Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections on Mexico...

So I got the wind sucked from my blogging sails a few days ago when I discovered a bunch of negative comments on my Mexican Economics post.  It seems some of the riding community at found my post and have been thrashing on me since.  I agree that it is easy to misread my post and to think that I'm bashing Mexico and Mexican Police.  I thought that it was pretty clear by the end of the post that I'd come around to admitting my guilt and acknowledging that I'd made several mistakes that lead to my unfortunate opportunity to hand over $150 US to ride away from those mistakes.  But it seems that many have interpreted my post differently.  I have been labeled a lawless rebel, who is galavanting around Mexico creating an unsavory reputation for Americans and motorcyclists in general.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I might like to think I'm a rebel, but I certainly am not.  Mexico, far from being a lawless wild west, was very orderly and well maintained.  The roads were incredible and the sights were outstanding.  I set out thinking that I could blast through Mexico in a month.  I was wrong.  It took me seven weeks in all and I felt like I could have easily spent 6 months there digging deeper.  The people of Mexico were friendly and helpful to say the very least.

I was fortunate to only have one run-in with the law.  And that one incident was brought on entirely by my ignorance.  But other than that one bad day, every other aspect of Mexico was positive.  The Federal Police paid me no mind, except to drool over my bike on a couple of occasions.  The military checkpoints were always a breeze.  Sure sometimes they wanted to look through my stuff.  That is their job.  I did have to keep my eye on a couple of soldiers that were interested in trading me for all of my cool camping toys, but they were polite and friendly.  Of the thirty or so checkpoints that I passed through, I was never hassled and always on my way in an expedient manner.  I always felt safe and never felt as if I needed to worry about my safety or the safety of my belongings.

Mexico was so great that I found it really hard to move on.  Gas was cheap.  (About the same price as in the U.S. whereas I paid about $4.50/gallon in Belize and close to that at my first station in Guatemala.)  The food was super tasty and varied.  And there were so many cool places to see, it was hard to choose which to pass by.

The people in every little town that I went through were happy to wave back at me, were usually smiling and always checking out my big black motorcycle.  I would love to travel through Mexico again.  So should I decide to turn around in Panama and head back north, I look forward to crossing into Mexico and picking a new journey for my return.

So with that said, I'd like to pick up where I left off...


Sam, Ben and I rallied out of Aqua Azul in the morning and were thinking we'd make Palenque town for breakfast.  But after about 30 minutes into our awesome twisty ride, Sam's bike started wobbling a bit and he looked down questioningly and then over at me.  I nodded.  He had a flat rear tire.  So I shot ahead and found a good spot for us to pull over and make the repair.  Turns out he picked up a wire nail.  It looked like a 15 guage finish nail.  We had a good time sweating out the repair.  Sam doesn't have a center stand, so he ran over to where a house was midway through the construction process and grabbed a couple of concrete blocks.  We propped up the bike and managed to get the tube patched and back in moments before the final block crumbled under the weight.  We joked about how they just don't make bricks the way they used to.

 About an hour and a half later we'd finished the job and made our way to Palenque.  We found a torta shop, ate tasty tortas and drank fresh juice before hitting up the supermarket, where Sam and I proceded to only buy beer and tequila, and then rode out to the Mayabell campground just a few km's from the Palenque ruins.

Much to Ben's amusement, Sam and I had a tent setting up competition after we'd tied on a nice buzz.  This turned into a full-contact muddy affair.  Somehow both of our tents got up and we continued to pound beers after the sun set.  I had received a great surprise when my friend Sarah, that I'd met back in Oaxaca City, showed up at the campground later that night.  Unfortunately the rest of the evening lays in a Tequila induced fog.  In the morning we all got up and headed for the ruins.  They were really impressive and expansive.

 But the light was really tough for photography and the place was packed with tourists giving it a very different feel than Toniná.  We explored around the ruins and museum, mostly talked about food all day since Sam, Ben and I have had insatiable appetites since traveling together.  We all went into Palenque town and ate at a family style restaurant filled with locals.  The portions were large and we stuffed ourselves content.

The next morning Ben and Sam rode off.  I felt a bit sad to see them go.  It was so much fun rallying around with them.

Sarah and I decided that it would be fun to try traveling together on 'Gigante', so we arranged all the stuff and managed to fit her between me and my spare tire.  We saddled up late in the afternoon and pointed for Escarcega.  It was a dirty little highway intersection town halfway to the Calakmul ruins.  Fortunately we found a sweet little hotel with a couple of nice pools.  It wasn't cheap by  backpacker standards but at the equivalent of $30 US far from unreasonable.

The riding had become quite a bit duller as we passed into Campeche state.  The landscape got flat and filled with dairy cows.  It reminded me of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The kilometers peeled by and soon we were paying to drive down the road to Calakmul.  This winding narrow road through the steamy jungle mesmerized me into a deep meditation that could have resulted in disaster.  Fortunately we skimmed past the downed tree and I snapped back to reality.  Sarah had caught the brunt of the collision but escaped unharmed as well.  Lucky.  I was sleepy, the air was humid and the 60 kilometers to the ruins seemed unending.

