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Bill and Annie, Roger and Kerrie Ride Mexico - Jan. 2007
We just returned from an adventure/vacation in Mexico. For those interested in reading further I will try and give you a short version but it probably won’t be real short. In fact it won’t be short so you will have to decide whether to continue. Too many interesting things happened.
Daughter Kerrie and mainly her husband Roger cooked up this January vacation of dual-sport riding in Mexico. Roger is fairly experienced in Mexican travel and Spanish. They had just acquired a couple Suzuki DR650s like Annie and I have. They were rarin’ to go but the full preparation of the new bikes was not finished until the eve of our leaving their place in Taos Ski Valley. With zero mileage on their new bikes we loaded and headed for Las Cruces, NM to park the van and trailer at his daughter’s condo.
On January 10 we finally conquered all the unanticipated problems of dress and packing and hit the road about 2 PM. Our goal was Douglas, AZ a bit over 200 miles away. Taking those new bikes down the interstate much of the way was not what we wanted but they sang right along. As we neared Douglas the tone of the vacation started to show itself. It rained.
The plans for this event were only general and we would settle each night for where we were and what we could find for lodging and food. Arriving after dark, Douglas was searched for a hotel. The hundred year old Gadsden Hotel surfaced downtown complete with restaurant. A grand old place with marble pillars and a grand staircase to the balcony above the spacious lobby. A striking and very large back-lit stained glass window overlooked the stairway and its stuffed mountain lion. A manually operated elevator took our gear to the room just off the balcony. With construction in the street out front, Roger had ridden down the sidewalk to the hotel entrance with us in tow. This is where our bikes stayed for the night lined up like soldiers and locked down. Our large room accommodated the four of us along with the pile of gear. Somehow it all seemed fitting as a start of a ride that would include so many surprises and memorable happenings. The food was good, which would also set the tone.
The next morning the skies were clearing and our spirits were high. Getting through Mexican customs was about as complicated as we had expected, along with trading our dollars for Mexican pesos. We started searching the border town of Agua Prieta for the chosen dirt road out of town and into the wilds of continental divide Mexico. After much wandering and finally some specific advice the road was found. No signs marked the way there nor further-on either. The roadside was a dump for a long distance but eventually we were clear of the town’s influence. It was about 1 PM. The line on our maps extended a very long way south. Forty was about our top speed on the road but much was in twisties. By three with 68 miles gone we arrived at a village not on the map. One store and no other action. We continued to a fork with equal traffic in both directions; chose to go left which soon seemed the wrong direction and was a sandwash to boot. We tried the other fork only to find it eventually end at a river that was a popular picnic spot it seemed. Returning on this road a section of deep sand undid Annie and down she went. No damage. We decided to return to the town, Colonia Morelo, and get some information and gas if possible. A lady at the store was helpful and advised that the next village, which was on the map, was without any accommodations, plus we could see from the map it was further than we had already come. Gas was available, five gallons at a time, from an old Jerry can and through a siphon hose. A weathered sign across the road promised food and my misreading of it made me think beds were available. Roger inquired and found we could be fed and yes, there were unadvertised beds available.
