February 28, 2010

In Guatemala

I am in Guatemala, and having trouble finding wireless, so this is an
email update, more later. I expect to be in San Salvador tomorrow, I
am about 60 km away from there.

--
Erik S

February 26, 2010

Oaxaca Tabasco and Chiapas


I nearly froze to death in Mexico!  The road from Oaxaca to Tuxtepec was even  better than the road to Oaxaca.  The road climbs up into cool pine forests and every so often I pass one of the seven dwarves in Mexican clothes packing a load of firewood on his or her back.   (In Oaxaca anyone over five feet in height is a tall person.)  Finally I reach the top of a ridge and on the other side the road descends into a gloomy mist.  Fine, I have my outer jacket, sans liner, over a Tee shirt  and jeans, as it was about 30 C when I left the City of Oaxaca (Oaxaca is also the state name).  After great weather all day I figure this is temporary, so I just keep on riding.  Pretty soon it is raining, a very cold rain that feels like ice.  I am going downhill, I can 't see very well and the road is as straight as a corkscrew, with no place to pull off and change into warm clothing. 

By the time I do stop I am well on my way to hypothermia in a tropical rain forest with wild banana trees growing beside the road.  A sweater, long sleeved shirt, rain pants puts everything right again, and just as I make it to Tuxtepec the rain stops. 

The night before I had spent in El Ciudad Oaxaca, the old part is one of the nicest cities in Mexico, so it is full of tourists.  The following day would be Dia De La Bandera, Flag Day, there was a ceremony in square with speeches and saluting soldiers.

My bike was in protective custody, locked away in a parking lot near my hotel, release time was 9 AM, so I wandered the city in the evening and early morning, letting myself get lost. 

When I get lost in a Mexican City I go in a circle, the theory being that I will end up where I started.  It mostly works, but there were a few times when I almost had to call a cab to rescue me.  

I found this most amazing fresco on the ceiling of a church, the lead photo of this post.

From Tuxtepec I head towards Villahermosa in Tabasco, making a detour to visit El Golfo de Mexico in Coatzacoalcos.  It was muddy and brown, just like it was in Mississippi and Texas.  Maybe El Mar Caribe will be better.  There is a KTM dealer in Villahermoso, which is a good thing because the mountain roads have done for my front brake pads.  Fortunately El Sport Cycle Center had a brand new pair of pads, which was a good thing because I was headed back into the mountains, where I had my moto ass handed to me by a VW beetle.   The local hot shots know these roads.  I did pass all the dump trucks and buses.

Tomorrow (Feb 27), if all goes well, I will be in Guatemala.  This mouuntainous southern part of Mexico is my favorite so far.  If you like getting dizzy on a motorcycle this is the place to go.  More pix on Picasa, http://picasaweb.google.ca/everiman/SouthernMexico#

February 23, 2010

Follow the Yellow Road


My Mexican road map shows main roads in red, secondary roads in yellow.  So far I have stayed on the red roads.  Today I want to get to Oaxaca from Puerto Escondido, which means I will have to take the yellow road.  My friends; I have seen moto heaven.  And I also spent time in moto purgatory. 

To get to Oaxaca from the coast two mountain ranges or ridges have to be crossed.  This translates to about 200 km of switch backs with no straight longer than maybe 3 or 400 meters.  My average speed is about 50 kmh and nobody is passing me.  For a prairie boy coming from where the only tool needed to design a highway is a framing square, this is like sitting down to a 20 course meal after 30 years of bread and water.  Up, up we climb until you can actually see heaven.  The road is mostly great, well paved, but narrow and twisty.  Traffic is light, but there are always the buses. 

It is still a KTM road though, as each town has its topes (speed bumps) and potholes.  The road leading into and out of a own is potholed as well.  I can tell when a town is near by the appearance of potholes. 
 After maybe 6 hours of nonstop twisties (Deal's Gap eat your heart out) I am exhausted, and wonder if the road will ever straighten out.  As if by magic, it does, only now the road is going up and down over rolling hills.  Now I am flying like a bird. 

