Friday, January 30, 2015

Fuc&ing Topes in Beautiful Guanajuato.

I’m going to start this blog by thanking my Guardian Angels and our sponsors who have made and given me gear that keeps me safe: Moto Machines for the Hepco & Becker Gobi cases that prevented my leg from being broken. KLiM for the Altitude suit that kept my knees and legs from unknown bruising and road rash. Racer Gloves for the Ladies Sport gloves that sustained the deep scratches instead of the heels of my palms. And although Scorpion is not a sponsor, they made a great helmet and thanks to that helmet my face is not purple and puffy.

And lastly, I’d like to thank the Universe for conspiring with the lessons I needed to learn, and in-turn showing us a silver lining to what started out as a VERY bad introduction to Guanajuato.

As Roel and I follow Jose Sr. out of Guanajuato, he on his Ducati Monster, leaving the Twin and Transalp in the dust, I am trying to figure out to share with you just how much Guanajuato, and her inhabitants, have come to mean to me.

So I have a little story for you. It’s a long one, so go grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, and get comfortable.

There are topes.

A reasonable, although annoying, Mexican tope (a.k.a. "speedbump)

And then there are fuc&ing topes.

These, my friends, are what fuc&ing topes look like:

Unreasonable, fuc&ing dangerous, death-trap "topes"...

And yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I picked a fight with one and lost. Actually, it was probably more than one that pulled me down. That should probably make me feel better about it, but it doesn’t.

And that’s because I really only have myself to blame, like *almost* any motorcycle-only crash.

I’ll tell you that Roel and I had had a little tiff and perhaps my head wasn’t exactly where it should have been in order to ride into a bigger city like Guanajuato, one that has lots of tunnels, one-way streets, and sneaky, slippery fuc&ing topes.

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to give my consent to the video being posted (my Mom is a strong woman, but there are some things I think she doesn't necessarily need to be confronted with)… but to sum it up, we are riding through a tunnel that leads into the city of Guanajuato. I ride out of the tunnel into the light and am temporarily blinded… then I realize that the Centro is to the left, I am on the right and all I can see ahead of me are one-way streets that do not lead back to the road to the Centro. The communication system is off, (yes, due to aforementioned tiff) and in a split second, I make the decision to take on a string of topes dividing one lane from the other. Silly, stupid girl. I slowed down slightly, tried to square up to the topes as much as possible and then gave it a little extra gas. At this point, I was probably going 40 kilometers per hour. Or more. :/

The front tire crossed without issue, but the rear tire was another issue entirely.

In a frightening display of sideways movement that no motorcycle is meant to achieve, the bike does a 180, the rear tire sliding along the slick topes, the back of my Gobi case making hard contact with a 20cm tall curb. When the bike comes to a stop, we are on the ground facing oncoming traffic. I never remember the part of dropping (or crashing) my bike where my body hits the ground; and nor do I remember it this time. But I do remember my bike being at a very strange angle to the ground… and then looking over and seeing my left Gobi case a few feet away.


The lock that secures it to the luggage rack mount has been ripped off upon making contact with the curb. (I later find out that the Gobi cases have been designed this way to ensure that minimal damage is done to the actual frame in the event of a crash.)

Despite being royally peeved at me, Roel jumps off of the Africa Twin and picks up the Transalp.

Moments later, a nice woman in a green 4x4 who was in traffic behind us, stops and asks over and over if I am OK and if she can help. The concern on her face is obvious, and I so appreciate that she cares… but there is really nothing that she can do.  

We assess the damage:

The detached Gobi case is the most obvious issue, but upon inspection, Roel deems that it will be easy to reattach the lock with proper tools, and he pulls out a tie-down strap to re-secure it to the luggage rack for now.