This eatery was a 78 year old lady’s dining room. The beds were in a building in her backyard. At one time these must have been a form of motel rooms but by now were rarely used we could see. Her yard was fenced to corral a large assortment of chickens, roosters, turkeys, dogs, and thankfully separately penned hogs. A single light bulb dangled from the ceilings with a lone bed in each. Roger and Kerrie got the one with the outer spring mattress that squeaked with each movement. We faired better. After our hostess prepared a meal of beef, beans, and potatoes, she went out and spread fresh sheets on the beds. Sheets only! The girls inquired about bathrooms and were led to her personal bathroom deep in the house and advised them the boys could fend for themselves outside. We all did so in the middle of the night as waking her for the use of her facilities seemed uncool. Sometime in the early hours the yard came alive with the dogs barking and howling, the roosters crowing, and the gobblers gobbling. It was quite a serenade. One rooster had maybe a third of a crow that was so pathetic it was hilarious. Annie and I layed there in stitches listening to the poor thing trying to get out a cockadoodledo. That happened twice more before sun up when the pigs went nuts in anticipation of their breakfast, adding to the din. Digressing, Kerrie had advised us of the availability of fleece sleeping bags at WalMart. A ten buck item which we added to our gear as did they. A godsend on this night and three more times before it was all over. Our ever smiling hostess was up early getting her cook stove hot. Our breakfast of eggs, beans, and potatoes was served with much chatter with Roger and her vain attempts to converse with the rest of us. Our meals cost $5 American equivalent and the rooms fifty cents each. The serenade was no charge. She watched as we mounted our saddlebags, our trunk bags, our gallon gas cans, our bedrolls, and our tankbags. With a degree of sadness on both our parts, we believe, we rode away and out of her life forever.
The left fork was the way to go and the sand wash soon got tricky. It required more speed for stability than the girls were ready for at this point. Annie’s footing got behind her again and down she went. This time with a bit of twist to her foot and a good thump to the ribs. That is when I realized her trunk load would have to be lightened as she had a big supply of water adding to that gallon of gas on the seat. As much as possible went in my trunk and away we went with her now under control. But now I had to go faster or else, which I did and all was well.
The road meandered through and over the hills in a most entertaining manner. It soon became apparent that if we had continued the day before we would have been sleeping on the ground somewhere waiting for the sun. Eventually we came upon civilization and asphalt. Good asphalt too which twisted over more mountains leading us to Moctezuma. We became joyful road racers and no one gave an inch. Annie hadn’t ridden like that since her road race days as she was not going to let Kerrie get away. Kerrie was not going to let Roger get away. I was too entertained watching this development to not hang with them.
A good motel was found mid-afternoon and we got our first taste of tacos, Mexican style, for dinner. “Gasolina” and eggs were put in their respective holes the next morning and southward we rode. It was about ten which for various reasons became our standard time to get going. Pavement this time and into more mountains. We came to a bridge construction that put us onto a detour. A Mexican detour can be unique. Down off the road we went and through a farm yard. Down further and onto a creek bottom. We splashed back and forth through the water in this narrow and quite beautiful little canyon for a long way. Eventually we resurfaced, sorry we hadn’t taken more pictures. The road continued through the mountains to an intersection plainly shown on our maps. Plan was that we had to turn right to connect with another road taking us south again. Right we turned and the road was fun, so we rode, and rode, casually looking for the way south. After many miles, or kilometers down there, we reconsidered and backtracked to a village off to the side. There we learned that had we turned left our road would have soon appeared. All that was lost was needed daylight and later all the gas in Roger’s reserve. His bike was the guzzler of the four. He rolled to a stop in sight of the town of Nuri just off the highway.
Not knowing how far we really had to go in what was rapidly becoming night, we rode into the town in search of gas. In the town square were many men congregating who were obviously puzzled by this band of bikers invading their clearly normally peaceful village. Roger inquired and a lanky fellow in cowboy boots and hat, a common attire, advised that “yes,” he had gas. We rolled to a near building where he produced two large jugs of gas and another siphon hose. Roger demonstrated his method of pressurizing the jug with a lung full of air rather than sucking on the end of the rather large but short hose. All were impressed and the gas was quickly transferred with measures to all bikes as they were all about empty. Roger had wiped his mouth with a tissue and asked about an appropriate place to dispose of it. The fellow took it and cast it to the ground commenting that, “This is Mexico.” With one oddity behind us we rode into the night to the next one.
