A Winter Journey – Pt 1

40 Days and 40 Nights

December 20, 2004 – January 28, 2005
Total Miles: 6,563 miles, 40 days
San Diego, CA – Seattle, WA (via Baja and Southern Mexico)

Jump to Part 2

Building the Ark
I never had any great illusions that I would do a trip like this, so when I saw the post for it on STN I wasn’t heartbroken that I couldn’t go. I had completed a trek to the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2004 and while Mexico seemed like the next logical direction, I would not be able to join the casual group of riders who were going. I had started a new job just two weeks previously and there was no way I could take the time off to go south. Then my new boss approached me on Wednesday the 15th of December and apologized that, because business was slow to get off the ground, he was going to have to cut my hours for the next month or so. I made a quick decision: why don’t I solve both of our problems and just go to Mexico for a month? He seemed very pleased at this prospect, and I was immediately excited about going. I called up James, who would be leaving for San Diego in his truck either that day or early the next morning, and asked if I could join him on his drive down to San Diego. We made some adjustments so that both bikes would fit in the bed of the truck and he gave me some instructions on what paperwork would be required at the border. Then I started to pack. This was at 2pm on Wednesday. By 1pm on Thursday both bikes were loaded, gear stowed, papers were in order and we were heading south. We drove straight through Washington, Oregon and California, reaching the San Diego area Friday afternoon. We enjoyed the beach scene for a while before heading to James’ dad’s house. There we unloaded the bikes, did some last minute prep work, left the truck in the driveway and anticipated romping around the Mexican countryside.

Loosely formed, the plan was to meet up with four other riders and then head south into Mexico and explore Baja and whatever else caught our fancy. Rob (Oakland, CA) had put the whole thing together, and gathered Norm (Nelson, BC), Mark (Point Roberts, CA) and Dave (San Jose, CA) for the outing. James and I were ready and waiting Sunday morning, but there was a delay with the rest of the group, so after an anxious day of sitting around the house, we decided to cross the border on Monday and wait for them in Mexico. And so begins the adventure…

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Loading up the bikes

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Tight fit!

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James’ dad’s house – ready to get to work!

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James preps his bike with the ADV salute

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Putting “new” tires on my KLR

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Ready to go!

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Both bikes are ready for the road

Day 1 – San Diego – Tecate
46 miles

Since we didn’t have far to go, we didn’t leave for Mexico until almost noon. This let us have a relaxed and enjoyable morning packing the bikes and double-checking last minute items. James was riding his brand new and slightly modified Suzuki DRZ 400 and I had my trusty 2000 Kawasaki KLR 650, which had proven its worth on my journey to the Arctic Ocean earlier in the year. The bikes were soon packed and we were off. It was a brief but pleasant hour’s ride to the Tecate border, meandering through some enjoyable rolling hills and cottonwood-shaded canyons on our way. The border crossing wasn’t bad, only slightly confusing. We had to fill out paperwork that was essentially a promise that we weren’t going to sell our bikes while in Mexico. This required going to the main office for the initial paperwork where we filled out our personal information. From there we were directed across the street to the bank where we paid our small fees and had the paperwork stamped. We were told to make copies of our stamped forms and head back across the street and up the block to the Banjercito. But after making copies and on our way to the Banjercito the initial gentleman who gave us the original paperwork hailed us. He gave the originals a second stamp and then sent us on our way to the Banjercito. After an interminable wait in line there we finally made it to the counter, only to learn that the copies we had made were invalid because they didn’t have the second stamp! James took the double stamped originals back to the store to make new copies while I waited in line again. When he returned we were finally able to get everything taken care of and our forms were carefully packed away. We mounted the bikes and resumed our travels. We had chosen a KOA campground for our first night’s stay in Mexico, simply because it was nearby and would be easy for the rest of the group to find us when they did show up.

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Welcome to Mexico!

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They even let James into the country

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KOA just over the border

Day 2 – Tecate KOA – Parque Nacional Constitucion
69 miles

What a night! Little did we know that the quaint little KOA campground nestled in the rolling scrub-covered hills harbored such evil: jake-braking semis drove past us all night, at all hours, coming and going. They were so loud that I actually thought a Cessna had buzzed us. It wasn’t the most peaceful night’s sleep, and it wasn’t very warm, but it was still exciting: our first night in Mexico!

The rest of the crew arrived around 1pm as James and I were packing up the bikes. There were 3 more KLRs and a KTM 950 in the group, which gave us quite a range of bike size and ability. We introduced ourselves, as James and I were the only ones who knew each other previous to this ride. There was some eye rolling as I confessed to the group that I had almost no dirt riding experience and that I’d do my best not to slow them down. Then the crew got on our bikes and we headed east on Mexico Route 2. Just past the town of El Hongo we made a turn onto a small dirt side road that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise. This road took us south into the heart of the wilds of northern Baja. The road became little more than a track through tall brush, consisting of rocks, dirt, sand and road-encompassing puddles. Other than a couple of tame logging roads in the Pacific Northwest, I had never ridden dirt roads, so this was a great 35 miles and it really tested my riding skills. The other riders all had some basis of dirt riding experience, so I did my best to imitate them and learn through their examples and patient explanations. I think that I did pretty well, only dropping the bike once, late in the day and in deep sand. The road twisted and turned and gained in elevation, eventually leading us to Parque Nacional Constitucion where we reached an elevation of 5,300’ and were surrounded by tall dry pine trees, tall scrub brush and prickly pear cactus.

The first rule for riding in Mexico is Do Not Ride At Night. So what did we do? We rode in the dark through these narrow dirt roads, dodging rocks and puddles and sand, looking for a place to put up our tents in relative comfort and safety. After checking with a local we finally found a field just off the road and made camp there. It was late and there was nothing nearby. We broke out what foodstuffs we had with us and soon bunked down in our individual tents. It was only 4:30, but it was dark and cold. And about to get colder: by the time the full moon rose in the clear sky above us, someone had recorded a temperature of 22 degrees. There was frost on our tents and our water bottles were frozen solid when we crawled out of our sleeping bags in the morning. By the time dawn arrived, we had spent 14 hours nestled away from the cold, lulled to sleep by a chorus of coyotes throughout the night.

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One of the early roads on this trip, immediately south of El Hongo

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This was to be typical for the first four days

Day 3 – Parque Nacional Constitucion – Mike’s Sky Ranch
98 miles

We left the camp by 9:30 and continued through the park, heading past Laguna Hanson and through some amazing rock formations and more pine covered hills. As we were cautioned to gas up whenever we could find gas, James and I filled up at a small settlement where the proprietor sold gas out of 1-gallon milk jugs and even supplied the funnel to pour it into the tank. He charged us $4 gallon for this privilege. One of the guys was leading and took us on an “unimproved road” which is frightening to think that what were on might have been considered “improved”. We headed up this washed out, rock-strewn stretch of dirt and I dumped my bike not more than 15 minutes later. I could see that it was only going to get worse and made up my mind that I was not going to continue in this direction. The group gathered together, looked at the GPS and local maps and came to a decision to take the “easier” road towards Valle de la Trinidad (and lunch) and then make better time to our next destination: Mike’s Sky Ranch. We fueled up and had lunch in Trinidad before heading south on RT 3. We took another obscure turn off that led through some farmlands but soon left them behind as the road gained in elevation and started to twist and turn through the mountains we were entering. The road was mostly rock and dirt, but once it crested the highlands it became sandier and harder to navigate. The sand got really deep (at least 6”) and challenging. There were also a few rivers that ran through the area so I was also able to experience my first water crossing as well.

