Sunday, 28 November 2010

An eventful week in Mexico

Someone stole my AirHawk seat. I'm really annoyed about this. I had it when I unpacked the bike at Morelia but in the morning it wasn't there. I searched for over a hour around the room and hotel but to no avail. I don't know how or when it was taken but it must have been. This has really annoyed me and has gone a long way to ruining my last day alone.

I tried to cheer up as I headed for the Butterfly reserve. It wasn't easy but I tried. Now I know this is supposed to be an adventure motorbike blog so any mention of butterflies is totally out of place but I'm man enough to admit that I went to the Monarch Butterfly reserve. Situated in the Pine forests at an altitude of 3000 metres millions and millions of Monarch butterflies spend the winter months here. They have travelled 4000km from the Great lakes of Canada/USA, one of the great animal migrations. It was extremely impressive and I got a bit carried away with the camera...

Then things got a bit surreal. I was heading towards Mexico City and got caught in a rain/hail storm. It then started lightening. Oh no here we go again! I was queuing to pay a toll, fretting about the lightening when a BMW pulls up next to me. It was a bit of a shock as I hadn't seen another bike for five days. Not only was it a fellow adventure motorcyclists but he was also British. I can't remember the last time I met a Brit. on a bike. He was in a hurry to get to Mexico City and no sooner had he arrived than he disappeared in the rain. I was left somewhat shocked and bewildered. I turned off the toll road and into Tolima, hoping it would be easy to find the centre of the city and a cheap Hotel. It wasn't. It was dark by the time I found the centre and took me another half an hour to find a hotel. All in all a bit of a stressful day - and I'm still annoyed about my Airhawk. I'm not going to be able to find another one and anyone who's ridden a BMW knows how uncomfortable their seats are.

I had not been looking forward to Monday. Not because Tracy was arriving, I hasten to add. I was, of course, very excited about that. But it meant I had to ride into Mexico City. I started early and to be honest, I found it much easier than I had expected. The traffic wasn't that bad and it all seemed to behave itself. I thought this might be one occasion when it would be useful to have a GPS, but I managed to find my way to Motohaus, the BMW dealership without too much trouble.

New tyres AND washed!

Motohaus pleaded with me to let them put a sticker on the bike

As I had to come into the city to meet Tracy anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to use the BMW shop. I had decided to get my tyres changed and had emailed them to let them know I'd be in. They were very welcoming and extremely helpful. They proceeded to change the tyres (and oil) and they even washed the bike for me. Roberto, the guy I'd emailed, was very helpful and extremely excited about my trip. He asked if he could “sponsor me” by not charging me labour and putting a sticker on the bike! How could I refuse. He also gave me two little jars of visor spray – what a great guy.

This was my GPS that got me into Mexico City

Finding the hotel Tracy had booked proved to be a little more difficult than I had hoped but via an unintended detour around the centre zone of Mexico City I found it and booked myself in. It was only 3 p.m. and Tracy wasn't landing until 6 so I had plenty of time to get the shuttle bus to the airport to meet her.

And there she was, tired, annoyed with airport security and fed up with standing in a queue for an hour but she'd arrived.

Next day we rode a short 40 miles to Teotihuacan. Short in distance but long in time as I found navigating out of Mexico City much harder than getting in and it took us two hours to get there. Nevertheless we had arrived at the ancient capital. Teotihuacan was once mesoamericas greatest
city. Built between the 1st and 6th century's AD about 125,000 people lived here making it the largest city in all the Americas (and world?). Teotihuacan is known for its two vast pyramids, Pyramid of the sun and moon. The pyramid of the sun is the worlds third largest – 222m long on eah side and 72 m high. At its height the pyramids were painted bright red and would have been a magnificent sight at sunset.

Tracy climbing the 250 odd steps to the top of the worlds third highest pyramid

Teotihuacan - Pyramid of the sun behind us.

