Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mexico: from the desert to the classroom

Que tal! Hola from beautiful city of Guadalajara Mexico! I’m finally getting around to squeezing out some dialogue to give you salivating readers your fortnightly feeding of our meaty, salsa-infused, barbacoa-esq travels. We’ve been here in GDL a week now, fully immersed in the Mexican life. Atley, Ferg and I are each living with different Mexican host families as organised by our spanish school. None of our families speak English, so every interaction is a baffling game of wits, acting and hand signals. We’ve been going to Spanish school for two weeks now, and it’s been an excellent experience. To be honest, I’ve had so much Spanish swirling through my brain for the last while that it feels weird to get my head back into writing purely in English! Writing this better not make forget the Spanish words! But there’s no time to dilly-dally, so I shall pick up our travel tale where we last left it, in the historic town of Loreto, about half way down the amazing Baja Peninsula.

The roaring sunset over a religious celebration we attended in Loreto
Shade - a luxury that Dual-Sporters rarely find in the Baja.
Loreto was a much-needed 2 day break from the roasting 37 deg days roaring down the molten tarmac ribbon that winds its way through the 1600 kilometres of the Baja Peninsula. It was there we had our first proper night out with NON-english speakers. After resting the day before we had rejuvenated enough to poke around the town, looking for a bustling bar to wet our whistles and critique the locals from afar. Alas, we didn’t have much success finding an open establishment on our own, so we wound-up our Spanglish tongues and got chatting with 2 young Mexican guys who were enjoying some cervezas  on the side of a pedestrian walkway. Amazingly enough we were somehow able to explain to them that 1) we were looking for a bar, 2) yes we’d drink their beer and, 3) yes we’d like to go to a bar with them. It turned into a memorable night; playing pool and consuming enormous tequila shots, and doing our jolly best to communicate in another bloody language! But all in all our first Spanish-only social session went very well, and we were all excited with the fact we didn’t crumple and forget everything we’d learned.

See photo for location.
Emergency support crew in action.
More amazing pacific coast Baja all to ourselves
The road unknown.
As soon as we met Matt The German, he mentioned his adventurous hopes of turning off the main Baja highway and exploring some of the back roads. We didn´t really know what we´d be getting ourselves into by doing this, so whenever we were talking with a local, we asked them about the road quality and whether we should leave the pavement for one of the many un-signed dirt roads that we saw on our maps. This usually ended with them thinking we were awkwardly trying to order a taco from them, before they politely backed away, flinging tacos from their taco buckets, crying what surely meant, “BACK WHITE DEVILS, BACK!” A day or two out of Loreto saw us stopped 1km down one of these dirt roads, a vast, hilly, rocky desert surrounding us, discussing whether or not this really was a good idea. Interestingly enough, our Cactus Level Risk Assessment determined that we were all indeed willing to venture into the unknown, to live the Dual Sporting dream that sparkles in the eye of middle-age men of every race, creed and sexual orientation. So we set off down the dusty track, which soon turned into gravel, then eroded gravel, then sandy dirt, then quite sandy dirt, then into a wide open cropless field of sand and desert grass skirted by a cacti-packed landscape. Surely this wasn´t the way, so we didn´t turn into the field, but went around it, quickly ending up in the pig pen of the last farm of Estero Salada, population 110. The semi-crippled farmer hobbled out and delightedly cackled some words into Atley´s helmet over the Spanish audio tapes he had playing in there, and in a few moments we were back-tracking and turning into the large, open field, meandering towards a sandy track weaving up between 100 foot high sand dunes. Every map we had showed this as a graded road, and it goes through this guys field....? We didn’t flinch, but careened up the steep dune trail, with barely a fall amongst us, to bask in the amazing desert view that demonstrated quite clearly just how isolated we really were. But we saw the ocean 15km in the distance, maybe, and we knew that everything was going to be alright. Evvvvvverything.

