[Sunday] I feel that there is some sort of irony here. I am sitting a pretty fine hotel room in the state of Chiapas, perhaps the poorest, in a border town called Tapachula. Never had I dreamed that my foray into Chiapas would be from this vantage point. For many, the name Chiapas, brings up imagery of EZLM, the Zapatistas and Marcos.
I ended up here — the specific location — kind of by accident. For now, I have been using the Garmin North America maps including Mexico. The maps themselves have been pretty good. That said, while finding a hotel, gas station or eatery in Canada or the States is pretty fruitful for some reason Garmin’s Mexican “points of interest” sucks ass. For example, while maybe it is unreasonable to list every gas station, hotel and restaurant in Mexico, at least one or two per city and town would be nice. In Canada and the States, when you use the fuel function of the GPS and you are getting low, you hit the button and find gas nearby. In Mexico, it lists gas stations hundreds of kilometres away even though several Pemex stations are in sight.
Finding places to stay and things to eat has been woefully inadequate with Garmin’s maps. In the case of Tapachula, a hotel was listed. I was surprised. I figured that it would lead me to a hotel district. I would say “motel” but, en Mexico, this seems to literally refer to the phenomenon of the “love hotel”. More than one motorcycle traveler has cited that the “love hotel”, if you can put away imagery of “the black light tes”t out of your mind, love hotels can make reasonable accommodation for motorcycle travelers. You get your own room (usually meant for sex), your own garage (usually meant so your friend, who’s in the room next door won’t see his wife’s car), and they are generally on the outskirts of town (more secluded than downtown). I doubt, though, that they have WIFI. I have to yet stay at a Love Hotel although admittedly I noted their locations when I saw them in the event that I was stuck. I have been having imaginary conversations with the guy who collects the money (hourly rate) through the bank teller-like window — “Senior!!! 14 horas!!! Lucky hombre you dirty Perro!!!”. I can only imagine what the mental conversation would be when senior is inform that for 14 hours you will be “solo”.
What has the theme been for the last couple days? Its been terribly hot. I’ve been questioning my gear choice at this point. Maybe it is better to use mesh pants and jacket (something like Joe Rocket or another brand) and then using something like the Klim riding pants and parka – – waterproof and a meant for motorcycles, but meant for you to provide your armour — in this case by way of mesh. If there is one thing I am figuring out is that there is *always* compromises to be made with this stuff. Its a tricky one though. I know that event when wearing mesh at home in 35 degrees and stopped it is still pretty uncomfortable so I’m not sure that this gains me much because the heat is mostly tolerably at when moving at reasonable speeds.
There is the other problem here. While my thermometer maybe wrong, I am getting readings that it is well over 36 degrees Celsius — which means that mesh is going to increase the temperature due to convection (a bad thing). I find myself closing me faceshield/visor as it feels cooler than having that heat blast me in the face which probably confirms the convection theory/rule of thumb.
[Monday] I had a pretty leisurely evening on Sunday night and mostly relaxed and did a bit of route planning and some research on the Guatemala border crossing. Morning was similar. Notably I finally lost a pin on my GPS unit’s mounting cradle. There are several dozen brass pins of which a couple have become loose and one is completely disconnected. I have to take care each time I mount the GPS. In this case not enough care was taken and I lost it (twice, having found it once) on the asphalt. This means it won’t charge. Luckily a quick reparation was made with a paperclip and Leatherman.
So yesterday I had decided not to get my Mexican visas canceled. I had assumed that there would be more places to do this than the single point on the highway in which several guys “accosted” me imploring me to go to the office. I didn’t quite trust them, which turned out to wrongly so, but they kind of suited the description of a typical “fixador”, or pay for hire border helper. So I when I was starting to head for the border crossing I was going to cross at, a guy on a bike answered my question that, indeed, there was no Banjercito to cancel my permits at the crossing. I had to go back. He gave me (insufficient) instructions to bypass the city. I got sooooo lost as I had just flipped over my Canada/US/Mexican Garmin maps to Open Streetview maps which seem to be best of breed for Central and South America (free/opensouce — go figure). You can only use one auxiliary map at a time.
