Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Oaxaca Edition

G’day from the lip of the Chiapas jungle, the cusp of the Pacific Ocean, the depths of Gulfo de Tehuantepec and the guest bedroom of American ex-pat Carlos Magnon, dual sporting enthusiast, world traveller and host to us for the last 3 days! Once again I begin the task of documenting the latest chapter of our adventure and exploration of Southern Mexico, this time from the mountains of Taxco to the tiny beachside town of Puerto Arista. The region held our attention easily, from the outstanding motorcycling roads snaking through the endless mountain ranges, to the smoking volcanoes of Puebla, the ever-changing Pacific coastline and the delightful historic towns we found ourselves in, to source the beloved taco. So with that, I urge you to kick back in your favourite old chair, light up the pipe, and savour the leathery oaken textures of The Matt, Atley and Ferg Show: Oaxaca Edition.

Newsflash! Geeky guy gets paler and geekier!

There's nothing sweeter than parking your motorbike inside the foyer or dining area of a hotel or hostel.

The week in Taxco was enjoyable and relaxed, but we were all eager to mount our magnificent mules and continue the trek once my wrist was up for biking. Previously, the idea of going to Mexico City had been discussed, amongst ourselves and many different people, and we eventually decided against it. Surely it would be too big, too busy and too dangerous for Dual Sporting. But when the Manager of our Taxco hotel discussed route options with us, he was horrified to hear we were within 2 hours of the nation’s capital city and were not planning on visiting it. We valued the opinion of this man, so we took his suggestion on board and headed into the heart of the city, with 22 million other people! It took only 10 minutes of traffic hell before we were cursing the name of that man, and frowning at the over-populated mayhem that squirmed before us. 3 sweaty hours later we were immersed in the insanity of downtown Mexico City, doing our best to stay calm, and headed to our safe point, McDonalds. Not even pausing for a McChicken, we grasped for the free wifi to figure out where the hostel was, so we could get the hell out of the pandemonium. Rivalling the poor experience we had at the crack-house hostel in Salt Lake City, The Downtown Beds Hostel should be avoided like the plague. It is some kind of soulless pet project, running off the side of a brand new high class hotel, and funnily enough was recommended to us by the SAME misguided man who recommended Mexico City. Every entrance or departure from the hostel involved an awkward 50 meter walk through an open air 5 star restaurant, for the snooty guest to glare and frown at our filthy selves, and for the suspicious army of staff members to hastily radio one another to double check our validity to exist. Finding parking in the midst of manic metropolis was no easy task, and in the end, checking into that hostel took 2 painful hours, and left our wits ground down to a blubbery, heaving pulp. Thus it was no surprise that we fell back to our university training and soothed our sizzling brains with the sweet comfort of cheap tequila. An hour later we were new men, and gladly strut out to gather dinner and inspect the district. Sidenote: Mexico City is referred to as DF by everyone here, which stands for District Federal.

Mexico City has a church.

Ferg lights up a tastey smoke at the end of a huge root.

The underwater photographs have been banned from publication on this site.

Alas I did not get the same safe and happy vibe that New York and Tokyo both gave me, and we were quickly back in our hostel, wondering why on earth we’d come this way. But we at least needed to have a little look around, so the next day we set off in tourist mode, walking around the centre, then catching the subway to DF’s equivalent of Central Park, Parque de Chapultepec. There we found the free zoo and acres of empty parkland for us to graze and mew in, to forget about the jostling sidewalks, the swerving cars, the screaming locals and the sullen gorillas sitting sadly at the zoo.

Sweet mountain cut roads lead to sweeter natural springs
Girl eats corn.

Feeling choked and uncomfortable in the city, we made our exit the next day and narrowly survived the 3 hours of high intensity riding, swerving, braking and finger raising that was required to reach the outskirts of the city. Luckily we were recharged with an extended session of majestic mountain roads, but this time dotted with good old gum trees (the euycaliptus tree, native to Australia)! With some surprisingly Australian looking sun-burnt farmland scenes around us, we carried on until stopped by the thrilling image of a smoking, snow-covered volcano on the horizon. We considered changing our route to see if we could find any bubbling lava, but decided to push on to Puebla as planned.

