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A simple dwelling built in to the mountain side

Extremes of wealth and poverty here can be shocking. these shots were taken in the same village within 50metres of each other

The town square is the focal point it seems for Mexican towns.

Spectacular mountain pass as we gain height.

Fellow travelers.

Ordering food, where would I be without my phrase book.

On the high plains ...

... through desert terrain.

Zacatecas is a must see city with colourful buildings set into the surrounding hills.

A perfect back drop for the bike parked in Zacatecas centre.

Traditional bead work at a market on the Cerro De La Bufa

MEXICO

14/9/04

Well we didn't get away as early as planned. I needed a new intercom lead and the Harley shop only opened at 9.00am. Also we are changing the way the bike is packed and that took longer than expected. Eventually left Corpus about 11.00am heading for Pharr on the boarder.

Picked up the essential liability insurance at Pharr then to the boarder crossing expecting some delays but to our amazement we were just waved through. Knowing we needed some official documentation, tourist or transit visas for us and temporary import permit for the bike we stopped and asked the officials. Not understanding or wanting to understand English they told us to just go on.

Further on we encountered a police checkpoint and again they just waved us on, but we stopped and asked the bloke we thought was in charge and he understood a little English and told us we had to go back to the border and get the visas and permit. Well at the border the official told us he couldn't help and that we would have to go to the Consulate in Mc Allan (back in the USA) the next day, and then, because we were 'in transit' to Guatemala, we would have to cross into Mexico at Los Indios, about 45 minutes further east - in the opposite direction we wanted to go. We couldn't get an explanation from him as to why and eventually decided to go back to Phaar for the night arriving at a Super 8 motel about 8.00pm tired, heat exhausted and disappointed.

15/9/04

Went to the consulate for the visas and a helpful clerk issued the transit visas within half an hour. He confirmed that we would need to enter Mexico at Los Indios, again no explanation why, and that we could get the bike permit there, yes even though it is a holiday. The border crossing was only open to mid day though and we were not going to rush to get there. With the business side of things done we spent the afternoon in the wonderful air conditioned room trying to learn a little Spanish as we now realise how important this will be. Within a metre of entering Mexico, nobody 'habla inglés'.

16/9/04

Set the alarm for 5.00am to get away early and try to beat the heat and arrived at Los Indios (map –1) about 8.00am. Today is Mexican Independence Day, which we knew, but we are now told we cannot get the permit here. Well Dianne lost her cool with the officials and told them that the Consulate had assured us we could get the permit here. Despite not understanding English they cottoned on that she was 'disappointed' and I think they must have dragged someone out of bed because half an hour later an official was on hand and reluctantly issued the permit.

Entering Mexico is a real culture shock even though we were prepared for it. The poverty and living conditions of the villagers took us back to rural life in Rhodesia. Nevertheless the locals seemed relatively happy and smiling and willing to try to understand our very limited Spanish.

With temperatures and humidity rising we stopped for a light lunch en route to Montenorelos (map –2). Exhausted, we found a hotel and reluctantly paid $47.00 for a comfortable room. We had expected accommodation to be much cheaper than this.

When in Mexico.... So we had a siesta and feeling revived took a ride into the town. The town square is the focal point it seems for Mexican towns and we spent an hour walking around fascinated at the cultural difference. Also enjoyed a light meal - not sure exactly what it was but it was tasty.

17/9/04

We got away early again to beat the heat, taking the 85 and then heading west for Matehuala we soon started climbing up to the plateau region. Once we had gained some altitude the temperatures were mild, around 25 degrees C. Rode through several small villages on the mountain slopes, interesting but we were still absolutely gob smacked at the poverty and living conditions. Down muddy tracks many houses had no roofs and there were animals and rubbish strewn everywhere.

Had lunch at a roadside stall in La Ascension. $4.50 for 10 tacos and a coke can't be bad, then, with the temperatures rising, on to Matehuala where we found a basic room for $35.00. Still not as cheap as we had hoped.

