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Only for the fact that we decided to hand back our green slips from our passports to US border guards we would have had no reason to stop when crossing the truck route border into Mexico at Nogales. There were gates like you find at a toll plaza but the barriers were up, a little weaving around some obstacles on the other side, a couple of speed bumps and we were on the highway heading for Magdalena. Importing the motorbike and getting our tourist visas was done at the Aduana (customs) building 21km inside Mexico at the side of the road. It might sound odd not to have the import until then but there is a free movement zone up to around 21km inside the Mexican border for foreign vehicles to accommodate people visiting the border towns from the USA. It only took us around 45 minutes to get all of the paperwork done and just before sunset we arrived in Magdalena de Kino. It’s called de Kino because Eusebio Francisco Kino is buried there. He was a Jesuit priest from Italy who established 24 missions throughout the Sonora desert of Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona and he’s a pretty revered guy over here.
We woke up the next day to a new world after spending roughly two months in the US we were both feeling a little culture shock while riding through the streets of Magdalena looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. We stopped at a place on the main square near where Eusebio Kino is buried and during breakfast a man walked over to me and gave me a sticker for the bike, on the sticker was a picture of Eusebio surrounded by the text Magdalena Sonora. The first of many random acts of kindness that we encountered in Mexico.
We hit the road again headed for San Carlos which is situated just north of Guaymas on the west coast. On the way down we passed through Hermosillo where we got our first taste of large city Mexican traffic which isn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. We’ve been in Mexico now for just over two weeks and I can report that motorway and city driving behavior is absolutely no different than you experience in Italy, Greece, Portugal or Spain. Just like in these countries it’s a little more aggressive and emotional but once you’re expecting it, it becomes normal quite quickly.
San Carlos is mostly populated by ex-pats from the US and Canada and we thought it would be a good place to start because it has some nice beaches and most locals speak English giving us the opportunity to have any questions we had answered. When we pulled up to our hotel the first thing we thought was that this looks dodgy but it turned out to be absolutely fine. The staff were friendly and even allowed me to park the bike right up on the porch where the night shift in the office could see it. In hindsight I didn’t really need to do that but as we were fresh in the country I played it safe. By that evening we had already met some of the ex-pat locals, learned some new things about Mexico and been invited to dinner the next day by Richardo, a local resident who retired to San Carlos a couple of years ago from the USA.
Day two in San Carlos was spent hanging out at the beach by the Soggy Peso bar which incidentally is the beach where the movie Catch 22 was filmed. Later in the evening we met Richardo at his house where he cooked a feast and dished out all of his knowledge on Mexico. His neighbor Doug popped over later and we all had a good laugh polishing off a few bottles of wine.
On the way out of town the next day we had stopped at the side of the road to get something from one of the boxes when we had our first police encounter. The police officer waved at us and pulled up behind us to show me his quad bike which he was quite proud of. I think he wanted to show me because we are on a powerful bike by Mexican standards and I therefore must like machines in general. Through the aid of hand signals he told me how the quad can go anywhere up and down the beach and showed me how to put it in 4 wheel drive mode. Nice guy. After I explained through hand signals that I was melting in my motorbike gear and needed to hit the road he shook our hands and we were off. San Carlos definitely delivered, we left feeling pretty well informed about the road ahead.
As we rode further south the population density began to pick up and the landscape started to change. The northern state Sonora is hot and dry very similar to southern Arizona. The place where we were headed is the state of Sinaloa and the city of Los Mochis via Navojoa. As we approached Los Mochis I remember lifting my visor and smelling trees and greenery in the landscape for the first time in weeks. It was a nice change after spending the last few weeks in a desert type climate. The further south you go the more tropical it begins to get too. Los Mochis was just another overnight stop on the way to Mazatlan where we wanted to spend a few nights. When we want to make it to a certain place as quickly as we can we usually take the toll roads. It knocks hours off the same journey taken by free roads and the tolls are reasonable much the same as in France. A lot of people complain about having to pay them but the roads are great, better than highways in the USA, you don’t have to look out for speed bumps, and there are no manhole covers to go missing. Yes that is a thing here, there have been several times I’ve driven past an open manhole on a city road clearing it only by centimetres. I don’t know why but people seem to take manhole covers here and there is no indication that it’s gone until you’re close enough to look down it.
Anyway, after Los Mochis we were riding down the toll road to Mazatlan when we were overtaken by Dave from Australia on his loaded up KLR650. After a couple of kilometres we pulled in for a chat and we ended up riding together for the next 5 days or so. He’s on more or less the same route as us heading south so we’ll probably meet again along the way.
Mazatlan is a tourist port city with a long sandy beach front which rose to prominence in the 60’s and 70’s. During a period in the recent past the cruise ships stopped coming in because Mazatlan had big problems with cartels and violence but that has been cleared up now and the cruise ships have returned. We found a good deal online for a hotel which claimed private beach access and was situation in the golden zone. We found out after we arrived that the golden zone is a densely populated tourist area with its own tourist police force where you have hotels built in the 60’s beside new hotels and several abandoned ones in between. Walking down the street is frustrating because you get hassled by every shop and restaurant owner to part with your Pesos at their establishment and we discovered that beaches in Mexico cannot be private anyone can use them once they do not use private land to gain access. Basically it was a tourist trap. We had booked three nights but couldn’t hack it and canceled the last one to leave early. The biggest reason for choosing to leave was that the Banda music went on all night next to our hotel. Lying there listening to it I kept thinking how it reminded me of the type of music you hear at the Octoberfest although it was definitely Mexican. The next day I looked into it and it turns out that Mazatlan grew industrially thanks to an influx of German immigrants who brought their Bavarian style music with them. Banda is a hybrid of local and Bavarian style music.
On the third day we packed our things, left the hotel, and we stopped for breakfast at a place called the Panama Café. We were talking about what to do next when a guy came in and asked us if that was our bike outside, we said yes and he introduced himself as Glen Heggstad. He said that he has been on several motorbike adventures and once around the world and if we wanted we could stay at his place in town. He gave us his card and left because he had an appointment. We thought it would be good to hear his stories and learn a thing or two so I gave him a call later and we stayed with him that night. Up to now it might sound like Mazatlan is not such a nice place but it’s completely the opposite actually. That day before heading over to Glen’s we rode around the city and the beach front beyond the golden zone. It’s another world and much more pleasant, if you’re going to Mazatlan just avoid the golden zone stay somewhere south of it. Glen turned out to be quite the character and a cool guy. On his first trip to South America from California he was taken hostage in Columbia for around 6 weeks by a rebel group. He got out and instead of coming home continued his trip and then went around the world. If you want to see the story you can because National Geographic made a documentary about his Columbian experience in their Locked Up Abroad series. He’s also written two books from which all proceeds go to charity.
Too much has happened in Mexico so far to fit into one post that’s why I’m splitting it into parts. At the moment we’re in Mexico City and staying with Benito Guerra the Production World Rally Car Champion of 2012. Yes there’s a story behind that and more stories too including bullet proof car factories, Mexican kindness, a biker gang, a tequila distillery, Mexican kindness, butterfly sanctuaries up mountain back roads, and more Mexican kindness.
Part two coming soon.
Happy Christmas from Mexico City