Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mexican Economics 101: A lesson in Extorsion

(This image is for illustration only.  These cops in Mulegé were awesome guys.)


Looks like I got an early Christmas present of a bunch of sour comments.  YAY!

Seems like some guys on got ahold of this post, didn't read it all, and got their armchair quarterback panties all in a bunch.  SO BEFORE you read this post...  I have one thing to say...  "I BROKE THE LAW.  I PAID A FINE.  I LEARNED MY LESSON."  Now if you'd like to read my feelings about what went down that day read on.  -Justin

I’ve only had one thing stolen from the this whole trip, but today I ran into two crooked cops that tried to rob me of a bit of my spirit.

I left the campground in Pie de la Cuesta by 8:30 this morning.  I was really proud of myself for getting up and packing things and getting out of camp early today.  I made my way into the maddening chaos of Acapulco, missed my turn for the ‘via rapido’ and ended up in the same stop and go chaotic traffic that I was in last night.  I got aggressive and picked my way through like a local.  I was stoked with the skill I had managed weaving into and out of the craziness.  Huge billows of nasty diesel fumes blasting out of the busses.  People squeezing between the lanes and cutting people off and honking their horns at each other.    I used the skills I’ve aquired the last couple of days in these Mexican tourist towns to make my way confidently through the traffic.  Splitting lanes and rallying to the front of the row at every red light.  I managed to stay safe, only get honked at a couple of times and generally made great time through town.

When I made it to the far side of town and pushed my way up the hillside, I pulled off to take a couple pictures of the bay, jammed back onwards feeling good that the traffic mess was behind me.  I rolled over the crest and got a quick view of the next bay, which I believe was called Pichilingue.  I came down the hill with the flow of traffic and when I saw a PEMEX there I thought I might as well pull in and fill up.  Everything seemed like it was chilling out as I got closer to the airport.

I filled up and looking at the traffic near the exit of the station, I decided to loop around and head out the entry and just pop onto the main thoroughfare headed for Puerto Escondido.  I saw a gap in the traffic and cracked the throttle shooting out across a couple of lanes right where I needed to be.  A few seconds later a crappy white car with some old school cop lights on top started honking at me pointing for me to pull over.  I pretended not to see him at first but they zoomed up next to me and started yelling.  I looked over trying to figure out if they were legitimate cops or not.  Just as I looked back in my lane, I realized that two taxis had come to a complete stop in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and started skidding.  I rear-ended the cab in front of me at about 2 mph.  I was pissed now, and just blasted past them banging one of my boxes on the corner of the car.  I grabbed a fist full of throttle and made a run for it.

Two seconds later the cab was zooming up next to me and trying to run me off the road.  I jammed on the brakes, he flew by and I rallied to get around him.  He was good though and I was having trouble watching my mirrors for the cops and trying to negotiate around this damn taxi driver.  He finally pinched me to the center median and I stopped fearing a brutal accident with this a-hole.  Of course the cops were behind me now and the great ordeal began...

I started off in Spanish but remembering all the ride reports I read about playing dumb, I decided to shut up and play dumb.  I was pissed.  I would have never hit the taxi if the cops weren’t yelling at me.  The cop was in my face.  When I stopped speaking spanish and pretended that I didn’t understand him, he just started speaking English.  Shit.

So our little charade began.  I knew from the very beginning that this wasn’t about the fact that I broke the law by not using the lateral lanes to enter the thoroughfare.  This was going to be my first lesson in tourist extorsion.  So I tried to keep my cool and beg forgiveness, which wouldn’t have worked in the first place, but I gave it a try.  I also had the further problem that the taxi driver, who knew damn well nothing had happened to his car, also knew the extorsion game far better than I.  So he worked the situation as much as the cops did.  We did our little dance and 30 minutes later, after threatening to impound my motorcycle and put me in jail because suddenly the taxi driver’s neck hurt, he said we could handle this here and I could be on my way.  Or we could just do it the normal way which would lead to “mucho problems for you my friend.”  He said that I’d have to spend 48 hours in jail while the doctors made sure that there was nothing wrong with the taxi drivers neck.  I could see exactly how this would work out for me.  Me, the gringo, with no witnesses on a fully dressed adventure motorcycle and two cops and a taxi driver that had correlating stories.