But we got there.  It was already 4 pm when we pulled up.  I was crabby when we had to pay.  They guys that charged us to drive down the road had told us the ruins were free on Sunday.  Which they were, but only for Mexican Nationals.  I should have known this from my previous Sunday experiences at ruin sites and not let it bum me out.  For some reason, things just weren't clicking for me and I found myself in a deep funk.  Poor Sarah had to deal with this, but she did it well by telling me she'd just meet up with me later.  Once I got into the main plaza, surrounded by stone temples looking wild and overgrown giving a total lost world effect, my shitty mood evaporated.  I tried my best to photograph the site in the waning light.  Luck was on my side and I got a brief moment of sublime light on the ruins.

A light rain commenced as we wandered out of the ruins.  We snacked on tortillas with cheese and avocado in the dark contemplating riding the winding road back to a campground we'd heard about at kilometer 7.  The dark drive turned out uneventful.  The cooler temperature kept me alert and the kilometers zipped by.  It was a little spooky riding through the jungle into the campground but we were greeted by a friendly host and an even friendlier Golden Retriever named 'OSO'.

We slept great there in the jungle far from any noise other than the jungle birds and some distant howler monkeys.  Sarah cooked us up some eggs and beans while I packed away the gear.  I'd done the math several times and was pretty sure we weren't going to make the next gas station.  But not wanting to backtrack and poke around in a little village seeking gas, we pushed on anyway.

Sure enough about 16 kilometers short of the next station, 'Gigante' sputtered and popped and died.  He had drank the last droplets of gas and could go no further.  We had just passed a construction crew building a new bridge, so I turned the heavy bike around and we rolled down the hill.  I left Sarah with the bike and walked the 100 yards over and started up a chat with the bridge builders.  They were quite helpful and quickly gathered a two-liter bottle, a section of hose and proceded to siphon a couple liters of gas from their concrete mixer.  I tossed them way more money than the gas cost with a smile.  I carefully walked back to the bike trying not to spill any of the precious liquid.  Sarah was chatting to a local lady.  Mostly they were giggling at each other but they were having a great time.  They laughed at me with my silly smile as I walked proudly back to the bike and poured in the golden juice.

We bid farewell to the lady as 'Gigante' fired to life and zipped down the rest of the flat, straight road on to Xpujil and the awaiting gas station.  A quick fill up and we zoomed our way past the turnoff for Belize and found ourselves relaxing at a beautiful little campground at Lago Bacalar.  We got a nice swim in and hung out next to the beautiful clear lake.  The limestone bottom gave the water a stunning turquoise sheen that was mesmerizing.

The next day we zoomed north seeking my long lost contact lenses.  We ate lunch at a sweet little restaurant called Teetotum.  Beaming fast wireless helped me communicate with Carlos, my contact lens keeper, and we decided we'd head for Cancun.  When we rolled down the hotel strip, I confessed to Sarah that there was no way I wanted to spend my birthday there amongst the throngs of American tourists, so we instead opted for the ferry out to Isla Mujeres and enjoyed a couple of days at Hostal Poc-na.  A hip little college student hangout with a beach bar and lots of sand and bikinis.  Happy Birthday to me.

After a few days though, it grew a bit tiresome and we jumped back on the ferry.  I was sad to see Sarah off at the Cancun bus station.  It had been tough riding two-up and though I'd be lying if I said that things had gone smoothly traveling together, I was really sad to see her go.  She popped back out saying her bus was late and the tables turned.  She got to watch me pull off again, just like the day back in Oaxaca.  I wonder if we'll cross paths again further down the road...

I rode along in the dark on a well lit highway.  The ride to Playa del Carmen passed by uneventfully and I found my way to a campground right in town.  I walked around the clean touristy streets and found a little sushi joint called Sushi Itto.  I splurged a bit and chomped down on some super tasty fish and rice.

I was trying to get on a move now, so I pushed out first thing in the morning.  I made the short trip to Tulum under overcast skies.  I met another motorcyclist in Tulum and he told me Ben was in town.  So after I set up my tent in the rain, I went back to the awesome little hotel and restaurant I'd visited with Sarah, Teetotum.  I ordered up a 1/2lb Bacon Cheeseburger that was every bit as good as home.  I chatted away on the net and located Ben.  We made plans to meet up at Bacalar the next day and head into Belize together the following day.

I went to the Tulum ruins early in the morning drizzle.  They were pretty cool and beating the hordes of tourists was clutch.  I walked around listening to my iPod snapping pictures and reveling in my headspace.

After getting my fill of the ruins, I made my way off to Teetotum once again.  This time for some incredible french toast stuffed with carmelized bananas and sweet farmers cheese drenched in maple syrup.  So Tasty.  The hotel there looked really nice as well.  A little boutique hotel run by a guy from Philadelphia.  I definitely recommend the restaurant if you find yourself in Tulum.

I posted another blog post while downing several cups of coffee hoping the rain would subside before I rode on to meet Ben in Bacalar.  I got a little late in leaving and rolled into Bacalar right after sunset.  But Ben was chilling there at the camp.  It was super nice to roll in and see a familiar face.  He told me his riding partner was still trailing due to some mechanical issues and that he'd love to ride into Belize together.  So we had a couple beers and ate some food and crashed out hoping for good weather in the morning.

Belize here we come.


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