Tracy sunning herself on the pyramid of the sun

From there we headed south first to Puebla and then on to Oaxaca. Puebla was a bit of a challenge. With over a million inhabitants and very few street signs it wasn't easy finding my way into the centre (I'm beginning to think that a GPS might have been a good idea!) But I did and we had a pleasant evening in the lovely colonial centre of town. Next morning I found it equally as hard getting out of the place but a friendly policeman gave me some directions and eventually we made it 200 miles south to Oaxaca (wah-hack-a).

Colourful street in Puebla

Oaxaca is supposed to be one of Mexico's most beautiful and vibrant cities. A great place to soak up the atmosphere of Mexican culture and colonial elegance. We visited the impressive Cathedral, watched some dancing in the main plaza and then got accosted by a drunk who wanted to tell me that Manchester United was the best football team in the world, over and over again. Mexican culture at its best.

We spent a full day in Oaxaca visiting the nearby ancient ruins of Monte Alban. Standing on flattened hill top this was the ancient capital of the Zapotec. Building started around 500 BC and the place was occupied until the 15th Century. Very impressive. 

Monte Alban

Do we look Australian?

Tracy got interviewe for an English project - if only they knew who they were talking too!

In the evening we went back to the main plaza so soak up some more of that famous Oaxaca culture. This time we were pleasantly surprised as the plaza was full of life. Lots of stalls were selling food, trinkets, clothes and jewellery. Street theatre including fire jugglers, dancers, clowns and those really annoying statue people – who just stand still and expect you to give them money for it.
Oaxaca is famous for its food and although we didn't sample the ant lavae or deep fried grasshopper we did try to famous “Mole negro” (a smoky, savoury sauce with a hint of chocolate), and Oaxaca's favourite hot drink – Chocolate caliente – a mix of cinnamon, almonds and sugar with cocoa beans. Those of you who know Tracy will know that she likes Oaxaca. 

I've just had a look at a couple of blogs of bikers I know who are ahead of me – now in Costa Rica or Panama and it seems that the weather isn't too good down there. La Nina is causing higher than average rainfalls and I'm reading of bridges washed away, riding in the rain all day and flooded roads. Exciting stuff to read if you're not just about to head that way! Most bikers are ahead of me as they are intending to ride down to Argentina and many want to cross over to Colombia using a boat rather than fly. And the last boats of the season leave this weekend. Makes me feel a little left behind, but at least I've got Tracy for company. I thought they'd be more bikers in Mexico and I've hardly seen any. Perhaps we'll catch up with a few stragglers when we get into Guatamala.

Our hotel in Oaxaca - glad the bike doesn't leak oil

Tomorrow (Sunday) we're off towards San Cristobel de la Casas and then the Mayan ruins at Palenque. If all goes well we should be crossing into Guatamala by the end of the week. Oh and for those of you who have read this just to hear from Tracy – tough – this is MY blog :)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mainland Mexico at last

After two weeks at Todos Santos I was ready to move on and although I'd had a great time looking for turtles I was very keen to get back on the road. I rode the 50 miles to La Paz and then stopped off at a coffee bar to bide my time before I needed to be at the ferry. As I sat there, admiring my mean machine on the street, I wondered, what will happen today? Although I'm traveling by myself at the moment, it's actually quite hard to stay on your own when you're on a motorbike. Not only is it a good ice breaker as far as conversation goes, but whenever there's another biker around the will, inevitably, pull up and start chatting. That's just what happened. Within 15 minutes a guy pulls up on a Beemer, with Idaho plates. We start chatting, and unbelievably he's from Ketchem, Sun Valley, right up the road from where Trent lives and where I stayed a few months ago.  

Waiting for new friends - La Paz, Baja

He left and soon after two other BMW's pull up. Arthur and Brian are heading down to Panama and we're going to catch the same ferry as me. We had a chat and then agreed to meet up on the ferry. This was great news. I'd paid $200 to get myself and the bike on the ferry but only had a “reclining seat” for the 12 hour overnight trip. Now I had people to share the coast of a cabin with. Oh, yeah, and some people to discus routes, experiences etc.

We were left to tie down are one bikes.

