From Costa Rica and beyond

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Baja to the Mainland

Time has been rushing by and with it the miles!  Baja, its heat, and the beautiful blue waters of the Gulf of California now seem rather distant.  I am learning about the fleeting acquaintances of the adventure motorcycling experience.  Ade, who I met near Guerrero Negro, and I were travel partners for just three days.  He and I met Mark, a Brit, between GN and Loreto.  Mark and I traveled to La Paz where we caught the ferry boat to Mazatlan together.  On the ferry we met Mark, Maggie, and Andre - all of them Swiss.  Mark and Maggie live in Australia but have been on the road for six years now.  Andre is making his way to South America on his 1990s Honda African Twin.  As soon as I saw it, I knew he was from Europe.  I don´t think Honda ever sold those here.  Upon arrival in Mazatlan, Mark headed back to the US.  I spent just one day and night with the Swiss crew and just last night I met an American from Massachusetts, Christian.  We´ll be going our own ways today.  It is great to meet these people, learn from their experiences and enjoy their company.

The mainland of Mexico has been great!  Mazatlan was a sweltering hot town, but was much bigger than all the previous Mexican cities I´ve visited so far.  In the early evening as the city cooled, Mazatlan proved to be a vibrant place.  Even on a Monday people were going to markets, stopping to get fruit or tacos from street vendors, or just walking about to see and be seen.  Mark, Maggie, Andre and I stayed in a very inexpensive but quaint hotel complete with air conditioning!  We were allowed to pull our bikes into the lobby for parking.  In the evening, Andre and I went back into town to see what happens at night.  It was rather quiet, which one can either chalk up to the fact that it was Monday or perhaps danger played a role.  The narco organizations are supposedly active in Mazatlan and the police maintain a nearly menacing presence.  Andre and I found a bar and were intrigued by the decor.  Behind the bar, images of the Virgin and baby Jesus.  Just across from the bar hung posters of women, some nude.  We were clearly the outsiders there, but most were pleased to have us there.  The bartender did not hide his disfavor.  We just kept to ourselves though and had a great conversation in German about politics in Mexico, Switzerland, and the US.  Andre asked me the very interesting question of what the difference is between a hillbilly and a redneck.  Hmmmm...  Despite the poverty of Mazatlan, the city was pretty clean and very orderly.  Even the cars were well muffled.

Being some of the very few foreigners in Mazatlan and thus supposedly those with the most money, we became magnets for musicians.  Wherever we sat down, they were soon there.  Most of them were older.  They played instruments from guitars to accordians to tubas.  We just wanted to rest and talk, but we got a good chuckle from one local man who was surrounded by a band that blasted away full tilt.  We´re not sure what he did to deserve that.

The next day, Guadalajara was my destination.  Given the security situation in Mexico, I drove on the toll road, 15D.  What a nice road!  The pavement is in great condition and there is very little traffic.  I soon found out why.  I think my travels that day cost me nearly a peso for every kilometer.  I was speechless at the first toll booth, but what was I to do?  The elevation climb of the 15D was very welcome!  The surroundings became green, then hilly and even mountainous as I approached Tepic.  Best of all, the temperature went down!

I found my destination in Guadalajara without any major snafus.  Lacking a gps device, I simply have to stop and ask once in a while.  What a surprise when I asked someone where the Plaza del Sol was and she responded "Aqui" - Here!  Casimiro Arce (Cacho) is a former Academy student.  He was in my Model UN club and he is the reason I visited Guadalajara.  He put me up with some very nice friends of his.  It was great to see Cacho, but our time visiting was mostly constrained to the evenings as he had papers due.  I explored Guadalajara on my own.  This is perhaps Mexico´s wealthiest city and it shows.  This city of 4 million has a lot to be proud of.  Right now, it´s looking forward to hosting the Panamerican Games.  I took greatest interest in its culture.  I first became acquainted with the murals of Orozco at Dartmouth College.  The library there has an amazing mural that Orozco made in the 1920s (or 30s?).  Orozco was born a couple hours from Guadalajara and spent a lot of time there.  He has prominent murals in the Palacio Gobierno, at the University and in an old hospital.  I saw all three.  The first was the most impressive, depicting a determined Hidalgo rising up in a red background to create Mexico while the forces of despotism and the fools that led them linger and fester in the background.  Chavez Vegas also left a mural in Guadalajara.  It´s in a high school that I visited.  A kind faculty member showed me around this arcaded old building.  I also became a fan of an ex Carmelite convent converted to an art institution not unlike Catamount Arts.  The contrast of the catholic background with some really provocative modern art was electrifying.

