I'd like to thank my all my new Mexican friends for the warm hospitality I received at their most excellent Rally.
?Ū?Ū?ŪMuchas Gracias, Amigos!!!
I'd like to thank my all my new Mexican friends for the warm hospitality I received at their most excellent Rally.
?Ū?Ū?ŪMuchas Gracias, Amigos!!!
Last edited by Visian; 11-12-2003 at 12:40 AM.
Go soothingly through the grease mud, as there lurks the skid demon.
'67 Trail 90 || '86 R80 G/SPD+ || '97 F650ST || '00 1150 GS || '06 HP2e
Depending on whether you rely on your Mexican friends to translate for you or query an Internet translation site, in English the title of this story means ‘«£Ride to Mexico‘«ō or ‘«£To Handle Mexico.‘«ō And that is an appropriate opening to this story about my recent ride to attend the 7th Annual Convenci??n Internacional BMW de M?ģxico.
You see, riding your motorcycle into Mexico isn‘«÷t some huge, insurmountable task. However, just like any tour to a place you‘«÷re not familiar with, there are things you must handle before you go, if you want to have a great time that is.
And that was the approach I took. A few months ago I received an invitation to the rally, held in the ‘«£Land of Eternal Spring,‘«ō the beautiful city of Cuernevaca, Morelos, Mexico I was the guest of my new friends Fernando V?Ūzquez Sciandra and his delightful wife, Susy. They both ride BMWs and are members of the Moto Club BMW Morelos, the host of the rally. For more information about this event, see http://www.motoclubbmwmorelos.com.mx
My new friends Fernando V?Ūzquez Sciandra and his delightful wife, Susy. They both ride BMWs and are members of the Moto Club BMW Morelos. This club did the work to support the Mexican International Rally.
Last edited by Visian; 11-13-2003 at 02:12 PM.
A couple important things must be handled well before your ride. The first is insurance. My US carrier would not cover me or my bike while riding in Mexico, but a quick Internet search turned up www.cyclemex.com, a small outfit in Arizona run by a couple of Goldwing riders who understand the special needs of motorcycle tourists. They represent a Mexican company and I paid about $85 for 11 days of coverage on a $12000 motorcycle with $100,000 of liability. Fortunately, I did not have to test my coverage. You do not need insurance to ride in Mexico, but from what I understand, you will be very sorry if you need it and don‘«÷t have it.
The other types of insurance is worthwhile buying was trip insurance, and a medical policy that would fly me home if I were to get injured in an accident. There are many options for this kind of coverage; www.insuremytrip.com is a good place for comparative shopping.
Other than insurance, I certainly didn‘«÷t over-plan. Fred Veator, my travel partner for the first half of the trip, found a good reference guidebook, Motorcycle Journeys Through Southern Mexico by Neal Davis, available from Whitehorse Press. During our ride I thumbed through the book‘«™ and it looked useful. I wasn‘«÷t able to do that much planning ahead of the trip. In truth, I didn‘«÷t have much time‘«™ I planned a 3-4 day ride there, 3 days at the rally and a 3-day ride home to Atlanta. If I were spending more time in Mexico, I would read this book and do additional research.
One thing I would have learned had I done more thorough planning is that there is precious little camping available in the parts of Mexico that I visited. If I had known that, I could have traveled much lighter.
The bike I chose for the ride was my R1150GS. This was the ideal mount for Mexico because it was a solid 1100 highway miles from Atlanta to the border, and once inside, the rough roads required the long-travel suspension that this bike offers. Many of the roads were severely rough in some of the areas we ventured. Now, if I were going to ship a bike to Mexico, or take the new ferry that runs from Tampa to the Yucatan (but isn‘«÷t running this year‘«™) I would have taken my R80G/SPD+ because it‘«÷s smaller and lighter. An F650 would be a good choice, too‘«™ it‘«÷s narrow and lane-splits better. Overall, however, you can tour in Mexico on any model bike‘«™ as long as you are careful with your speed, watch where you‘«÷re going at all times, and don‘«÷t travel too far off the main roads (like I am known to do‘«™).
