Friday 31 August 2007

Mexico City

So here I am in arguably the worlds largest city, with over 22 million people. The Zócalo (main square) and historic center are not to be missed and are a good starting place for viewing the city. Chapultepec Park, is home to many attractions and should be on your must do list, There is always some sort of free entertainment going on, such as concerts, magic shows and mime troupes.
The nightlife in the capital is second to none and provides an enormous variety of entertainment. Ballet, opera, folkloric shows and theatre compete with rock concerts, bars and nightclubs featuring all kinds of live music. Live Cuban music and the tropical salsa clubs always seem to be packed.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is the centerpiece of the Zócalo, or city square. It dates from 1532 and includes classic, neo-Classical and Baroque elements. Despite a number of earthquakes it has not fallen, this is due to the unique fact that Mexico City is actually built on a lake. The downside is the city is slowly sinking into the mud.

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Anáhuac, a large valley in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,349 feet). It was originally built by the Aztecs in 1325 on an island of Lake Texcoco. The city was almost completely destroyed in the siege of 1521, and was redesigned and rebuilt in the following years following the Spanish urban standards. In 1524 the municipality of Mexico City was established, known as México Tenochtitlán, and as of 1585 it is officially known as Ciudad de México. The emblem in the centre of the Mexican flag comes from this city. The Aztec legend was that wherever they found an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake they would establish a great and powerful city. This they found on a lake which became mexico city. The symbol of the eagle eating the snake on the cactus is now a national symbol.

Teotihuacan - Teotihuacan is located about 31 miles North East of Mexico City. So if you plan on going to Mexico City, this is a must see sight. The rise and fall of Teotihuacan coincide roughly with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire beginning around 600 BC, and going into decline around 650 AD before the city was sacked, burnt, and abandoned. The empire grew by leaps and bounds between the 1st and 4th centuries AD and its influence stretched from Guatamala to Texas. The population within the city itself grew to over 200,000 people.

Teotihuacan is unique in the fact that the murals uncovered here do not depict the thematic violence or ritualistic sacrifices found in other ceremonial cites, they portray a society which seemed to be interested more in astronomy.

I think westerners who do not know the city often fear it. However a healthy curiosity is far better. The usual warnings are still in effect. Don't hail a cab in the street (although we did - we reckoned there was two of us.. and one of him); Cabs without an "L" at the start of the plate are not real cabs. Don't wander aimlessly at night; arm yourself with a map and a sense of where you are.

Mexico has more festivals than days in the calendar, and the weeks between Nov. 1 (the Day of the Dead, a uniquely Mexican celebration) and Christmas will be especially vibrant this year i expect. Three of the city's most elegant neighborhoods -- Polanco, Roma and Condesa, each 15 minutes or less from the central business district, the Zona Rosa -- are exploding with new restaurants, clubs and art galleries. Condesa, a small citadel of Art Deco architecture, is celebrating its centennial. It's an exceptionally pleasant place to sit, sip, sup and watch the passing scene

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Road to Cuernavaca

Arrived in Cuernavaca (Morelos) today after an eventful ride from Morelia. Set out following the Aquaduct from Morelia taking the free road to CD Hidalgo. It starts out normal then quickly becomes country side. Not unusual to see a herd of cattle grazing at the side of the road. As you enter the Parque National Insurgente Jose Maria Morelos th views are amazing. The narrow road quickly climbs through the mountains, through lush countryside, was thinking this is really like a country drive in Wicklow mountains, (only much higher). The roads a nice twisty and narrow, but there is not much traffic so overtaking is easy. The Topes in the small towns bunch what little there is, so while standing on the footpegs you can hop past them.

Road improves again around Hidalgo and Zitacuaro. After Zitacuaro follow route 15 again towards Toluca where I successfully managed to side step my first attempted bribe. Was stopped by a Police (i think) checkpoint, (guys with M16s and Blue Uniforms), where i got called aside. Was my usual friendly self, then they started asking about the bike and how much it costs etc, (made up a much smaller amount) and where i was staying etc, then they tried to suggest i give them money.. so anytime it was mentioned i changed topic or feigned not to understand.

After about 10 mins of chatting one of them asked if i was married, so i said of course not, One of the guards says so are you gay? the reply was perfect "No Mames" (mexican slang for dont be fucking with me!) it got a laugh and it bought my ticket to freedom! No bribe just a laugh.

The best bit of the ride is after Toluca, I took the free road again south to avoid Mexico City to Tenango just after Tenango on route 55 there is a 3rd class road which turns off to Joquicingo and on to Chalma. This is awesome! full of pot holes, covered in Mud, lots of landslides from the recent rain, and of course twisty mountain road! It curls its way up over Eroded Volcanic formations to these villages which seem to hang onto the side of the cliff. What was strange was a cycle race i met along the way, which was like Tour de France meets Procession of the Sacred Virgin on a Marrion Year. Most of the cyclists had large crosses with images of Christ or Mary projecting about 4 foot off the back of their saddles, and seemed to ride in groups from each of the villages! it was a sight to behold! Eventually the Road decends out of the mountains to a great view over Cuernavaca. So i will stay here for a few days before riding to meet Gary for a tour of Mexico City.

