September 28th, La Paz, BC, Mexico ,Stop: October
12, Salvatierra, Mexico
Distance: 2452 km,
Total Distance: 23828 km [Map]
As we made our way northeast into the Sierras
of Chihuahua, we experienced miserable heat, fantastic landscape,
met our first real long distance tourer and came under a magic
spell in our disfavor. Later we discovered that Mexican cities
can be extraordinary beautiful, and especially so when there's
a major fiesta going on.
On a stop on our way north from Los Mochis, we poured a
gallon of water over our T-shirts. It helped for a while.
A warm day on the coast
On the ferry terminal in La Paz we met a couple of Canadians
in their late fifties, early sixties on a Gold Wing doing a tour
of Baja and up along the coast of the main land. They impressed
us immensely, since he hated driving on dirt, but still loved
to tour Mexico. We spent a pleasant couple of hours with them
on deck before crashing out on the floor of the air conditioned
saloon. We slept badly on the hard linoleum surface and started
off the next day in a foul mood. It was, if possible, warmer and
more humid in Los Mochis than it had been in La Paz, and we were
quick to get going, both of us longing for the mountains we knew
we would climb within the end of the day.
It took forever to get up there though, and for the whole day
we rode in body temperature heat and serious humidity. On one
of the few stops we poured a gallon of water over our T-shirts.
It helped for a while, but not more than an hour passed before
the once soaking wet shirts were back to the original state of
sticky and warm. When we came to Yecora that night, we had just
climbed into the mountains and were exhausted but, finally, cool.
Yecora was a small western town where every hombre was
dressed in jeans, denim shirt, cowboy boots and matching hat.
They all looked at us from a distance, none approaching. It was
hard to read their minds, to decide whether it was pride or jealousy
that kept them away. The women came over to us though, smiling
and making small talk about where we had been, where we were going
and how the weather was.
After a couple of wrong turns and several helpful, though so
confusing, explanations we came to the road sign that pointed
us in the direction of Creel. The back road we took saved us a
long detour through Chihuahua and led us 100 kilometers on dirt
through marijuana growing country. We kept to the main road to
avoid confrontations and the going was good. This dirt road was
like riding the US Interstate compared to our Baja experience.
In Creel we ended up in Huespedaje Margarita with, according to
one of the managers, every backpacker in town. The price was good
though. For 200 pesos we got a nice double with bath including
breakfast and dinner, both good meals.
The next day Pieter showed up, a twentyfour year old Canadian
carpenter with big hands, red curly hair and a Kawasaki KLR 650
which he had decided to ride as far south he could before it broke
down or got stolen. When he told us about the puncture he had
on the extremely hot coastal highway earlier in the day, we didn't
know what a magic impact it would have on us. Neither did he.
The next day he went for a bicycle ride around town on a hired
bike, and when I asked how his trip was, he shrugged and said:
"I had another puncture and had to carry the bike back".
Canyons and magic spells
Sheamus says the magic words when tying the bracelet on
Pieter's wrist, while Pieter makes his wish. Never ever
stay as close as we did!
Later Pieter, Bente and I talked for hours with Sheamus, an Irish
street vendor and maker of colorful bracelets, who stayed in Creel
for a few months every year with his wife and two children. He
sold each of us a leather bracelet, and as he tied it to each
one's arm, he said a few words about ridding us of trouble and
asked us to make a secret wish. Pieter later revealed he had wished
for a trip with no more punctures. Still, we didn't suspect anything.
Sheamus could talk for hours, and the sun had moved a quarter
of it's daily passage by the time we bid goodbye. He had been
travelling for the most of his life and over time developed a
talent for working with leather, making it possible to finance
his lifestyle. Now he had a wife or girlfriend from Mexico and
two children. His travelling was limited these days, but they
tried to catch the high tourist season of Baja and Creel. He was
very involved in the Tarahumara Indian situation, and verified
much of what Maria had told us in Ensenada, that the Indians were
being exploited for every penny they were worth. He had a friend
from Ireland called Mark who came to stay with the Indians every
year for months. When he came, he brought medicines and clothes.