The potholes can be sheer hell, and are complemented by an endearing road feature called ‘«£topes‘«ō (world-class speed bumps) and ‘«£vibradores‘«ō (a bunch of speed bumps in a row). Topes appear at the entry to each small town and randomly in congested areas, as an effort to keep the locals from driving too fast for conditions. If you‘«÷re not paying close attention, the topes can sneak up on you and ruin your day.
The sign for ‘«£topes‘«ō ahead‘«™ meaning slow to a crawl unless you wished to remove the fillings from your teeth. There was another funny sign throughout all of Mexico that said ‘«£Respecte las Signales‘«ō (respect the signs). The topes were there to make damn sure you respected the signs.
To me, a GPS was an essential piece of equipment. My Garmin V‘«÷s, base map contained most major highways. I wish that I had bought the detail CD because that would have helped immeasurably. The roads in Mexico are not very well marked, the cities are very dense and very full of people that know where they‘«÷re going and are in a major hurry to get there, and for the life of me, most of the time I couldn‘«÷t match the names of the roads & towns with those on the map. Plus, the names of places are tongue twisters. The GPS made finding your way a whole lot easier. It was by no means perfect, but it was a big help.
One other resource that would have been very useful, one that I completely forgot, was a Spanish/English dictionary. Fortunately, I know more than a few Spanish words, and managed to get by pretty well. However, it was very helpful to have bilingual friends as I discovered throughout the trip.
My riding partner and I knocked out about 750 miles to Houston the first day and camped in a trailer park for $10. It turned out to be the only night I camped the entire trip. The next day we took US59 southeast from Houston and entered Mexico at McAllen, TX, crossing the Rio Grande into Reynosa, Matamoros, Mexico.
The border crossing was uneventful, but I must say the whole process was pretty much a mystery. One disappointment was that, even though I tried to speak a little Spanish, none of the border people would speak English, which made it very difficult to understand their procedures.
As we shuffled between various customs buildings with no bilingual signage, we filled out an immigration form, a vehicle importation form that promised we wouldn‘«÷t sell our bikes, and got our visitor visas. Here is some helpful paperwork you should bring that will make the crossing easy:
3 photocopies each of:
?ņ Vehicle Registration
?ņ Vehicle Title (or finance documents)
?ņ Mexican Insurance documents
?ņ Passport, if you have one
?ņ Credit Card (to make sure you wouldn‘«÷t sell your bike)
?ņ Birth Certificate
I didn‘«÷t need all of this, but when the border guys saw that I had my act together, they gave me far less grief.
Once past Customs, we needed Mexican money. Instead of a ‘«£cambio‘«ō (money exchange) we used an ATM at a 7-11 to get some pesos, you get roughly 11 pesos to a dollar, but I always rounded to 10 to make mental calculations easier. My partner searched for a company that sold insurance, there were plenty available for cars, but no company would cover motorcycles. Moral: buy your insurance before you go‘«™ it‘«÷s one less detail to worry about.
As we searched through the maze of side streets for the main road out of town, my friend mis-interpreted a traffic sign and went the wrong way on a one-way road. Unbeknownst to us, this bad move played right into the hands of the police officer that had been shadowing us on motorbike, waiting for us to do something wrong so he could shake us down for an on-the-spot payment for the infraction. No ticket, but 400 pesos later and we were on our way. Sheesh! (I would learn later that we handled this completely the wrong way.)