We were offered expensive, crappy campsites with no view. Instead we went and camped by that river for free.

Outdoors Guy spies volcanic activity!

Keen to see what the volcanoes were all about, we did some research and found that another volcano was easily accessible and climbable from Puebla: La Malinche! After buying some supplies we spent 4 confused yet happy hours travelling thirty eight kilometres through dusty small towns to locate the campground at the foot of the volcano. We intentionally spent the night there, sleeping at 3100 meters above sea level, to acclimatize ourselves to the thinner air. 8am the following day saw us panting foggy breaths into the 2 deg C morning as we fell into step for the day’s ascent to the 4500 meter peak of the currently inactive volcano. Atley’s proud history of Zero Exercise Ever didn’t do him very well at that point, and his poodle-like panting, hip-clicking limping and haggard-face-of-deathening was a grave reminder to Ferg and I that computer programming is indeed the number one cause of heart disease on Mexican volcanoes. But he’s not just made of gangly limbs, excessive body hair and a complete lack of aerobic fitness, he’s got game and heart and wanted the summit, so we shared his gear out amongst us, and the three of us slowly but surely climbed above the clouds to the stand-alone peak, to bask in a humbling 360 degree view of surrounding Mexico. We were not alone on the peak, but shared it with a constantly changing crew of sweaty, panting locals who were taking part in a RUNNING RACE up the mountain that day. All up it took us 5 hours to ascend and 3 hours to descend the peak, the highest point on land any of us have stood and it’s a memory of accomplishment that we’ll all keep with us for many years.

Outdoors Guy feels cold.

Outdoors Guy poses with Posing Guy.

La Malinche

Snot that steep.

Gasping for breath at 4500 meters.

The view from the top, into Mordor.

A couple more pleasant days of motorbike travel took us south to the history-packed city of Oaxaca, pronounced wah-ha-kah. We stowed the mules in a parking garage and checked into a highly recommended hostel called Casa Angel. Once settled in we were promptly invited to a Oaxaca Film Festival function, to sample free servings of the liquor local to that area: mezcal. A cousin to tequila, mezcal is also made from the agave plant, a pointy looking cactus grown here in Mexico. Initially we weren’t quite sure how we felt about it, so like the good researchers we are, continued to sample it long into the night, luckily with a constantly increasing number of friends with whom to discuss our findings! By the end, to thank the town, we performed a hectic yet graceful dance sequence that was observed by 4 or 5 pleased looking Mexicans.

Some of our friends on the rooftop at the Oaxaca hostel. Aaaaaaand a guy in a Toga.

I would like to say the next day was different, but the film festival was a week-long dealio, so we again mingled with film makers and film critics, for more delightful film showings accompanied by mezcal. Late on this second night was when we met Lizzee and Teegs, and we formed the excellent plan to have our mules haul us to Hierve Del Agua the next day, a natural spring, somewhere in the mountains. Ever true to our word, we all saddled up the next day, with Charlie from Adelaide filling the one vacant seat, and we took the delighted girls down the highway, up and over a gravelly mountain, and to a wonderful set of natural rock pools on the edge of a cliff. For me it was an awesome reminder of how privileged we are to be freely exploring these new lands, on motorbikes, at our own pace, in our own way, living our own dream as we write it each day. To celebrate that realisation, we went to the final film festival party, for a few more films, a little mezcal and a couple of tacos on the way.

Teegs and Lizzee Dual Sporting!


Mexican road trips are awesome!

All up we hung out in Oaxaca for an easy week, while we waited for some spare parts to come to the Kawasaki dealer there. We had a fine time in that city, wandering around the churches, cathedrals, squares, galleries and cobblestone streets.  In between all that we were entertained by the film festival, our many new friends from all over the world who we were staying with us at the hostel, and initiated the first weekly rooftop toga party at Casa Angel.