But it didn't always reach their final target. Last year, Mark
had asked the local priest in Creel for help to refrigirate the
many boxes of medicine he had with him, to save it from ruin while
he stayed in Creel and arranged for transport. The priest, who
also was a big land owner and made a lot of money on the tourist
boom in the area, said no to Mark, even though everyone knew he
had the means to help him. There was no other place in town that
could take such quantities, and as a result, all the medicine
was ruined and unusable.
This was, according to Sheamus, a typical example of how the
Catholic church in the area couldn't care less to what happened
to the Tarahumarans. Keep them poor, keep them uneducated, and
keep them away from owning properties; That's the way to enrichen
yourself on the flow of tourists that come to see them. Still,
the Tarahumarans are some of the best runners in the world. They
arrange races that goes on for days, races that would kill me
for sure. Also, they were, according to some of our sources, the
only Indian tribe not to be fully conquered by the Spaniards.
Today they are scattered about in a huge area in southern Chihuahua
state, quite a lot of them still living in the canyons far away
from roads or other signs of western civilization.
After three lazy days in Creel, we headed for Batopilas. This
little town was one of the reasons for coming to this area, and
I looked forward with joy and anticipation to the 130 kilometer
trip, where 65 kilometer is on dirt roads leading down into the
canyon. The altitude change is 1800 meters and the temperature
change about 35 degrees Celsius, from early morning temperatures
just above zero in Creel to the afternoon heat in the canyon.
We set of with all our gear on, warming up as we declined. After
70 kilometers the road left the highway and went dirt. It was
easy going, although in some places there were lots of loose stones
flying everywhere as we hit them. Another 25 kilometers and we
finally saw the canyon. It was huge, but since it was much more
fertile and narrower than Grand Canyon it didn't have the same
impact on us.
The going got slower as we declined through a series of switch-backs,
keeping Rocinante in first gear and using the rear brake a lot.
For every meter we descended, we got warmer. At one point, as
we were about to come down to the river we would follow for the
next 30 kilometers, we both laughed at how bad some said this
road was. Never ever talk like that, we have always said. Just
then the road narrowed along a cliff, and the road surface changed
from decent to fist size stones. Of course, this was one of the
three spots on the whole trip down we met a car coming up. He
came around a blind corner, but luckily the road hadn't invited
the driver to push it. Even so, we met in a very narrow turn,
and when Bente got off, I moved Rocinante into the rock wall to
the right of us. The driver didn't hesitate, he simply gassed
it with, as it seemed to me, two wheels off the road.
The Spell; Number One
Our first sight of the Copper Canyon. We were going all
the way down there.
The next 30 kilometers went quick, and as we got closer we started
to long for a cold beer and a shower. Eight kilometers to go,
we came over a small hill and faced a stream and a little farmhouse.
Both felt it at the same time, something hitting hard on the rear
rim and a slightly wobbly feeling. We stopped and looked at the
rear wheel. It had gone flat.
For the second time only, in 22000 kilometers so far on the trip,
we had a puncture. With only a short distance left and the heat
at it's daily peak, it was a real disappointment. We smoked a
cigarette and drank some water, then it was time for our first
tyre repair "in the wild". Both aluminum boxes and the
top box were taken off. The lift stick came out of it's hiding
place behind the side cover, got placed under the swing arm on
the right side, and within minutes the wheel was off and ready
to be worked upon. We had stopped just outside the little farm
house, and now we had two young Tarahumara Indians watching us.
With almost no traffic and not a neighbour in sight, the strange
couple sweating and swearing in the dirt must have been the highlight
of the day.
"We have to get hold of Pieter and blame him for this",
Bente said, and I agreed. One unlucky puncture in the driveway
of West Hovland's house in Eugene, Oregon, was our only experience
with flats on the trip, and through my ten years of biking I had
never had a puncture. There had to be a connection.
Bente's putting the tube back in after our first puncture
With two decent tyre levers it was easy to get the tyre off the
rim, pull out the tube and replace it with the spare. Had we remembered
everything we learned in Oregon? We thought so, and started to
pump air into the tube with our tiny air pump. I hadn't imagined
how much air it takes to get a decent pressure in a motorcycle
tyre. Why should I? In my experience all it takes is a squeeze
with one finger and watch the pressure rise. After about a zillion
pumps - we had to let the pump rest from time to time to avoid
overheating, and a few liters of sweat later, we were satisfied
and mounted the wheel. The Indian girl who had been sitting on
the fence watching us doing the whole job smiled and said, "Ya
esta?". Yes, we were done and ready to go to Batopilas and
find that beer.
