South of the border

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Nov 30, 2012

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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Thursday, August 30, 2012

    A quick ride Friday morning taking advantage of the crash helmet law (only 2 miles) and dropped the bikes at Iron Horse Motorcycles where John Cartright the service manager is sorting out our oil service and I've opted for a new set of Heidenau tyres which should see me through to Chile. Met a Hungarian guy Otto and his mate Perry. Perry lives in Tucson and bumped into Otto up in Alaska while touring on his GoldWing. Otto is doing a very similar route to us from here on in but started by riding New York to San Francisco before heading north. This is his second attempt - last year he did a group tour with Globebusters and only got as far as Prudhoe Bay when he jumped down and broke his heel in 5 places. Not a good start ! He's more organised than us and has stickers with his website on. You can check it out at . Some great pics on there.

    Perry invited us round to his place for beer and burgers that evening as our bikes are kept in overnight. A scorching walk back to the hotel past drive in 24hr pharmacies, banks, grocery stores and insurance claims offices ! My sunburnt head is developing well, as usual - the heat is stifling. Later on Perry and Otto picked us up and we popped round to Perry's house which was quite close by. Met his wife Carol and were treated to a great evening. Had a look at their pair of Goldwings which they put in the garage of their gigantic 450bhp / 1750ft/Ibs Mercedes motor home which is parked up in the back yard ! There's then the trailer to go on the back which contains Perry's race cars. Carol also showed us her best biking accessory - a water cooled jacket to make the Arizona heat bearable. Some friends Steve who goes racing too and repairs Nascar crash barriers amongst other things and Jimbo a USAF ordnance guy popped in. The A10 Warthog 'tankbusters' are based in Tucson as will be the new F35 Lightning even though it is apparently extremely loud to be allowed to be based so near a built up area ! Carol even promised  to come and get us once we had crossed the border if we had a breakdown or something went wrong - very reassuring to hear that she would happily travel to Mexico.

    Saturday morning we all headed out to the Tucson military aircraft museum and JB and I had a look round at some of the planes including an SR71 and old Air Force Ones. The scrapyard for thousands of old planes is right next door but the guided tours don't run on weekends unfortunately. Drove past the perimeter though and you could see them all lined up ready to be broken up. A quick ride to look at the racetrack Perry competes at in Sprint racing then lunch in town then back to Iron Horse m/cycles. My final drive looks good and the new tyres are fitted. Compared the new tread depth to JB's identical tyres with 6000 miles on them and they have hardly worn which bodes well. JB's final drive was a bit more disconcerting as the oil had the colour and consistency of mud when it was drained. I thought it looked like Haul Rd coloured mud ! Got some laundry done back at the hotel and prepared for the border crossing tomorrow morning (Sunday).

    Sunday we got going the 50 or so miles to Nogales and crossed through without showing a passport to leave the US or enter Mexico. After 21 km of highway after leaving the Mexican town of Nogales you pull into an area to sort out temporary import of the bikes and to get a tourist visa. First step is to wander into immigration and fill in a form. You get this stamped then go to the Banjercito office to pay your $44 and get a receipt. Back to immigration and they give you your visa. With visa and V5 registration document and passport and 2 copies of each obtained by bloke in booth for 5pesos each you then go to Banjercito again. They fill in a form and take $444 (they obviously like 4's) from your credit card as a deposit to prevent you selling your vehicle in Mexico.They also give you a tamper proof sticker to go on the windshield so it's visible. Easy ! Took about an hour and we had read up on the procedure beforehand so had a bit of a clue which helped. Off south on the 15 we headed for our first stop San Carlos a beach resort popular (or used to be) with Americans on spring break and such like. It's a good 200 miles south of the border which is the danger zone with drugs activity so we were glad to make some ground. The first 50 miles we saw a few Policia Federales cars and two armoured car loads of soldiers. There were also some troops and Hummers parked up at the toll booth stations for the road we were on. The road kept having sgns; 'USA - hassle free road - next xx km's' which begs the question - do they start hassling you at the end of it ?! We shall see. Main thing is first Mexican objective achieved and we're both all in one piece.

Update: We're both fine and well but I'm in Mazatlan and JB is in Culiacan ! Full update  tomorrow - bit of a long story and I'm very tired ! Do not fear the show will be back on the road soon !

