Sunday, June 26, 2011


We are having an absolutley amazing time in Tepoztlán! Some friends of ours, Ron and Alicia, have very graciously opened their home to us, and we are glad to have the opportunity to explore Tepoz, and to learn as much about ecologoical sanitation, ecosan, as we can in a short couple of weeks. Ron is the founder of SARAR Transformaciones, an organization that involves various communities around Mexico in participatory development, implementing sustainable sanitation solutions. The chance to learn more about their projects in person is an absolute dream for Mike, and Jill has a new found interest towards sanitation, too. Over the next week or so we will take more time to write about what we´ve been learning, what we´ve been seeing (assuming we remember to take the camera with us...), and other random stories.

This past Friday night, Fabiola, who we know from SARAR, invited us out to listen to live jazz at Mango. It was a sweet venue and nice to hear some live music. We even met up with some friends who invited us out for some wine after hours and had a great night out. Sadly, we misplaced their phone numbers. Anyelica and Brenda, if you see this, shoot us an email, please.

Otherwise, we´ll be back online soon...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Excitement on the way south

While every city we´ve been to has felt very safe, and every road (99% libre instead of toll roads) has been fine, there are still random acts of violence taking place here in Mexico. But most of you know that already. We know that, too. As tourists we are not targeted, but we could be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Our hope is to avoid that. But similar to TSA inspections at airports (ya know, like looking at everyone´s shoes after the lackluster shoe bomber attempt...), you don´t really know what´s going to happen next until it does.

A reminder of that occured yesterday as we were driving through Celaya, right down Ignacio Allende, Hwy 51. On the way to Celaya, there were a few pick-up trucks full of geared up policemen passing us in a very big hurry. There was a major check point in the middle of Celaya, where they were pulling over any late model truck, especially SUVs with tinted windows. Then just down the street, at about 11am we passed by the storefront where 3 people were killed that morning.

It´s sad that this turf battle is taking place in Mexico, and even more so that innocent bystanders are often caught in the melee. Props to the policemen and women who are courageous enough to do what they can to bring peace and protection.

As far as we are concerned, we are doing our best to steer our route around notoriously dangerous areas, and continue to absolutely love our time here in Mexico! We would travel through Mexico again in a heartbeat. And we are still very much looking forward to spending some time in Chiapas. More to follow on our way there...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On the road again

We are looking forward to traveling south again tomorrow.  Our next major destinations include Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas.  But on the way, we are very excited to have the chance to check out an EcoSan project taking place in Tepoztlán.  We will take more notes than pictures while there, but we´ll do our best to update this again when we can.


Despite Guadalajara being a beautiful city, we were anxious to move on to our next stop, Guanajuato, because we were going to meet another couple from Colorado that have been traveling by motorcycle. They started their trip in November and we have been following their ride report on ADVrider. We noticed a lot of commonalities between us and had been communicating by email prior to the start of our trip. They had spent 4 months in Mexico the first time around, made it to Panama and then decided to turn around and come back to Mexico to live for awhile so Sabrina could enhance her Spanish at the school and Eric could work from home on web design. They have been living in a sweet house in Guanajuato for the past 3 months and have a pretty good thing going for them. They are in the process of deciding if they are going to stay for another 3 months or go back to Colorado. It seems to us they are gonna be in Guanajuato for as long as they can be.

From Guadalajara, we took what seemed like the longest possible way to Guanajuato, driving through several large towns and having to backtrack to stay on the libre (free) roads. What we thought would be a 3-4 hour drive turned into a 6 hour drive. Eric and Sabrina were nice enough to meet us at the airport about 30 min out of town so we could follow them to their house. Thank goodness they did because we would have definitely been lost for hours. Guanajuato streets consist of a lot of tunnels that are really fun to drive through.

Since Eric and Sabrina have been in Guanajuato for awhile, they also know the best places to eat. We have had quiche; club sandwiches; comida corrida, a 4 course meal including the best roasted potatoes that were free as long as we kept drinking (no problem there); wonderful pasta and salad; plus we got to go to a BBQ at one of their friends cabins out of town; and we have even had some marvelous home cooked food to boot.