The new hog.

Follow me this way, to paradise!
But we are men of the road now, and regardless of the delights in Oaxaca, the highway’s sturdy, beckoning voice summoned us to continue revelling in the jaw-dropping mountain passes, heart-tickling high speed corners and bug-filled gusts of fresh Mexican air that whistled and thwacked into our various ventilation holes. So onwards we marched, south, dropping in elevation, back into humidity and salty sea breezes, to the Pacific Ocean that never fails to remind us of home. Puerto Angel was where we ended up, in an empty, expansive hotel, run by a lovely old senora who hugged us when we left 2 days later. We dined on fresh fish and shrimp, snorkled around pretty little beaches and were taken out to sea on a cheap boat tour in search of turtles and dolphins to hassle.

Stiiilllll on holidays....

Cool waves.

Cool dude.

Cool hotel lady.

From Puerto Angel we had 2 days of yet more amazing coastal motorbiking roads, surely delivered to us by the Gods of Kawasaki and the spirit of Naomi, Alberto, Rene and yes, even that pampered Scottish guy from Trainspotting. In some long forgotten conversation with someone over his Mexico map, Atley had circled a beachside town called Puerta Arista. With no more information than this, we rolled down the road toward that particular beach, passing some old guy on a Honda Shadow motorbike. Once in the tiny town, we were just about to pick which hotel to stop at, when the old guy pulled up beside me.
“You know where y’all goin’?” he yelled from bike to bike.
“No idea,” I yelled back.
“Well follow me then.”
“Where to?”
“My house!” And with that, Carlos from Lousianna opened his throttle, and took us 100 meters further, then down a short sandy road, and pulled up beside his sprawling jungle home. A dual sporter since the 50s, Carlos, now 71, has been retired since he was 40, travelling the world by boat, motorbike and camper, until settling down in what he calls the greatest place in the world, Puerta Arista. 2 beers later we had an invitation to set up tents in the garden and stay for as long as we wanted. While here we’ve dined at beach side restaurants, slept in hammocks, lazed by the pool, eaten fresh fruit and heard more stories from Carlos’s life than had we been at sea ourselves. Travelling is a privilege and a pleasure, and his hospitality exemplifies this perfectly. We’ve spent hours discussing our next few weeks of travel, and drawing on Carlos’s extensive travels through the area, have come up with a path that skirts the Guatemalan border on the Mexican side, and into the last undisturbed portions of this country.

Carlos teaches his guests how to party.

Our tents in Carlos's yard.

Our taxi ride back from lunch.

Found some more cracking, and some more Mexicans to fix it.

Annoying photos of food # 43. This plate of 4 delicious tacos cost 12 pesos (USD/AUD $1)

So with that, we say HABLAMOS LUEGO AMIGOS! Buen suerte!

Watch in full screen!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

School's out for Summer!!

Hello from Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, the city that dates back to the late 1400s and just hosted an eXtreme downhill mountain bike race through its tiny, steep, cobblestone streets! To see the race click here: . We apologise for the lengthy interim since our last post, but learning Spanish and hanging out in Guadalajara didn’t really create a huge amount of publishable stories and video. Since leaving GDL we have spent a week at the beach, and a week on the road, and already there’s enough material worth posting, so I shall take off from where we left it last, in GDL, with school books in one hand and dripping tacos in the other.


Side note: We really do eat tacos every day. Sometimes twice or thrice.

School books, back packs, homework and tequila.
Refer to previous photo.
Being back in the classroom started out as an exciting opportunity to learn invaluable language skills, but for me, eventually turned into déjà vu of university thermodynamics lectures, filled with baffling statements and strange theories taught at a relentless and exhausting pace.... except in Spanish! But it wasn’t all bad, and after battling on with our homework and classes, we all believe we got the most we could from the experience. How I feel about my Spanish skills now varies on a conversation to conversation basis. Sometimes I feel understood, and sometimes I feel that sinking feeling of confusion and near-understanding, that’s signified with a smile and shrug of the shoulders by someone in the conversation, and their slowly backing away. But this is to be expected, a language is not something learned hastily, so we carry on learning every day through many different means..... I can order every kind of taco on most menus!