This was after ascending the sand dunes, then looking around to see vast amounts of empty desert.
Cowering from the sun at the end of a harrowing day.
The sweet prize at the end of the day.
Chillin Baja style
“Never fear,” one of us cried, “there´s an arrow on a cactus! With some spanish words on it too! This HAS to be the way,” so we set off over the sand, following donkey footprints and using the keen sense of desert navigation our city lives had instilled in us. The track now varied randomly between 1 and 10 inches deep of loose beach sand, causing quite a few unexpected variations in the direction of travel of the bikes, and thus some frustrating tip overs. I stood on the pegs, squeezed the tank with my knees and nodded to the elderly citizens in Fort Mac who’d taught me about motorbikes, and I rode out to the Pacific Ocean. It totally was worth the 4 hours of technical, hot riding, to be presented with an untouched, unpopulated stretch of smashing, relentless, vicious Pacific ocean and the immensity of the distant horizon beyond. I waved to Australia across the water as I peed from the tallest sand dune I could find, and was pleased to be at a beach that reminded me of Squeaky Beach or Waratah Bay during their most venomous surf. We camped about 200m back from the beach, out of the sand blast zone, and had an easy meal of 2 minute noodles offered with a medium quality Mexican tequila.

Moustache guy revelling in some leg shade
Riding sand on heavy loaded-up bikes... awesome!
Who likes desert camping¿ We do!
The Mexican equivalent to Dual Sporting.
The exit route from our remote beach camp was another 4 tiring hours of offroad, sandy travel before we returned to the reasonableness of the paved highway. Soon after we departed in the morning, due to our on-the-fly route selection, we sailed into another back yard of a Mexican family. We discussed route selection in spanglish with the guy there. He offered us all a much appreciated break from the relentless sun, so we tied our steeds up with his donkeys and enjoyed a cool glass of water under his shady entranceway. He told us that the section of trail we were riding made up part of the famous Baja 1000 offroad race and that if we ever returned that we were welcome to stay with him and his family. Baja pescadores are a generous breed.

A perfect time for Ferg to learn about river crossings
We made it!

"I wonder what I am going to have for dinner?"
The very bottom tip of the Baja is where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez violently mix, resulting in a spectacularly-eroded string of cliffs, coves and beaches. When the idea was put forth by a bikini clad French-Canadian gal called Gen that we take a small boat out to the very tip of this peninsula, and snorkel back to town, via the 8 or so isolated beaches, we three nodded in unison. So we stepped out of the hostel swimming pool, finished our beer, grabbed snorkels, goggles and the bottle of tequila and set off on foot through the busy streets of Cabo San Lucas to the marina. Some high speed Spanish from our lovely guide Gen had the deal cut with an eager boat captain, and in moments we were motoring through rows of very expensive boats and yachts, savouring in the blue water, warm sun and amazing landscape. The coast was indeed visually amazing, and after a quick stop to say hello to the sea lions, we were jumping off the bow into the splashing waves of the furthest beach from the town. Truly a wonderful privilege to be in such a location, we celebrated with tequila swigs then headed out beneath the waves to explore the under-sea life. That afternoon was a highlight of the trip, as we casually snorkled and swam round each rocky point, to laze at the next empty, white-sanded and beautiful beach.

Heading out to the southern-most tip of the Baja via Small Boat
Happily stranded in paradise
Yet another facet of Dual Sporting
This is where we waited for the ferry
The ride from Cabo to the ferry port at La Paz was fast and easy, scenic and enjoyable, until we got our first taste of Baja rain. Then it was wet, and visibility went down to 5 metres. Luckily it only lasted half an hour, while we crossed a mountain pass, then we were back riding though damp green Mexican jungle. We stayed in a hotel opposite the ferry terminal that night to facilitate an easy morning following. Our tasks there were to complete the bike importation paperwork and buy ferry tickets, which turned out to be very easy. For a moment Ferg sweat the good sweat when he couldn’t find his registration document, but as per usual it had been "put somewhere safe," and it just took a few minutes to remember where the great new hiding spot was. After that we rolled into the ferry waiting line, read books for 2 hours, then were directed into the guts of a large, multi-level ferry designed to carry a great number of transport trucks between the Baja and mainland Mexico. On board we were thilled to watch one of the bar staff members get dressed up and sing 18 songs in a row on the karaoke machine to 25 or so disinterested truck drivers. The ride was pretty smooth, the scenery interesting (I love boat rides) and the beer cold, so we couldn’t complain. It was about US$120 for each of us with our bikes to travel, and took about 8 hours. Importing the bikes cost about $40 but required a $400 deposit to make sure we remove the bikes from the country and don’t sell them for millions while we’re here.
Goodbye Baja. Next stop: mainland Mexico.
A perfect way to end another day of riding