We have also been able to meet several of their very cool friends, including a couple who have purchased a house in Guanajuanto and are turning it from a trash pit into a really nice sustainable living area. We also met a couple who are living in this cabin and have this sunset to look at on a regular basis.

This is the view of Guanajuato from Eric and Sabrina´s patio

One of Sabrina´s favorite hobbies is feeding the neighborhood cats and dogs. They are lucky she is around.

There is also a museum of mummies in the town that we went to. It is next to the town cemetary and apparantly the city exhumes bodies that are delinquent in their yearly burial plot fees. They have created a museum of those bodies. It is a very interesting museum, but is a little morbid, creepy and sad at the same time.

Guanajuato is a beautiful city, enveloped by mountains on all sides, and we have really enjoyed spending a couple of days here.

We also visited San Miguel with Eric, another beautiful expat enclave.

We have really enjoyed spending time with Eric and Sabrina. It has been great to talk about motorcycle stuff, life on the road, life in Guanajuato, and everything else. They have been awesome hosts and we are really grateful for the place to stay and the good times spent. It was just what we needed.  Thanks to both of you!


From San Blas we headed south to Santa Cruz and then cut over through Tepic to Guadalajara. The ride to Santa Cruz was stunning with ocean views to the right and mountainous rainforest to the left. Both of us were tempted to stop and spend another night but we ended up moving on. There were several small beachfront properties for sale but unfortunately we did not get a phone number of a realtor. We could both live happily in this stretch of Mexico. Tepic was a huge city that we were happy to get through quickly. The ride to Guadalajara ended up being boring, very smoky and longer than we thought humanly possible due to the large amount of trucks on the road and long stretches of construction. I guess what you could call a highlight of the drive was Tequila, Mexico. The small town is surrounded on all sides by agave fields and several major tequila distilleries are located there, including Jose Cuervo, Sauza, and Herradura. Since Mike has already been to a distillery in Tequila and Jill is no longer a fan of drinking tequila (yay, college!), we decided to move through the town rather quickly.

Guadalajara, despite the crappy drive, was worth seeing. It is a major metropolitan city with beautiful buildings, great museums and artwork, and a thriving nightlife. The university is a draw for students from all over Mexico and the rest of the world so it feels very alive and international. We ended up driving into downtown to try to collect ourselves and find a hostel. This was the first city we have tried to couchsurf in that did not work out, so we were on our own. There were a few hostels right downtown but they were more expensive and we had a hard time getting to them because downtown is filled with one way streets and we kept getting turned around. We ended up at a hostel called Hostal Galería located near Chupultepec Street, which is a very trendy and popular part of town, known for its restaurants and hang-outs. The owners of the hostel are two young brothers, Moisés and Abrám, and they were great. We would highly recommend staying there if you are in town. 350 pesos got us a large room with a king sized bed, I think it was 190 pesos for a bed in a dorm room. It was very clean and comfortable there and we really enjoyed it.

(Us with the hostel guys - they liked the bike)

That night we walked around the area trying to find a place to eat. There were a ton of people out and about and all the bars were full because Mexico was playing Cuba in soccer. There were a lot of places to eat but everything was a little more expensive than we wanted to pay (especially since Jill is so cheap) until we found our savior, Ruben´s. This little gem had a deal where you buy one entre and get the second one free.  On top of that, beers were 10 pesos each (cheaper than buying at the grocery store). They also had something called papas locas which was the world´s largest baked potato with lots of good stuff like cheese, bacon and chorizo on top. We were so happy with the place that we went back the next night. Lame, we know, but it was worth it.

The following day, Jill woke up and somehow turned her head the wrong way, ending up with a really bad crick in her neck for the morning. Mike was nice enough to get her some over the counter (in Mexican terms) muscle relaxers and after sleeping and laying in bed until about 3 pm, she was recovered enough to get up and eat this:

(Tortas ahogadas (drowned sandwiches) de panela)

Afterwards, we caught the local bus downtown and went to the Hospicio Cabanas which is an old hospice that has been turned into an art museum and features the murals of José Clemente Orozco. It was really cool and worth a visit, despite the nazi ticket seller not believing for a minute that Mike´s student ID was valid (well, which it really isn´t, but it was issued in June of 2010, so that´s not too far fetched, right?).

