Thursday, November 20, 2014

Relaxing Times in Zacatecas and San Miguel de Allende

We woke up early and packed the bikes so we could head to Zacatecas. Hector's family insisted we stay for breakfast before heading out. Rosa Maria, Hector's mother, heated up some tamales for us and made coffee—some of the best tamales we've ever eaten, actually! She also packed us a to-go lunch with more tamales and some fresh fruit in it. After gearing up and saying our goodbyes, we hit up the gas station on the way out of town. There, we were intercepted by Rosa Maria once again as she found us filling up and gave us all of her contact information just in case we had any trouble anywhere. This whole family was unbelievably nice.

Once we hit the road, the clouds started looking ominous. It wasn't exactly warm, but the temperatures were nice. We got lucky and made it to Zacatecas without getting wet. On recommendation from our friend Juan, we found a hotel with indoor parking in the historic downtown. We realized as we checked in that this was our first time at a hotel since our first night on the road, thanks to all of our wonderful friends along the way. 

We spent the afternoon exploring the centro histórico, markets, cathedrals, and other buildings. Zacatecas is an extremely picturesque town, known for its silver mining and deep historical significance. We highly recommend visiting if ever you're in the area.

One thing we've enjoyed as we've moved further south is the decreasing presence of English. When we arrived, we arranged everything in Spanish (those classes have already paid off!), and were proud of ourselves. The next day, at breakfast, we realized we still have a way to go: the server asked our room number, and we answered that we'd like some orange juice. Oops!

That day, we also woke up to rain. Lots of rain. The storms move in quickly, and there was no way around this one. Being from Seattle, we're no strangers to riding in the rain, but the steep cobblestone streets proved to be quite tricky to navigate while making our way back to the autopista. The entire ride to San Miguel de Allende was a wet one. Our gear is waterproof, but it still isn't ideal riding.

When we arrive, we're happy to have a warm house to stay at in San Miguel de Allende, another beautiful colonial style town. Our friend Juan and his family live there, and we have been meaning to visit him for some time. Unfortunately, he was delayed with business in Mexico City, but his gracious wife Grisel still played host to us until he arrived. They were good sports and ever so patient as our conversation partners while we continued to practice Spanish. While our stop in San Miguel de Allende was only supposed to be for one or two days, Juan was delayed yet another day, so we made the choice to stick around and catch up on some work on the bikes and to let all our riding gear air out. 

While in Mexico, we've been trying to train ourselves to just relax and go with the flow. This was a good exercise in that. We spent three nights and two whole days in San Miguel relaxing, exploring the city, and eating really great food. A couple of the highlights were champurrado, a drink made of chocolate and atole (finely ground corn rehydrated), and la bandera, a sequence of lime juice, tequila, and spicy tomato juice—yum, on both accounts! Juan showed up on the last day and showed us some of his favorite restaurants and hang-outs. He also gave us some great advice on things to see during the remainder of our trip through Mexico. 

 The next day we leave for Cholula, Puebla. The weather looks nice, and we've successfully waited out the storms.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Riding Community is a Beautiful Thing

We bid farewell to Alfonso and Maria, then set off for the long haul to Mazatlán, Sinaloa. We were warned that the ride would be straight and boring with lots of tolls. Boy were there tolls! Matt estimates we spent around 500-600 pesos in total, and some toll booths were only a few kilometers apart. The 400-mile trip was broken up with several construction zones, where we watched guys pour steaming tar from milk jugs cut in half and hand shovel hot asphalt from the back of a dump truck. Gives some perspective on how much money and technology has changed construction methods in the US.

Along the way, we stopped for a lunch break in Guasave. While Matt ducked into a corner store for taco fixin's, I sat with the bikes and met a lovely father and baby boy who came up to chat from their house across the street. The guy was incredibly patient and helpful with my rudimentary Spanish, and we "chatted" about motorcycles (he was a fellow rider) and our trip. 

While I was making friends outside, Matt was making friends inside. He emerged with chicharrón, limes and avocados, which we proceeded to wrap in enormous tortillas that Maria sent us off with, called "bed sheet tortillas." To give perspective, one tortilla made four tacos. 