In the village they were digging up both the streets that led
to the plaza, so we found a room in the upper part of town. We
could see how the cars going from one part of town to the other,
crawled slowly across the river and along it's bank. It was hot,
we were tired, and after a nice set of tacos in the street,
we went to our room to drink the beers we had so well deserved
and to get some rest.
All the decisions we make on our trip are made in the last minute.
Sometimes we stay more days in places we never thought we would,
and sometimes we leave places earlier than we had planned. We
didn't know why, but when the morning came we wanted to go back
up and head south. Sheamus had sent a letter with us with an order
for goat skin for his bracelets and necklaces. We had promised
to deliver the letter to a man working with hides in Batopilas.
I had wanted to get some for myself as well, because Sheamus claimed
it was among the best quality leather around. When we asked the
landlady at our hotel, she told us the guy had gone to Hermosillo
for a funeral, and wouldn't be back for many days. But she volunteered
to pass on the letter on our behalf, and so we could leave early
in the morning.
Animals walked in the streets of Batopilas. I guess the
early morning grunts coming from two tired travellers were
the main reason he were drawn towards us.
Going back up was easier than going down. We knew exactly how
far it was, and I have always liked better to ride uphill on dirt.
It gives me more control of the bike. After a few hours we came
to the plateau and had only kilometers left before we would meet
the pavement again. Then the bike started to wobble and hit again.
We couldn't believe it, but a look confirmed that we had our second
puncture in two days. We laughed silly and called out loud for
Pieter. Had his wish for no more punctures left a spell on us?
The wheel hadn't lost all the air, so, hoping for a early meeting
with a gas station along the southbound road, we pumped as much
air in as we could and headed on, doing dangerously high speeds
on the dirt to get as far as possible before the next pump stop.
After another two stops, where we sweated through the process
of filling up the tube, we came to Guachochi, a town with a gas
station and a Desponchadero, a tyre repair shop. This time
I took the wheel off while Bente went to get us lunch. We ate
in silence while the guys at the work shop repaired both tubes
and mounted everything, all for a little less than five dollars.
When we were shown the tube that had just punctured, I realized
that we had forgot to check one basic and important thing when
we put the new tube in the day before. We had let the tube fold
between the tyre and the rim, creating a ten centimeter crack
in the tube.
We came to Hidalgo del Parral, after driving through the most
wonderful scenery we could remember - vast open landscape in every
color surrounded by arid mountains, with no more punctures and
settled for two days in this non tourist town in southern Chihuahua
State. The town was very pleasant and the motel room cheap. After
a strolling day where my need for new pants had priority - although
finding long enough pants for an almost two meter tall tower is
close to impossible in Mexico, so it was a fruitless hunt - I
took the bike for a ride around town to find a new rear tyre.
The old one was very worn on the sides from all the miles we had
ridden with low air pressure. I didn't find this either. Why would
a tower like me travel in Mexico on a monstrous size bike like
Rocinante? Both of us were in desperate need of new clothes, but
both were many sizes over the average Mexican hombre or
moto. And if that wasn't enough, when I came back to the
motel and picked up Bente to go for dinner, we didn't see all
the nails lying around from the recent renovations. Naturally,
after dinner the rear wheel was flat, again.
Patching holes in the tube and searching for, and finding,
nails in the tyre. Notice the half hidden beer that never
left our side.
Three times in three days, when was this going to end? Armed
with a six-pack of beers we started the repair job outside our
room. When three of the Coronas were gone, I took one of
the luggage straps and attached it to the wheel, and then headed
off walking to the Pemex station a few hundred meters down
the road to fill up the repaired tyre. Before leaving we had drawn
three nails out of the tyre, and thrown away the tube that the
repair shop in Guachochi had put in in the exactly same wrongly
manner as we had earlier. We didn't even bother to find the holes
and patch them, since there must probably have been at least two
in addition to the crack from folding the tube between the rim
and the tyre.
