06 June, 2007

Viva Mexico 23,832miles

We had been warned by John, via e-mail, about Tropical Storm Barbara making landfall near the Guatamala/Mexico Pacific border, but she came and went in the night. The place was still a bit soggy, but we hadn't heard anything overnight so it couldn't have been all that bad. It cost a bit of money to get out of Guatamala, which was a little odd, but entering Mexico was easy. Except we had only entered ourselves, now we had to get the bikes in. Customs was miles away, and not that easy to find. The book said it was on the only road out of town and impossible to miss. That's if you could find the road out of town! Glen makes a splash!

We found it eventually. They wanted to take $400US off of my credit card, in case I sold the bike in Mexico. This way they already had the money they'd need for any taxes. It was assumed I'd be selling the bike. They managed to look a wee bit sheepish when I asked them about the reasons for this law. I pointed out that no other country did this, and that it must be a wee bit awkward for tourism. The worst bit was that Glen didn't have a credit card. They had to take $400US in cash from him, promising to return it at the US border, when he appeared with the bike. Unfortunately he didn't have $400US dollars in cash, although he did have it in Mexican Pesos. They couldn't accept those. What a funny sort of an insult to their own currency! Luckily for us the only place that would change Pesos into Dollars was closed for the evening. Top nonsense, beating even the so-called World Bureaucratic Champions Egypt. It didn't say anything about this in the book!

Muttering softly, we skulked off into the evening to find a hostel. Glen was riding a KTM 640 'Duke'. This is a road-going bike not designed for dirt. It was the first road bike I'd seen apart from mine. He had tried to buy an XT600 in Panama, but this was all he could get. His original plan had been to go around the world by public transport. But his first journey from Panama to Costa Rica had changed his mind. He must have the same luck as me on public transport. His 'luggage' reflected his unplanned change of transport. He wore a huge backpack, and strapped a smaller one to his tank.

All was quickly sorted next morning and we were off. Petrol stations which had at first been frequent, suddenly ran out. There just weren't any petrol stations as the road wound up onto hills. This was quickly followed by my own petrol supply running out, 40miles earlier than it should have. Glen left his pack with me and went off ahead to find fuel. Under the baking sun, this was quite a long wait. I read my book in the shade, and tried to catch the sweat droplets before they dropped from my nose onto the pages. Two hours in this oven and I was nearly done, just needed turned one more time. As was about to expire, Glen appeared around the corner. "It's a great run from now on!" he said enthusiastically. He had brought back two large water containers of fuel. No ceremonies to stand on around here about 'suitable containers' for fuel. I was pretty glad for him, I really would have felt bad if he'd had to ride back and forward up a boring motorway just to help me out.

The road really was brilliant with lots of twists, turns and an excellent surface. Scenery was also of the breathtaking variety. At one point I looked down and saw some fuel pouring out of the pipe. That's why I'd run out so soon! We stopped and I managed to cut a little off a longer pipe to replace that which had perished. No knowing how far I'd make it now. In the end I ran out about 12 miles from the petrol station, but a downhill series of twisties meant I was able to keep a-freewheelin', and only came to an absolute halt about 200m from the actual fuelling point. Glen buzzed ahead and came back with a wee bottle to save the super-heated push.

At the cafe that night we ran in to Maija, a Finnish girl exploring Mexico alone before returning to her acting career in Finland. We had a good laugh exchanging ideas about Europe and I was able to try out my theory about Finland winning the Second World War (even though they mistakenly ended up on the wrong side), by putting up such a good fight against the Red Army in the Winter War and convincing Hitler that he should leave the UK alone for a bit, and go and invade the Soviet Union. Maija hadn't heard this one before (neither had I, out loud!), but she liked it and went on to tell us about her grandad and what a warrior he had been during all the fighting. In this town, and strangely only this town, they had some odd methods of transport none of us had seen before. Grannies would stand in the back of these things like Bouddicea in her chariot, trundling around the town.

Maija had been in the north of Mexico and so was also able to give us good tips on where to stay on our run up to Mexico City. The biggest city in the world and with expected traffic to match. Both of her recommended stops turned out to be good ones and we were grateful. Oaxaca is a particularly pretty town, with lots to look at and plenty of authentic Mexican culture to savour in a very small area.