After 24 miles and a 4000’ elevation gain we reached Mike’s Sky Ranch, a cozy little settlement that caters somewhat to the biking and Baja 1000 communities. The deal included individual rooms, a steak dinner, breakfast, hot water for showers and oil burning heaters in every room. There is no line electricity at Mike’s so we had to wait for someone to fire off the generator to heat the water for our showers and power the lights in our rooms. At some seemingly random time, the generator was turned off and we were left for the night with kerosene hurricane lamps, oil heaters and heavy blankets. It was divine.

Day 4 – Mike’s Sky Ranch – San Felipe
117 miles

I had somehow managed to acquire a local kitty to keep me company that night and he helped me enjoy one of the best night’s sleep I had had in a long time. The morning was clear, and after a hearty breakfast, we packed up the bikes and headed back down the mountain. The road twisted some more, but we took an easier route back to Hwy 3 so it didn’t take us nearly as long to get to Hwy 3 as it did to get to Mike’s. We were soon on a paved road and on our way to San Felipe. The road was decent, flat and fast and passed though open flat country that didn’t have much to offer to look at. It didn’t take us long to reach San Felipe and find lunch. The winds were really blowing, something seasonal that the locals called “Northers” so we decided not to camp, but instead, to stay at a hotel in town. We ran into some other bikers, had dinner with them and enjoyed a relaxing time in town.

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I don’t know why I still have this photo – it is our hotel in San Felipe

Day 5 – San Felipe – Gonzaga Bay (Alfonsia’s)
62 miles

The wind was still blowing when we left San Felipe the next morning, but the sky was clear. We headed south on paved roads, but they quickly deteriorated to some of the worst pavement I ever had the privilege of riding on. It wasn’t just rough pavement – it was bombed out, missing, stretches of gravel pavement. I pitied anyone who didn’t have good suspension who tried to travel this stretch. The scenery wasn’t that spectacular, which is just as well, as all of our concentration was needed to avoid the largest of the potholes and bike eaters. We were surprised when we reached the sleepy town of Puertocitos, as there was a sign that proclaimed: Rough Road Ahead. Then what were we just on? The “Rough Road” that we were warned of was actually easier to navigate, as it was pure packed dirt/gravel and had no potholes to avoid. By now the scenery had become more interesting visually, as it hugged the coast of the Gulf of California, presenting some dramatic coastal views of rocky shores and isolated sandy beaches. The views became even better as the road climbed and dipped along the coast, showing us interesting bays and islands. The gravel was tricky in some parts, that kept our speeds down somewhat (for some more than others). Eventually the mountains moved inland and we were left with some flat, dry stretches of landscape. The road became almost unbearable at this point, with a washboard surface that took its toll on both the bikes and the riders. Somewhere along this section of road is my license plate, discovered AWOL during our lunch at Punta Bufeo. I also discovered that my speedometer cable had broken. This cable was one of the few “spare parts” that I hadn’t packed along with me. Oh well, who needs to know how fast you’re going in Mexico, right?

After lunch we continued southward along the east coast of Baja, through an arid and desolate landscape that didn’t seem home to much of anything, humans included. In the middle of what appeared to be nowhere, we came upon a military checkpoint, populated with bored- and hot-looking soldiers. They noticed us, but took little interest, as we rode past them and continued to our night’s destination: Alfonsia’s at Gonzaga Bay. Here was a sheltered bay, complete with cabanas, a couple of fishing boats and a surprising population of American ex-patriots. After we unloaded the bikes we relaxed in our rooms, on the beach or around the restaurant area. Alfonsia’s is a stretch of private homes along the beach with rooms for rent, a restaurant/bar area and a close-knit community. We quickly found out just how close and friendly these people were during dinner, for, unbeknownst to me, it was Christmas Eve. We were seated at a table when we learned that the community provides a potluck dinner every year for anyone who happens by. We were treated to turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh rolls, vegetables, and various tasty local dishes. Everyone was friendly and made us feel quite welcome. The Christmas tree in the corner (with homemade ornaments) seemed out of place earlier in this warm and dry climate, but it fit right in now with the generous people that we found that evening. It was the closest thing to family that I was going to get for Christmas this year.

Day 6 – Gonzaga Bay – San Ignacio
150 miles

Christmas Day dawned the same as each previous day, with a glorious sunrise and blue skies. We got back on the road and continued south. The cactus appeared in great numbers, the road returned to the mountains and the surface became hard and fast. It was to be a good day. The pace picked up considerably along this stretch, and we barely slowed down while the road churned through the mountains before dropping down to a wide plain where there is a small cluster of buildings (two, actually) called Coco’s Corner. It’s an odd little place: very lonely but obviously visited frequently by passers-by. There are beer cans strung along fences everywhere, and eclectic found objects on display. The collection of donated underwear and various currencies is also quite impressive. Definitely a unique place, with very little to offer other than a diversion from the bleak landscape surrounding it. We left Coco’s Corner and continued on a very flat and straight dirt road that lead us to Mexico’s paved Hwy 1, where we ran into 3 of the guys we had dinner with the previous nigh in San Felipe. Our group of six also discussed our future options and plans. Half of the group wanted to hit more back roads, while the other half wanted to take advantage of the faster paced paved roads and see more of the country. We would split up here with the possibility of meeting up again later in the trip. Dave recommended a place in Mulege where we could meet and an approximate time to expect them. So after a brief farewell, Rob, Dave and Norm jumped on their KLRs and headed east towards wild and unknown territory while James, Mark and I continued along Hwy 1 and the tamer environs of San Ignacio and points beyond.

Our smaller group of three continued on its way, having lunch with The Tamale Lady in Jesus Marias. We were stopped by the military at the border to Baja Sur. That was the first time we had to get off our bikes and show our papers. I had to unpack my bags to get to my papers, as I didn’t really expect to need them again any time soon. The soldiers (complete with big guns and fancy camouflaged outfits) were nice though, and let us pass soon enough. At the next two checkpoints we were just waved through – you never know when you’ll get stopped. After some very long and straight roads, we made our way into the heart of San Ignacio, home to one of the many colonial cathedrals that we would see during our trip. The town was very small, and didn’t take long to ride around. Surprisingly enough, we met up with the same bikers that we had first met in San Felipe, but they were continuing south a little further, while we were planning on camping there for the night. We found a fairly quite little place to set up our tents, complete with date palms and lush foliage. Dinner was basic, being whatever we had in our bags that could be heated up over the camp stove and then James and I played cards while the three of us sat at a table and talked. Mark had made friends with the local dog “Bonbon” who was guarding our tents when we returned from the card games. It was still chilly that evening, so we crawled into our tents for a relatively early night.