.. and Number Four
On our way to Durango the next day, we punctured. We knew we
would. We had been talking the night before about the magic spell
cast on us in Creel, and figured that the combination of a badly
worn tyre and no-more-puncture wishes were just too much. After
three days and three punctures, why shouldn't there be a fourth.
The road to Durango was fairly well equipped with gas stations,
so again we just filled the tube with air and gassed it. The tube
held the air fairly well. We were doing 130-150 km/h for hours,
checking the pressure every once in a while. We arrived in Durango
early in the afternoon, without having to go through the slow
job of patching tubes again. A look at the tyre told me we were
not going any further until we found a new. And we did, we found
a tyre in just the right dimensions, which made me very happy,
even though it was a street tyre made in Taiwan called Duro that
would wobble it's way for the next few days. Not only did we find
a tyre, we also found pants long enough for me, shoes big enough
for me, an Internet cafe were we could work for hours with our
own laptop for almost nothing, and above all, a fantastic Peña.
A Night To Remember
We had to drive the motorcycle 25 meters through the hotel
corridors to get this first class parking at Hotel El Gallo
in Durango. At 60 Pesos a night it was a bargain.
Again, we seemed to be the only tourists in a fantastic Mexican
city, which was fine with us. After all the punctures, the successful
hunt for tyre and clothes and the successful hunt for a Internet
cafe where we were able to update our homepage and send home an
article for MC-Avisa with photos, we had deserved a night
out. Again! We found a restaurant were they had cognac on the
menu - more important than the meal itself. But the meal was also
good, and we emptied a bottle of red whine from Baja California
in the process.
All the time we were there, which was for hours, they played
popular music from the eighties. It set us both in a remembrance
mood, and we exchanged stories from what was definitely "our"
decade. Since we knew each other back then and hang out among
the same people, one had heard the other's stories - or even been
there - a zillion times before. It didn't matter. The night was
ours. Bente had read in the handbook about a Peña
in town, a club and bar where musicians got together and performed
jam session like. When we came there, we could hear wonderful
Mexican modern songs from within. This music was far away from
the Mariachis who performed in the streets. Seven or eight
musicians played throughout the night, taking turns at the stage
which only had room for two, maybe three at the time. Bente leaned
over to the girl at the next table, who had been singing along
on every tune, and asked where the music were from. Within minutes
she had joined us and so had one of the singers, which turned
out to be her boyfriend. He told us the music was from many parts
of Mexico, some songs old, some new, and that he and his musician
friends met every week to perform, either in Durango, or in the
neighboring cities' peñas.
Lois Armando was our neighbour at El Gallo. He hang around
during the day and never revealed his age, but simply smiled
every time we asked.
While he went back on stage, his girlfriend, a native Durangoista
with Philippine father, stayed with us the rest of the night.
At one stage we all went to her apartment to get a bottle of home
brewed wine that her father had made. It was non alcoholic, but
so good, according to her, that it was worth the half hour return
trip in a taxi. And it was, not because the wine was particularly
good, but because the trip cost us 13 pesos, about 1,50 US dollars.
We spoke about a lot of things during the night, some of it has
gone out of my memory due to my shameless toll on the local beer
supply, while some of it has stayed. Like the "Grito Mexicano"
- the Mexican scream, as she called it. She said it was an important
part of the culture, and grabbed every male guest that came too
close to our table and asked them to make a demonstration. This
was while her boyfriend was on stage, and when one finally volunteered
- almost everyone excused themselves with a soar throat, as if
a virus had hit them all at the same time - he screamed so loud
that the band stopped for a second. We laughed and thanked them
both for the show. When we left, we were, or particularly I was,
unsteady and tired, but happy.
How to deal with soldiers
Mexico had so far shown us mostly good sides, with surprisingly
good roads, not surprisingly nice people, and fantastic nature
and cities. And there was more to come. So far we had passed a
numerous military check points along the roads, but only been
stopped a couple of times for a search. Although, much of a search
it wasn't. Both times they were interested in the padlocked aluminum
panniers, probably because of their rather heavy duty look. That's
fine with us, they can search through our dirty laundry as much
as they want, we're not telling them we have an expensive laptop
in the more innocent looking top box.
