Thursday, September 27, 2012

Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!
I had a last USA comfort meal of a Big Mac with Cheese and fries in Laredo, TX [No photo required] then crossed in Nuevo Laredo, MX. There are two bridges to cross into Mexico. Of course my helmet cam is not working right (user error) and I picked the wrong bridge. After clearing the initial formalities I wanted to complete the temporary import of the motorcycle. That when I was informed that I should have taken “Bridge #2” not “Bridge #1.” Not a big deal. The directions were simple, loop under the bridge and ride a few blocks.

I had been through this crossing in 2008 and was familiar with the building and the steps. This time the customs office was very quiet, short lines, got through fairly quickly. I used my Irish passport for the first time, to enter Mexico, so my records will consistently use the same passport for later border crossing. Eric, at Olympia Moto Sports, had made multiple copies of key documents. Having copies in hand speeds up the paperwork required to import a vehicle at international. Sometimes you still have to have copies made after a stamp is applied to the copy from your kit or a new document needs to be copied…but it good to have a set ready. It doesn’t help to have a copy of your wife’s BMW car registration when you thought the motorcycle registration was being duplicated in North Carolina. Oh well, a quick stop at the copy window and I was outta there.

Mexico now requires a $400.00 deposit when preparing a temporary import of a motorcycle. They take credit cards and refund the money when you exit the country. This is Mexico’s way of collecting some money from people that bring vehicles into the country and sell them there illegally.
I headed south as quickly as Nostrumo would take us, away from the troubles that haunt Mexican border towns. Stopping for a break as I head to Monterrey, MX. The last time I ran out of gas with the lights of Monterrey in sight. I was determined not to repeat that near catastrophe by fueling up before leaving Laredo.

The plan was to spend the night in Monterrey, but the plan lacked details, like where to stop. I ended up in the south end of Monterrey, but still very much in the city. The GPS is useless and my sense of direction is failing me. A kind moto delivery guy pointed me in the right direction and I decided to get out of town instead of stay the night. I spent the night in the next town west a “auto hotel.” The sign noted a Jacuzzi, which sounded good for my back.

 I forgot what auto hotels were about. They are used for people to have discrete affairs and are well suited for motorcycle travel. Generally the rates are established for hourly periods. You pull your car into an individual garage, so no one from the street can see that you car and you are checked in. The security of a personal garage lends itself to a good night sleep. They are always very clean and the rates are generally pretty good. While not as cheap as a hostel, the rates are still low. The $300 peso rate,   about $23.34 USD, depending on the actual exchange rate. I wanted 8 hours, not the advertised 6, so the charge increased by 1/3. I used my iPhone offline translator to communicate with the clerk. Well worth the $5.99 the app cost!

The rates vary. Here are the rates for another auto hotel in the middle of nowhere that I saw a few days later. $100 MX Pesos is about $8.00 USD.

Here is a photo of the interesting furniture provided for the enjoyment of the clientele. Hmmmm...

The next morning a truck pulled into a gas station with one of it’s back tires total gone.

Further down the road I stopped for a break and saw across the highway a guy selling juice. I HAD to get a picture of this!

I spent the night in Ciudad del Maiz at a lovely hotel. Pictures to follow. While looking for a hotel I passed a one tent Mexican circus and thought that would be a cool thing to see…then completely forgot about it.
Great chicken on my way to Las Pozas.