We got on board (after having to try down our bikes with whatever we could find – no help from the crew) and booked ourselves a cabin. Later we went for a beer and sat down to discuss routes. Then we were joined by a rather large American gentlemen who proceeded to tell us how dangerous Mazatlan (port of destination) was. He went on and on about the drive-by shootings and killings and how we must get out of Mazatlan as soon as possible. He really started to annoy me, being SO negative about the place, and just not shutting up. Of course, I was too polite to say anything and just sat there for half an hour putting up with him. Arthur did the same, Brian excused himself and left later telling us he just couldn't put up with it anymore. Later I was more annoyed with myself for just sitting there, nodding my head and agreeing with the guy. I should have said something but just couldn't be bothered. But it's only because people like me are so nice to people like him that he gets away with it. I must make a concerted effort to change this. To quote Morrisey,” Why do I smile at people who I'd much rather kick in the eye.”

Ryan, the third biker I met, had opted for the smuggling option and rather than pay $100 to put his bike on the boat he paid $50 to put it in the back of a truck. He spent the whole night worrying about it but it worked.

Ryans bike fell off the back of a lorry

Four bikes fueling up

Mexican toll road

Next day I rode down the coast with my new friends all the way to Jims place. Jim (The Canadian I'd met a Tijuana and ridden down Baja with) had rented a place on the coast and offered me a bed for the night. It was great to meet up with him again (and Kathy his partner) and they had such as nice place, I stayed three nights.

Jim and Kathy riding up the cobblestones to their house

Jim, Kathy, Dom

Sunset from Jims balcony

Jim is the one responsible for planting an idea in my head which has grown over the last few weeks and may well end up with me extending my fantastic adventure (or ending it). He's suggested I ride from Venezuela, through the three Guyanas and into Brazil, rather than shipping my bike to South Africa. This is something I had looked into when planning this trip, but hadn't thought it really possible. Apparently it is; I'm thinking about it.

It was hard to leave Jim's. But I had to move on. On his advice I went down the coast to Manzanillo where, well, have a look....

Park here and walk past the bus

Can you see yet?

(Sorry-tried to load a short video of the crocs. but it won't work. I'll put it on my facebook page.)

I spent the night in Barra de Navidad (Christmas Sand Bar). A small, quaint but rather nondescript port with a huge history. In 1564 the shipyards here built the galleons used by the conquistadors who sailed west from here and claimed the Phillipines for King Felipe of Spain.

Barra de Navidad

One of the few glimpses I got of the coast

Next day I continued down the coast. Now my guide book refers to the road as “hugging the coast”. I'm not quite sure I agree. It took me all day to ride the 250 miles down the coast and I only actually got sight of the sea a handful of times. I'd hardly call that hugging. On top of that Mexico's famous TOPES (speed bumps) have raised their ugly heads. Coming out of nowhere these small, unpainted but steep little bumps play havoc with the shock absorbers (and my backside!), not to mention severely reducing my average speed. That's why it took me 7 hours to cover 250 miles. There was very little traffic along the way but that doesn't mean the road was empty. I passed several sun worshipping iguanas, and something else... I was coming up a rise and saw a large tarantula crossing the road. I doubled back to get a better look but it had gone. I suddenly had this horrible thought that it had jumped onto the bike and was crawling up my back, but I guess not.

Despite the topes it was a lovely days ride on a hot day. Mango, Coconut, Papaya and Banana plantations line to way; the azul sea on the right (when I can see it) and the lush Sierra Madre mountains on the left. In fact I was enjoying it so much I forgot to tank up and came close to running out of fuel. There was one stretch of coast with no settlement for at least a hundred miles and I was running low. With less than 30 miles of petrol left I saw a hand written sigh in the first village I passed in well over an hour.

Petrol station

All in all a good day ending with a great sunset in Playa Azul. A Mexican tourist beach resort with lots of beach and very few tourists.

Next day I rode up to Morelia. It was supposed to have been easy but when the road is blocked off to celebrate Revolution day all you can do is get off the bike, take some pictures and wait for the parade to pass.