After a shower and a short siesta it was time to explore the bustling city and we rode around the narrow streets taking in the sights. At one point we stopped at the side of the street to take some photos and a policeman stopped his motorcycle alongside. (Oh no, now what have we done!). He spoke a little English and wanted to know about our travels. After a while he took us to a cheap local café for tucker. Again, not sure exactly what we had but I do know there was fried cactus in there. A big meal with a beer and coke for $12.00, still not the cheap Mexico we had been expecting.

18/9/04

Up early again and heading for Zacatecas. On the high plains now around 2500 metres and the riding conditions are pleasant as we pass through desert terrain. The roads not bad and we maintain a steady pace arriving on the outskirts of Zacatecas early afternoon.

We had learned from some travelers stories that Mexico has cheap 'love motels' usually situated on the outskirts of town with good clean air conditioned rooms and secure parking. Well we easily spotted one of these motels and pulled in. The operator was a 'biker' and delighted we had stopped he offered us a room for $20.00

After a couple of dodgie rooms for much more than that we weren't sure what to expect but really these are the jewel of Mexico. A clean comfortable room with king size bed and 'playboy' channel on the TV. What joy and what more could travelers want. Another shower, siesta and off to explore the town.

Well Zacatecas is a definite must see city (map –3). There is the usual poor areas but also the ancient Spanish areas and the 'zone central' with it's steep cobbled streets and colourful buildings set into the surrounding hills is certainly impressive. We rode around, walked around and ate around and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Locals were still celebrating their Independence Day and there was a carnival atmosphere. After dark we rode up to Cerro De La Bufa ( a high hill) for a wonderful panoramic view overlooking the city.

19/9/04

We were so impressed with Zacatecas that we felt we had to see a little more before moving on so this morning we did a loop taking in Guadalupa and revisited the Cerro De La Bufa to view the city in daylight.

A sad part of Mexico seems to be the dogs who are either mangy, starving or laying dead at the side of the road. This morning we saw a group of three dogs. A small white fluffy one - dead, another obviously having been hit by a car and badly injured and a third, it's buddy, sitting patiently and pathetically at its side. It's hard to erase those memories from one's mind. Every day we would see at least 3 dead dogs at the side of the road, some reduced to skeletons. Nobody picks up the bodies here and sometimes you just see a mass of bloodied fur in the wheel tracks.

Out of Zacatecas on Hwy45 headed for Durango (map –4). The weather cool, Dianne even wearing her thermal top, and the scenery straight out of a Clint Eastwood cowboy movie. I figured we were 'the Good (me) the Bad (dianne) and the Ugly (the bike) and whistled those haunting tunes from the movie.

Arriving on the outskirts of Durango we soon spotted a 'Motel' and checked in. Again a clean room and this time with a mirror on the ceiling. Must be so you can comb your hair while still in bed! A short siesta then into Durango to take in the sights.

As with most Mexican cities Durango has a town square and this is where the 'action' is. Getting more accustomed to the Mexican way of life, we wandered around taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere. A meal at a small restaurant not as good or as cheap as we had expected.

It started to rain as we left the square and I was keen to get back to the motel before the bike became too splattered with the filth that comes off the wet roads. Partially made it.

 

The 'Devils back bone' is one of the all time great motorcycling roads in Mexico.

Motels offer secure parking for the bike...

... and somewhat plush accommodation for the tired tourers learning spanish.

Rican de Guayabitos, a quaint little seaside holiday village.

Stunning views as we follow the coast line.

Views from our hotel in La Manzanilla.

Bike safe in the lobby of our hotel

Jolanda's restaurant

Leon and Jolander took us to Tenacatita where we enjoyed magnificent beaches.

Stunning coastline - when you can see it.

Pig being butchered on the pavement.

View from the hotel, Caleta de Campos

Roadside topup at the village fuel stop.

The famous Acapulco beach at night

- and in the morning

Passed superb beaches along the way.

