Friday, March 28, 2014

Day 4: Descent into Urique

We wake up to frost-covered bikes this morning. A hearty breakfast was served at the lodge, just as amazing as the dinner last night.  Everything’s handmade with local ingredients.

Today we get an early start so that we can make it to Urique while it is still light out deep in the canyon.  We follow a very nice twisty, paved road for many miles until we hit the main overlook for the Copper Canyon. The road seems like a racetrack with its flowing curves and nice pavement, and in fact, Juan tells us he works with a car club that hosts an annual rally race in this area. 

We stop at a train station at the upper rim of the canyon and take in the awesome view. Ivan tells us this is actually a canyon system, where three different canyons meet up. The local kids clamor to take turns sitting on our bikes and look at pictures of themselves. After a lunch break of gorditas, we begin our descent into the heart of the canyon, to the town of Urique, following the “lower road.” 

gorditas cooked over a 50 gallon drum--yum!

The road is unpaved but in decent condition with some rocks and rough sections thrown in.  It crosses the rail line several times along the way.  At one point, there was a bridge out of service, so we had to ride down the river a little ways to connect back to the road.  All the construction workers paused to watch as we crossed the river one by one on our big adventure bikes.  Luckily, this was accomplished without issue.

We visit the Cerochahui Mission Church before making the final, steep descent.  The road is rough with switchback after switchback but offers some amazing views of the canyon and the town below.  We drop about 5,000 feet of elevation in just a short stretch. 

Our GPS elevation profile from the day's ride.  The final descent into Urique drops over 5500 feet in 15 miles!

Urique, that town waaaaaaaaaaaaay down there, is our home for the evening
Brayde making the final descent into the heart of the canyon

At the bottom is the small town of Urique, where we stay for the night. Upon arrival, we’re met by another group of riders at our hotel with similar plans of exploring the canyon. We share some beers and stories, inflate and hand out more balls to the local kids, then settle down to a nice dinner. Some of us with more adventurous palettes also try out the locally made lechugilla, a tequila-like moonshine.

It will be another early morning tomorrow, as we will have a long day of off-pavement riding.  We will double-back on the same road out of the canyon, then make another crossing of the canyon before we head towards the coast.

-Matt & Brayde

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 3: Casas Grandes to San Juanito

Brayde and I woke up early to take a walk around the village of Casas Grandes before breakfast.  All the local children were on their way to school, and it was fun to watch all of them with their backpacks and uniforms.

After a great breakfast of huevos a la Mexicana (Brayde‘s favorite!), fresh fruit, and potatoes, we walk over to the ancient ruins of Paquime for a quick look around.  It is amazing how advanced their culture was with their water storage, architecture, and horticulture.

Today’s ride is one of the longer ones, but the roads are twisty, and the scenery is breathtaking as we wind our way up to the upper Sierras.  Passing cars on the highway and through the towns is reminiscent of our adventures in Italy and the Swiss Alps.  The system is very efficient once you get the hang of it but takes a lot of trust in the other traffic.

Along the way our entire group was stopped by a Policia Municipal.  He, Alfonso, and Juan have a long discussion while the group waits nervously.  It turns out they just wanted to know who we were, why we were riding in such a big group, and where we were headed. 

At one of our rest stops, we are approached by some Tarahumara Indians who are selling candy.  Juan quickly jumps into the support truck and starts inflating balls for the children with an air compressor.  The children were very happy to leave with some new toys to play with.

Lunch in the city of Guerrero was delicious.  A bowl of beef soup was followed by huge platters of chiles rellenos, enchiladas, steak, and guacamole.  For dessert, we were served what had to be the best Mexican apple pie and vanilla ice cream on Earth.

Tonight we stay at the beautiful Noritari Lodge outside of San Juanito on the rim of the Copper Canyon.  Our hostess greets each of us with a hug and a kiss on the cheek before we even have a chance to dismount our motorcycles.  We also meet Ivan, an additional guide who will be with us just for the Copper Canyon section of our tour. Within minutes of meeting him, we can see why MotoDiscovery has incorporated Ivan into the trip: he has a deep level of knowledge about the area and answers every question we can think to throw at him.