Guadalajara also houses and enormous indoor market.  I heard it´s the largest in Mexico.  A plethora of vendors hawk their wares here.  Everything from crafts to tennis shoes (of every imaginable shade and variety) to watches, knick-knacks and butchers ares to be found there.  The scale of Mexico´s poverty and underemployment is also to be registered there.  All these young and old people sitting at stands just like their neighbor´s hoping to sell a few things a day just to get by.  I found it rather depressing, even if the scene was fun and colorful. 

Poverty can also be seen in the men waving towels around town.  These men find spare parking places and announce their presence for drivers, who had better tip them or run the risk of retribution later on.  Hustling was also seen at the intersections.  Cleaning windows, selling newspapers and candies or soda; even performing mime or in a quartet.

My last night in Guadalajara was their equivalent to July 3rd.  There were celebrations to scream in the next day, Mexico´s independence day.  In a reenactment of Mexico´s founding, people cry "Vivo Mexico" repeatedly.  I joined Cacho, Alex, Juan and Natasha that night.  We went to a carnival complete with rides, mariachi music, and churros to snack on.

Alex, Juan, and Natasha gave me a great start the next day with scrambled eggs, pancakes and VT maple syrup, which Cacho had given them earlier.  Awesome!  Then I headed off to...well, I didn´t quite know.  It´s now clear that I will not be going to Mexico City.  I aim to circumvent it.  So I headed southeast and would see how far I get.  No toll roads, though - too expensive.  The drive was beautiful.  I am in highlands that are lush green and highlighted by ancient volcanoes and even by picturesque lakes.  Aside from the scenery, my back tire was on my mind.  It is worn and needs to be replaced.  Please don´t blow on me now! 

It got me to Morelia without a problem.  The first thing I saw of Morelia arriving from the west was a public housing project.  Identical homes/apartments - there must be thousands of living units there!  Then I saw smoke from a plant of some sort.  The smell told me it´s a paper plant. Yuck.  I found a hotel for 150 pesos.  Perfect!  However, when I checked in, I learned it was 150 for three hours.  That explains its propinquity to a ´dance club´.  So, I drove further into the city, crossing a bridge and then arrived in the most beautiful city I´ve encountered here in Mexico.  The old city of Morelia (founded during Philip II´s reign in 1541) is like Quebec City.  Old buildings, beautifully maintained and still lived-in.  Like all such old cities here, it is dominated by a lovely cathedral and a number of other churches, convents, etc.  The only thing it lacks is Quebec´s wall.  It makes up for that with its own aquaduct.  The town was a hive of activity as it was still the national day.  So, I decided this would be a two night stay.  I drove around and around looking for a hotel and finally found one for a surprisingly good price.  I showered quickly and headed out in time to watch the fireworks and the lighting of the cathedral and the other historical buildings at 9pm.  The clubs were thumping with music, the city center park was swaying to mariachi.  All were festive.  It was a lovely evening.

Morelia also has poverty.  The prostitutes near my hotel attest to that.  This city is spic and span clean, though.  Even cigarette butts are rarely seen.  The red light district (where I stayed) has neither red lights nor any sense of danger or dread.

The next day had its ups and downs.  I got the runs and didn´t feel good for much of the day.  However, I did manage to find a bike shop with a new rear tire for my bike.  What luck.  It was the last tire in the last shop and it´s a really good tire, a German made Metzeler, which is recommended on the BMW bikes.  Plus, the guys put it on right away, they let me watch to see how it´s done, and they cleaned my bike so that it shines like it did when I bought it!  In the evening, I went looking for an internet cafe, but instead found a guy riding a KLR.  I ran him down.  Christian is from Mass and needed a place to stay.  We crammed together in my room and divided the room costs.  Anything to save money!

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