So I’m working this through in my mind and I’m so pissed because we’re not talking a cheap bribe.  He wanted $2000 MEX from me.  Dick.  I’m so pissed because I’ve been trying to be so frugal on this trip to stretch my dough out and keep the overall budget down.  Bloody hell.  I play the game and try to offer him $500.  Not a chance.  He flat out laughed at me.  He told me $2000 and no less or he was going to impound my bike.  I asked for his badge number and he told me I could call my embassy from jail.  This guy was a pro.  Then he feigned that he was getting impatient and called for a tow truck from his cell.

I was in a pinch.  I really didn’t want to give in.  Obviously.  I’m the most stubborn person on the planet and dammit, I just had to get more money because everything here in Mexico is more expensive than I thought it would be.  When he was over talking to the other cop.  I pulled out my pesos and grabbed a $500 and stuffed it into a different pocket.  When he came back, I pulled out the cash as if it was all I had.  I thought there was only $1500 pesos there but I forgot about my change from the gas station.  He looked, saw there was  $1800 and handed my my license and told me to get out of there.

I was so pissed.  I put my helmet on, started the bike and revved past them all flipping them the bird.  I rallied towards Pto. Escondido.  When I made the turn for MEX200, I saw a whole crew of Acapulco police posted up at the sub-station.  I pulled over thinking I was going to rat these guys out.  They looked over like, “hey what do you need?”  I was about to wave them over and had a quick epiphany of how I would try to explain what just happened.   Like what are they really going to do?  Quick put an APB out for the crooked cops who just managed to pull $150 US from a guy who legitimately broke a traffic law and then ran into a taxi while trying to run from them?  Yeah I was screwed and I was steaming.

I shook my head and rallied off down the highway.  I had been so happy that everyone had been so nice to me in Mexico.  I was so stoked that all the stereotypes had been wrong and that I’d found such goodness in the Mexican people.  The Federales wanted nothing to do with me.  The military wanted nothing to do with me.  The State Police wanted nothing to do with me.  I was so impressed that in 24 days the only thing that had been ganked from me was the keychain compass that Heideman and Jean had given me as a going-away gift.  I was bummed the day that had gotten taken but I chose to view it as a reminder that I really needed to be more diligent with my security details now that I was mainland.  And I also decided to look at is as a sign...  Jean had said that when I decided I really didn’t want to keep pushing on, I could just look at the compass and point north and “b”-line home.  So I decided that when those kids stole that little compass it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to head home but keep pushing on.

I rallied down the highway furious, with a scowl on my face inside my helmet.  I was just fuming.  Like I said this was my first run-in with bad cops and every kilometer down the road I replayed how I could have done it different and come up with a different, more favorable result.  I had given him my AAA International Drivers Permit.  I didn’t care about the license but how could I have run from him?  I didn’t even really know where I was going.  I could have said, “Fine call in your tow truck.”  It would have taken forever and he would have probably given up or dropped his price the longer I waited.  But effectively I lost before I really started because I was so mad.  I just wanted the situation over with and I had no patience for this bullshit.

If they had just left me alone I would have never run into the taxi in the first place.  But that wasn’t the point.  Extorsion was.

For the next 100 miles, I played the story over and over in my head trying to figure out how the outcome could have come out differently.  I scowled from my helmet at everyone I saw.  I felt as though the whole Mexican population was out to steal from me.  I started to question what I was doing here in the first place and thoughts of how I could just call it quits and head home now.  Seeing as I still have money in the bank, maybe now would be a good time to pull out, go home and re-plan the trip for another time.  I started thinking all kinds of negative thoughts and how I should just bail from this sweaty filthy existence on my motorcycle.  I really had no purpose out here anyway, I thought to myself as I whipped further down MEX200.

