I had been eager for months to leave the US which I sometimes allow to build like a poison inside me until the pain is unbearable. I have crossed the Mexican-US border by land four or five times now. One thing that an overland traveler realizes very quickly if he or she is at all lucid is that borders are a criminal and absurd tragedy. This border illustrates this well. The US side is a little chaotic, and it becomes much more chaotic once on the other side. I had crossed before in Tijuana, but never in Nogales. They are similar but Nogales seems less sinister and is much more navigable.
A few moments after crossing(there is no control entering Mexico, at least for the border zone) I nearly hit a woman crossing the street. I locked up my brakes and the tires skidded and I narrowly missed her. She didn't seem phased by it and I was thrilled by this simple event which could never occur just a few miles away. Dodging through cars and pedestrians and no longer rigidly following traffic rules, the sounds of megaphones playing Sonoran music, I felt much more at home.
In the border zone sometimes one sees shacks that are impoverished and made out of scrap even by Mexican standards. I don't know if this is because of deportation policy. I didn't meet very many men in Mexico who hadn't been deported. Almost everyone has their story.
We spent the night in a town called Magdalena. There had been a soccer game and pick up trucks full of young boys shouting rolled by as we stopped for dinner. The people were notably friendlier than on the other side of the border, and the tacos were very good. I felt, as I do in all of the third world, a tremendous freedom that I miss when I am in the CCTV on every corner Europe or police who will shatter your life for nothing US.
The next day we decided to ride to Chihuahua to fix Paul's rear brake. This meant crossing the Sierras occidental. This turned out to be an incredible area. The mountains were dramatic and very sparsely populated. The vegetation was beautiful, with succulents dripping down cliff sides and entire mountains covered entirely with trees that were blossoming purple, the entire tree, bright purple mountains. The mountain range in general had a very alien, reptilian feel to it from my perspective. Neither photographs nor words will capture it.
We spent the night in a strange and oddly hostile feeling town. We were overcharged for a dismal hotel room and it was cold. The next morning we left early. I asked a man I had been talking to the night before about what kinds of jobs were available there and he vaguely said something about wood, or logging. I asked him how the economy was and he said it was terrible and everyone was poor. We left.
Shortly after leaving I crashed in what must have been a combination of my utter inexperience as a motorcyclist and the idiotic ego games that two men in their twenties on motorcycles will play. It was raining and I lost traction going too fast into one of the hundreds of blind mountain turns and went flying down a hillside at about thirty five miles per hour. A tree stopped the bike and I continued flying. I was unharmed except for a few scratches. I tried starting the bike and riding back up but the hill was way too steep. After about half an hour Paul came back.
A moustachioed man in a pick up truck arrived and exclaimed "What barbarism!" when he saw the bike. He declared it was a miracle that I wasn't hurt. We tied the bike to the back of the truck and pulled it up. There was no significant damage. He told us that I was very lucky that he came instead of the locals, and he said they only would have stopped to rob me. People always seem to think that the other are bad and dangerous. In each state or country in the world I have always heard about how bad and dangerous the neighboring place is.
This was my worst crash yet and it was really invigorating. I also was stunned by just how badly the left dorsal muscle can hurt when you ride for hours and hours and hours. But a sort of craziness from listening to nothing but the wind and engine noises all day sets in and things get really fun inside your own head, inside your helmet. We arrived in Chihuahua at a cheap hotel with a heater. I watched a film with Cuba Gooding Junior called "Cruzero de locas" about two straight men who in trying to book a singles cruise end up accidentally on an all gay cruise. This was part of me getting my spanish back- very effective. "Es un cruzero de gays!!!" Why would I get homesick when my culture is exported to the rest of the world?
Next stop was Durango. We just passed through to get some bolts for the KTM(Paul's bike) sprocket that had gotten lost. We stopped at a disgusting chinese restaurant and then headed out. In the hills outside of town the KTM had its first major failure. The engine died and there were metal shards in the oil. It wouldn't start. I went to a motorcycle shop across from the Chinese restaurant where two boys, one about 12 and the other 16 were replacing the clutch disks in a chinese moped that looked to be in not very good shape. The owner, Rudolfo, went with me in his pickup truck to get the KTM. He was for the current president, Calderon, and thought that Obrador was a worthless jabberer,something along those lines that doersn't translate.