It also has rotating art installations. This time there were several rooms with photos of indiginous people from the late 1800´s until the 1980´s and an artist that apparantly likes to paint zombie women on top of cars.  For example:

Here are some other pictures from our wanderings downtown. The area is largely pedestrian and there are several blogs of gorgeous old buildings. Luckily most of the main attractions are within a few blocks of each other so it is easy to see quite a bit by walking around.

(outside Hospicio Cabanas)

(market - San Juan de Díos)

(sculpture downtown)

(main cathedral)

(Teatro Degollado)

(Rotunda de los Hombres Ilustres)

(University of Guadalajara)

Neon Crosses and Devil Birds

San Blas was a beach town we had heard about from a couple of people as being beautiful and Jill had also read about it in a couple of travel books. It is a few hours from Mazatlán and once you get off the highway, the 30 some kilometers to the town turns into lush mountainous rainforest with a lot of mango fields.

The town is rather small and seems to have converted over the past 20 years from a lazy fishing town into one of those off-the-beaten-path towns that expats like to live in. After driving through town, we ended up at a hostel a 5 minute walk from the beach and 2 blocks from the main plaza. We were able to talk the grandmotherly owner down to 250 pesos a night and stayed for 2 days. We headed for the plaza right away to get some mariscos.

Then we were off to the beach to catch sunset.

Then back into town to grab some beers for the hostel. We were able to hang out on top of the building and this was our view from there. We don´t really know the story behind the neon crosses, but are pretty sure that the neon cross church beats the one beside it.

After a few beers we were beat and ready for bed. Our room did not have airconditioning but did have a ceiling fan that was supposed to help with the heat. It didn´t help much. The night was really, really hot and we ended up taking cold showers and getting into bed without drying off just to be cool for a few minutes. We both slept rather fitfully and as soon as the sun came up we had an additional obstacle to our sleep - the devil birds that were located in the lobby of the hostel, about 10 feet from our room. When we had first checked into the hostel, we thought the birds were a cool touch. Little did we know they would become our nemesis as they squawked, cooed, screeched and made other very loud bird noises until we finally gave up and got out of bed at 9.

At least it got us to the beach earlier than we otherwise would have. On the walk to the beach we found the best banana chocolate muffin ever, and still warm, for only 7 pesos (about 50 cents). The beach is really nice with very soft sand. It is lined with rustic restaurants and surf lesson shops and places to camp. We would recommend checking out Stoners if you want to camp and surf. Mike decided he wanted to take a lesson and we were amazed to hear that it was only 150 pesos (less than $15) for a 2 hour lesson. They told us to come back at 5 when the surf would be better for beginners. So we walked back into town and had some more seafood. The town has a really relaxed feel that has a good mix of authentic Mexican stuff and expat hippy stuff. Unfortunately, San Blas seems to have been hit by the same lack of tourism that Mazatlán has because there were a lot of commercial buildings for rent or sale all over town. Seriously, come to Mexico for your vacation! We promise that the vast majority of Mexico is safe, especially the tourist areas, and you can get great deals on everything.

When we went back for the surf lesson, we were dissapointed to find out that the surf had turned a little dangerous for a beginner lesson, so we were not able to surf. We are sure we will have other opportunities soon. Other than that small dissapointment and the devil birds, we absolutely loved San Blas and could definitely see ourselves going back to stay for awhile.

(mural on walk from hostel to beach)

Mazatlán is the place

We arrived in Mazatlán on Saturday afternoon, and were able to meet with the neighbors who let us in to Marina´s house. Marina, thank you so very much for allowing us to stay there! Anai, Marina´s sister-in-law, was there with her daughter. Anai was very nice, and willing to share her home with a couple of strangers, which we definitely appreciated, and we did our best to not be a nuisance. The house was a fantastic place to stay! It sits in a nice quiet neighborhood, where people of all ages sit out on the street at all times of day. We had our own bedroom that even had a small A/C unit to keep the nights comfortable. And the neighbors were incredibly accomodating, insisting that they give us a lift into town to eat at their favorite seafood restaurant, el Guamuchilito. It was good, and we were ready for a hearty meal of mariscos after our long day of riding.