Done it now so noone gets worried (Cristina!):

    Leaving San Carlos we were faced with a long 360mile(ish) day to Culiacan the drug cartel capital of Mexico (well certainly in the 90's leading up to the current troubles anyway). No reason to go there apart from it fitted with our schedule and is big enough to have selection of half decent hotels. Locating the Ramada Hola at 40 GBP per night we booked via Expedia and set off towards the city. Error number one was we couldn't find the road on our satnavs. We could however find one in the area the same but beginning Avenida - we thought that would do. 8 hours riding later, sweaty, slightly dehydrated and tired we can't find the place on an initial recce but stick to our guns and follow the satnav which takes us to an area of the metropolitan area of Culiacan known as Costa Rica. We blindly keep going taking turn after turn into smaller and smaller roads until we felt well and truly trapped in a very densely populated area. I'm sure everyone was just staring as they were admiring our smart BMW bikes. Yes, that must have been the reason ! Feeling distinctly uncomfortable we retraced our steps and JB dug out his iphone for some clarification. Next having ridden back the 12 miles back into the city centre in rush hour we do a repeat performance ! The area wasn't too bad but it's still a culture shock for a pair of home counties boys ! The bikes are getting hot and bothered and so are we. It's now gone 4pm. JB takes a turn and I follow. I ride up to the next T junction, look both ways and can't see him. A Mexican points right. Thumbs up I turn right. Still no sign, I double back. Nothing. Unbeknown to me JB is now feeling distinctly unwell (dehydration, stress and again - we haven't eaten for almost 24hrs - doh!) and has stopped.
    I decide to negotiate my way back through the little backstreets to where we last saw each other after asking several moped riders, a taxi driver and a woman at a bus stop where the hotel is - blank looks from all. No reception on mobile I realise after 30 mins that the game is up and I've got to fall back on the fall back plan (think the SAS always have them and it seems to work) which is to get to our next days stop Mazatlan which I know is a seafront touristy type place with lots of hotels. The thought of roaming the backstreets of Culiacan after dark looking for another hotel doesn't appeal, especially having not seen any in the last 2 hours messing about. Off I head south on Mexico 15 - 125 miles to Mazatlan. Not sure of my funds and quite keen to get there (one thing I've always been advised is don't ride in Mexico after dark) I ignore the Cuota - or toll road - and take the Libre. It's not too bad but I'm still on for a 3hr ride and my fuel's borderline to get there. Go through a couple of Policia Federales road checks but lurk behind some HGV's so don't get picked out. Darkness falls with about 70 miles left so it's just me and the headlamps - mainly pick ups and goods vehicles from what I can see. Please God don't let me get a puncture ! 20 miles out I use my last accessible 200peso note to get a few more litres of fuel at a PeMex station - luckily just about to close by the looks of it (fuel is the equivalent of under 50pence per litre  and 100pesos = 5 so that can go quite a way). More stares from the pump attendant and his mates - no doubt you don't get many UK GS's passing through at night !

    Arrive in Mazatlan, head for the beachfront and stop at the first nice looking hotel. Receptionist speaks English, slap down my credit card and 10mins later find myself in a nice airconned hotel room with a couple of bottles of Agua Purificano. Meanwhile JB was spotted by a bloke in Culiacan - he clearly didn't look too good - who knew where the Ramada was ! And even better he directed him where to go. So, managed to communicate via email and have booked my hotel for another night tomorrow. Will await JB's arrival in the morning ! After a 500 mile day  and all that excitement I need a good sleep..

    PS Just a thought - that solo ride made me much more aware of the mutual support we get. Riding alone in Mexico at night is not a fun experience. Hats off to Otto, the two German guys we have met travelling to Ushuaia and anyone else who travels alone - you have my deepest respect and I wish you safe journeys.

Update Wednesday:
    Was joined by JB who mentioned we crossed the Tropic of Cancer on the way to Mazatlan and I had a day off the bike which was nice. Milled around in the heat and it was only 6pm when we discovered the hotel had an infinity pool overlooking the sea - on our floor ! Big changes today. The scenery is a lot more lush and green than the flat arid landscape we've been used to since Utah. We've gained some height as well and moved inland to Mexico's second city Guadalajara so the temperature has dropped from scorchio to warm. Rode up to the hotel and ushered straight into secure parking. Didn't even give my name - clearly they were expecting some gringos ! Close to the Cathedral and colonial buildings and squares in the centre of town so about to go walkabout. Ride today was easy but we are still using the toll roads which are getting more and more expensive. At least it reduces 'vibradores' - rumble strips and the sleeping policeman they put out. These seem to have the only purpose of slowing traffic so hordes of roadside vendors can walk along trying to sell you anything from drinks to furniture to cockatiels being bounced up and down in cages. Who in their right mind whilst driving home suddenly realises they fancy a budgie as an impulse purchase ? Guadalajara is much more like it though - still got dodgy areas as we saw loads of police on the way in including one on a Harley with a completely bald tyre. Most though are going round in pick ups with several officers standing in the back. The town of Tepic on our way takes the biscuit though. Within a mile we saw two truck loads of army, a Seguridad Publico car (falling apart), a criminal Investigations car (even worse) and 3 Federales pick ups in convoy, again with half a dozen armed, helmeted and balaclaved officers standing in the back including one on 'top cover' with a MASSIVE machine gun on top of the cab. So far we have passed through the Mexican states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco and Guanajato so we're making good progress. This is the first time I've felt comfortable wandering the streets though - it has more the feel of a European city.