Day 7 – San Ignacio – Mulege
59 miles

The next morning we went back to the “downtown” portion of San Ignacio and took some pictures and walked around for a little bit. We packed up camp and headed for breakfast in Santa Roselia. The ride was a really nice one. The road wound through some hills, the vegetation was greener and more prevalent and eventually we topped a ridge on our way back to the coast of the Gulf of California. We crested a fun mountain pass that then dropped us into a flat, desolate landscape on the vast shores of the Gulf. I was amazed at the number of burned out rusted vehicle hulks littering the landscape. Where did they come from, why were they there and why didn’t anyone do anything about them? Santa Roselia was a bigger town than I expected, but we still had a hard time finding a place to eat. Nothing seemed to be open, or sold something other than food. After we did find lunch we spent some time at the local automotive store looking for some odds and ends for our bikes. The employees were very helpful and of course, it’s always interesting to try communicating with someone who doesn’t speak your language. From Santa Roselia we continued down the coast for an uneventful 30 miles to Mulege, where we were to camp for the night at The Orchard, recommended by Dave. Mulege was another encampment of ex-pats, and had everything that we were looking for including laundry facilities and an Internet café.

Day 8 – Mulege – Mulege
0 miles

As we had agreed to wait for the rest of the group in Mulege, Mark, James and I were free to sleep in and take an easy day in town. We spent a quite day around camp, checking out the locals’ houses and seeing what the town had to offer. The wind had been blowing every day since we had started our trip, but yesterday it had died down and today it looked like it may warm up a bit. The sun finally climbed high enough to warm us up but all to soon clouds rolled in and obscured the sun, depriving us of the warmth. The Orchard is a very tidy and fairly good-sized campground, with hot showers and a short 1 mile walk into town. We sighted our first frigate bird, a huge and prehistoric looking creature that soared effortlessly above the water. I also watched some pelicans dive into the river, searching for breakfast. Our group then dropped off our laundry, checked email and ate ice cream. It was a very relaxing and restful day. That evening we met Lois and Bob, ex-pats from Minnesota who own a really beautiful house at the edge of the campground and along the river. They invited us in and we spent a comfortable evening with them.

Day 9 – Mulege – Cuicdad Constitucion
108 miles

I thought that the clouds would have moved off overnight but was disappointed to wake up to continued cloud cover. I was surprised when Rob, Dave and Norm showed up around ten o’clock that morning. In fact, I was rather surprised that they showed up at all, as there had been some talk as to different destinations on the mainland. As we finished strapping down our gear we agreed that we would indeed continue to split the group, with the three dirt riders heading over to the mainland via Santa Rosalia to visit Copper Canyon and my group of three continuing south to La Paz, where we’d cross over to Mazatlan. The three took off for the ferry back at Santa Roselia and we three headed south yet again.

The road out of Mulege was fun, with high speed sweepers and tighter curves and decent pavement. The weather was heavily overcast and I was surprised that it didn’t rain on us sooner than it did. The landscape was open, despite all of the curves carved into it. We had almost reached the coastal town of Loreto when it started to sprinkle on us. We took the opportunity to stop for lunch, watching our bikes get damp in the light drizzle. After lunch we headed back to the pavement and I was amazed at the beauty of the engineering of the road that we were on. It climbed dramatically through the mountains, giving us awesome views back to the Gulf and the winding road that we had just climbed up. The only way it could have been better was to have clearer weather and drier roads. As it was, I was very tentative when riding through these curves, as the trucks and buses had left a trail of oil and grease that made any sure-footedness a distant memory. The joys of climbing the mountain were soon left behind as we entered the central flatlands of Southern Baja and the road straightened out to the distant horizon. The speed limits in Mexico are ridiculously low, usually around 80kmp for a road that doesn’t turn, has no traffic and no joining roads. Fortunately these speed limits are rarely enforced and we were still able to make good time. The rains didn’t let up and we rode all the way to Cuidad Constitucion in the drizzle. It was along this stretch of road that I saw a most unusual sight. The flat plains were beginning to show signs of agriculture when I noticed a large field of corn backed by a row of palm trees. We’re not in Kansas any more. Upon entering Cuidad Constitucion we found a charming hotel off the main drag, unloaded our bikes and took a long walk around town, eventually finding dinner.

Day 10 – Cuicdad Constitucion – La Paz
156 miles

The clouds didn’t blow away overnight and, although the rains had stopped, it was still overcast when we got up the next morning. Our room was quiet and comfy with plenty of hot water; something extremely rare in Mexico. The road from Cuidad Constitucion to La Paz is unremarkable, with long straight stretches and not a lot to look at along the way. For the first time I was able to notice some of the techniques that Mexicans use on the road. They use their hazards lights whenever they are slowing down for any reason, or for no reason at all. Turn signals are used to indicate when its safe to pass, but its not a guarantee that its safe, only that they’re aware that you’re behind them. Of course these same signals will be left on for miles even when no one is around. We reached La Paz at noon and immediately headed for the ferry office to find out what our options were for getting to Mazatlan. The clerk at the counter told us that the Thursday ferry was cargo only (it was currently Wednesday) and Friday’s ferry wasn’t sailing for some reason. This wasn’t good news, as it meant spending days in La Paz, something that we weren’t looking forward to doing. Then we asked the most obvious question: how about today’s sailing? Is there any room? Yes, there was! We would have to hurry though. So we quickly got out our papers and gave her our information and paid for our passage (as well as the separate passage for our bikes). We made a quick run to the bank and then zipped off to the ferry dock, a distant 17 kilometers further down the road. We arrived, showed them our papers and then proceeded to the scales. They had me pull my bike on the scale, step back while they got the weight of my poor loaded down KLR and then waved me through. Mark and James were disappointed when the workers didn’t want to weigh their bikes and instead waved them on past to join me at the end of the dock. We parked the bikes near the mouth of the ferry and sat back to watch them load the boat. Unlike the open ferries I’m used to in the Pacific Northwest where they load from one end and unload from the other end, this ferry had only one opening. This meant that every truck (which there were a lot of) had to be backed into the ferry. We watched for quite some time, wondering why we were rushed to the dock so early when it didn’t appear that we were going to move for quite some time. James asked one of the dockworkers and found out that motorcycles load last, and it would be at least an hour before that would happen. Mark and James went off in search of lunch for the three of us while I watched over our stuff. They returned, the cars loaded and then it was finally our turn. Ours were the only bikes on the boat. We rode them into the cargo hold, started to tie them down and they closed the doors. We could feel the ship moving away from the dock and a crew member told us to get upstairs. But we weren’t done yet securing the bikes and he left us alone. About 5 minutes later we were done and ready to join the rest of the passengers, except we couldn’t! The doors were blocked, it was dark and the air was getting bad. No matter which way we turned we found our way blocked by the tightly packed semi trailers, cars and trucks. The ship’s diesel engines were running and exhaust fumes were filling the cargo hold. There were no windows for ventilation or lights for visibility. We wandered around, looking for an open door, trying not to imagine what would happen to us if we were trapped there for the entire 18-hour ferry ride. It was looking dire. Finally, through some fluke, I figured out how the doors were secured and we were able to make our way upstairs. Fresh air at last! We climbed up the stairs, found some unoccupied seats, stowed our gear and settled in for a long ride.