Things I love about my Gobi cases now include: 1. The fact that rather than allowing damage to the bike to occur, the lock simply broke off and the case detached from the rack. 2. The case broke my fall and protected my leg. 3. The case is still water-tight. 4. Although the mounting device had broken off, with the use of one tie-down strap, the case was temporarily and reliably re-mounted to the rack in a matter of moments. 5. You're going to have to look really closely to see that anything ever happened. No dent. Only some small scratches. And everything inside the case was fine, too.  

“Walter” however is another story. Walter is my DeWalt Toolbox-cum-Topbox that I have been using since eastern Canada. Walter had already been cracking on the bottom due to alterations we made to the mount so that it would work well with the Gobi cases. Well, the cracks let go once the Gobi case was off and Walter hit the ground with some force… there is a gaping crack in the bottom of Walter.

As you can see, "Walter" did not fare so well in the crash

Roel runs off to find something to rig up Walter with so that we can at least continue. I later find out that he found a rubbish pile a little ways down the road and began digging through it with the local children, until he found a piece of wood that he was able to chop with the ax he is fortunately carrying, so that it would support Walter.

While I’m waiting for him with the bikes, waving traffic emerging from the tunnel around the bikes, my head begins to pound and it is at this moment that I realize that I must have smashed the front of my helmet on some part of the bike (handlebar?), as my chin is also somehow a little sore. I’m not crying, which I think is weird. Now I realize I was probably in some state of shock. And I am alternately kicking myself for my stupidity, first of all, for being dumb enough to ride distracted and two, for executing such a stupid move, but mostly, I am thankful to be physically OK.

With the bike more or less back together, Roel checks the frame and takes it for a test ride. He deems it safe to ride for me.

We proceed into the city and Roel warns me about EVERY single tope. If you know Roel, you know that this was done with a sneer, now that he knows I’m OK. Nonetheless, I begin to think to myself that if I was going to hit a tope the wrong way in this city, I’m glad it happened where it did… The tunnels are filled with topes and the lighting isn’t the best. Had the same thing happened inside of a tunnel, I likely would have been run over by the cars behind me.

Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato Centro

We ride around the city, easily getting lost on the one-way streets and eventually find a well-priced hotel with a serene courtyard, AND secure parking for the bikes: Hotel Embajadoras. It’s a lovely spot and the shower is hot and strong, but all I can do is vacillate between feelings of self-loathing and incredulity at the state of things.

The next day, I am feeling better and we decide to spend the morning wandering around the city until we have to check out at 1pm. It’s a gorgeous city and wandering around by foot was healing for my mind and body.

There were calla lilies EVERYWHERE... an easy reminder that this was the birthplace of Diego Rivera.

We treated ourselves to a rare brunch at Restaurante Campanero - delicious and inexpensive.

While we were packing up the bikes to leave, the owner of the hotel comes out and starts chatting about our travels. He’s a lovely older gentleman who speaks perfect English and we find out he studied in Europe and loves Holland. He checks out the bikes and tells us:

“You can stay for an extra night, for free, if you like. Amsterdam Student Hotel was very generous to me and so this is the least I can do. And I have something to donate to your trip. Wait here.”

He returns with a fluffy, lush sheepskin to replace Roel’s which is falling apart by this time.

Daniel, whose family owns the wonderful Hotel Embajadoras, Roel and the Africa Twin's new sheepskin

I'm guessing Roel won't be so quick to take breaks from now on...

We take him up on his offer, grateful for another day of rest (especially now that I’ve realized that I have a nice case of whiplash).

With the afternoon free, and grateful not to have to support the weight of my helmet with my sore neck, just yet, we head to the Mummy Museum of Guanajuato. Easily one of the most creepy places I’ve ever been. Families at one time had to pay to keep the bodies of their dead family members buried, and if they failed to pay, the bodies where disinterred. Most of the bodies in the museum were disinterred between the 1850s and 1950s… many still have hair and clothing.

Yes, VERY creepy.

Realizing we’re going to be in town for another day, I think to send an “SOS” message with my number to a guy named Jose Jr. who had sent a message a week ago to this point:

“Let’s catch up for a beer and talk about moto traveling. I live in Mexico City but my parents live in Guanajuato. My dad has a great shop, so if you need anything don’t hesitate to get in touch with him.”