After a few miles of this, there is a tree and some junk laid across the road.  A little farther is a village and a roadblock.  The locals have barricaded the road with a banner and some chunks of concrete.  A guy stopped in an SUV tells me he has been sitting there for three hours.  "Cool!" I thinks to my self, citizen activism lives in Mexico, I guess I will have to revise my opinion on Mexicans.  I pull out my camera and start taking pictures.

This turns out to be a very bad idea.  Instantly I am surrounded by very short very angry men waving what appear to be fence posts.  ¡No picta! ¡No Picta!  I put the camera away, but they are extremely pissed.  The guy in the SUV is Mexican, but not a local.  No one knows why they are protesting, and why the road is blocked.  It turns out there is a detour a few klicks back so the SUV and I get out of Dodge.  Quickly. 

The detour turns out to be a dusty dirt road that wound through the back hills and took us back to the road to Oaxaca.  It would have been fun on the KTM, but for all the other traffic, all sizes of buses and trucks, and dust, dust, dust.  No matter how many trucks we passed there were more up ahead.  We did make it out of there OK and I made it to Oaxaca. 

All in all a day I will never forget.

February 22, 2010

Understanding Mexico

 
Chilpancigo, at first glance, could only be improved by the detonation of a nuclear bomb.  The carreterra libre runs beside the town, which from the road looks like a kid dumped a box of toy houses on a hillside, and then went away to watch TV.  Nevertheless Chilpancigo will be my home for the next two days.  I pull into the first hotel I see, and there I meet Jaime, one of those rare kindred spirits we meet from time to time.  Jaime speaks good English, has a motorcycle and a scooter, and a wide range of interests that complement mine.  Jaime is obviously very intelligent, as we agree on most things.  We talk and drink beer till Jaime's Rooster announces it is morning. 

I ask Jaime about Mexico, why it is the way it is.  Jaime tells me when Cortez arrived in 1519 with his 500 soldiers, Mexico was populated by a large number of Indian tribes, all of whom were under the thumb of the Aztecs, who the other tribes hated more than they hated and each other (which they also did).  So Cortez was able to conquer Mexico because he delivered the non Aztec tribes from a hated oppressor, but the enmity that existed between the other tribes ensured there would not be a united resistance to the new strong men that replaced the old.

All countries are prisoners of their history.  My brother once told me that when he visited Mexico, he found the people very friendly, hospitable and helpful, but they would always him warn him about the bad people in the next town.  I hear the same thing.  Even if you do not speak to a single Mexican, the sight of the bars over the doors and windows, the high walls with broken glass embedded in the top, home entries that look like bank vaults, razorwire everywhere, you cannot escape that Mexicans do not trust other Mexicans.  (So far, I have had no evidence that Mexican security is actually needed, everywhere I go the people are very law abiding, well behaved and scrupulously honest.)

Lack of trust must translate to the lack of cooperation, a community spirit at a local and higher levels, and the citizen activism to ensure each community gets a fair share of basic services from municipal, state and federal government.  No one complains, as Jaime explained, as that might cause problems for the complainer.

Anarchists and libertarians, anyone who believes there is too much government interference in their lives need to spend some time in Mexico away from the tourist resorts.  There is plenty of government here, but not much of interference.  Mexicans are pretty free to do as they please, and the effect is chaotic to one who lives in orderly Canada.  But as soon as I am ready to write the place off I encounter something truly remarkable created by the people here, like old Morelia, Taxco, and the Museo in Chilpancigo.

With Jaime's explanation occupying my brain, I enter the museo, and am confronted with a most amazing mural depicting the story of Mexico.  (The museo is a former government palace, and the layout is typical of a Mexican villa and many of the hotels I have stayed.  A high wall surrounds the property or building  with a single entry with 2 very large doors big enough to drive a truck through.  The  rooms of the casa, or whatever, are built against the outside wall leaving an open courtyard with a fountain, garden or other point of interest in the center.  The mural is painted on the walls facing in to the center and was apparently painted by a group of artists from the state of Geurrera of which  Chilpancigo is the capital.)