Day 11 – La Paz – Mazatlan
11 miles

The sailing was uneventful, with heavy overcast skies, lots of people and not much to do. People could have reserved cabins, but most of them just made do with the chairs they could secure, or benches, or the floor, or the aisles – wherever they could make themselves comfortable. The ferry was very big and offered two full-service restaurants, a bar, a cafeteria, TVs broadcasting old movies and even a small dance floor. The service and the food in the restaurant left a lot to be desired. I had to laugh when I saw what they offered at the cafeteria line: toilet paper! And for a good reason too: I did not find one roll of toilet paper in any of the restrooms on board. I had finally gotten used to the idea of putting toilet paper in the wastebaskets provided and not the toilet. That was a hard thing to adapt to. Sleep wasn’t easy, and I was up to see the sunrise over the city of Mazatlan. That would have been much more impressive if it weren’t so cloudy.

Being the last on the ferry, we were the first off. This was tricky, because they let everyone down to their vehicles at the same time, which meant that we had almost no time to untie our bikes, stow what stuff we had taken off them back on, and get our gear on before they were waiting for us to get out of the way. When we finally did ride off we headed directly for the hotel district of Mazatlan and spent an ungodly amount of time looking for a place that had rooms available for three people. We finally found a decent place, unloaded the bikes and took a walk on the beach. We had finally arrived in what I pictured as “Mexico:” palm trees, warm water, sandy beaches and margaritas.

Day 12 – Mazatlan – Mazatlan
21 miles

We spent the day looking for tires for James’ DRZ and a place for Mark to wash his KTM. We finally found a rear tire for James, someone to wash Mark’s bike and a tasty street vendor lunch before heading back to the hotel. James put the new tire on his bike, much to the amusement of the guys working on the building next door to us. Afterwards we decided to take a walk and ended up walking the entire 4 miles of waterfront, from the hotel district to the historic district. This was completely unintentional as we were just looking for coffee, but when we reached the end we stopped and had dinner at the first restaurant we found. After dinner we took a taxi back to our hotel, watched the fireworks on the beach and then went back to our room, where we could hear the sounds of not-so-distant parties for the rest of the night. Happy New Year!

Day 13 – Mazatlan – Mazatlan
18 miles

New Year’s Day in Mazatlan. After a poor night’s sleep, and spending most of the previous day riding around in hot, crazy traffic, we decided that we deserved a day of rest on the beach. Or a relaxing day on the bikes. This time we rode to the historic district in search of breakfast, but couldn’t find anything to our liking. We walked around the main plaza for a while before giving up and riding back to the hotel district, where we finally succeeded. We dropped our bikes off at the hotel and headed back to the shore, where we watched the locals on the beach and in the water. It was overcast and not terribly warm, so most of the tourists must have been in hiding.

Day 14 – Mazatlan – Durango
210 miles

On the road again! We packed up the bikes after our long New Year’s Eve siesta and headed inland. Our goal was Espinoza del Diablo, a road fabled to be 90 miles of nothing but curves that follow an amazing ridge top with views grand enough to make you miss the next bend. But first we had to get out of Mazatlan. The pollution, litter and traffic were horrendous and it was with great relief that we greeted the turn off to Hwy 40 that would take us up and inland for rest of the day. Almost immediately the road started to curve and rise. We had been at 72’ and would reach 8,945’ by the end of the day. The terrain was quick to gain in elevation and tree coverage. The forests became thicker and greener, and the road bent and twisted in order to follow the rising mountains. Little settlements of houses would appear, clustered close along the road or perched on the hillsides. I was really fascinated with the tiny fields of corn planted on near vertical slopes and tucked in among the trees.

Surprisingly, this squiggly line on the map is a main transportation route and the road surface reflects the heavy use of trucks and buses, each leaving their own trail of oil and grease. It was early in the day when I discovered just how poorly this road surface and my somewhat knobby tires went together. It was a nicely cambered uphill right-hander I was taking at about 35mph when I was surprised to be on my side, leg trapped momentarily under the bike as we slide across the lane. The bike pulled away and I was quick to get on my feet and out of the way of James, who was right behind me. He helped me get the bike off to the side where we assessed that all was well, with both the bike and myself. We rode around the bend to where Mark was waiting anxiously for us and took a short break. We re-assessed our speeds and the fact that we were on vacation and should probably take it easy. We mounted our bikes and proceeded to continue up the mountain. The road never gave up in its twists and turns and surprising views. It is indeed the Spine of the Devil, as it follows ridge tops and hugs mountain walls, with valleys dropping off steeply and expansive vistas that indicated just how much more we had to enjoy. The pavement cleared up, but never got really good. Each corner was a surprise in quality and sharpness and kept us on our toes. We eventually reached La Cuidad and stopped for a bite to eat and to put some warmer gear on. Warm sunny Mexico was a thing of the past now. The trees had changed to tall pine trees and the vegetation reflected the drier slopes of a mountain’s eastern side.

The road had reached a plateau and started to straighten out again, but by no means was it straight. There were just less intensive corners. This was the only time during the entire trip that the police took any notice of us. We saw the officer making a “slow down” motion with his hand from within his car as we went by and then the lights came on as he pulled out on the road. But there were dozens of cars nearby, and three of them stopped and we didn’t. No on pursued us, so we continued on to Durango, our intended stop for the night. There were holiday activities in the Plaza, including carolers and vendors and lots of Christmas lights, so it was all very festive. And best of all, the shower was hot.

Day 15 – Durango – Zacatacus
194 miles

Leaving Durango we headed south to Zacatacus, a city fabled for it’s cable car that travels between two 8,000’ + peaks and gives an amazing view of the city. The landscape opened up and golden hills stretched away into the distance, dotted with trees – this is how I would imagine the African savanna to look. There were a lot of miles to cover, but they went quickly on the smooth pavement and the fast curves. We stopped in Sombrerete for lunch where we were greeted with narrow flagstone streets, which were different from the cobblestone streets that we found in most other towns. South of Sombrerete, the roads straightened out even more and I noticed what would become the ubiquitous red Mexican stone. There were stout red stone walls crisscrossing the landscape, delineating fields and pastures for mile upon mile. The red soil also became apparent in tilled fields and even in the coloring of lakes. The agricultural basis of the area became more apparent as well, with many fields of cattle and horses, and even the sight of a horse-drawn cart and and plow dragged by a pair of oxen in a field as we zipped by.

Zacatacus is a fairly good-sized town but with great character and a bustling Central District. We eventually found a hotel just a few blocks from one of the many old churches located throughout the city. No sooner had we found our hotel then we met Frederico, a local motorcyclist who also has a hotel and specializes in accommodating motorcyclists. Ahhhh, ten minutes too late. But we made arrangements to meet up with him again and have dinner together the next day. Our hotel appeared luxurious that night: it had three beds, carpeting and wooden bed frames. Previous to this (and frequently afterwards as well) the rooms we found had only two beds, concrete or tile floors and a mattress set upon a concrete platform. The carpet provided warmth, the wooden frame provided comfort and the third bed provided even more comfort, as previously one person would sleep on the floor. We cleaned up and then took a leisurely stroll around the city, marveling at the architecture and the cultural differences around us. It was warm again, and it felt good to relax at the end of the day.