Sooner than we expected the town of Santa Rosa appeared which we could have reached on the gas supply we had. But then we would have missed the previous colorful encounter, so no regrets, despite the extra cost. After a fill-up a good looking motel was found a half block from a source of food. Roger negotiated the rooms and we rode the bikes into the hallway of the building for out-of-sight parking, literally. For food, a taco joint was before us with the cooking going on in front of the building and a dozen locals hanging around the stove. Surprised that there was an empty table inside we sat down to our second taco meal. A TV near us was showing a baseball game. Turned out to be a championship game between a couple large cities (Hermosillo and Obregon) with local interest. A fellow was holding up the wall watching the game an arm’s length from Roger, so he struck up a conversation. Their conversation got more animated, none of which I understood of course. They were clearly having a good time. The fellow left to quickly return with a supply of Tecate beer, the “Gulp of Mexico” we would learn. The game was tied into the bottom of the ninth. Excitement mounted but the favored team let a run through to lose the game. The wind went out of the gathering. Roger asked his new acquaintance, Martin, about getting bacon and eggs for breakfast. He replied that they would only be available at his house. Arrangements were made and he led us to his place the next morning. Two stops were made for tortillas and eggs. Roger bought the eggs I believe. He graciously cooked up our breakfast while his two young daughters looked on in wonder at what had invaded their home. The mariachi music blared from his boombox. The events of the morning engraved themselves into our memories. Non-smoking Roger shared a moment of lighting up with our new friend as we gathered at the bikes. Payment was offered but declined. A brief chapter that again was closed with a degree of sadness for leaving a new friend behind.
We rode away and followed a dirt road toward our goal of Alamos. Meandering past ranches small and primitive we arrived at a town not on the map but clearly deserving. A beautiful square, with a large highly ornamental gazebo gracing its center, sat across from a large and ancient church. A large green highway sign showed the way to towns also not found on our map. At this point I am concluding that my triple A map is more third-world than Mexico. Fortunately Roger had a better one plus a GPS.
On we rode south through another burg with a church from the seventeen hundreds, and many men congregating in their cowboy hats and boots. The kids were very interested in our bikes and their town being shown on the map on my tank bag. Further south we came to a high bridge being constructed over a large river. Clearly fording had been and still is the way to cross the good hundred yards of this swift running river. We wished for a truck or something to come along by which we could gauge the depth. So I concluded that there would be no option to just diving in and hoping for the best. The very rocky bottom plus the current made the crankcase deep water challenging but still possible. No time for heroics. Roger and I both made it OK and waded back to get the girl’s bikes. They waded across holding each other for balance. Annie had come up with Gore-Tex socks from deep in our gear while preparing for the trip. We had them on and found them to be a revelation. Our boot socks were but damp while Roger and Kerrie were wringing the water from theirs. Another twenty or so miles and we arrived at Alamos.
Bordering the plaza Roger spotted a hotel advertising an internet cafe and a garage. Pasada de Don Andre’s Hotel turned out to be a great stop and afforded our first contact with home. The owner spoke fair English and informed us how the hotel had been in his family for generations. On his father’s death he had interrupted his music career to take over the establishment. He was as well a schooled artist in wood with his sculptures distributed about and the new wooden doors of his construction enhancing many doorways. Around the plaza were an assortment of food vendors offering enticing selections. We filled ourselves with the regional delights and considering what we could duplicate at home. As best we could tell, our host at the hotel had spent the night sleeping on the floor of the no longer operating cafe part of the operation. His several computers worked well though. He brewed us a proper cup of coffee as opposed to the Nescafe instant served universally. For breakfast, a dining room table and a tiny kitchen set in an alcove on the street drew us in. Our breakfast was prepared from scratch by the chef who looked anything but. It was consumed with the usual enthusiasm and at a very fair price.