When we were done, Matt asked the little shop if they had a bathroom, and before we knew it, they let us in the back to use their private baño. To sort of say thanks, we gave them our card and stickers… which they brought back out to us to sign, along with free cokes and lollipops! We walked over to the family across the street and gave them the same sticker, and they invited us to join them for dinner. Such sweet people; I hope they weren't disappointed later when they discovered we aren't famous.

As we rode through sunset again (oops!), we were bummed to think about the view we were missing from our friend Glen's spectacular penthouse condo in Mazatlán. We made it shortly thereafter, though, and enjoyed the impressive view nonetheless. Glen has traveled the world on his BMW 650 Dakar and now lives part time in Mazatlán. He generously let us spend the night there with him, and we shared quesadillas and travel stories until the wee hours.

The next morning, after almost convincing Glen to ride with us, we set off for our first short day of riding so far. While planning the trip, Matt figured we could make our goal of Ushuaia in four months by riding about 150 miles per day. We've been putting in long days so far in an effort to bank the miles for future days when we want to have short or no riding. 

This day's ride was scheduled for Mazatlán to Durango, a distance of 165 miles. We wanted to take the free road, known as the "Devil's Backbone," but many locals warned us against it for its narrow lanes, blind corners, and heavy use by semis pulling double trailers. It was hard to resist (and we almost ended up accidentally taking the free road anyway!), but we opted for the toll road and enjoyed wide, new roads through several tunnels and over the tallest bridge in North America, the Baluarte Bridge. The scenery changed from an arid climate with sand and cacti to a temperate one with lush, green forests.

We eventually left the road for gas and lunch in El Salto, which ended up being another fortuitous stop. While we munched down our food stand gorditas, we watched a BMW F800GS pull up and proceed to come over to us. Turns out this 20-something guy rode to Tierra del Fuego himself last year. Small world! As we chatted more, we learned he lived in Durango. Before we knew it, he offered to ride the rest of the way with us and put us up in an empty apartment at his family's house. He kept saying how much the success of his own trip last year was enabled by the generosity of others and this was his opportunity to give back. How could we say no? So, off we went to finish out the ride into Durango on the tail end of the Devil's Backbone, which was nice and twisty through hilly pasture area.

When we arrived at Hector's house, his family graciously invited us to a BBQ and wouldn't take no for an answer. The food was simple and delicious, we participated in a mezcal taste test, and we got more Spanish practice in! Afterward, we walked to Durango's historic city center and took in all the live entertainment local families were enjoying in the plazas on this nice Sunday evening. We both absolutely adore the plaza lifestyle of Mexico, where everyone—young and old—comes out to socialize at the end of the day. It's something we're looking forward to for the next four months.

- Brayde

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Viva Mexico!

Following advice from friends, we took the truck border crossing from Nogales, AZ into Mexico. Things went incredibly quick and smooth… except for the part where we thought we'd missed the immigration office where we needed to buy our vehicle permits. We pulled off at an intersection on the highway and tried to contact our friend Alfonso, whose house we were staying at that night. When that didn't work, we rode across the highway to the airport and tried out our Spanish on some gate guards. While we knew how to ask what we wanted, we had limited skills to understand the answer. We basically heard that we needed to go back across the highway, where we would find a customs station and could ask our question again. Unfortunately, we discovered this station was for going back into the US. After probably breaking a few international laws doing U-turns at a checkpoint, we learned that all of this effort and confusion was for not: we were going the right way all along and just hadn't gotten to the immigration office yet. Back on the highway we went, and sure enough, there was no way we could miss it another 8 miles down the road. The process involved a lot of paperwork and stamps, but was painless, and then we were on our way to our first Mexican destination of the trip: Cócorit, Sonora.