I am going to let the mural speak for itself. Click on the pictures to see them full size.


 





more later :-)






February 19, 2010

Central Mexico


Guadalajara and Mexico City are very modern cities, but also very Mexican.  One moment you are surrounded by modern buildings, sidewalks full of well dressed commuters, and the next you are overlooking smog and urban blight.

The central part of Mexico is  very crowded and confusing for me.  I give up on the free roads and take to the toll roads.  The Mexican toll roads are the best roads you could find anywhere.  They avoid the towns and villages, are well paved, have helpful signs for navigation and are pretty much empty.  After burning through hundreds of pesos in a few hours the reason they are virtually unused becomes clear.

In Morelia my hotel is a building that is probably 300 years old or more.  I found out later that it may have been technical training school. (really!) The bike is parked on a polished marble floor in the middle of the lobby.  When Sheraton Four Seasons offers this kind of accommodation, maybe I will stay there.

Coming from a place that barely existed 100 years ago, it is a unique experience to see all the 'Centros Historicos' with buildings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries.  Am I still on the same continent?
After leaving Mexico City I went to Cuernavaca, which was only 61 km away.  I take a day for sightseeing, Cuernavaca is a large city, around 200,000 people, but it is possible to walk most of the city.  The cities and towns are very dense. 

The next day I brave the free roads once again, the farther I get from Mexico City, the better the traffic.  I am now in mountainous country with spectacular views. 

I miss a turning to bypass Taxco, and end up going through el centro.  Taxco is a place everyone should see.  It is literally built on the side of a mountain, the pre automobile narrow streets are cobblestones and very steep.  I am totally intimidated as I follow a line of VW beetle taxis up. It seems we are going to see god soon, but still we climb.  The KTM handles it better than I do, and we survive a remarkable detour.
 

 

February 16, 2010

Cities are Evil! Email update

Just a short note from Mexico City. I am locked up in a sex motel.
The bike is in a garage below me, the only way in or out is through
the garage door, using the garage door switch. No key! They ain't
gonna give me one. Very nice inside though, I could leave and
probably will, but I can't lock up.

No internet, but I am connected to some poor fool's wireless.

How did I end up in this fix you ask? I just spent about 4 hours in
Mexico City traffic (I probably could have walked faster) looking for
a hotel. This is the first one I saw. and I ain't going any farther.
Tomorrow first thing I will leave MC and head for Cuernavaca. Mexico
City is very beautiful, very modern and very congested. Don't even
think of driving here unless you know your way around. The layout is
radial, so every place you go takes you away. Somehow I stumbled
onto the road to Cuernavaca, which was my next destination anyway, so
here I will stay.

More later.

--
Erik S

February 14, 2010

Mazatlan

The ferry for Mazatlan leaves at 8:00 PM, but passengers are told to be there 3 hours ahead of time.  I get there early, 1:00 PM, having seen all there is to see in La Paz (or all I wanted to see).  La Paz Centro was a little nicer than the outer parts, but it is still a long way from being as attractive as the other towns I have passed through.

I get checked in at the ferry, leave the bike in the care of a line of tractor trailers also waiting for 'Chihuahua Star' and look for the waiting room I have assumed would be somewhere.  All there is are some metal chairs under an open roof.  Oh well, it wasn't like it was very cold.  Here I meet Robin a retired Air Canada Pilot from Tisdale SK.  We hang out waiting for the ferry and swap life stories.  We finally discover that there are at least a half a dozen food vendors outside the 'controlled zone' where we are waiting for the ferry.  It turns out is OK to leave the terminal so we feast on some excellent tortillas.


We kept each other company through the 12 hour ferry ride to Mazatlan.  We arrived at about 10:30, Robin was going on to Vera Cruz, and I was off to find a hotel in Mazatlan.

