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Published: October 28th 2010
Road to Guanjuato.
Stephen, Saburo & Cara, then Sato.
Yes, I'm still here in Mexico & no I hadn't intended on staying this long. My initial estimate had me racing through building up enough of a reserve to see the sights/laze about in Central America but as it is, there's very little not to like about Mexico meaning time has been passing whilst the miles have not. Still, there's always tomorrow.
I have been told after Guatemala there's not a huge amount to see before Columbia, excluding Costa Rica & so I'll make up time there. Definitely.
I have just read a travel blog by two Scottish lads who made it to Panama 45 days after leaving Alaska including five countries in six days as they passed through Central America, despite the main roads being washed away by recent floods. As there are no roads between Panama & Columbia they flew their bikes to Bogota & then rode to the Ecuadorian border in a single day. That ladies & gentlemen is the opposite end of the 'traveling on a motorbike' spectrum to where you'll find me.
I'm not totally useless & I have given some thought to how I'm going to cross the Darien Gap between Panama
Stephen & I.
I stuck to the Margarita's & beer, the next morning Stephen wished he had too.
& Columbia. Unlike the Scottish lads I'm not going to fly, instead I'm booked on a German sail boat come the end of November. Despite spending more then my fair share of time aboard boats it doesn't stop me feeling seasick (I still blame all those ferry crossings back & forth to Ireland as a child) & so as the voyage takes 4 days I'm already feeling a little queasy just thinking about it.
Getting a very weighty motorbike aboard should be fun as I have to get the bike into a dinghy first, then out to open water to meet the German boat where they winch it aboard. Hmmm... Open seas, heavy motorbike in dinghy, winch & me feeling sea sick - what could possibly go wrong? Anyway that's the best part of a month & a number of miles away yet so there's no point in thinking about it too much. I have to leave Mexico first.
Yes this country is a little loco but that's why I like it. The main things I've noticed in the last few weeks are;
- The newspapers carry VERY GRAPHIC photographs of bullet riddled bodies/squashed from car accidents
on the front pages every day. See picture on right.
- One in five people wears a neck brace making me think compensation culture has reached Mexico.
- Jeans are advertised in shop windows with mannequins facing away as Mexicans are fascinated by how good or bad their butts look & thus they can get an idea of how they'll look if their arse happens to be the same shape as the mannequins.
- The women are amongst the most beautiful in the world. Female travellers say the same.
- Moustaches are still very much envogue.
- Wigs, regardless of how bad, are better then being bald. I not going to comment as obviously I'm biased.
- A large percentage of the women who 'work the streets' at night in Mexico City (well outside the £4/night place where I'm staying atleast) are clearly men. When they stand in groups on corners they have the appearence of a rugby team on a Stag Do. Perhaps they're undercover police as there's no other rational explanation as to why they think they could pass as women. They're enormous! We get our food from the same street vendors
Rocio & Stephen.
The Old Bull Ring, Zacatecas.
& as I've been here for nearly a week I'm starting to know them to say hello to. No big deal unless I'm with someone else from the hostel who rightly wonders why I'm on such good terms with the local transvestite pro's?
So since I last sat down to say hello I finally left Zacatecas which is a sweet town & I was sad to say goodbye, mainly because of the $25 Mex - about £1.25 - 'All you can drink Magarita Thursdays'. Turns out I can drink quite a few & for that I'd like to thank those at Islington who selflessly put their Wednesday nights aside to coach me. You'll be pleased to hear I did you proud. Sadly they didn't serve French Martini's.
After 8 days off the bike it was time to head to a place called Guanjuato which is as famous for its beauty & the street festival that was going on, as it is amongst the motorcycle traveller community for being impossible to navigate around.
Now not that I'm boasting but... I've covered 17,000 miles in just over 3 months & I was arriving with 3 other 'Adventure Bikers', four
Eric & Sabrina
2 up around the Americas.
maps, 3 sat navs & a fluent Spanish speaker. Getting around Guanjuato wasn't going to be a problem. Or so we thought.
Stephen, Saburo (yep it's him again, firstly Canada, then Yosemite & now Mexico - he says hello), another Japanese lad called Sato (who has already ridden through Russia, Central Asia, Europe, Africa, America, Canada & Alaska) & I all agreed to share the miles from Zacatecas.
The night before we left whilst I'd been finishing the fifth & final series of The Wire on my ipod (what a cracking TV Series that was, thank you Michael!!!) Saburo got talking to Cara an American girl & agreed to give her a ride the 240 odd miles to Guanjuato the following day.