Within an hour, Jose Sr. calls me and gives me directions to his home. And says:

“By the way, do you remember the woman in the green car who asked if she could help you? That was my wife, Laura.”

Wow. What are the chances in a city of 160,000++. ……………….?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Guadalajara and Giving a New Tire a Try: The Pirelli MT60

We’d heard that Guadalajara was a city not to be missed, so we headed in that direction from Aguascalientes.

The free roads are slower, more picturesque and take you through a lot of small towns along the way. All of these things are good, but for the part that each town has anywhere from 2-20 topes - large speed bumps or strings of metal or plastic mounds. They’re rather annoying, to say the least.

We enjoyed our first night wild-camping just outside of a small town up on a hill overlooking the town lights, just below the gate to a cattle pasture. The next morning a guy on a 150cc Honda came riding up to turn on the water for the cows. We were just packing up and were slightly worried that he’d be annoyed by our presence, but instead, he told us that we could move our campsite behind the gate (which he was offering to leave open for us) up on top of the hill because it was prettier there. Welcome to Mexico.

Guadalajara Centro was indeed very pretty and there were tons of people enjoying the historic buildings with us. The highlight for me was the José Clemente Orozco  murals in the Palacio de Gobierno: Lucha Social - Social Struggle and The People and its Leaders, which is in the State Congress Chamber and is meant to depict Hidalgo signing the decree to abolish slavery in Mexico. 

Jose Clemente Orozco's "Lucha Social"

Orozco's "The People and Its Leaders"

While Guadalajara was nice, it wasn’t our city so we left and headed in the direction of Guanajuato.

Again, we were taking the free roads which brought us through every small town. My rear tire needed to be swapped out, and apparently 17 inch tires are not that common in Mexico. (After an hour of calling around while we were in Aguascalientes, we had resigned ourselves to waiting until Mexico City to change the tire.) While riding through Arandas we spotted El Gato Motorcycle shop and it looked promising. Sure enough, there was ONE 17 inch Pirelli MT60 sitting right there, practically waiting for me. Pirelli is usually not in our budget, but Manuel, the shop owner was willing to give us a great deal and was extremely kind and generous. He had one of his employees change the tire in the shop next door (for free) and even gave me an oil treatment once he heard that my bike was burning oil. While we were waiting, he showed us awesome photos of his time as an off-road racer. Obviously, he’s just generally passionate about motorcycling and it was evident in how his shop was stocked and set up.

Lucky for us we chose to ride the small free roads. Because of this, we got a Perelli tire for nearly 30% off, met a great fellow rider, and both bikes have new or nearly new tires all around

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding our Feet (and Many New Friends) on the Mainland

The heat hit us as soon as we disembarked from the ferry in Mazatlan. Heat, and a new thing: humidity.

Our goal was to reach Durango by the end of the day and to spend most of our time on the free road, which promised to be more fun. And it was :D Incredible curves climbed up and up, winding through distractingly gorgeous scenery for miles and miles. It was VERY slow going though, with many curves necessitating 2nd gear and some even requiring first. The sun was beginning to dip, and the temperature was decreasing as steadily as we climbed. Eventually, we decided we’d had our fun for the day, so we got onto the rather expensive toll road in order to make it to Durango by nightfall.

After fueling up, we were about to get on the road again when an rider on a packed-up Kawasaki Versys pulled into the Pemex.

Alex from Mexico City, with his Versys that he is riding back from Utah

We began to chat and decided to ride together to Durango where Alex had connections, and so we rode. By the time we made it to Durango, we were freezing and rather tired. Alex’s friend picked us up in the main square in front of the beautiful cathedral, and we followed him through the city thinking we would be camping in his backyard, or something.

Making new friends in Durango

 Instead, he led us to a simple but very comfortable hotel (i.e. one that offered safe parking for the bikes), where he had made arrangements for us.