Embarrasingly these guys got told off for not paying attention to the parade.

The Lonely Planet says Morelia it's “the coolest place you've never been” whatever that means, but it's on my way to Mexico City and about an hours ride from the famous Monarch Butterfly reserve which I shall visit tomorrow. I arrived in Morelia, parked by the Cathedral and looked at my map to see get the lay of the land.

Little did I know that only two hours later all these guys would show up.

Morelia Harley Davidson club

Three on a bike. At least they have helmets on!

Luckily by then my BMW was safely stashed away in a colonial courtyard.

Not sure if this made me feel safer?

Metal detector on left

There seemed to be a few too many Federal Police around for my liking, and mobile metal detectors, should I be worried? Saturday was Mexico Revolution Day and there were going to be festivities in the plaza that night. I later read that in 2008 grenades had been thrown during Independence day celebrations and Morelia was the home town for Mexico's President Felipe Calderon. So, perhaps the security was justified.

Morelia by night

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Second week on Turtle patrol...

Another quiet, restful week in Todos Santos. I got into a rhythm of doing very little during the day, trying to sleep in the evening and then getting up in the middle of the night to go on turtle patrol. On average we find one nest a night but still no sightings of the illusive Leatherbacks. A study in 1982, estimated that 115,000 adult female leatherbacks existed worldwide and that around 65% of them were nesting in western Mexico. Now the world population is between 25,000 and 40,000 and less than 1% nest in Mexico. A group of sea turtle biologists recently concluded (June, 2000) that gill-net and longline fisheries were probably causing this decline. In short, the Leatherback will probably become extinct in my lifetime unless something drastic changes soon. 

This little fella had about 20 metres of this to get through to make it to the sea.

Nearly there...

He's off...

As Saturday turned into Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Todos Santos. I'd really come to like the place and thoroughly enjoyed staying with Francesca and German. (I was going to include a photo of them but have just realised that I haven't taken one!) Gloria, who was also staying here but not volunteering, was also good fun to be with and kept me entertained with her stories and seemingly endless supply of Tecate beer! Gloria would collapse in fits of laughter at my English accent and quaint English words. Calling a garbage bag a bin liner nearly gave her a heart attack. “Simmer down” Gloria! I even got to like her two Corgies, not my favourite dog but don't you know the queen has them so they must be good. What is it with Americans and the British Monarchy. Gloria also decided to christan me "Nico". Apparantly we all need a Mexico name so it's easier for them to understand. So I'm now travelling under the name Nico.

Next stop? Well I'm on the boat to the mainland on Sunday night and then I need to find a new rear tyre. I've tried arranging this over the internet but it isn't as easy as it was in the U.S. And I believe Monday is a national Holiday (Revolution day) and nothing in Mazatlan will be open. I'm planning on riding down the coast stopping off for a night at Jim's, cruising around the beautiful Mexican coast, heading inland to visit the world famous Monarch butterfly park and then heading into the hell that is Mexico city in order to find Tracy.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Tracy again. It's been a long time. And it will certainly mark yet another big change in my trip. Travelling two up is very different to being solo. When I was planning this whole trip I looked at the eleven weeks I would be spending on my own and wondered how I would cope with it. In our day to day lives it is very seldom that we spend any extended period of time just on our own. And when I was planning this trip many people commented on the fact that I would be doing it (mainly) alone. Clearly the thought of being alone worries people. I've really enjoyed being alone and I've learnt a lot about myself. I've become very comfortable with my own company and much better at entertaining myself. Initially I was worried that I would struggle with my own company but I think I've coped quite well. I don't think I've gone mad but I'll check with Tracy!

Some turtle pictures...

Olive Ridley turtle comes ashore and lays its eggs.

Then she heads off back to the sea

We uncover the eggs in order to save them

Gently taking them out. They feel warm and soft.

76 turtle eggs bagged up and taken to the greenhouse.

In the Greenhouse, German recreates the turtle's nest.

Then we place the eggs in and cover it up

50 days later this pops out!

If this is a male it's the ONLY time in his whole life he'll be ashore