Monday 27 August 2007

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Well Guadalajara was nice, but i took my leave and set off for Morelia. After getting numerous recomendations that this was a beautiful place i was expecting a lot! and I wasnt dissapointed.! This place is a a true colonial gem. There is a real spanish influence in the architecture, and there are lots of fine churches and public buildings!

But my stay in Morelia did not get off to a great start. I had booked a hostel on the internet a few days before. When i arrived the place was shut up and they would not let me in. Talk about crap. They were only catering for families of people in the nearby hospital.! But I had a stroke of luck in running into Santiago, a guy with a moped who happened to be passing by when i was asking for directions.

After a conversation about bikes etc, he offered to show me the way. When the hostel was closed, he called his brother in law who was in the process of opening a hostel! What luck! it wasnt opened yet, but Aldo opened up early especially for me! So have the honor of being the first customer at the Hostel Don Emiliano, in Morelia.

So we had a few drinks where i met Ulises whom I arranged to go riding with the next day to see Patzcuaro, which is a really nice place, surounded by mountains and sitting on a huge lake. It is the main site for the festival of the Dead on 2nd Noviembre each year, which is one of the main celebrations in Mexico.

I tried some of the local icecream, and walked around, viewed the sights and then of course ate, before making way back to morelia where i type this before going out to sample some of the night life!

Wednesday 22 August 2007

El Loco Rojo

So after a few days enjoying the sea and the lovely scenic views suffering from Star Guilt (Paul Brownes diagnosis of the effect of drinking coffee in Starbucks) and of course serenading hotel staff at Puerto Vallarta.. we have now arrived in Guadalajara! class little city.. well little (6 million People) wee bit bigger than Dublin. Spent the day wandering around the downtown area and getting to know the place.
We are crashing with Fernado (Juan Carlos´s brother from Puerto Vallarta) who has very kindly put us up here for a few days. Great to get a local guide and to be able to lock the bikes up in the garage.
From now on I now have a new name, after earning the title of el loco rojo in Vallarta.. so now it is Don Esteban El Loco Rojo! (Esteban the Crazy red) ummmm
Dinner last night was in a restaurant with a Mariachi show.. kind of what i imagine an irish dancing show in Bunratty Castle would be like.. but still it was fun.
But right now i think i will have to find a dirt bike shop. I need some lighter gear! this Rally Pro E BMW suit is just too hot! last week i have taken all the body armour out and am wearing it under a long tshirt, with the trousers and boots. But even the trousers are too hot for this climate. Will have to see if i can find some scramber gear, and an Arai helment! project number 1. Until then .. hasta Luego!

Sunday 19 August 2007

Well, it seems i have checked into the hotel California.. only it is in Mexico now and its called the Hotel Rio. We stopped here last Sunday for a day or two. Paul and Maeve had met the owner Victor in Baja on the way home from the Moto GP at Laguna Seca, so we had an invite to stay for a little while. But it seems that we can check out when ever we want, but we just cant leave. Each day we are leaving, yet 1 week later we are still here. The new tyres for Paul and Meaves bikes arrived yesterday so i am guessing we will finally make a move on moday morning, taking the Route 70 to Guadalajara, with of course the slight detour to tequila.
From here we are planning to see Pascuro, Taxco, Querna Vaca, Oxaca, San Cristobal, Palenque, and then head up into the Yucatan for a few days.
I am waiting to see Paul cross the border in a Naco Libre (wrestling) mask as he keeps saying he will! got to be worth a photo.
Think I am starting to fit in, was asked if i here the other day.. in Spanish .. i was well impressed! Actually answered Si, Por Supuesto! (yes of course)
Havent actually done to much riding for the last few days, bike has been getting its earned rest, but soon it will be time to move on and do some more miles!!

Tuesday 14 August 2007

the bike

by now the bike has done more than 9000 miles and is going great. I still have not used the knoblie Continental TKC80's which I have brought half way across the world. But have changed the rear wheel once, for a Meztler Tourance as the Dunlop was not holding up well in the heat. After that the oil has been changed and that with the new indicator after i crashed in Wyoming is about it.
I did add a few modifications to the bike, the luggage is from the GS Adventure, I changed the air filter for a K&N, Also added were BMW engine bars and a front suspension hard part from Touratech. I may still add a radiator and headlamp protector when i get to the next dealership, but that will be it.
The bike is doing between 48 and 55 miles per gallon fully loaded so fuel economy is good. But i am carrying an extra tank to give a comfort on the range!

