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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