(Mike and the Transalp in front of Marina´s house)

A phone call to a couple of repair shops revealed that we would have to wait until Monday morning to have someone look at the battery and charging system on the TA (a multimeter did not make the packing list). What a problem though, huh? A couple of ´forced´ days in Mazatlán.

Sat evening after dinner, we sat at the beach for a minute, but then decided to catch a pulmania back to the house. Apparently, it´s important to mention the neighborhood we were in first, then the street and address. I told the driver the street and address initially, and we agreed on a price (35 pesos = US$ 3). We got to drive along the coast, seeing the full length of the Playa Norte beach along the older side of Mazatlán. When we arrived at a destination that was certainly not the house. The driver was mad that we didn´t correct him en route, but we told him that how were we to know what route we were taking. So after some minor cursing and steering wheel hitting, he moved on towards the house. We paid him 50 pesos since my rusty Spanish factored into his excessive driving, and he seemed happy with that. Still not a bad cab fare...

Sunday we walked back to the Playa Norte and found a great spot on the beach to sit, enjoy the water, and watch some people. That part of the beach was our favorite. There were lots of families out playing, a few restaurants right on the beach, and no pushy salesmen so common on the tourist beaches. We were the only obvious gringos along that coastline, and absolutely loved our day there on the beach.

Monday, we dropped the TA at a Honda shop in the morning, and were close to la Zona Dorada, so walked down to the resort area beach to pass the day. Immediately, we felt like we were walking wallets. Store keepers would speak to us in English and insist that they had what we needed. This is opposed to the older part of Mazatlán where store keepers would exhange a pleasant ´buenas tardes´ with us in passing. We used our gringo-ness to our advantage though and walked straight through the lobby of the Ramada and on back to their private beach. The palapas were unoccupied and gave us a perfect spot to enjoy the beach.

We were also able to enjoy their pool, which was cool and refreshing.

It was almost sad to be in the Zona Dorada then, since there were basically no tourists there. The locals that spoke with us about something other than the souvenirs they had to sell told us that 2 years ago, the swine flu put a big dent in Mexico tourism, but just when the stage was set to pick back up again, all the narco violence news keeps people away. It made us wonder how an economy set around tourism is going to sustain.

We stopped in a surf shop on our walk back to pick up the TA and spoke with the owner for awhile. He was stoked about the Quiksilver classic that just took place in town, giving him a chance to meet and surf with some of his idols. He was also excited to tell us about some of the beaches just south of Mazatlán, so San Blas turned out to be our next stop.

We got back to the moto shop just after the 2-4pm lunch break. The charging system was thankfully working fine, and the battery was holding a charge once the water level was filled properly again. Doh! It´s usually something simple. And in this case, it was the simplest possible solution. It´s been so long since I´ve run a battery that wasn´t sealed, or AGM, I hadn´t been keeping up with the water levels. At least it was a fairly cheap lesson to learn. The shop bill was less than $15 and they even washed the bike for us.

On our way home, we stopped at a neighborhood pizza place, and had a fantastic pie with chorizo and jalapeños for only 60 pesos, with breakfast slices leftover. Even though we were right on the coast, the seafood prices were a little higher than other options. Seafood dishes were often 70 - 110 pesos at restaurants, which given the quality and quantity of food, is not that bad. Especially relative to US prices. But relative to other good meals available at half that price, we aren´t springing for seafood on every meal.

The following morning we eventually got the bike loaded up after wrestling with our crappy new straps from Durango (another engine guard bag attachment system will be in the works soon). And off to San Blas we went.