10th of August,

Wrote this entry on the Mazatlan Ferry, when we arrived to the ferry the bikes were weighed and made ready. Mine checks in at 310kg without the rider. After riding on the ferry i dont think I will complain about Irish Ferries again. The cabin had two berths, the toilet didnt work, food was woeful, and the stupid jukebox you can here from the other end of the ship! But atleast it is moving in the right direction.
Baja was interesting, It is by far the least populated state in Mexico. Met some interesting characters and saw some strange places. There is only one paved road in the entire state, Mex 1 which runs the length of the Pennensula. Every thing else is dirt which quickly becomes deep sand. There are also a number of military checkpoints, I was only stopped once and then that was becasue they wanted a chat about the bike and how cool it was! i recently added a card of the virgin of guadaloupe the the front of the bike, and that along with the Irish flag really seems to be a passport to the other side!
If you are ever in baja you need to see the road signs! they are really a casue of amusment! bear in mind these are in the middle of a desert, with signs like, "with fog turn on your lights", "with fog slow down", "obey the road signs", "thank you for obeying the road signs", "this road is not for high speed" .. Certainly wasnt ! but best is when this sign is combined with "topes" and "curvo peligroso" dangers curves! but i actually loved driving these twisty roads, which just flow throught the desert, but with the Californias in their big crazy SUV's you need to be awake!!

Thursday 9 August 2007

Baja Mexico, and meeting more riders

So early Sunday morning I said my goodbyes to Ocean Beach and once again set off into the distance. It actually took me two attempts to legally get into Mexico. First time I just drove on through! Que Raro!! Decided this was too easy and I probably needed a visa, so I turned around went back through the US post and went in again. This turned out to be a good idea as i found out I also needed to surrender my US Visa. So on the 2nd attempt stopped and customs and got the visa sorted for me, for the bike you need a different paper, from a different office!
Once directions were obtained I made my way once again to Tijuana and after a brief scurry the wrong way up a one way street, the said office was located! Great Success!! Then came the fun part as they say. God the Mexicans love bureaucracy. So after an hour of fotocopies and stamps and trips back and fourth across the forecourt, oh and giving my opinion on U2 the Cranberries, and explaining that Sophie Elis Bexter is actually English, the permit was obtained and I was ready to rock and roll! I really pity people who have to do this and don’t speak Spanish. The drive along Mex 1 is nice once you leave Tijuana, It actually at first quiet reminded me of parts of Tenerife, there is even a town called Bajamar. The further south you go it gets more desert like, but there are some really great views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. Once one heads inland with the road the landscape is totally barren, just a wide variety of Cactai of all shapes and sizes. At the end of my first day I passed a signpost saying next petrol station 315km’s this was my sign to stop for the night, so I found a nearby B&B. To my surprise Meave and Paul, two other Irish riders also on BMW’s had stayed here 4 days before me.
Decided to try and catch them so the next day rode to Mulege and by 10 am the following morning I had found them at their hotel just south of Loretto! So now we are all in La Paz sitting around for a day or so before catching the ferry to Mexico mainland. But now breakfast calls so more updates later.

San Diego and Surfing

When in LA I started looking for fellow riders on heading south into Mexico. At this time there was no one, but Don Toporski, from San Diego who has been many times contacted me with advice. So I set off for Ocean Beach San Diego. I stayed at the hostel there which was really rather good, with a good mix of people. The journey from LA is only 2 hours, which at this stage is just a Sunday drive. On the first night I ended up chatting with a former british soldier who had served in Northern Ireland, and Aussie over for a University conference. So we had to have some drinks. Ocean Beach is fairly quiet at night but that didn’t stop us getting thrown out of one bar! I guess I should learn to keep my mouth shut. American Bouncers really have no sense of humour.. and certainly don’t get Sarcasm! C’est la vie. The real fun is to be had in the Gas Lamp district, 5th Ave downtown San Diego, where we went on the second night, lots of very dressed up people. So we caught a film (Bourne Ultimatum is really good guys!!) and followed with dinner and a few pubs.
Following morning I had dinner with the local BMW club, nice bunch of guys, but all in their 50’s or so, normal BMW profile. After went through the maps with Dan and got the low down on Baja and the rest of Mexico! Now all set for the great unknown.
While in San Diego I couldnt miss the opportunity to do some surfing , and with some cheap boards available from the Hostel, we grabbed two from the lovely vania and tried our hands at catching some waves! Boy its harder than it looks! worst bit is paddling back out after surfing in. Really develops those upper shoulder muscles! I'd be pretty fit if i did it every day. I did manage to get upright once or twice and stay on the wave, but maybe it was more falling with style than actual surfing! fun none the less. But at least i have now lost the snow man look and have a nice toasty back!


California was a lot of fun. First few days I rested up at the Rectory in La Habra, where I did some reorganisation of the bikes luggage and packed a few pieces off home. Again like in other places met some wonderful people, who were really too kind to me. So after breakfast on my second day I got taken to Knotts Berry Farm Fun Park. Some of those rides were amazing, and considerably faster than the bike. Think my favourite was the freefall from the top of a tower, or another ride called the perilous plunge, which drops almost vertically into a water slide, I got soaked!
My visit also included a visit to Huntington Beach where the US open surf championships were also on. As a side show there was an X games motocross event on the beach. Those guys were class, jumping little motocross scramblers 30 feet up in the air off ramps, somersaulting and then landing again. Didn’t see any falls, but I was waiting for it. Apart from that I spent my time relaxing, chatting with people and making more contacts for the Central American part of my journey.