Next stop, the surrealist sculpture gardens of Edward James at La Pozas

Sunday, September 23, 2012

72 Hours in Oaxaca Part I

My niece Kelly lived in Oaxaca for three years, fell in love with Abraham, a local actor and teacher, and made a baby named Natalia. They live in Dallas now, with deep roots in one of Mexico’s most artistic and coolest towns. I came to Oaxaca on my first trip through Mexico in 2008, so there was no question that I would stop in Oaxaca. On top, I had a pressing need to see a chiropractor, and my friend Alberto from the motorcycle club CitiBeemers identify a doctor for me.
As I entered the heart of the city I stopped to use BaseCamp, desktop mapping software, so I could figure out the physical location of the chiropractor’s office. By a great stroke of luck, I had stopped across the street from the official tourist office. Walking inside I found a nice lady who helped make an appointment with the doctor for the next day.
Next stop, the apartment cluster where Kelly & Abraham lived, I found the one of the owners and settled into a small one bed room efficiency apartment.
The flat where I was staying is near a farmers market, replete with a great smoothie stand, cheese mongers and tostada stands.
That night I walked around the cathedral and centro, sampling street food and soaking in the rich atmosphere of Oaxaca.
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First thing in the morning I headed to Dr.Jose Luis Cid’s office. After a brief discussion I was laid out, face down on a padded table. A series of wet, hot towels were applied to my back, relaxing the muscles before the doctor made adjustments to my spine. The wet warming process was so simple and effective, I was amazed that other chiropractors don’t use this method. I rode back to the flat and sleep for a few hours.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Time for a Change

The afternoon of riding from Las Poza became evening, turned into late evening. Hours of twisting turns and dropping temperature through the mountains of eastern Mexico left me eager to find lodging. Near midnight I found a hotel in Pachuca that had Internet access and a reasonable rate. The next morning, before setting off for Puebla, I changed the engine oil. John Ryan recommend using a disposable aluminum basting pan when changing oil on the road. Try as I might, the product eluded me. I settled for a roll of aluminum foil applied to the lid of the pannier case. It worked like a charm.


I really wanted to to avoid getting lost in Mexico City, which happened on my trip in 2008. During the previous trip, failure to properly upload the Mexico maps to my GPS caused hours of aimless riding through the Federal District. This time I was determined to avoid Mexico City altogether by riding north of the city on route to Puebla. I passed an exit for a “free” highway to Puebla, deciding to pay for a limited access toll road. The failing GPS only displayed the highest level roads, so it was no surprise when Mexico City appeared over the crest of a hill. No surprise, but a great cry of anguish that history had repeated itself with grand disregard to my wishes.

Soon traffic came to a stand still. Not wanting to get trapped on an approaching elevated highway, city street became the next best option. A few block west, then headed south on side streets. Progress seemed to be at hand, until the source of the delay revealed itself, a very long street demonstration by various reformist political parties.



After an hour or so the last of the demonstrators passed my position. Some might be frustrated by the delay, but I took it as a cultural experience.

Unfortunately the wheels started to fall off the wagon about here. Something about losing forward momentum made getting back on track to Puebla nearly unattainable. An overcast sky made natural orientation with the sun impossible. The “touch screen” of my feeble GPS had failed in Texas and would not support selection of a destination or the map detail level, but it faithfully recorded the traces of the route I took. The next 5-6 hours were spent looping around Mexico City in a huge cloverleaf pattern. Trying to follow signage to Puebla, I passed Mexico City International Airport (like I did in 2008.) Multiple times I passed signs to the airport, such that I was sure to scream if I saw another…

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While coursing my way around the capital I could help but noticed how fashionably dressed the people on the street were. I felt like I was in Milan or Madrid. What must be the country’s largest flag was spotted in my lost patrol wanderings.


With some direction for Mexican Hari Krisna devotees I was pointed in the right direction. Naturally the Hari Krisnas wanted to point me toward nivana and Spanish text copies of their holy books. Taking a pass on accepting their tracks, I made a small donation and was on my rolling again.  As the sun set I finally found my way out of Mexico City and was on my way from about a two hour ride to Puebla…then it started to rain as I climbed the surrounding hills and the temperature dropped. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Las Posa - Surrealist Sculptor Gardens

Between 1949 and 1984 the surrealist sculptor, Edward James, created Los Pozas ("the pools") near Xilitla, San Luis Potosí. I love sculpture and Surrealism, so visiting this site was top on my list and I was not disappoint!

The day before I had arrived too late to see Los Poza, so I checked into Posada James Xilitla up the hill from site, a hill Nostromo loved climbing. The hotel was a nice upgrade from the hostels I would be living in for the months to come. The owners are truly sweet people, which made a big difference in deciding to stay at their posada. Below see their photos and their children, what a lovely family! When their daughter heard that I wanted to take their photograph, she changed into her ballerina outfit - too cute for words.