The post-Baja Adventurers

Once on the mainland Atley departed early the next morning with an eager look on his face, as it was his birthday, and he was riding to The Wendy. We had no such agendas, so hit the slow road and stayed at a nearly-beachside town that night called La Cruz. There I met more excellent Mexicans on which to lavish my fumbling Spanish, and had a jolly night in the hotel bar talking turkey. The following day we decided to veer off the direct course to Guadalajara, and head into the mountains between Mazatlan and Durango. This turned out to be an excellent decision, and took us 4 hours to ride the twistiest 150km of road ever! It was a single lane road, with just a painted line dividing us from the roaring transport trucks that sometimes needed the oncoming lane to make the very tight and steep curves. Overtaking was particularly hairy, and was generally facilitated by the helpful flashing turn signal from the trucks in front to tell us it was clear ahead. There was generally a switchback turn every half kilometre, we averaged about 35 km/hr all up and our brakes got a big workout. There were no guard rails to separate us from the exciting cliff drops back down the mountain, and the views between the trees were of vast areas of heavily-treed mountains and valleys - a seemingly untouched, pristine landscape, since pre-Dual Sporting times when enormous face-eating lizards dominated the lands. It was definitely another moment that was very difficult to capture on on film, but we did our best. That night we stayed at the shabbiest hotel yet, in a small remote mountain town, and appropriately cost us each US$7. We kicked back on the veranda and watched the town wind down for the evening, while sharing a delicious can of warm, soggy Spam, the perfect meal if one were living in a bomb shelter, post-nuclear attack.

A sneak peak from the road side, inland from Mazatlan.

Hilltop village after an amazingly twisty and windy ride.

Our charming $7-a-night hotel
Please don't let me touch the sheets.

The next day we stretched our legs on some fast open curves, a real treat after the ridiculously tight bends and slow riding of the previous day. We passed through Durango but didn’t stop to engage in drug warfare, rather, pushing on to the colonial town of Zacatecas, one of the best towns in Mexico to spend La Dia De Independencia, which randomly, was that day! McDondalds gave us wifi to find a great hostel in town, and the great hostel gave us 15 young people from the world over, on the roof, with guitars, tequila, beers and ready to par-tay. I’ve been meaning for years to celebrate something, so I allowed Mexican Independence day to be this thing. After an hour on the roof with everyone, we shared 4 cabs to make our way to the town centre where a huge fair was under way. I was fascinated to walk through a sea of 1000 or more Mexicans, being the only fair faces in the place and getting many stares. We had several people ask if they could have their photo with us, which I can only imagine was related to Dual Sporting, so I duly taught them the Dual Sport hand wave. We first visited a cobblestone bar that appeared to be connected to a Cathedral, then after, a nightclub, where I was given salsa instruction by the lovely Angie from Monterrey in northern Mexico. Ferg was most excited to have many drinks bought for him by a rich young Mexican dude, then like the chameleon he is, remained perfectly still and thus invisible when the 6000 paso bill arrived. I believe his consumption list included a flaming drink, which would have been a treat to show on this blog, but sadly was not captured by the grooving onlookers.

Scenic roadside turnout, a perfect spot to dump some trash amigo!