Day 16 – Zacatacus – Zacatacus
0 miles

We had planned for an “off day” in Zacatacus to take in the sights and do some laundry. We did a lot of walking around and eventually found our way up to the cable car loading point. The day was bright and clear and it would be a good view of the city. The cable car ride was interesting, with plenty of views of the city laid out below us. The city itself was up set in the mountains in such a way that there wasn’t much to see beyond it, but the views that we did have didn’t leave us feeling cheated. There was the option to take the return ride, but we opted to walk back, experiencing more of the “back yard” view of this high Mexican town. Walking through Mexican towns leads to a whole new world of dangers. Sidewalks are uneven and steps are of various heights. Construction sites may or may not be blocked off, vehicles have no regard for pedestrians and shops have low-hanging awnings at eye-level. One has to be alert for hazardous conditions at all times when walking through Mexico. We then walked to the other side of the Central District to take a tour of the local silver mine, but found that it was closed. Instead we gathered up our laundry and returned to our hotel, to prepare for our dinner with Frederico. He was very helpful in providing information and maps about local destinations (mostly bike-specific, but that was the topic of conversation anyway). We left the restaurant that night armed with maps and route suggestions and slept well in anticipation of the next day’s ride.

Day 17 – Zacatacus – Chapalla
264 miles

For the first time on this trip we had planned and successfully executed a departure before 9am. We were on the road by 8am and heading for the ancient ruins of Chicomostoc, less than an hour south of Zacatacus. It was amazing to see what was left of structures built hundreds of years ago, all out of local rock and, at one point, tree parts. I climbed to the (almost) highest point and was rewarded with a view of the structures below and the valley stretching out in the distance. After spending an hour or so checking out the ruins we got back on our bikes and continued southward towards Guadalajara. The dry, arid region soon gave way to green hills, more trees and more agriculture. I saw my first fields of agave, which appear bluish when seen en masse. There were also pear trees, cornfields, cows, goats and pigs to see along the way. The road rose and fell with the landscape, stretching out to the distant mountains that always seemed to surround us. We couldn’t resist not stopping in Tabasco for lunch and were rewarded with some of the best grilled chicken that we had on the entire trip. Oh, was it ever tasty! After lunch the road climbed up the mountains that we had been taunted with all morning and the corner radiuses became tighter and more challenging. I was riding at a fairly decent pace when I felt the rear wheel slip slightly. We were on a similar surface as the one on Espinoza del Diablo and I immediately backed off. I had no intentions of repeating my earlier low-side performance. Another reason for keeping the speeds down was the Mexican’s complete disregard for the yellow line down the middle of the road. It apparently did not matter if the road was straight of curvy, but an oncoming driver was almost guaranteed to cross over the yellow line at any given time, with no visible reason. There was many a turn I came around only to be startled by a bus half in my lane. We enjoyed the twists and turns of the road as it reached for the tops of the mountains, and when we were at the top we continued to enjoy the faster, longer curves that ran along the ridge line. This is where I came across the most frightening point in my entire trip. I was leading our group along this ridge line and came to a very long, even, left-hand corner that stretched around the edge of a shallow ravine. It was situated in such a way that I could see that it was evenly constructed, no vehicles were coming and that it looked like a really fun corner to hit hard! I rolled on the throttle a little more and figured that I was probably going about 55mph or so and about 1/3 into the corner when I got the biggest surprise of the day: it was all gravel: freshly laid, loose and deep. The front tire slipped out, then the rear tire, and I thought for sure that I was going to lose it and slide right off the edge of the road and into the deep brush and who-knows what else. Fortunately, I didn’t go down and the guys were far enough behind me to make adjustments in their speed and approach to minimize their danger. It took me quite a few miles to fully recover from that scare.

From this point on the road started to slowly descend into a large valley, weaving in and out around the edges of the mountains, giving us teasing glimpses into what was in store around the next corner. When we finally reached the bottom of the valley we found a large river and banana trees dotted the yards of the houses that we passed. It was another agricultural valley and it was very lush and green and beautiful. After crossing the river we had the pleasure of climbing back up the other side, winding upwards and giving us great views of the side of the mountain that we had just descended. As we rounded one bend we caught a glimpse of a fairly large waterfall that cascaded down into the river valley below. We would have stopped to take pictures but the road was so narrow and there was so much traffic that none of us felt that it was a safe or wise thing to do. Besides, it was getting late and we weren’t even in Guadalajara yet. But that was about to change. Less than two miles later we rounded a bend and found ourselves facing the city. It was terrible! Dirty, litter everywhere, cars everywhere, terrible roads, smog in the air… it was not my idea of a pleasant place. The road lines had been worn away and the four lanes of traffic were random and constantly shifting. I noticed people driving with their kids on their lap and the beds of pick up trucks stuffed with people. It was a crazy place, but quite honestly, I enjoyed fighting my way through the traffic. We made the decision to continue riding, heading around the city and ending up somewhere outside of the outskirts in a hopefully more pleasant environment. We managed to achieve this, even though it meant riding on Mexican roads in the dark. It was a long ride, but well worth it. The only time I was stopped during the entire trip was along this stretch. As we passed through Tonala a policeman noticed my lack of a license plate and pulled me over for questioning. He wanted to know where the plate was and I tried to explain that it was somewhere on Baja. He was happy with my registration papers and let me continue. We finally reached Chapalla, a small town full of ex-pats that had a hotel ready to welcome not only us, but also our bikes. As the final bonus, it had three beds and hot water!

Day 18 – Chapalla – Chapalla
0 miles

I woke up in my comfortable bed to the sounds of horses’ hooves on the uneven cobblestones, roosters crowing, dogs barking, a man singing and the gas truck luring people out of their houses. It was a good morning. The gas truck, I should explain, was a pick up truck that drove around town with liquid propane in the back, the common fuel used by Mexicans. The truck had a recording that would play repeatedly, consisting of a gentle two-tone horn and then a voice calling out in a most friendly and enticing timbre “Gaaassss!” The best part about this truck was that it wasn’t isolated to Chapalla; the same recording was in many of the small towns that we visited. This was another day that we had decided not to travel, so it was a leisurely morning of walking around the markets and seeing what the town had to offer. My other sandal had torn, so I made a point of finding someplace that could fix it for me. The first sandal tore while in Mazatlan and I found a one-eyed leather worker who fixed it for 10 pesos – what a bargain!. We met a local who lives along the shore of the lake, and he was very pleased to answer our questions regarding the lake level and it’s history. We spent a good deal of the afternoon talking, and when we left him the sun was setting and it was time for dinner. It had been another pleasant day in Mexico.