With a later than usual start at 10:45, due to a bit of sightseeing of this most interesting town, we backtracked about twenty miles to a fork in the road. The right fork sent us on our way for a short day in distance but not time; the best riding and most interesting road and country yet. We met several trucks coming out of the mountains with a pure white mineral being quarried high up. When we cleared their route the road became rougher and fairly rocky. Much low gear riding as we climbed further into the Sierra Madre Mountains. Overlooks aplenty had us gazing far down on the vintage road we had traveled. We came to a small village where three motorcyclists were parked, drawing on cans of pop. Conversation revealed one of the riders was a past acquaintance of Roger’s from Taos. He had since moved to Alamos. They had come from our day’s destination but offered we could likely ford the river which they had chosen to be trucked across. Hmmm. Climbs follow descents until we broke out high above a spectacular river valley which Roger knew was the river mentioned. The descent was slow and often a bit rugged. Reaching the valley floor took much longer than I had estimated.
The river was spanned by a pedestrian bridge serving the many who lived across from the town of Chinipas. Not a small village, particularly for this remote location. We rode to the ford and looked at another hundred yards plus of water, again flowing fast. Again no truck by which to gauge the depth. No hesitation this time as we knew what we had to do. The water was at the bottoms of the saddlebags but the river bed was less rocky. We clawed our way across while the girls took the footbridge, staying dry this time. Roger and I walked the swaying span in short quick steps as normal strides would be in harmony with the swaying of the cable supported span. The girls bikes were ridden across and we were soon searching the town for accommodations.
A hotel surfaced downtown on the main drag as daylight started to dim. Roger went in to check it out, came out and said to wait while he looked further. A few minutes passed until he reappeared saying nothing but riding the Suzuki through the front door. So we lined up and followed. Through the doors was a courtyard with rooms built against the outer walls. Obviously very old. So was our hostess for the night. Maybe five feet tall and bent but with the typical Mexican smile welcoming this strange foursome. We selected our parking spots and there was discussion of which rooms to rent us with concerns for the rentability of certain rooms for any coming later. With that settled she suggested we may like cerveza. Oh yes! She produced four Gulps of Mexico and we had a toast to our thrilling and colorful day’s ride.
Roger and Kerrie’s room was on the front wall with the main drag outside. A window that would not close provided an audio of all happening out there to include a rippin’ dogfight. Annie and I had tranquillity. On examining the rooms it was found they had not been cleaned after the last several guests. The beds were made and that was all. The micro thin sheets and pillowcases were suspect. Washing was hanging on lines in the court yard and clothing, not bedding, made up what was trying to dry in the humid air. Our bedrolls were put to use again and thankful we were to have them. We slept in our clothes for additional warmth. Our hostess had a well- maintained head of gray hair. Too bad this attention did not spill over to her business.
We found a restaurant in a home a few blocks distance that offered seafood. By the time we found it the lady said it was closed but decided we were novel enough to serve anyway. The fare was all about shrimp and good it was. The wood furniture was beautifully crafted and maintained. Roger asked how the town was accessed since the road we had traversed was unbelievably rugged and there was no water or rail service. Those rough roads were it and distances were long. Cars were everywhere though as well as a government Pemex gas station of sorts. He asked her what was the income for the town as there seemed to be little room for agriculture. She admitted marijuana was important. We learned her hours for breakfast and enjoyed the hospitality the next morning.
Heading into the mountains the next day under overcast skies brought no apprehension. We were having way too much fun to think further ahead than we could see. Again climbing thousands of feet on these joyous truck roads we came to a mine and mining town. Later we learned it was gold and silver that the earth was giving up. About the time we were passing there the rain started. Before long the road was a slick clay surface that left us searching out the softer road edges for traction. The rain got more serious and pockets of mud indicated the rain had been there for possibly a longer time. The village of Temoris lay down the road somewhere but we were confident of reaching it before dusk. Then I took an inside line on a downhill switchback to find myself staring at a rutted mud hole. It did not work out and soon I was laying stretched out in the mud. I could lift the bike only a ways and was in the process of removing the two ton trunk when Kerrie backtracked to where I was. We righted the bike with effort and reassembled. She said a creek crossing was not far so that is where the worst of the mud was washed off. The clay gave way to a more rideable surface and the fun continued.