We rode until just after dark (not advised) and found one of those motels that are on the edge of just about every town throughout Mexico, the kind that rent rooms for as little as 2 ?Ę hours at a time‘«™ or for the whole night if you are so inclined. Interesting‘«™ you park in an enclosed courtyard designed so that your wife can‘«÷t see your car from the street when you‘«÷re visiting the hotel with a girlfriend. How thoughtful! It was a secure place for the bikes, we reasoned‘«™
Fred Veator ‘«£handles‘«ō the roads in the Mexican countryside
The next day got us out into the countryside‘«™ and across the Tropico de Cancer. Finally, we were in the real South. The scenery was quite nice until we got to Tampico, a bustling port city. Frankly, beyond this point was the least enjoyable part of the entire trip for me‘«™ clearly there wasn‘«÷t much in the way of interesting things for tourists to see, the roads were miserable, the cities crowded and the traffic heavy.
We spent the night in Tuxpan, a beach town that was recommended by an Ironbutt friend of mine that had visited the place many years ago. He told us of camping on the beach outside of town‘«™ but in the interim since his visit, they had built a power plant there and the rest of the ‘«£campers‘«ō looked somewhat questionable. So it was another hotel for the night‘«™ this time a more traditional place, complete with a restaurant that was well-stocked with cerveza and the best shrimp cocktails I‘«÷ve ever eaten for just 30 pesos ($3).
Last edited by Visian; 11-09-2003 at 02:49 PM.
The next morning dawned with drizzle, and I had just about had it with the east coast of Mexico. I wanted to head inland, up to the plateau with it‘«÷s mountains and dry weather. My riding mate was becoming a bit intimidated with the local traffic, and given that he couldn‘«÷t get insurance, was even less interested in tackling city traffic. So he decided to part ways. I headed inland to the rally and he stayed in the countryside.
This turned out to be the best day of riding on the entire trip. Just an hour inland the weather cleared, the roads improved‘«™ and so did my attitude. On the way to Tuxpan the day before, we had met some other BMW riders that were headed to the rally. They were from the San Antonio, TX area and traveled in Mexico frequently. One of them recommended a road described as ‘«£200 miles of Deal‘«÷s Gap‘«ō‘«™ and I just had to try it.
The road, Mexico 105, began in a river valley that was full of sunlight, farms, local people and not much traffic. At a bus stop alongside the road, I came across the Mexican version of Bob Dylan, playing his guitar and his harmonica in a grove of banana trees. I stopped for a while, took a picture and a listen. He was a blind person, and a proud man‘«™ he wouldn‘«÷t accept my offer of a few pesos in return for entertaining me.
Sunshine, bananas, guitar, harmonica and a shrine to the Virgin Mary‘«™ this just had to be Mexico!
There was one very interesting thing about the people that lived alongside this road. On the eastern side of the slope, the people were of normal height, but as the road went up‘«™ and it went way up to well over 10,000 feet‘«™ the people got shorter and shorter. In ancient times, Indians inhabited Mexico. As the Spanish came and the races intermixed, the result was taller people. The Spanish just didn‘«÷t like high elevations, I guess.
The road was beautiful, climbing through rain forests full of verdant ferns, waterfalls, many small and large shrines to the Virgin Mary, very steep switchbacks along white marble cliffs‘«™ and then down into a desert climate with fast smooth sweepers that traced a canyon wall. I even took a dirt-road detour to the rim of a canyon. Why didn‘«÷t I take more pictures? I was too busy riding!
Anyone who knows me knows that I can‘«÷t resist a good dirt road when I see one. Too bad there wasn‘«÷t more camping.
This small funeral parlor alongside the road had an interesting sign on the front that I am not sure what it meant‘«™ maybe that they get you coming and going?
Actually, I also wanted to get to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, located to the northeast of Mexico City. Built fifteen hundred years ago, this was one of the largest human settlements in the Americas, with a population of at least 100,000 people. It was simply amazing and I wish I had more than just a few hours to explore the entire compound, which consistent of hundreds of other ruins in addition to the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. With no camping available (dang it!) the evening was spent dining poolside at the nearby Club Med hotel. Livin‘«÷ large!
[I]The Pyramid of the Moon, part of the Teotihuacan, or ‘«£The City of the Gods,‘«ō a city that was once the size of Athens or Rome.