So without the old maps I was fighting hard with the GPS as it wanted to send me on some crazy loop to where I needed to go. After 1.5 hours of wrong turns I found my way back to where I needed to be and successful got my permits canceled. I did have one problem. While in the end it was my responsibility, I hadn’t got my passport stamped upon entering Mexico. I can’t believe that I missed this. If you remember from earlier posts (I think I mentioned this), Ihad to do paperwork again at Agua Prieta after having attempting so in Naco. Well both border officials failed to stamp my passport. So while I should have looked…poor show x 2.
The exit border guys fixed the problem so all was well. The border guys who stamp you out are at a completely different location than the guy who cancels the permit. Oh ya — you have to take that permit for a little walk and pay for a copy and a ramshackle “convenience store” with your own dime.
So the guys who I earlier thought were frauds — the ones insisting I cancel my permits — intercepted me again. They insisted that crossing at Hidalgo was better then the location I was planning to cross at. I through caution into the wind and took there advice. Shorty after this time the bike guy showed up again. Basically without me asking, he escorted me the full way, including answering some questions at the various offices I had to go to. I figured he was one of the “fixador” I had heard of. That said, he hadn’t mentioned anything and hadn’t asked for anything. For this reason I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to pay him because he didn’t negotiate ahead of time. While it really did seem like a small scheme, he never asked for anything and eventually vanished. I’m not sure what his motives were. He was Guatemalan although in Mexico when I met him so maybe he saw the opportunity to show some hospitality in the name of his motherland to a fairly infrequent type of traveler. I’m still a little stumped.
In terms of the crossing itself, it was basically a breeze. I followed motorcycle man and may have missed some quaint signs to “Guatemala” had he not been in the lead. Having completed the earlier mentioned passport stamp issue, I proceeded over the bridge. A private money changer was there so I ditched all of my Mexican Pesos for Quetzales. It was opportune as I had needed to off load some M$ for Qs for the border. A good rate wasn’t so important to me — not really sure if it was or not — but I knew I needed addition funds which would come from an ATM. So I payed for “fumigation” which is water sprayed on my wheels (what the purpose is, I really don’t know), and got my personal travel permit and the one for my bike. While it took a little while (perhaps one hour in total) there were no line ups, no overtly hostile clerks and no hoards of money changers and fixadors like other accounts. All things said and done it was a breeze. And no bike/luggage search.
The next thing I know I am trying to figure out were to go. The first thing I noticed that dual sport motorcycles are very popular in Guatemala. This is to say that motorcycles are far more prevalent in the first place than Canada or the States, and probably more so than Mexico — but small dual sports are driven by every description of person Guatemala. It was mildly curious to me but not really surprising — agile, comfortable on rough, winding roads, etc. Dual sports are perfect for what I know as Guatemala. I can’t even imagine trying to ride a Harley or large sport bike around these mountain twists and turns. The next thing I noticed is how lush and beautiful Guatemala is — even compared to the area in Chiapas I came from which is just on the other side of a river.
I feel like I am in the tropical rain forest section at the zoo except it is everywhere. Rivers flow under bridges. Small streams drip of of cliffs and mountains. And all of the sudden there are massive tropical plants. Guatemala is the most beautiful place I have been in my life to date. I took a small break to get a snack and look at my maps. At this point I noted that the heat and humidity was pretty much as oppressive as Mexico. So with my sights set on a random town, and then later San Marcos, the roads started to turn curvy and I spent a lot of time in first and second gear going up hill. I soon realized I was going upland up a mountain. Then rain started to fall. Little by little I began to close of flaps and cover my tank bag. Rain came harder and the temperature started to drop. By the time I was quite close to San Marcos, I was really quite cold, and quite happy that I wasn’t wearing full mesh, and using my grip heater. I was debating as to whether it was time to put my waterproof/breathable liners in, although stopping wasn’t always opportune.