Finally I realized how hungry I’d gotten and that it was already noon and I’d not eaten a thing all day.  So I found a good looking restaurant and stopped for some Huevos Rancheros and a Coke.  When I was paying, the restaurant owner spoke to me in English and we struck up a quick conversation.  He told me he had lived for 20 years in Atlanta.  I told him what the cops had pulled and he sympathized.  He said that just because he has a nice truck and runs a business that people are always trying to cheat him too.

After I ate and got on the bike again, I started thinking about the hundreds of Mexicans that had reinforced my belief in the goodness of humanity and how I was questioning it all now because of two dirty cops and a conspiring taxi driver.  I turned my attitude around and gassed it over another of a thousand speed bumps.  I smiled in my helmet.  Reconciling the fact that even though I could have lived on that cash for 4 or 5 more days, that it was only money after all.  Oh well.  I wasn’t going to let 3 a-holes in Acapulco ruin my image of the wonderful experience I’ve had already the last 24 days.

They can steal my money but they can’t tarnish my soul.  They can steal a bit of trust but I won’t let them ruin my adventure.  I smiled the rest of the way to Puerto Escondido and when I pulled off into town, exhausted and not really looking forward to searching out a feasible hotel, this guy walking down the road waved me over.  He shouted across the grassy median that he was here on a bike too.  We chatted for a minute.  He is here on a KLR that he rode down from New Hampshire.  He said he was staying down at the hostel in town and that it was nice enough with secure parking for ‘Gigante’.  I said that sounded great, so he hailed a cab and I followed him back to the place.

What a turn of events.  So now I’m here and it is good.  But I still say Pinche Policia que malo.  But in the hindsight, they were right.  When he said you didn’t “Respect the Signs“ he was right.  If I’d only been a little more diligent in paying attention to my surroundings, I would have never had the run-in with them anyway.  So truthfully, it was my fault.  But screw’em anyway, just for taking all my money!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mainland Mexico: Ripping the Pacific Coast

So my journey has been full on already.  Life has been just great and the weather even better.  I’ve only had a couple hang-ups with the bike.  I got a flat tire just outside of Mazatlan that left me driving quite fast and dangerously to meet the Keenans in Puerto Vallarta.  Murphy had other plans for me as I rallied to get there only to sit at the bar alone since Keenan and Karen had given up hope of my arrival, seeing as I was already hours late.  But we did have a fun when they showed up after all.

The day before my death rally, I rode from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Mazatlan.  It was uneventful but pretty.  The landscape was flat along the coast with mountains visible in the distance.  There were crops of all types growing in the fields.  I was ripping down MEX200 Cuota, which is the toll highway.  I was managing about 75 miles per hour without a problem.  The pavement was great and the traffic was non-existent.  It was a holiday after all and most people were enjoying the beach or their families.  I had been warned that people might be out driving drunk, but since it was early afternoon, I can only assume that they were still getting drunk.

A few of the guys from the Murcielagos Motorcycle Club in Los Mochis took me to breakfast at the Country Club.  I pulled my fully loaded bike up next to the first tee and parked it there for the golfers to wonder at.  After breakfast my new friends wished me well and I was off for Mazatlan.  It was a pretty quick ride.  I think it took me around 4 hours to get there.  I pulled in an hour or so before sunset and picked around trying to find the hotel that I saw on another riders report on  La Siesta Hotel in old town Mazatlan.  I found it and found a sweet little quote by Jack Kerouac on the front wall beside the door.  Since Kerouac is probably my favorite writer of all time I found this a comforting omen.

I checked in... gave the reception guy a little spiel about how I’m a journalist and managed to get an upgrade to a ocean view room.

After making it from Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta with only a flat slowing me down and finding the Keenans out for the evening.  I proceded to charge them up a big bar tab and do some journaling at the bar.  My journal entry from that night is quite amusing as I digressed profoundly the more I had to drink.  Pretty fun really.  So there I sat smoking cigars and drinking tequila and beer typing away on my mac, while still sitting in my stinking riding gear and motocross boots under the palm frond thatched roof over the bar.  I was obviously a sight to see, because everyone was checking me out.