At each stop for food, we were given a fantastic delight of tasty treats! It didn't seem to matter where we went, the food was excellent, different, original and extremely tasty! Never too much or too little, and always with chilli and limes.

The straighter roads along the way were covered with 'sleeping policemen' or speedbumps. A friend has told me that these things save lives, but surely it is the slowing down that saves the lives, not the speedbumps! Just get people to drive more slowly by educating them instead of ruining their suspension. They are especially problematic for motorbikes because our wheels are so close together. If you don't see them, they bash the front suspension (and your wrists) before sending the back wheel into the air. All quite entertaining if you're ready for them, but a real threat to stability if you're not. Then they aren't predictable. Some are painted, others not. They appear at the daftest places with no warning. Sometimes they just paint the road where there is no speedbump! Some have wee signs at the side which you only notice at the last minute and then 'smack, whoa, bump, shoogle, ooyah!' If only they organised a wee space in between for unfortunate motorbikes to aim for. One or two only, did this. I'd have cheerfully smothered these policemen in their sleep if I could have found a suitable pillow. Glen (he must have been really bored on the straight sections!) counted 198 of them in 200miles! Surely more than strictly necessary. At one stage, coming out of a police checkpoint, Glen managed to run into the rear section of an entire cow, wandering happily on the dual carriageway. He took its back legs away from it, but he managed to stay upright and the startled moo-moo got back up and wandered off to chew more cud. Two days later we approached MC with some caution.

This time it was Glen's turn to break down with a suspected flat front tyre. Luckily it was only a slow puncture, and after I applied the pump Oscar had given me in Honduras, we were able to make it to a tyre garage to have it properly inflated. Then it stayed inflated, although it clearly needed replaced.

Again, Mexico City's traffic wasn't nearly as scary as we'd been led to expect. They have an excellent system of motorways linking all the main areas so that you get from one area to another fairly quickly. We stopped near the airport and tried to phone Karyme, a friend from a few years ago when she had been sent up to Scotland by my other pals, Carrie and Iain (just had a wee boy, Isaac!), for a weekend visit. The phones weren't working (or I couldn't work them!) so Karyme sent directions by email.

I was just following these when up popped Miguel on his BMW K75. He was very excited to see me and we shook hands in the middle of the carriageway like GP riders at the end of a race. He offered to show us the way to where we were going. Very helpful. When he let us go, we were grateful and confident of finding our destination. But then, when we stopped to check the map, he re-appeared, shouting at Glen. I didn't even bother to look up from the map at first, being by now quite used to people shouting all over the place (not normally at me). When I did look up, he was very angry. We had come the wrong way - didn't we listen to his directions - there was no point in looking at the map - it was out of date - they had moved the streets years ago. "What!?" I held my hands up and begged for just ten seconds' peace while I tried to think.

Ten seconds later; "So what you're saying is that this map I bought just this morning is now out of date because they moved the streets some years ago?"
"Yes," said Miguel.
"That isn't very useful, or handy for those who rely on maps - visitors, is it?"
"No!" said Miguel.
"It's also very unusual for a major international city to do such a thing, since it would confuse everyone and certainly not good for any businesses along these streets."
"Welcome to Mexico!" said Miguel.

But I didn't believe him, and he made no further protests as we rode off again on the very street he'd raged about us being on. When we came to the turning, we followed his instructions. But he was completely wrong. The streets were in the same places the map suggested they were. We turned around and were soon relieved to be at the gates of Karyme's house.

Karyme's family (in their jammies!!) were extremely welcoming and would not hear of Glen finding accommodation of his own. Her mum and dad, Carmen and Arturo, and her brother Mauricio, all lived very happily together in a spotless house in the south of the city. Carmen apologised that they hadn't got the guest room finished and that the work was still ongoing. She was worried about the 'mess'. I had to look closely to notice that any work was going on at all since the place was so tidy. But sure enough they were having an extension put on and had the biggest telly I'd ever seen ready to go into their new guest room/cinema.

