I've been a bit out of sorts trying to logisticate my move from Mexico. I've ended up on Isla Mujeres a bit longer than anticipated and still have so much more in Mexico that I'd like to see. Sounds like my brother Ben and his girlfriend Kaitlin will be in Costa Rica in the beginning of January and I'd really like to see them. So I'm trying to work out the schedule through Central America. I have a couple of difficulties in front of me. Foremost, my clutch has been signaling signs of failure. It has been starting to slip some when I give it any healthy dose of throttle. There is a KTM dealer in Guatemala City, but with the holiday season upon us, I'm afraid a repair there will force me to miss Ben and Kait. My other option is to push through and bring it in for repair in San Jose, Costa Rica after seeing them. Unfortunately this is a "roll of the dice" as it could fail at any point leaving me stranded somewhere along the way. So time will tell. I will make an attempt to clean the clutch oil jet in an effort to eek out a bit more time. But with my bike's mileage reaching 30,000 miles, it is most likely the friction plates need replacing.
Every day I chill here on Isla Mujeres is another day off of my time budget. The weather has been questionable since my birthday on Wednesday which is throwing another hitch in my gitalong. Whah, Whah, Whah. Life is so tough for me, right? So in hopes of brightening things up a bit, I've decided to get some photos up and delve a bit into how awesome things have been the last couple of weeks.
Leaving Oaxaca City, I headed into a desert canyon country full of Cactus and Agave. Surrounded by mountains in the distance the roads curved and twisted delightfully. I was headed for a little town called Tehuatecan. Not much there in the way of tourism, a city the busses pass right by. I delighted in being the only "gringo" around. Causing much interest with my giant motorcycle. On my way out in the morning, I took a minute to do some diplomatic work, hoping to keep these guys on my side. This guy, Alfredo, was a real motorcycle enthusiast and loved chatting with me about 'Gigante'.
I rolled through the local market to pick up some fresh fruit for breakfast.
Following the local Trike, Tuk-Tuk taxis through the market caused a stir amongst the locals. Here is a sample of the local trikes. I've only seen them in this town, so some local entrepreneur must be responsible for these curious moto-taxis. The have funny motorcycle fairings and truck mud flaps.
I was adjusting to feeling like I was on a mission again. After the visit to the farm and being off the tourist track for a while, it was fun to end up in Oaxaca City and make great friends with other travelers at the hostal there. I spent a wonderful day at the Monte Alban ruins with a great woman from Australia named Sarah. She was on a trip that had quickly changed on her when her bike was 'lost' from the underside of a Greyhound bus in Texas. I really admire Sarah's lust for adventure. I told her that I wouldn't really consider traveling through the US on a Greyhound unless it was absolutely my last option. She had traveled all the way from California to the border of Mexico on Greyhounds with her bicycle, with high hopes of riding through Mexico. Unfortunately her trip took a sudden change when the bike didn't show up at the border with her. Rather than stick around in the US waiting for a futile lost luggage claim to be processed, she pushed on into Mexico via bus and ended up at the hostal in Oaxaca City well after midnight. Since I was the only one up, putting together a blog post, we ended up chatting for a while. Since she had a helmet that would suffice for legal purposes, I invited her to join me up to the Monte Alban ruins the next day. I gave her a quick lesson in photography for my own selfish purposes. Here is a sample of her work.
So as I pushed on deeper towards Chiapas, my mind was chalk full of great experiences from Oaxaca. I smiled as the miles piled up and the scenery maintained its steady flow in front of my windscreen. After leaving the funny little town of Tehuatican, I quickly found myself racing along a straight nicely paved highway along the thin isthmus of land between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. This drive into the Chiapan highlands would prove to challenge my strength, courage, skill and sanity. Starting out laughing at the absurdity of passing roadside nuances like a giant bull that was munching away on the grasses alongside the highway. This in and of itself not atypical of Mexico, but the fact that it was tied off with a thick rope to the opposite side of the highway made me laugh uncontrollably. Only because I was moments from death if the damn bull decided it wanted some grass just a little further away. Of course had he moved, the rope would have been pulled taut rising from the pavement to catapult me headlong into the abyss. After I'd ripped over the rope full throttle, I looked in the mirror at the line of semi trucks behind me thinking about hamburgers.