El Espinazo del Diablo

It was tough to leave Durango after our great stay there, but we were very much looking forward to the ride over to Mazatlán and a relaxing few days at the beach. The road from Durango to Mazatlán is an absolute joy to ride, one of the best rides on the continent. It begins with a nice curvy section out of town turning more and more mountainous with amazing views as you cross the Espinazo del Diablo:

We lucked out and didn´t encounter too much traffic or road hazards, but of course there were some slow moving trucks with limited opportunities to pass, but it usually works out. In general, the truck traffic here in Mexico keeps an eye out for vehicles behind them, turning on their left turn signal when they believe there is room to pass. That is unnerving for a few reasons, mainly, those of us that learned to drive in the US are accostumed to a left turn signal meaning that a left turn is upcoming, which would not be a fun experience if passing a large truck on its left. (Aside from these narrow mountain roads, many drivers here throw on hazards when a left turn is upcoming, and will often pull to the right to wait for a good chance to cross both lanes of traffic, which is quite helpful. Yet other drivers feel that any lights whatsoever on the rear of their car would somehow make them less of a driver, choosing instead to drive in stealth mode, which makes being anywhere near them that much more exciting.)

We were also lucky in that the road was in good shape with very little sand, gravel, or potholes. The biggest concern was that the battery was not holding a charge, so we kept the TA idling whenever possible. She thankfully started up at all gas stops and got us to Mazatlán without one single bump start.

More Sentences about Durango

We arrived in Durango after a 5ish hour drive from Parral that consisted of mainly sparse farmland. Jill was lucky enough to count about 8 cow carcasses in various levels of decomposition along the way, so that was pretty exciting. We had arranged a couchsurfing stay in advance so once we pulled into town we called Frida, our host. Her and her husband, Jorge Luis, live right in the middle of the most popular part of town, Constitucíon Street, which is the only pedestrian street and has lots of bars, cafes, the cathedral, etc. Their house was very beautiful and had an awesome patio that overlooked the street. They also had a pug named Yoda that was a trip and really likes men, so Mike had an instant friend.

(Us with Jorge Luis, Yoda and Frida)

(view from the patio)

We hit it off with Frida right away and really enjoyed hanging out with her. Her English was impeccable and we shared a similar sense of humor and had similar interests. She is currently in school for her second PhD in law, but that did not keep her from spending a ton of time with us. Jorge Luis was also very cool but spent a lot of time working as he is the best vet in Durango. We had planned on only spending 2 nights in town, but on our second day we ended up doing rounds with Jorge Luis to the clinic and then to several ranches and haciendas around town. On one ranch, there was a shetland pony that had a nasty trauma to his head, leaving a major cut on his face and requiring several shots. Also on the property was a large barn full of exotic birds. (We later found out that the property was owned by a family involved with some potentially less-than-legal activities, allowing plenty of money and time to collect things like horses and exotic birds.) We also went to an extremely nice hacienda that had dancing horses. Jorge Luis has to give them mineral oil on a regular basis to keep them healthy and shiny. It requires that you fill a syringe with the oil and shove it into the back of horse´s mouth and make sure it swallows it all. Unexpectedly, he handed the syringe to Jill and told her to take over. The horses are massive and it kind of scared the crap out of her to stick her hand into their mouths, which they can sense and react to by not cooperating and scaring Jill even more. A couple of the attempts did work though and hopefully she managed to not waste too much of the oil in her "work". Mike does not trust horses to begin with, so he got out of the oil feeding duties.

(this dog was going in for a bath, but was too fat to walk to the car)

(Jill trying not to pee her pants)

(barn at the hacienda)

Since we spent a full day working with Jorge Luis, we asked to spend another night and luckily they were happy to let us stay. Frida works from 9-3 every day so we had to be out of the house anyway during that time, so we ran errands around town. Our first errand was to change the oil in the motorcycle. We looked all over town trying to find synthetic oil. Every place we went would send us to another place. After about 10 stops, we finally got oil. Then we went to the Honda service shop and asked if we could change the oil ourselves. They were nice enough to let us pull the bike into the shop and change the oil. There were 3 repairmen working at the same time in the smallish shop and they were very eager to help us. It was funny because any time Mike would need a tool or a funnel or something, the workers were already prepared to hand him what he needed. They were great.