So whilst Saburo got the girl, I got her lugguage. She's only 19 & traveling around Mexico on her own without any worries. She can speak fluent Spanish & is mature beyond her years which she demonstrated by not saying a word at a particularly thorough Police checkpoint (speaking in Spanish only makes things more complicated as the Police/Military are inclined to ask more questions) &, by not telling her mum she was traveling with
Cara & Kate.
Cara from New Mexico & Kate all the way from Kilkenny.
four bikers until after she'd arrived. She can also hold a huge amount of liquor for a girl of 19 (Irish ancestry) which I found even more impressive when Stephen pointed out that she's not legally allowed to drink back in the States.
So we all set off in the direction of Guanjauto & the police checkpoint on the way was the first time anyone had actually bothered to check through any of my documentation. The policeman I got knew exactly where to look for the vehicle identification number then radioed it back to HQ & cross referenced with all my other paperwork. So the part of my last entry where I said no police or military ever asks for my documents clearly tempted fate. I've never won the lottery, just in case fate is reading this entry too.
Guanjuato has a labyrinth of old water tunnels beneath the city which after the river was diverted were converted into one way roads. After the initial fun of trying to make as much noise as possible as we rode through we got down to the serious business of getting utterly lost. So much so we even managed to lose
It isn't a big place but after trying to ride down a very narrow one way street with buses coming the other way Stephen & I eventually gave up, parked up & walked to where we needed to be, sat nav in hand. I then set the location as a favourite & discovered it was a mere 0.01 miles away from the bikes. How hard can it be?
Despite knowing where we needed to be, having maps & a sat nav that knew the precise location of the hostel all of 0.01 miles away, we got lost. Again.
Initially it was annoying but after riding down the same streets & seeing the same faces watching us pass by for the sixth or seventh time we couldn't help but smile. Despite the biking experience cited above, it appears covering a distance of 0.01 miles without getting lost is beyond me.
In the end Stephen & I hired a cab & followed it to the front door of the hostel where we'd stood an hour before. Eventually Sato, Saburo & Cara found their way too. A mere two hours after arriving in town.
Saburo & I.
About to share yet more miles.
nights enjoying the festivities Saburo, Sato & I opted to head for Mexico City & said goodbye to Stephen & Cara. Stephen is on a different time frame but the same route so hopefully we'll get to share a few miles & a drink or two a little further down the road however, he may never leave Mexico he's enjoying it so much.
I was originally going to pass Mexico City by (Marie, I still have your "robbed at gunpoint" story in mind) but as there would be three of us & as it also happens to be the capital for Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) I put all the horror stories to the back of my mind & got on the road. All the Mayan & Aztec ruins, the beaches & everything else Mexico has to offer comes beneath 'A night at Lucha Libre' on my list of things to do.
After paying the extortionate costs of the toll roads to Mexico City we made it to the gridlocked outskirts in good time. As we were riding along the equivilent of a motorway through heavy traffic I could see a policeman on a motorbike taking a keen interest
Saburo & Cara
Road to Zacatecas.
& a little further down the road was a second actually standing in the middle of the motorway motioning for us to pull over with his colleague coming up close behind.
They explained we had broken the law by riding our bikes on the motorway (despite other bikes passing us by as they spoke) & so we would have to pay a large fine. I do know only specific number plates on specific days are allowed into the city but not being allowed to ride on the motorway was rubbish.
Both were fat & dressed as if they should be on horse back with knee high very shiney boots & tight pants & shirts which gave them the air of very low end strippers. However, they were well versed in good cop, bad cop with the older of the two expressing his amazement we'd even dare to commit such a heinous crime whilst the other suggested there might be another way around the problem...
They wanted to see our driver's licenses, no doubt to use as leverage once they had them in hand & so I gave the older of the two my really rather shoddy home
She kept watch...
whilst her colleague checked my bike.
made copy. He then added the offence of presenting false documents to the made up charge. Go Brian! I suspect giving a home made driving licence to an officer of the law may actually be on the statute books so I couldn't really bitch about that one.
After more theatrics they eventually suggested we pay a much smaller 'on the spot fine' of $40 dollars for the three of us & then we could be on our way. I told them I was willing to pay & I'd happily follow them to the police station to do so. Strangely they weren't so keen on the idea & insisted we pay in cash at the roadside.