Reaching Temoris about 3:30 a couple nice rooms downtown were procured with a restaurant to boot. Temoris sits about three thousand feet above Copper Canyon and a depot on the railroad. With daylight left, Roger got into action assessing the situation as we were concerned about the long dirt road to Creel for tomorrow. He learned that the passenger train runs daily to Chihuahua, some ten hours ride, and a freight train was due in the next day as well which probably could take our bikes out of the mountains. We learned the road ahead to Creel was under construction and considered impassable for trucks with the extent of the rain. Further, Creel was getting snow. With rain truly setting in, the train seemed our only option and we were glad it was there. A bilingual Canadian mine worker, Serge, was staying at the hotel and helped importantly to make the right contact with the railroad fellow, Ivan Roscoe, we would have to deal with. Seemed Ivan was stranded in Temoris with his truck broken down but he said he would hop on one of our bikes the next day to get him to the depot to do the paper work etc. This surprised us but figured he was a game fellow. He must have had second thoughts as other arrangements were made.
While Roger was gone I busied myself washing our luggage in the water flowing in the gutter plus doing a better job with my boots. The locals watched and I could not tell what they were thinking. I would not have been surprised to learn they thought we were loco to be where we were in January. The opinion we heard was it was the worse weather in forty years.
Again Roger and Kerrie drew the room against the street but this time it was cold. Cold and wet with the near hundred percent humidity. They lined up a fan to try and dry out as much of their clothing as possible. Their socks were soaked while Annie and I were in good shape again. Cold, plus fan, was not a good combination. Food was good as usual.
Roger and I went in search of rope the next morning for the train fellows to hopefully use securing the bikes. A nice hardware supply was found and the rope plus four motorcycle type tiedowns were purchased. Gas was drained to a minimum and went into the Canadian’s truck. We sorted out what could be left on the bikes which amounted to the saddle bags plus the gas cans bungeed on. Then we suited up for the dramatic ride into the canyon to leave our bikes at the depot. Tank bags, trunks, sleeping bag duffels, and helmets had to be carried with us. With clouds drifting around below us the canyon was dramatic. Rain was light but steady. We paid our money and parked our bikes, apprehensive about leaving them in other’s hands for what we knew would not be an easy task to secure them properly. We expected to wait for the daily shuttle to take us back to Temoris, but Lotario, the brother of the hotel owner was there in his pickup, so he took us back to town.
Another internet connection was found and we generally killed time enjoying the character of the mountain town. The next morning we made our ten o’clock appointment with Lotario and his pickup for the ride to the depot to connect with the more tourist train of the two daily passenger trains to Chihuahua. When we arrived it was working its way up the side of the canyon and away from us. But the local and less expensive train would be along in an hour. Like so often, it was probably a blessing we were late.
When that train arrived we threw our stuff on, which was a lot of stuff, and found the first seats empty with a large floor space in front of us available for our gear. The train does a 180 before reaching the depot and another big 180 fully inside the mountain, reappearing way above the depot for a quick look down before disappearing into another tunnel. Our ten hour ride was underway. With the rain obscuring the window to a large degree the otherwise spectacular viewing held little attention. The tracks were anything but smooth and the noises from the car seemed like it was suffering. The car ahead suffered to the point that a stop for inspection indicated problems. The passengers were moved to our car and at the next opportunity the car was taken out of the train and left on a siding. By eleven in the evening we were pulling into Chihuahua.