Atley's Mexican parents
What the language school also gave us was the chance to make friends, and that we did. We all had a host-family each, other housemates at those families, our classmates and even befriended some members of the school staff. From these groups we all found individuals who liked the cut of our jive and took us under their Mexican wings to gave us the locals tour, which in my books, is the best there is.

Bernardo, National champion 1978 and still wearing the same pants.
Who wants donuts.

Ferg accepted the invitation from his host Dad to go to the Mexican rodeo, called Chariado. Staged in a small indoor amphitheatre, various horse and bull roping events take place before a heavily-moustachioed, all-Mexican crowd, eagerly anticipating the release of the next beast. It wasn’t until Ferg’s host dad’s arrival into the arena was announced over the loud speaker that he learned that his host dad was not just another crazed fanatic, living and breathing the Chariado, but a 5 time State and one time National champion! In the arena, style is worth just as much as roping a beast to the ground, so the lavishly dressed cowboys work the crowd with ease. A pleased crowd are happy to throw hats, shoes, boots, glasses, scarves, wallets, purses and even the child sitting next to them, onto the arena, in order to have their Chariado hero reward them with a smile.

Looking for that elusive rattle...
I just wrote a 21 line paragraph about how I bought a guitar in Guadalajara, but it was rather boring, so I quickly deleted it and will just say this: I bought a guitar for $30. It’s now strapped to the top of my bike luggage when we travel. Every day gets closer to the point where either rain, sun, fire or drunken Dual Sporters will destroy it.

Field trips in Guadalajara
There are far too many Guadalajarians to thank, so I will leave it at this: our time in Guadalajara was one that we’ll remember forever and were privileged to have. We all feel very welcome to return there again, to seek out our many friends there, and will one day. Muchas gracias amigos!

Ferg's bike on departure day in Guadalajara.
Just another big headed Mexican...

There’s nothing more exciting than being on a motorbike trip in a remote part of another country, like the Baja Peninsula, until someone says, “Hey Ferg, there’s oil dripping out of your engine.” Then you get that fearful rushing thought, “Which bit’s the engine?” Luckily we know the mechanic stuff, and put a big bit of tape over it until we could get it to a Mexican mechanic in Guadalajara. But it’s strange how time flies, and suddenly it was a few days until we were due to leave the city, and the mechanic guy was just getting started! Ever the optimist, Ferg was confident in the word of his Mexican, and strutted boldly up to the workshop to collect the bike on the morning we were due to leave, to find it closed. When he went to next day, the bike was still in pieces, awaiting the go-ahead to replace valve stem seals and machine valve seats. With the go-ahead given, we sat back to enjoy some school-free days in Guadalajara, only for me to get sick! Perfect timing. Someone or thing did not want us to leave GDL in a hurry, and with a variety of social engagements to fill our non-sick and not-waiting-on-motorbikes-anymore moments, it was a week before we rolled out of the city.

See sign.
On walkabout on the streets of Sayulita

Aerated 'stache 

In the mean time Atley was waiting on neither motorbike nor illness, but rather was BEING waited for by his girlfriend, The Wendy, in the wrinkly town of Puerto Vallarta. He spent the week with her there, then we all met up in the small beachside town of Sayulita. There we stayed at another great hostel, only to randomly bump into our Aussie friend Lewis, who we’d been in Spanish school with a few weeks earlier. He slotted into our crew nicely and we spent some fun days having a relaxing beachside holiday, a well deserved break from our hectic social and language-learning schedule in Guadalajara.