The next day we lounged around the pool until the Keenans needed to make their departure for Minnesota.  I loaded up the bike and split for Sayulita.  A little surf town about 25 km north of Puerto Vallarta.  It was a very cool scene there and I figured I’d easily get stuck their all winter.  But the company was good and I decided to stay for a few days.  This helped free me of some of my budget and starting to feel a little restless, I mounted up ‘Gigante’ as I’ve come to call my KTM, and proceded to immediately drop it in front of my new found friends from Avon, Colorado no less.  So I’m certainly assured that that story will not go untold back home.

I headed towards Puerto Vallarta once again.  I immediately noticed that my speedometer had quit functioning.  I wasn’t sure if it was from the fall in Sayulita or what.  I pulled over to give it a quick inspection and cleaned off the magnet but still it didn’t work.  The sun was getting high and I didn’t want to hit the Honda shop during siesta, so I pulled out of Sayulita with only my guess as to my speed.  It didn’t really matter anyway.  ‘Gigante’ only has one speed... warp speed.

I found the problem with the speedometer upon closer inspection, while picking up a spare rear tube at Honda PV.  Seems that all the front suspension action had worn through the little speedo wire where it crosses my front fender.  The mechanic in the shop pointed me next door to an auto repair shop where a cool kid named Juan grabbed a soldering iron and a little piece of wire.  15 minutes later it was all fixed.  He told me I didn’t owe him anything, so I slipped him 50 pesos for some beer.  He was stoked, I was stoked, we were stoked.  Verb conjugations...  My spanish is getting better.  Far from fluent still but coming along.

I peeled off down the coast headed for a beach town called Maruata.  Two minutes out of Puerto Vallarta at 1 in the afternoon and I was pretty sure it was out of my reach.  The road pavement wasn’t as good as the highways had been and there wasn’t a single straight section of road for the first two hours.  Just winding and curving and rising and falling.  Such a great ride.  Most of the time the trees had just grown over the road creating a tunnel of jungle canopy stretching along the windy road, only occasionally giving me a shot of the ocean through a break in the trees.  The riding was spectacular but I wasn’t going very far very fast.

When I came to a little town called Cihuatlan, I pulled over at a tienda for some much needed liquid refreshment.  I chugged down some Gatorade from the pretty gal all dressed in KTM orange.  I couldn’t pass up on this opportunity so I invited her out for a picture alongside my massive moto.  She and the woman who ran the tienda said that I should stay in Cuyulán because once I crossed into Michoacan the roads would get far more difficult.

The rest of my ride that afternoon I mused about orange.  Si tomo la naranja, solo veo naranja.  This is a slant on the popular KTM saying...  “Once you drink the orange Kool-AId...”  Like all the major motocross manufacturers have their iconic color, orange is the color of KTM.  Though my bike is black, it does have really nice orange detailing.  Only fitting then to grab a photo of a Jaliscoan model dressed in orange right?

I stayed in Cuyutlán that night.  It was a little town geared towards Mexican tourists from Guadalajara.  The local people there seemed a few cans short of a six-pack.  I wasn’t sure if this was due to a lack of influx to the gene pool or the slow pace of their pacific existence.  Anyway, I crashed in my air-conditioned hotel room, with ‘Gigante’ parked securely in the locked courtyard.  I didn’t waste any time getting out of there in the morning though.  A guy like me could be a hot commodity in a town lacking influx to the gene pool.

I ripped down through a fairly large town called Teocoman and shortly after picking my way around to find the highway again, they typically just dead end right in the middle of the town and pick up again somewhere on the other side, I pulled up to a military checkpoint and was surprised to see a fully loaded KLR ahead of me with two riders on it.  I pulled up next to them to get their story.

“Justin!” the girl on the back exclaimed.  This kind of tripped me out.  I’ve been traveling alone since crossing from Baja, so it was weird when two people I’ve never seen in my life knew who I was.  Turns out they ran into Al on his trip northward in Baja and he told them to keep an eye out for me.  I thought we would ride together for a bit but it was immediately apparent that our speed of travel was significantly different.  I pulled to a stop at a roadside tienda and we chatted over some Gatorade.  She is from England, he is from Turkey and they are both long distance motorcyclists traveling the world.