A taxi driver took us to a “medium priced hotel” which was a block from what is considered the downtown. A good choice as we were well entertained. The name was Bal-Flo which quickly became Bowel-Flo. The TV worked and walking the streets was anything but boring. This was important since we would learn the next morning about the freight train not being due for three more days. Also we learned that the fellow at Temoris should not have accepted the bikes as that type freight is not OK for there. With that, I was not fully relaxed until we layed eyes on the bikes. The girls and Roger had Crocs for footwear while I only had my riding boots. There are no Crocs in Mexico it seems. As we walked the crowded market places the stares at that footwear was common. I wished I had had a yellow pair and Roger a red pair instead of his navy ones. We would have turned eyes big time. What fun. The vendors with their specialty offerings were nearly on top of one another. The produce all looked fresh and inviting. We did play tourist one day with a guided tour that included Pancho Villa’s home to include the bullet-riddled car in which he was riding on his last day.
The day came to pick up the bikes. We taxied to the depot and waited for the boxcar to be pushed to a loading platform. Roger was mentally prepared to wheely them out of the car. A bit of the rope had been used to tie Kerrie and Roger’s bikes to the wall but mine was layed on Kerrie’s and Annie’s on mine. On that rock and roll train I expected the worse as in, caved-in tanks. Mine has a torn seat cover and a hole in a saddle bag. That was all of significance for damage so we were all relieved. The tie-downs were not to be found. The bike’s chains got a shot of oil and the gear was loaded. Kerrie ran out of gas getting the few blocks to a station. Finally all was right again; the sun was finally shining; we were heading north at last. The sun held for awhile but an obvious front lay ahead. Soon it was raining again and soon it was snowing. Annie’s bike previously suffered a failure of the grip heaters and now sputtered to a standstill. With the snow coming down and far from anything familiar we had a moment of doubt. I checked the spark with another plug and it was good. Breathing a sigh of relief I went to the fuel. Turned the petcock to prime and hit the starter. It came to life and never hiccupped after that. On returning home both systems worked fine and I am left scratching my head. The snow got bad and we pulled in for gas and hoping for shelter. Although a restaurateur there, in now typical Mexican hospitality, offered us floor space to camp for as long as we needed. We opted to try for a known motel town fifty miles further on. The snow persisted and visibility was a fight. Annie was loosing ground and I was sure she had lost sight of Kerrie’s taillight. I found a peek hole in my shield so pulled ahead of her, catching us up, and lead her to the motel which eventually appeared. The next morning the snow was thick on our bikes but the sky was clear. We killed a bit of time for things to warm and dry some so the ride from there was good. The DR650s sang up the highway at 76 to 77 mph by Roger’s GPS; 85 on our speedos.
Upon going through customs on the American side Roger ran out of gas right there and Annie had her clothes messed up from digging out her passport. We all pulled out of the way and well past the guard shack, but still in the compound, to make all right before motoring on. This jerk came out of his building and started bellowing that we couldn’t park there. Annie didn’t move as she knew she would have her clothing sorted out soon. So he got more persistent. He went to Roger and kicked up a fuss. Roger was transferring gas from his jug to the bike and asked if the guy wanted to help him push the bike out the gate. Finally he told the guy that for two weeks we have been around nothing but friendly folks and the first American we encounter is an ass.
The ride to the van was around fifty uneventful miles through pecan orchards on back country roads where only Roger was not lost.
Observations: One thousand two hundred and eleven miles added to the bike odos. The Mexican people we had contact with were friendly, seemingly happy, and helpful whenever there was a need or perceived need. From the kids to the grandfolks, all were smiles and waves wherever we passed. No effect from the current illegal alien hassles in the states. I chose to run regular gas while Roger chose premium. I experienced no problem so have to conclude that possibly the bad gas reputation may be under control. Crocs are perfect additions to the gear bag. Gore-Tex socks are a prized possession. Jackets and pants that keep you warm and dry beat a rainsuit hands down. A red rag (mechanics) can be important for mud cleaning etc. Get the best maps possible and cut off what you won’t need. Huge jicama lollipops are a treat. A Suzuki DR650 is a fun, capable, and trusty machine for whatever comes along but the seat can injure your butt if it’s at all bony. There is fun in all things.