I ripped on along the highway fighting the winds that got worse with every mile. I could see the mountains ahead and I knew from my map that it was the Mexican Continental Divide. The clouds perched heavily upon the peaks gave me a solid indication that this wind would increase in intensity as I rode further. Without another option, I pushed on. The gusts became violent as I passed oncoming semis. This was by far the strongest wind I've ever ridden in. And with plenty of days of riding in the Great Plains of the United States, I'm no stranger to strong gusty winds. I looked at the rocks and debris in the ditches, gripped the handlebars tighter and twisted the throttle, keeping the rpm's high and leaning at times beyond 45 degrees to keep the bike on course. I wondered when this madness would come to an end. But as the landscape filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of high-tech windmills, I knew the answer all too well. At one point I stopped in the lee of a hillside to catch my breath and take a few pictures. A huge gust blew through and tipped me and 'Gigante' right over. All I could do was laugh.
Knowing full well that the later in the day that it got, the worse the winds would get, so I just pushed on for the mountains hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The clouds were reaching for the heavens. I knew from all my time in the Colorado Rockies that those were mountain thunderstorms building on the horizon. At this point I'd been on the road for 35 days and hadn't seen one drop of rain. I knew instinctively that was about to come to an end. But knowing that a fellow rider was posted up in San Cristobal awaiting my arrival, I picked up my bloated moto and raced on for Chiapas.
Soon after crossing under the sign to Chiapas, which was proceeded by a military checkpoint with some smiling soldiers that tried to barter all of my camping posessions from me, including my flashlight, that Dru Chlebeck had given me last winter, my headlamp and then they tried to tell me that my Gerber hunting knife, that was a grooms gift from Ryan Johnson's wedding with my moniker laser etched on the blade, was a dangerous weapon that couldn't be allowed into their state... I worked deep into my Spanish lexicon and managed to keep my knife, turn down their trade deals politely and get into Chiapas with all of my belongings. The wind died down and the landscape became incredible. Winding roads lead me up into the fertile hills. Ranches replaced windmills and the no littering signs carried a threat of a 90 days wage fine. Surprising the litter actually disappeared from the roadside and I wondered why Chiapas was the first state to announce a penalty on the signs as it appeared to actually work.
Not long after this idyllic image was made I found myself ripping corner after corner of banked flawless asphalt down into the valley where the capital of Tuxtla-Gutierrez would be found. I could see the clouds now. They were big and purple and pregnant with the rains I'd yet to encounter in this journey. I pushed further concentrating on the horizon when a horse leaped out onto the highway, his rider waving a red bandana frantically. I immediately let off the throttle and started braking wondering what the hell was going on. Was this my first run-in with Zapatista banditos? I wondered when as I was about to gun it past him a herd of a hundred head of cattle charged across the highway without hesitation followed by another horseman wielding a lasso high overhead. The boy waving the bandana smiled at me and waved me past. I let out the clutch shaking my head in utter astonishment and awe. My steed accelerated with calculated performance and we were off. Another crisis narrowly averted. Cows, bulls, storms on the horizon, and would you believe it if I told you "Riders on the Storm" came on in my iPod. Coincidence? or Divine Revelation? Are they any different really anyway?
Jamming to Jim I pushed on through the countryside wondering when I should pull over to put my Gore-Tex layers on... I hopped onto the toll highway figuring with the waning day and the waxing storm, I'd better crush some mileage at the expense of some pesos. Not long after getting up to 70 mph in the hills, the raindrops started one by one. I pushed on. When I came to the toll booth I pulled under an awning, took advantage of the lull in the storm and quickly undressed and zipped in my inner Gore-Tex preparing for the onslaught.
Sure enough. My good dry luck had run out. The rain wasn't too bad through to Tuxtla. And in Tuxtla not really any. But when I climbed up towards San Cristobal de Las Casas, things changed for the worse. I didn't ride into the rain, I rode into the clouds. The effect was similar to riding in a cup of milk. It got quite cold and very wet. The roads were slick under my wearing rear tire. I kept steady on the throttle not wanting to accelerate or decelerate too quickly afraid of the repercussions of an errant twitch.