20/9/04

Doctor Dave in Corpus Christie and Andy Tiegs in San Antonio reckoned that the ride from Durango to Mazatian via the 40 and the 'Devils back bone' was one of the all time great motorcycling roads - and they were right. From the moment we left Durango the road climbed and twisted it's way through the mountains for 320 glorious kilometres. A memorable ride, the scenery was breathtaking and the road, though challenging, a delight as we wound our way through switchback after switchback. At times the only 'correct' line through the corners was the one that avoided the numerous potholes and we constantly weaved and swerved our way up and down all day eventually arriving in Mazatian (map –5) around 5.00pm. knowing what to look for, we soon spotted a 'motel' and checked in for the night. Only $14.00 for 12 hours. Feeling a little (lot) tired from the days ride we had a short siesta before heading into town for some tucker.

Finding our way into the city in the dusk wasn't too bad and we soon found a place to eat. Again not terrific food, everything is beginning to taste the same, and not that cheap. Mazatian is a huge city and while we'd been 'lucky' twice finding our way back to our motel in the dark, tonight was going to be different. To cut a long story short we were lucky to survive. Mexican drivers, particular city drivers are incredibly aggressive and do not regard motorcycles worthy of a space on the road. Consequently they 'invade' our space and push in and out at will. This coupled with a total disregard for indicators makes riding 'challenging', but the worst for us was the pollution. In the city lights we could just make out the stream of traffic through the haze of pollution mainly from the poorly maintained buses and old cars. Our eyes were streaming and our throats burning as, exhausted, we tried to make our way through the traffic.

Eventually we made it 'home' and collapsed into bed only to be rudely awakened at 5.00am, still dark and now raining, to be told we must 'check out'. A feature of these 'love motels' is that you normally only check in for a max. of 12 hours and 'our time was up'. Despite pleading for more time and even offering to pay for another 6 hours, they were insistent so we eventually paid for another 'session' $14.00.

21/9/04

By 9.00am the rain had eased and we ventured south. Within 10km the rain had stopped and were on the good 'free' (libre) non toll road south to Tepic following the the distant blue of the rugged mountains. Mexico has an excellent system of good toll roads. Unfortunately the tolls are expensive so every man and his dog and truck use the 'free' roads. The congestion is bad and the necessary frequent passing sometimes a little hairy on this windy hilly road, but we're getting used to it. Heading towards the coast traffic is not as hectic and we wound our way through lush rugged coastal hills till we reached Rican de Guayabitos, a quaint little seaside holiday village. Had hoped to get further but its time to stop, this time in a 'normal' motel close to the beach front.

Bought some snacks and a bottle of wine and enjoyed the sun setting over the ocean. A short swim in the tepid water cooled us down a little but dark clouds were building up and shortly we were stranded, under cover, by a tremendous thunder storm. The storm lasted a couple of hours and the the streets were awash with water et. al. as we made a dash for our room. Not sure when or if we will get over this sanitation thing.

22/9/04

Blue skies this morning and a walk on the beach before heading further south on the 200 towards the bustling holiday city of Vallarto with its seaside cliffs lined with huge homes, hotels and restaurants. This is where many Americans holiday and we saw a huge cruise ship in the harbour.

Leon and Jolander, a Dutch couple who traveled overland from Holland to Australia, had emailed us and invited us to visit them. They live a little further south in a small village called La Manzanilla (map –6), 16km North of Melaque. Jolander is a chef and they have a small restaurant in the main street and we decided this would be a good place to rest up for a day or two, re-evaluate our schedule and get things in order for what is to come. We managed to check into a magnificent hotel next door to Jolanders restaurant and they even put the Harley in the lobby all for less than $20.00 a day. In fact their rates for a month worked out at $7.00 a day.

23/9/04 - 25/9/04

Chilled out for three days catching up on email, the web site and route preparation. Glad to have the opportunity and the facility to do this as we now realise how difficult this will be in the future. Leon and Jolander took us to Tenacatita for the afternoon where we enjoyed magnificent beaches and a great lunch. Really relaxing and our batteries are now fully charged for the next leg further south.

An opportunity also to reflect on our impressions of Mexico so far.

