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Thursday, 21 January 2016

PART 3: CENTRAL AMERICA - MEXICO

MEXICO (21 OCT – 12 NOV 2015)
BAJA CALIFORNIA:

After riding in 6 states of the United States, today I bid goodbye and head to the US – Mexico border, Tijuana. Frankly speaking, I'm scared. My biker friends, Andrea and Ashlee, together with Liviu, accompanied me. We rode on I-5-S. As I-5-N, the freeway was filled with lots of huge and fast moving trucks. I got my tourist card at the Mexican immigration (USD23) and then for the first time, GD rolled its wheels on Mexican land – Baja California. I was very excited.




The scenic road from Tijuana followed along the coast to Ensenada. The road was good but I had to pass three tolls (USD1 each). It was quite difficult to find my host's house in Ensenada as the location he gave to me was wrong. While trying to find the house, I climbed up a steep concrete road which ended up abruptly to a mini construction site. I braked instantly and my tires slid. Due to the load its carrying, GD started to reverse even though I had pulled the hand brake. I almost dropped the bike. Slowly, I make a U-turn and head down.

After some difficulties and asking the locals, I found the host's house. Again I had to undergo a challenge to ride my bike into his back yard as the edge of the road was uplifted. Thank god I managed to do it. My hosts, Reuben and Clara spoke reasonably good English. In late afternoon, I followed Clara to her mothers house. We went there by a local bus. It was a nice experience for me to ride on a Mexican bus for the first time of my life.



The next day I rode along PanAm 1 Highway to El Rosario. It was not difficult to find my way as the PanAm 1 Highway was the one and only main highway in Baja California. There were two times that I almost collided with another vehicle, as I was not familiar with the driving rules here. It was funny that everytime when I reached a junction, even though I was on the main road, I am the one who must stop and let the vehicle on the other side pass first. The second time I almost collided was due to a very blurred traffic light which I didnt notice. It was a big difference to compare the road and driving attitude between Unites States and Baja California people. The road here was not only narrow but at some parts with pot holes. At times, I had to climb up some hills which offered nice view. After riding for 250kms, I reached El Rosario, also known as Baja Cactus. This very small town didnt hv any budget hostel, so I ended up staying at Baja Cactus Motel (USD23).




As I made my way out of the town to head south, my view was dominated with giant cactus trees. No wonder El Rosario was called Baja Cactus, because I learned later that starting from here, one could see the giant cactuses all the way to La Paz. It was very amazing to see how huge the cactus were along the narrow and winding road. Not many vehicles could be seen along the way but I had to pass few military checkpoints. Fortunately, after asking few questions, they let me go without searching my bike. I have heard horror stories of how some overlanders were searched and were asked for money. Honestly, the sight of the militaries did make me feel scared, especially when those on pickup truck passed me. I imagined if they asked me to pull over and demanded money from me. Thank god my wild imagination never happen.




As I made my way, the road I'm riding crossed a vast desert. Wind started to blow fiercely, sometimes from my right side and sometimes from my left side. My neck felt so painful due to having to fight the wind. I saw carcass of cows by the road side. Herrings were having a feast by eating the carcass. I bet the poor animals might had deviated from its group accidentally and couldnt find his/her way home. It died due to failure in finding water in this desert. I reached Guerrero Negro after riding for 374kms, feeling so exhausted. I found a place to pitch my tent. It was hard to pitch my tent due to the wind but after some strugglings, I managed to put it to stand. That night, the wind get even more fierce and I must admit that I was scared. My tent was almost blown by the wind. I bet the fierce wind was the edge of the tornado which was heading to Mexico main land at this moment. It was only at 2am the wind lessened and I managed to sleep.


I woke up late the next day. It was only at 11.30am that I started my ride, heading south. My targeted destination was Mulege, a nice beach town. The wind was still strong at certain places. Some times I get a side wind and sometimes, I got a tail wind, which was good. I got a very strong side wind when nearing Santa Rosalia. My poor GD was blown from side to the middle of the road. Luckily the road was deserted. However, the view of gorges, canyon and Pacific Coast was so stunning.






Arriving Mulege, I decided to find a place to stay else where. I continued riding to Concepcion Bay. I found Playa Santispac which my friend, Andrea told me that I could camp, but there was no fresh water here and I really need to shower. I left the beautiful beach and tried to find another accommodation. I found Posada Concepcion, which another overlander friend, Alex Wong told me. This place was situated at a very beautiful bay and I fall in love with this place at the first sight that I decided to stay here for 2 nights. The green turqoise water was shallow and crystal clear. It was soooo beautiful.



After resting for 2 days at Concepcion Bay, I made my way to the last town in Baja for my ride – La Paz. I started early as the distance was far, 516km. It was an easy ride even though the road was winding, because there was no wind in the morning. I rode fast to La Paz and managed to arrive at 3.30pm. I headed straight to the address of the customs office to get my Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP). I didnt get this permit at Tijuana border because it was not compulsory to get it when riding in Baja, but its a must if you want to ride your own vehicle in Mexico main land. The address which was given to me was wrong. I found the place, but there was no customs office there. To make matters worse, I had to ride on thick soft sands for 3kms to get to the address, and another 3kms to exit. It was a very hot day and having to ride on soft sands was no fun at all. Communication failure really make me frustrated. A local told me in spanish, asking me to go to a nearby pharmacy as someone might speak English there. I found the pharmacy but the staff didnt speak English. However, using translator from his phone, we managed to converse. The guy helped me to call the customs office. Then only I knew that Pichilingue (the customs office location) was not at Pichilingue Street as was told to me, but at the pier itself. It was already after office hours by then, so nothing that I could do anymore. I asked locals for a cheap hotel, and they told me to go to Bahia Dorada Hotel, which charged 400 pesos (USD26). It was already dark by then and I had no more energy to find a cheaper place else where.