I finally arrived at San Marcos and started my search for a hotel. Pouring rain and cold I had a few misses and finally found one that was directly attached to the one recommend to me which had closed down. The roads here are really tight knit, and often one way and not in a grid pattern. Very quickly I figured my way around long expanses of the town. I must have lapped the area some six to eight times including having to find money. I, though, hadn’t become annoyed by this fact like I had in other places.
For about C$17 I find myself in what is a high class hotel in the area. It is not pretentious, just old, “refined” and classy with lots of wood work, swords on the wall, a china cabinet and antique radio.
The restaurant attached to the hotel was being dined by several dozen people eating at a long table. It seems that “the meal” was being served — as in you just get the courses, and not a la carte choices — food was being served from silverware and very communal — refined and classy, but not hoity toity. It was interesting to observe. I, of course, went out and brought back got some take out mexican-style stuff, noodles and a couple cervezas and jumped on wifi. Talk about classy 😉
I am really looking forward to tomorrow as there are volcanoes nearby and, if it is anything like today, it is going to be breathtaking.
I had intended to write a little closing about about Mexico before I entered Guatemala so I am a little late but in any respect:
I became quite comfortable in Mexico. For the most part, I wasn’t afraid to ride around in most cities and towns. This wasn’t the case then I first entered the country. I know there are problems in Mexico and I am not deluding myself that it is “safe” across the board but the nervous feelings I had upon entering seem very far away by now. For the most part people were friendly, many showed an interest in what I was doing, and I really didn’t have any problems. I still chuckle at one the the Gringos in Arizona, with his scared eyes and a Stetson — “Did I hear that you’re going down to Mexico — be careful *they’ll shoot you*…I just don’t trust em”.
Police and soldiers were always polite at checkpoints, and while inconvenient, check point searches were never hostile and police and soldiers didn’t ask for things — and there was no attempts of bribery. The closest thing to this was my last Federale who, in trying to ask me if I had a softdrink, was interpreted by me as it as him saying it was “refreshing” to have stopped me rather than your everyday Mexican.
And the verdict is still out whether Canadians are considered “Gringo” as well. A total of one soldier referred to me as Gringo, and in hindsight, I wish I had contested it. A number of other people accepted “Yo soy no Gringo, yo soy Canadiense”. This seemed like an acceptable answer and often involved large amounts of laughter as one person passed the word on to the next. One guy gestured that if I were gringo he would have grabbed by ear and sliced it off — in jest of course. It was a bit of a hoot. While I had a bit of fun with this one, and no offense to my American friends and readers, but since I can bare the Canadian travelers’ flag, I’m going to play this one out. Regardless that individual Americans are fine people, the country itself has a seedy past with Mexico and Central America, so I am going to use my non-American status to my advantage.
Some of the noteworthy things are as follows:
* Mexican ranchers would ranch on a 90 degree grade if given the opportunity.
* In Mexico, if you don’t want something, just burn it.
* In the case of road rules, the bigger you are, the righter you are and who ever is there first has the right of way.
* road signs and lines must, like those lemon juice “invisible” messages of childhood, all say “in presence of police” if you look closely enough — which is why doing 80 in a 30 is acceptable
* Garbage is a real problem in Mexico. If you want to get rid of your plastic Coke bottle or beer bottle, just toss it out of your truck. The regular roadside burns, including tires, till take care of it.
* If you are Mexican livestock, don’t end up on the wrong side of the fence. You will perish through dehydration like the (probably) hundreds of dead cows, horses and donkeys I passed.
* The prototypical sombrero is very much not in fashion — I saw a total of one — this includes ornimental.
* Mexico is *much* larger than it appears on a map and offers, many, many landscapes to see.
* *if* you go to Mexico, you are going to get “chorro” (food poisoning) — so far so good.