The next morning, we met up with Raul, a doctor, and his motorbike Templarios group member, Gerardo, for breakfast and had a fascinating conversation with them about their worldwide motorcycle group.

Breakfast and route advice with Los Templarios

Alex asked the astute question: why the skulls and bones? I think this is a question a lot of people don’t bother to ask and simply assume that the the skull/cross bones are meant to communicate violence and instill fear. Quite the opposite, we were told that this is meant to signify that underneath whatever clothes we wear, whatever skin color we have, our basic physical essence is the same: skull and bones.

Mmmmm... Birria for breakfast. For Roel. (Goat's meet soup... nomnomnom)

Personally, I'm all set with huevos rancheros

From Durango, Alex offered that we could join him and his family in Aguascalientes. Craving spending some time with a family and wanting to work on my Spanish, we were extremely keen.

Alex touring us around Zacatecas

Some interesting highway-side art in Zacatecas - sadly, the photo does not convey how intricate or massive this installation is :/

And so we headed off, making a quick tour of Zacatecas, before arriving in Aguascalientes to the warm welcome of Alex’s Aunt, Uncles and cousins.

We spent a few days getting to know this diverse and interesting family (with 11 siblings in total, what else would you find) and it was wonderful. I learned a bit about Mexican cooking, Roel had his first mole ever and we were serenaded by Alex’s very talented uncle.

I can get used to these breakfasts!

Pollo con mole!!!

For the first time in ages, we went out to a bar like ‘normal’ 30-somethings, with Alex’s cousins. They toured us about the beautiful city center of Aguascalientes, which also happens to be the geographic center of Mexico and boasts one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the entire country.
It was a fabulous evening and a great way to end our time in Aguascalientes.

Roel, making new friends in front of Templo de San Antonio

The interior of one of the most beautiful temples in all of Mexico: Templo de San Antonio

Aguas Calientes Centro

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ferry Crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan

It’s time to head to the mainland. Baja has been incredible. A slow, gentle introduction to Mexican culture and a preliminary view of what areas of my Spanish language skills need work… but it’s time to cross the Sea of Cortez.

Our last seaside campsite for a while... Tecalote Beach, Baja Sur

We headed back to La Paz and booked our ferry ticket at the Pichilingue ticket office.

No "on the sea" adventures, please.

Our bikes were measured and despite some of the rumors going around, they passed as motorcycles (not trucks in disguise!). For about 4,000 pesos ($285), we had confirmed seats with meals included for the next day. We had mixed recommendations but opted not to get a room: every dollar counts and we’re keen to meet the locals.

We passed some time on the internet at Kilometer Zero, met up with our friend Steve from Playa Coyote and even gave our first interview in Spanish. (You might note that the reporter says that I didn’t like Australia - that would be the fault of my Spanish - I was trying to communicate that the countries where we have been told to expect danger, we’ve found only nice people and the only country we have had a problem so far was Australia… oops. Love you Aussies!)

Anyway, getting onto the ferry was a breeze, but we were surprised by a “harbor tax” which we were told by the other overland travelers in the line was something they’d been told to expect… 75 pesos each.

The ferry was massive, and after tying down the bikes on the top deck we went inside to our assigned seats. They were plush, reclined fully and gave a great view of the large TV which played movies (sometimes, even with English subtitles).

Roel went out on deck to socialize with the other travelers (and whale watch), while I popped two Dramamine and stayed with our stuff below.

Let's see... my first suggestion would be to remove the obstacle from in front of the emergency exit.

The crossing was pretty uneventful. The food was fine. The ladies room was clean (men’s room apparently was not). I slept great thanks to the Dramamine (minus the hour+ that the child behind us was screaming) and before we knew it, it was time for breakfast and then we were in port on the mainland.

We were all hyped up for what we thought would be our first “real” border crossing in Mexico… complete with extensive luggage and paperwork checks… but no… we rode straight off the ferry and into Mazatlan.

Mexico, here we come!!!