The end of the road, although the map said otherwise.
Zacatecas is a Spanish Colonial kinda place
We had the great honour the next morning of having our 15 new friends sit round and watch us pack up our bikes, while they excitedly asked key Dual Sporting questions. We’re fools for not having taken a group photo or video, but it was indeed a lovely note to leave the town on. We rode that day to our current home Guadalajara, and stayed a night at The Tequila Hostel, as arranged by Atley. He had been in town for a couple of days already with The Wendy, and was quickly becoming a local with his creepy Mexican moustache. On the way there we were ravaged without warning by a flash flood from the sky. Rain like I’ve never seen before SMASHED down on us while we were navigating the city streets, taking us from dry to saturated in 20 seconds. Visibility went to 2 metres and it was every man for himself (even though Ferg was following me because he doesn’t have a GPS!). When we got to the hostel, I straightened my arms and at least one litre of water came out of EACH arm. Atley and Wendy joined us at our hostel that night for a great party on the hostel front patio, to again celebrate Mexican Independence day. We had no idea when the actual day was, but Mexico seemed pretty content to celebrate it repeatedly, so the only polite thing to do was follow suit. The name of the hostel was quite fitting, as we were screamed at in Spanish unless we allowed tequila to be poured into our mouths, then forced to dance on the tables. Oh it was horrible. Really. I would much rather be updating a spreadsheet at work. Mwaaahaaaahaahaha. Sorry Paul.

After the calls of "VIVA MEXICO!" died down (a little) and the tequila bottles began to run dry, Atley and The Wendy decided to hoof it back their hostel. Streets were rivers and shoes were damp, but the mood was jolly as The Wendy had cleverly appropriated an icy cold bottle of ale for their homeward journey.

A few blocks down the river saw pretty blue and red lights reflecting onto the buildings beside them.
"¿Que es esto!?" Cried the couple in unison!
"It's us! The jolly ol' Mexican Police force!"
Atley and The Wendy reached out to meet their wonderful new friends.
"Hello new friends! We would love to take you both back to our police station to meet all our other friends! You can even wear these nice bracelets we got you!" Proclaimed Snr. Plod.
"I'm afraid Sir that we simply do not have the time right now."
"That's too bad. Then we would love to have something to remember you by, perhaps 200 pesos?"
"Jolly good! Adios!"
And the happy couple skipped merrily home, pleased with their intact kidneys and lighter wallets.

"And then the bike went BRROOOOMMMM and there was sand EVERYwhere!"
The following morning was understandably blurry and slow. We relaxed by the hostel pool for most of the day, then in an emotional farewell, parted company, and went to meet our respective host families. Atley’s tears reminded me that under the rippling muscles and nerves of steel Dual Sporting bestows on us, we are just regular guys who had an idea to kick the work desk back against the wall and go live our lives before they’re taken away from us by something stupid. His sobs rang out loud and true, and I patted him on the back like Mum used to do to me when I was 5 and James whipped me up the back of the head one too many times. He may have called me Daddy, but I couldn’t be sure, and I daren’t embarrass him by asking.

My bike likes the interior courtyard, but it's a bit of an event riding it through the living room to get it out.
My host mum Teresa and her daughter shelling green tomatoes to make up more delicious salsa for my eggs!
Meeting my host family was awesome. I was pretty sure they told me to ride my motorbike into their living room, so I did, and it looked goood. With zero English spoken, it’s been tough going, but I’m definitely getting better. Having some time away from the travelling life has been greedily lapped up by Atley and I, but I think Ferg is yet to be broken by the Dual Sport demands and can't wait to hit the road. These days we fill our mornings with Spanish class at our school in downtown Guadalajara, and our afternoons and weekends with whatever we want. Today I washed the odorous Baja sweat from my motorcycle clothes after writing a page in Spanish summing up my life (which I mostly copied from a take away menu from the local taco shop). We’ve made quite a few friends already, from fellow Spanish students, to the English teaching students and even with the school staff. It appears that everyone the world over is eager to celebrate Dual Sporting and those who bask in its heavenly glory. Praise hail the gentle yet knowing engineers at Kawasaki whose diligence and competence blessed us with our iron steeds of joy, branded the KLR 650.

And now, an exciting video. Make sure to watch it on full screen, on a computer not a phone, with a full beer, twice.

The song is called La Luz Del Ritmo by Los Fabulosos Cadilacs


  1. Hey Matt, nice blog, like your video a lot. Have fun and ride safe, don't drink too much, its a long way down there!

  2. Hey guys, I'm loving the adventure thus far! Your report is excellent with the combination of commentary, pictures, and video. Keep it up; I can't wait for the next installment!

  3. Its really fun reading your blog always. Desert Safari Dubai is a great place try it once.