The Pyramid of the Sun
This sign says ‘«£no fat gringos should climb the pyramids.‘«ō I was amazed that you were allowed to climb all over these things. Can you imagine that in America?
The Club Med hotel right next to the pyramids. Since there was no camping, this would have to do!
The Club Med ‘«£lobby.‘«ō
The next morning I departed at dawn, heading for the Volc?Ūn Iztacc?°huatti, elevation 17,343 feet, located in the Parque Nacional Iztacc?°huatti-Popocat?ģpetl (say that three times fast) east of Mexico City. This meant about 60 miles of Mexican rush-hour traffic and it was a blast! Atlanta has nothing on this place when it comes to aggressive drivers, especially the taxis. Yeee-haaaaaa! Or perhaps I should say ‘«£?Ūarriba!‘«ō At every stoplight, the race started over.
In one particularly challenging incident, a taxi driver felt that I wasn‘«÷t following the car in front of me quite close enough. He whipped around my left side and cut it a little too close, giving the side of his VW van an up-close and personal look at the corner of my Jesse pannier. It was a grazing blow and I put my foot down to avoid a spill. As he jumped out of his van, he began cussing me out and nearly fainted when he saw the size of the crater that the Jesse bag had just cut into his door. Jesse = 1, Taxi = 0. Knowing that the Policia would put us both in jail until we sorted it all out, I decided to be un-Ambassadorial and used the well-known single-digit international hand gesture to inform the taxi driver that he was #1 in my book, then lane-split the hell out of there.
The entry to the Parque Nacional was guarded by a couple of Mexican Army regulars toting M-16s‘«™ not your average smiling Park Ranger with a brochure. Imagine my surprise when one of them told me that I needed to have a pass for the park, and that it could be acquired at the Casa de Cultura in the little town I has passed though about a half hour ago. There are no instructions for tourists in Mexico‘«™ you‘«÷re expected to just figure it out! After a few minutes of pleading (yo no sabe‘«™ I didn‘«÷t know‘«™ and yo estupido Americano...) and showing him how cool my GPS was, the guys let me through. I asked to take a picture of them with my bike, but one of them was concerned about ‘«£seguridad.‘«ō I didn‘«÷t try offering pesos‘«™ I wanted to see the volc?Ūn.
The 17,000 foot-high Volc?Ūn Iztaccihualtl. They don‘«÷t make mountains like this in Georgia!
This sign needs no translation... it says: going any farther isn‘«÷t advised!‘«ō
It was a fun road to the top‘«™ tight & twisty with patches of gravel & clouds. I rounded a corner and encountered a bar across the road with a sign that said the road was closed beyond the point due to volcanic activity. A picture of spewing rocks and gas accompanied the sign. It needed no translation.
Heading down the mountain, it was time to find my way to Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos, the land of Eternal Spring. With temperatures so moderate, I assumed the elevation would still be up there a bit, so I was surprised to go down a very large hill as I entered the state.
It wasn‘«÷t very long, however, before the road became 4-lane and started heading uphill in a very twisty fashion. How nice. Every bit as good as 129 going up Blood Mountain at home!
The Mexico International Rally was quite a bit different than the BMW MOA International Rally‘«™ in fact, it turned out to be quite a bit different than any rally I have ever attended.
My first indication of this was the hotel that would serve as rally central. It is part of the Camino Real chain of luxury hotels throughout the country. But unlike your usual chain, each hotel is different, and this hotel is extremely different. The Camino Real Sumiya was the former home of Barbara Hutton, heir to the Woolworth fortune. Sumiya means ‘«£Place of Peace, Tranquility, and Long Life‘«ō, and the buildings are styled like a Japanese Emperor‘«÷s home, with pagodas built of mahogany with granite-tiled roofs, and everything is situated within traditional Japanese gardens.
This is the front gate to the courtyard at the Hotel Camino Real Sumiya, which served at Rally central.