The Posada James Xilitla has a number of cool features, swimming pool, great mountain view, a flower laden dinning area under a grape arbor...and an off the hook shower. I looks better with natural light, but this is the only shot I have.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The South American route had to be updated when considering rain fall in the Amazon. The peak of the dry season is July and the rains are serious like a heart attack in January. I was planning to take a barge up the Amazon to Manaus, then ride ~400 miles of dirt road through the Amazon grasslands. Because I plan to arrive in the Amazon in late October, there will have been too much rain, which could easily turn the nu-maintained dirt road into 400 miles of muddy hell. Try as I might my bike has significant amounts of cargo, including spare tires, which all add to instability. With minimal off road experience, zero river crossing chops and no mud riding under my belt, it became apparent that the Amazon would have to wait for another trip. See the updated trip route "outline:, sans Amazon.  =(

Monthly averages
°F | °C

JanuaryAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 28.86 cm

FebruaryAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 28.3 cm

MarchAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 29.42 cm

AprilAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 18.53 cm

MayAvg low: 23°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 9.01 cm

JuneAvg low: 22°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 3.12 cm

JulyAvg low: 21°Avg hi: 32°Avg precip: 2.73 cm

AugustAvg low: 22°Avg hi: 33°Avg precip: 3.94 cm

SeptemberAvg low: 23°Avg hi: 33°Avg precip: 9.87 cm

OctoberAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 33°Avg precip: 15.65 cm

NovemberAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 32°Avg precip: 17.87 cm

DecemberAvg low: 24°Avg hi: 31°Avg precip: 27.72 cm

San Antonio, Texas

Remember the Alamo!

San Antonio has a rich history, including the battle of the Alamo. I did not have time for tourism on this trip. Reaching San Antonio from Dallas was a fairly quick trip. It should only take 2 ½ hours, but searching for a working air compressor made the trip closer to 4 hours. I was keen to follow the advice Grant Johnson (Horizons Unlimited) and John Ryan shared on the correct tire pressure. If the tire is under or over inflated, the rubber wears out faster. Getting the most out of each tire is quite important when you plan an extended trip. With great frustration, the mini Aerostich compressor I carry failed to work. As time allows I will use the line tester Rick Johnson (Citibeamers MC Club) gave me to sort out the problem with power. One of the items that did not make it into the kit is a battery powered soldering gun, so I have to buy a simple one on the road or wait until another stop.  

The GPS got me to Andy’s place in San Antonio without difficult. Soon we were off to meet Jenny and her husband Bill at La Tuna.  The local description for this kind of place is an “ice house.” The name translates into “beer bar.” In Texas you can drink whiskey warm, but you want your beer cold. It was truly a blast catching up with Jenny. We told old stories, got updated on the passages of life and shared old secrets that we could now tell. Jenny is doing really well and her husband is great guy. Life is good in San Antonio. For some explicable reason I did not get a photo of Jenny. Friends of Andy joined us at La Tuna, another Andy and John. Below find a couple of shots John took at La Tuna. He is a very good photographer and overly modest. Sadly Jenny is obscured on the photo below.

The next day it was raining, which was a perfect day to take care of a list of open items.

I wasn’t happy with the cost of a traveler’s insurance policy I had taken out with International SOS. They came highly recommended, yet remain a few hundred dollars more than other carriers. The best I could figure out, the policy provided $1,000.000 in coverage for evacuation services. If I was mountain climbing, then it might be the insurance for me. The policy was going in force the next day, so I cancelled it decided to start a new policy with Medjet Assist, a carrier I had used before. Actually I decided to arrange for coverage somewhere down the road. This turned out to be a small mistake as they insisted on a 10 day waiting period because I was already traveling.  The policy was confirmed and coverage will start September 28th. I will ride carefully until then, and after too!