(Mike with help changing the oil)

Our next marathon errand run consisted of us walking around the market trying to find a belt for Mike (his was held together with duct tape). He was very tempted to purchase the alacrán, scorpion, belt buckle that Durango is known for (there is a very poisonous clear scorpion that all the stands sell) but ended up with a simple brown belt instead. Then we searched for some straps that would work to repair the engine bags that we destroyed in our wrecks in Copper Canyon. We again were sent from store in our search for some straps and buckles. We finally found both and even were able to have a seamstress sew them up for us. Unfortunately, when we tried to use them, we discovered that the buckles could not even hold their own weight, let alone the weight of the engine bag, so we ended up just tying them on, which was how we had them before. You have to love marathon errand running days though. No matter what, just build in an extra hour or two for each errand and your timing will be about right. Luckily, we both enjoy running errands because it is a constant battle to find what you are looking for (or for something that will work) and you feel a great sense of accomplishment and happiness once you actually complete the errand.

For our last evening, we grilled some delicious hamburgers on the patio. They live next to a bar that has live music on Friday nights, so we were lucky enough to hear live covers of various American songs throughout the night. There is nothing like waking up to a Joan Jett cover in the middle of the night.

Here are some additional pics of Durango.


(Plaza de Armas)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Durango in a sentence (and more soon)

Durango turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip so far, due in large part to our fantastically gracious couchsurfing hosts there, Frida and Jorge Luis. Thank you guys so much for everything! We ended up staying with them for a few nights before heading onto Mazatlán, where we lucked out with another amazing place to stay. Thank you Marina for setting that up, and Anai for putting up with us!

We are currently in San Blas, Nayarít and really enjoying this surfing town. So much so that we are going to procrastinate our blog updates even more. Stay tuned and we´ll tell you all about Durango, Mazatlán, and San Blas soon.

The Test of Copper Canyon - Part II

The road from Batopilas up was supposed to be the easy direction - we already knew what to expect, we knew exactly which corner had a mound of sand in it to avoid, and we knew that cooler weather awaited at the top of the canyon. We got rolling in the morning, making it across a couple of bridges, passing the B&B at la Bufa, and clearing our previous ejection site.

Rounding an easy corner to the left, Mike decided it was a good idea to ride into the right side 2-track in order to stay away from the cliff down to the river. The large, chunky gravel in between the two tracks felt differently for some reason. Mike thought our practically straight path through the gravel was going to be easy going, but no. It was like a mirror image of the fall from the previous day. The front wheel was gone before we knew it, washed down and to the right. The left handlebar hit the ground, Mike´s left ankle was slightly pinned (yay, soft bags!) and Jill was mostly free from the bike. Until it slid into her and launched her forward. She caught all of her body weight on the right bar end just below her right collarbone. That one hurt. And left a sizable goose egg. Thankfully within a few days it cleared up though, so nothing seemed to be too broken.

Our left side engine guard bag was not as lucky. This time the whole velcro strap system pulled out of the back of the bag. We also knocked the left engine guard hard enough to push back into the fairing, but just enough to relocate it a bit, not enough to break any parts of the plastic. Oh yeah, and Jill managed to completely take out the right mirror with her superwoman impersonation (I still think the mirror won).

After all that fun, we made it back out of Copper Canyon. At least the 2 of us were mostly in one piece...

The paved road back out toward Guachochi was a relief. And in that 24 hour period the military checkpoint had moved on already, so it was a quick ride to town. Guachochi is a nice little town where we had a great meal and rested for a minute before heading into Hidalgo del Parral, the city where Francisco ´Pancho´ Villa was assasinated.

Thankfully, there was also a Honda shop at the edge of town where we were able to get a right side mirror for 75 pesos. It may not be OEM, but how can you argue with 6USD? The workers also recommended the hotel that we had passed back up the road, the Hotel Paraíso. 200 pesos, with a garage right below each room. Other amenities included a California king size bed, switches right next to the bed for A/C and music, and only adult films available on the tv. It was very clean, though, so we stayed. There was a great taco stand down the street and we got some rest. Little did we know that they would kick us out at 6 am. I guess 200 pesos is the 12 hour rate. Well, at least we got an early start on towards Durango...