Even though the road conditions were generally very good, pot holes on the freeway did show up once in a while. If the highway went through a city, there was a by-pass option, but that was a Cuota. Since I was done paying cuotas, I went through all the city centers, which weren't that bad in terms of traffic.

I made it to San Miguel de Allende and was immediately impressed and a bit weary of the very steep cobble-stoned roads leading to the city center. Being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the colonial architecture of the city, no traffic lights are allowed and no new buildings as well. With no traffic lights, the use of traffic police is extensive. Almost every intersection is governed by traffic police and for the intersections that aren't controlled, you just slow down, have a look at cross-traffic and keep going.

I parked to have a little walk around and noted all the chic coffee shops and cafes with gringos going in and out. Most of them looked like they lived here or at least were on an extended vacation. Many ex-pats have made San Miguel their home, probably because it has nice cool climate, it isn't a congested city and the beautiful colonial architecture gives the city some real character. After having an ice-cream in the main square, I continued to Guanajuato and wanted to give myself at least an hour of daylight to find my way through the city, as I knew it was going to be difficult to navigate for a first-timer.

The picturesque mountain town of San Miguel de Allende.

It retains its colonial architecture along with the cobble-stoned streets.

Since the town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no traffic lights or modern buildings are allowed. Instead, lots of traffic police were at every major intersection.

The town had many old chapels, which must be at least 200 years old.

Chapel in San Miguel.

Chapel in San Miguel.

Lots of people were just milling about and relaxing around the water fountains and the many parks in the town.

Chapel in San Miguel.

All the stores use old houses as their store fronts, since they're not allowed to tear down any of the buildings. This old world charm is what attracts a lot of ex-pats to come and settle in San Miguel.

San Miguel.

Chapel in San Miguel in the main square.

The popular mode of transportation was two or small four-wheelers since the town is very hilly and the streets are narrow.

The road between San Miguel and Guanajuato, Hwy 111 was a pleasant ride with very light traffic and sweeping corners. I went this route, instead of going up to Dolores and back to save time and I would be riding from Guanajuato to Dolores the next day anyways. It was anticipated to be a nice scenic route.

On the road to Guanajuato from San Miguel. A nice relaxing end-of-the-day ride.

Once in Guanajuato, I was immediately impressed with the city and its beauty. Everything is stone-walled and looked very decadent. I tried to follow the signs to the Centro, since that would be close to my hostel, but got lost once I entered the tunnels. The city is set on a mountain-side and uses the numerous old mining shafts as one-way tunnels under the city. The thing about the tunnels is that all the intersections weren't that well marked and I ended up once being spit out high up from the city in the suburbs and the other times, the tunnels kept me going around in circles. I asked a policeman for directions, but couldn't fully understand what he was saying. I wasn't really complaining, since I was getting a nice unintended tour of the city. This one time I ended up on a pedestrian street and rode right by some cops, who weren't bothered with me at all. After an hour and getting close to using a taxi to lead me to my hostel, these two guys waved me down and asked where I was going. They had seen me going by them multiple times in all directions and figured I was lost. Little did I know that I passed my hostel a few times without knowing it and was glad to have finally made it.

I was staying at the Hostel Casa del Tio for $17 for a dorm bed. They were part of another international hostel association, HostelWorld.com, which stipulates some basic standards, such as clean bathrooms, personal lockers and usually free internet. The reception girls were stunned to hear that I was from Chicago and excitedly told their colleagues working in the attached Sushi restaurant. I asked where I could park my bike safely during the night and they surprisingly said just to bring it into the lobby. I thought it wasn't such a big deal in Hidalgo del Parral, since no one else was in the hotel, but this was in the centre of a big city and there were others guests there too. People here are just so accommodating of motorcycle travelers.

I had a roommate, Jason, from California who was here to tour and bum with his friends that were playing in the month-long music festival, Cervantino. What a fantastic time to come to Guanajuato. The city was crawling with people who were here for the music festival and it was a real party atmosphere across the whole city. Yes, it was a little crowded, but the atmosphere was great. There were lots of small shops hidden in nooks and crannies with food stalls and cafes abound, as well. Musical acts were starting up in little squares with crowds gathering and after walking away from a clown-dance music act, I found a reggae/ska band. Ahh, much more to my liking. People were just sitting on steps and park benches and enjoying the free open-air concerts. Guanajuato is known for its university and the influx of students gives the city a youthful feeling.