To control the movement of arms and drugs there are lots of armed military checkpoints and vehicles are randomly selected to be pulled over and thoroughly searched. We pass through 3 or 4 a day. Every now and then there is also a police checkpoint with the same procedure, but we've only been pulled over once. We just pleaded ignorance and they got so frustrated with us we were told to continue, we decided to use this strategy again but we've yet to put it to the test!

Every little village has several topes. These are speed bumps usually quite high and we struggle at times to get the bike over them without scraping, even at a walking pace. Some topes are clearly marked but many are not and they are almost impossible to see. Regular opportunities to practice emergency braking procedures and so far we have only hit one a bit hard. They certainly do slow the traffic down in the villages though.

The government owns the fuel distribution network and there are Pemex servos. almost every 50km. Premium (high octane) unleaded is available everywhere for 73 cents/litre. more expensive than the US but with the bike consuming only 5.5 litres/100km it's not a big issue. We generally cover about 300km a day so plan to spend around $12.00 a day on fuel.

Mexico has a poor sanitation system that has polluted the ground water system making tap water undrinkable. Even the locals in small villages drink bottled water and guide books stress that one should even close your mouth when taking a shower and brush your teeth with bottled water!!! (which we now do).

We've been advised to follow the cardinal rule for fruits, vegetables and seafoods and not to eat anything that has not been pealed by us or that cannot be cooked or boiled. Also to avoid street vendors as flys land on the food. Fruits and vegetables that are to be cut, like a tomato or mango need to be soaked in an iodine solution for 15 minutes. Seems the knife cuts through the contaminated skin and then contaminates the flesh of the fruit.

The toll roads are expensive and motorcycles pay the same as a car. The cost to cover the 415km from Mexico city to Acapulco for instance is over $40.00

But... the countryside is more stunning than we had expected and the people helpful, friendly, full of fun and music always seems to fill the air. Adjusting has been easy when the places and people are so fascinating. We can not wait to get into the ancient history of this country further south.

26/9/04

We were awakened by banging on the door. Oh no, are we being evicted again? No it's 7.30 and Leon is waking us up for coffee. Dianne and I were in a deep sleep, must be relaxed, and if Leon hadn't woken us up we would have slept till 9.00 at least.

With the bike packed and ready and with good strong coffee kicking in we waved farewell. A big day today heading south on the 200, but being Sunday there is little traffic on this winding road, however within an hour I had seen 1 dead cat and 3 dogs and Dianne asked me to stop counting.

With the cooler overcast morning we enjoyed our ride on a rough winding road through stretches of banana, mango, cocoanut and paw paw plantations. In each village road side stalls specialized in different produce from Cocoanut sweets to fresh (debatable!) prawns. We stopped in Manzanillo at a busy little restaurant for brunch and had a traditional Mexican breakfast of a sort of watery stew or thick soup with beef. Served with tortillas it was just what we needed to get us through the day and with temperatures and humidly again rising we continued on.

Passing through more small villages we're always fascinated by what the locals are up to. Sometimes fascination turns to shock when the unexpected happens such as a pig being butchered on the pavement. The animal had just been skinned and was about to be gutted as it lay in the dirt on the pavement just a couple of metres from the road. We were the only ones who took any notice.

On the map the 200 is shown as running right down the Mexican west coast and the road is right on the edge of steep cliffs that meet the ocean. Unfortunately and frustratingly although the road is only a couple of metres from the cliff edge, the dense growth of trees and bushes makes it almost impossible to see the magnificent views and regrettably there are few opportunities on these roads to pull over. Consequently, of the 350 odd kilometres we covered today, we did not get many ocean views, maybe 5 or 10ks at the most.

After a long tiring day of hauling that big hog through the endless tight corners we stopped at Caleta de Campos and found a cheap hotel on a cliff edge with ocean views and were invited to park the bike in the lobby. After a reviving shower we took a short walk into town to explore the evening's activities up the street and at the square. All the young girls, some no more than 14, are dressed to kill as they try to attract the boys. The girls really are highly provocative and are out there to lure their catch. And the blokes, well how can they resist. Poor buggers. Lots of atmosphere though with everyone having a good time. Even though this is a small village, we're surprised how many small restaurants and street vendors there are. This is a trait throughout Mexico so we can only assume that Mexicans must like to eat out a lot.

