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We’re in San Cristobal de Las Casas at the moment and have been for the past three days. Basically we’ve both come down with one of those colds that borders on a flu maybe it is a flu we don’t know anyway we’ve taken a few days off to recuperate.We hope to hit the road again tomorrow but in the meantime it’s time to catch up on the blog.
After Mazatlan we continued south along the 15D to Tepic where we spent the night and moved on the next morning to make a stop a town called Tequila. Yes it’s where the drink comes from. We took part in a tour of the Jose Cuervo distillery which has been pumping out Tequila since 1797. We were able to see the whole process from the chopping up of the Agave plants right through to the tasting room at the end. Along the way we were offered countless Tequila samples and lectured on the different types of Tequila produced by Jose Cuervo. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the visit other than that. It must have been an information overload from our tour guide that caused my memory to go hazy.
Next stop Guadalajara which is Mexico’s second city after the capital. We arrived right in the middle of rush hour, the bike began to overheat because we weren’t moving fast enough and the air temperature was hot. We had to pull over and take a break which was fine because we were able to sit by and watch the rush hour madness unfold in front of us, it was like being at a circus. I think I mentioned in the previous post that Mexican drivers aren’t as bad as I’d expected. Well I’ve since found out that you don’t need to do a driving test in Mexico or take lessons for that matter. You just go to the driving license issuing place pay some money and you get one. When you take that into account then the Mexican drivers don’t do too badly for themselves all considered. That night in the hostel was spent researching where I could get a fuel filter for bike. Out of complete forgetfulness I had failed to change it up to that point and now we were in Mexico looking for a KTM original part. I noticed that the bike seemed to be lacking in power and when I revved the engine above 6000 the rev limiter would kick in and drop back down to 4000. After a little research I found out these are the symptoms of a blocked fuel filter on this bike.
As neither of us are good at Spanish I wasn’t looking forward to calling around to the KTM dealers in Mexico and trying to explain what I needed. But I was forgetting that when you’re on the road and you have a problem someone always appears out of nowhere to help. We walked out of the hostel the next morning to find a place to eat breakfast. Just around the corner we found a small kitchen set up in a garage with a roller shutter on the front. It looked nice so we browsed the menu hanging from the ceiling. A man who seemed to work there asked in Spanish what we would like to which I replied with a linguistic face plant. This keeps happening to me, when someone speaks to me in Spanish my brain switches to “speak that other language you know mode” which is German. So I end up starting my reply in German, realise I’ve said something in German, panic and add in an English word, overcompensate and try to go back to the beginning but blurt out an Irish word or Portuguese word instead. then accepted that I have made a fool of myself and hang my head in shame. Luckily this guy also spoke English so we ordered and had a nice cheap breakfast. During breakfast we continued to talk with the guy we had ordered from. It turned out that his wife runs the place and he was just hanging out there that day because he was on holidays from work. Eugenio is his name. he is also a biker and was really interested in our trip. Once I told him about my fuel filter problem he insisted that he should ring around the KTM dealers for me and help me find the part. We spent the next hour or so doing that and eventually found one at KTM in Monterrey in northern Mexico. The trouble was that Monterrey was much too far away to drive to so we worked out a deal that I bought it over the phone and they would send it to Eugenio in Guadalajara. Once it arrived at his place he would email me and I would give him an address to send it to where I knew that I would be in a few days. It meant we could continue towards Mexico City and didn’t have to wait around for the filter to arrive. It was great that we met Eugenio that day he was a great help and he even offered us a place to stay but we declined as we wanted to visit the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary near Ciudad Hidalgo and make it to Mexico City before Christmas.
Leaving Guadalajara we entered the Mexican state of Michoacan which is supposed to be one of the most dangerous areas in Mexico at the moment for cartel activity. To be honest we only learned this after we had driven through Michoacan. We never felt in danger at any point and the locals were just as friendly as everywhere else we had visited so far. Our first stop in Michoacan was the city of Morelia which is a beautiful city architecturally speaking. Walking around Morelia was like walking around a city in the south of France or northern Spain very different to the towns and cities we had visited up to now on our way down the coast. We were still traveling with Dave who we had met outside Los Mochis, we found a nice little hotel in the city centre where we were able to park our bikes in an internal courtyard area right outside the room. The next day was spent exploring a little of Morelia before moving onto Ciudad Hidalgo which is about a two hour ride away. Dave left after Morelia because he wanted to make it to Mexico City in time to meet a friend of his.
Ciudad Hidalgo is a much smaller city, when we arrived we stopped at a small open front chicken restaurant for some food and the owner began a conversation with us because the bike was parked outside so he started asking about the trip. His English was perfect as he had lived abroad so we learned a lot about Ciudad Hidalgo from him. Most interesting was that the federal police had come in and arrested the entire local police force for corruption about three months previously and replaced them with new recruits he also advised us not to go riding around after eleven in the evening. I could relate to that because there are parts of Dublin I would never ride a motorbike around after eleven in the evening either.
The next day we headed off towards the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary in the mountains about a forty minute ride through country roads and small villages. As we started winding up the mountains towards the first town a number of motorbikes passed us and waved or gave thumbs up. One guy was really enthusiastic and rode beside us for a while before accelerating off ahead into the distance. When we reached the next town a couple kilometres later he was there at the side of the road with his biker gang waving at us to stop so we did. We were quickly introduced to the Jockers Motorcycle Club and they swarmed around the bike with great interest. They were riding all sorts of machines from scooters to motorbikes but most importantly they had the spirit and the camaraderie down to a tee. We spoke for a few minutes, took some pictures and were then given an escort to the other side of town by the Jockers.