The Mexican equivalent of our Airheads handled the fully computerized registration. See? Even in Mexico, the Airheads volunteer!
Even though I didn‘«÷t have to deal with registration (I was invited to attend the Rally as a BMW MOA Ambassador) the entire process was extremely efficient. As I looked through my goodie bag, full of embroidered shirts, a hat, a back-pack, a really nice full-color rally badge containing a complete schedule of events, I also checked out the hotel lawn, chock full of exhibits by the Mexican National BMW importer, tire and accessory companies, the Coca-Cola bottler, Corona Beer and a local winery. Uh‘«™ this is a Beemer rally???
After 2400 miles of ground pounding, I felt that I needed to clean up a little for the rally‘«™
The bellboy took my bags to my room. Yes‘«™ don‘«÷t rub it in, the bellboy took my bags to my room, which overlooked the unbelievable swimming pool chock full of sweet looking chiquitas (and we ain‘«÷t talking bananas) sunning themselves. Uh‘«™ this is a Beemer rally???
The hotel lobby.
The breakfast area.
The dinner area. Sushi is served!
This must be heaven. And sorry, this wasn‘«÷t ‘«ˇalmost heaven.‘«÷ The opening evening was a cocktail reception featuring a very funny comedian (judging by all the laugher of the rallygoers), with free Coronas, wine and hamburgers. They were short on chairs, so I whipped out the old Kermit chair, and you should have seen the look on everyone‘«÷s faces! Kermit‘«™ are you listening???
The opening night cocktail party featured a very funny comedian, or at least I think he was funny, judging by all the laughter.
The next day started at 10 am, early for Mexico, and featured something else quite different from US rallies. A police-escorted group ride to Las Estacas‘«™ a private nature park that contained a beautiful spring and palatial grounds. The group ride there was quite fun‘«™ every local, state and federal police offer turned out to man the intersections through town. It was a big thrill to ride with all these people, beeping horns and waving to all the local folks along the way.
The first day of the rally featured a police-escorted group ride to a local nature park. Riding with 600 new friends through crowds of waving well-wishers was a lot of fun.
At Las Estacas, a police drill team riding vintage Harleys entertained us. These guys ‘«Ű and girls ‘«Ű were quite talented, but the real entertainment was the announcer and his rapport with the crowd. I couldn‘«÷t understand much of what was being said, but it was clear that the announcer thought that Harley-Davidsons were the world‘«÷s best motorcycles and the rallygoers begged to differ!
The Policia Motorcycle Drill Team does their thing‘«™ right in front of the Corona beer tent.
Wish I had been pulled over by a police officer like this. As a good friend of mine said: ‘«£Rough me, cuff me, and do your stuff with me!‘«ō
The governor of Morelos was in attendance at several rally events.
After this, it was lunchtime‘«™ fully catered, served on real china, with cloth tablecloths and very nice silverware. Free beer and wine, soft drinks‘«™ I was very, very impressed. When I pointed to the plates and said ‘«£look‘«™ real china!‘«ō one of the rallygoers said ‘«£no‘«™ hecho in Mexico!‘«ō (made in Mexico). Ahhh‘«™ the subtleties of language and the strength of Mexican pride.
Lunch was served on real china (made in Mexico, as one rallygoers informed me) with free Coronas and all you could possibly eat.
You had your choice of dining under a pavilion or on the lawn. This is a Beemer Rally?
After lunch‘«™ siesta!‘«ō
The return ride from Las Estacas was less formal, and many of the riders got a little frisky. Interestingly, the road we were riding was the same one that I had taken when heading to the rally a couple days prior. Two lanes in our direction, smooth and twisty!
Noticing that the Mexican guys were going pretty good on the straight parts, I waited until we got to the twisty bits and then just had to show them how we do things in the North Georgia Mountains. Wicking it up, I was blasting past the locals like dicing up salsa‘«™ showing them the backside of my Jesse bags and giving them an earful of oilhead at redline. Dang, why didn‘«÷t I take my camping gear off the bike before the ride???