27/9/04

Hit the road early to beat the heat en route for Acapulco, the world famous resort city. Along the coast there are a number of planned tourist resorts such as Ixtapa with all the glits and high rise hotels you would expect in any holiday centre. These places are best avoided if you do not want to spend a fortune and do not reflect the real mexico. (Good for a Hungry Jacks, don't tell anyone though). A short way down the road from Ixtapa we passed through Zihuatanejo, a 'traditional real' Mexican town with all the poverty and centuries old traditions in a relaxed village setting. Zihuatanejo apparently dates back to 3000BC. What a contrast!

Despite our early start we arrived at Acapulco (map –7) around 5.00pm. Rush hour and the traffic is horrendous with hundreds of VW Beetle taxies beeping their horns constantly, incessantly and almost all the time. Mexican taxi drivers must know how long the traffic lights stay red and 10 seconds before they change to green they either take off or if caught behind someone like us, they beep their horn. We expected the prices for accommodation to be higher here but we were too tight and ended up riding around for far too long trying to find a reasonably priced hotel with secure parking for the bike. Eventually paid the extra and got a corner room on the 12th floor with stunning views of the city and bay and although expensive, reckoned it was good value overall.

28/9/04

Got away later than we had hoped. Trying to make the most of the room and the fantastic morning light on the bay of Acapulco. Felt a bit like gringo yuppies, not poor Australians on an extended tour. Smartened up a bit today though and elected to pay the $4.00 toll for the tunnel through the hills that surround Acapulco, rather than hassle with the traffic.

Even though we were out of Acapulco, the traffic and small villages with their numerous topes made progress slow. This was Guerrero province/state and reputedly to be one of the worst in Mexico for guerrilla activity. There was a lot of military presence and major instillation's such as electricity sub stations had razor wire and armed guards to maintain security. The government run Pemex fuel stations also have armed guards.

A tough riding day for us and feeling somewhat knackered from the heat we eventually found place to stay at Pinotepa Nacional. Went into town and ate at what we thought was a pretty clean place but later that night Dianne and I both had rumblings down under and we were not feeling our best. Not a bad case of gastro, our immune systems are hanging in there, but obviously not happy with what we had had for tucker.

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No need to advertise when you can just hang your produce out in the street. (remember it's really hot and humid too)

Haydn hard at work on the balcony of our hotel

The fishing industry on the beach at Escondido.

Breeding program at the National turtle museum

Challenges along the 175 into the mountains

Some of the characters you see along the way

Oaxaca historic centre

Ancient ruined city of Monte Alban

Markets of Oaxaca

 

Amazing geometric patterns on the walls of the ruins at Mitla.

We passed through cacti studded mountains on the way to San Cristobal

Valleys and mountain sides planted with the maguey plant – the fermented juice is distilled to make Tequila.

San Cristobal cobbled street

The Mayan villagers of San Juan Chamula

The colourful church in San Juan Chamula

Family of weavers in the village of Zinacantan

A mountain village near San Cristobal

Markets selling hand embroidered cloths

Cascadas Aguga Azul

Heading into the rain

The ruins of Palenque city

A little help to clean El Toro.

The magic numbers

Haydn and I doing the Tango on stage!! In our dreams.

29/9/04 - 30/9/04

A short hop today of 140km to Puerto Escondido on the coast, but the roads are diabolical. Lots of traffic, curves, potholes and topes and it took us 3 grueling hours to get there. After last nights meal we definitely didn't feel like more Mexican food today and as we approached Escondido we noticed a turn off for 'Hotel Zone'. A little way down the road there was a Best Western Hotel and for $6.00 we shared a huge ham and cheese omelet that came with toast and sweet breads, fruit and all the coffee you could drink. What a bargain!