A while later we arrived at the sanctuary. The reason why this butterfly sanctuary was worth the visit is because it’s a unique spectacle. Every year the monarch butterflies migrate south from the US and Canada to avoid the winter months. Nobody knew where they went until local people informed the academics that there are small areas of the forest up in the mountains where hundreds of thousands maybe millions of these butterflies are all clumped together hanging from the trees. The last stretch has to be done on foot but as the elevation is 3000M it’s pretty tough on the unclimatised body so locals offer rides up on horseback for six dollars each way. Not bad when you take into account that the route up takes half an hour and the trail is much more scenic than the walking route. So we heard from a guy who had just walked back down after riding the horse up. So we took the horse option. It seems like a normal forest until you’re right up at the end of the trail and you can see this area roughly 70M by 70M where for some unknown reason countless numbers of Monarch Butterflies have flown thousands of miles to clump together on the branches of these trees. Due to previous visitor’s stupidity there is now an exclusion zone set up so you can’t walk right up underneath them. You have you stand about 50m back. It was definitely worth the visit but it is way off the beaten tourist trail.
We rode back down the mountain and pushed on to reach Toluca to stay the night there, it was a hard and tiring ride with a lot of curves and unmarked speed bumps. There seems to be no regulation out in the country side when it comes to speed bumps. Local people just build their own ones where ever they want. Anyway we stayed in Toluca that night but the trip down the mountain the previous day had brought a problem with the bike to my attention which I needed to get sorted out. Basically the back brake stopped working. I found out from a little internet research that the brake fluid had become too hot and was not providing pressure anymore. Solution: have the brake fluid replaced with DOT 5.1 fluid. I looked for a KTM dealer and luckily enough there was one in Toluca. We couldn’t have asked for better service. Without any appointment the bike was taken in immediately. We were allowed to go into the workshop to watch and the staff were extremely helpful. A man came over and started talking to us in German we were speaking for around 20 minutes before I found out he is one of the owners. While the service was going on he brought us to the canteen and bought us lunch but more interesting than the lunch was what we saw on the way to the canteen. The KTM dealership is joined to a BMW car and motorbike dealership so there were large warehouses behind the garage which we had to walk past on the way to the canteen. Carlos showed us inside them where they refit cars to be bullet proof!! First we saw the show room where there are cars riddled with bullet holes and then we saw the production line where we were not allowed to take pictures. We learned a good bit about bullet proof cars that day and if I remember correctly Angela Merkel’s car was fitted out there. How much does it cost to have your car bullet proofed? Double the sales price.
When the work was finished on the bike we got a price that Michael O’Leary would be proud of, too low to be mentioned on the internet. Our stop at KTM was even more fruitful than I’ve already mentioned because just as we arrived two customers from the shop Benito and Manuel noticed the bike and we began talking. This led to us being offered a place to stay in Mexico City with Benito for a few days which was great as we thought we would end up in a hotel that night. We swapped numbers and he gave me his address to go to later when the service was over.
We rode to Mexico City unintentionally through some small back roads, sometimes I feel like throwing the Garmin into a volcano. We eventually arrived, met Benny and were given the good news that he had arranged for us to have Christmas dinner with his family on the 24th which we weren’t expecting at all. That evening a group of us went out to dinner and we discovered that Benny (Benito Guerra) is actually a Production World Rally Car Champion in the WRC. He won in 2012 with Mitsubishi and is the first Mexican to win an international motorsport title. Super nice down to earth guy. On the 23rd Franziska and I explored the Anthropology Museum and some sights around Mexico City. On the 24th we visited the ruins of Teotihuacan north east of Mexico City. Basically Teotihuacan is the centre of an ancient city, nobody knows exactly who built it, when it was built, or where its inhabitants went to. All they know is that it was already there and long abandoned when the Aztecs arrived to the area, a very mysterious place altogether.
After our visit to Teotihuacan we went back to Benny’s place and got ourselves ready for dinner. Before went to his parents he asked if we wanted to join them to attend Christmas Mass where his girlfriend sings in the choir. We said why not and I was given the keys to his girlfriend’s car to follow him in to the church. As we got into the cars he said while smiling, “try to keep up”. Kind of a surreal experience to be bombing through Mexico City traffic on Christmas Eve following a world rally champion. At the church we sat upstairs with the choir and had an overview of all of the parishioners. The funny thing about was that even though I couldn’t understand any of the Spanish being spoken I still knew what was going on and at what stage the mass was at just from the tone and rhythm of the priest’s voice. I was able to turn to Franziska and say things like here comes the bit where everyone shakes hands with each other.
After the church we were dropped over to Benny’s parents place where we had dinner with his family while he went to his girlfriend Alex’s house. Everybody was extremely welcoming, we learned a lot about Mexican life and history from them, they all had great English and there was Turkey for dinner! What else could we ask for:)
That’s all for now. In part three: We head towards the coast for New Years, more fuel filter fun, busted o-rings, riding through high altitude mountain roads at night, more ruins, meeting more interesting people and more.