The ride was long and straight, reminiscent of our day across SoCal and Arizona. We put on about 480 kilometers (330 miles) on the way to Cócorit, only stopping for fuel and occasional breaks. At one stop for gas and lunch, we started talking to a man who was hitchhiking his way South to Hermosillo after recently being deported from my hometown of Yakima, Washington. We had a nice talk about the farms and country back in Washington. He had a pretty fascinating story and had lived and worked in many parts of the United States. Small world!

One of our major rules we set for ourselves on this trip was not to ride at night. Unfortunately, we broke this rule on Day One, arriving in Cócorit at Alfonso's house about 45 minutes after dark. Luckily, we knew where we were going and already had a place to stay. No harm done. 

We had a very warm welcome from Alfonso and his wife Maria who took us out to our first dinner in Mexico, one of my favorites: tacos al pastor, from an open air restaurant in Cócorit. What a great way to end an otherwise tiring day. After that long ride, we were pretty worn out and made the decision to stay another day with Alfonso and Maria because we like their company so much, and it gave us a good chance to get acclimatized to Mexico and take care of a few things.

We spent the next day relaxing (Brayde even got in a siesta!), shopping, and helping Alfonso and Maria get their restaurant and bar ready for the night's festivities. We started the day off right with homemade machaca y huevos for breakfast—fresh huevos, in fact, from Alfonso and Maria's chickens. One of the very important things we accomplished was unlocking my U.S. cell phone and buying a Mexican SIM card. Now we have a Mexican phone number to text and call with while we're in the country. Because the phone is unlocked, we should be able to buy new SIM cards in other countries we travel through if we feel we need to have a working phone number.

We had a lot of fun and were glad to have another rest day because the next day's ride would be even longer and more tiring, as we would have to ride 640 kilometers (400 miles) to Mazatlán to stay with our friend Glen.    

- Matt

Thursday, November 6, 2014

And it Begins...

Well the week leading up to our departure was just plain crazy.  Here are some of the highlights:

One week till departure, roof starts leaking, ruins downstairs bathroom door.  Had to fix the roof, and take care of the water damage, as well as replace the door.  Two days later, a huge wind storm blows down our fence.  Two days of pouring concrete and setting posts, and our fence was rebuilt with the help of our friend John. 11:30pm, two nights before departure,  the sewer line backs up into our house, flooding one of the bathrooms and filling all the toilets and bathtub due to a tree root clogging the line.  One early morning and an expensive plumber bill, and that was fixed on Friday.  It was really good that we had started our packing earlier in the week, or else we would have been screwed.  The lesson to be learned here is that we really should have just sold the house and bought a new one when we got back.  It would have been much easier.

After a couple weeks of not sleeping, building fences, and mopping up our bathrooms, we were able to finally get on the road.  It was a somewhat liberating experience taking off and not looking back, but neither of us have had that overwhelming feeling of freedom that should have come.  I think it's going to take a week or two, or maybe a border crossing for it to really hit us.
Cashing in the change jar for $93 in gas money.
 The first four days were long, tiring, and boring.  We rode I-5 all the way down to LA from Seattle in 3 days, then on the fourth day, we rode 500 miles in a strong cross wind along I-10 to Tucson.  Along the way, we have stayed with friends and at a couple hotels.  The stays with friends have really been the best.  Nice conversations over a hot meal every night with good people.  In Sacramento, we stayed with friends Kelly and Steve; in LA, Nikolas and Jessica; and, in Tucson, our friend Josh.  They really helped us make the most out of an otherwise long and boring stretch of freeway.


With over 1600 miles already behind us, we decided to stay an extra day in Tucson.  There was a hurricane that was supposed to hit Mexico around Mazatlan, and by delaying, we were able to watch it fizzle out before landfall and become a non-event.  At the same time, we were able to sleep in, pick up some last minute necessities, get a hair cut, and ride into Nogales for a nice early start across the border the next day.  After 4 long days on the bikes we were both pretty relieved to have a "rest day" before crossing into Mexico.

After changing both of Brayde's tires in the hotel parking lot, eating dinner, and doing laundry in the bathroom sink, we're exhausted and will get some much needed rest before our first border crossing of the trip.  All our paperwork is ready, and we have a plan, so wish us luck!