Next day Glen and I organised his repairs and took a bus tour of the city. By that evening he had organised a place to stay through the "Couch Surfing" website. You get a free place to sleep on a stranger's couch, in exchange for letting strangers sleep on yours whenever you get home. Must look more into this. Karyme and Mauricio, meanwhile, gave me a top and tasty flavour of their social lives.

I was impressed by Mexico City. It is, of course, enormous, but I got to find my way around and I think I could learn the place fairly quickly. Of course, even Mauricio, a native, gets lost sometimes, but the major routes around the city are so well organised and signposted that you get a basic idea pretty fast. At one point I saw a biker in the bus lane. Great! Some places are enlightened enough to allow this - Glasgow, Bristol - but not Edinburgh) and I scooted off after him, avoiding all the traffic. Two junctions later I was stopped by some policemen. 1400Peso fine, they take the bike, I pay another 2400Pesos to get it back in two days' time, blah, blah, blah . . . I'd had enough. There was just no way they were taking my bike! I fully realise that I am handicapped by my ethnocentric Scottish background that would have to term this 'stealing'. "You'll have to phone the British Embassy!" I demanded angrily. Then a wee book was produced, and I was invited to 'make a donation'. I don't know what to. But, to save lots of hassle, I made it. 100Pesos, or about $11US, or 5.50pounds. All were happy.
No Dugal - it really is a VERY BIG flag!I found my way to Teotihuacan, an amazing pre-Aztec city with huge pyramids as big as those (bigger?) in Egypt. Unbelievable that these ancient cultures were building such things while most of Europe
was living in caves and mud huts. Then, just because we invented fire-arms, Europeans turn up and pinch the lot! Well, actually those who built this somehow disappeared inexplicably before even the Aztecs became organised. But we pinched it all from the Aztecs with our guns and 'superior technology'.

That night, Friday Club (Mexico City) was very enjoyable with lots of Karyme and Mauricio's pals and some curious things to imbibe. The food was excellent, again, and it seems the Mexicans could hardly survive any meal without very hot pickled chillies and fresh limes. Dancing in the middle of the bar was unusual, they said, but Mexico had just beaten Cuba in a football game,so there was some cause for celebration. Another cause was that Karyme has recently become engaged to Eduardo ('Lalo' for short!) and she was keen to show off the new rocks!

Mexico - highly recommended, and I very much hope to return, without the bike, and with much more time.

Glen and I had arranged to meet outside the city on the road heading north. We missed each other but got back into contact via e-mail. We were both heading for San Francisco, so we should meet up along the way, or at the end. I was suffering a little bit (couldn't be too many chillies - I enjoy those at home!) and couldn't cover the same ground as him. He got well ahead of me, but we were still confident of meeting up in California.

The Mexican motorways were great, had no speedbumps but cost the same for motorbikes as for cars. In just two days however, I was at the US border. My map showed no bridges from Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, to Laredo in Texas, so I followed the signs around to the Columbian International Bridge, some 20 miles upstream on the Rio Grande. I signed the bike out of Mexico (I hope they return the $400!) and went to immigration for my own passport stamp. It was getting late and I was keen to find a bed in the US. I had very few Pesos left and was getting pretty tired when I found the office (open 24 hours) hadn't anyone in it. The man supposed to be in charge had gone to the store and no-one knew when he might be back. A young student explained all this to me, and didn't seem to panic overly when I reached around the desk, went into the man's top drawer and found the 'Salida' (exit) stamp. It was at the right date, so I quickly stamped myself out. Not exactly recommended behaviour, but I was far too tired to argue with myself!


At 02/07/2007, 20:54, Blogger Roy said...

Onward and er, upward etc. BTW I'm intrigued by the dates of the postings, which seem to be somewhat in the past (as in previous to the dates on the photos). Are you in a time warp?

At 12/07/2007, 06:51, Blogger Mick said...

No, it's because the blog thing records when I start to write and save it. I started this one on the 6th, when I got to MC, but didn't finish it until after I left Mexico. Sometimes it takes a wee while to find a computer that'll let me 'upload' photies.


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