    Shortish day brings us uneventfully to San Miguel de Allende a UNESCO world heritage site. Turning down some country lanes and then bumping over cobbled streets and the railway line we get to the hotel a courtyard affair with nice garden and everything looks good. Town centre is a five minute walk and we finally find what we imagined Mexico to be - old narrow streets, big churches, friendly happy people and green squares bustling with activity. Lots of nice restaurants and cafes to watch the world go by from. All the kids are out immaculately turned out in their school uniform, quite a few clearly English speaking people and not many police. Felt safer walking here at night than I would at home ! Few beggars and street vendors but they politely accept a 'No - gracias'. A great day and reemphasises what a shame it is that the rest of Mexico suffers so much from poverty and the drug problems. Hopefully we will find more places like this over the next few days. Time magazine voted San Miguel one of the top 10 places to retire - I can kind of see why.

    Friday: a nice run across past Mexico city around the equivalent of their M25 which wasn't too bad. Had a clear view of the snow topped peak of Popacatapetl as we approached Puebla. Hotel in Centro Historico located ok despite heavy traffic and it's just next to the main square which was full of people and music even at 3pm. Things kind of deteriorated from there on in ! Half an hour after arriving and swigging a bottle of the hotel provided water I started feeling decidedly unwell. Whether due to the water or the breakfast that morning I don't know but I'm now on my third day of a combination of projectile vomitting and Montezuma's revenge. We clearly had to stay put in the hotel - luckily they had room - and this morning is the first time I've been out of bed. Feel like I'm on the mend though so should get going again tomorrow. 
PS Mapping now sorted.
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Mark on

Eh? Did you completely miss out Vegas then? What happened there? Looks like you're ahead of schedule again...

Gene Gemelli on

Looks like a great time and happy to follow along. A few more pictures with you and your friend IN THE PICTURES and iIN THE VIDEOS would be great!

Driving with one hand to take pictures in your rear view mirror.... very nice...

v5rcb on

Vegas was off the route before we left. Easy to get back to whenever we wanted to and a bigish detour. We're happy with being slightly ahead of schedule - hopefully will mean a bit more leeway further south..

cristina baker on

Bienvenida a Mexico!

Mark on

Did you stock up on toilet paper for this part?

v5rcb on

Funnily enough - yes !! Do you mean for the food or the danger aspect though !?

cristina baker on

Rob, is your aim to ditch Jonathan on every bike trip? So I knew it would happen on this trip too. But I would have hoped you would not have chosen Mexico, especially knowing that he was not well.

Anyway, I am glad that you are BOTH well and getting a good night sleep. Better revisit the "what do we do if we get separated plan", right?

And at what point are you two going to stock up on emergency rations? Or do you just enjoy going 12 hour hungry? It does make more interesting reading. hmmmm that must be the reason why you do it, right?

Thanks for the update to the blog.

cristina baker on

Glad to see your Spanish is getting better, Rob!! And glad to see that yes, there is some lovely parts of Mexico.

Mark on

Looking good, another problem overcome!

Its cheating though to do these updates rather than new posts. The map thing looks rubbish and its hard to track what happened where and when.

And yes the toilet paper comment was because you're a big scaredy cat!

v5rcb on

The only reason for the daily updates was to keep people abreast of things during the border crossing and northern Mexico. Normal service will resume shortly !

v5rcb on

Hi Tig,
Great to hear from you ! All still going well in Mexico. JB of course does remember you - he has fond memories of being woken up by the Police in Bruges whilst camping next to the canal !

Richard B on

Your blog has kept me on the edge of my seat - it is excellent !!!
Pleased you are surviving the odd epic makes it a real adventure

v5rcb on

Hi Richard,
Glad you're enjoying it !

Paul Stringer on

Hi guys. I’m late to this party: sorry. I have to say that your blog is a real gem: the stories and pictures are fabulous. How I wish I wasn’t living your adventure vicariously. Nice to know that sh*t happens, no matter what, and that, as individuals, people are still amazingly generous. Hope you’re feeling better. Suggestion: shift to a diet of bananas and egg sandwiches . . . worked for me when I was leaking at both ends in India many moons ago! Good luck and bon voyage. Paul

Kim on

Hope you're on the mend, Rob: it was almost a relief to discover the real reason behind lack of posts in recent days -- I thought you might both have fallen victim to Mexican banditos. Loving the blog and I hope you're able to add to it soon: I'm getting withdrawal symptoms! I trust JB makes a good nursemaid...

v5rcb on

Hi Kim, thanks for dropping by - JB says hello. He's actually got a bit of the same issue (obviously not as bad as me though!) but we are both on the mend now hopefully. Looking forward to relaxing near Lake Nicaragua tomorrow !

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