The reggae band there was awesome and they knew how to work the crowd. They even sang Bob Marley's Is This Love in Spanish and English. They played songs that the crowd knew, which got them lots of audience participation. During this one particular fast-paced ska song, a group of typical defiant students (blue sagging jeans, black graphic t-shirts, reverse baseball caps, smoking, slouching, wearing backpacks) jumped up and started hitting each other frantically according to the beat of the song. They settled down once the song ended, all in good fun. Then there was this guy next to me who was in a really jubilant mood and would get up sporadically and dance like the world didn't matter. He was feeling the music. Go brother, go! While everyone was enjoying themselves, I found it strange that the store owner, whose steps we were sitting on, found it appropriate to wash the steps of her shop right then and there. She poured water down and with a broom, splashed it on everyone that was sitting nearby, causing people to get up and walk away. This disrupted the experience for some and I was surprised that the store owner didn't really care that a music concert was going on right there. Instead of driving people away and leaving a sour taste, I felt they could've enterprised a bit and sold some cold Cokes or beers, which would have gone over well with the crowd there. Oh well, the music was still great. Another interesting dimension to this concert was that the electricity kept going out every 15 minutes or so. The whole city would be in a black-out, before the power came back on. I think the grid might've been a bit overwhelming with all the concerts and extra lighting that was setup for the festival. A black-out generated lots of howls and cheers from the young audience and the mood was very jovial.

I really liked Guanajuato and would like to come back to visit properly. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and accordingly there were no traffic lights and no new buildings in the Centro. The feeling was very European and colonial. At some point, I'd like to live in a city like this, unlike the concrete jungle that's usually found elsewhere.

The unique thing about the city of Guanajuato is their use of old mining shafts as street tunnels under the city, which is perched in the mountains. It is truly quite a maze and takes a while to get oriented.

Ahh, finally making it to my hostel, La Casa del Tio after going around in circles for over an hour trying to find it. I loved riding in Guanajuato, very unique experience.

The view from my room at one of the back streets, which leads into a tunnel.

It happened by chance that I was in town while a month long musical festival, Cervantino was taking place. The whole city was packed with people and lots of open-air musical acts were going on. A very festive atmosphere.

College kids bumming on the side walk. Guanajuato is also known for its university and corresponding percentage of young adults giving the city a more lively beat.

Guitar players waiting for a crowd to gather before performing their act.

Guanajuato is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning all the old colonial buildings are protected.

A public camera display showing traffic all over the city, including the tunnels.

I went through this tunnel 3 times while trying to find my hostel. I think a few more days and I could have the city figured out.

A bunch of clowns dancing on stage. Not a very good act.

More like it, a reggae/ska band performing in a square. People were just gathering on the steps and enjoying the music. They even played a Spanish version of Bob Marley's Is This Love.

Crazy hair-do. The young kids around seemed typical of youth in the US or elsewhere; extremely baggy jeans, slouching, smoking, backpacks and large graphic t-shirts. Maybe this image comes from the movies…?

Funny thing was that the power kept going out every 15 mins or so, which produced howls from the crowd. Maybe it was an overload on the city's power.

The band continued playing as soon as power returned to the guitars and mics.

This scene is great. Here's a guy totally into the moment who bust out crazy dancing every once in a while and on the other hand, there's a store owner who decides the steps need washing just as we're all sitting on the steps enjoying the concert.

The band played songs that the crowd seemed to know and this one energetic song got these bunch of guys to jump up and start frantically hitting each other. They calmed down when the song finished.

Lots of street performers were about for the crowds. Here's a girl who's a robot. Couldn't get a better picture as she kept approaching me and I ran out of change.

The guitar players from before performing for a crowd with two couples dancing. Everyone seemed to know the routine, must be a well known dance.

Next: Day 14 - 18, Monterrey, San Antonio and Home

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