Traveling by motorcycle really colors the experiences you have and the people you meet. It's not better or worse than other types of travel, just different, and if you have mechanical problems it is more expensive.
We looked around Durangos main drag for a hotel and finally found a place that was too expensive for the first night. As I was sitting on my bike three incredibly attractive Mexican girls fixed me with flirtatious stares as they walked by, and continued looking back at me as they continued by. I, of course, did nothing, but I realized the role that motorcycles can play in certain types of courtship rituals.
The KTM ended up having new valves machined for it for some reason. It was too expensive. Durango was a pleasant city to stay in for a couple days, beautiful spanish buildings and generally friendly people. Especially a shoe shine boy who told me about how he learned to speak english in prison in the US. There was excellent fresh fruit with chili and lime for cheap. I tried to read Tolstoy in spanish in the park and enjoyed the sun of the Durango plains.
On the way into the city we had ridden around golden rolling hills and ranches through tiny nearly deserted village. Riding on rough terrain on dirt bikes is an incredible experience. It incorporates all of the joy of insanity with none of the negative effects on your relationships and professional life.
On the way to Durango I had found everyone I had stopped to ask directions to be very helpful. I remember distinctly seeing a truckload of Indian children who invariably look dusty and charismatic. One girl stared into my eyes with her strange cloudy blue and piercing eyes, and I hope I will remember her eyes until I die.
After Durango we went to Mazatlan where I hoped to find a new sprocket, since my front sprocket had broken off several teeth and was causing performance problems. The road from Durango to Mazatlan is called espina del diablo, or the devils spine. Mexico may have some of the best motorcycling roads in the world. Incredible cliffs and views, to say the least. At one roadside stand where we ate excellent gorditas, a man who was very enthusiastic about motorcycling insisted on putting a sticker on either side of my tank that read "Cotizado." He wouldn't explain to me what it meant but I was happy to share his enthusiasm. I looked it up and found that it meant "To have been evaluated, appraised." Bizarre, I thought.
We happened to arrive at Mazatlan for Carneval. Most of the tourists were Mexican. Carneval seemed to be a weird orgy of consumption. I had never witnessed one before. I didn't see any of the religious aspects, just people drinking beer and playing intensely racist carnival games like "Tirale al negro" Or "Throw it at the black" where a black sambo character taunted passer bys by calling them "joto" or "faggots" and then sold heavy balls that the players tried to throw into the mouth of the black. I gave it a go myself, but didn't win.
We decided to join in the celebrating by drinking a couple of micheladas, delicious beer clamato and spice cocktails. We got drunk and then I confronted Paul about what I perceived to be his issues with women. This is how intellectuals celebrate carneval. Then some girls started flirting with us. We flirted back. The conversation was going well until I asked how old they were. The answer was fourteen. We decided in an English side conversation that it was best not to pursue them, attractive and physically mature though they were.
Through Rudolfos brother we managed to find a thirteen tooth sprocket that fit my bike. This increased my torque but decreased my top speed. Before this trip I had no real concept of how combustion engines work. Now I do. With my sprocket replaced we headed down the coast, a route a Mexican doctor in Chihuahua had recommended. It was spectacular. We stopped for lunch in front of a very disorganized and primitive motorcycle shop. When Paul tried to start his bike it didn't start. Luckily we were in front of a motorcycle shop. The problem turned out to be the regulator. The mechanic put a regulator from a drastically different motorcycle in and it ran. While he was doing this, though, I was riding around for fun. I decided to do a wheelie, and I did, but immediately after my bike died and wouldn't start. The carburator had to be cleaned. We didn't get as far as we would have like that day, instead we stayed in my childhood home of Barra de Navidad, about 10 km away, on the beach.
The local youth seemed to enjoy riding up and down the beach on ATVs, which are used as practical vehicles all over Mexico. I noticed in barra de Navidad that there were a lot fo expatriates, mostly Canadians and mostly personable. We continued down the coast which was incredibly scenic, mostly winding around the coastal hills formed by various rivers running into the ocean. Somewhere in Michoacan the KTM had another electrical failure due to the regulator the last mechanic had put in and I went to the next town for help. The town was called Caleta de Campos, and this is where our visit to Mexico actually began.
We spent the night on the beach in Barra de Navidad, where the recreational activity for local youth
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