None of the checks have been any hassle, though, and when I leave
the talking to Bente, they normally stop half way through and
soften up. She takes off her helmet, smiles and tell them we're
from Norway, how hot it is, asks how far it is to the next town
and make whatever small talk comes to mind. It always works like
a charm, especially the Norway part. Why, I don't know, but it
is probably because of Mexican's mixed emotions towards their
big brother in the north. Everyone starts off believing we're
gringos, which by definition only apply to people from
the US, and when we tell them we're not, they treat us more polite,
or with less hostility. Well, on the other hand, I think most
people are treated well by the army in Mexico. They seem interested
in narcotics and contraband only, and they don't seem the slightest
corrupt. But Bente's performance gets better every time, and may
very well come in handy at some stage.
Zacatecas and Guanajuato - colonial towns and Fiesta
Welcome to Guanajuato, a Mexican town dedicated to Don
Quijote and Sancho Panza, and to the author Miguel Cervantes.
When we left Durango the next afternoon - yes, the late night
we had delayed our departure for hours - Rocinante wobbled badly
from a badly balanced new rear tyre. The wobble was gone when
we got some speed on the highway, but I promised myself to get
a proper balancing done at the first opportunity. We had an easy
ride the 300 kilometers south to Zacatecas, another very nice
city. Finding a hotel was a challenge though, due to a big convention
of sorts. But after a couple of hours spent on the main boulevard
going up and down who knows how many times, we got lucky. Rocinante
got a space at a nearby Estacionamento, guarded 24 hours
for 20 Pesos a day.
The historic center was very similar in style to several of the
Extremaduran cities we had visited in Spain a couple of years
earlier, with old colonial buildings, and for a change, café
espresso everywhere. We stayed two days and the highlights
of the visit were the Museo de Pedro Coronel and the reunion
with Dana and Sarig, two Israeli backpackers we had met in Creel.
The museum had a large selection of black and white drawings by
Fransisco Goya, drawings we studied for a long time. The movement,
expressions and pain in the drawings were reasons enough to come
to this city. Later that evening, after Bente had traded in her
pants with a new pair, we bumped into Dana and Sarig and went
for dinner together. Israeli politics and the current dangerous
situation in the Middle East were the main topics for the night.
Just recently three Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped, and
the Palestinian people had revolted in several occupied zones,
threatening the ongoing peace process. Sarig was a F-16 fighter
pilot on leave. He had only months left of his seven years of
service and was worried, not so much for his own security, but
for the suffering the whole region would go through if war broke
out again. The two of them had called home that day, and the messages
from their families were the same; Everybody back home were afraid
and nervous about the new situation. For two people coming from
a country were peace has reigned the last 55 years, it was hard
to understand how much tension and fear the Israelis and the Palestinians
had to live with their whole life. Dana told us that they and
most people they knew, had at least once lost someone close, be
it a friend or a family member, in battle. The two of them lived
in a combined Jewish and Palestinian neighbourhood where the two
cultures mingled and lived together in peace. But it was hard
to predict how the current setback in the peace talks would influence
that. They couldn't do anything other than hope that the different
sides in the conflict would be equallly interested in peace. But
it didn't look good.
You could walk the streets
of Guanajuato for days without noticing these unique "channels".
Sometimes they go underground, sometimes they come up in the
open. [Large Image]
Another 300 kilometers and we entered Guanajuato. There was a
festival going on, Festival Cervantino, in honor of Miguel
Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote, and hence the father of
the name Rocinante - the remarkable Don's horse.
The town is almost beyond description in beauty and uniqueness.
It lies in the hills south east of León, and it has centuries
old tunnels that penetrates the town. The tunnels are now the
main traffic arteries, and they are as far from regular tunnels
they can get. It's like riding in subterranean halls, often coming
out in the open to something reminding me of the channels in Venice,
Italy - even though I've never been there. High stone walls on
both sides of the "channels" with stairways leading
up to the street level boasts houses and buildings hanging over
the channel, just like over a water way.