Villa Del Mar is a charming old basic hotel right in the centro historia.  I am a few blocks from the cathedral and the downtown playa where Caranaval will be celebrated later today.
 
Carnaval starts friday and ends on tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) aka 'fat tuesday' (in French, that would be Mardi Gras, never knew that...).  Mazatlan is just great, what I was hoping to find on this trip.  Farther down is a strip with modern hotels catering to tourists, Zona Dorada (golden zone), but I stay away, I prefer the old part, which has unique character that can't be found at a modern resort .  I could come back here.

More Pictures! http://picasaweb.google.com/everiman/Mazatlan#
Video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYhlJGO0gv8
More Video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDtcuYCQDSA

I stay in Mazatlan an extra day, and reluctantly I leave on Sunday for Guadalajara and Mexico City (Ciudad Mexico).

February 12, 2010

La Paz

Few cities show their best side when they are entered.  However, La Paz just doesn't seem to get any better as I penetrate to the center.  Maybe the kindest thing I can say is that it will be a long time before anyone calls La Paz 'the Paris of Baja California Sur'.  My hotel room is pretty nasty too, the TV has 6 channels, one of them is a looping porn tape. The city is very busy, with lots of mysterious industry taking place in small dilapidated shops. 

My plan is to leave as quickly as I can get on the ferry to Mazatlan, which is 20:00 tomorrow, or about 24 hours.  After a few hours in my depressing room I have to get out. I leave my roommate, Cucaracha, in charge "¡No friends!".  (Later I find out that I was probably staying in a "sex motel", a place where a married man can take his girlfriend or secretary for a nooner.  I always choose a motel where the cars, and my bike are hidden from view, so do Mexican philanderers :-)

If I was in any city in Canada or the US, I would be in the scariest part of town judging by appearances, so I take the appropriate precautions, small amount of cash, no credit cards, and I go for a walk.  It is very dark, the street lights are dim, the sidewalks are broken, the stores are covered with bars, and the 'greeters' are tough looking security guards packing those newfangled two handed police billy clubs in holsters. I am intimidated. However, I notice that with me on the sidewalk are young couples, nice girls, older ladies carrying their shopping and purses, and ordinary looking young men. Hmmmm.  I end up walking for maybe an hour and half, and see lots of stores, the traffic is constant, there is a lot of energy here, La Paz is a work city, sort of a Mexican Grande Prairie.

The next day I have to find the ferry terminal and get tickets for ferry to Mazatlan.  I get lost and stop at a Moto shop for assistance, one of the salesmen or maybe the owner hops on a bike and shows me the way, the brotherhood lives! Turns out it was around the corner.  Finding the ferry was a challenge as well, it is 17 km out of town. Once I knew it was on the 'shore road' (Calle Malecon) it was easy to find, and nice curvy stetch of 17 km it was.  There are some small beaches near the ferry terminal and I have about 8 hours to kill  before boarding, so I go for a walk and meet Jorge and Tonya who are visiting from Mazatlan.  Together we go to see a famous local rock which we would probably call a flower pot island, the bottom is nearly eroded away so it sits on a narrow tapering pedestal.

It is not a good beach day, cloudy, cool and windy, but the beach is beautiful, floury pure white.  The beaches are small and located in coves between the volcanicized rocks which look like dark cement with with large rock fillers.






There is still lots of time before the ferry needs to be boarded, so I go back to La Paz and watch the preparations for Carnival, which starts on Friday the 12th.  I won't be missing it because it is a national holiday, the same holiday as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the Quebec Winter Carnival.  Mazatlan's is supposed to the best, so that is where I will be for Carnival.  I get a kick out of seeing how the booth operators are stealing (or borrowing) power.  Reminds me of my Sheet Metal Worker days when we needed to power a welder and there was no proper breaker or circuit for it. Viva Carnival! hope nobody gets fried except the tacos!