Semis would emerge from the white soup so quickly that I'd have to swerve and pass them to avoid certain impact. Oncoming cars raced down highway passing in my lane with no headlights on. Why wouldn't you have your headlights on in foggy clouds of blindness? Maybe to save gas? I wrote this off as local ingenuity and held on to my last threads of sanity. Don't forget only hours before I'd been blown clear off my bike by wind that threatened a trip to the hospital for a steady two hours straight. Now with hardly a shard of persistence left but no option to stop or pull over because in Mexico a shoulder on the road would just be a waste of pavement. A rendition of 1952 Vincent Black Lighting came on the pod. I listened intently to the tragic story of two lovers and a motorcycle and decided at that point that I was going to write a living will and send it to Ryan for safekeeping. I wanted that song to be played at my memorial service and for some strange reason, planning my memorial occupied my mind and provided me the calm to push through the storm. Suddenly things became much brighter. The clouds broke for thirty seconds. Just long enough for me to look at the bright green wet countryside. There tucked in the hills was a little yellow church. A single ray of sunshine shot directly down upon its cupola. O.k. God's here. I might make it to San Cristobal alive after all. Instantly I was back in the thick wetness praying for salvation from the semis and race car drivers. But when I pulled into San Cristobal the fog evaporated and pockets of sunshine spilled onto the bright colonial architecture.
I hesitated to ask for directions to the hostal because winding through the streets in search of it was so fun. The tile and cobblestone streets were wet and slippery as ice. I kept 'Gigante' down to a slow rumble and we picked our way through the crowded narrow streets.
In total awe of the pretty colors and old architecture, I eased my way along taking it all in and silently giving thanks from inside my helmet. What strength and determination it took to get here was by far superceded by the protection of the saints and guardian angels of two-wheeled transportation that conspired to land me safely here in this mountain oasis of pastel plaster and inspiring hillside temples of worship.
When I finally found the hostal, my heart sunk when they told me that it was full for the night. But as I was slinking back into the wet streets to further my search, this tall white european guy came out and asked if I was Justin... Well as a matter of fact, I am. I came to learn this was Torbin, a fellow rider and adventurer with a story that compares to none. Torbin opened the heavy wooden door and motioned for me to ride in.
Turns out my boy Benny Slavin had gotten my email after all and had take the liberty of booking me a room just in case I actually made it. Torbin was waiting for me since Ben was out in a Zapatista village becoming a supporter and confidant of 'La Otra Compaña'. Torben proceded to retell his story of riding his KLR deep into the Copper Canyon only to end up at the wrong end of an automatic rifle in the middle of some heavy marijuana fields. He and his riding companions managed to be let go, but his bike later that night suffered sabotage by a brass fitting that was dropped in his oil tank. He gathers that the drug bandits found his bike and hoping for a breakdown and subsequent abandonment might yield them a new moto without having to forcibly obtain it. Torbin's story eased my nerves from my death march to town and made me realize that tough tests come in varied lessons. His resulted in his bike sitting in the dealership in Tuxtla. Instead of teardrops, this guy smiles, stands tall in his stature and digs in deep in San Cristobal enrolling in a several week Spanish school and personally seeking to find the best food for the best prices in town. He immediately exhibited this knowledge and dragged me to a corner taco stand where we proceeded to gorge ourselves on 3.5 peso tacos. I've been craving those damn tacos since I left that town. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if Torbin is still in San Cris waiting on his bike, he's munching on those tacos right now.
What's wrong with this picture? (I promise you this didn't make Torbin's cut!)
(nor did this, but I couldn't help myself, the gummy raspberries and blackberries were the best.)
Of course I had to snap a shot of the plastic peddler in the waning evening light. Who doesn't need some useless plastic crap to put a smile on their face?
This Zapatista mural was in another one of Torbin's restaurants of choice. This place made bread, pastries and breakfasts of the finest locally sourced organic grains and produce.
Full of killer bright colonial architecture and great light, San Cristobal is a photographers dream.
Dr. Benny caught me in the act of pondering the maps. He saw this great photo from his bunk in our dorm room and asked me to throw him a camera. This shot turned out pretty sweet. Thanks Ben.
We spent a couple days kicking around San Cris taking in the sights. Another KLR rider pulled in the next night and little did we know what a fun turn of events would come. I'll keep that for my next post. But for now, I need to get out in the fleeting sunshine here on Isla and get me some tasty tacos. Not quite the bargain that the tacos in San Cristobal were, but I've managed to find a favorite little shop here too. Last night they were just closing and the old man that runs the restaurant was so bummed that I came too late he tried to give me the last taco he was eating as his own dinner. I declined telling him there was no way I was going to steal his dinner. I promised him I'd be back today, so I gotta bust a move and keep good on my promise!