The town had numerous plazas and there were people and
life everywhere. It was fiesta time in this university city, where
the cafés were modern and served excellent cafe espresso,
and where artists entertained a young and educated audience. When
we finally found a hotel, we left immediately after packing out
our gear and leaving the bike in the reception, and of all things
possible during a theater and dance festival in Mexico, we went
to a Norwegian dance show about football - or soccer. The show
was a big hit in Norway three years earlier, and now they toured
the world. Four dancers and excellent sound effects told us the
story of how football represented the most basic instincts in
humans, both good and bad. It was weird and fun at the same time.
The next day we strolled the city for hours, drinking numerous
espressos, and we met up with Dana and Sarig again. This time
a third Israeli we didn't catch the name of, sat with them. We
exchanged travel plans, and when he revealed that his final goal
was Chile, where he wanted to be before March when the roads closed
in the south due to cold and snow, Bente turned to me and stared
with wide open eyes.
"Snow! Roads closed in March? Did you know that, Dag?"
I had been staring at some point in the ceiling since the mention
of snow, knowing Bente's aversion to her natural Norwegian climate.
The others started to laugh, seeing the two of us, one trying
to avoid the other's stare.
"Well," I said, dragging on the word, "I did and
I didn't. You know, the forecast always exaggerate, and I'm sure
we're on our way north by then...."
Bente gave me a "yeah, sure" look, as if this was according
to our plan, the two people who were suppose to travel slowly
and be in Ushuaia sometimes next spring. I didn't like what I
had heard either, but the situation had become comical in the
presence of the others, so we broke out laughing as well. Later
checks on the internet proved that it's only half true. Some sources
say you can travel safely through March, but either way we had
miscalculated and probably had to speed up a little. Priority
planning stinks, although in retrospect it seems a bit stupid
not to have checked the climate more thouroughly than we did.
For the next hours we passed the time together, again coming
back to the situation in the Middle East and continuing into religion
and politics in general. Someone asked the rhetorical question;
"Which country has got the best government in the world?".
None were experts in politics, but we had all travelled around
and seen many different versions of political leadership. None
would claim their own country to be ideal, and finally we concluded
that they were all bad, some were just less bad than others. This
was after a few beers, the only real tool to use when solving
the worlds problems...
Some museums are good, some are bad, and some are simply morbid.
When we entered the Museo de Momies - The Mummy Museum
in Guanajuato, and looked at the first few dead people, some laying
in coffins with twenty odd nails through them from their torturous
death, we knew what people who had warned us meant. Watch out
if your stomach can't take it, they said. And after seeing about
a hundred dead adults and children, all mummified due to the dry
and mineral rich soil around the town, it felt good to exit and
draw fresh air again. I have never before seen a similar selection
of faces terribly twisted in death. It felt good to be back in
town, where we strolled one last evening and watched the numerous
street artists, saying goodbye to this fantastic city.
When we went to bed that night, our third night in a very noisy
hotel, loud sounds of a band and a wild crowd penetrated the walls
and made it impossible to sleep. Our hopes that the noise would
die when the concert finished, vanished when the crowd, which
included a few drummers, settled in front of our building and
kept singing, dancing and shouting until early morning. At some
point during the night, I gave up on the futile quest for sleep
and checked how Rocinante was doing in the middle of the calamity.
She was fine, but outside hundreds of teenagers were drunk and
noisy. I had a hotdog before going back upstairs, where we pulled
out our airplugs and finally got some rest. Goodbye Guanajuato,
but be sure of our return sometime in the future.
Now it's Thursday, Octobre 12th. We're in Salvatierra after a
warm days ride through numerous Mexican towns. Mexico City looms
to the south east of us, and the proximity of one of the worlds
biggest cities is obvious in the crammed traffic and more liberal
driving we have seen today. We have decided to skip the metropolis
and head south. With snow in Patagonia in March, and with a puncture
spell we don't know if we're rid off, we should increase our south
bound speed. But who knows what happens next?
For your morbid eyes only.
Museo de Momias had a disgusting display of dead people, here
represented by a child who died about one hundred years ago.
Callejon de Beso - Alley
of the kiss, named so because it's narrow enough for two people
to kiss each other, standing on each their balcony. These
tourists chose to stay on the same, though.
Nighttime in Guanajuato. People
everywhere, music and clowns everywhere. And a Norwegian woman
lurking in the shadows, shamelessly studying the passersby.