Feeling revived we headed into town and found a lovely Hotel with balcony views of the spectacular beaches all for $18.00 a night. Things were looking up as we sat on the balcony enjoying the views and sea breeze and caught up with our emailing. Puerto Escondido is a laid back alternative to other carefully planned sea side resorts and has become popular since surfers discovered the great surfing beaches and cheap accommodation.

Later, in the relative cool of the late afternoon we took a stroll down to the beach past the market strip and wandered through the many small fishing boats and watched as the fishermen repaired their nets and prepared for tomorrows early morning start.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to stay another day soaking in the sights and making the most of this quiet resort town. It's off season right now, too damn hot, but in another month it will be bustling. Spent the evening watching surfers competing in a big competition. This apparently is one of the worlds best pipe wave surfing beaches and there was a major competition on this week. What a bonus to be sipping 2 for one margaritas at a beach bar, watching some of the best surfers in the world.

A quick reality check on the way home. We're not on holiday, we're on a tour and we need to get our finger out and keep moving. Our stay has been most enjoyable and we've gained a greater appreciation for the Mexican people and their way of life. A good place to stay for a couple of days.

01/10/04

We had intended to take the newer hwy 131 from Escondido to Oaxaca but we have found out it is badly washed away in lots of places due to heavy mountain rains. It is the end of the rainy season and Oaxaca is over 2000 metres above sea level, this mountain road is winding and torturous at the best of times. The 175 we've been told is a better choice even though there are over 600 sharp bends as it winds its way up, and locals estimate that it is a 6 hour journey from Pochutla, where the 175 heads inland to Oaxaca. We've also been strongly advised to do the trip early in the morning so as to avoid regular heavy afternoon down pours.

So it is on to Pochutla, only about 80km from Escondido. Along the way we visited Mazunte, the location of the National turtle museum and sanctuary. Fascinating to see lots of different varieties of turtles from those who prefer to dwell on land to the many varieties that can be found off the Pacific coast of Mexico.

We enjoyed our visit and continued on through Puerto Angel to Pochutla on the winding coastal road arriving early afternoon hot and sweaty again. Hopefully this will be our last day for a while in this oppressive heat and humidity.

2/10/04

Got away at sunrise to beat the rain and started the torturous uphill ride to Oaxaca (map –8). We expected the road to be bad and it was with steep climbs, hairpin bends, potholes, topes and washaways, not to mention donkeys and cows on the road and dogs that chase us as we slow down for the topes! Most of the 250km was done in 2nd gear at about 40kph and we rose to over 3000 meters over some of the peaks before entering the valley of this famous city.

Finding somewhere to stay is a constant concern for us. We're used to camping in our tent and always being able to find a campsite. Here there is no camping and we have to search for a hotel/motel within our budget that we find 'acceptable'. The historic centre of Oaxaca is full of hotels ranging from $20 to $200, the choice is yours, you get what you pay for. Safe parking is an issue, we eventually found a hotel at a good price with a drive in court yard within walking distance of all the cities attractions.

Today was Saturday and market day so we spent the afternoon walking the streets and exploring the many markets where local Indian artisans sell their crafts dressed traditionally. Pots, rugs, jewellery and embroidered clothes. The food market is fascinating too, just so very different and strangely, despite offers to taste, we were not tempted, oh except when it came to the famous Oaxacan Chocolate.

Oaxaca is a beautiful city with the main square or Zocalo surrounded with old colonial buildings and the Cathedral. A long pedestrian mall runs most of the length of the old town with restaurants, craft stores and galleries. What an atmosphere, the place comes alive at night with street musicians singing, dancing and playing a variety of musical instruments. Venders offer you everything from roast corn to ice cream to beautiful beadwork and embroidery, all for just a pittance.

3/10/04

Off to Monte Alban on a windy narrow 10km road into the hills. This was the ancient Zapotec religious centre built around 600 BC, later conquered by the Aztecs it fell into ruin in the 10th century. The massive city centre was built on a leveled mountain summit and we hired a guide to explain the features to us. The great Plaza bounded by ceremonial platforms was awe inspiring and finding out about this advanced civilization fascinating. The Mayan people had an accurate calendar, understood astrometry and had a number system that incorporated the zero long before civilisations in Europe.