Taco time in Sayulita! Hi Phil!
Sayulita beaches
But there’s only so much fun you can have in one beachside town, so we moved 100km south to Puerto Vallarta, a bigger beachside town. This is where The Wendy is currently volunteering for 6 months as an Occupational Therapist, a clever ploy to gain access to her boyfriend during his 12 month motorbike trip. Atley stayed with her in her small apartment, with her cross-dressing landlord, and Lewis, Ferg and I checked into a quiet hostel, away from the tourist crowds, on the edge of town near the jungle covered hills. There we managed to have a series of exciting days and nights out, which successfully lightened our wallets, further blocked our arteries and left taco-meat-like stains on our livers.

The beast conquering the climbing wall at the hostel
Mexican support crew
One of the things Wendy had planned for us while we were there was to attend her landlord’s place of work, a gay and lesbian resort hotel, where he and two other “blokes” perform a drag queen show every Wednesday. When Lewis, Ferg and I arrived, Atley and Wendy were already well lubed up (with beer) and having a wonderful time. They thought it was even better when they saw my sour, awkward face as I battled to avoid various looks and glances being shot at me from overly friendly men in the audience. I just couldn’t seem to get into the spirit of things, and found the whole thing quite awkward. Luckily Ferg wasn't feeling the same, because as soon as the host on stage requested some volunteers, everyone pointed at him, and he was thrust on stage to take part in a mock Spanish lesson with gay words. He did very well, and was a crowd favourite in no time, winning the most applause, and thus a free shot of tequila to loosen him up. Later on when the host requested audience members show off their “sexiest tattoo,” he was quick to get up and show the large phoenix on his side, to the boozy crowd. He had the tough competition of two middle aged ladies showing their pale upper thighs to a crowd of overly excited men. There was never any doubt that the white male flesh wouldn't bring home the bacon, and more tequila went in his mouth, leaving him wondering why he didn’t spend more time on stage at drag nights. After the show, Ivan, Wendy’s landlord, was pleased to show us his home made foam accessories to womanise his body, but much to his consternation I politely turned down the offer to touch.

At the Gay bar, gay bar, gay bar......
Mojito production line  
Mexican Pacific coast. Get it up ya.

Travelling down the Pacific coast from Puerto Vallarta was terrifically scenic. The twisty coast road passes endless beaches, coves, islands, rock formations, taco stands and staring locals. We stopped at a lovely beach on the first afternoon with intentions to briefly rest, but after chatting with locals, were invited to sleep under a huge grass hut that was in the process of being turned into a restaurant. I spent my first night sleeping in my hammock, and loved waking up to the crashing ocean 50 meters away. We rode the coast all the next day, then again pitched our tents on the beach, until we were awakened at 4am by an excited local who wanted to show us the huge sea turtle laying eggs right near Atley’s tent. In a sleepy haze I turned on my head lamp, but it scared the turtle into aborting the birthing scene, and it began crawling back towards the ocean. The local guy wasn’t happy with this, so after plopping the turtle back in its intended birthing arena with no success multiple times, he hoisted the flapping beast over his head and ran off down the beach with it, never to be seen again. Had The Marks not confirmed all this actually happening, I would have thought it all another sweaty Mexican dream.

Hammocking by the ocean


Leaving the beautiful Pacific coast of central Mexico and heading inland is now officially inscribed in our Book of Good Ideas, and presented us with yet more Quality Motorbiking Moments, proudly brought to you by Kawasaki. We speak often of our endless search for more twisty and windy roads, as they’re so enjoyable on the bikes, but Mexico has proven that you CAN have too much bacon. Hundreds of kilometres of endless curves, mountain passes, cliff edge roads with distracting views and no-place-to-rest-because-Mexicans-don’t-get-tired-so-keep-riding roads. The day we left the coast saw us go from sea level, literally into the clouds at 1900 meters, then back to 400 meters in an ear-popping, brake-burning, footpeg-scraping bonanza! We dodged at least 50 separate groups of cows, donkeys, dogs, chickens, goats, horses, children, old people, road workers, enormous spiders and smiling Dual Sport Supporters happily waving, all enjoying wandering around on the road. I even saw an animal run out in front of me that I am still unable to identify - it was like a monkey crossed with a cat and I didn’t like it. At lunch time I looked out from the restaurant to see a horse being chased down the highway by three small dogs. No one else saw, but I’m telling you I saw it, and it looked funny.