I took a wrong turn during my twisty Michoacan bliss and managed to find myself 45 minutes into the beautiful mountainous countryside.  It was great riding and a great view but it took an hour and a half out of my day not to mention a bunch of gas.  Lucky for me I came across another little spot that I’d seen on Crashmaster’s ride report.  Rio Nexpa.  This little surf villiage is like what Sayulita must  have been like 20 years ago.

So I chilled here for a night making friends and wishing I could stay forever.  But pushing on is what I needed to do and I found my way to a government campground here in Ixtapa.  The day is pushing on already.  It’s already 10 and the sun is getting hot.  I’m going to try to post this and then add pics later.  The internet has been slow and hard to find in the places I’ve been staying.  But I may get a hotel in Acapulco or tomorrow night in Puerto Escondido.  I’m pushing towards Oaxaca to visit my cousin-in-law on his family farm.  Viva Mexico.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Eye Candy from BAJA California...

I've been rallying the Baja for over a week now.  It seems like a decade since I was hastily packing up my belongings in the Colorado snow.  All of the pre-trip anxiety and chaos a mere memory.

So here is a brief photographic interlude since internet connections have been few and far between and none very fast either...

Here is rojo with my KTM 950 Adventure loaded up.  The early winter snowstorm that nailed Colorado right before Halloween put a damper on riding from the house in Edwards.  So I had to load up and bring the bike and gear down to Colorado Springs, where I finished my pre-trip prep at Casa de Johnson.

Here I am in my brand new Rev-It Motorcycle suit.  We dubbed it "The BIG Gay Motorcycle Suit".  If it weren't for the excellent protective qualities of this gear, there is no way this would be my outfit of choice.  Luckily it is already totally filthy and is starting to look a lot cooler.

My new little hero Lincoln Michael Johnson getting his first taste of motorcycling.  As you can see by the look on his face, he thinks I'm as crazy as the rest of the Johnson Family does.

Pulling out of Colorado Springs.  Effectively on my way out of Colorado.  I left at sunset.  Typical "g." style.  Managed to let the day get away from me pulling together all the loose ends and decided to leave anyway.  The ride to Santa Fe was so cold that by the time I pulled into the Sante Fe International Hostel at 10:30 pm my jaw had seized up from shivering.  Not the first time I've frozen myself on a motorcycle and certainly will not be the last, but it never gets anymore fun.

Not sure if this will load up or not but this is a time-lapse of me getting ready to leave Phoenix, Arizona from Casa Heideman.  Steve and Jean hosted my launchpad from the U.S. in their Gold Canyon house.  The only bad thing about including this in my plan was that their place was so nice, I didn't want to leave.

Once again I rolled out of Phoenix at Sunset and rode through the darkness to Calexico, where I was to meet up with Al Van Dyke and Shelly (last name unknown) two folks I met through, a website dedicated to this crazy style of motorcycle touring.   I arrived in Calexico around 9pm, ate some nasty KFC and checked in to the hotel room.  This shot is from the next morning before heading to the border to cross into Mexico.

Here we are at Border #1 at Calexico-Mexicali.  We got our Tourist Visas here and then found out that we would have to ride several miles to the East to get our Vehicle permits at the Mexicali East Border crossing.  Instead of waiting in line to get back into the U.S. we ripped through Mexicali.

It was a really scenic ride.  On the left you can see the border fence.  It was an eye-opening and rather uncomfortable looking vista.  The fence ran uninterrupted between the Mexicali East and West border crossings.  I was in Mexico.  The only thing that made the fence a little more bearable was the US Passport in my pocket.  It would be such a different story being on this side and not being able to go to the other.

At least you can kind of see through.  You just can't go through.
From here we B-lined it to San Felipe and then pushed further south to Puertocitos, where we paid $20US to camp on a beach in a little pueblo with a locked gate after 10pm.  This was our first night camping and though the price was pretty much a rip, we did get to wake up...

to this epic view...

Stay tuned.  The next episode will get into the epic riding on Baja.  More sights.  For now I must get some zzzz's.  The riding has been tough today.  We're in Cabo, but we took the hard way here.  The photos keep getting better as does the story.  So hopefully this little teaser will keep you coming back for more.