In the afternoon we visited some of the smaller surrounding villages and enjoyed the variations in culture and dress.

That night we soaked in the festive atmosphere in the Zocalo, busker's entertained us with music and dance.

4/10/04

We regrettably left Oaxaca and took in the interesting ruins at Mitla before heading southwest for San Cristobal. The hwy 190 is a magnificent winding road through the mountains but this time down to sea level with a good surface. What a joy after the 175 although slow going, we still only averaged 60 - 80 kph. but at least we weren't constantly dodging pot holes etc. Found a Motel just outside Juchitan - half way - called it a day. And a great day at that.

5/10/04

Stopped for fuel and had a good breakfast at Juchitan before taking the 199 up to San Cristobal.

San Cristobal is located in a remote and scenic part of Mexico high in the mountains. Another good days ride through good winding roads up into the cooler mountains. We passed several Mayan villages along the way as we rode up into the clouds and as we almost reached their peak it started to rain. This is after all the tail end of the rainy season and we've been lucky not to have had more wet weather.

San Cristobal has narrow cobbled streets and is very different to any of the other Mexican towns we've stayed in. A definite Spanish influence that still remains.

Markets were everywhere with the local Mayan women mainly selling hand woven fabrics or painted Mayan designs. We wish we had the money and space to buy up big. Most women are dressed in traditional wear, with brightly coloured blouses and dresses. The colours and designs vary according to the region and make for a unique spectacle.

6/10/04

San Juan Chamula is a traditional Mayan village and we took an organised tour to visit this special place about 20km back into the mountains. The people here dress traditionally, grow crops traditionally and live in largely traditional homes. (very basic). We were warned not to take photographs as the Mayan here believe that the photograph takes their spirit away. Did manage to sneak a couple in though with the long lens.

Our tour cost about $10.00 each and was excellent value. The tour guide was of Mayan decent and went to great pains to explain the Mayan way of life, their customs and their beliefs. Fascinating people and in their Classic period, around 700AD they had advanced mathematics and exceptional astronomical knowledge that even today confounds the experts. Some of their stone carvings show the planets including Pluto, which our civilisation only discovered in the 1940s!!

This village has a town church (Templo de San Juan) next to the main plaza and the Mayan practice a complex religion using Catholicism as a guise for their own traditional beliefs. We watched rituals being preformed in the 'church'. Remember the Spanish attempted to force Catholicism on the local 'heathen' tribes and to appease the Spanish it seems the Mayan 'adopted' some of their teachings.

Next stop on the 6 hour tour was to visit a traditional Mayan home in the village of Zinacantan. Here we sampled some tacos made in the (basic) kitchen, some local brew called Posh made from sugar cane and watched the whole family busily weaving beautiful material designs using traditional weaving methods.

Back into San Cristobal and we were greeted by a huge storm. Nice to be in a bus when it's raining. After the rain cleared we spent the rest of the evening roaming the markets and walking the plaza just soaking in this very different Mexican city atmosphere.

7/10/04

Away early again heading for Palenque (map –10) and the chill morning air was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity we had endured on the west coast. Unfortunately Palenque is back on the low plains, in hot humid jungle terrain and has the reputation for being the wettest place in Mexico.

Sometimes (most times) when you leave a town heading for another you're not quite sure what the road or the day will bring. This part of Mexico is renowned for being a bit dodgie with guerillas known to ambush buses and cars. Needless to say we were a little apprehensive. The road from San Cristobal. on the 185 to Palenque took us even higher as we rode through many Mayan villages. The women all dressed in traditional dress provided a colourful contrast to the lush green temperate forests. Sadly the dogs and particularly puppies did not fare well and we saw too many dead ones within the first hour. Dianne said she felt these puppies were in fact lucky, spared a life of starvation and misery. The Mayan believe that when one dies you go to a better place. We hope these poor animals do go to a better place.