February 10, 2010

Mulege

Mulege is in Baja California Sur (BCS), or South Baja California.  It is where Mexico's valiant defenders were able to repel the advance of the imperialist Yanqui invaders in 1847, ensuring that Baja remained part of Mexico as opposed to being the California Panhandle.

The Santa Rosalia Mission was founded in 1705, the building dates to 1766. 


The industries are tourism, fishing and taking tourists fishing.


The town is built on lava rocks that slope toward a bay, the streets are narrow and follow the  contours of the rocks.  I have to watch my step walking while rubbernecking as even the sidewalks dip and rise.


A hurricane ripped through here last September.  It made quite a mess of much of the beach front property.  The town itself seems to have escaped.


I am staying over for a day because it is nice here, and it is time for a break.  Lots of Canadians and Usians are wintering here. 

February 09, 2010

Muchos Pesos


One of my many challenges is getting a grip on cost and value.  It is all very well to know that one my Canadian dollars will buy me 12.50 Pesos, but putting it in practice takes practice.  Combien es? results in 80, 100, 400 etc., my little wheels are not able to keep up.  Finally I come up with something that works for me, 100 Pesos is 8 Canuck Bucks.

What you see below is the Mexican equivalent of a McDonalds Value meal (59 Pesos, you do the math).  An excellent illustration of the difference between cost and value.

February 08, 2010

BC


BC is Baja California, Mexico's western most state, just like it's northern cousin, British Columbia, or BC.





One of the reasons I went this way is that I was hoping to get away from the depressing sameness of urban North America.  In Ensenada I encountered a large shopping area with the usual big box stores, it could have been South Edmonton Common.  However that proved to be the exception that proved the rule.  I was not disappointed in finding something different.
The towns are interesting.

Apparently everyone takes a pretty light hearted view of building codes and standards.  (click on the next picture if you are electrically literate)

The only pavement is highway one, the town roads are sand.  Houses and buildings are painted bright vibrant colours and are typically surrounded by a high cement or stone wall with iron gates, or as near they can get using found materials. 

Day two (Feb 6), it rains all day.  I don't get very far, just to the town of Vincente Guerrera, less than 200 km.  Highway one follows the coast at first, and the towns are only about 20 km apart.  The maximum speed is not clear, it may be 110, or it may be 'go as fast as you like', but when entering a town the speed limit is 40 km, and there are plenty of speed bumps to remind you.  I let the locals set the pace, big trucks come to a complete stop at the beginning of a town, cars slow down to about 25 for the speed bumps, the KTM can float over them at any speed, but I am thinking that could be hard on Gringo Mexican relations. Between towns I let an SUV show me the way.  Just like anywhere else I have been, SUVs and new pick up trucks are the fastest most aggressive drivers.  Seems that if you are not going 120 you will be run over.

I am learning Spanish from road signs, 'No Tirer Basura' means don't throw out your garbage.  Judging by the roadside, the locals either don't read or don't care.

Every so often there are check points manned by soldiers.  They want to know where you are from and where you are going, at one check the soldier wanted to look in my saddle bags, and whether I was carrying drugs or guns (pistole), I had told this guy I was coming from San Diego, so maybe he thought I was a USian.  Next time I will tell them I am coming from Canada, then they will want to know whether I have undeclared maple syrup no doubt.  It is interesting to see the differnt role the military has in Mexico.  Mexico's constitution forbids the Mexican military from fighting outside of Mexico, so their role is all internal, defense, and apparently they also share some responsibility for maintaining law and order, which in Canada is not a military responsibility.

Day two dawns bright and sunny and I get an early start.  Pretty soon the towns run out and I am by myself with desert on the left and ocean on the right. Spectacular!  I stop in an arroyo and walk down to the ocean, thinking I need to find a bathroom pretty soon.  Right on the shore is an out house, all by itself. Magic!  It hadn't been used for a while, in fact the door had fallen off, but no matter, it had a great view, and there wasn't another human for miles.  No TP, and decided against using a cactus, sometimes you gotta rough it. 