As we entered town, I slowed back down and the guys that I had blown by caught back up. Thumbs up all around! A new friend from Florida that I had been riding that day with was really amazed at how fast I rode (mainly because I had been riding very responsibly all day‘«™) and gave me the nickname ‘«£El Ian.‘«ō He spoke a little Spanish and said that there were pretty impressed locals talking about me back at the hotel.
Last edited by Visian; 11-09-2003 at 02:58 PM.
Not many vintage bikes at the rally. This was a particularly nice one. Not many airheads, period.
Most of the bikes at the rally were the latest models, replete with the latest accessories. It was fun to teach the locals our lingo‘«™ ‘«£oilheads‘«ō and ‘«£airheads‘«ō were new terms to most.
Not every bike was a BMW. This MV Agusta looked, and sounded, fantastic.
This couple rode in from Oregon, and had seen more than a few foreign countries. They‘«÷re MOA members‘«™ I believe that their names are Roger and Ann.
The exhibits were top-notch, and included not only the Mexican BMW importer, but the big local dealer, who offered complete services.
There were quite a few unobtanium accessories on display. This helmet was pretty pricey but would be really nice on for riding my R69S on a summer day.
That evening was Casino night‘«™ not my cup of tea, so I stayed in the room and watched CNN International. The reporting was much better than the CNN shown in the USA.
The next morning at the crack of 10am, the group headed out on another group ride, this time to the Xochicalco (The house of flowers) Ruins, a city that was built around 700-900 AD, after the fall of Teotihuacan. There were many more symbolic carvings in these ruins, and the architecture was even more interesting than the pyramids I had seen earlier. We enjoyed a guided tour, and hey, there was even one sign in English, so I could actually figure out what was going on!
The second day‘«÷s tour took us to the Xochicalco (The house of flowers) Ruins. These were significantly newer than the pyramids of Teotihuacan, and there was a large amount of intricate sculpture.
We enjoyed a guided tour, courtesy of one of the members of the Morelos club.
Newfound friends from San Antonio. From left to right: Hal is a retired pilot who rode a nicely accessorized GS Adventure. He was the person who told me about the road that was ‘«£200 miles of Deal‘«÷s Gap.‘«ō Hank is a noted tuner of K12s, he works at Rhine West. Sherry was a brave soul‘«™ she rode pillion on Hank‘«÷s 290,000 mile GS, and let me tell you, Hank can ride. Sloan rode a K11LT, and yours truly, who needs no second helpings of refried beans!
After our visit, we mounted up and headed for lunch at the Hacienda Vista Hermosa, the home of Cortez, the gentleman who originally taught the natives Spanish. Today this home is a luxury hotel, and is simply gorgeous. There is a nice photo tour here: http://www.haciendavistahermosa.com.mx/fotos.htm
Inlaid stone floor in the Hacienda.
An original carriage used by Cortez.
An example of the many sculptures throughout the Hacienda Vista Hermosa.
Walking past one of the bigger swimming pools I have ever seen, several nice fountains and gorgeous flower beds, the group took their seats at another large number of tables, set again with beautiful china and silver, and prepared for lunch and the rally‘«÷s closing ceremonies.
The lunch tables for the closing ceremonies.
As tuxedoed waiters brought us free Coronas and bottles of delicious wine, the crowd either chatted among friends or listened to riding seminars, watched a dropped bike demo (they did it differently than Skert, and I liked her way better) and heard announcements about who rode from where. There were people from all over Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador‘«™ throughout Latin America. And there were more than a few members from the US, and even some folks from Germany.
There were riding seminars and a dropped bike demo. These guys showed the down-side handlebar-out technique, but I prefer Skert‘«÷s butt-on-the-edge-of-the-seat technique.
As lunch was served, the mariachi band began to play. I mean, what Mexican rally would be complete without a mariachi band? And they were very good.