We will always remember this day as "the day of the topes". Normally we encounter around 100 of these (*****) speed humps a day but today, probably because we went through so many villages, I reckon we must have endured about 300 topes. Some, fortunately had a small gap, around 100mm in the centre and with good luck and judgment we could just ride carefully through, but most required the usual emergency braking procedure and then almost 'walk' the bike over and hope nothing scrapped, then up through the gears again till the next one. Hard on the bike's engine, transmission, clutch and brakes.

As I mentioned before, this area is renowned for guerrilla activity and it was somewhat unnerving to see lots of men and young boys carrying machete. We'd like to think they were employed to clear the vegetation from the roadside, but they did not look at all like road workers. Twice our hearts skipped a beat as a rope was pulled over the road in front of us. Thankfully the first time it was just young kids collecting money for something and the second time young women trying to sell fruit. Both times we gratefully contributed to their cause, but it is a stark reminder of life in these parts.

We stopped en route to visit the Cascadas Aguga Azul, the most popular waterfalls in this area and were so impressed we stayed for over an hour but that delay resulted in us catching a big thunderstorm before we reached Palenque. Cooled us down nicely but made the last part of the trip through the winding mountain roads a little challenging trying to dodge water filled potholes. But we can not complain, we have been riding through this area in the wet season yet have had to do very little riding in the rain. Haven't even taken out the wet suites yet!

8/10/04

As a kid Dianne had always dreamed she'd be an archeologist one day and for her the opportunity to visit ancient ruins was one of her greatest desires. Today she would fulfil a life long ambition and visit one of the greatest archeological, sites in Mexico. The Mayan culture inhabited this region from about 300BC to 1000AD. They were an extremely advanced civilisation with a highly developed city structure. There are hundreds of ruins in this area but most are lost to the jungle. Palenque was rediscovered in about 1837 and the Mexican government has been reclaiming and restoring the site since.

Personally, I'm not that keen on ancient ruins, but I must say that I was immediately impressed with what I saw and finding out about the ancient Mayan civilization adds to the experience. To make the most of our visit we hired an English speaking guide for $25.00 for a 2 hour guided tour, and all up spent over 4 hours here. A unique feature of Palenque is that you can climb and explore the temples and experience, or at least try to experience what life must have been like here. (It's figure decorations in bas relief are well preserved and the whole place is an absolute thrill for me, I stayed for most of the afternoon to explore the finer details and just sit to soak it all in.)

When we got back to the car park a couple of enterprising young Mexicans offered to wash the bike. Normally I wouldn't let anyone touch the bike but tomorrow will be a special day for 'El Toro' as we have named him. After just a little over two and a half years, our Harley's odometer will turn over the first one hundred thousand kilometres and she deserves to be clean for the occasion so together we got to it and within an hour she was gleaming.

9/10/04

Leaving Palenque on the 186 and a hundred and forty kilometres later the speedo clocked over the magic numbers. The bike still rides and sounds like new and we expect this will be the first of several occasions for celebration. Not all together sure if we will be able to go the distance though!!

The road east was flat and straight and we made good time on a fairly uninteresting run. Tall vegetation lined the road for most of the way giving me the sensation of riding in a green tunnel and we arrived at Chetumal (map –11) on the Mexican/Belize border at about 4.00pm.

We were looking for a hotel and stopped on the esplanade to check our guide book when a Young Mexican called out to us in English. Turns out he was part of a musical group that was performing at an outdoor venue that evening and he invited us along.

We found a cheap hotel with secure parking and a pool and after cooling down headed downtown to take in the performance. When you travel it seems there is always the unexpected and the free musical show we enjoyed tonight was truly outstanding. Our friend performed with two others playing Argentinean music and this was followed by a series of Latin American singers and performers. This really is romantic music and we're really getting into it. Even bought a CD. Our new friend joined us in the audience after his performance and he explained the meaning of some of the songs as well as the dancing - Tango. A great night and we staggered into bed around midnight on our last night in Mexico.

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©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200