Day 19 – Chapalla – Union de Tula
198 miles

There are two volcanoes south of Chapalla Lake, near Colima, one of which was supposed to be active so we packed up the bikes and took off around the lake. It was very slow going through the numerous little towns and their accompanying topes (speed bumps). We finally got to the south side of the lake and took Rte 110, a road that led us south and into more mountains. I should note that until now, bugs had been almost non-existent. In fact, I had forgotten what a pain they could be until I started to run into them more frequently south of Chapalla. The road surface looked slippery and was pocked with ruts and bumps, so it was a pretty casual ride for the group. The road rose up from the edge of the lake giving me a great view of the long narrow body of water and the frequent towns along its shores. Eventually the pine trees started to cover the land and the road began its descent, winding downward through rich pine needle-covered earth. As we dropped in elevation we entered a land of vast and lush fields, something I later learned to be sugar cane. They stretched out for acres and lent a very vibrant hue to the landscape. We stopped for lunch in a small town with a view of the two volcano peaks. As we waited for our food, the active volcano let out a large plume of steam that curled and stretched its way hundreds of feet into the sky. How very exciting! The locals at the restaurant were also excited about the steam cloud, so I could tell that this was a rare occurrence. Our route after lunch took us along the northern slopes of the twin peaks and we dashed through narrow twisting roads until it opened up once more and we were able to see the peaks, this time from the west side. We climbed another mountain pass that challenged our cornering skills simply by the amount of “road apples” we came across on the way to the top. Apparently this route was not an uncommon one for horses. There were more beautiful views of deep valleys full of farms and houses. We found the town of Union de Tula nearby and chose to stop there for the night.

Day 20 – Union de Tula – Talpa de Allende
79 miles

One of the members in our group had a friend from the States who was getting married in Talpa de Allende that day, so our goal was simply to reach the town, find the wedding and enjoy ourselves. We left Union de Tula and found the road to Talpa de Allende to be a narrow, twisty two-lane road that crossed over many mountain passes. It was a great ride! There were white flowering trees along the road that gave an odd look to the landscape, as most of the trees had dropped their leaves for the season and left the forests looking barren and dead. We passed through more agricultural areas, many valleys, some very small towns and over some more ridge tops before dropping down a dramatic valley into the beginnings of Talpa de Allende. This is a rather small and quaint town with a large Catholic following. There is a story about a virgin with a mole on her face, but I never was able to find out more than that. The town is famous for this virgin and is visited by people from miles away, sometimes on their knees. We found a hotel and then sent Mark on his way to find the groom. That took much longer than we thought, but while we were waiting we found Norm, one of the riders from earlier in the ride. We had exchanged emails and had made arrangements to meet up here and ride together for a few more days. Mark finally found out where we should be so we hopped onto the bikes and rode out to the family ranch, where tents and a band were set up and the drinks were flowing freely. We were made to feel welcome and offered drinks and dinner. It was a really fun time and we stayed until late that night, making for a wild ride back to the hotel on dark farm roads.

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Our bikes in the lobby of the motel in Talpa de Allende

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The ranch house on the wedding party’s property

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The site of the reception

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The band

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Wedding cake

Day 21 – Talpa de Allende – Puerto Vallarta
110 miles

It being Sunday in a highly Catholic town, it was not a quiet morning. In addition to the “gas” trucks, we now also had dump trucks that would steam slowly down the narrow streets, their recordings crooning out an enticing offer: “basura”. Yes, it was time to bring out your trash. I was amazed that anyone could make a garbage truck sound alluring, but they did it. There were also drums and flutes for some performance dancers in the plaza in front of the main church and they played for a long time. Each town naturally has their main plaza and accompanying cathedral, but it is interesting to note that the bells in these cathedrals rarely ring in any organized or consistent manner. They will ring at any time of the day, for any length of time and not always in a consistent rhythm. I tried many times to find a correlation between the bells and the time but I was unable to do so. It took us a little longer to get on the road, but eventually the four of us hopped on our bikes and headed to Puerto Vallarta. It was time to hit the coast! However, being on Dual Sport motorcycles, some felt that it was only right that we approach the city from the most remote and impossible way: directly across the mountains.

We started off by heading north to Muscota and asking some locals the way to Puerto Vallarta. They pointed to a paved road north of us. “No no”, we said, pointing to the dirt road near the barn. “We want to know if this road goes there”. “Yes, but it is rough” “Good!” we replied. We took off behind the farmhouse as they shook their heads. We were soon flying down a well-packed dirt road, through pleasant fields and past curious cows. At this rate, the guys figured that we’d be in Puerto Vallarta in a couple of hours. That was not to be. The road stopped being well-packed dirt and flat half an hour later and it soon rose and fell with the terrain, swooping low into valleys and rising sharply with the next ridge. We had to stop for a few minutes while some horsemen herded their cattle down the road; this was not a place for high-speed racing. There were sporadic and tiny towns that the road meandered through, and these tapered off quickly as we entered the heart of the coastal mountains.

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Early in the day – we contemplate the best line across

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James takes his turn

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Excellent roads and scenery

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Cowboys herd cattle down the road

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Gaining elevation rapidly

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And the fun had barely started

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Hoping not to meet anyone coming the other way

The road became one lane and usually consisted flour-like dirt or sand and went up and down more than an oil pump in Texas. It twisted like no other road I’d ever been on. There was no time to shift up a gear between turns. What was ahead of you at any given time was a mystery because of the sharp bends. There were frequent switchbacks that would let me gain elevation faster than I thought possible and then the corresponding descending switchbacks that left me looking over the edge of the precipice into the valley far below. There were frequent large rocks to dodge and infrequent pick-ups that came barreling around the corner from the other direction. Not to mention the time I came around a tight, narrow right hand corner only to find myself face to face with, of all things, a school bus. This made for an interesting pass, as there was just enough room for me to pull up against the inside wall, lean the bike over as far as possible while the bus inched its way around on the outside of the road. There were three major rivers to cross, the largest I had ever forded in my brief career as a dirt biker. We all did well on the first one, but I hit an underwater boulder on the second one and got a bit wetter than I intended. But the bike’s engine kept running and the gear stayed dry, so it was just a short wait while I poured the water out of my boots before we continued on our way. The third crossing was considerably easier and James even went across a couple of times so we could get some “action shots”. Our two-hour estimated time frame had become over 5 hours for this 40-mile stretch of dirt before we started to drop down the final range and into the valley leading out to Puerto Vallarta. It had been a hot, dusty and tiring journey and I was sorely tempted to jump in the river that we were following out of the mountains. Instead we rode in to Nuevo Puerto, just north of Puerto Vallarta, looking for Mark’s friend. We must have looked fairly lost and bedraggled at the entrance to the resort because the security guard came over to ask us if we needed any help. Mark explained what we were looking for and the guard said to follow him. He jumped in his car, turned on the lights and took off without even waiting for us. We caught up to him and he led us to the resort we needed. But we didn’t find Mark’s friend so instead we headed to Puerto Vallarta to find a hotel for the evening. We found a good one (more hot water and comfortable beds) and then had a very good dinner on the beach while the sun set. It was the perfect end to a long and rewarding day.

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“Famous” Monarch butterfly

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Looking across the valley towards our route

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The road we’re about to take

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Getting closer to the Gulf of California

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Looking back at the second water crossing – I dropped my bike

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Drying out the gear

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We came from the left – can you see the sign?

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Regrouping after the 3rd and final water crossing

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More mountains to cross

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Slow going through flour-like dirt – slippery!