Highway one meanders inland for a while, no more towns. Here the road climbs through desert with plenty of 'Curvas Peligroso', which means fun on a motorcycle in Spanish.

This desert is no Sahara.  Cactus grow everywhere along with a bizzare tree that is mostly a trunk with very short branches and tiny leaves.  Some of the saguaros are 40 feet high. It is like a scene from star trek when the crew from the Enterprise land on a strange planet, I am thinking it probably WAS the strange planet(s) Kirk and Spock visited.







This guy comes up to me in the parking lot of a cafe I stopped at.  He asked me for a peso (about .1 cents), which I gave him, then he said, "You would not believe the story of my life,"  I waited expectantly... He then proceeded to tell me he was a child actor, friends with Mae West, invented the hula hoop, discovered Elvis Presley, and founded the Royal Bank of Canada. (That was the readers digest version.) He was right, I didn't believe him.

At the end of day two I stop in Jesus Villa Maria, I have gone maybe 700 km altogether, and looking on the map I see how far I have gone, (not very).  I knew Mexico was big, but as usual, I failed to grasp  HOW BIG just by looking at a map.  This is going to take a while.

February 05, 2010

Back on land

Today I left MS Zaandam and I am continuing my journey south.  I have been in Mexico for about 8 hours now.  So far so good :-)

The cruise was,  interesting.  It seems that a cruise with 10 days at sea and five days visitng various ports is most attractive to the geriatric crowd.  Now I know that I am old, but I felt pretty young on that cruise.  Actually it was a combination of young and old, as the crew was very young, so they would have seen me as yet another old guy, but the passengers were probably averaging somewhere between 70 and 80, which to me at 60 is pretty damn old.  Depressing, as this is what I have to look forward to.  I have always had some kind of wheels, but walkers and wheelchairs are not what I daydream about.

Anyroad the food was good, the crew was great, and my family was able to get through the 15 days without killing each other, so all was good.  Hawaii was fun, I posted a few pics on my Picasa site, http://picasaweb.google.com/everiman/Cruise#

The boat unloaded this morning (Feb. 5) and I went straight to the bike and headed for the border. 

It is right there that a person realizes they are not in Kansas anymore.  The border guards are teens dressed in camo with huge machine guns hanging around their neck.  They have me open the bags on the bike take a look, and send me on my way, and all of sudden I am in Tijuana.  Now I know that I have to get all these papers and permits to travel in Mexico, but the kid with the cannon does not speak English and waves me on.  When a kid with a weapon bigger than he is waves you on, you go.

I circle around Tijuana for a while, thinking maybe this whole leaving the English speaking part of North America is not such a hot idea.   I encounter some cops overseeing the removal of a bunch of cars by a bunch of tow trucks.  One of them directs me to the right place to go and I get my papers in order.  This is also an interesting process, as a connoiseur of bureacracy, I have to say it was almost as good as getting a vehicle registration in Quebec, but more efficient.

More later.

February 04, 2010

The Cruise

Fifteen days is a long time to be locked aboard a cruise ship, especially if ten of those days are at sea.

The cruise ship is a carefully crafted experience. Designer food crafted by invisible chef Rudy, bland music, and activities. There are also plenty of opportunities for the cruise line to engage in 'adding value', and 'up selling'.

The overall effect is summer camp for seniors with a hint of carnival midway. More mall boat than love boat.

The crew that interact with passengers are extremely polite, friendly, and apparently happy to be there. The passengers are also very nice to the crew.

There are also the rarely seen crew who keep the ship running and on course. Captain Jan Smit (John Smith in Dutch) is a voice on the intercom, giving us the ship's daily progress. We are denied access to the ships bowels due to security concerns, but we glimpse the occasional khaki clad painter or technician on their maintenance rounds.

The ship itself is decorated in contemporary hotel lobby, the kind with stars that is.

The passengers appear to be enjoyoying themselves, but this passenger is putting in time until the ship docks, finding the confinement added to the stress of being with family claustrophobic