They made a show of phoning their superior & telling us the station was too far away but I was in a stubborn mood & as Saburo & Sato were now only speaking in Japanese after about 30 minutes they told us to follow them. As we did so they turned off the busy motorway to a quiet back street & started the whole procedure from the beginning. This time they added they'd keep all our documents for processing until the following night
if we didn't pay immediately in cash. Again no problem, I'd get their names & numbers to ensure everything went smoothly when we arrived to pay the fine & collect our documents at the police station. I'd also mention they'd originally wanted $40 cash on the roadside. Finally, after the best part of an hour they gave up & left.
I realise $40 dollars isn't a huge amount of cash but it's the principal of not handing money to men dressed as cheap strippers, a lesson well learnt years ago. I'm sure it'll be the first of many such instances & no doubt at somepoint I'll have no option but to hand over some dollars but not to those two clowns. $40 Can get me 600 odd miles closer to Argentina.
Once in the heart of the city Saburo, Sato & I headed for 'Pension Amigo' which is the famed place to stay in Mexico City (if your Japanese). Outside there's nothing to say its a hostel only a painted Japanese flag & Japanese script for 'Pension Amigo' on the door.
Inside the only guests are Japanese with the odd Korean for good measure. So after a
week of Spanish lessons I find myself in the most populous Spanish speaking city in the world surrounded by people speaking Japanese. On the plus side I now know the correct way to draw a Samarui sword (twist the hips) & how to slurp noisily whilst eating noodles, although by all accounts my slurping needs work. I have also tried & failed to understand Japanese Chess. Not surprising really as my idea of a game of intellect is Connect 4.
Lucha Libre brought me to Mexico City & as it happened the Japanese lads at the hostel were as keen as me to get to the stadium. When we arrived & the security guards said no cameras were allowed & so I had to stuff mine down my pants & only managed one rather shoddy photo all night. Don't worry, it wasn't in my pants at the time.
Initially some girls come out & dance around to keep the crowd entertained & I'm pleased to report they filled their job descriptions admirably. Then out come the wrestlers the majority of whom wear masks to hide their real identities & the mayhem begins. They don't hold back & are
Stephen & Sabrina
on an invisible motorbike.
amazingly agile for such big fellas. It does take them a little while to warm up but as the night went on the better they got. More then once a wrestler was thrown from the top rope into the people sitting ringside. Gold!
Most bouts involved 6 wrestlers & a lot of chaos. The highlight of the night was a bout between 6 female wrestlers as that really was no holds barred & quite brutal, but my god it was a cracking way to spend a Friday night. At the finale one of the team managers was beaten up by a Japanese wrestler who literally only appeared for two minutes, knocked this chap unconscious & left. You can probably imagine how that went down with the Japanese lads I was with, they went beserk!
One of the highlights of traveling is the randomness of how I spend my time. Watching Lucha Libre in Mexico City surrounded by Japanese lads was one of those times that put a huge smile on my face & made me appreciate how entertaining life can be. I'm not saying I need 6 women dressed in lycra fighting it out to really enjoy a
Friday night, (if I did I'd move to Newcastle) I'm just saying it helps.
Chatting with the Japanese lads on the way home they invited me out the following night to the redlight district & I didn't hesitate to say yes. I thought they meant red light in the Bangkok sense. i.e. a few drinks, dodge a few ping pong balls & then off out but when they started discussing prices & what you get for how much I knew I was in over my head so I politely declined.
They did however get me to do something I'd normally avoid... visit a UNESCO world heritage site & a 'must see' museum. It may not sound like a big deal but I usually find these things about as interesting as reading new legislation whilst sitting back behind a desk in London. I'm proud to say I did both the museum & the UNESCO world heritage site without complaint. I did have a nap on a bench at the museum & have yet to read the guidebook to find out what I was looking at at the UNESCO world heritage site but for me, it was a good effort.
So I'll be in Mexico City for a little while longer before heading south towards a place called Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ka, obviously) for the Day of the Dead Celebrations where the souls of the dead are believed to return. I've been told every cemetery in the country comes alive, so it should be fun.
Afterwards I'll be spending a couple of days messing about in the surf south of Acapulco somewhere before heading north up towards Belize for a nose round. I was supposed to be meeting a couple of bikers in Guatemala in the coming weeks but one of them has been involved in an accident & medi-vac'd back to Australia. The joys of motorcycling the America's.
I'll soon be negiotiating my way through the crazy traffic & corrupt police in the largest city in the world again so wish me luck.
I hope you're all on good form, especially those in the Northern Hemisphere as I hear winter has arrived. Those in the Southern - enjoy the sunshine!
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