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The red mud of Mexico

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Treating ourselves to a good meal in Puerto Vallarta

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The old part of Puerto Vallarta

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Dawn in Puerto Vallarta

Day 22 – Puerto Vallarta – Playa de Santiago
181 miles

James and I spent the next morning at the DHL office trying to pick up a package. My speedometer cable had broken back on Baja and I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get a new cable sent to me. Puerto Vallarta was the only place I knew I’d be on a certain date, so I found the DHL’s address and gave it to a friend back in Seattle in order for him to ship the part to. What I didn’t realize is that DHL wouldn’t be able to deliver it in time, so it was sent via another carrier and the DHL office in Puerto Vallarta would not accept any packages from any other carriers. It took a long time to figure this out, as the language barrier was considerable and I was disappointed to learn that I would have to continue to travel with no speedometer cable. Needless to say, we got a late start out of Puerto Vallarta and it was getting warm. The road followed the coast for a little while, giving us nice views of the ocean and the hotels and homes that line it, but, all too soon, the pavement went inland. The temperatures rose and the road straightened out and we were soon passing banana plantations, coconut palms and date palms in profusion. The hills that we did see were evenly covered with low leafless trees that reminded me a lot of the east coast in winter: very brown and dead looking. Mark had heard about a place called Barra de Navidad along the coast, so we stopped there for lunch. It was a beautiful sheltered bay with very few people and very good food. Since we had gotten such a late start “lunch” was at 5pm and it was finally cooling off. We didn’t travel far after lunch for our evening accommodations, which were at Playa de Santiago. It was getting dark quickly and we needed a place to stay. A man told us that we could camp in his parking lot that overlooked the beach and we gladly accepted. It wasn’t the best location as there was litter everywhere, sharp objects hidden in the hard-packed sand and it smelled slightly, but it was free and readily available. We all took a dip in the ocean before retreating to our tents with the sounds of the waves breaking against the sand as a backdrop.

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Barra de Navidad

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Lunch on the beach

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Lunch at Barra de Navidad

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Sunrise from my tent – you can see the edge of the lot

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Sunrise from my tent

Day 23 – Playa de Santiago – Nexpa
180 miles

I watched the sunrise from my tent and shortly after that we packed things up pretty quick. It wasn’t the nicest of campsites and we were eager to get to something a little more inviting. The road led us along the coast almost the entire way. That meant great views, great corners and great riding. It was hot and humid, but there was some cloud cover that gave small relief from the sun. It was already 84 degrees by 11am.

The Mexican’s have a casual way of dealing with their trash: they throw it wherever they want to. You can see litter along almost every roadway throughout the country. While they do have some municipal dumps I found that most of the trash just ends up wherever the wind and the Mexican’s leave it. The solution to trash buildup is to burn it. In fact they burn everything, including plastic, metal, papers and even the vegetation along the roadside. This creates huge clouds of smoke that cover the road and burn the eyes. Add to this the smoky emissions from everything from VW Bugs to full-sized buses and I feel as though I lost five years of my life to cancer-causing pollution on this trip.

We were looking for a surfers’ hangout near Nexpa that we heard good things about. Our directions were somewhat vague, so we poked around for a bit before finding it. And it was perfect. We set up our tents of the soft beach sand. There were showers easily accessible and two good restaurants nearby. The water kept getting warmer as we headed south and this beach was a beautiful quiet crescent dotted with cabanas and private homes. We spent a pleasant evening strolling along the sands and enjoying the sunset and the moonrise. Other than the roosters and dogs, it was very peaceful.

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View along the coast

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A rare “wide spot” to pull over on to

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Nexpa

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One of two places to eat in Nexpa

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A little extra help in the kitchen, please

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What a look of concentration!

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The end of a good day

Day 24 – Nexpa – Zihuatanjo
125 miles

One of the roosters couldn’t crow. While most of the feathered critters would let out a typical “cock-a-doodle-do!” there was one who couldn’t quite get it. Over and over as I lay in my tent I would hear him nearby: “cock-a-do!” I couldn’t help but chuckle at this, even as it woke me up for another great sunrise from my tent. Afterwards I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the beach and then the four of us loaded up the bikes and continued to head south along the coast. Norm had decided to head inland and explore some more dirt roads, so he left the group shortly after we departed Nexpa. We were back down to the three of us and we were stuck with hot weather, straight roads and military checkpoints. It reached 96 by the end of the day and in full gear that can get pretty darn uncomfortable. There was no way that I was going to ride without my gear though. The roads were too uncertain and I was too far away from home to take such an unnecessary risk.

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Norm enjoys breakfast before leaving Nexpa

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Egret

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Estuary at Nexpa

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Estuary at Nexpa

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After-breakfast walk along the beach

We stopped by Ixtapa to see a hotel famous for its architecture, but a surly security guard shadowed us very closely and made us feel generally unwelcome. We left and continued to Zihuatanjo where we easily found a nice little motel with a pool and restaurant. We dropped off some laundry and checked out the town, which was surprisingly small. We walked around its entirety in a matter of an hour or so and didn’t feel like we had missed anything. I found a leather shop and took my tank panniers to the leather worker to see if they could be repaired (the low side I experienced had stressed some of the seams). Unfortunately he wasn’t able to help but he did give me directions to someone who could. I couldn’t find that person, but during my search, I did see someone sitting behind a sewing machine in her shop. I went in and explained what I needed. She agreed to repair them and while I was waiting I realized that I was in a lingerie shop. I felt very awkward standing there, surrounded by beautiful, dainty things while the seamstress worked on my grimy and dusty tank panniers. But she did a great job and was happy to help me. I returned to the guys and we had an early dinner and walked around the town some more. Yep, we had seen all there was to see. We went back to the hotel room where I found our first in-city roach. There was only one, but where there’s one, there are many. And lucky for me, I was the one to sleep on the floor that night. Fortunately I was very tired and didn’t give it too much thought.

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Cruise ship in Ixtapa

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Beaches of Ixtapa

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Bikes in the courtyard of our hotel in Zihuatanjo

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Brightly colored wall decoration by the pool

Day 25 – Zihuatanjo – Zihuatanjo
0 miles

I woke up around midnight and felt sick. Very sick. I spent the rest of the night up and down between the bed on the floor and the bathroom. It was not pleasant. When the boys got up in the morning, I informed them that there was no way I was going to be able to ride that day. Heck, I couldn’t even walk across the room without staggering against the wall. They agreed to go out and be tourists while I stayed in bed and watched bad Spanish TV (with no remote – life can be so cruel). And that’s how I spent the day. I took some Imodium A-D, drank plenty of water and slept very soundly. I’ve found a surprising number of toilets in Mexico don’t come with toilet seats (mostly in public places) so I was very pleased that our hotel room’s toilet had a very nice seat on it. Eventually the boys came back with tales of parasailing, boat ferries, beach combing, massages and having a good time in general. I was glad that this was a good town to be stuck in. I eventually worked up the nerve to eat a banana and then an apple, but that was the extent of it. I did go down to the pool and bobbed around for a while, but I didn’t trust myself to walk too far or do too much. Tomorrow would be a better day.