I spoke with several credit card companies to advice them that I was traveling outside of the country. This is an important step. You don’t want to be using a credit card far from home only to have it declined as a fraud protection measure. It is equally important to have several ATM cards in case one cad is declined or is eaten by a cash machine and you don’t have time to wait for it to be returned. I learned that CaptialOne does not charge international truncation fee for using their card outside of the country, but they DO charge for cash advances. The rate is high, so I advice only using that approach in emergencies. If you have a Bank of America account, then you can withdraw cash (MX Pesos) with no charge, only while you are in Mexico. If you have the funds (to qualify it take a large chunk of money), open a CitiBank or Chase Bank premier account and you will be able to withdraw cash worldwide at their branches for 1% and no fees. Regular bank accounts, including CitiBank, HSBC and Scottia Bank (a Canadian bank with a large presence in Latin America), charge 3% for cash withdraws outside of the country. These fees add up over time, so plan ahead.

At Andy’s place my GPS started acting up again. This time I could not get the touch screen to respond. Andy did some research on the Internet and found a way to reset the device by hold down certain buttons when starting the unit. Unexpectedly this step introduced new problems when starting the device. After a re-set the device asked for you location…and recall that the touch screen was not working. I could not get beyond that screen, so now the GPS officially a brick, dead, morte. I had spend hours and hours learning to use this critical tool and now I had to use my back-up paper maps, and weak Spanish to confirm my location and get local directions. Yup, I’m screwed until I get to Costa Rica, and not in a pleasant way.

My Mexico map is an old National Geographic paper map, for the whole country, contains much useful information, but lacks fine city level details. This will be interesting…  I tried to buy a replacement GPS, but they are impossible to find one designed for motorcycle use in local stores. In the end I ordered a replacement (the latest and greatest, a Garmin Zumo 660, with lifetime map updates) from a store in New York City. The plan is that Ingrid might meet me in Mexico City and would bring the new unit. Failing that plan, there was the possibility that my friend Greg would be traveling to Costa Rica from San Diego and could transport it there. As it turns out his brother Chris was arriving in San Diego from Costa Rica for a week and could take the new unit, in case Greg has to cancel his trip. Yes!

 Andy is an amazing host. He took me to a Staples store where I picked up business cards that Jenny so skillfully designed. See the header of the blog for her delightful design. If you ever need graphic design work, contact her at her business:

Jenny McChesney
Zeitgraph Inc
1512 South Flores
San Antonio Texas 78204
(210) 218-2126

While at Staples I bought a 1 TB external hard drive to store the movies and picture I will be taking. Yes, hemorrhaging money, why not, this is a huge bucket list trip, so go all the way.

Andy put me up for two nights, a consummate host. We had lots of laughs between Andy and his hometown friend John.

John (left) and Andy Tieggs (right)

John took these shots of me loading the bike and preparing to leave. I think I am talking to Medjet Assist to start a policy in the one photo.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


‘I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee…”  - Paul Simon

When I was younger I was not a fan of Elvis and have grown to appreciate his talents later in life. It was really cool to visit Graceland and learn more about the King of Rock and Roll. I had no idea how generous Elvis was in his lifetime. He received many acolytes for his donations to charities. Apparently he only attended one event that celebrated his gifts. The King was also known to write checks frequently to people in need. He was not only a talented artist, but a great humanitarian.   

Some of Elvis’ many gold and platinum records.

The King’s final resting place.

Bruce Springsteen’s song “Pink Cadillac” is one of my favorite songs, but Elvis, the King, had one long before the Boss.

Elvis had many amazing cars and several motorcycles. I wanted to see the on Bono and The Edge sat on in one of the U2 movies, but it was not on display at that time.

Elvis had many guitars. Here is a small sample.

 …he also had not one but two jets. This one, the Lisa Marie, is named after his daughter.

“Takin’ care of business” (TCB), Elvis’s slogan painted on the tail of his jet.

Go to Graceland if you have a chance. It’s a little pricy, but don’t hold back, do the full tour. You won’t regret it. And you’ll go around saying “Thank-you-very-much” for days.

Next stop, my niece Kelly, husband Abraham and daughter Natalia in Dallas