Dinner was amazing.  Everything was home cooked by their chef.  I peeked into the kitchen to check out their setup--complete with a woodfire stove--and even managed to get the recipe for a a great, smoky sauce made with olive oil and roasted chilesI’m looking forward to trying my hand at it when we get home. Stories from the day were passed around the table over a bottle of wine, and then we all retired to our cabins for the night.  Tomorrow will be another long day as we begin our descent into one section of the Copper Canyon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 2: Douglas, AZ to Casas Grandes, Mexico

Matt with riding buddies Chris and Kris

We get to know our group a little better over breakfast this morning, then take off for the first step of the trip: crossing the border into Mexico. Luckily for us, Juan and Alfonso are old hands at this process, and after waiting through a couple different lines, we’re all set. Mexico’s less concerned about us entering the country and more that we’ll sell our bikes while we’re here. So, we each have to pay a deposit on a sliding scale, based on the ages of our bikes, which will be refunded when we return to the US. This is tracked by placing a sticker with an RFID tag on our windscreen, which we’ll surrender when we cross the border again at the end of the trip.
putting RFID tags on--they had to either be on the windscreen or easily accessible for our exit in a couple weeks

Today’s ride is pretty tame but gives everyone a good chance to get a feel for the roads and traffic laws. Some lessons we picked up:

  • Juan warned us about all the topes we’d encounter, which are speed bumps in any place where you should probably slow down, like when entering towns, school zones, etc. Some of them are marked, others aren’t; some are tall and mean business, others are just a series of raised pavement markers.
  • Even though the speed limits are posted in km/hr, people seem to interpret them as mph. And much like Europe, you can more or less pass anywhere and folks will accommodate, regardless of road striping and oncoming traffic. This is especially helpful at the topes because the bigger vehicles have to basically come to a stop, but thanks to our bikes’ high ground clearance, we’re good to go.
  • People only use their turn signals to indicate when you should pass them, not to announce their own turning intentions. This could get interesting!
  • Alto (or “stop“) signs are really just a suggestion to maybe slow down and yield. Unless you see a policía SUV nearby. Then come to a stop.

We pull off for lunch in the shade at a roadside quesadilla stand. These particular quesadillas are made out of queso menonito, or “Menonite Cheese.” Turns out this particular region of Mexico has a significant population of Menonites and Mormons, dating back to when both groups were getting pushed out of the US territories for their beliefs and practices.

We come into the town of Casas Grandes to stop for the night, but first we check out a local pottery shop that still carries on the tradition of making pottery in the old Pueblo way.  After we helped make some, we naturally had to buy some.

tradition requires the use of a brush made from a few strands of family members' hair

MotoDiscovery really hit the ball out of the park with tonight’s accommodations in a beautiful hacienda-style inn. We regale our first day riding in Mexico over cold cerveza and tequila, then hop in the back of a pickup and head to a neat house-turned-restaurant for some fine dining. If this is what’s in store of us the rest of the trip, we’re going to come home fat and happy!

riding to dinner the local way: back of a pickup
Belgian-Mexican fusion for dinner--yum!
- Matt & Brayde

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 1: Mexico, here we come!

Today, we arrive in Douglas, Arizona to kick off our adventure through Mexico with our friends at MotoDiscovery. We left home four days ago, picked up a few fellow tour members along the way, stashed our trailer in Tucson, and now here we stand at the historic Gadsden Hotel. It wasn’t hard to find: just look for the place with all the adventure bikes parked out front.

The building is unassuming from the outside, but as you enter the lobby, you can see just how grand this hotel was in its heyday.  Marble staircases and columns are accented by the original Tiffany stained glass ceilings and windows.  This hotel is supposedly haunted, and a thick binder of guests’ accounts of ghost encounters confirm.  Supposedly, Pancho Villa rode up the staircase on his horse back in the day while shooting his guns into the ceiling.  The seventh step of the main staircase has a chip in it that they say came from Villa’s horse.

We meet the rest of our group for beers and a trip briefing. There are 15 of us in total, with 2 tour guides, Juan and Alfonso. We can tell this is a good group and will be a laidback tour down through the Copper Canyon , out to Sea of Cortez, and back up the Baja Peninsula. We’ll be riding roughly 1,500 miles, about 400 of which will be dirt. We can hardly wait to get started!

- Matt & Brayde