Day 26 – Zihuatanjo – Barra de Vieja
190 miles

I was feeling better and ready to make up for yesterday’s lost time. We got an early start and were soon headed to Acapulco and points beyond. There was a military checkpoint mere minutes after we left Zihuatanjo and they were very thorough in going through our bags. Usually they just looked at us, asked a couple of questions and then let us pass. Apparently they were concerned about the high volume of drug trafficking that takes place in this area. After they let us go, we found the road to be fast and the weather hot. We made it to Acapulco by 1:30 where we had lunch and drank cold fruit beverages on the beach, in the shade. Following Mark’s GPS, we took the non-toll road south from Acapulco, only to find that the GPS was wrong and the road ended at a river. They were building a bridge over this river, but they had been building it for the last four years and it didn’t look like they were going to finish it any time soon. This was no ordinary river and it looked too treacherous to cross. While it was probably no more than 50’ wide, the riverbanks were sandy and looked unsupportive of our bikes. A man offered to ferry our bikes across in his boat but that didn’t appear to be the safest option at that time because one of our bikes was considerably larger than what would normally be ferried on such a boat. It was also getting late in the day. We had noticed a nice cluster of buildings back a few miles and decided to ride back to check it out. There was a hotel, a couple of small restaurants and cabanas on the beach. We made arrangements to put up our tents on the beach and looked forward to a very quiet night on the empty shore. As the sun dipped closer to the horizon I heard some music. I figured that since it was Friday night there must be live music at one of the restaurants and didn’t give it a second thought. Not wanting to sit on the beach with the sand fleas, we opted to walk around the buildings behind our tents to see what was there. We got quite a surprise when we rounded the corner to find a large clearing, many many tables and chairs, a bandstand and a six-tiered wedding cake. We looked at each other and shook our heads; so much for our quiet evening on the beach. We asked a local about the set up and yes, indeed, there was to be a wedding reception for 500 people with 3 bands, scheduled to start around 9pm. We went back to our tents and crawled in for a long night of music and revelry. They didn’t stop partying until 4am, and then the roosters started to crow.

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Local motorcycle – rare to see one with such a large displacement

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Lunch in Acapulco

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Our evening accommodation at Barra de Veije

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Looking back from the water’s edge

Day 27 – Barra de Vieja – Santiago
173 miles

I will say that the band played well and I enjoyed the music, but the tent was too hot and I was unable to sleep much that morning. I was ready to just get on the road and be somewhere else. We still had to back track to Acapulco before we were able to get on a road that could actually cross the river that had stopped us the previous evening. Once we got back on the main road it was slow going, with topes in every town and bad pavement in between towns. Topes, I’ve decided, are the devil. They come in many forms and while most are marked, some are not. It can simply be a sharply raised ridge of asphalt, or a gentle slope of poured concrete, or a line of large 6” metal balls buried halfway into the road surface, or simple ineffective rumble strips. They are almost all painted bright yellow (or had been painted bright yellow at some point in time) and are usually well indicated by signs, both in advance and immediately over the tope itself. All of this does nothing to lessen the fact that they are evil, slow traffic to a complete stop through every little po-dunk town in the country and are generally ineffective to a bike with a suspension such as mine. Having said all that, I can see how they are useful for traffic control in a country where drivers (and pedestrians) generally ignore all signs and traffic laws. There is no ignoring a tope when you’re in a car.

The road passed through some nice terrain with dry hillsides and lush river valleys. We saw many school kids being let off from buses at the side of the roads, usually with no place to walk except on the road itself. The vegetation was almost always crowding up to the edge of the pavement, which left the kids, and anyone else for that matter, very little room to walk. It seemed very dangerous and gave reason to think that perhaps not all of the numerous roadside memorials were all dedicated to traffic accidents. It was also interesting that Mexican school kids wear uniforms. I noticed this throughout the entire country, so it didn’t appear to be a local or isolated event. The further south we went, the more likely we were to see water under the bridges that we crossed over. James was not feeling well, so we did not ride hard or far, stopping for the night in a dumpy little town called Santiago something-or-other near the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua. We stayed on the outskirts of town in a less-than-desirable neighborhood. Mark and I left James sleeping in the hotel room while the two of us trudged along the narrow road back into town to see what we could find. Along the way we discovered another motorcyclist on a grand journey of his own. Jim was from Olympia, Washington and was riding his ’96 1100 GS down to South America, taking his time and enjoying his time off. As he was alone and had no real plans, he agreed to ride with us the next morning to Puerto Escondido and see how things went from there. The three of us walked around the plaza discussing our individual trips and circumstances before heading back to our hotel for the evening.

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Taking a break while James tries to feel better

Day 28 – Santiago – Puerto Escondido
30 miles

The next morning we were once again a group of four. It was a quick ride to Puerto Escondido, both in road type and sheer distance. The foliage had grown visibly greener and thicker and there was a major bridge crossing a fairly large river. I looked down at the river’s edge and was surprised to see a dozen or so people in the river, washing their clothes on rocks along the shore. I had read about this and seen pictures, but I never expected to actually see people doing it. We reached the seaside town in time for lunch and made our plans to find comfortable accommodations for the night. We found some well-made cabanas that looked across the road to the beach and the delightfully warm water beyond. Jim decided to stay with us, so the four of us made arrangements to share a cabana. There was a clean and inviting pool and I didn’t take too long to dive in and relax in the sun. It’s hard to get a tan when you spend all day in motorcycle gear. Puerto Escondido is incredibly small but it has a lively international feel to it. We were actually south of the main part of town, but this was perfect for me: one small strip of shops along the water and that was it. We found a good place for dinner where I had some of the best BBQ pork ribs I’ve had in a long time. That night there was a live band at the pool, and when they were done playing there was a TV playing in the background for the rest of the night. And for the first time in my life I slept under mosquito netting! I didn’t notice that the mosquitoes were bad, but why take a chance?

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Cozy accommodations for the night

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Poolside

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Sadly out of focus, but much enjoyed

Day 29 – Puerto Escondido – Puerto Angel
24 miles

I was going to leave the group that day and head back to Seattle on my own. I had a time frame that I had to stick to while the rest of the group had none. Because of the confusion of who wanted to do what and where they wanted to go, no real decisions were made until almost 11:30. I knew that the road north to Oaxaca (my next destination) would be a full day’s ride, so I chose to stay one more day and get a fresh start in the morning. The rest of the group was enjoying the casual pace of Puerto Escondido and was already intending to stay. That’s when we found out that our cabana had been rented to someone else and there were no more available where we were. Since we had to pack up to move anyway we decided to move to a different town and headed to Puerto Angel, a short hop down the road. We found a very quaint little place just off the beach with more mosquito netting over the beds. We walked along the short beach, stopping to help some locals get their fishing boat off the sand and into the bay. At our hotel there was a nice couple that had been in Puerto Angel for a while and they invited us to join them for dinner. We agreed and later met them at a local restaurant. It was pleasant to talk with them (they were from California) and find out how long they’d been in Mexico and what they were up to. It was a late night at the restaurant and we went to bed as soon as we got back to the hotel. I had repacked my bike completely back in Puerto Escondido so I was prepared to just get up and go in the morning. I was ready to head north.

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A well-made walkway along the shore

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Local kids play football on the beach

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The group: Mark, Jim, James and myself

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Kicking back

Continue to Part 2

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