Free public beach camping
Free sea turtle
Too late!
You know how when you see the road sign that shows rocks falling from a steep cliff, and you basically ignore it because there’s never any rocks falling? Don’t do that in Mexico. Rocks are falling. Now. Get out of the way. We passed at least 10 significant and recent rock falls in one day, many that covered half the road. But people are much more relaxed about road rules here, and I like it. As the world gets smarter, people get dumber, and it’s never more apparent than on Mexican roads – you’ve got to think for yourself, stupid! When a road appears to be blocked, look around, don’t give up so easily, there’ll be a track somewhere through the jungle that will get you through. Times are tough for the Mexican Government, they don’t have budget to waste on superfluous signage, the important thing here is the road building, not construction phase traffic management. And this delightful lack of information is the perfect stimulant for long distance Dual Sporters. Who gets tired when the road drops out from under you and becomes a gravelly ditch of death? Or when the oncoming cars are now sharing your lane and you’ve got 1 second to decide your path before impact? No one, that’s who! Take away predictability and you force attention. It’s no wonder that 93% of Mexican drivers enjoy tacos. Wake up Australia and Canada, you’re wasting time, money, and in the end the lives of our children, on so many informative street signs. Put a bit of challenge back into the sport of driving and you can cancel that next drowsy driver television commercial campaign and put the money into new rear-mounted machine gun turrets for every 3rd cop car. Just like Mexico did.

Mountain views from the side of the road
Mountain roads from the side of the view
Getting ready for some cloud riding
Taxco's San Cristobal

Once we entered Taxco, where we are now, and saw the beautiful scene of houses crammed on top of one another, going right up the mountain side, we decided we’d stay here for the Day of the Dead celebrations and to watch the mountain bike race. While sitting at the bottom of a section of 100 or more stairs that the racers ride down, Ferg and I witnessed a rider lose control, cartwheel down the last 20 stairs, break his arm, femur and horribly dislocate his ankle, to the screams and cheers of heartless, blood-thirsty Mexican children. The remaining riders were highly skilled, and made the massive jumps, ramps, stair sections and narrow roads look effortless.

Our hotel in Taxco
Mountains made of houses
Day of the dead

A couple of nights ago we went out for a few beers at the pub and got chatting with some interesting locals. They offered to take us for a ride on their four wheel motorbikes, which seemed like a wonderful idea at the time. When we got to the bikes it turned out one was actually a scooter, the rear seat of which was allocated to be my riding position. Once on the road the riding pace quickened, until we were tearing through the city streets, at a pace to frighten even the most seasoned Dual Sporter. Sure enough a wet corner was our undoing, and the hefty female operator slammed the scooter to the cobblestones, with my wrist and knee taking the brunt of our fall. I write this now with a bandaged, but healing wrist, and yet more lessons learned about 2 wheeled vehicle travel. Needless to say I’m currently on a self-imposed motorbike restriction, so our time in Taxco has been extended until I can squeeze a motorbike clutch comfortably. The silver lining is that we’ve finally had time to getting around to spending a couple of days polishing up this blog post for all our screaming fans.

Those Mayans ruin everything
The Mayan emperor surveying his lands.


Beers with a view

So with that I say adios amigos. We will hit the road in a few days, towards Oaxaca and Chiapas, to sample Southern Mexico’s indigenous, mountainous and less touristy areas. We have now travelled for 4 months, ridden 16 000 km, and we ain’t done yet!

Taxco downhill mountainbike course

Structural load testing, Mexican style

Taxco taxi service
Please enjoy our 9th video on full screen, full volume, with tequila, tacos and titillation  :)