The anxiety of whats awaiting me in main land Mexico, and the concern of havent got my permit and ferry ticket yet made me didnt sleep very well last night. I guessed I think too much. At 10am, I went to a bank to withdraw money. Unlike Baja which accepted USD at hotels, gas stations or shops, main land Mexico did not. I withdrew 5500 Pesos, but the machine only gave me 5300 Pesos. Later when I checked my account, I lost RM100 for this withdrawal. I didnt understand why, whether it was the bank fee or whatever, but RM100 fee for one withdrawal was too much. By 12pm, I made my way to Pichilingue, which was about 25kms from La Paz. Nearing the pier, I noticed that my gps was wobbling. Suddenly, the holder broke. Thank god I managed to catch it before it dropped. Phewwww. I arrived the pier and located the Banjercito (customs office). The officer could speak English. I had my permit done for USD60 and I had to pay USD400 refundable deposit for my bike. Then I go to the ferry building to purchase my ferry ticket. It cost 2200 Pesos (USD147) for myself and the bike, without cabin. Then I had my bike inspection done and had to pay again 77 Pesos (USD5.50) for port tax. It was money, money, money today. While waiting to board the Baja Ferry, I had a conversation with a very nice Mexican guy. His name is Mario. He spoke very fluent English. He offered me his cabin for free, as the cabin had 4 bunk beds and only him and his 18 year old assistant occupying the cabin. I accepted his offer and was very glad to as the sea was quite rough.




MEXICO (MAIN LAND):

After sailing for approx 18 hours, the ferry arrived Mazatlan, main land Mexico. By 11.30am, I already exited the ferry and trailed behind Mario's small truck. Mario bought me an awesome seafood lunch. I tasted the famous cerviche (raw seafood in lemon and tomatoes), fried fish and tortilla with shrimp. It was delicious. Then we continued our way. I had to pay for toll 5 times. It was funny that the system in Mexico is you paid toll and after few kms, you had to pay toll again. It was not like in Malaysia and many other countries that u get your toll card upon entering the highway, and paid the toll when exiting. It was almost dark when I reached Tepic and said good bye to Mario, with promise to meet again some day. I found my hosts house without any problem. My host, Pablo was down with denggue fever but he offered his place for me to stay. How kind. Pablo shared his Central and South America riding stories and tips with me. His lovely beautiful wife, Gabriela brought me to her kindergarten. The kids were excited to see me. The staff were busy preparing for Celebration for the Dead. This celebration was popular in Mexico and quite similar to Halloween.



After staying for 3 nights, I left Tepic and rode to La Piedad via Guadalajara. Pablo had guided me the easiest way to cross this 2nd largest city in Mexico so I didnt face any problem. The Celebration for the Dead mood can also be seen in La Piedad. The next day, I rode to San Miguel de Allende. Mario, the guy whom I met on Baja Ferry had a ranch here and he seriously asked me to drop by. I accepted his offer without knowing that he was actually out of town for a week. 


The highway to Mexico City was quite crowded with fast trucks. It was a relief when I finally entered Arco Norte Highway (the ring road to bypass Mexico City to reach San Miguel), which was in a very good condition. However, it was a nightmare for me to ride on the pebble stone street in the old city of San Miguel as the road was steep and very narrow. It was really scary when I had to stop on a steep junction as my GD's tires always tend to slid when I braked. I couldnt manage to reach Starbucks, the place where I'm supposed to meet Mario, as the old city was filled with one way street and my GPS didnt recognize which one was one way and which one wasnt. Since I didnt dare to leave my bike unattended, I had to park GD behind the famous church. After waiting for quite a while, Mario's wife, Holly, arrived. Then only I knew that Mario was out of town. I followed Holly's car to Rancho Del Sol Dorado which was about 10kms away. There was a 4kms offroad with one stretch of thick gravels that I had to ride to reach the huge ranch. I cant believe my luck when Holly stopped her car in front of a house and said that I will have the house all to myself during my stay. The ranch, apart from being a place to breed horses, goats and sheeps, was also an eco-tourism place which Mario made for tourist. He had several houses there for tourist to rent for an experience living in a ranch. The two bedroom house that I got was very nice and comfy. The sunset view from the ranch was heaven. I stayed for 4 nights and managed to take a tour around the ranch. 





I also witnessed Celebration for the Dead which was very happening at the old city of San Miguel. Everyone dressed fancily and put on horror makeup. At night, the locals visited the cemetery. They put flowers, candles and had some performers playing the dead's favourite songs. I felt a bit funny when visiting the cemetery when at one side, there were songs by Elvis Presley, and at another side, I can hear a soprano type of song being played.





My next destination was Puebla, a historical site. I stayed two nights here and visited the famous cathedral. the pyramid and the old city. 




Then I continued to Orizaba. A friend of Pablo's hosted me. I met James Bombond, my host and he brought me to meet some of his biker friends. Later we visited some attractions in Orizaba. 



James linked me with his friend, Javier, who hosted me in Minatitlan. I stayed for 2 nights, just relaxing and get to know the family. Later I head further east to Palenque, a heritage site town which housed some very ancient Inca pyramids and ruins.



The last town in Mexico for me was Comitan. It was a very tiring ride to reach this town as the non toll road I'm riding was in a bad condition. Not only it was narrow, winding, with lots of broken parts and pot holes, but also with unmarked sharp speed bumps. I really hate it as there were few times that my GD went flying when I couldnt manage to slow down as I didnt notice the bumps. However, the view at La Margarita was pretty. I also managed to find Agua Azule waterfall which was beautiful.





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